Introducing, without further ado, the players:
~ Samuel Yorke, the fourth Earl of Hardwicke ~ (possessed of a number of fine tracts of land in Devon, an impeccable manner, and a bad attitude) – Genjyo Sanzo
~ The honorable Harry Churchill, esq. ~ (cousin to the Earl of Hardwicke and secretive matchmaker) - Cho Hakkai
~ Mr. Guy Shaw ~ (A rake and dandy, flawlessly attired, with a keen wit and very fashionable boots. Also the owner of an apparently untamable black gelding won during a game of cards) – Sha Gojyo
London, July 1814
Samuel Yorke, fourth Earl of Hardwicke, sighed heavily and crossed his arms. He glowered at his cousin, Harry. "Could you please explain to me once more why I am standing in a clearing watching two grown men try to kill each other when I could be eating dinner instead?"
Harry turned his head slightly, his green eyes still intently focused on the duel. There was a screech of metal as the blades of both opponents met, followed by a sigh of excitement from the admiring crowd. Harry dragged his eyes away and fixed Samuel with a smirk. "Well," Harry began. "It would appear that Mr. Harding," he waved his hand toward the portly gentleman to the right, "took exception to Mr. Shaw's comment regarding his sister." Harry gestured toward the tall redhead who was clearly winning the fight – not that Samuel wasn't aware of who Mr. Shaw was; rather, Mr. Shaw's reputation preceded him.
"What exactly did Mr. Shaw say?" Samuel uncrossed his arms and arched his back, stretching slightly. He had to admit Mr. Shaw was doing a damned fine job of toying with his opponent; not only was he the better swordsman, but for some reason Mr. Shaw was determined to leave Mr. Harding enough of an opening to make the duel to appear to be less of a one-sided farce.
Harry appeared to note Samuel's interest. He quirked his eyebrow suggestively, and Samuel resisted the urge to blush. Gentlemen did not blush like schoolgirls, especially over another man, no matter how attractive he was.
"Hmm," Harry replied, clearly mulling things over in his head. "I understand that Mr. Harding accused Mr. Shaw of trying to seduce his sister. Mr. Shaw replied, and I quote, 'You must be mistaken, sir, as I would rather fuck your lapdog than your sister'. Mr. Harding took exception to Mr. Shaw's comment and immediately requested a second so he could challenge Mr. Shaw to a duel."
"Hn." Samuel watched with interest as Mr. Shaw easily parried another thrust of Mr. Harding's sword. Mr. Shaw's fine linen shirt started to slip off one muscled shoulder, revealing skin that appeared tanned. At some point in the last ten minutes, Mr. Shaw's hair ribbon had also slipped loose, revealing a wealth of long red hair which was now damp from his exertions and clinging interestingly to his exposed shoulder and his cheek.
"Wait." Samuel glanced away from the duel long enough to ask, "Whose honor is Mr. Harding fighting for? His dog or his sister's?"
"Ahahaha, that wasn't exactly made clear in the letters exchanged between the seconds." Harry looked slightly embarrassed.
Samuel glared at Harry. "One wonders exactly how you know so much of the actual circumstances behind the affront to Mr. Harding's honor, Harry."
Harry suddenly appeared to be rather interested in the play of evening sunlight through the leaves of the beech tree. Samuel would bet his estate in Devon that Harry was stalling for time. When he finally looked back at Samuel, Harry wore a mischievous look. "I have the honor of being seconded to Mr. Shaw for today's duel."
Samuel sighed deeply and resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. He could feel a headache starting. "So, if I have this correctly – and please do feel free to interrupt my train of thought at any time – you have agreed to be the second in a duel between the notorious rakehell, Mr. Guy Shaw, and another gentleman, all because of a dog?"
"That would be correct, yes."
"God help me," Samuel muttered. He returned to watching Mr. Shaw, trying to figure out what made the man so appealing. Mr. Shaw was everything that Samuel Yorke admitted he was not: carefree, prone to gambling and drinking, and well versed in the art of seduction – if gossip was to be believed – of both sexes. Mr. Shaw's every action seemed designed to seduce: the way he moved, the fact he wore his unfashionably long red hair in a queue and didn't give a damn about it – not to mention the expensive yet understated cut of his clothing. And his boots. Samuel frowned. He had no idea what he could possibly find fascinating about Mr. Shaw's riding boots, yet there it was.
His musings were interrupted by the squealing of two excitable females who were clutching each other and bouncing up and down, their fashionably pale cleavage threatening to spill from their bodices at any moment. It appeared that Mr. Shaw had allowed Mr. Harding to draw first blood, judging by the tear in the sleeve of Mr. Shaw's shirt and the thin trickle of blood dripping down past his wrist.
"Do excuse me," Harry said, wandering off to intercept Mr. Harding's second while both parties took a breather.
Samuel observed from the shade of the tree as a heated discussion began between Mr. Harding and Harry. Mr. Shaw pushed his hair back over his shoulder and arranged his shirt. It took Samuel only seconds to realize that Mr. Shaw was watching him – not just glancing at him – but with a hungry look bordering on the obscene. The man seemed to radiate desire, and Samuel felt rather uncomfortable being the sole object of his attention. He met Mr. Shaw's heated gaze with a look that could freeze the Thames in July and hoped to God the man couldn't read his mind or discern his own interest.
Harry stepped back from Mr. Harding and addressed Mr. Shaw. Mr. Shaw had the gall to wink at Samuel before turning his full attention back to Harry, and Samuel felt the tension drain from his body as soon as Mr. Shaw looked away. Samuel was relieved not to have Mr. Shaw's attention on him for the time being. The insipid, bouncing women fixed him with a glare, followed by a keen, calculated interest. He could almost see the thoughts in their vapid minds, trying to figure out if he was worthy of their attention. God forbid they realize he was actually a titled lord – he'd be done for.
Harry returned to Samuel's side. "It would appear that Mr. Harding is content with first blood having been drawn. He feels his honor has been assuaged, and will withdraw."
"Thank God for small mercies," Samuel muttered. "I hope his spaniel is happy with the outcome."
Samuel watched as the observers broke into groups, intent on going over the duel blow by blow. No doubt, come morning, the gossips would have it a fight to the death with Mr. Shaw losing gallantly before bleeding out on the grass or some such nonsense.
Samuel was about to find the carriage when Mr. Shaw came over. Harry shook his hand warmly, and they exchanged conspiratorial grins, which Samuel found rather disturbing.
"Samuel, may I present Mr. Guy Shaw. Shaw, this is my cousin Samuel Yorke, the Earl of Hardwicke."
"I'm honored, my lord," Shaw said, executing a neat bow worthy of St. James's Court.
"Likewise," Samuel drawled, letting the sarcasm show. Samuel had discovered early on that people tended not to look past the tone of his voice, preferring to keep an easy distance; it was an excellent mask to hide behind. However, judging by the blinding smile Shaw directed at him, the man wasn't at all put off.
Instead of doing the proper thing and withdrawing, Shaw pulled his shirt over his head and began to wipe himself down. There was a slight squeal behind Shaw and someone shouted for a doctor; it appeared that one of the ladies had fainted at the sight of so much bared flesh.
"You really should get that looked at, Shaw," Harry said, grabbing Shaw by the arm and examining his wound.
Shaw looked down at the offending appendage and shrugged. "It'll be fine, Harry, it's only a slight cut, nothing serious."
"Still, it could get infected if it's not looked at."
Shaw grinned. "I'll have someone look it over later. I'm sure the resulting scar will give the ladies something to talk about."
Samuel rolled his eyes. "Idiot," he muttered under his breath.
Shaw had the gall to laugh, his deep brown eyes showing much amusement. "Are you concerned for my wellbeing, my lord?"
Samuel snorted. "On the contrary, it's none of my business what stupidity you indulge in, Mr. Shaw."
"Please, call me Guy."
"I'm afraid we are not that well acquainted, Mr. Shaw." Samuel needed to leave now; as time passed, he felt further out of his depth, and he wasn't sure why.
"As you wish," Shaw replied with a final bow. "Harry, I'll see you at Brook's tomorrow?"
"Of course. Nine o'clock?"
"As always. Good day, my lord. Harry." Shaw sketched a quick bow and took himself off, walking swiftly through the trees, shirt tucked under one arm and his sword brushing against those damn fashionable Hessian boots.
Samuel watched him leave, only noticing after the fact that Harry was staring at him with something akin to calculation. "What? I think it's positively barbaric that a gentleman should walk around in public without his shirt on," Samuel attempted to bluster.
"Really, Samuel? So you believe Mr. Shaw to be a gentleman?"
"That's what I thought you'd say," said Harry.
"What are you implying?"
"Nothing at all. Shall we find the carriage before full dark sets in?"
Samuel recognized when Harry was stalling, or even worse, up to something. He'd have to be on his guard over the next couple of days; that much was obvious.
Guy Shaw wandered into the main room at Brook's Club for Gentlemen and glanced around, taking note of who was present and who was not – and which gentlemen present owed him money, which didn't, and who might make an easy mark during tonight's game of cards.
Guy had not had an easy life. He was the illegitimate son of the Baron Sunderley and, upon his father's death, had been granted a small piece of unentailed land with a pleasant house. Everything else he'd had to fight for on his own, which made his present wealth that much more satisfying, and that which he had to earn was much more worthwhile than something given freely without thought. Despite his reputation of a rake and a dandy, Guy Shaw was not content with scraps thrown his way; they never held his attention for very long, and most of his affairs were short lived but much talked about. He was popular with the London set and had even been introduced to the Prince Regent earlier in the season. The court was fascinated by him, and Guy was determined to keep their interest for as long as possible, if only to amass as much wealth as humanly possible before retiring to France to live a gentleman's life.
At least that had been his plan up until yesterday evening. Like so much delicate thread, Guy had watched his carefully laid plans simply fall apart the moment he set eyes on Yorke. The Earl of Hardwicke was the reason he'd come away from the duel with the cut on his arm: a slight moment of inattention and George 'Fatty' Harding had managed to get first blood on him. Usually Guy would have been mortified by this loss of face, but since the duel itself was a farce – a way to amuse himself – a slight lessening of dignity was nothing compared to the honor of being introduced to Samuel Yorke. God, if he'd known Harry was the Earl of Hardwicke's cousin, he would have wangled an introduction a lot sooner.
What made Samuel Yorke even more fascinating (apart from his good looks) was his attitude. Samuel Yorke was a glorious mixture of well-bred distain and cutting wit with a keen intelligence and a sense of delightful repression simmering under the surface. The man was like ice, and Guy badly wanted to see how deep it ran. He found himself quite unable to resist Mr. Yorke's charms.
Guy had partaken of three separate card games, dinner, and a half bottle of wine by the time Harry arrived with a clearly reluctant Samuel Yorke. It was quite obvious the man was seething under his polite veneer of indifference and, like any well-bred gentleman, was refusing to show it. Guy wondered just how irritated he'd have to make Yorke before the indifference faded and revealed the fire inside. It would definitely make for an interesting evening.
Guy stood up and gestured to Harry, who came over immediately with Samuel Yorke in tow. Guy bowed to them both and resumed his seat, keeping his laughter to himself as Harry seated himself opposite, which left Mr. Yorke to take the chair next to Guy.
"A good evening so far, Shaw?" Harry asked as a waiter appeared with three glasses and a bottle of port.
Guy shrugged and leaned back in his seat. "So far the cards have been good to me. I won a horse from Mr. Davy. He seemed rather put out, to be honest."
Harry looked amused. "Not that bloody black gelding, I hope?"
"The same. Why?" Guy chanced a glance toward Yorke, who appeared to be overly interested in his glass of port, rather than the conversation.
"I heard that thing is the devil to ride, Shaw. You'd do best to sell it on as quickly as possible." Harry appeared to have noticed his cousin's lack of interest in the conversation.
"I like a challenge, Harry," Guy drawled. "One cannot hope for a good ride unless one breaks the horse of its bad habits first. Or so I heard." He allowed his gaze to linger on Yorke strictly longer than was necessary – or polite.
Yorke placed his glass back on the table and glared at Guy. "Are we here to discuss the finer points of horsemanship, Harry, or to play cards? I have an engagement tomorrow morning, and I'd rather not piss around here if there's no need."
"My, my, such language," Guy said. "Very well, Harry, are you in?"
A few rounds of cards later and Guy was down over five guineas. He'd never quite figured out how Harry always managed to beat him. Yorke had managed to hold his own, but was frowning intently at his hand of cards before he folded.
Guy began to shuffle the cards again when Harry stood up. "Would you both excuse me for a moment? I have a bill to settle with the management." He sketched a quick bow and left, leaving Guy to try to fill the strained atmosphere with some kind of conversation.
"How about we play for different stakes, my lord?" he asked, dropping the deck onto the table.
Yorke frowned. "Like what? I'm rather disinclined to waste any more money than strictly necessary."
Guy noticed that Yorke seemed a little looser than before. Perhaps the port was finally starting to affect him. Guy was feeling pleasantly relaxed himself; Yorke's attitude was a little easier to bear. "A simple bet. One card each, the winner has the highest card. Yes?"
Yorke shifted in his seat, his gaze becoming sharper with suspicion. "A single-card bet? Only if I get to reshuffle the deck." It was not a request.
Guy nodded and pushed the deck toward Yorke. "Of course."
Yorke began to shuffle, biting his bottom lip as he concentrated. Guy wondered if the man was aware he did so; he found it quite captivating.
"Highest card wins?" Yorke confirmed. "What are the stakes?"
Guy allowed himself to smirk, making sure Yorke noticed his expression. He was in the mood to toy with Yorke. He rather fancied seeing if Yorke's pale complexion would redden with rage, or if he would blush prettily. Guy would bet money that with such fair coloring and fine blonde hair, Yorke would be more of the blushing kind. So, how to get him all riled up? A delicious idea entered Guy's head and he found he couldn't shift the notion. Rage or not, it would be worth the gamble if he played his cards carefully. He paused for a moment, letting the dramatics of the situation play out, before he said, "If I have the highest card, you owe me three kisses."
Yorke's entire body stiffened in shock, his hands stilling on the cards before they resumed shuffling moments later. "And if I win?"
Guy knew that in order to get Yorke to play along, the stakes had to be high – very high. Yorke would not consent to play for anything trivial; it would have to be something that Yorke thought he desired greatly. "If you win, my lord, I will withdraw from London society for the rest of the season."
Yorke raised an eyebrow, the first sign of true interest at Guy's proposal. Carefully he placed the shuffled cards on the table, leaving one finger resting on the top of the deck. Guy fought to hold back a grin. He knew he had Yorke at that very moment.
"Very well, I'll play your little game, Shaw." Yorke paused, obviously running the idea through his head. "The card must be drawn from the top of the stack. Agreed?"
"A gentleman never goes back on his word," Guy agreed.
"Of course not."
Guy watched as Yorke slid the top card toward himself, keeping it face down on the table. Guy reached out and took the next card, pulling it closer but not turning it over. "Shall we?" Guy knew this single card could make or break him. To have to bow out of society this early in the season would be pure suicide, but on the other hand, if he won, it could make for an extremely pleasant diversion.
He flipped over his card and tried to breathe. A damn five: he was ruined. He glanced toward Yorke who, it appeared, had already seen his card. Yorke's hand was resting over his own card, his eyes shut as though he was trying to collect his thoughts. No doubt the icy prick was already imagining a complete season free from Guy's presence and reveling in his victory.
"Well?" Guy had to see the card, had to know what had trumped his.
Slowly, Yorke removed his hand and leant back in his chair, looking rather boneless with what Guy realized was not victory but shock. Guy leaned forward and tried not jump out of his chair with relief and excitement. It was a goddamned three! He immediately schooled his face into an expression of polite disbelief but allowed himself a small chuckle just the same. Yorke glared at him, fully aware of what the future held yet clearly unwilling to break a gentleman's agreement and stain his honor in the process.
Harry apparently had perfect timing, returning from the back room and seating himself at the table, glancing expectantly between his two friends. "Playing for smaller stakes while I was absent?" he enquired, noting Guy's winning five. "How much did you lose, Samuel?"
Guy shuffled the two cards back into the deck. "Nothing he won't miss, something of little consequence," Guy remarked, noting the way Samuel froze at the insinuation.
"Ah, I see," Harry replied, clearly not understanding but refusing to outright ask. "We should call it a night, Samuel. We have to attend the Duchess of Devonshire tomorrow morning," he explained to Guy.
"Of course, I won't keep you," Guy said, standing. "However, there is the little matter of settling part of our debt, so I shall be requiring the attentions of his lordship for an extra five minutes."
"Now?" The sound of Yorke's chair scraping back as he stood was loud in the sudden silence of the room, drawing an unwelcome number of interested gazes from various onlookers.
"I'm afraid so," Guy said smoothly, raising an eyebrow. He turned to bow to the other members of the club in apology. His gesture only seemed to irritate Yorke even further; the man was radiating pure fury. "Perhaps it would be better to settle this somewhere less … public?"
Yorke stormed toward the back of the club, clearly expecting Guy to follow him. "My apologies, Harry, for upsetting your cousin. I fear he'll be quite unmanageable for the rest of the evening."
Harry looked mildly concerned. "Is there something I should be aware of, Shaw? What little games are you playing now?"
"Gentlemen cannot kiss and tell, Harry, and this is a private bet. I'll see you later." Guy could hardly keep the skip out of his step as he took his leave and headed for the club's back entrance, determined to track down his quarry.
Samuel threw open the door to the club and let it slam behind him. He was quite aware it was ungentlemanly behavior to be seen acting like a child, but his emotions were in turmoil and he didn't trust himself to speak with anyone for the time being. He began to pace up and down the narrow cobble lane that ran behind the club, keeping his head down and refusing to look toward the door. The soft glow of the new gas lamps off Pall Mall gave a faint illumination, allowing him to avoid the worst of the puddles from the recent rain.
He'd played directly into Mr. Shaw's hands, and it was galling to think he'd allowed himself to go through with the bet. However, he acknowledged that a season free of Mr. Shaw was a precious prize in itself, and he'd let that thought rule his head rather than thinking the entire thing through carefully. It was not his honor he was worried about; any gentleman of his age had visited at least one house of ill repute during his time at university. No, he was more furious with himself over his nervousness, and he'd bet a year's income that the damnable Mr. Shaw was very aware of what his presence did. Samuel vowed on the spot that he'd never let Mr. Shaw see how much this bet had affected him. He tried to school his face into an expression of bored disinterest and kicked a loose cobble across the lane.
The sound of the cobble hitting the far wall of the lane echoed as the door from the club opened. Samuel turned around and squared his shoulders, determined to meet his fate like a gentleman should. One did not renege on a bet, no matter how distasteful the outcome was.
Shaw walked slowly toward Samuel, his attitude the same as one might use to calm a frightened animal. Samuel could feel his hackles rise even as his mind made the connection. He pushed down the sneer that threatened to break across his face and let his expression go blank. His back hit the wall behind him, and he curled his hands into fists, trying to ignore the way his heart was racing.
"I believe you owe me a kiss, my lord." Shaw's voice had dropped until it sounded low and rough.
"I owe you three." The words were out of Samuel's mouth before he could think. "Get it over with."
Shaw leaned in until he had a hand resting on either side of Samuel's shoulders. Samuel could feel Shaw's warm breath across his face, and his eyes flickered closed, only to snap open when Shaw spoke.
"I think not," whispered Shaw. "You owe me three kisses, but I do believe it will be a lot more satisfying to collect them individually. One shouldn't rush such things."
"You absolute bastard," Samuel spat.
Shaw laughed. "You can call me whatever you want, my lord, but it doesn't change the outcome of the bet. You made no provisions on how the kisses should be collected, so as the winner, I choose to set the rules. Or perhaps you'd like to back out?"
"Are you doubting my honor?"
"Not at all, my lord."
Shaw leaned even closer until he was just a breath away. Samuel watched as Shaw licked his lips and found himself unable to look away. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder and push him back flush against the wall. He was about to protest when he felt warm lips on his, a soft touch that grew bolder when he didn't attempt to throw Shaw off. Shaw's tongue teased at the seam of his lips, and Samuel made to protest, opening his mouth. He gasped as Shaw took the opportunity to nibble at his lower lip, a hand coming up to card through his hair, keeping him in place with a hand at the back of his neck. Samuel froze in shock when Shaw pushed his tongue further in, exploring his mouth, tipping his head slightly to the side to get better access.
Samuel realized he had gripped the front of Shaw's jacket; the fabric felt soft in his hand. Shaw moaned and pressed forward, his hand sliding beneath Samuel's coat and his waistcoat, under his shirt, and touching Samuel's skin. Samuel gasped at the sensation on his bare skin, hand fisting hard against Shaw's chest. He let Shaw explore his mouth, finally losing himself enough in the pleasure to tentatively push back with his own tongue. That drew a sound of almost carnal pleasure from Shaw, who continued to take liberties, stroking fingers against the skin of Samuel's abdomen and making butterflies dance in his stomach. After a few moments, Shaw drew back, making a pleased Hmm sound.
"Now that was a kiss," Shaw almost purred.
"That was the end of our bargain," Samuel bit out, trying to get this breath under control and his brain working again. "That was more than one kiss."
Shaw stepped back and rearranged his coat. "I beg to differ, my lord." He made Samuel's title sound almost obscene when he spoke. "Contact was not broken; therefore, that counts as one kiss. You still owe me two, which I will collect at my leisure. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
Samuel watched in disbelief as Shaw bowed and strode down the alleyway, walking toward Pall Mall. He stood there until the bastard had disappeared around the corner. Only when Shaw was gone did he give into the pure fury he could feel simmering inside. He embraced the anger. It was better to dwell on that rather than the fact he was hard in his breeches – and all from a stupid kiss.
Guy paid his shilling entrance fee and wandered through the gates of Vauxhall Gardens. The place never ceased to amaze him or fill him with an almost child-like delight. It was if his every sense was engaged: the heady smell of summer roses, almost fully blown over; the twinkle of hidden lamps in the boughs of leafy trees; and the chatter of couples as they wandered through the forested aisles, content to walk off a late supper. Dusk had fallen, and he could almost taste the anticipation in the air. Most people came to watch the fireworks which were set off every evening after dark; others came for assignations, both of the business and the sensual variety. Guy was here to locate Samuel Yorke and, if he played his cards right, claim another kiss from him.
Harry had been disturbingly eager to share the news earlier that sometimes Yorke liked to take the air at Vauxhall and watch the fireworks. Guy could only speculate as to Harry's motivations. For a brief second he wondered if Yorke himself had instructed Harry to reveal it, but just as quickly Guy disregarded this notion – Yorke was simply not the type to allow his plans to be made known to casual acquaintances, not without a reason.
It was fully dark by the time Guy reached the quieter areas of the gardens, having stopped to converse with a couple of friends. Most of the family groups had made for the Turkish Tent or the Rotunda, hoping to get a better view of the fireworks and some of the nobility who would still be dining in the supper boxes.
The lamps in the trees offered some illumination among the twisting pathways and groves, perfect for romantic assignations. Unless you knew your way around, it would be easy to get confused and perhaps even lost. Guy was far from lost. In fact, Harry had all but told him beneath which tree Samuel Yorke liked to watch the fireworks from.
The low illumination and the sultry atmosphere allowed Guy to approach Yorke without the man even realizing it. It wasn't until a particularly bright (and loud) set of fireworks went off that Yorke even noticed him standing there. As soon as Yorke recognized Guy, his entire posture changed from lazy indolence to one of tight, barely constrained suspicion.
"What are you doing here, Shaw?"
Guy sketched a polite bow. "Merely watching the fireworks, the same as yourself, my lord."
Yorke looked away, clearly unwilling to continue with the conversation; however, his suspicious nature appeared to win out. "I find that hard to believe. I'll ask you once again, Shaw. Why are you here?"
Guy smiled. It was very clear that Yorke knew why he was here, and yet he obviously wanted Guy to admit it aloud. Was the man masochistic, or was it something else? Suddenly Guy understood, and he had to stop himself from grinning like an idiot. It occurred to him that Yorke was nervous – not just nervous, perhaps, but also trying to hide his own interest in Guy. This was turning out to be a lot more diverting than Guy had ever hoped for.
"I've come to claim another kiss, my lord," Guy confirmed, stepping up to Yorke and resting one hand on Yorke's wrist. Guy watched the man's body language for signs of fight or flight, but Yorke did neither, only a faint tremble giving him away. This further cemented Guy's suspicion that Yorke was at the very least marginally interested, even if he refused to acknowledge it to himself. There was another loud bang, and then a wash of gold and red light as more fireworks went off. The sighs of the admiring crowd could be heard in the distance, and the noise only served to highlight the deep hush of the tree-lined walkways that surrounded them here.
Guy tightened his grip on Yorke's wrist and pulled him away from the path, deeper into the wood until they were far from the crowds and the lanterns hanging in the trees, now surrounded by the hush of velvet darkness. Yorke attempted to pull his wrist from Guy's hand, but Guy held tight, refusing to relinquish his grip.
"You don't want anyone seeing you in such a compromising position, do you, my lord?" Guy whispered, pushing an unresisting Yorke against the nearest tree.
Yorke said nothing, but to Guy's experienced eye, he didn't have to. Yorke's body spoke for him as clearly as any conversation, and it was enchanting. Yorke licked his lips nervously as his fringe fell across his eyes. Guy reached forward and brushed Yorke's fringe back, revealing eyes darkened with both desire and distrust. His skin was warm where Guy's fingers touched, and Yorke's breath was uneven, almost ragged.
Guy surged forward, his lips meeting Yorke's almost hard enough to bruise, reveling in the way Yorke surrendered immediately, opening his mouth and allowing Guy access. Yorke made a noise halfway between protest and longing, and Guy was lost. He let his hands wander as they kissed, pulling Yorke's shirt loose and sliding his palms over the smooth skin of his lower back. He felt Yorke's body arch against him and felt his erection against his own hip. Guy slid a leg between Yorke's and pressed upward, groaning when Yorke pushed back, rubbing up against Guy's thigh.
Guy almost lost his composure when he felt Yorke's fingers on the buttons of his waistcoat, pulling at his shirt to reach Guy's skin. Yorke was mindlessly rocking against Guy's thigh, spreading his legs without even realizing it, giving Guy more room to move. He gasped when Yorke's fingers ghosted over his stomach, making his muscles clench involuntarily at the almost ticklish touch. Guy deepened the kiss, starting to feel lightheaded with desire, but he'd be damned if he was going to stop this before he was ready.
His hands slid down Yorke's back, over the swell of his ass in almost obscenely tight buckskin breeches. He squeezed Yorke's ass, and pulled him closer. Yorke's hips rocked into his, and they both broke the kiss for air, gasping into each other's mouths, lips almost touching. Guy took advantage of the fact that Yorke hadn't noticed they were no longer kissing and began to nip and lick along Yorke's throat, pulling his neckcloth open so he had better access.
God, he was so close to coming in his pants like an inexperienced schoolboy. Guy squeezed his eyes closed and let Yorke continue to rock against him, sending jolts of electrifying pleasure through his cock every time he moved. Judging by the sound of Yorke's ragged breathing and the way his hands were gripping Guy's hips, he was close to orgasm as well.
Another especially loud bang rang out, and the sky was filled with a wash of red light as the final crescendo of fireworks went off. Yorke's whole body immediately stiffened, but not from orgasm, which was terribly disappointing. The hands that had been gripping his hips like a lifeline abruptly came up to Guy's chest and pushed violently, making Guy stumble as he stepped backward.
Guy waited for Yorke to begin yelling, to say something. As it was he could hardly think himself; his brain was almost selectively shut down, the pursuit of lust the only thing it was willing to entertain at the moment. Yorke was panting with the effort to control himself, and Guy wondered if Yorke was facing the same difficulty as he was.
The sound of enthusiastic clapping in the distance signaled the end of the fireworks display and, apparently, the end of the assignation. Yorke fixed him with a wild-eyed glare, rearranged his neckcloth and shirt, and stalked off. Guy was tempted to go after the man, to try to calm him down. His body was on a knife-edge, tight with the need to climax, yet his brain was telling him to follow Yorke and to explain. But explain what? Yorke definitely hadn't been complaining, and if Guy were to be technical about things, they had still been kissing through most of it. Therefore, this little tryst still fell within the boundaries of the bet.
"Dammit," Guy muttered, running a hand through his hair. He spent a few minutes trying to calm down by rearranging his clothing, unwilling to appear in public looking rumpled enough to give anyone the need to question his appearance. It was simply against his nature to be seen in town less than perfectly dressed, though if he thought he had a chance in hell of tracking down Yorke, he probably would have done. Guy sighed. Better to appear the gentleman, even if sometimes one was not.
He made his way out of the woods and back onto the lit paths, following the crowds toward the entrance. Perhaps he should give Yorke time to cool down before he claimed the last part of the forfeit, he decided.
"Goddammit, Harry! I am not 'fleeing' town, as you so eloquently phrase it!" Samuel slammed a book on ancient Greece back on the side table, causing a small statue of Apollo to wobble. He watched as it teetered on the edge of the table, a perverse part of his mind simply not caring when it finally lost the battle to gravity and fell, landing on the marble floor and breaking apart.
Calmly, Harry walked over and bent down, retrieving the statue. He held the main part of the figure in one hand and the smaller part in his other palm. "Clearly Apollo won't be frolicking with the ladies in some Dionysian grove any time soon," he said with an unsympathetic look, placing the broken statuette back on the table.
Samuel ignored Harry's comment and sat down on a couch. "I'm simply returning to the estate to look over the accounts and talk to my steward about certain things. That is all."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You're going all the way to Devon to discuss summer crops and the planting schedule with your steward? I'm quite sure that's already been arranged – your man is more than capable of his job, Samuel. And besides, this could have all been done by correspondence, without a need to leave town in the middle of the season. This has something to do with your bet with Shaw, doesn't it?"
Samuel sighed and refused to answer the question, or meet Harry's gaze. "Just ring the bell for tea, please."
"As I thought," Harry replied, crossing to the corner of the room. He yanked on the bellpull and took up position leaning against the fireplace mantel, where he could examine Samuel's expression properly.
Samuel resisted the urge to squirm uncomfortably beneath Harry's gaze. When Harry got it in his head that something needed fixing, no amount of persuasion could be brought to bear on the situation until Harry had gotten his way. It was very vexing. The key to the whole thing was to play it calmly and hope Harry got diverted by something more important.
"Are you going to tell me what this bet was about, Samuel?"
"And yet for some reason, you feel threatened by Shaw. I am going to be rather annoyed if he's done something that requires me to break off my friendship with him. In the same vein, I shall be very put out if you have offended one of my better friends. Shaw may appear to cultivate an image of the disinterested libertine, but I can assure you he's nothing of the sort. You'd be hard pressed to find a more loyal, trustworthy friend if you'd only give him an opportunity."
"Then how do you account for the rumors, Harry? I'm quite sure it's not by accident there are so many stories to attest to his ways." Samuel started to pick at a thread that had come loose from an embroidered cushion.
Harry glared at him. "And if you took the time to dig beneath the gossip, Samuel, you'd find most of it is simply smoke and mirrors. I cannot vouch for all of it, but do you really think I would remain friends with a person whose character was so tarnished? I think not." Harry crossed his arms. "Besides, you can be assured that the Prince Regent would not have made Shaw's acquaintance if that was the case."
Samuel's reply was interrupted by his housekeeper, Mrs. Miggins, bringing in the tea. Both men waited in silence as she poured the tea, set out biscuits, curtseyed, and withdrew.
Samuel wondered if he was being unreasonable. It was not so much Shaw's character that bothered him as such, he admitted. It was the reaction Shaw pulled from him whenever they met. It was even worse that the last two times they'd had contact had been to fulfill part of their bargain. Samuel did not like relinquishing control, and that was what Shaw seemed to do: make him lose his head and damn the consequences. It was embarrassing enough to have to admit, in the privacy of his own thoughts, that Shaw drew some kind of reaction out of his body that paled alongside anything he'd experienced before. He wanted to experience more of that feeling, but Samuel was concerned that if he let Shaw take liberties, that wouldn't be the end of things. He was concerned that he might be the one to push the boundaries of the bet and see exactly how far he could persuade Shaw to go.
He'd had too many sleepless nights this past week already, imagining what Shaw would look like, lying sated on the bed, flushed from exertion, his breath unsteady in his chest, eyes half-lidded with returning desire. He'd wondered what it would be like to have Shaw beneath him, body writhing in the throes of passion, begging for release.
"Are you quite all right, Samuel? You look rather flushed," Harry commented dryly.
"I'm fine." Samuel released the pillow he'd been fussing with and took a biscuit off the plate, more to give himself time to regroup than any need for refreshment. "All this is beside the point anyway. I'm quite determined to return to Devon for at least a fortnight. No doubt after that I shall join you in Brighton for the rest of the season. You are more than welcome to use this place as your residence while I am away."
Harry sighed and moved to pick up his cup of tea. He sipped it carefully, clearly enjoying the aroma and the pleasant taste, judging by the expression on his face. "Thank you for your concern, Samuel; however, I am for Lyme Regis. I fancy taking in some sea air, and I heard the Dorset coastline has an amazing variety of fossils to be had. Apparently one can simply wander the beach and pick them up from the sand itself."
"It's hardly a fashionable place to be seen, Harry, especially out of season."
"Like I said, Samuel, I am not shopping for a spouse, merely going fossil collecting. I trust it's not a problem?"
Samuel knew when to quit while he was ahead. Getting Harry going on the state of the marriage market was clearly a mistake, as was trying to prevent the man from doing something he'd already set his mind on.
"Fine. I shall finish packing and be off first thing in the morning. The sooner I'm for Devon, the better."
"And the sooner you can return, Samuel, to complete your business with Shaw. Then we can all be done with it," replied Harry, getting the last word as usual.