KC Burn

Smoke and Aether

26 April 2013
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Revelation – Part 2, by KC Burn

Emmett had been bashed on the noggin before and it hadn’t stunned him as much as Caleb’s revelation. After exchanging quizzical glances with Jack and Nash, he hustled Caleb back to his rooms and shut the door. He stared at the man he’d spent the night with… spent a wondrous, incomparable night with, but the sweet innocent in his sights did not conform to a man who committed burglary.  Even the abashed glances and fiery blush didn’t speak of a felonious man.

“Pardon me? Did you say that you had broken into my house?”

Caleb’s cheeks reddened further and he nodded.

“Were you… why would you… what…” Emmett blinked. He’d never been at such a loss for words. Last year he’d attended a mesmerist’s show and had seen several men act rather out of character, but he’d never heard of such a thing happening elsewhere.

“I’m really sorry.”

Emmett shook his head, still unable to process what Caleb had told him.  He paced the length of the room, taking deep gulping breaths.

“Emmett, please.”

He shrugged off Caleb’s hand and strode out into the sitting room. The stained carpet caught his eye, menacing and malignant.

“Emmett.”

Caleb had followed him out of the bedroom, a pleading expression on his face.

As suddenly as the previous night when he’d taken a swing at Nash, anger billowed up, hot and choking.  But that wasn’t anything next to the pain like his soul had been flayed open and doused in acid.

“Was this you? Was the break-in connected to this… this…” Emmett stabbed a finger at the ruined carpet, infused with the weapon meant to kill him.

No matter how early it was in the morning, he needed a drink. But now that Caleb had spent the night, could he trust anything in his rooms? How had he so monumentally misjudged a man who seemed more innocent and sweet than anyone he’d ever allowed this close.

Caleb paled and his eyes widened. “What?  Emmett, no. Please.” His fingers fluttered, as though he wanted to reach out and touch, but Emmett was glad he didn’t try.  Emmett wouldn’t have trusted himself not to flinch away.

With effort, he steadied his breathing and spoke, cold and low and even. “Then explain. Now.”

Wrapping his arms around himself,  as if seeking comfort, Caleb’s lip trembled and for a few moments the only sound in the room was the rhythmic cadence of their breathing.

“Please believe me. I had nothing to do with that.” Caleb waved his hand in the direction of the wine stain.

“So you said.”

Emmett couldn’t afford to crack. He’d interrogated spies in battle, fought against unimaginable odds, and he’d never once come so close to caving in to softer emotions. But Caleb brought out the best and worst in him and until he had an explanation, everyone on this ship could be at risk. He couldn’t let his growing feelings for Caleb blind him to the possibility of a traitor in their midst.

Caleb’s voice wasn’t steady, at all. “My uncle… he left enormous crushing debts when he died. Debts we didn’t know about and debts we were expected to repay.  My mother and brother look to me to support them, but I’m only a crafter of clockwork animals. It’s the only income I have. The only way out was marriage to an heiress. My brother knew how unbearable it would be for me to have to marry a woman, and offered to be the sacrificial lamb, but debts don’t attract heiresses. Being involved in a trade doesn’t attract heiresses. Forget the tailor, sometimes we didn’t have the funds for the fishmonger.”

Pausing, Caleb drew in a shaky breath, reaching out for a crystal tumbler and the decanter half-full of whisky. Emmett heart twisted, realizing how dire Caleb’s straits were.  Caleb had already poured out half a glass and raised it to his lips before the danger of what he was doing communicated itself to Emmett’s mind.

He leapt the feet separating them and knocked the tumbler out of Caleb’s fingers, amber liquid sloshing on the already ruined carpet.

“What the hell is the matter with you? Don’t you know that anything on this ship could be suspect?”

Caleb’s eyes widened and his whole body stiffened and shook. His already pale skin went almost transparent as the blood drained away. He stumbled back and fell on the settee, his mouth a white, compressed line.

In that second, Emmett realized his original instincts about Caleb weren’t wrong. He’d survived so much because of his sharply honed instincts and no matter what explanation Caleb had for his break-in, there was no way Caleb was a murderer. No way he could lie without his face giving everything away.

His conclusion was confirmed when he sat down and wrapped an arm around Caleb, who curled into his embrace and shook. When a couple of sobs made themselves heard, Emmett just held him tighter and waited. There was still some explanation required, but he was a hardy soul. Aside from Caleb trying to kill him or his friends, Emmett could handle anything.

A few minutes later, Caleb lifted his face from its hiding place in the crook of Emmett’s neck. His eyes were reddened and puffy but the tears were done for now.

“Thank you. I… I wasn’t thinking. You saved my life.” Caleb’s voice hitched and he swallowed heavily.

Emmett snorted. “Or I spilled some expensive whisky. I don’t imagine everything is poisoned, but something besides the bottle of wine last night might be.”

A quick glance at the carpet revealed nothing alarming, not like the acidic scorching of the poisoned wine.

“Still. Thank you.”

Emmett nodded but didn’t say anything else. He wasn’t quite ready to forgive and forget. Not when Caleb hadn’t finished his tale.

A flash of tempting pink tongue moistening Caleb’s lips almost distracted Emmett from the matter at hand.

“Anyway, when I met you that night at the ball, you reminded me so much of my uncle. Arrogant, entitled, and only interested in your own pleasure, no matter if it had unintended consequences for someone else.  And… and…” Embarrassment burnished Caleb’s cheeks yet again.

“And?” Emmett prompted after Caleb’s gaze started darting around the room.

“And I hated you.”

The words sliced through Emmett like a cutlass, but Caleb’s fingers stroked along his jawline, softening the blow.

“Don’t misunderstand. I wanted you. And I realized later it wasn’t you I hated, but the way you reminded me of my uncle.  Anyway, I thought that someone with so much maybe wouldn’t miss a little something, and I could appease the hate I felt.”

“Then my dogs scared you off.”

Caleb let out a watery chuckle. “Well, partly. But I’d broken into your workroom. I couldn’t steal from a fellow crafter.”

“That didn’t make you any warmer the next time I saw you.”

“I didn’t want to like you. But I was growing to.”

“I thought someone was after my invention.” Emmett frowned. He was certainly glad to know this had nothing to do with the eyes he’d felt following him periodically since his return. His Caleb didn’t have the ability or the cunning to hide as their foe had.

He took a deep breath. “So you don’t hate me any more?” He wasn’t sure he could bear the pain if that were still true.

“No, oh, no. I lo…. I mean… I like you very well.”

Emmett kissed him soundly. He was fairly certain he knew what Caleb had been going to say, but this wasn’t the time to press. If he was going to hear that from someone he felt as strongly for, it wasn’t going to be here, in the midst of all this chaos.

“I like you very well, too, my Cal. When we get back, we’ll see what we can do about those debts of yours.”

Caleb shook his head frantically. “No. That’s my problem to solve. I’m not with you for that.”

Emmett smiled. Somehow, Caleb hadn’t yet figured out how determined he could be, even after his single-minded pursuit of the man.

A yawn split Caleb’s face, and Emmett’s smile got wider. “Energetic night, wasn’t it?”

Caleb blushed again, but nodded. For some, it tired them right out, but bedroom athletics with a willing and active partner, as Caleb had been, energized Emmett.

“Why don’t you go back to bed? It’s quite early still.”

“What about you?” Caleb asked around another yawn.

“I’ll go for a walk on the deck. Perhaps have a smoke. Consider our next steps. Figure out how to explain this to Jack and Nash.” If only they hadn’t been present for Caleb’s confession. Perhaps they’d think he’d been hoodwinked by a clever bottom boy, but Emmett was more than willing to trust his own instincts over any one else’s.

“If you’re sure.”

Emmett dropped another kiss on his lips. “I’ll wake you later. Make sure you’re naked.”

Caleb shivered, this time in a good way, and he smiled at Emmett before trotting back to the bedroom.

In Flight by Lex Valentine

The motion of the airship during the night had kept Anthony from a deep sleep. He’d tempered his restlessness by keeping Shelley snugged close to his body. Having his lover close for an entire night was an extravagance Anthony rarely indulged in. In the past, back in the days when he took for granted the exchange of money for passion, it had seemed wrong to spend the entire night with Shelley. Lately, since he’d begun to question not only the money but his relationship with his lover, he’d also developed a deep seated yearning not to leave Shelley’s bed, not to leave Shelley.

Every time he’d stayed the entire night, Shelley seemed to relish it, wrapping his lithe frame around Anthony’s larger one as they slept. Despite the general soppiness of such behavior, Anthony actually enjoyed cuddling with Shelley. He’d always felt that the affection in such actions was something both he and Shelley had had little enough of in their lives. And who the hell could go their entire life without affection? Humans craved closeness with other humans. Anthony knew that to be a scientific fact. He also knew that deep inside, he craved being with Shelley. Not just for sex but for companionship.  Anthony honestly didn’t trust many people and after their recent razor play, he realized that he trusted Shelley more than any other person he knew.

With a soft snort, Shelley flung himself onto his back, arms and legs spread wide, a small smile curling his mouth as he slept. Anthony grinned. His lover’s abandoned pose spoke of Shelley’s own trust, a notion that sent heat and pleasure spiraling through Anthony.

Since Shelley now took up the lion’s share of the bed, Anthony decided to get up and use the water closet and perhaps grab a breath of pre-dawn air. He slipped from between the silk sheets and padded silently into the bathroom. It was small but luxuriously appointed. Fig had checked it out when they arrived and played with the water taps for a few moments, apparently astonished at the hot water that poured from the spout. Anthony had enjoyed watching the young man’s surprise at finding such luxuries aboard an airship.

Once he’d relieved his bladder, washed his hands and face and brushed his teeth, Anthony emerged from the bathroom and pulled on trousers, covering his chest with a rich brocade robe that Shelley had bestowed on him for his last birthday. Walking softly in his leather slippers, Anthony moved to the door, glancing over his shoulder at Shelley sprawled in hedonistic abandon in the center of the bed and Calfiglio curled into a plush blanket on the chaise in the corner. Even though there was another bedroom, Fig refused to sleep away from his master and Anthony couldn’t blame him. With a smile, he slipped from the room

The salon had been cleared of their dinner dishes and glasses, the carpet swept and the tables returned to their highly polished finish by a silent steward of Nash’s. Anthony turned the polished brass handle of the door and pulled it open, stepping into the quiet corridor. He glanced at the other three doors. Behind one slept Jacob Silsbury and his friend. Behind another lay Emmett Montgomery and behind the last door slept Jack and Nash.

Frowning, Anthony turned away from the interior of the ship and headed out to the rail to watch the sun rise. He didn’t want to think about what might be happening behind any of the other bedroom suite doors on the airship. It was none of his business anyway.

He leaned on the rail and watched thick clouds of fog drift past. A lot had happened recently giving him the sense that the world was changing more than in just his small corner of it. Yes, Jack had returned to his life, but not as his lover. Yes, he’d finally made a conquest of Spence, but it hadn’t really gone as expected. Taking the near virginal doctor hadn’t left him feeling triumphant. It had left him with a gut full of guilt and regrets. His jealousy over Emmett’s assignation with Shelley had shocked him to the core. If Emmett hadn’t been with Shelley, if Anthony hadn’t been eaten alive with jealousy over it, he admitted to himself that he probably wouldn’t have taken Spence up on his offer.

The personal upheaval in his life married to the facts of Nash’s kidnapping and a poisoned bottle of wine being delivered to Emmett, told Anthony quite clearly that something wasn’t right in his world. Being summoned to Venice by Italy’s Finance Minister for a masquerade, even though said minister was his lover’s father, seemed out of the ordinary as well. Everything that had gone on recently seemed extraordinary and as such, fraught with tension.

Anthony didn’t like feeling unsettled. He didn’t like the darkness that he sensed awaited them in Venice, the very city where he’d met Shelley. A trickle of apprehension slipped down his spine. What would this trip bring them? Danger? More questions? Or finally, some answers?

The scent of a cigar reached his nostrils just as the sound of a throat clearing pierced the early morning fog shrouding the airship. He turned to find Emmett leaning against the rail behind him.

“Good morning,” the earl said, his voice gravely from sleep.

Anthony nodded a greeting. “Good morning. Did you sleep well after the poisoned wine incident? Jack stopped in for a moment during dinner to tell us what happened. Have they found the culprit?”

“Eh, no and no.” Emmett smiled. “I didn’t sleep well because I was busy. And no, they’ve not found who poisoned the wine or the steward who delivered it. He must be on board though. Where would he go?”

“Where indeed.” Anthony eyed the other man cautiously. “You were busy last night?”

Emmett’s smile became that of a cat that had eaten the cream. “Yes. With Caleb.”

Anthony felt his eyes widen. “So the big game hunter has taken down his quarry?”

Now, Emmett’s smile disappeared, to be replaced with a fierce frown. “That’s no way to speak of the boy. He’s not prey.”

“No?” Anthony couldn’t help himself. He raised his brows as he gazed at the big game hunter. Baiting a man like Emmett wasn’t a good idea. Besides, Emmett was Nash’s friend and Shelley’s client. Anthony couldn’t say what had gotten into him, but clearly, the events of the past days had pushed him into walking a dangerous path that morning. And he just couldn’t find it in himself to curb his tongue and behave.

“C’mon, Emmett,” he murmured. “You know you originally thought of him as prey. I’ve seen you work the crowd at balls and at the club. I know how you operate.”

Fury lit Emmett’s eyes and Anthony didn’t blame the man one bit for his anger. In fact, he braced himself to feel the sting of it on his chin. Whether Emmett actually took a swing at him or not was entirely up to the earl. They stared at each other, tension stretching out between them uncomfortably as Anthony waited for the blow.

Smoke and Aether, by KC Burn & Lex Valentine

“Are you hoping if I blacken your eye, too, you’ll get some tender loving care from Shelley – for free?”  Emmett grinned at Anthony’s suddenly clenched fists, the cigar dropping to the deck. It was a low blow, to be sure, but well worth the turnabout.

This time, it wasn’t Emmett swinging first. He blocked Anthony’s blow and swung them around. He was in too good a mood and it was too damn early in the morning for a scuffle.

“Oh, calm down. We’ve got business to discuss. Jack and Nash are already awake and talking to the crew. We should probably join them.”

Tight-lipped, Anthony nodded.  “For the record,” he growled, “money has nothing do with my relationship with Shelley.”

Emmett shot him a cynical, disbelieving glance, and then looked down at the cigar rolling around on the deck. “Let’s have another smoke and stroll along the deck. We’ll start fresh.”

Like the calm before the storm, they strode along the deck, smoking and making small talk – steering clear of their lovers’ attributes, of course.

A pile of canvas – presumably for repairing the dirigible’s envelope – lay haphazardly in a corner.

“I’ll have to tell Nash he needs to keep his ship in better order.” Anthony kicked at a stray fold of fabric that extruded out into their path.

Emmett gasped and choked on a tendril of cigar smoke. “I’m not sure it’s Nash’s fault.”

He pointed at the hairy leg that had been revealed.

“Well, he’ll need to reprimand his crew for getting too foxed to find their quarters.”

Sniffing the air, Emmett realized more than cigar smoke scented the area. He was all too familiar with the smell of death.

“He’s not passed out. He’s dead.” He sent the stump of his cigar over the railing.

Anthony’s eyes rounded and he also flicked his cigar over the side.  “Help me with this canvas.”

The two of them folded back the canvas, revealing one of Nash’s crewmen. A dagger with a narrow handle had been plunged to the hilt in the man’s chest, a small patch of blood, dried to a dark ochre, framed the entry wound. Likely a stiletto of some sort, as they were designed not to attract attention as great gouts of blood were likely to do.

Then Emmett got a good look at the dead man’s face. “Good heavens. That’s the man who brought me the poisoned wine!”

He glanced at Anthony. There wasn’t only one traitor aboard – there must be another. Obviously, the man who had poisoned the wine had killed the steward so that under questioning, he could not divulge who’d given it to him to deliver. Emmett would swear on his mother’s grave that it wasn’t Caleb or one of the other Lords of Aether who’d killed the steward, which meant Nash’s vaunted crew was a point of liability. He bent over the body and tested the temperature of the flesh at the dead man’s wrist.

“I wouldn’t be half surprised if he was killed right after he brought me the wine.”

“Anthony, there you are. Nash has been looking for you. You know I hate to have my sleep disturbed.”

They both turned at the sound of Shelley’s voice.

Artfully disheveled and dressed in an extravagant velvet robe over loose, flowing silk trousers, the courtesan’s gaze went from each man to the dead man. “Oh, my, gentlemen, what have you done?”

“Nothing, as you well know.” Anthony reached out to draw Shelley near, but he dodged the earl’s outstretched hand to bend over the body.

“We have a serious problem.”

“What do you mean?” Anthony slid up behind Shelley, who pointed at the hilt.

“See that engraving?”

Emmett stooped to view the symbol better.  “Looks like a Freemason symbol, although it’s quite faint.”

Shelley shook his head. “Not Freemason. Carbonari.”

“The Carbonari?” Emmett had heard the name, but couldn’t recall any information about them.

“An Italian secret society. Assassins and revolutionaries, for the most part, but they were supposedly eradicated over fifty years ago.” The thoughtful expression on Shelley’s face didn’t deceive Emmett and he doubted it had fooled Anthony either. Something about the symbol on the blade worried Shelley. “If the Carbonari are truly behind this, poisoned wine is the least of our worries.”

Anthony stood. “Is it coincidence that this particular man was killed by an Italian knife, just as you were summoned to Italy?”

The three of them just stared at one another in silence. How was it possible there was any connection to their mission? The odds against it being a coincidence were monumental, but not entirely impossible. There was no real answer to that question just yet, but the murder was an additional reminder that they weren’t on a pleasure trip.

With a brief smile for Emmett and an exchange of speaking glances with Anthony, Shelley left to find Jack and Nash, leaving Emmett and Anthony with the body.

“This isn’t how I envisioned this flight would go,” Anthony said on a sigh, nudging the dead man’s foot with the toe of his slipper.

Emmett didn’t bother to comment. He didn’t know tuppence about Nash and Shelley’s relationship with their father but obviously they would have to decide whether to inform him of the murder. Informing the Italian authorities was probably a completely separate concern. Doing so might create undue delays with suspicion leveled on them without cause, especially if an Italian secret society was involved.

He and Anthony stared down the gangway Shelley had taken. Apparently, they both wished for Nash’s speedy arrival. The level of danger surrounding them could not be dismissed casually. Once the body had been dealt with, Emmett wasn’t leaving Caleb’s side. The man didn’t have nearly his wealth of experience in fending off attackers and there was no way he was allowing anyone to damage his Caleb. Not even if it meant murder.

Nash burst out onto the gangway with Jack only a half step behind him. They stopped beside the body and Nash jerked the canvas away from the nude form. He cursed in Italian.

Jack rubbed his chin in a typical English gesture. “Now, love, don’t get so wound up.”

“Fuck you, Jack.” Nash’s fury flashed from his eyes.

A smile curled the lips of the Imperial spy. He looked at Anthony and then stared at Emmett. “I gather he served you the poisoned wine?”

Emmett nodded briefly, anger surging to the surface again. Jack cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips.

“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you lot, but why this man’s dead isn’t nearly as interesting to me as why the devil the poor fool’s stark bullocks naked.”

A sniff came from behind them. “Aether.”

As one, they all turned to find Jacob Silsbury standing there blinking in the newly risen sun, as placid as if he saw cadavers every day before breakfast.

“I love the smell of aether in the morning.” He smiled at them angelically then wandered back down the gangway into the airship.

“Took the wind out of your sails,” Emmett muttered to Jack, somewhat pleased that someone had. “Now, can we decide what to do with the body so I can go back to bed?”

Revelation

8 March 2013

Emmett came to complete wakefulness in a mere instant, a life-saving habit developed from battle-readiness that he’d never entirely shed. He held himself motionless, mimicking sleep until he’d fully cataloged his surroundings. Something wasn’t right, wasn’t normal. Beyond the clear memory of poisoned wine designed to kill him.

The rhythm of the airship engines, faint yet distinct, thrummed through his bed, but it wasn’t the vibrations that set his libido alight. His body was curled around a warm, slender, naked form. Crisp hair tickled the underside of his arm where he’d tucked the man in close and held him all night. There was the oddity. Sleeping with a lover. The identity of that lover clarified in his mind, almost immediately followed by a vision of the intense sexual play he and Caleb had enjoyed.

Emmett’s cock, nestled in the valley between Caleb’s fuzzy muscled cheeks, bucked as though seeking more of the same pleasure. But Emmett was master of that particular vessel, and although he berthed it more firmly against Caleb’s backside, he refrained from moving enough to bring Caleb to wakefulness. A period of reflection on this change of circumstance was warranted.

Trouble was, there was more to Caleb’s presence in his bed than mere carnal pleasure, no matter what his cock wanted. He so rarely took a second helping from any man, and yet, he rather thought he could gorge himself on Caleb and never have enough. The implications of that should have had him quaking in his boots… the ones that lay haphazardly amongst the clothes they’d shed the previous night without a care to creases.

Would Caleb get on with his dogs? Or George, his companion? If George had come along on this trip, the minute that wine had been established as poison, Emmett would have been locked up tight in his cabin with George standing guard. There wouldn’t have been an opportunity for the delightful culmination… no, culmination spoke of an ending not in sight.  The delightful climax of his dogged pursuit. A pursuit he couldn’t help feeling smug about. He’d spotted something precious in Caleb that very first moment at the ball, and he was more than pleased to have his instincts proved right.

For some reason, he’d always assumed spending the night with a lover would be akin to peers who’d been caught by a cuckolded husband or one obliged to do the right thing after compromising some husband-hunter. The panic of a newly captured herbivore or the relentless pacing of a caged predator, seeking any avenue of escape, were the emotions he expected. Not his current sleepy contentment that could easily tip over into animalistic passion.

A sneaking fear overshadowed his bliss, but not the fear he’d have thought even a fortnight past. No, if Emmett’s seduction had been successful even a few hours earlier, he might have offered a glass of that murderous swill to Caleb. Anger, hot and vicious, tore through his chest. Attempts on his life weren’t common but he’d experienced his fair share of near-death situations. His was a dangerous profession carried out in dangerous places. And he frequently ignored consequences when in the single-minded pursuit of his cock’s pleasure. But the possibility Caleb could have died as bystander to a nefarious plot against Emmett’s life, stranded as they were on this airship, wasn’t to be borne. Nash had better have a plan to find out who was responsible or by all that was holy, Emmett would face down each crew member, one by one if he must.

Caleb let out a sleepy questioning noise as Emmett’s arm tightened protectively around him. Just as suddenly as the anger flared to life, it disappeared, leaving another fire in its wake. A fire only Caleb could quench.

He gently maneuvered Caleb to his back, leaving Emmett above him, Emmett’s eager erection buffeting against Caleb’s morning hardness. Caleb blinked sleepily at him and those slumberous eyes combined with the unaccustomed scent of a newly-wakened man along with their convenient nakedness ignited the flame of Emmett’s desire into a blazing inferno.

Bending his neck, he sealed his lips over Caleb’s, pressing them open with his tongue before delving deep into Caleb’s mouth. The sudden shock of Emmett’s lusty attack wrenched a gasp from deep within Caleb before he moaned into Emmett’s mouth and bucked his hips up. Caleb’s fingers clutched at Emmett’s shoulders before his hands stroked down Emmett’s chest.

Emmett lifted his head and stared down into Caleb’s dark, glittering eyes and groaned. He wasn’t going to be able allow a leisurely exploration this time, either.

For someone who’d tutored many a willing man in the joys of sex and graciously offered his cock to multitudes of partners, a man such as Caleb shouldn’t stretch his control to near breaking. Then Caleb leaned up to lick at a nipple and Emmett forgot about trying to prove anything. Measured strokes wound them tighter, raising them ever closer to the pinnacle, cocks sliding easily in the wake of precum from two eager men.

Too close for anything approaching finesse, Emmett pressed his groin against Caleb’s while biting firmly into Caleb’s flesh where his neck met his shoulder. The sweet man shuddered beneath him and the slippery eruption warmed Emmett’s cock. His whole body stiffened as his cock throbbed, his own heated offering joining Caleb’s.

—-

Emmett and Caleb acted as each other’s valet and Emmett found assisting Caleb to get dressed was almost as erotic and appealing as undressing him, especially since Caleb give him shy little kisses between each garment, bestowed with blushes. Getting dressed had never taken Emmett so long, yet he looked forward to the same “ordeal” the next morning.  Or perhaps a late afternoon nap might be required. It would depend on how the upcoming confrontation with Nash went.

Finally attired and almost respectable-looking, wrinkles not withstanding, Emmett gave Caleb a pat on the bum before ushering him to the door.

“Come on. We’ve got a villain to find and apprehend.”

The shyness bled out of Caleb’s expression, replaced by a grimness that told Emmett Caleb might not have his battle experience but he was equally unhappy about the near-fatal turn of events.

They found Nash and Jack on deck speaking in hushed tones.

“Morning, gentlemen.” Nash offered a genial greeting when he noticed their approach.

“My, my. You two are up quite early, considering…” Jack’s sly smile left no doubt as to what he meant and Emmett knew without looking that Caleb’s blush had reappeared.

“You mean, after I was nearly poisoned? Worried about being murdered in my bed? Yes, it’s amazing I got a wink.” Indeed, his concern for Caleb should have kept him awake all night, if it hadn’t been for the temptation of Caleb’s body.  Which then promptly sent him into the sleep of the well-satiated. Nevertheless, the exaggeration wiped Jack’s smirk away, making it well worth the implication of a cowardly streak in his character.

“I’ve already set Ivar to investigate the crew. It makes me sick to imagine any of them would betray us like that.” Nash took a step forward, as though to get between him and Jack. Not that Emmett intended to brawl with either of them.

“I’d like to question them, also. After all, I am clearly a target. When I was last in Africa my quarters were searched, I’ve felt eyes on me ever since, my home in London was broken into and now this murder attempt.” Listing the recent grievances, which didn’t even take into account Nash’s kidnapping or any other suspicious incidents, made Emmett furious. He would rip the villain apart with his bare hands when he found him.

Caleb made a strangled noise, and Emmett turned to him. The flush suffusing his face was a choleric red, nothing like his earlier innocent blushes.

“Are you hurt?” Emmett stepped close to Caleb, hand on his face, checking for signs of injury. They’d eaten nothing since the previous evening, fearing tampering, and the ship confines would normally make it impossible for an assassin to use a distance weapon without being seen by one of them, yet Emmett well knew the days of that certainty may well be over. Especially if his invention came to fruition and found its way into the wrong hands.

“I… I…” Caleb’s eyes, filled with fear, searched Emmett’s face.

“What?” His voice lowered, wondering if he’d somehow unnerved Caleb beyond what he could bear.

“I’m sorry,” Caleb whispered. “I didn’t do anything to the wine, I swear.”

Emmett frowned. “Of course not, why would I think that?”

“Because I was the one who broke into your house.”

Diving In

7 December 2012

Nothing had prepared Caleb for today. Nothing. The explosive violence of Emmett’s anger, even though not directed toward him, had unnerved him utterly.  Once he found out the reason, he understood Emmett’s “fist-first” reaction. What he didn’t understand was the clawing fear that someone could have succeeded. Some villain could have poisoned Emmett, snuffed out that vibrant, brash personality, leaving Caleb wondering forever about what might have been.

Caleb trembled in Emmett’s arms, unwilling to give up the warmth, the knowledge that the owner of those arms was hale and hearty and whole. At first the tremors had been from nothing more than shock. To go from arousal to shock to fear in such a short span of time confused his body even more than his mind. But the longer he stayed clasped against Emmett, the more he was able to shut out the concern of a possible murderer on board. The spicy musk of Emmett’s skin pervaded his nose, overwhelmed his senses and if he turned just a few degrees in Emmett’s embrace, there would be no mistaking the strength of his returned arousal.

Emmett must have sensed something or been able to pull his thoughts out of his head like a mesmerist. No sooner had Caleb acknowledged his arousal, Emmett shifted them enough to press them together – full length, not a finger’s breadth between them. If there was no mistaking Caleb’s arousal, neither could he misconstrue the hardness poking back at him.

An hour ago, he’d been still undecided. Every moment in Emmett’s presence got him closer to this point, but he hadn’t been willing to be another of Emmett’s conquests. The murder attempt changed everything. He’d come too close to never knowing Emmett in the most intimate way a man can know another man, and he wasn’t going to waste any more time.

Emmett’s arms tightened around him, the soft kiss on his neck a silent question.

Caleb pulled his head away for a moment, hoping to clear the growing haze of desire. His gaze landed on the splash of spilled wine, darkening to brown where it scorched the carpet, and he consigned logic and caution to perdition.

Turning back to Emmett, he gazed into his eyes. There was only one answer, but the blaze of desire in Emmett’s expression stole the breath he’d use to speak.

Tonight, Emmett had come as close to dying as he’d ever done and he hadn’t been prepared. The underhanded nature of the attack surprised him. One didn’t go into battle or face down an African predator without some realization you might not be the victor. Turning an innocuous glass of wine into a deadly weapon, especially in a well-appointed stateroom, had shaken Emmett’s foundations – far more than he’d readily admit.

Trusting a stranger while he slept was never easy and would not be a simple matter for some time to come. Tonight, though, he didn’t want to spend the night alone. More so, he wanted to spend the night with Caleb. Lose his fears in Caleb’s body.

He tightened his arms and kissed the soft skin under Caleb’s ear, his faint stubble rasping lightly against Caleb’s. Despite the heavy erection resting against his own, Caleb stiffened in his arms and Emmett reluctantly prepared himself to let Caleb break the embrace, to flee like he’d done after every other encounter.

Emmett stared into Caleb’s wide eyes, no longer bothering to hide the intensity of his hunger for this sweet man he no longer viewed as prey. A heartbeat or two passed before he realized Caleb wasn’t breaking away.  A resounding “yes” to Emmett’s unspoken plea was unmistakable, between the heat in Caleb’s gaze and the gentle thrust of his hips against Emmett.

Oh. Caleb was staying. Caleb was going to be his.

Slowly, deliberately, Emmett loosened his grip, moved his hands upward, giving Caleb plenty of time and opportunity to break away, but he didn’t move and his gaze never wavered.

Emmett cradled Caleb’s face in his palms and drew their lips together. A hint of alcohol flavored Caleb’s plush lips. For a moment, he was able to remain gentle, chaste. But only a moment, because the musk of Caleb’s arousal was thick in his nostrils and the softness of Caleb’s lips was a dizzying contrast to the strong, stubbled jaw in his hands.

He pressed, tongue seeking entrance. Caleb’s lips relaxed around a soft exhalation, and gave Emmett the opening he sought.

Sliding his hands back down Caleb’s body, he pulled them even tighter together while he devoured Caleb’s mouth.  Never had Emmett considered a mouth might be made for kissing, not when that warm, wet haven could be put to better use servicing his cock. Yet, as their tongues parried and twined against each other, he realized he could explore Caleb’s mouth for hours.

A low whimper, passed from Caleb’s mouth to his, made his cock thump in angry denial. Hours might be far longer than his cock would allow him to feast on Caleb’s lips. Emmett pulled back, barely enough to part their lips, Caleb’s puffy and pink from kissing.

“Come to bed with me. Please.” Emmett wasn’t sure he’d ever requested a bed partner so politely, but he didn’t want Caleb to say no.

Caleb bit down on his lower lip with even, white teeth and nodded.

The shy gesture triggered a thought. “Have you done this before?”

A slash of pink streaked across Caleb’s cheeks. “Yes. A couple of times.”

A couple of times. Emmett had had a couple of hundred encounters before he stopped counting. He wasn’t sure if he should be proud, gratified or terrified by the trust Caleb was giving him. But he’d known from the moment Caleb capitulated that this wasn’t going to be a simple exchange of orgasms.

“Come.” Emmett pulled back, the separation of their bodies leaving him cold and unsettled.  Taking Caleb’s strong, work-worn fingers in his, he led the way to his bedroom.

Next to the bed, Emmett undressed them. Each piece of clothing he removed from Caleb was a small seduction, a slow tease designed to inflame Caleb’s senses, drug him with passion. It was a process he’d never cared about before, but each shuddery breath, each breathy moan, was a gift that in turn ignited his own passions. For the first time, another’s arousal was as good as a caress.

For every piece of clothing Emmett removed with such precision, he tore away a matching garment of his own as fast as he could, eager to get his fingers back on the gem fate had given him. He tossed their garments on the floor in a way that would have any valet cringing, but Emmett had no remorse.

At long last, they stood there in nothing but white linen shirts, shrouded erections pushing out the hems. Emmett had considered leaving their pants on until the end, but changed his mind and chose the shirts to be last. He was glad he did, even though it had been torturous to ease down their pants without grabbing and stroking them to quick orgasm.

Quick completion wasn’t on the agenda. Orgasm wasn’t called la petite mort for nothing, and Emmett wanted nothing but a thorough, sensual annihilation of both their senses.

He took a step back, all the better to survey his handiwork. Caleb’s hair was mussed, his eyes dark with desire, and his cheeks were flushed. Tiny bruises dotted the base of his throat where Emmett had been unable to resist sucking. His legs were long and strong, and Emmett would wager he’d cut a fine figure atop a horse.

“What?”

The hesitant word dropped into the silence between them, and Emmett realized the past several minutes had been filled with nothing but the sounds of fabric dropping to the floor and lips tasting skin.

“You’re beautiful.” Emmett’s voice was a husky growl and Caleb’s flush got darker.

“So are you,” Caleb whispered.

Emmett’s own cheeks heated. It wasn’t the first time he’d been complimented by a lover, but it was the first time it mattered.

Stepping close again, his fingers found the edges of Caleb’s shirt. His desire pounded in his ears and his groin and his patience was ready to snap. He tugged and the shirt parted like magic, revealing smooth skin over lithe muscles and a dark red cock raised up, begging for attention.

Years had passed since Emmett had last sank to his knees in front of another man, but how could he do anything but? Caleb deserved to be worshipped.

The heat of Caleb’s engorged penis against his cheek hypnotized him. Not too long, not too thick, but just perfect for a mouth out of practice. Emmett licked his lips and opened his mouth, engulfing Caleb’s warm length. A moan ripped out of Caleb’s throat and his hips bucked, sending his cock farther into Emmett’s mouth.

Emmett swirled his tongue around his mouthful, bobbing his head, while Caleb gasped nonsense words above him. He retained enough sense to rid himself of his own shirt before he focused completely on Caleb’s cock and balls.

In moments, Caleb was trembling and kneading the skin on Emmett’s shoulders.  Time to withdraw.

A soft pop heralded the return of Caleb’s cock to open air, and the disappointed frown creasing Caleb’s face made Emmett grin.

“We’re not done yet, sweet.”

“More.” Caleb’s imperious demand was accompanied by a sharp tug on his head, but Emmett had other designs on Caleb’s body.

“Soon.” He rose to his feet and captured Caleb’s lips in another scorching kiss. They both moaned at the sensation of skin against skin, and Caleb rutted against his own leaking erection, desperate for relief. Caleb’s fingers wandered over the skin of his back, down his spine and tentatively stroked the swell of his arse. Next time, maybe, they could come like this, soak each other in their spend, but not for this first time.

“Not yet, sweet.” Emmett softened his words with kisses to Caleb’s jaw. “On the bed with you.”

Caleb did as he was bid, but the momentary confidence he’d demonstrated had been replaced with shy hesitancy. That would never do.

Emmett grabbed a vial of oil and clambered on the bed, coaxing Caleb’s legs open by settling his body between them. His erection had also lost some of its fierceness, but Emmett had a plan for that.

While Caleb watched, he poured a small amount of oil on his fingers. Nerves were overtaking his sweet man, anxiety growing with every breath.

“Hush, sweet.”

Keeping his hand carefully off the bed linens, he licked Caleb’s furry sac before sucking a ball into his mouth.

The sound that escaped Caleb wasn’t a groan or a word but some odd combination of both. Judging by the instant renewal of Caleb’s hardness, his misgivings had vanished.

Emmett allowed himself only a few moments to savor Caleb’s musky maleness before he licked the base of Caleb’s hard prick, chasing the vein to the foreskin.

“Yes. More. Suck.”

Emmett wanted to laugh but instead pulled the damp tip of Caleb’s prick into his mouth. Just the tip, and just enough tongue to tease because Caleb wasn’t coming yet.  He eased a slick finger between firm cheeks and with an unerring accuracy borne of years of practice, he slid a finger into Caleb.

“Wha-” Caleb’s his passage tightened around Emmett’s finger, and Emmett groaned around the cock in his mouth.  He wanted his prick inside Caleb and he didn’t know how much longer he could wait.

He dug his tongue into Caleb’s slit, making him buck. The motion pushed Emmett’s finger in deeper, and Caleb groaned again.

Slowly, he eased the digit out partway, then slid it in again. This time, Caleb held himself still, but didn’t clench.  Another couple of thrusts and more sucking had Caleb’s legs opening a bit wider.

As soon as Emmett found the sweet spot inside, Caleb opened up, whimpering and wiggling and demanding more.  Emmett was more than happy to oblige, and much sooner than anticipated, Emmett had three fingers thrusting inside Caleb.  His cock throbbed at his groin, twitching against Caleb’s leg hair, demanding his own satisfaction.

Emmett pulled his fingers out and Caleb glared at him.

“Don’t worry, sweet. Almost there.”

“Yes, I was almost there,” Caleb huffed.

Emmett grinned. He wanted this to be good for Caleb, and not wanting to stop was an excellent sign.

He slicked up his hard prick as quick as he could and moved to cover Caleb, cock poised at his entrance.

Caleb swallowed heavily and squirmed, avoiding Emmett’s gaze. He lowered his stomach and chest to keep the man still, and Caleb hissed at the sudden pressure on his erection.

“Look at me.”

Caleb pointedly ignored him.

Emmett jabbed his hips enough that the tip of his cock pressed on Caleb’s pucker, but not hard enough to enter him.

“Look at me,” he growled again.

This time, Caleb obeyed. Pupils wide, lips rosy and parted, chest rising and falling with the rapidity of unsatisfied desire… Emmett had never seen a more appealing sight. Once with him would not be enough. Dozens of encounters wouldn’t be enough.

Emmett opened his mouth to tell Caleb how much he wanted this, but his body could speak more eloquently right now. He swooped down and claimed Caleb’s mouth, driving both tongue and cock deep into Caleb. Greedily, he swallowed Caleb’s surprised gasp, and set about coaxing more from the man as his hips set the pace almost on their own, his tongue thrusting in a rhythmic counterpoint.

Muscles corded in his arms as he fought to keep his weight off Caleb. Caleb closed his eyes and met each of Emmett’s vigorous thrusts with his own.  All too soon, Caleb’s unfettered and enthusiastic response shattered his careful seduction.  Unable to catch his breath, Emmett ripped his mouth away even as his hips sped up, driving deep, thighs slapping together, balls bouncing against Caleb’s round bum.

Faster, faster.

He stared down at Caleb, panting, sweat covering both their bodies as he rode Caleb. His entire world had narrowed to the touch, taste, scent and sound of this one compelling, beautiful man.

Faster, harder… louder.

“Too good, Cal. Oh.” Emmett’s hips swiveled, unable to halt the orgasm building in his balls.  “Cal, Cal.”

Slipping a hand between them to stroke Caleb would be impossible at this pace, but a deeper, rosier flush colored Caleb’s chest and his face twisted. Emmett pleaded, prayed, that Caleb was close because he couldn’t stop, couldn’t wait, couldn’t do anything but fuck.

Caleb dug his fingers into Emmett’s biceps and arched his back. Before losing himself entirely, Emmett pressed his abdomen against Caleb’s cock as he drove deep into Caleb’s body.  Caleb shouted his name as his passage clenched around Emmett’s cock.

Emmett grunted and filled Caleb with long pulses while Caleb slicked the space between them with his spend.

While they caught their breath, Emmett stayed inside Caleb as long as he could. Caleb stroked over his chest, making Emmett shiver. A small smiled tugged at Caleb’s lips but it held a hint of regret, threatening to shatter Emmett’s post-orgasmic bliss.

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, I just wish…”

“Wish what?”  Emmett closed his eyes, waiting for the blow. Waiting to hear Caleb wished they hadn’t done this, even though Emmett wouldn’t regret a second.

“That I’d had a chance to touch you more. Taste you.”

Flames of desire licked at him, but there was no way his body could respond. Not yet.

“There’ll be other chances. Soon. I promise.”

Caleb’s smiled broadened, clear of any regret.

After they’d cleaned up, Emmett curled his body around Caleb and held him. Breathy snores told him Caleb had passed out, but Emmett had no desire to wake him and send him back to his own quarters, as he’d normally do.

Was it Caleb’s sweet naivety? The near-death experience? Or the merry chase Caleb had led him on? Whatever the reason, this act which he’d indulged in so many times with so many strangers had suddenly become more significant than simply satisfying a bodily urge. Having sex in his bed and falling asleep with his lover was a step toward commitment that he rarely took, and yet he had every intention of doing so with Caleb as often as he could. He should be terrified, but his satiated brain could only rouse up a drowsy contentment. If he needed something to fear, there was his attempted murder to consider, but morning would be soon enough to face that.

 

Perturbed

5 October 2012

Caleb puttered around the workroom, accomplishing next to nothing of value.  He couldn’t much concentrate. Alexi had interrupted his ill-advised interlude with Montgomery… no, Emmett.  He’d been invited to use Emmett’s given name, and the intimacy of such a gesture shouldn’t affect him, but it did.  Alexi’s appearance had been well-timed, because he didn’t think Emmett would have been easily put off.  Especially since Caleb hadn’t been able to remember how to say “no” once Emmett’s mouth had moved over his, soft but determined.  Thrilling.

Every time he saw Emmett, it got harder and harder to remember why he was supposed to dislike the man, why he shouldn’t tumble into bed with him the way they both clearly wanted.  He’d not been completely unaware of Emmett’s intent gaze on him whenever they were together, but lately, he found himself wanting more than Emmett’s smoldering expression.

Alexi’s interruption had given him time to think, time to compose his rejection, time to let his arousal – brought to an abrupt fever pitch by Emmett’s touch – fade.  Problem was, the arousal hadn’t gone away, not completely.  In the face of the sullen complaints from his unsatisfied cock, his attempts to compose lucid and logical reasons why he shouldn’t succumb to Emmett’s advances collapsed like a clockwork with no gears.  And if he didn’t succumb, would Emmett find someone else to slake his lust with?  Caleb hadn’t appreciated that the last time, and he wasn’t entirely certain he’d be able to retain any civility in Shelley’s company.

Did Shelley call Emmett by his first name?  A quick vision of the two men, naked and entwined, one of them calling out Emmett’s name in his ecstasy, came unwelcome and unbidden to his mind.  In a sudden fury, Caleb swept the table free of gears and piping, the loud clatter shaking him out of his imaginings as he squatted to pick up the pieces.  He shouldn’t care what Emmett did with his time.  But his libido wanted what Emmett offered, and no amount of rhetoric could convince his cock it was a bad idea.

Perhaps if he could retire to his cabin, give himself a little relief, that might help.  But it was broad daylight.  One didn’t do that in broad daylight, especially not when one was a guest.  Did they?  Dinner would likely be served soon; how humiliating to have someone stop by his cabin to announce the meal while he was mid… No.  He couldn’t allow it. He wasn’t one of the idle rich.  Working his commission during the day… that was what he had to do.

With a sigh, he sat down, work still the last thing he wanted.  The vibration of the engines, a minor annoyance when confined to the soles of his feet now radiated through the chair, reawakening his half-dormant erection.  With a curse, Caleb pushed away from the table and stood.

Enough was enough.  He didn’t care if it wasn’t proper, he needed relief and he needed it soon, or he might make the supreme mistake of knocking on Emmett’s door and begging to be his latest bedsport.  Not that he expected every carnal encounter to result in a relationship, but Emmett’s attitude towards it pegged him as the heartless hunter he was. Caleb didn’t want to be used and discarded like a broken toy.

Adjusting his cock in his trousers, Caleb left the workroom without a backward glance.  After all, Emmett had merely commissioned a work, not enslaved him.  He was entitled to “rest” in his cabin for a bit.

Caleb reached his cabin door swiftly and without encountering another soul, thankfully, because it would only require a glance at his groin to discern his state of mind.  After imagining him and Emmett that first night they’d met… imagining him out in the garden, down on his knees in front of the muscular hunter, mouth open to receive the ample erection Emmett sported, he’d find relief within moments of taking himself in hand.

He had a hand on the door handle when a voice spoke.

“Colchester.  Settling in okay?”

Caleb bit back a whimper as an embarrassed heat warmed his face.  Anyone other than his host, and he’d have mumbled his excuses to the door frame and escaped into his cabin.  Instead he took a deep breath and half turned to Nash.

“Fine, yes, thank you.”

Jack, nestled into the circle of Nash’s arms, peered at him.  “Are you certain?  Many people are afflicted with mal de l’air on their first airship flight.  You are a little flushed.”

Caleb’s face got hotter.  If only he could blame airsickness.  Then Nash smirked, and Caleb was very much afraid neither of them thought he was ill.  Depraved, perhaps, but not ill.

“No, I’m fine.”  But his voice cracked, and he might not be fine until he’d reached the solace of his cabin.

“Well, then, come inside and have a drink with us before dinner.  We insist.”

Nash’s words were rather louder than needed, considering how close they stood, but his tone brooked no argument.  And Caleb had to be imagining the odd emphasis on the word “drink”, making it sound salacious.

There was no hope for it.  At least once he was seated, he could hide his arousal, and pray it deflated shortly.  Trying to make polite conversation might be the distraction he needed.

“Of course.  It will be my pleasure.”

Emmett rounded the corner, only to see those bastards, Jack and Nash, ushering Caleb into their cabin.  Caleb, whose erection was obvious to anyone with eyes, and it should have been his.  If not for Alexi and his clinginess to Caleb, Emmett would already had Caleb.  Maybe right there in the workroom, if they’d not been able to make it back to their rooms.  Maybe both.

Emmett stood outside the cabin door, teeth clenched, hands curled into fists.  He couldn’t actually fling the door open and demand Caleb’s return.  Not if he didn’t want to irk Nash to the point of getting himself thrown over the side of the ship.  It was a long, long way to the ground.

Clinging to his temper by a gossamer thread, he made himself enter his own cabin.  The bottle of wine Nash had delivered earlier, “with his compliments” stood on the sideboard, mocking him.  Speaking loudly of Nash’s intention to keep Emmett sotted and away from Caleb.

His anger rose, and he grabbed the bottle, slamming it on the side of the wall he shared with Nash and Jack.  Bastards.

Glass shattered and fell to the floor as crimson liquid sprayed along the wall and dripped down to pool among the shards.  Where it began to foam.  Emmett frowned and stepped closer, careful where he stepped.

He stretched out a finger and dipped it in the wine.  He brought it to his nose and sniffed.  Smelled like wine, but not a great vintage.  Then his finger began to burn and he hastily grabbed a linen cloth from the sideboard to wipe his finger.  The cloth browned a trifle.

Fury boiled over.   How dare he?  Nash already had a man of his own and he was willing to kill Emmett for his?  Emmett didn’t give a good Goddamn who owned this stinking scow.

Like a vengeful god, Emmett stormed over to the cabin next door, and flung open the door.  He had a moment to notice that everyone’s clothes were still on before he barreled past Jack and Caleb to yank Nash out of his chair and land a heavy punch in his face.

The two other men prevented him from landing another blow, but land more he would, because Nash’s shock made him even angrier.  A flash of pain flared in Nash’s face and he touched the blood that trickled from his broken nose.  He narrowed his eyes in anger, which suited Emmett just fine.

“You cold-hearted bastard,” Emmett gritted out between clenched teeth as he attempted to shrug off his restraints.  “If you want to kill me, do it like a man, you puling pup.”

Nash’s anger turned to confusion.  “Kill you?”

Jack and Caleb both echoed the words, which apparently surprised them enough Emmett was able to shake them.  He cocked his fist and let it fly, but this time, Nash was ready.  He caught it and slammed his own fist into Emmett’s gut.  Breath fled his lungs and he stumbled into a chair, stunned.

“I’ve never known you to brawl when you’re drunk, Montgomery, but there’s always a first time.” The restrained menace in Nash’s tone was one never directed at him before, but then, he’d never had Nash try to kill him before.

“What the hell is going on?”  Caleb switched his weight from foot to foot, like he couldn’t decide where to go or what to do.

As air finally returned to his lungs, Emmett became aware of the throb in his ribs that matched the throb in his knuckles.  Nash must have stone under his skin instead of mere bone.

“Your suitor here has apparently been driven mad with jealousy.”

“Is that the story you’ll give the authorities when you tell them I’m dead?”  Emmett sneered.  He had a whole arsenal of weapons in his luggage, but hadn’t bothered bringing one over with him.  Stupid.  But he’d bide his time and get his chance.  Nash was in his sights now, and he never missed.

“Authorities?  What are you talking about, Montgomery?”  Jack moved to wipe away the blood that now dripped off Nash’s chin.  The smear of red made Nash appear mad, as mad as he’d have to be to kill Emmett over a man.

Caleb stared at him as though he’d lost his mind.  And that convinced him he needed to control his anger.  They’d never believe him otherwise.  But Jack needed to know.  As did Caleb.  It was the only way they could keep themselves safe.  And if he convinced them now, perhaps they could prevail upon the crew to keep Nash confined until they could land and hand him over to the authorities.  That was the wisest course of action, as much as Emmett would like to hunt Nash down like a feral beast.

“The poisoned wine.  That Nash sent me.”

The confused look returned to Nash’s eyes.  “I never sent you wine.  Much less poisoned wine.  What are you on about?”

“You didn’t send a crew man to my cabin earlier with a bottle?  I thought you were trying to get me out of the way so you and Jack could have your way with Caleb.”

Caleb gasped and a fresh blush colored his cheeks.

“Not a bad plan, but no, I didn’t send any wine.  What about the poison?”

Could he be wrong?  Could his infatuation with Caleb have muddled his faculties?  Because he believed Nash spoke the truth.  In fact, he’d known Nash long enough that he shouldn’t have leapt to the conclusion he’d kill… at least, not under these circumstances.

“Come.  Let me show you.”

The scene in Emmett’s room told the story.  Where ever wine had landed, it etched and discolored the surface like acid.

“By all that’s holy.  Who brought you this wine?”  Jack asked.

“A crew member.  One I didn’t recognize.”

Nash knelt near the still frothing liquid.

“Careful not to touch it,” Emmett warned.

“We only had one new crew member, but he deserted before we lifted off.”

Suspicious.  Very suspicious.

Nash used a handkerchief to pick up a piece of glass with the wine label.  “And this is not one of the brands in our collection on board.”

“So what does this mean?” Caleb asked.

“Well, either Emmett had another jealous rival,” Nash waggled a brow, and Emmett snorted. “Or, there’s something more nefarious going on.  I’ll have the crew check for signs of tampering, but a ne crew member wouldn’t have been given access to something as important as the pantry.  We’ll hopefully know more at dinner.  If necessary, we’ll stop at the nearest place and bring new supplies aboard.”

Nash led Jack from Emmett’s cabin, leaving Caleb looking shaken.  This might even be worse than Nash trying to kill him.  How could he protect Caleb from a nameless, faceless enemy?  He wanted to tell Caleb not to worry, but knew how useless such words would be.  Instead, he drew Caleb into his arms, thoughts only on comfort, not sex.  At least for now.

Thwarted

6 July 2012

Emmett paced, restless as an animal in a cage.  Usually his quarters on the Lucky Penny were more than adequate.  Comfortable.  Had to be.  Even by airship, traipsing back from and forth between Africa didn’t happen overnight and Nash had always provided acceptable quarters.

He paused by the sideboard and fingered the bottle of wine.  With a sigh, he opened it and poured a glass.  In the dimly lit cabin, the liquid looked almost black.  Glancing at the arm chair, he considered sitting, but he was too agitated to relax.  There was nothing to do until dinner, and even then he wasn’t sure he’d be a fit companion.  He’d made a fool of himself several times over and felt poised to do it again and again.

How was he supposed to keep focused on the reason for this trip when half the passengers made him want to throttle something.  He paused again to gulp back half the full-bodied liquid, savoring it completely beyond him.

Behind him, the empty bed lurked.  Taunting him.  Mute reproach that he wasn’t going to have the company he’d anticipated.  His decision to include Caleb had been impulsive but he’d been looking forward to having Caleb as a bed partner for the trip.  After he’d coaxed Caleb out of his bad mood, that was.  He rarely went back for seconds but he suspected once wouldn’t be enough with Caleb.

Drinking himself into a stupor before dinner wasn’t the answer.  The answer was to forget about Caleb.  For a short while.  He drained the last of his wine and set the glass beside the open bottle.

The crew wouldn’t be busy, yet.  Nash ran a tight ship and they’d be ready to leave as soon as Nash gave the order.  After departure, they’d have more duties they’d have to concentrate on, but for now, he might find a welcome diversion.  He certainly had before.

Bypassing the crew quarters, Emmett headed straight for the engine room.  Not only was the inner workings of the airship fascinating, but even while docked there was plenty of noise to cover the sounds of the occasional interlude.  Also plenty of shadowy corners to indulge.  Inspecting the engine and finding a personal pipe polisher should distract him until dinner time.

“Good afternoon,” Emmett greeted the guard at the entry to the engine room.  “I’m just going to pop in for a look around.”

“I’m sorry, milord, but the captain has declared the engine room off limits.”

“I’m Bridgewater.  I’ve been here lots of times.  I’m sure Nash didn’t mean me.”  Emmett moved to brush past, but the guard, larger and more muscular than he, extended his arm, blocking the entrance.

Emmett lifted his brows.

“I’m sorry, milord.  The captain was very specific.  No passengers allowed.”  The guard had a pained look on his face.  Emmett didn’t blame him; Nash had put the poor man in a hell of a position.

Was it their mission or destination that had Nash in a tizzy?  Nevertheless, he wasn’t the type to force his own will on a fellow doing his duty.  The majority of his peers disagreed and would use their position to force their way in, but Emmett had too much respect for men earning a living.  Didn’t change the fact that he still wanted to strangle Nash.  He could do that later, after dinner, when he found out exactly why he wasn’t getting run of the ship like usual.

But the engine room wasn’t going to provide the distraction he’d hoped for.  He only wanted one man, anyway, as devilishly odd as that was.  With a frown, he stalked back toward his cabin.

Lost in his thoughts, he nearly knocked over one of the galley workers standing outside his cabin.

“Your wine, milord.  Compliments of the captain.”

Another bottle?  How much of a drunkard did Nash think he was?

“Just put it beside the other one.”  The one he had yet to finish.  Then again, banished from the engine room, banished from the work room by Caleb, what else was he going to do, besides drink?  He waved the man in before him.

Wait.  Compliments of the Nash?  Banned from free access to the ship?  Lies.  Fucking lies.  Nash and his “simmering pot” nonsense.  It was bloody obvious.  Nash was clearing the field for him and Jack to accost Cal.

“Shall I open it for you?”

Was the man stupid?  He hardly needed two open bottles of wine.  “No, thank you.  I’ll drink it later.”

Banished from the workroom?  Not a chance.  He was going to find Caleb.  He wasn’t letting Nash and Jack profit from such an underhanded move.

“Close the door when you leave,” he called out before he strode toward the workroom.

The closer he got, the angrier he became.  Been a while since he’d brawled with anyone, but he didn’t know what he’d do if he saw Jack pawing at Caleb again.  Or Nash.  Or even Silsbury.

The door slammed inward under the force of his ire.  Brass fittings clattered on the floor as Caleb flew back from the table.  Emmett glared at all corners of the workroom, ready to charge any other man hiding there.

“Montgomery, what… what’s wrong?”

He heaved in a breath.  Caleb didn’t look freshly fucked or disheveled.  The table was high enough no one could be hiding beneath.

Caleb’s cheeks pinkened.  It could have been anger or arousal.  Or both, the same as him.  Emmett had enough experience to coax them both into the more enjoyable emotion.  If Caleb was going to simmer for anyone, it would be him.

“Are you alone here?”

“Of course.  Why?”

Emmett didn’t answer, just rounded the table, ever closer to his goal.  Mere steps away, Caleb finally understood he was prey and stumbled away from his chair, backing up against the wall.  He had nowhere to retreat.

In seconds, Emmett pressed his body against Caleb’s, hands on Caleb’s face.  Touching Caleb, being alone with Caleb gave him an unbelievable sense of relief.

“Montgomery?”

“Call me Emmett.”  He didn’t give Caleb a chance to comply before he plundered those soft pink lips.  The lips he’d noticed that very first day.  Caleb gasped into his mouth, and relaxed, molding his firm, lithe form against Emmett’s.

When Caleb’s arms tightened around him, Emmett’s let his hands rove down, wrapping around Caleb’s waist, fingers resting lightly on the muscular swell of a set of enticing buttocks.  Buttocks he had every intention of baring to his gaze, licking and biting, before another hour had passed.

He shifted his lips to Caleb’s ear.  “Come back to my cabin.  Please.”

“Alexi?”

Jealousy, fierce and hot, swept through him.  How could Caleb possibly mix them up?  He reared back in time to hear Silsbury speak behind him.

“Caleb?  Are you okay?”

Emmett stepped away, but used his body to keep Silsbury from viewing their very obvious arousals.

“Caleb is just fine.”  Emmett was hard pressed to keep from growling.  Caleb wasn’t Silsbury’s to protect.

Caleb pushed at his shoulder.  “I thought I told you I didn’t want in the workroom today.”  His voice didn’t have the same venom it had earlier and Emmett turned his head to gaze into Caleb’s eyes.

“I needed to see you.  I couldn’t stay away that long.”  Emmett didn’t know where those words came from, but they were the complete and utter truth.

Caleb’s eyes softened and he leaned back into Emmett.  With a smile, Emmett wrapped arms around Caleb again.  “Caleb’s fine,” he repeated.  Caleb smiled back and Emmett knew this trip was going to be even better than he’d hoped.

 

An Unwelcome Shipmate

25 May 2012

Caleb tucked himself further into his corner until Nash and Jack straightened their clothes and strode past, their closeness telegraphing both their recent intimacy and their feelings for each other.  If Caleb had been able to avoid observing their passionate encounter, he would have.  But he’d been stunned by how quickly the two men became entwined, and he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself.  Quite frankly, he wasn’t entirely certain he was allowed to be in this section of the ship anyway.  Not if the captain and Jack felt comfortable enough to fuck right out in the open.

He waited several breaths after they’d left, the scent of male completion hanging heavy in the air.  His groin throbbed, and he prayed his excitement wasn’t obvious.  They’d moved so beautifully together, and the obvious care they had for each other was exciting and beautiful and arousing.  And made him painfully jealous.  Caleb wanted that for himself, but he saw no possibility for that in his future.

Entering the dining room, most everyone paid attention to their luncheon, and Caleb moved stealthily to the open place beside Alexi.

“See, we aren’t the last ones here,” Jack said to Nash.  Caleb didn’t know if he meant to be as loud as he was, but everyone turned their gazes upon him.  Heat flooded his cheeks, and unfortunately, his arousal still hadn’t subsided entirely.  Montgomery noticed right off, because that was where he looked first.  The cad.  But his gaze traveled quickly to his face, becoming a scowl.

Caleb ignored everyone as he slid into the chair.  Montgomery’s scowl remained on him, but Alexi patted his arm soothingly.

“Feel more like eating now?”

He didn’t, not really, although he was ravenous for something else entirely, and  it was all Montgomery’s fault.  Ever since he’d met Montgomery, he’d spent more than his fair share of playing the voyeur.  By all rights, he shouldn’t blame Montgomery, but he was a viable target.  Nevertheless, he didn’t need any more undue attention.

“Yes, thank you.”  Caleb picked at the food on the plate that appeared before him, letting the conversation flow around him.

“What happened?”Alexi asked in an undertone.  The man was far too perceptive for his own good.

“Nothing.  Just got distracted by the workings of the ship.”  The explanation was sound, and perfectly reasonable, but his face flamed with the memory of Jack working Nash over.

Montgomery’s eyes narrowed and Alexi coughed.  Caleb drank a huge gulp of wine just for something to do.

The meal passed with excruciating slowness, Montgomery’s censorious eyes upon him the entire time while Alexi did his best to deflect attention from him.  He succeeded in making engaging small talk with everyone except the one who most ruffled his composure.  Montgomery’s regard didn’t waver and he either ignored or brusquely answered any conversational volley Alexi launched.  Later, he’d have to be sure to thank Alexi, but it looked like he was going to have to get used to the discomfort the auburn-haired hunter engendered.

As soon as it was polite to leave, Alexi hauled him out of his chair and they left, Alexi making their excuses about getting back to work.  Which was also a joke.  Montgomery hadn’t told them what they were working on, and at the beginning stages, it probably wasn’t necessary.  The clamps and gears and pistons were not yet ready to be assembled, so it didn’t matter what the end result was to be.

Out in the corridor leading to the room Montgomery had set up as a workroom, Caleb reached out a hand to halt Alexi’s progress.

“Thank you.  I appreciate what you tried to do in there.”

“Any time.  We’re friends now.  But that man is interested in you.”

Caleb shrugged.  He had no intention of becoming one of Montgomery’s quickly discarded, nameless receptacles of lust.  No matter how attractive he was, nor how completely he commanded any room he was in.

“What happened?  Before luncheon, I mean.  You were completely flustered.”

Who else could he share with?  “I got trapped.  I was exploring, wandering.  I found a secluded area of the ship, thought it might make a decent refuge when I needed a rest, but discovered that the captain makes use of it.  He and Jack were…”

“No.  Out in the open?”

“Mostly, yes.  Not out in the open enough for just anyone to stumble over them, but yes.”

A tiny giggle escaped before Alexi laughed.  “No wonder you looked absolutely mortified.”

Caleb couldn’t help but laugh, the tension of luncheon fading.  “Mortified, yes, among other things.”

Alexi gave him a knowing look.  “Did they see you?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Alexi laughed again and squeezed Caleb’s arm.

“A moment of your time, Cal.”  The familiar voice boomed behind him, and he stiffened.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll stay with you,” Alexi whispered.

Caleb turned as though facing a ravening beast.  Perhaps that description was not far off.  Montgomery resembled an auburn lion, bearing down.

Close to them, Montgomery loomed over them both.  “Alone, Cal.”

“Anything you have to say to Cal, you can say to me.  We’re working on your project together.”  Alexi glared at Montgomery and took a step in front of Caleb.

Montgomery looked over Alexi’s head to stare intently at Caleb.  “This doesn’t involve your boy.”

Caleb gasped at Montgomery’s dismissive tone and words.  Alexi did not take it well.  His shoulders drew back and he poked Montgomery in the chest.

“I’m not his boy.”

“Enough.”  Montgomery focused his blue eyes fully on Alexi.  “I let you come along, boy, as a concession to Cal.  You’re pretty and rich enough that you’re used to getting your own way, but that won’t help you here.  If you get in my way, I will toss you over the side of this ship.”

The menace emanating from the man was palpable enough to make him shiver.  He didn’t know how serious the man was, and Alexi bristled in indignation, apparently uncaring of the threat, but he wasn’t willing to risk his new friend.

“Go.  I’ll catch up.”

Alexi looked at him and he nodded.  He’d be fine.  After all, help was only a shout away.  Sky pirate or not, surely Nash wouldn’t approve of tossing anyone over the side of his ship without his say.

“Well, looks like you won’t be lonely this trip.”

“What does that even mean?”  His discomfort burned away under the anger at Montgomery’s high-handed tactics.

Montgomery herded him against the side of the passageway, the heat of his body almost scorching Caleb.

“I mean, I saw the looks you gave Nash and Jack.  I didn’t make any objections to you bringing Alexi.  He’s a diversion, a boy.  Not a man.  But getting involved with those two?  They’ll eat you up and spit you out when they’re done.”

“And you won’t?”  Did this man make any connections with people that weren’t related to his cock?  “You forget I’ve seen you.  Seen how cavalierly you treat… I can’t even call them bed partners, can I?  Not when you get your pleasure on a terrace.  Besides, you’ve got your very own whore on the ship.  What difference does it make what I do?”

Fire lit Montgomery’s eyes and his breath heaved.  “Shelley is not a whore, nor is he mine.  Shelley interacts only with those whom he deems worthy.”

“Based on the worth of their accounts?” Caleb lifted a brow.  He endeavored to hide the nervousness that twisted his belly as he stood firm against the huffing lion.

“This isn’t about Shelley.  This is about you spreading yourself amongst the men on this ship, without giving me a turn.”

“What the devil is the matter with you?” Caleb shoved ineffectually at Montgomery’s shoulders.

Montgomery didn’t answer, but merely fitted their groins together and lowered his lips.  As erotic as this encounter could have been, the man had made several erroneous assumptions, called his character into question and threatened his friend.  If he thought Caleb was going to just tumble into his bed, he was sorely mistaken.

With strength he didn’t know he had, Caleb shoved Montgomery away and twisted out from the press of his body.

“No.  How dare you?  Insulting me and threatening Alexi doesn’t incite my lust, Lord Bridgewater.  And unlike your unfounded assumptions, I have seen you fornicating with my own eyes.  I know I’d be treated better in a ménage with Jack and Nash, than in bed with you.”

Montgomery reared back as though Caleb had slapped him, the anger in his eyes quickly replaced by shock and confusion.

“I don’t want to see you in the workroom.  Not today at least.”

Caleb didn’t wait around to see Montgomery’s reaction, but turned his back and strode unhurriedly away, not matter how much his brain screamed at him to run.  Despite his anger, despite Montgomery’s despicable behavior, the man was undeniably compelling.  More fool, he.

A Tempting Invitation

6 April 2012

Caleb sat stiffly, doing his best to avoid any contact with Montgomery, who’d seen fit to sit down next to him on the sofa.  He recognized a number of the men, but seeing them all in a group was unexpected.  He also had no idea why Montgomery had dragged him in.  Accepting a commission hardly seemed reason enough.  He didn’t belong in the company of such powerful men.

“It doesn’t matter.” Caleb didn’t know the identity of the speaker, but he was certain he’d seen him at the DeHaviland ball. “We know who he must be. Atterby.”

Atterby?  Caleb leaned forward, the discussion drawing attention from his inner turmoil.  Between his uncle’s rapid descent into debt and then the suspicious circumstances surrounding his uncle’s death, he’d long believed Atterby was behind his currently straitened circumstances, but he had no way to prove it.

The conversation quickly moved on from Atterby and sedition, to a trip to Italy.  Imagine having the option to go to Italy, on a whim.  His uncle had had many such stories about the continent, but Caleb had never left England.

“Been a while since I’ve been to Italy.  And it has to be warmer than bloody damp London.”  Emmett gave an exaggerated shudder and Caleb glared at him.  As much as Caleb wanted to learn more about what these men knew about Atterby, he still didn’t know why he was here.  Could he slip out unnoticed?  Not when Montgomery sat close enough to warm him with the heat of his body.

Montgomery turned to him.  “You’ll come along, won’t you?”

All gazes turned to him, both questioning, expectant, and in Montgomery’s case, lascivious.  The cad likely didn’t have any other expression.  Caleb steeled himself against the temptation to cringe but he could only lean back so far before the sofa back halted his involuntary retreat.  He flinched upright as soon as Montgomery’s warm fingertips touched his nape.

“To… uh… Italy?”  On an airship?  Admitting his finances wouldn’t allow it would destroy his brother’s chances for marriage, but he didn’t have the funds to pay the butcher, never mind the expenses associated with traveling.  Which was humiliating all on its own.  But he’d dreamed of flying by airship.  He’d dreamed of visiting foreign lands.  He’d just never dreamed of doing either as a pauper.  Finding out more about Atterby would be an unexpected bonus.

“Of course.  I’d rather not postpone our work.”

“Oh, well, certainly.”  What else could he say?  He couldn’t afford to refuse Montgomery’s commission.  Caleb bit his lower lip, to keep in a shout of frustration.  “When would we leave?”

Montgomery turned his attention back to the group.  Nash, who’d been kidnapped, of all things, grimaced slightly.  “Best if we leave as soon as possible.  No more than two days.  That should be long enough to replenish supplies.”

Two days!

The men made a few more plans, but Caleb was too lightheaded to pay attention until they were all standing to leave.  Montgomery moved close to an attractive man who Caleb had deduced to be Nash’s brother, and placed a hand in the small of his back, edging rather too low for propriety’s sake.  The familiar gesture had Caleb frowning.

“I had a wonderful time this evening, as always.  Thank you.”  Montgomery’s voice was low, but Caleb heard every damning word.  Anger burned away the confusion and helplessness as he realized this was the very same man Montgomery had been with earlier.  And a courtesan, no less.  Caleb was getting on that airship, somehow.

Caleb slipped out of the room, as inconsequential as a ghost.

***

At the top of the stairs, he watched the men leave the club.  Time was already running out.

A couple of older men struggled drunkenly up the stairs, groping each other.  Caleb sniffed and moved out of their way.  Not difficult to see Montgomery acting the same way in twenty years.

“Did you see that cravat pin Silsbury was wearing?”  The portlier one put a hand to his throat in remembrance.

The skinnier man emitted a sound that could only be described as a cackle.  “Who does he think he is?  The Queen?  I heard he’s got a different one for each day and an extra for Sunday.”

“Makes you wonder why he lives here, doesn’t it?”

“Not at all.  Not when there’s easy access to… companionship.”  A resounding slap on the plump arse made both him and Caleb jump.

The couple stumbled down the hallway, but their risqué banter faded as a wild idea hit Caleb.

***

“My Lord, may I enquire what you are doing in here?”

The weight of Beare’s disapproving tone sent a chill through Caleb strong enough to take his breath and freeze him in place.

He flicked a glance at the doorway, but was unable to open his fingers, to drop the damning evidence in his hand.  Bad enough to be found in someone else’s rooms, but holding a cravat pin worth more than his yearly expenses was… damning at best.

“You are aware that these are not your rooms?”  Beare’s tone became more censorious.  “And that such an transgression is grounds for immediate expulsion from the club?”

Fear curdled in his belly.  Losing his haven and gaining a scandal at the same time was unthinkable.  His pulse rate sped up and a tremor shook his body.  He’d been lightheaded earlier, but nothing like this.  What had he been thinking?  As much as he’d like to blame this situation on alcohol, he couldn’t.  No matter.  Such an excuse wouldn’t mollify Beare.

“What’s going on?”  A sweet-faced young man peered around Beare’s shoulder, gaze darting from Beare to Caleb.  There was no doubt in Caleb’s mind that the newcomer had assessed the situation in seconds, but he managed to surprise Caleb with a sudden expression of sympathy.  For some reason, he didn’t look anything like the self-indulgent, ostentatious dandy he’d crossed paths with at the DeHaviland ball.

“I was wondering where’d you’d got to.  I don’t need that old thing anymore.  I found this one,” the young man said while patting a shiny pin with an enormous sapphire – twin to the ruby one Caleb held.  “Good evening, Beare.”

If Beare could be said to be perturbed, then he was now, although Caleb had to look the most confused.

“Master Silsbury, you know this man?  You… sent him here?  To fetch a cravat pin?”

“Oh yes, absolutely.”  The slender man darted around Beare and wrapped an arm around Caleb’s shoulders.

One of Beare’s brows lifted, giving voice to more derision and disbelief than a member of parliament could in an hour of oration, but he didn’t verbally dispute the claim that Caleb had every right to be where he was, holding a valuable jewel that wasn’t his.

“Very well.”  Beare turned on his heel and departed. The door to the suite didn’t slam behind him, but certainly gave the impression of being closed with more force than normal.

“Here now, sit down.  You’re white as a ghost and trembling.”  Silsbury gently plucked the cravat pin from Caleb’s fingers and led him to a chair.

“I’m sorry.”  Finally able to get his vocal cords to work now that the spectre of prison and scandal had lifted, Caleb took a good look at his saviour.  Choosing to hate Silsbury because he’d been one of the other recipients of Lord Bridgewater’s salacious groping was unreasonable.  Not only was it not his fault, but given Lord Bridewater’s tendencies, he’d have to hate half the men in London.

“I’m Alexander Silsbury.  Remember me?  You can call me Alexi.”

Caleb nodded.  “I’m Caleb.  Or Cal.  Oh.  I’m also Baron Colchester.  And I’m so sorry.”  The ice that had frozen in his veins a few moments earlier now seemed determined to exit as tears, and he clenched his fists, hoping to stave off any further humiliation.

“Now, now.  Let me ring for a pot of tea first.”

Alexi chatted aimlessly about his evening until a waiter arrived and poured.  Once they each had a cup of tea, Alexi focused his regard on Caleb.  “Better now?  Care to tell me about it?”

The delicate china cup in his hand shook as the fear and distress he thought he’d suppressed made a sudden return.  Carefully, he placed the cup back down, and the entire story spilled out.

“Ooh.  I’ve seen your clockwork animals.  You’ve got a great hand with fine motor works.  You have to make one for me.  In fact, I’ve got a big project I’m working on, and I could also use some help with it.”

Caleb frowned.  He been caught stealing from the man, and here he was offering a compliment along with legitimate commissions?

Alexi laughed at his expression, and Caleb couldn’t help but laugh along with him.  He picked up his now-cold tea and drank, but he needed something wet to soothe his throat after all his talking.

“Wait.  You said you met Nash?  Nash Sutherland?”

Caleb shrugged.  “They only called him Nash.”

Alexi stood, and paced.  “It must be him.  You have to go to Italy with them.  An airship with a sky pirate?  A chance to find out if Atterby killed your uncle?  It’s a once in a life time opportunity.  I’ll give you an advance on your commission.”

This couldn’t be happening.  Nothing good had happened to him since his uncle died.

Alexi turned and smiled.  “It will be fine.”

The excitement in Alexi’s voice and the compassion he’d displayed spurred Caleb to yet another impulsive decision. Was his title cursed or was he just more like his uncle than he’d known?  His behaviour had been nothing short of reckless since he’d become Baron Colchester.  “Come with me.”

“What?”

“Please.  Come with me.  I can say I need your help to work on Bridgewater’s project.  Please.  I need…” his voice faltered.  “I need a friendly face.”

Caleb drained the last of his tea, waiting for Alexi to say something.  As soon as he realized what his situation entailed, he’d closed himself off, hadn’t confided in anyone but his brother.  How long had it been since he’d had a true friend?  Somehow, he thought Alexi could fill that role.

“I’ll do it.  Leo’s going to kill me, but I’ll do it.”

“Leo?”  Caleb couldn’t interpret the expressions that flitted across Alexi’s face.

“He’s a friend.”  Caleb didn’t quite believe him, but he was in no position to judge.  There would be plenty of time on the trip to Italy to return the favour of a sympathetic listener.

 

 

 

 

A New Commission

16 March 2012
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Caleb tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair.  A waiter looked over but Caleb waved him away.  He’d already had far more to drink than was wise.  Jaw tense, he pulled out his pocket watch again.  Two and a half hours since Montgomery had gone upstairs to a private room.  After six drinks, three aborted attempts to join a card game and two failed conversations due to his distraction, he still found opportunity to check his watch a dozen times or more.

Two and half hours.  What was Montgomery doing up there?  Caleb wouldn’t even be able to recognize his companion; he’d only seen the back of a man in expensive evening wear.  Then he’d been furious with himself for even looking, and he’d immediately requested another drink.

He needed to return home.  Knowing Montgomery was upstairs somewhere engaging in debauchery destroyed the contentment the club provided.  Every minute he stayed – to no purpose – increased his agitation.  And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to leave.  But no more.  Every time Beare passed by, Caleb imagined the steward’s stoic expression became more and more quizzical.

Ridiculous.  Caleb stood, with every intention of leaving, but three attractive men standing in the foyer distracted him.  One of them he recognized as the Earl of Kenmare.  The other two men, blatantly entwined in a sexual embrace, were members of the club, but he didn’t know their names. Clearly uncivilized, just like Montgomery.

The two men kissed, intent on devouring each other in full view of the club members, and as Caleb teetered in place, staring, his groin came to fresh life.  Anger accompanied the arousal.  Montgomery could be doing — probably was doing – the exact same thing upstairs.

He stumbled toward the trio, fists clenched, unsure what he was going to do or say, but Beare led them away before he reached them.  Alone in the foyer, deprived of his target, Caleb turned abruptly for the stairs.

He bounded up two flights, heading for the private rooms.  But he didn’t know which room Montgomery would be in and he came to an abrupt stop.  Trying to appear nonchalant, he sauntered along the hallway.  At each closed door he leaned in, listening as hard as he could.

Halfway down the hall, a loud moan seeped out around an improperly closed door, followed by the rhythmic squeak of a bed, leaving Caleb in no doubt as to what activity was taking place.  His anger burned brighter, and he pushed into the room.  For a moment, a pair of flexing, white, muscular buttocks mesmerized him.  His breath caught, the long limbs entwined together were beautiful and arousing… and infuriating.  Fully intending to wrench them apart and say something, he suddenly noticed there wasn’t a tanned limb in the bunch and both men were blond.

Shock burned off the alcoholic haze.  Somehow, the couple fucking didn’t hear his heart pounding, even though he could no longer hear the squeaking bedsprings over the thrum in his ears.  He crept from the room, closed the door behind him, and sagged against the wall, panting.

“Hello, Cal.”

Caleb stifled a shriek and leapt around.  Montgomery.

“I’d thought you’d be long gone.  But as you’re not, let’s go have a drink, discuss some business.  I find myself… invigorated.”

Invigorated.  The bastard.  He wasn’t even ashamed that his clothes were rumpled and his hair was mussed.  Stomach twisting, and words yet again failing him in this man’s presence, Caleb allowed himself to be led back down to the common rooms.

Montgomery signaled a waiter, and Caleb accepted the glass of dark red wine to match the one in Montgomery’s hand, but merely held on to it.  He couldn’t afford for his faculties to become any more impaired.  Dealing with Montgomery required all of his wits.

“So, Beare tells me you’ve a good hand with clockworks.  I’ve got a new project I’m working on, and I could use some help with the execution.”

A commission.  Montgomery was clearly well off.  Perhaps this was just what he needed to get his family on more solid footing.  Could he stand to work closely with this man, could he stand the lascivious attention?

Caleb cleared his throat.  “What exactly are you working on?”

Montgomery winked.  “All in good time.  But I trust that Beare wouldn’t steer me wrong, although he also suggested Silsbury as an alternative.”

Silsbury?  Silsbury didn’t need any commissions, Silsbury never had to wonder if he had enough to pay the baker or the fish monger.  “I’ll do it.”

Those white teeth bared in another smug, predatory grin, and Caleb shivered.

“If I may interrupt,” Beare said.  Wine sloshed in Caleb’s glass as he jumped at Beare’s unexpected appearance, but not a drop spilled.

“Of course, of course,” Montgomery said.

“Lord Bridgewater, you may be interested to know that a certain missing person has returned, and is receiving visitors in the Gladstone room.”

Twice in one night, Beare had managed to surprise Montgomery.  Caleb would have to get some pointers if this secret commission was at all lengthy.

“Thank you, Beare.  The Gladstone room, you say?  Come along, Caleb, I’ve got some people to introduce you to.”

“What?  Why?”

“They may have some interest in my little project.”

Which didn’t answer his question, not truly, but it gave him something else to think about besides the faint hint of sex that surrounded Montgomery, as it hadn’t before.

Minutes later, he entered the Gladstone room behind Montgomery.

Intruder

2 March 2012

Two large, reddish-brown dogs scampered into the foyer to meet Emmett.

“Hello, girls.”

Daisy and Violet circled his legs, panting, restless.  He frowned.

“What’s wrong?”  Stroking the ridge of fur on their backs, Emmett calmed and quieted them.  His dogs, always well-behaved, were usually placid unless they were working with him on hunts or protecting their territory.  Something had upset his girls.  No one should be here at this hour, not even him.

After all his time in Africa on the wide open veldts, Emmett was rather more independent than many of his peers.  His townhouse was incredibly confining when too many people hovered.  Ludicrous to believe he couldn’t undress himself or wipe his own bum, not after spending hours chasing game through the savannah in the dirt and dust, taking down lions and giraffes.

None of his servants lived in, and were generally done with their duties and gone by noon.  George was the only exception, and although George insisted on performing the duties of valet, he was more of a companion.  They’d survived an ambush together during an armed skirmish and became close friends.  Their social statuses were different enough that while George had seen fit to throw his lot in with Emmett’s, he wasn’t comfortable without a function.

After the previous evening’s discussion with Anthony and few of the other Lords of Aether, he and George had spent the day in a fruitless search for Atterby’s associates.  They’d found a couple of men who may have been connected to Atterby, but of the man himself, Emmett had found no trace.  Likely Anthony had been correct about him leaving the city for his country estate.  London was not Emmett’s customary hunting ground, and men were rarely his quarry.  The chase, though, that was the same.

Emmett stood, and his girls heeled like the superbly trained dogs they were.  George approached from behind, with the quiet tread of a warrior.

“Draw your bath, will I?”

“In a minute, George.”  Emmett had no intention of giving up his long awaited evening with the incomparable Shelley, but there was still plenty of time to perform the necessary ablutions.  Based on his dogs’ attention, the source of their anxiety was the drawing room he’d long since converted to a work room, since he never entertained there.

Last night, the odd sensation of being watched had followed him home, but he’d blamed it on the alcohol he’d imbibed.  Today, stone-cold sober and in broad daylight, the uncomfortable sensation hadn’t disappeared.  It wouldn’t be the first time a thief had assumed his lack of staff equated to an easy target, but Emmett hadn’t had any trouble of that sort in years.  A simple thief he could deal with, but if Atterby had caught wind of his involvement, nothing would be simple.

George, sensing Emmett’s unease, pitched his voice lower.  “Shall I get one of your pistols?”

Emmett frowned and shook his head.  Although he’d seen enough blood and death to want to avoid it in his own home, cornering an intruder without some sort of weapon was entirely foolhardy.

An umbrella stand near the entrance also held a heavy, knobby walking stick.  He hefted it like a club, the dogs and George falling in to step behind him, ready to follow the commands he used when hunting lions.  With near silent footsteps, he stalked toward his work room.

Makeshift club at the ready, Emmett flung open the door, only to be confronted by a corrugated sheet of bronze-colored metal blocking off the room.  A spurt of satisfaction flared through him as he leaned toward the metal barrier, listening for any sounds from within.  He stroked the cool surface with a finger.  Designed to either keep intruders out or to trap them within, this was the first time he’d had his counterweight-and-gear protective shield tested for real.

“Excellent work, sir,” George whispered.  Emmett couldn’t stop grinning.  Who would he find trapped inside?

He popped open a hidden panel in the wall to reveal a lever which would retract the shielding.  “Get that would you, George?”

Club poised, he stood beside the doorway, ready to charge in and subdue whomever he’d trapped.  Low growls behind him ensured him Daisy and Violet were ready to protect him.

With a noisy rattle, the metal shielding retracted.  Emmett remained still, waiting for movement from inside, but there was nothing.  He strode into the room.  Brass fittings and pipe works lay haphazardly amongst tools on the various workspaces.  Emmett was not a tidy or organized inventor — one of the many reasons he’d like to get some help on this project — but that may have worked in his favor this time.  The mess made sense to Emmett, and it would be difficult to tell what Emmett was working on at any given moment.

A spray of broken glass across the carpet indicated where the intruder had attempted ingress.

“Open the rest of the shielding,” Emmett called out to George.  A curtain fluttered in the chilly breeze wafting in from the garden, and Emmett moved to inspect the damage.  A ripped piece of cloth, likely from a coat, caught his eye, along with a few drops of blood.  His intruder had not gotten away unscathed.  He picked up the piece of cloth and stuffed it in a pocket.

“Shall I fetch the authorities?”

Emmett snorted.  “What are they going to do about it?  Probably just some urchin hoping to scoop up a few baubles.”

George’s nostrils flared.  No, Emmett didn’t believe it either, but if Atterby was responsible, they’d be wasting their time with the bobbies.

“Go draw my bath and I’ll clean this up.”  George didn’t approve, but Emmett didn’t care.  He wasn’t missing the evening’s appointment, and he wasn’t going to risk his dogs’ feet with the broken glass.  “Worked a treat, though, didn’t it?”  He slapped a hand down on George’s shoulder and laughed.

“And a glazier?”

“Plenty of time to fix the window in the morning.  I won’t even have to leave the girls on guard, now that we know how well the shielding works.”

George’s nostrils flared again, but he left Emmett to his chore.  Despite his eagerness for his evening’s entertainment, he wouldn’t half mind missing it to get his candle wicked by that prickly young Cal he’d met.  Tonight, Shelley.  Tomorrow… another chase.

***

“Caleb!”

His brother’s voice made him jump, and the brass fitting Caleb had been attempting to file gouged a furrow along his finger before clattering to the floor.

“Was it necessary to yell in my ear, Hugh?”  He inspected the blood welling up in the wound, but it didn’t look too serious.  It wasn’t the first time he’d cut himself today.

“I didn’t yell the first three times I spoke to you.”

Oh.  “What do you want, Hugh?”

“I was going to ask if Green’s commission was finished.”

Caleb poked at the miniature clockwork pony Baron Green had commissioned for his daughter.  He’d worked on it most of the day, and he wasn’t any closer to finishing it.

“I’ll get it done.  These things take time,” he snapped.

“What is wrong with you?”

The handle of the file bit into his hand as his fist tightened around it.  Anger – hot and visceral – broke through his control for the umpteenth time.

“Nothing.  Just… nothing.  Just had an unpleasant encounter last night.”

“At the ball?  Caleb, you were going to meet people who might want your work.  Surely you didn’t antagonize anyone.”

Caleb sighed and put down the file.  No, he was certain he hadn’t antagonized anyone.  “It wasn’t me.  His name was Montgomery.  He was simply disgraceful.  I don’t know why such a coarse person would be welcomed in polite society.”

But he did know.  Money.  Judging from his attire, Montgomery had plenty.  Like a mouse trapped in the hypnotic gaze of a cobra, Caleb hadn’t been able to stop looking.  Montgomery’s auburn hair was thick and untamed and he’d been impeccably dressed, but the deep tan on his face spoke of a long time in the sun.  Gentlemen just didn’t do that.  Nor did they openly entice men out into the garden at balls for… they didn’t did they?  Appalling.  And yet, Montgomery had easily seen through Caleb’s disdain.  The stranger had stared as though he wanted to eat Caleb up.  Then, that swift touch to his privates… Caleb hadn’t been able to put it from his mind.

Hugh chuckled.  “You’re going to have to get over that.  Disgraceful or not, one man’s money spends the same as another’s.  If we’re going to get enough commissions to keep us in kippers and get me a wife, you’re going to have to deal with people you wouldn’t normally.”

Dabbing at his blood gave Caleb something to do besides look at his brother.  Dealing in trade.  Possibly more lowering than performing sexual acts in the relative public of a garden.  But his uncle’s unexpected death had dropped both a title and crushing debt on Caleb’s head.  Forced him to do things he’d rather not do.  He knew of no other respectable way to bring in money to support his family than selling the clockwork animals he’d previously created as a hobby, and even that was barely keeping him and Hugh and their mother fed, never mind the trappings of society necessary to find Hugh a suitable and wealthy wife.

But he mustn’t have hid his turbulent emotions well, for Hugh clapped him gently on the shoulder.  “Take a break tonight.  Visit that exclusive club.  Don’t know how the old sod paid the dues so far in advance, but you might as well take advantage.”

Caleb let a half-hearted grin shape his lips.  He’d only been a member of the Lords of Aether a few short months since his uncle died, but the club had become his sanctuary, his haven.  Hugh had respected that, and hadn’t once hassled him about trying to drum up commissions there.  He was grateful, but he worried that he was shirking his responsibilities.

“I’m thinking I should give it up.  I should be the one looking for a rich wife.”  Distasteful prospect, but it truly was his responsibility.

Hugh sat down on the bench beside him, flicked out a handkerchief and wrapped it around his still-bleeding finger.  “Caleb, look at me.”

Caleb brought his gaze up to Hugh’s sympathetic face.

“We’ll find someone suitable.  Trust me.  Someone I’ll be happy with.  We both know that there isn’t a woman on this earth you’d be happy with, and I don’t want that for you.”

Eyes burning, Caleb patted Hugh’s shoulder.  “Thank you.”

“Go.  Have fun.”

Caleb nodded and left.

****

Sitting in his favorite chair, Caleb sipped his drink and watched.  Partially shadowed by a bookcase, the chair afforded an excellent view of the club.  Not that he was hidden while seated there, but he was sheltered, safe.  Occasionally other patrons would stop and talk, but more often than not, Caleb was left to observe in peace.  Several of the men left propriety behind when they walked in through the heavy doors, and Caleb envied them as much as he despised them.  If he expected to make a living from society, he had no choice but to be as respectable as possible.  While there were certain pockets of society who’d question if a member of this club could possibly be respectable, giving up the freedom of this haven would be well nigh impossible, especially since he had his brother’s support.

A fit, auburn haired man strode into the club, his presence an almost magnetic draw for Caleb’s gaze.  He handed a footman his coat, and a waiter brought him a glass that looked much like the one Caleb held in his hand.  The man turned his head, and Caleb sucked in a breath.  It couldn’t be.  Surely not.  Caleb would have known if that uncouth miscreant was a member of his club.

Montgomery’s piercing gaze fell on Caleb and stole his breath.  The slow smile of a human predator bared the man’s white teeth and made the corners of his eyes crinkle.  With the lithe grace Caleb had unwillingly admired at the ball, Montgomery headed unerringly for him, his former safe shelter not providing Caleb one whit of protection.

“Hello again.  Cal, was it?”  Montgomery seated himself in another chair, partially facing Caleb.  If he’d sat in that one, Montgomery would never have seen him.

“Montgomery.”  His voice was stiff with distaste, and he held his glass over his lap, as a certain part of his anatomy didn’t agree with his assessment of Montgomery.

“You’re a member here?”

Caleb nodded.

“Excellent.  I do believe we are going to become well acquainted.”

He barely held in a snort of contempt.  Not if he had anything to say about it.  Montgomery represented everything he despised about the slothful, entitled upper crust of society.  Like his uncle.

Beare materialized at Montgomery’s side.  “Lord Bridgewater, I heard you had a spot of trouble at your townhouse this evening.”

Surprise slackened Montgomery’s full lips, but Caleb could barely comprehend why.  Bridgewater?  The man who’d had a carnal interlude out in Admiral’s garden, and had groped him like a whore in the library, was an earl?

“Beare, really, the Queen would pay a fortune to have you gathering intelligence for the crown.  It’s probably nothing.”

Beare looked… unbearably smug.  “I see you’ve met Baron Colchester.”

“You’re Colchester?”

“Yes.”

Montgomery’s gaze arrowed in on Caleb’s crotch, making him jumpy.  He wanted to glance down, but if the glass truly wasn’t providing enough protection, he didn’t want to know.

“Perfect.  I’ve got some business I want to discuss with you, but not tonight.  I’ve got… another engagement tonight.”

The heavily laden pause in Montgomery’s words could only mean one thing.  Caleb curled his lip in contempt.  He wanted to lash out in anger, but he had too much decorum and restraint, concepts Montgomery clearly had no acquaintance with.  He also wanted to declare he’d never do business with the likes of Montgomery, but Hugh’s words rang in his mind.  His money would spend, same as anyone else’s.

A strange stirring at the door caught everyone’s attention.

“I do believe your companion has arrived.”  Beare nodded in the direction of the club’s entrance before departing as silently as he’d appeared.  From his position, Caleb couldn’t see a thing, and he bit his lip, focusing on the pain to keep from leaping up and seeing exactly who Montgomery was meeting.

Montgomery stared at him with that same predatory hunger he’d seen at the ball.  “Another time, Cal.”

Caleb swallowed a polite reply.  Montgomery didn’t deserve one.

“And I think you’re looking forward to it as much as I am.”  Montgomery swept another glance to his lap, and unfortunately, Caleb couldn’t force a denial past his dry mouth.  Then, Montgomery was gone, leaving behind a whiff of smoke and pine.

 

A Chilly Reception

23 December 2011

“Brrr.”  Emmett shook off his greatcoat and handed it and his hat over to the footman.  “Devilish cold out there, tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” the footman agreed and swept away.  The freckle-faced lad was likely humoring him, but then, the boy had not spent two months in the searing heat of equatorial Africa.  There were excellent reasons to spend time in London, but the moldering damp of early spring wasn’t one of them.

Emmett straightened his damned waistcoat and headed toward one of the wingback chairs closest to the fireplace.

Within seconds, a waiter approached, starched white cloth draped over one arm.  “Your usual, sir?”

“No, not this evening.  Whisky, please.”  He needed something a bit stronger to warm him up than the Stellenbosch wines he customarily drank, and that the club stocked at his request.

“Very good, sir.”  The waiter slipped away.

Cigar-scented leather creaked as he relaxed back into the chair, letting the fire’s warmth chase away the chill.

“Good evening, Lord Bridgewater.”  Beare, the club’s steward stood at his elbow, as though he’d materialized out of thin air.  “I trust you are well after your extended absence.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Will you be expecting a companion for your evening’s entertainment?”

Emmett bit back a chuckle at the overly delicate phrasing.  Beare was so damned prim sometimes.  Unfortunately, even Emmett’s considerable assets had been unable to create an opening in the celebrated courtesan’s schedule.

“Not this evening.  Shelley’s dance card was regrettably too full to accommodate my early return.”  He could dress up his words as well as Beare could.  From the faint hint of a scowl, Beare hadn’t missed Emmett’s mocking tone.

“Very good, milord.”

Emmett assumed Beare didn’t approve of how Emmett treated Shelley any more than anyone else did.  Stupid and shortsighted of them all.  If his time in deepest Africa had taught him anything… money and status didn’t necessarily equal good or right or even interesting.

Shelley was an intelligent and entertaining companion, aside from his considerable skill between the sheets.  For the price he paid, Emmett was determined to wring every bit of enjoyment out of his appointments, no matter who thought he was a fool besotted with a whore. They didn’t realize he wasn’t besotted, but merely appreciating one of the finer things in life.

Sex could be had in almost any alcove or alley, dock or ballroom, regardless of society’s disapproval.  Anyone who ignored Shelley’s other skills… they were the fools, not Emmett.

The waiter returned with Emmett’s glass.  Beare nodded at him and made as though to depart.

“Hold up, Beare.”  The man knew just about everyone.  If anyone could help with his thorny problem, it would be the steward.

“Yes, milord?”

Emmett took a sip of his whisky first.  “Do you know anyone who’s good with metalwork… tubing and gears and whatnot?  Fine, delicate work.  You see, I’m—”

“Working on another weapon?”

Damned man knew everything, although Emmett was trying to keep this one a secret until he was sure he could get it to work.  He’d not been able to scale down his design enough to make it feasible.  “Do you know anyone?  I can do it, but I don’t enjoy it.  I’d much rather commission someone else to do it.”

“Were you still planning to attend the Admiral’s ball?”  Beare raised a supercilious brow, as though to indicate Emmett had no business cluttering up the club.  Not that the club was overly crowded tonight.  Must be balls aplenty — ha! — to entice the men out into society this evening.

“I had planned to.  Just fortifying myself first.  And giving the young bucks a chance to get properly foxed.  Much easier to hunt them down.”  Emmett lifted his glass in a toast and winked.

Beare’s lips compressed for a fraction of a second.  Pah.  Half the time it was impossible to tell if Beare was even listening, much less if he disapproved.  Emmett ought to save his bait for the ball.  Scandalizing his peers was half the fun of attending society’s functions.  Getting a proper toff or two to drop their drawers or drop to their knees in a darkened garden was the other half.  Almost made wearing the restrictive eveningwear worthwhile.

“I daresay, milord, you are still considered a young buck.”

“Ah, Beare, kind of you to say so.”  His active lifestyle kept his thirty-six year old body as fit as any stripling fresh out of the schoolroom, although his build and face hardly resembled one.  The vicious Boer and Zulu wars hardened a man, aged his soul.

Beare inclined his head slightly.  “There are at least two young men who may be able to assist you.  Both have become members during your absence.  Jacob Silsbury or Baron Colchester.  Both were invited to the Admiral’s ball this evening, although I do not know if they will be in attendance.”

“What?  There’s something the all-knowing Beare doesn’t know?”  Beare’s nostrils flared, the only outward signal that Emmett had finally managed to annoy the man.  With some effort he held in a smirk, and swallowed the last of his whisky.

Wait… “Colchester?  When I had dinner with Nash the other night, he told me the poor bastard died in a fire.”

Dammit.  Emmett’s satisfaction couldn’t hold up to Beare’s smug certainty that Emmett wanted to be armed with the knowledge before he went badgering strangers at a ball.

“He did indeed, milord.”  No servant had ever been so unfailing polite and so blatently condescending at the same time.  “The title passed to a nephew — Caleb Sutton — who likely has the skills you require.”

“And he’s also a member of the club?”  Emmett much preferred to keep his business in the family, so to speak.

“Yes, milord.  Although Colchester’s estate was nearly bankrupt, the new Baron saw fit to maintain the club membership Colchester bequeathed him.”

Interesting.  Did that little tidbit mean Colchester would be more amenable to a commission?

“And Silsbury’s wealth?”  Not many could get away with such a blunt question, but Emmett frequently traded on both his wealth and status to speak his mind.  What good were either of those things if society strangled the life from you?

“I’m given to understand his estate rivals your own.”  Beare’s words confirmed his suspicions.  Silsbury only if Colchester turned him down.

“Thank you, Beare.”  It wasn’t like the steward to give up that much information so easily, but Emmett would take what he could get.

Emmett checked his pocket watch.  Time to go.  The evening marched on, and there was a fine line between foxed enough to have sex in the garden and too foxed to participate.  Giving his cock free reign was the primary reason to attend these functions, and he wasn’t going to miss that.  If he tweaked a few noses and gained an introduction to either man, fine.

***

After greeting his hostess, Emmett grabbed a glass of champagne from one of the many footmen circulating with trays.  Emmett moved through the ballroom, neatly dodging the simpering misses who hoped to marry into an earldom.  Wasn’t going to happen, but he nodded politely and continued on.  A number of attractive men were present, but he’d be more likely to find his prey in the library.

“Lord Bridgewater, how nice to see you this evening.”  Thomas fell into step beside him.

“Thomas.”  If Emmett had ever known Thomas’s other names, he’d since forgotten them.

“Heading for the library?”

“No, not tonight, dear boy.”  Emmett pulled open the door to the library and strode in.  Thomas followed him — unfortunately — laughing nervously at the blatant lie.

Emmett found a chair with an ideal vantage point where he could see, and be seen, by most of the men in the room.  Many of them were there to escape the pressures of polite conversation and obligatory dances, but enough were looking for the same thing Emmett was.

Thomas sat in a nearby chair, smiling.  Emmett eyed him.  The man was one of the most gorgeous men Emmett had ever seen, the classic English rose morphed into masculine perfection.  But he didn’t know his way around a cock — at all.  Thomas had so poorly mishandled Emmett’s at the ball prior to his departure for Africa, Emmett had begun to wonder if he’d ever touched one at all, even his own.

“Can I get you another drink?”

Emmett’s gaze roved around the room, seeking the buck he’d cut out of the herd this evening.  Contrary to his statement to Beare, they didn’t have to be young, merely attractive and willing.  He glanced back at Thomas.  He fit all three criteria, but Emmett had no intention of revisiting that fiasco.

“No, thank you.”  Although he might need more than one if Thomas intended to chat with him for long.

“How was your trip to Africa?  Bag a lot of animals?”

A man quite nearly as attractive as Thomas stood against the wall between two terrace doors, a glass clutched tightly in one hand.  His dark hair fell over his eyes, making him look younger than he probably was.  His nose was a trifle large, but his lips were full and dark pink.  Emmett wasn’t certain, but he thought he’d caught the man’s attention, even though he’d not made eye contact.

“Yes, I did.  Very successful trip.  I took down a couple of dozen heads, including some fantastic lions.”

The dark-haired man made eye contact then.  Emmett inclined his head toward the terrace doors leading to the garden.  It was a chilly night to bare his skin, but with those lips dancing over his cock, Emmett was bound to be plenty distracted.  The pursed lips and affronted expression surprised him, but he shrugged.  He rarely made a mistake in judging when a man wasn’t interested in the fairer sex, but clearly this time he had.

“Lions?  Aren’t they dangerous?”  The words filtered into Emmett’s mind like the annoyance of a buzzing bee.  He didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings, but he had no interest in furthering their connection.

“Very dangerous.  One must use extreme caution when taking down a lion.”  Emmett polished off the last of his champagne as he made eye contact with another, rather foxed, young man — an inferior rendering of the man he’d hoped to coax into the shadows, but passably attractive nonetheless.  Another tilt of the head towards the garden got a more favorable response.

“I heard you were working on a fantastic new firearm that would let you take down beasts even larger than lions.  Quicker, too.”

That last sentence brought Emmett’s attention back to Thomas.  He wasn’t guarding plans for his latest invention as though it were the crown jewels or anything, but he hadn’t gone out of his way to mention it to many people.  He’d discussed it with Nash over dinner and Beare earlier, but that was about it.

Emmett shrugged, but didn’t bother to clarify.  It wasn’t anyone’s business but his own if he modified his firearms to take down live prey, not to kill it.  “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someone waiting for me.”  He didn’t want his tipsy buck getting lost, or worse, getting snared by another hunter.

Thomas would soon understand.  Emmett rarely drank from the same well twice.  Aside from a few excellent partners, variety in fucking was the spice of life.  Especially if the companion was clingy.

As Emmett stood, he caught the malevolent glare of his first choice for the evening.  Scowling merely made the man’s lips plump out just a little more, made them even more tempting.  Such a shame he disapproved of Emmett, but luck was a fickle lady.  He waved a hand toward the door — couldn’t hurt to try again — but the man’s cheeks reddened and he turned his glare to the glass in his hand.  Emmett shrugged and strode out to the terrace.

The dim light of the torches softened the young man’s features and Emmet could almost pretend his first choice had joined him instead.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Albert.”

“Albert, you may call me Montgomery.”  While he rarely stood on ceremony, his first name was far too intimate for a little garden fraternization.  Not when he’d had past conquests use it sober and in brightly lit drawing rooms, presuming a far greater acquaintance than Emmett had ever intended.  He wanted the bucks trading on his title even less.

“Mmm, Montgomery.”  Albert sidled up next to Emmett, hips shifting restlessly, pressing his erection into Emmett’s thigh.

“Eager, aren’t you?”  Emmett stroked at the hard length distorting the fine tailored lines of Albert’s trousers.  Splendid.

A flicker of drapery at one of the library windows dragged Emmett from the heady sensation of a young man in his arms, nuzzling the sensitive spot below his ear.

“Come, sweet, let’s get out of the light before we’re ostracized from polite society.”  Society turned a blind eye to most of Emmett’s antics due to his wealth and status, but he’d rather not completely ruin young Albert for a few moments of pleasure.

Albert lifted his head and smiled blearily, allowing Emmett to lead him deeper into the garden.  He really must compliment Lady de Haviland on her garden design.  Plenty of dark nooks to catch a little slap and tickle.  A number of guests were taking advantage, judging from the breathy giggles and lustful gasps.

Around the corner of a box hedge, Emmett drew Albert close and placed a hand over his groin.  The search for a secluded area hadn’t diminished the sizable erection in the least.  He stroked and squeezed, enjoying the young man’s groan.  Once Albert’s hips started rocking, Emmett coaxed him to his knees.

Albert fumbled to open his own trousers while Emmett extricated his own hard prick.

“Open up, sweet,” Emmet murmured, nudging the slick head along Albert’s lips.

Albert’s tongue slipped out to lap at Emmett’s engorged tip before dropping his mouth open to accept Emmett’s cock.

“Oh, that’s it.  You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”  Emmett didn’t expect a response to his whispered words, since his cock was enveloped root to tip by Albert’s hot, wet mouth.  He cupped the back of Albert’s dark head and thrust gently in and out.  Albert stroked his own cock to the same rhythm.

Emmett widened his stance a bit, ensuring his shoes were out of the firing range of Albert’s prick.  Benny, his valet, had taken him to task more than once for getting semen on his shoes.

When Albert’s arm movement sped up, he moaned around Emmett’s dick, sending the most delightful sensation along his length.  Emmett sped his own thrusts up to match Albert, because the young man was fixing to go off and Emmett wasn’t going to be left behind. Sensing he could be a little more forceful with this one, Emmett used both hands to pull Albert’s mouth tight against his pubes.  The muffled whimper as Albert came pushed Emmett over the edge.  While he did his damnedest not to call out, Albert swallowed furiously around Emmett’s jerking cock, missing not a bit of seed.

Albert pulled back, licked Emmett clean and reached up to help stuff Emmett back into his pants, but the faint moonlight picked out a wet glint on his fingers.  Like lightning, he wrapped his fingers around Albert’s wrist to keep him from touching his pants.  If Benny hated semen on Emmett’s shoes, he was an absolute terror about it on fabric.

Retrieving a handkerchief from his coat pocket, Emmett handed it to Albert, who wiped his hand while Emmett took care of putting himself to rights.

“Thank you, my sweet.  Are you all right to get back into the house?”

“Mmm.  Yes.  Are you sure you don’t want another go, Montgomery?”

“Not just now.  You should return to your friends.”

Albert smiled and tottered back the way they’d come.  If Emmett were interested in another go, he’d find someone else.

Emmett walked a few steps farther into the garden and sat on a bench before lighting a cigar.

Smoke curled up around his nostrils.  Albert’s oral skills had been vastly superior to Thomas’s, but the orgasm hadn’t left him as relaxed as it should have.  Between the odd incident in Kenya a fortnight before his departure and the sensation of being watched since he’d returned to England, he’d not been able to let his guard down.  Probably no more than an overactive imagination, but the excitement of a hunt — of any description — was usually enough to clear his mind and get his blood pumping.  Not this time.

He stubbed out his half-smoked cigar.  Not much point in scouting out another conquest.  He should just return to his townhouse.  Or the club.  Had the hunt truly gone stale?

 

Opening the door to the library, he immediately noticed the dark head of his first choice for the evening seated in the self same chair Emmett had occupied earlier.  His heart thumped a little faster and his vision narrowed.  Something about this man screamed “quarry”.    Perhaps he’d been too hasty in his decision to leave the ball.

A slender man, back turned, stood between Emmett and his new target.

“Excuse me.”  Emmett grabbed a handful of pert, rounded bottom under the pretense of making his way past the young man.  The lad jumped and Emmett glanced over his shoulder.

“Aren’t you a pretty little thing?”  Emmett smiled.  The thrill of the chase wasn’t entirely gone.

The shorter man stared at him, lashes fluttering, as though he couldn’t quite comprehend Emmett’s actions.  Happened a lot, and maybe if tall dark and sour hadn’t filled his vision first, he’d attempt to explain… in greater detail, out in the garden.

Movement out of the corner of his eye had Emmett facing forward again.  Blue eyes narrowed in a vicious glare, divided between him and the pretty man with the gorgeous bum.  Those dark pink lips pursed even tighter, drawing Emmett in like a honey-baited trap.

This was a big distraction, and a welcome one.  He slid into the chair opposite.

His plan to find someone to introduce him to Silsbury or Lord Colchester had fizzled away in the face of this challenge.  A delay of another day or two wouldn’t matter.

“Montgomery, at your service.”  He signaled a footman for another drink.

“Not at my service.”

“Your name?”

“Cal.”

“Cal.”  Emmett liked it.  And he liked the prickly, standoffish man sitting across from him.  He didn’t know why.

“Have you no sense of decorum?”

“Was that you watching at the window?”  Emmett dropped his voice and leaned a little closer.  “You should have followed us out into the garden.  You would have seen a better show.”

Cal’s nostrils flared and pink washed up his throat into his cheeks.  His fingers tightened around the glass stem, and Emmett wondered if it was the same one he’d been holding twenty minutes ago, with yet a sip to be taken.

Emmett chuckled.  He wasn’t going to lure this buck in tonight, but soon. “I must take my leave, Cal.  I’m to meet someone, shortly.”  He waggled his brows, and the affront on Cal’s face was well worth the lie.  He rose to his feet, content he’d laid the foundation for a long, stealthy hunt.

“Have you no shame?”

Emmett laughed.  “Not a drop.  But you have more than enough for me.”

Cal’s legs shifted, revealing something Emmett doubted he’d intended.

After a quick glance to ensure no one was paying them any mind, Emmett leaned down, pushed his mouth close to Cal’s ear, and squeezed the erection bulging in Cal’s lap.

“And that’s not all you have for me.  I’ll see you around, Cal.”

Emmett released his grip, and with more pleasure than he’d had all evening, he sauntered away.