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Billiards at the Bedford

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A soldier has no business marrying, Grant had told Strange in the Peninsula. Though an answer most often deployed to discourage any ladies casting a matrimonial eye on his regimentals, it was also an article of faith with Grant. The softer affections had no place in the lines. Even friendship, such as his own reluctant and surprising friendship for the army’s magician, might prove a dangerous weakness.

In peacetime, however, one might safely enjoy the pleasures of society. A game of billiards at the Bedford, for example: when combined with good drink and pleasant conversation, what could be more agreeable? Grant did not truly suspect Strange of using his magic to cheat, but enjoyed teasing him with the accusation, almost as much as he enjoyed watching him play. Away from the mud and filth of the battlefield, the magician was a handsome fellow, his eyes bright with excitement and his face flushed with wine. Well made, too… Grant admired the lines of his back and thighs as Strange bent to line up a shot.

It was a mercy that Strange’s magic did not extend to thought-reading. At least, Grant hoped it did not; the mere idea made his face burn. A man need not be as uxorious as Strange evidently was to find cause for offence in being the object of his friend’s carnal thoughts. Such thoughts were damnably hard to dismiss once entertained, Grant discovered.

He was still trying to quell the riot in his brain when the two boobies from Nothing-ham-shire interrupted their game, Strange walked into a looking-glass, and Grant’s pleasant evening went abruptly to the devil.