Friends and Lovers
He stood beside the captain as the ship was manoeuvred into position and anchors were dropped to keep her in place. "Good to be home again, wouldn't you say, Captain?"
"Not exactly, My Lord." Pellew glanced at the younger man with irony in his eyes. "I still have the Admiralty to answer to for my actions."
Edrington nodded, his lips curving in wry smirk. "Of course. Just as I have a report of my own to make."
"Will you come and see me later tonight?" asked the captain, watching as his officers directed the men in their tasks. "I won't be leaving for London until tomorrow."
The Earl nodded again. "Certainly, Sir. What time?"
"The second bell of the first dogwatch," Edward answered, amusement flashing briefly in his dark eyes.
Alexander hid a smile at the challenge inherent in the statement. "I will present myself at the appropriate time. Until then, Captain."
"Until then, My Lord." Pellew subtly watched the Army major traverse the deck with little trouble. If he'd been so inclined, Edrington would have made a fine sailor. It was a pity he chose the Army instead, leaving his younger brother to choose the Navy.
Pushing the thoughts away, Sir Edward Pellew requested the presence of his steward so they could discuss the evening meal.
* * *
Alexander presented himself at the door of the captain's cabin just as the ship's bell was being struck for the second time. He was admitted with a minimum of fuss and talked of trivial matters with Edward as they ate the delicious meal his steward had prepared for them. After the man had cleared away their dishes, the captain poured brandy for them and they sat back in their chairs. It wasn't until the Earl had had his glass refilled that he finally asked the question that had been on his mind ever since his presence had been requested for the evening. "What would you like me to do for you, Edward?"
"You show amazing discernment for a man who supposedly cares only for himself," remarked the older man with a quirk of his lips that might have been a smile.
The Earl smirked, sipping his brandy. "And you are stalling. Just tell me what it is you'd like me to do."
The captain drained his glass and refilled it before answering. "I'd like you to take Mr Hornblower and Mr Kennedy out to your family estate for a week or two. The change would do both of them much good, particularly Mr Hornblower."
"You are entrusting me with your two handsomest officers?" Edrington asked, one fine pale blond eyebrow arched. "Are you deliberately tempting me?"
This time, Pellew's smile was more genuine. "You may attempt to seduce them, but you may not succeed."
"How can you doubt my abilities?" Alexander's hurt was only partly feigned. He prided himself on his ability to seduce potential partners into his bed. His long-time friend had been one of the first.
Edward reached across the table to pat his friend's hand. "I do not doubt them, but those two young men only have eyes for each other."
"When Mr Hornblower isn't busy being gallant to the native girls," the Earl muttered into his glass.
The dark head dipped as the captain acknowledged the comment. "Gallant only, Alex. As far as I know, the doxies don't get any coin out of him."
"Captains know more than their men suspect, don't they?" The observation was made with an admiring look.
Pellew chuckled at the comment, clearly amused. "We have to, since we are lord and master of our ships."
"Very well, I will extend an invitation to Mr Hornblower and Mr Kennedy tomorrow." Alexander drained his glass. "They may come to you with questions, though."
Edward set his glass aside, smiling quietly. "I will answer them without revealing that it was my idea."
"I knew you would." The Earl rose gracefully to his feet and leaned down to kiss the captain, softly and chastely. "Good night, Sir. Good luck."
Pellew returned Edrington's kiss just as softly and chastely. "Good night. Take care of those lads for me."
"You know I will."
* * *
Though strongly tempted, the Earl of Edrington waited a few days before attempting to seduce his guests. Much to his disappointment, both men refused his advances, each in his particular way. Hornblower was awkward and bashful about it. Kennedy was gracious, but firm. It could have been Alexander's imagination, but he was almost sure he'd seen relief flash briefly in those bright blue eyes when he accepted the refusal and turned the conversation to something else entirely.
Given the polite refusals, the Earl was surprised to hear a knock on his door late one evening after they'd all retired. Pulling a dressing gown on, he opened the door to find two young men standing in the corridor. Horatio looked distinctly uncomfortable and didn't meet Alexander's gaze. Archie, on the other hand, met his host's eyes boldly and asked, "May we come in, My Lord?"
"Of course, Mr Kennedy." He stepped back and gestured for the two men to enter, noticing that both wore their shirts and trousers, but nothing else. Wondering what was going on, he closed the door and turned to address his unexpected visitors. "Forgive me for not offering you food or drink, but I didn't expect anyone to come calling."
"We understand, My Lord." Archie's mischievous grin seemed to light up the moonlit room. "Mr Hornblower and I were surprised to discover that you have invited each of us to your bed."
Edrington arched his eyebrows, wondering how they'd stumbled on the coincidence. He had been a perfect gentleman both times. The invitations had been issued subtly, but unambiguously. There'd certainly been nothing about his behaviour to upset either man. "This is quite true, yes. However, both invitations were refused and I conceded the field."
"You did, Sir," Kennedy acknowledged with a gracious tilt of his red-gold hair. "What Mr Hornblower and I wondered is what you would have done if both invitations had been accepted rather than refused."
Unable to hold back a smirk, he allowed his brandy brown eyes to smoulder as they met the bright blue. "Why, my very best, Mr Kennedy."
"At the same time?" Horatio asked that question, surprising Alexander. Though he'd seen and heard enough about the lieutenant's courage under fire, he'd quickly learned that he was not as bold in his social situations as his friend.
The only outward expression of surprise that he allowed himself was a slight widening of his eyes and raising both fine pale blond eyebrows. "Only if you are both willing, Mr Hornblower. I prefer willing partners."
"As do we, My Lord." Hornblower shared a brief, significant glance with Kennedy that Edrington had no hope of interpreting.
Clearing his throat, he moved towards the pair, coming to a stop within arm's reach, but leaving them at his sides. "My invitation still stands, Gentlemen." He met Horatio's deep brown eyes, and then Archie's bright blue ones. "Both of them."
"We accept, My Lord." Kennedy stepped forward, taking Edrington's hand in his and turning to hold out the other to Hornblower.
The tall, gangly lieutenant took it without hesitation, closing the distance to take the Earl's free hand. "Both of us."
Smirking, he raised an eyebrow as he glanced from one to the other, his body stirring with interest. "Whom should I kiss first?"
"Neither, My Lord." Archie's answer surprised him only for a moment. Then his lips were on Alexander's and he gave himself up to the kiss, wrapping his arms around the strong, muscular body with a moan of pleasure.
When he was released, he barely had a moment to catch his breath before Horatio's wide, sensuous mouth took over the kiss, making it clear, for the moment, that he was at their mercy. It was a state of affairs he was happy to comply with. For now.