BROSE LARKIN SPRINTED DOWN the path to the beach, perspiration beading down his forehead. He ran bare-chested, the denim cut-off shorts accentuating his muscled thighs. His longish blond hair was plastered to his head, the darker sideburns glistening with water drops. He doused himself in the swimming pool before taking his daily run, and now he was ready for the ocean.
The beach was white and hot, pristine in the sunlight. Brose ran through the surf, diving into deeper waters and swimming out to sea. The water was cool, and he loved the feel of it. He turned himself to face the beach, where he admired the view of the lighthouse, the keeper's cottage and the winding path to Banshee's Point and the jutting rooftop of the mansion.
Then Brose spied his Jamie Page running down the footpath. He came toward the beach and soon joined his cousin in the water. The two young men swam around each other for a few minutes, and then floated on their backs in the gently rippling ocean.
"Do you have a date tonight?" Jamie wanted to know.
"Hah," Brose replied. "Why?"
"Let's go to the Coven," Jamie suggested. "I haven't been there in ages. I had a rough week at the clinic and I need a night out."
Brose swirled salt water in his mouth and spewed it over Jamie's head in a steady stream. "Sure. In the mood for drinking, are you? Or are you looking to hook up?"
"Just some drinks, nothing more."
"What happened at the clinic?" Brose wanted to know.
"I had to put down an old dog," Jamie replied sadly. "He was riddled with arthritis and blind in one eye, and the owner was beside himself. I had to talk him into letting his pet go because he was suffering." He angrily slapped the water with both hands. "It's the one part of my job that I dislike. I hate putting animals to sleep, whether they're old and infirm or because they're strays without hope of adoption. One of these days soon I'm going to open a no-kill animal shelter in Larkin City, and I don't care if it costs me every penny I have in the bank."
"It's a very noble cause," Brose agreed. "And not impossible."
"It's a goal of mine," Jamie said firmly. "I won't stop until it's realized." Brose allowed himself to float on the water, lost in his own thoughts. Although he was older than Jamie by one year, Brose always felt a fierce protectiveness for his cousin. Jamie was an easy character, open and friendly to everyone, more often than not with a smile on his face. At times, he exuded a less than manly air because of his natural gentleness, possessing none of Brose's blunt manner and rough edges.
More than once during their childhood, Brose had to defend Jamie on the playground at school. The bully faction seemed drawn to Jamie, and while no coward he was always trying to find a way to resolve conflict peacefully rather than with violence. The random hounding continued in high school, although by Jamie's senior year he was left alone for the most part because of Brose's aggressive stance, which eventfully grew to legend.
Brose sensed Jamie was gay long before his cousin recognized his own sexuality. He never seemed interested in girls except as friends, and he gravitated to gentle pursuits rather than typical rough-and-tumble male activity. When he grew older, Jamie had dated local girls sporadically to keep any suspicions about him at bay. Brose knew Jamie was terrified of disappointing his parents, afraid they would reject him if he revealed the truth about himself.