Things were humming along with our new compatriots. Wellington enjoyed Buck's stories while lauding his skill with wood-working tools. Reverend Baker and the town council sang the praises of Sheriff Dunne. Will was greatly satisfied with Nathan's apothecary potions and salves. James brought good news from Chris and Vin. They'd found the perfect spot for their homestead and were headed south to collect and drive their cattle to the cove where they'd already built a corral in anticipation of their new herd.
I know that I was enjoying the delicious pies baked by Mrs. Jackson, which reminded me of the wonderful pies at Bertha's in New York and so I had told her. Ezra and Josiah's book shop had not yet opened for business but the grand opening was set for the next Thursday at noon and I planned to be there. At the moment, I was on my way to visit them and see if there was anything that I could do to help.
Knocking at the back door, I was greeted by Josiah's smiling face. "Good day, Josiah. How is it going?"
"Good day to you, Artemis. Come in and see how far we've gotten." He ushered me through the back room full of empty crates and into the newly painted front room where tall gleaming oak bookcases rose from the freshly sanded floor all the way to the tin-pressed ceiling. The shelves on the right side of the shop were mostly filled and my feet headed for them immediately.
Josiah's chuckle told me that he approved of my reaction. "I can see that you will be a frequent customer, Artemis."
"Indeed I will, Josiah." I smiled over my shoulder before scanning the leather bindings. "You've found some gems, my friend. I didn't know that Twain's newest had been published."
"We got it from the Hungry Mind when we were in San Francisco, along with some other treasures." He joined me and pointed out a few of his favorites. We fell to talking and pretty soon, we were playing 'top this story' about our travels. Ezra had found a gem of great price in this man.
"Josiah!" Ezra's excited voice from the back room made his lover smile broadly. "Look and see what I found in the stables."
"What have you found now?" Josiah's indulgent tones told me even more. Whatever it was, he was prepared to accept it.
"Hello, Artemis." Sparkling green eyes met mine. "See, Josiah, they are six weeks old today."
His cupped hands cradled a small furry black kitten with eyes almost the same green of his own. Josiah didn't stand a chance of saying no to the small beguiler. Ezra's excited look told me that they now had a pet that would soon have them wrapped around his or her little paw.
James and I hadn't really talked about pets, since our horses couldn't be considered as such. Taking leave of my friends, I decided to walk past the stables to see if any of the litter was still available for adoption. Cats and I got along very well and we always had. Perhaps James would enjoy one, too.
********* Ezra *********
I looked hopefully into Josiah's smiling face and knew that Nero had found a home. I'd gone to check on Chaucer to give him an apple and a promise for a ride the next day. The tiny mewling had caught my attention and when I peeked into the empty stall beside Solon, I'd found the mother cat nursing five kittens. I'd always wanted one but Maude had forbidden such 'useless baggage'.
There had been many a time when I privately thought that she included me in that description. But that was then and now I had a home, a real home with a man who loved me. Surely he wouldn't mind one small kitten, I thought. When I knelt beside them and stretched out my hand, the little black one had left his mother's teat and pounced on me with baby claws outstretched.
Maybe that meant he'd be a good mouse-hunter? I asked Mr. Little if they were spoken for and he said that only one had a home so far. Luckily, black cats are considered bad luck so it was the yellow tabby that had been claimed. He was pleased to give him to us he said and offered a shallow pan with sawdust for a litter tray. The wood shop always had sawdust so I could refill it when there was need.
"What's his name, Ezra?" The kitten disappeared into one of Josiah's large hands. "He's quite perfect in every way."
Josiah really is the most wonderful man on the face of the Earth. "I thought Nero would be a nice name. I think he'll like curling up on the window seat in the sun. I've never had a kitten before so I hoped you wouldn't mind."
He got that look in his eye that told me he wanted to kiss me but we were standing in the middle of the shop with the shutters pulled back so we were in plain view of the street. "I think we need to go upstairs so we can celebrate our new family member."
I smiled and took his hand to lead him to the back. We could uncrate more books later. Right now, I wanted to shut Nero in the back room so he could explore to his heart's content and take my Josiah upstairs to bed. I loved making love in the middle of the day. Of course, any time was a good time to love the most wonderful man in the world.
********* Josiah *********
My sweet Ezra deserved everything that I could give him and the small kitten was just one more thing of which he'd been deprived. The legend of bad luck was a potent one but it was just superstition at its worst. The number of old women and black cats who had been sacrificed on the altar of righteousness was depressingly large. This little one would know nothing but kindness in our home.
But I didn't have time to think about that now because Ezra was leading me upstairs with a gleam in his eyes that told me I was going to be loved right into our sheets. Nero was set on the gleaming floorboards where he immediately went to work sniffing out all the strange and wonderful smells of his new home. I checked behind me to make sure that he had water and his litter box before turning all my attention to my lover . . .
. . . who was walking up our stairs with just a hint of a sway in his shapely backside. Oh yes, this afternoon was for loving. I followed him with the joyful heart I had finally found after decades of searching. My father would think me blasphemous but I worshiped daily at the altar of Ezra, my own benevolent deity. I had the fanciful thought that not all Muses were feminine since Ezra was all male and the source of all my inspiration.
"Josiah, what are you thinking?" Deft hands were unbuttoning my shirt and I realized we'd reached our destination. "Is there something we should be doing instead?"
The note of hesitation in his voice brought me back to the moment. "Beloved Ezra, there is most assuredly nowhere I'd rather be than right here with you. I was pondering the nature of Muses."
His eyes sparkled up at me. "And you were picturing me as your Muse." His voice held a hint of smugness but why not, he did know me very well. "I like being your Muse, Josiah." His clever hands tugged off my shirt and began to play with the curling hairs on my chest. "I never inspired anybody until you came along. Now, I get to help you and work with you and love you and it's all because you love me. Maybe you were a Muse once upon a time, too?"
I gathered him close, hearing a note of diffidence that in no way belonged in his voice. Scattering little kisses over his beautiful face, I worshiped his pale skin. "Perhaps I was, little love, but you are my own . . . personal . . . Muse . . . right here . . . right now." He was chortling a little when my whiskers tickled that spot just under his jaw. "We are wearing far too many clothes for us to discuss such a weighty topic as philosophy."
His sweet giggle made my heart and groin both jump and I knew he could feel it when he wiggled against me. We took our time undressing each other with gentle touches and soft kisses. It was a day for tenderness and I laid him on our bed with the all the reverence he deserved. Kissing him will never pall so I drank him down like the potent wine he is and knew true intoxication like a well-spring of ancient joy from his lips.
"My . . . own . . . beloved . . . Muse," I kissed my way down his long, elegant throat to the pale pink nipples just waiting for me. "You . . . inspire me . . . to do . . . great . . . and wondrous . . . deeds."
He wiggled and curled his fingers in my chest hair. "Maybe I could inspire you to come inside of me, giving me all your power." He pinched a nipple and I felt the pleasure/pain dart through me. "When you're inside of me, it's like all the best poetry ever written."
"Beloved Ezra," I had no words to tell him how grateful I was he loved me. So I reached for the oil we kept by the bed and began to stretch him. He's always tight around me but watching him shiver all over and turn wanton is the most inspiring sight in the whole world. The gods must have wept when he was sent down from Olympus to be my Muse.
The moment I first breach him is always a tense one for I've never lost the fear of hurting him. But he stretched all those muscles of his and opened his eyes to send a sultry gaze my way. "More, beloved Josiah, give me all of him. Now."
My love is quite demanding in bed and I give thanks daily for that wonderful trait. Sliding in all the way, I found myself held tight by my lover, his arms and legs clinging to me so I was surrounded by him every where. And *that* is true inspiration.
********* James *********
Artemis wasn't where I'd thought he'd be. Wellington said he'd seen him up earlier but the doors were locked on the soon-to-be opened bookstore and no one was in sight there. I said a distracted hello to Martha Caitlin and she laughed and told me she'd just seen Artemis going into the stables. I apologized for hurrying away but she just waved me off. I couldn't imagine why he was in the stables since we'd brought the buckboard and it was tied up outside the bank.
Elijah greeted me cheerfully and pointed to the empty stall beside Josiah's horse, Solon. But it wasn't empty at all for Artemis was sitting on a three legged stool with two kittens crawling over his lap and another one climbing up his leg. Looking up, he saw me and smiled that crinkly smile that's mine alone.
"James, see what lovely kittens Miss Kitty has birthed. Ezra adopted one this morning and I was hoping you'd like to adopt one, too."
"I think that's a good idea, Artemis." I knelt by his side and the kitten climbing his leg detoured over to me when I held out my hand. He was all gray with a tiny star of white on his right front paw. "How very soft they are, Artemis. I don't think I've ever held one so young before."
"Six weeks today and ready to be weaned from their mother." He smiled and cradled a little brown and yellow patchwork kitten. "I think we need one for the house and one for the barn. What do you think?"
The little gray was gnawing on my finger with his baby teeth and I could feel the pitter-patter of his tiny heart beating in his chest. "I think this one would be perfect for the house. He's the same color as the coverlet in the spare guest room."
He chuckled and I had the urge to kiss him right here and now. I had to drop my eyes for fear of giving myself away and I met the kitten's eyes to find they were as gray as the rest of him. "I think his name is Grayson, Artemis. Is that all right?"
"It's perfect." That deep note in his voice told me I'd be kissed as soon as we were private. "I believe this one should be called Patches since she looks rather like a patchwork quilt herself."
"Yes, that's a fine name," I flirted with him and felt his hand pinch my lower cheek. Oh good, I'd needed chastising for hours and hours.
"Well then, it's time we head for home so we can introduce our new citizens to their new home." He stood up after putting the other yellow tabby next to her mother. We carefully left the stall, making sure we didn't step on a kitten unaware. There were still two left with the mother cat and I hoped she'd be all right with loosing some of her children.
But she was busy washing one of them while we settled up with Elijah and walked to the bank and our awaiting buckboard. Young Sheriff Dunne greeted us happily on his rounds and he looked excited at the thought of perhaps getting a kitten of his own once he saw ours. Artemis had driven us in so I would be driving us back to the ranch. He made a small nest for the kittens out of a box that had once held potatoes and now held part of our grocery order. A soft scarf which he'd brought in case a breeze came up made a soft bed for them and they curled up together to sleep almost at once.
We passed the Jackson's cottage with a wave and a cheery 'good day' to the newlyweds. But once we were out of sight of everyone, Artemis laid his hand on my lap. I tightened up at once, wondering if my chastisement would begin soon.
"Teasing-James is one of my very favorite characters." His fingers began undoing my pant's placket. "But turn-about is fair play and I believe it's my turn to tease."
I gulped and turned beseeching eyes to him. "Not all the way back to the ranch, Artemis? Please not that long."
He smiled sweetly and pulled my now rigid cock out of my pants. "That's for me to know and you to find out, sweetheart. Now pay attention to the road while I play with my favorite James-toy. And no noise, my love, you don't want to wake the children."
I gritted my teeth and felt his warm fingers slowly . . . very, very slowly glove my shaft. It was going to be a very long trip.
The end of part nine