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Four times Mr Harrow enjoyed being a gentleman, and one time she thoroughly enjoyed being a lady

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Four times Mr. Harrow enjoyed being a gentleman, and one time she thoroughly enjoyed being a lady

1. Hot air ballooning

If pressed, Adam would have been hard put to say who was more excited about the impending balloon flight: himself, or the crowd gathered around to watch the balloon take off. Although ballooning was now quite well established, there was still something magical about seeing people soaring off into the aether with nothing more than some fabric and a wicker basket to aid them.

Their balloonist--or montgolfier, as he liked to style himself--had successfully inflated the vast canopy of the balloon, and had just settled himself into the basket alongside Mr. Pierce and Mr. Harrow. Mr. Defreine was a burly man with a magnificent moustache, and he handled the balloon with ease.

"Now gentlemen, before we heave off the ground, you both need to be quite sure that you're up for this, so to say."

"We are both aware of what the flight entails," Mr. Pierce assured him.

"I mean it, right?" warned Mr. Defreine. "Few months back I had a flock of young gentlemen in here, and we had scarcely taken off before one of them decided he wasn't cut out for flying. Tried to get out, which I would most certainly not recommend."

"Do put your mind at ease," said Harrow. "We are quite accustomed to a certain amount of danger."

"Quite," added Pierce. "Nearly got run over by a hansom cab just this morning on the way out of London, and without the benefit of a good view."

Needless to say, Pierce did not elaborate on the most likely deliberate nature of the near trampling. Some things went better without being said.

"Well, I suppose you do both seem like fairly sensible gentlemen," allowed Mr. Defreine. "Unlike some of the people I've taken up here. Can you imagine, last week I had a man try to bring his new bride up here? Thought it would romantic, or some such. Ridiculous idea. Everyone knows women are bad luck in balloons."

"I thought that was ships?" said Pierce.

"Balloons are ships too. Gondolas. Like in Venice."

"I see."

"Anyway, no women in my balloon. I won't be having with it."

"Of course," murmured Mr. Harrow. Mr. Pierce grunted in a way that could possibly be taken as assent. Satisfied, Mr. Defreine gave the order and the tether was released. The balloon floated aloft. Mr. Harrow marvelled at the way the earth was spread out below them, a grin lighting up his face.

There was no contest, mused Harrow. He was definitely having more fun than the crowd. "Have you ever seen the like? Ever seen anything more stunning than this?" he asked Mr. Pierce delightedly.

"Never," vowed Pierce, although the perceptive might have noticed that he was paying a good deal more attention to his companion than to the scenery.


2. Taking in the night air

"Enjoying your walk, sir?" The figure in front of Harrow seemed to have materialised almost from thin air, although Harrow knew that the bushes and the curving paths of the park could trick the eye.

Harrow paused in his walk. "I was indeed. Quite invigorating to take in the late night air, and quite peaceful... for much of it," he said pointedly. He tapped his walking-stick impatiently on the ground.

"Don't worry, I won't hold you up for long," said the voice. Pale teeth flashed through the gloom in an approximation of a smile, although they were quite eclipsed by the large knife being brandished alongside them. "It'll be over before you know it."

"I quite agree," said Harrow, and flicked his wrist. The hidden blade in his cane snapped out.

"A sword cane, eh? Pretty enough, but did you bring enough to share with my friends?" On the path behind him, Harrow could hear the shuffle of two extra pairs of feet. The ruffian had sent a pair of footpads behind him to cut off any possible escape.

"Well, no, it must be said that I have not," admitted Harrow.

"Not to worry," said Mr. Pierce, appearing suddenly beside Harrow as a cheering reinforcement. "My friends and I brought more than enough to share." He grinned. It was not a welcoming sight, although it was quite wasted on the man with the knife. He was too busy gaping at the half-dozen men who had appeared in the parkland beside the man with the knife. Pierce had brought back-up to spare.

From behind, the shuffling changed quickly into retreating footsteps as the two would-be assailants behind them assessed the odds and found them stacked unpleasantly against them. The man with the knife likewise decided retreat was the better part of valour and fled into the night.

"I would wager that that has put them quite off their pace," said Harrow. "They will think better of their careers as hired blades after tonight."

"And Lyons will think better of crossing me," said Pierce. "I was growing quite tired of dodging carriages every time I crossed the road."


3. After-dinner entertainment

Mrs. Chesterton's dinner party had by all standards been an unqualified success. The guests had been well-paired, the table well-dressed (and groaning under the weight of all the silverware), and the food beyond par. Harrow had particularly enjoyed the sweet macaroni pudding that had arrived toward the end of the meal, although the Blanchailles à la Diable were a strong rival for the best dish of the evening.

Indeed, the dinner itself had been without any possible critique. Things had continued smoothly when the guests had retired from the table, too, but it was not until they had reassembled in the drawing room that Mrs. Chesteron delivered her coup de grâce and called upon Miss Adeline to entertain the guests by playing on the harp.

Harrow had heard songbirds produce sounds that paled in comparison. And yet it must be said that Miss Adeline could have played music akin to the cries of an angry goose and Harrow would have enjoyed her playing no less, for he was lost more in the joy of being spared the duty of performing than of the performance itself.

(Really, his violin had worked far better in his hands as a piece of kindling than as a musical instrument, and he had the merrily-burning distraction of his father's coach-house the night he had run away to prove it.)

As Harrow had later explained to Mr. Pierce, any one of the Smythe-Smith girls could outshine him when it came to musical pursuits. Mr. Pierce had not entirely believed him (for that was a low bar indeed), but he'd let the matter drop.

It was in that instant that Mr. Harrow had truly fallen in love.


4. Being a patron of the arts

Mr. Harrow strolled lazily through the gallery, casting a critical eye over the photographs on display. Most of the exhibits he had been to recently were pedestrian at best, with pictures that invited only a first look and not rewarding a second, with the worst exhibiting a complete failure to grasp the very basics of composition. But this one...

Well, he was glad that he had decided to follow the instructions listed on the ad in the Flying Intelligencer.

He stopped at a particularly spectacular photo of a young lady of about 16, wearing white and arranging a vase of flowers. There was something captivating about the lighting of the portrait, the way it made her dress glow ethereally while concealing her face in shadows in a way that left the viewer guessing what she was thinking about. New loves, past loves, a moment of calm in a busy life--all were possible.

Sensing his interest, the gallery attendant bustled up to him.

"The artist who took these pictures. Mrs. Jones, is it? Does she take commissions for portraits?"

The gallery attendant paused to look him over assessingly, took in the expensive cut of his clothes, and then smiled warmly at the man she had identified as being a wealthy potential client.

"Mrs. Jones does indeed do portraits. In fact, I could schedule a sitting now, if that would be convenient?"

"Quite," said Harrow. He did so enjoy being a gentleman of means. Buying things was so much more enjoyable when one did not have to wait for someone else's permission. In fact, life in general was so much more enjoyable now than it had been for quite a long time. He wanted to somehow fold this point in time up tight and hold it in his pocket forever. Mrs. Jones' pictures, he thought, would be the closest he could manage; a fine way to remember how excellent life was.


5. Letting her hair down

It was, Harrow supposed, more or less their anniversary--it being hard to pinpoint exactly when their relationship had grown from friendship to intimacy. But this had been the time of year when Pierce had stopped showing her how to dress like a man, showing her how to undress like a lover instead--all warmth and teasing and promise. And so they celebrated this date.

They had dined alone in their rooms, excellent food and even better company, but Harrow would be lying if she said that she hadn't been impatient for this all evening, for the chance to shed their clothes and their wigs and finally, finally make love with Pierce.

Now Pierce had her pinned down on the bed, their legs tangled together while she marked Harrow's collarbone with biting kisses. Harrow urged her up with a hand tangled in her silvering hair and Pierce responded, rising to nip at Harrow's bottom lip before claiming it in a gentle kiss.

Tomorrow, Harrow knew, she would feel the gentle sting of Pierce's marks on her body, hidden beneath her clothes and a secret just for them. Tonight, though, her indulgence was Pierce's body: the smooth warm skin of her shoulders and the small swell of her breasts; the slightly desperate roll of her hips as Harrow first slid her fingers inside her; the captivating sounds she made as she found her completion. Tonight was the feel of Pierce's mouth, on her lips, on her breast and then lower, the whispered plea and promise let me take care of you, the enthusiastic consent. Tonight was a renewed pledge to each other: I am yours, and you are mine, and we are together.