Into the Fire: The Complete Series
When Rome falls, Marc treks home across the desolation to find everything changed, including his boyhood friend Wolf.
Gone is the big, clumsy lad. In his place at the forge stands a man as skilled as he is shy.
And surely not interested in feeding the spark he's just lit in Marc's belly.
One that feels unnervingly like hope.
When Marcus left to fight, Wolf had a secret. One that burned so hot he shoved it down deep.
Now Marc's back, hardened by war and survival into something only fire could mend.
Wolf knows fire. And every day in Marc's presence tempts him to use it.
But with the world in chaos, can he risk incinerating them both?
This complete series collection includes all 9 original novellas, plus 2 exclusive short stories – approx. 175,000 words total.
“Outstanding series – humor with a huge amount of heart and an author who writes intelligently and compassionately and always, always allows her MCs to come across as strong, capable and loving men – I can't ask for anything more.” – Karen, Goodreads
“I would happily read and read and read about Marc and Wolf forever. If you like m/m romances and historical romances you will love these books.” – Jo, Goodreads
“This is my all-time favorite love story. Hands down.” – Mary, Goodreads
Release date: March 13, 2020
Print pages: 716
Content advisory: This series includes depictions of violence, death, injury & illness, surgery & rehabilitation, ableism, adoption, childbirth, homophobia, and bondage kink.
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Into the Fire: The Complete Series
Gaul/Germania frontier, former Roman Empire
Marcus walked the last few miles barefoot.
The four-month journey had finally claimed his shoes somewhere around the last dead man. As his luck would have it, the corpse had had no shoes either. It hadn’t had much of anything recognizably human, except for the wedge-shaped hole in its skull, evidence of the axe that had killed it. Marc hoped the blow had killed. If not, the wolves likely had.
The fucking wolves. He shifted his pack and kept walking. He no longer slept at night, bedding down during the safer midday hours instead. He had seen them, their eyes silver with moonlight, on more than one night-misted stretch of road. He walked those hours with sword drawn.
Now, as the rising sun threw orange streaks across the sky, his fingers had cramped into claws. His sword hung from them, bobbing like a limp cock.
He was close, and the prospect of a night without his sword in hand quickened his weary step. The thought of seeing old Matthias again stoked a small, bright fire in his throat.
Marc knew now that Matthias hadn’t been all that old back then. He’d probably seen about thirty-five years when he’d taken in the ten-year-old Marcus. Now that Marc had lived thirty-seven of his own years, with the battle marks and sore joints to measure them by, he wondered what had possessed Matthias, who could have taken a wife instead, to volunteer to foster the by-blow of a former camp follower. Matthias had probably saved Marc’s life—not that he’d appreciated that at the time.
Marc sheathed his sword and cringed at the memory of the brat he’d become when his mother died. He’d terrorized the garrison’s cooks with rats, spattered mud on the laundresses’ clean linens, slipped burrs under the horses’ saddle blankets. Whippings hadn’t helped. Marc hadn’t cared. Just when he had figured (hoped) the garrison’s commander would toss him out to live wild in the forest, Matthias had spoken for him.
Marc eyed the hills along the road, beginning to recognize the approach to the garrison. It would be empty of troops now, with the army disbanded and the officers called back to Rome earlier that year. Who knew how the place had fared? A few strongholds along the way had still seemed organized, but most had been looted by scavengers.
On the day Matthias claimed him, Marc had been tied to a post, a last resort. The blacksmith had passed him on his way to the stables. Marc had seen him a few times, but Matthias chose to live on the edge of the forest some distance from the garrison instead of inside its spiked walls, so Marc had forgotten how big the smith was. When Matthias stood over him that morning, Marc realized he’d never truly appreciated the bulk of the smith’s bull-like shoulders, the direct glare of his single eye. From the wide leather belt at his hips hung his farrier’s tools, a hammer and tongs with handles polished by the smith’s massive grip.
“What did you do?” the smith had rumbled in Latin.
“Which time?” Marc had blurted, half resentful, half terrified.
The smith had stared at him long enough that Marc had readied himself for the blow his insolent response deserved. But then the smith’s bearded lips had drawn wide into an unexpected smile, and he’d laughed.
He’d roared. Matthias had never merely laughed, now that Marc thought about it.
That morning, Marc had grinned in reflex. Then the smith had cuffed him on the head, knocking him sideways onto the dirt.
“Stay put,” Matthias had said and walked away.
An hour later, a soldier had untied him from the post and dragged him by one ear to the commander’s quarters. Marc hardly had a chance to goggle at the plush fabrics and polished metal of the room. When he’d crossed the threshold, the smith had turned from the commander’s desk and watched him cross the space. Five minutes after that, Marc had left the garrison for good, Matthias’s meaty hand on the back of his neck like a living yoke.
Now, nearing the bend that would bring the garrison into view, Marc drew his sword again. The air was cool and quiet, sending an involuntary shiver over his skin. He should have heard the sounds of everyday work, smelled smoke from the kitchen chimneys. Instead, a breeze rattled the dried seed pods of the weeds along the road. The sound wasn’t even answered by birds overhead.
The garrison sat gutted. He could tell as soon as he rounded the bend, spotting the uneven line of the log walls, blackened by fire. Whatever peace Rome had managed here was gone. He veered into the forest.
Some parts of the path had grown over. He picked his way northeast around the garrison by memory. The stream still ran, which heartened him. He followed it as quickly as his road-weary legs could manage.
Close. He was close.
Marc picked up his pace. Don’t think. Just walk.
And then the stream emerged from the forest. The hut stood in the middle of its cleared pasture. Enough space for a milk cow. No cow grazed, but smoke rose from the smithy and a hammer rang across the meadow. Marc drove his sword into the earth and leaned on it until his legs felt solid under him.
He hadn’t admitted until then what he had dreaded most: that Matthias wouldn’t be there. That he had left with the troops. That he had laid his old bones down and died.
But he hadn’t. That hammer—his hammer. Its rhythm tolled in Marc’s chest, unmistakable.
He held on to his gear until he reached the hut. On the hard-packed dirt of the chicken yard, he dropped his pack, his shield, his sword. The hens scattered to one edge of the fenced yard, squawking. Marc grinned at them. “Run while you can,” he said. “I’m wringing one of your necks tonight.”
They seemed to shudder at his words, scuffling as far away as they could. Marc turned from them to go find Matthias. Just as he registered that the noises from the workshop had stopped, he found himself face to face with a smith.
That was all Marc could decide, based solely on the man’s sweat-soaked leather apron, the hammer he held, and the soot darkening his bare hands and forearms. He was a big man, taller than Marc and broader, with great bunching knots of muscle in his shoulders and arms. Despite the chill in the air, perspiration slicked the smith’s skin and hair. His beard, braided under his chin, looked like a sheaf of wheat at harvest. His eyes—he had both, the final blow—glared at Marc like two angry lapis beads, but lighter. The color confounded him.
The smith’s great braced boots unfixed themselves from the ground, and he stalked toward Marc.
“Who—” Marc managed before the smith bared his teeth. The hammer swept up in a sudden arc, as if it weighed nothing.
Marc flinched, only partly in a useful direction. He drew his muscles taut, his mind wiped blank by the instinct driving his body to throw itself aside, to reach for his sword.
He almost made it before the sun exploded from his left ear.
The bandit slumped to the ground, his mouth agape. Wolfram stood over the man’s stinking body, shaking like a damned lamb. He prodded the body with his toe. It remained limp.
Wolf choked up on the hammer and left the yard to check the rest of the property. Finding no one else, he returned to drag the bandit’s body away. He kicked aside the heap of gear the intruder had shed at the corner of the yard. The chickens shied at his approach, flustered by the violence. He would need to collect eggs soon; they were bound to have dropped a few on the ground when the stranger fell. Wolf settled his hammer in its loop on his belt and bent to grab the bandit’s ankles.
The corpse groaned.
Wolf flinched. “Shit.”
The man—that’s what he was now, damn it, still a man—made a noise like a pig snuffling, then groaned again.
Wolf fell back a step, his fingers on the head of his hammer. He imagined drawing it from its loop, lifting it high and letting gravity do the deed.
But then he heard old Matthias’s voice, gruff as the grind of old coals. Kill it or mend it.
He had said that to Wolf on his first hunt. They hadn’t hunted often; Matthias had kept chickens and a cow, and fished the deeper pools of the stream. But a few times a year, he had taken Wolf out to snag a deer. Matthias hadn’t wanted Wolf to nurse three different deer back to health—had rolled his eye at the second and shouted at the third. The point of the order had been to make Wolf execute a killing blow to begin with. Nursing something took time that Wolf didn’t have and food Matthias didn’t want to spend on a half-killed wild animal that should have been dinner itself. Matthias had been dismayed, and Wolf no small bit ashamed, to discover that the boy became attached to each injured animal while tending its wounds and feeding it by hand. Eventually, Matthias had stopped taking Wolf out to hunt.
But the directive had stuck. Kill it or mend it. In the months since the troops had abandoned the garrison, Wolf had finally heeded it. He had made that killing strike four times. Three with his hammer, after bandits emptied the smithy and hut of potential weapons. The hammer was a terrible weapon—he had to get too close to use it—but he didn’t have a choice. It was either the hammer or lose the only home he’d known since becoming Matthias’s apprentice almost twenty years before.
Never mind that looters had destroyed the garrison, or that they had frightened off the few who had chosen to live outside those walls. Never mind that Wolf’s parents had died and his brother moved his family away and Anna was gone. Never mind that he made and remade nails and hooks and chain links with no trade in sight. This was his home.
And now he had a guest.
Wolf knelt next to the man, who had begun to moan and writhe. Blood colored Wolf’s fingers when he pressed them to the swelling behind the man’s ear. He pressed again. The man moaned more loudly, but when Wolf palpated the scalp under the long, shaggy hair, he found the man’s skull intact. He would have a lump the size of his fist, most likely, but his brains wouldn’t leak out.
Wolf sat back on his heels. Where to put him? Thieves had stolen the cow a month before, so the byre sat free. Wolf could pad the ground inside with dry grass. It would soak up blood and piss and shit for the man as it had for the cow. And the gate would keep out the wolves. Most likely. Of course, the man’s clothes would come to be a mess. Wolf would have to strip them and find a blanket to throw over him. But first things first: the byre.
Wolf swept it clean and cut armfuls of grass from the meadow. When it formed a soft layer a hand deep, he checked the latch on the gate. Deciding it would hold, he returned to the fallen man.
He didn’t look intimidating now. He looked ragged, his dark hair and beard unkempt, his skin aged by the sun. He wasn’t filthy, exactly, but his clothes bore the sweat and grass stains of extended outdoor wear. Under his shirt and breeches, his body looked strong, a tall frame honed by physical work and deprivation. He had stood half a head shorter than Wolf before the blow. Wolf hadn’t had time to notice that the man had dropped his sword and shield several feet away. He’d seen a stranger, someone set on theft or violence or both. Didn’t matter now.
Wolf knelt again. He worked at the leather laces of the man’s shirt for a minute before giving up on the hard little knot. Pulling his knife from his boot, Wolf sliced the man’s shirt up the front, sawing through the greasy fabric and spreading it like two halves of a fish.
His knife slipped from his fingers.
The man wore a pendant around his neck on a dark leather cord. Not a decorative pendant, but a simple object. One that Wolf knew well. His fingers shook as he lifted it from the man’s chest: an iron nail, black with age, and plain except for the distinctive twist to the shaft. Three complete turns, exactly as Wolf made nails.
As Matthias had taught him to make them.
Wolf laid the nail gently on the man’s chest and looked at his face again.
Was it him? He’d had dark hair but no beard yet. He’d stood about the same height, Wolf a couple inches shorter. Wolf had looked up to this man in every way, having fourteen years to this one’s seventeen when he’d left to join the army. Before that, Wolf had followed him around, drawn to his confidence, his recklessness, his physical ease. His name had been Marcus, but he’d let Wolf call him Marc. He had given Wolf the nickname Pup.
Wolf scanned the hard, straight lines of the eyebrows and nose. How had he not seen it? Remembering something, he pulled the man’s lip up to expose one canine tooth.
Broken, as it had been then. It had made his grin dangerous.
This was Marc. He’d come home.
And Wolf had almost killed him.
As gently as he could, he felt the swelling behind Marc’s ear again. It had grown and felt hot to his fingertips, but the bleeding on the surface had stopped. Slipping his arms under Marc’s shoulders and knees, Wolf rose. Marc’s weight felt substantial. Good, he might heal more quickly. Leaving the chicken yard, Wolf carried Marc into the hut.
Setting him down on the rug next to the bed, Wolf filled the cookpot with water. While it heated, he hung up his apron and washed the soot and grass chaff from his arms. After sharpening his knife, he sawed at Marc’s hair and beard until what remained lay close to his skin. He threw the hair on the fire, grimacing at the stink as it burned. Grabbing a cloth from a shelf, he carried the steaming pot of water to the rug.
Marc lay unconscious, moaning and twitching. Wolf rolled him onto his side and washed the head wound. Marc grunted at the contact. Wolf dipped the cloth and wrung it out until Marc’s scalp was clean of blood. The hammer had hit the knob of bone just behind the ear. The skin there had bruised to the color of blackberries. Luckily, the position of the swelling meant that Marc would be able to lie on his back while he healed. And how strange that would be. Even as boys, when Marc had lain in the tall grass by the stream or on a rock on the neighboring hill, he had never truly been still. Where Wolf had been content to lie in the sun and count dragonflies, Marc had never stayed in one place for long. Wolf wondered what kind of patient the man would make.
A frustrated one, he guessed.
Rolling Marc onto his back again, Wolf refreshed the water and then washed Marc’s face. Days of grime came away, revealing the handsome features Wolf had known, perhaps a bit fiercer with age. Deep lines around Marc’s eyes and mouth said he spent a lot of time either squinting or smiling. Which would it be?
As he untied the laces of Marc’s breeches, Wolf tried not to think about the damage he might have done to the man’s brain. He tugged the breeches down Marc’s body and tossed them aside. Easing off the remains of the shirt, he discarded it too. He should probably burn them as well.
Exposed, Marc’s body looked as Wolf had expected it to, though not quite as he remembered it. As a boy, Marc had been brown as an acorn year-round, some alloy of his parents’ coloring and his tendency to escape the smithy to spend his day out of doors. His upper body still showed the sun of the summer just past. His hips and legs were paler now, the muscle under his skin hard and compact. He had almost no hair on his body. He carried little fat. He’d probably never had much, but Wolf figured the trek home had eaten its share. Sinews rose to the surface, tight and twisting, as Marc shifted on the rug, restless.
Wolf smoothed the wet cloth down Marc’s neck and arms. His chest felt warm through the thin fabric. Wolf laid his bare hand briefly to Marc’s breastbone to feel the solid beat of his heart against his palm.
Wolf washed Marc’s belly lightly—it looked almost too vulnerable—then applied more pressure at his hips and thighs. Scrubbing in circles, Wolf caught himself humming a song he and Marc had sung as boys, a raucous ode to a very friendly milkmaid. Who knew where they’d heard it first, but it had been salty enough that one verse in Matthias’s presence had once earned Marc a wallop to the head and a warning to watch his tongue.
Wolf hummed as he worked his way down Marc’s legs. His feet had taken a beating—Wolf would do them last. Levering Marc to one side, then the other, Wolf scrubbed his back and buttocks. When Marc lay flat again, his cock was half-hard.
Wolf looked away, feeling strangely…shy? He’d seen Marc’s cock plenty of times as a boy, had mentally measured his own against it, finding to his relief and pride that he hadn’t come up short, so to speak. But they were men now with men’s pricks, and they were different.
When Wolf was hard, his was the ruddy color of weak wine. It was also, he guessed, thicker than Marc’s. The cock twitching between Marc’s legs was a darkish brown, like wet tree bark. The hair around it grew close to his skin, in a way completely different from Wolf’s, which was thick enough to bury his fingertips in. Carefully, Wolf lifted Marc’s cock and drew the wet cloth from root to head.
Marc’s flat belly tensed. His cock jumped in Wolf’s palm.
Wolf laid Marc’s prick up against his abdomen and washed the underside, then lifted the dark sac below. It lay heavy on his fingers as he cleaned its wrinkled skin. In the short time it took Wolf to tend to it and to the creases of groin underneath, Marc’s cock emerged fully from its foreskin.
Wolf’s was thicker.
Marc’s was longer.
Wolf’s hands shook as he rinsed the cloth and squeezed out the water. He knelt for a long moment, his chest feeling oddly tight. Then, before he could think better of it, he took Marc’s prick in his hand and gripped it.
It pulsed under his fingers, causing the skin to slide over its hard core. Marc grunted and his body flexed without warning, shoving his length up through Wolf’s grip. A drop of clear fluid dripped from Marc’s slit onto Wolf’s fingers. He let go and gave Marc a quick swipe with the cloth to clean him again. Then he moved down Marc’s legs and, with the ghostly heat of the man’s cock still on his hand, Wolf tended to Marc’s road-roughened feet.
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