Excerpt: Bound to the Beast

A hunting horn blasted through the forest, and the gallop of a dozen horses shook the earth. Tam pushed the sights and sounds to the back of his mind and concentrated on the tall, beautiful warrior with the eyes that shone like sapphires, the flowing ebony locks, and shoulders broader than the trunk of the spreading chestnut Tam waited beneath. Sword in hand, the warrior advanced toward him between the trees.

Tam writhed with need, his face flushing as his cravings commanded him. “I surrender, mighty one. Use me as you wish.”

The warrior grinned, wolfish, and flung his sword, then his belt, to the ground. In the man’s blank gaze, Tam sought the awakening of real affection, of sweeter emotions that burned deeper and longer than lust, but then the warrior tore his tunic away, paced forward, and bodily needs held sway. Tam grew transfixed by the man’s cock, huge and erect, the glistening head bobbing up toward a tightly muscled stomach.

Heavens, Tam was hard for him too; he wanted this man to pin him down and fuck him roughly, and Tam craved every inch of him. Backing against a tree, he yearned to feel the scratch of the bark against his arse, even the sting and tear of a thorn, pleading with his heart as well as his gaze. Closing in fast, the warrior clamped rough hands about Tam’s shoulders, and Tam strained toward him, desperate to know this man’s strength. As he reached to touch the man’s chest, which looked hard as granite, his hand sliced through air.

Don’t wake up now. Why must it always be a dream?

His world shook; he wished this were caused by the warrior slamming him against the oak and claiming him. Somebody tapped his shoulder and ruffled his hair. A soft female voice goaded, “Tam, wake up; it’s nearly time.”

“Time for what?” he murmured. He knew well enough what Ann, his brother’s wife, was about to say.

“Sunset,” she replied, mournful. “It’s the night you’re to be wed.”

Oh yes. Tonight I, of all men, must claim my fairy bride.

“Agh!” He pulled the threadbare blanket to cover his head, rolling over. Denying the truth felt easier than it ought. “Leave me be.”

For a few moments, he wandered back into the forest of his slumber. It was silent now. His warrior had gone. Tam’s erection withered as his rushing thoughts vexed him.

One late summer eve every dozen cycles of the sun, the fair folk offered the chance for a village man to travel into the Greenwood to attempt to claim a fairy as his bride, a task for which Tam had been selected, to his initial horror. Although the ritual brought great luck to the village, sorely needed right now, no poor lad had ever actually returned with his bride.

Nobody knew what became of them. The legend said, they lived their days happily wed to one of the fair folk, although rumour told they fell to foul spirits or the fairies’ protector, Herne the Hunter, or even the terrible Wild Hunt.

Tam would have fled for the hills, had not the very fairy maiden whose embrace he feared approached him. To most careless villagers, Calleagh might have seemed no more than an uncommonly beautiful woman. Tam had perceived she was fair folk when he’d first glanced into her violet eyes four weeks ago, before he’d recognized her green cloak that danced in the breeze as only cloth spun by fair folk could. She’d praised Tam for his keen wit and told him she’d help him triumph where all men before him had failed. Calleagh wanted to marry him, to become human, and he knew he should desire this betrothal, his key to respect and adult life.

As Ann’s mutterings crept once more into his consciousness, his instincts still whispered, Run away!

“Damn you!” Waking fully with a jolt, he pulled the blanket from his face and glared at Ann, who scowled back, wrinkling her thin, freckled nose and tucking a stray tendril of mushroom-coloured hair into her cap. Her eyes looked red and swollen, as if she’d been crying.

“I’ve made you supper,” she said, “and all you can do is swear at me? You better come down. Richard is getting impatient, and Jerome will have eaten everything if you don’t make haste.” She rose, scuttling from the room and slamming the door so the wattle and daub shook.

This, then, would be the night of his betrothal. Even if he made it through the forest, how soon after must follow the consummation he truly dreaded? Ballad singers informed him a woman’s moist cleft would set his loins blazing as his hands never could, and he was willing to learn if he truly must. He’d rather roll in the bracken with a beautiful fellow, but that could be no village man’s waking life. He only hoped Calleagh would bless him with time to grow accustomed to the idea.

“Damn,” he repeated miserably, and he followed Ann downstairs.

“Behold! The hero who’ll keep the Spaniards from our doors,” shouted Jerome as Tam entered the little hall, ending his greeting with a snort of derision. “Woe is England, then! Tam can’t even keep the hogs from our doors. I don’t see how he’s going to save us from invasion, even with all the luck of the fair folk shoved up his arse.”

Still bleary from sleep, Tam ignored his second eldest brother, a thickset, red-haired jolthead, who chewed on a hunk of meat like a cow on the cud, his pea-green eyes filled with an equally cloddish level of intellect. Tam had enough worries without paying attention to Jerome or being reminded yet again why a little fairy luck was sorely needed by the village of Little Lyndton. Not only was harvest hard by; the Spanish Armada circled English shores like wasps, and rumours of invasion abounded.

“They say that if the land is to be ruined, first the Wild Hunt must ride, as in every old legend of destruction.” Jerome grinned, baring his yellowed teeth. “You venture into the Greenwood, and they’ll skin you alive and roast you on a spit, runt. If the fairies don’t eat you first.”

“I’ll die happy if they tell me they’re going to boil your head for their next meal,” muttered Tam.

“Lads! For once in our lives, let us have peace,” said Richard. The eldest brother raised a hand, demanding quiet.

While Ann shuffled off to pile food on a platter, Tam slid onto a bench next to Richard, on the far side of the hearth across from Jerome. Yeoman and head of the household since their father’s death, Richard wore his black beard styled to a fashionable point, and his clothes were cut of a finer weave of linen that the rest of the family’s.

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