As he lay face down on his lordship’s bed, Pen knew he hadn’t done what he needed to do only to help himself out of a hangman’s noose. He had enjoyed that. Enjoyed it far more than he ought to have. He was as sinful as the man who’d done it to him. No victim here, but willing accomplice.
When he did die, whether by his lordship’s executioner or some far more distant event, he would surely go to hell now. Stealing from a rich man had seemed a minor offense when one was stealing food. Finding pleasure in being sodomized, though…
Pen pressed his face into the bedclothes, ashamed for discovering he liked having a strong man against his back and buried in his arse. Ashamed for wanting it all again. His lordship’s seed—and his own—was not yet dried on his flesh and he wanted more pounding pleasure/pain to churn his guts and make him beg. Beg and receive as his lordship’s fingers pressed bruises into his hips and slapped their flesh together in time to the frantic beat of Pen’s startled heart.
He sniffed and sat up on his elbows, wiping at a wet cheek. He’d cried to start, weeping like a virgin girl as his lordship stuffed his stiff shaft inside him. Cried more from the shock of having someone’s body inside his than from any terrible discomfort. His lordship had been kind enough to oil his arsehole and work him a bit with his fingers, but the stretch to accommodate the man’s flesh had burned something fierce. Burned until it felt good.
Devilishly good, for surely only Satan himself would devise such a dark deed feeling wonderful. That the most disgusting part of a body could hold so much pleasure was most definitely unholy. The priests had been right to warn. He had been daft not to listen.
Even now, as he heard the sound of his lordship returning from the pot, Pen’s body reawakened to a state of anticipating more. He turned his face into the bedclothes again and moaned in despair for his deviant longing.
Wait. The sound was not footsteps. His lordship had not put his boots on after climbing down from his back. Climbed down and given his arse a sharp smack and the command to remain where he was while his lordship relieved himself. He had not needed an order, and his lordship had known it.
Pen lifted his head again and peered around for the source of that odd knocking. What had sounded like a calm walk was fast becoming a frantic run, yet he saw no one nearing. There were strange bursts of light now as well. He rubbed at his eyes. Was some illness overtaking him? Some result of what he’d done? He smacked at the lights, but his hands went right through them like mist.
He turned over and sat up, seeing now his lordship had returned, but stood transfixed just inside the door, as though he beheld a truly horrible sight. He gave a cry as the lights surrounding Pen increased in number, despite his frantic efforts to bat them away. Guards rushed the room, but stopped as well.
“Help me,” Pen cried, feeling the lights biting at him now. “Oh God, help me!”
He tried to reach the other men, but something held him immobile now. His breath stilled in his chest and his heart stuttered to a stop, every bit of him freezing in place. Eyes wide and stuck that way, he watched the lights blur his vision of the world and strip it away from him. The pounding he heard was not his heart.
Then, suddenly, all was still and he crashed forward onto something white and hard as stone, though as smooth as the silk he’d been laying on moments ago. His body recovered near instantly as he gasped a breath and felt his heart give a leap in his chest before it clattered.
Pen moaned and rolled to his back, hands against his head. The room he had been in was gone and replaced by a stark whiteness that hurt to look upon through more than slitted lids. Not in all his days had he ever been so assaulted by brightness. It didn’t even afford any warmth as a chill overtook his body and made him curl into himself.
“Dear God, please do not abandon me. I beg forgiveness for my sins. Oh God, please!”
Nothing changed. If he was dead, as he surely must be, God was not listening to him. Not yet anyway.
Eyes now able to be open and staring at the blank, cold, white world, Pen started praying every prayer he could remember. He botched some of them, forgetting a few words here and there, but he hoped the Good Lord would be able to see it in Himself to forgive that as well.
When the world went suddenly black, Pen screamed. His efforts had not been good enough! He was going to hell!
“Please, my God, I beg you.”
He flinched when the white returned. It was so odd. One ring at a time, floor, ceiling and walls, lit from one end of the room to the other, even directly beneath him.
He was in a room.
He’d heard of the light at the end of the tunnel and the blackness and unseen fires, but he had never expected a stark, unfurnished room.
Was he being held here for a time? Was the dark and the light a reflection of his soul? Would he be judged here before being sent to his final place in heaven or in hell?
He resumed his praying through two more changes from white to black and back again. He tried not to keep score, but he had more light than dark moments and hoped deep in his heart that would mean a heavenly destination at the end of all this.
Finally, the whiteness seemed to stay longer than before, and Pen trailed off his praying to wait for what came next. The voice startled him.
“What’s your name?”
He gulped and tried to still his trembling. “If it pleases you, s-sir, my name is Pen. That is Pendragon Sterling, sir.”
“Where are you from?”
It seemed an odd question given the Lord should know such things about him. Perhaps, then, this was an angel assigned the duty of questioning the newly deceased.
How did one properly address an angel?
“I was born in Devonshire, sir, to a scullery maid by the name of Mary Sterling.” Better to be honest than risk some type of censure. “I’m a bastard, sir. She never knew the name of the man who took her.”
“Where were you before you were here?”
He took a shaky breath and swallowed down his fear. “Within Lord Templeton’s bedchamber, sir.”
He heard an exasperated sigh and got to his knees to beg as earnestly as he could.
“I know it is the worst kind of sin, sir, but I swear to you I didn’t know I’d enjoy it when I permitted him to…do that to me, sir. I thought only of saving my sorry self from death, sir, and felt it a small sacrifice. I know now, angel, sir, it was not small and to have allowed it was a sin in itself.”
He paused for a breath and forced himself to be honest again, despite his now coursing tears.
“I beg forgiveness, sir, for enjoying what he did to me. I didn’t know I would when he started. I thought it to be punishment for my stealing, angel, sir, and had no earthly idea it could be pleasurable.” He gasped and trembled for admitting, “I should not have enjoyed it, sir. I understand that. The priests warned against such things, and I didn’t listen, angel, sir. I didn’t listen. Oh God, forgive me!”
“You allowed this Lord Templeton to, um, sodomize you?”
He nodded, taking some hope from the disbelieving sound of the disembodied voice.
“You’re not here because of that.”
“I’m not?” He sat back on his heels, wincing at the soreness of his arse. “Forgive me, angel, but what have I done?”
“And I’m not an angel.”
Pen flinched and then his weeping returned with gut-twisting sobs and he had to lie down again, curl up again. Hugging his head, he realized he’d already been judged and this was hell and that was the voice of a demon.
He cried out when a section of the wall sank back and then slid aside. They were coming! The demons were coming in to drag him away for the tortures he would suffer for eternity!
He crawled in the opposite direction, but there was nowhere to go, so he pressed himself into a corner and hid his face, desperate not to see the beasts that would tear at his damned soul.
“Come now,” the voice said, sounding like the demon stood above him. “Surely, I’m not so terrifying as all that.”
Pen peeked, momentarily confused by the tenderness in the voice, and found the demon had taken the form of a man. He knew it was still a demon and he was still damned when he recognized within himself a longing to find solace and protection in the demon’s strong arms. To give himself over to a rough embrace and the press of those deceptively soft lips. To gaze into those perfect blue eyes and let himself drown in sinful pleasure.
The demon looked remarkably like Lord Templeton.
“You are beautiful,” Pen said with a glare, “as well you know. A temptation for a man such as myself.” His lips trembled and he hid his face again. “A man I’ve now discovered myself to be.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” the demon said, before his hand petted Pen’s upper arm. “But I really wish you’d stop damning yourself for discovering you enjoy sex with another man.”
“It’s a sin and I know that’s why I’m here, despite what you say.” He batted at the demon’s still-stroking hand. “I won’t allow you to give me hope, only to take it away again.”
The damn demon kept petting his arm, causing a wash of soothing feelings to seep into him. Surely it was some kind of trick.
“I don’t know about it being a sin or not, but I do know it’s much more acceptable now than it was in your time. I suffer no tortures for enjoying it myself.”
Pen looked at him again, surprised. That faded quickly, though. “Of course, a demon would enjoy all forbidden to the rest of us.” He hid his head again, realizing one of his coming tortures. “You’ll make it nothing but pain, won’t you, demon? Of course. What was a pleasure in life will be a pain in the eternity of my soul’s stay in hell.”
“Now listen here,” the demon said, swatting at his shoulder. “This isn’t hell, I’m not a demon, and loving another man is perfectly acceptable. I realize your time was backward at best, but now that you’re stuck here for a while, I’m not going to allow you to keep on like this. Sit up here and look at me.”
Ordered him around like Lord Templeton, too.
The demon tugged him upright, ignoring his protests, though he did apologize for aggravating bruises he hadn’t realized were on Pen’s shoulders. No doubt they were from when his lordship had gripped him there to better slam his body back onto the man’s root. He shook his head at himself, determined not to think such things anymore, even as he avoided looking at the pretty face of his demon.
“Listen to me.” The demon seized his chin in a strong hand to force his gaze upon him. “I am a man of science. Do you understand what that means?”
“I’m not stupid,” he snapped and pushed his hand away. “I’ve a mind for complicated matters.”
“All right then. The science I practice has recently resulted in the ability for a person to travel through time.”
While the idea intrigued him, Pen simply stared at that expectant face. “I can tell tall tales as well. Demon.”
He frowned. “My name is Doctor Steadman Drake.”
Pen shrugged, not at all impressed by a demon calling himself a doctor. Bloody bunch of butchers they were.
“It was sixteen-oh-three where you were, wasn’t it?”
He gave him a curt nod.
“Here, it’s over five hundred years later.”
Pen blinked at him. “You’re saying you’ve somehow plucked me from my own time and brought me five hundred years into the future?”
“I am.” He smiled brightly.
“And why should I believe anything you say?”
The demon doctor groaned and rubbed at his forehead, before thrusting long fingers into his sunshine hair. It almost made Pen smile to see how it stuck up in odd tufts when he was done.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not.” He stood, towering over Pen, who stood to stop him from being able to do so. They were near the same height, though the demon was much thicker under his odd clothing. He must be wealthy to be so well fed. Or were all demons just built that way?
“Come along then,” the demon said, moving to the doorway. “You can bathe and get some clothes on, eat, sleep or whatever you want, while we figure out how to send you back.”
“Send me back?” Reluctantly excited by the idea of a bath and food, Pen followed the demon. He stunk of sweat and spent seed, his belly still painfully empty despite his earlier thievery.
“It seems our computer was capable of bringing you here, but it’s having trouble sending you back home. We’ve rebooted the program four times, but it’s just not working.” He waved Pen closer rather impatiently.
Pen didn’t know how boots might send him home again and didn’t really care. Perhaps his stay in this odd corner of hell wouldn’t be so terrible after all. Though he didn’t look forward to returning to his life, he knew it would be a far worse sin than any other to hope he stayed dead simply for a beautiful demon’s promise of a bath and a meal.
“I’m telling you, there’s nothing wrong with it!”
After Pen had been forced to bathe inside a box that rained, he had put on strange pants and a light tunic before being seated here at a table laden with food he barely recognized. Here, he’d discovered the doctor demon had a bit of a temper, like Lord Templeton did. He enjoyed smashing his fist down on the table and making the cutlery jump as well.
Pen shook his head. “The priests all say—”
“Oh, the priests,” he said with a sneer. “They took the longest, but they changed their tune eventually.” He sighed. “They’re just men in dresses, Pen. No closer to God than the rest of us.”
Pen cringed inside, and then crossed himself. “I’m not a learned man, but I’m fair certain that’s blasphemy. Even for a demon.”
He shoved his fingers up into his golden hair and made a face that seemed a touch violent. Then, with a sigh, he slumped in his slippery-seated, yellow chair. “Pen, love is love. Why would God wish anyone to forgo love?”
“We’re to resist temptation.”
“Love isn’t temptation. It’s love.”
Pen gulped a bit and stared at his plate. “’Twasn’t love, what he did to me. He told me I could lie with him like a maid or hang.” He shifted uncomfortably, the ache in his arse testament to his choice.
“Oh, I…” The demon seemed concerned. “Did he hurt you? Are you in pain?”
Pen shrugged and poked a finger at one of the orange chunks of what the demon had called cantaloupe. He hadn’t liked the flavor of it.
“I’m not sure if I can give you medication. Are you…” The demon’s voice went quiet as he asked, “Was there any blood, Pen?”
He had expected there to be some, when he’d touched himself back there, but he had found only the slick of the oil and a bit of seed. So he shook his head.
“Just sore then. That fades.” Then, the demon’s hand landed on Pen’s, making him look up. “I apologize, Pen. There are men who would do such things to another only to cause pain and suffering. I’m not one of them and neither is the man I love. When we’re together, it’s only about love.”
Looking at the earnest demon’s face, Pen recognized yet another quality of Lord Templeton’s there: tenderness. His lordship had shown him a fair deal of that as he had stripped them both and urged him onto the bed. A low, coaxing voice and small touches had somewhat soothed his anxieties. He had quite enjoyed such attention and the bolder version wherein his lordship aroused him. Until his revelation that he enjoyed a rod of manly flesh up inside him, Pen had appreciated the tenderness of Lord Templeton’s care.
“He showed me several kindnesses,” Pen said, spurred to defend his lordship as not being a man who inflicted pain for his own entertainment. “’Twas my fears for my soul that caused me the most pain. In here.” He touched his breast.
The demon smiled and patted his hand before sitting back again. “Kindness is good.”
Pen felt his cheeks flush. “Very.”
They chuckled together for a moment, and Pen nearly saw him as a man instead of a demon.
Then his mirth returned to concern. “When we send you back, Pen, it will be to the same place you were before. Will you be safe there?”
He snorted. “They may well think me a demon. His lordship and two guards watched me leave to come here. ’Tis a magic I’ll be hard pressed to explain.”
The demon blew out a harsh breath. “We’d chosen the bedchamber and that time of the night hoping your Lord Templeton would be alone.”
“You meant to capture his lordship?”
The demon smiled and, for once, it was a touch demonic.
Pen chuckled until the demon took a slim box from a slit in his pants. The little thing was brightly colored and seemed to convey information because, when the demon looked back at him and put the box away at the same time, he said, “We’re ready to try and send you back again.”
Pen sighed and stood, as ready as he may ever be to journey back to where he belonged.
“I’ll need the clothes back, Pen.”
He felt less concerned by his nakedness now than before, so stripped down where he stood and set the clothes on the chair. Shame, really, he couldn’t take them with him. He’d liked how soft they’d felt.
They walked back over to the doorway to the room he’d thought was some kind of purgatory. Odd how much he knew now. Lights and science, instead of angels and demons. He felt compelled to set his earlier thinking to rights and paused to turn toward his companion during this confusing time.
He looked up and smiled. “Yes?”
“Do you know your lineage perchance?”
“Only so far. I’ve never really looked. Why?”
“You may wish to investigate a man by the name of William Augustus Colefax.” Pen smiled as he surveyed the face in front of him. “You’ve the very look of him.”
The man’s lips moved as he silently said the name, then he gasped. “Lord Templeton?”
“The very same.”
Pen passed through the doorway and that bit of wall slid back into place behind him. He rather liked the startled look on the… Well, on the face of one Doctor Steadman Drake, his lordship’s very distant relation, who wasn’t a demon at all, but a right intelligent man.
Since he suspected they’d be plopping him back on the bed if their aim was true, he sat down near the center of the room and waited. Would it be the same trick with the lights and knocking sounds? At least, this time, he’d know what it all meant.
“Pen?” Drake’s voice resounded through the room like before.
“I know it’s probably lame, but… Well, thank you for visiting.”
He didn’t understand what might be crippled, but he said, “You’re quite welcome.” He grinned. “Demon.”
Drake’s laugh floated about at the same moment the sparkling little lights arrived and that tapping sounded, too. It was much less frightening this time. Maybe because of the laughter and the fact he managed to smile while the sounds grew and the pressure gave him a bit of a squeeze. He shut his eyes and tried to gasp, but everything froze.
Suddenly, he felt himself falling, but landed on something soft that gave beneath him as he managed a gulp of air. Opening his eyes, he focused on the canopy of Lord Templeton’s bed. He smiled.
“Dear sweet God above,” a familiar voice whispered beside him.
Pen looked over and discovered his lordship on his knees and twisted around, as though he’d been facing the window a moment ago. It seemed fitting the man who had watched him disappear should be there to see his return. Now to explain in a way that wouldn’t see him hanged for a whole new reason.
He stopped short when the man scrambled up from the floor to fling himself across Pen’s body. Shaking arms wound around his shoulders and neck as a big hand cupped the back of his head. Cradled like this and stunned to his core, Pen hesitated to move or even breath until he felt a wetness against his neck and his lordship gave up a small sob. Unsure of what this meant, Pen still offered a bit of comfort by wrapping his arms around him in return.
“I thought God was punishing us for what I did to you,” the man whispered in his ear. “Oh, my dear lad… I prayed He would return you and take me instead. ’Twas my sin in tricking you into my bed, in thinking it was the only way to have what I so wanted and I could make you mine through treachery, instead of plain words of desire.” He squeezed him tighter. “I should never have threatened you, Pen. Please forgive me!”
Shocked anew, Pen lay still and gripped the man weeping against him. He had known his lordship enjoyed what they’d done as well as he did, more so even, but he had not considered the possibility his lordship might’ve craved him specifically. That the man had schemed to catch and bed him now seemed…a touch flattering actually. He hadn’t courted him with flowers and sweet words, but he’d lured him in and shown him delights previously forbidden. Previously, since his lordship’s own relation had told him this wasn’t so wrong.
Lord Templeton may well love him a bit after all.
“I forgive you.”
His lordship pulled back and gave Pen a joyous smile, despite the wet cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. “Oh, thank you, Pen. Your forgiveness gives me hope I might gain Our Lord’s in time as well.”
Lord Templeton disentangled them and stood beside the bed. He sighed and looked about rather expectantly, though there was a bit of a tremble to his frame. It took Pen a moment to realize the man waited to be taken as Pen had been. He chuckled and swung about to sit on the edge of the bed. Knowing he was being bold, he gripped his lordship’s clammy hands anyway and tugged him closer.
“Milord, I’m thinking my return might mean all is forgiven.”
“No lights. No sounds.”
He nodded. “True.”
“So why not lay here again with me and I shall try to tell you where I was and what I’ve come to understand?”
He swallowed and looked younger now for his trepidation. “Are you certain we should risk such?” He squeezed and rubbed at Pen’s fingers, though.
“I’m certain, milord.”
He smiled. “William. Here, like this, call me William.”
Delighted, Pen pushed up the man’s tunic. “Get undressed again, William. I want to touch you, have you touch me, and tell you about how a”—he paused to smile—“how an angel explained that love is love, no matter who does the loving.”