They pulled the rowboat out from the storage space beneath the cottage’s verandah. Malachi’s father had built the place on a slope, which left plenty of room below to keep things that wouldn’t fit inside the cottage, while avoiding the need for a separate shed or boat house. He gave the bottom of the boat a cursory inspection to ensure that he and Roger wouldn’t sink on their way to town, since they would have to row around to the other side of Herman’s Island and past the points known as First and Second Peninsula to reach Lunenburg, and then they carried the boat down to the beach.
“Lot of trouble to go to just to get to town.” Roger was out of breath by the time they reached the water. “Be easier if you had a car.”
“The roads aren’t the best,” Malachi replied. “This suits me fine. We should get your boat higher up, maybe into the bushes. Tide will take it otherwise, and if anyone comes looking for you, we wouldn’t want them spotting it.”
“Yeah.” Roger frowned. “I didn’t think of that. They might already have seen it.”
“If they did, they did. We should still move it. The tide’s coming in.” Already it was lapping at the bow of Roger’s little boat, whereas when Roger had arrived the water had only reached the boat’s midpoint.
They pulled the boat up into the bushes where Malachi had hidden the previous day, before getting into Malachi’s boat. Looking at the sun, he estimated the time to be around seven thirty; too early to expect the town’s shops to be open, but by the time they arrived most places would be. That was the only advantage of the trip taking so long.
He made Roger get into the boat and pushed it off into the water before climbing in himself. Cursing himself for not taking off his shoes, he took position in the boat’s stern and started rowing. “I can help,” Roger said.
“Rest,” Malachi replied. “Sleep if you want. I can manage.” He doubted the man was nearly as strong as he was. Increased strength was another side effect of being a werewolf.
Roger sat on the bench in the boat’s bow, facing Malachi. “Why are you so concerned?”
“You came to me for help,” Malachi pointed out. “And I may be a hermit, but that doesn’t mean I have no heart. How long have you been on your own?”
“On my own?” Roger sniffed. “I’m twenty-three years old. You make it sound like I’m a child.”
To Malachi, the man seemed like a child. A tough one; streetwise and too-knowing, but a child nonetheless regardless of his age. “Jonathan said you were on the street when he met you.”
“That.” An unreadable expression crossed Roger’s face. “Left home when I was twelve. I had reasons. Don’t want to get into them, if that’s all right with you.” His tone made it clear he didn’t care whether it was all right. He wasn’t about to talk.
“You don’t have to tell me anything you’d prefer not to,” Malachi assured him. “I don’t mean to pry. You might have guessed I don’t speak with others often. And if you’re not going to sleep on the way to town, we might as well talk to pass the time.”
Roger shrugged. “My father was a fisherman. Died on the water when I was eight. When I was eleven, my mother remarried. Another fisherman, one who did more drinking than fishing. He was free with his hands and expected me to be free with other things, if you catch my meaning.”
Malachi caught it perfectly and swallowed hard against a roll of nausea. He wasn’t naïve; he knew some men did horrible things to their families. But hearing Roger discuss it so matter-of-factly made his heart ache. “Did you tell your mother?”
“What could she do? He used his fists on her as much as me, and she said we needed him to keep a roof over our heads.” He looked down at his hands. “I took it once. Not that he gave me much choice. Hurt like hell. He wasn’t gentle. He didn’t care. I think he liked hurting me that way. I’d just turned twelve then, thought maybe I could find work in the city, so I went.”
“And did you find work?” Malachi braced himself for the answer he anticipated. He doubted a twelve-year-old boy on his own had found a job in a shop or on a ship.
“Of sorts.” Roger’s voice dropped. Even with his heightened hearing, Malachi had to strain to make out the words through the wind in his ears. “There were men who wanted the same thing as my stepfather. Some of them were gentler, and they paid. It kept me fed. Gave me shelter, sometimes. It wasn’t what I wanted, but all in all it might have been worse. At least I lived.”
Malachi’s heart went out to this young man, who had lived by means no one should have had to. And he had done nothing better than the men who’d purchased Roger’s body. “I apologize for what I did to you yesterday. I should have left you and Jonathan alone.”
“What?” Roger looked at him, surprised. “No. I didn’t mind that. I could have fought you off if I’d wanted. I—I’d done that kind of thing before. Some of the johns liked it, two of them and one of me. I didn’t mind.”
“I didn’t ask.” Malachi’s stomach rolled again. He tried to blame it on his hangover, but that had already faded thanks to food, coffee, and rapid werewolf healing. The truth was, in his drunkenness he had victimized one who had been victimized too many times before. He sickened himself.