I KNEW his voice. Even after eight years, it was familiar and ordinary, as if he were just calling to see if I wanted him to pick up something on the way home. I knew it was Bowyn, though he’d said nothing more than “Hey, it’s me.”
That’s how he always began a phone conversation. At least, with me.
“Who is this?”
“Come on, Jeremy. Don’t play games.”
I sighed and dropped the pretense. “All right, Bowyn. What can I do for you?”
“I need to see you. It’s important.”
I was embarrassed by the fact that I’d become instantly erect at the thought of seeing him again and thanked God he wasn’t there to see the tent in my bathrobe. It had been almost a decade, but the mere sound of that soft, smooth voice was enough to make me horny as hell. I wanted him. I wanted him as badly as I had every day we’d been together.
But the memory of Seth quenched my desire as though someone had tossed a bucket of ice water on my crotch. Bowyn had made his choice.
“I don’t think that would be a good—”
“Seth has acquired a document,” he rushed ahead, trying to stop me from hanging up. “One that you’ll want to see.”
The mention of that name further cemented my resolve. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t have the time.”
“An original manuscript by Ficino,” Bowyn went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “And it includes a mass written in four-part harmony.”
Marsilio Ficino was a fifteenth-century philosopher and doctor responsible for translating the complete works of Plato from Greek into Latin and well-known for his own writings on philosophy and magic, including works on the healing properties of music. I’d done my master’s thesis on Ficino. Bowyn had helped me organize my notes and critiqued several of my drafts.
“It’s a fake, Bowyn. Ficino wrote about music and he composed some pieces for the lyre, but he never wrote anything as complex as a polyphonic mass.”
“We can’t know for certain that it was written by him—not yet—but it does date to the late fifteenth century,” Bowyn explained patiently. “Seth has someone in Greece working on a translation of the libretto, but he needs someone with your expertise to transcribe the Renaissance musical notation into modern notation.”
“Greece?” I asked.
“The libretto is in ancient Greek.”
It wasn’t impossible. Ficino had known ancient Greek, of course. But most of his work had been written in an archaic Italian dialect, and the text of a mass—the libretto—would generally be in Latin.
“Maureen?” Our friend Maureen had helped us with ancient Greek translations when we were in college.
“No. We couldn’t track her down. But we found a professor at the University of Crete who was willing to do it.”
I grabbed a mug from the kitchen cupboard, filled it with water, and set it in the microwave. It was more for something to do, to stop my hands from shaking, than a desperate need for tea.
“Ficino was a skilled musician and singer,” I protested. “But a polyphonic mass…?”
“That’s why we need you, Jeremy. You’re the only one Seth trusts for this.”
“Because you’re one of the Brethren.”
I slammed the box of tea I’d taken from the cupboard down on the counter, my temper flaring. “I am not one of the goddamned Brethren!”
Bowyn laughed gently. The bastard had always found it cute when I lost my temper.
“Damn it, Bowyn! How many years do I have to put between me and that place before Seth will acknowledge that I’m gone?”
“You know how he is,” he responded soothingly. “He considers you family, no matter what.”
I bit back an angry response. He was right. Seth was incapable of processing the idea that anyone could ever leave him. At a fundamental level, he was convinced that everyone adored him. Once I had adored him….
That I was capable of doing the transcription, I had no doubt. Earlier in the week, I’d been in London, where I’d been transcribing Renaissance musical pieces at the British Museum for a planned article on performance variations. It was a demanding task—the notation was very different from modern musical notation, and damage to a manuscript often rendered sections difficult or impossible to read. Educated guesses had to be made to fill in the gaps. But I had years of experience and I was good at it.
It’s impossible to describe to someone who isn’t as fanatical about Renaissance music as I am just how my pulse started racing at the idea of working with an untranslated, untouched original document by Marsilio Ficino. Perhaps not as mind-blowing as it would be for a Christian scholar to get his hands on something written by one of the apostles… but pretty close. Bowyn knew me and knew I would never be able to resist bait like that.
But I’d closed the door on my life at the Temple, and I had no desire to reopen it. I made one last attempt to at least keep myself safely rooted in Durham, rather than make the trip up north. “Look, Bowyn, if Seth really wants me to work on this, have him e-mail me high-resolution photos—”
“You’re taking the semester off to work on a paper,” Bowyn chided. “The receptionist in the music department told me that.”
“Vivian needs to stop giving information to strangers on the phone.”
“We only need you for a week, Jeremy. Maybe two. You’ll know better than me once you’ve had a look at it. I’ll be at your place tomorrow afternoon to pick you up.”
Then he hung up while I was still trying to think of a response. The bastard knew he’d won. I’d never been able to deny him anything.
THE next morning, I tried to work on the paper I’d been researching, but it was a lost cause. The thought of Bowyn showing up on my doorstep in a few hours had my stomach in knots. All the hell we’d gone through eight years earlier—all the arguments, all the failed attempts to get him to understand why I couldn’t go on the way things were—kept flooding back to me.
That and an odd dread that once we saw each other, I’d see how much he’d changed. Perhaps he’d let himself go; cut off that beautiful long blond hair I’d loved running my fingers though, or lost it to a receding hairline. What if I just didn’t find him attractive anymore? I hadn’t realized until this moment that part of me had been harboring a faint hope that we could someday reconcile, even after all this time. What if seeing Bowyn proved that it was finally and absolutely over?
It was late October, which could get pretty cold in southern New Hampshire, but today was warm. So I took one of the best books I had on musical settings of the Catholic mass in the early Italian Renaissance out to the front porch and sat there nursing a cup of strong Irish tea while I read. The fresh air and the vivid oranges, reds, and yellows of maples and oaks along Riverside Drive calmed me.
The car that came down the street shortly after two o’clock must have belonged to Seth, unless Bowyn had changed completely from the man I’d known. It was some kind of sports car—I couldn’t tell one from another—sleek and low to the ground, with the convertible top down. Not red, like the clichéd midlife crisis vehicle, but gun-metal gray.
Bowyn was behind the wheel, and I could tell, even before he’d pulled into the driveway and eased his lanky body out of the car, that he hadn’t changed at all. Not physically, anyway.
Even at thirty-five, he was still naturally athletic, dressed in torn jeans and a plain T-shirt that was stretched taut by well-defined stomach and chest muscles that I knew had never seen a gym. His beautiful, sensuous face was framed by long, straight blond hair that hung nearly to his waist and didn’t have a trace of gray that I could see. He was running around barefoot, as though he were still a rebellious college student.
“You’re supposed to wear shoes when you’re driving,” I said, standing as he pulled off his shades to reveal amazing, clear blue eyes.
Bowyn laughed, sauntering up the walkway. “Are you going to give me a detention, Professor?”
“We don’t give detentions in college.”
“Then how about a spanking?”
I groaned. How I was going to survive a week or more in his company, I couldn’t imagine. The mere sight of him made me want to ravish him, right there on the porch, in front of all my neighbors. There had been a time when I might have done it. But Seth had come between us and he was still there.
It wasn’t exactly that Bowyn had left me for Seth. We’d both been Seth’s lovers at one point. When I left, I’d expected Bowyn to come with me—after all, we’d been a couple long before Seth took over our lives. But he chose to stay with the Temple—and with Seth.
“You look good,” Bowyn said more seriously, climbing the few wooden steps that separated us and reaching out to trace his fingers lightly along my upper arm. Against my will, I shivered at his touch.
I’d never had the body he had, but apart from a little graying at the temples, I supposed he was right about me not having changed much either. Still thin. Still the same short, dark-brown hair and argyle sweaters. Bowyn used to tease me about looking like a professor long before I’d actually become one.
I stepped back from him—just a bit, but enough for him to get the message. What that message was, exactly, even I wasn’t sure. It certainly wasn’t “not interested.” Perhaps it was “slow down.” I still needed to wrap my head around what was happening.
He dropped his hand.
“I guess we can go now,” I said.
I’d packed a bag, so I stepped inside to get it, leaving Bowyn to wait on the porch. I knew full well that I’d be staying at the Temple. There was no way Seth would let me stay at a local hotel. I wasn’t his slave, of course, but there were some things it just wasn’t worth fighting over. Besides, the Temple was far enough off the beaten path that staying in a hotel would be impractical.
“Did you make arrangements for someone to feed your cats?” Bowyn asked as we climbed into the convertible.
“What on earth made you think I owned cats?”
“A dog, then?”
“No. No pets.”
Bowyn shifted the car into reverse and backed out of the driveway. “Your boyfriend’s allergic to animals?”
I rolled my head in his direction to give him a sour look. “Subtle.”
“You like that?” he asked, flashing me the cheeky grin I’d always found so adorable. “I thought it up on the ride down.”
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Bowyn laughed. “Well, that’s good. Because you’ll be rooming with me while you’re at the Temple.”
That figured. But even though it wasn’t a surprise, it still ticked me off.
“And fucking you, I presume?”
“I certainly hope so.”
While I was mulling over a response to that one, Bowyn threw the car in first gear and we shot out of the comfortable suburban cul-de-sac I lived in, heading north toward the White Mountains… and the Temple.
The Temple was a large plot of land Seth had purchased about twenty years ago, just northwest of Berlin, New Hampshire. The grounds contained a large old Victorian… well, we might as well call it a manor house. A wealthy mill owner had built it sometime in the eighteen hundreds and it reflected the opulence of the period. The place was enormous. In addition to housing Seth and his “family”—something that was a bit difficult to define—it now served as living quarters for most of the Order. There was also a chapel on the grounds, along with a stable converted to a garage, and a number of other outbuildings.
“Are you still with Seth?” I asked as we flew up Route 16 to Conway and then continued north toward Berlin. It was a bit blunt, but if he was planning on me sharing his room—and his bed—for the next several days, we needed to get a few things clear.
Obviously, Bowyn still lived with Seth. But he knew what I meant. He laughed and shook his head. “Not much. He has a new boy toy now. Rafe. Seth picked him up in Munich last year.”
“He’s what a less kind person might call ‘Eurotrash’,” Bowyn replied good-naturedly. “Bumming around Europe, burning through what’s left of his inheritance—his parents have both passed away. Seth was there for the manuscript auction where he bought the Ficino and somehow they hooked up. You’ll meet him. You can probably fuck him, if you play your cards right.”
But I was still back at “not much.” That was a long way from “not at all.” Likewise, the fact that Bowyn wanted to have sex with me probably meant very little, other than he still found me attractive. That was good to know, but clearly he was still caught up in the sexual excesses of the Temple that had been part of my reason for leaving.
I should point out that I don’t actually disapprove of the casual sex that goes on at the Temple. I’d participated in it when I was there and I’d enjoyed it. It was just that I’d wanted more—some kind of… stability… permanence. Bowyn hadn’t. And that was what had finally hurt enough to drive me away.
Bowyn glanced at me briefly and gave me a gentle, sympathetic smile before returning his attention to the road. “Hey if you really don’t want to stay with me, you don’t have to.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“We don’t have to have sex. Of course. I just figured we were both adult enough to share a bed without too much drama. And there really aren’t any spare rooms available at the moment. But I’m sure Marianne would be happy to share her room, if you don’t mind sleeping on a cot.”
I ignored that last suggestion. “You know perfectly well that we will end up having sex.”
“Well,” he replied, a grin lighting up his handsome face, “I was hoping. Is that so bad?”
Was it? A lot of people might think so. But we were on our way back to the Temple, where casually jumping into bed with whoever happened to be willing was the norm. I was the odd duck there. I always had been.
Something stopped me from insisting on another room, even if it meant sharing with Marianne or somebody else—a longing for what we’d once had, perhaps, combined with the most intense feeling of desire I’d experienced since my exodus eight years ago. I wanted Bowyn, badly.
Just a scant hour or two earlier, I’d been dreading seeing him. Now that we were sitting mere inches away from each other, with him looking exactly as he had when I’d left him, I realized my desire for Bowyn hadn’t dissipated. Not at all. Nor had my feelings for him. For eight years, I’d managed to convince myself that it was over and done with. Choices had been made—by both of us—and there was no going back. But the moment I’d laid eyes on him, all those years had melted away and all my convictions seemed to have crumbled. I’d thought I could keep him at arm’s length during my stay, but now I realized I’d been foolish to think so.
So, yes, I would sleep in his room. And I would have wonderful, heart-breaking sex with the man I now knew I’d never stopped loving. Then I would leave, miserable and broken. It seemed inevitable. I just prayed the Ficino manuscript would be worth the hell I was going to go through for it.