Chapter 1: Mysterious Ways
Lieutenant Colquhoun Grant rolled his eyes and tried to ignore the noise coming from outside. The 11th Foot had been stationed at the Colchester garrison for a little over two months and every time they were joined by a new regiment the whole place erupted in a frenzy of activity.
Sighing, he put down the newly published handbook that he had been looking forward to reading and crossed over to the window. The men riding into the yard wore glamorous uniforms with silver trim and crested helmets and the Death’s Head badge identified them as the 17th Light Dragoons - a light cavalry regiment with a reputation for dashing headfirst into the fray and a motto - Or Glory - that reflected it.
Grant watched for a while as the men greeted old friends from other regiments and dispersed to find their quarters then went back to his book.
Since joining the army from military school, he had been disappointed on a daily basis by the attitudes of those around him. Most of his fellow subalterns made very little effort to acquaint themselves with military matters beyond the simple drills of the parade ground and certainly had no interest in discussing the arts and practices of soldiering, and his superior officers were of the opinion that intellect was more of a hindrance than a help among the junior ranks.
So he found himself spending most of his spare time on his own, studying the manuals he had been able to acquire and teaching himself the basics of various languages so that he could supplement the meagre knowledge available in England. Despite the current situation, he was hopeful that the changes implemented by the Duke of York and the government’s response to the mutiny in the Channel Fleet would set in motion a series of reforms that would reward his diligence in the long run.
Besides, he was not the type to idle away the hours drinking and gambling in the local public houses like so many of his peers.
On his free days, he could usually be found out in the fields and woodlands around the town. He passed the time by reading, sketching and practising the skills he had learned about from his studies with nobody around to mock him for his efforts - or so he thought.
The next chance he got, he strapped on his sword, picked up the new book and headed out into the woods. His imagination had been captured by Le Marchant’s Sword Exercise of the Cavalry and, having read it from cover to cover several times, he had decided that it would be useful to learn the skills, even though his hopes of getting to put them into practice seemed somewhat remote.
However, with no formal training, he only got as far as the first cut before he ended up on his arse in the dirt.
“Damn it!” He cursed under his breath as he looked down at the mud stains on his trousers and was thankful that he had at least spared himself any public humiliation until he heard a low chuckle and looked up to see a young dragoon captain sitting on a tree stump with the book in his hands and a broad grin on his face.
“You will never master the drill if you go about it in that manner, Lieutenant Grant.”
Grant scrambled to his feet, brushing himself down to hide his embarrassment and confusion at how this dashing young officer knew his name.
“I fear you have me at a disadvantage, sir.”
“Captain William De Lancey. At your service.”
Grant frowned, unsure whether he was being taken for a fool, but De Lancey smiled and continued. “For one thing, you are using the wrong sword.”
“I know that. It is all I have.”
“And for another, your stance is a little off.”
Grant’s surprise must have shown on his face as he realised De Lancey actually knew what he was talking about.
“You know the drill, sir?”
“I do indeed, although I did not suppose anyone else in this godforsaken place would have taken the time to learn it.“ He drew his sabre and handed it over. “Try again with this and place your feet slightly further apart.”
Grant took the weapon carefully, hefting it in his right hand and trying to accustom himself to the unfamiliar weight and balance, but his next attempt ended exactly the same way as his first.
De Lancey laughed and held out a hand to help him up. “You are overbalancing because you are trying to use your whole arm. Here, let me show you.” He winked. “Remember it is all in the wrist.”
He picked up the sabre, moved straight into the Guard position and performed the six cuts with the fluidity and grace of a ballet dancer, finishing with a flourish that Grant was certain was not in the manual.
“See. Easy.” He handed the sword back.
Grant closed his eyes and pictured the first move in his mind, but before he could begin, he felt De Lancey’s hand on his wrist.
“No. Not like that. You are thinking about it too much.”
This did not make sense to Grant. How was he ever supposed to get it right if he did not think about what he was doing?
“It is similar to dancing,” De Lancey explained, “when you are familiar with the steps you do not need to think about them, you simply allow yourself to feel the music and it comes naturally.”
Grant shook his head, admitting with some embarrassment, “I do not know how to dance.”
“You can sing though, I heard you earlier.” De Lancey did not seem to notice Grant’s surprise at this admission. “So think of it like a song - once you know the words, you do not have to think of them before you sing them.”
Grant was astonished. Why had he not thought of it like that before? He smiled at De Lancey, who let go of his arm and stepped back.
“Sing your song, lieutenant.”
Taking a deep breath, Grant began the drill, moving in time with the music playing in his head. He was still rather slow and some of the moves were far from perfect but he got to the end without falling and the feeling was quite exhilarating.
De Lancey applauded. “Much better!”
“Thank you, sir.” Grant was slightly out of breath and could not conceal his excitement at completing the task.
“Do not thank me.” De Lancey returned the sabre to the scabbard on his belt. “It makes a change to see someone enjoying it as much as I do, rather than treating it as a necessary evil and simply going through the motions. Perhaps you would care to make this a regular lesson?”
Grant nodded, there was nothing he would like more.
“I would request only that you do one thing for me in return.” De Lancey looked down at the ground, almost as if he were ashamed to ask. “I have seen you making some wonderful sketches of the landscapes hereabouts. Do you think you could teach me?”
“I could try, sir. Although I fear landscapes is all I can do. If you wish to learn how to paint a portrait of your sweetheart I’m afraid I will not be of much use.”
This seemed to amuse De Lancey for some reason.
“No such thing.” He laughed. “I merely wish to discover if I have an aptitude for it. Much as I love the cavalry, I hope some day to find a position where I can indulge my interest in more intellectual pursuits and I would imagine that such skills would prove most useful.”
He flashed a conspiratorial grin as he turned to walk back towards the town. “I shan’t tell anyone of your adventures with the sabre if you promise not to reveal my ambitions to the higher-ups. I doubt they would be happy to learn I that I see my future elsewhere.”
“Of course.” Grant gathered up his books and sword and rushed to catch up.
“Oh, and Grant?”
“There is no need to call me sir when we are out here.”
Chapter 2: So Cruel
Grant smiled ruefully as he entered the Duke of York inn on Magdalen Street. He had been worried when De Lancey had not shown up for their lesson that afternoon but now he saw why. A large table in the centre of the main room was occupied by a group of officers from the 17th Light Dragoons and they had clearly been there for some time. He tried to catch De Lancey’s eye but his friend was deep in conversation with another young man and did not appear to notice him.
“Lieutenant Grant?” A booming voice cut through the general chatter that filled the room and he turned to see a rather large fellow dressed in the style of a country gentleman holding out his hand in greeting.
“Mr. Hickey, I presume,” he said, trying not to cringe at the limpness of the man’s handshake.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir!” Hickey looked Grant up and down. “Why, you are the very image of your brother - perhaps even more dashing, if I may say so.”
Grant was not in the humour to make small talk. “I believe you have a package for me, sir?”
Hickey seemed rather put out by his abruptness but handed over the parcel he had been holding under his arm. “Perhaps you would care to join me for a drink?” he gestured towards a table in the corner. “I am sure Walter would like to know how you are getting along in the army.”
Grant glanced over his shoulder at the Dragoons, several of whom were now looking in his direction, nudging one another and sniggering, and decided it would be wise to take his leave before they got even more inebriated and started picking fights with the locals.
“That is very kind of you, sir, but I must return to the barracks. You may tell Walter that I am well.”
As he passed the table, he felt his foot catch on an obstacle. He stumbled and almost lost his balance entirely, provoking a roar of laughter from Major Wilson, who had extended a leg for the express purpose of tripping him up.
“What have you got there, Grant? More books?” Wilson was a particularly odious little man who took pleasure in the misfortunes of others and never missed an opportunity to mock Grant for his studious nature.
“I expect we will all be saluting you once you have finished reading that lot. Indeed, I cannot for the life of me understand why you aren’t at least a lieutenant-colonel already with your towering intellect.” The men around him found this amusing of course, they all knew full well that Grant did not have the means to purchase a promotion and was unlikely to climb that high up the ranks.
De Lancey kept his eyes down and took another drink from his glass. He hated this. Hated having to ignore his friend for the sake of some stupid honour code, hated the culture of entitlement and prejudice that forced him to do it, and - most of all - hated himself for being such a coward.
Colonel Oliver De Lancey had called him into his office earlier. “I am speaking as your uncle, William,” he had said, “and I hope I do not need to raise this matter as your commanding officer.” He had proceeded to lecture De Lancey about the amount of time he was spending with Grant, warning him that people were talking about it in a way that could “bring the regiment into disrepute” and even have him brought up on charges if it were believed in certain quarters.
What really galled him was not the implied accusation but the fact that the men of the regiment he had idolised as a boy would turn on one of their own. He had almost challenged his uncle to pursue the matter through official channels just so he could have the satisfaction of seeing the look on Wilson's face but he knew that such an act of defiance would effectively end his career.
So he swallowed his pride and laughed along with the others and took a long draught of his wine to drown the guilt at the hurt and confusion that crossed Grant’s face.
Grant knew he should not react but he was fed up with being treated like this and the sight of De Lancey joining in with the laughter was the final straw.
“Yes, Sir.” he looked Wilson straight in the eye. “I would offer to lend them to you but I fear some of the words may be outside the limits of your vocabulary.”
The silence that fell over the table was broken only by the sound of glasses being put down in haste as the men braced themselves for their leader’s reaction.
Wilson had turned a peculiar shade of purple and he seemed about to explode with anger but then a sly grin came over his face.
“Would you like to hear some of the words in my vocabulary, Lieutenant? What about conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman? No? Shall I simplify it for you? How about lewd behaviour? Or are they calling it sword practice these days?”
De Lancey almost choked on his wine. He had told no one except the Colonel about their lessons and he was sure his uncle would not have gone back on his word. He looked around the table and the expression on Captain Fletcher’s face said it all – he must have been listening outside the office and run straight to Wilson to tell him what he had heard.
He wanted to reach out to Grant, to reassure him that he had not betrayed his trust and certainly had never implied any kind of improper behaviour on his part, but the words would not come out.
Grant stood frozen to the spot, the shock of finding out that De Lancey had broken his promise and learning that the men had been gossiping about him compounded by the need to admit to himself that the scandalous act they were talking about had in fact crossed his mind on more than one occasion. He could feel his face burning and tears stinging his eyes as he made for the door.
“There is still the matter of your insubordination, Lieutenant.” Wilson called after him. “We will deal with that when we return to the barracks.”
Grant lay awake in the darkness; the fear of what Wilson was planning seemed insignificant compared to the pain of De Lancey’s betrayal. Had it been a joke to him all along? Had he gone back to his regiment after their lessons and entertained Wilson and Fletcher with stories of Grant’s attempts to master the sabre? Had he noticed the way Grant sometimes looked at him and laughed about it over a bottle of fine wine with his fellow officers?
When Wilson and his cronies burst into the barracks, the other officers of the 11th Foot who shared the accommodation with Grant dutifully filed out into the yard. They had offered to stand up for him but he had declined, realising that their involvement would only make things worse for everyone concerned. Grant got up from the bed and stood to attention. He knew this was not official and he was tempted to refuse to comply but he understood this was the way things were done and just wanted to avoid any further trouble.
“Drop your trousers and bend over.” Wilson took off his sword and detached the sling belt from the scabbard, swinging the leather strap though the air with a sadistic grin.
“Who wants to go first?” his cast his eyes slowly over the men. “I would choose Captain De Lancey, but I fear Grant would enjoy that too much.” The men sniggered and Wilson gave a crack of the strap, showing off for the benefit of his audience.
“Fletcher. I will let you have the honour.” He handed over the sling belt. “Hold him down, De Lancey.”
De Lancey walked over to Grant with his eyes fixed on the ground, taking hold of his shoulders and holding him in position over the end of the bunk. Grant thought he heard a whispered “sorry” but he refused to turn his head to see if it was any more than his imagination.
The men took turns with the belt, delivering six strokes each with differing amounts of conviction and force. Grant closed his eyes and tried to keep his breathing steady, determined not to make any sound that would add to the Major’s satisfaction. He remained perfectly still as the belt raised angry red welts across his exposed flesh but he felt De Lancey flinch every time a blow landed and the grip on his shoulders tighten when Wilson took over at the end and put all his strength into the final six.
“Perhaps you will think twice in the future before casting aspersions on the character of a superior officer.” The Major turned on his heel and led his men out of the room.
After that, Grant vowed that he would never allow anybody to make a fool of him again. He kept to himself even more than usual and avoided the Mess at the times when he knew the 17th would be there. When he saw De Lancey approaching him in the yard, he turned and walked away; when he found notes in a familiar hand slipped under his door, he burned them without reading them; and when he heard that the horsemen would be leaving the garrison in a few weeks’ time, he breathed a sigh of relief.
On the morning of their departure, he went for a walk to avoid all the pomp and ceremony associated with the sendoff of such an esteemed regiment. With his mind on other things, his feet followed the route they knew best and he found himself in the clearing he had been avoiding for the last few weeks. He sat down by the tree stump where he had first seen De Lancey and could not help recalling the time they had spent there. That grin, that mischievous chuckle, the pride in De Lancey’s eyes when he got the moves right - it had seemed so real, surely it could not all have been a lie?
Listening to the sound of drums and bugles fading into the distance, Grant sighed and cursed his own stubbornness. He should have said farewell. De Lancey was going off to a war that had claimed so many lives already and the thought of seeing that name on a list of the injured and dead was almost too much to bear.
He leaned back and felt something hard digging into the nape of his neck. Reaching behind him, he discovered that there was an object wrapped in wax paper wedged between the two parts of the tree stump. He managed to free it from the narrow gap and immediately recognised the familiar weight of a light cavalry sabre in his hand.
He untied the strings and opened the package to reveal a gilded hilt with a leather grip and a shining blade engraved with three words: Sing Your Song.
Chapter 3: Faraway, So Close
May 2, 1796
Dear Lieut. Grant,
I am taking this opportunity to write to you before we sail to join the British garrison at the Cape of Good Hope because I do not know if or when I will return and I do not wish to leave things between us as they stand.
I have been sorely troubled by my conscience since the events of last month and wish to reiterate my most sincere apologies for the manner in which I behaved towards you, as I fear you did not read my previous notes or did not accept the veracity of their contents.
Please believe me when I tell you that I informed nobody except my uncle about the nature of our lessons and certainly never suggested your intentions were anything but honourable.
I am deeply ashamed of my failure to prevent the abuse you suffered at the hands of Major Wilson and I have no excuse other than a selfish desire to avoid any repercussions for my own career.
I also wish you to know that I remember the mornings we used to spend together with nothing but joy and am saddened to think I will never again have the pleasure of your company. I understand that you may not be able to find it in your heart to forgive my conduct but I hope that in time you too will be able to look back on those days with some measure of happiness.
I beg you not to abandon your studies of the sword because of my mistakes. You have the potential to become a great swordsman and I would hate to think that I played any part in dissuading you from following your dream.
As a token of my esteem, I have left a small gift for you in the place we used to meet and I hope that you will accept it in the spirit in which it is intended.
Should you not wish to continue this correspondence, I wish you well in your future career and I am certain you will succeed in all you set out to achieve.
I remain, &c., &c.,
Captn. Wm. De Lancey
May 18, 1796
Dear Captn. De Lancey,
Thank you for your letter of 2nd, which reached me here this morning. Although I believe that you did not mean to betray my trust and I understand your reasons, I fear I cannot say that all is forgiven.
I very rarely allow myself to develop close friendships and I am not accustomed to the difficulties that arise when such ties are broken. I realise that you could not predict the consequences of your actions but the fact that you did not hold me in high enough regard to protest when Major Wilson and his men were delivering their so-called punishment is hard for me to forget.
Nonetheless, now that several weeks have passed I find myself wishing that I had not been so pigheaded in my response to the situation and I feel that I owe you an apology for the ungentlemanly manner in which I refused to acknowledge you thereafter.
If you find the idea agreeable, I would like to continue our correspondence and hope that in time we may be able to put these events behind us.
I am, &c.,
Lieut. Colq. Grant
P.S. Thank you for your generous and thoughtful gift. I am continuing to practise at every opportunity.
Dec. 5, 1796
Having resigned myself to the belief that you wanted nothing more to do with me, I was surprised and very happy to receive your letter of May 18. It appears that it was sent in error to my cousin in the West Indies who immediately realised it was meant for me but subsequently mislaid it for a few months before finding it and sending it on to the correct destination.
I am glad you are willing to continue writing to me as I have few friends out here and it will be good to hear a familiar voice, even if it is only in my head. I am also happy to hear that you are keeping up the sword exercises. I have been attempting to master the drawing skills you taught me and I will enclose some sketches I have made of the countryside hereabouts so that you can laugh at my hideous trees again.
We are due to sail for India soon and I am hoping to put the lessons into practice there, as I have heard there is demand for such skills and I am becoming more and more certain that my future does not lie with the cavalry. Perhaps I will be able to find a staff position with one of the officers out there and discover if I am more suited to an administrative role.
Your Obliged, &c.,
Wm. De Lancey
Feb. 20, 1797
Dear De Lancey,
I must admit to being a little jealous of your travels, as I am starting to think I am never going to see active service. I have no wish to leave the 11th but the most action we have seen has been the fight against frostbite on our recent march to Norwich. I hear about the adventures other regiments are having in various parts of the world and although I know they are facing danger and death, I cannot help wishing I was there with them.
I appreciate your sending me the sketches. Although the trees are still hideous, they are a lot better than your first attempts. As with all things, you will continue to improve with practice and I look forward to seeing the progress that you make in India.
I have taken the liberty of writing to my mother and asking her to send you a couple of the books I left at home, as I believe they will be of interest to you in deciding whether you wish to pursue a career as a staff officer.
I have the honour to be, &c.,
June 17, 1797
My Dear Grant,
Speaking as one of those having “adventures” in various parts of the world, I can assure you it is not all that different from England, apart from the unbearable heat and the higher likelihood of contracting a fatal disease.
Thank you for the books. They helped me come to a decision and I am currently stationed in Calcutta, having been invited to join the staff of Major-General St. Leger as an aide-de-camp when he passed through Ceylon on his way to take command of the Honourable East India Company’s cavalry.
I must admit it was a relief to leave the 17th, as Wilson was becoming even more unbearable and I was tempted to call him out several times because of the way he was treating the men. In the event, I thought about what you would do and decided to pursue the matter through the proper channels and he is now under investigation for unnecessary cruelty. I realise this in no way makes up for my failure to do the same on your behalf, which still haunts me every day, but I hope it will give you some comfort to learn that I am trying not to repeat my mistakes.
Sir John Shore refused to accept Maj. Genl. St Leger’s appointment as the Company’s cavalry commander so we have very little to do at present which means that I have plenty of time to read and continue my studies.
I know you will find it hard to believe but I would almost rather than spend my time alone with a book than go to the parties we are required to attend. They are extremely extravagant affairs that can last for up to a week at a time and the people who attend them, while amusing at first, can become tedious after two or three days.
The only redeeming feature, apart from the excellent wine served by some of the hosts, has been the presence of Lieut. Col. Arthur Wellesley, one of the few officers with whom I can discuss subjects such as tactics and supply routes without the fear of being ridiculed.
He asked me the other day where I had acquired a certain piece of knowledge and when I told him about the books you sent he laughed and declared that he knew all about “young Grant and his books” from his conversations with your brother James.
I hope you get your wish of active service soon but if you do not, perhaps you would consider for yourself the path that you have helped to set me on, as I am sure there are any number of officers who would be glad to have you on their staff.
Believe me yours faithfully,
Wm. De Lancey
May 14, 1798
My Dear De Lancey,
I have only a few moments to write this, as we are finally on the move. We were ordered to the Isle of Thanet late last month and we have just been told to assemble our belongings and prepare to embark at short notice.
We have not been told where we are going and it seems even Lieut. Col. Hely does not know but speculation is rife since we have been joined in the camp by several other regiments of gunners and foot guards, as well as a few engineers.
I am glad to hear that you have had the pleasure of meeting Lieut. Col. Wellesley. Several of my brothers have served under his command or made his acquaintance in other ways and they all speak very highly of him.
I would, however, suggest that you do not try to keep pace with him at these parties, as Alexander once told me that his first and only attempt to out-drink Wellesley left him barely able to move for three days while the esteemed Lieut. Col. was up and riding with the hounds the very next morning.
If you happen to cross paths with James or Duncan, please pass on my regards and tell them I am doing well and looking forward to fighting for my country at long last.
June 14, 1798
I am writing to you at the request of Lieut. Colquhoun Grant of the 11th Foot.
I had the honour of leading the company in which he was serving during the ill-fated attack on the sluice gates at Ostend and I regret to inform you that he was captured by the French and is now being held as a prisoner of war.
The other officers and I have been exchanged and are back in England but as of this date the subalterns and the rest of the men remain in a camp near the river Scarpe, 75 miles south of Bruges.
Lieut. Grant asked me to make sure you receive the enclosed letter and I have promised that I will try to find a way to deliver any reply that is sent to this address into his hands.
With sincerity and respect, your faithful and obliged servant,
Captn. Wm. Gibbs
May 27, 1798
I am passing this letter to Captain Gibbs in the hope that he will be able to discover your whereabouts and send it to you on his return to England.
As you will be aware by now, the plan devised by Captain Popham and Major-General Coote to destroy the sluice gates of the Bruges canal was a success but adverse winds prevented our re-embarkation and those of us who had been sent to ensure the success of the mission found ourselves trapped between the raging sea and the advancing enemy.
The battle was fierce and I saw things that will haunt my dreams for years to come and almost made me reconsider my lifelong desire to serve in the army. Several of my company were badly wounded and Lieut. Col. Hely was killed right in front of me, taking a bullet to the head as he led the brave men of the picquet back through the he dunes.
I realise you must be quite accustomed to this sort of thing but it was my first experience of war and despite all my reading I was not adequately prepared for the horrors of close-quarters fighting. Although surrender would have been unthinkable to me before, I must admit I was relieved when the fighting ended as the French were preparing to mount a bayonet charge that would undoubtedly have resulted in many more losses to our ranks.
I feel I must commend Captain Gibbs for demonstrating how an officer should behave in such circumstances, for he remained calm and collected throughout the encounter, treating it as if it were no more than a final test of our training and nothing to be alarmed about. His presence helped me to overcome my fear and made me realise that a man’s chances of survival are much greater if he does not lose his head. I have therefore resolved to follow his example if I should ever have the opportunity of leading men into battle.
I do not wish to alarm you with tales of woe but suffice it to say conditions in the camp are far from pleasant. The damp, misty air and general lack of sanitation hasten the spread of disease and we are constantly plagued by mosquitoes. The food, when we get any, is appalling and the French soldiers who have been tasked with guarding us make Wilson look like a gentle maiden aunt.
Nonetheless, I consider myself fortunate since so many were killed or injured and I am holding on to the belief that the regiment’s release can be negotiated and hoping we will have a chance to meet when you return from India.
However, if we are to continue our friendship, I cannot in all conscience attempt to do so under false pretences and must therefore tell you that Wilson’s accusations, whether he actually believed them himself or just invented them in an attempt to discredit me, may not have been entirely unfounded.
At the time, I chose to believe that these thoughts were simply the folly of youth but they have endured and though I understand that nothing can come of it and sincerely wish to remain your friend, I realise that this revelation may be shocking to you and you may longer wish to be associated with me in any way.
I hope my frankness does not offend you and I will respect your decision in this matter.
With best love, &c., I am affectionately yours,
March 25, 1799
My Dearest C,
I am glad you felt able to confide in me although I wish that the circumstances were different for I fear that you did so only because you think it may be the last chance you will get.
I can reassure you that I am in no way shocked or offended by the idea. Indeed, I would say that I am flattered but that would not be the whole truth.
I must admit I was surprised when Wilson raised the issue as it had not occurred to me that you thought of me as anything other than a friend. However, I have found myself considering it at length since and I now understand that my inability to speak up for you may have been driven in part by the realisation that my own mind was not entirely free of such desires.
I have not mentioned this before because I believed that you no longer thought of me with such fondness and I did not wish to risk our friendship by reopening old wounds, but the thought of you suffering in that camp is too much for me to bear.
If I can ease your pain in any way by telling you how much I care, I have no hesitation in doing so.
I hope this letter will reach you and I must continue to believe that I will find you safe and well in England when I return.
I am yours ever,
Chapter 4: Numb
Major William De Lancey stood in the pouring rain outside the Royal Hospital Haslar. He had been in such a hurry to get here, but now he had actually arrived he could not take another step.
The last he had heard from Grant had been only a few weeks into his internment at Fort L’Escarpe and more than a year had passed since then. Most of the men from the 11th Foot who had made it back were recovering at the Portsmouth garrison but when De Lancey had gone there to find his friend, Captain Gibbs had given him a most peculiar look and simply told him to make haste to Gosport.
He took a deep breath and walked towards the door. Whatever had happened, he was determined to stay strong for Grant and make sure he was receiving the best treatment. How bad could it be anyway? He had survived the camp and that was the main thing.
The place was a hive of activity, doctors and nurses struggling to cope with an influx of patients from the latest battle, and it was a while before De Lancey managed to catch the attention of a young orderly and ask for directions to the room he was looking for.
He found himself some distance away from the main wards in a relatively quiet corridor of private rooms and had started searching the names on the doors when he was approached by a stern looking nurse.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Ah. Yes.” he gave her what he hoped was a encouraging smile. “I am looking for Lieutenant Colquhoun Grant. Perhaps who can tell me which room he is in?”
“Lieutenant Grant is not accepting visitors, sir.”
De Lancey smiled again. “I am sure he will want to see me.” But she just shook her head. “No visitors. Not even family. Are you family?”
”Well, no.” There was something about the expression on her face that sent a shiver down his spine. “I am...well... I am his friend. Please inform him that William De Lancey is here.”
“Very well.” She shrugged. “But it will make no difference. Please wait here.”
She disappeared round a corner and returned a few minutes later still shaking her head. “I am sorry, sir. No visitors.”
Resisting the urge to simply barge past her and find Grant himself, De Lancey temporarily admitted defeat. “Then please tell him I shall return every day until he agrees to see me.”
He wandered out of the hospital in a daze. Was Grant really refusing to see anyone or had he told the nurses to keep certain people away? Had his letter failed to reach the camp and left Grant to suffer in that awful place with no hope of a reconciliation?
True to his word, he returned every day for the next two weeks but never got further than the bleak gray corridor. Rather than leaving when he was turned away for the umpteenth time he decided to try and find the doctor who was treating Grant. Perhaps a medical man would be able to shed some light on the situation.
He was waiting outside the doctor’s office when a young nurse came around the corner, supporting the elbow of an old man in a ragged housecoat who was shuffling along with his eyes fixed on the floor.
De Lancey moved aside to let them pass but as he did so his breath caught in his throat. The figure he had mistaken for an elderly veteran was all too familiar at this range.
He managed to find his voice.
The man did not react.
“Grant? It’s me. It’s William. Good God, what happened to you?”
Grant raised his head and met his eyes but there was nothing there. No joy at seeing his friend. No anger at being abandoned in the camp. No recognition at all. Nothing.
De Lancey took an involuntary step back, his mind reeling as the nurse steered Grant into the doctor’s office and shut the door behind them.
When he returned the next day, he went straight to the office and let himself in without even knocking. The doctor looked up abruptly.
“What is the meaning of this, sir?”
“Forgive the intrusion, doctor, but I must talk with you. It concerns Lieutenant Grant.”
“Are you family?”
“Well no, but...”
“Then you understand why I cannot divulge any information. Please leave, sir, you are becoming a nuisance.”
“Please. Just tell me. Did he specifically say he did not wish to see me?”
”Sir, he has not uttered a word since he arrived,“ the doctor looked down at the notes on his desk as if he hoped to find an answer he had previously overlooked. “However, he has made it very clear that he does not want any visitors and we must respect his wishes.”
The following day De Lancey was waiting in the usual place when the young nurse came up to him, looked around to make sure she would not be overheard and whispered solemnly, “I’m afraid he is no longer with us, sir.”
”What?” De Lancey had to reach out a hand against the wall to steady himself.
“How?” He could hardly breathe. “When?”
“Oh, sir.” the nurse realised what she had said and hurried to reassure him. “I did not mean he has passed, simply that he is not receiving treatment at the hospital any more.”
“Please.” De Lancey felt faint with relief. “Tell me where he is. I cannot bear this any longer.”
“I should not tell you, sir, but I can see you care for him very much. The doctors decided there was nothing more they could do and thought that perhaps he would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. His brother came last night and took him home to Scotland.”
It took the best part of a week to reach Forres and another half day to locate the farm where Grant had grown up so De Lancey was in no mood to take another rejection when he finally knocked on the door, but the woman who opened it bore such a strong resemblance to his friend that he could not help smiling.
She frowned at the intensity of his gaze but nodded her head.
“My name is William De Lancey. I am a friend of your son’s. I believe he has been brought here to recuperate and I would like to see him.”
“I am afraid you have had a wasted journey, Major De Lancey.”
“I do not understand. Is he here or not?”
She sighed. “That is what I ask myself every day.”
De Lancey gritted his teeth. This made no sense and he was getting fed up with the constant stalling but he had no wish to upset Grant’s mother so he swallowed his frustration and bowed politely.
“Please tell him I called. I have taken a room at the inn in the village and will await your invitation.”
He heard nothing for the next two days and try as he might to find out more from the local people, they either knew nothing or had been warned not to tell him.
With no idea what to do next and stranded in the village for the time being by a vicious storm that was battering the valley, De Lancey sat in his room at the inn with an open book unread on his lap, trying not to let his mind wander to the dark places he had visited in his nightmares.
He heard a commotion in the hallway and when he put his head round the door to see what was going on he was astonished to see Grant’s mother rushing towards him, her eyes wild with panic.
“Major De Lancey.” She was soaked to the skin and struggling for breath as if she had run all the way to the inn.
“Madam, what on earth is the matter?”
“It’s my boy,” she gasped, “I cannot find him. Please sir, I need your help. He cannot be out there on a night like this. We must find him. Please.”
De Lancey grabbed his coat and followed her into the bar. The news chilled him to the bone but at least there was something he could do.
“Landlord,” he called, “can you send out word to the men of the village? We need to organise a search party.”
“No.” Mrs Grant reached for his arm, “That will take too long. Have you not seen the weather?”
“Very well. You stay here and keep dry. I will start looking immediately. Tell me, is there anywhere in particular he would go?”
”I do not know. He has not left his room since Lewis brought him back. He has barely acknowledged me at all. It is like there is a stranger living under my roof.” Her resolve broke and the tears started flowing.
De Lancey gently put an arm around her shoulder, helping her to take a sip of the brandy that the landlord placed in her hand.
“What about when he was a child? Were there any favourite places? Anywhere he spent a lot of time?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes of course. The waterfall on the mountain behind the house. He used to love that place. He spent hours there with his books and his sketchpad whenever he was fed up with his brothers teasing him.”
It was not difficult to find. The storm had swollen the stream and De Lancey managed to follow the raging torrent until he came to the waterfall. Unable to keep a torch alight in these conditions, he struggled to gain purchase on the slippery rocks and almost lost his footing when he stepped back in shock as a flash of lightning illuminated a figure standing on top of the cliff, arms outstretched and face raised to the heavens.
The howling wind carried his voice away into the night as he scrambled up the steep incline.
Heedless of the danger, he grabbed Grant’s arm and pulled him away from the edge, slipping on the wet ground and only just managing to stop the two of them sliding into the falls.
Grant looked at him with wide eyes full of pain and confusion.
“Oh God, Grant, What are you doing out here? Come on. Let’s get you home.”
Grant had lapsed into silence again. He stood completely still and stared straight ahead as De Lancey unbuttoned his coat and lifted it off his shoulders then suddenly flinched and drew back as he started untying the laces of the sodden shirt.
“Grant. Please. You have to get out of these clothes. You will get sick if you do not dry off and warm up.”
Grant turned his face away but allowed De Lancey to pull his shirt over his head and as he fell to his knees in front of the fire, the light from the flames cast flickering shadows over a horribly familiar pattern of scars on his back.
De Lancey gasped in shock as he knelt down beside him, unable to tear his eyes from the crisscross marks.
“Oh God!” The anger surged through his veins as he lifted Grant’s face and searched for a flicker of recognition. “What did they do to you?”
“William?” Grant’s shoulders began to shake as De Lancey moved closer and gently traced the raised scar tissue with the tips of his fingers. “Help me?”
De Lancey leant forward and pressed his lips to the damaged skin.
“It’s alright,” he murmured, pulling Grant into his arms and stroking his hair as his body convulsed with heartbreaking sobs. “It’s going to be alright. I’m here now.”
Chapter 5: Stuck In A Moment
William De Lancey ran into the farmhouse waving a piece of paper and grinning from ear to ear.
“They approved my transfer! I am joining the 45th Foot.”
Grant glanced up from his book. De Lancey looked so happy and he wanted to be pleased for him but all he could think was
The smile faded from De Lancey’s face as he crossed over to the armchair by the fire that Grant had occupied every day for the last few weeks.
“What? God no. Of course not.” He sat down on the arm of the chair. “The regiment is in the West Indies but I have permission to remain here until they return.” He took Grant’s hand. “You know I will stay as long as you need me.”
A shadow crossed Grant’s brow. “I cannot ask you to put your career on hold for my sake. I will be alright.”
“You are not asking.” De Lancey squeezed himself into the chair next to Grant and put an arm around his shoulders. “And I am not going anywhere.”
Jean Grant watched them from the doorway, unable to suppress a shiver as she remembered the night of the storm. She had rushed back to Lingieston with the search party when the news that Colquhoun was safe had reached the village and had found this man cradling her son in his arms as he wept uncontrollably.
Her first instinct had been to rush in and take his place but the look in De Lancey’s eyes, themselves wet with tears, had brought her up short.
When the men standing behind her had started muttering under their breath about how the Grant boy had always been a little different, he had just held Colquhoun closer and glared at them like a wild animal protecting its wounded mate: This one is mine. I will defend him with my life and woe betide anyone who tries to take him from me.
So she had sent the others away with an equally fierce expression and embraced the man who had brought her son back to her, inviting him into her home and never questioning his right to be there.
In the weeks that had passed since that night, ideas and actions that would have given most people pause for thought at the very least had seemed as natural to her as breathing.
When De Lancey had rushed to Colquhoun’s side on hearing him cry out in his sleep and held him until the nightmare had passed, she had simply made up the second bed in her son’s room and said it would be more convenient for him to sleep in there.
When she had absentmindedly opened the bedroom door one morning and found them curled up together in the same bed, all she had noticed was the peaceful look on her boy’s face and, even in sleep, the protective and determined frown on De Lancey’s.
And as she watched them now and heard Colquhoun sigh contentedly as De Lancey stroked his hair and kissed him gently on the forehead, she smiled to herself, perhaps my boy has always been a little different, but I cannot see it is a bad thing if it brings him comfort in his hour of need.
As winter turned to spring, Grant started to show more of an interest in his surroundings.
He was reluctant at first when De Lancey urged him to take a walk in the foothills, but the mountain air restored some colour to his cheeks and glow of the afternoon sun seemed to chase away some of the worry in his eyes.
De Lancey had brought a sketchbook along and he sat quietly and watched as a wonderfully detailed image of the windswept landscape took shape under Grant’s skillful touch.
“It is so beautiful here.” He looked around at the peaks still wearing their glistening caps of snow. “I can understand why you used to talk about it so much.”
Grant just shrugged. “I cannot see it.” He put down his pen and closed the book. “The beauty, I mean. I cannot see it anymore.”
De Lancey moved closer and put a hand on his shoulder.
“You will. One day you will.”
A few days later, De Lancey noticed Grant looking wistfully at the sabre propped up against a chair in the corner of the room.
“Would you like to go through the exercise?”
“I do not know.” Grant looked at his hands as if he were not sure they belonged to him. “I do not think I remember how.”
But De Lancey had already picked up the sword. “Come on,” he said, pulling Grant to his feet, “it will do you good to start practising again.”
Grant followed him out into the field next to the house and watched as he unsheathed the sabre and went through the moves with his usual elegance and style.
He passed the sword to Grant.
“Give it a try.”
Grant took the sabre and held it in front of his body, waiting for De Lancey’s nod before beginning the exercise. His body remembered the form as if it were yesterday and he executed the first three cuts with slow but sure moves, but when he shifted into the next position a jolt of pain shot through his back and shoulders and he lost his concentration.
“Damn it!” He shouted and lashed out at the nearest tree in frustration, hacking at the branches over and over as the anger and shame of the last two years finally broke through the walls he had built.
Fearing that Grant would injure himself, De Lancey reached out to take the weapon back, but it was still in motion and the blade opened a wide gash across the palm of his hand when he tried to grab it.
Grant stared at the blood pouring from the wound and dropped the sword, his face ashen as he turned and fled towards the farmhouse.
De Lancey cursed and ran after him, but when he got to the house Grant had already disappeared up the stairs and into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
He made his way to the kitchen and filled a bowl with water, wincing as he pulled the edges of the wound apart to wash out the dirt. With his back to the door, he froze when he heard footsteps approaching from the hall but immediately realised they were too light to be Grant’s.
“Here, let me look at that.” Jean Grant put down her bag and crossed over to the table where he stood, reaching up to wipe away the tears that were running down his face to join the water in the bowl.
“Oh William,” she sighed, examining the deep cut across his palm, “I know you are trying to help but I fear you might be pushing him too hard.”
She grabbed a bottle of whisky from the cupboard and poured a good measure over the wound then fetched a tin box from the side and pulled out a strip of gauze.
De Lancey picked up the bottle and took a long swig of whisky to try and dull the pain as she bound up the injury. She worked in silence but when she had finished tucking in the ends of the bandage, she kept hold of his hand and looked up at him with those deep brown eyes that reminded him so much of Grant’s.
“You love him, don’t you?”
The question caught De Lancey off guard and he barely managed to compose himself before answering. “Of course. He is like a br.....”
She raised an eyebrow and tilted her head in exactly the same way as his own mother used to when he had tried to fool her as a boy, and he heard the familiar warning in his head as clear as day: Do not you dare lie to me, William Howe De Lancey.
“Yes,” he admitted helplessly, “yes, Mrs G. I do.”
Jean Grant hooked her bag over her arm and pulled on her gloves as she walked to the door, pausing with one hand on the frame and looking back at him with a small nod.
“Well then.” She smiled. “Do you not think you should go up there and make sure he knows it?”
Chapter 6: All I Want Is You
Jean Grant smiled as she watched them loading their bags into the carriage. She had been concerned at first when De Lancey had told them he was applying to attend the recently established Senior Department of the Royal Military College in High Wycombe and had suggested that Colquhoun do the same, but she knew she could not hold onto her son forever so she had agreed it was a splendid idea and written to Colonel James Grant of the 11th Foot for a recommendation.
Her husband’s esteemed relative had replied with great enthusiasm, promising that he would not only provide a recommendation but also pay the fee of thirty guineas if Colquhoun should succeed in passing the entrance examination (of which he had no doubt). He was also pleased to inform her that the regiment was promoting Colquhoun to the rank of Captain.
Grant had jumped at the prospect of training to be a staff officer. She had seen his face light up thinking about the opportunity to study the subjects he loved and learn about new ones and at least this way he would be safe for a year or so while he continued to recover. Besides, she thought, laughing as De Lancey tried to squeeze a large bag into a much smaller space on the roof of the carriage, he will not be alone.
“Right. I think that is the last of it.” Grant emerged from the house carrying his hat and sword. “Farewell mother, we will come and visit if we can.” He kissed her on the cheek and climbed into the carriage.
“See you soon, Mrs. G.” De Lancey waved cheerily as he jumped in next to him.
“Look after each other,” she called as they drove off, adding silently and be careful - not everyone will understand you boys the way I do.
As it happened, she had no real reason to worry. Although they spent every day in the same lessons, they had little time alone together and nighttime visits to each other’s rooms at the inn where they were quartered were out of the question. Grant’s nightmares came less frequently now anyhow, and the amount of effort that he put into his studies left him little time to dwell on other thoughts.
The college had set a strict six-day working week with core courses in mathematics, drawing, fortification, French and German but Grant’s favourite lessons were ‘General Jarry’s Instructions.’ The college’s founder was of the firm opinion that subjects should not be learnt parrot fashion and a staff officer should be able to think for himself so he stressed the importance of personal reconnaissance, tactical sketching and simple map-making and taught them subjects such as cavalry and infantry manoeuvring, field fortifications, the siting of artillery, the choice of routes, the conduct and control of marches and the choice and selection of camp sites.
Of course for Grant and De Lancey, the absolute highlight of any week was when they got the chance to practise the sword exercise with Le Marchant himself.
In the summer they joined a team of students conducting a survey of the south coast from Rye to Sandwich. After another morning in the sweltering heat, they found that they had made good time and as they were not expected at the Deal barracks until the evening, they stopped in St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe and headed straight down to the bay.
Given permission to abandon their map-making duties for the afternoon, the young officers started stripping off and plunging into the calm blue sea.
“Come on, Grant!” Captain Abbott was being his usual obnoxious self. “Not afraid of the water are you?”
Sitting with his back against the wall of the Coastguard station, Grant looked longingly at the cool water but just smiled. “I would rather stay here and make a sketch of the cliffs.”
He could tell Abbott was not going to leave it alone but De Lancey, who understood the real reason Grant did not want to remove his uniform, grabbed the other man’s arm and dragged him towards the sea, glancing back apologetically as he went.
Grant tried to focus on his drawing but he could not help watching them messing about in the water. De Lancey was showing off his ability to hold his breath and dive to the bottom and clearly enjoying the attention he was getting from the other officers, particularly Abbott, who seemed intent on holding him under the water at every opportunity.
He sighed, packed up his kit and set out on the five mile walk to Walmer. Although he was tempted to look back and wave, he doubted that De Lancey would even realise he was gone.
De Lancey came splashing out of the water with a large crab in his hand and ran up the beach towards the Coastguard hut.
“Grant! Look what I found …”
He pulled up short and was still looking around in confusion when Abbott caught up with him and laughed. “Do not tell me you have managed to lose your shadow.”
He grabbed De Lancey’s arm and tried to pull him round the back of the building. “We should make the most of this opportunity!”
“I have told you before. I am not interested.”
“Oh come now. I have seen the way you look at Grant. You cannot expect me to believe you don’t want it. Surely it is not just that damn Scotch bookworm who gets your blood hot?”
De Lancey pushed him away angrily. “Do not speak of him like that. You have no idea what you are talking about.”
When they reached the barracks, which were currently accommodating the 15th Light Dragoons, the rooms were already overcrowded so although the students were welcome to use the facilities, they had to set up camp in an adjacent field.
Grant sat on a folded blanket in his tent, his notes and sketches scattered around him on the ground. Despite the long walk, he found that he did not have much of an appetite and did not particularly want to go to the Mess in the barracks with the other men.
De Lancey poked his head though the tent flaps. “Mind if I come in?” He proceeded to do so without waiting for an invitation.
“They would not mind, you know,” he said, moving a pile of papers aside and sitting down next to Grant, “seeing the scars, I mean. There is no need to be ashamed.”
Grant bristled at the assumption. “I am not ashamed. I just thought that they would not wish to have their fun interrupted by the sight of such ugliness. Nor, I would imagine, would you, when you have men as pretty as Abbott to look at.”
De Lancey laughed. “Is that what this is about?” he put a hand on Grant’s arm. “You know you could never be ugly to me, and as for Abbott, you have nothing to worry about. I do not want anybody else and I certainly have no desire to go anywhere near that idiot.”
“Perhaps not, but you do have desires.” Grant could no longer pretend it did not matter. “Do you think I never felt your need in the night when you lay beside me? Do you not know how many times I have wished I could give you what you want?”
De Lancey looked confused. “Then why did you never...?”
“My scars may be fading but I fear there is something in me that is damaged beyond repair. Being close to you makes me ache with longing but my …” he looked down, “..my body does not respond as it ought and I fear it never will.”
De Lancey leant in and kissed his neck, murmuring “Let me try,” but Grant pulled away with a muffled sob.
He looked up and De Lancey recoiled in shock at the fear and pain in his eyes.
"Oh God!" He gasped. “Oh God no. It was not just flogging, was it?”
Grant lowered his eyes and shook his head.
De Lancey felt the bile rising in his throat. He lunged for the gap in the tent and just made it outside before losing the contents of his stomach all over the grass.
“Why?” He demanded when he could speak again. “Why did you not tell me?”
”Oh William.” Grant looked utterly lost. “Why do you think? I could not bear the thought of you looking at me the way you are now. The only place I felt safe was in your arms. The only time I felt loved was when you looked at me. If I told you, I would lose that forever. You could not possibly feel the same if you knew....” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I am sorry. I wanted you to be my first. It was all I ever wanted, but now...”
His voice trailed off into silence.
De Lancey clenched his fists, his nails digging painfully into the palms of his hands. The anger he had felt at seeing the scars on Grant’s back paled into insignificance compared with the rage that was burning in his veins now but he had to control it, he could not let Grant think the hatred and disgust was meant for him.
“Don’t you dare apologise. It was not your fault. It does not change anything.”
He desperately wanted to take Grant in his arms as he had on that night in Scotland, to hold him tight and tell him everything was going to be alright, but he feared that any touch would be too much for him to bear so when Grant begged, “Please, William, just leave me be,” he simply got up and left.
After they returned to the college, De Lancey tried not to think about it but it still burned every time he looked at Grant and any attempts he made to broach the subject were met with a swift exit and excuses about the need to study for examinations.
When they graduated and the rest of the class headed to the local inn to celebrate their success and toast each other’s future, Grant slipped away early, pausing outside the window and smiling sadly to himself as he watched De Lancey laughing at Abbott’s impression of General Jarry as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
De Lancey returned to the students’ quarters in the early morning, slightly the worse for drink and fully intending to find Grant, apologise for his behaviour and refuse to leave until they were on good terms again but he found Grant’s door open and the room stripped bare.
With nobody around to tell him what had happened, there was nothing he could do but stumble back to his own room where he collapsed onto the bed, knocking the pillow out of place and sending a piece of paper fluttering to the floor.
He picked up the note and opened it with trembling hands.
My Dearest William,
I have received orders and I am sailing in the morning to join the 11th in Martinique. I did not tell you because I did not want to say goodbye but I could not leave without letting you know that you will remain in my heart no matter how far I travel. I am sorry I could not be the man you wanted me to be but perhaps the distance between us will help you to forget me and find somebody who can give you what you need.
Please do not think badly of me, I am doing this not because I do not love you but because of how much I do.
Chapter 7: The Unforgettable Fire
Captain Colquhoun Grant looked out over the streets of Roseau and wondered if he should try to return to the barracks.
The regiment had moved from Martinique to Dominica the previous year and he had become accustomed to the routine of life in the island’s capital. Aside from the day-to-day tasks associated with the command of his company, his duties consisted mainly of trying to maintain discipline among men who had too much time on their hands in the unrelenting heat and humidity and frequently overindulged in the local cheap rum.
He spent much of his own free time sitting in what shade he could find, reading and sketching the dramatic grandeur of the rugged mountains and dark green tropical forests. He found that the focus required for drawing helped to prevent his mind from wandering into painful territory and although he could not entirely stop hoping for news from De Lancey, he was almost beginning to believe his own words about their separation being for the best.
He had been on his way to meet the new man they were expecting from the Quartermaster General’s Department when the French had attacked the previous day and had remained in the town in case he was needed to assist in the defence of the harbour, but with the exchange of fire between the French ships and the British guns continuing unabated he was starting to think he would be of more use back at the fort.
As he leaned out to close the window, his attention was caught by a sudden flash of light and he realised with horror that a piece of cotton wadding from one of the cannon had landed on the wooden shingled rooftop of a nearby house and set the building alight.
Grant ran down the stairs and onto the street, where he found a scene of total chaos. The fire had taken hold with astonishing speed and people were panicking and running in all directions to escape the flames.
He tried to make his voice heard above the cacophony of shouts and screams and had managed to get the attention of the soldiers who were arriving on the scene, urging them to form a bucket chain to bring water from the nearest well, when a young woman came running up to him and grabbed hold of his arm.
“Sir, please, my children, they are in that house. I could not reach them.”
Grant pulled his neck-cloth up over his face and dashed into the burning building, searching through the smoke until he found the children huddled together in a doorway.
He picked up the smallest in one arm and held out his hand for the others, but they were too terrified to move. Realising how frightening he must look, he knelt down in front of them and lowered the neck-cloth so they could see his face, reassuring them with soft words, “it is alright, come with me,” as he led them to the relative safety of the street.
“Oh thank you, sir.” The woman gathered the children into her arms and Grant was about to turn his attention to the fire-fighting efforts when the little girl looked up at her and asked, “what about the other man, mother?”
Grant bent down to her level and tried to appear calmer than he felt. ”What other man?”
“The kind man with the red coat like yours, sir.” She pointed at his chest with a dirty finger. ”He helped us get down the stairs but he did not come out. He said his name was William”
Grant felt his blood run cold but shook his head and told himself not to be ridiculous. There must be dozens of soldiers with that name on the island and besides, De Lancey was with the 45th on the other side of the world.
He dipped his neck-cloth in a passing bucket of water and tied it around his face again before heading back into the house.
Although he could barely see his own hands in front of his face through the smoke-filled air, he managed to make his way through the door where he had found the children and caught sight of a flash of red under a pile of debris at the foot of the burning staircase.
He could see that the man’s leg was trapped under a fallen beam and as he moved closer he recognised a familiar belt in the form of two lion heads joined with a snake clasp.
“Oh God!" He fell to his knees beside the prone form. “Please God, no.”
De Lancey opened his eyes and blinked.
“William!” The relief was overwhelming. “Thank God! What on earth are you doing here?”
“I was on my way to meet you actually. Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General De Lancey, at your service.” The laugh that rose in his throat at Grant’s astonished expression turned into a hacking cough as he inhaled a lung full of smoke.
“I don’t suppose you could move this damned thing off my leg, only I would rather like to get out of here before we are roasted alive.”
Grant put his arms around the end of the beam and tried with all his strength to lift it but it would not budge.
He was still trying to shift it when De Lancey cried “Watch out!“ and he looked up to see a burning plank hanging precariously out of a hole in ceiling above them.
Without thinking, he threw himself forward to cover De Lancey’s body with his own as the plank toppled over the edge and landed on his back, burning through his coat and shirt and searing the skin beneath before he managed to shake it off.
He remained in that position for a few seconds as he caught his breath then raised himself up on his elbows and looked down at De Lancey with a wild grin on his face.
“That was a close call.”
“A close..?” De Lancey tried to push him away, fearing that the pain of the burn on top of his previous injuries had sent him quite mad. “For God’s sake get out of here before it all comes down!”
Grant just smiled and shook his head, his eyes now filled with a calm resolve.
“No. I am not leaving you. Not again.” He lay down next to De Lancey and reached out to take his hand, interweaving their fingers and making it very clear he was not going to let go.
Too weak too argue, De Lancey brought Grant’s hand up to his lips and kissed it softly as he slipped into unconsciousness.
De Lancey woke with a start and was relieved to find he was in a well-appointed room in what he took to be one of the forts he had seen on the hillside and not in the garrison hospital, which he had been told was a place of death and should be avoided at all costs.
The nurse who was attending to the dressing on his leg glanced up at him. “Good morning, sir, it is good to see you awake.”
“Never mind me.” His head spun from the effects of the smoke as he tried to sit up and lever himself out of the bed. “Where is Grant?”
The nurse gently placed a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down. “The officer who was with you?”
“Yes. Is he….?”
She smiled reassuringly and patted him on the arm. “Do not worry, he is in the room next door. If you wish, you can go in to see him when I have finished with this bandage.” She sighed and rolled her eyes as he tried to get up again. “So it would be in your best interest to let me get on with it.”
Grant was standing by the window, the fresh dressing on his shoulders visible through the slit in the back of his nightshirt, and he did not look around when he heard the door open.
“I know we managed to chase the French off.” De Lancey hobbled over on his crutches. “But the sight of their retreat cannot be that interesting.”
“It is not the French I am looking at.” Grant gazed in wonder at the iridescent colours of the flowers in the forest surrounding the town and the golden rays of the early morning sun reflected on the azure sea beyond as if he were noticing it all for the first time.
As De Lancey shifted his position on the crutches to try and see what it was that was so enthralling, he lost his balance and instinctively grabbed onto Grant’s waist to steady himself. He cursed himself for his clumsiness and was about to apologise but instead of pulling away like he expected, Grant leant back into his embrace.
“Look at it William. It is so beautiful.“
De Lancey laughed. “I do not know what medicine they are giving you but I would certainly like some.”
“It is not the medicine.” Grant turned to look at him. “I do not know exactly what it is, but for the first time in years I feel alive.”
His smile was radiant and there was a wicked glint in his eyes as he lifted De Lancey’s hand from his waist and moved it lower.
“Oh!” De Lancey gasped in delight. “Indeed you do!”
Discarding the crutches, he rushed to the door and stuck his head out into the corridor. ”Nurse!”
She appeared out of the next room with an armful of bed linen and a concerned expression and it was all he could do to keep a straight face. “We have some important business to discuss. I would appreciate it if you could ensure we are not disturbed for the next hour.”
“Of course, sir.” She frowned slightly at his surprised grin as Grant moved around behind him to ensure he was hidden by the door and slipped a hand under his nightshirt.
“Actually,” he called after her as she walked off briskly down the corridor, “make it two.”
Chapter 8: No Line On The Horizon
Major De Lancey and Captain Grant sat on the quarterdeck with a group of officers from the 11th Foot, exchanging surreptitious glances as they listened to the men boasting about the things they were going to do to their wives and mistresses when they got home.
HMS Brunswick had called at Roseau on route from Jamaica to pick up the regiment and transport them back to England and the waiting arms of their lovers, and the men were getting more excited about the prospect with every day that passed.
Grant and De Lancey tried to smile and join in the bawdy conversation - although their anticipation of seeing family and friends again was tempered by the knowledge that their return to English soil would lead to painful separation rather than joyous reunion, they did not want anybody asking why they did not seem happy to be sailing for familiar shores.
Colonel Fitz-Patrick had been willing to turn a blind eye to the nature of their relationship after they had saved that family from the fire, provided they were discreet about it of course, but they were on a Royal Navy ship now. Conditions on board were cramped and overcrowded and the thought of men engaging in such acts, even in the privacy of their own quarters, was considered a threat to the principles on which performance and survival depended. A man could be hanged if he were found guilty of buggery and although ships’ captains often tried to avoid this by charging men with lesser crimes such as indecent conduct or uncleanliness, the punishments for these could be very severe indeed.
They were about a month into the voyage and tensions were running high. Although the army men tried to keep out of the way as much as possible, spending most of their time in the makeshift quarters they had been given in the low cramped space among the 32-pounders on the gundeck, the sailors were beginning to openly resent their presence. The fresh food they had taken on board at Roseau had soon run out and they did not take kindly to having to share their rations with the men they considered as nothing more than cargo. To make matters worse, both sides were increasingly turning to the illegal and highly potent rum that had been smuggled aboard in Jamaica to fend of the boredom of long days with nothing to do but stare at the endless ocean.
Able Seaman Finney, a huge brute of a man with a reputation for preying on the younger ratings, stumbled over to where they were sitting. He was even more drunk than usual and seemed intent on baiting the army officers.
“What about you, soldier boy?” He held out a cup of rum towards De Lancey. “You and your pretty captain there look like you could do with a stiff one.”
The other sailors who had followed him over cackled with laughter. They all knew about Finney’s predilections and it seemed the furtive looks between the two officers had not gone unnoticed.
Grant started to get to his feet but De Lancey gave him a pointed look and he bit his tongue. Ignoring both the lack of respect for his rank and the obvious attempt to get a rise out of him, De Lancey smiled politely. “Thank you, sir, but we have rum enough.“ He could sense Grant’s agitation and thought it best to diffuse the situation by encouraging the others to leave the sailors to their drinking. “We will bid you good night.”
Finney narrowed his eyes and the threat in his voice was clear as he smirked. "It is a pity that you see fit to refuse my hospitality, major. I must make sure to offer a more appealing enticement the next time.”
Grant woke with a start, unsure what had jolted him from his sleep. He had become accustomed to the motion of the ship and the sea was relatively calm but it felt as if something had shifted violently out of place. Seeing nothing amiss in the immediate vicinity, he was about to turn over and go back to sleep when he heard a muffled thud above his head. He pulled on his boots and, taking care not to disturb the men sleeping on either side, climbed the ladder to the upper gundeck, his head emerging just in time to see the shadows of two figures disappearing around a pile of ammunition boxes.
He peered cautiously round the corner - the larger silhouette had looked suspiciously like Finney’s and he had no wish to disturb one of the man’s rumoured assignations - but what he saw made him reconsider his unwillingness to interfere.
Finney had an army man bent over one of the guns with his nightshirt pulled up to expose his bare arse. He was holding a knife to the man’s throat with one hand and using the other to unfasten the buttons on his own breeches. Grant gasped in shock as he recognised a small heart-shaped birthmark on the left buttock, giving away his position to Finney who turned to him with an evil grin.
“Captain, perhaps you would care to watch while I show you how this should be done,” he smirked, “your major here is a very tempting prospect indeed and I think you must learn to share, after all you are on our ship now.”
With Finney distracted, De Lancey managed to turn his eyes towards Grant and give a small shake of his head. “Get out of here!”
“Quiet!” Finney turned back to him and pressed the knife into the side of his neck hard enough for beads of blood to slide down the blade as he used the other hand to free his cock from his breeches.
Grant's capacity for rational thought deserted him. His mind was flooded with memories of the abuse he had suffered at Fort L’Escarpe and every fibre of his being was overwhelmed by a primal need to protect the man he loved from the same fate.
A red mist descended in front of his eyes and he felt the deck shift beneath his feet as if the world had tilted on its axis. Unaware of what he was doing, he picked up a discarded bottle and lunged at Finney, swinging with all his strength and almost overbalancing as the heavy glass connected with a sickening crack.
As Finney slumped to the deck, De Lancey pushed himself up from the gun and stared dumbfounded at Grant. He crouched down and put his fingers to the man’s neck to feel for a pulse but the growing pool of blood on the deck told him he would find none.
“Good God, Grant!” He looked up, his expression a mixture of relief and shock. “He’s dead!”
“No!” Grant was standing motionless with the bottle in his hand, his face spattered with blood from his proximity to the fatal blow and his breath coming in shallow panicked gasps. “I did not mean to .. he was going to ...”
De Lancey stepped over the body and gently prised the weapon from Grant’s grip, glancing around with worried eyes before throwing it out of the open gunport.
“Help me with this.” He took hold of Finney’s arms and started dragging him towards the opening in the hull.
“What?” Grant seemed to notice his surroundings for the first time. “William, for God’s sake what are you doing?”
De Lancey dropped the corpse and came to stand in front of him. Placing his hands on Grant’s shoulders, he looked into his eyes with a searing intensity.
“Nobody saw, nobody knows, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to see you hanged for this. If anybody asks, we shall say that the last we saw him he was staggering about on the quarterdeck three sheets to the wind and it will be assumed that he slipped and fell overboard. At the very least nobody will be able to prove otherwise, and even if foul play is suspected there are any number of men on this ship who had their own reasons to want rid of this wretch so the blame is unlikely to fall on us. Now come on for Christ’s sake before we are discovered.”
In a daze, Grant moved round to take hold of Finney’s legs and helped De Lancey lift the body and push it through the gunport into the waves below. He leaned back on the hull, breathing heavily from the exertion and trying to make sense of what was happening.
“William, I ....”
De Lancey silenced him with a look. “Go to my quarters, shut the door and do not move until I get there. I will clean up this mess.” He looked down and shuddered at the sight of the congealing blood seeping into the cracks between the planks. “Go!”
When he got back to his cabin, De Lancey found Grant sitting on the edge of the bed staring blankly at his hands and shaking his head every now and again with a puzzled frown, as if someone had asked him a question he could not understand.
“Christ, Grant, clean yourself up!” He dipped a rag into a bowl of water and threw it in Grant’s direction as he stripped off his blood-stained nightshirt. He splashed the cold water over his chest and arms and dried himself of with the rough blanket before pulling on a clean shirt and passing another one to Grant. “And get that damn thing off!”
When Grant just looked up at him and shook his head again with a confused look in his eyes, he realised how he must sound. Kneeling down beside the bed, he spoke softly. “I’m sorry, I am not angry but we must deal with this.“ He carefully lifted Grant’s shirt over his head and took the rag from his hands, gently wiping the blood from his cheeks and forehead.
“I cannot do this.” Grant was shaking. “ I killed a man, William. I cannot live with this. I will go to Colonel Fitz-Patrick and tell him Finney attacked me - perhaps he will be able to persuade the ship’s captain to consider a charge that does not carry a death sentence.”
De Lancey reached up a hand to Grant’s face. “You will do no such thing.” hHe tried to keep his voice steady. “You will go back to your bunk and remain there until the morning as if nothing unusual has occurred. That is an order, captain.”
A shudder ran through Grant’s body. “But I...”
“No.” De Lancey was insistent. “You are a soldier. You killed a man who was threatening the safety of a superior officer. You have done it before and no doubt you will be required to do it again.”
“In battle, William, I have killed men in battle, not like this. I do not deserve to be fighting alongside truly brave men after this. And I fear I may even be a danger to them.” He stared at his hands again. “I could not stop myself. I saw him hurting you and I could not control my actions. What if something sets me off like that without warning? What if one of the men tries to stop me and gets in my way? God forbid, what if you do?”
De Lancey smiled. “You would never hurt me.”
“Not knowingly, but if I cannot control the anger? No. I will go to the Colonel and face my punishment. You will be safer without me around.”
De Lancey swallowed back the tears that were threatening to undo him. “Remember what you said to me in the fire? That goes both ways. I am not leaving you and I am not going to let you leave me.” He pulled Grant’s head onto his shoulder and stroked his hair. “Let me help you.”
“How? How can anybody help me? There is a wild beast inside me that I cannot control. I thought I could overcome it, tame it, perhaps even use it to my advantage in battle but it is stronger than I am.” He sighed as if resigned to his fate. “There is nothing you can do.”
De Lancey kissed the top of his head. “I can listen. Talk to me.”
Grant had never told him exactly what had happened in the camp and his fear of his own reaction had always prevented him from asking but now he saw no other choice.
“Tell me everything if you need to. I know you are scared you will lose me but I swear to you I am not going anywhere. How could I? You are my life.”
Chapter 9: I Will Follow
"Good Lord, it would almost make a man miss the stifling heat." De Lancey shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders as he looked out over the scene of chaos on the docks from his vantage point on the Brunswick’s forecastle. The British Isles had been gripped by a fierce winter storm and despite its sheltered position, Cork Harbour was being lashed by a blizzard the likes of which he hadn’t seen since his first campaign in the Netherlands back in 1794.
The biting wind was so strong that the men of the 11th Foot were struggling to remain upright as they disembarked and waited for transports to take them from the island of Haulbowline to the mainland, where they were due to spend a few days at the barracks on the north side of the city before setting out on the long march to Dublin.
Standing beside him, Grant leant forward with his hands on the rail, watching the dock workers slipping on the ice-covered quays as they tried to load the regiment’s equipment onto the waiting carts.
"I don’t care about the damn weather, I just want to get off this blasted ship and feel solid ground under my feet."
De Lancey knew there was more to it than that. Although the mood on board had lightened significantly after Finney’s disappearance and nobody had seemed inclined to pursue the matter, every day had been filled with the fear of discovery and every night had brought him to the verge of tears as Grant had gradually revealed the depth of his pain.
Glancing around to make sure they were unobserved, he moved closer and covered Grant’s gloved hand with his own.
"I could not agree more."
De Lancey was woken early by the sound of a great commotion outside his window. Pulling on his breeches and boots and throwing his coat over his nightshirt, he ran into the yard where he found Grant shouting orders amidst a melee of men and horses.
"What is it?" He tried in vain to get somebody’s attention. "What has happened?"
Grant ran up to him, his eyes flashing with excitement. "It is the highwayman Willie Brennan. He had the audacity to enter a gentleman’s house in Milgrove and rob him of 40 guineas in cash. He has evaded capture so far but he can’t have got very far in these conditions. I’m certain we can catch up with him."
"Brennan?" De Lancey frowned. "That scoundrel who deserted from the 12th and claims to be defending the poor with his heinous acts of highway robbery?"
"The very same."
De Lancey raised a hand to protect his eyes as the freezing wind drove the snow into his face. "Perhaps you should let Lord Cahir deal with it. I hear he has been after that scum for years and his men are far better acquainted than ours with the lay of the land around here. This is no weather to be scouring the countryside for a dangerous villain."
But Grant was not to be deterred. It was as if the years had fallen away and he was once again a boy who thought joining the army would be a splendid adventure.
"Oh come on William, admit it, it is rather thrilling and it will be quite a feather in the regiment’s cap if we are the ones who finally manage to apprehend him."
He mounted his horse, laughing gleefully as he wheeled around and headed for the gate.
"Ready, men? Let’s hunt the blackguard down!"
De Lancey took a step back, fighting the urge to grab the reins and stop Grant rushing off into the unknown. The last time he had heard that sound, they had been trapped in a burning building and Grant had been laughing in the face of death.
It sent a chill down his spine that was nothing to do with the subzero temperature.
De Lancey sat in the mess hall staring at the order he had received to report to Colonel George Murray, Deputy Quartermaster-General of His Majesty’s Forces in Ireland. He had been expecting something like this since his promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel but now it was real and his heart ached at the thought of telling Grant he would be staying behind when the 11th sailed for England.
The door flew open and a ragged figure staggered into the room and collapsed to the ground. De Lancey swore as he recognised Ensign Miller, one of the soldiers from the garrison who had ridden out with Grant. He rushed over and pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered around the fallen man.
Miller sat on the floor, shaking with the effects of exhaustion and cold and trying to answer the questions that were being fired at him from all directions.
"They were waiting for us…Brennan and his gang… it was an ambush…they shot Lieutenant Carter…I think there were six…I didn’t see…. "
De Lancey scanned the yard outside, hoping to see the rest of the party emerging through the falling snow, but Miller appeared to be alone. He bent down and grabbed the front of the young soldier’s coat with rather too much force.
"What of Captain Grant? Is he hurt?"
Miller looked terrified. "I’m sorry, Sir, I do not know. I concealed myself when they attacked and made my way back here as fast as I could."
"Dammit." De Lancey stopped short of calling the man a coward for hiding and running from a fight but he had heard enough. He picked up his cloak and strode out of the hall, calling out to anyone within earshot. "Bring me a horse!"
He ran to the barracks to fetch his pistol and returned at full tilt, almost colliding with Colonel Fitz-Patrick in his haste to mount the charger that was being led into the yard.
Fitz-Patrick put a hand out to steady him and took a firm grasp on his arm, looking him straight in the eye.
"If I had seen you, De Lancey, I would have to order you to stand down and wait for further instructions." The concern on his face was clear. "But Grant is one of my best men and I have no wish to put you on a charge for insubordination so it is fortunate that this blizzard is making it impossible for me to see a thing. Go." He took the bridle from the stablehand and held it as De Lancey climbed into the saddle. "And bring him back safe."
De Lancey had been riding for a couple of hours when he came across a small group of men in familiar uniforms by the side of the road and as he got closer he recognised Lieutenant Carter, wincing with pain as one of the men tended to what was clearly a gunshot wound in his right thigh.
He dismounted and rushed towards them, shouting to make himself heard over the noise of the wind.
"Where is Captain Grant?"
A young corporal pointed in the direction of the tree line on a hill to the east. "He went that way, Sir."
"With the rest of the men?"
"No, Sir. The robbers split up after they attacked us. The others are pursuing the gang on the road to Clonmel but Brennan took to the hills and Captain Grant insisted on going after him alone."
De Lancey cursed and handed over the reins - the horse would be more of a hindrance than a help in that terrain.
"Get this man back to the barracks and tell Colonel Fitz-Patrick what has occurred."
"Will you not return with us, Sir?"
De Lancey shook his head. "No, corporal, I am going to find Grant," adding to himself as he turned and headed up the hill, "and give him hell for doing this to me again."
The unrelenting storm made progress slow and difficult and it was not until he reached the shelter of the trees that he had a chance to catch his breath and take stock of the situation. Only then then did he realise he had no idea which path he should take. The trail that the two men had carved through the deep powder on the hillside had been easy enough to follow but it ended at the edge of the woods and he was not a skilled enough tracker to read the signs in the broken branches and frozen leaves underfoot.
"Dammit, Grant." He leant against a tree and looked around for any hint of a track to follow." Which way did you go?"
The wind dropped for a moment and his nostrils caught the unmistakable scent of burning peat in the air. It seemed to be coming from the higher ground so he set off up the hill and soon came upon a clearing in the trees where a small cottage stood with a flickering light in the window and smoke rising from the chimney.
He knocked cautiously and pushed the door open.
There was a roaring fire in the hearth and candles burning on the mantle. Grant’s uniform was lying in an untidy heap on the floor and he was sitting on the edge of an old sofa, shirtless and wrapped in a blanket from the waist down, trying to tie a bandage around the top of his left arm with one hand.
He looked up as De Lancey struggled to close the door behind him against the wind, smiling to himself at the expression of astonishment and concern on the younger man’s face.
"Oh do not look so worried, it is only a flesh wound. Here, give me a hand with this."
Not knowing what else to do, De Lancey sat down beside him and took over the bandaging. His initial surge of relief at seeing Grant alive was fading and he pulled the bandage tighter than he needed to, feeling a small sense of satisfaction as Grant winced at the pain.
"That’s for the merry chase you have led me." He sighed heavily. "You can’t keep putting yourself in danger like this, Grant. Your luck will not hold forever."
Grant just grinned. "I would say finding this place was pretty lucky, wouldn’t you?"
De Lancey gave in - it was impossible to stay angry when Grant was smiling at him like that.
"So what happened to Brennan?"
"Oh, he got away." Grant did not look as displeased with the notion as he should have. "I suppose I ought to be out there looking for him but I thought I would just make myself comfortable here and wait for you."
De Lancey's confusion was evident in his furrowed brow.
"You make it sound like you knew I would come."
Grant reached out and took his hand, tracing a fingertip over the palm as if he were trying to read a story in the lines nature had placed there and pressing his lips to the one line whose story he knew - the scar that ran from one side of that beautiful hand to the other, the scar that stirred memories of another time and place and a youthful confession of love.
"Oh William, do you think I don’t know you after all these years?" He kissed each finger in turn as he looked deep into De Lancey’s eyes.
"You never stopped trying to reach me, even when I pushed you away so hard it must have broken your heart. You loved me when I believed I didn’t deserve to be loved and refused to give up on me when I’d all but given up on myself. You followed me to the other side of the world and brought me back from a waking nightmare I thought I’d never escape. You stayed beside me when others would have fled, held me when I faltered and caught me when I fell. The one thing I can count on in this life is that you will be there when I need you. Of course I knew you would come."
De Lancey let his head rest on Grant’s shoulder and gave a deep sigh. “There is something I need to tell you.”
“I know.” Grant kissed his forehead. “It’s alright. Colonel Murray is a family friend. He wrote and asked me if I thought you would be suited to the post.”
“It’s not alright.” De Lancey looked up at him. “I promised I would stay with you.”
A furrow appeared on his brow. “Wait. You told him to offer it to me?”
Grant shrugged. “You are the best man for the job. I could not put my own needs before the good of the army. Besides, I think he had already made up his mind.”
“But what if I do not want it?”
Grant stroked his hair. “You must accept it.” A smile played around the corners of his mouth. “Or else I will be stuck here with Colonel Murray while you are God knows where on another assignment.”
He chuckled as he watched the realisation dawn on De Lancey’s face.
“Like I said. A family friend. He had no hesitation in providing a recommendation when I requested a transfer to the Quartermaster General’s Department and even less when I asked that I be appointed to his staff.”
De Lancey tried to look affronted but his eyes were full of delight as he gave Grant a playful shove and wrapped his arms around him.
“Dammit Grant. Why did you not say?”
“I was going to surprise you when we got to Dublin,. Grant pushed him away with an exaggerated shudder. “Ugh, get off me. You’re all wet.”
“Well, that is easily remedied.” De Lancey flashed a wicked grin. He sat back and started unbuttoning his coat but Grant reached out a hand to stop him.
He took his time, pausing every now and then to look up at De Lancey’s face, savouring the sight of his wide eyes and the flush in his cheeks from the icy wind and the heat of the fire, now intensified by a glow that seemed to come from deep within.
When he reached the final button, he casually tossed the coat on top of his own, prompting a raised eyebrow from De Lancey, who had never thought to see him being so careless with a uniform.
Grant shrugged. “What?” as he lifted the shirt over De Lancey’s head and threw it on the pile with the rest.
De Lancey grinned and slipped his hand under the blanket, drawing a gasp from Grant as he stroked the length of his cock with the tip of a finger.
Grant bit his lip. “Not yet,” he breathed reluctantly, removing De Lancey’s hand and bringing it up to his mouth to kiss his palm once more, “I haven’t finished.”
He got up and turned to face the sofa, letting the blanket fall as he dropped to his knees.
De Lancey sighed with pleasure when Grant lifted his feet to remove his boots and reached up to slide his breeches down over his hips.
He watched with anticipation as Grant leant forward and left a trail of kisses up his thigh, and felt himself trembling with desire as his lover held his cock and slowly ran his tongue around the tip, teasing him with his lips before taking it into his mouth.
“Oh God, Grant!” he groaned, “that feels so good.”
Grant responded by going so deep that he almost lost control.
“Wait!" He gasped, pulling Grant up off his knees and pushing him back onto the sofa with such force that it shifted its position, knocking an unlit lamp from a small table beside the hearth.
As De Lancey reached over to pick it up, a drop of oil leaked from the font and landed on the back of his hand, giving him a notion that brought a mischievous smile to his lips. Instead of placing the lamp back on the table, he lifted it up and let the warm oil drip slowly onto Grant’s chest and stomach.
He drew his fingers through the oil, circling Grant’s nipples and tracing a line down through the soft golden hair on his chest then raised himself up and lay on top of him, his cock sliding against Grant’s in the slick heat between their bodies.
Grant’s breath was hot on his neck as he murmured, “ I want you William.” He put both hands on De Lancey’s arse, and pulled him closer. “I want to feel you inside me.”
De Lancey’s breath caught in his throat. Despite the intimacy that had grown between them, it was the one thing he had never asked for, no matter how much he had wanted it.
His voice was a hoarse whisper.
“Are you sure?”
“If you want to...” there was a flicker of hesitation in Grant’s eyes, an unspoken question almost too fleeting to notice, If you still want me after what have I told you. Now that you know what happened to me.
“Oh, my love. You have no idea…” De Lancey kissed him hard. “I just... I’ve never... I don’t want to hurt you.”
Grant smiled, all traces of doubt extinguished as he saw the longing in De Lancey’s gaze. He held up fingers glistening with oil. “I have a feeling this might help.”
He lifted his legs and guided De Lancey’s hand down over his balls, pressing his fingers firmly against his hole.
His body responded to De Lancey’s eager touch as he opened up to let those long fingers enter and he shuddered with yearning when he felt the tip of that slick, hard cock rubbing against him.
De Lancey slowly pushed himself upwards and Grant moaned with pleasure as he felt it sliding in inch by inch.
“Yes. Give me more.”
The ecstasy on Grant’s face chased away all De Lancey’s fears and he pushed in as far as he could, his hips pressing up against Grant’s body as he felt the muscles tightening around him.
“Harder.” Grant demanded, his nails digging into De Lancey’s shoulders and his head thrown back against the arm of the sofa.
De Lancey thrust faster and deeper, licking and biting Grant’s neck as the heat built inside him and he knew Grant could sense he was getting close as his breathing sped up and a low grunt escaped his lips.
“Oh God... I can’t...I need to...Oh Grant..”
“Yes.” Grant gasped as his own need matched De Lancey’s urgency, “Yes...oh God yes...come on...fill me, William.”
The words drove De Lancey over the edge. Grant’s hands were on his arse again now, pulling him in over and over until he could not hold back any longer and he spent inside him with a long deep groan. He cried out as the spasms shook his body and he felt Grant’s hot emission filling the space between them, mixing with the oil and the sweat that drenched their trembling bodies.
Grant wrapped his legs around De Lancey’s waist and held him until he stopped shaking, caressing his back, stroking his hair and gently kissing his neck. De Lancey moaned and whimpered in his ear as he collapsed on top of him, and Grant could feel his heart pounding, his breath gradually slowing and his cock still throbbing and pulsing inside him.
“You are amazing,” he whispered.
De Lancey raised himself up on his elbows and kissed Grant tenderly on the lips, his eyes reflecting the golden glow of the fire.
“We are amazing.” He smiled. “Together.”