Slipped Moorings by Jaime Samms
Leo was being a fool and he knew it. It didn’t convince him to round the last bend to the harbour, though. He could feel the dirigible in the sky above and behind him, like a lead weight, floating against all logic, and it made him queasy. Worse, Alexi was on that thing, and with another man. One he’d befriended and who shared his love of the clockwork and chemistry that Leo could barely wrap his mind around.
He chided himself for that thought. It wasn’t like Alexi hadn’t had lovers in the past. He had, and Leo had managed to ignore them. So why not this time? He didn’t even have any proof, other than the tightness of his own lungs when he thought about Colchester and the unreasoning anger that rose to try and choke him, that Alexi was anything more than a friend to the other man. If he was, he didn’t want to know. And at the same time, he desperately needed to know.
From where he stood, he could hear the creak and groan of the heavy ropes mooring the ship and he sighed. He let his head fall back against the brick. That bloody balloon hung over him; a symbol of all the things Alexi was that Leo was not.
He hated it.
And he wanted to be on it despite the near abject terror it inspired in him. Men were not meant to take to the skies. So why did the thought of Alexi doing just that make him want to swell with pride even as he tried to hold the fear for his friend at bay?
Because he knew, he supposed, that if anyone would see the opportunity for what it was, a once in a lifetime chance, his Alexi would. If anyone could fly, it would be his Alexi.
“Looks like they’re making ready to cast off.”
Leo nearly jumped out of his skin at the comment, gentle as the voice was. It was close—to his left—the speaker leaning on the building so their shoulders touched at the corner. That contact sent a jolt of an entirely different kind through him.
“You’re jumpy today, my friend. Are you not going down to fare them well?”
Leo stuffed his hands in his pockets and fingered the lacy bit of cloth there. He shook his head.
“It really is a magnificent machine.”
“If you say so.”
“A man would be a blind fool not to see the beauty of it. The power. The usefulness.”
Leo snorted. Call him a blind fool, then. All he saw was the impossibility of it bringing Alexi back again. Once his friend had a taste of the world outside stuffy, staid, unimaginative London, why would he ever come back?
“I have an idea,” Spence said softly.
Leo remained still and quiet.
“I’ve decided something, Leo.”
Leo could hear the smile in Spence’s voice, as soft as everything about the man, and yet underscored with the strength he’d shown Leo in the days since they’d breakfasted together.
“Before Lord Anthony, I was a frightened mouse. Perhaps I’ll never be as daring as his ex-lover or as exotic as his current one, but I do have some worthwhile qualities.”
Leo nodded. “Of course you do.” He was exhibiting one now, in fact, just by standing there, shoulder to shoulder, offering support without dragging Leo’s attention to the fact he so desperately needed it.
“I am beginning to feel like the author of my own life again, Leo, and I have Anthony to thank for that.”
There was a pause, and Leo once more leaned his head back to rest on the brick, only this time, he closed his eyes and listened to the almost imperceptible change on the air, the deepening of the sound of the dirigible’s engines.
“And you, Leo.”
So intent on the bone-deep vibration of the skyship’s power was Leo he hadn’t heard Spence move. He jumped when his voice came, so very close, no longer from his side, but from right in front of him, So close, in fact, he felt the breath of the other man’s words on his face.
His eyes flew open and Spence was, in fact, standing in front of him, one hand on the wall above his shoulder, the other about to touch lightly down on his chest. The doctor’s cheeks were flushed a bright pink, his eyes wide, as though he couldn’t believe his own audacity, but he didn’t move back, and he didn’t apologise for the start he’d given Leo. He stood that way, almost too close for Leo to see him properly, and waited.
“And me?” Leo asked, hearing his own breathlessness in his words and wondering at how his heart pounded when he should be reminding his friend he wasn’t like most of the gentlemen at the club.
“I have to thank you.”
“Breakfast. Company.” Spence smiled, and Leo could see his nerves and uncertainty, and marvelled again at the kind of strength revealed in the fact the doctor wasn’t backing down. “A small thing to you, maybe, but to me, at the time I most needed simple companionship, it was the perfect gift.”
“Just a bit of time,” Leo said, shuffling his feet, his attention caught by Spence’s smile. By his lips.
“Something it seems we both in abundance at the moment.”
“I never imagined myself the type to be so bold, but it occurred to me, watching you not watching Jacob fly out of your life, even if it is for just a short time, that you perhaps needed someone to return the gift you gave me.”
“I don’t…really…” Why he was so flustered, Leo didn’t know. It was a simple matter to remind Spence he was not the same sort of man as Alexi, and ask that he take a step back. But he didn’t say either of those things. And he didn’t know why.
Spence pulled in a deep breath. One that filled out his chest and squared his shoulders and his hand moved from Leo’s chest to his chin. “I am not so bold. But the thing is, I really would, very much, like to kiss that sad look off your face.”
Leo stared, gaped. “I—I don’t kiss—” other men.
But then he was. Or rather, another man was kissing him, and he did nothing to stop him doing it. His gasp was perhaps taken for invitation, because Spence’s tongue slipped delicately past his parted lips to enter the heat of his mouth, and even if it was tentative and shy, it was a kiss. And it was sweet. And somehow, Leo couldn’t figure out how to lift his hands from where they plastered flat against the rough brick wall, as though trying to hold him to the world, and push Spence away.
Then the kiss ended, and strangely, that was more distressing than the fact it had begun in the first place.
Spence moved back to a place Leo could again see his face, and if possible, his countenance was even more flushed than it had been before.
“You don’t what?” Spence asked, a little flustered himself, if his quick breaths and fluttering words were anything to go by.
Overhead, the Lucky Penny had finally slipped its moorings and turned towards the Mediterranean, and Leo barely noticed the din over the pounding of his own heart.
The Fissure by Stephani Hecht
Byron gazed over to the other side of the carriage where Silas sat, wondering just how long they could go on avoiding the pressing issue at hand.
They’d kissed and both of them had enjoyed it. There was no doubt of that, any more than there was any doubt that had Silas not pulled away things would have gone much further.
Since that incident, neither had spoke of it, instead slipping into their old roles of merely being good friends. Yet, Byron could not deny that beneath all those layers of normalcy lay a fissure, one that would only spread until it burst open. Byron just hoped he could be strong enough for both of them when that moment happened—when Silas realized just how much Byron loved and desired him.
“Do you think your friends will be able to help?” Silas asked.
“I hope so and I wouldn’t exactly call Leo and Spence chums. They most likely don’t even know I exist. I’ve just recently joined the Lords of Aether and hold no seniority there.”
“Then why are you approaching them at all?” Silas frowned.
The gesture caused Byron to hone in on Silas’ lips. At that moment all he could think of was how sweet and full they’d felt when they’d kissed. It wasn’t until Silas repeated the question a second time that Byron came out of his trance.
“I just do,” he hedged.
Or rather I hope they do. If they reject me I don’t know who else to go to. The last thing I want to do is to break a promise I made to the man whom I love more than any other.
“I’ve heard rumors,” Silas said in a timid voice. “About some of the men of Lords of Aether.”
“What did they say?”
When Silas blushed and brought his fingers to his own lips, Byron couldn’t help but smile. It would appear the fissure was bigger than he’d anticipated.
“Are you…” Silas trailed off.
“Silas, if the kiss I gave you wasn’t clue enough, I don’t know what is.”
The blush grew deeper, but Silas gave a timid smile. “I just never thought that you could think of me like that.”
“Come here.” Byron tapped the seat.
Once Silas was within reach, Byron grabbed him by the back of the head and crushed their mouths together. This time there was no hesitation on Silas’ part. He kissed Byron back with the same need and hunger.
Silas shifted until he straddled Byron’s lap, their cocks grinding together in the most delicious way. Byron moaned into Silas’ mouth, the friction driving him nearly mad with desire.
Byron moved his hands so he had a good hold on Silas’ arse and prompted him to keep grinding. All the while, they continued to kiss like two men starved, which was how Byron felt. He’d longed to have Silas in his arms for so very long.
Pulling back, Silas gazed into Byron’s eyes. “How long have you felt this way about me?”
“The better part of five years, why?”
Silas gave a small grin. “I was just thinking of all the time we wasted. I’ve been wanting you for at least that long, too.”
There was so much more that Byron wanted to say, but the carriage came to a halt. He wanted to continue the discussion, but Byron needed to get inside the club before Leo or Spence left.
“Wait right here for me. I’ll be back soon,” Byron promised.
He then gave Silas one more parting kiss before gently moving him off his lap. Byron then got out of the carriage.
As he stepped out, a prickly sensation came to the back of his neck, as if somebody were watching him. Byron spun around, but saw no one. It was just he, Silas and the driver.
“Get your wits about you,” Byron scolded himself.
Dismissing the issue from his mind, Byron then went inside the club.
Taking Control by Lex Valentine
Spence hadn’t thought that kissing Leo would fire his libido. Not that Leo wasn’t an attractive man. He certainly was. But he’d not really thought of Leo in a sexual light or if he did it was in the context of him being Jacob’s lover even though Spence knew that Leo had never been with Jacob or any other man for that matter. Leo’s innocence shone from his eyes every time Spence stepped close to him and the kiss had definitely shaken Leo and his innocence to the core.
Still, despite Leo’s obvious lack of knowledge about carnal relations with men, Spence thought of him as belonging to Jacob which lent the kiss an air of danger. To Spence, whose knowledge of all things kinky was limited at best, the relationship between Leo and Jacob bordered on master and submissive. Jacob owned Leo in every respect except the physical and Spence was certain Jacob would be changing that as soon as he possibly could. The kiss Spence had shared with Leo told him the man was a ripe plum ready to fall into an experienced man’s hands the same way Spence had fallen into Lord Anthony’s.
Knowing that Jacob laid claim to Leo by his actions that day at his warehouse, Spence knew he courted danger by kissing Leo. He didn’t know what had driven him to such a risk, but something within him had insisted he taste the other man. Leo’s innocence, his awakening awareness of his desires, reminded Spence a little of himself when he’d first become aware that women held no sexual interest for him. Leo would be magnificent once he accepted that he craved the feel of male flesh against his. And, Spence could see in his mind’s eye that Leo would be a stunning submissive to Jacob’s dominant.
Perhaps it was that vision that had Spence’s cock stirring. Until the moment he’d kissed Leo, tasted his innocence and submission and pictured how the man would be with Silsbury, Spence hadn’t been sexually attracted to him at all. Now, with the vision of Leo collared and at Jacob’s mercy filling his thoughts, it was all Spence could do to keep his half hard cock from rising further. Surreptitiously, he pressed his hand to the base of his prick, pushing hard at the base to tame the beast.
“I can see I’ve startled you, Leo,” he told the other man whose face had flushed a becoming shade of pink. “Why don’t we forget that happened and repair to the club for some supper?”
Leo’s eyes flashed with an emotion Spence couldn’t place. “Supper sounds good,” he responded almost automatically. His gaze lowered, his lashes dusting his cheeks. “But I don’t know that I want to forget what h-happened.”
Spence had the sense that Leo’s dawning knowledge of his own desires had forced the words from his mouth. He recalled how he had felt when he’d first begun to acknowledge that he wanted to kiss and caress men not women. Sympathy flooded him and his cock began to subside.
“A small token of affection between friends. Nothing to worry about,” Spence told him with a gentle pat on Leo’s shoulder. “I appreciate your friendship more than you know.”
Leo nodded almost absently. Then his gaze rose to Spence’s. “Will you tell me what it’s like?” he asked, apprehension building in his eyes.
Spence’s brows shot up. “Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me?”
Leo nodded again, his cheeks flushing darker. “I can’t ask Alexi,” he whispered.
That made sense, Spence thought. Silsbury would have had Leo down on the bedsheets beneath him the moment Leo asked him the simplest questions about what went on between men in bed. Leo needed some information to work with before he approached Silsbury. He needed to be sure that it was what he wanted.
Spence threaded his arm through Leo’s and led him away from the docks, fully aware of the great airship behind them, sailing away from London with the man Leo really wanted to be with inside. “I will tell you anything you wish to know. I wish someone had been there to answer my questions when I realized how much I enjoyed the company of men,” he said softly into Leo’s ear. “We’ll have supper and then over a bottle of brandy in private, you may ask me anything you like without fear that anyone else shall overhear.”
A glance at Leo’s face revealed an expression of relief. Spence held back a sigh. Helping Leo would make him feel a bit better about what had happened between him and Lord Anthony. And being frank about his own needs, urges and desires would do him good. He’d spent too many years being afraid of his own nature. If he were ever to find a relationship such as the ones other men at the Lords of Aether club enjoyed, he needed to shed his inhibitions and caution and live. And he would impress that upon Leo as well. Hiding one’s nature only harmed your psyche and Spence was done with repressing his sexuality.
Dinner at the club was more relaxing than he could have imagined. He’d thought that perhaps the specter of their coming discussion would make Leo tense, but instead, it seemed to have freed him. They laughed and talked about all manner of things and Spence found himself envying Silsbury a great deal for owning the heart of a man like Leo.
As they tucked into their pudding, a shadow fell across their table. Spence looked up into a face he recognized but couldn’t put a name to. Leo looked up as well, his expression a mirror to Spence’s thoughts.
“Forgive me for interrupting,” the tall young man said in a gruff voice. “Dr. Spencer, I believe we were introduced some time ago here in the club.”
A name finally came to Spence. “Byron Wright? Lord Randolph’s son Cyrus sponsored you to the club, am I correct?”
The tall young man nodded. “Cyrus and I were at Eton together.”
Spence smiled. “He and I were at Cambridge together.” He waved to a chair at their table. “Please do join us, Byron. This is Leonard Stokes who is a friend of Lord Silsbury.”
Byron shook his head. “I can’t. I have someone waiting for me in my carriage. However, I wished to ask a favor of you, Dr. Spencer.”
The young man’s gaze held a frantic light that made Spence curious as well as cautious. “Go on.”
Byron drew a deep breath. “Could we repair to a private room? I’ll bring my friend and join you. We have need of assistance with a problem which you may be interested in.”
Spence glanced at Leo and noted the curiosity on his friend’s face. He also noted that Leo had a somewhat assessing glint in his eye as he stared at the handsome man before them. Between what he and Silsbury had done to Leo in recent days, Spence could see that Leo’s awareness of his true nature and his awareness of other men was undergoing a change.
Spence came to a decision. He wanted to see what Byron had to say and he was curious as to the identity of his friend. He tossed his napkin down and rose.
“We’ll ask Beare for a private room. Retrieve your friend and ask Beare to direct you to us.” Spence looked over at Leo who stood as well.
Byron strode out of the dining room and Leo arched a brow at Spence. “How very curious.”
“Curious indeed.” Spence led the way out of the dining room. He spotted Beare lurking near the club’s foyer. “Mr. Beare. A private room, if you please. Byron Wright and a friend will be joining us for brandy.”
Beare inclined his head, his face as impassive as always. “Of course, Dr. Spencer.” He led them down a corridor and pushed open the door to a masculine appointed salon. The sideboard held a selection of drinks and crystal glassware. “Should you need anything else, just ring for a steward.”
When Beare left, Leo settled himself on a comfortable leather sofa while Spence poured them each a brandy. He had just sat down on the opposite side of the sofa from Leo when the door opened and Beare ushered in Byron and another handsome young man. This man had an agitated air about him that drew Spence’s natural curiosity instantly.
“This is Silas Brown. Silas, this is Dr. Peregrine Spencer and Leonard Stokes,” Byron said without fanfare.
Silas nodded his head in greeting, his movements stiff and nervous. Spence smiled at him warmly, doing his best to make the young man relax.
“Please, do call me Spence and this is Leo.” He waved a hand toward the sideboard. “Would you care for a brandy?”
As the two young men seated themselves in chairs across from the sofa, Spence got up and poured two more brandies, crossing over to give them to Byron and Silas. He watched as the two exchanged a glance that spoke of long familiarity with one another. It also spoke of an attachment that went beyond friendship.
Spence returned to his seat beside Leo and turned his gaze upon Byron. “You mentioned needing assistance?” he probed gently.
Byron took a swallow of his brandy and nodded. “We have a problem. Silas’s parents have been kidnapped. They are inventors and their disappearance is very suspicious,” Byron said quietly. “I need assistance investigating the disappearance for several reasons. One reason is that I believe the authorities will not help us.”
Leo appeared shocked. “Why would they not?”
Byron’s lips twisted cynically. “The authorities are rife with members of the underworld. They are just as villainous as the creatures who commit the crimes in this city.”
“I believe that.” Spence sighed heavily. “It’s something many of the club members have come to agree upon in the last few months.”
“Yes, well, this kidnapping has been covered up and I fear for Silas’ safety as well.” He glanced at his nervous, silent companion.
“And I fear for Byron’s,” the other man burst out.
Spence’s brows rose and he noticed that Leo leaned forward, his expression serious, but filled with curiosity.
“We’ve known each other since we were children and always looked out for one another. But, I-I cannot be trusted to do this always. I…suffer from a…condition that hampers my movements in the polite world on occasion.”
A bitter twist of Silas lips and a preternatural gleam in his eyes had Spence stiffening in his seat. Could it be? Could Silas be what he had been searching for the last six months? Could he be the subject he needed in order to further his experiments? Calming his rapidly beating heart, Spence leaned forward, his gaze holding Silas’s.
“Tell me,” Spence whispered, his focus entirely on Silas Brown.
Agony twisted Silas’s handsome features. “I need your help, Doctor, because I suffer from lycanthropy.”
Both Byron and Leo gasped but Spence could barely stop himself from jumping up in triumph. At last, someone who was willing to confess the truth! Werewolves existed amongst them and he was determined to find the cure for the curse. Now, he had a real werewolf before him and Spence wasn’t about to lose this opportunity to help him and study his affliction in an effort to cure it. If it meant he had to help Silas and Bryon find the missing inventors, then he would. He would do whatever he must to have unfettered access to a real live werewolf.
The day had turned out better than he had hoped when he’d awakened with the notion that he needed to take control of his life. His time with Leo, Byron’s request for help, Silas’s confession, and the opportunity to further his research…everything had combined itself into the best day of Spence’s life rivaling his night in Lord Anthony’s arms. He smiled comfortingly at Byron and Silas.
Control. He had to take control of this situation and turn it to his favor while still helping the others. Spence’s smile widened. If he could seduce Anthony Banning and kiss Leo Stokes, he could do anything. Including help a werewolf.