The night was filled with starlight and moonbeams that sparkled in a young man's eyes. The blue orbs widened as he watched fireflies dance in a mating ritual. As he relaxed against a tree amid a carpet of thick fern, he listened to the sounds of insects, night birds, and crude soldiers gathered nearby.
He turned his head resting on his arms that were bent upward over his shoulders to watch them. They sat around the campfire noisily smacking on a recently killed doe. When one of them looked in his direction, he hungrily licked his lips.
"Mind if I have a taste?" he taunted with a humorous tone.
It was dripping with seduction and suggestive context.
The soldier glared and patted the knife at his belt.
"If you don't watch your mouth, I'll cut that tongue out and feed it to the wild dogs," the soldier warned.
"Flirting with danger again, I see," came a deep voice from his other side.
His head whipped around when he recognized it, and he gave a broad, toothy smile.
"You know I'd never flirt with anyone but you, Thane," the younger man replied in an exaggerated whimper of disappointment.
He grinned as Thane checked the restraints to be certain they hadn't loosened.
"You should watch what you say and how you say it, thief," Thane warned in a low tone beside his ear. "Unless you think you can take on all eight."
The thief looked up to watch Thane tighten the knot binding his wrists.
"Aww," he whined. "I worked so hard to loosen that!"
He softly laughed as Thane snorted and rolled his eyes.
"By 'take on,' do you mean..." he wondered.
Thane rested his arm on his bent knee and grinned at the other man’s expression of worry.
"I finally know how to get your cooperation," he nodded. "You know what I mean. Sure, they're all perfectly content with women, but they've been away at war for the better part of the year. A pretty lad like you making overtures with his tongue and words may become impossible to resist."
The young man only smirked as the older stood.
"Aahhh, I'm not worried," he grinned. "You'd never share. We have something special, don't we, Thane Ravenhall," he said in a louder voice as Thane left to join the others.
Before the young man could react, Thane was back at his side with a knife to his neck.
"Speak that way about me again, and I'll remove your tongue by way of your throat," he snarled through clenched teeth.
He swallowed at the fury burning in Thane's green eyes. He was quick-witted and his lips drew up into a wicked smile. He moved his head back and leaned down until the knife was in front of his face. With his outstretched tongue, he slowly licked the side of the cold blade.
Thane gasped at the motion.
"You're insane," he muttered, but he couldn't deny the sudden throb of his groin.
He quickly glanced over his shoulder to be certain the men couldn't see. They were still paying attention to their meal and cleaning their plates.
"But you want me," was the reply. "I'm Leighton Todd and like you, Captain, I always get my man."
He laughed as Thane huffed and sheathed his knife.
"I'm serious, Leighton," Thane said quietly. "Those men don't play games. They're with us to help me escort you to prison. They had to postpone their homecoming for this assignment. If you piss them off, they won't be gentle. Understand?"
Leighton's face fell as he listened to Thane's concerned words. In all the years they’d played cat and mouse during his crime sprees, he'd never seen the captain so unnerved by anyone. He nodded and watched Thane stand and return to the men.
He breathed in deeply as he watched the man ten years his elder, taller, and stronger make him a plate of food. The royal officer's long black hair was unbound as he had been preparing to rest. It spilled down his back just above his belt, and Leighton watched as a few locks gently slipped over his shoulder to frame his face. The green eyes that haunted his dreams stared back at him as Thane returned.
As he chewed the pieces Thane shoved into his mouth, he looked over his olive skin. The contrast of his hair and eyes set against his mixed-blood flesh was striking. He chewed another strip of deer as he thought again of his disappointment they wouldn't be alone on their journey. He had every intention of finally confessing his feelings on this trip.
"Take it," Thane said with a raised cup of wine against his lips. "I know you don't like the stuff, but the water is for the journey. This will help you rest."
After he was done with the cup of wine and all the food, Thane stood and left. The others stretched out onto pallets they made of leaves and thin blankets before the fire. Thane would sleep near Leighton and between him and the soldiers.
Leighton looked back toward the sky and the moon that had moved a bit. He listened to the snoring of each man as they drifted into slumber. One soldier had been chosen for first night watch, and he was busying himself by drawing pictures in the dirt.
Before long, Leighton noticed Thane's body relax as his breathing grew shallow. He was asleep. He looked peaceful and even beautiful when he wasn't adhering to his duties.
He angrily slammed the back of his head against the tree to which he was tied. Why did he have to pick a nobleman's wife to relieve of her money purse? A simple thievery would have given him the time he needed with Thane. Instead, he was to be guarded to ensure he arrived at the capital for a trial, one he was positive would lead to his death.