Posts Tagged Emmett Montgomery

Appearances

3 May 2013
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What on earth, or above it, in this case, had Alexi gotten himself into? He’d known the invitation to the ball had never been just an invitation to a ball, of course. It had seemed like a grand adventure. A way to get out from under Leo’s scrutiny for a few days, maybe make his friend aware how much he’d miss Alexi’s company when he suddenly didn’t have it. Hopefully miss it enough for Leo to open that locked door just a fraction and see beyond to the greater possibilities lurking on the other side of friendship.

There had been no mention of murder attempts or bodies in the fine gold script on the summons from what he’d seen as it was passed around the room that day in the club. But then again, summoned by foreign politicos, in the company of spies, pirates and courtesans, what could one expect?

He twitched the sleeve of his robe and frowned at the staid line of gold braid stitched around the hem. Very…masculine. He made a face and dropped his arm to his side. When he had packed for the trip, he hadn’t quite anticipated the extent of Nash’s hedonistic side. He’d imagined a far rougher vessel and one less welcoming to the hem of a long skirt or the fine lace of a delicate glove. Unfortunate. He did miss his finery.

He wished he could send for a crate of it now, but admittedly, he hadn’t thought the whole thing through in terms of practicality. The bare minimum of tools and materials and clothing he’d brought was proving problematic and on more levels than just his offended sense of style.

After Montgomery’s near miss, Alexi had been quick to rig a few fail safes in his and Caleb’s room. If anyone attempted to surprise them in the night, they would be in for a painful little surprise or two. Nothing deadly. He didn’t want to murder anyone, just make it danm difficult for them to hide the fact they’d tried entering Jacob Silbury’s room uninvited. But the endeavour, coupled with Jack’s commission, had left him seriously short on some necessary materials to continue his studies into the workings of the aether and that was annoying.

Without his studies, he had very little to do, for one thing. And for another, without his equipment, there were fewer ways to figure out why the body had smelled of aether, what had been done to it, exactly, and how. It gave him no small measure of satisfaction to have felt the startled gazes of the other Lords at his comment earlier. How the peculiar scent could have escaped them, he didn’t know but it was a nice little coupe to have been the one to ring it t their attention.

It was less exciting to realize what the smell implied. That someone on board had access to both the knowledge and the delicate equipment necessary pointed to one of two possibilities. Either Nash had trusted someone too much with the inner workings of his vessel, or someone was keeping secrets on board that needed discovering. Nash Sutherland did not strike Alexi as a man who played loose with his trust. That meant there was someone on board very good at keeping secrets from some of the most suspicious lords of the realm. No easy feat.

It did make him doubly glad he had taken precautions, though. He’d learned well the importance of guarding his secrets. He’d have to be sure to let Nash know their rooms were off limits to valets and stewards. He wasn’t interested in maiming the help. He’d tell Caleb when next he saw him, as well.

Not that Caleb had come back to the room last night, or this morning. Alexi wasn’t a fool. He’d seen the looks and known it as only a matter of time. He just hoped, for his new friend’s sake, Montgomery was at least gentleman enough to let poor Caleb down easy when he tired of him.

On the other hand, Caleb was a grown man. He’d get over it. And in the meantime, Alexi had the privacy to do as he pleased. His little morning jaunt had carried him on softly slippered feet to a corner of the deck away from the body and it’s circle of nobles. A few crew members sat on crates lashed to the surface. One hummed softly as Alexi approached. He appeared to be sewing a tear in a fine jacket and the others were  mending ropes and canvas. They didn’t speak or pay much attention to him, and he repaid the favour in kind as he leaned on the brass-covered railing to look out over the fog-shrouded land.

After a few moments, the crew’s conversation picked back up as though he wasn’t there.

Someone mentioned a name, Peter something, and they joked about the head steward’s reaction to this Peter’s not showing up for his shift that morning. The hummer did a fair impression of the elderly gentleman’s cracked voice issuing predictions of doom over his absentee employee. Too bad for Peter. If those were the old man’s dire words, they seemed to be accurate in this case.

The crew member went on, at some urging from his fellows, to imitate a few more of the staff, the ship’s first mate and even a Lord or two, which amused Alexi. He was remarkably accurate with those impersonations of men Alexi knew, almost as though he could slip into their skin as easily as Alexi slipped into his women’s clothing and persona.

“Do the new guy!” someone called.

The young impressionist turned quiet and bent over his needle and thread. “I can’t,” he said. “He’s a tough one.”

“Aw, c’mon! You haven’t even tried!”

“Takes time,” The man said. “I’ll have him down by the end of the trip. Just have to figure out what it is that makes him.”

There was a short pause before someone asked “Makes him what?”

“Makes him. You know, makes him him.” He went back to humming with a shrug.

Alexi studied him. As himself, the young man was fairly non-descript with his light brown hair, even, not-quite-pale complexion and soft brown eyes. The hair was, upon Alexi’s not so inexperienced observation of such matters, very artfully arranged to look rough cut and shaggy. A comb and a silk tie would line it into a nice queue down between his shoulder blades. A touch of powder on his cheeks, the addition of a nicely tailored waistcoat and proper shoes, and he would blend into a Lord’s ball as easily as he did an airship crew.  He disappeared into the background unless he chose not to.

As Alexi watched nimble fingers manipulate needle and thread, he had to smile slightly. The man’s talent was utterly wasted on rope mending and Alexi wondered if Nash was aware he had brought such a consummate chameleon on board.

Footsteps approaching behind him alerted Alexi to company an instant before the object of his observation glanced up and past his shoulder. His expression remained neutral. His eyes flicked over Alexi and the newcomer and went back to his work. He didn’t give the appearance of it, be he was alert to everything going on around him. Alexi doubted much got past those quick, intelligent-looking eyes.

“See something you like?” A rough voice crawled over Alexi, leaving the little hairs on his neck on end. He turned to face a rather tall man, his face level with the man’s chest. Black hair escaped a braid and danced about his sun- and wind-kissed face face in the breeze. Wisps of  black hair peeked from the loose ties of his shirt and freckles dusted the backs of his hands. The girl in Alexi swooned just a little bit and he didn’t have to bother faking the appreciation in his tone.

“I do now.”

That got him a wide, unabashed grin. Clearly, this man was not unaccustomed to dealing with men of greater standing.

“You’re the first mate,” Alexi said, placing the sun-warmed features with a name. “Ivar.”

Ivar nodded.  “At your service, my lord.”

“Ha!” Alexi returned his big smile. “Please. Call me Jacob.” There was a time to play the lord of the manor, and a time to just, well, not. Ivar didn’t strike him as a man who needed titles to tell him another man’s worth so much as he preferred to decide that for himself. It was a trait Alexi had come to admire in Leo, Caleb and even most of the Lords he was getting to know on board the ship. He appreciated it now.

“Seems rather informal,” Ivar replied, turning to lean over the rail. His height meant he had to bend nearly double to lay his forearms on the cool railing and Jacob smiled at the view that offered.

“It does, rather, doesn’t it?” he murmured.

Ivar glanced over his shoulder at Alexi and laughed out loud at being leered at.

“So  Sutherland does indeed surround himself with the like-minded,” Alexi observed, moving to the rail next to Ivar.

“Some of us don’t have the means to access a safe haven like the Lords of Aether club,” Ivar pointed out. “Do you blame us for accepting the relative freedom of working for an employer who will keep our council?”

“Hmm. Good point.” He smiled at Ivar. “And perhaps my own good fortune, it would seem.”

“Does it seem that way to you?” Ivar asked.

“The trip does hold some promise I had overlooked just a short hour ago,” Alexi admitted with another sidelong look.

“You’re just a wee mite of a thing.” Ivar looked him over critically. “I may be top dog in Mr. Sutherland’s crew, but I am still crew, my lord.” The undertone of the title led away from the mundane running of an airship and towards other, more interesting ideas. “If I wanted to be captain, I would be captain.” He faced back out over the railing and watched as clouds scudded past below them. “That isn’t a position I care to be in.”

Serenity smoothed his features and darkened blue eyes held a sense of his own place in the world he did not question.

Alexi nodded. “So I see.”

“Do you?” He threw a slanted look over at Alexi. “In my experience, young men of your…stature…are often looking for something I regrettably do not have to give.”

Alexi managed not to laugh out loud with sheer delight. The thought of the huge man being as pliant in bed as the humble worker he presented himself as made Alexi positively giddy with the possibilities. He gathered himself and his robe and turned towards his rooms. “Size, my dear man, has not a thing to do with it.”

He could feel the startled gaze on his back as he walked away and he stopped a few feet from the corner to look back. Even from the distance, he could sense the sudden hunger in the other man. “You know where my rooms are,” he called cheerfully. “If, of course, you are ever off duty.”

He didn’t wait for a response. In his experience, telling a man to come to his rooms would either bring the man to him, or not. If not, he probably wouldn’t have been interested in anything the man had to offer anyway. He very much liked when he issued orders and they were followed.

Which did not explain in the least why he could not let the idea of Leo in his bed go. He let out a sigh. No matter. At least the trip didn’t have to be boring. He picked up his pace as he left Ivar behind and headed for his room and proper clothing for the day.

The tight knot of English nobility had dispersed. The body was gone. Alexi shivered as he passed the rumple of canvas with its small stain, almost black in the morning light. It could have been left over from a paper cut, there was so little. Death should never be so tidy.

The aether smell had gone with the body.

He walked on, keeping his head high and his gaze drifting out past the railing. It wouldn’t do for the others to see weakness in him. They already thought him a vapid fool and it galled even if he pretended it didn’t.  If they were to think that of him, best he play the part and maintain the shell of impersonal near-royalty his imperious father had perfected and everyone assumed he had been born with.

He passed Montgomery on his way to the cabins and barely spared him a glance. The game hunter was fully dressed now, and resting against the railing where, Alexi noted, he had only to turn his head for a nice view of the gathering of workers he had earlier been watching himself.

“Flirting with the help?” Emmet asked as he passed. A sneer curled his lips.

Alexi smiled his coldest Lord of the Manor smile at him. “At least I have the courage to bait a bear and not maim fawns from under cover of a sweet smile.”

“Maim?” Montgomery’s face took on an interesting shade of red.

“Come, Montgomery, we all know you never shoot for the heart. You don’t go for the kill. You just want them to remember they crossed your path. You leave a little, tiny scar so they know they’ve been tagged by the great white hunter.” He tossed a small, unfriendly smile over his shoulder as he headed for his cabin.

“At least I have the courage to take the shot!” Montgomery shouted after him.

Down the corridor, the door to Montgomery’s cabin opened and Caleb’s head popped out. “Emmett?”

He looked dishevelled. Not just sleep tousled, either, and Alexi had an irrational stab of jealousy. Not that he wanted Caleb at all. Just that it was obvious his friend had been distracted away from their cozy workshop and he didn’t relish the idea of the remainder of the flight or the stay in Italy without a single ally.

“So shoot away,” Alexi said, turning to face Emmett. “The group of airmen you were eyeing seem likely. Especially the one mending your coat. A right chameleon he looks. I’m sure he can be whatever you’d like him to be in your bed.”

The door at the end of the hall slammed and Alexi sighed. He didn’t like hurting Caleb, but better the man knew now how temporary his status as Montgomery’s bed-warmer was likely to be than to find out later.

“Silsbury!” Montgomery roared his name but he didn’t flinch. He quietly closed his door and locked it. There came a single thump that shook the wood in its frame, then Montgomery’s voice, cajoling, sweetly enticing from down the hall.

“Caleb. Cal, please. Open the door.”

Alexi’s triumphant little smile lasted only an instant. Leo would berate him for that show of vindictiveness. Or more likely, Leo would have stopped him showing it at all, then berated him for it. God, but he missed the man. And how ridiculous to miss being yelled at by him, but there was no denying Leo kept him on an even keel.

“So then, why not focus on what I can control?” he muttered, throwing off the boring robe and rooting through his trunk for something a bit more his style. He might not have any decent skirts to done, but he damn sure had enough frill in there to settle his nerves and himself into a role he played very well. Besides it would be interesting to see how Ivar Delaney felt about Alexi’s other half. A favourable reaction could lead to all the control Alexi needed. If he’d read the man right so far. Either way, he needed the comfort of his own clothes, at least.

 

 

 

 

 

Smoke and Aether

26 April 2013
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Revelation – Part 2, by KC Burn

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

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

Caleb’s cheeks reddened further and he nodded.

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

“I’m really sorry.”

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

“Emmett, please.”

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

“Emmett.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you said.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Still. Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

“And I hated you.”

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

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

“Then my dogs scared you off.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you’re sure.”

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

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

In Flight by Lex Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke and Aether, by KC Burn & Lex Valentine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pointed at the hairy leg that had been revealed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have a serious problem.”

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

“See that engraving?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sniff came from behind them. “Aether.”

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

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

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

Revelation

8 March 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diving In

7 December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

“So are you,” Caleb whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re not done yet, sweet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hush, sweet.”

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

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

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

“Yes. More. Suck.”

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

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

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

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

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

Emmett pulled his fingers out and Caleb glared at him.

“Don’t worry, sweet. Almost there.”

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

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

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

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

“Look at me.”

Caleb pointedly ignored him.

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

“Look at me,” he growled again.

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

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

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

Faster, faster.

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

Faster, harder… louder.

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, I just wish…”

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

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

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

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

Caleb’s smiled broadened, clear of any regret.

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

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

 

Perturbed

5 October 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Colchester.  Settling in okay?”

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

“Fine, yes, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.  It will be my pleasure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The poisoned wine.  That Nash sent me.”

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

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

Caleb gasped and a fresh blush colored his cheeks.

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

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

“Come.  Let me show you.”

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

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

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

Nash knelt near the still frothing liquid.

“Careful not to touch it,” Emmett warned.

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

Suspicious.  Very suspicious.

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

“So what does this mean?” Caleb asked.

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

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

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.

 

 

Thwarted

6 July 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emmett lifted his brows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall I open it for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Montgomery, what… what’s wrong?”

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

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

“Are you alone here?”

“Of course.  Why?”

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

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

“Montgomery?”

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

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

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

“Alexi?”

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

“Caleb?  Are you okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?”

An Unwelcome Shipmate

25 May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

“Feel more like eating now?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.  Out in the open?”

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

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

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

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

“I don’t believe so.”

Alexi laughed again and squeezed Caleb’s arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not his boy.”

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

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

“Go.  I’ll catch up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tempting Invitation

6 April 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two days!

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caleb shrugged.  “They only called him Nash.”

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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