The train pulled into the station with all of us looking out of the various windows of the private car that belonged to Artemis and James. The town looked clean and neat with trees and flowers blooming everywhere. Something deep inside of me took a shaky breath and perked up like a tulip after a spring rain. There is great beauty in a desert and I'd enjoyed my time there but this . . . this was like coming home.
Ezra slid his hand into mine and leaned against me. "It's nice."
"It's better than nice, beloved," I kissed his temple. "It's home or it soon will be."
His smile can light up the whole world. "I shall remind you of that as soon as we're alone, my Josiah."
I chuckled and arose from the chair we'd been sharing. The others were peppering our hosts with questions and the excitement in the air was palpable. After long months of having to hide ourselves, this was like a slice of heaven to finally find sanctuary. I had faith in Ezra and by extension, faith in our new/old friends. If they could find acceptance here then surely we seven, now eight, could also.
Walking off the railway car and onto the station platform, I stood aside while James made arrangements for the two cars that held our belongings and new purchases to be transferred to the side tracks where he told us that their car resided in between trips. Mr. Harris, the stationmaster, welcomed us with a cheery smile for us all, but especially for Ezra and me.
It seemed that a book store was exactly what everyone in Nice had been waiting for. I felt the first stirrings of anticipation for our new role in the community and a sudden desire to see the space that we'd soon be transforming into an emporium for readers. All of us grouped together to begin the walk down the shady street to the business section of Nice.
Everyone we met knew Artemis and James so we were introduced to one and all. It slowed us considerably but it was also a good way to get a feel for the town dwellers. I soon had the feeling that this friendly community would welcome us all even if we were a little odd by some standards. Ezra was charming to everyone and I could see the ladies perk up at his Southern accent, which was always just a little heavier when he was meeting people for the first time.
But then we were in front of the bow window of the empty store next to the wood shop and we got a good look at the space. I could barely manage to be polite to the small man with the booming voice that welcomed Buck to his shop. My fingers itched to be measuring the walls while my mind started taking inventory of the sparse furniture that I could see through the dusty windows.
Ezra smoothly got the key from Mr. Farnsworth and pulled me away from the others. Opening the door, we entered the echoing space and took a good long look at the deep room. The walls were in good repair but a rather dingy white that was displeasing. The woodwork was oak but it needed a good cleaning. There was a small counter that jutted out into the middle of the shop and I made a mental note to get rid of it or at least use it someplace else.
"I think we should build a window seat in the bow window with soft cushions that will beckon people to come in and sit." Ezra's voice was dreamy. "Bookcases all along both walls from ceiling to floor will be needed. I'd like a roll top desk back a little further than that counter. We need to paint badly. I'm glad that we got that oriental rug in Chinatown. It will look lovely right here."
He was pacing the front from one side to the other, measuring the oak floor boards. I followed him to check on the counter, to make sure that it wasn't anchored to the floor. "We need to sand down the rough spots and re-varnish the oak. I can see our work is cut out for us."
His smile was luminous. "Yes it is, Josiah. Let's check upstairs."
I followed him to the back room where a few more pieces of furniture were huddled in a group in the middle of the floor. A set of steep indoor stairs were hidden behind a six-paneled door and we went up them with high expectations, at least on my part. The landing had another door that opened onto the sunny front room. The double hung windows were bare and the floor was in the same condition as the downstairs but all in all, it was a nicely proportioned room.
There was a small kitchen to the right and a hallway leading to the back. Ezra was exploring the kitchen cupboards when I opened the next door onto a splendid room with a white porcelain pedestal sink, an oak commode, a dainty Delft tiled coal burning stove and a six foot long porcelain tub. I smiled to myself at the thought of being able to soak with Ezra at the end of a long day.
"Josiah, this is wonderful." Ezra had appeared at my side and his smile was bright. "It looks like we have hot and cold running water in both the kitchen and the bathroom. What are the bedrooms like?"
"I don't know, my love. Let's go see." I held out my hand and he took it before tugging me back down the hall. The next door led to a small room about 10 foot by 10 foot. It was empty of all furniture. The end door opened onto a freshly painted room with a red oil cloth tacked onto the floor boards in the middle of the room. A double bed sat to one side while an oak dresser sat on the other side. A window looked out onto the alley below but the houses on the other side of the dirt alley had their windows well covered with curtains.
"The oil cloth has to go. The mattress needs replacing, I just knew it would." Ezra was prowling around the room, poking the straw mattress and opening the dresser drawers. "The wall color is all right but I think we need to commission a new bedstead and dresser from Buck. We need an armoire also to hang up our suits and tidy away our clothes."
My Ezra is fastidious in the extreme so I just nodded. "We can move this furniture into the other bedroom so it looks like we each have our own room."
He smiled and slid his arms around me. "I know what you're thinking, Josiah. You're thinking that I'm going to take that whole room for my clothes." He nuzzled a kiss into the hollow of my throat. "And I shall but it will still be a nice room to house a guest or two, should Chris and Vin need a place to stay when they're in town."
I just laughed and hugged him close. "We have our work cut out for us, beloved. Why don't we go back to see if Mr. Farnsworth has some readymade furniture that might suit us? We're going to be busy with the rest of the sanding, painting and cleaning."
"An excellent idea, Josiah," he leaned up and kissed me sweetly.
I feasted for a long moment on those kissable lips before pulling away with an admonishing look. "We'd best be careful until we get some curtains up at the windows."
He pouted for a moment then smiled and led me out of our soon-to-be bedroom. "True, my love, unhappily true."
We joined the others in the furniture shop and Ezra spoke with the owner while I took the rest of our friends back to our storefront. They pledged to help us and Artemis gave us the name of several good men who could sand floors and paint. JD and Buck were content with the rooms above the wood shop and they were ready to move in. There was a spare room there as well and for the nonce, Vin and Chris would live there.
Nathan and Rain were eager to see their new cabin so we locked up behind us and began the walk to their property. Artemis was apologizing for the smallness of the log cabin but Rain was smiling at the two rooms while Nathan still looked a little dazed at the speed of events. There was no furniture at all and Buck said that he'd build what ever they wanted. Ezra immediately offered the furniture in our bedroom for the moment.
When they said they couldn't, he reminded them that we'd bought the new mattress in San Francisco and that Mr. Farnsworth had the perfect bed just waiting for us in his shop. He made sure that they knew what a favor it would be for them to take them off our hands and Nathan finally agreed. Ezra surely did have the gift of an agile tongue. But just thinking about tongues made my pants grow tight while I pondered how long it would be before I could get him into a bed.
It was eight hours too long before I accomplished that task.
Ten days later, I looked around our refurbished rooms with a smile of satisfaction. The walls were a bright yellow cream, the floors were gleaming oak, the furniture was sparse but my Ezra had selected each piece so they all went together. The downstairs was still a mess but with the painting done and the last coat of varnish on the floors, we'd soon be setting up shop.
The boxes of books that we bought in San Francisco stayed in the railcar until we had shelves to put them on. We came and went by the back door, taking peeks at the front room and testing the varnish with a quick finger. Another couple of days and we'd be ready to move in.
"It looks a little bare but we can take our time choosing a good piece or two." Ezra startled me by sliding his arms around me. "There are several antique stores in San Francisco that Artemis told me about. And I was thinking that we could hang one of Denver's paintings between the front windows there."
"I liked that one of a storm on the lake." I thought the artist had captured the feeling of swirling waters and gusting wind from low-hanging clouds.
"Me too," Ezra smiled up at me and I couldn't forebear stealing a kiss from his tempting lips. When our lips slid apart, he cupped my cheek and looked deep into my eyes. "Is it home yet, Josiah?"
"It is, Ezra. You're here, our friends are safe and happy, and we are well on our way to opening our bookshop." I thought for a moment and finally captured the elusive feeling. "I love living with you but working with you will be my idea of perfection."
"You won't get tired of me?" He grinned.
"Never, beloved, I could never grow tired of you. You are my life," I kissed him gently and stroked his neck with my hand.
"Hm-m-m," he sighed and arched into my hand just like that kitten I compared him to. "If we didn't have to go help Nathan and Rain, I'd take you back to bed and make mad, passionate love to you."
I chuckled. "I'd like that, beloved. After we finish the building, we'll come back and take a hot bath together then you can do what you wish to me."
His eyes lit up and he planted a hard kiss on my lips. "Yes, beloved."
We gathered our work tools and joined Buck for the walk to our friends' cabin. He was enthusiastic about the bookcases he was making for us and told us that they'd be ready to be fitted into place within the week. The smell of freshly hewn wood is an aphrodisiac to me and it appeared for JD as well since Buck was walking a bit bow-legged this morning. The young sheriff had taken to love-making with a vengeance and Buck constantly had that well-fucked look in his eyes.
I knew the feeling. The others were already working when we got there. We were adding two rooms to the tiny cabin that housed our newly weds, a workroom for Nathan's herbs and a bathroom for the couple. Artemis had 'found' an old tub for them, rather like Ezra had 'discovered' an old rug that didn't fit our new rooms but did fit Nathan and Rain's front room.
Rain had accepted both with alacrity while Nathan began a pro forma protest that never got past the first few words before she sharply elbowed him. Ezra had told them quite sincerely that Rain's freshly baked loafs of bread that Nathan delivered every morning were more than adequate recompense for an old rug. She had a magic hand at baking and was already under contract with the restaurant Anna's to provide them with bread and pies.
The community had welcomed all of us with smiles and offers of help. Dr. Jameson had immediately sat down with Nathan and outlined the syrups, potions and salves that he needed in his practice. Our healer had given him some of the remedies that he'd created in Four Corners and the doctor had been well pleased. Ezra had gotten several herbals for Nathan back when we first came together and Will, as the doctor insisted we call him, approved of them.
So we were all settling in quite nicely, I mused while helping Nathan lift the heavy roof trusses into place. Wellington and Denver had volunteered this morning to help us so we were still seven once JD joined us after his morning rounds. Vin and Chris were off riding the acres of our new ranch and deciding where they wanted to build. That would be our next big project and it would need to be finished before winter set in. But it was high summer now so we had plenty of time to build something big enough for them.
It was more important to build the barn where the new mown hay bales would over winter and give shelter to Pony and Peso. It had to be somewhere near the lake but sheltered from the cold winds that howled down the mountain passes from the nearby ranges. We'd all seen the way the earth berm sheltered Artemis and James' home so that was what Chris and Vin were looking for.
Rain served up a tasty lunch of rabbit stew and fresh baked bread once we finished framing in the two new rooms. After lunch, we finished off the planed board siding while JD and Ezra pounded in the shake shingles on the gently sloping roof. The single fireplace now stood in the middle of the four rooms, so it could heat all four. They'd be looking for a used coal stove to put in the new bathroom for winter but right now it wasn't needed so their efforts went towards the planting that would be their livelihood.
My muscles were pleasantly aching by the time Ezra and I headed for home. Home, what a wonderful word that was, I thought to myself. Squinting my eyes a bit, I thought I could see the bright red geranium that sat on the bedroom window sill. Ezra had come home with it two days before and it was now our beacon that meant we were close.
We stopped for a moment to speak to Reverend Baker about the Sunday sermon that he'd preached just two days before. He was a well-read man and so far I'd enjoyed his thoughtful sermons. He was looking forward to our shop opening and I thought that some of the travel books we'd purchased would soon find a new home with him.
But then we were unlocking our back door and checking the varnish again in the front room. It was no longer tacky so once we were sure that it was completely dry, we'd start moving in our book cases. Wellington had almost finished our roll top desk since he'd had all the pieces ready cut while he waited for an order. Buck liked that idea so he was cutting extra shelves in anticipation of the citizens of Nice seeing ours and wanting some for their own.
I was sure that he was right since he was a real craftsman. Following Ezra up the stairs, I slowly lost my train of thought while I watched his hips sway just a little bit harder than they really needed to. The flirty smile over his shoulder told me that our bath was going to be extra fun for both of us.
And I was very, very right about that.
He took me to bed with both of us hard and aching to come. Spreading out a towel beneath me, he slid inside of me with dedicated fervor, taking me slowly but deeply. I was burning alive when he flooded me with his warmth but he pulled on my balls and stopped me from following him into release.
"Josiah," he sighed and I felt his tongue lick up each knob of my spine. "Turn about is fair play. I want you so far inside of me that I'll cry out your name when I come."
All right, that sounded good to me. I clenched around his spent shaft when he eased from me but his chuckle told me that he knew what I was doing. I tried to glare at him but that's a lost cause when I see his sparkling eyes and bright grin. He knows me very well indeed. His teasing kiss to the end of my inflamed cock made me mock growl.
"Impudence, you're going to be well-loved by the time I'm through with you." I laid him down in my place, his legs going unerringly around my waist, exposing that small entrance that gives me such pleasure.
"I know that, Josiah." This smile was so full of love that I had to kiss him again and again.
But once we got our breath back, he handed me the jar that held our liniment with a look of anticipation on his beautiful face. I warmed it in my hands and cupped his pert buttocks with both hands, sliding my fingers down the cleft that hid his small hole while he wriggled all over.
Slow was what I wanted right that moment although I was hard and aching. There would never be any pain in our bed, not even when he seemed to want it by hurrying me. I slid one finger in past the tight muscle and he moaned, his cock stirring just a bit from where it lay on one thigh. I played it in and out for a long moment until I felt the muscle relax enough for a second finger.
This one came from the other hand and he hissed at the feeling of slippery fullness. "Are my fingers too rough, beloved?"
"Never, Josiah, they just remind me of how beautiful you looked when you were lifting those heavy beams." He panted a little and wriggled some more. "Please, Josiah, come inside me. I'm ready, really I am."
I chuckled although my cock thought that sounded like an excellent idea. I brought one finger out and then slid back in with two more. "One more, little love, then I'm going to slowly slide so far inside of you that I nudge your heart."
"Yes," his hips moved toward me and his inner muscles spasmed around my fingers making my cock twitch in sympathy. "That's what I want, Josiah, you so deep within me that I'll feel you all night and part of tomorrow."
That picture fired my blood and I slid out my fingers before carefully nudging my thick shaft through that tiny entrance. We both groaned when that happened and I felt him quiver around me while his cock began to firm again. I took it slowly, steadily forging as deep as I could get. The velvet soft walls of his channel clutched at me, his heat melting the liniment into slippery bliss.
"Yes," he sighed when I was firmly seated. "I can feel your heartbeat, Josiah, pulsing inside of me like a second heart."
"You have such a way with words, little love." I rocked gently, nudging his gland with every gentle move. This was something that I learned many years ago when I was young and adventurous in the Far East. Aligning my energies with his, we moved in tandem slowly but surely.
His eyes opened and locked on mine, while our hands met between us, clasping palm to palm while we built a steady rhythm. There wasn't much movement but what there was bound us together more surely than a rope could have. Our breaths matched, then our heartbeats and finally, I could feel us merge into one being. Taking and taken, giver and receiver, lover and loved.
I don't know how much time passed before I flooded him with my seed and he pulsed out a little between our stomachs. I do know that we were both wringing with sweat and feeling completely relaxed. I stayed within him while carefully maneuvering one of his legs over to join the other. Then with a slow movement, I slid down to the clean sheets spooning along his back and wrapping myself around him like a blanket, my cock still lodged deep.
"Hm-m, Josiah that was the best yet." His voice was sleepy. "Did you learn that in India?"
I nuzzled the back of his sweaty neck and licked up to the back of his shell-pink ear. "It's called Tantric Taoism in the Far East. I expect it's wasted on the young men there but the older I grow, the more sense it makes. You pace yourself so you can make love for longer periods of time."
"But this was more, love, we . . ." he searched for the right words and I held my breath to see if he really did understand. "We meshed together. It was like being in one body. You were taking me but so was I taking you. It felt . . . right."
I bit his earlobe gently. "That's exactly right, Ezra. The Taoists believe that spirits and also bodies should be shared when two people make love, when two people become as one."
He thought for a moment, his hands caressing mine where they lay crossed over his stomach. "I like that, Josiah. We can't ever get married but this is better. I like being inside your heart and having you inside of mine. I wish everyone could feel this good."
"You have a big heart, little love." I kissed his shoulder. "I like having you inside of my heart, too. Inside of you is always where I want to be."
He chuckled and turned just enough to see me. "We'll have to try it the other way around next time to see if we can do it again."
I kissed him softly and agreed. Whichever way we made love, it would always be the very best for us. But right now I needed a nap and drawing the sheet up over us, I settled in for a little shut-eye before meeting the others at Anna's for dinner.
The end of part 8