Stefan’s world was thrown into chaos when he met Thorne, a priest who has dedicated his life to serving Jalal, the exiled god of Arizia. But it proves a beautiful kind of chaos. He’s suffered from demon-inflicted nightmares and hallucinations ever since a mistake in his youth allowed the taint to take hold. But Thorne is not only a priest but a powerful magic wielder, and simply being near him gives Stefan freedom from all demonic influence while every touch gives him more pleasure than he’s ever known before.
Thorne rushed to Stefan’s aid when a mutual friend told him of the young man’s need, but he never expected to be so enthralled by Stefan. He’s immediately convinced that his god, who is eternally separated from his own beloved, has finally led him to the perfect man to share his life with. But Stefan’s focus is on finding a permanent cure for his problem, and he seems uncertain of their relationship beyond the present moment and the physical pleasure they share. While Thorne wants nothing more than to see Stefan free of the taint that has tormented him for years, he’s also determined to convince Stefan they were brought together for a reason.
Thorne looked up at the moon as they walked in the garden later that night. He could feel Stefan watching him, as if he wished to say something but didn’t know how to begin. Thorne held his tongue, as he’d found that too much encouragement actually frightened Stefan off and made him self-conscious.
“At breakfast in the morning, there won’t be much talking,” Thorne said, more to break the silence than anything. “When we’re together in large groups, we tend to observe silence unless we really to tell someone something or ask a question. Otherwise, the noise is a bit much.”
“Ah. I did notice that when we passed people in larger groups they were kind of quiet.”
“Talking’s allowed, of course, but you usually won’t find people talking unless there’s only two or three of them. It’s part of marking the sacred space within the temple. It’s like that in the sacred grove as well.” He pointed to the north wall as they came to a halt by a fountain. “The oaks over there. They were to the right when we arrived today.”
“People go there to pray?”
“Yes. Or simply commune with nature. It’s very beautiful. And peaceful.”
Stefan nodded slowly. He turned, as if he’d worked his courage up, but he only looked at Thorne and didn’t say anything.
Thorne said, “You must be getting tired. You met a lot of people today. Had lots of information thrown at you.”
“I am pretty tired.”
“We can head to bed, if you like.” With a smile, he added, “And I’ll actually let you sleep tonight, I promise.”
Stefan’s eyes darted about a bit before he said, “We could go into the sanctuary. If you still want to.” He clasped his hands together. “It seemed important to you, and I am a guest.”
“I would love to, but not because you feel you have to or need to.”
“I want to do it for you. Because it seems important to you, like I said.” He paused. “That can’t be wrong, can it?”
Thorne’s heart swelled with joy. “No, of course not.” The fact Stefan wanted to do it for him made him want to run into the sanctuary and shout about his happiness. But that really would send Stefan for a loop. Their first day at the temple had gone so well it actually seemed even more perfect for it to end this way. And he told Stefan exactly that. “In some ways, it’s even better like this. We’ll end our day on a quiet, peaceful note.”
Thorne stood and held his hand out to Stefan, who took it and held it firmly. When they walked into the sanctuary, only the two altar candles were lit. He walked down the center aisle slowly so Stefan could look around and get his bearings. The sanctuary was very simple—an altar on a raised dais, plain red hangings on the walls between the windows, and plain wooden benches arranged to face the dais. Even the altar was only a basic wooden structure with simple designs on the sides. When they approached the altar, Thorne stopped and pointed. “The mountain design is for Jalal. There’s one on each side. The pattern of the vine twining around the altar is for Vena. To honor her. Jalal’s one and only gift to her was a golden necklace shaped like a vine.” He pointed to the steps leading up the dais. “Kneel here.”
Stefan did so, his gaze fixed on the altar. Thorne walked up onto the dais and approached the altar. He rested his hands on it, bowing his head and closing his eyes. If I’m wrong, Jalal, please don’t let my heart fall too far. I’ve always been a romantic, searching and hoping for a lasting love, one like yours for your sweet goddess. But I’m not strong enough to be parted from the one I love. I’m sorry. Let me help him, if nothing else, and let us find happiness if it’s truly what you brought him to me for. He straightened and reached into the small hole at the corner where a jar of oil was kept. He dipped his finger and then turned around.
Stefan knelt there, his hands on his thighs and his eyes cast down. Thorne walked over to him and touched the oil to his forehead before moving behind him. He kissed the top of his head and then placed his hands there against his hair, not applying too much pressure.
“Jalal, this is Stefan. A friend has brought us together in the hope that I can help him be free of demonic torment. He’s lived far too long in fear, and I pray you’ll guide me.” He lowered his hands to Stefan’s shoulders. “These past few days, he’s become very dear to me, and we’ve become lovers. He eases my loneliness and the ache in my heart as no other ever has, and I thank you for giving me the chance to do him good.” He let his hands fall to his sides, and after a moment, he came around and offered his hand to Stefan.
Stefan trembled a bit as he stood, and Thorne linked their arms and walked slowly as they made their way back to his bedroom. He wanted to say so many things, but he knew what they’d just done had probably been more serious and intimate than what Stefan had imagined. He closed the door softly, and they got ready for bed in silence. Thorne walked over to one of the windows and opened it. This time of year, a cool breeze would move through the room if he opened a couple of them. He walked across the room to open another one. When he walked back over to the bed, he found Stefan sitting on the edge with his hands on his knees.
Thorne blew out the candles and climbed into bed, lying back and waiting. Stefan lay back as well but didn’t look over at Thorne. Ever since they’d met, they’d fallen into bed in a frenzy of searching mouths and hands. Thorne rolled to his side and simply reached for Stefan’s hand, happy when the man squeezed his fingers back.