Anthony stood in the marble foyer of his London townhouse, pulling on leather gloves as his butler, William James, supervised the loading of the motorcar. He’d packed extravagently for the trip, filling his handmade Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, three hat cases, four suitcases and valise. He supposed he might be taking a bit more clothing than he would need for a quick jaunt to Venice, but experience had taught him not to be caught on the continent with less than he might require.
Once the luggage was situated to James’s satisfaction, the butler offered his good wishes for a safe trip and Anthony descended the marble steps to the street, buttoning his Burberry driving coat as he went.
His driver, James’s eldest son Percy, already sat behind the wheel, goggles on, ready to depart. Anthony climbed up beside him and put on his own goggles, settling back in the seat.
“Let’s be off, Percy. I’m so late I daresay Mr. Jefferson is waiting for us by now. That will be the day, eh?”
Percy smiled and eased the car through Belgrave Square toward Hyde Park Corner. They turned onto Piccadilly, driving past Devonshire House to St. James’s Street. Percy pulled up at the curb in front of the Lords of Aether Club, it’s white façade looking very much like it’s counterpart, White’s, which stood only a few buildings away.
Anthony climbed down and the doorman ushered him inside with a low voiced greeting. Pulling off his goggles, Anthony looked around for Shelley, expecting to see him descend the stairs in his usual regal manner. Instead, his legs were assaulted by a small tornado. He gazed down into the wide eyes of Calfiglio.
“Fig, where is your master?” Anthony asked. “We’re late.”
Fig’s mouth quirked into a grin and he rolled his eyes. Anthony chuckled. The boy delighted him, had from the moment he’d picked his pocket in Venice. The moment he’d first met Shelley.
Traveling to Venice seemed to spark Anthony’s memories of meeting Shelley for the first time. His mind had been filled with reminisces of their time together, five years before.
Shelley had captured his attention then and still held it now.
“Where is he?” Anthony repeated, his gaze on the stairs.
“I believe Mister Jefferson will be only another few moments,” Beare said from behind him. Damn, how did such a big man sneak up on him like that? “There was a small…altercation…with a trunk …but I believe that has been settled now.”
Anthony thought he heard amusement in Beare’s voice, but he couldn’t be sure because Beare was just so…Beare. Unflappable and meticulously serene in the face of any sort of brouhaha. A thump on the stairs turned out to be two footmen carrying trunks. Behind them several more footmen appeared, each bearing a trunk or suitcase. They were all Vuitton, as were Anthony’s, but these were custom designed in brilliant vermillion rather than the typical brown.
“As Mister Jefferson prefers to be prepared for all eventualities while traveling, I’ve arranged for a lorry to take his personal things to the airship, my lord.”
Anthony bit back a laugh. Beare’s tone bordered on censure while not crossing the line, something he did very well. Anthony was already acquainted with Shelley’s tendency to overpack. No one traveled with more trunks and luggage than Shelley.
Then the man himself appeared, stealing Anthony’s breath.
Dressed in a full length fur coat with an outrageous confection of a hat on his head, a strip of silk mask covering his face from forehead to mouth, Shelley twirled a pair of jewel-encrusted goggles around his finger. Even with all his affectations, he managed to look more masculine than a pugilist.
Anthony’s heart thundered. Hardly aware he was moving, he crossed the room to meet Shelley at the foot of the stairs.
“You are the most ravishing thing I’ve seen all day.” Anthony smiled as he took Shelley’s leather gloved hand in his.
“I’d better be,” Shelley replied with lift of his brows.
Anthony brushed a brief kiss to Shelley’s lips, a tingle going through him as their flesh touched. “So, is this mountain of luggage going on the ship? Do you think your brother has room for it all?”
“Don’t be tiresome, Anthony. You know perfectly well he does.”
Shelley’s tone was haughty but Anthony caught the gleam of amusement in his eyes. He stared, mesmerized as always by Shelley’s uncommon beauty, but was interrupted when Fig tugged at his trouser leg.
Anthony looked down and the boy pointed to the last of the luggage making its way out the door of the club on the shoulder of a sturdy footman.
“Time to leave!” Anthony noted Fig’s excited little wriggle.
The boy darted out the door, his violin case in hand.
Anthony turned his gaze back to Shelley. “This is the first time we’ve been to Venice together since we met.”
The expression on Shelley’s face softened. “I wonder if it will feel the same after all these years.”
Anthony stepped closer and pressed his hips against Shelley’s. “It does. Only I think perhaps it’s bigger and harder than it was back then.”
Something flashed in Shelley’s eyes before his lips curved in a broad grin. “You’re in a mood, aren’t you?”
Anthony kissed him again. “I’m excited about going to Venice with you even if the circumstances aren’t ideal. After all, this isn’t a pleasure trip — much as I might wish it to be.”
“With me, it’s always a pleasure trip.” Shelley moved toward the door.
Beare’s staff handed them up into the motorcar and Percy started the engine. Shelley secured Fig so he wouldn’t fall out of the car in his excitement and they put on their goggles. Percy neatly pulled out onto the street and they were off.
The trip to the Lucky Penny’s mooring on the Thames didn’t take long. In anticipation of their arrival, the airship didn’t float high above the Thames but instead hovered but a few feet off the ground with a heavily guarded gangway bridging the space between the ground and the entrance to the ship. The crew advanced on the motorcar and began to unload Anthony’s luggage, carting it aboard.
Stepping down, Anthony pulled off his goggles and pocketed them, turning to bid farewell to Percy. When he turned back around a truck pulled up with Shelley’s luggage. He walked over to Shelley, noting that his lover was deep in conversation with Calfiglio. Or rather, Shelley spoke rapidly in Italian and Fig replied with frantic hand gestures and dips of his head. Anthony could see fear in the taut lines of Fig’s body. For all the child loved motorcars, apparently the airship frightened him.
“Does he not wish to ride on the airship?” he asked Shelley.
His lover let out a sigh. “He’s afraid it will fall from the sky.”
“Ah, Fig. It’s perfectly acceptable to be afraid of things we do not know.” Anthony dug in the pocket of his Burberry for an orange. “The true test of a man is overcoming fear or learning to do things that must be done in spite of being afraid. You don’t think Shelley or I would allow something to happen to you, do you?”
Fig glanced at the orange then he turned to the airship again. His face contorted and he shrank behind Shelley, who jumped with surprise when Fig got a grip on his trouser leg.
“If it were anyone but Fig, I’d be worrying about the state of my trousers.”
Anthony tossed the orange into the air and caught it. “Well, if my bribes aren’t working I’m afraid you’ll have to do the convincing.”
Shelley sighed and peered at Fig’s frightened face. His expression softening, he knelt beside the boy, whispering Italian words in his most soothing voice. Anthony couldn’t make out the meaning, but the lush sound reminded him of nights spent in Shelley’s arms when they’d first met. He took a few steps toward the gangway, lost in memories.
What he and Shelley’d had in those first few days had been fraught with a desire so intense, Anthony knew he’d never experience the like again. Certainly, he’d never experienced it with another man — not even Jack during the heyday of their first explorations of each other.
Other less happy memories came to the fore. He acknowledged that he’d been a bit out of sorts since he’d fucked Spence. Actually, since before he’d fucked Spence. He’d been jealous of Emmett’s relationship with Shelley — which was incomprehensible, and now — trapped on the ship with both of them — he’d have to be nice to the man despite wanting to bloody his nose.
Not that he was any better than the predatory Montgomery. He’d blatantly seduced Spence. Yes, the man had invited him to his room, but Spence had been innocent and Anthony exploited that for his own ends, something he didn’t feel very good about.
Watching Shelley with Fig, he realized he didn’t feel very good about his relationship with Shelley either. Memories of their first meeting were stirring up emotions inside him he couldn’t name or understand. For the first time in all the time he’d known Shelley, he felt insecure. He couldn’t say if his insecurities stemmed from Jack’s re-entry to his life or the knowledge that he’d been furiously jealous of Emmett. Maybe it had been both.
The more Anthony looked at his problem, the more certain he became. He was just as frightened as Fig. But what Anthony feared had nothing to do with the mechanics of the airship failing and everything to do with the flamboyant, outrageous, seductively beautiful man before him. The very fact of his fear fueled his jealousy and other insecurities to the point where anger simmered within him all the time.
Anthony longed to wipe away Emmett’s relationship with Shelley instead of having to face it almost every moment of their trip. He wished he could wipe away his own mistakes, starting with the seduction of Spence.
Shelley finally calmed Fig and they started up the gangway. God, just the sight of them made Anthony’s heart swell.
Anthony acknowledged something was brewing inside him, something he’d have to analyze soon before it drove him to the brink of madness. His emotions were a mess to the point where he felt out of control, which boded ill for their trip.
Yet still, his memories crowded in on him, refusing to be disbursed.
Anthony stepped onto the gangway. The trip to Venice wasn’t a long one. They wouldn’t be on the Lucky Penny more than a few days. Perhaps he could stem the tide of his emotions until they were on the ground once more.
Venice would be easy. The close quarters of the ship would not be. As he passed into the belly of the ship, Anthony prayed he wouldn’t fall victim to his lack of control.
Despite what he’d said to Fig about fear, he dreaded what must be done.
Fear held Anthony in its steely grip. He knew from experience it would not let go until he fully understood his emotions. However, experience and instinct told him those emotions weren’t something he was ready to face.