Restless and limbs thrumming, Father Keogh turned over in bed. The temperature was marginally too warm for him on nights like these. Yes, that was surely it. Quantana’s climate still bothered him on occasion.
His routine had also been disturbed this evening. Guests were not uncommon, but never before had one caused Chela to shout at him. It must have been Chela’s anxious fussing and the foreign presence in his home that had him feeling so sleepless.
Despite what felt like hours of conscious effort and excuses, the Father’s mind betrayed him and drifted to thoughts of the man in the guest bed. Anacleto’s presence was heavy and pervasive, even when the man wasn’t in the room. Around him, Keogh always felt as though his personal space was being invaded with no way to retreat. This ability had not diminished during Anacleto’s prolonged absence. It was easy to see how the shamed criminal had once gripped the entire town and convinced them to obey his law.
Despite feeling an unbearable weight on his chest, Father Keogh resisted rolling over to ease it.
This evening, Anacleto had turned up unannounced; returning to town as though there would be no objection to his presence. The man was cunning and had played his share of mind games, but surely he had proven himself when he saved the Father’s life. If faith had moved mountains, had it not also been a miracle that compelled this villainous man to save him? It must have been God’s will that brought him here now, opening himself to salvation. Even if his word was not to be trusted, God had granted them both this opportunity for a reason.
Anacleto had even arrived at the Father’s door wearing respectable clothing instead of his usual black garb. Perhaps this was calculated. His typical outlandish outfit seemed designed to set him apart from the townsfolk and make of him a striking and remarkable figure. The soft creak of leather would announce his presence and his scent was pleasantly heady—dry and earthy. Despite his reformed dress sense, Keogh observed that Anacleto still could not resist wearing his black leather gloves indoors to greet him. Perhaps this is why Anacleto still smelt now as he always had.
Anacleto had already made his few possessions at home in the spare room when Keogh entered.
“If you are as serious as you say, you will need this.”
The Father offered an old Bible with a beautifully simple but worn cover. It was one of his own.
Anacleto gingerly took the Bible from him like it was a perplexing object. He turned it over, inspected it, and ran his finger gently down the spine over the raised lettering as though contemplating the cover's every aspect. The strange fidgeting may have been down to hesitation. The dance of fingers drew the Father’s eye.
“Of course,” Keogh added, not letting himself be distracted for long, “I will guide you. We can discuss any questions you have.”
Anacleto sat on the edge of the bed and idly flicked through the pages. “You are most kind, Father.”
“It is my duty,” he replied automatically.
Anacleto’s gaze travelled from the Bible to the priest. His hands paused.
Keogh added truthfully: “And it gives me pleasure.”
He could feel dark eyes trailing down his person. He had on his cassock but he felt exposed and seen. He felt vulnerable and the gaze bothered him in a way he couldn’t explain rationally.
“I shall look forward to it,” said Anacleto with calm amusement.
Keogh had been taken by surprise at his own reaction to this calm scrutiny. The two had played much more frightening games before. So as not to show weakness, the Father excused himself and bid Anacleto goodnight.
None of what he felt inviting this known killer into his home was fear – that much Father Keogh knew. Fear would have been perfectly rational, given their history. Part of this feeling was a deep, visceral unease that seemed to radiate from his stomach to his extremities. At the same time, his chest felt tight and giddy when he thought that he would get to speak to Anacleto again. Of course, it would be exciting to put his faith to the test as he convinced a clever and defiant man to take the path of the righteous. He had to dismiss any thoughts of the man’s proximity or scent or gaze before they even appeared fully formed.
In his dream that night, Keogh was lying face up in a desert grave. Sand was being thrown on top of him and he couldn't move. It was the unseasonable heat, he thought as he woke.
The next day, Father Keogh dropped in on Anacleto’s room, holding a love letter. (How quickly the room had become his, the priest thought.) The handsome man was dressed neatly and laying on the small bed with the Father’s open Bible in his hand. Keogh was pleased to note that he actually seemed to be reading it.
He had come to speak of the dramatic and amorous letters he had been shown. Anacleto rose to sit on the edge of his bed when the topic of Locha arose. Thankfully, Anacleto seemed to return none of the passion the young woman had expressed for him in her unsent letters. This relieved Keogh greatly.
“Don’t you worry, Father. If she has to have a hopeless passion for someone, it might as well be me,” Anacleto said with a reassuring smile.
Keogh found himself regarding the former criminal with satisfaction. Somehow, he knew he could take the man’s word when he swore he had no interest in young Locha.
“Thank you,” said the priest. “For being a gentleman in this.”
Anacleto chuckled. “Trust me Father, there is little effort on my part.”
Despite the relief, it raised a question in the Father’s mind. Locha was beautiful and had a wilful streak that Anacleto would certainly have appreciated, so why had he no interest whatsoever? Certainly, the objections of Locha’s parents would mean nothing to him.
Just a moment ago, Anacleto had said that like Locha, he was lonely. The thought made Keogh’s heart constrict. The man before him shot his own father figure to protect the priest and now all the bandits and thieves he called companions had scattered. He surely led a lonely existence before, but now he seemed to have no one.
“You said before that you are lonely,” Keogh began. Anacleto slightly raised an eyebrow with interest. “Surely you could find a wife. Companionship.”
Keogh began to fear he had become too personal as the other man’s expression shifted. Anacleto stood and brought himself face to face with his conversation partner. He was close enough for Keogh to feel his body heat and smell a herbaceous aftershave.
“I don’t want a wife. I don’t want a woman at all.” Anacleto said with challenge in his voice. “I could not cure my loneliness that way.”
Keogh had never backed down when Anacleto escalated his dangerous games and he couldn’t bring himself to step away now. The younger man’s face was inches from his own and the dark eyes before him narrowed. They briefly flicked down to his lips. The meaning by now was clear. A strange feeling coiled in the priest’s gut as he contemplated the man in front of him. Anacleto was acting with characteristic confidence, but Keogh could see a mild tremble in his lip and a wild look in his eyes. This hint of vulnerability made the Father compelled beyond reason to touch. He felt his own hand twitch with the effort of resistance.
Both men held each other’s gaze until it became painful, neither willing to be the first to turn away. Finally, Anacleto raised his hand and gently cupped the side of the Father’s face. Keogh felt himself leaning into the warm, rough hand as though he was starving for the simple touch. Anacleto drew his face slowly closer. They held eye contact until it was impossible. Their lips touched.
Anacleto’s kiss was shockingly gentle and his mouth soft and warm. At first, their lips were barely parted but moving slowly against each other. Keogh found himself consumed by the depth of sensation. A firm body pressed into his and a tongue licked tentatively at his mouth. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Every beat of his racing heart pulsed a heady arousal through his system.
Slim fingers traced the cloth over his chest and up to his neck where they could touch skin. His own hands were holding Anacleto’s waist tightly, feeling the slight give of shirt and flesh above the hard muscle of his well-built form. Keogh was struck with the thought that he wanted his hands and lips everywhere on the body in front of him.
The stirring in him alarmed him with its intensity. Suddenly, the reaction of his own body brought him back to reason. He pushed himself away from the other man and took a single step back. Keogh couldn’t yet look at Anacleto. His mind felt strained and his body was so sensitive that the brush of his cassock on his skin overwhelmed him. Becoming so swept up in his own desire had been madness.
“I shouldn’t have…” Keogh began, but failed to finish the thought. What should he not have done? Desired? Reciprocated? He was aware that he’d lost all semblance of composure.
He finally looked at Anacleto, fearful of what he might see. The man was breathing more deeply than usual and a flush lightly coloured his neck and face. His eyes were unusually dark and he was studying the Father with them despite everything.
After a silence that hung in the air between them for too long, Anacleto asked: “Must you repent for this?”
“I…” Father Keogh took a steadying breath. He wished for a wall or a chair to brace himself on. He’d have to use his teachings. “A priest may not let his love for one individual—”
“Love,” Anacleto interrupted. He looked surprised but neither offended nor mocking.
Was that what this was? It wasn’t like any love Keogh had experienced before. Being in the presence of this man made him feel tender, helpless and electrified all at once.
“I am a priest and I cannot be compromised.”
Anacleto scoffed, “Your Church’s rules make no sense.”
“It makes sense when it is your vocation to love universally and to love God above all.”
“Can you not merely lust?” he asked seriously and made to grasp the priest’s hand. Keogh found he could not pull away. Anacleto brought the back of the hand to his lips and gently kissed it. “Won’t God forgive you?”
Father Keogh knew very well that one could not sin with the intention of asking forgiveness. Yet whenever he inhaled the familiar masculine scent of the man, instinct overrode higher order thought. In the moment Anacleto touched him, he forgot entirely about sin. It was both lust and love and he was permitted to act on neither. He had been so strong when he had come to Quantana but now he felt shaken and weak.
“Father,” called Chela from outside the room.
Anacleto reluctantly dropped the priest’s hand met his eyes. “Perhaps we could continue this another time.”
Father Keogh knew already that there would be another time. He knew he would not resist.