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Little Chats

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May, 1815

Trent took a sip of tepid punch and tried not to look as mind-numbingly bored as he felt. Lady Merriville’s annual garden party was one of the most anticipated events of the London Season, and as such, it was important he be in attendance. Unfortunately, interesting conversation with his fellow guests was not as guaranteed as a full guest list.

“You look bloody miserable,” a voice said in his ear.

He started, spilling the cup of punch on his cravat. “Bugger,” he said, dabbing at it ineffectually with a handkerchief. “Miss Jones, hello.”

“Hello, Mr. Crimm,” Miss Keeley Jones beamed at him as she bobbed a curtsy in greeting. The woman was like a ray of fucking sunshine. It would be infuriating if she weren’t so nice. “It’s good to see you. Are the rumors true then?”

“Rumors?” Trent asked.

“That you’re looking for a parent for that cute daughter of yours. Sophie, isn’t it?”

“Ah.” Trent should have expected that appearing at a Society event for the first time in two years would set tongues a-wagging. In a way, he respected Miss Jones for coming out and saying what they were all thinking. “Well. It would be nice for her, to have someone.”

“She does have someone,” Keeley pointed out. “She has you.”

Yes, Trent wanted to say. But someone competent. Someone who knew what they were doing with small children, and maybe wouldn’t feel like they were constantly overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown when they woke up in the morning and saw everything on the to-do list for the day.

Suddenly an uncomfortable thought occurred to Trent.

“Miss Jones,” he said, “I am, of course, flattered, but I’m afraid if you are looking to –"

“Submit an application?” Miss Jones asked, grinning. She giggled, causing several members of the group standing nearby to stare in haughty disapproval. “Oh, that was sweet, Mr. Crimm. But I’m afraid your time in the country has left you a little behind on the gossip. My engagement notice with Mr. Roy Kent was in the papers yesterday.”

“My felicitations,” Trent said smoothly. “I apologize for the assumption.”

“Of course!” Miss Jones said. “I did march up to you and start chatting about it, didn’t I?” She tilted her head, considering. “How ‘bout I help? You’re clearly out of the loop, and I can do a good deed!”

Trent frowned. “What type of help?”

“Just pointing out likely candidates, that sort of thing.” Miss Jones tucked her hand through Trent’s arm and led him over to the refreshment table. “Fetch me a glass of that awful lemonade and I’ll take a look around to see if there are any good prospects.”

Trent decided to surrender to his fate. Miss Jones was a bit of a force of nature, and it wasn’t as though he had any idea who he should be looking for. A memory suddenly assailed him from when he had come to London a month previous to meet with his solicitor. A late night at a pub, a friendly man with a beautiful smile and a horrible mustache that tickled as it brushed against the side of his neck, the inside of his thigh, the …

Well. That was no matter. The American had said he was only in London for a short time on business, and that was that. It didn’t matter that the man’s kisses made Trent feel alive in a way he had never known before, even with his late husband. He had married young and somewhat in haste, and when their honeymoon period was over, they realized they had very little in common. Adopting a baby girl hadn’t been the smartest way to try to connect, but Matthew had caught a fever when Sophie was just a few months old and was gone one short week later. Trent had lived in a self-imposed exile at his country estate since, devoting himself to his work and his daughter.

He shook his head as if that would brush the memories away and carried a glass of lemonade and a plate of sweets over to the table Miss Jones had commandeered.

“Well,” she said, “there’s always Mr. Obisanya. He’s a trifle young perhaps, but excellent with children and very good-natured. Or Lord Phillips. I understand he has a little boy the same age as your daughter.”

Trent considered the two men as Miss Jones discreetly gestured to where they stood nearby. He had met Mr. Obisanya briefly, and he was indeed very pleasant, but he suspected that the younger man’s preferences did not lean his way. Lord Phillips he knew not at all, and although he had an agreeable face, he felt nothing when he looked upon it.

“We’ll keep looking, then?” Miss Jones said, correctly interpreting his silence.

He smiled wryly. “I believe you will regret offering your assistance, Miss Jones.”

“Never! I’m determined now,” Miss Jones insisted.

An uptick in noise near the house distracted Trent from his response, and he turned, peering across the patio. “What’s this then?”

Miss Jones turned as well. “Oh, that’s Lady Welton. I believe this is her first public appearance since her divorce was granted.”

Trent did remember reading about that in the papers. It was rare that divorces were granted, and even more so when women filed for them, so it had made headline news for months as the divorce trial went on. “Brave of her to face the wolves.”

Miss Jones leaned in conspiratorially. “Ah, but she isn’t alone. Apparently she’s being escorted from her new business partner, an American named Ted Lasso.”

As she spoke, the crowd dispersed just enough for Trent to see the figure that had been haunting his dreams standing next to Lady Welton. Trent wondered just what their relationship was as Lady Welton turned to smile at Mr. Lasso.

“Rumor has it that they plan to formalize their new business relationship at the altar,” Miss Jones said, as if she could read his mind and knew exactly where his curiosity lay.

“I see.”

“Mr. Crimm, are you alright? You look a bit pale, as if you’ve seen a ghost.”

He managed a wan smile. “I’m quite all right, thank you for asking.” It was ridiculous, really, to feel this sense of betrayal. He had only known the man for one night, after all. Just because it was a night like none he had ever experienced before did not necessarily follow that it was special or important to the other man. Really, for two men far past the mooncalf age, he should have expected that it was nothing but a pleasant time for Mr. Lasso. It wasn’t as if he had made any effort to contact him, or let him know that he would be back in London so soon, was it?

But it wasn’t just the passion of the evening, Trent despaired. They had spoken of their past, their dreams, traded confidences and little jokes in an easy camaraderie that he had never experienced before. Perhaps it was easier knowing they would likely never meet again, but something about Ted Lasso had made Trent comfortable opening up and revealing parts of himself he had long ago locked away.

He felt like a prime fool. Looking back on the memories now, he was sure Mr. Lasso had spent the evening wondering when he could get away from the bumbling, overemotional fool he had pulled. Little wonder he hadn’t let him know that he may be back in London soon.

“I beg your pardon,” he said quietly to Miss Jones. “I’m afraid I must step inside, out of the heat.”

Miss Jones’s eyes were unnervingly knowing as she gave a slight smile and nodded. “Of course, Mr. Crimm. It has been a pleasure speaking with you.”

Trent stood, and made to step away from the table. “Mr. Crimm!” He turned back to Miss Jones. “I hope you find what you’re looking for, yeah?”

Trent bowed, and hurried away. He would settle for leaving this party with some amount of dignity left, and not casting up his accounts in Lady Merriville’s garden.

He made his excuses to his hostess and ducked into the cool shade of the manor. The horrid refreshments really were no balm against the sticky heat of the garden. A footman emerged from a hidden door carrying a large platter of baked goods, and Trent leapt out of the way to avoid a collision, ducking into a side hall.

He leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath. It was dreadfully impolite to hide in the house, of course, instead of simply cutting through to the front where his curricle awaited, but he thought that perhaps if he had just a moment to breathe he could face the world again.

“Well, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

Trent closed his eyes and sighed. “Mr. Lasso.”

“Aw, come on now, Trent. I’d’ve thought we were on first name basis now.”

Trent opened his eyes to see Ted Lasso, star of a month’s worth of dreams and fantasies, standing in front of him, grinning widely as if Trent’s appearance today was a special treat just for him. “Did you?” He made sure to inject the question with what he felt was an appropriate amount of polite skepticism.

“Oof, there he is.” Why was Ted still smiling? Didn’t he understand that Trent was trying his best to give him the brush-off? He hadn’t even bowed, for God’s sake. “I haven’t seen wit that biting since I went to a pub to celebrate a successful meeting and this fella marched right up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions about my feelings on American-British relations since the war.”
Trent tried and failed not to blush. He remembered himself as a bit more suave than that, but he had already had a drink or two by the time he met Ted that night. “I’m working on a book,” he muttered.

“I remember, and I look forward to reading it when it’s published,” Ted said.

Part of what Ted said sank in, and Trent went from feeling reluctantly charmed right back to angry. “Do you mean to tell me that your business partnership with Lady Welton was already in effect when we met?”

Ted blinked, and looked away from Trent for the first time. “Ah, well, it’s perhaps a bit complicated.”

“Complicated as in it wasn’t finalized, or complicated as in you wanted to get one off before you became engaged to your new business partner?” Trent asked coolly.

“Hey now!” Ted protested. “Ain’t nobody talking about marriage.”

“It’s the London Season,” Trent pointed out dryly. “Marriage is all anyone is talking about.”

Ted tilted his head as if considering it, and nodded once to concede the point. “But things between Rebecca and myself are purely professional.”

“Rebecca?” Trent asked. Last he checked, business partners didn’t address each other by their first name.

“Well, we’re friends now,” Ted said. “Although I guess I need to keep it a bit more formal, huh? You Brits sure do have more rules for this sort of thing.”

Trent sighed. He was beginning to see how Ted’s friendliness and Yankee-ness could have been misconstrued as meaning something deeper. The fact that the same could likely be said of his own interactions with him brought him little solace.

“Well, it was pleasant seeing you, in any case,” Trent said. He just wanted to go home and play with his daughter. Maybe instead of a partner he could bring home a puppy. That would be less work at this point.

“Sure was,” Ted smiled. “I hope I will have the pleasure of seein’ you again, real soon.”

“Mr. Lasso,” Trent said, “you do not need to attach undue importance to our previous encounter. Even if you are not, in fact, engaged to Lady Welton, you are a foreigner beginning a new business venture in our country, and you will need all the contacts you can get. My family has few connections that can help you, and therefore there is very little reason for you to continue the acquaintance.”

Ted frowned. “Well, I can think of one reason that’s mighty important to me.”

“And what’s that?”

Ted stepped closer, and reached out to lightly trace his hand up Trent’s chest. His breath caught, and his traitorous hand clasped around Trent’s where it now sat, cupping his cheek. “I haven’t stopped thinkin’ of you in four weeks, three days, and twelve hours. Give or take a few minutes.” He smiled ruefully. “I’d sorta hoped you felt the same, but if I’m bein’ a nuisance, feel free to tell me to scram, and I can pretend we’re perfect strangers.”

Trent took a moment to stare at this marvelous, ridiculous man before surging forward and slotting his mouth over his. Ted groaned and immediately crowded Trent against the wall. The kiss turned filthy almost immediately, as Ted opened his mouth to the onslaught of Trent’s tongue, and used his moment of distraction to slide a knee in between Trent’s legs. He felt a hardness pressing against his leg and shuddered with the remembered pleasure of feeling it inside him.

Trent could not have said how much time had passed when footsteps approaching made them jump apart. A maid slipped past them to hurry further into the house while they stood several feet apart and tried to pretend they hadn’t just been about to violate their host’s hallway where anyone could have walked by at any time.

“We can’t do this here,” Trent finally said.

Ted nodded, and stuck his hands into his pockets. It ruined the line of his outfit in a way that would have make his valet weep, but Trent found it endearing. God, he was sickening even himself with sentimentality. “I imagine you have to get home to your little girl. Sophie, wasn’t it?”

Trent stared at this man who had been haunting his dreams for so long, a man who still hadn’t given a proper explanation for why he hadn’t been in contact, but had remembered his daughter’s name despite never meeting, and he made a rapid decision.

“Would you like to come over?” he asked. “We could have tea, and perhaps chat properly.”

Ted smiled. “I’d like that. Well, not the tea, can’t quite get my head around anything so disgusting, but I’d like to come to your home.” He paused. “I don’t expect anything, you know. Like that. I just like bein’ around you, and I hope I’m not too forward for sayin’ so.”

Trent grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the exit. “Good. Because I do enjoy our little chats.”