“They’re still following me, aren’t they?” Grant lengthened his stride and kept his eyes fixed straight ahead.
De Lancey looked over his shoulder and tried not to laugh at the sight of the three cubs trotting along at the major’s heels.
“Afraid so.” He couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “I think they want to get to know their father.”
Grant narrowed his eyes and gave him a withering stare. “Well, they are going to be disappointed then.”
He lifted the flap of his tent and gestured for De Lancey to enter, fastening the ties behind them in the hope that the enclosed space would prove off-putting to the young animals. However, his plan was soon thwarted as three little noses poked under the canvas and their owners pushed their way into the tent, closely followed by their watchful mother.
Looking at their eager faces, Grant felt his heart soften but he didn’t want to give De Lancey any more reasons to tease him about the situation.
“No,” he said in as firm a voice as he could manage. “I have no intention of playing with you. Here, do something with this.” He threw them an old stocking which they pounced on with great glee and began to toss around.
As he watched them play, De Lancey’s curiosity got the better of him and he blurted out the question that had been on the tip of his tongue for the last few hours. “So what was it like? Do you remember?”
Grant snorted. “Perhaps, but I wouldn’t tell you even if I did. Why, are you jealous?”
“Maybe.” De Lancey moved closer and put his hands on Grant’s waist. “Or maybe I just want to know what you’re like when your animal instincts take over.” He kissed Grant deeply and moved his hands lower, grabbing his arse and pulling his hips forward.
The vixen, who had been sitting quietly in a corner keeping an eye on the cubs, twitched her tail and let out a low warning growl.
De Lancey let go of Grant and laughed as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “I don’t think we’re going to have any fun tonight with your lady friend in the room. How about a drink?”
Grant took off his coat and neckcloth and unfastened the buttons at the collar of his shirt. He picked up a flask of brandy and settled down on the ground, leaning back against De Lancey’s legs.
They sat like that for a while, passing the flask back and forth and watching the cubs playing tug-of-war with the stocking and looking very serious as they practiced their hunting skills on a rag that De Lancey attached to a bit of string and dangled in front of them.
Eventually Grant sighed. “We can’t let them stay. What on earth would Wellington say if he saw them? He’d probably set the dogs on them for heaven’s sake.”
The cubs stopped what they were doing and looked at him almost as if they understood what he was saying. The smallest of the three padded over and climbed into his lap as the other two watched apprehensively.
De Lancey gave a delighted squeal. “Oh look, what a brave little soul you are.” He reached down and stroked the cub’s head. “A short but intrepid explorer, just like your dear papa.”
Grant rolled his eyes but he couldn’t resist the cub’s adorable face and the way it was pushing its head into De Lancey’s hand and closing its eyes in bliss as he scratched behind its ear.
As soon as he gave in and started petting it, the other two bounded over to him and climbed on as well, jostling for position and nipping at his shirt with excited little yelps and squeaks.
Grant struggled to maintain his composure as one of the cubs clambered up his chest and started licking his face but his facade broke when another somehow managed to pull his shirt tails from his breeches and disappeared beneath the fabric only to poke its head out of the open neck under his chin, prompting a howl of laughter from De Lancey.
Clearly not wanting to be left out of the fun, the other two joined their brother and the overwhelming onslaught of whiskers and soft fur soon had Grant rolling on the floor gasping for breath with tears of laughter running down his face as he tried in vain to extricate them from his clothing .
“Save me!” He wheezed. “I can’t breathe!”
De Lancey smirked. “Oh no. You made your bed, so to speak. And now I know how ticklish you are, well...”
In the end, the only way Grant could stop the torture was by taking off his shirt and pushing the cubs back onto the ground. He crawled over to the bed and sat down next to De Lancey, leaving them to resume their games.
When it became obvious that the youngsters were tiring, the vixen got to her feet and gave a little bark. The cubs gathered around her and she ushered them towards the tent flap with her nose. Before she disappeared into the night, she looked back over her shoulder at Grant as if to thank him and reassure him she would take care of them.
Grant smiled wryly to himself and rested his head on De Lancey’s shoulder.
“I think I’m going to miss them, you know. Do you think they’ll be alright out there?”
De Lancey put an arm around him and kissed the top of his head. “Of course they’ll be alright,” he said, ”after all, they are Grants.”
A year or so later, Grant was carrying out a mission for Wellington in a region almost 100 miles away from the location where these events took place. He had narrowly evaded capture and was being chased across the open countryside by the French when his pursuers were surrounded by three full-grown foxes with white crosses on their foreheads that nipped at the heels of the horses in an extraordinary show of fearlessness and determination. The resulting delay in their progress allowed Grant to make good his escape and return to camp with a vital piece of intelligence.
The only person he told about this was De Lancey.