Weston Scott is happy with his simple, quiet life in a small English village. Yet he is haunted by deeply closeted yearnings, a secret he has shared with only one person. His best friend, Mark. As a constant reminder to guard his own heart, Weston wears an emerald ring on his hand.
Mark Goudy has a secret of his own, one that drove him to live far away in London rather than betray his best friend’s trust: He’s always been in love with Weston. Now he’s back, but not for a friendly visit. Mark’s through denying his emotions.
And if he can manage to slip that ring off Weston’s finger for one night, he’s sure things will change. For both of them.
Mark emerged from the pub in a halo of smoke and laughter and shouts for him to come back. He waved, yelled, “Settle down, you lot!” and put his arm around Weston’s shoulders. They leaned on each other as they walked down the street, silent until they reached the car. After a short argument, Weston conceded to letting Mark drive. He didn’t go far before stopping for Guinness and a pack of smokes, and then they were on their way, Mark chattering the whole time about whatever subject came to his head. It felt good riding with Mark like this. Familiar. A part of him wished the other man didn’t plan to head back to London the following week.
But Mark could never stay in the village. They both knew it, so Weston didn’t consider bringing it up. Not seriously. Mark enjoyed the occasional visit, and sometimes he showed up around the holiday season, but the day he moved to London, he had vowed he wouldn’t return. When Mark left, it had felt like he had moved to another planet. A part of Weston never quite got over that hurt. Or entirely forgave it. The rest of Weston couldn’t have been more proud of his friend.
Mark carried the case of beer once they exited the car, so Weston was forced to rely on his own powers to make it up the walk. He ignored the vague disappointment, as well as the temptation to at least hold Mark’s shoulder.
“Welcome to my humble home,” Weston announced, flinging the door of his cottage open and turning on the light.
It wasn’t large, but it served him well, the lounge close and cozy, the narrow hall leading back to the kitchen that took up the rear of the house. The cottage had served as residence for the church’s ministry for over two centuries. At one point there had been two bedrooms, but someone in the fifties had knocked out the wall separating the two tiny rooms so that there was one large space, more than adequate for a single man’s sleeping quarters. That’s all Weston ever did there.
Mark sprawled on his tiny couch, taking most of it and forcing Weston to stand there awkwardly as he debated where to sit now.
“You’ve got pint glasses, right?”
“Sure do.” When Weston returned with two full glasses, Mark was in the exact same place. “Just don’t try smoking in here. That’s frowned upon.”
Their fingers grazed each other when Mark took the pint. “I don’t know how you do it. What do you do for fun, Wes?”
“There’s bingo on Thursday nights.” The joke fell flat, and Weston shrugged. “I didn’t sign up for this gig because I thought it would be fun.” He hoped Mark didn’t ask why Weston had made this decision, because he wasn’t sure he could articulate it. Especially since it had something to do with Mark. “You just learn to make adjustments for the things you can’t have or do.”
“Still sounds lonely.” There was something wistful in Mark’s voice, a softness that didn’t usually color his words, but it was gone by the time he gestured in annoyance toward the empty space next to him, splashing a little of his Guinness against the back of the couch.
“I suppose I could get married. Nothing stopping me, after all.”
“Right. That’d solve all your problems.”
“It’d solve a few, I imagine.”
“Are you really standing there telling me you’d get married? Have you ever even touched a woman, Wes?”
“No.” Or a man, for that matter, but he didn’t need to elaborate. Mark knew why the suggestion of marriage was ridiculous on its face. He’d be miserable. He’d make his potential wife miserable—not that he knew any women who would be remotely interested in marrying a gay priest.
“You can bloody sit down, you know. This hovering makes me nervous.”
“Sorry.” He settled on the couch and sipped his drink. “Enough about my boring life, anyway. What do you do for fun in London?”
Mark shrugged. The cotton stretched over his shoulders, highlighting how much broader they were now than when they’d been younger. “Oh, you know. Pull gorgeous blokes. Take ’em home. Shag their brains out.” He took a long swallow, his gaze unwavering. “Wish they were you.”
Weston coughed violently as a mouthful of beer went down his windpipe. He doubled over, working to clear his lungs and try to make sense of what Mark had just said. The individual words were understood, but the gist of Mark’s statement was a mystery.
“What?” he finally gasped once he could breathe.
A strong hand clapped down between his shoulder blades, knocking more of the air back into his lungs. “You heard me.” How could Mark sound so calm about it? “It’s not like you didn’t know I was gay, Wes.”
He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “It’s not that. It’s the other thing. The part where you wish they were me.”
“You’ve looked in a mirror lately, right? Wearing a cassock hasn’t made you blind?”
“What? No. But, Mark…” Weston floundered for words, wishing he hadn’t had so much to drink. Maybe he could think of something to say if his brain wasn’t clouded. “We’re friends. We’re just friends. That’s all. Just good friends.” If the insistence sounded a bit too desperate, it was only because it had been Weston’s mantra since they were both fifteen.
Slowly, Mark drained the rest of his Guinness and set aside his empty glass. Reaching forward, he closed his cool, damp fingers over Weston’s where they curled into his pint, holding him for what felt like seconds soaked in molasses before prying his hand away from the glass.
“That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate how gorgeous you are,” Mark said, placing Weston’s Guinness out of the way with his own. His hands were mercifully gone then, leaving Wes to stare at him, dumbfounded. “Is it such a bad thing? I mean, everybody fantasizes. Wondered. Even you do, remember?”
“Yeah. But…” They shouldn’t even be having this conversation. His tongue was thick, his mind slow, and he knew that had nothing to do with the alcohol. He should be sending Mark on his way. Letting the conversation continue was so bad. It was very, very bad. Was Mark closer now, or was that just his imagination? Weston opened his mouth and you should leave became, “What do you wonder about?”
A warm weight settled on his thigh. Wes glanced down, and the same long fingers that had just held his were stroking his leg.
“All sorts of things.” Mark’s voice was huskier than normal, low enough to reverberate through skin and sink straight into muscle. “I wonder…if your cock still does that little bend to the right when you get hard. Didn’t know I noticed that, did you? And I wonder…what it would feel like to have all of you covering all of me so that I can’t move and I can barely breathe except to breathe in you. Sometimes, I just wonder what it would be like to finally kiss you.”
A cacophony of alarms and warnings sounded in Weston’s head. But he seemed powerless to do anything about it. He had thought of Mark in that way many times, before and after entering the priesthood. And he didn’t want Mark to stop touching him. It felt so good, and unlike anything he had ever experienced. Nobody had ever touched him with such deliberation.
“I’ve…wondered what it would be like if you did kiss me.” It might not have been wise to admit as much, but he couldn’t—wouldn’t—lie to Mark.
Mark slowly tilted his head. His gaze dropped from where it had been locked with Weston’s, and it lingered on Weston’s mouth.
“Shame for both of us to be left in the dark, don’t you think?” He leaned closer, his hand moving along Weston’s thigh until his fingers grazed the edge of Weston’s growing erection and his lips hovered a breath away. “Can’t count how many times I’ve come, wishing I was with you.”
He should be praying. He should be praying to God for strength. He should be praying to God for forgiveness for going as far as they had. It wouldn’t be the first time he had sought forgiveness because of Mark, but it would be the first time his sinful thoughts had crossed into reality. Weston couldn’t think of the words. People had tried to pull him before—being a priest seemed to encourage as many people as it discouraged. Weston had always been able to neatly and politely sidestep their advances. None of them had Mark’s piercing eyes. None of them smelled as good as Mark did in that moment. None of them knew him, could see through him, like Mark.
When their lips finally touched, Weston sighed.