Who? Anyone, he thought. Any woman, at least. All heads were turned toward the altar, where the bishop was raising his hands for the final blessing. Taking a deep breath and commending his soul to God, Grey pegged one of the sweets into the congregation. He’d aimed to strike the pew near Lady Anthony, one of his mother’s close friends seated near the back. Instead, he struck her husband, Sir Paul, squarely in the back of the neck. The baronet jerked and clapped a hand to the spot, as though stung by a bee.
Sir Paul glared wildly round, looking in every direction but up. Grey picked another sweet and was searching for a better target, when a small stir toward the front made him look there. Percy Wainwright had made his way out of the pew, and was heading for the back of the church, nearby heads turning curiously to follow him.
Abandoning his strategy, Grey raced past the organist and down the stairs. Almost too late, he saw Olivia, collapsed again at the foot of the stairs. Panicked at the thought of help escaping, he put both hands against the narrow walls and vaulted over her, coming down with a thump at the foot of the stair. He snatched open the door, just in time to find Percy outside it, looking startled.
He leaned out, seized Percy by the sleeve, and yanked him into the tiny space.
“Help me get her out!”
“What? My God! All right. Where shall we take her?” Percy was sidling round Olivia’s feet, evidently trying to decide what to take hold of. A peculiar whooshing noise made him shy back.
“Oh, Jesus!” Grey said, looking in horror at the spreading pool of liquid at his feet. “Olivia, are you all right?”
“It isn’t blood,” Percy said dubiously, trying without success to keep clear of the puddle.
“My new dress!” Olivia wailed.
“I’ll buy you a new one,” Grey promised. “Two. Olivia, you have to stand up. Can you stand up?”
“Shall I fetch someone? A doctor?” Percy made a tentative motion toward the door, but was forestalled by Olivia’s seizing the skirt of his coat.
“Just…wait,” she said, sitting up and panting. “It’s all right. It’s—” Her face went quite blank, and then suddenly assumed a look of the utmost concentration. Her hand fell from Percy’s coat and went to her belly. Her eyes went round, and so did her mouth.
If she screamed, it was drowned by a blast of organ music.
“Oh, God.” Grey was on his knees, pawing through an unending mass of yellow silk. Now there was blood, though not a great deal. “Oh, God, are you all right, Olivia?”
“I don’t really think so, John.” Percy was shouting to be heard over the music, squashed in beside her on the step, frantically trying to stroke her hair and mop her face with his handkerchief simultaneously. “Is she meant to—” His words were lost as the organist hit the pedals, the great diapasons opened above, and the staircase shook with the sound.
Grey had located a leg under the silk, straining with effort. Its fellow had to be there somewh—there. He gripped Olivia’s knees in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion, trying not to look at what might be happening between them.
Suddenly Olivia slid down, pressing back against Percy so hard that Grey heard his grunt above the music. Percy gripped her by the shoulders, bracing her disheveled head against his chest. Grey felt a sort of subterranean shudder go through her body, rather like the waves of sound that beat on them, and looked down involuntarily.
There was a crash nearby as the outer doors were flung open, and to the clash of swords and the cheers of soldiers, a long purple object slithered out into Grey’s hands, accompanied by a gush of fluids that did his cream silk breeches no good at all.
You must both be godfathers,” Olivia informed them, from the bower of her bed at Jermyn Street. She looked fondly down at the infant glued to her breast.
Grey glanced at Percy, who was beaming at mother and child, as though he were a Renaissance artist specializing in studies of Madonna e bambino.
“We should be honored,” he told his cousin, smiling. “And now I think you must rest. And we must go to the Turkish baths. You realize this will be the second suit of clothes I’ve burned this month?”
Olivia disregarded this, lost in admiration of the little boy in her arms.
“What do you think? John Percival Malcolm Stubbs? Or Malcolm John Percival?”
“Call him Oliver,” Percy suggested, cleaning his hands with the remnants of a very stained handkerchief.
“Oliver?” Olivia looked puzzled. “Why Oliver?”
“Cromwell,” Grey explained, understanding instantly what Percy meant. “He’s got the roundest head I’ve ever seen.”
Olivia gave him a cross-eyed look, then revelation dawned.
“Oh, Cromwell!” she said, but instead of laughing, squinted thoughtfully at the child. “Cromwell Stubbs? I quite like it!”
The room was small and clean, but had very little in the way of amenities beyond a bed, a basin, and a pot. It did, however, have a bed, and that, at the moment, was the only real consideration.
He saw it over Percy’s shoulder, as his new stepbrother pushed open the door—which had a lock, still better—and crossed the narrow room to push back the curtain. Cool gray snow light flooded in, making the room—and Percy’s flesh—seem to glow, dark as it was.
“Damned cold,” Percy said, turning toward him with a grimace of apology. “I’ll light the fire…shall I?” He moved toward the tiny hearth as though to do so, but stopped, hand hovering over the tinderbox, dark eyes fixed on John’s.
Grey felt his pulse throb painfully through his chilled hands, and fumbled a little as he drew off his gloves and dropped them. He threw off greatcoat and coat together in a thump of snowy weight, crossed the narrow room in two paces and seized Percy in his arms, sliding his hands under Percy’s cloak, his coat, jerking the shirt from the waistband of his breeches, and sinking his freezing fingers into the warmth of Percy’s skin.
Percy yelped at the cold abruptness of his touch, laughed and kneed him in the thigh, then pushed him back, and with one hand began to unbutton Grey’s shirt, the other, his own. Grey interrupted him, hastily jerking at his own buttons, popping one off in reckless haste, so eager to resume his acquaintance with that lovely, warm smooth flesh.
Their breath rose white, mingled. He felt the gooseflesh rough on Percy’s shoulders, the shiver of frozen air on his own bare ribs, and half clad, dragged Percy whooping into the icy bed, breeches still about his knees.
“What?” Percy protested, laughing and squirming. He kicked madly at the bedclothes, trying to free himself from the breeches. “Are you nothing but a beast? May I not have even the smallest kiss before—”
Grey stopped his words with his own mouth, feeling the rasp of Percy’s beard, its tiny bristles, and nipped at the soft, full lip, still stained with wine.
“All you like,” he gasped, breaking the kiss for a gulp of air. “And, yes, I am a beast. Make the best of it.” Then returned to the fray, struggling to get closer, desperate for the heat of Percy’s body.
Percy’s own cold hand slid down between them, grasped him. Cold as the touch was, it seemed to burn. He felt the seam of his breeches give as Percy shoved them roughly down and wondered dimly what he would tell Tom. Then Percy’s prick rubbed hard against his own, stiff, hot, and he stopped thinking.
Neither of them had thought to lock the door. That was the first conscious thought to drift through his mind, and alarm brought him upright. The house was still, the room quiet save the whisper of the snow against the window and the comforting sound of Percy’s breathing. Still, he slid out of the cozy warmth of the bedclothes, and picking up Percy’s cloak from the floor, wrapped it about his nak*d body and went shivering to lock the door.
The rattle of the key disturbed Percy, who rolled over in the bed with a groan of sleepy yearning.
“Come back,” he whispered.
“I’ll light the fire,” Grey whispered back.
The heat of their efforts had taken the frozen edge from the air, but the room was still achingly cold. The luminous glow from the window gave enough light for him to make out the dark shape of the basket that held Percy’s meager supply of wood and kindling. He felt beside it and groping, knocked away the small, cold square of the tinderbox; it slid across the slate of the hearth, and was furred with ash and dust when he picked it up. No one had swept the room in some time; he supposed that Percy’s means did not allow him to employ a woman to clean, though his sheets and linen were laundered.
He was acutely conscious of Percy as he worked. Small memories of the body lingered on his mouth, in his hands, making them uncertain with steel and flint. He felt Percy’s eyes on his back, heard the small rustlings of quilts as that lithe bare body shifted in the bed.
His mouth tasted of Percy. Each man has his own taste; Percy tasted, very faintly, of mushrooms—wood morels, he thought; truffles, perhaps. Something rare, from deep in the earth.
The steel chimed and sparks flew, glowed brief against the char but didn’t catch. He had tasted himself once, out of curiosity; faintly salt, bland as egg white. Perhaps Percy would think differently?
A spark caught, its red heart swelling, and he thrust a straw hastily upon it. There. Fire caught at the tip, burst suddenly gold along its length, and he dropped it onto the careful pile of straw and paper he had built, reaching for the sticks that would usher the infant flame into full birth.
He stood then, stretching cramped legs, waiting to be sure the fire was well and truly caught. He heard Percy draw breath behind him, as though to speak, but he didn’t.
He wanted to speak himself, say something in acknowledgment of what they had shared—but found himself unaccountably shy, and turned instead to the window, looking out at the white-covered roofs of London, humped like slumbering beasts, silent under the falling snow.
The exudations of their mingled breath, their sweat, ran in rivulets down the window.
The sky was an unearthly grayish-pink, suffused with light from the hidden moon; light shone like crystal in the droplets of moisture. He touched one with his finger and it disappeared, a small clear circle of wetness on the glass. Slowly, he drew a heart, standing a little aside so Percy could see—and then put his own initials, Percy’s below. He heard a soft laugh from the bed, and seemed to feel warmth flow between them.
He’d had Percy’s arse twice, and loved every second of it, from the first tentative slick probings to the piercing sense of conquest and possession—so thrilling that he would have prolonged it indefinitely, save for the irresistible onrush that emptied him so completely he forgot himself and Percy both.
The fire had caught well. He stooped and thrust a good-size stick of wood into it, then another.
He was chary of lending his own arse, and seldom did, not liking the sense of being so dominated by another.
He’d been raped once, years ago, and managed to dismiss the memory as a minor misfortune. But there was always since a moment, an instant of something not quite panic, when he felt his flesh obliged to yield so suddenly to that demand. Hector, of course—but Hector had come before.