THE KISS sent a tingle coursing through Farrell’s body. He bent his head slightly and let Cameron’s tongue part his lips. Even standing in the side hallway of the palace, he ignored the possibility they could be discovered and enjoyed the moment.

They pulled back and caught their breath. When their eyes met, Cameron smiled. “Happy birthday, a day late.”

“How…?” Farrell stared, his mouth slightly open. They’d exchanged glances two days before but hadn’t spoken. And his party had been just his mother, his teacher Grand Master Heminaltose, Grand Master Sanduval, and two other wizards he’d never met before. Aside from him and his mother, there hadn’t been anyone under two hundred years old to celebrate his age of majority birthday.

“Just because I’m not a child prodigy wizard like you, doesn’t mean I can’t find out things.”

Being called a child anything stung. At sixteen—seventeen now—he’d done things well beyond his years. And Cameron was only four years older. Despite wanting Cameron to like him, he couldn’t stop from sniping back. “You mean by spying on me?”

“Ouch.” Cameron put his hand over his heart. “You wound me, Farrell. I’m a lieutenant in the queen’s guard. Spying is beneath my dignity.”

When Cameron smiled, Farrell forgot about any perceived slight and returned the grin. “True, you are the son of a baron. Spying wouldn’t be a respectable career choice.”

“No, it wouldn’t be at all.” Cameron pushed a lock of blond hair behind his ear and inched nearer. He brought his lips closer until they almost touched Farrell’s. “The guard was told the queen and Grand Master Heminaltose were going to throw you a surprise birthday party. I tried to get assigned, but the queen told the captain who to select.”

Closing the last bit of distance, he captured Farrell’s top lip between his and sucked gently. The effect went straight to Farrell’s groin. And from what he could feel, Cameron was equally aroused.

“You asked to be assigned?” It was all Farrell could think to say. Cameron’s interest surprised him. Where Cameron was athletic and handsome, Farrell was skinny and plain. Despite his mother’s protests, Heminaltose allowed—nay, encouraged to the point of required—Farrell to use a high degree of magic at a far younger age than was typically allowed. Too much magic during adolescence made it impossible for him to bulk up, even a little. And though he was wiry and strong, he’d much prefer to be referred to as “‘athletic” than “whipcord tight,” as one bedroom partner had said.

Living inside the mountain that housed Heminaltose’s school also left Farrell socially awkward. He saw few people other than wizards, who had little interest in socializing with a teenager—even one as talented as Farrell.

Cameron laughed softly and took a half step back. “Why are you so surprised? I sought you out today, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but….” The thought that Cameron had discovered his infatuation left Farrell unable to form a proper sentence.

“I thought I saw something in the way you looked at me when we both had to sit through that meeting with Pelipan’s ambassador. What better way to find out than to be around you more?”

“You mean like you did this morning?” Farrell smiled, remembering how Cameron had volunteered to be his guard today.

A hint of red appeared on Cameron’s cheeks as he shrugged and looked away for a moment. “It was clear the queen and your master weren’t keen on the idea of you going into the city on your own. I thought it would give me a chance to find out if what I thought I saw was real. Happily, I was right.”

“Yeah.”

Cameron leaned closer and kissed him again. “I have to go. My tour starts soon and I don’t want to be late.”

“I know.” Farrell hoped he didn’t sound as disappointed as he felt.

“I don’t want to go, but I can’t shirk my duty.”

“I understand duty. I have my own to attend to.” Heminaltose had stressed that concept since their first lesson together. “My master requires my presence tonight when he dines with the queen.”

“At least you get to be around the queen. Most people in the palace would gladly trade places for a chance to impress her.”

“It sounds more grandiose than it is.” Farrell shrugged and stuck to the story he and his master agreed he should give if asked. “I’m just Heminaltose’s assistant. The queen doesn’t ask my opinion.”

“Still, it beats mucking out the stables.” Cameron winked and Farrell smiled. He took Farrell’s hand and rubbed gently. “That’s better.”

“Can I see you again?” A hint of desperation crept into his voice despite his best effort to keep it out.

“Actually”—a glint of something twinkled in Cameron’s eyes—“I was hoping you might be free around tenth hour tonight.”

“Really?” Farrell caught himself and nodded. “I mean, sure, I’m free.”

“Good. I can give you a real birthday gift tonight.”

They kissed again, a lingering one that made Farrell’s body tingle. The world around him faded away. He closed his eyes and all that registered were the lips touching his, the body pressed against him, and the way Cameron’s tongue explored his mouth.

Their moment ended before Farrell was ready. He opened his eyes and found himself staring at Cameron’s smiling face. Without breaking eye contact, Cameron backed away, holding on to Farrell’s hand as long as he could. Finally the distance forced him to release his grip, and Farrell felt as if a part of him left with Cameron’s hand.

“I’ll meet you here at a little past tenth hour?” A hint of anxious uncertainty punctuated Cameron’s question.

When his vocal chords refused to work, Farrell nodded. Cameron winked again and turned on his heel.

Farrell’s stare could have burned a hole in Cameron’s back as he marched off. With every step his heels clicked on the stone floor of the corridor. At the intersection of the next hallway, he turned; then he smiled and nodded before walking out of sight.