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The Wolf Man/Creature From the Black Lagoon


Note: I’ve taken some liberties (what else is new?) with the Great Hurricane of 1780. To my knowledge, no Spanish ship named The Queen of the Silver Rose ever sailed or went down in that storm. BEA is British European Airways. Character death, we were expecting this, and it isn't pretty. This is Marconi’s POV, so there’s a little m/f here as well. 

Part 18


Things had been set into motion. I’d had to liquidate some assets to raise the folding for this venture, not that I really cared. Personal computers were fine in science fiction movies, but they’d never be a reality. I was happy to dump the shares I owned, although my broker almost cried. What did the wanker know? 

I’d done a little research on the treasure fleet that was lost in the Great Hurricane of 1780, and sure enough, the flagship of the fleet, La Reina de la Plata se Levantó, had gone down somewhere off the southeast coast of Brazil. According to the manifest that was on record in Spain, she had been carrying several tons of gold and silver bullion, as well as chests of doubloons, pieces of eight, and jewels worth a king’s ransom. 

Oh, yeah, I was going to have so much lovely lolly I’d be able to buy London if I wanted it. 

I met with the sailors Jenny had told me of. "I'm Ricky," the one announced briskly. "My mate's Andy. Last names aren't necessary." 

I took an instant dislike to both of them. They were taller than I, dark haired, with hard, toned bodies. The one who said his name was Ricky wore shades even though the day was overcast. “Take the glasses off!” I snapped irritably. 

His head turned in my direction, but the lenses were too dark for me to see his eyes. “Sorry, Gov. No can do. I have a sensitivity to light,” he said in a soft voice. I glared at him, but he just shrugged. 

The shorter of the two, who looked in constant need of a shave, hovered over his mate, touching his arm or stroking his thigh. “Poor Ricky,” he murmured. “Are your eyes bothering you very much today, pet?” It was obvious they had a physical relationship, and I turned away in disgust. Fucking fags. 

But I wanted the treasure, and I’d use them to get it. And once I had it, I’d get rid of them. After all, accidents happened all the time. Paul Sarone was the man to see they happened. 

I needed him to supply a boat that would get us to Isla del Queimada Grande, and some men who could do the grunt work as well, men who knew better than to ask any questions. According to the late Juan Zolo, Sarone was the man to get them for me as well. 

However, the telegram I’d sent to Paul Sarone had gone unanswered, and I’d have to wait until I arrived in Brazil to try contacting him again. I didn’t know why the bloody bastard had to live in such an out-of-the-way, god-forsaken place as Furo do Infero! 

In the meantime, I needed a little recreation. Recently I had met this skinny little model. She had as many curves as an adolescent boy, but for some reason she attracted me. We'd been clubbing and then returned to my pad. After undressing, we shared a joint, and she lay sprawled on my bed, high as a kite, her eyes glittering manically as I ran my hands and tongue over her flat chest. Her nipples were the size of lug nuts, though, highly sensitive, and she writhed as I sucked them voraciously. I pulled her thighs apart and was about to stick my dick into her, and then I got another of those goddamned phone calls. I continued to fondle her breasts. 

“You starting to worry, Marconi?” the hoarse voice asked. “I would, if I were you. Your ass is grass, you know that? And it belongs to me! Why don’t you save us all the trouble and eat a bullet?” 

My fingers tightened on a nipple, and she hissed a protest. There was tight laughter over the line, and I slammed the phone down. The model, what the fuck was her name? I decided I didn’t fucking care. The model giggled inanely. She arched her body in what I’m sure she thought was a sensuous invitation. “I’m horny, Cally,” she said in a little girl whine. Her fingers stroked and probed her woman’s flesh. She was wet and slick with arousal. “Make love to me!” 

I growled, flipped her over, and shoved my dick into her arse. She squealed and cried, but I held her hips in a bruising grip and paid her no mind. I was going to fuck her until I came. 

But goddamn it, I couldn’t come. I pulled out of her and flopped over on the bed, glowering at the ceiling. She continued to snivel into the pillow. I slapped her arse and rolled to reach for my wallet. I threw her some bills and yelled, “Gino, get this fucking bitch out of my house!” 

He appeared in the doorway, his hair tousled from having been asleep. Yawning, he walked around the room gathering up her clothes and then took her arm. Mascara streaked her hollow cheeks as tears continued to stream down her face, and she limped out of the room, one cheek of her skinny arse sporting a bright red palm print. 

When I was finally alone in my room, I stared blankly into space. It was the snake boy's fault that I hadn't been able to come! I knew it had been him on the phone. Since Boxing Day at least one call a day had come in, taunting me, threatening me. How the fuck was I going to get my hands on him? 

How the fuck was I going to keep him from getting his hands on me? 

I put in a call to a drone who worked at BEA. “Get me on a flight out of Heathrow and to Rio de Janeiro now, or your wife is going to see some very interesting pictures of you and that Great Dane!” Satisfied with his stammered, stuttered response, I hung up. When he called back, it was to verify my first class accommodations on the following day’s mid-morning flight. He was able to get seats for my underlings in tourist. I wasn’t about to pay more for them than I had to. 

Everything was under control; the timetable had just needed to be tweaked a little. "Gino!” 

“Yeah, Boss?” 

“Find those two fucking sailors. We’re going to Rio tomorrow.” 

He glanced at the bedside clock. It was late, but that didn’t matter. He had the number for the rooming house where they were staying; the taller sailor had left it with Jenny. Gino would call and make sure they got the message to be at the London airport, or else face consequences that were too dire to be conceived of. 


I had never been a good flier. There was turbulence, a rainstorm, more turbulence; in general, it was the flight from hell. Seventeen goddamn hours, and a connection that had to be made in Frankfurt. Who the fuck’s idea was it to have a connecting flight in Frankfurt sodding Germany? I was so bloody furious that I wanted to cosh the drone who’d set this up, and the passenger in the seat next to me, also, who persisted in informing me of what a good traveler she was. Since I spent a good portion of the time in the loo tossing my cookies, I was seriously considering opening a hatch and shoving her out with a well-placed boot to her arse. 

Finally the jet touched down at Rio de Janeiro’s Internacional airport. “Geez, Boss, that was a bit of all right! I ain’t never been on a jet before. Ricky said it wasn’t a bad flight, just long.” Gino had joined me at the baggage carousel and retrieved our luggage, then trailed after me. It was obvious he wasn’t suffering from jet lag. I snarled at him and looked for his travel companions. 

The two sailors, Andy and Ricky, had slung their duffles over their shoulders and strolled out into the bright Rio sunlight. I hurried after them. 

I was still dressed in clothes suitable for winter in the UK, and the heat slapped at me like a wet dishrag. I gasped and tore off my coat. “Bugger!” The one called Ricky turned and grinned at me. His eyes were hidden by dark glasses. Furious, I stalked to him and ripped them off. “Don’t you laugh at me! Don’t you ever fucking laugh at me, or I’ll rip off your balls and stuff 'em down your throat!” 

He stared down at me. I’d heard his… ‘friend’ say, “I love your eyes, pet.” But I failed to see what was so attractive about them; they were simply a mundane brown. He reached for his glasses, and involuntarily I backed away a step. 

“D’you mind, Gov? The light hurts my eyes.” For someone who was dependent on my good will to last out the day, he was extremely confident. He slid the shades onto his face. “Where do we go?” 

I ground my teeth. My contact still hadn’t been in touch with me at the time we left London. “I’ve had rooms booked for you in a youth hostelry. Wait there until you hear from me.” 

“I’m sure we can find something to keep us … occupied.” The shorter one, Andy, leaned into his mate, and I thought he was going to kiss him. 

“Yeah,” Ricky murmured. His tone was so satisfied I wanted to shoot his dick off. “You going to be with us, Mar… Mr. Marconi?” 

The wanker was actually going to call me by my last name? I glared at both of them. “Don’t be so bleeding ridiculous. I’ll be staying at the Copacabana Real.” But if I didn’t hear from Sarone soon, I’d have to send Gino out to hire us a boat. I hoped he at least had enough sense to get one that floated. 


The hotel was luxurious, highly rated by Michelin. Situated near Arpoadar and Ipanema, and only a two-minute walk from the beaches with all those bare-breasted birds, it offered a five star restaurant whose imported French chef boasted a diploma from Cordon Bleu. It also provided an exercise room with a sauna and hot-and-cold running masseuses on premises twenty-four hours a day. They were available for in-room… massages… as well. 

I was lying on the table that was a discreet part of my suite’s decor. The exotic, dark-haired beauty poured a pool of scented oil warmed in her palms in the hollow of my back, and then began to work it into my tension-knotted muscles. She had educated hands; her fingers alone could have held a degree from Oxford. I was toying with the idea of turning onto my back and letting her become acquainted with Mr. Big when there was a peremptory knock on the door to my suite. 

“Do you wish for me to answer that, senhor?” 

“Yeah, yeah, find out who it is, and then get rid of him. I’ve got plans for you, baby.”  

I could hear the liquid vowels of her language as she spoke to whoever was at the door. Damned foreigners. The least they could do was speak English.  

“Mr. Marconi?” 

I raised my head and glared at the man who sauntered past the masseuse. He was an older man, dressed in a loose-fitting shirt with a design of outrageous birds. Canvas pants left his lower legs bare, and on his feet were shabby deck shoes. He wore a stained cap that looked as if it might have belonged to someone from the Brazilian navy at one time. When he tipped it back, I could see his hair was sprinkled with grey. He needed a shave; his chin and jaw covered with grizzled stubble. A toothpick hung from the corner of his mouth, and he chewed on it with casual disregard. 

“Yeah, I’m Marconi. What’s it to you?” 

“Word is you need a boat.” The man spoke not English, but American. He jerked his thumb toward his chest. “I got one. If the price is right.” 

I signaled the masseuse to wait in the bedroom, and didn’t speak until she shut the door behind her. “Sarone sent you? Why didn’t he get in touch with me personally?” He just hitched his shoulder and looked bored. I decided to proceed cautiously. “Name your fee, and I’ll tell you if I’m interested.” 

He took the toothpick from his mouth and examined it thoughtfully. “Five hundred a day.” 

“Pounds? Are you out of your sodding mind?” 

He shrugged. “I got expenses that need to be met, amigo. Fuel, supplies, my crew. And there are palms that need to be greased as well.” 

Bribes I understood. Still… I made a counter offer. “Five hundred dollars, not pounds.” 

He looked pensive. The toothpick went back in his mouth, and he chewed it some more. “Make it three hundred pounds, and you’ve got a deal,” he finally said.  

I gritted my teeth and sat up, making sure the towel was draped over my lap, covering strategic parts. “Very well,” I agreed grudgingly. “Three hundred pounds a day.” 

“And I need two hundred up front. Call it good-faith money.” 

I wanted to good-faith his head right off his shoulders. “Yeah, fine.” Maybe an accident would befall him as well as the two sailors. “What kind of boat have you got? I mean, for what I’m paying I’d better have my own cabin. My bodyguard and a couple of arseholes will be coming along as well.” 

“My boat is a twenty-eight foot cabin cruiser. She’s got twin inboards, a full galley, and a head with a shower. Aside from the captain’s quarters, the Josie has two other cabins. Ditch the assholes, amigo. They can’t come, not if you want your own cabin.” 

“The arseholes have to come, never mind why.” I wasn’t going to tell him about the treasure on that little island. The fewer who knew of that, the happier I would be. “Listen, they’re sailors, they can deal with ship stuff. You can leave your crew on shore.” 

His eyes narrowed. “That’s not an option.” He turned on his heel and headed for the door. “My mate goes where I go.” 

“Hold it, hold it, hold it!” I groused. I knotted the towel around my waist and slid off the table, then began to pace, doing some fast thinking. “Gino is my bodyguard, he can sleep guarding my door. The arseholes are fruits, they can share a cabin. Your mate can bunk with you. That’s my last offer. Accept it, or the whole deal is off.” 

I turned away, not wanting him to see I was holding my breath, and I wondered if he was going to argue further, but instead he said, “Okay, I guess I can live with that. Where did you want to go, and when did you want to leave?” His palm was extended, waiting for the advance. I went into the bedroom and retrieved my wallet, peeling off a number of bills. I returned to the other room. 

“I’ll be down at the pier first thing tomorrow morning, and I’ll tell you our destination once you’ve cast off.”

He counted the bills, his manner insulting, and then he stuffed them in his pocket and grinned around that goddamned toothpick. “All right, amigo. The Josie is in number thirteen slip. I hope you’re not a superstitious man. By the way, my name is Reed." He touched the brim of his cap and walked out of the room.   

I went to the telephone and dialed the number for the hostel. Then I had to wait until the old man who ran it went looking for Gino. It would have taken less time for me to walk there and find him myself. 


“Yeah. The docks, five tomorrow morning. Slip thirteen.” 

“Bugger, Boss! That’s a damn unlucky number!” 

“Never mind that. Just be there, and make sure those two are with you!” I hung up. 

“Does the senhor wish to continue with his massage?” The masseuse was standing in the bedroom doorway. I had forgotten all about her. I could feel my muscles had all knotted up again. 

“Fuck, yeah.” I dropped the towel and laid down on the table. 


I had a bloody rotten night, dreaming of wolves that stalked me through the shadowed, mist-shrouded streets of Rio. When the operator rang my room with the wake-up call I’d left for four thirty, I was logy and exhausted, my legs ached as if I’d spent the night running, and my sweat carried the stink of fear. I swore at her, slammed down the phone, and fell back to sleep. It was almost an hour later when I woke again, and I was late.  

Then I thought, bugger it, it was my charter. They’d wait for me, or I’d know the reason why. 

I stumbled into the shower, letting the stinging spray wash away the cobwebs, then brushed my teeth to rid my mouth of the ‘something died there’ taste in it, dressed, and went down to the hotel’s restaurant for a breakfast that included the Brazilian coffee that everyone was always carrying on about. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was for; coffee was coffee.   

Ringo Starr had taken up residence in my head, beating out the heavy, driving rhythm of Twist and Shout. I wasn’t able to do justice to the breakfast that was laid out for me; all I could manage was the fruit cup. I pushed myself away from the table and went to the lobby, where I had the doorman summon a cab. The little baby-shit yellow vehicle careened through the streets, and I shouted, “Basta! Rallentamento!” But the bastard didn’t slow down, and I almost yacked up one of my balls.  

I sat in the back seat with my eyes closed, breathing shallowly. Eventually, he pulled up at the pier. I handed him the fare, but no tip, and staggered out while he swore at me. I gave him the finger and went to search for slip number thirteen. 

“Hurry it up, Marconi!” that bleeding boat captain shouted when he saw me. “Time and tide, amigo!” 

He would have enjoyed it if I tripped and fell into the scummy water that lapped at the pilings his boat was tied up to, but no way in hell was I going to pull such a half-arsed stunt. Let him laugh at my expense? Not bloody likely! The wanker. I carefully made my way up the gangplank. 

The cabin cruiser was cleaner than I expected it to be. Captain Reed showed me to my quarters. It was very compact, with drawers built in below the bunk. Gino was going to be on the cramped side sleeping on the floor in front of the door. I didn't really care.  

The sick headache had gone from bad to worse, and I told the skipper I was going to have a bit of a lie down on my bunk. Maybe I’d catch forty winks. “Tell Gino not to bother me.” 

“Sure thing, Marconi.” I glared at him for his lack of respect, but he ignored me. “We’re going to cast off. If you'll give me the coordinates?” 

“Yeah, yeah.” I handed him the slip of paper I'd written the longitude and latitude of Isla del Queimada Grande on. He whistled when he read them, and the sound pierced my brain. I winced and waved him off, and laid down. In a matter of minutes I could hear the engines rev and feel their dull throb through the decking, beating in time to the throb in my head. And then I was mercifully asleep.  


It was the absence of noise that gradually woke me. I felt much better, and I relished the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor and the scent of the ocean blowing in through the open porthole. I stood and stretched, then went up on deck. 

Three men were standing on the port side of the boat, staring at the island that was about a hundred and fifty meters away. Rocky hills rose steeply, almost from the water’s edge, covered by a thick carpet of vegetation. “But… but… where is the beach? Where is the gold?” 

The tallest of the trio, the sailor, Ricky, pointed. “It's on the other side, Gov. We can't get in that way because of the reef. It would tear the bottom out of Captain Reed's lovely boat.” 


He turned to smile at me, and I felt a shiver run up my spine. Those goddamned glasses, hiding his eyes! “Not to worry, Gov. We'll take the dinghy in and walk across. It isn't too bad. And there’s that cave just chock full of treasure, as well. That's on the way, and you'll want to check it out, I'm sure." 

"Then what are we waiting for?" I began to dance with impatience. 

"If you’ll permit, Captain?” It had to be a sailor thing, the respect he afforded the boat's captain. 

Reed smiled thinly. "Of course." There was something else there, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  

“Where’s Gino? He can help with the rowing.” 

“Gino couldn’t make it.” The shorter sailor seemed to be entranced by the island’s terrain; his eyes were fastened on it. He continued before I could get a sound past suddenly dry lips. I was alone with these men? Well, I had a Webley-Fosbery in my pocket. “We didn't want to get him into trouble. He went looking for a good time last night. It was his luck he found just the opposite. He’ll survive, he’s just a little battered is all.” 

I glared at him. "You didn't think to tell me of this, back on the pier?" 

"I thought you wanted to get here as soon as possible. Look, we're ready to launch the dinghy, Mr. Marconi. Or would you rather we go back to Rio empty-handed?" 

"Just don't try any funny business." I climbed down into the little boat and showed them my gun. "I'm armed." I didn't show them the knife strapped to my calf. 

With easy, flowing strokes, the two sailors rowed us to the tiny beach. "Y'know, most shark attacks happen in not more than three feet of water," the tall one said conversationally. They jumped out into water that was about three feet deep, and I glanced around at it in suspicion as they dragged the dinghy onto the white sand. "You wait here, Andy." 

"No!" I barked. "He comes with us! We all go together!" 

"Andy needs to keep an eye out. That's the way it's done, Mr. Marconi." 

"Oh, yeah, right." I had seen enough pirate movies when I was a boy to know a lookout was always left behind on the beach. "Okay, let's go then." 

We began to climb up the hill. The higher we climbed, the denser the undergrowth became. I thought I heard slithering and kept whipping my head around at each sound. 

"Don't be so nervous, Gov. We just need to go over this rise. There's a bit of a forest and then the beach with all the gold." 

He was right. We entered the forest, and I noticed what seemed to be the remains of a path. "What's this?"

"Hmmm? Oh, that was the way the lighthouse keeper used to go for fresh water. It hasn't been used in ages; the lighthouse is automated now. Mind the vines, Gov." 

"Ta." I raised my hand to brush the hanging vine away from my face.  "Ow. Damn thing has thorns!" I continued on a few feet. "Ow!" I grabbed at a vine that draped over my shoulder and flung it away. "What the fuck? Is this place covered in thorns? Ow! Jesus, what…" 

He raised his arm as if to part the overhanging vines, and when he turned, there was a golden snake in his hand. Its body coiled around his forearm, and he stroked its lance-shaped head. I raised my eyes to his face, unable to understand what was happening. There was something wrong with his eyes, they were no longer brown, but gold, and the pupils were slim, vertical slits. 

"Here's your gold, Marconi," and his voice was the hoarse voice I had heard numerous times over the phone. He offered me the snake.  

"You're the snake boy!" I swallowed repeatedly and backed away from him, pain like fire shooting up my arm, down my shoulder, turning my legs to rubber and my bowels to water. Another sharp sting in my neck this time. A snake draped over my shoulder, and I yanked the smooth, surprisingly warm scaled body away, moaning as I felt the fangs tearing the flesh of my throat. 

Whimpers spilled from my mouth. I turned and ran back the way we had come. Captain Reed had to have anti-venom serum on his boat. I was paying him. He would have to save me! 

My vision began to cloud along the edges. I'd never make it back to the beach. I remembered the knife I carried. I ripped back my sleeve. My right arm was turning a frightening shade of purple-black and swelling, but I could see the two puncture wounds. I pulled out the knife and cut the skin. Blood flowed freely, and I felt relieved. I was doing something about the situation. It would be all right. 

I raised my arm to my mouth, sucked, and spat. More blood welled out. My trousers began to feel tight around my thigh. I cut a six-inch slit in the material, and shuddered as the discolored flesh seemed to surge through it. I made a cut between the punctures. The blood poured out, and for a second I was afraid I had nicked an artery. But I had severed arteries in other people and knew there were none in that part of my thigh. 

I swayed, now starting to become lightheaded, and I tried to find my way back over the lip of the hill to the beach. My pants' leg was soaked with blood, and it was dripping steadily from the wound on my arm. I couldn't do anything about the bites on my shoulder and neck. I staggered and went down to one knee, breaking the skin on a sharp rock. I heard more slithering, and moaned and pushed myself back to my feet. More blood. I was sweating as well. 

The top of the hill was just ahead of me. It kept wavering in and out, and I blinked furiously, trying to bring it back into focus. I forced myself up to my feet, falling over a couple of times before I finally succeeded. My breathing was rapid and shallow. Agony was a living, breathing thing, consuming me, eating me alive. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My heart was pounding. I looked behind me and saw a huge swath of blood. The undergrowth rustled, and I became panic-stricken. I took a single step forward and then pitched onto my face. 

This time I couldn’t even move. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of legs. The sailor… the snake boy. He squatted down beside me. “All dead, Marconi. Sarone. Halliwell. Zolo. You.”  

And bugger. He was right.


Note: Because St. John is a viscount's son, he would be referred to as the Honorable St. John Ashford. A hand is four inches. Measured from the ground to the withers (shoulders) Jingle Belle would have been fifty-eight inches. 


Part 19


Robert Dorincort was charming and handsome, with thick, fair hair, the texture of which made my fingertips tingle, and eyes so blue they did not seem real. He had his pick of any young man in the city, in the whole of the British Isles. Rumor had it even straight men were willing to bend over for him. 

He had made me admit I loved him. He had been fucking me senseless, and I shivered at the memory; I could still feel the ache deep inside me. He refused to let me come until I confessed to the unconfessable. 

The last person I had said 'I love you' to had been Mama, just before she vanished out of my life. Father never encouraged either Germaine or myself to speak of warm emotions. The result was that I never told anyone of my deepest feelings. For a long time I did not think I had any. 

And now, here I was, following Robert up the stairs, somewhat like a disconsolate puppy. Was this what love felt like, this searing feeling in one's chest? How did I know it was not simply heartburn? 

I was a trifle startled to see him open the door to his room and wait for me to precede him. “You… you want me to stay with you?” 

He looked exasperated. “Singe, don't you get it yet? You're mine. Of course you're going to stay in this bedroom with me. This is your bedroom, too, now.” He dropped my suitcase beside the door. 

“Oh.” I did not know what to say about that. I had thought he said he loved me simply to soothe my ruffled feathers, so that I would allow him to continue fucking me. Once he grew tired of my inexperience I had no doubt he would show me the door, disappointed with me, just as Father had always been. 

“All right, St. John. There's something I have to tell you.” 

Confused, I braced myself, unsure what he was going to say, unsure how I should react to it. I bit down on my lower lip and flinched. 

Robert seemed fascinated by my mouth. Then he shook himself and stated bluntly, “I'm a wolf.” 

I hid a relieved smile; I was aware of his reputation. I ran my eyes over his beautiful body. “Well, yes, of course you are.”  

He became impatient. “I’m serious, St. John.” And then he proceeded to spin the biggest cock and bull story I had ever heard. “Years ago, Lawrence Talbot, my grandfather, was bitten by a werewolf.” 

“I thought Mr. Sayer and Mr. Smythe were your grandfathers. Who is this Lawrence Talbot?” 

“He was a boyhood friend of Pere’s, and lived at Talbot Abbey, the neighboring estate in Kent. Quite frankly, I think there was something between the two of them at one time, Pere gets this faraway look in his eye, but never bring that up when Papa is around. He becomes quite put out! Sometimes I think Pere does that on purpose, to tease Papa. Now stop distracting me.” Robert looked at me blankly. “What was I saying?” 

This was fascinating. “Your grandfather was bitten by a werewolf.” 

“Oh, right. He had been seeing Jennie Williams, who was a local woman, and apparently he got her pregnant. My mother is his natural child, although she was raised by Papa and Pere.” Off-handedly he added, “And my father is also a shape-shifter.” 

“Just one second, Robert Dorincort!” I frowned at him. “You expect me to believe that when the moon is full, you turn into a hairy beast?” 

“I never have,” he said seriously. “I mean, I carry the bloodline, and I do get hairy. A bit. But… Drew is the one who turns, and possibly Ariane. None of the rest of us has shown any inclination.” 

He really did expect me to believe such arrant nonsense! “Then may I assume that I will not awaken one night to find you eating me?” I asked in what I was sure Robert would have taken wicked delight in referring to as my viscount’s son manner. 

“Oh, I didn't say that, green eyes!”  His eyes grew sultry, and he bared his teeth in a predatory grin. My penis hardened, and I moistened my lips. “I will eat you, and I assure you, you will enjoy it!” he murmured. He took a step forward; I took a step back. “Won't you?” I tried to prevent a whimper, but I could see from the heat of his gaze that I was not successful. He wound his fist in my shirtfront, pulled me to him, and brushed his lips over my mouth. “Won't you?” 

“Yes,” I groaned; I curled my hand around his neck. How could he do this so easily to me? I brought his mouth down to mine. “Yes, whatever you say!” 

Robert's hands stroked over my back and palmed my buttocks, squeezing them rhythmically. I thought he whispered something that sounded like, “My own sweet honorable; my beautiful boy,” but I could not have heard correctly. No one had ever used words like that to me. His fingers sank into the crevice that separated my arse cheeks, finding and teasing my anus, and he drew me against him, urging me to rub against his hard erection. 

I shivered and moaned and held on to him for dear life, while I rocked back and forth and fed off his lush mouth. His tongue toyed with mine, curling over it, stroking it, but for not nearly long enough. He withdrew it to trace the line of my parted lips, and I panted raggedly. 

“Yes,” he whispered back to me, and I rode the thigh he thrust between my legs. “That's the way. Show me how hot I can make you. Come for me, Singe.” 

With a cry I stifled by biting his shoulder, I climaxed. Robert laughed softly, triumphantly, then gave a startled groan as he shuddered against me and came. 

We stood in the middle of his bedroom, both of us surprised by what had just occurred. He ran a soothing hand over my hair, brushing it out of my eyes, holding me until we caught our breath. Then he tilted my head back and kissed me again. “I love you, Singe. Never doubt it.” 

I dropped my eyes, unable to meet the gravity in his. I wanted so badly to believe him. Did I dare permit myself to believe? I searched for something to conceal my own vulnerability. “Oh, bug…” Hastily I corrected myself. “Bother! Look at my trousers!” 

His expression was smug, and I did not know if I wanted to hit him or kiss him. He retrieved my suitcase, placed it on the bed and opened it, then handed me a pair of undershorts and trousers. “Go change, green eyes. We might as well get you settled in.” I went into the adjoining bath. By the time I returned, Robert had changed also, and was unpacking shirts and trousers, as well as, “Pajamas, St. John?” He displayed them, letting them dangle from his fingers, and a grin tipped up the corner of his mouth. They were made of extremely soft wool, and covered with purple, green, and golden dragons on a background of crimson. 

“It is very cold in Father's house,” I offered hesitantly. 

“My eyes! My eyes!” he teased. I had to smile. The colors were quite… vibrant. “I promise you, Singe, you won't be cold in my bed.” I became breathless. 

Next, he pulled out the Paddington Bear, and I could feel my cheeks heat with embarrassment. If I expected him to mock me, I was wrong; he simply stroked the bear's worn fur and handed him to me. I cradled the stuffed bear against me. 

Robert reached into the suitcase again, and my eyes widened. I tossed the bear aside. “I can do that, Robert!” But before I could stop him, he removed the little box that held all my treasures. “Robert…” 

He looked into my eyes, and I stood there, frozen, uncertain what to say or do. In that box were the mementoes of my childhood: a shiny shilling Grandfather had given me when Mama had once taken me to visit her family, a linen handkerchief she had left behind the last time she had come to tuck me into bed, a soft pouch filled with marbles that were a gift from Uncle James, a braided length of hair from the tail of my Welsh pony, Jingle Belle. Father sold her shortly after my thirteenth birthday, saying I had grown too big for a pony, although at fourteen and a half hands, she was still taller than I, and had no problem carrying me. One day about two weeks later, during an outing to Hyde Park, I had seen the child of one of his friends riding Jingle. Her eyes were rolling in distress, and her hide was streaked with sweat and welts from the crop the brat carried. I pulled it from her hand and threatened to use it on her. 

I jerked myself from the memory of the punishment that had earned me. 

Robert’s gaze sharpened, but he gently set the box aside, unopened, and ran his fingers over the curve of my unbruised cheekbone. “If you'll finish unpacking, St. John, I'll empty some drawers for you.” 

I did as he suggested. I could not live out of my suitcase, after all. It was too transient. However, instead of emptying just ‘some’ drawers, he emptied an entire dresser. How long was he intending to keep me? 

When we went downstairs for lunch, I began to get some idea. “Robert? What is all this?” The hallway was lined with boxes that contained everything I had left behind in my father’s house. 

“Oh… er… nothing, really. I just persuaded your father to have your things packed up and sent round.” 

“And Father agreed?” 

His blue eyes narrowed with savage amusement, and at that moment I quite believed his tale of carrying the shape-shifter blood. “I can be very persuasive when I choose.” 

Yes. He certainly could. 


“Tell me you love me, Singe.” 

St. John Ashford was whimpering nonstop as I pounded into him, each thrust stroking across his prostate, driving him closer and closer to the precipice. I nudged his legs further apart and leaned onto his back. Putting my full weight on him pressed his upper body down to the mattress and increased the angle of penetration. The sounds he made told me how much I was pleasuring him. 

I took my mouth off the patch of skin I was marking long enough to demand again, “Say it!” 

“Pleasepleaseplease!” he begged. A massive shudder rippled through his body, and I struggled to hold onto my control. 

“Say it,” and this time I was the one pleading. 

He sighed his capitulation, “I love you.” 

No matter how many times I told him, the only time he would admit to loving me was when we were making love, and I had to coerce it out of him. Never once since I’d brought him home from his father’s house had he freely said the words. Never once. Sometimes I wondered if he did that purposely, making me force him to reveal his feelings. 

I tightened my grip on his cock, shoved in twice more, and he came with a choked gasp, pouring himself into my hands. His inner muscles clamped down, and I howled and exploded into him as well. 

I eased us over onto our sides, somehow managing to keep my cock in his arse, his lovely, snug arse. For long moments we stayed like that, ragged breaths disturbing the quiet of the night. I smoothed my palms over his chest and down past his taut abdomen. 

Finally I slipped out of him and turned him onto his back. I tipped his chin up, and his green eyes, slumberous with sated desire, looked into mine.  “I love you, Singe.” 

He hummed with pleasure; at least I thought it was pleasure, I hoped it was pleasure, but he kept so much of himself bottled away from me. He said, “You have made a mess of me, Robert. Let me go, please. I want to get cleaned up before I fall asleep like this.” 

“Stay still.” Starting at his groin, I began to lick him clean, little, thorough cat licks. When I reached his chest I nipped and sucked his nipples, tugging gently on the ring that pierced one small, flat nipple, and he groaned and cupped the back of my head, kneading his fingertips firmly against my skull. 

“Robert,” he whispered. I held my breath, sure he was about to say the words I wanted to hear from him, but instead, “Let me get up, please. I am all sticky.” 

Defeated, I rolled off him. He slid off the bed and went into the bath. I listened to the water run, and stared at the ceiling, brooding. Talk about fucking up royally. No matter what I did, no matter how many times I said it, I couldn’t get St. John to believe I loved him. 

He came back with a damp flannel, and the bed dipped as he knelt on it. Moist heat enveloped my cock, and he gently cleaned me. The silence between us continued to grow. When he was finished, he disposed of the flannel in the bath, and when he returned he was dressed for bed. 

I sighed. I hadn’t been able to convince him not to wear those outlandish pajamas. 

“Get the light, would you please, Robert?” 

Was he deliberately trying to drive me out of my mind? I had never seen St. John like this. He didn’t snipe, he didn’t whinge, he was just so goddamned polite. 

I wondered if this icy politeness was how he had been treated, was what it had been like in the viscount's house. I wanted to hurl something across the room, preferably that cold, cold man for what he had done to my beautiful boy 

I snapped off the lamp and pulled the comforter up over the two of us. As had become his habit in the days since I’d brought him home, he snuggled down on the other side of the bed. Within five minutes, he was sound asleep. I rather wished I had the trick of that. 

It was sometime after midnight when I roused groggily. Nestled against me was St. John Ashford, his warm breath ruffling the hair that covered my chest. His arms were around me, and he held me as if he would never let me go. 

Each night it had been like that. He would go to sleep as far from me as he could get and still be on the bed, and sometime during the night he would wind up lying in my arms. It was the only thing that kept me sane, knowing that in his sleep, at least, he wanted me. 

I rubbed my cheek against his chestnut hair. It was a starting point. 


Mrs. Harris, our housekeeper, had prepared her usual sumptuous breakfast, in spite of the fact that only St. John and I were at home. Drew and his lover had disappeared. I fingered the note my brother had left and hoped he knew what he was doing. 

I wasn’t worried about Drew, not really. According to the note, they had some business to take care of somewhere in South America. I intended to get all the particulars of that trip from him when he got back. I had my ways. No, I wasn’t worried about my favorite brother, although I wasn’t above lying about it. Drew could never resist a hangdog look from any of the Siblings, but me least of all. I’d open my blue eyes very wide, regard him reproachfully, and he’d spill the details before he even realized it. 

St. John wandered into the breakfast room and helped himself to a cup of hot chocolate. He picked up a section of the newspaper and took a seat, a shy smile acknowledging my presence. 

I felt my heart kick. Could this be the start of… I reached for his hand. “Singe…” 

“Beg pardon, Mr. Robin.” Mrs. Harris entered, bearing an envelope. “Mr. St. John, this just arrived for you.” She handed it to him and returned to the kitchen. 

He opened the flap and withdrew the sheet of paper, unfolded it.  I watched as he scanned the message, becoming alarmed when he turned so pale I thought he might faint. “Singe, what's wrong?” 

St. John licked his lips. “My… my grandfather is inviting us to welcome in the New Year with him and Grandmother at their townhouse.” He raised a napkin to his mouth. His hand was trembling, but he strove for a tone of sophisticated boredom. “Odd. He has never expressed any interest in spending time with me before.” 

“This is rather brief notice, isn't it?” 

He nodded shortly and worried his lip. I wanted to kiss away the tiny hurt. “Robert, will you… will you accompany me?” 

“I am invited as well?” 

His expression became mulish. “I do not care! I want you with me.” He looked abruptly stricken. “That is, if you would not mind? This does say I may bring a friend if I so choose. Of course, I understand if you would rather not come, Robert. As you said, this is very brief notice, and you must have other plans! It is New Year’s Eve, after all. I quite understand if…” 

“For such a pretty boy, you often speak utter rot, St. John. What time does your grandfather want us there?” 

His relief was palpable. “Dinner is at eight. I'll call and accept.”  His eyes dropped back to the message. He touched his tongue to his lips. “It is formal.” 

“I’ve a monkey suit. When you belong to a family as involved with hunting and steeplechasing as mine, it’s a requirement.” I tensed. “Have you a tux?” I wouldn’t put it past the old bugger to do something like that just to embarrass his grandson. 

“Beg pardon? Oh, yes, of course. I unpacked it yesterday. Do you think Mrs. Harris might give it a bit of a touch up? I regret to say it is a trifle wrinkled.” 

That was an understatement. I remembered the clothing that he had removed from one of the boxes, a sigh marking his distress. Had his tuxedo been among that jumble? I wanted to hurt whoever had thrown his things so carelessly into the box. I took a firm grip on my temper. “I’m sure she won’t mind.” 

“Thank you.” He looked up from the note, his green eyes cloudy. “I… I hate to confess this, but I am a trifle… er… concerned about this meeting with Grandfather.” Concerned was not the word for it. He looked bloody terrified. “From what little Father has said of him, he is not a… a tolerant man.” 

“Perhaps he’s changed.” 

He laughed, a very sad sound that almost broke my heart. “No, my dear. People do not change that much.” 

My breath caught in my throat. He didn't appear to realize what he had just called me. “Perhaps your father lied about him.” 

“Father lie?” He looked stunned, as if such a notion never had occurred to him. 

I went around the table and knelt beside his chair. “Singe, I’ll be there with you. If either of them so much as look at you crosswise, I’ll tear their hearts out, I swear it!” I put my arms around him and laid my head against his chest. His heart beat rapidly beneath my ear. 

“Thank you, Robert.” He leaned over me and rested his cheek on my hair. “I…” But he didn't finish that sentence.


Note: St. John’s grandfather’s title is Pennington, but the family name is Blakeney, which is why his Uncle James was called Mr. Blakeney by the butler.


Part 20


My head was tipped back, and I was stroking the razor over my throat. I relished the idea that in the other room my lover was laying out his clothes for the evening. 

“Robert!” The panic in St. John’s voice had me gripping the razor like a weapon and sprinting into our bedroom. 

“Singe, what’s wrong?” I expected nothing less than a fiend. With fangs. 

He stood before his dresser, clad only in white boxer briefs, his bare toes curled into the rug. Dark chestnut curls covered his chest and arrowed in a narrow line down past the briefs which clung to his arse and lovingly molded his cock. My mouth went dry, and I almost swallowed my tongue. 

The only immediate danger St. John was in was from an aroused lover. I had to drag my eyes away from his body, and my mind from thoughts of stripping those briefs off that beautiful body and making love to him again. I stifled a moan and licked my lips. 


The least I could do was seem concerned with whatever his dilemma was. “What is it?” 

He stepped aside, and my jaw dropped open. 

The top drawer of his dresser was a shambles, with socks, handkerchiefs, shorts and undershirts tossed about, lying every which way. “I cannot find my shirt studs, Robert!” He sounded as if he was about to weep. “I know I saw them just a bit ago! I cannot go to a dinner party at my grandparents’ without shirt studs!” 

“Not to worry, green eyes.” I kept a serious expression on my face, although it was difficult. This was working out perfectly. I laid down the razor, rummaged through one of my own dresser drawers and found what I was ‘searching’ for. Nonchalantly I handed him a jeweler’s box. “Here, Singe. You can use these.” 

His eyes became enormous when he opened the box and saw its contents, emerald shirt studs, seven of them, and matching cuff buttons. “Robert, these are beautiful! I could not possibly borrow something as valuable as this!” 

“St. John, you’d be doing me a favor. Truly! I can’t use these! You see, I… uh… I bought them on impulse. Drew constantly chides me about that. They’re so… uh… pretty, and I thought they would go with my coloring, but I should have known better; I could never wear emeralds!” He was wavering. “Please take them, Singe,” I wheedled. “One of us might as well get some use out of them.” 

As I had been hoping, he believed me. “Thank you, Robert.” He took the box, running his fingertips over the precious stones, the smile in his eyes as bright as the emeralds he held. “I promise I will take excellent care of them!” 

The truth of the matter was that I had gone shopping a couple of days prior and had bought them specifically for him. 

I gave a silent sigh of relief. I had given St. John a gift, the first of a lifetime’s worth I hoped. He thought they were merely a loan, but I didn’t care. I’d been sneaky about it, but I’d got him to accept it. I picked up the razor and strutted back into the bath to finish shaving, feeling extremely satisfied. 

It had gotten me a spontaneous hug, as well. 


I was pacing the front hallway, glancing periodically at my wristwatch. What was taking him so bloody long to finish dressing? “St. John!” 

“Sorry.” He came trotting down the stair. His eyes were fastened on his wrist as he wrestled with a cuff button, and so he missed the dumbfounded expression I knew had to be on my face. The boy was absolutely gorgeous! His glossy chestnut hair was confined neatly in a queue at the back of his neck. His dress shirt was snowy white, with a series of neat pleats down the front. Emerald shirt studs winked in the overhead light. 

I knew they would go well with his green eyes. 

A cummerbund of deep forest green encircled his waist. The lapels of his tuxedo jacket were edged with satin, as were the cuffs. His untied bowtie hung from his neck. “These always give me a hard time. Ah! Success!” He smiled up at me and froze. He, in turn, studied my appearance. “Oh, my! Oh, Robert!” 

“What's wrong? Have I got something on my face?” I thought I had gotten all the shaving cream off before I dressed. 

Color stood out on his cheekbones. “No.” He swallowed and walked past me toward the door. “No, you look fine. Better than fine.” 

“I say, St. John…” Before I could tell him his tie was still undone, he wheeled around and came back to me, and I was enveloped by the most alluring scent. He was wearing something, cologne, possibly, or aftershave, although he was so smooth-skinned that he rarely needed to shave. It mingled with his natural scent. The heat of his body seemed to enhance the heady, musky combination. In spite of the fact that I’d had him in the bath earlier, my cock was hard and aching, pleading to bury itself in him again. 

His palms cradled my cheeks, his eyes swept over my face, my eyes, my hair, my mouth, and he brought my face down to his. The kiss he pressed to my lips was whisper soft. 

“St. John…” I groaned into his mouth, hoping he would deepen the caress. “God, but I love you!” 

St. John dropped his hands from my face, his eyes wide and hopeful. “If we do not leave now…” His lashes dipped down, shielding his eyes, and his tongue ran over his lips, as if tasting that kiss. I thought he might lean in to kiss me again, but instead he sighed and stepped back. “If we do not leave now, we will be late.” 

“Just a second, green eyes.” I rubbed my knuckles under his chin, then reached for the ends of his tie and began to form the bow. I took a deep breath, held it, almost drowning in his scent. “There. All done.” He looked handsome enough to cause a riot. “Now we can go.” I dropped a quick kiss on his mouth and took his arm to lead him out to the Jaguar that was parked at the curb. 


Lord Pennington's townhouse was discreetly lit and reeked of old money and blue blood. I left the Jag with his chauffeur who was waiting to park it out of the way. With a tug to straighten my tux jacket, I followed St. John up the shallow steps. “Singe, remember. We can leave whenever you decide.” 

“That would be an act of cowardice, Robert.” He smoothed a restless hand over his hair. 

The servant who opened the door seemed to recognize my lover. “Mr. Blakeney! How splendid to see you again, sir! I trust you are enjoying your usual…” 

“I am not my uncle,” St. John interrupted gently. 

“… good health? Oh,” his face fell. 

“I am St. John Ashford. This is Robert Dorincort.” 

“I beg pardon, sir. I can see now that you are too young to be Mr. James.” 

“I believe my grandfather is expecting us?” 

“Yes, sir. If you will come in, please? Lord Pennington would like a word with you, Mr. Ashford. Mr. Dorincort, perhaps you would not mind joining Lady Pennington in the lounge?” 

St. John’s fingers clutched my sleeve, the only evidence of his anxiety, but then he dropped it and stepped away from me. I touched his shoulder, stopping him, and glanced at the butler, my eyebrow cocked. “I do mind.” 

“Sir, please, I must insist…” 

“No. I go with St. John, or we both leave.” 

He looked put out, but in the face of my adamant refusal to budge from my lover's side, he had no choice but to usher the two of us into the dark-paneled study. 

Lord Pennington stood by the fireplace where orange and red flames snapped and crackled. He was solidly built, of medium height, with a shock of light brown hair that was liberally threaded through with strands of grey. His chin was tilted up, and meanly I wondered if his lordship presented that profile because at one time someone had told him it was his best side, or if he truly imagined that stance concealed his drooping jowls.  He stared at the painting of a pair of children that hung above the mantle. “Your Uncle James and Pamela, your mother,” he murmured to St. John. 

I was drawn to that painting myself. The boy, who was probably thirteen or fourteen, had dark auburn hair and vivid green eyes. His arrogant expression was captured by the artist’s talented hand. The girl, whose coloring was so similar it was obvious they were siblings, was a few years younger. She sat at his feet and gazed up at him with impish adoration. Her skirt was a pool of color around her knees, and a pair of puppies played with the ribbons that fastened the waist of her dress. It was easy to see the children’s relationship to my lover. 

Lord Pennington’s fingers drummed an agitated tattoo on the mantle, and a frown creased the bridge of his hawk’s beak of a nose. The frown deepened when he turned and saw I had accompanied his grandson. “I wished to speak with you alone, sir!” he barked at my lover. 

“I am very sorry, my lord. Robert will, of course, leave.” St. John paused a beat, and I stiffened, determined to stand my ground. Then he concluded, “If that is his wish.” 

The old man began to sputter. “What… what…”  

I was startled; I hadn’t expected my lover to defy this imposing man. And then I was irritated with myself for not giving him the credit to have enough bottom to stand up to his grandfather. 

I gave the baron my wolf’s grin. “I believe I shall delay making the acquaintance of your delightful wife until St. John can make the introductions himself, my lord. Now, if he has no objections to me hearing whatever it is you might have to say, I suggest you proceed. I am a trifle peckish, and your grandson knows how… ravenous I become when I haven't eaten.” 

St. John blushed. 

Lord Pennington’s brows beetled in a fierce scowl, but he stalked to the large desk where a couple of glasses filled with amber liquor had been sitting. He offered one to St. John, who shook his head. “I do not drink.” 

“What's this? Everyone in this family drinks! Are you trying to give us a bad name, boy?” 

“I hardly think you would care, my lord.” St. John’s voice was cold, and I shivered.  For the first time I was seeing him as his father’s son. I wondered again what it must have been like to grow up under Ashford’s roof. 

Lord Pennington choked on his drink. “I beg your pardon!” 

St. John shrugged. “In the last fifteen years, how many times, excluding tonight, have we met?” His grandfather was silent. “Exactly. May I ask why you… invited… me here this evening?” 

His lordship worried his lower lip, an action very similar to St. John’s when he was trying to decide the best method of answering a question or evading the need to answer a question. “I received a letter from your father earlier today.” 

“What did Father have to say?” 

“He said you were being debauched by this young man, and that he will not have a homosexual for a son. He is disowning you. As far as he is concerned, he now only has one son.” 

I heard my lover’s breath catch in his throat, although I didn’t think the old man had. 

“Ah. I believe I will have that drink.” St. John sipped the alcohol, grimacing at the taste, then knocked back the rest. His eyes began to water, and he gasped and coughed, painful, throat-rasping sounds. I took a step toward him, but he raised his hand, stopping me. 

Pennington watched with sour interest. “I am touched by your concern for my grandson, Dorincort. By the by, did you indeed attempt to break Ashford's hand?” 

“Why, yes, I did.” I smiled blandly into his eyes. “I took exception to his striking St. John.” 

The old baron peered at his grandson as if searching for the bruise, then looked away, uncomfortable. “That's family business, young man. We do not interfere with the way a man runs his family.” 

“Blakeneys do not, perhaps, but Dorincorts do.” I looked back at the portrait of his children. 

He glowered at me, his choler rising. “That is none of your affair, Dorincort!” 

“Is it mine, my lord?” St. John put the glass down and approached his grandfather. 

“I will not speak of it in front of this man!” 

St. John shrugged. “If that is how you feel, sir.” I was amazed that his grandfather could not feel the ice encasing him. “I will bid you good evening, then. Robert, you did say we might leave whenever I chose?” 

I nodded and went to him, but before we could leave the room, his grandfather snapped petulantly, “Oh, very well, St. John. You are indeed your father’s son!” 

St. John blinked. Hurt flashed briefly in his eyes, but otherwise he showed no reaction. 

“This stays within this room!” Pennington waited until we both agreed. “Ashford is very cold, very prideful. He guards his emotions like a miser’s gold.  If I had known that twenty-five years ago, I would have refused his request for Pamela's hand. She was such a happy, high-spirited girl. Half that season’s eligible bachelors were lined up for her, pleading for a flower from her corsage or a smile or a glance from her eyes.” He tugged on his lower lip. “You have her eyes, did you know that, St. John?” 

“No, I did not, my lord.” 

He glared at him. “Were you not the least bit curious about your mother, boy?” 

“The sole time I asked Father about her, he informed me only that I was the spitting image of Uncle James, and confined me to my room for the rest of the week. He forbade me from mentioning Mama again.” 

Pennington had the grace to look abashed. He glanced away, and it was some moments before he continued. “Ours is a very old name, St. John. Ashford was willing to settle for a baron's daughter in order to align himself with that name. Pamela began to grow weary of all that adulation, and so he took another tack; he was cool to her. It worked. She was only eighteen; she decided he was the one she had to have. Afterward, when she realized he was, in fact, as cold as he appeared and that there was no way for her to change him…” He became lost in thought, and when he spoke again, it was obvious he had forgotten I was there. “It took a few years, but once she finally became pregnant with Germaine, I hoped things would be better. I think, perhaps for a time, they were. Germaine looked so much like his father.” 

“Yes, it was always quite clear that Father loved Germaine.” 

“My boy…” 

“It is not important, my lord.” But his expression was bleak, and I felt a stinging behind my eyes. “Did Mama…” He cleared his throat. “… did she care for me at all?” 

“St. John, the only one she loved more than you was her brother, James. You favor him greatly, so much so that your father actually thought… ” He caught himself. “Well, never mind. That's neither here nor there.” 

I gritted my teeth, tempted to go after St. John's poor excuse for a family and hurt them as much as they had so casually hurt him. The old man didn’t even realize how devastated his grandson was. 

St. John was looking down at his hands. “I was four the last time I saw her.” His fingers were so tightly gripped together there was no color in them. 

“That last year Ashford seemed to grow even colder. Pamela pleaded with me to allow her to come home with you.” Pennington scrubbed his face. “I thought she was being hysterical. To my everlasting regret, I refused to believe her accounts of how he treated her. She had been such a joy as a child. How could anyone not love her? And then… and then she met someone who wasn't afraid of her warmth and fire. One of those ‘ologist’ fellows. An archeologist, I believe, or possibly an anthropologist...” He waved his hand dismissively, unconcerned with the occupation of the man his daughter had apparently loved more than she’d loved even her younger son. “If you weren’t so young, I’m certain she would have taken you with her.” 

“Instead, she left me with the man she, herself, could not live with. Yes, I see.” St. John was becoming more and more withdrawn. 

Before Lord Pennington could protest that, there was a tap on the door, and he looked around. “Yes?” 

“My lord, her ladyship wishes you to be informed that dinner is served.” 

“Please inform my wife that we will be along shortly.” He said nothing further until the door closed behind his butler. “The times your grandmother and I tried to see you, and it was a number of times I will have you know, young man! We were told in blunt terms that neither Lord Ashford nor his sons were at home to us. I even sent you and your brother ponies with the stipulation that when you outgrew them, they were to be returned to me.” 

“Jingle Belle was a gift from you, sir? Father never said.” 

The old man began to look appalled. “And when he said you decided you no longer wanted her…?” 

St. John’s mouth curved in an unhappy line. “You believed I had some say in whether I kept her or not?” His eyes glittered with unshed tears. “I understand now. No wonder you had no use for me.” 

“St. John, you understand nothing!” He ran his hand through his hair. “Pamela broke her mother's heart when she ran off with that archeologist, or whatever he was, not doing us the simple courtesy of telling us face to face, leaving only a note that wasn’t even handwritten! She used a typewriter, for godssake! Ashford took great delight in informing me that my grandson was exactly like my daughter, selfish and uncaring, and...” 

“And in spite of what you knew of him, you believed him?” I spat, unable to contain myself any longer. “Tell me something, my lord. Why didn’t St. John's mother take him with her when she left Ashford? If she loved him so much?” 

“I refuse to speak of this any longer! You are not family, Dorincort!” 

“Am I, sir? Have I the right to know why I have not seen my mother in fifteen years?” 

“What are you talking about, St. John? Your mother has been dead for more than ten years!” 

I leaped forward and caught St. John before he collapsed to the floor. He sagged in my embrace. “Chair!” I snarled. Pennington looked alarmed. He quickly fetched the one from behind his desk. I eased my beautiful boy into it, then pushed his head down between his knees. “Breathe, St. John, breathe!”  

His grandfather knelt beside us. “You had to have known, St. John!” he murmured urgently. “Ashford had to have told you! He received a message from some out-of-the-way consulate, informing him Pamela and her lover had been killed in some local insurrection!” 

“Robert.” St. John straightened slowly, his movements as stiff as an old man’s. “I would like to go home now. That is, if you do not mind having someone who is as selfish and uncaring and… and...” 

“St. John.” I helped him up and waited patiently until he met my eyes. “I love you.” Color rushed into his pale cheeks and a single teardrop spilled over. I caught it on my fingertip, and brought it to my lips. “Say good night to his lordship, St. John.” 

“Good night, my lord. Please tell her ladyship I am sorry to have missed dinner.” He paused at the door. “Happy New Year, Grandfather.” He walked out. 

“Dorincort.” Lord Pennington had the gall to appear upset. 

“Tell me, my lord. Do you enjoy kicking puppies?” 

“Now see here, Dorincort!” 

I clenched my fingers to prevent myself from knocking him down. After all, he was an old man. “No, you see here. Between the lot of you, you’ve broken St. John’s heart. Well, he’s mine now. Stay away from him, or you’ll all of you have to deal with me!” I pulled the door shut behind me. 


Part 21


St. John was subdued as we walked from the mews after garaging the Jag. I had my arm around his shoulder, my fingers gently kneading it, and kept him firmly anchored to me. We entered the townhouse. It was so quiet there when no one else was at home. 

I removed my jacket and draped it over the banister and watched him uneasily. “Not the smartest of moves on my part, I’m afraid. I'm sorry, Singe, I should have waited at least until after we'd eaten before making that grand statement.” 

My attempt to lighten the moment didn’t work. “He never told me, Robert. My own father, and he never told me my mother had been dead all this time.” He hadn’t regained his color, and his usually bright eyes were muddy. “Why would he do that? I understand that he always loved Germaine best, I do, Robert, really I do. But how could he not tell me Mama was dead?” 

//Because the sodding son of a bitch is a fucking, bent bastard who’s a waste on the face of the earth!// I put my arms around him and rocked him, stroking my hands soothingly up and down his back over the tux jacket he still wore. 

There was something off about the entire situation. I could not see one of my siblings going off as St. John’s mother was purported to have done and we not making a serious attempt to track him, or her, down. Perhaps it was just because the Blakeneys were the way they were. I wished Drew were home. What was he doing in Brazil? I needed to talk with him now. 

“Let’s go see if Mrs. Harris has anything in the larder.” I kissed his cheek and was about to step away from him. He held on for just a second longer, his lips caressing the side of my neck, and I hummed with pleasure and tipped my head to give him better access. The warmth of his breath turned the hum to a groan that vibrated through me. He nuzzled my jaw and released me. 

“I thought you said she would spank my bare bum if I was cheeky enough to dare cooking in her kitchen.” He couldn’t help but notice my body’s response to his words. Rats, hoist by my own petard. His eyes lightened, and his glance became decidedly wicked. “I will cook something for you, shall I? See if you can find any vegetables. I know I saw a steak in the refrigerator earlier.” He followed me into the kitchen and hung his jacket on the back of a chair. 

He wore white braces, elegant white braces, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from placing my palms beneath them on his chest, and sliding them over his shoulders and down off his arms. My fingers itched to unfasten his trousers, to free his cock and tease it to hardness. When had formal wear become so arousing? Or was it just the way he wore the clothes? 

Vegetables. He wanted me to see if we had any vegetables. I could do that. I wasn’t an animal who couldn’t control his baser instincts. I crossed to the opposite end of the kitchen. 

“Did you mean it, Robert?” 

“Beg pardon?” My head was in the pantry, and I was doing a fast tally. “There are some carrots and potatoes in here. And I believe Mrs. Harris picked up some celery; it should be in the crisper. Will they be of any use?” I stayed out of the kitchen as much as possible. Although I could cook if I had to, I was not a dab hand at it. If it was my turn to cook, the Siblings found other places to be. 

“Yes, that will be fine. Robert. I think we shall need something to tide us over until dinner is ready, cheese and crackers perhaps?” He was looking away from me, but distress was written in every line of his body. 

I became very still. “St. John. Did I really mean what?” 

He took out a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese and began to slice it carefully, setting it on crackers he had found in a tin. He arranged them on a platter, avoiding my gaze. I was a little surprised at how well he knew where everything was in my kitchen. “Did you really mean what you told Grandfather? That…” 

“That your family would have to deal with me if they came near you again? Yes.” 

“No. Well, yes, but you also stated quite vehemently that I was yours.” He took a couple of wine glasses from a cabinet. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc had been chilling in the fridge, and I took it out and extracted the cork; it would compliment the cheese nicely. 

“Again, yes.” I picked up a piece of cheese and offered it to him. He tried to take it from me, and I pulled my hand back. “Please?” His lips parted in surprise, but he let me feed it to him. With an effort, I brought my mind back to the point I was trying to make. “St. John, what don't you understand about ‘you are mine’? I thought it was quite clear, myself. Haven’t I been telling you for days that I love you? You… belong… to me.” I interspersed each word with a kiss. 

He sighed and leaned into me for a moment before moving away. “I see.” 

“Do you? I hope so.” 

“Might I assume that this is a two-way street? That you belong to me as well?” 

Well, of course! “That’s the way it works.” 

“Really? I would not know about that.” He was shutting down his emotions again, and I was at a loss as to what to do. “Are you very sure I am what you want?” 

“Goddamn it, St. John!” I exploded, sinking my fingers into his shoulders in what had to be a painful grip, but I couldn’t prevent myself. He stared into my eyes mutely, and I gave him a shake and yanked him up against me. “How many times must I tell you? I. Love. You. I will until the day I die! It doesn’t matter what’s come before; why can’t you understand that? D’ya think I haven’t dabbled enough at love to know the real thing now that it’s come along? I don’t know what to do to convince you of that.” 

Or perhaps I did. I shoved a hand into my pocket, toying with the ring I’d been carrying all evening. 

Papa had come across the ring years ago, when he and Pere had taken a horse-buying trip to the Continent. They’d brought something back for each of the Siblings, but this was something extra that he said I should have. 

“It was given to me by a wandering gypsy under the light of a full moon, my boy.” He was smiling. I had been certain at the time that he was teasing me. 

“But I don’t wear rings, Papa,” I’d told him, turning the thick gold band over and over between my fingers. There was an intricate design of a wolf chasing a man, or perhaps the man was chasing the wolf, but I didn’t study it too closely. 

“This is not for you to wear, this is for you to give to someone else.” 

“Oh, no, Papa! Not me!” I was around the same age as St. John at the time, a cocksure cub who had the world by the tail. I felt there were too many delightfully different men to choose from. “I’m never going to settle down with just one person!” 

“You think not? Young scamp!” He’d chuckled and placed a kiss on my temple. “You’ll find the one important someone someday, Robin, I promise you. Just as I found Pere.” 

“If you say so, Papa.” Secretly I dismissed his words. I put the ring away in a drawer, and forgot about it. But he’d been right. 

Shortly after I’d brought St. John home I’d gone in search of the ring. I’d taken it to be engraved and was determined to do the romantic thing, presenting it to my lover on the stroke of midnight, when the New Year began. 

But now… Before I could decide whether to give it to him right then or follow my original plan, he smiled sadly and stepped out of my arms. Well, that put paid to all thoughts of giving him the ring now. “St. John…” 

“You said you were hungry. I had better feed you, before you do decide to eat me.” Well, that put paid to all thoughts of giving him the ring now. He removed his cuff buttons and handed them to me. I put them in the same pocket that contained the ring and watched as he rolled up his sleeves. He took out some bowls and the tin of flour, then tucked a tea towel in his waistband to protect his trousers. “Preheat the oven please, Robert.” He measured out flour and salt. “I need to bake the pie shell.” 


“Yes, preheat.” He began to roll out some dough. “You know, turn the oven on?” 

“I’d rather turn you on,” I said softly. He heard me, and he flushed and bit his lip. “It appears that you know your way around a kitchen.” 

St. John shrugged as he patted the dough into some kind of shallow glass pan. “I found that if I wanted to eat, it helped if I knew how to cook.” He was unaware of the effect his words had on me. “I am quite good, you know,” he added simply. 

My hands clenched into fists, and the nails bit into my palms. Lord Ashford was well-to-do. There should have been no reason for St. John to have to fare for himself in that manner. 

That was when it occurred to me that the best way to prove how deeply I felt about him was to take him to bed and into my body. I had never been interested in that before, but I found my cock was suddenly very hard at the thought of my lover fucking me. I cleared my throat. “St. John…” 

“Yes, Robert?” The pan went into the oven, and he set the timer. 

I was excited, but I was nervous as well. I decided I’d surprise him rather than tell him outright that tonight he would be making love to me. I scrambled for another topic of conversation. “What are you making?” 

He was peeling potatoes, cutting them into chunks. “This is the simplest meal I know of. Aside from eggs. I am making you steak pie.” He dropped the potatoes into a bowl and filled it with water so they wouldn’t become discolored, then started on the carrots, celery and onions. “You may as well help, Robert. Take out the steak, please, and slice it into strips. Then brown it in that frying pan. It will cook faster that way.” 

We worked in silence, I plotting my moves carefully. I’d wait until after the New Year, until after I’d given him the ring. And then? Then I would kiss him up the stairs and into our bedroom, and tell him what I wanted him to do. I was certain that would work. 

By the time the pie shell was finished baking, we had everything else ready to be turned out into it and put back into the oven. St. John set the timer for an hour, and we munched on the cheese and crackers and sipped the wine. 

I leaned my elbow on the table and reached across to free his hair from the green satin ribbon that restrained it. The thick, wavy mass seemed to wrap itself around my fingers. I brought it to my face and rubbed it against my cheek and over my mouth. 

“Oh!” St. John leaned toward me, lips parted, eyes on mine, and I felt as if I were drowning in their green depths. The doorbell rang, and he sighed. “Perhaps you had better see who that is?” 

"And maybe if I ignore them, they’ll go away." I was fascinated by the sheen the Sauvignon Blanc had left on his lips. I ran my tongue over my own lips and half rose out of my seat, intending to sip the wine from his mouth. 

“Robert,” he said patiently. I was a whisper away from kissing him. If only that annoying noise would stop… “Robert!” 

I huffed and dropped back into my seat, scowling. “Who in bloody hell is doing that?” 

“Why are you looking at me for? This is your house. I have no idea who is at your front door.” 

“As if I should know who’s come to call on New Year’s Eve?” I started to laugh. “All right, I’ll go see who it is.” I managed a quick kiss, then rose and left the room. 

I peered through the peephole, but the man who stood at my door had his back to me, studying the street, and I couldn’t see his face. Light from the street lamp glinted off his chestnut hair, and the shape of his head somehow seemed familiar. I opened the door. “Yes?” 

He turned. “You’re Dorincort?” I was suddenly faced with an older, more intense version of my lover. This was what St. John would look like in twenty-eight years. I nodded, and his lips parted in a chill grin. “You’re very trusting, mate. A man could get himself killed, opening a door like that without checking.” 

I grinned back at him, just as cold. “A man could get himself killed, calling on his nephew’s lover this time of night.” 

“You know who I am?” 

“James Blakeney. I’ve heard the resemblance is very strong.” I had no idea it was this strong. I made no effort to open the door further. 

“Are you going to invite me in?” 

“Are you going to give me a good reason to?” 

“I could very easily hate you, Dorincort.” 

“Doesn’t matter, mate,” I sneered. “I hate you already. You and your whole bloody family.” 

He blew out an impatient breath. “Look, I’m not going to snipe at you on your doorstep. It’s freezing out here, and I need to speak with my nephew.” 

“Lord Pennington did a bleeding good job of upsetting him. Your father is an old man, so I didn’t hurt him, much as I wanted to. You aren’t so old. If you upset St. John, I won’t have any qualms about tearing off your head, reaching down your throat, and ripping your lungs out.” He nodded grimly. “All right, come in, then.” 

James Blakeney followed me to the back of the house. St. John smiled up at me when I entered the kitchen again, and then paled when he saw the man who stepped into the room. His eyes darted toward me. 

“Your uncle, James Blakeney. He says he has to talk to you, Singe. I’ll throw him out instead, if you’d rather. I haven’t kicked anyone down a flight of stairs all day. Don’t want to get out of practice.” 

As I hoped, that made him smile, and he relaxed. “That will not be necessary, Robert. Not yet, at any rate. Would you care for a glass of wine, sir?” he asked politely. He brought another glass, poured the wine, and offered him the plate of crackers as well. 

Blakeney declined the crackers. He pulled out a chair at the table, sipped his wine, and sniffed the air appreciatively. “Something smells good.” 

“Our dinner. St. John made it, and don’t even ask, there isn’t enough for you.” 


Bugger. I didn’t want Blakeney to upset my lover, but there I was doing a damned good job of it myself. “Sorry, St. John.” 

“If you wish to stay for dinner, sir, I am sure there will be enough." He worried his lower lip. "What did you have to say to me?” 

Blakeney held up the wine and examined the way the light filtered through the pale liquid. He took another sip. “Is it true you had no idea before tonight that your mother was dead, St. John?” 

“That tears it, I’m throwing you out!” I started rolling up my sleeves, ready to thump him if I had to. 

St. John placed his hand on mine. “My dear.” I subsided back into my chair, feeling as if I had taken a blow to the chest. I hoped I never became blasé about him calling me that. He turned back to his uncle. “Why would I lie about something like that, sir? Father never spoke of it to me, but Germaine told me that Mama did not love us any more and had found someone she loved better.” 

I turned my hand over under his and clasped his fingers, and he flashed me a sad smile. There was more that St. John wasn’t telling, I could see that, but I’d wait to see if he wanted to talk of it later, when we were in bed. 

Blakeney meanwhile was tugging on his lip, the gesture similar to his father's. And his nephew's. “I'm going to look into this, St. John. Your father never struck me as one who did anything without a reason. It seems to me, given his personality, he would have taken great pleasure in revealing all the details to his four year old son of his mother's desertion of him.” 

I didn't like the direction in which his thoughts were heading, and I was about to say as much, when St. John raised the bottle and shook it gently. “Nearly empty! I will go down to the wine cellar and fetch another bottle. I believe we will need a bottle of red as well, for the steak pie.” He was through the door that led to the lower level before I could object. 

The silence between his uncle and I grew heavy. I checked on the steak pie in the oven, but it seemed to be coming along nicely. “Would you care for more cheese and crackers?” I shoved the almost empty plate toward him. St. John was taking too long; it shouldn’t take that long to pick out a couple of bottles of wine. “I’m just going to make sure Singe can find the wine without any problem.” I bolted for the cellar stairs, just as St. John came back up. The expression in his eyes frightened me. “St. John…” 

“Robert, the door is not there. I would have sworn… How very foolish of me. But then Father always said I was a fool, when he spoke to me at all.” He blinked slowly. “Here is the wine, Robert.” 

Blakeney glanced at me, his eyebrow raised in silent question. I hunched my shoulder. “St. John, the only door downstairs is to the wine cellar.” 

He shook himself, like a dog coming out of the water. “Well, of course, Robert. Who ever said there was another? Are these wines all right, my dear?” 

“Yes, they’re fine,” I assured him impatiently. “St. John, are you all right?” 

“But of course I am, Robert. Will you set the table in the dining room? I think, on New Year’s Eve, we should be more formal than usual, do not you?” 

“If that’s what you want.” Mrs. Harris kept the company china and the good silver in the breakfront in the back dining room, which was across the hall. Originally it had been part of the servants’ quarters, but Drew and I felt it would be more useful as a dining room. I arranged the place settings and returned to the kitchen as quickly as possible. 

St. John was taking our dinner out of the oven when the doorbell rang again. The other two occupants of the kitchen turned to look at me. “That’s all right, I'll go see who it is.” I went into the hallway, grousing under my breath all the way to the door. “What is this, Tra-bloody-falgar Square? All I wanted was a quiet dinner with St. John after his grandfather bollocksed everything up. But before we can sit down, who has to show up but his bloody uncle! How much else can go wr…” A glance through the peephole had me choking off in mid grouse. “Bugger! St. John!” 

He came on the run. “Robert, what is it?” There was a whacking great knife in his hand. Behind him was his uncle, his hand hidden beneath the jacket of his tuxedo. 

“We’ve got company, green eyes. Your grandparents!” I studied his uncle with interest as he brought his hand out, empty. What had been under his jacket? The hell with that, we had more immediate concerns. I threw the door open. “Lord and Lady Pennington. This is a surprise. Was there something you wanted?” I asked hostilely. 

They eyed the knife in their grandson’s hand, and he hid it behind his back, like a little boy caught with a biscuit in his hand when his mum had told him no. 

“I believe my son is already here.” Lady Pennington stated as she observed me from head to toe. 

“Won’t you come in?” But the invitation was grudging. 

She was a petite woman. She removed her mink wrap, revealing beneath it a watered silk gown of ivory with a draped neckline and flowing sleeves. Diamonds dripped from her ears, coiled around her wrists and dangled from her throat. Her chestnut hair, several shades lighter than my lover’s, was piled high on her head. Only her eyes were different; they were hazel. “James.” 

“Mother, I told you I would sort this all out and call you.” 

Lady Pennington sniffed, an inelegant sound from such a very elegant lady. “Not quickly enough, James.” Next she pinned Singe with a gimlet stare. “You and this young man were to spend New Year’s Eve with us, St. John.” 

“My lady…” 

“Grandmother, St. John. You will address me as Grandmother.” She thrust her wrap at me. “Hang this up, young man. Since you left so precipitously, we will be dining with you here instead. What is that intriguing odor?” 

“Steak pie, my… Grandmother.” 

“Interesting. We generally have foie gras and filet mignon on New Year’s Eve, St. John, but I imagine since you will be starting your own traditions, steak pie is as good as anything else.” 

There was a slight cough behind her, and Lord Pennington murmured, “Perhaps they won’t have enough for us, Glynnis.” 

“Nonsense, Arthur!” 

“I believe there should be enough to go around,” St. John assured them. I scowled at him, but he turned those green eyes on me, and I sighed in resignation. 

“Of course. You’re welcome to dine with us.” I was surprised I didn’t choke on the words. 

“Excellent. Now, someone please be so kind as to pour me a drink.” 


James Blakeney left just after the New Year had been rung in. “I’ve some work to catch up on in the morning, and I’ll need to be fresh. Thank you for an excellent meal. I can’t quite believe you prepared that, St. John. Neither your grandfather nor I can cook a lick!” He shook his nephew’s hand, and then mine. “Mother, I’ll call before I leave the country again.” He kissed her powdered cheek. “Father, take care of yourself. I’d like a game of billiards the next time I’m home.” 

The door closed behind him. “The boy exhausts me!” 

“Glynnis, James is forty-six, hardly a boy!” 

“Arthur, he’ll always be a boy to me. Just as you, St. John, will be that little urchin who broke my abalone tea set.” 

“I do not remember that, Grandmother. But if I was so naughty as to do that, then I do beg your pardon.” He was seated beside her on the settee. 

“No, St. John, it is we who should beg your pardon. Dorincort was correct. We knew what your father was like, yet we believed his lies about you.” 

“Father is very persuasive. Once he begins speaking, it is the easiest thing in the world for him to make you believe that night is day, and the cow did indeed jump over the moon.” 

And that a door that was there, was no longer there? 

“Then we will be a family once again?” his grandfather asked. 

St. John was extremely quiet. I knew it wasn’t from the wine he had imbibed, which had been negligible. 

“May I suggest you take this slowly?” I murmured. “After all, it’s been fifteen years. What difference will waiting a little longer make?” 

Lady Pennington was none too pleased with that, but since St. John seemed willing to agree with me, she acceded as gracefully as was possible for her. “Arthur, I think we had better be going home. St. John.” She proffered her cheek for a kiss. “Come see us soon. Both of you,” she added as a second thought. 

St. John brought his grandmother her wrap, and Pennington carefully draped it over her shoulders. And finally they were gone. 

“Do you think they truly are sorry they were so cold to me, Robert?” He sighed. I knew how much he wanted to be part of a family, but I also knew how reluctant he must be to expose himself to the real possibility of more hurt. 

“I believe they regret all the wasted years, St. John,” I said cautiously. “Just remember, you have all the time in the world. There is no need to rush into resuming the relationship. Whatever you decide, I will be with you one hundred percent.” 

He smiled gratefully and leaned against me. 

What I did not tell him was that I would keep an eye on them. 

And most especially I would keep an eye on his father. 

We stacked the dishes in the sink for the following morning and locked up the house, then went up to bed. 

St. John undid his bowtie and his cummerbund and slid his arms out of those white braces. “I always used to hate New Year's Eve,” he said pensively. 

I had already turned down the bed and skinned out of my clothes. Singe had been musing over his grandparents, and hadn’t realized the inordinate amount of time I’d spent in the bath. I’d never taken a cock up the arse, but I was determined; I wanted to do it for him, and I’d lubed and stretched myself carefully. Now I was lying naked on the bed, watching as he undressed, as each article of clothing he removed revealed another intriguing bit of his body. 

“Come here, green eyes.” I pulled him down on top of me and spread my legs so I could cradle him comfortably in the vee of my thighs. I stroked my hands over his back, down the crevice between his arse cheeks, and teased the tight pucker of his hole. He wriggled against me, and he was hard against my abdomen. “Well, as your grandmother said, we’ll be making our own traditions.” I reached for the jar of lubricant on the nightstand, licked my lips, and got some in my palm. “Angle up a bit, would you, St. John?” 

He obeyed, then jerked as he felt my slick hand on his cock. “Robert, what are you doing?” 

“Tonight is your turn.” I rocked back and locked my ankles behind his back. “You’ll have to guide yourself in.” I put my other hand over his lips. “Don’t argue with me, my beautiful boy!” 

He made a little sound of happiness, and then I felt the head of his cock pressing against me. I concentrated on breathing, on relaxing. It pushed past the ring of muscle, and I bit back a groan. “Robert!” St. John held himself still. “My dear, are you all right?” 

“Yes. Yes, just… just give me a second, all right? Jesus, you didn’t look this big!” 

“I’ll stop!” But he couldn’t. I tightened my legs, arched up, and took him all the way in. We both groaned, and St. John dropped kisses on the corner of my mouth, my cheek, my jaw, my throat. He distracted me from the sense of fullness, from the intense burn, and then he hit my prostate, and I bit him. 

I’d always been so careful not to mark his fair skin, but this time there was nothing I could do to restrain the urge to sink my teeth into his shoulder. I didn’t break the skin, but I knew I’d leave a bruise. “I’m sorry. St. John, I’m so sorry. I’m…” 

“Robert. Shut. Up. Tell me, why did you bite me?” He was panting, trying not to move. “Tell me!” 

“You nailed my prostate. God, I’ve never felt that before! I just… I had to bite you.” 

He thrust forward. Unerringly he found the right spot, and I moaned and shuddered. “Ah. Let us try that one more time, shall we?” 

The boy was phenomenal, he just kept going. “You are so tight, so hot!” He stroked across my prostate repeatedly. “I love having you like this, being buried so deeply inside you!” His voice became hoarse. “Take all of me, Robert!” 

And I became a mass of sweating, pleading, moaning sex slave. “Yes! Please, yes!” At that point in time, I would have done whatever he wanted, up to and including murder and mayhem. 

I knew we were almost there. I clenched my inner muscles, and St. John cried out suddenly. I could feel his cock pulse as he poured himself into me, and then my balls drew up tight, and I slammed into a climax. Breathlessly, he sank down on me. 

I ran my hand over his back, and rubbed my cheek against his hair. 


“I’ll let you go in a second, St. John.” I didn’t intend to, not really. We’d wake up stuck together in the morning, but I didn’t care. 

His lips wandered over my throat and up to my mouth. He raised his head, so he was looking in my eyes, and with his lips against mine he whispered, “I love you, Robert.” 


I lay in bed, St. John draped over me. He had softened and slid out of me, and my arse was pleasantly sore. He snuffled softly in his sleep, his breath ruffling through the fair hair that covered my chest. Why had I never allowed any of my previous lovers to do this to me? 

It was a foolish question that didn’t even need thinking to answer: none of them had been him. 


Note: This starts from Gino’s POV, then segues to Da”s.

Part 22


Bruno Marrone, the man married to Callisto Marconi’s sister, had a cousin who lived in the hill country outside of Rome. Mario Marrone was le pecore nere of the family, the black sheep, who was always causing trouble. He fancied himself a ladies’ man, and if it turned out that the lady did not fancy him in turn, he saw nothing wrong with using force to change her mind. 

Which was how Gino Marrone came to be born. The poor little scrap didn’t survive the hour of his birth, and neither did his mother, a young girl who had suffered Mario Marrone’s attentions. 

I did my homework well. I went to Italy Tanner Green, and when I returned to London, I was Gino Marrone, not quite the sharpest tool in the shed, but family. I was presented to Marconi by his sister and her husband, and he took me on. I hung around doing odd jobs, and because I wasn’t too bright, and he was afraid I would embarrass him, he kept me close. 

What Marconi didn’t realize was that not long after I joined his family, I had been contacted by Vincent Shaw and recruited to keep an unobtrusive eye on him. 

What Shaw didn’t realize was that I actually worked for an extremely covert organization that had branched off of CI5. 

Marconi wasn’t stupid, but he had a sadistic streak and liked to torment those around him, including me on occasion. 

Shaw wasn’t stupid. He knew I wasn’t the dumb dago I pretended to be, but accepted it because Marconi had a sadistic streak, and Shaw thought I was trying to protect myself. 

And I walked a very fine line. 


I had gone for a walk in the brisk December night and found a callbox far enough away from Marconi’s house to believe myself safe. “Mr. Blakeney.” 

There was a pause on the other end of the line as the man I had worked for since my discharge from the Royal Marines ten years before, my real boss, sorted through the various identities I’d used at one time or another. It never failed to amaze me that he always recognized my voice. “Gino. I’m glad to hear from you. Are you all right?” 

“Fine, sir. I’ve had to watch my arse a little more than I like.” 

“Oh?” Prior to this assignment, no one had ever taken a romantic interest in my arse, and he was a trifle entertained by my predicament. “Sorry, er… Gino. I realize this is a difficult situation for you. You will be sure to receive a commendation.” I made a rude noise, and he chuckled. “Now. What’s this deal that has Marconi over the moon?” 

“He’s learned of a lost Spanish treasure ship, sir. Sounds like it went down in a big hurricane, and some of its cargo is lying on this island, available just for the taking.” 

“What’s your take on it?”

“There was a hurricane in 1780, and a treasure fleet, including the flagship, Queen of the Silver Rose, was destroyed in it. That much of the story is true as far as I can discover. As for it going down near this Island of the Great Burning…” I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. 

“It’s rather opportune for this information to come to the surface at this time,” he mused. 

“Too opportune, if you ask me.” I told him about the merchant seamen who had shown up at the Battered Cruiser and paid for their drinks in salvaged silver. “And then there’re these phone calls that Marconi has been receiving. They’ve scared the shit out of him, although he’d kill anyone who said as much.” 

“Any idea who would want to do that?” 

“He’s made his share of enemies, but Marconi is pretty high up on the food chain. Most people are too afraid of him to strike at him. Unless the order came from Shaw himself, I can’t think of anyone who would even think of tangling with him.” 

“Hmmm.” I could just picture Blakeney stroking that long, lower lip of his. We’d only met the one time, when I was vetted to his department, but I had never forgotten his almost beautiful good looks. “Marconi’s been getting even more volatile of late.” 

“Yeah.” It was getting hard for me to stay out of his reach; he was becoming violent, also. “I understand that Mr. Shaw’s normal equanimity is being severely tested. The fire at Marconi’s House of Oddities has drawn too much attention to their activities; the Yard was called in to investigate. Shaw is not happy!” 

There was a beat of silence. “Perhaps this might be the time to take Marconi out of the equation. What do you think… Gino?” 

“Being out of the country should make it easier to dispose of him,” I conceded. “As you say, Mr. Shaw is concerned. I’ve worked for him long enough to know he doesn’t like being concerned; it aggravates his ulcer.” I laughed softly, confident. “If I give him a bit of a nudge, he might be willing to look the other way.” I let my boss hear that confidence in my words. 

“Just be careful.” 

“Aren’t I always, Mr. Blakeney? 

His voice became unexpectedly serious. “I’d be very disappointed if Her Majesty had to hand that commendation to your next of kin, rather than pin it on your chest.” 

I had no next of kin, but James Blakeney was aware of that. He was also aware that in my personal file, which was buried so deep no one but he knew of its existence, he was listed as my next of kin. 

“I’ll be careful,” I assured him, then hung up to place a call to the man who ran Great Britain’s underworld. “Mr. Shaw, I’m afraid Mr. Marconi is going off the deep end…” 


“Hurry it up, Gino, you fucking moron! We gonna miss the plane!” 

I had myself firmly in my strong-but-not-quite-bright henchman persona. “Sorry, Boss.” I gave him a vague smile and got in beside the driver, who put the Mercedes into gear and headed for the airport. 

We arrived at Heathrow to find the two seamen waiting in the BEA international lounge. The shorter one was smoking a cigarette, while his friend was chewing gum. Mr. Marconi sneered at them and went to sit off by himself. I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t harangue the airline representative to make sure he got the best seat. The man who booked the flight for us would have dared give him nothing less. 

“Hey, Gino, come join us, mate.” 

Regretfully I shook my head. I had to guard Marconi. He was still dangling the lure of being his lieutenant before me. I stood next to where he sat and tried to look nervous. I’d told him I couldn’t afford plane fare when I’d come to England, and so had taken the train. This was supposed to be my first flight. 

The airline representative switched on a microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen, BEA flight 1415 to Rio de Janeiro with the connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany will depart shortly. All those holding first class tickets please board now.” 

First class had two really big, comfortable-looking seats on each side of the aisle. I made sure the Boss was settled comfortably, and then passed back into the tourist section. The jet wasn’t very wide. There were four seats on one side and three on the other, and I found the row that we, the two sailors and I, had been assigned. 

There was a touch to my arm, and I glanced back at the men who followed me. 

“Uh, Gino, would you mind taking the aisle seat?” the taller one asked. His eyes were hidden by the sunglasses he wore, even though there wasn’t much sun that morning. 

I stepped aside and let him slide past me. Andy paused to reach into the overhead compartment and pull out a blanket, then settled himself next to his friend. He spread the blanket over both their lower bodies and smiled when he saw me watching them. “Ricky gets cold easily,” he said. I realized abruptly that his voice no longer had the lower class quality to it, and I wondered about that. 

A stewardess came by, making sure all the seats were in their upright position and informing us that as soon as the jet had become airborne, beverage service would begin. We would have to wait for the Frankfurt connection for breakfast, though. 

There was a crackling sound from overhead speakers. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Everard, and I’m pleased to welcome you aboard BEA’s flight to sunny Rio de Janeiro. We’re first in line for take off, and we’re about to begin taxiing. Our first stop will be Frankfurt, Germany. We should arrive there in approximately one hour and three quarters for a brief layover before we continue on to our final destination in Brazil. So sit back and enjoy the flight.” The microphone clicked off. 

I sighed and made sure my seatbelt was fastened, then stretched out my legs and took a paperback from my coat pocket. It was one of Ian Fleming’s, Dr. No. I opened the book and began to read. 

The two sailors beside me behaved as discreetly as possible, although I could tell that under the blanket their hands were all over each other. Made me rather horny. It had been a while since I’d shagged. Working for Callisto Marconi, I had to stay alert. Word was Marconi was a rabid heterosexual, but I didn’t care for the way he eyed my arse from time to time. The look was… hungry. 

I’d mentioned it to Mr. Shaw, and he’d shrugged. “You do whatever you have to do, Gino. Even that.” I shuddered, not because the thought of having sex with another man disturbed me, but because if Marconi ever realized he had latent homosexual tendencies, he’d incorporate more pain into his sex play than was usual even for him.  “You know you’ll be rewarded.” 

Yes, I’d be rewarded, but would I survive long enough to enjoy it? 


The jet finally touched down in Rio de Janeiro. The flight hadn’t been that bad, but Mr. Marconi had a decidedly greenish cast when we met at the baggage carousel. 

“Geez, Boss,” I grinned vacuously. My bag was at my feet, and I waited patiently for his suitcase to come around. “That was a bit of all right! I ain’t never been on a jet before. Ricky said it wasn’t a bad flight, just long.” 

Andy and Ricky had already claimed their bags and were watching with interest. 

We walked out of the terminal and into the hot, muggy atmosphere that was Rio, and Mr. Marconi looked as if he was about to melt into a puddle. He wrestled out of the cashmere coat that had been so suitable for London. “Bugger!” I was surprised that Ricky grinned at the boss’ discomfort, but I imagined he had no idea how dangerous that could prove to be. “Don’t you laugh at me!” Mr. Marconi snarled, almost frothing at the mouth. He yanked Ricky’s sunglasses off. “Don’t you ever fucking laugh at me, or I’ll rip off your balls and stuff 'em down your throat!” 

I went on the alert, in case a situation erupted, but, “D’you mind, Gov? The light hurts my eyes.” The tall sailor still didn’t seem perturbed by the uncontained fury he faced. Ricky took the shades from my boss and put them back on. “Where do we go?” 

Andy just stood to the side, observing, but his relaxed stance belied the tension I could discern just beneath his surface. This was a dangerous pair, and I couldn’t understand why Mr. Marconi wasn’t aware of that. 

“I’ve had rooms booked for you in a youth hostelry.” Nothing less than third or fourth best for his minions. Not like Mr. Shaw, who would have put us up in a decent hotel near the beach. “Wait there until you hear from me.” Of course, he wouldn’t be in the same place with the hired help. 

“I’m sure we can find something to keep us … occupied.” Andy was flaunting the relationship with his partner. 

“Yeah.” Ricky’s expression was bland, but I was certain if we could see his eyes, they’d be hot. “You going to be with us, Mar… Mr. Marconi?” 

The boss was not in the best of moods. I wondered if he had been able to sleep on the flight at all. “Don’t be so bleeding ridiculous. I’ll be staying at the Copacabana Real.” He signaled me to step aside with him. “I may need you to hire a boat, Gino. I’ll let you know. Now beat it. I gotta get some rest. My arse is draggin’.” 

I was looking forward to the time away from the mercurial bad man. A shower, a nap, and then dinner in the small cantina next door. I’d need to stay close to the phone, but maybe I could find someone who would be interested in whiling away the afternoon and evening. 

The youth hostel was comprised of six tiny bedrooms and a communal bathroom down the hall. Andy and Ricky each had a room at the end of the corridor, but I was certain they would wind up sharing one. They disappeared behind one of the doors, ostensibly to unpack. 

I went into my room and removed clean clothes from my duffle, then found a towel and headed for the bath. I stripped and pulled aside the shower curtain, and let out an involuntary yell. 

My companions came pelting into the tiled room. I was clammy and sweaty, and I was balanced on the sink, swallowing heavily. “Gino, what is it?” They scanned the room, but saw nothing. 

“It’s… it’s in the shower.” I pointed shakily. “It’s fucking huge! Jesus, I’m sorry, this is so childish!” 

“Stay back with Gino, Drew.” ‘Drew’? Ricky’s hands were clenched, and he approached the shower cautiously. With a rapid movement of his forearm, the sailor thrust aside the shower curtain. For what seemed like forever, he just stared into the tiled space. 

“Da’, be careful, don’t get hurt! What is that?” 

Ricky… Day…whoever… began to laugh and bent to pick the thing up off the floor. He stroked it with careful fingers and showed it to us. I shuddered, feeling my gorge rise. It was an extremely large, extremely hairy, “Tarantula. She’s a beauty. All right, my pretty one, off you go now.” He unlatched the window and released the spider, and it scurried away. Then he smiled at me. 

I lost my balance and skidded off the sink and onto the floor, landing so hard on my arse that my jaws jammed painfully together. I looked up into his eyes and stared at them in disbelief. “Bloody, fucking hell! You’re… you’re the snake boy Marconi went on about.” I scrambled to my feet. 

His hand went up to his face, and he glanced at his partner, who joined him and smiled ruefully, running his fingers over his cheek. “One of your contacts has fallen out, Yank.” 

I didn’t even see the fist that connected with my chin and knocked me unconscious. 


“Gino.” Hands patted my cheek, first one, then the other. “C’mon, Gino. Wakey, wakey, mate.” 

My jaw throbbed. My arms were fastened uncomfortably behind my back. I moaned around the gag in my mouth and opened my eyes to meet a cold, reptilian stare. 

“Your boss is on the phone.” Something sharp was pressed just below my adam’s apple. A drop of blood, and then another, made its way down to pool in the hollow of my throat. “I’m going to take out the gag and let you talk to him, and if you give him the least idea that there are problems here, I’ll cut your throat.” 

I swallowed hard and nodded. The sock was removed from my mouth, and I swallowed again to work up some moisture, hoping that at least the sock had been a clean one. He held the phone to my ear, and I knew that both sides of the conversation would be audible. “Boss?” 

“Yeah. The docks, five tomorrow morning. Slip thirteen.” Marconi sounded even more discontented than normal. 

In spite of my circumstances, I reacted as Gino would. “Bugger, Boss! That’s a damn unlucky number!” 

“Never mind that!” he snarled. “Just be there, and make sure those two are with you!” He hung up before I could say another word. 

“Sorry, Gino. We don’t want to hurt you, but you’d definitely be in the way.” A cloth soaked in something pungent, ether, I thought, covered my nose and mouth, and I tumbled helplessly into a soft, black cloud. 


I stood looking down at the body that was bleeding out into the soil of Isla Queimada Grande, Island of the Great Burning. The golden lancehead wrapped around my arm raised his head from where it had been resting on the back of my hand and stared unblinking into my eyes. //Very nicely done, little brother. Thank you.// He hissed softly, his forked tongue flicking in and out to test the air for more prey, and I placed him on a low-hanging tree branch. Without a backwards glance he was gone. 

There was a sound behind me, and I turned. //It still lives.// A large, webbed foot nudged the almost lifeless body. The disgust in my Brachian father’s mind colored his communication. 

//Not for long.// I envisioned the sharks that frequented the stretch of ocean just beyond the reef. //I'll dispose of him there.// 

He ran a hand over my hair. //Go back to the Josie. I will deal with this.// 

I shook my head. //You took care of Sarone. Pop handled Halliwell. This is my responsibility.// I took the heavy signet ring from Marconi’s middle finger and put it in my pocket. //Someone will demand proof that he is gone.// I got a firm grip on his foot and began dragging him through the underbrush to the other side of the island. 

Dad sighed and picked up the other foot. //Actually, it was Esme who had the enjoyment of dining on Paul Sarone. You really are being quite selfish, Da'ric. I haven't had any pleasure in this matter at all. And if your young man sees any blood on you, I imagine he will be quite concerned.// 

//Drew?// My burst of amusement surprised him. //Once he finds out it isn’t mine, he’ll just be ticked that I didn’t let him come along. There’s something I should tell you about him, Dad.// I intended to reveal Drew’s unusual genetic history to both my parents together. 

I felt the fond exasperation in the caress his mind gave mine. //Da'ric, it is quite obvious to both your father and me that this Andrew Dorincort means more to you than a casual … How would David put it? A casual roll in the hay.// 

The image he projected, of Drew and me tumbling down a hill covered in straw, had me sputtering with laughter. //Dad!// In spite of his vast storehouse of knowledge of things extraterrestrial, there were still Terran expressions that left him at a loss. 

//I am so pleased to be a source of amusement to you, Da’ric.// But I could tell he was pleased to have lightened my mood. Again his hand stroked over my head. //As long as he makes you happy, my son.// 

//He does. I don’t understand it. We’ve known each other such a short time. It worries me, Dad.// 

By this time we had reached the beach, floated the body out past the breakers, and let the current take it. There was no more blood loss, and I wasn’t sure if the sharks would take him. There were always opportunistic scavengers in the ocean; it would just be a matter of leaving the body where it could be found by them. 

We waded back to the shore and watched as deceptively mild bumps caused the now lifeless body to rock. Abruptly the bumps became savage tearing and rending. In seconds there was nothing left, and I sighed in relief. 

Dad grinned, a truly frightening expression if one were not familiar with him. //Did you truly think I would allow that, Da’? A little encouragement is all that was needed. Sharks can really be quite susceptible to suggestion. And now it’s time to return to the Josie. I am interested in learning what is so unusual about this young man on whom you have settled your heart.// 

He placed his arm over my shoulder, and we walked back up the hill and through the dense forests of the little island. We were on the downward trek when a streak of gold launched itself toward me. Before I could react, a blur of black fur was there between us, and savage jaws snapped closed, catching the snake just behind its head, safely out of range of those venomous fangs. The huge wolf gave a furious shake of his head, and the snake’s head was severed from its body. It continued to writhe, coiling violently upon itself on the forest floor. 

The wolf spat the remains out of his mouth, his lips wrinkled in disgust at the taste, his eyes pinning me to the spot. His ears flattened to his skull, his tail held low, he stalked me, low-pitched, menacing growls rumbling through his massive chest. My father leaped in front of me, his battle claws extended. 

And I put myself between my lover and my father. “Drew, it’s all right. I could have handled it!” The sound the wolf made was uncannily like a growled curse. He sat down on his rump, disgruntlement written in his expression, his dark eyes glaring at the being beside me. I swallowed and licked my lips. //Dad, this is Drew.// 

My father watched silently as the wolf morphed into his human form. Drew rose to his full height, gloriously naked, and gave himself a vigorous shake. “What do you mean you could have handled it?” His attention was focused solely on me. “That snake would have bitten you before you could have done anything to prevent it.” 

Dad’s lips curled back over his muzzle in amusement. 

Drew ignored the large extraterrestrial who towered over us both. “You would have bled to death like Marconi!” 


“I was watching through the binoculars.” 

“Ah. So you thought if a lancehead tried to attack me, I couldn’t do this?” My hand shot out to capture a snake that had launched itself at us even as I spoke. It writhed in cold fury. //Ah, little one, that is not well done.// It whipped its body around my arm until it formed a living gauntlet. I stroked its head, and gradually it calmed. 

//It’s a good thing you have a way with those creatures, Da’.// 

I shrugged. //I understand its unhappiness, Dad.// I turned to my lover, who was standing in numb bewilderment. “The gene pool on this island is so limited these snakes have evolved into three sexes; there are true male, true female, and then those like this poor little one, and the one you killed, a combination of the two. I’d be spitting mad also, if I couldn’t enjoy my mate.” I released the beautiful, deadly snake and watched as it slithered away. “I think perhaps we had better go. They are becoming quite agitated.” 

The three of us made our way quickly down to the beach without further incident. On the rocky soil were the remains of Drew’s clothing. I picked up his tattered shirt and he looked abashed. “Well, I didn’t have time to get out of them properly, did I?” He found what was left of his shorts, and scrambled into them. “I was so bloody frightened, Da’. I thought I’d be seeing you die before my eyes!” 

“Ah, Brit, d’you think I’d leave you, now that I’ve found you?” I nuzzled his lips, and they parted to let my tongue duel with his. 


“Sorry.” I laughed and leaned my forehead against my lover’s. “Drew, this is my dad.” 

Drew looked up. And up. He cleared his throat and extended his hand. “How… how do you do, sir? I’m… er… happy to make your acquaintance.” 

Dad’s lips curled back revealing razor-sharp teeth, and he accepted Drew’s handshake. //I’ll meet you back on the Josie, Da’. Your father is becoming quite anxious.// 

//Anxious? Anxious? I’ll show you anxious, you big green dragon! Get our son back here!// 

//Of course, David. Shall we go, children?// Dad slid into the surf and disappeared. 

I swallowed a grin. It never failed to tickle me, the way Pop had Dad twisted around his finger. “Let’s go, Brit. I’d like to properly introduce you to Pop. He really isn’t as disreputable as he appeared.” 

We climbed into the dinghy and began the row back to the Josie, Pop’s new boat. I began to sing, “‘In Camden Town, where I did dwell, a butcher boy, I loved quite well…’ Drew, love’s a silly thing to die for, but it’s a damn good thing to live for!” As we reached the cabin cruiser, I shipped oars and gazed fondly at the name on the bow. “Desejo do Coração, Drew.”  

“What’s it mean, Da’?” 

I sighed happily. “Heart’s Desire, Brit.” And I pulled him to me and took his mouth in a thorough kiss.  


My fathers were at the wheel, Pop’s hands competently steering the Josie back to Rio, while Dad stood behind him, wrapping him in a tender embrace. The difference in Pop’s appearance was amazing. He’d washed out whatever it was he had used to streak the hair on his head and chest, and he no longer looked like a grizzled harbor rat.  

“So, Da’, this young man is a shape-shifter? I imagine your life will be rather interesting. Have you decided where you’ll be living?” 

“You’re taking this awfully well, Pop.” I’d expected at least some degree of shock. 

He gazed up into his partner’s eyes, and rubbed his face against Dad’s chest. “This is what all parents live for.” 

“Learning their son has committed himself to a creature of legend?” 

Pop gave Dad the wheel, stepped forward and hugged me, then ruffled my hair. “Learning their son has found his own heart’s desire. Welcome to the family, Drew. Welcome.” 


Note: Scarso piccolo bastardo= poor little bastard. A jumper is a sweater. The Iron Duke is Arthur Wellesley, the Iron Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Gino/Tanner's POV


Part 23


When I regained consciousness, my neck was a little sore, I had a splitting headache, and my stomach was roiling in protest. I always reacted that way to general anesthesia. I breathed shallowly through my mouth and began testing the bonds that secured me. 

They were rank amateurs; they'd left me lying comfortably on my bed. There was even a glass of water with a straw nearby that I could easily reach. While the seamen had tied my ankles together, they hadn't secured them to the cords that fastened my wrists behind my back, which would have made it almost impossible for me to untie myself. 

I sat up in bed and began edging my hips backwards until I was sitting on my hands. Biting my lips to keep the groans silent-- it had been a long time since I'd been so stupid as to allow myself to be taken-- I managed to work my hands past my thighs, then curled my legs in and angled my arms further forward. Finally I got my feet through; my arms were in front of me. 

I toppled sideways onto the bed, panting and sweating from the exertion, and brought my wrists up to my face. It took a bit of studying, but once I saw how they had tied the knots, I started worrying them with my teeth. It took about twenty minutes, but I managed to free myself. 

By the time I got down to the waterfront, they were long gone, of course. I asked around and learned that Captain Reed, whose cabin cruiser Desejo do Coração had been tied up in slip thirteen, was expected to return late in the afternoon. When I told one of the fishermen that I wanted to hire his boat to go to the Isla del Queimada Grande, he shook his head emphatically. “No! No, senhor! Proíbe-se! It is forbidden!” 

There was nothing more I could do at that point, so I returned to the hostel. I entered the bath cautiously in case I might find another unwelcome visitor, but I was the sole occupant and showered quickly, then decided to have a meal at the cantina next door. Once I had eaten, I felt much better. There was still time to kill. I thought about buying one of those Brazilian bathing suits and going down to the beach at Ipanema for a swim, but the surf was rough and the water was cool. Not only would I not get to see the tall and tan and young and lovely girl from there, but after about half an hour, my pale British skin would start to burn. 

I went sightseeing instead. I visited the little chapel in the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado, and saw Sugarloaf Mountain, the bay, and downtown Rio from that vantage point. I was on my way back to the hostel when, “Senhor.” 

My hand went to my waistband, where I carried a small revolver. This wasn’t a bad part of Rio, but it paid to always be careful. I looked around. “Eu não falo o português,” I told the stunning redhead. 

He smiled at me. “Is no problem, senhor. I speak five other languages besides English.” His lashes lowered flirtatiously, and he tipped his head to one side. He had to be in his early twenties, with skin the color of warm, café au lait. “If the senhor is at… mmm… loose ends?” 

“How much?” He named a price, which I automatically converted to reals. Expensive, but not exorbitantly so, considering what it included. What the hell? I had nothing better to do, and there were still a few hours before my wandering flight mates returned. “I cannot bring you back to my room,” I told him regretfully. 

His teeth were stunningly white. He gestured toward a small building that I hadn’t realized was a hotel. “This place is quite safe, senhor. They will not permit me to leave until they have spoken to you and been assured that you are unharmed and satisfied with your service.” 

I wasn’t worried about my safety; I knew twelve different ways to kill a man without even reaching for my gun. Still, it was nice to know that while prostitution was legal in Rio, they did not have a free and easy attitude toward taking advantage of the clients. 

I ran my eyes over him once more. He was approximately the right height, about five feet nine or ten, although his eyes were very dark. I imagined once I had him stripped, he would prove not to be a natural redhead, but if I took him from behind… I could pretend. “What’s your name?” I asked as I fell into step beside him. 

“You may call me whatever you wish, senhor. I will be whoever you want me to be.” 

//No, you could never be who I really wanted.// I shook my head, and he smiled agreeably. 

“Paolo, senhor. I am Paolo.” And as Paolo, he was very, very good. 


I was on my bed, the bonds back in place when the two men returned. They were so strictly amateur; they wouldn’t notice the way my hands were tied. I’d knotted the cord and wound it around my wrists. They observed me from the door for a long moment before entering. “Sorry we had to do this, Gino.” 

“Where's Mr. Marconi?” 

“He won't be coming back. He's dead. He got excited when he saw the island and fell overboard. Sharks got him.” 

“Was anything left?” They shook their heads. Bugger. I wasn't unhappy the bent bastard was gone, but it was my responsibility to see to his demise. If I didn't have anything to back it up, I was as good as dead myself. 

Ricky gently pushed me onto my stomach. “Don't try to be a hero, Gino.” I could feel the tugging as he sliced the ropes, and hoped his knife wouldn’t slip and cut my wrists. “Your boss is dead. He was a worthless piece of shit. It you try to avenge him, I'll kill you.” 

I doubted he’d have the intestinal fortitude to stick a knife in me, but if he was trying to impress his boyfriend by playing tough guy, I was willing to go along with it. “Why would I want to avenge Callisto Marconi's death? As you said, he was a worthless piece of shit.” I made a production of rubbing my freed wrists, then sat up to untie my ankles. “There are people in London who'll want proof that he is dead.” 

“Got it covered, mate.” Andy bared his teeth in a wolf’s grin and nodded to his partner, who pulled something out of his pocket: Mr. Marconi's signet ring, the ring his father had given him, the ring he had never taken off his finger. Ricky dropped it into my palm. 

“Thanks.” I turned it over and over, then looked up at them. “I'll change my ticket and get the next flight back.” 

“We're not going back, Gino.” No, it wouldn't be safe for them. 

“Don't let me find you in London; I'd have to kill you.” I had to say that; it's what Marconi's henchman would have said. 

“You'd try.” Ricky's eyes glittered. He raised his hand in farewell and hustled his partner out of my room. Within ten minutes they had cleared out. 

I wondered what part they had played in Callisto Marconi's death, then shrugged as I went down to the front desk to call the airline. Marconi was out of the London underworld scene, and that was all that mattered. 


The man who stood guarding the door was huge, not only tall, but wide. He didn’t need the Magnum that he carried in a shoulder holster to be intimidating. When he saw me approaching, his lips parted, revealing a gold tooth that reflected the light. “Oi, Gino.” 

“Oi, George.” 

He squeezed my shoulder. “Rum go, mate.” 

I bit my lip and looked away from his compassionate gaze. “Mr. Shaw wants to see me.” 

George nodded and opened the door, and I walked into the underworld kingpin’s office. “’Allo, Mr. Shaw. I came as soon as I got word. Oh, er… Should I come back another time, sir?” 

He was standing by his desk, a plump brunette dressed in somber black in his arms. “Gino. Come, come.” The woman turned to face me, and a shiver ran down my spine. Marconi’s sister. Her eyes were pale chips of ice. “I was just offering Giacomina my condolences.” 

I walked toward her, my arms hesitantly extended. “Mina. I’m so sorry. I didn’t do a good job, did I?” 

Although she pulled my head down into her arms and kissed first one cheek and then the other, her expression remained cold. “Gino. What made Cally decide he had to go deep-sea fishing off Brazil?” 

I darted a glance toward Mr. Shaw, and he gave a slight shake of his head. She had no idea that the boss wanted her brother whacked. “He never shared his plans with me, Mina.” I made my voice quaver. “He just told me to pack, and I packed.” 

“Sit, Gino. Bruno, pour us all a drink,” Mr. Shaw instructed him. Of course Mina’s husband would be with her. 

I went to a chair and sank down heavily, my hands dangling between my knees. “Bruno.” I let my eyes well with tears as I looked up at my ‘cousin’. I accepted the glass of whiskey and gulped it incautiously, then coughed as it burned its way down my throat. 

He patted my shoulder roughly. “Scarso piccolo bastardo.” 

“What happened?”

I shuddered and sniffed hard. “Our first day out, Mr. Marconi hooked a swordfish, a beauty. She must have weighed six hundred, maybe seven hundred pounds.” I extended my arms all the way out to show how big, then gave it up with a helpless shrug. “He unfastened his chair harness; I don’t know why he did that, and the next thing I knew, that bitch of a fish pulled him over the side!” I looked at Giacomina Marrone, my eyes tortured. “I had his hand, Mina! I was able to get his hand. I tried to pull him back up, honest to god! but… Something got ahold of his lower body and wouldn’t let go! This shark… Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” I scrubbed my face. “Mr. Marconi’s hand was all sweaty, it started to slide through mine. The captain ran for his rifle; he was leaning over the side to shoot the goddamned thing, but it was too late.” Tears trickled down my cheeks. I fumbled in my pocket and held out my hand, palm up, revealing the signet ring he had never taken off in the years I had worked for him. “His hand slid out of mine. I grabbed for his jacket, but…” I broke down and sobbed. 

She took the ring from my hand, and closed her fingers tightly around it. “Mother of god!” she whispered.

“I’m so sorry, Mina! I’m so sorry!” I risked a peek up at her as I ran my sleeve under my nose and eyes, smearing the moisture of my tears over my cheeks. 

Distaste was written on her face. “At least you were able to bring his ring back to us.” Mina turned away and sank into a fair reproduction of a Queen Anne chair, her hands fisted in her lap, her feet planted solidly on the floor. Discreetly, from the corner of my eye, I observed her actions. She slid the ring onto her thumb, the only finger it would fit, and sent a glance to her husband. 

The lines around Bruno’s mouth were tense, and I knew it wasn’t because his brother-in-law was dead. “Mr. Shaw, what happens to The Family now?” 

“I’ve been watching you, both of you, Bruno. I’ve seen how you tried to minimize Cally’s excesses. You have a handle on the business. I will turn the Marconi family over to you.” 

All business now, Giacomina Marrone rose and briskly shook the mob boss’ hand, then brought it to her lips in a sign of respect. “Grazie, Mr. Shaw. You won’t regret it, I promise you. You’ll… ah… you’ll take care of that small matter of business we discussed?” Bruno joined her and slid an arm around her waist. 

Mr. Shaw raised an eyebrow, smiled noncommittally, and called out, “George!” The big man opened the door. “See my guests get safely home.” 

“Sure thing, Boss.” 

The door closed behind them, and Mr. Shaw wiped the back of his hand off on his trousers. He went to his desk and poured himself another glass of whiskey. “That was a trifle over-the-top, Gino.” 

I took out a handkerchief and wiped off my face, then joined him and filled my glass as well. “Sorry, sir. I wasn’t expecting to see them. It was the best I could do, spur-of-the-moment.” 

“She wants you dead, you know.” His eyes were hooded. 

“I rather had that idea. She’s Mr. Marconi’s sister, after all. What are you going to do, sir?” 

“I need something delivered to my contact in the Vatican. I’ll be sending you. Unfortunately, you will have an accident.” He sighed mournfully. “The drivers in Italy. They’re so reckless!” His voice became dark, threatening. “If you return to England, I will have you killed, Gino.” He reached into his desk and withdrew a billfold. “Consider this severance pay.” 

I accepted it and examined the contents, a wad of pound notes, then slipped it into my back pocket. “I understand, sir. It’s lovely in Rio this time of year. Perhaps I'll go back there. It’s been a pleasure working for you, Mr. Shaw.” That was a lie, but it was what Gino Marrone would say. 

“Just a second.” He reached further into his desk. “You will deliver this to Cardinal Bartoli.” This time he handed me a small, silver-encrusted chest. He didn’t tell me what was in it; I was just the errand boy, after all. “All right, that’s all, Gino. Good-bye.” 

“Good-bye, Mr. Shaw.” 

So Gino Marrone returned to the country of his birth and was struck down in the streets of Rome by one of those crazy Italian drivers. He was rushed to a nearby clinic, but the doctors were unable to revive him. There was a small funeral. Tasteful floral arrangements were sent by representatives of Vincent Shaw and the departed’s cousins. Three weeks later, Tanner Green stepped off an Alitalia airliner in Heathrow. 


There was a knock on the door of my flat, and I paused in the midst of writing my report. I laid the pen down on the desk, reached for my gun, then rose and crossed the narrow space. “Yeah?” I asked. It was later than I had realized, past midnight, but I was not too weary to exert normal caution. 

“Tanner?” I recognized that voice, although always before I’d heard it over a telephone line. “It’s…” 

I tucked the gun in a bowl of artificial flowers that was on a small stand and unlocked the door. “Mr. Blakeney. This is a surprise. Won’t you come in?” I took his jacket and hung it up on the coat rack, which was on the other side of the door. He was clad in a casual cable-knit jumper and dark grey trousers, but he looked better than anyone I had ever seen dressed in evening clothes. I felt scruffy in comparison, wearing only faded denims and a shirt that had seen much better days. 

My boss spared me an interested glance as he walked into the cramped room, but refrained from commenting on my attire. 

Trying to appear nonchalant, I reached for the jumper I had hanging over the back of a chair. “I’m still working on the report, sir,” I said as I fought my arms into the sleeves. Fortunately, the jumper was in better shape than my shirt. “But I should have it on your desk by tomorrow.” 

“There’s no rush. I thought you were supposed to be recuperating from your plastic surgery.” That was what that little clinic in Rome specialized in. 

“Don’t remind me. It gives me a start every time I pass a mirror.” I ran a careful hand over my nose and cheekbones, which were still sore, and then threaded my fingers through my hair. 

He smiled into my eyes. “You always were too pretty.” Hoping he wouldn’t see how aroused his words made me, I made a casual affair of sitting and crossing my legs. “This gives you the look of a rugged individualist.” 

I gestured to the other chair. “Well, at least I can move around London without the fear of having my balls ripped off.” 

He paused for a moment, then hitched up his trouser legs slightly, and sat down and crossed his own legs. “Yes, Giacomina Marrone is proving to be as volatile as her brother. I think even Vincent Shaw is looking over his shoulder.” 

“Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy! May I get you a drink, sir?” 

“Tanner, it’s after hours. Do you think you could call me James?” 

I became very still. He wanted me to call him James? “You want me to call you by your first name, sir?” 

“Is that such a difficult thing to do?” 

“Uh… no. Of course not. James. Um… brandy… James?” 

“That would be grand, Tanner. How did you know I take a brandy in the evening?” 

I’d made it my business to know. “Lucky guess.” I stood and went to fetch the bottle. I had first tried this particular French brandy ten years ago, and found I enjoyed the slightly fruity taste. It was hard to come across a reasonably priced bottle, but with the hazard pay I had received for this last job, I’d been able to splurge. 

He joined me by the liquor cabinet and took the bottle, examining the label. “Marquis de Montdidier V.S.O.P.? Oh, I say! You’ve got very nice taste, Tanner! This is one of my favorites, did you know?” 

“Glad you approve.” I grinned at him, only letting my gaze linger on him for a second, then took a couple of brandy snifters from the cabinet that had been built into the bookshelves that lined one wall. While I held the glasses, he opened the bottle and poured a couple of fingers for each of us. He set the bottle aside and took a snifter from me, then cradled it in his hands, warming the brandy. “Are we drinking to anything in particular?” He hesitated, then shook his head. “Then I’ll propose a toast, shall I? ‘Here’s to us; who’s like us? Damn few, and they’re all dead!’” 

James laughed, touched his snifter gently to mine, and swallowed, savoring the taste. “Good choice, Tanner.” He returned to his seat, stretched his legs out before him and lapsed into silence, contemplating the deep golden brown liquid in his glass. 

I regarded my own drink pensively; I liked him being in my flat but... “Mind telling me what’s going on, sir? James,” I hastened to correct when he frowned at me. “It’s not your MO to come see me after I’ve completed an assignment, and I know you didn’t come here to compliment me on my taste in brandy.” 

He worried his lush lower lip, and the desire to sink my teeth into it became so great I had to look away. After a moment he said, “That nephew of mine looks to be settling down.” 

Ah. He wanted to talk about his family. There had been times when I would call to fill him in on an operation, and afterwards he would somehow sense my need to hear a voice I could trust. He would talk to me of his family, among other things. I made myself comfortable in my own chair, an oversized wing-back. “Germaine?” I would never distress James by informing him that the Ashford heir had, on more than one occasion, purchased illegal substances from one of Vincent Shaw’s associates. I would have talked to the wanker about it myself, but some people don’t want to listen. “Never tell me Lord Ashford finally found a woman he considers worthy of the slimy little bugger?” 

“Tanner! That is my family, I’ll have you know!” 

“Sorry.” I widened my eyes, and he knew I wasn’t. “Still, makes me glad I’ve none of my own to speak of!”

“Does it really?” He looked sad for a moment, then concealed his expression by raising his glass to his mouth. “No, I’m speaking of St. John.” He swallowed. 

“Your sister’s youngest? He’s just a baby, James!” 

“He’s nineteen, Tanner.” 

“There you go, a baby!” I twisted sideways in my chair and let my legs dangle over the side. “St. John’s getting married? So, who’s the lucky girl?” 

“Not exactly married.” He cleared his throat. “And… er…  not exactly a girl.” 

“Beg pardon? We’ve only the two sexes, James, and …” A flush mounted his cheeks. “Oh. Oh, I see! So St. John prefers boys?” 

His eyes narrowed. “Do you have a problem with that, Tanner?” 

“Of course not. I prefer boys myself on occasion.” Oh, bugger, that did not just come out of my mouth! “I shouldn’t have said that!” Not to him of all people! It was my turn to blush, and I took a hasty swallow of brandy. It went down wrong, and I choked and gasped, tears streaming down my face. He jumped up and came to me, and pounded my back until I stopped coughing. “Enough, enough!” I protested. I sniffed hard and ran the heel of my hand under my eyes. 

A small smile curved his lips. Before I could wonder about that smile, he sobered. “St. John’s become involved with Robert Dorincort.”  I shook my head, the name didn’t ring a bell. “Robin Dorincort?” 

“No, never heard of him.” 

He seemed stunned. “Tanner, he’s bedded every good-looking man in London!” 

I bit my lip to keep from asking if he had been one of them. “James, I don’t imagine you came to see me this late at night just to tell me your nephew is seeing someone with a bit of a reputation. Now suppose you tell me why you are here?” 

He began to pace the room. “I need your help, Tanner.” 

“Consider it done.” 

“I won’t ask for assurances that this stays within this room… Pardon me?” 


“You said, ‘Consider it done.’” 

“Oh, yes. And?” 

“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask you.” 

I couldn’t let him know that whatever it was, I would do it. I feigned impatience. “Look, sir. It’s almost one in the morning, I’ve still got this bleeding report to finish, and my face hurts like a son of a bitch. Get on with it, do!” 

He had the greenest eyes. They stared into my ordinary brown eyes briefly, and then slid away. He wandered around the room, studying the artificial flowers by the door, the books that lined the shelves, the seascape that was on a wall, the view out my back window. 

James Blakeney stared so intently at that view that I took the opportunity to examine him closely. A little above average height, his body was firm, with long, sleek muscles, and I knew he practiced some form of martial arts to keep it so. His hair was a thick mass of deep auburn curls. I wondered what they felt like to touch. My fingers itched with the need to find out, and I curled them into my palm. 

He spent so long staring out the window that I became concerned, and the hairs on the back of my neck seemed to stand up straight. Had I been traced to my home?  “James, is there something out there?” I crossed to stand beside him, but the glass simply reflected back the two of us. 

“Hmmm? No. It’s… nothing. Where was I?” 

“Nowhere, exactly. You were going to ask for a favor.” 

“Yes.” But it took another minute before he began speaking. “Fifteen years ago, my sister ran away with another man… an archeologist, I believe. I was out of the country; by the time I returned they were long gone, and my parents had more or less accepted her doing a flit. I, myself, was pleased that Pamela had found a chance at happiness after that cold fish, Ashford.” 

“Am I correct in assuming that there was something more to your sister taking French leave of her husband?” 

“You always were quick, Tanner. I was a trifle surprised that Pamela never wrote, but then she never was one for letters. That was around the time of the Suez incident, also, and I was called on to… well, that’s neither here nor there. There was all that unrest in the Congo, and I didn’t want to upset my parents any more than they already were. You see, Ashford was using the excuse of Pamela’s desertion to keep the boys from them, and they were… concerned.” 

“Bloody bastard.” 

“Quite.” His smile was tight. “That wasn’t the least of it, Tanner. A couple of years after she left, Ashford claimed he received a telegram from some tiny African country, informing him that his wife and her companion had been killed during an insurrection.” 

“Bloody hell!” I murmured in sympathy. He squeezed my shoulder, and I could almost feel each finger imprinting itself on the flesh beneath my jumper and shirt. “Ah hem. You were saying?” 

“On New Year’s Eve, I learned that St. John had never been informed that his mother was dead. That struck me as… odd.” 

Bloody odd! You want me to investigate your sister’s death? I can call in a few favors. I have some contacts…” Some that he didn’t know of. 

“Thank you, no.” He reached up as if to tug a lock of my hair, but it had been cut short to aid in the alteration of my appearance, and he wound up just touching it lightly. “I already know that there was no such telegram sent from that country, simply because that country did not have a telegraphy system until the following year.” 

“Shades of Sherlock Holmes! Then what do you need me for? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that you do, but…” 

James opened his mouth, but said nothing. He licked his lips, took a breath and cleared his throat, then went to his jacket. In an inside pocket was a folded sheet of paper, which he withdrew and spread carefully on my desk over the report I had been working on. The paper appeared exceedingly fragile, and I commented on it. 

“This is the original blueprint of Ashford’s townhouse, as it was commissioned by the Iron Duke’s grandfather. I want you to study the cellar dimensions; that was something you excelled at in the Marines, I believe.” 

I nodded absently as I braced my hands on the desk and leaned forward to study the lines that formed walls and floors. I’d started out as an illustrator in the Marines, operational graphics and intelligence support. “I expect this should be a piece of cake in comparison,” I grinned. 

James stood close to me, his shoulder brushing against mine, and he reached across me to point out a number of rooms in the cellar. I was engulfed by the warmth and the scent of the man beside me. 

I forced my mind away from the thought of what his lips must taste like and tried to concentrate on the plans before me. “I’ll need to actually get into the house.” 

“I anticipated that, Tanner. I’ll see to it that Ashford receives a telephone call from the Liechtenstein consulate, informing him that Germaine is being considered for one of the hereditary princesses. He should be so over the moon about it that I doubt he’ll recall he never applied for her hand.” 

“Ah. A bit of breaking and entering while the viscount’s away?” I rubbed my thumbs over my fingertips in anticipation. “Nothing like keeping my hand in!” I rather wanted to dazzle him with a show of brilliance. 

“Sorry to disappoint you, dear boy, but St. John has given me his key. The entry will be made in broad daylight.” 

“Servants?” I asked hopefully. 

 He shook his head, biting back a smile. “It will be the servants’ day off.” 

“Bugger. You’re taking all the fun out of this, James.” I almost missed the glance he sent my way. It was… affectionate? I went very still, then took a quiet breath and returned to the plans before me. The aftereffects of my surgery must have been having me see things that weren't really there. 

“Well, I’d best be off, Tanner. I’ll meet you at ten, day after tomorrow.” 

“Just one second! You’ll be meeting me?” 

He was amused. “How else do you plan on getting the key?” 

I conceded gracelessly. “Just remember, I work alone, James!” 

“Not this time, Tanner.” My mouth dropped open, but he had his jacket off the rack, and he was out the door before I could object. As my boss, he got the last word in all the time. 

Didn’t mean I had to like it, though. 


Part 24


On the return trip to Rio de Janeiro, Da’ric was almost giddy. I’d never seen him like that, practically drunk on relief and happiness and the adrenaline rush of destroying the last of his enemies. He leaned into my side, then bounced across the deck to hurl himself at the big extraterrestrial who accepted his enthusiastic hugs indulgently. They had the same golden eyes with vertical pupils, the same webbing between their toes, although the patterning of Da”s skin was not nearly as pronounced. 

The resemblance to his Terran father was much more obvious, the dark hair and lean build. I had learned that David Reed was not a simple expatriate American boat captain, but a highly renowned ichthyologist. 

My lover wrapped his arms around the man who was his Pop, actually lifting him off his feet. Dr. Reed laughed with pleasure and ran fond fingertips over his son’s cheek. And Da’ grinned at me over his shoulder. 

I had never realized how strong Da’ was, how very capable of taking care of himself. Robin had seen it that very first night; why hadn’t I? Because I hadn’t wanted to? Because I couldn’t see him wanting me otherwise? 

All of my life I had been the one who protected my siblings, from everyday hurts, from nightmares, from any harm that might befall them. As the shape-shifter, that was my responsibility, my place in the family. 

After the incident on the Isla del Queimada Grande, where he had snatched a deadly fer-de-lance right out of the air before it could sink its fangs into him, it had suddenly struck me like a bolt out of the blue. If Da’ didn’t need me to protect him, to place my body between his and whatever danger might threaten him, what did he need me for at all? 

“Drew, are you all right?” He was back beside me, his hand on my arm. I nodded and forced a smile, looking down at the fingers that traced random, deceptively innocuous patterns on my skin. “Come on, Brit. You can’t stay out in the sun like this, you’ll burn. Pop should have a shirt in his cabin that will fit you.” 

We went below, and as tempted as I was to lay claim to his body, I hesitated. I told myself that this was his fathers’ cabin; taking their son on their bunk would not be proper. Da’ glanced at me curiously, but he could read the ambivalence in my mind, and he hesitated in turn. He pulled out a drawer in the captain’s bunk and found a shirt. I accepted it gratefully. Already I could feel the heat rising in the skin over my shoulders. In spite of my black hair and eyes, my skin was as fair as any of my blond siblings. I knew if I weren’t careful, I’d have a nasty sunburn. 

“Just a second, Drew. Pop always used to keep aloe vera on the Jo. Let me see if he has some on this boat.” 

“The Jo?” 

“Ah! Success!” He showed me the bottle and led me to another cabin. I was about to question our change of location, but, //Our cabin.// He continued, “Desejo do Coração, Pop’s first boat.” His eyes grew sad. “She was a good boat. Those bastards blew her up that day.” 

“Da’.” Things began to fall into place. “The first night we were together, the first night you were in my bed, you spoke in your sleep. It… er… it sounded like Joe. I thought it was a… a lover’s name.” 

He was pouring lotion into his palm, and he paused. His eyebrows rose. “You thought I would call another man’s name while I was with you?” He gestured for me to turn around so he could examine the reddening patches. 

I obeyed, embarrassed now by the jealousy I had felt. “Yes, well…” I decided to change the subject. “What does desejo do coração mean?” 

He smoothed the cool lotion over my back and shoulders. I shivered, and he leaned in and nibbled and licked at my earlobe. “It’s Portuguese for ‘heart’s desire,’ Drew. It’s what Pop was searching for when he sailed her up the Amazon.” He tossed the bottle of lotion aside. 

“And… and he… he found it?” I asked, hardly able to think straight from the feel of his hands on me. They were painting designs on my chest now. If I could just concentrate, I knew I’d be able to discern what they drew, but his fingers toyed with my nipples, rolling and lightly scratching them, then stroked down past my navel, following the line of hair that disappeared beneath the shorts that hung low on my hips. I sucked in a breath, and they dipped lower, and he accepted the silent invitation to continue his exploration. His fingers edged past the waistband. //Da’!// I groaned. 

He had stopped just a millimetre away from my cock. //Tell me what’s wrong.// 

“You’re not touching me, is what’s wrong!” I rolled my pelvis forward, but his hands slid away to grip my hips. “Da’ric! Stop teasing me!” 

“I thought you didn’t want to do anything.” 

“What?” My mind had become foggy with desire. 

“My fathers are still above deck.” 

“Bother your fathers!” I turned into him and wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him snugly against my body. 

“You bother me, Brit!” He nuzzled my lips apart, then fit our mouths together and licked delicately at my tongue. I was so lost in the unexpected tidal wave of lust that swamped me that when his mind slid beneath my shields, I was unable to prevent him. I froze. Now he would see all my faults, all the failings, the petty resentments I’d been able to conceal from everyone, even my family. 

He pulled back in shock, and I tightened my arms for a second before releasing him. “You… you won’t want me any more. I understand. I’ll let you go.” 

“The hell you will!” He clouted my shoulder with enough force that I actually rocked backward a step. “D’you think I’m so shallow that I…” This time he hit my chest with the flat of his hand, and I stumbled back onto the bunk. “I don’t need you taking care of me, Drew! I’m a big boy! And you’re an egotistical son of a bitch if you think for one fucking minute that it matters a fig to me that you aren’t perfect! Look at me, for chrissake!” I refused to meet his eyes, and he snarled in frustration. //Drew, look at me!// 

Helplessly, I stared into his golden eyes, and suddenly I saw past them, saw the sum of the parts that made up my lover: the little boy growing up in a world of unearthly beauty, the young man who, after a single attempt at a relationship, buried himself in his studies, determined to settle for nothing less than what his fathers had found with each other. 

Beyond that, though, were the assaults by Sarone and Halliwell; the long, drugged months in captivity when his only companions had been a snake and an emaciated little wolf; freedom, and the dark satisfaction as his claws sank into an enemy’s gut, eviscerating him. And then, a starburst of exploding fireworks surrounding a presence that approached him, that Da’ had been waiting for forever. //I thought I’d never find you, Drew.// 


//You. In all this wide world, you are the one I was waiting for! It wasn’t chance that brought us together, it was destiny, fate! Keep me with you. Guard my back, as I’ll guard yours.// 

Shakily I stood and opened my arms, and he pounced, covering my neck and face with kisses, until finally he settled on my mouth, exploring it voraciously. 

His hands were busy unfastening my shorts, which slid down my legs, leaving me naked. He stepped back, shedding his own trousers. The gaze he swept over my body was almost a physical caress. I was stunned when he dropped to his knees before me and nuzzled my groin, breathing in the hot scent of my arousal. My own knees almost buckled when he took my cock into his mouth, his tongue dipping into the slit at the tip, and then curling around the head and tugging gently. 

My fingers tightened in his black hair and urged him to take more of me. I didn’t want to hurt his mouth, but I needed to be deeper in it, to be sucked down into his throat. All I could do was babble, “Da’, please!” “Da’, more!” “Da’, yes!” 

Colors as yet unnamed swirled through my mind, flooded it, splashed onto my lover. I moaned and rocked forward faster, and he hummed in approval. And while he swallowed me deeper, his tongue curled around my shaft in spirals, from the tip to the base. Later, he would have to tell me how he did that. Later, he would have to do that to me again. 

Now… now I could feel my balls draw up tight to my body. “Da’!” I tried to warn him, but the first spurt of come hit the back of his throat. Abruptly he released me from his mouth, capturing the remainder of my orgasm in his hand. 

I was too replete to wonder what he was going to do. He pushed me back onto the bunk and parted my thighs. A semen-coated finger pressed into my anus, and I shivered and moaned, still riding the crest of my climax, and spread my legs, wanting more of him. A second finger joined the first, and they thrust deeply into me, finding my sweet spot and teasing it relentlessly. I hooked my arms behind my knees and pulled them back, surrendering to whatever he wanted to do to me. 

And then his fingers were gone, replaced by the pointed head of his cock. 


Once, in his sleep, I had examined his body, explored it with curious fingers and lips and tongue. As I memorized his scent, as I licked and lipped the smooth skin of his sheath, that so-soft, so-velvety skin, his cock had slid out, hard and dusky. At the base, his knot was expanding, and he began to ooze pre come. I dragged my tongue across the tip, and the taste of him had exploded in my mouth. Da’ had welcomed me into his body, where I barely had time to seat myself before I was coming like an untried boy. But he shivered in my arms and groaned and spilled his seed between us. When I finally caught my breath enough to raise my head and look up at him, his eyes were huge. //Never! It has never been like that!// 


His long, slim cock slid past the tight ring of muscle, and he measured his length in me. I didn’t wonder what he had used to lubricate his cock. There was no pain, as I had always feared, but there was a sense of fullness, and each intense thrust burned. “Da’, what are you doing?” I gasped. 

“I’m making you mine,” he whispered hoarsely. My inner muscles clamped down, trying to keep him lodged against my prostate, but his hips rocked steadily, advancing, retreating, driving his cock against it, and I yipped from the unbearable pleasure he was giving me. Abruptly, I felt his knot enter me and plug my hole, and he began to swell. “Now, Drew! Now!” His semen spilled into my passage, the heat like nothing I had ever felt before, and I wriggled in a desperate attempt to get closer to him, to get him deeper into me. 

“Yes,” I moaned. His eyes were a rim of gold surrounding the fathomless black pupils, imprisoning me in their depths, and I surrendered willingly to him. “Yes!” I was thrown headlong into a second climax that I hadn’t even realized was near until I was engulfed by it. 

I must have lost consciousness, because when I regained my senses, Da’ was beside me, but no longer inside me. He had cleaned us both, and his fingers were stroking gently over my abdomen. “I’m sorry, Brit. I’ve never done that before.” 

“Well, if it comes to that, neither have I. I must say, you surprised me!” 

“Please tell me I didn’t hurt you.” 

“Not a chance of it, Yank! I had no idea that was what a knot felt like. I think I’d like to do this again.” There was an aura of sadness around him, and suddenly I became frightened. “Da’ric?” //I know le petit mort, love, but aren’t you carrying it a bit far?// He let me see into his mind, and I was stunned. //A baby?// I angled up on my elbows and stared at my flat stomach in confusion. “You made me pregnant?” 

“No, Drew. You didn’t pay attention! I’m sorry. I should have told you. I can’t make anyone pregnant. The results of a Brachian/Terran cross is not ... I’m a mule.” 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“I’m… sterile, Drew.” 

I sat up so quickly my action dumped him off the bunk onto the hard deck. My arse was sore, and I shifted to get comfortable. “You’re an arse, Da’. Or else you’re trying to pick a quarrel to break up with me. You can’t think something like that would matter to me?” 

“It doesn’t?” He looked so hopeful I could have wept. 

Instead, I growled, “Did that arsehole you used to be involved with throw you over because of that?” 

“What asshole?” 

“That Den character you spoke with on the phone.” 

Den? Good god, no! He was my friend; he’s still my friend. He would never hurt me like that!” Da’ got to his feet, rubbing his bum. “Besides, he had no idea it was even possible! He thought one of my fathers was my biological parent, and the other the… I don’t know… adopted one, I guess.” 

“How did he explain your…” I gestured to encompass his slightly alien body. 

“He didn’t. He never brought it up, so I never said anything about it. Well, Drew, you have to realize, I’ve known Den for about ten years. He’s used to me looking like this. He just accepts it.” 

“Well, I accept it too. Now come back up on the bunk. It’s my turn to ravish you.” 

And somewhere in the back of my mind, I could feel the amused approval of his fathers. 


Dr. Reed backed the cabin cruiser into its slip with easy competence and told us there was no need to rush back from the hostel; he was going to restock the Josie with supplies, and it would take some time. 

Da’ laughed. “Is that what they’re calling it these days, Pop?” he teased. Dr. Reed blushed, and from below deck, where he had to remain out of sight, the big extraterrestrial’s mind radiated humor. 

We swung over the side to the dock and made our way back to the youth hostel. “Will Gino be all right, do you think, Da’? We were gone longer than I anticipated.” 

“As long as he didn’t struggle against the bonds. The knots are a little tricky, kind of like those Chinese pinky cuffs?” He could see from my expression I had no idea what he was talking about. “Those things you stick on your pinkies, and when you try to get out of them, the more you pull, the tighter they become. Follow me? Anyway, the knots I tied can become dangerous if he fights them. They’ll cut off his circulation, almost like a tourniquet.” 

“Da! I thought you liked Gino! He could lose his hands!” 

“I do like him; he’s nice enough. But this isn’t a game of cops and robbers we’re playing, Drew.” 

“I am quite aware this is a serious situation, Da’.” 

“Serious as a heart attack.” His eyes were cool. “I won’t risk your life just because Gino might be a nice guy who was led astray by wicked companions.” We entered the hostel and made our way down the corridor to Gino’s room. “Okay, here we go.” //Stay alert, Brit.// 

Gino glared at us from the bed, but something was off, about the way he was tied up, about the relaxed way he lay on that bed. He gave the appearance of being almost… sated. Da’ caught my eye and shrugged, but he proceeded with caution. 

“Sorry we had to do this, Gino.” 

Gino didn’t seem too concerned that he had been left bound for all this time. “Where’s Mr. Marconi?” 

“He won’t be coming back. He’s dead. He got excited when he saw the island and fell overboard. Sharks got him,” Da’ lied easily. 

“Was anything left?” Gino looked decidedly unhappy when he saw our negative response. He moved restlessly on the bed, stirring up the warm air, which had hung still in the room. Normal senses wouldn’t have detected anything unusual about the odor that was layered over his own scent. 

I sniffed the air discreetly, abruptly identifying that faint odor. It was sex. I straightened from the wall against which I had been lounging. Fortunately, Gino didn’t seem to notice my abrupt action or the fact that I studied him intently. How in bloody hell had he managed to have sex? 

Da’ carefully rolled him onto his front, and he grew very still for a moment before extending his claws. //These knots. They aren’t the ones I made.// 

//You’re certain?//  

//I’m certain. Keep an eye on him. I’m getting a bad feeling about this situation!// The sound of his claws cutting through the cords that were fastened around Gino’s wrists was similar to one I had heard in the cellar of Marconi’s House of Oddities, only then he had been cutting through flesh and cartilage, and I shivered. “Don’t try to be a hero, Gino,” Da’ warned him. “Your boss is dead. He was a worthless piece of shit. If you try to avenge him, I’ll kill you.” 

Gino seemed unperturbed by Da”s threat. He shook out his wrists to get the circulation going, then began to work the knots that secured his ankles, unwittingly revealing his familiarity with them. “Why would I want to avenge Callisto Marconi’s death? As you said, he was a worthless piece of shit.” He paused, resting his forearms on his knees, and regarded us somberly. “There are people in London who’ll want proof that he is dead.” 

“Got it covered, mate.” I was getting restless. //Hurry up and give it to him, Da’. I want us out of here as soon as possible!// Da’ removed the ring he had been carrying in his pocket and tossed it to Gino. 

“Thanks.” Gino’s gaze was flat when he raised it from the ornate signet ring.  “I’ll change my ticket and get the next flight back.” 

“We’re not going back, Gino.” 

I stiffened. //Da’?// What was he saying? I didn’t think I could live outside of my homeland, away from my family. 

//Easy, Brit. Easy. He must believe we’re never returning to England.// 

“Don’t let me find you in London; I’d have to kill you.” 

“You’d try.” Da”s hand was warm on my back as he pushed me out of the room. //We have to hurry. I don’t like this. There’s something about Gino…//

Most of our things were still in our duffles. In a matter of minutes my shaving kit was packed as well as any odd bits that were lying around, and we were ready to leave. With a quick, backwards glance to make sure we weren’t being followed, we headed out the door and went down to the dock and slip thirteen. 


Lovely, serene, the Rainforest’s version of Shangri La, the Black Lagoon was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. We spent our days swimming and exploring, and our nights locked in a passionate embrace. 

We’d finally tracked down the rainbow bass that had been eluding Da”s Dad for years. I aimed my spear gun at it, about to fire the bolt that would fetch us dinner, when Da’ gently closed his hand over the barrel. //Let him go, Drew. I couldn’t eat him, and neither could Dad, in spite of what he might insist otherwise. That fish is almost like one of the family after all these years.// 

The bass swam off, never realizing how close he had come to being the guest of honor at a fish fry, and my lover and I rose to the surface. I breathed in the perfumed air of the Lagoon, and Da’ gazed about him thoughtfully. “The Black Lagoon is the most perfect place in the world, Drew.” 

“Yes.” Well, except for Dorincort Place. And Almeria Hall. And the lovely green countryside of Kent. 

I realized I was homesick. How was I going to tell my lover I wanted to go home? 

//You don’t have to tell me, Brit. I know.// “When do you want to leave?” 

“We’ve been away for almost three weeks.” Did I have the right to ask him to leave this magical spot, and come back to the rain and damp of England? 

“I’ll tell Dad and Pop tonight. Would you mind if we stopped in California before we went home? I’d like my grandparents to meet you. And Den.” 

“Home?” I was so dumbfounded by his use of that word that I completely overlooked the mention of that person. “You won’t mind not living in the Black Lagoon?” 

“I’ve left it before, Drew. We’ll be coming back to visit, won’t we?” He pulled me against him and rubbed his cheek against mine. “I always thought the Lagoon was my home, but…” //You’re my home, Drew. Wherever you are, that’s home.// 


It was later that night. I’d just slid into Da”s body, our hands linked, our eyes locked. His knees gripped my waist, and he arched up languidly to meet each thrust. I growled. The moon hung full and fat in the night sky, and I could feel the wolf trying to emerge. 

Abruptly a wave of mental anguish overcame my lover, and because our minds were linked, I felt it as well. It was so painful we cried out in protest. 

//Papa!// Da’ pushed at me, but I was already rolling off him, and he bolted to the chamber his fathers shared, with me at his heels. //Dad, what’s wrong?// 

Ric’u was supporting his partner as he trembled in his arms, wracked by shudders. //He woke like this from a nightmare. He refuses to tell me.// 

//I’m sorry.// “I’m sorry.” 

//David, do not try to conceal this from me!// I had never heard the big extraterrestrial so stern. //Please.// Or so beseeching. 

“Nothing. It’s nothing. I’m sorry. Maybe the agouti stew we had for dinner didn’t agree with me.” Dr. Reed’s complexion, which had been grey, began regaining some normal color. He seemed to be recovering from whatever terrors had disturbed his sleep. 

//David. This has gone far enough. You are making yourself ill. If you do not tell me what happened with Halliwell…// 

Da’ stiffened. //What has Halliwell to do with this? He’s dead!// 

His Terran father glowered at his Brachian father, who glowered back at him, a truly savage expression. //Are you happy, you green dragon? You’ve upset the boy!//  I marveled that of all the emotions roiling in this chamber, fear was not one of them. 

//Da’ric is fine, David. It means nothing I am the one upset, that you’ve upset me?// 

Dr. Reed looked distraught. //I never…// He sagged against his partner, his head burrowed under the alien’s chin. //It had to be done, Ric’u. I had to be the one to kill Halliwell! I couldn’t ask you to take on that burden! I couldn’t! It wouldn’t have been fair to you!// 

//David, I was raised to be a warrior. My shoulders are broad enough to bear any burden, especially if it’s for you.// He tipped his partner’s head up and gazed tenderly into his eyes. //At least share it with me.// He exchanged glances with his son, their mental communication a private one. 

Da’ nodded, went to his Terran father, and hugged him. “It will be all right, Pop. Dad will make it all right.” He kissed his cheek, then turned to his other father and embraced him as well. //Good night.// “Come on, Drew. Let’s go back to bed.” 

“I’m sorry I disturbed you boys. This was the last thing you needed on your honeymoon.” 

I felt a blush starting. “Oh, er… that’s quite all right, sir. It isn’t really a… That is to say…” 

“Drew.” Da’ poked my arm in exasperation. “Say good night.” 

“Yes, of course. Good night, Dr. Reed, Ric’u.” I followed him to the chamber I shared with him. “Will your Pop be all right, Da’? Should we, perhaps, stay longer?” 

“Drew. You want to go home.” 

“Yes, but I can wait. If you need to be with your fathers…” 

He wrapped his hand around my neck and pulled me close to him. “I really lucked out when I found you, you know that, Brit.” 

“It wasn’t luck, Yank.” I kissed him softly. 

“I never expected to find my heart’s desire across the Atlantic.” 

“I am truly your heart’s desire?” 

“You are that. It scares me, y’know, when I think how far away from me you were.” 

“Wouldn’t have mattered, Da’. Sooner or later, we would have met. We Dorincorts, you see, we search until we come to our predestined end. 


Notes: 13 degrees Celsius is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature for storing wines. Many thanks to wb, who has access to the Net and isn’t afraid to use it. She found the sites dealing with human decomposition. Please bear in mind that at the time Ashford began to question St. John’s paternity, there was no DNA testing available to determine it. 

Part 25


Robert thought I was asleep. I lay sprawled upon him, my cheek above his heart, and the steady rhythm soothed me. Always before, when we’d made love, and to me it had always been making love, he had possessed my body. I didn’t know why this time he’d angled his hips up and allowed me to slide into his heat. I used what he had taught me and pleasured him to an orgasm so intense I was afraid he might never let me do it again. After all, Robert Dorincort was never one to permit the loss of control.  

I decided not to borrow trouble. He had been telling me for the last few days that he loved me. If he continued to let me enjoy the magnificent experience of fucking his snug, hot passage, I would accept it without question. And if it never happened again, at least I would have this one precious night. 

I woke in the mid morning light of the first day of the New Year so hard I ached. My lover was spooned up behind me, and his own erect cock was nestled in the crevice of my arse. His fingertips stroked over my torso and down past my navel, to lightly tug the curls that surrounded my cock. “I love you, St. John,” he murmured sleepily in my ear, the warmth of his breath causing me to shiver. 

“Do you really, Robert?” I sighed and rolled over, causing our cocks to glide against each other. I gasped, and Robert took advantage of that to slide his tongue into my mouth. His hips mimicked the movement of his tongue, and I moaned and began to suck on it gently, teasing him in turn. 

He smoothed his palms down my spine to caress the curve of my buttocks, squeezing and kneading them, then finding the pucker of my anus and pressing against it. I whimpered and pushed him onto his back. 

His laugh changed to a groan as I began to wriggle down his body, the hair on my chest teasing his nipples. I moved lower, pausing to give his nipples a lick and a nip before moving lower to dip my tongue into his navel. Robert was ticklish. He bucked beneath my mouth and gave a yelp, and I raised my head. 

“You will not do that again, Robert.” 

“Oh, won’t I?”“ he demanded breathlessly, his deep blue eyes glittering. “Why ever not?” 

“If you do,” I moved lower, “then I will not do this!” I swooped down and swallowed his cock to the root. 

“St. John!” Robert groaned my name, and his hips arched up, thrusting him deeper. My throat muscles rippled around him. I used one hand to raise his balls up out of the way, then slid a finger over the sensitive skin behind them. He was still slick from the last time I had had him, and there was little resistance when I pressed my finger into his hole. I curled it and stroked over his prostate. This time he shouted my name, and he came. 

I swallowed and swallowed again, and licked him clean before flopping over onto my back. Robert lay there in boneless satisfaction, struggling to regain his breath. I smiled up at the ceiling. My cock was still hard, and I ran my fingers up the side of it, across the flared head, gathering drops of pre come that were beading there. 

Suddenly, my hand was captured by Robert. I watched with startled eyes as he brought my fingers to his lips, and one by one he sucked them into his mouth. I whimpered. 

“Do you have any idea what you do to me?” He straddled my hips, and without taking his eyes from mine, he lowered himself onto my cock, taking me into his body. My hips rocked up, the angle giving me access to his prostate, and he groaned. He rose and sank on me repeatedly, riding me hard, and he leaned over to take my mouth in a soul-deep kiss. His tongue fucked my mouth as surely as my cock fucked his arse, and he captured the whimpers that spilled from my lips. “Come for me, St. John!” he growled, his voice gravelly from the aftermath of sleep and desire. “Come for me!” His inner muscles clenched around my shaft, and I had no choice but to obey. 

I knew there was a foolish smile on my face. I wound my arms around his neck. “Robert, I love you so much!” 

“I’m keeping you forever, St. John. Forever!” He tried to move off me. 

“No, please.” I tightened my arms around him. “Stay like this.” 

“I’m too heavy for you.” But his protest was half-hearted. He liked lying on me, and he liked having my cock in his arse. We stayed that way for as long as we could, and then he moved off me carefully. “Come along, St. John. Let’s get cleaned up.” 


Robert was standing in the doorway to the bath, watching me as I picked up the odd pieces of our tuxedoes, cummerbund, trousers, the brocade waistcoat that Robert had worn. They would need to be thoroughly pressed;  we had treated them so cavalierly the night before… I was lost in the wanton memories of the night before. “St. John.” 

I shook myself out of those memories, smiling. “Yes, my dear?” I went through the pockets to make sure they were empty. In the trouser pocket of Robert’s tuxedo, I found the cuff buttons I had given him when I had rolled up my sleeves to prepare dinner. There was something else with them, and I opened my hand to find a gold ring. I looked up at him in confusion and held out the ring. 

He was wearing casual trousers and an open-necked shirt, the strong column of his throat lightly tanned from all the time he spent out of doors. He looked so good my mouth went dry. Taking the ring from me, he reached for my left hand. “I can’t put this on your ring finger, St. John, but in some cultures this is the way it is done.” He studied my eyes intently. “Forever, St. John.”  He slid the ring over my pinky. “My life,” he said, then removed it. He put it on my ring finger. “My heart.”  Next came my middle finger. “My soul.”  Finally he settled it on my index finger, where the fit was perfect. “My love.” He closed my fingers, kissed the ring, and then pulled me to his chest, where he just held me. 

“Oh, Robert…” His hand on my hip to steady me, I stretched up on my toes and kissed him. 


I hurried into the breakfast room, an apology on my lips. Old habits died hard, and although I had been living with Robert Dorincort for several weeks now, I did not want to do anything that would make him cross. “I beg your pardon, Robert. I cannot think how I came to sleep so late this morning!” 

“Can’t you?” He placed his elbows on the table and leaned toward me, cradling a cup of coffee in his palms, the same palms that had caressed my buttocks as I had driven my cock into his snug, hot passage. The smile on his face was so utterly besotted that I blinked, and my breath snagged in my throat. “The fact that we spent the better part of last night making love couldn’t have anything to do with your oversleeping, could it?” 

I could feel a blush rise in my cheeks, and I laughed softly. Ever since the early morning hours of the New Year, when Robert had let me make love to him, when I had finally, freely confessed my love to him, things between us seemed … 

He reached for my hand and ran his thumb over the ring I wore on the index finger of my left hand, effectively derailing my train of thought. 

“Will you be all right today?” 

We would be going with Uncle James and a man he knew to Father’s house. My uncle had a plan to get Father out of the house. Germaine would be off with his disreputable friends, and the servants had the day off, so we would be safe enough searching the cellar for the door I had apparently told my lover was no longer there. The situation was … bizarre. 

I did not know what possessed me to go down into the lower level of Robert Dorincort’s townhouse. I did not even remember returning to the kitchen with the bottles of wine. Something untoward must have happened, although I recalled nothing, and I was afraid to ask what I had said that put that tight expression on Robert’s face. 

When I was about six I had ventured into the cellar of Father’s townhouse, and Germaine had come tearing out of one of the rooms, shrieking that it was coming, and it was going to get me. I could not fathom at the time what it was, but Germaine’s palpable fear had transmitted itself to me, and I was terrified. I had run up to my bedroom and hidden under the bed for the rest of the day, and I had never again gone into the cellar. 

“I will be fine, Robert,” I lied. I did not want to tell him that I was frightened of what that cellar held. 

Robert was watching me as if he was not sure he could believe my words. I took a soft, supple piece of leather out of my pocket and ran it through my fingers, determined to distract him. “What have you got there, Singe?” 

I smiled at him and showed him the object, and he sucked in his breath sharply. “Would you wear this for me, Robert?” I held it out to him. It had taken a good deal of searching for me to find that band. 

“You… you want me to wear this?” 

“Y…. yes…. if you would not mind?” I held my breath. If he agreed, this would declare Robert mine as surely as his ring made me his. 

He rose and came around the table to my side, and dropped to his knees. His arms encircled my waist, and he laid his head over my heart. “Oh, St. John.” He sat back on his heels, unbuttoned his collar, and bared his throat. “Would you put it on me?” 

I looked into his eyes and spoke softly. “My life. My heart. My soul.” I fastened the leather collar around his neck. “My love.” I rebuttoned his shirt, concealing the strip of black leather, and leaned my forehead against his while I ran my fingers through his thick, fair hair. “My love,” I repeated and kissed him. 


There was a knock on the front door. “Robert, Uncle James is here. Are you ready?” I opened the door. “Good morning, Uncle.” 

“St. John.” 

“Will you come in?” I brushed the lock of hair that had fallen into my eyes off my forehead, and his eyes sharpened. He took my hand. 

“What is this?” 

“Beg pardon? Oh, my ring? Robert gave it to me.”

He blew out a breath. “So it’s serious, is it?” 

“Yes, it’s serious, Blakeney.” Robert was just coming out of the study, where he had been trying to deal with the books, which would normally have been Andrew’s job. Robert scowled at my uncle. “Your family didn’t take care of St. John when they had the opportunity.” 

Uncle James’ eyes widened. 

“Robert!” I whispered sharply, gesturing surreptitiously to his neck. His fingers went to his throat, and he realized his shirt collar was undone, revealing the band I had placed there. A dull flush colored his cheeks, and he slid the top two buttons into their holes. 

“I begin to see.” That was all my uncle had to say about that. “St. John, there’s just one thing. I feel you should be prepared. I have uncovered proof that your mother never left this country; in fact, I am very much afraid she never left your father’s house. There is a strong possibility that we may find her body today.” I felt myself turn pale, and he patted my shoulder awkwardly. “We’re going to pick up someone I know. Tanner Green is one of the best.” 

“Best what?” Robert wanted to know. 

Uncle James looked at his wristwatch, ignoring the question.  “We’d best leave now. I promised Tanner we’d be there by ten o’clock.” 

It was ten on the dot when we showed up at his friend’s flat. The man who opened the door was just a bit taller than my uncle. He had brown hair so dark that in certain lights it appeared black and eyes that were a couple of shades lighter.  His face bore a slightly bruised look. I had heard about the results of plastic surgery often enough at school, when one of the fellows would mention his mother having gone for some nip and tuck work. He didn’t strike me as a vain man, and I thought perhaps he had been in an accident. 

“This is Tanner Green, an associate of mine.” 

He smiled warmly at me, but his gaze sharpened as it swept over Robert, who was hovering at my shoulder. For a moment I would have sworn that Mr. Green recognized Robert. Then he gave his head a shake as if to clear it, and his expression smoothed and became bland. 

Uncle James concluded the introductions. “Tanner, my nephew, St. John Ashford and Robert Dorincort.”

“Robin,” I corrected with a frown. “You may call him Robin.” I called him Robert. 

“Possessive little get, aren’t you?” Robert’s grin was sultry, and he touched his throat, reminding me that beneath the collar of his shirt was the leather band I had placed on him. This time I was the one who blushed. 

Tanner Green raised an eyebrow at that blatant bit of teasing. He glanced toward my uncle. “I was just finishing breakfast. Would you care for some coffee?” 

Uncle James shook his head. “I’d like to get this over with as soon as possible, if you don’t mind, Tanner?” 

“Not at all, James. How much time do we have?” He was looking at my uncle, whose attention was drawn inward; he did not see the expression in Mr. Green’s eyes as they swept over him. I coughed lightly, and Mr. Green’s lashes lowered. When he raised them again, there was no trace of the longing I had seen in them. “James? How much time?” 

“My contact at the Liechtenstein consulate will see that Lord Ashford is kept occupied for at least a couple of hours.” Uncle James’ tone was complacent, but I shivered when I thought of Father’s reaction when he learned that a princess would not be in his heir’s future. “Will that be enough?” 

“I’m running this operation, James. It should be more than enough.” His grin was cocky. 

“My BMW is downstairs. If you’re ready?” 

“Quite.” He caught up a jacket, made sure his door was locked, and we followed him down the stairs. “Are you going to let me drive?” 

Uncle James looked at him as if he had lost his mind. “Tanner! You’ve wrecked enough cars! I’m not likely to risk my BMW with you!” 

Robert and I slid into the rear seat of Uncle’s car, while Tanner Green made himself comfortable in the front. “My reputation has been sadly maligned,” he mourned. His arm rested casually over the back of the bench seat. Uncle James glanced at him before putting the car in gear. 

It did not take us long to get to the townhouse, traffic being light at that time of day. Uncle James parked at the rear of the stately, elegant home. I wondered that I did not feel more of a sense of loss at having been forbidden to return. We approached the door casually, and I inserted my key into it and pushed it open. The house was eerily silent as we entered. 

I stood in the middle of the back hallway and broke out in cold perspiration. Robert felt me shivering, and he stayed close to me, keeping a comforting hand on my back. 

Uncle James was concerned. “St. John, perhaps you’d prefer to stay above stairs?” 

Stubbornly, I shook my head. “I have to know.” I led the way to the butler’s pantry, where pressure on a latch disguised as the British lion, rampant caused a built-in cupboard to swing open, revealing the door behind it. A set of stairs descended into the cellar. There was a light switch within hand’s reach, and I pressed it. “Be careful, please. These steps are rather steep.” 

Once we got down to the bottom, I found I could not go further and stepped aside to let my uncle and his friend pass, then sank down onto a step. Robert sat beside me. He rested his arm on my thigh and wound his fingers in mine, and his thumb caressed the ring I wore. “It will be all right, St. John.” 


Before James Blakeney, the man for whom I worked, had left my flat, he had given strict orders that I was to wait until the day after to pay a visit to the home of Lord Allister Ashford. 

So of course, I obeyed him. For about an hour. I was certain that would be more than enough time to see him home. During that time, I prepared, dressing in unrelieved black and slipping the camouflage paint I would need for my face into a pocket in the leg of my cargo trousers. In another pocket was a small torch. A knife was strapped to my calf, and my revolver was nestled in its holster at the small of my back. I didn’t anticipate needing them, but it paid to be prepared. 

In the darkest hour of the night, I made my way to the viscount’s townhouse and while he and his abominable son slept, unaware of my presence, I familiarized myself with the layout of his very intriguing cellar. 

Ashford’s cellar ran the length of the townhouse. Given the history of this house, at one time it might have been intriguing, but now it was simply creepy. The temperature was exceptionally chill because of the stone walls, and the lighting was poor. You’d think the man would have heard of high wattage light bulbs!

James’ nephew was disturbed by the atmosphere, and knowing what we were likely to find here, I couldn’t blame him. I glanced at the stairs where he sat huddled against his lover. 

I sighed and turned back to the long, narrow space that separated both sides of the cellar. No matter what, this was going to prove a nasty business. 

A number of doors opened off the central corridor. I already knew three were simply for storage. 

“I think our best bet would be to check Lord Ashford’s wine cellar, James.” 

“Which …?” I went to the wall with the single door, and James’ eyebrows snapped together. “How, exactly, did you know this was the correct door, Tanner?” 

If I told him it was a lucky guess, and he didn’t believe me, he might start to question my other ‘lucky’ guesses. I pretended I didn’t hear him. His hand closed on my arm. Those elegant fingers of his, and all he could think to do with them was jerk me backwards. 

“Tanner? You broke in, didn’t you? After I strictly forbade you to!” 

“James, I’m an experienced field operative,” I reminded him as I shook myself free. “I needed more information than you were availing me.” 

He gripped my jacket and hauled me to him so that we stood chest to chest. “You could have blown this whole thing!” 

I stepped back so he wouldn’t feel my cock, which had been semi-hard since I’d opened my eyes that morning and known I would be seeing him again. “Since when did you start thinking of me as incompetent?” 

“Tanner, I’ve never… I know how capable you are!” 

“Then let me do my job, James.” 

He scowled and released me, then tried to enter the wine cellar. “The bloody door is locked, Tanner!” 

I flashed my teeth at him. “As it always is.” I took a small kit from my jacket pocket and pressed a thumbnail to the latch. The lid popped open, and I selected a slender tool from it. “Step aside, James. Let me show you how a professional does it.” I shot my cuffs and squatted down. “Mind stepping out of the light, mate?” I took a deep breath to center myself, then inserted the tip of the lock pick into the keyhole and moved it gingerly. After a few seconds, there was a faint ‘snick’. I shoved the door open with a flourish. “Entrez.” 

“It’s black as a witch’s heart in here!” he complained. 

“James, James, James,” I chided. “This is why I do what I do, and you don’t.” I handed him a small torch that I had brought along. Within seconds, he’d found the light switch and the room was flooded with stark, bright light. Racks of wines stood in the chill room, row upon row, Ports and Cabernets and Pinots, Noir and Grigio, Chablis and Bordeaux and Burgundies. 

“How could one man hope to drink all this wine in one lifetime?” I stayed in the doorway while James began his search. 

“That is not his intention, Mr. Green. Some of those are strictly investments. There is a ‘47 Port in there that I believe is worth several thousand pounds. Other bottles he had laid down for special occasions, such as my brother’s marriage, if it should ever come about.” 

“You have doubts of that, St. John?” Dorincort was curious. 

“Well, my dear, Father cannot find anyone he thinks is worthy of Germaine.” 

I watched the two wistfully. Dorincort had been holding St. John’s hand to give him some comfort, and he released it to place his arm around his shoulder. He brought St. John’s hand to his mouth, caressing the finger that bore a ring. St. John leaned into him and sighed softly. I echoed the sound beneath my breath. 

 Meanwhile, “Nothing!” James slapped the wall in frustration, and I joined him. 

“Steady on, pe…please!” I’d barely caught myself in time. “Pace off this wall, would you?” I stepped outside the chilled room and measured the wall from the wine cellar door to the far end. “What’ve you got, James?” 

“Twenty-two feet.” 

“Yes, well, out here it’s twenty-eight.” 

“That’s a difference of six feet.” I kept my mouth shut. He stuck his head out the door. “Tanner? That’s a difference of six feet!” 

“Yes, James, I got that.” 

He snarled an imprecation. “Then St. John was right; at some time or another, there must have been another room just past the wine cellar.”  

“I would think so. This stretch of wall appears to be just a soupçon lighter than the rest. I’d wager this is where the door was.” I went back into the wine cellar and studied the long row of shelves that ran along the far wall. I slid my fingertips over the sides, and then over the wall behind it, being careful not to knock any of the bottles onto the flagstone floor. “‘Allo, ‘allo!” 

“You’ve found something?” 

“Perhaps. I think… Ah!” I curled my finger in a shallow depression and barely got my arm out of the way as the center section of the rack swung creakily, exposing another room. “Give me the torch, please. And stay out of my range of fire.” I had my gun in my left hand, and I flashed the narrow beam of light over the interior. 

“What do you expect to come leaping out at us, Tanner?” James demanded irritably, but he stayed out of my way as he followed me. “Good god, this place is freezing! I can actually see my breath!” 

While the room that contained the wine had been approximately thirteen degrees Celsius, this room was frigid, probably around zero. There was no light switch here; my torch was the only source of light. I let it quarter the small room, and it wasn’t long before my eyes focused on something on the floor. “Ah, fuck.” I’d really been hoping… 

There was a faint, musty odor. I cast the light over the outer walls and spotted a small, vented opening that must have permitted the worst of the smells to be dissipated over the years. 

I crouched down beside the skeleton and examined it. The soft tissue was gone, but the outer layer of skin held the bones in place. I didn’t have much forensic experience, but I knew enough to be able to tell, even without the lady’s dressing gown that covered it, that it had been a woman. The legs rested primly, side by side, and the hands were folded at her waist. I angled the light up a bit higher, and the beam disclosed a lock of hair. 

Just behind my shoulder, James was breathing harshly. “Oh, goddamn him! Goddamn his miserable soul!” 

“I’m sorry, James.” The hair was auburn. “I believe we’ve found your sister.” 


Tanner wouldn’t let me go near the remains of my poor sister. “We don’t want to contaminate the evidence, James.” I knew he was right. 

“Tanner. I want him to pay for this. If it even seems as if he’s going to walk away, I will kill him myself.” 

“Then we’ll just have to make sure he doesn’t walk away. James, to a man like Allister Ashford, whose name is the only thing that means anything to him, public humiliation is the ultimate punishment. I don’t think he’ll want to face that. Now, you need to talk to your nephew, and I need to make a phone call.” 

Tanner went up the stairs in search of a telephone to put in a call to his opposite number in the Yard, informing him of what we’d found. I approached St. John. Dorincort stood shoulder to shoulder with him. I ran a hand through my hair. “St. John, I’m so sorry…” 

“Mama is in there, isn’t she, Uncle James?” 

I nodded, and he began to tremble. Before I could take a step to hold him, to shield him against that news, Dorincort had his arms around him, supporting him. St. John’s left hand came up, and he gripped his lover’s hand. Again I saw that ring. 

“Dorincort, would you mind taking St. John home? Here are my keys, you can drive the BMW…” 

My nephew was shaking his head, his expression set. “I will not leave, Uncle. She may have been your sister, but she was my mother. I need to hear what Father has to say about this.” 

I turned to his lover, hoping he would see reason. “When Ashford returns home, I cannot vouch for his behavior. If he lost control enough once… Dorincort?” 

He grinned at me, that wolfish expression that warned me to back off. “*I* need to hear what Lord Ashford has to say also, Blakeney.” 

The sound of my teeth grinding together was audible. I drew in a calming breath. “Very well. I expect it will be some time before your father puts in an appearance, St. John. Would you be kind enough to brew us a spot of tea?” 


We were waiting in Lord Ashford’s study, Tanner and I, my nephew and Dorincort. They had put together a surprisingly good tea. Or perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering the meal he had prepared on such short notice on New Year’s Eve. 

St. John was raising his cup to his lips when we heard the key in the front door. It opened and then slammed shut with such force the teapot rattled on its tray. He turned pale, and his cup dropped from nerveless fingers, splattering the thick area rug with its contents. Dorincort picked it up and set it aside. “It’s all right, love.” 

Willis!” In the hallway, Ashford shouted in a voice that would have done the military proud. “Oh, bugger, the man is never around when he is needed!” He stormed into the study and came to a shocked halt at the sight of us waiting there. “Blakeney?” His gaze swept the room, and his lip curled when he saw his son. “St. John. What are you doing in my home?” He stalked forward, fury darkening his expression. “You know you are no longer welcome here!” Only when the man sitting beside his son lunged to his feet and started toward him did Ashford realize his error. 

“Dorincort!” I barked, but he ignored the order implicit in my tone. 

St. John seized his sleeve. “My dear.” Only then did Dorincort rock to a halt, his hands clenching into fists. 

I turned my gaze back to my one-time brother-in-law. “Le jeu est fini, Ashford. The game is over.” 

“What are you talking about?” 

“My sister.” 

“What about Pamela? She died years ago in another country! Her body was never recovered!” 

“She died years ago,” I concurred, “but her body has been in the cellar of this house all this time.” 


“Is it? You were the one who informed our parents that she had run off with another man. You were the one who later informed them of the telegram that notified you of her death. You were the one who killed her, Ashford." 

“What utter rot!” But the blood drained out of his face. 

“I think not. Pamela could accept your emotional abuse of her, but when it spilled over onto your youngest son…” 

Ashford became almost rabid. “St. John is no son of mine! How dare you try to foist your brat onto me?”

“You sick bastard!” The notion was so outlandish neither my parents nor I had ever given it an ounce of credence when Pamela had tried to hint of how matters stood with her husband. “How could you think St. John was mine? Pamela was my sister!” 

“What has that to say about anything, Blakeney?” he snarled, vibrating with hatred.  “Men have had their sisters before! I was just not gullible enough to believe the whelp was mine! Look at Germaine, and then look at St. John! That red hair, those green eyes! What further proof do I need that he is not my son?” 

“You goddamned, vindictive fool! Didn’t you ever hear of the mark of the Blakeneys? It is passed on directly from father to son. Solely from father to son!” I was busy undoing my trousers, unmindful of the others in the room. “If St. John was my son, he would have this!” On my lower back, an inch or so to the left of my hip, was a velvety-brown birthmark, the size and shape of a ha’penny. “St. John, if you wouldn’t mine lowering your trousers?” 

His mouth was set in a grim line, and his green eyes were like chips of ice. He lowered his trousers enough to show that on neither hip did he bear the mark of the Blakeneys. 

Ashford staggered to the chair behind his desk, and he sank bonelessly into it. “I do not believe it! I will not believe it! He cannot be mine!” His voice was strident. 

“Believe it!” I growled. At that moment the doorbell rang. “And that should be the men from the Yard.” I nodded to Tanner, and he went to let them in. “There is no statute of limitations on murder, Ashford.” 

“Uncle, if you do not mind, I believe I would like to leave now?” St. John looked exhausted. “Robert, may we go home?” 

Dorincort looked as if Father Christmas had left what he’d been wishing for under the tree. “I’ll take those car keys now… Uncle.” 


Part 26/End


The band St. John had placed around my throat had been the first sign he’d given that he was willing to commit to me, but now he had said, “Robert, may we go home?” 

He had called my house ‘home’. It was better than Boxing Day and my birthday wrapped up in one. I had to be grinning like a loon. I took the car keys from his uncle and escorted him from the gloomy house. 

I knew St. John had been struck hard by his father’s callous statement that he was not his son. It was one thing to suspect it, but quite another to actually hear it spoken. He sat huddled in the front seat of his Uncle James’ BMW, shivering from the reaction. I had the heater blasting, and the temperature in the car was soaring by the time I got us back… ‘home’. I left the car parked in front of the townhouse I shared with my brother Drew, and hustled St. John into the house. There would be time later to worry about returning it to his uncle. 

Mrs. Harris took one look at the pale, drawn lines of his face and said, “I’ll brew up a pot of tea immediately.” 

“Some food would be grand also, Mrs. H. Whatever you might have?” 

“Of course.” She disappeared into the back of the house. 

I shepherded my lover into the dining room. “St. John…” 

He shook his head. “Please, Robert. I cannot talk of this. Not now.” His voice cracked, and he turned his face away. “Perhaps not ever.” 

“Then don’t.” As if he were my child, I removed his jacket and threw it aside. Fortunately, it landed over a chair, but it could have wound up on the chandelier for all of me. I put my arms around him and held him snugly, letting my body heat seep into him. “Don’t. I’m here. I’ll always be here.” 

He leaned against me, his trust evident, and gratefully I accepted it, another sign binding him closer to me. 

Sooner than I believed possible, Mrs. Harris produced a comforting meal of steaming, creamy tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. I sat St. John down and took the seat next to him instead of my usual place, and she set the bowls and plates on the table before us. At first St. John just toyed with his food, but after the first few spoonfuls, he tucked into it. I was relieved to see the color coming back into his face. 

“Will you be wanting anything else, sir?” 

“Thank you, no, Mrs. Harris. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I’ll clear this up later.” 

“Very good, sir. See you do a thorough job, mind!” she said, and while her tone was stern, her eyes were twinkling. I strove for an innocent expression, and she wagged an admonishing finger at me. “Oh, and I just wanted to remind you that I won’t be in tomorrow.” 

“That’s right, you’re going to see your sister’s new baby.” 

St. John raised his head. “Please give Mrs. Nuttell my very best, Mrs. Harris.” 

She smiled warmly at him. “I will, indeed. She was that pleased with the Paddington Bear you sent along last time for that precious angel. As soon as things settle a bit, she intends to write a proper thank you note to you all.” She nodded and returned to the kitchen to gather up her things. 

My lover felt my intent stare, and he shifted in his chair, uncomfortable at having a good deed caught out, then turned to face me, resolute. “Every child should have a Paddington Bear, Robert.” 

“Of course they should, St. John. But why will Mrs. Nuttell be thanking us all?” 

His eyes dropped to his plate, and he concentrated on the remains of his sandwich. “I told her it was from all of us,” he murmured in a soft voice. “Things have been so hectic these last weeks, and I knew neither you nor Andrew had the time to get the baby anything.” 

“You are a wonder, d’you know that?” His head shot up in surprise.” Your father is a complete and utter fool for not seeing how very special you are!” His green eyes looked like drowned emeralds, and he blinked furiously and averted his face. I hooked a finger under his chin and brought his gaze back to mine. “Go along to bed, love. You’ll feel better after a nap. I’ll be there as soon as I’ve made sure the kitchen is all right and tight.” 

I thought for a moment he would argue with me, but it was a measure of his emotional exhaustion that he rose from his seat, kissed my cheek and whispered, “Thank you, my dear,” and climbed the stairs to our bedroom. 

By the time I was finished in the kitchen and went upstairs, he was sound asleep in our bed. I stood in the doorway for a second, just studying him. His chestnut hair was fanned out on the pillow, and the blankets were cocooned around his shoulders. 

I crossed to the curtains and pulled them closed, shutting out the wintry afternoon sunlight, then stripped off my shirt and trousers and slid under the covers, startled to find St. John was naked. His skin dimpled with goose bumps, and he muttered a sleepy protest. I didn’t stop to wonder why he hadn’t bothered to put on pajamas as he normally would. I spooned behind him, cradling him against me, and he relaxed back into sleep. 

I fell into a light doze. Afternoon flowed into evening into night, and I didn’t need to be awake to be aware that the moon had risen, a full, silver-white globe, the first full moon since St. John and I had become lovers. I didn’t change; that wasn’t in my nature, but as always happened during a full moon, a fine covering of hair grew over my body. I still didn’t know how my lover would react when he realized that I truly did carry the wolf strain, but for now, I didn’t worry. As he nestled closer to me in his sleep, St. John hummed in approval and wound his fingers in the white fur. 

The following morning I woke to find myself alone in bed. The fragrance of freshly brewed coffee filled the house, and I smiled, knowing my lover was feeling more like himself if he was making breakfast. I showered quickly, dressed, and went in search of him. 

“St. John?” 

“Go on into the breakfast room, Robert. I shall be right along.” 

On the sideboard were a selection of chaffing dishes, and I sighed happily. The boy could cook! I helped myself to some kippers and eggs and had just sat down to butter a slice of toast when St. John entered with a carafe of what smelled like Turkish coffee. Where had he managed to find that? Then I realized he was still in a dressing gown, and I forgot about the coffee. 

“Are you feeling quite the thing, green eyes?” 

“Yes.” St. John came to me, his eyes on fire with passion. I pushed my chair away from the table, intending to rise to my feet, but he stopped me with a hand to my shoulder and dropped to his knees before me. He made a space for himself between my knees and unzipped my trousers. My breath snagged in my throat as he freed my cock and covered it with licks and kisses. 

His hair feathered over my thighs, and I groaned. He curled his tongue around the head of my cock and tugged gently, then slid it over the thick vein on the underside before taking the shaft between his lips and sucking strongly. I was unable to prevent myself from thrusting up into his mouth, whimpering, “Oh, god…” 

He gave a soft huff of laughter, his breath warm and teasing on my spit-slicked shaft. “No, my dear, but thank you for the compliment.” He stood and shrugged off his dressing gown, and I nearly came right then. He was naked under it. 

St. John turned, and before I could prevent him, he lowered himself onto my rigid cock. He must have prepared himself before he came downstairs, because I popped through the tight ring of muscle, and he took my length effortlessly. My hands went around his torso to toy with his nipples, pinching and scraping them, rubbing them to pebble hardness. I slid lower in my chair, and he moaned as my cock found his prostate. 

“Ride me!” I ordered hoarsely, and he began a steady rhythm as he pleasured himself on my cock. He turned his face toward mine and wound his hands in my hair, urging my mouth to plunder his. Whimpers and moans spilled out into the morning stillness of the house. Mine? His? I bit at his mouth, swallowing the sounds. 

While my right hand tugged at the golden nipple ring, my left was coating his cock with the pre come that was oozing from it, and I jerked him off. His moans became sharper, more breathless. He found the angle that drove my cock relentlessly against his prostate, and he rose and fell faster. 

His legs began to tremble, and his movements became erratic. I ground my mouth against his and sucked his tongue into my mouth, and he came, pouring himself into my hand. His inner muscles clenched around me as he tried to milk my climax from me. Another two deep, hard thrusts, and I was following him, filling his snug passage with my hot semen. 

My lover laid his head back against my shoulder, and I continued to feed off his lush mouth. 

A sound so soft St. John didn’t hear it caused me to look up in time to see my brother back quickly into the hallway. Drew? What was he doing back in London? He and Da’ric weren’t due home for at least another week. 

“Is something wrong, my dear?” St. John asked, his voice languid in the afterglow of our lovemaking. 

“No, love.” I nuzzled the spot below his ear and dismissed Drew’s untimely appearance. The table would have prevented him from seeing that St. John was completely naked. Still, I had been so involved in loving him that we could have been descended upon by a horde of inquisitive siblings, and I would not have noticed. I leaned down and reached for his dressing gown, and draped it over him so he wouldn’t get chilled. “Not as long as I have you.” 


I had enjoyed our stay in the United States, but after the first few days I’d become increasingly more tense. Something was happening in London, and I needed to be there. Da’ric had wound his fingers in my hair and murmured against my mouth, “Of course, Drew.” He’d changed our reservations, packed our duffles and kissed his grandparents good-bye, promising to return for a longer visit in the near future. 

Now my lover was exhausted, and not merely because there had been too many time zones in such a relatively short period of time. That little adventure in the lavatory of the SST had taken quite a bit out of him, no pun intended. I smiled smugly, remembering his surprise when I’d dragged him into the loo, locked the door of the tiny compartment, and gone down on him. 

“I’m wiped, Drew.” He yawned. “I’m going up to bed. Give my apologies to Robin, please.” He saw my smile, and his eyes narrowed. “You don’t intend to tell him why I’m so tired, do you?” 

“No, Yank, I wouldn’t dare. You might be tempted to tell him about what happened in the front cupboard in your grandparents’ house.” Where he had tripped me and beaten me to the floor. His grandparents were supposed to have been at their country club, celebrating his Granddad’s very first hole in one, but they’d arrived home earlier than we had anticipated. Da’ was sprawled under me, and I’d put my hand over his mouth to mute the sounds he was making as I plowed into his hot, tight passage. He’d teased me by licking my palm and probing the spaces between my fingers until I could barely subdue my own moans. 

I kissed him lightly and ran a hand over his arse. “I’ll just let Robin know we’re home and be right along.”

Da’ric leaned into me with a tiny growl, nipped the skin over my adam’s apple, then shouldered one of the duffle bags and got the other under his arm, and strode up the stairs. The casual exhibition of his strength never failed to amaze me. I smiled and licked my lips, admiring the easy movements of his arse and thighs as he climbed the stairs. Da’ paused and glanced back over his shoulder. //Don’t be too long, Brit.// I could feel the caress of his thoughts as if he physically stroked my cheek, and I hurried down the hall. 

Robin and St. John were in the breakfast room; I could hear the murmurs of their voices, as well as the soft sounds of kissing. The possibility of catching my brother and the aristocratic young man on whom he’d settled his heart snogging tickled me. For about five seconds I debated interrupting them, and then decided it was my prerogative as the elder brother. I stepped into the breakfast room, my mouth opened to tease them, expecting them to jump apart in embarrassment. 

My mouth snapped shut. I was not expecting St. John, nude from the waist up, to be seated on my brother’s lap and nuzzling his mouth. His left palm was against Robin’s cheek, and I was astounded to see a ring on his index finger that I vaguely recognized as one Papa had given Robin years ago. I was even more astounded to see the leather band Robin wore around his neck. I backed out of the room. 

I paused in the hallway, and I gulped and ran my fingers over my own throat, wondering how I would react if Da’ric should ask me to wear something like that. //Only if you wanted it, Drew.// 

Before I could start up the stairs, the front doorbell chimed. I could hear Robin swear softly, and then St. John whispering, “Perhaps if we do not answer, they will think no one is home, and they’ll go away?” 

But whoever was at the door left off ringing the bell and began pounding. I sighed and went to see who was there. A glance through the peephole revealed someone who bore a very strong resemblance to St. John Ashford. I sighed again and opened the door, and he stalked in, followed by another man. 

“You’re Andrew Dorincort, aren’t you? I’m James Blakeney. This is my associate, Tanner Green.” My nose twitched. “I need to speak with my nephew, St. John.” 

Tanner Green? I didn’t recognize him, but something about his scent… “Robin.” I raised my voice. “Someone to see St. John.” 

They came out of the breakfast room, and other than the younger man wearing a dressing gown, no one would think anything was untoward. 

“Uncle James. I was not expecting to see you. Oh! Your car keys! Robert, do you have them?” Robin fished a key ring from his pocket and tossed the keys to James Blakeney while his lover tightened the belt of his dressing gown. “Just give me a moment to put on something a trifle more suitable, and I will return shortly.” He hurried off before anyone could object. 

“May I offer you a cup of coffee?” At their nods, Robin led the way to the breakfast room. 

Gino!” I called. There was no response, other than James Blakeney gazing back at me, his eyebrow elevated. With a jerk of my head, I indicated I wanted a word with him in private. 

“Yes, what is it, Dorincort?” he demanded shortly, his hand in his pocket jiggling his keys. 

“How well do you know that man?” 

“Tanner Green? How well does anyone know anyone?” he countered. 

I bared my teeth at him. “For your information, almost a month ago he was working for Callisto Marconi…” 

His eyebrow rose higher. 

 “… and he was going by the name of Gino Marrone.” 

“That is utter rot!” Blakeney had the aristocratic, supercilious twist of the lips down to a science. I was almost tempted to admire his way with it. “Utter and absolute rot!” 

“Is it? I don’t know what’s going on here, Blakeney, but this is my brother who is involved with your nephew. If he is harmed by anyone, In. Any. Way… Let’s just say this planet will not be large enough to harbour you.” I knew the wolf was close to the surface. He didn’t back away, but his eyes became cool and cautious. 

//Do you need me down there, Brit? Things sound like they might be heating up.// 

//Thanks, Yank. I’m dealing with it.// 

//You’ll call if you need me?// 

I’d always need him. I felt his pleasure as that slipped out. //I promise. Now, get some rest.// 

Green sauntered back into the hall sipping his coffee. In his right hand was another cup, which he proffered to the man with whom he worked. “Problem, James?” 

Robin was right behind him, also bearing two cups. He came to stand by my shoulder, and I took a cup. 

“Dorincort seems to feel he’s seen you before, Tanner, working for an underworld character.” 

“Must have been someone else, Mr. Dorincort.” Green’s voice was ingratiating. 

“You know, Blakeney, I have to ask myself how you knew Marconi was a yardie.” 

“Possibly I read something about him in The Times.” He didn’t seem too concerned. “You know, Dorincort, one asks one’s self how you knew Marconi’s background.” He mimicked my words back to me. 

I gave him a saccharine smile. “Possibly I read something about him in The Times.” I raked Green with my gaze.  “Were you aware, Mr. Green, that each of us has a signature scent? Can’t be duplicated, can’t be eradicated.” I tapped the side of my nose. 

“Oh dear. Are you saying I… offend?” 

My teeth gritted together. I was about to challenge that asinine statement when, //You sure you don’t need me down there?// 

//I said I’d call if I needed you.// 

I could feel the weariness dragging over him and could almost see the yawn that stretched his jaws. //Call anyway?// 

I growled. It was audible this time, but fortunately no one thought too much of it. “Just remember this, Green, or Marrone, or whoever the fuck you are! I’ll be watching your arse!” 

“Really? Oh, I… I rather fancy that, darling!” He fluttered his lashes at me and simpered. “You will be gentle though, won’t you, luv?” I started to choke, and I almost missed Blakeney’s intrigued look. 

And then St. John came down the stairs, and there were other things to consider. He was dressed in what, for him, were casual clothes, charcoal grey wool trousers and an off-white cable knit alpaca jumper. Robin went to him immediately, offering him his coffee cup. “I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Uncle James. What did you have to tell me?” 

Blakeney tugged on his lip and sighed. “There is no easy way to say this, St. John. Your father is dead.” 

“But… He was fine yesterday. Well, perhaps not ‘fine’, but… I do not understand, sir. What happened?” 

“Did you know your father had a collection of antique dueling pistols?” 

“Yes. He kept them locked in his study. He was the only one who had possession of the key.” St. John accepted the cup. He took an incautious swallow and grimaced when he burned his mouth. “What does that have to say about anything?” 

“Your father was left alone for just a moment.” Blakeney exchanged a glance with his associate. “I sent Tanner to see how much longer those Yard men would be. Your father asked for some tea, and I went into the kitchen to brew a fresh pot. There was a gunshot. I ran back to the study, but when I got there, your father was already dead.” 

“How could such an accident have happened? Father is an expert marksman!” St. John was pale. Robin pulled his lover against him. 

“It wasn’t an accident. Allister Ashford deliberately shot himself in the head. I’m sorry, St. John.” Blakeney didn’t appear sorry to me, but I said nothing. “Germaine is making the funeral arrangements. He said he would prefer to put it about that your father died of a brain aneurysm. The authorities have agreed to seal the details of your mother’s death, the part your father played in it, and his own death.” 

“So Mama is to be left labeled a cheating whore who abandoned her children?” St. John leaned into Robin, who rubbed his arm soothingly. 

He flinched. “I am sorry, St. John.” And this time I could believe James Blakeney truly was. 

“How can you permit that?” St. John asked bitterly. 

“Sometimes we have no choice but to do things we would rather not.” 

St. John’s eyes burned like emerald fire, but his voice dripped icicles. “Indeed.” He fell back on years of iron control and picked at a piece of non-existent lint on his jumper. “When is the service to be scheduled, Uncle James?” 

“On Friday at two, at St. Eustace. Your grandparents and I will be there, so it won’t be just you and Germaine.” 

“I’ll be with you, love.” Robin scowled at his lover’s uncle, as if daring him to say otherwise. 

“So will Da’ and I. I’ll telephone Mum and Dad; they’ll see that the Siblings are released from school for the day.” 

Robin nodded. “The Papas will motor to town with them. We’ll need to get in touch with Uncle Bertie and Aunt Dinah, and Hal and his wife. Tris and Sigfried should be back from that dig in the Kalahari.” His eyes became vague as he tried to remember if the other cousins would be available to attend the funeral. 

St. John’s expression was dazed; he’d never had such closeness in his own family, and it was obvious he couldn’t imagine what it must be like. 

I crossed the hall to where he stood with my favorite brother’s arms around him, and my embrace encompassed them both. “We stand by each other in this family, St. John, and you’re part of this family now.” 

There was a light clearing of a throat. “Well, if you have no objection, James, I’ll be there also,” Tanner Green volunteered. “I always liked your nephew.” Dull color swept up his cheeks, and he coughed. 

Blakeney looked interested, but didn’t pursue that statement. “St. John, we must be off. I know I’m leaving you in good hands. I’m sorry to have been the bearer of such sad tidings…” 

“Uncle James, do not be any more of a hypocrite than you can help.” He appeared to battle with himself, then stepped forward and extended his hand. “I do appreciate your taking the time to tell me this in person.” 

“You’re my nephew, and as unlikely as it may have seemed, your grandparents and I care about you.” Blakeney would have pulled him into a hug, but St. John stepped back out of reach. A sad look flashed across his face and then was gone. “We’ll see you on Friday, St. John,” he said briskly. “Gentlemen. Tanner, I’d like a word with you.” With a final farewell, both men were gone. 

Robin urged his lover back into the breakfast room. “Are you all right? There have been enough shocks for you. I want you to eat something; you haven’t had breakfast yet, green eyes. Let’s…” His voice became indistinct. 

I looked after them. Jet lag was beginning to overtake me, and all I wanted was my own lover. I hurried up the stairs to our bedroom. “Da’?” 

An incomprehensible mumble was my only reply. He was sprawled naked across the bed, so exhausted that he hadn’t even drawn the covers over his long, lean body. The sight of his tight arse lured me with the desire to touch and taste and bite.  His legs were spread wide, and his hips gave an unconscious, voluptuous wriggle; I wanted to bury myself in his heat. 

That would be too ungentlemanly. I sighed and undressed, and carefully pushed his body aside so there was room for me on the bed. I would nap, and when I awoke, then there would be plenty of time to make love with him, I promised myself. I dropped a kiss on his pillow beside his cheek. 

//No need to waste it, Brit.// The feel of his mind in mine was an almost palpable caress to the pleasure centers of my brain. His golden eyes opened lazily and stared into mine. //I’m never that tired!// 

I thought briefly about destiny. I thought about chance and fate and how one small difference had the possibility of altering it all. 

And then I dismissed it as irrelevant. I reached for my lover and held him. I had him, and he was solid and real and there, in my arms.



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