Author: Athea (
Fandom: Wild, Wild West
Pairing: Artemis Gordon and James West
Sequel: New, follows 'San Francisco II'
Title: Going Home
Date: 1 April 2001
Artemis, part one

James had surpassed all my expectations with his loving understanding. He was indeed the other half of my heart and soul. I felt light as a feather now that I knew he wouldn't mind taking charge once in a while. He leaned against my arm on the ride to the restaurant, a comforting presence at my side. I was very lucky that his heart was so large, even though I knew that he thought himself cold.

His fire matched my own and in time he would see that. Our future was looking bright indeed. I was looking forward to our next few plays. He'd shown a definite interest in the busy general and his adjunct. Smiling to myself, I wrote a little more of that one. When we arrived at the Union Jack right on time, we found the MacLeod's already sitting at a corner booth near the front windows.

Fergus introduced us and I kissed his wife's hand while James bowed. We were seated next to each other across from my old friend and his charming wife. She glowed with good health, the crisp white linen tablecloth barely hiding her protruding stomach. Our conversation was a mixture of old tales and current news. The meal could have come straight from Simpson's in London with a fine brisket of beef, vegetables and a cheese tray for after dinner.

The wine was from a vineyard in the Napa Valley and pleasant enough but completely undistinguished. Since it was from one of Sheila's friends, I gave her the short version of my appreciation but determined for myself that I would try a different blend of grapes. Of course soils played an important part and the region around Napa wasn't that much further south from our land.

I really was looking forward to next spring. While we were enjoying our after dinner coffee, I felt something like a tremor in my legs. Conversation halted in the dining room and an air of tension filled the restaurant. But when nothing else happened, chatter filled the silence.

"Have you experienced any of our earth tremors first hand?" Sheila asked us casually and I was at a loss as to how to answer.

"I read about them while reading a prospectus about some land near here." James answered her. "They seem to occur in multiples, each one less than the one before."

"Quite right. I grew up with them as a child and they are a nuisance when they hit since they almost always take some glassware or china with them. I recommend that you take a good look at how you store your crystal. We have a hanging rack from which the stems hang and that saves them from falling over and shattering." Sheila said matter of factly and I wondered how she could be so calm.

Fergus snorted. "I've been here for six years and I have yet to experience anything larger than a severe shaking that lasted about twenty seconds. But it was still an unnerving experience for me. Sheila never turns a hair and I usually have to sit down because my legs are shaking."

"Is that why the shop's bookshelves have that lip on the front edge?" I had wondered why that was there.

"Yes, indeed. Picking up after piles of books have cascaded to the floor is an onerous task that I try to avoid." He smiled at me and I nodded.

"We shall have to ask our neighbors what kind of tremors might reach us north of Clear Lake." I said to James and he nodded, making a mental note. I knew it would get done if he made the note because his brain never let go of anything. "Perhaps there's a good book on the subject?"

Fergus laughed. "There is but it's currently out of print. The University of California is moving up here to Berkley next year and I'm hoping their press comes too. One of their professors, a Dr. Anton wrote a book on the Ecuador earthquake of 1868 in which over 70,000 people were killed. His theory is that there will be such a quake here in California within the next thirty years. He's a geologist and writes most convincingly, if a bit alarmingly."

"Nonsense, Fergus, gloom-and-doomers have been predicting that since my parents moved here in 1848. I'll believe it when I feel it." Sheila mock-scowled at her husband and he took her hand to kiss in apology. It was good to see their loving rapport with one another. "Don't scare off good people like Artemis and James. We need them if the state is to keep growing."

"Never fear, sweet lady, we have put down our roots and intend to stay." I assured her with a smile and she dimpled across the table at me. "Fergus, put us down for a copy of Dr. Anton's book if it ever comes out again. Which reminds me, are there any good used bookstores in town?"

He nodded and gave us full particulars about his competitors. I've noticed that unlike other trades, bookstore owners never seemed to feel threatened by others who sell books. They seem to have the attitude that so long as readers exist, there will be room for anyone who wants to sell and buy books. That's refreshing after some of the trade wars that other industries indulge in.

We shared a carriage back to their home and made plans to get together again on our next visit to San Francisco. Fergus promised to keep us informed about some of the subjects we'd given him and it was nice to know that we had such a good bookseller just a day's journey from us. That would cut down the time in bringing us our new books. James suggested we try some of the used stores the next day and I agreed.

I reminded him that we also needed to go furniture shopping for the spare rooms since Denver would be coming for a visit shortly. We climbed the stairs to the sixth floor since neither of us wanted to take the elevator after that small tremor. I admitted to him that it made me feel uneasy and he agreed instantly. He has never liked small-enclosed places. We got ready for bed and were asleep by midnight.

The bed was moving and I awoke with a pounding heart, clutching James to my chest. It barely lasted ten seconds but both of us were wide-awake when it finished.

"Another tremor." He said, slipping from my arms and going to the window to look out. "Some of the street lights are out around the hotel. Can you smell gas?"

We both took a good sniff but smelled nothing. "The hotel may have a different gas line than the streets. Below ground, the shaking might have been more intense and snapped a line or two. Don't stand so close to the window. Come back to bed."

He slid back in and hugged me tight. "I wonder if Nice has ever felt one of these tremors. They feel very odd."

I settled back down with him pulled over me like a security blanket. "We will find out the moment we get home. 'Odd' isn't strong enough. Scary fits much better."

"Don't worry, my Artemis, we'll be going home soon and our house is so strongly built that we'll be fine." He cuddled closer and began to suckle at my breast, which calmed me instantly.

"Indeed, sweet James, I will be glad to get home." I stroked the curls on his neck. "We need a barber tomorrow. We're getting quite shaggy."

He hummed his agreement and I fell asleep to that comforting sensation. Morning dawned clear and crisp without any more of those tremors to disconcert us. The clerk at the front desk recommended a good barber and we came forth from his hands, shaven and shorn to perfection.

Furniture shopping went well since we were only buying some of the things that we didn't want Wellington to build for us. Three mattresses and one bed came first then we picked out two armoires for the spare rooms in the house. We chose several mirrors, some freestanding and one large one for my bedroom. I was hoping that Abigail and Penelope would come for a visit so I chose a dressing table with tilting mirror for one of the spare bedrooms.

That was extremely satisfying and when we finished checking off all the items on our list, James asked to go back to the Fisherman's Café for lunch. I agreed since we probably wouldn't have time on Friday. This time we chose the swordfish and sighed happily over the delicate sauce that accompanied it. The cherry cobbler was delicious with a scoop of slowly melting vanilla ice cream that provided a rich creaminess that made me want to lick the bowl.

James practically inhaled his and I made a note to make some once we returned home. After lunch, we visited two of the used bookstores and made some minor purchases but neither one had the quality of Peter's shop in New York. We had several commissions for some of our friends and spent the rest of the afternoon filling them. The textile shops had such a profusion of yarns and silks that poor James was bewildered by all the choices.

But I had lists from each lady as to colors and types and the store clerks were quick to help. The women of Nice were all going to be knitting, crocheting and cross-stitching for Christmas this year. There were several pattern books newly available and I immediately bought them for our friends. They could share them amongst themselves.

James was intrigued by the different waxes in the shop we visited for Martha's order. The dyes were so various that I went a little overboard and bought some of every color. The wax and wick order made the clerk gulp before beaming happily. James just smiled at me and nodded agreement. The Caitlin's were such artists that they deserved the very best ingredients for their candles.

We went back to the hotel for a quick cleanup before meeting Denver for an early dinner. Firming our invitation to have him come for a visit, we set a date and told him to telegraph us when he was on his way. He asked if he could bring his sketching materials and we agreed with a smile, telling him of the beauty to be found on our land.

Then he went off to the theater for an evening of acting while James and I leisurely walked back to the hotel. A shiver of cold shook me and I looked around to find that tendrils of fog had begun curling around the gaslights. James smiled when I mentioned it and reminded me of our last trip here when the fog had been virtually impenetrable.

We linked arms and kept walking through the misty air. I've always enjoyed fog for the way it revealed and obscured the everyday world around us. It was so mysterious that I felt my senses expanding to compensate for the loss of clear vision. Fog has its own smell, cold and dank. Footsteps echoed wetly around us and other walkers appeared and disappeared.

James shivered against me, looking up and smiling. "It reminds me of the night that Count Vlad took me in."

James, part two

He smiled and his accent changed to the Transylvania tones that so intrigued me. "It is indeed, young James. When we are safely inside, I believe that it is time for my evening ... milk."

"Yes, it has been some time since we went riding." I reminded him with a shy look up.

Artemis chuckled and pulled me a little closer, swinging his cane with a flourish. "You're looking a little flushed, James. I'll need to check your temperature after our bath."

I wiggled all over at that thought. "Yes, I am feeling a little warm, Count Vlad. Perhaps some of that cooling cream would help."

"Whatever it takes, James, I will be sure to take every care of you. Perhaps we should have another dessert for later?" He nodded to the doorman at Hill House and let me go so I could retrieve the key from the front desk. He tilted his head toward the elevator but I shook my head.

Stopping at the Singing Swan, we ordered their chocolate cake and a large pot of tea to be sent to our rooms before heading upstairs. We took them slowly since we were both rather fatigued from our intensive walking of the day. By the time we arrived and had shed our outer jackets, a knock on the door announced the arrival of our dessert.

Setting them on the small table in the corner, the server bowed, took his tip and shut the door behind him. Artemis finished closing all the drapes while I lit the lamp on the dresser. We met in the middle of the room for a kiss and his arms wrapped around me, holding me tight and lifting me almost off my feet.

"Sweet James, how very long the day has been with only three hasty kisses to sustain me. I believe that I need some of your seed to invigorate me." He still had his gloves on and the leather stroking my neck hardened me completely. I arched into it and he chuckled. "Disrobe for me, my young convert, I need to see your flesh again."

I pulled just far enough away to begin unbuttoning my shirt while he knelt to remove my boots. His fingers undid my pants and slowly pulled them down to puddle at my feet. The silk boxers I was wearing had tented in front and he gently pulled them over my painfully hard cock. I let my shirt slip off my shoulders and was finally naked at the same moment he slid his mouth over me.

My hands went to his head to card through the soft waves of his freshly cut hair while he engulfed me to the root. He feasted on my cock as if it was the chocolate cake that he enjoyed so much. I trembled again and again but he pressed the nerve with gloved fingers and denied me my climax. When I had a death grip on his head, he finally relented and swallowed around me until I released explosively into his hot, wet mouth.

Locked knees were the only thing keeping me upright when he slowly let me slip from him and stood to take me in his arms. He was still completely dressed and it felt very wanton to feel all that cloth against me instead of his warm skin. Kissing me, he shared my taste with languid strokes of his tongue.

When we finally broke apart to breathe, I started unbuttoning his shirt, intent on baring that beautiful chest to my touch. He stilled and let me take my time, perhaps knowing how much I wanted to cherish him. Unbuttoning his pants, I stroked Artie through the silk boxers and wondered if I'd be able to get them off over his steel-hard cock.

His boots came off, then his pants and shirt. Smiling down at me, he stroked my hair while I gently eased the elastic waistband over Artie and gave him a preliminary lick. Something told me that he was going to be insatiable tonight and I smiled up at him, catching the gleam in his eye that confirmed my suspicion.

He drew me up into his arms and kissed me lingeringly before leading me into the bathroom. "My sweet James, I believe that a hot bath will warm you up and perhaps release a little more of that tasty seed I need to survive."

I laughed and turned on the hot water while he poured in a little of his favorite oil. The rising steam cleared my sinuses and I took a deep breath and held it while Artemis stroked my back soothingly. I was really looking forward to going home. Big cities became more suffocating the longer we stayed.

"Soon, sweetheart, we'll be home soon." He read my mind while a slick finger sank into me. I wiggled a little to get him deeper and he obliged me by flicking my gland to spark the heat. "Let's get into the tub so I can ... warm you completely."

He pulled out of me and helped me into the steaming water, following me in and holding me close. We washed each other slowly and carefully then I lay on his chest to suckle at his nipples while he tenderly slid two fingers of cream inside of me. His legs held mine apart while he prepared me for Artie. All too soon I was panting and trying to get him further inside.

"I'm burning up, Count Vlad, now that you've taken my temperature, won't you please put out the fire?" I wiggled over Artie and could have cheered when he took out his fingers and lifted me onto him. He slid just inside my guardian muscle and let gravity take its course.

My head fell back while he filled me completely. His hands soothed my stomach muscles before coming up to pinch my nipples. With his knees slightly bent, I had a backrest but I didn't use it because I needed to move. Flexing around him, I rose up an inch then down, rocking gently but gathering speed. He helped me by gloving Jim slowly. I wanted to take it slow but he felt so good inside of me that I began to move more quickly. His chuckle told me that he knew what I was feeling but when I would have come, he pinched the nerve and stopped me.

"No, James, you shall not deprive me of my immortality." He lifted me off of Artie while I shook with the need to come. Then I was floating in the hot water while he engulfed Jim and swallowed around me until I came. I held onto my wits with an effort of will that surprised me.

I think part of me didn't want to drown even though I knew that Artemis wouldn't allow it. His chuckle when he let my spent organ slip from his lips told me that he knew what I was thinking. "Poor James, I believe I've worn you out."

A smile took all my energy but he drew me up into his arms and turned me so I could lie on his chest. With a nudge, he slid Artie back inside my warmth, content to just be surrounded by my heat while we rested. My head lay on his shoulder while his tongue outlined my ear and nibbled on my ear lobe. His fingers slowly circled my nipples and pinched the unadorned one gently.

"Artemis, may we just rest alone this weekend and not work until Monday? I'd like to do some riding over our land in the fresh air and try to find the hot water spring that the Pomos told me about." I twisted my head a little to see his face.

"Of course we can, James. Reconnecting with the spirit of the land after this journey into the city is just what we need. I'm turning into a confirmed country dweller." His chuckle shook both of us. "Such a turnabout wouldn't have been believed before you came into my life, my dearest love. Thank goodness."

I flexed around him. "I'm glad that you don't pine after the big city, Artemis. I don't think I could live in one again. Brief visits are all my soul can tolerate."

"I agree, sweetheart." He kissed my ear and sighed. "Shall we get out and dry off so I can impale your tempting ass in bed?"

I clenched around him and wiggled. "Please, Count Vlad, I need you to impale me over and over until I make more seed for you."

Sitting up, I slowly peeled off of him and felt the emptiness that only he can fill. We dried each other and I took great care to pat Artie with the towel before licking him from top to bottom. Artemis laughed out loud and drew me up and over his shoulder, spanking my cheeks with every step into the bedroom. That had Jim perking up and he tried to come back to life with every slap.

Artemis laid me over his lap and gave me the spanking that I craved, warming my skin to fire engine red while Jim slowly hardened for the third time. When he let me slip to the floor, I wondered what he had in store for me. The gleam in his eye told me that we'd be trying something new.

"I believe it's time for some dessert, James." He sat in one of the chairs at the table, turning it so he was sideways to the table where our cake sat. Patting his lap, he waited for me to come to him. He pulled one of my legs over the left chair arm and I saw what he had in mind.

It took a little stretching but eventually, I was straddling his lap and he was guiding Artie inside of me. I'd never felt so open; my leg muscles maxed between the arms of the sturdy chair. As he pierced me, I shook at his size, his girth never seeming so wide before. I was panting at the exquisite almost-pain and he let me take my time until I once again sat in his lap. It felt like he was so deep that he'd never be able to come out.

"Too much, love?" He asked me anxiously.

"No, just so very deep inside of me that if feels like he might nudge my heart." I opened my eyes and smiled into his.

He pulled me in and kissed me softly. "I always want to touch your heart the way you have touched mine. Now, let's have a cup of tea and some of this decadent cake with cherries on top."

Bringing the plate between us, he cut some and fed it to me. We shared the cake while he pulsed inside of me, seemingly content to just rest within my internal grip. We took turns drinking the strong tea from a single cup, first at his lips then to mine. That seemed so intimate a thing to do, even more than the way we were joined. When we were done, he set the china aside and reached down to hold Jim in a warm grip.

"Now, James, we haven't had a good workout lately so I think it's time for you to do some exercising while I count for you. I think 25 sit-ups would be a good place to start." The gleam in his eye told me that this would be fun.

Putting my hands on his shoulders for leverage, I used my upper thigh muscles to raise me off his lap until Artie was almost out then slowly let myself sink back onto the thick column of flesh that felt so good. By the time I'd done that twenty times, I was sweating.

"Five more, young James and I think I'll change the exercise." He tightened his grip just a little on Jim and I shook hard before concentrating on the last few sit-ups. "Four ... three ... two ... last one ... Excellent, James." Then he surged up from the chair while my legs wrapped around his waist automatically. He was still inside of me and each step nudged my gland until I was writhing in his arms with the need to come.

Artemis, part three

James was moaning continuously now and I decided to grant his release before continuing our evening of love. Laying him on the bed, I slowly drew out of his hot depths while his inner muscles clenched to keep me inside. Shaking my head fondly, I leaned over and sucked him deep. His hips snapped up and he came almost immediately.

I drank down his scanty offering and let him slip from my lips while he passed out. His stamina was astounding. But I had something else in mind so I turned him over onto the clean sheets and left him for a moment to get our jar of cream and a towel from the bathroom to lay beneath him. I moved him into the middle of the bed and put a pillow beneath his stomach. Then I began to slide more cream inside of him to make sure that he was well lubricated.

"Hm-m-m, that feels good, Artemis." His sleepy voice told me he was back with me. "I think I have a new definition for the word 'insatiable'."


"Yes, it's Count Vlad, the Impaler." His chuckle released my own.

"Indeed, the Count is enjoying himself immensely, sweet James." I nudged his entrance and he opened sweetly for me, catching his breath and moaning just a bit.

"If you're not too tired, my young friend, I have another ... exercise for you." I sank into his warmth and kissed the back of his neck.

"Oh-h-h, I love it when you're deep inside of me, Count Vlad. What kind of exercise?" The curiosity in his voice told me that he was ready to play again.

I made sure his legs were together, placing my feet either side of his and raising up until Artie was almost out of his warm haven. "Push-ups, my fine young steed."

He caught on immediately and curled his toes before pushing up with his torso and driving me into his depths with a groan. His arms were shaking and the bed was really too soft for it but he managed ten push-ups before collapsing onto the mattress.

"We'll have to practice this at home, Count Vlad. Perhaps on the mats in our new gym?" He twisted his head to look ruefully at me and I leaned in to kiss him.

"I shall indeed be riding this lovely ass in the near future but right now, I think your poor back has had enough of a work out." I eased out of him and felt him flinch. "James, are you sore?"

He shifted over before wrapping his legs around my waist and tugging me down to his tempting lips. "Not too sore for you, my delicious Count. Come back and let Artie slide deep inside of me, where he always should be."

I found no resistance when I slid back inside of him. Kissing each other slowly and tenderly, I thrust in and out until with a squeeze from his velvet channel, I released. He sighed against my lips and I rolled us to our sides before reaching for the towel to catch any dribbles. The deep chime of a nearby clock in the Episcopalian Church tower rang twelve and I realized that it was now Friday, the day we would return home.

Home ... what a lovely word and one that I hadn't known before James came into my life. The man in my arms had my whole heart and I felt greatly cherished by his friendship. "James, we have a busy day planned, taking delivery of all our purchases. When does the train take us back home?"

"The 5:50 express is the one we'll be hooked to going back. It won't get us in until Saturday morning at about noon. You'll be able to get groceries from Mrs. Henry and we can take the first load of purchases back with us." He clenched around me with a pout but his inner muscles finally pushed me out.

I kissed him gently in recompense and rolled out of bed to get a cloth to clean us. The logistics of moving all our purchases to our new home were daunting but I had a feeling that James had already planned it to the smallest detail. Turning out the lights, I rejoined him and pulled him close.

"Sweetheart, should we set up the new bed in our rail car so we have something bigger for our journeys?" I softly kissed his lips and felt him smile.

"Yes, we need more room to play on our long trips. And we will probably want to travel back to the East Coast next year to catch up on things. I want us to be comfortable when we do." He yawned and I followed suit in unconscious imitation. "When should we get to the rail yards in the morning?"

"Ten should be fine. If the furniture arrives first, that would be advantageous since the mattresses would be a nice cushion for all the mirrors we bought." I closed my eyes and banished the list from my mind so I could drop off. "Sleep now, my James. I love you."

"Love you too, my Artemis." His sleepy murmur followed me into sleep.

We arose early, partly from excitement and packed our things before taking our suitcases downstairs and leaving them with the porter while we had breakfast. We ate heartily, in case we didn't have time for lunch. The doorman whistled up a cab for us and wished us a safe trip and speedy return.

James had a list already made up and we went over it on the trip to the rail yards. The stationmaster had already taken delivery of the herbs from Chang's Apothecary and our rugs were rolled up in a corner of his office. We hired two men from the yard at his recommendation and they carried the rugs into our parlor car where they'd be safe. James and I took the two boxes of herbs into his old bedroom.

He went to check on the empty boxcar that he'd ordered attached to ours while I opened the shipping crates to check that all the herbs were there. On top of the glass jars with the heavy cork lids was a thick packet with a note attached to it. Chang wrote that the seeds he'd enclosed were from his cousin's garden and the merest trifle but it would please him if I would accept them in the spirit of one healer to another.

The seeds were carefully labeled and almost every herb I wished to grow had been included. They were quite priceless to me and I thought happily of the garden I would plant in the spring. It was a delicate compliment to me, giving me the seeds of new life in repayment of my care of his great-great nephew.

The more I thought about it, the better I felt about hiring the Li's. I enjoy a diverse community and the smallness of Nice might tend towards clannishness. With the addition of the Pomo Indians to our work force, our ranch would be a good mixture of different races. It was not what the outside world would consider normal but I was hoping to plant a seed of tolerance that might grow to encompass the whole state.

Chuckling to myself at my grandiose ideas, I made the bed in his room and went to find my lover. The crates of my scientific equipment arrived and I watched anxiously while they fitted them across one end of the boxcar. But James had the measurements down to the inch and they all fit. While they were being loaded, the bed and mattresses arrived.

I took two of the men and had them set up the bedstead in our room with one of the mattresses as well. Once they left, I made the bed up with some of the sheets and blankets from James' armoire. Then I poured water into the heater so we could light it once the train was in motion. Hurrying back to the rapidly filling boxcar, I was in time to see the antique mirror arrive. I took the heavily wrapped box with the tea set into the parlor so it would be safe.

The painting arrived at almost the same moment and I placed that crate in James' room. I quickly filled the parlor with the constantly arriving packages of threads, wax and dies. We'd had extraordinary good luck with our lists. Fergus brought the crate of books himself and we had a nice chat before he left us with a cheery farewell. It was after one and I was starting to get hungry but except for a few tins, we had nothing in our larder.

James came in with the news that everything was loaded and he'd padlocked the car under the eagle eye of the stationmaster. He'd hired someone to watch the cars so we could go and have lunch. With a sense of relief, I locked the parlor car and took James for one last meal at the Fisherman's Café. The shark was delicious and their strawberry shortcake exquisite. We ordered the shrimp to take with us along with a quart of their coleslaw and some raspberry tarts they'd made up for the dinner crowd.

Back at the railway station, the stationmaster told us where the ice merchant was and once we'd sent him a message, a block of ice appeared for the icebox. Several more containers of water appeared as well and I thanked James for thinking ahead to the evening. It was almost five o'clock and it felt like we'd been doing heavy labor.

James was still humming along and I reached out a long arm, snagging him when he tried to go by to check on the painting. Pulling him down into my lap, I kissed him in thanksgiving for his hard work. He smiled into the kiss and curled around me on the settee, his hands stroking my face. I wanted to stay this way forever.

But eventually we had to breathe and his chuckle told me that I'd been caught out.

"Artemis, are you, by any chance, trying to seduce me into our new bed?" He wiggled over Artie, awakening him to life.

"Could I?" I arched an eyebrow and he crowed with laughter. For some reason, my ability to wiggle different parts of my face was something he never tired of seeing.

"I suppose we should try it out since we couldn't in the store." He leaned back in and kissed me sweetly while his hands made speedy work of unbuttoning my shirt.

I'd already removed my jacket and vest so very shortly he was tickling my skin to life. His buttons weren't easy to undo since he was intent on suckling at my peaking nipples. But I persevered and gradually got to the satin skin I loved to stroke. We had more than enough time to make love leisurely and with great care. The shrimp and coleslaw could be eaten as late as we'd like. Our bath could come now or later, whenever we wished.

Being a gentleman of leisure after a busy week was a role I was more than willing to play. Especially when I had such a beautiful partner with whom to play.

"Artemis, what are we going to tell everyone about the Li's?" James stopped his dedicated suckling and looked up at me. "They don't need to know about the rape or the fact that Ping is a bastard, do they?"

"Heavens, no! They are merely a grandmother and her widowed daughter with a beautiful baby boy to raise." I smiled at his earnest frown. "It's not Ping's fault that he wasn't conceived in love and born out of wedlock. It will be hard enough when he goes to school without any other children of his race. Unless the Li's attract other Chinese to our ranch."

James, part four

"Maybe the gardener really loves Ling and after a time they will marry and have other sons and daughters." I ventured and he nodded with a smile.

"Exactly what I was thinking, sweetheart. I love the way you read my mind." He stroked my shoulders and I relaxed into the loving massage. "We'll also have the Pomo children growing up on our land. I'd like to teach all of them to read and write so they have more choices than their parents do."

More strays, I thought to myself with a smile. My Artemis had such a large heart that there seemed to be room for everyone. Leaning forward, I kissed his soft lips and they opened immediately to invite me inside. Sliding my tongue around his tasty mouth, I caught a hint of the strawberries we'd had for dessert and perhaps just a bit of the grilled shark.

The car shivered around us and we stopped kissing to listen. The earth tremors we'd felt earlier had stayed in my mind and I wondered if this was another. But the sound of clanking reassured me and the jerks that meant we were being added to the freight cars headed north brought a smile to my face.

"I enjoyed our shopping, my love, but it feels very good to be going home. Cities are noisy places and I now prefer our open spaces and the natural sounds of wind and water." Artemis sighed and held me close before surging up to carry me back to our bedroom. I clung to his broad shoulders and enjoyed the feeling of flying that he gave me whenever he carried me.

"Now, we'll see if this mattress is worth the princely sum we paid for it." He lowered me to the warm green blanket and I wiggled just a little at the fuzzy texture against my bare back. He was busy removing my boots then my pants while I watched him with longing. I needed him to make love to me in the worst way. The more of him I have, the more I want.

He finished stripping me and sat on the edge of the bed to remove his own boots just as the car gave a lurch then another and yet another. I sat up and hugged him from behind to help him keep his balance, my hands sliding through the dark pelt of hair I loved to feel on my skin. His chuckle told me that he knew what I was thinking and he plucked one of my hands free to bring to his lips.

Placing a kiss in the palm of my hand, he let go so he could finish pulling off his boots. My fingers slid down to his pants and I had them mostly unbuttoned by the time he leaned back against me. Artie was nice and hard beneath the dark cloth and I freed him with glee. Artemis stood up and slid the pants off, flinging them onto the chair by the door instead of hanging them up.

That told me that we'd be playing immediately and I slid towards the headboard while he moved back onto the bed like a hungry lion, stalking me for his meal. Even his growl was leonine and I shivered a little at all that power focused on me. He rolled me on top of him and kissed me thoroughly while his hands stroked my back down to the swell of my buttocks.

I wiggled again at the wonderful feel of his fingers sliding down my cleft and I let my legs fall to either side of his hips so his access was unimpeded. We were going to need a jar of cream and I wondered if he'd thought to put one under a pillow when the car began to jerk again.

He chuckled and rolled us to our sides while the cars tried to make up their minds which way they were going. We were still kissing and when I felt the cold jar of cream at my back I would have cheered but my tongue was otherwise engaged. He slid one of his legs between mine so he had more room to work and soon, a slick finger was rubbing over my entrance, which spasmed open for him at once.

My body knew what it wanted and that was Artie who was poking me in the balls, eager to pierce me once again. I groaned when the finger became two and then three. The train was slowly moving now with no further jerks and stops so we must be leaving the rail yards behind.

Then he rolled me under him and slid my legs over his shoulders, bending me almost in half. Rocking gently, he nudged Artie against my entrance and slowly pierced me while I tried to open myself completely. He's always so warm inside of me and when I can feel his heartbeat pulse too, I feel as if we're one body instead of two.

"Sweet James, how very beautiful you look in the dim light. And how very good you feel around me." He let my legs fall to his hips and I tightened them around his waist. "Sweetheart, I think I love you more today than yesterday. I always tell myself that I can't possibly because my heart and soul are already yours. But somehow," he kissed me tenderly until we had to breathe, "I find that it's true."

"Someone told me once that we shed every inch of our skin every seven years." I tried to remember what the boring teacher had said. "If that's true, then we're all new physically in that time. So, the part of us that's new has to fall in love for the first time."

He chuckled and began to rock inside of me, nudging my gland and warming me all over. "Who ever told you that spoke truly, my James. We will have to make sure that we make enough time to ensure that all of us stays deeply in love."

I arched up a little and slid my hands up and down his biceps. "We will, my Artemis. Every part of me wants to love every part of you and I always shall. Oh there, Artemis, right there."

And right there was where he began to thrust, using his powerful legs to brace himself against the mattress. I was burning alive and moaning continuously while he gave me his love with sure strokes that heated the room around us. I held onto him not even caring that Jim was being tortured against the soft curls of his stomach. All the oxygen in the room seemed to have leaked away and I was panting to get enough air.

Then he took my mouth in a searing kiss that flashed through my body and exploded Jim between us. All my muscles locked into place while I pulsed out my seed. And deep inside, Artie flooded me with liquid warmth. Slowly, my legs fell to either side of his and I held onto his arms with a weakening grip. His weight gradually pressed me into the sheets and I felt his breath at the side of my throat.

Nothing had ever felt this good and I knew in my most secret heart that nothing ever would. Loving Artemis and being loved by him was worth every beating my Father gave me. Every hurtful word and deed were nothing when compared to the respect and love that my lover gave me with every touch of his hand. I remembered Father lambasting the English Church once about the blasphemous line in their wedding ceremonies.

'With my body, I thee worship.'

Poor Father never realized how very true that statement was or how very right it was to worship another's body when you loved them. A new thought came to me just then while I hugged Artemis closer. Maybe Father had loved Mother that way and when she died, he gave up loving anyone else ever again. I knew that's how I would react if anything ever happened to Artemis. Shivering a little, I tried to pull the blanket up over us.

"Cold, sweetheart? Hold on a moment and I'll get a cloth to clean us. Then we can take a nap while the water is heating." He kissed me gently and rolled us so we could unpeel from each other.

I hate it when he leaves me since the emptiness is a reminder that we were two bodies instead of one. But he kissed me immediately to fill the empty spot before leaving the bed to get something with which to clean us up. I pulled the blankets up higher from the foot of the bed so we'd have a cozy nest to cuddle in and he was soon back with a damp cloth and a hand towel to catch the dribbles.

Leaking on the sheets was something I enjoyed doing when it was Artie's juices from inside of me. Soon he rejoined me under the covers, pulling me over him like another blanket. I suckled on a tasty nipple while his hands smoothed down my back with long strokes that felt so good.

"Love, do you think that we can get the cottage up by the time winter sets in?" He asked reflectively.

Abandoning his nipple for a moment, I thought about it. "Yes, I'm pretty sure we can. It will be about the same size as your laboratory on the outside but with five rooms inside instead of two. The laborers we hired before should still be available. There's plenty of wood for framing timbers. The red brick tiles are in abundant supply and Mr. Whipple seems to really enjoy the plastering. I think we can get it up within the month."

"That soon?" He nodded slowly. "That would be about right, James. I'd like them settled in before the bad weather hits. Winter can be so messy although we're not really sure what our new land has in store for us. I'd like to be done building by Christmas. That should be a joyful time, not a frantic working to a schedule."

"Oh, Christmas." I said faintly, for the first time remembering that holiday would be upon us in two months time. It had never been a good time for me since Father grew harsher as the season came nearer. The beatings grew longer and harder while the searing words of disapproval carved their way into my soul.

"James, what's wrong? You're shivering." Artemis held me close and I tried to tell him what I was remembering but the words came disjointedly while I trembled. In a whisper, I finally ran out of words. He kissed me gently and rolled us so he anchored me to the bed with his body. I felt safe here in his arms but cold, so very cold.

"I love you, my James, and nothing you tell me could ever make me stop loving you. It sounds to me as if your father was a man caught in Hell and unable to climb out. His harshness and cruel words were the ravings of a man striking out at the only person over whom he had complete control." He paused to kiss me again and I felt a little warmer with his words.

"Some parents should never be allowed to have children and I wish I could go back and erase all the pain you felt. But I'm so proud of you for rising above his hateful messages to become the wonderful man you are." His lips traveled tenderly over my face, ghosting soft caresses across my skin. "You're brave and strong and true, my James. I love you more every day and you continue to amaze me with your resiliency. Will you mind if I bring part of my memories of Christmas to our home?"

I nodded shakily while he continued to love me with his lips and hands. "I don't know much about celebrating but I will try not to disappoint you, my Artemis."

"You could never disappoint me, sweetheart." He kissed me again then drew back far enough to look down into my face. "I promise to give you many fun memories to replace the horrible ones of your youth, James. All I ask is that you tell me when you need to step back and rest for a while. The holidays can become too frantic and lose the joy of the season."

"I promise, Artemis. Please just keep loving me even if I'm being silly." I said tremulously into his serious dark eyes.

Artemis, part five

I wished his father everlasting torment in the deepest layer of Hell. I should have realized that the holidays would be a minefield. His father had obviously been a deeply depressed individual and Christmas was a well-known trigger of psychotic behavior. My poor James had suffered such appalling abuse as a child that I had to consciously push away my righteous anger at his treatment to soothe his current pain.

"Loving you isn't something I could ever stop doing, my James. You are a part of my heart and soul and you always will be. I promise you that I will always be there for you to lean on when you're feeling silly or sad. All you ever have to do is just look at me and I'll be there at once." I kept mapping his face with my lips to try and warm the cool skin.

"I love you too, Artemis, and I always will." He finally hugged me back and I felt part of the weight of his sorrow leave him. I don't know how I knew it but I did.

"Good, now I think the water might be hot enough for us to have our bath." I pulled back far enough to check on him. He was still pale and rather shaky. "Let's get you warmed up then we'll have some quiet time and that delicious shrimp for dinner."

He nodded quietly and I rolled out of bed before picking him up and carrying him into the bathroom. He clung to me and I kept my conversation general while we prepared our bath together. Soaping him was always fun and he revived enough to cleanse me thoroughly. While we rested in the steamy water, I held him close and he rested his head on my chest.

"I like hearing your heart beat, Artemis." His whisper floated up to my ears. "It reminds me that you love me."

"With every beat, my James, I love you." I smoothed my hands over his back, concerned with the slight chill I could still feel there. "Sweetheart, I believe that I shall prepare our dinner so we can have a picnic in bed. We've haven't done that yet."

"A picnic?" He raised his head and looked with bewildered eyes into mine.

"But of course, my love. Do you mean that you've never had a bed-picnic?" I clucked in dismay and urged him up. "Well, by all means, we shall have to have one then."

I toweled him briskly and got his robe wrapped around him with a pair of slippers to keep him from getting a chill. Then I made sure that he helped me prepare our dinner so he wouldn't have time to brood over his perceived failings. I regaled him with stories of Aunt Maude's indulging me when I was little. He even laughed once so I redoubled my efforts to keep him cheerful.

Soon, we were ensconced in our bed with pillows piled around us and our feast on a tray shared on our laps. We fed each other slowly with many soft kisses to sweeten our food. I could see that the holidays would be onerous but I was determined to free him from the chains of his old memories. Slowly but surely, we were coming to an understanding of our new relationship. These little land mines were sure to come up now and again but we'd come through each one intact and even more in love than ever.

James licked my fingers after he plucked the shrimp from them and I could feel that raspy tongue all the way down to my toes. So, I leaned over and licked his lips, which parted for me at once. He chuckled when I stole the small shrimp nugget from him then stole it back with an inspired swipe of his tongue.

I granted him his victory and let him chew in peace while I spooned up some coleslaw to feed him next. But he chose a bit of biscuit slathered in butter to feed me and I accepted it with a nip to his fingers. We played with our meal until the dessert was reached and we settled in to feed each other the warmed up raspberry tarts. The only thing better would have been some vanilla ice cream to go with them.

James was in ecstasy, closing his eyes and savoring each bite very slowly. The sight of him hardened me completely and I set the tray aside so I could push back the covers. He was only half-hard and I set about remedying that situation. He moaned when I sucked his cock deep, slowly mouthing up and down the long shaft I loved. One hand stroked through my hair while he finished his tart with the other hand.

"Oh, Artemis, I do love you. Are we going to make love every time we have a picnic?"

I chuckled around him and he squirmed at the sensation. But letting him go for a moment, I tried to be solemn while answering him. "Unless we have company, my sweet James, I intend to ravish you as often as I can."

"Good." He gave that little nod that he'd picked up from General Grant. "I want to ravish you every time we have a meal."

"Oh dear, I shall have to increase my ginseng dose." I mock-frowned at him and he just smiled before wiggling down further. Once he turned, we feasted on each other's cocks for a very long time. The vibration of the train moving along the tracks added to our lovemaking and once we'd climaxed, it also aided our slumber.

It was several hours later when I awoke to James sucking lazily on my nipple and I remembered what I had promised him earlier in the week. "Sweetheart, are you thinking about piercing me?"

He stopped for a moment and raised up so he could see me. He must have lit the lamp because I could see his blue eyes regard me. "Yes, I was thinking about what it meant to me when you pierced mine and hung the ring there for the first time. It ached for the first few days and was sore but somehow ... the small pain just reminded me of how much you love me. And I knew that I would always love you too."

"James." I could say no more just then because the need to kiss him was overwhelming. Soft, yet strong, our kisses never grew less satisfying, no matter how many times we touched. But eventually, I pulled back far enough to see him. "I love you more than anyone in the world and I always will. You are my heart and my soul. With all my friends and acquaintances, I was still a very lonely man. But then you came to fill all my empty spaces and your love blesses me each time you show or tell me. I'm looking forward to that small pain as a reminder of your love."

His eyes had filled with tears while I spoke and he ducked his head under my chin. "Me too, my Artemis. I was so cold inside before the President matched us. I didn't even realize that I had a heart anymore because it seemed that I was only wanted for my ability to think or be physical. But you showed me that I could be a friend and that's when I started to thaw a little. Please, never leave me alone or I'll freeze so hard that no one will ever be able to reach me again."

I rocked him slowly while his tears slowly wet my skin. "We both had those frozen spots, my James. I hid mine with jokes and disguises but they were there all the same. You are not alone and will never be alone if I have any say in the matter. I want long decades of loving you. Just think, we'll be celebrating our twenty-first anniversary when young Ping comes of age."

James chuckled and I felt him kiss the hollow of my throat. "Yes, we shall have to start planning now for a very special party. And by the time he has his first grandchild, we shall be celebrating our golden anniversary. I wonder how many 'children' we'll have adopted by then?"

Really, he never ceases to amaze me.

"There will be hundreds of children, sweetheart, who will know us as honorary grandfathers. I'm looking forward to all the love that we will nourish through our loving example. Perhaps, our love will guide others to more tolerant and joyful lives."

He raised up a little and smiled down at me. "If anyone can do that, Artemis, it will be you."

I shook my head. "It's a two man job, my love. If I didn't have you, my joy would be nothing but a façade. You are all my heart."

"And you are all of mine." He said with a smile of satisfaction.

I could not forebear kissing him again and we lay in bed for the remainder of the trip, sometimes sleeping and sometimes talking more of our past experiences. By the time we rolled into Nice, he was more comfortable with the idea of celebrating the holidays that were looming in the near future. And I was determined to expose him to some variations that would be new to him and therefore have no bad memories to mar his enjoyment.

The logistics of getting everything from the railway station to our home were convoluted to the extreme but James enjoyed the challenge immensely. I made the delivery of wax and dyes to the Caitlins myself. Martha was dumb-struck at the quantity and Jane all but hyperventilated at some of the colors of the dyes. But I would not take their money and explained that we were expecting them to have to work especially hard on all of the candles that we would need.

Unfortunately, the Bakers saw them each kiss me on my departure and I knew that the rumors would be hot and heavy by the time the Sunday sermon had been preached. Ah well, we would deal with that when the time came, I decided while walking with them to the train depot where Mr. Harris was helping James unload the items that were to stay in town with our neighbors.

It was chaotic and yet somehow, everything got unloaded and to the right person. The majority of our new purchases would come by water and be transported on Monday. But Peter had brought the wagon and Lady into town for our use while he had the weekend at home. So, we loaded the books, tea set, rugs, herbs, seeds and painting in the wagon for the trip. Lady was glad to see us, I think and she started off with a trot. We silently enjoyed the ride home, ticking off each landmark and noting the changes that Fall had begun to make.

"It's so beautiful, Artemis." James' keen eye had spotted a hawk and he pointed it out to me. "The trees look like they're tinged with bronze."

"You're a poet, James. And you're exactly right. I'm glad we started with summer for our building but autumn has its own charms." I sighed happily. "It's always been my favorite season, my love. It's a time of harvesting crops and winding down of most activities, a time of reflection."

He nodded and smiled at me. "I agree, my Artemis. The weather is still nice but there's a crispness to the air that's very invigorating."

"Indeed there is, sweetheart." I stroked his neck and watched him arch into the soft caress. "I must tell you that I owe you six kisses, James. Martha and Jane were most appreciative."

Shooting me a sultry look that warmed me down to my toes, he clucked to Lady for a little more speed. "We will be alone when we get home and I think that we need to see if we can inspire Lady and Charger. Your kisses will be a nice warm-up for making love."

"Yes, indeed, I always look forward to ... riding." I smiled sweetly at him and watched him break into delighted laughter. I adore making him laugh and he was chortling most satisfactorily.

"Lady will need a good brushing and I must admit that that would feel very good to me, as well." He flirted with a sideways look from under his dark lashes.

"I shall be more than happy to provide anything you need, my James." I promised him happily and went on stroking his neck with my gloved hands.

James, part six

Artemis kept stroking me while I shivered under the feeling of leather clad fingers. He always knew what I would like and I really was looking forward to making love in our new barn. We'd just spent a week surrounded by people and I wanted to be a little selfish and have him all to myself now.

The long meadow grass was turning a lighter shade of gold and we'd need to put up hay for the winter soon. There was still a lot of hard work ahead but I'd never shirked that. However, I now had someone with whom I wanted to spend my time and the ache when he wasn't nearby was a constant one. But then again, when I spent hours away from him, the joy when I returned was that much sweeter for the pain that came before.

One of these days, I'd have to ask Artemis if it was the same for him.

The barn came into sight and I saw that Peter had been busy while we were gone. The corral was completed and Charger was waiting for us, ears up and eyes watching for us. We were finally home. I sighed without realizing it and Artemis chuckled.

"Home, James. We're finally here. We shall have to thank Peter when we see him next. The corral looks very sturdy, I wonder if he had help?" He said while I drove the wagon almost up to the side door.

It took us the better part of an hour to get everything unloaded, the kitchen stove started and the hot water heater turned on. But then we adjourned to the barn to brush Lady and unhook the wagon. Signs of Peter's work were here too. Sturdy wooden pegs held the tack and he'd made three saddle supports that held our three saddles.

"Sweet James, I think that Peter will have to have a bonus." Artemis stepped up behind me and pulled me back into his arms, surrounding me with his warmth. "Just look at the very handy James-support that he made for us. Why it looks like the right height to hold you while your Sheik rides his very favorite mare."

I wiggled against him and felt Artie swell even harder. "Yes, master. It seems like ages since you rode me. But must the horses be here? I don't know if I could bare myself in front of them."

"Nonsense, little mare, we'll have none of that false modesty." His fingers were busy with my buttons and the cool air ghosted over my skin with every touch. Half the shivers were from the air but the other half were from the feel of leather on my skin. "In fact, I thought about introducing you to my stallion and seeing if he'd like a taste of human flesh."

I shivered all over. "Oh please, my most wonderful master, I wish no one but you to ever mount me. Perhaps your stallion would enjoy your other mare while you are making love to me.

He had me naked from the waist up by now. "Do you think so, my tasty little slave? Perhaps you are right," he unbuttoned my pants to free Jim then lifted me up a little so I lay sideways across my leather saddle. His gloved hands stroked me over and over while I shook with the need to have him inside of me. "Wait right here, little mare while I get something to help smooth my way."

I felt extremely wanton to be lying half-naked in our barn, even if the door was closed. But I had no time to feel too exposed before Artemis was back with a jar of something. "My master, are you going to finish undressing me?"

"No, I like you like this. It reminds me of what I told you back when I bought you." His fingers were slick with something but I couldn't tell what. "At any moment of the day or night, I can just command you to expose your tender little hole to me so I can have a nice ride."

It felt so very good, whatever he was loosening me with. I wiggled when he touched my gland and immediately felt much warmer. "Yes, master. Whenever you want to ride me, I want you to."

"Well, of course, you do." He was up to three fingers now and I was burning up when he finally pressed Artie against my small entrance, slowly but surely claiming me for himself. "No one else realizes what a beautiful little riding mare you are and that's the way I like it. Else the Emir might try to kidnap you away from me."

"Oh master, he could never get to me." I felt as if he would never stop sliding deeper and I shook around him. Then the twin globes of his ball sac dangled against my thighs and I realized that he was all the way in. "I will never leave your side."

"Excellent, my faithful slave, I'll just remind you to whom who belong for a while." He started the gentle rocking that warmed me through and through before beginning thrusting a little harder.

I felt as if I was surrounded by leather, the saddle beneath my stomach, his gloves on the back of my neck and the smell of saddle soap filling my nostrils. The thrusts were getting harder, impaling me over and over while I panted to catch my breath. Poor Jim was being squeezed against my saddle flap and I just knew that it would take some work to remove the stain I was going to leave.

Then his leather-clad fingers gripped me firmly and I convulsed, coming hard in his hand. The world grayed out on me but I retained enough senses to feel him flood me with heat. He warmed me all along my back and he was still fully dressed. That picture made me want to chuckle and I must have snickered or something.

"Sweet James, you are without a doubt the most well ridden mare in this part of California." His lips grazed a kiss behind my ear. "And you will need a hot bath to warm you up. Next time we shall bring a blanket with us."

The blood was running to my head and I felt a little dizzy. "Yes, please. We could have a picnic in the hayloft and test out what that feels like. Um, Artemis?"

"Hold on, sweetheart, I'll have you upright in a moment." He gently backed out of me and pulled me up with one continuous motion. "Is that better?"

"Thank you, Artemis. You read my mind again." I waited for the world to stay in one place while he chuckled and pulled up my pants.

"I like reading your mind, my love." He buttoned me up and found my shirt.

I finished dressing and found him putting away the saddle soap. I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of the soft buttery substance coating my insides for Artemis. Then I turned to look at my saddle and found it stain free. "How?"

"My gloves will need to be cleaned before I wear them again." He held them up and I blushed at the mess they were in. "Sweet James, I can think of no better reason to stain them than with your seed."

Hugging him close, I laid my head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat. "Me, either. I'll have to buy you a hundred pair so it will take a little while for you to go through them."

He laughed out loud and hugged me tightly. "I think that is a very practical gift, my James, and one that I would enjoy immensely."

"Good. May we please go inside, Artemis? It feels like there's a draft out here." I shivered a little and sneezed. He instantly felt my forehead.

"Yes, indeed, James. Let's get you inside and into a hot bath. I believe that Doctor Artemis needs to take care of Patient James." He left his arm around me while we crossed to the side door. Once inside, we removed our boots and left them by the door before heading for our rooms.

In no time at all, I was neck deep in steaming hot water while Artemis washed my feet with great care. Inside and out, I was being cleansed with herbs. The herbal enema was a gentle one that made me feel very warm. A pot of white willow bark tea was brewing by the side of the tub and I knew that my lover would make me drink all of it.

I was completely boneless by the time he pulled me from the water and dried me off. He had a hot water bottle tucked into the bed already so when I slid between the sheets, they were already warmed for me. Then he poured me a cup of tea and admonished me to drink it all while he saw to dinner. While I was drinking it, I thought about how I'd taken care of him when he was sick. This time it was his turn and I had a premonition that I was going to be cosseted within an inch of my life.

I didn't really feel too bad but just in case, I was prepared to let him take care of me. I found that I liked being taken care of and having his full attention. The tingles started inside of me and I hastily left the bed to void myself. When I came back, I barely had time to get back under the covers before Artemis returned with a tray filled with food.

"Soup, some fresh carrots and Mrs. Henry's fresh baked bread with new butter. Are you ready to eat, sweetheart?" He set it down on my lap when I nodded. "Did I hear the toilet flush?"

"Yes, I'm all cleaned out and feeling fine." I told him while sneaking a slice of warm bread. "I'm all right, Artemis, really."

"Good, you look a little flushed, love." He felt my forehead and I turned my head fast enough to kiss his wrist. He chuckled and kissed my temple before removing his robe and joining me under the covers.

"We're having another picnic, my Artemis. I think I like them a lot." I offered him a slice of bread and he took a bite while I held it for him.

"I'm glad, sweetheart. They always felt rather decadent to me. I think we shall have many more of them in our future." He fed me a spoonful of vegetable soup then I fed him one. We finished everything on the tray, including some cookies that Mrs. Henry had sent home with us.

Artemis took the dishes away with him while I lay back and wondered why I felt so warm. The covers felt good and I shook with a sudden chill. It seemed that I would be giving Artemis someone to fuss over. Sneezing, I reached for my handkerchief and barely got it in hand before I sneezed again. And yet again.

"I heard that, young man." Artemis appeared with the thermometer in one hand and the teapot in the other. "Slip this under your tongue while I pour you some more tea."

And accepting the thermometer meekly, I sat back and prepared to be pampered.

End chapter fifteen