Lex Valentine

Arrival and Departures

23 June 2013
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If Nash had been the sort of man who paced, he’d have worn a hole in his Aubusson carpet that morning. Instead, he stood staring out his cabin’s lone porthole at the passing clouds. The stillness of his body belied the fury that raged within it.

“You know, brooding about your last flight as an Imperial Sky Commander won’t fix what’s wrong on the Lucky Penny,” Jack commented as he picked up his coffee cup.

Nash ground his teeth together in frustration. He sometimes wished he didn’t have the volatile emotions his Italian genetics had bestowed upon him. Normally, the cool logic of his English genes held his Italian side in check. However, the escalation of odd and coincidental events over the past year had gone from being suspicious and annoying to infuriating and dangerous.

When the events that had taken place on the Connaught arranged themselves to lead to the court martial of himself and every crew member who stood beside him, he’d been angry but because of Jack’s warning, he’d known to expect it. He’d known that he’d been set up. Since he already had the Lucky Penny, taking to the air in pursuit of answers as to why he and his crew had been set up had been a foregone conclusion. Apparently, whoever had arranged the events of that trip to the Russian Barrens had known he would do exactly that. At least one of the crew members who had been court martialed alongside him had done so in order to retain his place as one of Nash’s trusted crew. And he was a spy.

“Who the hell is behind all of this, Jack?” he growled, his voice low and angry. “You must have some idea.”

With a sigh, Jack set his coffee cup down. “I do, but I’m not at liberty to say as yet. Perhaps when we’re on the ground, at your father’s palazzo.”

Nash snorted. He doubted Jack would tell him anything. His lover was many things, but forthcoming was not usually among them. He knew, as Anthony may not have, that Jack’s plea to his former lover for help wasn’t quite on the up and up. Jack had some idea of who was behind Nash’s kidnapping, but he had no idea where Nash was or who exactly had snatched him. Anthony’s brilliant idea to have Shelley impersonate Nash had turned up invaluable information for Jack about who had been behind Nash’s brief incarceration. And if anyone knew who had been behind the court martial of the Connaught’s crew, it was Jack.

“I know that expression. You don’t believe me.” Jack smiled crookedly. “You’re wise not to, but I honestly will come clean very soon. The situation is rapidly becoming one I need assistance with and there is no one I trust more than you.”

Suppressing an eyeroll, Nash cocked up one brow. “Anthony?”

Jack heaved a sigh. “Yes, very well, I trust him too, just not nearly so much as I trust you. For God’s sake, I love you, Nash. I don’t love Anthony.”

“At least, not any longer.” Nash couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.

“You’re in a mood, aren’t you?” Jack’s expression held a tinge of regret. “Look, me being completely honest with you about the events that have taken place recently won’t bring that poor dead boy back. He allowed himself to be seduced by whoever the spy is and he paid the price with his life. It’s not as if those sorts of things don’t take place every day on Bird Cage Walk. Young men seeking to liaise with another man risk much, including unfortunately, their lives. Even if I had told you everything I know we could not have prevented that boy from being seduced, used and murdered. I’ve no idea who your spy is.”

“I don’t like having my suspicions regarding a mole proven correct,” Nash grumbled.

“Of course you don’t.” Jack stood and crossed the room to stand behind Nash, rubbing his groin against Nash’s buttocks. He spoke softly into Nash’s ear. “Look, there are things we can do when we reach Venice. In fact, if we didn’t do them, it would seem suspicious.”

“What then?” Heat rose in Nash’s body but he refused to give in to his libido.

“When we arrive, dismiss anyone who was not part of your crew on the Connaught. I’ve no idea if any of them are also spies but I would hazard a guess that least one is working for our enemy,” he whispered. “Give them a nice salary and fare back to England. Let them know that due to the murder, it’s for their own safety.”

“Then what?” It took all of Nash’s concentration not to thrust his arse back into Jack’s hard body.

Jack nuzzled Nash’s ear. “We get on with the business of visiting your father. I’m sure he can add to what Shelley’s told us of the blade that killed your young crewman.”

“We don’t know that the blade killed him,” Nash pointed out. “Silsbury was correct. The body smelled of aether. That’s quite odd. We’ll have to have the body examined. I’m sure my father has someone who can perform an autopsy in secret.”

“Very good. We will let your father handle the authorities. I’m afraid all of the crew will be interviewed, but I’m sure none of them will have any information to impart to the Carabinieri. Our spy is very good.”

A soft, but firm tap on the door had them both spinning away from the port hole. “Enter,” Nash called out.

The door opened and Ivar flashed them a brief smile. “We’re approaching Venice, sir. We’ll be at your father’s dock within the next twenty minutes.”

Nash sighed and exchanged a glance with Jack. “Thanks, Ivar. My father will have someone awaiting our arrival. You’re to let him know what’s happened so he can report to my father immediately. We’ll all stay on board until the Carabinieri arrive. Please let the crew know that the authorities will wish to speak with them as we disembark. Also, please bring me a list of the crew who were not on the Connaught with us. We will be sending them home to England for their own safety.”

Surprise glittered in Ivar’s eyes for a moment and then he grinned. “Good idea, sir. I’ll bring that list to you right away.”

The door closed, leaving Nash and Jack alone.

“I’ll want to watch the departure of the crew that’s not staying,” Jack murmured. “It should be interesting.”

Nash snorted again. “It will be more interesting if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary.”

Jack walked over to the porthole and looked out. Nash’s gaze traveled the length of his lover’s body, wishing not for the first time that their trip was pleasure and not business.

“This is the first time I’ve ever dreaded my arrival in Venice.”

A chuckle escaped Jack. “I’ve no doubt you’ll get over your discomfiture soon enough.”

Nash fell back on the faith his father so relied on. He closed his eyes on a tiny, brief prayer to God and the saints. Whatever they faced in Venice, they wouldn’t face alone, but he still asked for a little divine intervention to keep them all safe, especially his danger addicted lover.

With their arrival in Venice imminent as well as the departure of half the crew, Nash felt certain that something would occur to flush more clues or even the mole out into the open. So much had happened that he knew the subversive nature of it all had to be on the verge of becoming exposed. Their enemy would either be revealed to them through the clues or would reveal himself. Either way, Nash knew he needed that prayer.

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?”

Before the Dawn

8 February 2013
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Standing on the bridge watching the clouds roll past as the airship powered its way across Europe, Nash rubbed one wrist absently. Dawn had yet to break and here he was, still warm from his lover’s arms, fussing over his ship.

He had a difficult time choosing between Jack and the Lucky Penny. He loved flying, loved his ship. He loved Jack too and that was the problem. When he thought about his future, he couldn’t see himself without the ship or Jack. Both had become a part of him and he wasn’t entirely sure how that would translate going forward into a new century.

He and Jack shared a love of adventure and danger. They thrived on the rush. In the bedroom, that translated to nights, and sometimes days, of rather unusual sex. Nash glanced down at the slight red marks around his wrists. Being tied up was the least of it.

With a sigh, he checked all the controls on the airship. Everything was as it should be. His only worry was that damned bottle of poisoned wine. The wine indicated that someone on board was a spy. Nash hated to do it but he knew he’d have to speak with Ivar. Pulling his second in command off the running of the ship to have him investigate all new crew members went against the grain, but he didn’t have a choice. The only person he trusted on the crew to get to the bottom of the poisoned wine was Ivar.

Nash made a small adjustment to one of the controls in front of him. He frowned at the instruments, his mind only half on the flying of the ship.

The world had become a very dangerous place. Moreso than usual. Someone was working against the Crown and had some very highly placed co-conspirators if his kidnapping was anything to go by. And Nash was very sure that it was. He still had no solid reason for his kidnapping but he knew it stank of conspiracy. There had to be more to it than just riling Jack.

Giving in to his father’s summons wasn’t Nash’s usual way of dealing with Italy’s Minister of Finance. Normally, Nash ignored his father when he got too high handed and his father knew this. He figured Shelley wasn’t much different either. Neither of them had been very good at heeding their father’s dictates. For bastards, they were remarkably well treated and loved by their father and Nash really did love him in return just as he had some deep feelings for his half brother Shelley as well. He tended to keep his emotions to himself on both fronts though. It wouldn’t do for either his father or his brother to know that he cared very deeply for them. And in the current political climate, it appeared it would to be to all their benefits if the didn’t let the rest of the world know his weaknesses.

Turning from the bridge, Nash went in search of Ivar Delaney. The sooner he had Ivar investigate the crew, the sooner he’d know how that damned wine got in Emmett’s hands. He wished he had Beare along. The old geezer had a way of worming information out of staff like no one Nash had ever known. Except maybe Poll.

Shaking his head, Nash headed for Ivar’s cabin. Things were getting uncomfortable in ways he didn’t care for. He rubbed his wrist again. Damn Jack for reminding him of his captivity and the intrigue surrounding it. Now, he couldn’t just enjoy his flight. Now, his mind was filled with shadows and conspirators at every turn.

Fuck, he thought with resignation. He’d actually have to work from now on instead of just enjoying the sensation of flight. What a waste of a beautiful morning.

Bedtime Bondage

4 January 2013
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Nash tugged at the ropes that bound his wrists to the headboard. Jack knelt over him, the expression on his lean face filled with satisfaction. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes at his lover’s happiness at having secured his immobility, Nash let out a sigh instead.

“You know, the dilemma of Emmett’s poisoned wine should be what is uppermost on our minds tonight,” he complained. “We should be working on that.”

Ever since the poisoned wine had been discovered, Jack had been filled with lust. Nash had seen it clearly in the flash of his lover’s eyes. God help him, but Jack took a passionate delight in dangerous situations. Which, of course, is how Nash had come to be tied to his own bed with his naked lover straddling his hips and brandishing an erect and leaking cock in his face.

“There’s time enough for that in the morning,” Jack said, his voice sounding distracted. “It is not as if any of us are going anywhere.”

“That isn’t the point, Jack.” Nash tugged at the ropes although he knew it was futile to try to get free. That wouldn’t happen until Jack came or he came or they both came. Freedom tended to be inextricably bound to orgasms when it came to Jack and bondage.

“Do you think Emmett is buggering Colchester right about now?” Jack mused, his hands sliding along Nash’s ribcage.

Nash resisted his urge to shiver beneath his partner’s caresses. Jack could turn him into a quivering jelly with but a few swipes of his hands over Nash’s body.

“I think Emmett’s sex life is none of our business especially when it concerns Colchester.”

Jack cocked an eyebrow upward. “You didn’t think that when we conspired to push them together.”

“Gods, Jack! That’s different and you know it. Now, that it appears things have come to a head between them, we must bow out. What they do isn’t any of our affair as long as they ease the tension on this ship by giving in to their obvious lust for one another.”

Nash knew his words had come out sounding much more grumpy than they should have, but being tied up annoyed him. He’d thought perhaps Jack would remember that it wasn’t very long ago that he’d been kidnapped.  He’d thought maybe Jack would think he might have an aversion to playing bondage games since he’d been a captive so very recently. But no. Jack did what Jack wanted and the hell with everyone else. Nash would have been hugely annoyed and irritated at Jack’s insensitivity if it weren’t for the fact that Jack’s cock was dribbling pre-cum onto his bottom lip. He licked the sensitive flesh, letting the flavor of his lover burst across his tongue.

“I don’t think that’s just lust between them.” Jack pressed his cockhead against Nash’s mouth, painting his lips with more sticky pre-cum.

“Jack!” Nash stared at his lover reproachfully. Why did the man have to discuss other men when they were naked in their bed? Couldn’t he leave it alone until after they’d both come?

“Suck my cock, Nash,” the spy ordered in a gentle voice. He fed his cockhead between Nash’s lips. “There’s a good boy.”

Nash suckled the soft head, his tongue swirling around the glans. Part of his brain concentrated on sucking Jack’s thick cock while the other part continued to ponder the poisoned wine. His lips formed a tight seal around the heated flesh and his tongue danced along the vein on the underside. Jack’s hips thrust lightly, pressing his cock deeper into Nash’s mouth. The spy was obviously mindful of the fact that Nash was bound and had very little control over how much cock he took in.

The cabin remained quiet for some minutes. The only sound came from Nash’s slurping tongue and sliding lips. Suddenly, with a quick jerk of his hips, Jack came. Startled, Nash swallowed down the hot juices. He realized that had been the first time in months that Jack’s orgasm had caught them both off guard. He wondered if it was because they were distracted by the incident with the poisoned wine or if Jack’s arousal had spiked for a reason. What was the man thinking?

Jack pulled his softened penis from Nash’s mouth. He scooted backward along Nash’s nude body until he lay between Nash’s thighs. Then he proceeded to give Nash the kind of tongue lashing every man enjoyed. Balls, cock and tight puckered hole all received Jack’s exquisite attention to detail. Nash moaned. No one had ever licked him as thoroughly as Jack. He could well understand why Anthony Banning had been so enamored of Jack. He had his own issues with regard to his heart and Jack.

With a low moan, Nash gave up trying to think about the poisoned wine, Emmett’s feelings for Caleb, and his own feelings for his lover. The only thing that mattered in that moment was what Jack was doing to his body. His cock strained. His balls drew tight to his body. He broke into a light sweat as he arched into Jack’s touch.

Gods! The man had magic fingers and an incredibly talented mouth! Nash’s eyes slammed shut as his orgasm rushed at him, his spine tingling. Nothing mattered in his world in that moment except his pleasure and Jack.

“Jack! Damn you, spymaster!” he panted, teetering on the edge of bliss.

“Do you want to come, Sky Commander?”

Jack’s chuckle held an intimate note that made Nash gasp and quiver. “Of course, you bastard!”

Hard hands stroked his flanks, teasing the sensitive strip of skin just inside his hipbones. “I assure you, my parents were properly wed before I was conceived,” Jack murmured wickedly.

His mouth returned to Nash’s cock, sucking him deeply into the back of his throat as his long fingers scissored inside Nash’s fluttering hole. Two twists of those long digits against Nash’s gland and he was crying out, fire and fierce pleasure catching him up in a maelstrom of sensation.

Long minutes later they lay in a tangle of limbs, even though Nash’s hands were still bound. Jack caressed him, a lazy smile quirking up his lips.

“A little bondage at bedtime is just the thing for a journey such as this,” Jack said softly. “I like having complete control over you. You won’t go missing again if I keep you tied up. I discovered I have an aversion to worrying over your well being.”

Nash snorted. “I love you too, Jack.”

His eyes drifted shut. Jack would untie him in a few minutes and pull the coverlet over them both. The poisoned wine and whether Emmett was buggering Caleb were very far from Nash’s mind as he drifted to sleep. As Jack had said, all of that could wait until morning.

The Plot Twists

18 December 2012

Slipped Moorings by Jaime Samms

Leo was being a fool and he knew it. It didn’t convince him to round the last bend to the harbour, though. He could feel the dirigible in the sky above and behind him, like a lead weight, floating against all logic, and it made him queasy. Worse, Alexi was on that thing, and with another man. One he’d befriended and who shared his love of the clockwork and chemistry that Leo could barely wrap his mind around.

He chided himself for that thought. It wasn’t like Alexi hadn’t had lovers in the past. He had, and Leo had managed to ignore them. So why not this time? He didn’t even have any proof, other than the tightness of his own lungs when he thought about Colchester and the unreasoning anger that rose to try and choke him, that Alexi was anything more than a friend to the other man. If he was, he didn’t want to know. And at the same time, he desperately needed to know.

From where he stood, he could hear the creak and groan of the heavy ropes mooring the ship and he sighed. He let his head fall back against the brick. That bloody balloon hung over him; a symbol of all the things Alexi was that Leo was not.

He hated it.

And he wanted to be on it despite the near abject terror it inspired in him. Men were not meant to take to the skies. So why did the thought of Alexi doing just that make him want to swell with pride even as he tried to hold the fear for his friend at bay?

Because he knew, he supposed, that if anyone would see the opportunity for what it was, a once in a lifetime chance, his Alexi would. If anyone could fly, it would be his Alexi.

“Looks like they’re making ready to cast off.”

Leo nearly jumped out of his skin at the comment, gentle as the voice was. It was close—to his left—the speaker leaning on the building so their shoulders touched at the corner. That contact sent a jolt of an entirely different kind through him.

“Spence.”

“You’re jumpy today, my friend. Are you not going down to fare them well?”

Leo stuffed his hands in his pockets and fingered the lacy bit of cloth there. He shook his head.

“It really is a magnificent machine.”

“If you say so.”

“A man would be a blind fool not to see the beauty of it. The power. The usefulness.”

Leo snorted. Call him a blind fool, then. All he saw was the impossibility of it bringing Alexi back again. Once his friend had a taste of the world outside stuffy, staid, unimaginative London, why would he ever come back?

“I have an idea,” Spence said softly.

Leo remained still and quiet.

“I’ve decided something, Leo.”

“Have you?”

“Indeed.”

Leo could hear the smile in Spence’s voice, as soft as everything about the man, and yet underscored with the strength he’d shown Leo in the days since they’d breakfasted together.

“Before Lord Anthony, I was a frightened mouse. Perhaps I’ll never be as daring as his ex-lover or as exotic as his current one, but I do have some worthwhile qualities.”

Leo nodded. “Of course you do.” He was exhibiting one now, in fact, just by standing there, shoulder to shoulder, offering support without dragging Leo’s attention to the fact he so desperately needed it.

“I am beginning to feel like the author of my own life again, Leo, and I have Anthony to thank for that.”

There was a pause, and Leo once more leaned his head back to rest on the brick, only this time, he closed his eyes and listened to the almost imperceptible change on the air, the deepening of the sound of the dirigible’s engines.

“And you, Leo.”

So intent on the bone-deep vibration of the skyship’s power was Leo he hadn’t heard Spence move. He jumped when  his voice came, so very close, no longer from his side, but from right in front of him, So close, in fact, he felt the breath of the other man’s words on his face.

His eyes flew open and Spence was, in fact, standing in front of him, one hand on the wall above his shoulder, the other about to touch lightly down on his chest. The doctor’s cheeks were flushed a bright pink, his eyes wide, as though he couldn’t believe his own audacity, but he didn’t move back, and he didn’t apologise for the start he’d given Leo. He stood that way, almost too close for Leo to see him properly, and waited.

“And me?” Leo asked, hearing his own breathlessness in his words and wondering at how his heart pounded when he should be reminding his friend he wasn’t like most of the gentlemen at the club.

“I have to thank you.”

“For what?”

“Breakfast. Company.” Spence smiled, and Leo could see his nerves and uncertainty, and marvelled again at the kind of strength revealed in the fact the doctor wasn’t backing down. “A small thing to you, maybe, but to me, at the time I most needed simple companionship, it was the perfect gift.”

“Just a bit of time,” Leo said, shuffling his feet, his attention caught by Spence’s smile. By his lips.

“Something it seems we both in abundance at the moment.”

“Um.”

“I never imagined myself the type to be so bold, but it occurred to me, watching you not watching Jacob fly out of your life, even if it is for just a short time, that you perhaps needed someone to return the gift you gave me.”

“I don’t…really…” Why he was so flustered, Leo didn’t know. It was a simple matter to remind Spence he was not the same sort of man as Alexi, and ask that he take a step back. But he didn’t say either of those things. And he didn’t know why.

Spence pulled in a deep breath. One that filled out his chest and squared his shoulders and his hand moved from Leo’s chest to his chin. “I am not so bold. But the thing is, I really would, very much, like to kiss that sad look off your face.”

Leo stared, gaped. “I—I don’t kiss—” other men.

But then he was. Or rather, another man was kissing him, and he did nothing to stop him doing it. His gasp was perhaps taken for invitation, because Spence’s tongue slipped delicately past his parted lips to enter the heat of his mouth, and even if it was tentative and shy, it was a kiss. And it was sweet. And somehow, Leo couldn’t figure out how to lift his hands from where they plastered flat against the rough brick wall, as though trying to hold him to the world, and push Spence away.

Then the kiss ended, and strangely, that was more distressing than the fact it had begun in the first place.

Spence moved back to a place Leo could again see his face, and if possible, his countenance was even more flushed than it had been before.

“You don’t what?” Spence asked, a little flustered himself, if his quick breaths and fluttering words were anything to go by.

“I don’t…know.”

Overhead, the Lucky Penny had finally slipped its moorings and turned towards the Mediterranean, and Leo barely noticed the din over the pounding of his own heart.

The Fissure by Stephani Hecht

Byron gazed over to the other side of the carriage where Silas sat, wondering just how long they could go on avoiding the pressing issue at hand.

They’d kissed and both of them had enjoyed it. There was no doubt of that, any more than there was any doubt that had  Silas not pulled away things would have gone much further.

Since that incident, neither had spoke of it, instead slipping into their old roles of merely being good friends. Yet, Byron could not deny that beneath all those layers of normalcy lay a fissure, one that would only spread until it burst open. Byron just hoped he could be strong enough for both of them when that moment happened—when Silas realized just how much Byron loved and desired him.

“Do you think your friends will be able to help?” Silas asked.

“I hope so and I wouldn’t exactly call Leo and Spence chums. They most likely don’t even know I exist. I’ve just recently joined the Lords of Aether and hold no seniority there.”

“Then why are you approaching them at all?” Silas frowned.

The gesture caused Byron to hone in on Silas’ lips. At that moment all he could think of was how sweet and full they’d felt when they’d kissed. It wasn’t until Silas repeated the question a second time that Byron came out of his trance.

“I just do,” he hedged.

Or rather I hope they do. If they reject me I don’t know who else to go to. The last thing I want to do is to break a promise I made to the man whom I love more than any other.

“I’ve heard rumors,” Silas said in a timid voice. “About some of the men of Lords of Aether.”

“What did they say?”

When Silas blushed and brought his fingers to his own lips, Byron couldn’t help but smile. It would appear the fissure was bigger than he’d anticipated.

“They’re true.”

“Are you…” Silas trailed off.

“Silas, if the kiss I gave you wasn’t clue enough, I don’t know what is.”

The blush grew deeper, but Silas gave a timid smile. “I just never thought that you could think of me like that.”

“Come here.” Byron tapped the seat.

Once Silas was within reach, Byron  grabbed him by the back of the head and  crushed their mouths together. This time there was no hesitation on Silas’ part. He kissed Byron back with the same need and hunger.

Silas shifted until he straddled Byron’s lap, their cocks grinding together in the most delicious way. Byron moaned into Silas’ mouth, the friction driving him nearly mad with desire.

Byron moved his hands so he had a good hold on Silas’ arse and prompted him to keep grinding. All the while, they continued to kiss like two men starved, which was how Byron felt. He’d longed to have Silas in his arms for so very long.

Pulling back, Silas gazed into Byron’s eyes. “How long have you felt this way about me?”

“The better part of five years, why?”

Silas gave a small grin. “I was just thinking of all the time we wasted. I’ve been wanting you for at least that long, too.”

There was so much more that Byron wanted to say, but the carriage came to a halt. He wanted to continue the discussion, but Byron needed to get inside the club before Leo or Spence left.

“Wait right here for me. I’ll be back soon,” Byron promised.

He then gave Silas one more parting kiss before gently moving him off his lap. Byron then got out of the carriage.

As he stepped out, a prickly sensation came to the back of his neck, as if somebody were watching him. Byron spun around, but saw no one. It was just he, Silas and the driver.

“Get your wits about you,” Byron scolded himself.

Dismissing the issue from his mind, Byron then went inside the club.

Taking Control by Lex Valentine

Spence hadn’t thought that kissing Leo would fire his libido. Not that Leo wasn’t an attractive man. He certainly was. But he’d not really thought of Leo in a sexual light or if he did it was in the context of him being Jacob’s lover even though Spence knew that Leo had never been with Jacob or any other man for that matter. Leo’s innocence shone from his eyes every time Spence stepped close to him and the kiss had definitely shaken Leo and his innocence to the core.

Still, despite Leo’s obvious lack of knowledge about carnal relations with men, Spence thought of him as belonging to Jacob which lent the kiss an air of danger. To Spence, whose knowledge of all things kinky was limited at best, the relationship between Leo and Jacob bordered on master and submissive. Jacob owned Leo in every respect except the physical and Spence was certain Jacob would be changing that as soon as he possibly could. The kiss Spence had shared with Leo told him the man was a ripe plum ready to fall into an experienced man’s hands the same way Spence had fallen into Lord Anthony’s.

Knowing that Jacob laid claim to Leo by his actions that day at his warehouse, Spence knew he courted danger by kissing Leo. He didn’t know what had driven him to such a risk, but something within him had insisted he taste the other man. Leo’s innocence, his awakening awareness of his desires, reminded Spence a little of himself when he’d first become aware that women held no sexual interest for him. Leo would be magnificent once he accepted that he craved the feel of male flesh against his. And, Spence could see in his mind’s eye that Leo would be a stunning submissive to Jacob’s dominant.

Perhaps it was that vision that had Spence’s cock stirring. Until the moment he’d kissed Leo, tasted his innocence and submission and pictured how the man would be with Silsbury, Spence hadn’t been sexually attracted to him at all. Now, with the vision of Leo collared and at Jacob’s mercy filling his thoughts, it was all Spence could do to keep his half hard cock from rising further. Surreptitiously, he pressed his hand to the base of his prick, pushing hard at the base to tame the beast.

“I can see I’ve startled you, Leo,” he told the other man whose face had flushed a becoming shade of pink.  “Why don’t we forget that happened and repair to the club for some supper?”

Leo’s eyes flashed with an emotion Spence couldn’t place. “Supper sounds good,” he responded almost automatically. His gaze lowered, his lashes dusting his cheeks. “But I don’t know that I want to forget what h-happened.”

Spence had the sense that Leo’s dawning knowledge of his own desires had forced the words from his mouth. He recalled how he had felt when he’d first begun to acknowledge that he wanted to kiss and caress men not women. Sympathy flooded him and his cock began to subside.

“A small token of affection between friends. Nothing to worry about,” Spence told him with a gentle pat on Leo’s shoulder. “I appreciate your friendship more than you know.”

Leo nodded almost absently. Then his gaze rose to Spence’s. “Will you tell me what it’s like?” he asked, apprehension building in his eyes.

Spence’s brows shot up. “Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me?”

Leo nodded again, his cheeks flushing darker. “I can’t ask Alexi,” he whispered.

That made sense, Spence thought. Silsbury would have had Leo down on the bedsheets beneath him the moment Leo asked him the simplest questions about what went on between men in bed. Leo needed some information to work with before he approached Silsbury. He needed to be sure that it was what he wanted.

Spence threaded his arm through Leo’s and led him away from the docks, fully aware of the great airship behind them, sailing away from London with the man Leo really wanted to be with inside. “I will tell you anything you wish to know. I wish someone had been there to answer my questions when I realized how much I enjoyed the company of men,” he said softly into Leo’s ear. “We’ll have supper and then over a bottle of brandy in private, you may ask me anything you like without fear that anyone else shall overhear.”

A glance at Leo’s face revealed an expression of relief. Spence held back a sigh. Helping Leo would make him feel a bit better about what had happened between him and Lord Anthony. And being frank about his own needs, urges and desires would do him good. He’d spent too many years being afraid of his own nature. If he were ever to find a relationship such as the ones other men at the Lords of Aether club enjoyed, he needed to shed his inhibitions and caution and live. And he would impress that upon Leo as well. Hiding one’s nature only harmed your psyche and Spence was done with repressing his sexuality.

Dinner at the club was more relaxing than he could have imagined. He’d thought that perhaps the specter of their coming discussion would make Leo tense, but instead, it seemed to have freed him. They laughed and talked about all manner of things and Spence found himself envying Silsbury a great deal for owning the heart of a man like Leo.

As they tucked into their pudding, a shadow fell across their table. Spence looked up into a face he recognized but couldn’t put a name to. Leo looked up as well, his expression a mirror to Spence’s thoughts.

“Forgive me for interrupting,” the tall young man said in a gruff voice. “Dr. Spencer, I believe we were introduced some time ago here in the club.”

A name finally came to Spence. “Byron Wright? Lord Randolph’s son Cyrus sponsored you to the club, am I correct?”

The tall young man nodded. “Cyrus and I were at Eton together.”

Spence smiled. “He and I were at Cambridge together.” He waved to a chair at their table. “Please do join us, Byron. This is Leonard Stokes who is a friend of Lord Silsbury.”

Byron shook his head. “I can’t. I have someone waiting for me in my carriage. However, I wished to ask a favor of you, Dr. Spencer.”

The young man’s gaze held a frantic light that made Spence curious as well as cautious. “Go on.”

Byron drew a deep breath. “Could we repair to a private room? I’ll bring my friend and join you. We have need of assistance with a problem which you may be interested in.”

Spence glanced at Leo and noted the curiosity on his friend’s face. He also noted that Leo had a somewhat assessing glint in his eye as he stared at the handsome man before them. Between what he and Silsbury had done to Leo in recent days, Spence could see that Leo’s awareness of his true nature and his awareness of other men was undergoing a change.

Spence came to a decision. He wanted to see what Byron had to say and he was curious as to the identity of his friend. He tossed his napkin down and rose.

“We’ll ask Beare for a private room. Retrieve your friend and ask Beare to direct you to us.” Spence looked over at Leo who stood as well.

Byron strode out of the dining room and Leo arched a brow at Spence. “How very curious.”

“Curious indeed.” Spence led the way out of the dining room. He spotted Beare lurking near the club’s foyer. “Mr. Beare. A private room, if you please. Byron Wright and a friend will be joining us for brandy.”

Beare inclined his head, his face as impassive as always. “Of course, Dr. Spencer.” He led them down a corridor and pushed open the door to a masculine appointed salon. The sideboard held a selection of drinks and crystal glassware. “Should you need anything else, just ring for a steward.”

When Beare left, Leo settled himself on a comfortable leather sofa while Spence poured them each a brandy. He had just sat down on the opposite side of the sofa from Leo when the door opened and Beare ushered in Byron and another handsome young man. This man had an agitated air about him that drew Spence’s natural curiosity instantly.

“This is Silas Brown. Silas, this is Dr. Peregrine Spencer and Leonard Stokes,” Byron said without fanfare.

Silas nodded his head in greeting, his movements stiff and nervous. Spence smiled at him warmly, doing his best to make the young man relax.

“Please, do call me Spence and this is Leo.” He waved a hand toward the sideboard. “Would you care for a brandy?”

As the two young men seated themselves in chairs across from the sofa, Spence got up and poured two more brandies, crossing over to give them to Byron and Silas. He watched as the two exchanged a glance that spoke of long familiarity with one another. It also spoke of an attachment that went beyond friendship.

Spence returned to his seat beside Leo and turned his gaze upon Byron. “You mentioned needing assistance?” he probed gently.

Byron took a swallow of his brandy and nodded. “We have a problem. Silas’s parents have been kidnapped. They are inventors and their disappearance is very suspicious,” Byron said quietly. “I need assistance investigating the disappearance for several reasons. One reason is that I believe the authorities will not help us.”

Leo appeared shocked. “Why would they not?”

Byron’s lips twisted cynically. “The authorities are rife with members of the underworld. They are just as villainous as the creatures who commit the crimes in this city.”

“I believe that.” Spence sighed heavily. “It’s something many of the club members have come to agree upon in the last few months.”

“Yes, well, this kidnapping has been covered up and I fear for Silas’ safety as well.” He glanced at his nervous, silent companion.

“And I fear for Byron’s,” the other man burst out.

Spence’s brows rose and he noticed that Leo leaned forward, his expression serious, but filled with curiosity.

“We’ve known each other since we were children and always looked out for one another. But, I-I cannot be trusted to do this always. I…suffer from a…condition that hampers my movements in the polite world on occasion.”

A bitter twist of Silas lips and a preternatural gleam in his eyes had Spence stiffening in his seat. Could it be? Could Silas be what he had been searching for the last six months? Could he be the subject he needed in order to further his experiments? Calming his rapidly beating heart, Spence leaned forward, his gaze holding Silas’s.

“Tell me,” Spence whispered, his focus entirely on Silas Brown.

Agony twisted Silas’s handsome features. “I need your help, Doctor, because I suffer from lycanthropy.”

Both Byron and Leo gasped but Spence could barely stop himself from jumping up in triumph. At last, someone who was willing to confess the truth! Werewolves existed amongst them and he was determined to find the cure for the curse. Now, he had a real werewolf before him and Spence wasn’t about to lose this opportunity to help him and study his affliction in an effort to cure it. If it meant he had to help Silas and Bryon find the missing inventors, then he would.  He would do whatever he must to have unfettered access to a real live werewolf.

The day had turned out better than he had hoped when he’d awakened with the notion that he needed to take control of his life. His time with Leo, Byron’s request for help, Silas’s confession, and the opportunity to further his research…everything had combined itself into the best day of Spence’s life rivaling his night in Lord Anthony’s arms. He smiled comfortingly at Byron and Silas.

Control. He had to take control of this situation and turn it to his favor while still helping the others. Spence’s smile widened. If he could seduce Anthony Banning and kiss Leo Stokes, he could do anything. Including help a werewolf.

 

On the Catwalk

14 September 2012

“The greatest weapon in an espionage agent’s arsenal is his observation abilities.”

The metal catwalk beneath Jack’s boots vibrated with the movement of the airship as it left smoky London behind. He stood firm, swaying slightly as needed to keep his balance on the narrow catwalk.

“And what is it that you think you’ve seen thus far?”

Nash’s voice held a note of amusement that told Jack his lover was humoring him. Nash had been filled with an electric vibrancy ever since the two of them had conspired to make Montgomery jealous. That extra spark had gone incandescent when Anthony and Shelley boarded and the Lucky Penny had cast off. Jack knew from experience that nothing made Nash happier than to be in the air, on his ship, headed into God knew what dangers. He empathized with his lover completely. Nothing made him feel like the rush of doing his job.

“I give Montgomery another twenty-four hours to bag his quarry,” he murmured. “The man is literally shaking with his lust. I admit, I can’t quite believe Colchester could bring such an experienced man to such a pass, but there is no rhyme or reason to attraction, is there?”

“No, obviously not if you and I are together instead of you and Banning.” Nash nudged Jack with an elbow.

Jack leaned over and brushed a kiss to Nash’s stubbled cheek. “Don’t you have a ship to fly?” he asked.

“Don’t like me to talk about Banning, eh? You did see him board with my brother, didn’t you?”

Nash’s casually phrased digging didn’t anger Jack. He just wondered why his lover seemed so intent on making him talk about Anthony.

“No, I don’t mind talking about Anthony and yes, I did see them board.” He leaned against the catwalk’s railing. “Why do want me to talk about them?”

One of Nash’s brows rose. “Why don’t you want to talk about them?”

Jack chuckled. No one had ever put him on the spot the way Nash did. He supposed it was one reason he loved the man so very much. Nash never let him get away with anything.

“I feel a bit of remorse for hurting Anthony. The whole thing was poorly done of me. I was an utter bastard to the man even though I loved him dearly.” He shot Nash a speaking look. “I still love him. He’s always been my closest and dearest friend.”

If Nash felt any jealousy at Jack’s words, he hid it well. His expression showed only compassion. “What did your powers of observation tell you about him and my brother?”

“I’d wager a monkey my former lover has fallen for your sibling. There’s something about the way he watches your brother that reeks of possessiveness.”

‘That’s a good thing for Shelley, isn’t it?” Nash asked.

“If Shelley wants to belong only to Anthony, then yes.” Jack made a face at Nash. “If your brother prefers to continue his amorous liaisons with men like Montgomery, he’ll eventually lose Anthony. I don’t think Anthony wants to share any longer. I also don’t think he’s fully aware of his own feelings, which is probably my fault. Anthony obviously doesn’t trust his instincts when it comes to love now.”

“My brother is in an odd mood. I’m not sure why but I think perhaps it has something to do with Anthony and Venice.” Nash rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “This trip is going to have some repercussions.”

“I wouldn’t worry about your brother. If he and Anthony are in love, it will sort itself out.”

“I’m sure you’re right. Now, tell me why we interfered with Montgomery and Colchester but we’re leaving Anthony and Shelley to sort themselves out on their own?”

Nash’s pointed question made Jack wince. His lover never pulled his punches. “I don’t think my interference would be wise when it comes to Anthony’s love life. I want him to be happy so I’d best keep my nose out of things.” He eyed Nash with an arch expression. “However, I’m sure you’ll make up for my lack of action in this instance.”

Nash laughed softly. “I can never hide anything from you, can I?”

“I know you too well,” Jack conceded. “As for Montgomery, weren’t we agreed we’d help his situation along solely to avoid more strife on the journey?”

“Yes, but I sense there was more behind your actions than a smooth flight.”

Jack shrugged. “Perhaps. You know, I rather wish I were a fly on the wall when Montgomery finally takes Colchester. There’s something very primal between them and I admit I find the thought of them together quite arousing.”

Silence fell between them for a moment and then Nash’s hand stroked over the curve of Jack’s ass, sending a shiver of lust through Jack’s body.

“Who said you couldn’t observe? The Lucky Penny is a very well equipped ship, Jack. There is a lot more to her than you know.”

Nash’s soft, amused voiced sent spirals of arousal through Jack. Of course, the thought of watching the oh, so masculine Montgomery bugger the beautiful Baron Colchester also had something to do with the erection that began to tent his trousers. He took Nash by the elbow and steered him from the catwalk toward their cabin.

“I wish to know more about the ship’s charms, Nash. You will share, won’t you?”

The two shared a smug smile and Jack realized it was going to be a very, very good flight.

 

 

The Rialto Bridge

24 August 2012

They had been greeted at the top of the gangway by Nash who shared a smile and a wink with his brother. No sign of Jack. Or Emmett. The tension within Anthony eased. Nash steered them along a corridor lined in luxurious teak with brass fitted lamps. At a set of double doors midway down, he stopped and pushed the doors open, ushering them inside. The richly appointed salon could have been in any London townhouse.

“There are four of these suites on board, two on each side of the corridor. Mine is across from this one. Montgomery is farther long next to my suite. Colchester and Silsbury are directly across from him.” Nash flashed a white toothed grin. “The washrooms are a bit on the small side but I doubt you’ll have any complaints about the beds or the food.”

Shelley made a small sound that Anthony couldn’t make out. When he raised a brow at his lover, Shelley turned away with Fig in tow, disappearing into one of the two bedrooms. Nash chuckled and clapped Anthony on the shoulder.

“Don’t envy you at all, Banning. My brother has a soft spot for home. I’m sure the trip will stir all sorts of emotions within him. You’ll be lucky to if he lets you out of this cabin during the flight, let alone out of bed,” Nash teased.

He strode around the cabin boys who were carrying in wave after wave of Shelley’s vermilion colored cases and then he was gone. Anthony sank into a comfortable leather chair and a cabin boy appeared at his side, offering a cut crystal tumbler of whiskey on a silver salver.

Anthony took the drink and crossed his legs, his mind retreating from the bustle of their arrival. Instead of the sounds of Nash’s crew bringing in their luggage, he heard the sounds of the marketplace on the Rialto Bridge…

Five Years Earlier

Anthony hadn’t been in Venice more than twelve hours when he realized it was a city for lovers if not love. It might not have been so noticeable had he come there with a lover or to be with one. But he hadn’t.

Reeling from the death of his last surviving parent and far too much emotional baggage, and in a desperate attempt to leave his melancholy state of mind behind and find some fun, he’d run away from home and his responsibilities, embarking on a trip to Italy in the hope that he could finally forget Jack and all his other losses. Unfortunately, on his own, and unhappily thwarted in love as he was, Anthony seemed to see lovers wherever he went from the moment the white cliffs of Dover had disappeared from view. To his annoyance, his frustration and unhappiness had grown instead of lessened.

Arriving in Venice, he’d looked forward to seeing all the things he’d read so much about but his poor emotional mood colored everything. He found his hotel comfortable but confining so he set out to stretch his long legs after traveling for so many days on his yacht. He’d preferred the ocean voyage over the land trip over the Alps, but once he’d left the yacht, he felt a bit off balance, trying to recover his land legs.

He walked and walked, his gaze noting the colorful Italians who, to his dismay, all seemed to be in pairs. He didn’t know how he ended up on the stone bridge lined with shops. His feet had carried him there in an attempt to get away from all the strolling couples that pricked at his loneliness. He noted in disgust that his feet had chosen a very poor destination if easing his unhappiness had been the goal. The walkways of the bridge were crowded with outdoor vendors and the whole place seemed like a circus, alive with sights and sounds very alien to a quiet man from English Empire. And there were even more romantic couples on the bridge than any place else he’d gone that morning.

He supposed seeing all the couples had been the reason thoughts of Jack plagued him during his stroll through the marketplace. Jack had always found places where they could openly show affection. Being quite a bit more reserved than his best friend and lover, Anthony had spent most of his time with Jack in public sporting a red hot blush. Still, he’d loved Jack’s attentions. Loved being with Jack. Loved Jack. More than he’d thought was possible. His broken heart showed signs of not wanting to mend but Anthony really wanted to be over Jack. Perhaps being beset with lovers was just what he needed in order to deal with his unpleasant emotional baggage.

Everywhere he looked people were kissing and groping one another. Men with women. Men with men and even some women with women. That had given him pause for a moment when he’d seen the first pair. Curiosity overcame him and he’d briefly stared, wondering how women were together. But then he dismissed the thought because he’d never been interested in women so the mere thought of two them together made him shudder just a little.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, a rich ruby cape captured his attention. A great breadth of shoulder covered by the luxurious fabric. The man wearing the cape turned and the material slid. Anthony’s eyes were drawn to the taut line of the man’s perfect buttocks and long, leanly muscled legs. His breath caught in his throat. And then he was gone. Ruby cape and fawn trousers…poof. Nowhere to be seen.

Anthony turned in a circle, his eyes scanning for the beautiful man, but he didn’t see him. Disappointment set in instantly and he heaved a sigh, his morose thoughts about being broken hearted in a city of love returning to drag him into a well of depression.

He started to head for the stone steps of the bridge, intent upon returning to his hotel when an urchin ran in front of him, then behind him. Anthony stumbled and the urchin lurched into him then darted away, leaving him teetering on his not yet steady land legs. A hand grasped his elbow just before he would have crashed into a cart full of blood oranges. Heat prickled where the hand touched him.

When Anthony looked up to thank his rescuer, he found himself unable to speak, unable to breathe and unable to string two coherent thoughts together as the man in the ruby cape smiled at him. His heart stopped. When it restarted, slamming forcefully into his ribs, he discovered that passion and lust had replaced his melancholy for before him stood the most beautiful man he’d ever been privileged to behold.

An elegant hand held a leather wallet out to him.

“Yours, I believe.”

The mellifluous bedroom voice made Anthony’s cock hard as stone. His mouth dried. He blinked in stunned silence at waves of wheat colored hair and eyes as gray as a dove’s wing. He tried to swallow but his tongue felt as swollen as his cock. And then his whole world changed as the beautiful man smiled at him seductively.

“I’m Shelley.”

 

 

Leaving London

20 July 2012
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Anthony stood in the marble foyer of his London townhouse, pulling on leather gloves as his butler, William James, supervised the loading of the motorcar. He’d packed extravagently for the trip, filling his handmade Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, three hat cases, four suitcases and valise. He supposed he might be taking a bit more clothing than he would need for a quick jaunt to Venice, but experience had taught him not to be caught on the continent with less than he might require.

Once the luggage was situated to James’s satisfaction, the butler offered his good wishes for a safe trip and Anthony descended the marble steps to the street, buttoning his Burberry driving coat as he went.

His driver, James’s eldest son Percy, already sat behind the wheel, goggles on, ready to depart. Anthony climbed up beside him and put on his own goggles, settling back in the seat.

“Let’s be off, Percy. I’m so late I daresay Mr. Jefferson is waiting for us by now. That will be the day, eh?”

Percy smiled and eased the car through Belgrave Square toward Hyde Park Corner. They turned onto Piccadilly, driving past Devonshire House to St. James’s Street.  Percy pulled up at the curb in front of the Lords of Aether Club, it’s white façade looking very much like it’s counterpart, White’s, which stood only a few buildings away.

Anthony climbed down and the doorman ushered him inside with a low voiced greeting. Pulling off his goggles, Anthony looked around for Shelley, expecting to see him descend the stairs in his usual regal manner. Instead, his legs were assaulted by a small tornado. He gazed down into the wide eyes of Calfiglio.

“Fig, where is your master?” Anthony asked. “We’re late.”

Fig’s mouth quirked into a grin and he rolled his eyes. Anthony chuckled. The boy delighted him, had from the moment he’d picked his pocket in Venice. The moment he’d first met Shelley.

Traveling to Venice seemed to spark Anthony’s memories of meeting Shelley for the first time. His mind had been filled with reminisces of their time together, five years before.

Shelley had captured his attention then and still held it now.

“Where is he?” Anthony repeated, his gaze on the stairs.

“I believe Mister Jefferson will be only another few moments,” Beare said from behind him. Damn, how did such a big man sneak up on him like that? “There was a small…altercation…with a trunk …but I believe that has been settled now.”

Anthony thought he heard amusement in Beare’s voice, but he couldn’t be sure because Beare was just so…Beare. Unflappable and meticulously serene in the face of any sort of brouhaha. A thump on the stairs turned out to be two footmen carrying trunks. Behind them several more footmen appeared, each bearing a trunk or suitcase. They were all Vuitton, as were Anthony’s, but these were custom designed in brilliant vermillion rather than the typical brown.

“As Mister Jefferson prefers to be prepared for all eventualities while traveling, I’ve arranged for a lorry to take his personal things to the airship, my lord.”

Anthony bit back a laugh. Beare’s tone bordered on censure while not crossing the line, something he did very well. Anthony was already acquainted with Shelley’s tendency to overpack. No one traveled with more trunks and luggage than Shelley.

Then the man himself appeared, stealing Anthony’s breath.

Dressed in a full length fur coat with an outrageous confection of a hat on his head, a strip of silk mask covering his face from forehead to mouth, Shelley twirled a pair of jewel-encrusted goggles around his finger. Even with all his affectations, he managed to look more masculine than a pugilist.

Anthony’s heart thundered. Hardly aware he was moving, he crossed the room to meet Shelley at the foot of the stairs.

“You are the most ravishing thing I’ve seen all day.” Anthony smiled as he took Shelley’s leather gloved hand in his.

“I’d better be,” Shelley replied with lift of his brows.

Anthony brushed a brief kiss to Shelley’s lips, a tingle going through him as their flesh touched. “So, is this mountain of luggage going on the ship? Do you think your brother has room for it all?”

“Don’t be tiresome, Anthony. You know perfectly well he does.”

Shelley’s tone was haughty but Anthony caught the gleam of amusement in his eyes. He stared, mesmerized as always by Shelley’s uncommon beauty, but was interrupted when Fig tugged at his trouser leg.

Anthony looked down and the boy pointed to the last of the luggage making its way out the door of the club on the shoulder of a sturdy footman.

“Time to leave!” Anthony noted Fig’s excited little wriggle.

The boy darted out the door, his violin case in hand.

Anthony turned his gaze back to Shelley. “This is the first time we’ve been to Venice together since we met.”

The expression on Shelley’s face softened. “I wonder if it will feel the same after all these years.”

Anthony stepped closer and pressed his hips against Shelley’s. “It does. Only I think perhaps it’s bigger and harder than it was back then.”

Something flashed in Shelley’s eyes before his lips curved in a broad grin. “You’re in a mood, aren’t you?”

Anthony kissed him again. “I’m excited about going to Venice with you even if the circumstances aren’t ideal. After all, this isn’t a pleasure trip — much as I might wish it to be.”

“With me, it’s always a pleasure trip.” Shelley moved toward the door.

Beare’s staff handed them up into the motorcar and Percy started the engine. Shelley secured Fig so he wouldn’t fall out of the car in his excitement and they put on their goggles. Percy neatly pulled out onto the street and they were off.

The trip to the Lucky Penny’s mooring on the Thames didn’t take long. In anticipation of their arrival, the airship didn’t float high above the Thames but instead hovered but a few feet off the ground with a heavily guarded gangway bridging the space between the ground and the entrance to the ship. The crew advanced on the motorcar and began to unload Anthony’s luggage, carting it aboard.

Stepping down, Anthony pulled off his goggles and pocketed them, turning to bid farewell to Percy. When he turned back around a truck pulled up with Shelley’s luggage. He walked over to Shelley, noting that his lover was deep in conversation with Calfiglio. Or rather, Shelley spoke rapidly in Italian and Fig replied with frantic hand gestures and dips of his head. Anthony could see fear in the taut lines of Fig’s body. For all the child loved motorcars, apparently the airship frightened him.

“Does he not wish to ride on the airship?” he asked Shelley.

His lover let out a sigh. “He’s afraid it will fall from the sky.”

“Ah, Fig. It’s perfectly acceptable to be afraid of things we do not know.” Anthony dug in the pocket of his Burberry for an orange. “The true test of a man is overcoming fear or learning to do things that must be done in spite of being afraid. You don’t think Shelley or I would allow something to happen to you, do you?”

Fig glanced at the orange then he turned to the airship again. His face contorted and he shrank behind Shelley, who jumped with surprise when Fig got a grip on his trouser leg.

“If it were anyone but Fig, I’d be worrying about the state of my trousers.”

Anthony tossed the orange into the air and caught it. “Well, if my bribes aren’t working I’m afraid you’ll have to do the convincing.”

Shelley sighed and peered at Fig’s frightened face. His expression softening, he knelt beside the boy, whispering Italian words in his most soothing voice. Anthony couldn’t make out the meaning, but the lush sound reminded him of nights spent in Shelley’s arms when they’d first met. He took a few steps toward the gangway, lost in memories.

What he and Shelley’d had in those first few days had been fraught with a desire so intense, Anthony knew he’d never experience the like again. Certainly, he’d never experienced it with another man — not even Jack during the heyday of their first explorations of each other.

Other less happy memories came to the fore. He acknowledged that he’d been a bit out of sorts since he’d fucked Spence. Actually, since before he’d fucked Spence. He’d been jealous of Emmett’s relationship with Shelley — which was incomprehensible, and now — trapped on the ship with both of them — he’d have to be nice to the man despite wanting to bloody his nose.

Not that he was any better than the predatory Montgomery. He’d blatantly seduced Spence. Yes, the man had invited him to his room, but Spence had been innocent and Anthony exploited that for his own ends, something he didn’t feel very good about.

Watching Shelley with Fig, he realized he didn’t feel very good about his relationship with Shelley either. Memories of their first meeting were stirring up emotions inside him he couldn’t name or understand. For the first time in all the time he’d known Shelley, he felt insecure. He couldn’t say if his insecurities stemmed from Jack’s re-entry to his life or the knowledge that he’d been furiously jealous of Emmett. Maybe it had been both.

The more Anthony looked at his problem, the more certain he became. He was just as frightened as Fig. But what Anthony feared had nothing to do with the mechanics of the airship failing and everything to do with the flamboyant, outrageous, seductively beautiful man before him. The very fact of his fear fueled his jealousy and other insecurities to the point where anger simmered within him all the time.

Anthony longed to wipe away Emmett’s relationship with Shelley instead of having to face it almost every moment of their trip. He wished he could wipe away his own mistakes, starting with the seduction of Spence.

Shelley finally calmed Fig and they started up the gangway. God, just the sight of them made Anthony’s heart swell.

Anthony acknowledged something was brewing inside him, something he’d have to analyze soon before it drove him to the brink of madness. His emotions were a mess to the point where he felt out of control, which boded ill for their trip.

Yet still, his memories crowded in on him, refusing to be disbursed.

Anthony stepped onto the gangway. The trip to Venice wasn’t a long one. They wouldn’t be on the Lucky Penny more than a few days. Perhaps he could stem the tide of his emotions until they were on the ground once more.

Venice would be easy. The close quarters of the ship would not be. As he passed into the belly of the ship, Anthony prayed he wouldn’t fall victim to his lack of control.

Despite what he’d said to Fig about fear, he dreaded what must be done.

Fear held Anthony in its steely grip. He knew from experience it would not let go until he fully understood his emotions. However, experience and instinct told him those emotions weren’t something he was ready to face.

Second in Command

15 June 2012

The engine room glittered. Nash had no other words to describe it. All the brass and other metals glittered in the bright lights. The machines, fittings and pipes dominated the space and were the reason the Lucky Penny floated above the Thames with queenly grace at her moorings. Nash came up behind a tall, muscular man wearing tight pants and no shirt. His long black hair was caught back in an old-fashioned queue even though he was no older than Nash himself.

“You’ve stepped up the security of this room, right?”

The tall man turned and quirked a brow at Nash. He grinned and the light caught the gleam of a golden tooth at the back of his mouth, echoed by the gold earrings he wore, a row of tiny hoops from the lobe of his left ear all the way to the curve at the top.

“When have I not done as you commanded, Captain?”

Nash snorted. “When I told you to save yourself. You’d be an Imperial Sky Commander by now if you hadn’t refused to lie to protect yourself.”

“I told the truth because that’s what I do. I’m not going to lie to get my own ship at your expense. I told you then as I tell you now, we fly together.”

“You’re too loyal for your own good, Ivar Delaney.” Nash reached out and slapped one of his lieutenant’s rock hard buttocks.

The tall Irishman grinned unrepentantly. “I wouldn’t be going there if I was you, sir. Your partner might not like it.”

Nash made a face and leaned on a shiny brass pipe. “Jack knows you used to fuck me. He also knows I’d never cheat on him.” Nash nudged his friend with his elbow. “Which brings me to the reason I’m here.”

Ivar’s brows rose. “The fucking or the cheating?” he said with a laugh.

“Both. Look, Jack and I discovered some tension between our passengers and we want to ensure this trip is as smooth as possible. You and I both know that when we arrive in Italy, we’ll be up to our arses in intrigue,” Nash told his friend in a low voice.

A sigh escaped Ivar. “When have we ever had an uneventful visit with your father?”

“Please don’t fuck any more Doge’s wives.” Nash tried to stop himself from grinning but couldn’t.

“My cock has a mind of its own especially when delectable creatures decide to put their mouths on it.” Ivar shrugged unconcernedly. “Maybe it’ll be the Doge’s son this time around. He’s what? Twenty two? And pretty as a maiden with that pert arse and delightfully flushed cheeks.”

Nash punched his friend’s arm. “You old reprobate! You fucked him too? Damn, Ivar.”

“Can I help it if neither sex can leave my cock alone?” Ivar wiggled his brows at Nash for a moment then sobered. “Honestly, Nash, if I have to fuck someone for information I’d rather it be him than his step-mother. She’s a nasty piece of work.”

“Then lay low this trip. You don’t have to trade on the fact that you’re an Irish earl’s son. Just make like a deck hand and stay on the ship.” Nash eyed Ivar thoughtfully for a moment. “Actually, that might be a better use for you this time around. Keeping an eye on the ship. I don’t trust anyone there including my father’s staff. The whole world probably knows by now that he’s summoned me and my brother. That can’t be good.”

Ivar pursed his lips thoughtfully. “It’s probably as well that the ship will be filled with guests then. It makes the trip look like pleasure and not business or intrigue.”

“Speaking of guests, I want none of them to have access to this room. I need it secure. I don’t want anyone poking around down here and believe me; all of them are nosy enough and intelligent enough to be interested.” Nash’s gaze met Ivar’s and conveyed his seriousness. “I know that Bridgewater’s been allowed in here before. That was then. This is now. He’s become volatile. He’s fallen for Colchester and is like a bull in a china shop with it because Colchester brought Silsbury along. Emmett’s not likely to admit his jealousy either because I doubt his emotions have ever been engaged before.”

“Bridgewater in love?” Ivar’s brows met his hairline in shock. “I don’t believe it. The man’s the most cold-blooded predator I’ve ever met.”

“Then you’ll love the fireworks going on above stairs, Ivar.” Nash shook his head. “Jack and I baited him a little and I would lay a monkey on the fact that Emmett’s completely captivated by Colchester.”

“Done. I’ll take that bet. I don’t believe the man knows the meaning of the word love.” He eyed Nash for a moment then asked, “Is it only Bridgewater you’re worried about?”

It was Nash’s turn to sigh. “No. My brother’s lover will be aboard as well. Jack’s former lover.”

They exchanged another speaking look and this time Nash looked away when Ivar’s gaze turned sympathetic.

“I hear that Lord Banning is exceptionally handsome.”

“And wealthy and intelligent and athletic…” Nash broke off on a sigh. “I like the man for all that he was once Jack’s lover and is still one of his closest friends. But I want him for my brother and nothing will dissuade me from that.”

Ivar shook his dark head. “What if Anthony Banning doesn’t want to be with Shelley? How will you persuade him?”

“Oh, he wants Shelley. I don’t have to persuade him. I just have to make sure he realizes it.”

“Like that, is it?”

“Yes.” Nash nodded.  “I’d lay more than a monkey on the fact that he and my brother are in love and fighting it.”

“And you want them to stop fighting it and make it official?” Ivar eyed Nash shrewdly. “It certainly ensures that Banning won’t try to get Jack back, won’t it? Convenient for you, isn’t it?”

“Fuck you, Ivar.” Nash’s lips tightened with annoyance. “Just make sure no one but the crew comes in here and that includes Jack. I need the workings of the Penny kept secure from all but the crew.”

Ivar straightened and looked down his blade of a nose at Nash. “You’ve already fucked me, Nash. Many times. My arse recalls the feel of your cock most particularly.” He cleared his throat and wiped away all expression. “I’ll make sure no one comes down here except the crew. And I’ll make sure they understand they aren’t to let any of those titles — or Jack —intimidate them.”

Nash had the grace to look a little sheepish. “Thank you, Ivar.”

His lieutenant turned away and headed farther into the engine room. “Don’t thank me yet. We’ve yet to set sail. Things can change during a journey. In fact, they inevitably do. Something you should know quite well having gained yourself a lover on our last long trip.”

Ivar’s back disappeared from sight and Nash turned toward the door. He had a bad feeling Ivar was right. Things did often change during a journey. He just wondered what would change this time around.

The Pot Simmers

27 May 2012
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“Well, well, well, so we were seen.”

“Do you care?”

“Not really. What do you think of the idea of a ménage?”

“Not much, but then Montgomery doesn’t think much of the idea either.”

“He’s jealous.”

“Do you think he’s just intrigued with the hunt?”

“Hard to say. But his interest is quite peaked. He wants Colchester badly.”

“Have you ever seen him be possessive before?”

“No.”

Silence fell between them.

“You’re plotting.”

“Why would you say that?”

“I can hear you.”

“I didn’t say a word.”

“You didn’t have to. I know you. I love you. I know when you’re plotting.”

“We have a little time before Shelley and Anthony arrive in the morning. I’d say tonight’s evening meal could well be…enlightening.”

“Who are we helping?”

“Who do you think?”

“I thought you were his friend.”

“I am. But I think an interest this deep may need some help seeing the light of day.”

“He’s not stupid.”

“Even the brightest men are blind when it comes to love.”

“Love? He’s not.”

“Maybe. But then again, maybe he is.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Even the best of us fall.”

“But him?”

“He’s no different than the rest of us.”

“When did you become such an expert on love?”

“The first time you put your cock in my ass.”

“So how do you want to play this?”

“Which of us do you think he’d be more likely to be susceptible to?”

“Me, of course. You need to work on your friend the hunter.”

“Make sure he’s not with the Silsbury lad.”

“I’ll distract him with the delivery of some feminine attire.”

“You noticed that about him?”

“Be hard not to. Skirts are rare in the club.”

“He doesn’t think he was seen.”

“They all think their peccadilloes aren’t seen at the club. Buggering men doesn’t make us blind. And Beare never misses the flick of an eyelash.”

“So. Shall we play?”

“You’re really that bored?”

“I’m really that primed to stir the pot.”

“Alright. I’ll play. But you owe me one.”

“And I’m sure you’ll make me pay up later.”

“Right back where we were before lunch? You on my cock, pressed against the side of the ship?”

“Works for me.”

“Me too.”

“I’ll meet you back here in an hour.”

“That’s all you need to beard the lion in his den? Don’t forget, he’s been antagonized already.”

“I’ll take a whip and a chair.”

“You do that. Make sure you take notes. I want a blow by blow description.”

“Anything for you. Especially anything involving blowing.”

“Just keep thinking like that and we’ll never have another argument.”

“We don’t argue. You just stick your cock in my mouth every time I disagree with you.”

“It works, doesn’t it?”

“Not really. But I’ll let you keep thinking that it does.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“You love that about me.”

“I do.”

“Shall we?”

“We shall.”

“Poor bastards have no idea what’s about to hit them…”

Laughter was the only reply.

 ***

Jack arranged for a valise of feminine attire to arrive at Jacob Silsbury’s cabin. He figured it would keep the young man busy for at least an hour. Once he was sure Jacob was busy, he went on a systematic search of the airship, looking for Colchester but ostensibly out for a stroll. He found the man not far from where he’d fucked Nash earlier, but in the public part of the ship.

“Ah, Colchester. Are you enjoying yourself?” he asked, his voice as sly as he could make it without sounding like a villain.

Caleb turned and his pale eyes widened a little. Jack wasn’t sure if it was in fear or arousal. Either way, he could work with it.

“It’s a magnificent ship,” Caleb said, rubbing his hand along the brass railing.

Far below them, the harbor teamed with ships and people. Clouds drifted past and the airship creaked and swayed at its moorings.

“Yes, Nash and his grandfather spared no expense in building her. She saved my life on a mission once. I’m quite fond of her.” Jack angled his body closer to Caleb’s and leaned on the railing, his pose vaguely seductive.

“Her?”

Caleb’s voice sounded a little strangled and Jack could hardly keep the smile from his face. He let his gaze sweep appraisingly over the younger man, acknowledging that Montgomery had excellent taste.

Colchester was tall, at least six feet, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He had a face that probably made women swoon, high carved cheekbones and a sharply contoured jawline covered in dark stubble, just enough to be sexy. Jack figured that as he grew older he’d become more bulky with muscle like Montgomery, but for now he appeared lithe and wiry, his muscles firm and nicely rounded but not huge. Definitely masculine.

Jack’s gaze took in the long length of Colchester’s legs, the bulge of his thigh muscles, the rounded curves of his pert ass, and the growing swell beneath the falls of his trousers. The smile Jack had been holding back burst forth. Caleb Sutton was ripe for the picking and he wondered if the man was a virgin. He wanted fucking in the worst way so Jack figured if he wasn’t innocent, he was at least very inexperienced.

“The airship is named for Nash’s mother Lady Penelope. ‘The Lucky Penny’ was designed by Nash and his grandfather, the Marquess of Lytton.” Jack shrugged carelessly as if the information he imparted didn’t interest him in the least. “Nash incorporated all the best features from The Connaught, the ship he commanded when he was kicked out of the Imperial Navy. He wanted a ship that could best the Empire’s greatest ship. And he did it. He’s outrun, out maneuvered and outgunned his former command on numerous occasions.”

“That’s fascinating.” Caleb’s hands stroked the smooth brass of the railing.

Jack let his gaze follow the movement of the younger man’s hands. “You’ve very beautiful hands, you know,” he murmured. “I can imagine what they’d feel like stroking my skin.”

Caleb gasped and his gaze flew to Jack’s even as his body stiffened. “I —you—Mr. Starr!” he stammered to a stop, his face blazing and his eyes flashing with fear, arousal and indignation.

Jack allowed his smile to widen and he reached out, covering Caleb’s hand with his and then stroking upward to the younger man’s shoulder. He could feel the tremor that went through him and leaned closer, rubbing his body up against Caleb’s. His hand tangled in the other man’s hair. Caleb gasped again.

“Call me Jack,” he murmured, his gaze on Caleb’s mobile mouth with the full bottom lip that invited a man to kiss it. Mirth filled him. Caleb Sutton was a delectable morsel of a man, ripe with unfulfilled desires and exuding an air of caged sexuality. No wonder Montgomery was smitten. For an experienced man, Caleb presented not only a challenge but a hard to resist allure.

A low growl came from behind Jack and he watched Caleb’s eyes shift, the expression filling with lust and a host of other emotions that had nothing to do with Jack. A door slammed and Caleb’s face showed a flash of disappointment before he backed away from Jack and turned his face away. Biting back a sigh, Jack knew the moment of seduction had passed. Caleb had seen Emmett and now his entire focus was the other man. Jack knew Caleb wanted Emmett. His whole demeanor had shifted the instant he’d seen the hunter.

The game became much more interesting to Jack now. Emmett had seen Colchester in a compromising position with Jack. The growl and slammed door were indications that the earl hadn’t liked what he’d seen one little bit. Obviously, the hunter didn’t like anyone else scenting his particular prey.

Feeling every one of his years, Jack took a step toward Caleb and laid a hand on his shoulder. The younger man eyed him warily.

Jack leaned in to whisper in his ear, “Don’t play with fire, Caleb. Emmett is a man with a man’s desires. He’s not safe like Jacob Silsbury, but he’s not a bad man. You could do a lot worse, you know. If you want to know what it’s like to indulge in those urges you try so hard to suppress, at least Emmett would make them pleasurable. Many men would not.”

He straightened and watched as Caleb swallowed hard, his pale eyes filled with apprehension. With a sympathetic smile he gave the younger man some advice. “You can’t fight who you are forever, Caleb. You have to give in to those desires one day. You should do so with someone who will have a care for your pleasure and not abuse your body.”

“It’s not my body I fear will be abused,” Caleb whispered, his full lips trembling.

Jack shook his head sadly. “You can’t protect your heart. It has a will of its own. If anyone knows that, I do. And by denying yourself that for which you yearn, you do yourself a great disservice. That’s not living, Caleb. Or if it is, it’s living in fear and no man worth his salt allows that to happen.”

With a sigh, Jack turned away. “We’ll see you at dinner, Caleb.”

 

***

Nash’s job turned out to be much easier than he’d thought it would be. He found Emmett prowling the ship, a fierce scowl on his face. Mentally, he picked up the chair and whip he’d need to tame the lion. His lips twitched with amusement. Viewing Emmett as an angry lion seemed wholly appropriate.

“You know, I have better things to do than poach on your preserves, Montgomery,” he said as he approached the earl.

Emmett’s scowl deepened. “What the bloody fuck do you want, Nash?”

“A few minutes of your time nothing more, nothing less.” Nash smiled and observed Montgomery’s scowl easing into an expression of suspicion.

“For what?”

“Conversation. Come, let’s walk.”

Nash pushed open a door to the deck and led the earl toward the stern of the airship. He stopped on a platform, the wind teasing his hair. Emmett leaned against a bulkhead his expression forbidding. In that instant, Nash decided not to tease his friend too much. He still wanted Emmett to see Caleb in a compromising position though. He had a feeling it might push Emmett to stop stalking the man and just pounce. He didn’t want Emmett getting frustrated and turning to Shelley for succor during the trip. He didn’t want anyone distracting his brother from Anthony Banning.

“Colchester is a simmering pot.”

Montgomery’s eyes narrowed. “Your point?”

Nash shrugged. “Simmering pots eventually boil over if you don’t turn the heat down. Colchester’s sexuality is all bottled up with nowhere to go. I don’t need problems on this trip, Emmett.”

“You’ll get no problems from me, Nash.” The deep rumble of Montgomery’s voice held anger and frustration despite his words of assurance.

“You don’t want to tear Silsbury limb from limb?” Nash’s brows rose in disbelief.

Montgomery snorted in disgust. “I do, but I won’t touch the boy.”

“Because you really want to touch Colchester.”

“Nash, you know I want him. What is this all about?” Impatience colored Montgomery’s voice and showed in his posture.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me, Emmett?” Nash strode down the walkway, opened a door and led the way down a gangway. They rounded a corner and pushed open a door, coming a halt, the platform in front of them blocked by Jack and Caleb in what looked like a very compromising position.

Only Nash heard Emmett’s softly indrawn breath and then came the possessive growl. It grew in sound and Nash thought it might end in a roar but abruptly, the sound cut off as Emmett spun on his heel and slammed through the door behind them. He caught a glimpse of Caleb’s confused expression before he took after Emmett at a run.

“Emmett! Wait!”

The earl turned on him, his eyes flashing. “For what, Nash? Another demonstration of how you and Jack want to lure an innocent into your sexual games?”

Nash snorted. “Jack and I don’t have sex with other people, Emmett.”

“Then what the fuck did I just see?”

Nash smiled soothingly at his friend and told him, “A simmering pot, Emmett. One that’s about to simmer over. Are you ready to turn up the heat or will you let someone else do it?”

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