Saturday, June 13, 2015

*The Bounty Hunter Series By A.M. Helmuth

The Bounty Hunter Series
By A.M. Helmuth

Text Copyright; 2015 A.M. Helmuth All Rights Reserved

Book 1 - Sacrifice; Bounty Hunter 1
Book 2 - To Catch A Thief, Bounty Hunter 2
Book 3 - Hunting An Assassin: Bounty Hunter 3
Book 4 - Two Bears: Bounty Hunter 4
Book 5 - Shevin's Gift: Bounty Hunter 5
Book 6 - The Price of Justice: Bounty Hunter 6


Tymiran is a bounty Hunter, one of the best in the northern provinces of Arkia. His apprentice Flaxon is a wanted fugitive. Wanted by his mother, High General Lynia, because she promised him to a noble lady's daughter as a consort.
Flax wakes in the middle of the night to hear someone trying the door of his room at the Green Door Inn. As he retrieves his sword Tymiran slips into his room through the adjoining door so they can face the threat together. The intrusion, though relatively minor, is just a hint at the escalation to come. When Garrison Commander Merissa comes to see them the lengths to which Lynia is willing to go to get her son back are revealed. They have to run.
Can Tymiran keep Flaxon out of his mothers hands until he's eighteen and can choose his own path? Can he find a way to nullify Lynia's threat? And what happens when an unforeseen enemy threatens innocent people and Tymiran is called on to eliminate it?

*** Chapter 1 Posted at The End - Click on Read More ***

Find the Series on Amazon

This is the revised edition on The Sacrifice; Bounty Hunter 1. Flax is a young warrior just looking for a good time. He meets a lady in a tavern. She buys him a tankard of ale and a meal... Then this red-headed fur-warmer for hire invites himself to their table and things start to get complicated. The lady wants more from Flax than she's saying, maybe more than he is willing to give. Still, she's not too concerned about his willingness and that is just the begining. There's a false goddess to contend with, recurring ritual murders... And there just happens to be several bounty hunters on his trail. At the end of this book there's a sneak peek at the next story with Flax and Tymiran. Comming soon!

Tymiran is the best bounty hunter on Arkia. When he takes a private contract with a rich merchantess to hunt down a thief everything seems straightforward. At least at first. He finds and catches his target, a young rojoi male who is extreamly attractive things start to get complicated. The kid tells a very convincing story. There's a ring of truth to everything he says and yet... Does it just seem that way because Tymiran wants him? Or is something much more sinister going on here? There is a way to be completely sure but will the rojoi agree?

Tymiran, Arkia's greatest bounty hunter, has taken an apprentice. The Judge he's sworn himself to for a year has a new hunt for him and of course for his apprentice. An Assassin has surfaced, someone is sending out a killer. What's even more dire, the assassin is leaving behind a signature, a knife stanped with the name; Tymiran. The bounty hunter cannot let it pass. He takes the assignment and procedes to hunt the killer and teach his apprentice all he can. But the circumstances raise some unsettling questions. Who is this assassin claiming his name? Is this whole thing some twisted challenge?

Winter Solstice is coming and Tymiran and Thane, his apprentice are headed to Byryharta for the celebration. Tymiran plans to introduce Thane to his family, hunt with his apprentice in the forests and on the tundra and enjoy a little rest and relaxation. But on the way into town he spots some very large bear tracks. Bears should be busy denning up for the winter not prowling around the outskirts of a small community. This bear has killed livestock and hunters have been hired to put a stop to it. Then, when they go to the livery that Tymiran's adopted brother owns, there's another hitch. Shevin is sore, so sore if someone touches him he flinches. Why? Already, things are not going smoothly. The second hitch comes when Thane has a run in with one of the captains of the town guard. Tymiran finds out the reasons behind his brother's lie and he cannot stand aside. When the hunters are found dead, Tymiran takes it upon himself and his apprentice to hunt the bear down and finish it.

It's just after Winter Solstice in Byraharta. Shevin,is presented with one last Solstice gift from his brother, the Bounty Hunter Tymiran and his apprentice, a slave. He's not sure if he can take on this particular responsibility. He's never owned a slave, barely had any contact with them. And, he's just gotten out of an abusive relationship. He's mentally battered, hurt and trying to put the pieces of his life back together and he's not sure he's up to this challenge. Despite all this he reluctantly accepts this gift at Ty and Thane's urging.
For the slave it's a frightening and confusing situation. Still, he's relieved when the Stable Master accepts him and he can get to work. The livery, stables were what he was trained for and it's familiar and comforting ground after what he's been through for the past year. Though he seems even tempered and reasonable at first his new Owner doesn't name him right away nor is he given the initial beating usually administrated when delivered to a new Owner. It makes for a tense first day.
All Shevin really wants is to get over his own traumatic experience and move on with his life. As days pass he begins to see his slave is more battered, more hurt than he is. He struggles with his responsibility and his own ghosts and realizes taking on and witnessing someone else's pain is harder than dealing with his own. Can he make a go of this or will he have to sell the slave Ty gave him? Will the specter of a poisonous relationship ruin his chance for happiness? Can his slave deal with his own demons, put the things that haunt him in the past? And what will happen when a ghost from the past comes calling?

Warning; explicit sex, violence.
Author's Note; This is a side story. Tymiran and Thane make an appearance but the story is ultimately about Shevin and what happens to him after Solstice. There's danger, fighting and a bounty but truly this is a romance though an unconventional one. I wrote this because I like Shevin and couldn't leave him alone and lonely after the events in Two Bears. So, it's all my fault.

About the Author

I live in North-western PA where the winters are challanging. I hunt, fish and shoot fine rifles my husband has built. And I write because... Once upon a time I bought a book I thought had been written by one of my favorite authors. when I started reading it the text didn't "sound" like him. I looked closer at the cover and saw in small print that the author had used that famous author's character. Well, the book... was not good. It was actually the only book I ever threw away. As I slammed it into the trash can I added "I can, (expletive deleted) do better than that! My middle child who at the time was probably four said "Then why don't you Mommy?" So I set out to do just that. The character in Sacrifice, from whose point of view the story unfolds: Flaxon, was the main character in that first as yet unpublished book. It's coming, it needs a rewrite. The bounty hunter Tymiran came along later and his first story is actually To Catch A Thief. That same daughter also encouraged me to get them all published, so the bottom line is it's all her fault ;D

Chapter One

Flax woke as someone approached the door of his room at the Green Door Inn. Whoever it was, she was stealthy, furtive. Definitely not someone passing my room to go to their own. The latch was tested quietly as he slid from beneath the furs, drew his short-sword from his harness hanging next to the bed.

As much as he favored the heft and length of his long-sword, he had to admit the bounty hunter was right. Length and sweep and a room in the dark weren’t good combinations.

His deep blue feline eyes searched the darkened room thoroughly. Even in the dimness of a moonless night, he could see well. Ororri had excellent night vision and he’d inherited it from his sire. He’d also gotten his golden hair from his ororri blood. It fell to his hips at its longest in a shining cascade of white gold with deeper brushed tones underneath. Two slender braids at his temples bound in wide leather ties laced with red fell well down his chest. Still, Flax wasn’t pure ororri. His sire had been his mother’s slave. He was half Byrynthian. His mother, High General Lynia of the Protectress’ Elite Guard, hadn’t been pleased when he’d disappeared shortly after his weapons training had been officially concluded. She promised him to a noble-lady’s daughter and put a bounty out on him for his safe return. For now, it was a private contract, the garrisons had not been notified, soldiers weren’t hunting him. He thought it was unlikely Lynia would resort to that. And yet, only the Goddess knew, at the moment, if it was a bounty hunter on the other side of his door.

Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to hide a blond-haired-blue-eyed Byrynthian in Byrynthia yet Flax was far from ordinary looking with his ororri eyes and hair. Still, there was a bigger problem than his feline eyes. As Ty once pointed out, the number of half ororri youths over seven feet tall was relatively few. Right now he knew of one, himself, and he really stood out in a crowd at seven foot three. Built powerfully muscular, he was well trained in weapons, thanks to his mother, and he was gaining skills by leaps and bounds as the apprentice of a bounty hunter who’d taken his side in this tangled hunt. Flax had come to thank the Goddess every day that Tymiran was on his side because if the ruthless bastard had been hunting him, he’d have been dragged home in chains already.

Tymiran was spoken of as one of the best bounty hunters in the northern provinces. From what Flax had seen personally he’d wager Ty was the best. To anyone else the bounty hunter was tall; six-four, and broad, powerfully built, yet lithe and dangerously graceful. Tymiran was from the northern regions of Byrynthia. Red-gold hair fell to his waist, curling, spiraling and thick. His beard, brows were redder than his hair and glacial blue eyes reflected the bounty hunter’s nature; hard, cold, ruthless. And yet, the bounty hunter had helped him out of a jam. Ty had taken Flax’s side and offered his protection against a powerful High General, Flax’s mother. He’d risked his life to save five helpless prisoners meant to become sacrifices to a false goddess. That had been some eight and a half weeks ago. Flax was learning a lot from the bounty hunter: weapons skills, woodcraft, concentration and focus.

He heard Ty grip the handle on the other side of the door of their adjoining rooms as a lock-pick went to work on his main door. He moved toward the adjoining door as it silently eased open. It swung either way and was equipped to lock on either side. Ty opened it into his own room, slipped through.

The bounty hunter was armed with the conventional short-sword he carried when posing as Tymane, his mercenary guise. Woodland leathers sheathed the bounty hunter’s loins and legs. Unless Flax missed his guess they were gray, black and brown, perfect for autumn. Flax wore only a tong, its single ring clasp nestled against his lions just beneath his right hipbone.

Ty beckoned subtly, glided silently to one side of the door. He took the other just as the lock clicked.

A quiet exhalation of air came to him from the other side of the door. Flax met the bounty hunter’s glacial blue eyes in the darkened chamber. Bloodlust burned behind the frozen surface. He felt it too, not as intense as was written on Tymiran’s features yet his blood burned in his veins with it.

Very slowly, the door opened a crack, an inch, two. Ty flattened himself to the wall, the slightest gesture, nod and a pointed glance to the door handle told him to pull it open. He made a slight gesture, a question; fast? Another nod was the answer. The door had eased open another two inches. Stealthily, with a light touch, he wrapped his hand around the handle, met Ty’s eyes again. The slightest nod answered his unspoken question and he jerked the door open. A dark figure stumbled inward with a curse. Before the figure could regain her balance, Ty caught an arm, spun whomever it was around, dumped her to the floor with a deft foot. The tip of the bounty hunter’s blade nestled beneath the intruder’s jaw.

She gasped; it was definitely a female. Flax noted her shape despite the dark clothing, the hood of her short cloak hiding her features.

A gesture from the bounty hunter and he closed the door, lit the nearest lamp.

“All right, thief, give me reason not to slit your throat and drag your carcass before the judge,” Tymiran growled. His voice was as frozen as his glacial eyes.

“I’m not a thief,” she whispered breathlessly.

The bounty hunter flicked the hood back from her face and returned the blade to its threatening position. Flax recognized the fifteen-year-old niece of the Inn’s owner. She’d been working the dining room earlier. In fact she’d drawn their ale if Flax recalled correctly.

“Deirha, what are you doing here?” Ty’s voice lost none of its frostiness despite the recognition.

She chewed her lip nervously, glanced from the bounty hunter to him. Tymiran, Tymane as he was known in Byruna, lifted the blade beneath her jaw slightly getting her attention. “I… You won’t tell? Please Tymane… I didn’t mean any harm…”

“Answer,” Ty growled, low and threatening, it brooked no argument.

Dierha swallowed hard, “I just wanted to look at him.”

Tymiran/Tymane glanced at him. He met the glacial gaze, puzzled to his toes. Tymiran appeared amused, so amused he was fighting a grin.

“You broke in here so you could look at Erren’ while he’s asleep,” it wasn’t precisely a question. Errenbar, Erren’ for short, was Flax’s alias here in Byruna. It was an ororri name and implied that his mother had been ororri rather than his sire.

She gulped, started to shift nervously but, with the blade against her throat, thought better of it. “Well… Um… He’s really beautiful… the most beautiful male I ever saw…”

Ty nodded thoughtfully, still his blade hadn’t lowered, “How long have you been breaking into handsome patrons’ rooms just to admire them in their sleep?”

Eyes widening, she glanced to him again. Flax did his best to appear angry and cold. I’m not gonna help her, no way…

The bounty hunter lifted his sword slightly.

Deirha gasped, “A few weeks…”

“You’ve been peeping in on your aunt’s handsome patrons for weeks, have you?” The bounty hunter rested his sword point on the floor. “On your feet.”

She scrambled up, “I’m sorry, truly I am. I didn’t mean you any harm…” she stepped toward Flax, imploring him to accept her apology.

He put his sword between them, holding her back. “Keep the hell away from me,” Flax growled indignantly. Well, I hope I sound indignant, angry, maybe even threatening.

Ty caught her by the shirt, “Do you realize I could've slit your throat for this? And what happens to your aunt’s business if it gets around that her hirelings sneak into patrons’ rooms? Never thought of that, did you?”

Deirha looked at the floor, “No… I didn’t think anyone would catch me… Or anything.”

“You just didn’t think.” Tymiran/Tymane pointed out. “Listen to me, lass,” he gave her a shake with his fist in her shirt. “You go creeping around again at night and I’ll catch you at it and drag you to your aunt. Even if I’m not here, I’ll find out so it stops now. Understand me, Deirha?” By the bounty hunter’s tone it was barely a question, closer to a command.

She nodded and Flax thought he heard a snuffle. When she glanced up he could see she was fighting tears.

“Go on, then. Back to your own room.” Tymiran/Tymane stepped aside. Flax opened the door and she fled.

Drawing a deep breath, he let it out, shut his door and locked it. “She could have been killed… damn.” He raked his free hand through his long golden hair.

Tymiran shrugged, “Personally, I’m insulted.”

Flax gave the bounty hunter a perplexed look, “Insulted?” He crossed the room to slide his own sword home.

Ty nodded, locking the door. “She said you’re the most beautiful male in the world…”

“Oh no, now wait, she didn’t say that.”

“What did she say then?” a single red brow lifted, amusement laced the hunter’s hard features.

Flax sighed, raked a hand through his hair, “So, she thinks I’m… good lookin’.”

“I believe the exact words were, the most beautiful male she’s ever seen,” Ty provided.

He offered the bounty hunter a glare.

“Whatever,” Ty shrugged. “At any rate, what does that make me?”

Flax stared speechless for a moment then threw up his hands, “By the Goddess.”

Ty laughed, “Better get some more rest, lad.”

“Right,” Flax seated himself on his bed, raked strong hands through his hair. “Like I can sleep now.”

“You can sleep. It’s barely the second hour.” In a few long strides the bounty hunter pushed through their adjoining door. “Night, lad.”

He rose, stretched, “Night.” Under his breath, he grumbled, “Coulda put the damn lamp out,” as he moved to do just that. He snuffed out the lamp, stretched. His feline eyes adjusted instantly and he clearly saw the adjoining door open into Ty’s room just enough to admit the bounty hunter.

Caught in mid-stretch, Flax’s brows knit in puzzlement but before he could say anything an abrupt gesture silenced him. Tymiran remained pressed to the wall for a moment then glided silently to the window. A couple terse gestures were as eloquent as any spoken orders. Act naturally, get into bed. Still perplexed down to his toes, he complied. Flax moved to the bed as if nothing at all was amiss. Climbing upon it, reclining, elicited the loud creaks that always accompanied the bed taking his entire weight. Crouching, Ty moved past and beneath the window then rose to look out for long tense heartbeats. Flattening himself to the wall, the hunter indicated he should lie down. Flax did, drawing a single fur over himself, snuggling down comfortably. At least, he hoped he looked like he was snuggling in comfortably. Narrowing his eyes to slits, he watched Ty closely. Pressed tightly to the wall, the bounty hunter met his gaze, glanced significantly to the window then met his eyes again.

Someone’s watching! Shit! Clenching his jaw, he swallowed hard, stifled the urge to roll out of the furs and draw his sword. After long tense minutes, the bounty hunter slid down the wall, stealthily moved next to the bed, so low and close that Flax couldn’t see him.

“Flax, slide off the other side. Pile up furs to look like you’re in there as you go. Silently, now. Stay low, don’t talk, meet you at the foot,” the bounty hunter ordered in his nearly inaudible whisper.

Stealthily, slowly and smoothly, Flax did as he was told, then crouched next to the bed. Shifting to all fours, he crawled to the foot. When he looked along the footboard, Tymiran met his gaze, crouched behind the opposite corner post. The bounty hunter beckoned subtly. He moved to crouch at Ty’s side under cover of the bed’s big footboard. Flax was surprised to see the bounty hunter had his swords. He hadn’t heard them drawn from his sheaths.

Ty leaned close, whispered near his ear, “Stay low as you can, go through the door to my room.”

He nodded, accepted his short-sword from Ty and slipped to his stomach. Quietly and stealthily as he could, Flax crossed the open space to their connecting door, slowly he got to a crouch then sidled through. Ty’s room was darker; the drapes were drawn. Still, he could see well. Even though he felt he was alone in the room, he crouched, back to the wall flanking the door, sword ready. Tense heartbeats later, Tymiran crept through the door then rose, baring Flax’s naked long-sword. The bounty hunter gripped the hilt so the blade nestled almost hidden along the muscular arm until it jutted up from behind the powerful shoulder. At the hunter’s gesture he rose too, staying against the wall. The click of the lock seemed unnaturally loud in the leaden silence. Gliding noiselessly across the room to the window, Ty flanked it, carefully peered out between the frame and draperies. Flax waited, scanned the dark room, strained his senses for any sound. Momentarily, Ty turned to the fur strewn bed. The bounty hunter beckoned, laid the long-sword across the nightstand. As Flax complied, Ty separated two blankets from the covers.

“Someone was watchin’,” he whispered, nearly as low as Ty’s almost inaudible whisper. He was getting better at that, still, his deep rumbling bass voice just didn’t drop that low without practice.

The bounty hunter nodded then climbed on the bed. Folding the blankets into triangles, he hung them from the wrought iron canopy frame like slings above the head of the bed, then climbed down. “Deirha only told us part of the truth.” The bounty hunter explained softly. “Someone put her up to it tonight, perhaps challenged her somehow, with a wager or a dare.”

“To test me or us,” his blood ran cold.

“Aye,” Ty agreed, settling Flax’s long-sword in one blanket sling. “How’s that?”

He shrugged, “For what?”

Glacial eyes met his, bloodlust burned in the bounty hunter. “Makeshift sheath. I left your harness. Someone tries for you they might notice the harness missing and be alerted. With the sheathes in place, bed curtains hanging over it, the swords missing aren’t so noticeable.”

Flax nodded thoughtfully, “Think they’ll try anything now?”

Ty shook his head, selecting a few cushions, a few furs. The hunter dropped them to the floor, “Doubt it, but I can’t be sure. I’ll wager it’ll be tomorrow after we’ve ridden out or after we’ve made camp. Still, can’t be too careful.” When the bounty hunter held out a calloused hand, he laid his short-sword hilt in it. Ty settled it in the second blanket/sling/sheath.

“So, I’m staying in here tonight,” he concluded.

“Yeah.” The bounty hunter took down his reddish brown harness from its place next to the bed. It was the harness he wore when he was passing as Tymane. Crouching, Ty spread two of the furs, arranged the cushions laying the harness under the edge of the bed. “Try to get some rest, lad. Wager you’re going to need it come tomorrow.” With that the bounty hunter stretched out on the makeshift bed, drew the last fur over him.

Flax was just a little perplexed, mildly uncomfortable, “I… Don’t wanna put ya outta your bed…”

“Think I mentioned that when we share a room I take the floor.” Tymiran rolled to his side, one cushion wrapped in powerful arms.

“Yeah… But…” It just doesn’t seem right… I’m the apprentice here… And if I wasn’t… Whatever it is that I am, we could share the bed. Not that I don’t trust him… but the thought does make me uncomfortable… Prejudiced bastard, that’s what I am… Damn.

Glacial eyes met his through the spiraling red-gold curtain of the bounty hunter’s mane, “Look, lad, I appreciate your concern but I could still use some more sleep, so climb in already and relax.”

He sighed, “Yeah, right,” Flax muttered under his breath. Still, he climbed gently into the big bed, almost as large as the one in his room, and got comfortable. Experimentally, he reached up and gripped the hilt of his long-sword then the short-sword. They were right where he needed them to be.

“You can reach ‘em okay?” Ty asked.

He jumped, How’d he know I even reached up and touched them? “Yeah, they’re perfect, thanks.”

“No problem.” The bounty hunter sounded relaxed, nearly asleep.

“So, um… Where’s your fur warmer?”

“Sent him back to the kitchens.” Ty sounded rather like he was stifling laughter.

“In case of something like this?” Rolling to his back, he slipped both hands under his head, stared at the strips of red gauze draped over the canopy’s iron frame.

“Just in case.”

So I’m not uncomfortable with a slave around, you sent him away… So damn careful of my… sensitivities. Before he could voice it, Tymiran elaborated.

“A slave is no good in the middle of a fight, lad. I’d hate for him to get hurt or killed because someone came for one of us in the night.”

Hadn’t thought of that. “Oh.”

“I’d have to pay for the healer or reimburse the owner for the slave. It just makes sense to get him out of the way.” The bounty hunter sounded serious, matter of fact but…

Unless I miss my guess… “Ain’t just the coin?”

“No,” Ty shifted in the furs, “it’s the mess too.”

Flax rolled to look over the edge of the bed, down at the bounty hunter.

Lying on his back, hands beneath his head, Ty grinned up at him.

“You bastard…” he couldn’t help but return the grin.

The bounty hunter laughed quietly. Flax pushed up to a forearm, striving not to bust out laughing too. In a moment Ty’s mirth wound down, “Seriously, I just try to prepare.”

“You think of everything,” he shook his head with amazement.

“Nobody can think of everything but I try.” Ty sort of shrugged, “Can we get some rest now?”

Flax yawned, nodded, then got comfortable in the furs.

* * *

Flax sensed movement in the room. Immediately, he was awake, rolling out of the bed, snatching his short-sword, lightning quick… Despite the fact he already knew it was Ty. If asked how he knew he couldn’t have explained it to anyone’s satisfaction. The presence, the movement just felt like Ty. Fast as he was, and he was damn fast, the bounty hunter was poised for a fight, swords bare in his hands.

The hunter flashed him a cool smile, bloodlust flickered behind the ice in the glacial eyes. “Well done, lad.”

“My ass,” Flax snarled good naturedly, “coulda killed me.”

Ty shrugged, returned his blades to the sheathes in the red-brown conventional harness. The hunter was dressed in woodland leathers, the gray and brown streaked breeches, a Cyrcanian style long sleeved wraparound shirt that matched in color and tied at the left. The red-brown harness hugged Ty’s strong chest. The bounty hunter stretched callused hands into red-brown bracers that just covered his hands, not the fingers or thumb. Tightening the laces around his forearms, Ty trapped his shirtsleeves. The right bracer sported five extending blades. Three throwing knives rode the left. One was six inches, the second seven. The last knife was eight inches. Stepping into brown flared boots, Ty sat on the bed to tighten the laces.

“You’re quick, lad,” the bounty hunter remarked.

“Yeah, but you’re still quicker.” Setting his sword back in the makeshift sheath, Flax watched the hunter tie his boots. “So, where are you off to already?” He had a feeling he knew the answer but he asked anyways.

“I want to look around outside before anyone else is up. Hand me my pick,” Ty indicated the ivory hair pick on the bedside stand.

He complied then watched as the hunter deftly combed out the thick curling red-gold mane. Flax wanted to go along but he figured he already knew the answer to that one too. Before he even had a chance to frame the question, Ty answered it.

Rising, the bounty hunter gripped his bicep, “Sorry, lad. I can’t make a lesson out of this. Tymane and Erren’ are caravan guards not bounty hunters. I have to be inconspicuous.”

Nodding, he considered, “S’okay, besides, you’ll make it up to me.”

“How?” Ty looked amused, mildly suspicious as he put his pick in his pack.

“Something special for breakfast?” Flax grinned.

“That’s it?” the bounty hunter laughed quietly. “I’ll wager I can do better than that but order whatever you want. I’ll take care of it.”

“You sure?” Flax’s crooked smile flashed, “Ya know how I can eat.”

Tymiran nodded, “I know. Still, order whatever you want.” The bounty hunter rose, “Anyone wants to join you, decline. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Hard features grew cool, almost unreadable. “Get dressed, get your pack together. You might want a warm shirt when we ride out. Go out through your room.”

“Protecting my reputation?” Flax teased.

A single red brow lifted, the slightest hint of a smile cocked the red mustache, “Folks will think what they want of us, lad. I just don’t want our watchers to know we saw them.”

“You saw ‘em, I didn’t.” He considered, “What about your pack?”

“It’s ready. I’ll fetch it when I come back in. Anyone asks, I went to see that the horses would be ready.”

“Okay,” Flax agreed. The reminder that someone had been watching them… him sobered his mood. “You think they were after me?” It was about half question, half statement. Tymiran had enemies but Tymane didn’t, not really and Flax was the one with the bounty on his hide.

Ty shrugged, “They weren’t interested in me. Stay on your toes this morning. Something doesn’t feel right.”

Golden brows knit and Flax stifled the urge to rake a hand through his hair. “Watch your back.”

A cool smile flashed across the hunter’s features but it was more a bearing of the wolf’s teeth. “I will, lad. Doubt they’ll try anything now but you never know. Lock the door after me.” With that the bounty hunter left the room.

Flax locked the door just as Ty said. Then he picked up the furs and cushions off the floor. He took down the makeshift sheathes and mixed the blankets in with the rest of the bedcovers.

He looked around the room searching for anything out of place, anything that said he’d slept in here rather than his own room. There were a few long blond hairs in the bed so he plucked them up and took them with him back to his own room. Messing up the furs on his bed, he left the vagrant strands of his mane in there. It didn’t take long to get his pack together, clean his teeth and wash up with the basin and pitcher. Brushing out his mane, Flax bound it all in a Byrynthian braid, took up his pack then went to the dining room to wait. He chose a table in the corner where he could watch the kitchen doors, the front windows and the entrance through the wide dining room archway. He ordered a pot of black tea, two mugs and a hearty breakfast for the two of them.

* * *

Tymiran offered Flax a wave as he passed the wide dining room archway on the way to pick up his pack. Have to remember to tell him he chose a good place to sit. He checked the room thoroughly. The lad was smart, he’d removed any evidence that he’d slept in this room. Taking up his pack, Tymiran went to the dining room, slid into the bench across from Flax at a table leaden with food. The young giant’s woolen shirt was shoved through the straps of his pack, as his was on his pack. Meeting the blue feline eyes, he lifted a red brow. The lad was busy chewing.

Flax swallowed, cracked that crooked smile, “I’m hungry.”

“Really? I would have never guessed.” He laughed quietly. Filling a plate from the many dishes before him, Tymiran dug into his own meal.

“Tea?” Flax lifted the pot.

“Aye, lad. Thanks.” Tymiran watched the steaming black liquid fill the mug. He kept his head down, like he was concentrating on eating. No one watching could tell what he was saying, or even if he was talking at all. “There were three of them outside your window last night. Thought I saw ‘em all but…” He took a forkful of eggs baked with sausage and cheese, chewed. “Better to read the tracks, know for sure. Still, doesn’t mean there aren’t more with ‘em. The two ladies in the opposite corner have been pointedly avoiding looking this way at all. Ever see ‘em before?”

Flax’s feline gaze met his then glanced discretely to the ladies mentioned. “Nope. You?”

He grunted a negative. Flax’s breakfast choices were delicious. At a regular conversational tone, he remarked, “Horses will be outside waitin’ for us by the time we’re done.”

“’S great,” Flax answered casually.

He could read the tension in the powerful shoulders, feline eyes, but Tymiran would wager no one else could. Despite the bloodlust flickering through his veins, he felt a familiar rush of paternal pride. Something I’ve no right to feel. And if he really looked at me… Really saw… I wouldn’t read such admiration in those ororri eyes. “Figure we’ll head north. Caribou will be migrating from the highlands soon. The moose will be rutting. How would you feel about some hunting?”

Flax’s features lit up with genuine anticipation. “You mean it?”

He nodded, “Next deer we get I’ll make a moose call. See if I can’t call you in a big one, if you’re game.”

“Oh, yeah,” the lad’s enthusiasm was evident. Flax turned thoughtful, bit his lip, “What do we do for coin?”

Flax knew they were well off but Tymane and Errenbar would be suspect if they didn’t even discuss it. Tymiran shrugged, “We can make some silver off the extra meat. If the pelts and antlers are nice it could mean gold.”

“Excellent,” that crooked grin flashed.

Tymiran returned it, dropped his voice low again as he tore a piece of fresh bread. “Merissa just walked in.”

Flax met his gaze, glanced surreptitiously toward the archway. “Looks like she’s pissed.”

“That’s an understatement.” Tymiran sighed quietly. Wager she just received orders to fetch High General Lynia’s vagrant son back to her in the capitol. Didn’t think she’d resort to that but time is running short. Damn. If we’d left yesterday…

Merissa was the garrison commander and she was wearing her uniform. A well-fitting mail shirt sheathed her shapely upper body. The sleeves fell just past her elbows in loose angular folds. Black leather bracers with mail ornamentation graced her forearms. Breeches of black leather sheathed strong legs snugly. Three narrow stripes running down the outside of her right leg marked her rank. The uniform alone would have told him the reason she was looking for him would be official business. At six feet, she was just a hand under his height. Her golden blond hair was cut short, in graduated lengths falling over her forehead, framing her face. She was strong and fit as the best of her soldiers. If the uniform hadn’t been enough to tell Tymiran her errand was serious, the expression on her comely features gave him the distinct impression he was in deep shit with her. He flashed his apprentice a broad mischievous grin as Merissa approached. In a heartbeat the garrison commander was standing at their table.

“Hey, Merissa,” Ty greeted her genially, “tea?”

She exhaled quietly, like she was striving to calm herself, “We need to talk.”

“Have you breakfasted, lady?” Flax/Errenbar put in.

Her jaw tightened and she gave Flax a frosty glare. “Ty first, then… then we’ll talk.”

“What the Hell’d you do, lad? Hang her breeches from the weather vane?” Tymiran/Tymane spoke casually then he lowered his voice, spoke through his teeth, “Can we keep this just between the three of us?”

“I been good, I swear.” While he was being subtle, Flax shrugged in response to his playful question.

Merissa folded her arms, sighed, “Fine. For the moment.” She kept her voice low enough that those at the next table couldn’t overhear.

“Sit, okay?” Tymiran/ Tymane offered, making room on the bench for her. “Have some tea at least.”

A curt shake of her head, “Let’s you and I go outside.”

Tymiran glanced at Flax. The ororri eyes met his gaze and he read growing apprehension. He gestured slightly, It’s okay, relax. He shrugged, “I’m not quite done here.” Lowering his voice again, he picked up his mug, made as if he was sipping, “How many soldiers are waiting for me outside, Merissa?”

With yet another sigh, she slipped onto the bench next to him, her arm settled around his shoulders and she leaned into him so she could whisper in his ear. “Today, I can almost understand this need of yours for secrecy so I’ll play along…” her lips brushed his ear, “just for now. There’s no one waiting outside for us. Not today. Don’t push me; you’ve a lot of explaining to do, Ty, a hell of a lot of explaining.”

A sly smile lit Tymiran’s features, sexy suggestion laced his expression. Turning toward her a bit, he rested his left hand on her knee, drew circles with his fingertips. By looking at him one would have been sure she was whispering intimate suggestions, proposals, propositions. Deftly, he caught her mouth in a kiss. Merissa’s strong fingers knotted in the hair at the nape of his neck. She kissed him back, hard and demanding. Tymiran grunted, responded, mildly surprised. He hadn’t really expected her to accept his attention so readily. He’d rather expected a hard right to the jaw. Warmth spread through his limbs, her mouth took his, caressed, devoured. It felt genuine, very genuine… pleasantly so. Surprise, surprise… long moments passed then slowly, almost reluctantly she disengaged. Merissa met his gaze, she looked… a little surprised, a little disconcerted, just a little, then it was gone.

“Outside,” she suggested.

Tymiran nodded, “Certainly, lady.”

She rose and he followed. Taking his pouch from his harness, he tossed it on the table, meeting Flax’s slightly apprehensive gaze. “The horses should be ready by now. Pay for our meal from my pouch, lad, meet me at the livery. As soon as the commander is through with me, we’ll leave.” He gestured discretely, keeping it hidden from Merissa. Stay ready. “Give me ten, fifteen minutes?”

“Sure,” Flax/ Errenbar flashed him a knowing, crooked grin, “That’s pretty damn quick, Ty. Sure she’ll be satisfied with that?” The apprehension had dissolved, trust and stubborn determination replaced it.

Tymiran flashed an answering grin, “I’ll do my damnedest.” He turned, following Commander Merissa, she was beyond doubt, all soldier, all business again. He sighed quietly, preparing himself for the dance he was about to do. It was never easy to lie to Merissa, and he was going to have to lie, a lot.

He followed her from the inn, down the broad steps. She paused, perhaps waiting for him to come even with her. Tymiran took advantage of it without missing a step. He took the steps at an angle, heading towards the livery stable. Sure enough their horses were saddled, standing at the hitching post. He heard Merissa curse quietly as she lengthened her stride to catch up to him. There weren’t that many folks about yet. It was coming on the seventh hour, shopkeepers were just opening front shutters, unlocking doors. He strode towards the livery, past it and their horses then turned down a wide alley running along it towards the paddock in the back. As he turned the corner, he slowed his pace to a stroll.

“So, what was it you needed to talk to me about, Merissa?” Tymiran met her gaze sidelong.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know,” she practically growled at him.

“Perhaps I don’t,” he shrugged. They were about half way to the paddock fence.

“Ty, the bounty has been set on him for months. You know, you have to.” Merissa strolled casually at his side but she was ready, tense, as if she expected a fight.

“Ah,” he nodded as if she’d confirmed his suspicions, “You’re referring to Lynia’s errant son.” He stopped, leaned back against the barn with his hands at the small of his back, willingly adopting just about the most non-threatening stance he could manage. Tymiran chuckled quietly, “The High General has finally decided to send orders to garrisons to detain her son,” he concluded.

Merissa folded her arms, surveying him up and down with cool impatience. Her guard didn’t lower one bit.

Looks like she’s not going to believe I’m innocent and non-threatening. Oh, well, it was worth a try. “You think what she’s doing is right?”

Merissia sighed, “What I think doesn’t matter. He has to go back. I have orders…”

“He’s not who you think he is,” Tymiran stated flatly. This was, in a way, from a certain point of view, true. Merissa would definitely call it a lie. The look she gave him spoke volumes. “You want the whole story?”

“That would be nice for a change.” She flashed him a bright smile, as insincere as it was sunny. “You could even tell me the truth.”

He returned the smile, going for genuine. “I met with Lynia, I didn’t care for what she wanted me to do and why. I let her think what she wanted but I wasn’t about to take her contract. Some weeks after meeting with her, I ran into Errenbar in a tavern. The lad was in a spot and I took his side of it, thinking, just as you do, that he’s Flaxon. Three ladies thought they could take him. Apparently he’d been having a lot of trouble with bounty hunters…”

“Imagine that,” Merissa growled. There was a distinct note of skepticism in her voice.

“He swore he wasn’t who they were looking for and he swore to it emphatically. In fact, he was so emphatic that I suggested we go see an empath. He agreed. He was telling the truth. The lad’s name is Errenbar, he’s Kylonian and ororri, and he’s a big son of a bitch…”

“Over seven feet I’d say.”

“Definitely over seven feet,” Tymiran agreed. “He fell in with me because I took his side in that latest attempt to collect Lynia’s bounty. I offered to help guard his back. I sort of put the word out that Flaxon was caught and on his way home. As long as Lynia kept the contract private we had no real trouble, now… Things get more complicated with you and every other garrison on the lookout for someone so similar in appearance to Erren’ it’s damned inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient, there’s an understatement,” her cool gaze searched his, studied, then she looked down the alley toward the paddock. It was very clear to him that she was thinking hard, considering everything he’d said and the implications. “The empath…”

“Located in Kylonia and unwilling to get mixed up further in Byrynthian politics,” Tymiran volunteered.

Merissa nodded, “Of course.”

“Just for the sake of argument, what do you think?”

Her cool, considering gaze met his, narrowed almost suspiciously.

Tymiran lifted a brow inquisitively, “Think it’s okay to give your first born away in exchange for political alliance, without his consent?” He read what she was going to do in the tension in her frame and decided, in a fraction of a heartbeat, to let her do it.

Strong hands seized his shirt and harness straps fiercely. Merissa tugged him closer, face to face, eye to eye. She glared into his eyes, lip curling in a snarl…

He spoke before she could in a nearly inaudible whisper, “Would you do that to your son, Merrissa? Your first born, albeit male, would you just give him to some noble lady’s daughter?”

“I don’t have children, Ty.” She let him go, pushing him against the wall just a bit roughly.

“If you did,” he shrugged casually, put a foot against the wall, keeping his open hands pressed against the planks behind him.

She glared at him like she wanted to grab him and slam him against the wall once or twice for good measure. Yet, he could read her answer on her comely features and offered her a wry smile, “I didn’t think so.”

Merissa drew a long breath; let it out slowly, as if she was getting a handle on her temper. He knew it for the pretense it was. She was far too calculating and controlled for him to have rattled her nerve so easily. “That’s quite a tale you’ve spun for me, Ty.”

“Would you like me to swear to it?” he offered.

She gave him a knowing look, “I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“If you say so.”

“Siding with him could make Byrynthia… too hot for you.”

“Siding with a half blood ororri lad?” Tymiran mused, “A lad who has nothing to do with any Byrynthian general or noble woman? How could that make Byrynthia hot for me?”

“Right,” Merissa nodded speculatively. She cocked her head, her gaze ran over him, head to toe then back again to study his features. There was a distinct light of lust in her eyes. “That order…”

“Has nothing to do with Erren’,” Tymiran supplied.

Merissa made a slightly dismissing gesture, “That order, it could still be unopened, sitting atop the pile of reports on my desk.”

“Really?” He asked casually. She can’t be suggesting what I think she is. “The courier…”

“All she wanted was a meal and a bed.” Merissa shrugged, “She said nothing of its importance or urgency. The seal wasn’t unusual in any way; there was no real reason to open it immediately.”

He nodded his agreement. Wonder where this is going. “So… you didn’t even cut the seal when she brought it?”

Merissa shook her head, “Not as far as anyone else knows.”

“That would be… opportune. So…” He lifted a single brow inquiringly, “how does this come to pass?”

Merissa seemed to consider. “This,” her gesture took in his stance, “seems a bit submissive for you.”

“I can be submissive if the situation warrants it, Merissa.”

“How submissive?” her voice dropped lower, took on a husky hint of suggestion.

He shrugged, “That depends.”

Deftly, she reached out, caught the knot in his shirt, stepped closer. He dropped the foot against the wall to the ground, walked his feet apart a bit so they were eye to eye.

“What if I opened the rings on your harness?”

“What if you did?” he offered her an inviting smile.

Merissa tugged open the left ring-clasp on the bottom set of straps, the tertiaries. The left ring on his secondary straps followed then the primaries. Pointedly looking him in the eyes, she tugged open the ring on his left shoulder strap. Tymiran straightened a little, shrugged and let the harness drop off his left shoulder. He settled back against the wall. Stepping closer yet, she deftly untied the knot in his shirt, parted it, let it fall open. Merissa took a little step back, her gaze ran over his exposed chest and belly. The light in her eyes was unmistakable.

“What do you want, Merissa,” it came out low and husky.

“What do I want?” The backs of her slender fingers lightly stirred the red hair on his stomach. Merissa stepped close, almost against him. “I want you, Ty.” Her hand pressed against his belly, slid around to his side then up to the rise of his strong chest. “I want you in my furs.”

Tymiran’s brows knit; he wet his lips, “Terms? Conditions?”

“One week, I have you all to myself.”

“I don’t have a week to give you right now. Erren’ and I have to leave.” He subtly offered her his mouth.

“I know.” She kissed him, hard and devouring.

Tymiran didn’t bother suppressing the quiet sounds of pleasure, need, the kiss elicited. Her hands ran along his ribs, exploring and setting his skin alight. As she devoured him, sounds of pleasure escaped her. The kiss was long, hungry, as if she was trying to taste every subtle nuance of him. As she drew back, her gaze met his, slender fingers slid up his chest over the shoulder unburdened with the harness and pushed his shirt off it. She caressed the muscle, bared his bicep, triceps to the elbow. They were both breathing deeply, her breasts pushed against her mail shirt enticing him to cup them in his hands. Her hips, loins, thighs, sheathed in snug black leather, tempted him to wrap his hands around her ass… He resisted the urge.

Flax needs my help, I’ve responsibilities to that lad… ‘course this may be one of them. If this is what it takes to get us out of town unscathed, I can easily give her a week… Unless… she wants a down payment right now… Damn, do I have that kind of time? Doubt it, seriously doubt it…

He touched his tongue to his teeth, upper lip.

“By the Goddess, you are fine male, Ty,” Merissa’s gaze ran down his chest and belly, following her touch.

Tymiran pushed his shoulders against the wall, arched into her caress, moaned softly.

A quiet gasp answered him. Her hands attempted to encircle his waist then slid up his rippled stomach, over the rise of his chest. One hand gripped the hair there, the other slid along his ribs. Tymiran grunted, closed his eyes and writhed for her, pushed into her rough caress. The hint of pain ignited fires in his loins he hadn’t indulged lately.

“So, how submissive can you be?” She whispered, her arm slipped around the small of his back, she pressed against him. Merissa kissed him. This time it was quick and left him wanting more.

Tymiran met her gaze, “I won’t be bound and I won’t be beaten.” He offered her a sexy smile, lifted a brow, “Beyond that, we can negotiate, experiment.”

“Let me leash you?” She tilted her head; her lips, tongue, teeth teased his neck.

He chuckled low and husky, “No locks.”

“No locks,” she agreed, lips moving against his skin.

“We can give it a try,” he breathed barely audibly.

She pressed the length of her body against him, kissed him long and hard again. Tymiran let himself get lost in it for the moment. Heat and need burned in his blood, lit every fiber on fire. He pushed his iron hard shaft trapped behind the leather of his breeches against Merissa’s loins. Slowly, reluctantly, she drew back, met his gaze.

“Want me here? Now?” Tymiran offered. Want her… So bad I ache… But Flax and I have to get out of here. I have to wrap this up.

Shaking her head, Merissa parted from him, stepped back. It was a slow, reluctant process, but all too quickly she was a pace away. “I’m already wrapped up in a mess with you, if I get caught by one of my own soldiers having you in this alleyway… Nothing we can say will change the charges.” Looking away, she ran a hand over her hair, straightened her harness and shirt. When she looked at him again her brows knit.

Tymiran was leaning against the wall behind him, hands behind his back, harness and shirt open, knees slightly bent, feet apart. He offered her a grin leaden with suggestion, ran his tongue along his teeth and upper lip, shifted his hips.

“Goddess…” Merissa looked away. “Straighten up, Ty…” Her gesture hinted that he should get dressed.

He obliged, standing up away from the wall, straightening, tying his shirt, refastening his harness. “After Lynia’s bounty is revoked, it’ll take a couple months for the word to get around. I want to be sure Erren’ is safe before we come back here, before I give you an uninterrupted week of my time.”

Merissa nodded in agreement, “Of course.”

“Around Solstice I head north for a while,” he cautioned.

“I know,” she seemed to consider, “Flaxon won’t be eighteen until the spring equinox. The bounty has to expire then, she won’t have any further claim on him. As for our orders…” Merissa shrugged.

He nodded; there was really no telling when Lynia would rescind them, if at all. She could have Flax detained for the hell of it then release him when she chose just to mete out a little punishment.

“We’ll be back around… say summer Solstice,” Tymiran ventured. “Things should have settled down by then.”

She nodded, “I’ll have to send out a couple patrols after you. Later, probably after noon, when I get through the pile of reports and dispatches on my desk.”

“I would expect no less. Don’t worry, we won’t get caught.” He flashed a mischievous grin.

“I would expect no less, Ty.” Merissa bit her lower lip, “I look forward to seeing you around the summer Solstice.”

Deft and swift, he caught her wrist, pulled her close and turned. Locking a powerful arm around her, he pressed her against the wall, covering her mouth with his, stifling any outcry. He kissed her hard and long, devouring, exploring. He pressed his powerful body against hers, taking full advantage of his height, making it clear he was bigger, stronger, pushing his loins against hers. She didn’t fight him, at all. That was a bit of a surprise. In fact, her loins pushed against his, slender hands gripped his shoulders. He moaned; heat and need blazed in his blood. He drew back nearly breathless; she was too.

He searched her gaze, “We’ll have a whole week; you sure you want to keep me leashed all that time? There are so many avenues to explore.”

“Yes, well, I’ll have to think on it,” Merissa grinned, sultry and suggestive, “Until summer Solstice, Ty.”