Naked Prey

by George Gauthier

Lost Boy

Chapter 1. Southern Utah, 1888

From aloft the hawk watched a lone figure crossing the desert basin. Another two-leg, it thought, though this one had strange yellow feathers on top instead of the usual black. His body color was an even shade of light brown. Usually the bodies of the two legs were patterned with colors or dots or stripes. Well, nothing there for him, the hawk thought dimly. Two-legs were simply too big for a hawk to prey on. The desert jackrabbit was more his sort of quarry. The figure moved ahead in a reasonably straight line, not yet stumbling and staggering in a way that might interest brother vulture. With a screech, the hawk banked its wings, turning away to stay in the updraft rising from the desert floor.

On the ground Justin Anders was unaware of the scrutiny from aloft, his attention was on the coyote that had been watching him off and on all day. For hours it had hunted nearby though always returning to look the boy over. Justin wondered if the animal really saw him as prey. Slightly built though he was and unarmed and naked, Justin still did not think of himself as the rightful prey of a single coyote. After all the animal weighed maybe twenty-five pounds, just under a quarter of the boy's own mass. He could handle a coyote even if his only weapon was a rock picked up off the ground.

Now a cougar would be a different matter altogether. Scary customers those, males of that species would easily outweigh a slightly built youth like Justin. They were stalk-and-pounce and ambush hunters too, sneaking up on their prey, their coats a natural camouflage which allowed them to launch surprise attacks, pouncing from atop rocks and earthen banks. He would have little chance against a ferocious cougar armed with fangs and claws. Its claws would tear into his tender flesh, the front ones digging in to keep him from escaping, the back ones disemboweling him, though the killing stroke would likely come from suffocation, the great maw of the beast locked around his neck, cutting off his air. Then the cat would drag the boy's dead body to its lair, hauling it like a rag doll, no longer a good looking human boy but so much dead meat.

A jaguar would be even more of a mismatch for an unarmed youth. What use a rock against a beast that might weigh 300 pounds (136 kg). Justin had seen an old jaguar kill. The bleached skull of the antelope showed where the powerful canines drove right into the brain thanks to the big cat's powerful bite. At least that would be an instant kill. Strange that both cats were such beautiful creatures in their own right, especially the jaguar with its spotted coat.

Hunters had thinned both species in those parts for the bounty offered by the county, and the predators had learned to keep their distance from humans mounted on horses, but a boy on foot would attract their interest. Let either of those big cats get on his trail, and Justin was finished. He could not outrun, out-climb or outfight apex predators like the big cats of the American Southwest. For such beasts, a nude human boy like Justin would be so much naked prey to be run down, killed, and eaten.

The sun felt hot on his bare back and ass, but he was well tanned from roaming the hills in the nude, during his years as a shepherd boy for the flock that had formerly been in his charge. True he was barefoot, but he was quite used to that too. The elders did not waste money on shoes for the boys. In time their feet developed tough calluses that were nearly as good a moccasins. Still some stretches of bare rock that he tramped across were pretty hot from the burning sun.

Meanwhile the boy trudged doggedly across the desolate desert landscape, plagued by dust and heat and fatigue and thirst. The dust kicked up by his passage had settled on his bare flanks. The bright sun made him squint in the glare. Justin wished he had a broad brimmed hat to keep the sun out of his eyes, but the elders had exiled him not only empty handed but also bare ass naked. That was how they found him at the sheepfold, going about his chores in the nude, as was his habit in the isolated location in the hills where he had watched over a flock of sheep for the colony of Mormons of which he had been a member till that very morning. He had always preferred the simplicity and freedom of nudity to the restrictive and prudish standards of dress and deportment the elders insisted upon, shirts buttoned to the neck, sleeves rolled down to the wrists. Walking around totally nude made him feel more alive, more in tune with nature. It also made him feel sexier, though he had not really had much chance to explore his sexuality, not in the repressive atmosphere of the colony.

The previous morning, the elders had ridden out fully armed to the distant sheepfold, angry over the rebellious sentiments he had reportedly been uttering of late. They found him at the stream, after his morning wash up and swim, the wooden yoke on his shoulders, weighed down by a bucket of water at each end. Elder Jenkins had been adamant that they not let him gather his things, few as his possessions were. They would send him out into the wilderness just as he was, in the rude nude.

"Oh don't think we are surprised at your sinful nudity. We know about you, boy, you and your shameless ways. We have had men watching these last few days with a spy glass, searching the cabin when you were away with the sheep, looking in through the window at night. Sinner that you are, you don't sleep in a nightshirt like any god-fearing man or boy would. You sleep in the altogether. When you roll out of your bunk in the morning you traipse down to the stream to bathe, not once a month or even once a week for the Sabbath, as it our custom but every single day. Then you splash around, swimming, neglecting your duties for the sheer animal pleasure of stroking back and forth the length of the deep pool. Hummph, here you are sixteen years old, going on seventeen, and you waste half the morning idle, playing like a child."

"Even when you set to work, you stay jay bird naked for the rest of the day as you walk with your sheep, not even covering your loins or your withers. Shame."

"And with my own eyes," Elder Mattews added, " I have seen you lying on the grass, pleasuring yourself, spurting your seed onto your belly, reenacting the sin of Onan."

"Shame on you, shame," the others chorused.

Two of them seized the boy and tied his wrists together and then up to a branch of a tree he could hardly reach because of his slight build. He hung there helpless and unresisting. He knew resistance was useless: a single nude boy against eight grown men, all armed. He would have to take his punishment just at he had so often in town. The elders thought a good whipping or caning was just fine for someone with Justin's irreverent and insubordinate attitude. Elder Matthews in particular seemed to like to take a cane to a boy's bare backside. For the sake of propriety, in town, the elders would take the boy into a barn and strip him naked, tying his wrists to an overhead beam. This last year it seemed he was getting whipped or caned once a month. Ironically that made his something of a hero to the other boys.

This day too, elder Matthews did the honors, switching the hapless youth front and back as he writhed under the sharp blows. The springy stick cut at his back, his ass, his chest and belly and legs. Nor did the elder spare the boy's genitals. Justin showed his defiance nevertheless, keeping silent, not pleading for mercy, allowing no more than a whimper or an occasional hiss when the switch hit his nipples or his balls. As the elders worked over his helpless body, they intoned sentiments like:

"We chastise thee as a sinner, Justin Anders, and as a rebel. No sin is greater than rebellion against legitimate authority, which was Lucifer's great sin against the Lord. You held yourself up as a hero to the other boys, encouraging them to take your wayward path. Let these welts and cuts and the tears you shed today be a reminder to you in the days ahead of our outrage and yet also of our mercy. We might easily have slain you this day."

"Instead we cast you out, Justin Anders, a boy lost to our community and our faith. We cast you out in a state of nature, just as you were born. Naked we come into this world and naked we leave it. In this wise, get you gone from our midst or we shall surely strike you down where you stand."

Freed of his bonds, the battered nude boy took his first steps into exile. The thought came to him that he was either marching to his death or into freedom. So with a jaunty wave to the elders, which left them sputtering with indignation, Justin set off into the desert.

Looking back at it, Justin was surprised his exile had not happened sooner. Justin was a bright lad. He had long since figured out for himself how unjust their colony's laws were, starting with those against sexual pleasure. Why was it sinful to enjoy such pleasure as he could. It was only natural. All boys did it, didn't they? Really what did they expect of a boy of sixteen going on seventeen, denied any sexual outlet save his own hand. Actually Justin was five months short of seventeen, though with his slight build, the tow headed thatch on top, his lack of body hair, and fine-boned features he looked a couple of years younger.

The boy trudged along a track so eroded it did not deserve the name road. It was used mainly by lost boys like Justin, driven out of his colony of Mormons by its elders, afraid of his rebellious streak in particular, and perpetually jealous that the attentions of the young females might fasten on nice looking boys like him, young males their own age. The fate of those girls was to be forced into marriage with the elders, middle-aged men who took three or four wives each. Their sect of Mormons taught that a man needed at least three wives to win his way into Heaven and that the only way a woman could enter Heaven was as the wife of a Mormon elder.

It did not seem to bother these zealots that their creed effectively damned most of their males to first celibacy and then to exile, not to mention to hellfire in the hereafter, and those young males were their own sons. Once Justin had figured that out, he saw how wrongheaded, how selfish their ways were. The elders used the boys as cheap labor till they grew old enough to become their rivals for young women then sent them into exile. The teenage lasses who might have looked with favor on the boys were forced to become third or fourth wives, bound in loveless marriages to grizzled elders.

Ironic that their settlement in southern Utah was named Harmony, Justin had said to other boys, talking about their situation that 'Discord' would be a better name for it. The quip had circulated among the young boys till it came to the ears of the elders. Apparently that was the last straw and sealed Justin's fate.

Justin's rebellion had nothing to do with sexual jealousy on his part. The fact is, Justin had never had any interest in girls except as friends. He had had eyes only for some of the older lads, especially dark headed Derek Longwood. That was a sin too, in Harmony, looking on another male with lust, the sin of Sodom. Justin had never acted on his desire for other boys. Nor, despite the calumnies, the elders had heaped on him as they drove him off, had Justin ever used his sheep for sexual relief. The very idea disgusted him: a female and animal rather than a person.

Justin knew that other boys had been sent into exile along this trail, but they had been fully clothed and provided with two canteens of water. Justin was dressed only in his skin and the only water he had was what was in his belly. At least the elders let him drink his full before sending him on his way, probably so his body would not be found nearby. Still the desert could get pretty cool at night. He hoped he would run across a wagon train or at least a trapper or a miner, someone who would take pity on a lost boy like him and extend his protection. On foot, indeed barefoot, naked, alone, and without weapons or food or water, Justin's chances for survival were poor.

At least Justin did not have to worry much about bandits, having absolutely nothing for them to steal, though he had heard rumors of slavers who rounded up strays and hobos and winos to labor chained up naked in Mexican silver mines. The local Paiute Indians were peaceful, grateful to the Mormons for ending the old style slave raids by the Navajo and the Utes. The whites had also seized control of the major water sources, so the Paiutes had perforce made peace with them.

Justin walked a good dozen miles (20 km) that first day. He did not try to steer a straight line. The trail mostly followed arroyos, curving around hills and ridges. In the late afternoon he stopped at a wide spot in the dry stream bed and dug for water with a stick. Just as he had guessed, the nearby slopes had channeled their runoff to that section of the stream. Less than one foot down, he found water or rather moist soil. He had to wait for a drinkable amount of water to ooze into the hole he had dug, but he eventually got enough to refresh himself. He looked about for a protected spot on higher ground and went to sleep. The next morning he drank again and set off. The next few days he had to chop apart the barrel of a cactus for its water. Even so it was barely enough to replace all that he lost from transpiration and perspiration. In this way four more days passed.

By that time he was staggering, stumbling, occasionally falling to his knees, only to pick himself up and trudge forward again. Vultures circled overhead, waiting for him to weaken further, to collapse and lie still. But Justin had a stubborn streak in him. He held his hand up against the sun to glare at the carrion birds.

"Not today!" he croaked defiantly past parched lips, shaking his fist.

"Well said, lad." came a voice from behind him. He saw a man on horse looking down at him, a big red-haired man, only four or five years older than he. "Looks like you could use a helping hand, youngster."

At the limit of his strength, dehydrated, half-starved, Justin swayed on his feet then crumpled to the ground. He came to his senses as the stranger dribbled water from a canteen onto the boy's lips. He surged upward, reaching for the canteen.

"Take it easy, little one. Too much, too soon would be bad for you. Just sips at first. There is a good lad."

Justin realized his benefactor was right. Parched as he was he had better take sips at first so he could keep the life-giving water in his belly. Meanwhile, he tried to focus on what the man was saying.

"Marsters, Lee Marsters. And what would your name be, boy?"

Justin told him. After the man helped him into the welcome shade of a creosote bush, he went on to explain how he happened to be wandering the wilderness of southern Utah bare ass naked, alone, on foot, without tools or weapons or supplies of any kind. As they spoke the man pitched camp. It was only mid-afternoon, but Marsters realized that his young charge was in no shape to travel. Given water, food, and rest, he might be up to it the next day or certainly the one after that. Marsters could see that the boy, though slightly built was in good shape. He had a trim wiry physique: all bone and muscle without a scrap of fat. Marsters wondered at the overall tan which indicated the boy must be out and about often in the nude. The thick calluses on his feet showed why the boy did not seem especially footsore. He probably never wore shoes.

Marsters reflected on his good luck. He definitely could use a helper in his gold mining venture, but he had not hired anyone. Frankly he did not know anyone he could trust with the location of his gold strike. Here maybe he had found one. Justin seemed a decent honest boy and one who had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. No one would miss him or wonder what he was up to, ensuring the secrecy of Marsters' venture. The boy did not really know where he was in this unfamiliar country. Also, the boy would be completely dependent on Marsters for his very survival.

Marsters decided to offer Justin a chance to earn enough money for a decent start in life. The poor kid had absolutely nothing, not even a pair of pants to cover that pert rump of his. What were those crazy Mormons thinking, sending into exile what should be the life blood of their settlement, its youth. More to the point, how could anyone reject a beauty like little Justin.

Marster's interest in the boy was not solely for his labor. He could see that the boy would make a fine companion and, Marsters hoped, a willing bed mate. The older man felt lust flooding him as he looked the boy over, stretched out on a blanket but still nude. He trembled with his unsatisfied lust. This lad was an incredible find, easily the most beautiful youth he had ever laid eyes on. He would be a welcome companion during long weeks at the mine and maybe afterwards.

What Marsters eyed hungrily was a youth still five months short of seventeen though looking younger. Justin was a comely lad, small for his age and slender. Standing not quite four inches over five feet (162 cm) and weighing only 110 pounds (50 kg) he had a fawn-like physique but with a wiry musculature, toned and taut from hard work. Indeed his small hands were callused. Justin was prettier than a boy had any right to be with delicate features, a straight nose, high cheekbones, and large green eyes topped by a blond thatch. He had virtually no hair on his body, mere wisps under his arms or at the fork of his legs, a condition probably related to his failure to reach full height. His complexion was flawless with no hint of the acne that can mar a teenager's face.

The proportions of his physique were especially attractive. With many slightly built youths, the legs are disproportionately short, accounting for most of the deficit in height. Justin's trim form was smaller in proportion, retaining the classic ratios which artists have discovered please the eye and excite concupiscence. Besides his alluring physique, the boy had one of those faces that would turn heads in a crowd. Men and women would do double takes and stare at him wondering how anyone could be that cute.

Below tiny red nipples and a deeply indented navel, narrow hips framed a disproportionately generous manhood for one with so slight a build, Justin was real beauty, a vision of youthful male pulchritude, sleek and smooth, deeply and evenly tanned all over. He carried so little body fat that the beat of his heart was visible on the left side of his rib cage. Stray wisps of hair were plastered against his temples and forehead, darkened by perspiration. No razor had ever scraped his cheeks or had needed to. The boy was naturally beardless, with no hint of peach fuzz.

After an early supper, the two young men turned in. Marsters undid his gun belt and laid it within reach next to his boots. Then he stripped to his drawers, revealing a lean muscular physique. He stood nearly a foot taller than the boy, with little hair on his body, tanned to the hips. With just the one blanket between them, Marsters had the boy sleep spooned into his big frame. He made no advances, not that night, content to hold the boy to him, to lay his clean shaven cheek next to Justin's the better to smell the boy in his arms. It was good to feel the trim hard body of a boy next to his. It had been too long. They quickly fell asleep.

Chapter 2. Bonding

Justin awoke at dawn, confused at first by finding himself lying in the arms of a strange man, his bare backside up against what was clearly the man's morning wood. Justin had never been in the arms of a man before, not like this. It felt good. He wriggled his bottom so the man's erection lay in the cleavage of his ass. That felt good too.

Of course, Justin knew that this was supposed to be terribly wicked, taking pleasure in lying with another male. The man gave off a masculine scent that was intoxicating, a mixture of leather and horse, wood smoke and musk. Too bad Justin was still too wrung out from his ordeal to explore these pleasant sensations any further. Actually his bladder urgently required his attention. He rolled out of the stranger's arms -- no Lee Marsters' arms -- and attended to his call of nature. Then he lay back down. The man stirred, reflexively rubbing his erection against the bare rump backed into his lap. Suddenly the man's eyes flew open.

"Oh, young Justin. Uh, sorry about that just now. I must have been dreaming or something. Well comfortable as this is, it is really time for us to be up and about."

Suiting actions to words he soon had a fire going to make coffee and fry some bacon and beans for breakfast. As the two young males were eating Marsters sounded Justin out about working for him. As he expected the boy was willing, even eager for the job, especially when he was told they were on a quest for gold. On his last expedition, Marsters had discovered a placer deposit in a small seasonal stream. He intended to follow it all the way upstream and upslope to the mother lode. For that he needed much time and the supplies carried by his mule. A helper would make the work go faster. This would be outdoor work, panning for gold at many different spots along the stream then upslope, triangulating to find where the deposit was richest, the mother lode.

"Now as to outfitting you, there Justin, I must admit that I have no extra clothing to give you and only the one blanket to sleep in, besides the one under the saddle. So, till we get back to civilization, you will have to travel and work as you have been doing, barefoot and butt naked. I understand you rather like running around in the nude anyway, to judge by your even bronze color. Your elders did not just happen upon you in the nude. It is habitual with you, isn't it boy?"

Justin nodded. Actually he rather relished the chance to prance around in the nude in front of an audience, to display himself before this overpoweringly masculine man who had been looking at him in ways that suggested he was sexually attracted to the boy. And it wasn't like Justin was being wanton, running around totally nude. They were just being practical, given the resources available.

So Justin would proceed as before, entirely bare ass, every part of him on display. Also barefoot and on foot too. Marsters said his mule was already overloaded with supplies. So riding him was out of the question. Justin would stay on foot, striding alongside Marsters' horse. At least he had food and water now, enough to survive the perilous desert crossing. Marsters weapons would keep the big cats at bay too.

Their way lay persistently upland, onto the Kaibab plateau and its forest of aspen, spruce, fir, and ponderosa pine. Warm enough in the spring for a slender nude youth, the plateau was cold enough in winter for heavy snowfall. It was the snow melt that was the source of the intermittent stream they would be panning for gold. Marsters had a spot already picked out for their camp. It was sheltered from the wind and downstream of the camp with good grazing for the animals. The waters of the stream gleamed in the sunlight as it splashed around rocks and over sills. Delighted with a chance to get clean again, the boy plunged in only to be reminded that snow melt can be cold. Marsters barked out a laugh seeing the lad spring out of the water, yelping with surprise then flinging himself onto the bank shivering, skin all goosebumps. He showed Justin where there was a still side pool farther up that warmed up enough under the sun's rays to be comfortable enough for washing and swimming.

The next day, Marsters showed Justin how to pan for gold. It looks easy enough, but like everything else there is a trick to it. Anyone can slosh sandy water around in a 14" pan. The trick is to slosh the sand out and let the denser gold nuggets or dust sink to the bottom. A good technique really is all in the wrists, and the boy caught on quickly. He was good with his hands and had a good eye too for the gleam of gold at the bottom of the pan. Confident that the lad would do a good job for him, Marsters set him to work. They started upstream from their camp, following the scent of the gold, as it were, looking for the richest sands.

Marsters was happy for the company. He had traveled alone for too long. It wasn't just the mere fact of companionship. This particular boy Justin he had stumbled across was a rare delight. He was cheerful and intelligent and talkative, even something of a chatterbox and intensely curious about the world he knew so little of. Marsters was widely traveled, an educated man, a West Pointer and former army officer. It felt good to talk with the boy about the republic which now stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, about his education at West Point, and about map making and building bridges (West Point was an engineering school as much as a military one). The older man found the boy a good audience, his cheerful honest face a welcome sight during their tedious hours of work by the stream.

Then of course there was the boy's physical beauty, so close to hand, totally nude, with his tanned torso bent over, spinal bumps leading down to the cleavage of the rump, only the soles of his feet the original pale shade. He reminded Justin of a fawn, young and wiry as he was, veins standing out in his arms and legs under the taut skin. His hair was spun gold and his eyes the green of growing things. He had a ready smile too. No wonder he was so intensely attracted to the lad, but Marsters was never one to force himself on a boy, especially a virgin like this former Mormon. Marsters decided to be patient, to wait for the boy to signal he was ready for physical intimacy. He could tell from the way Justin looked at him during their morning ablutions that the boy was physically attracted to him, just nervous due to his sheltered upbringing. After a week had passed at their diggings, he sensed that the boy's sexual urges were overcoming his shyness, so he decided it was time to make his move. The older male found Justin splashing in the warm pool at the end of a day of hard work.

"Mind if I join you, Justin?" Marsters asked already stripping off his garments and kicking off the moccasins he wore around the mine.

"Sure thing, sir" Justin said in a shaky voice, watching this much larger man take off every stitch. This was the first time Marsters had stripped entirely in front of him, though he had seen him in just his drawers. The man was tall and lean and powerfully built, with strong shoulders. He exuded masculine charm. He had a commanding presence though softened by the kind regard with which he looked at the boy. No sexual predator lurked behind that intent stare but an ardent suitor. Still the boy was intimidated by the contrast between a virtually hairless boy like himself and the macho adventurer who had rescued him and become his employer and friend.

Of course he knew what the man wanted from him. No farm boy is truly innocent of the facts of life, growing up around animals, nor was Justin. He knew that male and female joined in the act of generation to further their species. That included men and women. But he was a boy, and this was a man. Yet he also sensed this man would never violate him, never take him unwillingly, despite his longings. There was a decency and integrity in this man that recommended him as both a friend and a lover. In his own way, Marsters must have been as lonely as Justin himself. And he certainly was an attractive man, with those startlingly blue eyes of his and his red hair. Justin felt a sudden heat in his belly and his heart sped up, his throat going dry. He felt his manhood plump up. Suddenly embarrassed Justin turned his back to the man squeezing his eyes shut.

Marsters was smart enough to realize that he must be gentle with the boy, not scare him off by coming on too aggressively despite his intense attraction. The boy had lead a sheltered existence, after all. He swam over to where Justin stood chest high in the water and put his hands on his narrow shoulders.

"Don't be shy or frightened, Justin. I won't hurt you, or make you do anything you really don't want to do. I am your friend. I would like to be your lover too. You like this don't you, the way I am holding you, touching you?"

As Justin nodded, Marsters ran his hands down the trembling boy's flanks to his narrow hips.

"My, my, you are such a handsome lad, slender though well built. Here let me step a little closer. I so very much want your body next to mine."

He put his chest to the boy's back, his legs straddling the boy's slender hips, virtually engulfing him. Justin whimpered as he felt Marsters' upright manhood press against his backside, into his cleavage. The older male held the boy in his arms, stroking his chest and belly, rubbing his nipples, nibbling his ear, cooing and soothing the boy but letting him feel the strength in Marsters' arms. Marsters reached lower and stroked Justin's erection with one hand, weighing his taut ballsac in the other. The boy's breathing speeded up. He felt lightheaded, flushed and incredibly hot despite standing chest deep in the pool of water.

His own hands stroked Marsters' forearms uncertainly. The man's hands reached up to stroke his face. Justin found himself kissing them in return. He looked back anxiously into the older male's face to ask.

"The elders taught me that this was wrong, that a man should not lie with man. The Bible calls it an abomination."

"Yes the very label the ancient Hebrews also put on pork and on delectable shellfish like lobster and clams. So why take any of their condemnations seriously? As to your elders, what wisdom do they have, really? They deny their young males all female companionship, whip you for pleasuring yourself, and curse those of you who turn to their own kind for gratification and love. They are ignorant, selfish, and small minded. It is wrong to condemn your natural impulses and to deny your honest feelings. Does this really feel wrong, lad, something awful? Isn't this what your body craves? For males like us, these feelings are natural, this attraction to our own kind. It isn't something we chose. We are as God made us. Don't deny yourself the way I did in my young manhood, in school and later. I finally left the Army so I could be true to myself."

"Surely this kind of touching is what you have wanted ever since we linked up in the desert. I know I have longed for you, watching you run around naked as we worked this stream. We would be false to our own natures not to respond to these feelings, Justin. Let me teach you to make love to a man."

Abruptly Justin spun around and turned his face up to the older male. "Yes," he gasped passionately. "Please teach me. I am burning with desires I don't fully understand."

"Come with me then, Justin. Let's get out of the water and lie together. "

They climbed out of the pool and lay down, the soft grass their nuptial bed. That was the beginning of Justin's education in male love. The boy was so small and beautiful, a delicate flower, just right for picking. His slender physique was utterly alluring, tanned, trim, wiry, with a well corrugated front and a fine round rump in back. His genitals were generous for a boy with such a slight build, the ballsac virtually hairless and pulled tight to the fork of the legs.

With the boy stretched out under him, Marsters kissed Justin, noting the youth's surprise as he thrust his tongue inside the boy's lips and played with his tongue. The boy moaned and raised himself up, pressing their bodies together. Marsters kissed the boy's nose and cheeks, then snuffled at his ears, nipping the lobes. As the boy's hands roamed over his broad back, Marsters sucked on his the nubbins of his tits, teasing them with his tongue, then nibbling on them. The boy gasped as the older male introduced him to these unsuspected erogenous zones. Marsters had to suppress his amusement at the boy's innocence and ignorance. Laughter would only embarrass the nervous virgin youth.

The older man proceeded slowly with the boy, limiting himself to oral sex that first day. After nibbling the boy's nipples and licking his belly, he showed Justin how a man can pleasure another man's cock with his mouth, a total surprise to the innocent lad who had never thought of the mouth as a sex organ. Justin couldn't believe how good it felt, to have his rigid manhood surrounded by such warmth and wetness, to feel the flutter of tongue and lips on the head of his cock or the gentle pull of lips on the rim of the glans, responding to the strong even strokes of a man's fingers with a mounting climax. He moaned inarticulately as the older male inducted him into the age old fraternity of males who take their pleasure with others of their kind, bringing him to a shuddering orgasm. The boy fell back bonelessly. After the boy came in his mouth, Marsters slid his body up and kissed Justin hard, letting the boy taste his own male essence. Justin blushed, thinking this was terribly shameful but so very exciting and sexy too. The taste was strange and slightly salty but not bad.

Then it was Justin's turn, his chance to bring his lover to climax and to taste his gism. For this coupling, Marsters stood on his feet, a tower of strength and masculinity while the boy stayed on his knees, the position of the supplicant, small and submissive, looking up worshipfully at his new lover. The boy readily accepted his subordinate role as one ordained by his youth, his inexperience, and his small nearly hairless physique, so much less manly than the older male's.

Marsters found himself responding to the boy's goodness and innocence, breaking him in very gently and carefully despite the intensity of his arousal, not face fucking him roughly, but letting the boy proceed at his own pace. Though tentative at first and a bit clumsy, Justin was soon lustily applying the lesson he had learned from the older male, pleasuring him in turn, slurping, and licking, and sucking, careful with his teeth, as he had been instructed.

Justin wasn't so good at getting Marsters' member down his throat; his gag reflex got in the way. Marsters did not chide him or try to force himself deeper. No point choking the boy, alarming him by cutting off his airway. Marsters could see the boy was willing, even eager for oral sex. So what if he was clumsy his first time. He would get better with practice. He just needed time. Gently, gently.

He wanted a boy to be pleased as much as he was himself. It felt good, taking a boy as a partner not just a conquest or a paid companion. Justin looked so very pretty and submissive down there on his knees, gazing up at him trustingly with those big green eyes of his. How could he betray the trust of such an innocent? Marsters felt unaccustomed warm feelings for his new lover. He realized he had grown very fond of Justin. He was a good lad who inspired the best in those he met.

That first afternoon, Marsters introduced Justin to the mutual pleasure of sucking cock, but saved the boy's ass for another day. A boy's first penetration could be scary and painful -- even humiliating and shameful if handled badly. Marsters wanted the boy eager for their joining, not dreading it. He never wanted Justin to feel ashamed of anything they did with their bodies or afraid that Marsters might hurt him. Not that Marsters ever would. Yes he could be a hard man and had been in combat and other tough spots where he had taken human life, but this boy brought out the caring and nurturing side of his nature. Little Justin was so cute and sexy. He needed this boy to love him, to want to live with him even after their work at the mine. He wanted an end to his loneliness. Everything looked promising too. As physically responsive as the youth was to Marsters' first lesson, he knew the boy would be just fine as long as Marsters was careful with him. This was one lusty lad who only needed a gentle hand on the reins.

The next day they were by the marge of the swimming hole again, not really for a swim but to make love. Marsters had told the boy to void himself before going to the pool. He stripped excitedly, practically dancing with anticipation as he pulled off his drawers. Justin knew this was the day he and Marsters would fully become lovers. For their first time, it would be face to face, the boy on his back with his heels in the air. The older male's large virile member slid along Justin's cleavage, from tail bone to perineum, poking, prodding and playing with the anal ring, teasing him before the real fuck. His thumbs alternately pulled the anal ring apart then let it relax, gradually stretching it. Marsters fingered the boy's nether hole, pushing in, lubricating him with a bit of oil, thoughtfully preparing him for his first ever penetration, letting him get used to the idea that another male would penetrate this most intimate orifice.

Finally it was time. Justin felt the head of Marsters' cock slide along his cleavage and poke at the brown whorl between his legs. Marsters' manhood stretch the anal ring as the head push through the outer ring then the inner one. The shaft slid inside, first just past the head, letting it stay there, to give Justin time to adjust to Marsters' impressive size. The initial pain hadn't been as bad as he had feared. He nodded to show he was ready for more. With a push of his hips, Marsters slid it in a bit further, gratified that the boy's tiny orifice with its crinkly folds, was accepting his rather impressive girth, without causing the boy too much distress. His cock found the boy's joy spot, making him shudder with lust. The boy's whimpers and moans arose from sexual desire and sensual delight, not from any real distress as he tossed his head from side to side.

Marsters was pleased not only for himself but because he had brought so much pleasure to a boy who had till then had denied his own longings. As Marsters started pumping, Justin asked for more cock, for Marsters to plant it deeper into him, to thrust harder, to fill him with cock. They fell into a rhythm, Justin raising his rump to meet the descending shaft as it penetrated his ass, using his internal muscles to squeeze the invading penis, both males sweating profusely. They climaxed together, Justin's seed shot out as a long string stretching from the cock to his face, a white stream that fell on face, chest, and belly. Two more spurts followed, nearly as energetic. This was a boy whose pent up sexuality was making up for lost time.

Marsters fell atop they boy and they lay together, their bellies pasted together by sweat and cum, the older male's cock still in the boy, catching their breath, their pulses slowing, enjoying the afterglow. Justin had a shy smile on his face. Marsters was gratified that the boy was not suddenly overcome with guilt and shame. He was smiling, almost giddy. They kissed sweetly then lay together quietly, gathering their strength for a second round. For variety, he took the boy on all fours, doggy style. Justin giggled as he shifted into position, realizing this was the position he had seen so often with farm animals.

"A fine set of withers on as fine as filly as I ever mounted" Masters declared, swatting him playfully on the rump.

"Filly? But I am a male."

"All right, a colt then, a frisky colt, just begging to be mounted, if I am any judge of things."

"Yes, please!" the boy begged.

Marsters eased his cock into the boy's eager hole, pumping away, reaching under the boy's belly to toy with his own manhood. Once again, they fell into a rhythm until, in the fullness of time they came simultaneously then collapsed to the grass, though Marsters quickly rolled off to let the boy breathe more easily. They lay side by side, holding hands, gazing at each other, silent, enjoying their new found intimacy.

Chapter 3. California

The next two months were perhaps the happiest ever in the lives of the two young lovers, the blossoming of their love for each other. They talked constantly as they worked the claim or over a fire in the evening, getting to know one another, filling in their backgrounds, revealing their likes and dislikes, learning to read each other's moods as only a couple can.

Marsters never tired of the sight of his young lover's nude body kneeling by the stream bed, bent over the pan, the muscles of his arms and back playing delightfully under the taut tanned skin as he swished the mixture of sand and gold to separate them. From his thatch of sun gold hair on top to the firm round rump below, the boy was a constant temptation to the older male to set aside his own work and take the boy into his arms and make love to him. Occasionally he did just that, surprising Justin, dragging his squirming body onto the bank, wrestling it into position, the boy unresisting and submissive after the initial surprise, loving the things that Marsters would do with his body.

It took three weeks of digging and panning to locate the mother lode, the central alluvial deposit from which the gold dust in the creek had been swept downstream. It was a mixture of rich sands and nuggets as big as Marsters' thumb. They spent four more weeks digging it out and separating the gold from the sand.

In the end, the partners had several hundred pounds in dust and nuggets. Now the weight of gold is measured by troy ounces, twelve to a troy pound. A troy ounce is a heavier than the more familiar avoirdupois ounce, so the poundage is nearly the same. This was a fortune, enough to set them up for life, properly invested.

"What will you do with your share of the gold, Justin? Where will you go?" the older man asked anxiously.

"Go?" the boy said, confused. "I ... I hoped we would stay together. Are you saying you don't want me to be with you anymore? That you are sending me away?"

Marsters could see the boy was almost in tears, his chin trembling, fearful of rejection.

"Oh Justin, anything but." He said, hugging the lad's naked body to him. "Of course I want you stay with me and to share my life fully. I want us to live together openly, in a big house. I will even hire tutors to help you complete your education -- and don't make a face at that, you will thank me for it later, young man."

Justin nodded, unable to speak, tears of joy in his eyes, overwhelmed with gratitude and love for this decent man who had first saved his life, then taught him to love. Now they would share their lives as a couple. Life does not get any better than that.

"I have plans for this money, Justin, in California. Oh not to look for more gold, but to invest in farm land and real estate in Fresno, a growing town in the Central Valley. I plan to grow grapes for almonds and figs on the farm land and put up a packing plant and warehouses near the new railroad. All I needed was a stake. Now I have it. Or rather we have it.

"We'll get papers drawn up so that you are officially a junior partner. One quarter of everything will be yours, in your own name. You will work as my private secretary as well. You're a bright lad and you have shown me you have quite a legible hand. At least those Mormons taught you that much. You will take care of my correspondence and manage the office.

"I would like to do that, Lee. I am sure I can make a good job of it. I have a head for figuring too. I want a real job. I have always pulled my own weight. I couldn't bear the thought of being just a kept boy."

"Good for you, Justin. Our partnership will give us a valid public reason to share a home. We will have to be careful on that score you understand, two young males living together without women, sharing not only a home but a bed. Society can be very cruel to males who love others of their kind. We could be ostracized or even horse-whipped out of town."

"I guess I will have to get used to wearing clothing too," the boy said resignedly. "Too bad, I rather like running around bare ass like this. I feel so free."

"I expect a shameless boy like you will make his own opportunities. I can see you running around the house in the altogether much of the time, at least when we are alone or maybe in our garden outside."

"Count on it, Lee. And I don't see why I cannot work the fields butt naked as well. "

Marsters slapped the boy's bare rump as they laughed at Justin's shamelessness, happy at the prospects before them. That last night at their mine, they made love with heightened intensity in celebration of what promised to be a great future.

The pair of lovers did not try to take all their gold with them at once. They stashed two thirds of it in a hole dug in the ground and covered it with flat rocks. The pack mule would carry the rest of the gold except for a small bag of gold dust Marsters would carry on his person for expenses. Justin waited outside of town with the mule and Marsters' rifle to guard the gold while the older man stopped at the general store to buy the lad some clothing. The pants and shirt were a little big on Justin but would do him for now. As for boots, the boy tried them on for size himself when he came into town dressed in his new finery. All went well in the first little town they passed through. The boy was clothed, shod, and mounted on a steady mare. They made no secret of the fact that they had found gold but told everyone their claim had panned out after only a small yield, barely enough for a stake in new diggings farther west.

Marsters' plan was to hire some Pinkerton men to help them recover the rest of the gold but first they had to sell what was on the pack mule in a town with an assay office and a bank. That meant Cedar City Utah, a center for iron mining. Even so, the mining town had neither a railroad nor even a telegraph line. They would have to make the long trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, which had both. Both young men were armed with rifles and Marsters had a pair of Colts. They carried considerable liquid funds in twenty dollar gold pieces in money belts around their waists and had a draft from the assay office for the bulk of their funds for deposit in the bank.

The pair traveled across the Colorado Plateau through a beautiful forest of Ponderosa Pine. Flagstaff lay at the southern end of the plateau which is why the railroad ran there. The Pinkerton agency sent out six reliable men, all handy with guns and able to keep their mouths shut. That enabled the two young men to recover the remainder of their gold and get it safely to California. The lovers did have to cool their expression of ardor on the long trip with the Pinkerton agents. The amused looks they got from those rough men indicated they were not really fooled about their relationship. Why else would a man of the world like Marsters, an Indian fighter in his early twenties, take up with a girlishly pretty fine-boned youth not quite seventeen. Then there was that naked horseplay the pair had engaged in when camped by a pleasant stream. They explained the boy's even tan as the result of having been driven from the Mormon colony in the nude and forced to work at their diggings totally naked. Which was true enough but certainly not the whole truth. Marsters gave the men a bonus in recognition of their amused tolerance.

A year later near Fresno California, Masters' plans were bearing fruit. Their new home was sited five miles from what was then a growing town of some ten thousand. The house was built upon a knoll in the Spanish colonial style, in the form a Mexican hacienda with a high wall around it for privacy. A creek crossed the garden forming a deep pool suitable for swimming in the warm months. Justin loved to read and lunch and swim there.

Their first acreage of almonds and figs were doing well, though it would be several years till the trees matured and produced their first crop. Still they had enough capital to tide them over, some of it invested in town lots which brought them ground rents. Justin particularly loved to work in their kitchen garden: hoeing, weeding, pruning whatever. Justin found he liked tending to green growing things, to make them flourish and yield fruits and tubers and stalks and leafy vegetables. He did not mind grubbing in the soil piling dirt around celery stalks so they would turn white.

By now the hired workers were used to seeing the younger partner working in the fields and the garden bare of all clothing. He wasn't deliberately lascivious and never tried to seduce the young Mexican hands though Manuel in particular was a dark haired beauty in his own right. They had their girlfriends, or failing that the girls at the cantina. So what if the slender pretty-boy went about his chores stark naked. At least the young man was willing to do all the hot sweaty work they did themselves, even the stoop labor. The lad was never bossy. If he needed something done, he asked politely and pitched in when he could. The boy shrugged off the dirt and the sweat and swatted at or swore at the bugs like everyone else. The men appreciated his wiry strength as he dug irrigation ditches or put up fences around the kitchen garden. He took his turn lifting that heavy sledgehammer to pound a post into the hole in the ground then helped string up chicken wire that would keep neighbors' livestock out if they got over their way.

He impressed them too with his unexpected strength. Though short and slender, the lad was stronger than his size might indicate. He hadn't a scrap of excess flesh; he was all hard muscle and sinew and bone. His body glistened with sweat under the hot sun, keeping him nearly as brown as their three Mexican farmhands. They often saw him at work in the garden kneeling on the ground, brown cheeks resting on bare feet, lithe torso bent over, ribs and spinal bumps prominent as, trowel in hand, he worked at his humble task firm muscles playing under the skin. He looked so alive, a fine specimen of the human animal. They would call out a greeting and he would turn to look, flashing a dazzling smile from his open and honest face. And those green eyes, the color of growing things. A real beauty that one, the farmhands thought. A nice kid too.

They found their older patron Marsters more conventional in dress and though friendly enough a man who maintained a certain social distance. Still he had chopped away willingly enough at the tangle of brush that had covered the land, preparing it for crops. In his case he went bare only to the waist when the work was sweaty.

Their staff was all male except for a maid who came by three times a week. They sent their dirty clothes out to the Chinese hand laundry in town. Of course the farmhands and the cook knew that the two young men shared a bed. They could not hide that though the boy did have his own room for changing or for when he needed to be alone, like that time Marsters came down with influenza. The boy had nursed him back to health, hovering over him like a ministering angel.

Justin had developed a taste for genuine Mexican food thanks to their cook, Diego Sanchez, a cheerful middle aged man originally from down Guadalajara way. He was also good with American dishes like steak and potatoes and made a fine Western omelette when they got up late Sunday mornings, the only day they slept in.

True to his promise, Marsters brought in a tutor for Justin. The boy was fascinated by mathematics especially plane geometry. Here was one subject where you could prove the truth of the matter. So much else of which passed for knowledge was just someone's say-so or authoritative opinion especially in politics and religion. Of course he did have to put on a pair of pants and a shirt for when the tutor came by. That gentleman merely raised an eyebrow at the couple's unorthodox menage. Marsters paid well and the boy was an enthusiastic student which was all a teacher could ask for. Which was why he was closemouthed about his employer, never spreading gossip about the handsome couple. Others in town were not so forbearing.

"Old man McCormick gave me a contemptuous look today, Lee, just because, in this heat, my shirt was open to the waist when I pulled the wagon up to this store. He takes our custom at his general store, but he clearly does not like us. He must suspect our physical relationship."

"He wouldn't be the only one, but most people are willing to live and let live, even ignoring the obvious as long as we don't flaunt it, forcing them to acknowledge it, by maybe holding hands or kissing on the street. Look at the two old spinsters in that house with the green arbor who give music lessons. Why do you think two maiden ladies took up with each other in their early twenties rejecting all suitors. I hear they were real beauties in their day."

"You mean they are like us, Lee, lovers? Two women? But how can they ... I mean..."

"Such things are not for your innocent ears, my young friend. Suffice it to say they are a couple, but they are discreet. They earn an honest living; they don't bother anybody, so nobody bothers them. Unfortunately men are less likely to get upset about two spinster ladies than about two young males like us, especially when drunk. Best stay out of bars. Some men are mean drunks."

"Fine, I only stop off at the cantina now and then for a mug of brew, after hauling a load to town. I am no drinking man, Lee, you know that."

Indeed except for an occasional mug of beer (plus the free sandwich), the boy was abstemious in his habits. Sure, he liked the taste of a cold beer with food but that was it. The boy was flabbergasted when an old borrachon (drunkard) explained that, for him, beer was just a way to get drunk. The old reprobate didn't even like the taste of the brew. Justin could only shake his head uncomprehending. It was all Masters could do to get the boy to develop a taste for wine, if only for business. They would be putting in a vineyard next year, so Justin really had to be able to tell a good wine from a bad one.

The boy had tried hard liquor a couple of times, virtually forced by big men in the cantina who wouldn't let him turn down their offer of a drink of the hard stuff. They wanted to see how the slender pretty boy would handle a man's drink.

"This will put hair on your chest, little Justin" he was assured.

Actually Justin did not want hair on his chest or anywhere else on his body. He liked his physique completely smooth. Just recently he had used a razor to remove the sparse tufts at his armpits and groin. Being totally exposed made him feel that much more naked. He felt very wicked, prancing around like that, bereft of those tokens of manhood, leaving him a smooth hairless boy, his cock sprouting directly from his belly wall. As with his body so with his face. As yet his chin was showed no sign of beard or peach fuzz. In his family a man's beard tended to come in late, as much as a decade after puberty. That was fine with Justin. He only wished he could stay boyishly cute forever.

As for the whiskey, the boy first choked on it then coughed it up much to the amusement of the rough characters who had stood him the drink. One of them pounded his back to help him expel the drink then gripped his shoulder companionably and assured him he would handle it better when he was older. Actually Justin was left wondering how anyone could imbibe such vile stuff and promised himself he would never develop a taste for whiskey, older or not. No, the bottle was one problem young Justin would never have to worry about.

Marsters himself avoided the cantina and possible confrontations. The rough men who frequented the place tolerated Justin as a sort of mascot. He was after all just a kid and never went about armed. Small, soft-spoken, personable, and girlishly pretty as he was, Justin did not challenge their traditional concepts of masculinity. Marsters did, at well over six feet, lean and strong, a combat veteran with a reputation for being good with his fists or his gun. Yet he had taken up with this boy. Oh they did not flaunt it, but there was no real doubt that they were a pair of sodomites.

The young couple did not attend church services. Both had had enough of organized religion to last their lifetimes. The local padre had soon realized how it was with them and did not press the young couple to attend. He was very friendly when they ran into each other on the street. The fact is that he shared Marsters' attraction to young males. Only his vows had kept him from exploring that side of his nature after he reached the seminary. Meanwhile, it would do no harm to chat up the impossibly pretty Justin, a fine lad as anyone could see despite his scandalous sartorial eccentricities. Besides the good padre knew that every month, when Marsters thought no one was looking, he dropped a twenty dollar gold piece into the coin box for the poor.

Chapter 4. Temblor

The earliest sign of the impending earthquake was when all the birds in the district took to the air. Dogs started barking. Suddenly the first shock hit the town of Fresno. Glass shattered in windows and buildings swayed but damage was limited. Then the second shock hit, splitting the ground in several places. Some masonry structures crumbled but the town generally rode out that shock without major damage. The one exception was on the edge of town where the quake toppled a huge decaying ash tree growing next to a grammar school. Its weight brought the whole structure down on the teacher and her thirty pupils.

At Marsters' hacienda, the damage was slight thanks to its stout construction, a matter of some broken crockery. So leaving the cook in charge of the place, Marsters loaded a buckboard with tools and his workforce and drove into town to see what he might do to help. As they unloaded at the site, several men grumbled loud enough for Marsters to hear:

"What is their kind doing here?

He ignored them. Some men had started to clear the wreckage of the school but were forced to stop when the voice of the teacher trapped inside called out to say that their efforts were making things worse. She and her students were in a void at the back of the school. The whole weight of the roof, and walls, and tree trunk was pressing down on them, threatening at any moment to flatten the void formed by the support of the teacher's desk and bookshelves. Either the weight of the men on the wreckage itself or the dislodging of broken timbers threatened to bring everything down on their heads.

"What can we do if we dare not move the wreckage." Old man McCormick bemoaned. "My grandchildren are trapped inside that school!"

Shouting to be heard, Marsters addressed the crowd.

"Listen to me. I am a professional engineer. I trained at West Point. I am pretty sure I can help rescue the children. What we need for the job is a derrick to lift the tree off and swing it aside. We could demolish that water tower over there and use its pre-cut timbers to build a derrick to lift the ash tree off the wreckage of school. The only problem is that anything we do might collapse the void while we are working. I need a volunteer to get inside and prop it up temporarily. Any volunteers?"

"Let me try, Lee." Justin spoke up. "I can wriggle right into the void and prop it up from the inside with short timbers. I'm just the man for the job too, small enough to work my way into the wreckage but strong enough to handle the braces. You know how everyone says I am strong for my size. I can do this, Lee."

"That might work, and we can use railroad ties for bracing. Are you sure about this Justin? The void could collapse at any moment. You would be crushed. I couldn't bear to lose you."

"Lee neither of us could ever face himself if we did not at least try. There are thirty children in there, mostly still alive plus the teacher. Let's do it."

Impressed by the pair's sincerity and concern for the trapped kids, and with no other feasible options, the men put themselves under Marsters orders and went to work. Some fetched railroad ties for bracing. Others got rope and nails and tools from McCormick's general store. The largest group demolished the nearby water tower with the owner's permission and collected the beams for constructing a derrick. Meanwhile Justin stripped down to his drawers so he would not get snagged as he wriggled through the wreckage. He tied a rope around his waist. Once he reached the void, he would use it to pull railroad ties in one by one to brace the weight of the wreckage from underneath. Marsters gave the brave lad a fierce hug before he crept into a likely opening. Then he directed the construction of the derrick. Since they were using already cut wood with bolt holes in the ends, the work went quicker though the resulting construction was oddly shaped. The main thing was that the machine provided sufficient mechanical advantage to lift the heavy ash tree.

Justin had to back out of two dead ends before he found a way into the void. He stopped three times to brace the weight overhead with railroad ties. The way was perilous with nails sticking out of the wood and jagged splinters at the end of broken beams. Justin bumped his head and cut his shoulder and his hip as he pushed deeper into the wreckage. He ignored the pain and the bleeding. At one point he nearly panicked when he got stuck and could go neither forward nor back. It took all his presence of mind to avoid panic, to breathe deep to calm himself. He flattened himself as much as he could and managed to extricate himself to try again, even if that did tear the back of his shorts. Eventually he made his way into the void, dimly lit by sunlight filtering in through crannies.

The young schoolmarm was taken aback when Justin wriggled his way into the void, grabbing at his drawers that the wreckage threatened to snatch off his hips. The last thing she expected was the arrival of a nearly nude young man, and a stunning blond beauty at that. One of the children piped up to ask.

"Is he an angel, Miss Morris? He looks like the pictures only with no wings."

Plucky lady that she was, she answered. "Yes, that is what he is, a veritable angel and he has come to rescue us."

That brought a cheer from the pupils. The sound carried to the workmen outside encouraging everyone immensely. Justin's signal with the rope for them to attach more ties to it rope also gave them hope, telling them that the brave lad was at work trying to stabilize the wreckage. All told, the boy installed eight ties as braces around the void, forming interlocking upside-down V's for maximum strength as Marsters had told him to. Miss Morris with her broken arm could do little to help directly, but she was a calming influence on her frightened charges.

Afterwards, the work done, both adults spoke with the children to calm their fears. When darkness fell, the teacher lit the kerosene lamp that had survived the earthquake intact. In the glow of the lantern Justin started singing in his clear tenor voice simple camp songs that the children soon joined in, songs like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "100 Bottles of Beer". You might have thought they were on a picnic. Afterwards, with admiration in her eyes for the courage and kindness of her young rescuer, the teacher said.

"You know Mr Anders, I cannot remember the last time I encountered a handsome young man clad in just his drawers. Not that I am complaining of course. You do look heavenly even if you aren't really an angel. You must be very brave crawling in here to rescue us. I would like to give you a kiss when we get finally out of this, if that is all right with you.

"No problem, Miss, but I have to tell you that I am already ... er ... spoken for."

Even in the dim light of the lantern, he could see her blush. "Yes, there are those rumors going around about the two of you out at the hacienda. After today, I don't think anyone will care what you get up to in private."

The men on the derrick had to work well into the night to get it finished, but Marsters insisted they wait for daylight for the actual lift. Meanwhile, via the rope, the rescuers sent water and food into the void for the trapped pupils. By midmorning the tree had been lifted and set to one side and the wreckage of the school carefully cleared around the void. Several times the wreckage shifted and threatened to cave in, but the bracing Justin had installed held up. After two hours, Justin, the teacher, and twenty seven pupils emerged tired but alive from the wreckage. Two boys and a girl had been crushed in the initial collapse. Their bodies were pulled out of the wreckage later.

Justin emerged filthy, sweaty, and bloody though his wounds were actually superficial and had stopped bleeding during the night. So it looked worse than it was. His drawers had been torn exposing his right cheek and nearly dragged right off his narrow hips, so the boy was the next thing to naked. Not that he paid any attention to his state of undress, as he passed one child after another over to the rescuers. Many of the children hugged him or kissed him on the cheek to show their gratitude. The sight brought home to onlookers how much Justin had put at risk for them: his life, his youth, his beauty of face and of form, everything he was or would ever be. The lad might easily have died or, if he survived, been crippled or disfigured. He had risked all that for the sake of their children.

Not giving a hoot about propriety or her reputation, the young school teacher hauled off and wrapped her practically naked rescuer in her arms, pressing her body to his and kissed him on both cheeks, a moment which was captured for the newspapers by an enterprising photographer. That brought applause from the onlookers and a wry smile from Marsters. He did draw the boy to himself for a heartfelt hug to show his relief at his lover's safety.

Even old man McCormick, reunited with his grandkids looked on benignly at the obvious affection between the two lovers. He came up to them to give them his thanks.

"You are two good men, both of you. I ask your forgiveness for being a judgmental old fool before. A man's worth is what he does with his time on this earth. You risked your life, Justin, for the town's children. And without your engineering expertise, Marsters, the rescue effort would have failed. Let no one ever say you aren't a fine pair of young men. I wish you good luck in your life together. As the patriarch of my family, let me invite you to Thanksgiving dinner next month."

Miss Morris invited them to her wedding the following year. That forced Justin to learn to dance. The Mormons had never allowed dancing among them. He acquitted himself quite well thanks to his natural physical grace and helpful lessons from his tutor.

The two young men became part of local legend, the young heroes who had saved over two dozen children and their school mistress. No one except strangers ever bothered them about their unorthodox union, which they were always careful not to flaunt in public. As long as they were discreet and kept their intimacy private, everyone was willing to look the other way, which was the best gay persons could expect in those less enlightened times.

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