Grey’s mouth was so dry that it was an effort to speak. “Some … what,” he managed. He glanced at Stephan’s prick, freshly erect, then away. Then, slowly, back again, eyes drawn like iron to a magnet.
It would hurt. A lot. At least … at first …
He swallowed audibly. “If … I mean … if you …”
“I will do it very slowly, ja.” Stephan smiled, sudden as the sun coming from behind clouds, and reached for the large cushion they had used earlier. He threw it down and patted it. “Come then, and bend over. I will oil you.”
He had taken Stephan from behind, thinking that Stephan would be less self-conscious that way, he himself loving the sight of the broad, smooth back beneath him, the powerful waist and muscular buttocks, surrendered so completely to him. He felt his own clench a little at the memory.
“Not—that way.” He pushed the cushion back against the headboard and scrambled up, bracing his shoulders securely against it. “You said I could watch.” And the position would give him some control—and at least a chance to avoid serious injury, should Stephan’s enthusiasm outrun his caution.
Are you insane? he asked himself, wiping sweating palms against the counterpane. You haven’t got to do this, you know. You don’t even like to … God, you’ll feel it for a week, even if he doesn’t …
Stephan paused, surprised, in the act of pouring oil into the dish. “I have not even begun. You are all right?” A small frown drew his brows together. “You have … done this before?”
“Yes. Yes, I … I’m fine. I … just … anticipation.”
Stephan leaned forward, very gently, and kissed him. He learned quickly, Stephan did. When he drew back after some time, he looked at Grey’s body, visibly trembling despite his efforts to control it, and shook his head, smiling a little. Then he clicked his tongue softly and passed his hand over Grey’s hair, once, twice, stroking him. Gentling him.
It was true that Stephan had limited experience, no artifice, and not much natural skill. But Grey had forgotten that Stephan was a horseman, and a breeder and trainer of dogs. He didn’t need words to understand what an animal—or a person—was feeling. And he knew what “slowly” meant.
Punch and Judy
JAMIE’S CHEST FELT AS THOUGH HE’D A LEATHER STRAP around it. He hadn’t drawn a proper breath since the soldiers had taken him from Helwater, but just this moment he could barely remember how lungs were meant to work. It was a conscious effort to draw breath, and he counted—one, two, in, out, one, two—as he walked. He had a sudden flash of memory, Claire’s face, intent, as she knelt by a wee lad—was it Rabbie? aye, Rabbie MacNab—who’d fallen from the hayloft at Lallybroch.
She’d spoken to the lad, calm, one hand on his belly and the other feeling quickly down his limbs for broken bones. “Relax; your breath will come back. Yes, you see? Breathe slowly now, push out as much as you can.… Yes, now in … one … two. In … out …”
He caught the rhythm of it from the memory of her voice, and within a few steps he was breathing easier, though the back of his neck was wet with cold sweat and gooseflesh still rippled over his shoulders. What was the matter with him?
The duke had summoned him, and he’d walked into the drawing room and found himself face-to-face with Colonel Quarry, looking just as he had when last seen, as the governor of Ardsmuir prison. Whereupon he’d turned on his heel and walked straight out again, through the front door and into the park, his heart hammering and his face going hot and cold and hot again.
He wiped sweating palms on his breeks and felt the slight roughness of a patch. Someone had taken away his clothes in the night, laundered and mended them.
He wasn’t afraid of Quarry; he never had been. But one keek at the man and he’d felt his wame clench and spots dance before his eyes and he’d known it was get out right then or measure his length on the hearth rug at Quarry’s feet.
There were trees dotted here and there; he found one and sat down on the grass, leaning back against its trunk. His hands still trembled, but he felt better with something solid at his back. He didn’t want to but couldn’t keep from rubbing his wrists, first one and then the other, as if to assure himself of what he knew fine—that the fetters were gone.
One of the footmen from Argus House had followed him; he recognized the dark-gray livery. The man hung back, just within the edge of the park, trying to pretend he was watching the carriages and riders that went past on the road that skirted the park. He’d done the same thing the evening before, when Jamie had come out to walk off his anger at the duke.
He hadn’t troubled Jamie then and obviously didn’t mean to drag him back to the house now; he’d only been sent to watch. It occurred to Jamie to wonder what yon footman would do, should he stand up and run. He had a momentary urge to do just that, and did in fact stand up. He should have run, too, because no sooner had he got to his feet than Tobias Quinn came slithering out of a bush like a toad.
“Well, and there’s luck for ye,” Quinn remarked, looking pleased. “I thought I should have to lurk about for days, and here Himself walks straight up to me, and me not at the watching for more than half a day!”
“Dinna bloody call me Himself,” Jamie said irritably. “What the devil are ye doing here? And why are ye hiding in a bush wearing that?”
Quinn lifted a brow and dusted the yellow of spring catkins fastidiously from the sleeve of his checkered coat. It was pink and black silk, and everyone who passed within twenty yards stared at it.
“Not the greeting one might expect of a friend,” he said, reproving. “And I wasn’t hiding, not in the least. I was just comin’ across the park when I saw ye come out, and I sidled round the bush as being quickest, since I perceived ye were about to fly and I’d have no chance of catching ye if ye did, you with the legs of a veritable stallion, so ye have. As for me plumage”—here he spread his arms and revolved, the skirts of his coat flaring out—“is it not the fine thing of the world?”
“Go away,” Jamie said, repressing an urge to shove Quinn back into the bush. He turned and began to walk away. The Irishman came along.
Jamie glanced over his shoulder, but the footman was still turned away, absorbed in an entertainingly profane argument between the drivers of two carriages whose wheels had clashed and locked together as they passed each other too closely.
“The splendid thing about this coat,” Quinn said chattily, pulling it off, “is that ye can wear it both ways. Inside out, like, I mean. Should ye want to avoid notice for some reason.” He shook the garment, showing off the inner lining, which was a fine wool, seamed smooth and sober black. He reassumed the coat, pulled off his wig, and rubbed a hand through his poll of short curls, making them stand on end. He might have been a lawyer’s clerk now, or a Quaker of moderate means.
Jamie didn’t know whether it was only the man’s love of the dramatic or whether there was some need of such hasty disguise. He didn’t want to know.
“I’ve told ye,” he said, struggling for civility. “I’m no the man for your job.”
“Why, because of this small little complication?” Quinn waved a hand carelessly toward the bulk of Argus House, looming gray through the scrim of trees. “It’s nothing, sure. I’ll have ye in Ireland by the end of next week.”
“What?” Jamie stared at him, uncomprehending.
“Well, you’ll not want to linger in such company as that, will ye?” Quinn half-turned his head toward Argus House. He turned back, passing a critical eye over Jamie’s worn clothes.
“Aye, thus, very well thus. We’ve to move briskly for a bit, but once into the Rookery, no one would glance twice at you. Ah … perhaps twice,” he amended, squinting up at Jamie’s height. “But not three times, surely.”
It occurred belatedly to Jamie that Quinn was suggesting that they abscond. Right now.
“I canna do that!”
Quinn looked surprised.
Jamie’s mouth opened but without the slightest notion what might come out.
“We wouldna make it to the edge of the park, for one thing. See yon fellow in the gray? He’s watching me.”
Quinn squinted in the direction indicated. “He’s not watchin’ ye just this minute,” he pointed out. He took Jamie by the hand, pulling. “Come on, then. Walk fast!”
“No!” He jerked loose and cast a wild glance at the footman, willing the man to turn round. He didn’t, and Jamie turned back to Quinn, speaking firm again.
“I’ve told ye once, and I’ll say it again. I’ll have nothing to do wi’ any such crack-brained notion. The Cause is dead, and I’ve no intent to follow it into the grave. Aye?”
Quinn affected not to have heard this, instead looking thoughtfully at Argus House.
“That’s the Duke of Pardloe’s house, they say,” he remarked, scratching his head. “Why did the sojers bring ye here, I wonder?”
“I dinna ken. They didna tell me.” This had the virtue of being half true, and he had no compunction about lying to the Irishman in any case.
“Hmm. Well, I’ll tell ye, sir, was it me in the hands of the English, I’d not wait to find out.”
Jamie had no wish to see Quinn in English hands, either, annoying as the man was.
“Ye should go, Quinn,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
“Odd, is it not?” Quinn said meditatively, as usual taking no heed. “On the one hand, they snatch ye from Helwater under armed guard and take ye to London without a word. On the other … they let ye wander about outside? Even with a watcher, that seems unusually trusting. Does it not strike ye that way?”
Why would the bloody footman not turn round?
“I’ve no idea,” he said, unwilling to stand about discussing Pardloe and that gentleman’s very individual convictions as to honor. For lack of anything to add to that, he walked away down the nearest path, pursued by the Irishman. At least if the footman ever did turn round, he’d see Jamie gone and start looking for him. At this point, any interruption whatever would be welcome, even if it meant being dragged back in chains.
That casual thought flickered through his mind like sheet lightning, illuminating dark corners. Chains. A dream of chains.
He was paying no attention, either to where he went or to what Quinn was saying, yammering at his side. There was a crowd ahead; he made for it. Surely even Quinn, talkative as a parrot, wouldn’t be scheming out loud in the midst of a crowd. He had to shut the man up long enough to figure how to get rid of him.
The dreams. He’d pushed the thought from his mind the instant he saw it. It pushed back, though, strong. That was it. The dreams that took him back to dreadful places, the ones he only half-remembered. He’d had one last night. That was why seeing Quarry suddenly, without warning, had made him like to faint.