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Finally – my NaNoWriMo story sees the light of day!  It was 98% finished in mid-January but that last 2% is always the killer.

 

I’ve said it before and it continues to be true:  It takes a village … a very patient, hard working and understanding village – never just the person whose name happens to be after the “by” in the title – to produce a story.  I might have written this story but without the hard work of two excellent Betas and even better Friends, no one would have ever read it.  Or – trust me – wanted to read it.  So – my extreme thanks to Beta 1 and Beta 2.  They deserve your thanks as well for this story.  

 

Comments, questions, complaints, issues, whatever - are all welcome

 

Enjoy!

Dash

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Seizing Opportunities

By Dash

2/27/2010

 

 

1731 – 2 Days Northeast of Jamaica   

 

The ships creaked and jolted as their hulls scraped and bumped each other on the rising waves.  The men on deck, long used to such noises and movements, ignored them and carried on with their assigned tasks, emptying one of the ship's hulls and transferring the items to the other ship.  A line of seated prisoners watched silently as their ship was systematically stripped of everything of value.

 

Inside the Captain's quarters, a middle-aged gentleman with salt and pepper hair and beard, dressed slightly better then the men working on desk, reviewed the papers and charts he had found in the locked desk.  A knock on the door caused him to look up, saying, "Yes?"

 

"Excuse me, Captain," a young man said, touching his hat as he entered the cabin, "Mr. William told me to inform you that we should be finished within the hour and you'll be pleased with the cargo."

 

Captain Alfred Wheeler smiled faintly and nodded, "Very good, thank you, Dickey."  He glanced back down at the papers to dismiss the young man and then remembered another matter. "Did Mr. William find out the identity of the young man who slashed Mr. Edward?  He was a brave one; I hope his injury was not too serious."

 

Dickey nodded. "Yes, sir.  His name is Michael Bell."

 

"Bell?" the captain asked, looking up. "Is he related to the former Captain of this ship?"

 

Dickey glanced quickly over to the corner of the room where the former occupant lay in a heap of congealed blood before nodding. "Yes, sir.  I believe the lad told Mr. William that Captain Bell was his father."

 

Captain Wheeler made a face and sighed.  "I would have appreciated being given that information as soon as it was known."  He stood up, gathering all the papers and charts into a large untidy pile.  "I'll review these once we're back on the St. Matthew," he said.  "Where is Mr. William now?"

 

"He's supervising the unloading of the hull, sir, with Mr. Henry."

 

The other man nodded. "All right then, thank you, Dickey.  Please gather all the papers you can find in the cabin and put them into my oil bag and have them delivered to my cabin." 

 

"Yes, sir," Dickey said, touching his hat again as his captain went past him into the small hall.

 

A moment later, Captain Wheeler cleared his throat to get the attention of the two young men supervising the transferring of goods. 

 

One of them glanced up, immediately elbowing his friend to attention when he saw the look on their captain's face.

 

"A word with you please, Mr. William," the older man said.  "I'm quite confident that Mr. Henry can deal with this matter alone."  Without waiting to see if the young red haired man followed, he turned and headed toward an unoccupied section of ship rail.

 

"Yes, sir," William said, touching his hat and standing up straight.

 

"Dickey has just informed me that the former Captain's son is on board."

 

William nodded. "Yes, sir.  He received a wound to his thigh from one of the men and gave Edward a nasty cut to his arm that Dr. Blackwell is treating back on the St. Matthew."

 

"And has the doctor also seen to this young man's wound?"

William shook his head slowly. "No sir, he's tied up in line with the other prisoners."

 

Captain Wheeler glared at William. "Is that how I taught you to treat important passengers Mr. William? Like the rest of the crew?"  When the younger man shook his head silently, he continued, "I do hope that you've remembered your other lessons and given them all water and made sure they were out of the sun."

 

Nodding eagerly, grateful to be able to give one positive answer, William said, "Yes, sir.  They've all been watered and are on the shaded side of the ship.  Two of our crew are also keeping an eye on them and have instructions to fetch either Henry or me if there's a problem with them."  He glanced up at the captain. "I'm sorry sir, but I didn't think that the boy was that important."

 

"Even after you found out he was the son of the captain?" Captain Wheeler asked in a disbelieving tone.  Waving off William's explanation, he said, "Save your breath and plan on discussing the matter privately with me when we return home."

 

"Yes sir," William mumbled.

 

"Bring the boy to my cabin on the St. Matthew.  I'll have Dr. Blackwell attend to his wound there and god knows I won't leave him aboard the ship when we cast off."  Nodding to William, Captain Wheeler said, "That's all, you are dismissed, Mr. William."

 

"Yes sir, thank you sir," William said, touching his hat quickly before turning around and almost running to carry out his orders.

 

Watching him go, Captain Wheeler shook his head and allowed a small smile to grace his previously stern expression.   William was growing into a fine sailor, but his age, just 16, and lack of experience still showed through his polished exterior at times. 

 

 

 

Two hours later, the captain opened the door of his cabin on the St. Matthew, the Atlantic Bell now emptied of cargo and adrift behind them, and smiled at the young boy waiting for him.  "Hello young sir, my name is Alfred Wheeler, Captain of this ship," he said, giving the boy a small bow and waiting a moment for an answer before turning to other man in the room.  "And how is our young guest?"

 

The doctor nodded, "He'll be fine.  It was a relatively minor gash that I've treated and bandaged.  I'll check it again tonight, but it seemed clean and as long as it remains so, shouldn't be any trouble."

 

"Good," the captain said, nodding again as he sat down in his chair, motioning for the doctor to also sit down.  "Now then," turning toward the boy who was seated in the window bay overlooking the back of the ship, "I'm sure you have some questions.  Hopefully I'll be able to answer them and provide some comfort."  When the boy didn't answer or move, just continued to sit there eyeing the two officers, Wheeler continued with a smile.  "Well then, let me first assure you, young sir, that you're in no danger from either my crew or me.  We are approximately two days from our home port and from there, if you wish, you can be transported to Kingston with enough money for passage back to your home, wherever that might be."

 

"London," the boy whispered softly. 

 

Wheeler smiled at him, bowing his head again. "London then.  If needed, we can arrange a traveling companion for you, so you have nothing to fear."

 

"I'm not afraid, I'm not a baby," the boy said in a slightly stronger voice.  "And I don't need a nursemaid to look after me on a trip.  I sailed from London to Kingston by myself last year and managed fine."

Biting back a laugh, well aware that young men did not take kindly to being laughed at when they were trying to prove what men they were, the captain nodded.  "Good, I'm glad to hear that you're not a child.  It makes our conversation much easier if I can speak to you as a young man instead of a little boy.  Can I trust you to continue to act as such?"

 

The boy nodded.

 

"Good, then stand up instead of sulking in the corner and make your introductions like a man."  The words came out firmly but without anger in a voice that allowed little room for disagreement.

 

Scrambling to his feet, wincing a bit as he stood straight, the young man straightened his shoulders and bowed slightly.  "Excuse my poor manners, Captain.  My name is Michael Roger Preston Bell of London and I thank you for your hospitality and kindness in seeing to the treatment of my wounds.  I also hope that your fine man that I wounded will make a full recovery."  He bowed again and straightened back up, eyes firmly fixed on the floor.

 

Blackwell smiled at Wheeler as he struggled not to laugh at the boy's performance.

 

"Thank you Mr. Bell," the captain said.  "Please sit back down and allow me to explain what is happening and what will happen over the next few days."

 

Looking uncertainty between his previous seat in the window and at the table with the two men, he hesitated.

 

"At the table please, Mr. Bell," Blackwell said kindly, pushing out a chair with his foot. 

 

"As I said before, my name is Captain Wheeler and you are aboard the ship the St. Matthew and while you are not a prisoner, you are now my responsibility."

 

"Are you pirates?" Michael asked, interrupting.

 

The doctor laughed before catching himself as Wheeler shot him a glare.

 

"We are opportunists," Wheeler corrected him.  "As I was saying, while you are not a prisoner, you should consider yourself--"

 

"What does an opportunist do?" the boy asked, interrupting again.

 

"It means that we look for opportunities and capitalize on them," Blackwell began, before catching Wheeler's eye again and falling silent.

 

"It means that we are free agents, not working for any government or church and will consider any worthwhile and profitable opportunity presented to us," the captain explained.  "For the next few days you should consider yourself our guest and you will be treated with all the respect and courtesy that you deserve.  But do not," Wheeler cautioned, "take that to mean you have free run of the ship.  This is a working vessel and can be a dangerous place for young men not accustomed to that life.  You will be quartered in a private cabin next door and should remain there unless Mr. Blackwell or I fetch you.  Meals will be taken here with myself and my officers and if you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask.  Several of our junior officers, as you know, are close to your age and I will see that a change of clothing is provided.  You look to be around 11. Is that correct?"

 

The boy shook his head.  "I'm 12 as of last month."

 

"Close enough then."   He eyed the boy for a moment before asking, "Can you also read and write?"

 

"Yes sir," Michael said quietly, eyes fixed on the table.

 

"I'll see that several books are provided then to help pass the time."

 

"In what language, sir?" he asked softly as he looked up.  He raised an eyebrow slightly as his shoulders squared. "I can read, write and speak French and Latin in addition to English."

 

Captain Wheeler laughed. "I'm sure we'll be able to accommodate you." 

 

"Are all the crew of the ship I was on also on board?" Michael asked, suddenly quieter.

 

The captain shook his head. "No, it is our policy to leave the crew on board the ship.  We are only interested in material cargo, not the human kind.  The men were loosely tied and, assuming they have any bit of self-reliance, should have no problem freeing themselves within a few hours and getting back under sail."  He paused again before deciding that a straightforward approach was best.  "I do regret to inform you though that your father was killed during the attack. He fought bravely to ward off our boarders and to defend his ship." It was never an easy task delivering news such as this and they had hosted numerous passengers over the years and there was never any predicting how they would react.  Some burst into tears, some sat silent and some rejoiced.  "It was an unavoidable incident and I can assure you that he did not suffer and we take no pleasure in his death."

 

Michael nodded once before swallowing and saying in a quiet voice, "I feel I must be honest with you, sir.  The man you killed, Captain Bell, was my step-father.  I hold no great allegiance to him and am sure that his soul is now burning where it belongs.  He would have had no qualms about killing your men and I dare say he would have taken pleasure in such an act."

 

While certainly not the worst he had heard, Captain Wheeler was still a bit shocked to hear such disdain and hatred coming from a child.  Feeling that the boy needed some time alone to absorb the news and come to terms with his own feelings, he stood up. "It's been a long day for you and we'll have plenty of time to talk over the next few days.  Dr. Blackwell, would you please show Mr. Bell his cabin and make sure he is settled in properly?"

 

"Yes, sir," the doctor said as he stood up.  A moment later, he opened the door to a small cabin next to the captain's cabin.  "It's small, but I think you'll be comfortable," he explained as the boy followed him into the room.  It was sparsely furnished with only a built-in bunk, a stool in front of a small flip-down table attached to the wall and several hooks for clothing. 

 

"Thank you, Dr. Blackwell," Michael said as he looked around and then sat on the stool.  Looking out the small window which was open to catch the ocean breeze, he nodded.  "It's much more comfortable than my berth on my stepfather's ship."

 

The doctor smiled. "I'll let you get settled then.  It's been an exciting day and I'm sure you'll value some quiet time for reflection or prayer.  My cabin is on the other side and I will be working in there until dinner.  Please knock on the wall if you need anything.  One of the other boys will be around shortly with a change of clothing, water so you can freshen up before dinner and a bit of food."

 

Sitting down on the bunk, Michael nodded almost automatically.  His face was drawn and he suddenly looked much younger than he had in the captain's cabin, his earlier bravado deserting him.

 

"It'll be OK," Blackwell said kindly, walking over and stroking the boy's hair for a moment.  "Just a few days with us and you'll be back in Kingston heading toward home and this will seem naught but a dream."

 

"Why am I here?" Michael asked softly.  Looking up, his eyes were wide and scared, but his face was determined.  "Are you going to do... things to me?  In books, pirates rape and torture their captives or hold them for ransom.  I can assure you, sir, that no one would be willing to pay a pound for me."  He gave a nervous laugh and smiled slightly. "In fact, my stepfather's family might be willing to pay more if you keep me."

 

Blackwell smiled and said evenly, "Well, it's a good thing we're not pirates then."  He patted the boy's back for a moment, giving his shoulder a comforting squeeze.  "Don't worry, no one is going to bother you and you'll be home soon enough.  The only reason you're here is for your own safety, no other reason, I assure you."

 

"Safety from what?"

 

Blackwell eyed the boy, silently debating how honest he should be before speaking.  "The Captain of your ship was killed.  When that happens on a merchant vessel like yours, there is often a struggle for power and command of the ship.  Your personal safety may have been in jeopardy if some of the men realized their claim to the ship would be much stronger if you were not with them."

 

Michael looked at him and nodded silently.  "I understand that."

 

As the door to the cabin closed, Michael flopped back onto the bunk and closed his eyes, struggling against the waves of fear and sadness threatening to overcome him.

 

His only visitor in the next five hours was another boy about his age who introduced himself as Henry and came bearing a fresh change of clothes and two books.  The clothes were clean if a bit worn with several repairs.  But they fit well enough and Michael changed into them gratefully.  When Dr. Blackwell appeared for dinner, the company and the thought of food was enough to override any lingering fears about his shipmates.

 

"Ah," Captain Wheeler said as they stepped into his cabin, now transformed into a dining room, "so glad you could join us."   He motioned toward an empty seat along one side. "Please sit between Mr. William and Mr. Henry, Michael."

 

Dinner was a loud but well-mannered event with several conversations going at once and simple but filling food being passed around in china bowls and distributed on plain porcelain plates.  Michael was content to quietly sit there and allow the conversation to flow around him.  It was clear that every man at the table respected the Captain and considered him their leader but it was equally clear that they did not fear him.  The respect was earned through ability and personality and proven leadership, not through brutality.

 

"Had you sailed with your stepfather for very long, Michael?" the Captain asked during a pause in the conversations.

 

Michael swallowed the mouthful of fish stew he had taken and shook his head, noticing that the other conversations had also stopped and he was the center of attention.  "Not for very long, sir.  My mother died last year and he sent for me then.  This was the third voyage I had been on."

 

"And did you enjoy it?" the Captain asked.

 

"I very much enjoy boats and being on the ocean, sir.  But my stepfather ran a very tight ship and had little time or patience to show me much.  He had talked about buying me a commission in the Royal Navy and allowing them to train me, but I believe felt the amount was too high.  He was a simple man who had made his own way in the world through hard work."  He shrugged and gave a small smile. "He felt I should be able to do the same, especially since I wasn't really his son."

 

Dr. Blackwell smiled. "But he must have cared some.  You are certainly well educated."

 

The boy gave an embarrassed shrug. "That was my mother's wishes, sir.  And, I thought, my stepfather's too, until the first bill was presented to him.  At that, he ordered me out of the school in London and sent to him.  The truth be told, I believe he placed more value on me being gone then he did on any education.  I'm sure he felt it would be much easier to create a new family with my mother if she didn't have her old one sitting across the table every night."

 

"Men are too often obsessed with antiquated customs and beliefs to recognize the excellent opportunities given to them," Captain Wheeler said, before turning his attention to Henry and quizzing the younger man on the ship's course.

 

Grateful that the table's attention had turned from him, Michael allowed himself to relax a bit.  He had never been particularly shy or timid, seven years of public schooling would cure any boy of that curse, but this situation was completely foreign to him and the unfamiliarity made him uneasy.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the doctor studying him.  Looking up, Michael gave him a small smile as he took another spoonful of stew.

 

Dr. Blackwell smiled back, giving him an approving nod.

 

 

 

"So what do you think of our young guest?" the captain asked two days later.

 

Blackwell leaned on the deck railing and looked at the three boys leaning over the side of the ship watching a school of dolphins play in the wake.  "He seems like a nice boy.  Obviously smart, seems resourceful and like he has a good head on his shoulders.  He's getting along well with the others and they seem to like him.  He's young though and as much as he's trying to hide it, scared.  I heard him crying again last night."

 

"Why?"

 

Blackwell rolled his eyes at his friend.  "Because he's barely 12, Alfred.  His stepfather was just murdered and he's now living with the men who did it.  In the last year he's lost his mother, been uprooted from the main home he's known, been shipped half way around the world to live with an almost stranger who seemed to dislike him.  He's been through a lot and may simply be at his breaking point.  He's certainly not the first."

 

"No," the captain agreed with a shake of his head.  "You're right, of course.  You and James are much better handling these boys than I am."

 

The other man laughed. "I wouldn't agree with that.  You fill a vital role for them, it is simply different than the one I fill for them or James does.  Like any good family, we all have our parts to play."

 

Turning around, the captain raised his voice to be heard over the noise of the sails and men manning them.  "Our course, Mr. Edward, if you please."

 

Above them on the quarter deck, the younger man quickly turned the wheel over to a deck hand and stepped to the railing.  "We are proceeding due east, sir and I estimate that we should be within sight of home within the hour.  We've caught a good wind and are making very fast time."

 

Giving a dismissive nod, the captain turned back to once again stare off over the waves in the direction of home.  "So we've got a few hours to decide what to do with Mr. Michael."

 

The doctor looked at him and nodded. "Are you contemplating his joining the family?  He's not another society reject like William or Steven…"

 

"No, but he is an orphan like Henry, Edward and Martin."

 

"But, given the extent of his education and his stepfather's ship, he is not without resources," the doctor argued.  "It's highly likely that, assuming there is money, he would be re-enrolled in his school by the courts until majority. Or possibly, as he seemed to indicate was a potential, a commission could be bought for him into the Royal Navy."

 

Nodding, Captain Wheeler said, "You are right on all of those counts.  I just can't help but think that to send such a smart and spirited young man back into either one of those institutions would be a mistake and the death of his spirit.  He's smart and funny and seems to have a genial personality that will not be appreciated in the Royal Navy or in most public schools."

 

"This is true," Dr. Blackwell said, studying the younger man.

 

"And even if he was able to secure a commission, what exactly does that secure him?  A life indebted to the Government to do their bidding, regardless of morality; risking life and limb only to be discarded when they are used up?  You know the pension provided, when it is even provided in the first place."  The captain shook his head contemptuously. "It's a hard life that should never be forced onto any boy who has other options."

 

"And you propose that we become his other option."  Blackwell's voice was low compared to the sounds of the waves and snapping sails and the long silence that followed almost made him repeat his statement. 

 

"Yes," the captain said firmly.  "If James is willing to accept another one and if Michael is willing to join the crew and family, I think he would be a wonderful addition." 

 

Four hours later, with the St. Matthew safely anchored in the sheltering cove of a small private island with a small army of men swarming over her decks to unload and sort the pilfered cargo into the waiting warehouses, Michael found himself seated next to the three other boys from the ship in the back of a wagon carrying the captain and doctor away from the dock area.

 

Twisting around in his seat and looking behind, the doctor shouted slightly to make himself heard over the clatter of wheels on the cobblestone, "We're heading up to the main village, Michael, where we live.  After a week or so to rest and to give the men time to sort the cargo, we'll be transporting it to Kingston.  From there, we'll arrange transport to London for you."

 

Michael nodded and gave a weak smile. 

 

"You'll love the house," Henry said as he leaned in closer next to Michael.  "After we get settled and have some dinner, Edward and I will show you around if you want."  He grinned, "There's a huge tower at the top of the house and from there you can see in all directions across the whole ocean.  There are even telescopes up there and you can sometimes see ships on the horizon that are over a day away."

 

Michael turned to William, "Do you want to come too?"

 

William shook his head. "I've got other business this afternoon, I'm afraid."  He smiled, adding, "But maybe tomorrow.  When we get back, Mrs. Blackwell often gives us a day off before starting lessons again."  He leaned forward so he could look at his two friends.  "We could take horses down to the caves and maybe bring back lobster for dinner.  Captain Montgomery loves lobster."

 

"Who is that?" Michael asked, looking between William, Henry and Edward.

 

"Captain Montgomery owns the St. Matthew and St. Luke and St. Mark with Captain Wheeler," William explained.  "They're partners and both live in the main house.  Dr. Blackwell and his wife and their daughter, when she's home from school, live next door.  We," he said, pointing to the two other boys, "and Martin, who is out at sea right now on the St. Mark, live in the annex, which is a sort of dormitory attached to the main house."

 

His head spinning from all the new facts and the heat of the sun despite the shade, his stomach aching slightly from hunger, Michael simply nodded and watched the scenery pass.  The wagon had left the cobbled road of the dock area and was now passing over a dirt road that wound its way uphill through a lush tropical forest.  Every now and then, through a break in the trees, he could catch a glimpse of the dock, with the ocean shimmering a brilliant blue in the sun.

 

"I'm sure they saw our arrival," Dr. Blackwell said, twisting around in his seat again, "and will have dinner ready for us."

 

Captain Wheeler turned and nodded toward William.  "Have your supper, boy, and then come straight to the office so we can discuss the matter of two days ago."

 

Giving a nervous nod, young William slumped slightly against the back of the wagon with his eyes downcast.

 

The rest of the ride passed quietly until the wagon broke from the trees into a sunny open area and the housing compound came into view.  Low walls separated and protected the courtyard from the encroachment of the jungle and provided a clear division of space.  Passing through an open gate, the wagon followed the circular driveway past three smaller cottages and stopped in front of the large two story whitewashed home that was the courtyard's focal point.

 

Jumping out, Henry waved to a woman coming from one of the smaller buildings on the other side.  "That's Mrs. Blackwell," he explained to Michael, "and she and the doctor live in the first house we passed, right next to the wall.  Steven lives in the one next to them and the third is empty right now but William will probably move in there when he turns 18 in a couple of years."  He grinned. "Then we'll start work on homes for Edward and me on the other side of the courtyard."

 

Exiting the wagon in a more dignified manner, Captain Wheeler smiled toward the approaching woman before turning to the other man. "Go greet your wife, Doctor.  You can join us in the house later.  I'm sure that Captain Montgomery will be interested in your opinion concerning the matter we discussed earlier."

 

Blackwell smiled. "I'll be there in an hour or so."

 

Slapping him on the back, the captain laughed.  "As if after two weeks at sea, you'll be able to last five minutes alone with the lovely Agnes."  Then, turning toward the boys, he said, "Come along lads.  Dinner is waiting, I'm sure and we don't want Cook to be mad at us for spoiling her hard work with our tardiness."

 

Quietly following the others up the wide steps to the shaded front porch of the house, Michael was shocked to step inside and find the house much cooler than the air outside.  The house's thick walls and deep covered porches protected the windows from the harsh sun, making the air that came through the open windows cooler in comparison.  The foyer was open, with a wide central stairwell for ventilation and a matching door at the back of the house that could be opened, allowing fresh breezes to flow into the whole home.  Four doors opened off the foyer and through one, he could see a long table casually set for dinner.

 

Captain Wheeler nodded in the direction of the dining room, "Go on boys.  Wash up please and have your dinner.  I'll eat with Captain Montgomery in the office. Please join us when you're through, William.  Michael, please stay in the dining room until Dr. Blackwell comes to fetch you.  I'm sure Edward and Henry will keep you company."

 

"Yes, sir," William said softly, giving a short bow before ducking into the dining room.

 

Giving Michael an encouraging smile, the captain said, "Go on, Michael.  It's excellent food and I'm sure you're hungry.  Everything will be all right, I assure you."

 

"Yes, sir," Michael said, echoing the other boy, before turning and following them into the dining room.

 

Watching him for a second, Captain Wheeler turned and made his way down the foyer to the partially closed door on the right.  He stopped just on the threshold and drank in the sight of another man, a few years older, with a brown, weathered face and short black hair that was defying nature and refusing to get more then the barest hint of gray.  "Hello, James," he whispered with a smile, stepping into the study and shutting the door behind him.

 

Captain James Montgomery looked up from the leather bound ledger he had been writing in, a broad smile instantly taking ten years off his face.  Standing up, he walked stiffly around the desk and met the other man in the middle of the room, hugging him tightly and kissing him deeply.  Pulling back several long minutes later, he sighed, running a hand down the other man's hair and back before coming to rest on his butt.  "God I've missed you, Al.  These last two weeks without you have been hellish and I was worried."

 

Alfred laughed, leaning in and embracing James again, head resting on his shoulder, "I missed you too.  Frances is nice company but he's not you and I needed you."

 

The other man patted his butt twice in quick succession, adding a bit of strength behind the swats with a raised eyebrow.  "Struggling with something, love?"

 

Trying to shift out of the way of James' hand, Alfred shook his head.  "No, but I missed you and knowing you were around."  He sighed and gave a shrug, "It's just getting toward the end of a long season, I think.  I'll be very happy to have several months off and at home."

 

James leaned in and kissed him again, tongue briefly pushing inside to tease and tempt before breaking off.  "I am too, love.  I am too."  He frowned as a quiet knock on the door interrupted them.  "Come," he ordered sharply, pulling away so they were once again standing a respectable distance apart.  Their relationship was not a secret, in a house full of servants the fact that only one master bedroom was used would have been impossible to hide, but neither men saw a reason to be too open, either.

 

A young slave opened the door to the study, a large tray balanced on one hand while he maneuvered into the room.  "Cook sent your dinner, sirs," he said quietly.

 

"Put it on the table please, Jim," Alfred said easily.  He winked at his lover who was glowering at the younger man, blaming him for the interruption.  "Thank you, Jim," he said as the slave backed out of the room and closed the door behind him. Breaking into a laugh, he shook his head, "James, you almost scared him to death.  He was just doing as he was told and bringing us dinner.  Aren't you hungry?"

 

Reaching out and pulling Alfred toward him, James laughed as his hand dropped down and gently stroked the younger man's cock with his thumb, making it jump in response.  "I'm starving," he said in a low voice.  "Absolutely famished."

 

Alfred moaned softly, closing his eyes as he felt his cock begin to respond and his own desires come rushing through him.  "God, I know," he said softly as he sighed, spreading his legs slightly as James's other hand came around to his butt and began to knead the flesh.  "But we can't, just yet," he said regretfully.  "I'm hungry…."

 

"So I've noticed," the other man said with a low chuckle, stroking the hardening cock again.

 

Alfred laughed, reluctantly pulling back, "You're bad, James.  I'm starving for that, but I'm also hungry for food and I've got to fill you in on the voyage and a guest we have with us."

 

Sighing, James nodded and moved toward the table where dinner had been laid out.  "All right, but I expect all business matters to be wrapped up within two hours.  After that, you're mine and mine alone."

 

Alfred smiled. "Gladly."  Sitting down at the table, he spread a crisp linen napkin across his lap, pausing just a moment to admire the food before beginning his tale as James served them both.  "First, the short story.  We came across a merchant ship and took the opportunity to avail ourselves of its weakened condition and lack of protection."

 

"Good," James said as he sat back down and began to eat.  "It's always nice to run across such an opportunity in one of the last voyages for the season."

 

"The captain of the vessel put up a strong fight after we had boarded her though and was, unfortunately, killed."  Cutting off a small bite of chicken, Alfred moaned softly in pleasure as the fresh citrus taste filled his mouth.  "God, this is wonderful. After two weeks of fish, hard tack and more fish, I was craving this."

 

James laughed.  "It is it unfortunate for the other captain that he was killed, but it does make our job a bit easier."  He nodded. "Go on though, I have a feeling there's much more to this story."

 

"The owner's 12 year old son or actually, step-son," Alfred corrected, "was on board the ship.  William has earned himself a thrashing for not bringing the matter to my attention and for putting the boy in with the other crew.  If the boy hadn't been brave enough or lucky enough to take part in the fight and give Edward a slight wound, taking one himself, he probably would have been set adrift with the rest of the crew."

 

James shook his head. "And probably now shark food if the other crew had their way."  He sighed. "I'm surprised at William, though.  He knows better, or at least I thought he did."

 

Alfred shrugged, taking another bite of food.  "I suspect he got caught up in the action and the excitement and maybe potentially didn't care about the boy's fate since he had injured Edward."

 

"I take it Edward is fine?"

 

"Yes, a minor scratch that Frances took care of without any difficulty."

 

"Good, and excitement and revenge are no excuse.  You're right in that William has earned his thrashing fairly and I trust that you'll do a sound job at making both our displeasure known to him."  James glanced at the clock. "Go on with the rest of your story.  I suspect that he'll be joining us to face his fate sooner rather than later."  Taking another bite of his own dinner he added, "Would I be correct in assuming our guest is the deceased captain's step-son?"

 

Alfred smiled. "You would."

 

"And would I be correct in assuming you would like this young man to become a member of the household?"

 

Alfred laughed and nodded his head. "He doesn't have any where else to go, James.  His mother is dead this last year, his stepfather took him out of school to work him on the ship and now he's dead.  He has no other family which means either one of two things.  If he has any inheritance, the courts might possibly use it to buy him a commission in the Royal Navy or to send him back to school.  Or, if there is no money for that, he'll be sent to a work house or orphanage."

 

James took a last bite of his chicken before pushing the empty plate away and chewing slowly.  "And you consider a respectable career in the Royal Navy a horrible fate?  A bought commission, which we could always do if he has no money, is something that many men yearn for, families sacrifice for."

 

"You know I do," Alfred said softly, with a small shudder.  "He's too smart, too sweet a child and too full of life to condemn to such a fate.  I would almost rather see him in a work house or orphanage.  I know that this opinion comes as no surprise to you."

 

"Well," James said evenly, "if that's the case, why are we even discussing it?  He can be turned over to the authorities in Kingston or sent back to wherever his home is and let them deal with him – with no one to speak up or claim him, I'm sure he'll be sent to one of those places immediately."

 

Not taking the obvious bait, the other man remained silent, simply looking at his partner.

 

"All right," James said, putting down his napkin, "we can ask him.  But, we must offer him the choice of a bought commission and legal representation on claiming any inheritance as well.  I don't mind the pounds spent if it's what he wants."  He held up a hand at the start of the other man's protest, "It must be his choice, Al.  You can either keep your mouth shut on the matter and your opinions to yourself or I will simply dismiss you from the room.  The boy …"

 

"Michael."

 

James nodded in acknowledgment. "Michael is old enough to have a say in his own fate and I won't force him into anything."  He leveled an eye at his lover. "Is that clear?"

 

"Yes," Alfred said reluctantly.

 

"If it's not, or if you don't feel that you can keep your opinions to yourself, you would do best to remove yourself from the discussion, Alfred," James warned.  "My plans tonight for your butt do not presently include warming it with a paddle, but I won't hesitate if you disobey me on this."

 

Alfred nodded.  "I know."  Frowning, he glanced at the table, but before he could say anything another quiet and rather reluctant knock came at the door.

 

"Come in, William," James said sharply.

 

The young man stepped inside the room and bowed slightly. "Captain, Captain."

 

"William," Captain Wheeler said, standing up.  "I was just filling Captain Montgomery in on our adventures." 

 

"It sounds like you had a wonderful voyage," Captain Montgomery said, also standing up.  "With the exception of one problem, Captain Wheeler said you did a wonderful job."

 

Despite his nervousness, William smiled. "Thank you, sir."

 

"But we do have that one problem to address, do we not?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Captain Wheeler nodded toward the desk. "Then, unless you have any questions or wish to discuss the situation further, please bend over the desk and let's get this over with.  You've already had to wait too long in my opinion and I'm sure you're anxious to put it behind you."

 

William smiled faintly. "Maybe not anxious, sir, but it will be good to be done with it instead of waiting."

 

"Good boy."  Captain Wheeler patted William on the back as he crossed to a small built in drawer and removed a leather strap.

 

1749 – London

 

The need was almost overwhelming and Philip could feel his skin twitch in anticipation.  The last few weeks had been hellish and he was unsure how he had actually managed to get through them without disgracing himself by rutting with one of the boys in the stable or, worse, exploding with frustration at his fiancee.  Lady Henrietta Bloomington was a quiet, demure young lady now basking in the triumph of her Season and enjoying all of the attention her engagement to him was lavishing on her.  Her mother was basking in her own triumph of managing to secure such a good match.  While his title was not especially old--he was only the 4th Earl of Devonshire--his money and holdings made him extremely wealthy.  Countess Bloomington had weighed the amount of his gold against the prestige of a more established name and he had come out the winner.  The winner though was not how he saw himself.  More a condemned prisoner with four months left to wait until his march down to the gallows in June.  But until that time, he was going to enjoy every moment of his freedom.

 

The carriage rattled to a stop outside a large townhouse that had been converted to a private club years earlier.  The Greek Debating Society was discreetly carved into a marble plaque at the base of the stairs leading toward the front door.  In a city filled with private clubs, there was nothing to draw anyone's interest or curiosity to this one.  It was simply yet another club, with dark paneled rooms, quiet servants waiting on members while they discussed the current topics of the day and made their own business deals.  Its anonymous facade and name though were exactly what Philip and the other men who made up its membership cherished about their club.  Getting out of the carriage, he nodded toward his driver. "No need to wait for me, Perkins.  I don't know how long I'll be tonight."

 

"Yes, sir," the driver said, long used to his employer dismissing him after he was dropped off at his club and grateful not to be out any longer then necessary in the chilly, damp February evening.

 

Walking up the stone steps, Philip could feel the tension of the past few weeks begin to drain out of him. He smiled as the door was opened and felt more at home than he did in his own cold townhouse a mile away.

 

"Sir," the butler said with a bow, standing aside to let him into the brightly lit foyer.

 

"Philip," another gentleman said as he spied him through the open doorway, rising from his seat in one of the drawing rooms and making his excuses to his previous companions.  Shaking hands, the other gentleman smiled. "So good to see you again.  It's been several weeks since you've joined us and I was starting to think you had found another club."

 

Philip laughed, shaking his head as he nodded to several other men he knew in the room, absently taking off his cloak and handing it in the direction of the butler.  "My fiancee was in town with her mother …" He shuddered as his voice trailed off.  "It has been a very long three weeks, but luckily, she won't be back for several months and I am once again a free man, Louis."

 

The other man chuckled. "I do trust though that you'll continue to find time for us once your fiancee becomes your wife."

 

Philip nodded. "Of course, there's no doubt of that.  A man must have his freedom and his own interest. But right now, while we are trapped in the courtship rituals, being watched over by her mother and my own mother and sister, I feel it's best that I am more discreet."

 

Louis smiled understandingly.  He had run The Greek Debating Society for the last decade and had heard similar complaints from other members.  "Mothers," he said quietly, "will be the death of all unmarried men."  He motioned around the room. "Care to join us?  Robert Fitzwilliam -- do you know him?-- is just returned from a trip to his holdings in the Jamaican Islands and has brought back a chap who grew up sailing in that area.  They were just about to tell us about it.  Or I believe there are several games going in the card room if you're feeling lucky."

 

Philip laughed and shook his head. "Actually Louis, I feel as if I would be much better company after I take advantage of your upstairs services."  He winked at his friend, adding, "It has been a very long three weeks."

 

The club owner laughed. "Of course, of course.  It's early enough in the evening that you have your pick.  Go on upstairs and have your fun.  But when you're done, I expect to see you back down here so we can catch up.  Plus, there are several new men here tonight that you might enjoy meeting as well. Robert's friend is especially interesting."

 

Philip laughed again and nodded as he headed toward the ornate staircase leading upstairs. "I look forward to it.  I'm a free man for several months and plan to take full advantage of my time."  Walking quickly up the stairs, he felt himself begin to grow hard in anticipation. 

 

"Sir," another butler said with a slight bow, rising from his seat at the top of the stairs.  "Both Nicholas and Charles are free this evening and you've enjoyed each of them in the past.  Would you like to visit one of them again or would you prefer someone new?"

 

Philip smiled. "Nicholas, please."  The young shop owner was a favorite who could always be counted on to satisfy all of his needs and make the experience one of mutual respect and desire instead of a service arrangement.

 

Unlike many other similar private clubs, the men who served upstairs were full members themselves, but of a more middle-class social and economic standing than some of the other members.  Their dues were paid in part through their service several times a month performing upstairs. 

 

"Phil," Nicholas said with a smile, looking up from the desk he was working at as the upstairs butler knocked discreetly and then opened the door.  "It's wonderful to see you again; I thought you had forgotten all about us."  Closing the ledger he had been writing in, he got up and walked over to the other man, kissing him on the lips as the door was closed.  "It's wonderful to see you," he repeated in a whisper, his hand dropping to the other man's crotch.  His smile widened, "I take it you're happy to be here, too."

 

"Hi, Nick," Philip whispered as he kissed him back.  "I am happy to be here and even happier that you're here tonight."  He groaned as his crotch was again stroked through the material of his trousers.

 

"With this weighing you down," Nicholas said softly, "I'm surprised you made it up the stairs."  His fingers caressed the bulge, "Would you like me to take care of it for you?"

 

Closing his eyes, Philip kissed him, grinding his cock into the other man's hand. "If you don't do something soon, I'm afraid I shall ruin my trousers."

 

Nicholas laughed.  "And we can't have that.  It's much too school-boyish for a gentleman like yourself."  Leading Philip over to the bed, he gently pushed him down.  "How would you like me tonight, sir?" he asked with a grin, his hands hovering over the other man's buttons.

 

"Your mouth, please," Philip said softly, sitting up on the bed to pull off his boots.

 

With a smile, Nicholas sank to his knees and slid the boots off, taking the opportunity to slowly caress each foot.  

 

A few moments later, Philip lay back on the bed, bare except for his long white linen undershirt.  Spreading his legs wide, he closed his eyes as he felt Nicholas's hair brush against his belly, his hands roughly pushing the shirt out of the way of the throbbing cock.

 

"I take it that this has been lonely for several weeks," Nicholas whispered as he kissed the tip of the cock, allowing his tongue to gently glide over the shaft.  "Trust me; I'll give it all the attention it wants."

 

Philip groaned as the warm mouth engulfed him and he shuddered at the sensation and skilled movements.  Spreading his legs wider, he reached down and petted Nicholas's hair, moaning slightly and squirming under the assault. 

 

Nicholas grinned at Philip's reaction and chuckled deep in his throat, the vibration coursing through the cock in his mouth.  Moving one hand from its position on the bed, he brought it between them and tickled the sensitive area that ran from Philip's cock to his opening.

 

Philip moaned and instinctually spread his legs wider, almost pulling them apart and allowing the curious fingers full access to his body.  He groaned as a gentle finger, slick with spit and cum was pushed slightly inside before his mind rebelled and pulled him back from the brink of the wonderful sensations.  "No," he croaked out, pushing away the finger exploring him and trying to close his legs again.  A small spasm of panic began to creep into the edges of his mind, but receded as quickly as the finger was withdrawn and his legs were once again together, cutting off that part of his body from further exploration.

 

"Sorry," Nicholas mumbled as he looked up, "I thought you wanted it."

 

"It's all right," Philip said hoarsely.  "Just get on with it, please."  Then, afraid that he had offended the other man, he added gently, "Your mouth is more then enough stimulation."  A few moments later, he came hard and fast into Nicholas's mouth.  His whole body relaxed with the sensation and he felt the peace he had been aching for.

 

Opening his eyes twenty minutes later, Philip lay still, enjoying the lingering sensation of Nicholas's mouth around his cock and the joy of his release.  The moment was spoiled as a moment later, he remembered his near panic as the tip of the other man's finger pressed inside him.  It was an act he wondered about, almost craved, yet also feared immensely. 

 

It wasn't that he was some blushing virgin, a novice to the act.  He had been enjoying the act for years now, but always as the invader, not the one face down on the bed or spread wide to be taken.  He blushed slightly and squirmed as he remembered the last night he had been here, in this actual room with Nicolas.  Nicholas had willingly bent over the desk he was now writing at, spread his legs and calmly allowed Philip to enter him.  It had been rough, almost primal, with the knowledge that the coming release would have to last Philip through the upcoming weeks of torture with his fiancee and family.  Nicolas had cried out as he had been entered again and again, each thrust getting harder and harder, until Philip pressed in deeply, coming hard inside.   

 

But despite the last experience, he also knew that the act could be loving and soft and gentle and had experienced those emotions, too.  Looks, touches, kisses, all leading to a slow and almost graceful joining, with him sliding into the other man as their mouths locked and tongues echoed the actions of his cock. 

 

Logically, even as Philip lay in the bed, he knew that having sex with another man was not that much different than having sex with a woman.  Sometimes it was hard, other times slow and loving and still other times it was simply an act meant to bring quick release and pleasure to the participants.  But for all of that, the thought of being entered in such a way, serving as the portal for another's cock, made him feel ashamed and embarrassed about his desire for the sensation. 

 

Rolling out of bed, Philip walked over to the desk where Nicholas sat, again going over his books, and kissed his neck.  "You were wonderful, just what I needed."

 

The other man bent his neck almost absent mindedly, giving further access, and laughed.  "Considering how long it had been, I tend to believe that even Grimmes could have met your needs."  Grimmes was the club's ancient butler, now retired, but still living on the premises as a reward for his years of service.

 

Philip laughed. "That's not true at all."

 

Nicholas shrugged, but remained silent.

 

Kissing him again, Philip said, "Why don't you come downstairs and have a drink?  We can get caught up and then maybe come back up here a little later and enjoy the rest of the evening."

 

"Can't, sorry," Nicholas said in a stiff voice.  "I'm pulling duty up here tonight and really shouldn't be going downstairs to socialize, plus I need to finish these books."  Turning around slightly, shaking off Philip's hand, he gave dismissive shrug, "Some of us have to work, you know.  My shop and its books are handled by me and me alone.  I don't have someone to manage it for me.  If I don't do it, then they aren't done."  He nodded toward the door. "Go on, socialize and have fun catching up with some of your friends.  If you get bored and I'm free, you can join me later tonight."

 

A bit taken aback by the other man's tone and sudden change of attitude, Philip frowned.  "I didn't mean anything by it, Nicholas.  It's been awhile since I've been here and we've had a chance to talk and catch up.  I just thought it would be nice to have a drink."

 

Nicholas glanced up and gave a small smile. "I'm not upset Philip.  I am simply telling you the facts.  I'm working tonight, both for the club and on my own affairs.  Unlike you, I have financial responsibilities that can't be ignored."  Tilting his head slightly in a semi-formal bow, he continued, "You of all people should understand roles and places and the importance of remembering one's own."

"What does that mean?" Philip asked, annoyance and puzzlement mixed in his voice.

 

"You know exactly what I mean," Nicholas shot back angrily.  "You made it quite clear that while I am good enough to be fucked by you, I should never dare even hint at that action with you."  He turned back to his ledger, saying, "As I said, it's all about understanding and remembering one's role and place.  I forgot briefly and it's a mistake I won't make again. From your lofty position, there must appear to be no roles and you can delude yourself into thinking everyone is equal, but those of us in my position know that it is quite different.  I have responsibilities and expectations that you can never understand."

 

Philip stared at him and shook his head. "It's not that at all, Nicholas.  Not at all."  He could feel the color and anger rising in his cheeks. "I have plenty of responsibilities and hundreds of people dependent on me.  If I fail, I take down scores of families, not just myself.  That's something you certainly can't understand."

 

"Go back downstairs, Philip," Nicholas ordered.  "Enjoy your drinks, enjoy the stories and enjoy the fellowship you've been missing these last weeks.  Maybe in a few days we too will have a chance to get caught up."

 

Feeling as clearly and soundly dismissed as school boy by his teacher, Philip quickly dressed and slipped out of the room.  As he made his way back downstairs, he silently cursed the other man's lack of understanding and simplistic view of the world.  Stepping into one of the occupied drawing rooms, he tried to force a smile as he was quickly greeted by some of the other club members.  Within fifteen minutes, he had settled into the old familiar pattern of chatting, laughing and joking with men he had had for friends and more often than not, lovers, for the last few years. 

 

 

 

"You put on a very good show."

 

Philip spun around, surprised at the voice, both its appearance when he thought he was alone on the cold terrace and the tone.  "Excuse me?"  He had stepped outside ten minutes earlier for air and to give his swimming head a break from the smoke and endless talking that had been swirling around him all evening.  It was late and men were gradually beginning to break off into smaller intimate groups in darkened corners or retire in pairs upstairs.  Despite several invitations, he had so far turned them down and was left, instead, feeling bored and restless.  His reaction to Nicholas's advances and his own thoughts hung heavy in his mind as he leaned on the terrace railing looking across the empty park in front of the house.

 

The other man stepped into the light of the torches that lined the terrace railing and smiled, bowing his head as he spoke.  "I said, you put on a very good show.  All the laughing and smiling and flirting when you're really not remotely interested.  It's a very good act and I bet I'm the only one in there who can tell."

 

Philip stiffened, straightening up and leveling his gaze at the other man.  "Excuse me sir, but I don't know what you are referring to.  I can assure you that what you witnessed tonight was no act.  I am having a very good evening enjoying the company of friends and acquaintances."  Studying the stranger, he shook his head. "And as for you having such insight into my true feelings, I can only assume that we are on intimate terms, but I don't know you at all."

 

The other man stepped closer. "And I don't really know you either.  I'm just very good at reading people, a skill that's often handy in a professional sense."  Putting out a hand, he smiled. "Michael Preston and you are Philip Ashton, the 4th Earl of Devonshire,  and the third second oldest son to hold the title.  It would seem that your family has a bit of a curse on the first born."

 

Philip took the extended hand automatically. "Edward died when I was eleven and he was fifteen; the small pox epidemic ten years ago."

 

Michael smiled slightly and nodded. "I also lost my Edward too soon."

 

Interest piqued and struggling not to show it, Philip shifted against the railing.  "And now that you've proven to know my name and a little bit about my family, would you care to share how you know?"  He studied him and was fairly certain the man before him had never been a lover or at the club before. "I don't believe that I've seen you here before.  Are you a member?"

 

The other man shook his head. "No, not yet but I'll be in London for at least several more months and I think I will join.  I came with a friend of mine, Robert Fitzwilliam, and he's a member.  My family and partners in our shipping company are looking at establishing a physical presence here and I volunteered for the task, change of scenery and all."

 

"Ah yes, you're the friend from Jamaica.  Louis mentioned that you both were holding court with your tales of wild adventure when I came this evening.  I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to hear them; I've only been to the islands once, about six months ago to check on my family holdings near Kingston.  It was pure business, legal matters to settle after my father passed, and I didn't have a chance to explore on my own."

 

Michael smiled and bowed. "And that actually is how I knew of you.  Your family's property borders on the northern edge with mine and we met briefly on that visit - a party at the Governor's House. It was large and I don't think we had a chance to actually talk, just polite introductions.  But you caught my eye then and I was disappointed when you disappeared.  I had hoped to get to know you better." 

 

Philip smiled. "Yes, I remember the party vaguely.  I don't think I stayed very long though."  One of the governor's staff had proven a wonderful distraction in an empty parlor, if memory served him correctly.  "It had been a long trip, you know."

 

"Of course," Michael said with a nod.  "I'm sure you couldn't wait to take to your bed."  His lips twitched as he struggled not to smile before continuing his explanation. "Last month during Robert's visit, we were out riding one day around my property, I mentioned the encounter and he said that he knew you from his … special club."  His smiled widened a bit. "I was thrilled at the chance to see you again.  My only wish was that you were still as handsome in person as you were in my dreams.  His property is along a small part of the western border of mine, but he confessed that yours is much longer."

 

Philip smiled at the compliment and was unable to resist the opening, especially when it seemed a deliberate invitation.  It had been several hours since Nicholas's mouth had brought relief and he could feel his blood stirring again at the sight of this man. Michael was handsome and clean shaven and carried himself with confidence.  He could make a very satisfying companion for the evening, a bit of uncomplicated fun to remove the bad taste of Nicholas's comments.  Philip felt himself glancing at the other man's large hands, wondering if they were calloused or soft and which would feel better wrapped around his cock and what the other man's cock would be like.  "I always knew my land was larger than Robert's, good of him to man up to that fact.  And it tops yours?" he asked with a smile and a slight emphasis of the word ‘top'.

 

Michael chuckled, picking up on the emphasis and shook his head slightly.  Learning closer so he could whisper into Philip's ear, he said, "No.  Actually, young man, mine thrusts deeply inside yours multiple times. Over and over and over again. Penetrating multiple times over the entire length until the sea finally spills out, separating it."

 

Philip blushed deep, taking a step back and bumping into the railing.  He could feel his cock harden and instantly cursed himself for reacting in such a way.  "I'm not that young," he corrected, struggling to regain his footing.  "I'm twenty … five actually." He willed his voice to stay confident even as the lie came out.  Stepping away from the railing, he met the other man's gaze, saw his mouth twitch and knew instantly that he wasn't fooled.

 

Michael chuckled deeply and shook his head.  "Oh, if only you belonged to me already."  Then, reaching out, he pulled Phillip closer and hugged him tight, kissing him on the mouth quickly as his hand ran down his back and rested on his butt.  Giving it two quick swats, he kissed Philip's nose and whispered, "You're lucky you don't yet, my dear little Earl.  Otherwise, these very expensive trousers would be pooled around your ankles while you lay face down over my knees as I spanked you for telling me such a stupid little lie."

 

Philip gasped in shock and tried to push away. "Excuse me, sir.  There seems to have been some misunderstanding of who exactly I am and my intentions."

 

Michael laughed again, cutting off the protest with another kiss.  "Don't worry.  By the time that happens, you'll be more than happy to accept any and all such actions as my right and something you welcome."

 

Pushing away and bumping back into the railing at his back, Philip glared and shook his head. "There is no doubt in my mind, sir, that it will never happen." 

 

"Never is a long time, even in lives as short as ours," Michael said, stepping forward and pinning Philip against the rail.  Reaching out, he caressed the blushing face in front of him and leaned forward, gently kissing him. 

 

Philip resisted for a moment before giving a small cry as Michael's tongue pushed its way inside.  The possessive invasion of his own body made him moan again as he held his own, matching kiss for kiss, thrust for thrust as he began to grind himself against the older man, urged on by Michael's hand kneading and stroking his butt through the soft wool of his pants.

 

"That's right," Michael urged in a whisper, breaking the kiss for a moment to focus on Philip's neck and ear, leaving fairy bites along his path back toward the waiting mouth.  "You know you want someone like me, you just never could ask.  With me, I promise, you'll never have to ask."  Bring his other hand down from Philip's waist he plunged it between them and stroked Philip's cock.  "Yes, I can tell how much you want this."  He took Philip's hand and put it on his own cock. "I want you just as much.  I want to be inside of you."

 

The contact and feel of Michael's cock startled Philip and he gasped,  jerking his hand away as he shook himself, as if suddenly aware of what they had been doing.  "Wait, I can't, I'm sorry," he gasped, jerking away from the other man.  Stepping aside, he coughed, trying to compose himself and straighten his clothes as he backed toward the doors leading into the house.  "If you'll excuse me, I've had quite enough air and company for this evening."  Turning around, he fled back to the safely of the light.

 

In the darkness, Michael smiled and shook his head with a small laugh.

 

Slamming the terrace door behind him, Philip's hand hovered over the key lock.  It would do no good, he knew in trapping Michael outside because of the numerous doors, but would provide a very satisfying bit of revenge for his rude and very forward comments.  With a satisfied smile, Philip quickly and silently turned the key, locking the door.   Spying an acquaintance sitting by the fire in the next room, he made his way over.  "Mind if I join you?"

 

Upton St. John looked up and smiled. "Of course not, Philip.  Please, have a seat and tell me how preparations for your upcoming nuptials are coming.  My wife was very disappointed; I think she had her eye on you for our eldest in a couple of years."

 

Ordering his own brandy, Philip relaxed and began to fill the other man in on the details that he knew.   Fifteen minutes later, he gave a small choke at the sight of Michael Preston standing in the doorway.  Forcing himself not to look, it took all his effort to focus on Upton's detailed description of an upcoming tour of Italy.  Two minutes later, a small cough instinctively turned Philip's head back to the doorway and he saw Michael still standing there, casually leaning against the doorway.  Their eyes meet and Philip felt a blush rise up on his checks and his cock twitch.

 

Across the room, Michael shook his head and made an almost silent tsking noise.  Shaking his finger, he mouthed, "Just wait." A smile broke his stern expression as he saw Philip glance down, shifting in his seat, face flushing.  He disappeared back into the hallway.

 

Thirty minutes later, Philip settled back into the seat of one of the club's carriages.  He had given up on the evening, unwilling to risk another encounter with the annoying Michael, but also unable to concentrate on anyone else when he heard his voice or laugh drift in from one of the other rooms.  The sight of Michael casually watching him from the doorway, the slightly threatening air about what he would do, what he had promised to do on the terrace, made him blush and squirm in embarrassment even now.

 

 

 

The next morning, through bleary eyes from a restless and too short night, Philip struggled to open a letter that had been delivered the afternoon before from his fiancee.  He had made a face when he saw the thick pale blue envelope waiting for him on the silver tray by his breakfast dishes.  The woman had been gone less than 24 hours and was already writing him.   In fact, she must have written this before they left and had it sent by one of the houseboys as they were departing for the country, taking advance of the clear weather of the last few days.  Henrietta had been adamant about being married in the small house chapel of her family's ancestral home and her mother, realizing that Philip would be paying for all improvements deemed necessary, had joined in the request.  For his own part, Philip saw it as the perfect excuse to be rid of both of them and considered the hundreds of pounds a small price to pay.

 

Now, the envelope finally open, Philip realized that he made the right decision.  In elaborate swirls and flourishes, the young girl's handwriting filled every inch of two sheets of the expensive paper.  Skimming quickly, he made a face and dropped it back onto the tray, unable to face her, even in letter form, so early in the morning and on an empty stomach.  Pouring a cup of tea, he drank deeply, laying his head back against the chair and willing his stomach to stop dancing. 

 

Henrietta was, in reality, a lovely girl.  Sweet and funny, she was kind and would make an excellent wife and hostess.  Her parents had seen that she was well educated and could discuss literature, philosophy and current events with him as easily as she could discuss the latest fashions with her female friends.  Despite her understandable enthusiasm, she really wasn't overly demanding of his time or attention.  Her father had several mistresses and she had three half, semi-acknowledged, siblings.  Her mother had, undoubtedly, taught her well how to look the other way when it came to men's outside needs.  He knew deep down that he had made the right decision and that she was his perfect match.  It was just reaching that deep occasionally caused him problems.

 

In fact, in a moment of sheer lunacy, he had suggested to her last week that they call off the whole production and have a simple ceremony there as soon as the banns could be posted and read.  What she had blushingly and excitedly seen as true love and desire was in fact more fear that he would be unable to go through with it when the time came if given four long months to stew and worry.  Fate had stepped in though in the form of practicality.  Both of their mothers were afraid that a quick marriage after such a short engagement would set tongues wagging and eyes watching the young woman's waistline for a growing bulge.

 

Now, he was forced to confront his fears head on.  At least, he thought to himself as he started in on his soft boiled egg, she was safely in the country and there was always hope that the conventional wisdom of absence and the growth of the heart would actually come true. 

 

"Come," he called, as a knock sounded on his door ten minutes later.

 

One of the young footmen silently stepped inside carrying a smaller silver tray with a dark gray envelope.  Eyes downcast slightly, he bowed and said softly, "This was just delivered by a boy, sir.  He's waiting for a reply, if you are so inclined."

 

Taking the offered envelope in puzzlement, not recognizing the paper or the green embossed seal on the outside, Philip slit the thick paper and glanced at the signature.  "No, there will be no reply," he said immediately.  "You can send him away with a coin for his service."  Dropping the note unread next to the food, he watched the footman disappear back into the hall, closing the door behind him.  "Wait!" he called out, eyes fixed on the bold handwriting on the snowy white interior.

 

"Sir?" the servant asked, reopening the door and stepping just inside with a small bow.

 

"There will be a reply after all.  Give the boy some breakfast while he waits and I'll ring when it's ready," Philip said firmly, struggling to control his beating heart and grateful that he was seated as the sudden thought of hands and lips from the previous night flooded his brain and sent blood coursing southward.  Taking a deep breath and mentally cursing himself for his foolishness, he forced himself to take a sip of tea before picking up the note and reading it.

 

"My dearest little Earl," it started, and he could hear Michael's voice from last night, the simple handwriting exactly matching the man's straight forward attitude.  "I owe you my deepest apologies for my presumption and forwardness last night.  I can only offer the simple explanation that I was overcome by the excitement of seeing you again and knowing, now, after a month of wishes, confirmation with my own eyes that you too are a fan of Greek debates.  I thought as much when we first meet many months ago, but was unsure if that was intuition or simply hopeful wishes fueled by several years without committed companionship of a similar nature.  When Mr. Fitzwilliam said he knew of you, I wrestled daily between joy and the fear of disappointment if the man he knew of and the man I dreamed of were not the same.  I would be most pleased if you would allow me to reintroduce myself to you and begin afresh tomorrow.  I will be visiting the estate of the late Viscount of Rockford, Robert Delareece, at mid-morning, just outside the city, and would enjoy having your company while I examine the house and its contents for possible purchase.  His agent has informed the small staff of my arrival and I plan to make a day of it to explore the house and lands.   Your presence will turn a boring business function into a pleasant social outing where hopefully I may redeem myself in your estimation.  Please send your reply and if it is in the affirmative, my carriage will call on you at nine tomorrow morning." 

 

Multiple thoughts flooded Philip's brain as he dropped the note back onto the table in front of him.  The feel of the other man's hands kneading him through the thin layer of wool, the taste of his tongue pushing inside as their lips joined, the arrogant smirk and threat and forward assumption that there would be a welcomed bodily invasion and that he, not Philip, would be the invader when that occurred, as if the other way was beyond thought.  Shifting in his seat, Philip leaned his head back and closed his eyes, hand drifting to the bulge of his growing cock beneath the buttons of his trousers.  "Sweet Jesus," he muttered, shaking his head with a quick laugh a second later at the idea of a sodomite like himself appealing to God in such a matter.  Jerking his hand away, he straightened up and grabbed a sheaf of his personalized notepaper.  It was creamy white with his family's crest embossed in navy on the outside.  Plucking a quill from a jar, he dipped it in ink and scrawled his answer.

 

"Captain Preston, I too regret our unfortunate meeting and crossed words of yesterday.  It was poor form to expect a man such as yourself, new to this land and unfamiliar with our customs, to behave as a proper Englishman.  Please accept my apologies for my words and actions.   I also must send my sincerest regrets that I will be unable to join you tomorrow as I have business elsewhere."  Signing it with his initials, he smiled and sealed the card with wax.  Twisting around, he pulled a small silken cord behind him and waited for the footman to appear.  The card was heavy in his hand and he felt his stomach twist as his eyes flickered between it and Michael's note, memories once again invading his thoughts.

 

"Sir?" the footman said, stepping into the room.

 

"Is the boy still waiting for a reply?" Philip asked, eyes still locked on the card in his hand.

 

Stepping forward to receive the card, the footman nodded. "Yes, sir, as you instructed."

 

He dropped the note back on the desk and reached for a new piece of notepaper.  "Good, I won't be a moment then.  No sense allowing him to dawdle all day bothering the kitchen staff when they have things to do and I'm sure his employer is looking for him."

 

"Yes, sir," the footman said, clearly confused.  "Shall I wait here or shall you call me when the reply is ready?"

 

Philip waved a hand. "You may wait; this will just take a moment."  Dipping the quill into the ink pot again, he wrote quickly before he could once again change his mind, "I look forward to a new beginning tomorrow morning, free of all assumptions made last night."  Signing as Philip, Earl of Devonshire, he quickly sealed the note and thrust it at the waiting footman.  "Here, take it and be off."

 

Three hours later, a small, wrapped package arrived for him.  Once the footman who delivered it left, Philip opened the dark gray card attached.

 

"A book from my library on Greek Debates.  I hope that, once we begin again, we may spend hours discussing the pros and cons of these articles." 

 

The book inside was bound in dark leather devoid of any gilt or embossing.  Nothing to call attention to itself or invite a curious browser to open it up.  Philip felt his face flush hot and his cock stir as he flipped it open and saw the detailed drawings of men with talking the furthest thing from their minds.  He had seen, of course, pornography books in the private rooms of men for years.  They had always been the common household type: men and women, usually dressed as maids or actresses, in various poses that more often than not, left much to the imagination.  The club though had several books similar to this one that featured all men and the rooms upstairs were decorated with discreet works of art designed to provide inspiration to its inhabitants.  The idea of owning such a book though both excited and embarrassed him.  Owning, possessing such a thing in this house was proof of his two world meeting and joining in a way he had never wanted, or at least conceived.  This book was devoted entirely to men receiving pleasure from another man, or more in several of the images, in every conceivable position and in explicit detail.  Three particular pages in the slim book were marked with green ribbon and he turned to the first one.

 

On the page, a small scrap of the now familiar gray note paper was tucked into the page.  "This position will be perfect for the first time you and I are together."  The highly detailed drawing showed two men, one nestled onto of the other so they faced each other, kissing deeply.  The bottom man's legs were spread wide, plainly showing the upper man's cock embedded almost fully inside him while his own cock stood hard between them.  The artist had perfectly captured a look of joy on both of the faces.  They were both clearly men with short hair and muscles.  Unlike some of the books at the club, there was no attempt by the artist to make one appear more feminine than the other.

 

With a mixture of embarrassment and excitement, Philip flipped to the other marked pages and found similar pictures and notes with promises that he would love this position or that position and how amazing he would look at all times.   Closing the book firmly, he glanced around as if suddenly afraid that one of the servants had entered his private office without him being aware.  He took several deep, cleansing breaths and stood up, glad to see that his cock was mostly behaving itself.  Holding the book tightly, the notes tucked securely inside, he made his way up the stairs to his own suite of rooms. 

 

"Sir?"

 

Years of training kept Philip from jumping and his voice even as he turned to face Hutchinson, his valet, who had stepped from the dressing room.  "I'm going to be escorting my mother to the opera tonight.  Please see that my things are ready.  Until then, I don't want to be disturbed for any reason."

 

Hutchinson bowed slightly. "Of course."

 

Shutting the door behind him firmly, Philip debated for a moment before quietly turning the lock.  The book was burning in his hand and he was afraid that if he spent another moment with someone who knew him so well, the guilt would be easily readable on his face.  It was only after he quietly turned the lock that he felt himself relax slightly.  Putting the book carefully on the chaise longue, he opened the curtains, letting in the pale winter sunlight.  His rooms overlooked the small gardens from the third floor, allowing plenty of privacy and quiet from the bustle of the street.  The feelings of shame began to flutter in his stomach again as he slowly undressed, carefully arranging his clothes on their forms in case he needed to dress again in a hurry.  Luckily, he wore only a simple outfit since he had not planned on going out and it only took a few minutes.  Lying down naked on the chaise longue, he took a deep breath and spread his legs slightly as he reached for the book.  Deliberately avoiding the pages marked by Michael, he flipped to another drawing and allowed his other hand to began the familiar rhythm of teasing, stroking and caressing.   Several minutes later, the picture seared into his head, he closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cushion, slipping into his fantasy.

 

 

 

The opera was torture and his temper was short as his mind constantly replayed the previous evening with Michael, the book and the possibilities that tomorrow was going to bring.  It was a constant struggle to keep his mind focused on his surroundings and not allow it to wander and betray him.  His cock ached, begging for release and all he wanted to do was return home and repeat the afternoon's activities.   Luckily, his mother easily bought the excuse that he was in an ill temper because of Henrietta's departure.

 

"Clarissa tells me that Lady Henrietta sent you a note already," his mother remarked as the carriage pulled away from an after party they had made an appearance at.  Clarissa, his mother's personal maid, was the sister of one the footmen of his own household.

 

Inwardly cursing the intertwined network of family servants, Philip nodded.  "Yes, mother."

 

The Dowager nodded. "Do be careful though, Philip.  She is young and impressionable.  You should begin to establish boundaries and rules with her now.  She should not be so forward and impose herself on you and instead should wait for you to contact her.  The girl has been gone for less than two days, what could she possibly have to say already?"

 

Feeling the need to protect his fiancee, he replied firmly,  "Her note and its contents are between me and her.  As an engaged couple, it is perfectly proper to exchange notes while apart and I saw nothing wrong with it."

 

The older woman sniffed next to him, but did not say anything.  

 

After several long minutes of silence, Philip said, "I am riding out to the country tomorrow with a friend.  He and his family are looking at buying the Delareece estate."

 

"That's nice, but I'm not sure why you are telling me, since you certainly don't need or welcome my opinion," she said icily.  "I was only trying to help, to give you some advice from my years of experience, both personal and from what I've seen other friends deal with."

 

Working hard, he ignored the knee jerk reaction to apologize for his earlier words, to make it up to her and assure that he did indeed want and welcome her advice and counsel,  to do or say anything to make her smile at him.  Instead he gave her a tight smile and remained silent.  His resolve lasted for ten long, icy minutes before he finally said in a quiet voice, "I'm sorry, mother.  I do value your opinion.  I'm in a rare temper tonight.  My head is splitting and Henrietta's note made me realize that is it a long time until we will be together again."

 

She gave him a dazzling smile and patted his knee, instantly forgetting her bad mood.  "And that is why I wish she had not written you.   She'll be here soon enough.  Why don't you spend the night at my home and I'll have Cook brew you some tea to help your head.  It's always seemed silly to me that you insisted on opening your own home before you were married.  You could have lived with me until the wedding.  It just seems like a waste of money these last two years to be maintaining both my home and yours.  I'm not even sure that it's proper for your sister and me to be living alone like we do.  People might talk and I'm not sure that we're safe living alone in the city."

 

Philip smiled, suppressing his inward shudder at the thought of sharing a house with his mother and sister again, but shook his head as the carriage came to a stop.  "No, I think I'm unfit for any company but my own," he said, ignoring the rest of her common complaint. "The country air will do me good tomorrow and help clear my head." When she looked as if she was going to argue further, he added, "I'll pick you and Julia up for church on Sunday and if the weather is clear, maybe we can go ice skating at the Howard's pond on their property.  They have set up a pavilion there and have been after me for weeks to come and bring both of you.  I believe their son Frederick has his eye on Julia."

 

Mollified, she nodded and gave him another smile.  "All right then, until Sunday.  And, Philip, please don't encourage the Howard boy; I'm sure Julia can do better."

 

"He would be a very good husband," he countered.  "He owns a large estate that does very well with sheep."  Seeing the look on her face and knowing that once her daughter was safely wed, she would have to come up with another excuse to stay in London, he nodded.  "As you wish.  Good night, Mother."

 

Locking the door again after Hutchinson had helped him undress and banked the fire, Philip slipped into bed, the book in hand.  He had hidden it on his bookshelf before he left, lying sideways along the backs of other books on the bottom shelf.  When he was younger, before Edward had died and when he was still only the second son, he had come across a drawing of two naked men simply lying together and had made the mistake of hiding it inside another book on his night table.  One of the servants found it two weeks later and his father had given him a severe caning for it, ranting and threatening to send him to be educated in a monastery in Scotland.  Only after a trembling Philip claimed not to understand why the men were lying together had his father calmed down and the threats stopped.

 

He closed his eyes and allowed the book to fall open where it would.  Glancing down at the picture, he felt the familiar blush instantly rise to his cheeks and his breath catch in his throat.  One man knelt with his arms on the bed so that he was bent at the waist, his butt high in the air, his legs spread.  The other man held a large dildo that he pushed inside the kneeling man.  Unlike the other pictures, this one showed the kneeling man with his mouth open and eyes closed, an unreadable expression on his face.  Studying the picture for several long moments, Philip couldn't decide if the man was crying out in pleasure or in pain.  The second man's expression was equally unreadable and simply looked firm and set to his task. 

 

Feeling slightly foolish, but unable to resist the craving, he rolled over and imitated the first man's position.  Spreading his legs, he rested his head on his arms on the mattress, opening himself up wide.  His cock pulsed and grew harder as his imagination filled in the blanks of the picture, putting himself there while some nameless man penetrated his most sacred area with a large, hard dildo.  It would burn, he thought, shifting so that he could stroke his cock as he imagined it slipping inside him, filling and stretching him.  He imagined his own mouth opening at the mixture of the pleasure of being so filled and the pain and humiliation of it.  Would he cry or beg for it to stop as the object slid inside him, or would he simply be quiet, except for the same moans he made as Michael kissed him last night.

 

The faceless man suddenly morphed into Michael, firm hands stroking his butt as he pushed the dildo inside, teasing him with kisses and words as he readied him for his own cock later.  His mouth trailed kissed along his bare skin as the dildo slid completely inside, to both their delight.  

 

Philip gave a soft moan, mouth biting into the blankets, legs jerking as he pumped faster, and came hard into his hand a second later.  He could feel his butt clench, spasming slightly as though it was reacting to the thoughts of being so filled and stretched. 

 

 

 

The next morning was clear, with no wind to make the crisp air colder than it was.  A layer of frost coated the windows, but there was no snow on the ground.

 

Hutchinson dressed him in woolen and silk undergarments before helping him into wool trousers, shirt, vest and jacket.  Giving an impatient tug away from his valet, Philip said in an effort to appear casual, "That's fine, fine, I'm just going out with a friend to look at property out in the countryside.  It's not that important."  In truth, he was anxious and being fussed over only made it worse.  His skin felt too sensitive, thin and twitchy with every nerve ending jumping.  He had not slept well, his thoughts going again and again to Michael and the book, replaying their first meeting and imagining this next one.  Would the other man be different than that night? Less forward and more open to discussions on each's role, or were the pretty words on paper only a trick to lure him out to a remote estate where the arrogant man would resurface and make demands that Philip knew he could not--would not--grant.  He was the 4th Earl of Devonshire.  He was not to be used or treated like a common whore by some provincial sea captain.

 

Sipping at his tea while standing at the window, ignoring Hutchinson's silent movements straightening the bed chamber, he tried not to listen for the door.  As the clock struck nine, he heard movement in the hall and a knock on his outer door.  Forcing himself to remain calm and collected, as he would on any normal early morning outing for business, he simply nodded when the valet announced the carriage. 

 

Five minutes later, the carriage rocked slightly as Philip climbed inside and settled opposite his host, the carriage's sole occupant.  The thin wall of resolve he had built that morning crumbled as Michael smiled at him and held out his hand. 

 

"Captain Michael Preston." Michael bowed his head slightly over Philip's hand.  "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, your Lordship."  His mouth twitched as he struggled to remain serious and not smile.  "Thank you for joining me on this errand; I hope you'll find the trip as enjoyable as I will."

 

Meeting the other man's eyes, Philip nodded, "Thank you, Captain, I'm sure that I will."

 

Unable to resist any longer, Michael laughed. "Good."  He pulled out a leather-wrapped jug and two thick china mugs from the basket strapped to the wall and poured steaming tea into each.  Handing one to the other man, he nodded. "To fresh introductions."

 

"Free of assumptions," Philip countered, raising his mug in a toast.

 

Michael winked as his mouth twitched. "Yes, even if the first ones are often right."  He took a sip and settled back into the seat. "In order to make the correct assumptions this time, I feel I need to know more about you.  I admit, I don't know anything about you but what I've observed, and you insist that my observations are faulty."

 

"They were," Philip said, feeling his defenses rise.  "Completely wrong."

 

Michael laughed again. "And I look forward to hearing how.  But first, did you get the book I sent you?"

 

Philip nodded. "I'm sorry, I should have thanked you immediately or sent a note upon its arrival.  It was …" His voice faltered as he searched for the right word to convey his feelings.  "It was a surprise."

 

Michael's mouth twitched again as he held back a smile. "Is that all it was?"  His voice grew softer as he leaned forward, closing the distance between them.

 

Given the slightest shake of his head, Philip felt a flush rise on his cheeks.  "It was very interesting as well," he finally choked out.  "Especially your comments."  Cursing himself for acting like a simpering virgin, he took a deep breath and tried to regain the detached air he had managed in his bedroom while waiting for the coach to arrive.  "It reminded me of some I had looked at in the club."

 

"Good," Michael said simply, "I'm glad you enjoyed it."   He sat back and moved over into a corner, patting the bench next to him.  "Why don't you move over here and you can tell me all about yourself."

 

Philip smiled. "I'm very comfortable here, but thank you."  Slipping his cloak off his shoulders, he settled back into his own seat and stretched out his legs.  "What would you like to know?  I'm as curious about you as you are about me."

 

"Well then, my little earl," Michael said, "why don't we just trade questions?  You may go first and ask me anything you'd like to know."  He smiled. "I'm an open book and very honest about who I am and what I want." 

 

His emphasis on "what" made Philip squirm and glance at the floor.  "All right then.  You said you're looking at this property for your family.  Who is your family?"

 

"Do you mean my family name and background or the members of?"

 

Philip laughed at the directness.  "How about just the members of, for right now."  He winced slightly as the carriage hit a large rut and he bounced, sliding forward almost off the seat.

 

Reaching out, Michael put a restraining arm on his leg, bracing him.  "Careful there, I'm sure you don't want to get hurt."

 

Feeling suddenly bold, Philip smiled. "No, that would mean we'd have to go back and it would ruin the day."

 

Giving the leg a gentle squeeze, Michael sat back.  "My family... let's see...consists of four other brothers – I'm the fifth – three sisters-in-law, two nieces and one nephew."

 

"No sisters?"

 

"No, just boys," Michael confirmed.

 

"Your mother must have felt extremely outnumbered.  Mine always said that my sister gave her wonderful companionship after my father died.  What are your brothers' names?" 

 

Michael smiled. "William, who is married to Elizabeth, Harry, who is married to another Elizabeth, who goes by Liz, thank god, to avoid any more confusion, Steven, who is married to Marie, and Martin, who enjoys men, but hasn't settled on a particular one yet."

 

The straightforward comment took Philip by surprise.  He was unable to imagine a family or a sibling relationship where such an easy admission was possible and normal.  "Do your other brothers know?"  His voice dropped to a whisper.

 

"Yes, of course.  And so do their wives.  Lizzie used to tease Martin that if he didn't settle down soon, she would send for her uncle, who her father always claimed was a dandy, and be done with it.  Elizabeth and Marie are a bit more reserved about it, but they like Martin – both of us actually – and knew the situation before they were married."  He gave a small shrug. "They accept, if not actually approve.  But what are they going to do?  I'm sure Harry and Steven were both honest with them and there's no doubt in my mind that they would brook no disrespect from their wives toward Martin or me."

 

Philip smiled. "I'm surprised he didn't come with you on this trip.  He could become a member of the club and maybe meet someone."

 

Michael nodded. "Next time perhaps."  He took a sip of tea before giving another nod. "Speaking of the club, when did you join?"

 

Not expecting that question, Philip stalled for time with a long sip of his own drink.  "About 4 yrs ago …"

 

"When you were 17," Michael said with a smile.  "Let's not revisit the gray and murky waters of how old you are again."

 

Having the good manners to blush at his lie, Philip gave a quick nod of his head. "Yes, when I was 17.  A friend's father caught me looking at a book of classical drawings in his library."  The blush deepened as he took another sip of tea.  "They weren't as … detailed as your book, but detailed enough.  I could have brushed it off as simply being interested in art, but … I was 17 and …"  His voice trailed off.

 

"Natural reactions to seeing what interests you?" Michael said, filling in the blanks.

 

Philip laughed. "That's a very good way to put it.  My friend's father was similarly inclined and a gentleman.  He never took advantage and instead simply arranged an introduction.  He watched out for me the first few months until I found my bearings.  We never spoke about it; the worlds were completely separate."  Glancing out the window, he pulled back the leather curtain to watch the scenery bounce past, shocked at how much he had said.  He had never told a soul and no one had ever asked.  A large bump in the road jolted him out of his silent contemplation and he yelped, almost sliding off the seat before he could catch himself. 

 

Michael smiled and glanced again at the space next to himself deliberately.  "It's wider and because you're facing forward, any bump will throw you against the seat back, not forward.  You'll be much more comfortable."

 

Bracing himself again, Philip shook his head.  "I'm fine here, thank you."

 

Michael laughed and shook his head. "Are you always this stubborn, or are you just determined to prove to me completely wrong in all aspects of yourself, even to the detriment of your own comfort?"

 

Summoning his reserved calm again, Philip shook his head.  "We're taking turns.  It's my turn to ask a question, not yours."  As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he silently cursed himself.  Instead of sounding cool and adult, he sounded like a petulant child sulking.  "I'm not being stubborn, I'm just comfortable here."

 

"How about we make a deal, my little earl," Michael said with a smile.  "If you slide around again, you come sit next to me, give up this silly little pretense and allow me to kiss you again.  If you don't, I'll admit I was wrong, admit that you're right and we'll kiss again only when you approach me."

 

Philip nodded, a faint blush tinting his checks. "All right and since I have no intention of kissing you again, that should be easy."  He shifted again so that he was firmly braced in the corner, one leg firmly planted on the floorboard, the other against the solid footstool in the center of the carriage.  "Why is your family looking at buying this house?" he asked, determined to move the conversation along and back onto an equal footing. 

 

Michael smiled, allowing the conversation to resume its earlier flow.   "Oh, several reasons really.  Steven's wife Marie is from here and I believes she hates the heat of Jamaica, misses her family and seems to pretty much detest the idea of her husband having four brothers and the closeness that means."  He laughed, "They met while Steve was here for business, a whirlwind romance, and while they seem happy enough, the rest of us think it was a huge mistake.  Elizabeth won't be sad to see her go, that's for sure."

 

The tension eased as Philip laughed at Michael's description of typical family issues, magnified by a family business and five men all working at finding their place in it. 

 

"We've been talking about setting up a permanent base here anyway.  The family's owned a townhouse in the city for several years, but business often demands a more …" Michael paused, looking for the right word, "extensive place for entertaining clients, solidifying business connections, that sort of thing." Glancing out the window that Philip had pulled back the curtain on, he smiled.  "About another 30 minutes, I think.  More tea?"  Unlatching the jug, he held it out.

 

"Yes, thank …"  The sudden jar of the carriage's wheel hitting a deep rut cut off the rest of Philip's words and, in his unbalanced state, sent him and the cup tumbling forward. "Damnation!"

 

Michael's hand shot out, catching Philip before he could slide completely out of his seat.  Without looking, Michael rehung the still capped jug and smiled at the other man.  Wordlessly, he picked up the cup from where it had fallen on the floor and placed it next to his on the snug fitting shelf.  "This carriage is a bit like a boat," Michael said, moving over on the seat. "If everything is stored in its proper place, nothing gets broken.  And, like any good captain, I can tell the condition of the ride that I've taken several times now.  I know where the shallows are, where the deep water is and certainly, where the rough parts are."

                                                                       

Philip glared at him. "That's not fair."

 

Michael laughed. "What's not fair?  That you chose to bet me on a situation you knew nothing about?"  Patting the seat next to him, he smiled. "Come on.  I promise you'll be much more comfortable, plus it's safer."  He grinned wolfishly. "Everything in its proper place, you know."

 

Meeting the other man's gaze for a long minute, Philip sighed and awkwardly stood up and crouched over in the carriage, stepped over the foot stool and warming box. 

 

Michael reached up, grasped Philip's waist to hold him steady against the rocking motion, and smoothly pulled him down onto his lap.

 

Philip gasped as his butt made contact with the other man's hard thigh instead of expected padded bench.  "What are you doing?  Next to you did not mean this assault!"

 

"Shh," Michael said, holding him firmly in place, twisting slightly until they were both situated securely on the bench.  "I do believe there's the second part of our bet to be paid first." Leaning in closer, he gently stroked the other man's cheek. "You weren't planning on whelching on your bet, were you, my little earl?"

 

"A kiss," Philip said, trying to jerk away from the caress. "That's it."  Leaning in, he quickly kissed the other man's cheek.  Jerking away, he tried to stand, but was caught as Michael's hands tightened on him.

 

Laughing, Michael shook his head.  "That wasn't a kiss.  That was a social obligation to an elderly aunt who smells like lavender and moth balls."  He shifted, moving one hand back down to Michael's thigh.   "Plus, the bet was I kiss you."  Grasping Philip's head gently, he slowly kissed the small bit of exposed neck, nibbling slightly until Philip was squirming helplessly. 

 

"Stop," Philip said, giving a half-hearted effort to wiggle free and then gasping as the hand resting on his thigh brushed against his cock.

 

"Shh," Michael repeated.  "I've got you and you're only getting free when I let you go."  While his hand lightly brushed against the wool-covered cock, his mouth more aggressively latched onto Philip's lips.  Sliding his tongue inside, past unresisting lips, he smiled inwardly.  For all Philip's verbal protests, his body told Michael that his instincts were exactly right.

 

Philip moaned softly, his hand coming up and grasping Michael's jacket, holding him in place as his legs closed around the exploring hand at his cock.  The pressure and weight of the gently stroking fingers caused him to squirm as his brain struggled to process all the sensations. 

 

"So good," Michael murmured, breaking free from the kiss minutes later as he shifted in his seat as his own cock grew in response.  "I could do that all day, Philip."

 

Philip's eyes were closed, his hands still gripping Michael's jacket, as he struggled to catch his breath.  Several moments later, he took a long shuddering breath and meet Michael's gaze, giving him a small smile.  "That, sir, I believe was more than a kiss."

 

"Depends on your definition," Michael said with a smile.  "Whatever you want to call it, it was very nice."

 

Leaning forward, Philip smiled and kissed Michael gently on the lips, his own tongue darting inside briefly before retreating as he pulled back with a laugh.  "That is a kiss."

 

Michael laughed, pulling him closer so that their eyes met.  "That was a tease," he corrected, moving closer and once again claiming the unresisting mouth in front of him. 

 

Shaking slightly and once again out of breath, Philip moaned as Michael reluctantly broke contact minutes later as the carriage turned sharply, bouncing a couple of times as they pulled over the open gate supports that began the long drive toward the house.  Blushing suddenly at his actions, he jerked free, almost tumbling into the seat across from Michael.  With shaking fingers, he began to straighten his clothes, willing his cock to control itself.

 

Across the aisle, Michael laughed.  "You can straighten your vest all you like, Philip, but you can't hide your expression, that excited blush to your cheeks and your wide turned-on eyes.  But, trust me, no one will care."

 

Philip shot him a dark, murderous glare.  "They will care and this is all your fault. They'll know what we were doing in here."

 

Michael shook his head, ignoring the glare.  "It's just you and me, an agent and a couple of servants who are all so terrified of being sacked now that the house is changing hands, they won't dare make eye contact.  They're too caught up in their own issues to wonder the slightest bit about us."  He smiled. "Trust me."  As the carriage turned again slightly, slowing down, he suddenly leaned forward , bracing his hands on either side of Philip.  "Before this month is up, I promise, I'll get you to trust me, Philip," he repeated.  Then quickly kissing him full on the lips, he smiled, laughing as Philip jerked back into the seat but was unable to escape.  Standing up in a half crouch, Michael opened the door and stepped down as the driver held the horses steady while a house footman held the carriage door.

 

A well but conservatively dressed older man stood at the top of the stairs and called out as Michael stepped outside, "Welcome, Captain Preston, welcome to Holly Green."

 

Michael nodded and then peered inside the carriage, holding out his hand. "Coming, or are you trying to tempt me back inside with so we can continue our kiss?"

 

Inside the carriage, Philip glared at him for a moment before ignoring the hand and stepping outside on his own.  "You're horrible," he whispered.

 

Laughing, he shut the door before winking quickly at Philip. "It's a long ride back home, don't worry."  Then, turning back toward the agent, he motioned with his hand.  "Mr. Blakely, please allow me to introduce you to a friend, Philip Ashton, Earl of Devonshire. Lord Devonshire and I share a common property line in Jamaica and had the good fortune to have mutual friends in London.  Since he is much more familiar with these types of properties, I took the liberty of inviting him for this final look through."

 

The agent gave a small bow. "I'm honored, Lord Devonshire."

 

The tour lasted almost three hours, as Michael insisted on seeing every inch of the house.  Starting at the bottom, he peered into every room, occasionally testing fireplaces and windows with a candle, looking for drafts or improperly drawing flues that would cause rooms to fill with smoke. Whenever possible, he spoke privately with the few remaining servants. 

 

"If you want to know about a ship," he said quietly to Philip as they made their way down the narrow back stairs from the top of the house to the main floor, "you talk to the sailors.  They know more about the issues than many captains."

 

Philip smiled, enjoying the random tutorial that Michael had privately been muttering to him throughout the day.  It was nice to be taken into the other man's confidence and to been seen as smart enough to understand and care.  Gently bumping his shoulder against Michael's, he smiled. "Does that include you, Captain Preston?"

 

Michael bumped him back and shook his head.  "No, I had the good fortune to be taught by two very hands-on captains who started you from the bottom and worked you tirelessly until you knew and understood everything."

 

"So what do you think, Captain Preston?" the agent asked as they stepped onto the small landing just outside the butler's pantry.  Pushing the door open, he stepped from the dim servants' stairwell into the brightly light kitchen corridor.  "Can I show you anything else?"

 

Shaking his head, Michael glanced around once last time. "No, not in the house. But would you please give me a few moments with Lord Devonshire?  I think a quick tour of the main gardens and a brief discussion and I'll be ready with my final decision."  He smiled at the agent. "I don't believe it would be too forward of you to begin researching the house's paperwork to see which furniture stays and which goes with the sale."

 

The agent smiled and gave a small bow, all but licking his lips in anticipation of a large commission from the sale.  "Of course, sir."

 

Following Michael outside onto the beautifully carved stone terrace overlooking the formal gardens, Philip couldn't help but smile.  He was surprised that the agent didn't see the sparks between them, the small touches and brushes and looks that had been exchanged throughout the tour.  He had initially resisted, trying to stay out of reach, but when that proved impossible, he gave up and began to slowly play at first.  The smile of pure pleasure that flashed across Michael's face when he had reached out and quickly caressed his hand had thrilled Philip.   

 

"God," Michael breathed out, turning suddenly half way down the long the steps and pulling Philip into him.  "I thought I was going to simply forget my reputation and destroy yours if you touched me one more time."  Leaning in, he kissed Philip deeply, hands roaming before coming to rest on his butt.  "What do you think our honorable Mr. Blakely would think if I simply crushed you against the wall and had my way with you?" 

 

Phillip laughed, pulling back and dancing away, "I do believe you're mistaken, sir.  My touches were purely innocent and only following your lead.   I do believe you were the first and certainly the most aggressive."

 

"Details, my little earl, simply unimportant details.  What's more important and what we must find out immediately is if the wonderful silk chaise longue in the blue drawing room comes with the house or not."

 

Philip looked at Michael, puzzled at the sudden and strange turn of conversation.  "Why?" he asked, cautiously. 

 

Michael smiled, reaching out and pulling Philip back toward him.  "Because it features prominently in my current fantasy surrounding you."  Leaning down slightly, he resumed his interrupted assault on the unresisting mouth.   "I can't wait to see you laid out on it."

 

Moments later, Philip pulled back, face flushing as he struggled free.  "Stop," he said, glancing around the empty staircase.  "You must stop.  They'll wonder where we went and come looking.  You might not mind that, Michael, but I would."

 

Reluctantly allowing Philip to pull himself free, Michael nodded. "You're right, of course."  Swallowing, he held up a hand. "You have my word as a gentleman that I will leave you unmolested until we are safely back in the carriage."  Heading down two steps of the stairs, he noticed that Philip hadn't moved. "Coming?  Or," he said with a wolfish grin, "did you change your mind and I'm released from my word?"

 

Shaking his head, Philip laughed "I'm coming and I'm holding you to your word."  Brushing past him on the stairs, he jumped as Michael's hand gently caressed his wool-covered butt. 

 

 

Ten minutes later, walking through the start of the knot garden and making a quick circle of the well-stocked trout pond that was kept from freezing by an underground heated vent, Michael sighed, "I think I've seen enough of the gardens, Philip.  Let's go."

 

"You don't want to look at any more?  How about the fruit arbor or the kitchen gardens?  If you want an area for entertainment, gardens are usually key to those sort of plans, not to mention supplying fresh food for the entire house.  A well-organized garden can serve as the life blood of the house and all the tenants."

 

Waving off the comments, Michael said, "I'm sure you're right, but by all reports and what we've seen here, everything seems to be in order.  I really don't know much about gardens and I'm not even sure what I'm looking at."

 

Philip smiled at  him. "That's OK.  I know enough, I can explain it to you."

 

"Oh, I'm sure you can.  You know much more about this sort of estate than I do, I'm sure.  But honestly," Michael admitted, "I'd rather go back to the carriage or I risk losing my standing as a gentleman and breaking my word to you."

 

"Oh."

 

 

 

"So, Captain Preston, does everything meet with your approval?   Shall I begin to draw up the papers?" the agent asked as they stepped into the main foyer. 

 

Michael nodded.  "Yes, Mr. Blakely, please go ahead.  I'll send word to my family that this is a fine property that will meet our needs.  Would you also please send to my attention a complete inventory of the house and its contents that will be included in the purchase.  I may need another visit if there are questions, but once the small details are settled, I anticipate no delays."

 

As Michael and the agent began discussing more details of the cost and financing of the purchase, Philip slipped away, feeling that these details were none of his business.  Roaming into one of the front rooms, he looked around.  This room seemed to have been designed with a more masculine feel than many of the other rooms.  The walls were lined with light cherry panels and bookcases and the few pieces of remaining furniture were dark brown leather and wood.  A large double desk dominated a spot near the windows.  It was a beautiful room, unlike any in his own townhouse or his family home in the country.  There, his mother's heavy hand had ruled over every decision and his father, not caring about such details, seemed to have given them little notice.  That pattern had carried over into his own home, purchased several years ago prior to his father's death.  Sinking down on one of the hard leather ottomans in the room, he looked over this room, not fully understanding what he was feeling.  A moment later, as his eyes fell on the brightly colored carpeting on the floor, he was suddenly struck by a feeling of longing to have the same freedom that this room represented.  The freedom to have something of his own, to his own taste, in his own home. 

 

"You look deep in thought, Philip," Michael said softly, coming up and gently caressing his hair. 

 

Philip nodded. "A bit, I guess." 

 

Standing there, silently debating about what to say, what to do, Michael was undecided.  His instinct called for him to fix whatever it was, make a joke, kiss, caress, anything to bring a smile back to Philip's face, but he didn't think that would actually solve whatever the problem was.  So, instead, he simply remained quiet, allowing the silence of the house to settled over them. 

 

"We should go," Philip said suddenly, standing up.  "Are you and Mr. Blakely finished?"

 

Michael nodded. "For the time being.  He'll send over some papers for my review and this matter will be finished in a few weeks.  Our accounts here are in order and the money is ready to be forwarded whenever I give the word."

 

"You and your brothers must work very closely together," Philip said. "Is that nice?"

 

Walking back through the foyers and toward the front door, Michael nodded.  "We're very close and trust each other without question.  We were brought up that way, our parents felt that trust between us was crucial if our business was to survive and thrive.  We are much stronger together than any part standing on its own."

 

They stepped out into the sunlight and were once again greeted by the agent and major domo of the house. 

 

"Captain Preston," the agent said, "I thought you might meet Mr. Richardson.  He's been with the house for ten years."

 

Michael bowed his head slightly toward the older man.  "Mr. Richardson, I hope that we will be able to count on your continued service for another ten years."

 

The older man bowed lower. "Of course, sir.  This is a wonderful house and I look forward to serving the new family."

 

"Very good," Michael said with a smile.  Pulling a small gold case from his vest pocket, he extracted one of his calling cards.  "If you have any information you'd like to share about the house, sir, or any questions concerning staff, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.  I currently have only a small staff at my townhouse and would welcome any suggestions or recommendations you have for the staff here."

 

Mr. Richardson took the dark gray card with a solemn bow, "I will give the matter my utmost attention, sir."

 

Stepping back into the carriage, Philip glanced out the window toward the house as Michael and the agent discussed the last few details with the major domo.  His thoughts went immediately to the masculine retreat and he shook himself, unwilling to touch on the raw feelings the room evoked. 

 

The carriage rocked slightly as Michael stepped inside and settled himself on the bench across from Philip.  As the carriage pulled away, he turned his attention to the other man.  "What are you doing over there, Philip?"

 

He looked down at himself and then smiled innocently at Michael.  "Sitting, Captain Preston.  Really though, I'm surprised that a man such as yourself …"  His words were cut off as he yelped and laughed out loud as Michael stood and pulled him up and over in one quick motion.

 

"Little earl," Michael said with mock exasperation as he sat back down on his own bench, Philip once again settled on his lap, "you try me."

 

Laughing, Philip looked down at him and squirmed against the hard thigh.  "I know I tried you and I found you very much to my liking."

 

The meaning took Michael a moment to get, but as soon as he did, he laughed and leaned up.  "I find you very much to my liking as well."  Stroking Philip's leg he grinned as Philip shivered.  "Do you know what I'd like to try next?"  His hand drifted to the other man's cock and began to stroke it. 

 

Shifting, Philip blushed as the rocking carriage and motion of Michael's hand brought him to painful attention.  "Don't," he whispered, squirming to escape.

 

Moving his hand to the pale ivory buttons that ran down his hip, Michael teased them.  "Shall I?"

 

Philip looked at him, their eyes meeting as his breath froze in his throat.  "Michael …"

 

"Shall I, Philip?  Do you want to feel my hand on you or shall we continue to be separated by this thin layer of wool and linen?"  His hand moved back to its original position on Philip's cock and once again began to stroke it, teasing the rising bulge as it grew harder.  "What do you want, Philip?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

 

Philip could feel the growing hardness of Michael's own cock pressed up against his leg as he once again shifted.  "I don't know," he said softly.  "Stop, please."

 

"Are you sure?"  The hand stilled for a minute, cupping him.  "Is that what you want?"

 

"No."

 

Michael smiled. "All right then, my dear little earl, why don't we just resume our earlier actions?"  His hand still cupping Philip's cock, he leaned up and gently kissed him.

 

Closing his eyes, Philip sighed and sank into the kiss, willingly opening his mouth and giving in to the gentle assault and once again pushing aside all feelings of confusion.   "You must stop, Michael," he said hoarsely, pulling away as he felt his control slipping with every movement of the hand still cupping his cock.  "Please."

 

Michael grinned wickedly, well aware of what was going on.  "Of course," he said, moving his hand and quickly darting over to the side buttons.  "This is what you want, isn't it?" he asked, deftly undoing the top three buttons and slipping his hand inside.  "Yes, this is exactly what you want."  Brushing past the silk drawers, he pushed through the front opening and smiled as his hand found hard flesh.  "There's my prize," he said, leaning up and cutting off Philip's protests with his mouth. 

 

"Please," Philip whispered again, his hands scrambling up Michael's arms before latching on to his shoulders.  "Sweet lord," he groaned, half rising as his own hand went down, jerking the last three buttons free from their holes and giving Michael free access. 

 

"Ahhh," Michael said, sliding Philip carefully off his thigh and onto the seat.  Giving him one last kiss, he pulled away with a smile and sank to his knees on the carriage floor.  "That's right, I've got you," he whispered as Philip groaned again and spread his legs at his urging.  Pushing aside the material, Michael bent his head low and slowly licked the straining flesh. 

 

"Michael!" Philip gasped, jerking, held in place by the other man's hands on his knees and the confines of the carriage. 

 

"Don't try to control yourself, my dear little earl," Michael whispered, licking and sucking gently.  "I promise you, no one can hear.  Let me hear you scream my name."  Bending his head again, he gently kissed the very tip and slowly began to take the entire cock into his mouth, humming softly.

 

"I'm going to lose control," Philip said a moment later, squirming hard.  "Michael … Michael .. please …."  He groaned again, bracing himself hard against the seat for a moment before leaning his head back and softly screaming, "Michael!"

 

Swallowing and slowly withdrawing the cock from his mouth, Michael gently licked and caressed Philip.  He removed his hand briefly as he resumed his seat on the beach, "Come here, Philip," he said softly, turning the panting and pliable younger man around and with a bit of help settling him half on his lap, half on the seat. 

 

From his new perch, back wedged against the padded carriage wall, legs draped over Michael's lap, Philip smiled as he closed his eyes.  "Your wish is my command, sir," he said tiredly, laying his head against the wall.

 

Reluctantly giving the spent cock one last stroke, Michael tucked it back inside the silk and flipped the pants' front placard back in place.  "I hope it was your wish too, Philip."

 

Without opening his eyes, Philip smiled. "Very much so."

 

Michael smiled as he watched the other man drift off to sleep.  It had been years since he had sank to his knees and serviced another man.  He and Edward had often switched roles, each receiving and giving often, but since his lover's death four years ago, he had always received.  Until meeting this young man last night, he had had no interest in selflessly giving pleasure with no thought or concern about his own.  Now, serving Philip had seemed as natural as breathing.  Stroking one of the legs draped across his, he wondered about this young man.  He was clearly intelligent and strong-willed to the point of willfulness.  But there was also an air of restlessness about him and sadness.  The expression on his face, sitting alone in the house's wood-paneled parlor had caught Michael by surprise.  It had been so unguarded and so filled with confusion and longing that it had taken every ounce of will not pull Philip into his arms and hold him tight.  Feelings that Michael had locked up tightly four years ago, that had been cracked open last night and today in the carriage, burst free.  Now, in the quiet with Philip, he was sure that he wouldn't be able to simply lock them away again.

 

 

 

An hour later, as the carriage began the twists and turns back toward the inner city streets, Philip stirred awake.  "Oh," he said quickly, jerking his legs back.  "I am so sorry."  He blushed, struggling to button his pants.

 

Michael laughed. "I'm not. It was a very pleasurable ride."  He raised an eyebrow, adding, "Both of them."

 

The blush rising higher on his cheeks, Philip laughed and nodded. "For me as well, Michael."  Satisfied that he was once again presentable, he leaned over and quickly kissed him on the lips.  "Thank you."

 

Capturing one of his hands, Michael raised it to his lips and kissed it gently. "The pleasure, my dear little earl, was all mine.  May I invite you to dine with me tonight?  I look forward to continuing our ride."

 

Philip glanced out the window, pulling the curtain aside to peer outside.  "Thank you, but I've infringed on your kindness enough."

 

"Kindness?" Michael asked.  "It's you who was kind and gave up an entire day to help me take care of business.  Dinner is the least I can do to repay you."

 

Philip shook his head, the blush creeping back up his neck. "No, not that."

 

Michael laughed.  "Do you mean this afternoon, in the carriage?  Bringing you relief?"

 

"Yes," Philip said softly, glancing out the window again in a vain attempt to avoid eye contact.

 

"Philip," Michael said gently, "look at me please."  When Philip didn't turn from the window, Michael reached out and tugged firmly on his arm.  "Philip," he repeated.  "Look at me."   The tone took on the sharp edge of an order and the younger man responded as Michael knew he would, even if it was for the briefest of seconds.  "What I did wasn't done out of kindness or pity or sympathy or anything else you might be thinking.  Taking you in my mouth, serving you and knowing that I could bring you release and hearing you scream my name was a pleasure for me.  I did it because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to."

 

Shifting his gaze again, Philip briefly meet his eyes.  "But how?  It's so dirty.  You're a gentleman, it's a degrading act for you to have to perform. It's .. sinful."  The last word came out in a whisper.

 

Unsure how to  respond for a moment, Michael decided simply to laugh.  Pulling Philip closer, he kissed him deeply for a long minute.  "It wasn't dirty, it wasn't degrading at all and I was proud to give you so much pleasure."  He kissed him again. "And I can't wait to do it again and hear you scream my name as you find your release." 

 

"But…."

 

"No," Michael said firmly, shifting and tugging until Philip was twisted around and leaning with his back against his chest, "no 'buts,' just us and our rules."  Holding Philip close, his arms tight around him, Michael kissed his neck. "Nothing between us can be dirty or degrading or wrong and certainly not sinful."

 

Philip shifted a bit before giving up the chance of getting free and relaxing inside Michael's embrace.  "I don't know," he said softly several minutes later. "That's not what I was taught."

 

Kissing him again, nibbling gently at his neck and then blowing on it, causing the younger man to shiver and laugh, Michael joined in.  "Well, I promise, I'll be a much more through teacher than all of your tutors combined."  Reaching down, he patted the other man's hip. "Also more strict, my little earl.  I still haven't forgotten that silly lie you told me the first night we met."  As Philip laughed and tried to pull away, Michael tightened his hold. "Should I go ahead and carry out my threat?  Turn you over my knee, bare this adorable butt of yours and spank you until it's red and you're wetting the carpet with your tears?"

 

"You wouldn't dare," Philip countered, twisting so he was half turned around and facing the older man.

 

Michael patted his butt again. "No, not in the carriage, so I'll give you a pass this time.  Next time though …"  The threat hung in the air as Michael raised an eyebrow at the younger man and kissed him.  "Next time you won't be so lucky. A peaceful house depends on loving but firm discipline."

 

"I'll remember that."

 

Pulling Philip back around so he was once against leaning against his chest, Michael held him tight.  "See that you do, because I don't make ideal threats."

 

Fifteen minutes later, the carriage turned slowly onto the street of Philip's townhouse and the younger man sighed, pulling himself free.  Straightening his clothes, he quickly moved to the other bench.

 

"Come," Michael said, holding out his hand, "let me entertain you this evening at my house."

 

Philip smiled, but shook his head. "No, I know what you mean by entertainment and I think we've done enough entertaining today.  My prayers will be long enough this evening without any more debauched behavior."

 

Waving aside the excuse, Michael smiled, "All right, my little earl, but you must make it up to me and say that you'll join me for dinner tomorrow."

 

"I can't, I'm sorry," Philip said with a frown, "I have plans with my mother and sister already."  He glanced out as the carriage stopped and saw a footman heading from the door.  "I'll arrange to call on you soon, you have my word."  With a final glance out the window, he stood up, his back to the open window and quickly leaned down and kissed Michael.  "This kiss will have to keep you."

 

 

 

 Sunday dawned clear but cold with frost glazing over the windows.  Philip stretched as Hutchinson prepared his clothes and toilet.  "Please tell Cook that after services this morning, I will be taking the Dowager Countess and Lady Julia out for the day and we won't need dinner served."  He smiled, licking his lips as his mind flashed back to yesterday.  Sitting down and leaning his head back, he discreetly

adjusted his robe as Hutchinson leaned close to begin his shave.  "Do you know my schedule for tomorrow?"

 

"Yes, my Lord," the servant said, wiping the blade on a towel over his shoulder.  "The estate manager for Ashton Hall is scheduled to meet with you to discuss the upcoming spring plantings at 11am and you have invited him to dinner.  In the afternoon, if you are available, your presence, along with several others, was requested by Lord Avondale.  He is recently returned from the colonies and wishes you to see some of his newest drawings of land available.  When you accepted, you noted he was looking for investors.  As far as I know, there are no supper plans as of yet."

 

"Excellent," Philip said with another smile, wondering if he had time to write to Michael before he left this morning and how impolite it would be if he invited himself to a late supper tomorrow evening.   He could say that he had reconsidered the Captain's polite offer.  Or he could invite him to dine here.  Mulling over how much privacy they would have, he smiled again at the thought of what they could do to need privacy.

 

Hutchinson, taking advantage of his many years of service with the young earl, said quietly as he wiped the last of the soap from Philip's face, "You seem to be in a fine mood this morning, my Lord."

 

Philip's grin broadened. "I am and between you and me, it has nothing to do with the idea of church with my mother and skating on some small pond in the cold.  It was very nice to get out of the city yesterday.  I'm contemplating opening the Hall early and enjoying the countryside."

 

"It would be a nice change of scenery."

 

Mentally composing the note to Michael, and then translating Latin verbs to keep his mind off what they would do after supper, kept Philip occupied through-out the morning.

 

"You seem distracted," the Dowager sniffed on the ride to the Howard's estate.  "I'm sure if you have more important things to do, Julia and I will still be welcome."  She glanced around the carriage. "Assuming you allow us to still use your carriage.  I don't know if mine is to be trusted on these roads."

 

His mother's voice jerked him back and he instantly shook his head.  "No mother, I'm fine."  Glancing across the aisle, he saw his sister hide her laugh behind a lace handkerchief.  "I'm looking forward to this afternoon and skating." 

 

The older woman stared at him for a long moment before saying, "It's very much appreciated, Philip.  I know I can count on you.  It's reassuring to know that, like your father, you care about those you're responsible for.  I remember …"

 

Eager to turn the conversation away from himself, Philip interrupted, "So Julia, I've been casually approached by Howard.  Do you know his son Frederick?"  He grinned as his sister blushed and shot him a dirty look.

 

Their mother sighed. "I do hope you're not encouraging that boy, Julia.  You can do much better.  You're barely out and with your brother’s upcoming wedding, I just can't deal with one more thing."

 

"Yes, Mother," Julia said.  "Mr. Howard does seem very nice though, I spoke with him two weeks ago at …"

 

"Really dear," her mother said, putting a hand to her head,  "I simply can't deal with anything else and the idea of you settling for a second son is just too much."  Turning to Philip, she said, "Surely Philip, with your contacts and friends, you can find someone suitable for your poor sister to marry?  Is she going to be forced to settle and live in near-poverty?  It's your responsibility after all to ensure that she's taken care of.  I can't do everything."  She sighed again. "If you feel as if you can't live up to your responsibilities though, please let me know.  While I personally can't do anything, I'm sure I can ask Mr. Moore for his assistance.  Your father always trusted his legal advice and while I'm not sure if he's ever been asked to help in such a delicate, private family matter, it's probably not that unusual.  Other women who have no one they can count on must accept help where they can find it."

 

"I don't think--" Philip began.

 

Julia interrupted, "Fredrick is not poor, Mother, and I will not have a lawyer playing matchmaker for me."

 

"But if your brother--" 

 

"Enough," Philip snapped, "I will take care of it."  Closing his eyes, he tried to block out his sister and mother's voices, a headache building as tension circled his neck.  He inwardly cringed as his mother reached over and patted his leg.

 

 

 

Sitting in the darkened parlor after super, Philip stared into the crackling fire.  Another note from his fiancee had arrived by messenger and it lay unopened on the table next to him.  He found he was simply unable to deal with Henrietta, even by note, this evening.   His thoughts were filled with a replay of his mother's words.   Trying to block them out, he began to shift through the planting proposal sent to him earlier by one of his estate managers.  Feeling his stomach tighten around the simple supper he had eaten, he began to read.  The estate had been prosperous for years, but the last year's harvest had been down and there were several changes the manager was suggesting they make.  Each change though had its pros and cons and Philip couldn't help but think of the families depending on him to make the right decision about a matter he knew very little about.  

 

"Damnation," he muttered into the quiet room, pushing the papers away from him.  His breath caught in his throat as he spied the corner of a dark gray note card.  Shifting through the paper, he picked up and brought it to his lips.  The day before's activities flooded back to him, washing away all his worries as easily as water.  Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the leather chair and brought forth the feel of Michael again.  Touching him, being caressed by him, being taken into his mouth and the firmness of their lips meeting, the simple ease of being with him.  It felt warm and solid and very comfortable.  But also very much the easy way out, away from responsibilities and the pull of a hundred needs.  Instead, being with Michael simply fulfilled one need – his.  As powerful as that need was, it was only one and a very small one when compared to the basic needs of many.  The need to be touched was minor when compared to the need to eat and be warm during the winter.  He didn't know what to do or how to reconcile everything.  His cock twitched again as he shifted, wanting to be touched again as his mind pushed aside the hard questions and struggles and instead focused on the pleasant past.

 

He jerked his hand away from his cock as a soft knock on the door sounded through the room.  "Yes," he called out impatiently, irritated with the interruption.

 

"Excuse me, my Lord," a footman said with a bow.  "The messenger sent by Lady Bloomington asks if you still intend to send a reply tonight."  The man's eyes darted to the still unopened pale blue envelope before resuming their respectful gaze at the carpet.

 

"No, of course not.  Why is he still waiting?  The damn woman is 60 miles away and we're not married for another four months.  She's not entitled to my thoughts every moment of the day," Philip snapped.

 

The footman looked up briefly.  "My apologies, my Lord.  I was told you had asked for him to wait.  Shall I ask him to return … tomorrow?"

 

Philip sighed in frustration.  "No, you may simply send him away.  When I wish to communicate with Lady Bloomington, I will call for a messenger at that time."

 

"Yes my Lord," the footman said, bowing again and backing out of the room.

 

Taking a deep breath, Philip glared into the fire.  He craved Michael's touch again, his hands, his lips, the solid feel of his chest pressing against him while his arms held him securely.  Licking his lips, he swore silently he could still taste Michael there.  "Stop," he ordered himself.  "This is unseemly.  He is certainly not the first and yet you're behaving like a star-struck virgin.  This must stop."  Standing up quickly, he strode to the small writing desk against the far wall and jerked open several drawers until he found letterhead.  Without pausing to think, afraid if he did he would change his mind, he wrote a brief but direct note.  Signing his name, he sprinkled sand across the ink to dry it before folding it and sealing the edges with wax.  Jerking one of the silken call cords, he waited impatiently for the footman to reappear. 

 

"My Lord," the same man said, once again bowing low.

 

"Here," Philip said, thrusting the sealed paper in the man's direction, "have a boy send deliver this immediately to the house of Captain Michael Preston.  We exchanged correspondence several times yesterday so I'm sure one of them knows where it is."

 

Taking the paper, the footman kept his eyes firmly on the carpet.  The Earl was in a rare mood tonight and the least bit of provocation might set him off.  It was a good job, an honorable house and he had no intention of being dismissed.  "Shall the boy wait for an answer, my Lord?"

 

Philip waved his hand. "No, of course not.  In fact, he may simple deliver it to the kitchen.  It's late and I'm not sure if Captain Preston is home or not.  It's not important that he see it immediately, just some information he asked me for during our inspection yesterday."  Clamping his mouth shut, he cut off the stream of babble and glanced at the clock. "Please inform Hutchinson that I'll be retiring shortly.  Please make my room ready, but I don't desire his assistance tonight."

 

"Yes, my Lord."

 

Ten minutes later, Philip pushed open the door to his bedroom and was pleased to see the fire burning brightly and a fresh pitcher of hot water waiting on the marble topped table and the attendant nowhere in sight.  Tugging off his jacket, he tossed it carelessly on a chair, followed shortly by his vest.  Moments later, he stood naked in front of the basin and splashed water on his face.  His eyes fell to his cock and he immediately flashed back to his disgraceful loss of control in the carriage.  Michael's mouth on him, his own screams and cries, how his hands gripped at the other man, urging him on and how he had drifted afterward.  In his mind he imagined himself sinking to his knees to worship Michael the same way.   Gripping the edge of the marble, he bowed his head, overcome with shame.  It was one thing to use a man, mutual hands and touching and bringing mutual relief.  Mounting some man such as Nicholas for relief, a good man, but never an equal, never someone to spend time with or even acknowledge the presence of outside of the club. At peace with his note, Philip made his way to the bed and slipped beneath the coverings with a tired sigh.

 

The next morning, a dark gray note card with the familiar green embossed seal arrived. On it was one word, as simple and straightforward as the man it belonged to:  "No."

 

 

 

A dark shadow moved against the lighter darkness of his room causing Philip to blink, struggling to wakefulness.  He jumped as the shadow moved closer and reached him.  Lunging across the bed, his hand groped for the striker to ignite the candle at his bedside.  He cried out as someone grabbed his outstretched hand, pushing him back onto the bed and away from the table. 

 

"No need, my dear little earl," the figure said, settling down on the bed next to him. "I can see quite fine and you don't need to see."

 

Jerking his hand away, Philip scrambled to sit up. "Michael?"  He startled as the hand came up and gently caressed his face.

 

"How many other men do you invite into your bedroom?" Michael asked with a low chuckle. 

 

"None and I didn't invite you, either," Philip retorted.  "How did you even get in here?"

 

Michael shrugged. "I gave you a week to come to your senses and then decided to simply come to you myself."  He laughed. "I have to admit, this was not my original plan."

 

Despite himself and ignoring the internal voice to stop the conversation, Philip was curious and asked, "What was the original plan?" 

 

"To kidnap you, toss you aboard my ship that's certainly tied in the harbor and take you away with me.  Two months at sea should absolve you of any lingering doubt about how right we are for each other."  Michael said the words as a simple statement of fact, with no doubt and no remorse.  "Unfortunately, the ship's crew are currently scattered onto other ships, not expecting to return  for at least two more months.  It's a shame though; I would have loved to have carried out my plan.  Instead, I must be content to play the dutiful suitor and woo you."

 

"I am not a maiden to be wooed," Philip shot back.  "I have been with many, many others before you."  Squirming free, his hands found the striker and after a moment lit a single candle.  The light disappeared quickly in the large room, but cast enough light on the bed for him to see his would-be attacker.

 

Michael smiled in the light. "No, you are most certainly not a maiden, but I do think you want to be wooed."  He leaned over and kissed Philip. "Shall I send you flowers?  Letters of poetry?"  Kissing him again, moving closer as his lips began to explore his bare chest, he suggested, "Or maybe another book of … Greek debates?"

 

Unwillingly, Philip's eyes darted to the table at the side of his bed where the slim novel lay tucked under a leather bound book of poems.

 

Michael laughed, following Philip's eyes and spying the book.  "Has it been keeping you company and warming your nights while you've stubbornly denied yourself what you really want?"

 

"How did you get in here?" Philip asked, ignoring the question.

 

Michael laughed. "As if I would tell you, my little earl, just so you can bar my way in here?"

 

Philip shrugged. "The thought never crossed my mind."

 

Moving quickly, Michael reached out and tugged Philip from his safe nest under the covers.  "Didn't I warn you what would happen if you kept telling those silly little lies?"  Pulling Philip closer, Michael kissed him deeply, tongue plunging inside his mouth as his hand roamed down Philip's bare back until Philip began to respond, his own hands coming up to caress Michael's back.  With a reluctant sigh, Michael pulled back, landing one more quick kiss on Philip's nose before quickly and efficiently laying him down face down on the bed, half way across his lap.

 

"Michael," Philip started to protest, trying to rise.

 

Raising his hand, Michael landed three hard, swift swats across Philip's bare butt, cutting off any further words.  "Those silly little lies will get you in trouble, Philip, so I suggest you start being honest with me and, most importantly, yourself."  Peppering the upturned butt with lighter but still very deliberate swats as he spoke, he covered the entire area quickly.  He rested his hand on the warm and reddened flesh for a moment before asking quietly, "Do you understand?"

 

As soon as Michael stopped, Philip began to struggle, the reality of the situation sinking in.  "Let me up," he ordered softly.

 

Raising his hand again, Michael landed another swat at the center of his butt.  "No, not yet.  Tell me you understand."

 

"I understand," Philip parroted in a sarcastic tone.

 

Michael swatted him twice more, causing Philip to gasp out loud, before once again resting his hand.  "I don't believe you, but I think that's enough of a first lesson.  I'm not even sure if you can be completely honest yet."  As Philip struggled to rise, Michael held him down.  "The first lesson might be over, but I'm enjoying this view quite well and think it's fitting for our discussion."

 

Twisting slightly, Philip glared over his shoulder. "What if I don't agree?"

 

Michael smiled, giving the bare flesh a loving pat.  "Then I suggest you speak quickly, honestly, or as honestly as you can, and it'll be over sooner."  Glancing at the small enameled clock on the table, he continued, "It's only 2:30, your house won't be awake for another three hours, we have plenty of time."

 

Summoning years of training and his status, Philip sniffed, "You may begin then."  Holding himself stiffly, he struggled not to relax as Michael once again rested his hand on his butt, cupping it so that his fingers dipped slightly into the crease.  The contact sent shivers through Philip's body, ending at his cock, instantly making him aware of his face down position. 

 

Thinking for a long moment, Michael began softly, "I was distressed to receive your note."  He patted the butt.  "I will of course respect your wishes, if what you said in that note are truly your thoughts and wishes.  But I don't think they were your words, I think they were the words of the 4th Earl of Devonshire, not Philip Ashton.  I think the Earl came home, saw this house, the people waiting for him and emerged after being put smartly in his place for the day.  The list and rules of Do's and Don'ts that Philip had successfully fought against and pushed aside during the bright light of the afternoon could not be ignored once the house settled into quiet darkness."  Reaching out, he stroked Philip's hair, "It's hard to be alone after dark and I think you're afraid you will be if you don't follow the rules."

 

Philip sighed, relaxing into the bed. "You don't understand, Michael."

 

Michael rubbed small circles into his butt as he silently waited for Philip to continue. 

 

"You don't," Philip repeated several long moments later.  "Philip Ashton died a bit when Edward Ashton, the true Earl, died ten years ago.  And then was completely killed last year as surely as if he was the one who was felled by an attack and not just my father.  Philip was fearless and didn't care.  He joined the club and... "

 

"But I've met Philip Ashton," Michael countered.  "I've spoken to him, I've laughed with him."  Bending low so his body covered the other man's so he could kiss him, he added, "And I've love him."

 

"You barely know him," Philip countered. 

 

"But I want to know more, if I'm allowed to."  Sitting back up, Michael patted Philip's butt again. "I want to spend hours and days and months and years learning more."

 

Philip sighed, rolling slightly so he could look at Michael. "I can give you until June."

 

"What happens in June?" Michael asked, well aware of the man's upcoming marriage, but that was a minor issue.

 

"Philip dies completely," Philip said softly.  "He can't survive past June."  Looking up, he met Michael's eyes.  "Are there enough hours and days and months and years between now and June?"  Reaching up, he tugged Michael down next to him.

 

"Yes," Michael said, allowing himself to be pulled down next to Philip, "as long as the words in your note weren't yours."

 

Philip smiled. "No, this is me."  Reaching out, he began to undo the laces of Michael's white cotton shirt quickly before kneeling up to pull it off.  Smiling, he eyed the now bared chest.  "Very nice."

 

Tugging him back down, Michael rolled on top, hand darting between them to stroke Philip's cock.  "This is also very nice."

 

Philip smiled, moving slightly as the emotions of the situation took over.  This was familiar territory, well accepted between men at the club of all levels.  "I'd enjoy, sir," he said with another laugh, his hand reaching down past Michael's industrious fingers and brushed the bulging front of his pants, "if I could also judge yours.  You have me at a disadvantage though and I need your assistance"

 

Michael smiled, sitting up and sliding off the bed with a low bow. "But of course, your Lordship."

 

Kicking back the covers, Philip moved back up to the head of the bed as he watched Michael undress quickly.  He nodded as the long-awaited cock appeared. "Yes, very, very nice."

 

With a low laugh, Michael rushed the bed, pushing himself back up and rolling into Philip in two swift movements.  Hands resting on Philip's butt, he began to knead it as Philip greedily kissed him.  Groaning, thrusting his tongue deep inside, his own senses were overloaded as Philip's hand found his cock and brought it quickly to attention. 

 

"What about you?" Michael asked some time later, the room now in almost total darkness, the candle burning very low in its holder.

 

Philip stretched.  He was lying half on top of Michael, holding tightly to his chest.  Their legs were intertwined and he could feel the cool dampness of Michael's semen drying on his own stomach.  His own cock was still half hard, but instead of being painful, simply made him feel alive.  "This was better," he said sleepily.  "It was amazing watching you come, the expressions and feel of you pulsing.  I'm usually too caught up in my own feelings."

 

Michael grunted at the mention of others, not liking the idea, even though that was ridiculous on many levels.  Reaching his hand down, he patted Philip's butt.

 

"You love doing that." 

 

Michael noted that it was a simple statement and that Philip made no move to twist away from his hand.  Carefully sliding out from underneath, allowing Philip to roll onto his stomach, he sat up.  "I do."  Reaching out, he stroked it again, feeling its warmth, not from the simple spanking he had administered earlier, but just from a healthy young man.  Stilling his fingers for a moment,  he cupped each cheek. "It fits perfectly in my hand, see?  Like it was made to rest there, caress …"

 

"Swat," Philip said with a slight frown, leaning up on his elbows so he could look at Michael.  "I didn't like that or appreciate it."

 

Leaning down, Michael kissed him quickly on the lips. "I didn't appreciate being lied to either."  He sat back up and gave the butt another gentle pat, "Besides which, I was going to say, caress and spread gently apart for my pleasure and certainly yours."  Dipping his hand inside the crease, he spread his fingers, opening Philip and exposing him.

 

Jerking back, Philip closed his legs, trying to dislodge Michael's hand.  "No," he said sharply.  "Certainly not and that would not be pleasurable."

 

Lying back down and pulling Philip closer, Michael fell quiet as Philip relaxed against him.  He moved his hand and again rested it on Philip's butt.  "Don't be so quick to dismiss the yet unexplored territory, Philip," Michael said softly.  "This little bud has not yet been plucked and as yet is filled with all manner of unknown excitement, joy and treasures."

 

Still lying against Michael, Philip laughed. "All the pretty words in the world, Michael, won't convince me to allow you to do that to me.  You may caress and cup all you like, you may even swat on occasion if you feel you must, but that's it.  It shall remain unexplored territory."

 

Leaning down slightly, Michael kissed the top of his head.  "We shall see, my dear little earl, we shall see.  I have until June to explore all sorts of new and exciting territories with you."  Closing his eyes, he relaxed, enjoying the weight of Philip resting against him.

 

Three hours later, as a few rays of sun were starting to come through the slats of the half closed shutters, Philip stirred and stretched in bed, the events of the night making him jerk fully awake.  The room was light enough for him to see that it was empty. The only proof of the night's activities was the burnt down candle and mussed bedcovers.  A moment later, he spied a third clue that the activities had not been a dream – a dark gray note card lay propped on the bed table.   Sitting up, Philip smiled as he undid the card and read its simple message. 

 

"As I took advantage of your hospitality, I look forward to serving as host to your visit today.  Dinner is served at 1:00 with casual dress."  A smaller postscript was added at the bottom in hastier handwriting, "No dress at all would preferred."

 

With a blush and embarrassed laugh, Philip slid out of bed, eagerly anticipating the upcoming dinner.  Allowing his mind to drift back to the earlier activities, he focused on being touched and spread wide and his panic.  It had been worse than two weeks earlier with Nicholas, where he had dismissed the idea as simply beneath him.  Michael, while not exactly his equal in social standing, was close enough to be respectable and, if he had been a woman, a perfectly acceptable match.  That act though was not one performed by equals; the thought of how the two participants could be seen in any sort of equal light eluded him.  It was simply a sign of dominance, control and possession.  Showing ownership over the other person as much as putting a collar on a dog or brand on cattle.  He had instantly felt powerless when Michael had touched him, exposed him and feared that if pressed, if Michael had slipped his finger inside, he would have caved in to his emotions and begged Michael to possess him. 

 

"Sir,"  Hutchinson said, tapping lightly on the still closed bedroom door.

 

"Yes, enter," Philip called out.  As the door opened, admitting the older servant, Philip added, "I'm going out for dinner today at Captain Preston's, please inform the cook and have the carriage arranged."  Settling back into the chair, he closed his eyes as the servant prepared his morning toiletries.

 

Philip was admitted into the simple parlor at 12:50.  It was far less elaborate than his own front parlor, but still filled with rich materials and several beautiful pieces of art.  A large fireplace crackled, giving off a warmth that filled the small room.  Books lined two large bookcases and there was a large portrait of two older men standing proudly together with a fleet of ships in the distance.  Looking at the portrait for a long moment, Philip tried to see Michael in either one of the men's faces. 

 

"Regretfully, I see you ignored my postscript," a voice said from behind him.

 

Turning around, Philip smiled. "I thought that might be best left for our second dinner together."

 

Michael reached out and pulled him close, kissing him deeply.  "This is our second dinner, my little earl," he muttered, reaching for the buttons on the other man's vest playfully.

 

Pulling free, Philip laughed, instantly glancing toward the parlor door, pleased to see no servant lurking in the hall.  "Our previous dinner doesn't count, Captain Preston.  It was eaten with Mr. Blakely and we discussed nothing but the countryside and homes."  Eager to change the subject before a servant joined them and overhead something inappropriate, he asked, "Speaking of the house, have you made a decision?"

 

The other man smiled, "I sent word to Steven, he and Marie are visiting her parents for the month.  He had already sent word to the family and with my second of his vote, the others will be satisfied.  The account here needs two signatures to release the funds.  My hope is that once he receives my message, he'll welcome the excuse to come back to London and we can take care of this matter quickly.  I'm tired of this house."

 

Philip smiled, looking around, "But it's a very nice house. The area is fashionable, with a park nearby."

 

"Oh, it's not that so much as I dislike London.  The noise, the dirt, I haven't lived here since I was 11 and had no plans of ever returning."

 

Looking at Michael with interest, Philip asked, "I didn't know you were originally from here?"

 

Michael smiled.  "There's a lot you don't know about me, Philip."

 

A discreet clearing of throat caused Philip to step backward, suddenly aware of how close they were standing next to each other and how it might appear. 

 

"Yes?" Michael asked the black servant standing in the door.

 

"Dinner, Captain," the man said in a casual voice, far different than the usual deferential tone.

"Excellent, thank you, Jose," Michael said, turning back to Philip.  "Come, Cook has put out a feast, I'm sure.  You're only the third guest I've had since my arrival and this is the first time that I've given her free rein."  Reaching out, he touched Philip's hand as they walked toward the dining room. "I wanted to give you a true flavor of the foods I grew up with and a taste of my home.  I wasn't sure how much you enjoyed during your short visit."

 

Suddenly touched by the intimacy of the confession, Philip smiled.  It was such an honest comment, an open statement of wishes and wants, tinged with a touch of homesickness.  "Very little," Philip said, "except for the heat and sun, it was like I was in almost any dining room here.  So many import everything from their servants to their china, so that they don't feel so cut off from society."

 

The dining room, like the parlor, was small, but still beautifully appointed with rich wood and crystal.  The table was set simply with two seats, the head for Michael and just to the right for Philip. A plain cream tablecloth was accented with bright red and orange embroidery that matched the red linen napkins.    Several platters and covered dishes sat on the table, while another fireplace kept the room warm and cozy.

 

"Thank you, Jose," Michael said as the other man stepped forward to begin to serve.  "Lord Ashton and I will take care of it. I'll call if I need help."

 

"Of course, Captain," the servant said with a small smile before disappearing behind the hall door.

 

"Has he been with the house long?" Philip asked as Michael began to serve him.  The food smelled wonderful, warm and spicy.  The meat had been grilled and covered with some sort of light yellow sauce, far different than the heavy cream gravies that tended to dominate most meat dishes. 

 

Concentrating on not spilling as he served, Michael was silent for a moment.  As he sat down, he said, "No, he came over with Steven.  He's a freeman and usually serves either myself or one of my brothers on our boats where the rules are much more relaxed.  It fits our lifestyle much better, even though the few English servants we've employed don't seem to appreciate the freedom."

 

Philip took a bite of the grilled chicken and almost moaned in pleasure.  "Oh, this is wonderful.  What is it?"

 

Michael smiled. "It's this small feathered animal called a chicken.  Do you have them here?"  He laughed at the look shot in his direction. "I'm sorry, but it's true.  But it's been cooked over hot stones and wood chips soaked in cider, so it's smoked, and then the sauce …" Pausing, he tasted it again. "The sauce is made with some sort of orange and mint."

 

Dinner conversation flowed easily, moving from safe topics such as food to deeper ones such as the expectations of servants and their relationships.

 

"Do you have slaves?" Philip asked. 

 

Michael nodded. "Yes, on some of the plantations the family owns, the bigger ones.  There's simply no other way to run those estates.  But my parents have gradually freed all the ones who work in the house and of course, there are never slaves on the ships.  Many of the men are black or natives, like Jose, but they are all free and may leave at any time."

 

"I know my plantation has slaves as well," Philip said.  "It's something I'm torn about, but like you, I see no way around the situation."

 

Michael smiled. "Then let's talk about something more pleasant.  It's a situation we can't control and see no way around for the near future."

 

Eager to change the subject, Philip nodded. "That's a lovely portrait in the front parlor.  Which one is your father?  I assume the other man is an uncle?"

 

Michael looked at Philip for a long moment, clearly mulling over something.  "Why don't we take this conversation someplace more comfortable?  We can take dessert in the solarium and enjoy some of this beautiful weather."

 

Philip glanced out the room's windows and saw that, even though it was feeble, the sun had broken free from the clouds and was shining brightly.  "Excellent idea."

 

They settled into two comfortable chairs overlooking the small bare gardens.  The red brick walls were littered with dead-looking vines and the beds were mounded and covered with protective wood chips.  The white stone paths though were swept clean and even in its dormant state, there was a certain orderliness to the gardens that didn't surprise Philip.  Michael seemed like the sort of man long used to living in the confines of a ship where orderliness meant safety and that would have carried over to his private life.

 

"The two men in the portrait," Michael began directly, "are my fathers.  Or at least my adoptive fathers.  They worked together, lived together and were as much a couple as a man and woman." 

 

"Oh," Philip said, somewhat startled.  "They neither of them ever married?"  He knew of one other male couple, but both had married and kept separate households from each other.  They were rumored to have a small country house together, but that aspect was kept very much quiet.  Their wives ignored all talk on the matter and each had produced several children.

 

Michael smiled. "Not to women.  They exchanged vows, but they were blessed simply by each other."

 

"But you must have a mother?"  Philip smiled, trying to absorb the news calmly and matter of factly.  It was shocking, but as long as it was not well known, little problem.  "Or did you spring forth like Venus from a clam shell?"

 

Michael laughed, relieved by his attitude.  "No, I had a mother and a real father.  Captain Alfred and Captain James, as I always called them, basically adopted me when I was 12.  My father died when I was very young and my mother remarried, but she died when I was 11.  Her new husband was also a captain of his own boat and reluctantly took me on board."  He shook his head. "It was a miserable experience and one I wouldn't want to relive, but luckily, within a few months the boat I was on was attacked by," he paused, making eye contact with Philip, "opportunists.  He was killed and I was set free."

 

Philip eyed him. "That's what you call yourself."

 

Michael laughed. "It's a good life." 

 

"If opportunists attack boats and kill people, then they sound suspiciously like pirates."

 

The other man shrugged. "Well, I admit, it can be a bit of a fine line, but in their defense, they didn't plan to kill my stepfather.  From what I understand and can certainly believe, he refused to surrender and give up his maps, attacking anyone who approached the cabin where he had made his stand."

 

"But surely, that's understandable?" Philip said, surprised at the ease with which this man talked about the death of his stepfather.

 

Michael shrugged again. "I don't know."  He glanced out into the gardens for a minute before turning back to Philip. "What I do know is that it's well know that pirates rarely kill.  They are only interested in material possessions and possibly men.  They take what they want, any men who are interested in coming with them or are needed, and then leave the boat and passengers unmolested."

 

"But they killed him," Philip said.

 

"Because he fought them.  He chose to engage in a fight that he could not win. He put himself and his crew, including myself, in danger because of his pride.  He could have simply surrendered and all would have been well and done with in a matter of hours." Michael smiled. "I must confess, though I know it's a sin and one I've made peace with,  I'm glad he fought, I'm glad he was killed and I'm glad that I was taken in by two loving, kind and generous men.  I couldn't have asked for a better life."

 

Philip could hear the conviction in Michael's voice and knew the matter was no longer open to discussion.  "Are you still an...opportunist?"

 

Michael smiled, "No.  Well .."  He paused for a moment, thinking as his smiled twisted into more of a bemused grin, "At least not the vast majority of the time.  The family has moved on as the laws have gotten stricter and other, better opportunities have opened up in shipping, as the colonies have grown in size and needs.  But... occasionally a ripe piece of fruit floats past and just begs to be plucked from the tree."

 

"But isn't that stealing, which is against the law?"

 

Michael shrugged again, still wearing a bemused smile.  "Many things are against the law, Philip, and since I don't consider myself an Englishman or a subject of the crown, I feel no compulsion to follow England's laws."

 

"But it's still against the law," Philip protested.

 

"Do you follow the laws of all the countries of the earth?" Michael asked.  "Do you pray five times a day as is law in Persia or go to Mass and Confession as is law in Italy?"  He raised an eyebrow, "And even here, do you shun lying with man as with woman like the law says?  You're an Englishman, yet you break English law willingly and often."

 

Philip glared at him. "That's different."

 

Standing up, Michael laughed. "No it's not.  You just justify it."  He held out his hand. "Come, my little earl.  Let's walk; it's too nice a day to spend it in here discussing the philosophy of law.  You are no better than I am, than all men.  We all pick and choose what rules and laws we follow and which we don't.  There's no sin or crime in that."   Making eye contact with Philip, he smiled, "Come."

 

"It's still wrong to steal," Philip muttered, standing up.

 

Michael smiled and shook his head, reaching out and pulling Philip, to him.  Wrapping his arms around him, he kissed him.  "Many things in life are wrong, Philip.  It is life but you have my promise, I will never steal from you."  Kissing him again, he sighed as he felt Philip relax into him, mouth yielding tot the gentle assault.  "Yes," he breathed as Philip's hand came up to caress his cock.

 

"No," Philip said, pulling away, breathing hard.  "Not here, not now.  Anyone could see."  Walking toward the door that led eventually outside, he said, "The fresh air will do us both good and cool our blood."

 

With a shake of his head, Michael followed the younger man outside into the gardens.  Ducking into a gazebo at the far end of the small garden, protected from the wind and prying eyes, he took Philip's hand.  "Come live with me, Philip.  You are so afraid of being seen, we shall spend the next four months stealing kisses and brief moments together.  You said you had until June to live, to be with me, so come to me and let us really live together."    Kissing his hand, trying to pull the resisting man closer, he said, "Even better, run away with me.  We can leave in a month and sail to my home.  The air is warm and the sun bright and no one cares what we do.  The servants are all discreet and as long as I manage to avoid ravishing you at the dinner table, which will be hard, I admit, they won't care.  My fathers gave up even keeping separate bedrooms years ago."

 

"You are mad," Philip said, jerking his hand away.  "How could I possible live here with you?  You drop these revelations on me, that you're not really a merchant, but some sort of blood thirty pirate.  You had no parents, but were raised by two men who have somehow convinced you to believe that their lifestyle and yours will be accepted by society. I am suddenly supposed to be all right with that and simply move in with you like we're a couple playing house.  And regardless of what you say or believe, your servants here are certain not discreet, neither are mine.  Tongues will be waggling within days of me moving in here, regardless of the sleeping arrangements.  Servants know everything, they will know the first time you grace my bed or I yours.  My mother will hear about it within the week and how exactly do you propose that I explain that?"  As Michael started to speak, Philip held up his hand. "I'm sorry Michael, but no.  I was out of my mind last night – this morning – when we spoke.  I was overcome with lust and not thinking.  This is crazy."  Turning, he hurried through the gardens toward the house.

 

Stepping to the doorway of the gazebo, Michael yelled after him, "I propose you simply inform her that you are an adult and your own man and thus, may make your own decisions without mama's permission!"

 

Philip turned briefly and with a glare flicked his fist, fingers outstretched and clenched together in the other man's direction.

 

"Yeah," Michael yelled again, surprised that the younger man knew such a crude gesture, "I'd like to if you weren't still clinging to the apron strings."

 

Stalking back into the house, Philip paid no attention to where he was going and promptly turned right instead of left back into the main house.  As he charged into the darkened hallway, it took him a moment to register the darkness and the sound of the door's lock clicking behind him as it closed.  "Damnation," he muttered, turning and trying the door.  Stairs led up, which is where he didn't want to go, but he could see no other choice.  It was clearly a seldom used back staircase, separate even from the main servants' areas, and dusty.  Evenly spaced small windows gave just enough light to see by as he climbed the stairs.  They came to a dead end at a large wooden door.  Pulling and pushing, he cursed again, finding it locked.  Cursing Michael, he started banging on the door.  The house wasn't that large, there were at least some servants around, surely one of them would hear him.  Ten minutes later, he heard a noise in the room.  "Help!" he called, banging louder.

 

"Hello," a faint voice said.  "Who's there?"

 

Philip banged louder. "It's Lord Devonshire, Philip Ashton; I'm a friend of Captain Preston!"  Several long minutes later, thinking the person had gone away, he banged again. "Hello!  Are you still there?"

 

"You say you're a friend of Captain Preston's?" a different voice asked.

 

Wonderful, Philip thought, I'm being rescued by an idiot.  "Yes!" he called back.  "I got lost coming back from the garden and would greatly appreciate it if you would let me out."

 

"How did you get lost coming in from the garden?"

 

Cursing to himself, Philip glanced back down the stairs. "I just did.  I turned left instead of right, I think.  I meant to come back through the solarium."

 

"Captain Preston didn't know the way?" the voice asked.

 

"He wasn't with me," Philip said loudly.  "Are you able to open the door from here or should I return to the lower door?"  he asked, trying to move the situation along.

 

"Why wasn't he with you?" the voice asked, then added, "Did you decide it was easier to walk off in a huff and go sulk in your house?  Did his words hit too close to home?"

 

Philip glanced at the door, suspicion rising.  Glancing at the small windows, he mentally gauged their width for a long moment.

 

"So what happened, my dear little earl?  Are these words hitting too close to home as well?" the voice asked, persistently but not unkindly.

 

"Shut up," Philip said, stepping closer to the door.  "You have no idea what you're talking about.  Now let me out of here immediately, you bloody pirate."

 

On the other side of the door, Michael laughed. "How about trying to be a little bit more polite?"

 

"Please shut up, you bloody opportunist," Philip countered.  He glared at the door, unsure what he would do if Michael didn't let him out.  Instantly dismissing the idea, he opened his mouth to yell again when the door's lock was thrown and a small crack of light appeared.

 

Peering into the gloom, Michael's eyes meet his.  "Shall we talk like civilized men or do you want to continue with your sulking and stalking off?"

 

"I don't even know where to begin," Philip countered.  "Your morals are completely different from mine.  You feel that stealing is acceptable, laws are to be obeyed only when they fit your desires, and as far as our relationship …"  He shook his head. "That sort of thing should remain firmly inside the club walls. I was a fool for allowing it even a toe hold in my real life."  Stepping forward, he met Michael's eyes. "Excuse me, sir, I'd like to leave."

 

Michael gave a short nod and stepped aside with a low bow and sweep of his arm.  Watching Philip pass, he reached out and gently touched his arm.  "Philip," he said softly. 

 

"What do you want me to say," Philip countered, spinning around.  "I've said everything I needed to say.  I can't bear to see you again; you need to leave me alone."

 

"But why can't you bear to see me again?" Michael asked, softly.

 

Philip looked at him for a long moment before glancing away.  Taking a deep breath, he said softly, "Because I cave into emotion.  I can't control myself and I begin to soar high on the rush.  I feel that anything is possible. You touch me, we kiss, you stroke me and I feel you stir under my own hand and suddenly, I feel alive and free.  But that's not reality."

 

"But it can be reality," Michael countered.  "Why can't it be?  You said yourself, you have until June.  Why not be alive until then?  Come away with me, live until then."

 

Philip shook his head. "But how much would that hurt come June?  I was fine enough three weeks ago, before we met."

 

"You were not fine," Michael countered.  "When I saw you at the club, you were anything but fine.  You were restless and bored, looking for something and not finding it.  You didn't find it upstairs with your merchant plaything who probably gladly rolled over for you, you weren't going to find in the half-hearted cold hands of any of the other men there."  He looked at Philip. "Tell me I'm lying.  Tell me you were satisfied by their touches."  Walking closer, he reached out and  picked up the younger man's hand.  "Tell me you shivered like this when your merchant or a fellow card player touched you and when you touched them."

 

"It was fine," Philip said, refusing to look up at Michael.  "I was satisfied."

 

With a sudden movement, Michael turned him slightly and swatted him hard on the butt.  "Didn't I warn you about those silly little lies, Philip?"

 

"I'm not lying!"

 

"Then look me at me and tell me you shivered when they touched you, that what they offered truly satisfied you.  That they are enough to warm your blood in the cold evenings for the next thirty years of your life."

 

Philip shook his head silently, afraid to speak lest his voice tremble. 

 

"Then trust me," Michael said softly.  "I know what I'm asking, I don't dismiss your concerns lightly, but have faith in me."  He pulled the younger man closer and led him to a small settee against the wall.  Sitting down, he settled Philip on his lap, holding him tight as he squirmed.  "Shh," he murmured.  "The door is locked, it's just you and me."

 

Philip shook his head again. "How can I trust you after what you've told me about your family?"

 

Michael laughed. "I'm as moral as any merchant, my dear little earl.  Men of wealth don't get that way by being pure of sin.   You know that, you're smart enough to understand the way of the world, you just don't like to admit it."  Resting his hand on Philip's thigh, he leaned over and kissed him gently on the lips. "Plus I feel that's simply a distraction from the real issue at hand."

 

"Or at least your hand," Philip countered, trying to shift.  Glancing over, he smiled quickly before turning more serious.  "This is why I wanted to leave."

 

"Why?"

 

Philip sighed, feeling himself relax slightly as his thigh was gently stroked.  "Because of this, my resolve caves and all reason is replaced by pure emotion.  And my pure emotions scream and cry and rejoice at every touch."

 

"Then I shall simply have to keep my hands on you full time," Michael said, kissing him gently, tongue pushing its way inside the unresisting mouth briefly, teasing the lips.  "Come away with me, escape with me, and I'll do exactly that."

 

Philip sighed again and then suddenly pushed free with a shake of his head. "I don't know."  Standing up, he shook his head again, touching it briefly with his hand.  "I don't know, Michael."

 

Michael stood up. "All right then, I shall simply make you a proposition."

 

"What?"

 

Pulling Philip closer, Michael held him tight against his chest, hands resting on the wool covered butt.  "I will hurry things along on the country house.  It will be settled in two weeks time.  Two weeks from today, my carriage will call on you at  9 am.  If you decide I am what you want, what you need, come out and we'll have no more of these silly indecisions.  You will stay with me until I allow you to come back in May.  If you decide that you're satisfied with life as it was before we met, simply ignore the carriage.  It will wait for you for five minutes." 

 

"What do you mean, 'allow me back'?" Philip demanded.

 

Michael laughed, kissing him again. "I think no matter what you resolve if you come with me, there will be times when you'll want to revert back to the safety of what you know.  You'll regret it, of course, like you're doing now, swinging back and forth and feeling miserable.  I'll simply not allow you to leave until the fear passes and you're happy again."

 

"That seems very much like kidnapping."

 

Michael kissed him, ignoring his statement and gently patting his butt.  Picking up the conversation as if Philip had not said anything, he continued, "Until then, I will respect your privacy and not harass you.  You will not see me.  Go, enjoy your club, enjoy your evening activities and see how they taste to you."  Kissing Philip again, Michael asked, "Does that give you the space and incentive you need to know?'

 

Mutely, Philip nodded, still holding onto Michael.

 

Kissing him again for the last time, Michael stepped back and bowed. "If you will follow me then, I shall show you the proper way outside, my lord."

 

An hour later, Michael finished the notes to the agent and his brothers. He meant to begin taking possession of the estate this week.  It would be an easy matter, simply paperwork for the lawyers and officials to complete in a day or two.  Pulling out another note card from his writing desk, he began another note and another set of plans, well taught by his fathers to never leave only one way of escape.

 

 

 

Philip smiled as his carriage pulled up to the familiar brick townhouse.  Unlike the last time he had come, he felt a simple sense of contentment.  There was none of the frustrated urgency that had filled him after the long engagement period with Henrietta.    He was looking forward to the evening and an easy matching later in the evening, filled with just pleasure and none of the frustrations that came with his encounters with Michael.  The butler opened the door as he approached and bowed, allowing him into the rich foyer.

 

The club's owner, Louis was just coming down the steps and smiled, saying happily, "Philip!"

 

Carelessly removing his cloak and hat and passing it in the direction of an attendant, Philip smiled.  "How are you doing?  Well, I hope."

 

"Yes, yes," Louis said.  "Another visit from the pesky betrothed?  It's been several weeks." 

 

Philip smiled, walking with Louis toward the back rooms. "No, Lady Bloomington is still safely tucked away in the country with builders and designers.  Spending a fortune, I'm sure."

 

Louis laughed. "Trust me, my friend, whatever the cost, it's a small one to pay for freedom.  Once you're married, get her with child as soon as possible.  I've found that nothing will fill her time as completely and with the least damage to your wallet."  Gesturing toward three other men just settling at a table with cards, he said, "Care to join us?"

 

"Yes, exactly what I need tonight."

 

Another young man glanced up and smiled. "Greetings, Ashton, glad to see you around here again."

 

With a contented smile, Philip sat down. "Upton, I hope that you've asked your father for your allowance, I think you're going to need it tonight."

 

The easy banter continued for several hours, fueled by strong drinks and plates of food.  The rooms around were filled with other men also enjoying easy conversation and games, with small pockets of more intimate gatherings. 

 

Coming back from a trip to the privy, Philip glanced around and smile.  This was exactly right, exactly what he needed and where he belonged.  He knew at least half the men present, knew what to expect with them and how to act.  It might be slightly boring, he admitted to himself as he sat back down, but it was also very comfortable and secure.  Knowing one's place was the key to happiness and this club, with these men, was his place.

 

"Your deal," Upton said with a smile.  Under the table, his foot brushed Philip's leg, "Unless you're tired and feel like a bit of fresh air."

 

Philip eyed him.  Charles Upton was the third son, but thanks to his mother's fortune and his dark good looks, would have no problem finding a suitable wife once he decided to settle down and begin the search.  Every Season, mothers wondered if this would be the year and so far, they had been disappointed.  He smiled, brushing his own foot against Upton's. "Yes, I think a bit of air sounds like a wonderful idea.  Clear my head a bit and have a chance to win back some of my fortune."

 

Ten minutes later, pressing hard against the other man, lips and tongues and hands vying for position, Philip pulled back and grinned.  "Enough air for you?"

 

Upton smiled, glancing around the empty terrace. "More than enough."  Reaching out, he touched Philip's vest, fingering the buttons.  "Now I need something to warm me back up."

 

"I'm sure that we can figure out something appropriate," Philip said, kissing him again before heading toward the doors. 

 

Upton laughed, following him. "I put my faith in you, my lord."  Following Philip up the stairs, giving the briefest of nods to the attendant who pointed toward an empty room, he laughed as Philip struck the candle.  "I feel warmer already."

 

Philip smiled. "Your faith is justified."  Undoing his vest, he motioned toward Upton. "Now, let's see how quick you are at getting hot."

 

"Very quick, especially with a view such as that," Upton said, beginning to strip.

 

"Have you ever," Philip asked breathlessly ten minutes later, breaking apart from kissing the other man, their cocks rubbing against each other, "tasted another man?" 

 

Upton pulled back slightly, looking at him.  "No, of course not."  He smiled wickedly, "Several of the house lads though have very good mouths if you're interested.  One of our mutual friends, who shall remain nameless, and I shared this very nice boy a few months ago.  He was on his hands and knees, tasting me and..." 

 

"Never mind," Philip interrupted, regretting even asking the question. 

 

Upton studied him for a moment. "Are you curious, is that what it is?  Have you never been tasted by someone?"

 

"No, of course not," Philip said hurriedly.  "I mean, I have been before, multiple times.  I just …"

 

Rapidly losing interest in the conversation, Upton shrugged. "Well, I won't do it, if that's what you want tonight."  He reached out and took hold of Philip's cock.  "This will have to do."  Slowly stroking it, he moved back into position and began to rub himself against Philip's hand to urge him to continue.  "Shall we?"

 

"Of course," Philp said, settling into the task.

 

There was nothing bad about tonight's encounter, Philip thought to himself, as the carriage wound its way back to his home.  He had found release, Upton had too and had looked very well satisfied when they eventually made their way back downstairs.  But beyond the physical release, it had been rather forgettable.  In fact, thinking back to six months earlier, Philip knew he had been with many of the men there, but with the exception of a few, would be hard pressed to remember exactly who or when.  He was sure his memory wasn't unique and if he approached Upton in two months, Upton would probably only have the haziest memory of tonight's activities.  It was simply too meaningless.  Not that meaningless was bad, he told himself, stepping out of the carriage.

 

"Good evening, my lord," a footman said, bowing as he opened the door. 

 

Nodding in greeting, Philip made his way into his library, still mulling over the evening's activities.  Pouring himself a drink, he glanced at a silver tray left on his desk.  On it was another pale blue envelope and a cream and navy note card.  Brushing past the note from Henrietta, he reached for the cream card, not anxious to see what his mother had to say.  Skimming it quickly, he cursed and made a face even as he pulled the footman's bell.

 

"Yes, my lord," the same footman said, coming into the room.

 

"How long was my mother here this evening?" Philip demanded irritably.

 

"The Dowager Countess arrived a few minutes after eight, my Lord.  She waited in the parlor for approximately 30 minutes before departing.  I believe she left a message."

 

Holding up the cream card, Philip nodded.  "Yes, thank you."  Instantly forgetting about the footman, he glanced at his desk and the calendar laid out on the edge.  It had been three days since he last saw Michael, which meant another 11 until the carriage rolled to the front of his house and he was forced to make a decision.  Skimming the note again, he tossed it onto his desk and quickly made his way upstairs.

 

 

 

Three nights later, Philip lay once again in a bed at the club with an older gentleman, Lord John White, listening to him pant and gasp as he came.  They had started out kissing, but then when Philip reached for White's cock, his hand had been brushed away.

 

"I've got it," the older man said simply, studiously avoiding Philip's cock, half hard and pressing against his thigh.  "Why don't we just take care of ourselves?" White explained, “Kissing has been enough contact for me since I was a randy lad still dallying with the horse boys.  Much easier to explain and really, very much still in the gray areas of social acceptability."

 

Philip had to bite his tongue not to inquire exactly how did one explain being caught kissing another man with your pants around your ankles and cock out and hard and it not be considered a compromising position.  In reality, he didn't care.  The sounds of the older man finding release and the feel of his hands on his own chest did nothing for him and his cock stayed only half interested.

 

"That's OK," White said sympathetically, glancing down  at Philip's uninterested cock.  "Happens to the best of us from time to time.  Lay off the drink next time and I'm sure you'll be ready to go in no time."  Pushing himself off the bed, he reached down and picked up his pants.  "I did enjoy you though. I'll be back on Friday, when I typically play whist," he said, looking up with a smile.  Reaching out, he patted Philip's thigh. "Until then?"

 

Nodding silently, Philip stayed in the bed after the other man left.  Rolling onto his side, he tried not to think of Michael and the decision that was fast approaching.

 

 

 

Flipping through papers the next morning, Philip sighed, suddenly tired.  A message from one estate manager with an update, a request from his estate manager at the two properties in Jamaica and another note from Henrietta asking for his approval of paint samples cluttered the wooden tabletop and he found that he didn't care about any of it and he hated himself for not caring.  A knock on the door jerked him out of his contemplation.  "Yes," he barked sharply, sitting up.

 

A footman opened the door and said, bowing, "Excuse me, my lord, but the Dowager Countess is here.  She's waiting in the front parlor and is anxious to see you."

 

Cursing, Philip glared at the poor messenger.  "Did she announce she was coming?"

 

The footman shook his head, "I'm sorry, my lord, but I was not aware.  Shall I ask the others and see …"

 

"No, don't bother," Philip said shortly, holding up his hand.  He sighed again as he stood up.  "It's certainly not your fault or anyone else's that my mother seems to have problems remembering that this is not her house, to come and go as she pleases."  Walking past the footman, he said, "Please have Cook send tea and an assortment of refreshments to the parlor."

 

"Yes, my lord."

 

Filled with an irrational irritation at his mother, Philip took several deep breaths, trying to squash the feelings.   Her presence had become more and more oppressive in the last month, as if his impending marriage made her realize that her influence might be waning, to be replaced by Henrietta.  Soon his house would be their house and soon a new generation would fill it.  Even though she was technically the Dowager Countess, there would soon be a new Countess of Devonshire, replacing her and potentially reducing her sphere of influence. 

 

"There you are, Philip," the older woman said as he stepped into the parlor.  "I was beginning to think you were no longer in residence.  This is the third time …"

 

"Hello, Mother," Philip said, interrupting her.  "If you sent word you'd like to visit, I would have made sure I was home."  Walking over, he obediently leaned over to kiss her check.  "You look well."

 

Making a face, she stiffened.  "I wasn't aware that I now needed to make an appointment to see my own son.  I would have thought I would have been welcome here at any time."

 

"You are welcome," he said sinking down into a hard chair.  Squirming slightly, he tried to get comfortable before adding, "I was simply saying that I am not always home and if you expect to see me, you should let me know that you're coming.  I go to my club, lectures, have supper with friends; I don't typically sit at home by the fire in the evenings.  It would be helpful to you to send a boy the day before and tell me what time you're coming."  Silently, he added to himself, "or ask when's a good time."   Shifting again, he nodded as a serving girl paused in the doorway with a tray.  After drinks were served, he asked, "So what brings you here today?"

 

The older woman took a small sip of tea before leaning back against the sofa.  "Really Philip, I don't know why I bother.  You're clearly not interested in my problems, running off here and there with all sorts of exciting people.  Why don't you tell me all about the interesting lectures you're attending instead."

 

He looked at her for a long moment as she sat there primly sipping her tea, fighting the almost overwhelming urge to apologize and assure her that no, he did care, and convince her to tell him her problems.  The words were on the tip of his tongue, as they had been so many times before, but he couldn't say them.  Looking at her, he felt himself simply not caring.  Whatever the problem was, she would tell him eventually.  Instead he took a large bite of cheese tart and smiled. "It was about the theory of crop rotation.  I went with a friend from my club, he owns a large estate out in Wales and is looking for some help.  It was fascinating."  As he continued to explain in great detail the previous day's lecture, he watched her face darken as she grew more annoyed and struggled to hide the fact.  "Did you know that they are trying to introduce potatoes into the area, Mother?"

 

"No, I didn't," she said icily.  "But then again, my friends tend to talk mostly about grandchildren and not farming.   Speaking of grandchildren, Philip, I was thinking about …"

 

He glanced at the clock. "Oh, I'm sorry Mother, but I have an appointment in 30 minutes and must be going."  Standing up, he held out his hand to assist her up.  "I'm sorry we didn't get to chat longer."

 

"Oh," she said, surprised at the sudden dismissal.  Standing up, she said, "Who are you meeting with?"

 

Shrugging, Philip smiled. "A new designer.  I've never been fully satisfied with several of the rooms here and decided it was time to get them redone.  Something more fitting my taste."

 

"Are you sure that's a good idea, dear?  Won't Henrietta want some say in the style of her new home?  If I were you, I'd wait.  You can't possibly know what to pick out or what's stylish."

 

Taking a firm hold of her arm, he tucked his hand under her elbow and began to escort her back into the foyer.  "It's fine, Mother, but thank you.  I don't need to know what's stylish, I simply need to know what I want and what I like and have a designer to carry it through.  Other than that, I don't care what anyone else thinks about it."  Motioning to a footman, he said, "The Countess is leaving now; please assist her to the carriage."  He leaned over and kissed her again quickly. "Thank you so much for stopping by.  Next time, send word and we'll be able to visit longer."

 

"Philip…."  she started.

 

He laughed. "Oh that's fine, don't apologize, I didn't take offense.  I simply hate for you to waste your time coming to visit me when I don't have much time to spare."  Watching her drive away, he waved merrily, wondering what she was thinking.  As soon as she was gone, he felt his inner resolve begin to crumble.  He shouldn't have teased her.  He was a horrible son to have preyed on her fears.  Just as his mind turned down that path, he mentally shook himself.  He was an adult, with his own life, own home and own money.  The days of jumping when she glanced in his direction were gone.  A good son was not the same as a good servant and it was time she began to respect him.  The only way that was going to happen was if he began to make his own decisions. 

 

"My lord?" a voice asked, pulling him back to the present.

 

Philip blinked once and smiled at the butler. "Please have a boy ready, I have a quick message to send.  Thank you, Franklin."  Turning around, he returned to his study and pulled a clean sheet of paper from his writing desk.  With a sharpened quill, he jotted a note to Louis at the club.  If anyone could recommend a good, stylish designer, it was him.

 

Sometime during the night, tossing and turning in bed, Philip made his decision.  He was miserable and with no improvement in sight except for this brass ring being brought on a carriage in four days' time.  If he didn't grab it, it and everything it represented would be lost forever.  Until that morning though, there was much to be taken care of.  Fueled by a new sense of urgency and confidence in himself and his abilities, Philip began to put everything in order.  Taking a note card from his desk, he penned a simple message to Michael, asking for the address of the country home. 

 

Four hours later, a dark gray card arrived, simply stating the address: no salutation, no closing, just the address.

 

The next step was informing his mother.  Despite his request, she had dropped by unannounced twice since that day and Philip had been unavailable one day and only had a few spare minutes the next time.  As she left after each visit, he reiterated the need to send word, knowing it was falling on deaf ears.

 

As usual, they returned to his home after church on Sunday for supper and he felt that would be the perfect time to tell her he was going away.

 

Half way through the cold fish course, he said, "A good friend of mine, Captain Michael Preston …"

 

"Philip, dear," his mother said, interrupting, "have you had a moment to spare on behalf of your sister?  You promised to think about possible suitable matches for her.  With Easter fast approaching, I need to know which families to invite to your Easter brunch."

 

Ignoring the question, Philip turned to his sister.  "Julia, you seemed very friendly with Frederick Howard when we were skating with his family, correct?"

 

Julia smiled. "Yes.  I like him very much."  Glancing at their mother, she added, "At least from what I've seen."

 

Waving her hand, their mother said firmly, "I've already told you, dear, that your brother will find someone more suitable for you than that boy."

 

"I'm going to be visiting a friend at his new country estate for a few weeks," Philip said without preamble.  "He's just purchasing it and needs someone to help him evaluate the land, the set up, needs and overall property.  Since our home is similar, I told him I'd be happy to help."

 

"Oh, how nice," Julia said quietly.  "It would be so nice to be out of the city.  I get sick of the slush and dirty snow."

 

The Dowager Countess starred at him for a long moment before sighing and putting down her fork.  "Really, Phillip, I simply can't believe you and your selfishness.  What are you sister and I to do without you in town?  It's bad enough that we're forced to live in our own home, but now you won't even be in town. Why do you have to go gallivanting around like a boy in the country when you have responsibilities here?"  She dabbed at her eyes with a lace handkerchief for a long moment before continuing, "I guess we should also retire to the country.  It's improper for us to continue to live here alone.  What sort of friend could be more important than the responsibilities of your family?  I'm surprised that the sheer impropriety of what you're suggesting I do doesn't shock you, that you would allow your sister and me to sink to such levels of disgrace."

 

"It's not improper, Mother," Philip protested.  "You are the Dowager Countess of Devonshire living in the family home you shared with your husband, with my permission.  There's nothing improper about it at all.  The Dowager Duchess of Lancaster lives alone and so does …"

 

"That's their business," she shot back.  "Plus, Lancaster doesn't have a son who is supposed to be leading the family.  The title passed to her brother-in-law and one wouldn't expect the same sort of courtesy and care from him that would be expected if she had a son."  Turning to her daughter, she said, "I'm sorry, Julia, but I don't think we have a choice but to also leave the city.  Maybe Henrietta will allow us back once they're married, or at least you, so you can enjoy the fall season.  I can stay in the country out of everyone's way."

 

Julia shrugged, "That's fine.  I'm quite happy back in the country."

 

"Mother," Philip started and then stopped himself, knowing that nothing short of changing his mind would make her understand.  Picking up his fork again, he nodded. "I'll make arrangements then for your house to be closed next week and my carriage to take you to the country estate. Shall we say next Friday?"  Spearing a bite of salmon, he smiled. "This fish is excellent, don't you think?"

 

His mother stared at him for a long moment before beginning to eat.

 

Across the table from him, Julia smiled, taking a bite of her own fish.  "Yes, excellent."

 

After supper as he helped his sister into her cloak, their mother still maintaining her silence, he said quietly, "If you would like, I'll be happy to tell Howard your plans. If he's so inclined, he can pass them along to his son.  I can also start discussing a contract between the two of you.  Maybe a fall wedding next year?"

 

Julia smiled at him. "I'd like that very much, Philip."  Leaning up, she kissed him quickly on his cheek. "Thank you and don't let mother get to you.  You're the best brother."

 

Watching the carriage pull away, Philip felt himself suddenly shiver.  His mother was furious with him, there was no doubt.  Not only had he disappointed her, he had also betrayed what she saw as their unspoken agreement that she would continue to be the head of the family and control his life.  Her wishes would outweigh his and if there was a conflict, her way would win without doubt or discussion.  Suddenly, that was no longer the case and he had called her bluff.  She threatened to have to leave the city and instead of changing his plans as he would have a month ago, he had agreed with her – the last thing she wanted.

 

Back in his study, he penned a brief note to the major domo of his mother's home instructing the man to begin preparations to close the house the following week and for the Dowager House to be reopened for her arrival.  If the Dowager Countess had questions, which she shouldn't since it had already been discussed, she should see him.  He paused, quill hovering over the paper, before scratching out a postscript that a bonus should be paid to himself and all the servants if the work was completed in time.  Signing his full title and name in bold letters, Philip left no room for questioning who was now in charge.

 

The next few days were filled with last minute notes, instructions and correspondence to settle various matters.  A note to the Jamaica estates informed the managers he would be there in July to oversee and address the problems personally.  Even though Henrietta had hinted boldly that Italy was her hoped for post-wedding trip, she would have to be satisfied with the islands.  She would be their Countess by then and it was only proper she be familiar with the island properties as well.

 

It wasn't until the last night that fear and doubt once again crept into his mind.  Several trunks were packed, ready for the additional cart that Michael would send, and Hutchinson had been informed that he would not be traveling with his master.  A bonus had given him enough money to leave in a week to visit his own family for an extended vacation as well.  Hutchinson was surprised, but grateful for the unexpected break.

 

Now, as he lay awake, the tendrils of What Ifs began to slowly creep into Philip's mind.  What if Michael changed his mind?  What if he didn't send the carriage?  What if they were together for a week and the magic was lost?  What if he was doing a highly irresponsible thing and bankrupted his family, taking down all the families that depended on him?  What if June came and he found himself unable to bear the pain of losing what they shared?  The thoughts ran through his mind all night until dawn finally broke and he slipped out of bed as one of the footmen came in to stoke the fire.

 

"Traveling clothes, my lord?"  Hutchinson asked an hour later. "The weather is evil this morning."

 

"Yes," Philip said in a quiet voice, allowing the other man to dress him in plain dark tan slacks and a black woolen jacket.  A heavy cloak would be added to keep the bitter wind and snow away from him.  Coupled with carriage blankets and the heat boxes, it should be warm enough. 

 

"The Dowager Countess has sent another note," Hutchinson said.  "The messenger is waiting for a reply in the kitchen."

 

"Put the note with the other two," Philip said coolly, "and send him away with our thanks."

 

"No reply, my lord?"

 

"That is my reply," Philip said.

 

At 8:58, Philip heard a carriage clatter to the curb, the horses' hooves clicking on the cobblestones, and a small tendril of fear dissolved.  Pushing aside his chair too quickly, he stood up, suddenly afraid of waiting too long and the carriage leaving without him.  Giving a nod to the footman opening the door for him, he smiled as he saw the carriage curtain twitch slightly. 

 

One of the carriage attendants stepped down and opened the door, bowing low. "My lord."

 

Giving the man a nod, Philip stepped up and, taking a deep breath, ducked inside.

 

Across the small aisle, Michael smiled at him, but said nothing as the door was shut and the carriage pulled away.  As they turned off the side street, he held out his hand. "I believe you belong over here, Philip."  The words were simple, straightforward and firm, allowing no room for argument.

 

Philip smiled, standing up in a crouch and stepping forward. 

 

As soon as Philip had taken the first step, Michael reached out and pulled him down onto his lap, settling them both into the corner of the bench.  Leaning over, Michael kissed him deeply, tongue plunging in as his hands began to roam down Philip's back, moaning softly as Philip's hands came up and began to unbutton his vest.  "Philip," he breathed between kisses.  "Oh god …"

 

"Shh," Philip ordered softly.  "Don't talk, just …."  The rest of his words were cut off as Michael kissed him again.  Squirming, unwilling to break their connection for the slightest moment, Philip jerked at Michael's vest and at his shirt, bringing it free from his trousers.

 

Michael laughed, capturing the exploring hands running across his waist and tickling him.  "Wait, wait, we have all the time we need.  Let's see if we can possibly do this without ripping clothes." Giving Philip another quick kiss, he patted his leg, urging him to stand up.  "Take these off," he said with a smile, patting his butt.  He smiled again as he shucked off the already half-off vest. 

 

"What sort of man do you think I am," Philip asked in mock horror,  "to be stripping in a carriage in the middle of London?"

 

"Do it or I'll cut them off," Michael said with a grin, toeing off his own shoes.

 

Philip smiled. "Cut them off with what, Captain Preston?  Are you telling me that you came to this happy reunion armed?"

 

"Oh, my dear little earl, I have no problem using my teeth if I have to." 

 

Philip laughed, shrugging his shoulders in defeat.  "I guess I'm that sort of man after all."  Sitting back down on the opposite bench, he quickly began to strip. 

 

"Much better," Michael said, eying Philip's now bare legs.  

 

Philip smiled at him, nodding even as he kicked his hose and trousers into the corner.  "What about you?  Am I to be at a disadvantage here?"  He eyed Michael for a moment before dropping to his knees in the cramped space. "Or maybe you'd like some help?"  Their eyes meet for a brief moment before Philip blushed deeply, dropping his gaze to Michael's crotch.  Taking a deep breath, he slowly began to unbutton the side flap.

 

"Philip…" Michael began, "you don't …."

 

"I want to," Philip said in a quiet voice as he brushed aside the material.  "When you pleasured me this way, it was the most amazing gift and experience.  Never … No one …"  His voice faltered as the swollen cock came fully into view. 

 

Reaching down, Michael stroked his hair. "Whatever you do, Philip, will be an amazing gift to me.  Receiving your note earlier made me too afraid to hope and then seeing you come out the door is enough for today."

 

"No, I want to do this," Philip said, taking another deep breath and bending his head, gently nudging at the cock with his lips. 

 

Keeping his hand resting gently on the other man's head, Michael stroked his hair, urging Philip on while making sure he didn't accidently pull his sleek hair.  "God," Michael breathed, as half his cock disappeared under a broad sweep of Philip's tongue.  "Yes, please, like that."

 

Philip braced himself against Michael's knees, the bumping of the carriage keeping him slightly off balance as he tried to concentrate.  Pulling back, he glanced up at Michael and smiled.  Michael's eyes were closed and there was a thin sheen of sweat across his upper lip.  "Do you like this?" Philip asked softly.

 

"Oh yes," Michael said, "very much so."

 

Philip smiled.  "Good, I wasn't sure if I was doing it right."

 

"You're doing it exactly right."

 

Taking a deep breath, Philip opened his mouth, bending low before taking Michael's cock half into his mouth, sucking hard.  The carriage bounced, causing him to slip into Michael. Michael's entire cock pushed into Philip's mouth.  Jerking back, Philip coughed, choking slightly as his gag reflex kicked in.

Michael sat up, holding him firmly. "It's OK.  You're fine."  Holding his arms firmly, he tugged Philip up and resettled him onto the bench, stroking his hair.  "Take a deep breath,"  he ordered gently. 

 

"Oh my god, Michael, I'm so sorry," Philip said, still coughing slightly as his eyes watered.  His face flushed bright red as he tried to squirm away.

 

Michael laughed, shaking his head. "It's fine.  We have all the time in the world."

 

Feeling his face still flushing red, Philip shook his head.  "I'm sorry."

 

"I'm not," Michael said, reaching over and pulling him close. "It's hard."

 

Despite himself, at Michael's words, Philip laughed, glancing down at the still exposed cock. "Yeah, you're right."

 

Michael laughed out loud. "Yes, it is."

 

Philip took a deep breath.  "Shall I try again?  I want to if you're patient enough for me."

 

Leaning over, Michael kissed him quickly but deeply.  "I'd love for you to try again, my dear little earl."

 

Philip nodded, slipping back onto the cramped floor.  His self-consciousness had been replaced with a feeling of happiness, the tension gone from the situation as Michael still chuckled on the seat above him.  Glancing up, Philip shot him a stern look. "Hush, I have to concentrate.  I don't want to bite something I shouldn't."

 

"No, we don't want that," Michael laughed, closing his legs.

 

With an evil grin, Philip confidently pushed them apart again and settled between them.  "Then you should hold still and let me concentrate on my work."  His words and actions were more confident than he actually felt, but the ease with which Michael had handled his other mistake reassured him that nothing bad would happen.

 

Allowing his legs to be pushed apart, Michael leaned back, one hand once again stroking Philip's hair, the other used to brace himself on the seat as his cock stirred to life again.

 

"We're here," Michael said two hours later, kissing a dozing Philip curled up next to him. 

 

Sitting fully up, Philip yawned, shivering slightly.  The warming boxes had cooled and the inside of the carriage was now chilly to his bare legs.  "I guess I should get dressed."  Glancing down at Michael, he added, "You, too."

 

Michael reached out and stroked his bare thigh, the remains of his own semen dry on the skin, "Or I could get dressed and carry you bare assed over my shoulder as I storm into the house like an old Viking with his treasure.  Toss you onto the hearth rug and plow you multiple times, making you call me master."

 

With a shake of his head, Philip moved over to the other bench and reached for his clothes.  "You've given this too much thought, Michael."  Slipping on his hose, he continued, "I think this little trip will be scandalous enough without any bare asses, Vikings or rug plowing."

 

Michael laughed. "Well, I intend for there to be many, many bare asses."

 

"Or at least two," Philip countered with a smile.

 

Laughing, Michael pulled back the carriage curtains to glance outside again, just in time to see the house come into view.  He turned back to Philip, who was just doing up his pants buttons, and reached out his hand.  "Philip," he said softly, seriously.

 

Philip looked up and saw the seriousness in Michael's eyes and smiled, taking hold of his outstretched hand.  "Yes?"

 

"Thank you for coming out this morning," Michael said.  "I don't say this easily, I'm not a great poet and will never be able to write you a sonnet, but I wanted to let you know how much it meant to me, how much fun I have with you …"  His voice faltered for a moment as he swallowed. "I think we complement each other and I can't imagine how I was lucky enough to have found such a perfect match."

 

Philip smiled and squeezed his hand, suddenly embarrassed.  "Michael .." he started.

 

"No, no," Michael said, waving his hand.  "Let's not.  I just wanted you to know."  Turning back to the window he said suddenly, "Oh good, they've already re-rocked the drive."

 

Throwing on his cloak and pulling it tight against the winter's chill, Philip moved closer so he could also look out the same window.  "It's such a beautiful house," he said as the large stone building came into clear view at the end of the drive.  Without looking at Michael, he reached out his hand and captured Michael's, bringing it to his lips and kissing it gently before squeezing it again.  As he watched the house come closer, he held the hand tightly, resting it between them.

 

A small group of servants, fifteen at the most, were lined up along the drive by the steps leading to the house by the time the carriage stopped in front, all watching curiously as their new master stepped down.  Mr. Richardson, the major domo they had meet several weeks ago, stepped forward and bowed.  His black suit was crisp and new, clearly his best, with a dark gray and green vest. "Welcome home, Captain Preston," he said with a bow.  "Holly Green is proud to once again be occupied by such a distinguished family."

 

Michael gave a very short bow back toward the other man. "Thank you, Richardson."  Motioning to Philip, who had just stepped onto the driveway, he continued, "I trust you remember my friend and consultant, Philip Ashton, Earl of Devonshire.  He'll be staying here with me to help settle the house." 

 

The older servant bowed lower, "Lord Devonshire, it's our pleasure."

 

"Richardson," Philip said with a short bow of his head.

 

"Please make your introductions," Michael said, starting his walk past the servants, who all bowed or curtsied as their positions were announced by the major domo.

 

Following at a discreet distance behind the other two men, Philip gave the occasional detached nod if a servant glanced in his direction.  He eyed them, noting that all were wearing dark gray and white with touches of green instead of the traditional black.  "Is the staff new?" he asked out loud as they came to the end of the review, before catching himself.  It really wasn't his business, he decided silently a moment later, but he felt pleased when Michael smiled at him.

 

Richardson bowed, saying, "Yes, sir.  Of the fifteen that are present, nine are new to the household.  There are still six positions to fill in the house."  Turning slightly so he included both men in the discussion, he continued, "The use you intend for the property, the staff you'll bring with you, Captain Preston, and of course your own staffing wishes, will determine how many of those positions need to be filled."

 

Michael nodded. "Yes, and staffing needs are something that Lord Devonshire and myself will be evaluating over the next month.  This looks like an excellent start, thank you."  Turning and stepping back so he could see everyone, he studied the staff, looking at each of them for a moment before saying in a loud clear voice, "Thank you for your warm welcome and for the display of family colors – the dark gray for the deep waters we sail and the green for the tropics where we're from.  My family and I are all English men and women by birth, but have not lived in your fair country for a long time and thus you may find some of our requirements unusual and our way of running a household different from the previous homes you served.  You may address me as Captain Preston.  Mr. Richardson is in charge of the house and all questions and issues should be brought to his attention.  If warranted, he will bring them to my attention.  It should go without saying that my business and my family's business that is conducted in the house should stay in the house.  Discretion is paramount and idle gossip will find you turned out without references."  He smiled. "But based on Mr. Richardson's reports over the last two weeks, I do not anticipate any problems.  New house rules will be posted within the week for your review.  You will find that I am a firm master, but a very fair one, and I look forward to your service for many years to come."

 

Richardson bowed. "Thank you, Captain Preston, we look forward to serving you and your family."  Giving a nod to the servants to dismiss them, he gestured with his hand toward the steps. "May I have the honor of escorting you through the house?"

 

Two hours later, Philip leaned back in one of the soft high backed chairs flanking the study’s fireplace and sipped at his warmed cider.  "It's a beautiful house," he said after several minutes.  "You've made an excellent decision."

 

Looking up from the inventory list he was examining, Michael smiled.  "It is, isn't it?  There are some things that need updating, some repairs of course, but the bones are certainly sound."  He glanced around the parlor. "Like a good ship, the bones are the important things.  Outdated furniture and a few loose timbers can be repaired."

 

"Richardson is a godsend.  A house without a good major domo is chaos, no matter how good the owner is.  The staff simply need one of their own to serve as go-between and to keep them in shape in day to day matters."

 

"Yes, he is," Michael agreed, turning back to the papers.  "I came down two weeks ago, bluntly explained the situation to him and discussed staffing needs."

 

Philip sipped at his drink again, stretching his feet out toward the fire.  "What situation?" he asked casually.

 

"Oh, about you and I," Michael said in a casual voice.  Looking up as Philip began to cough, he reached over and slapped his back gently several times.  "Don't choke on me now."

 

"What exactly do you mean when you say 'you and I'?" Philip's voice was still rough from coughing and he glared at him.  "Damnation, Michael.  What does he, and now the entire staff and probably half the county, now know?"

 

Michael laughed. "Philip, calm yourself.  I wasn't going to spend the next few months with you here creeping around like thieves.  We'll be discreet, of course, keep separate bedrooms, but you know as well as I do that there's no way to hide this situation.  I felt it was better to be honest with the man and find out now if he was going to have an issue so he could be sacked.  Servants talk when there's a mystery, if things are out in the open at least to some degree, it takes the gossip away."  Putting down the papers, he sat forward in his chair, leaning close to Philip.  "In addition, I was able to stress the need for discreet staff, those from outside the county, those who had worked in houses where discretion was valued."

 

"All servants gossip," Philip countered, remembering how many times his mother knew what was going on in his house as well as he did.

 

Michael shrugged. "No, not all.  Those that began service in Catholic or Jewish households, for example, have learned the value of discretion.  They are being offered excellent wages and will find that I run a very fair household.  They will value that much more than passing time with the local butcher gossiping about the family."

 

Philip was silent, reluctant to admit that he had a point.  "I don't like you telling anyone about us," he said quietly.  "That's private."

 

Holding out his hand, Michael said in an equally quiet voice, "Come here, my dear little earl. Come sit with me and let's discuss it."  Sitting back into his chair, he motioned with his hand again. "Come on, Philip.  The door is shut and we won't be disturbed."

 

Reluctantly standing up, Philip held out his hand and allowed himself to be pulled onto Michael's lap.  Squirming slightly, he settled himself against his chest and sighed as hands came up around his waist and held him close.  "Are you sure the door is closed?"

 

"I shut it myself," Michael said quietly.  "As I told Richardson, one of the household rules to be passed along immediately is that a closed door means that we are not to be disturbed under penalty of immediate sacking."  Squeezing gently, he said, "No one will see anything, Philip."

 

Philip was silent for a long time, simply content to sit there in the warm and safe embrace, feeling Michael's breath on his neck.  "This feels good," he said, "but I still don't like you telling anyone about us."

 

Kissing his neck, Michael said, "I won't apologize for doing what I feel was right, Philip.  One thing you will need to learn about me is that I make decisions and do what I feel is in the best interest of everyone involved.  I don't make decisions based on committee vote." 

 

"I expect to be told though," Philip countered firmly, "when it involves me.  If it involves me, it's my business as well."

 

"But I had agreed to no contact during these last two weeks," Michael said.  "How would you have reacted if I had contacted you and asked permission?"

 

"I would have said no!"

 

Michael laughed. "I know you would have, but now that it's done and you're here, you see that we're both welcome here – no pitchforks and torches to greet us.  As the weeks go by, I bet you'll admit that I was right."

 

Philip stayed stubbornly quiet, refusing to admit that Michael had a point.  He would have immediately refused the idea, refused to even discuss such an idea, but now that the information was out and there was nothing for him to do about it, it was no longer an issue.  It was done and nothing to worry about.  "I want to be told when you do things that involve me, Michael," he repeated after a long moment.  "I'm not your wife; I'm not your property."  His voice was serious as he shifted, moving so he could look at Michael.  "You might be right, I'm probably glad you told them, but I have a right to know."

 

"You know now," Michael countered.

 

Philip held his gaze. "Michael."  His voice was soft, but firm. "I respect your right to make decisions and this isn't about that.  This is about you being forthcoming with me.  I don't like finding things out like this.  It makes me worried about what else I'm going to find out about randomly when you decide to tell me."

 

Michael had the good manners to drop his gaze for a moment before looking back up. "You'll see I'm right, though."

 

"I'm sure I will, but that doesn't change things."

 

"I have to be able to react though, Philip.  I can't – won't – go running off to you to ask permission every time I make a decision.  If we're going to be together, there will be times when I make decisions without consulting you that will affect both of us."  Michael's voice was firm as he held his ground.  "If we're going to be together, you will have to accept that I'm the head of this household, the captain of this ship.  My word is law as much to you as it would be if you were my wife or servant.  A house can only have one master."

 

Jerking away, Philip stood up.  "I am not your wife.  I'm not some simpering woman ready to roll over and let you do whatever you want in exchange for being given an allowance and a home."

 

"No," Michael said, reaching out to pull Philip back even as he danced away, "I didn't mean it like that."

 

"Oh really? Then exactly how did you mean it?"

 

Michael shrugged slightly. "I don't know, but not like that.  I was just thinking that …"  His voice trailed off as he struggled for the right words.  "I just meant that since I …"

 

Philip glared at him for a long moment before shaking his head. "Since you pictured me rolling over, spread out under you with you fucking away, that I would be the woman in this relationship?  You've all but said so, Michael.  Even though I told you I wasn't interested, you've ignored me because you've seen it as your right.  That's exactly how you see me."  His voice rose in anger as he balled his fists, arms and back tensed for a fight. 

 

Standing up, Michael glared at him. "That's not true at all.  Stop putting words in my mouth and stop acting like an injured, put upon virgin.  No one has threatened your well defended inner sanctum and who's to say I'm even interested?"  Even as the words were out of his mouth, he could see the look of disbelief on Philip's face.  "All right," he said, correcting himself.  "I do want to lay with you and take you, but not as a woman.  I don't see you like that at all."

 

"Then don't treat me like that," Philip countered.  "I'm not your property, I'm not some delicate flower to be protected from harsh news or from making a judgment or being told the truth.  I'm a very capable man who deserves to be treated with the same respect you demand for yourself."  Standing there, he waited for a moment for a response, but Michael remained silent.  "Damnation," Philip muttered, turning and walking out of the room.  Walking quickly up the main stairwell, he found his bedroom, which they had toured earlier.  It was one of the two master bedrooms, each a mirror image of the other.  They were connected via a common sitting room that was only accessible via the bedrooms and of course via the servants' passage that ran along some of the outside walls.

 

His trunks had been opened, but were still waiting to be completely unpacked.  They had arrived on a separate wagon and the servants were still busy unpacking everything.  Someone though had thoughtfully started fires in both his bedroom and sitting room's fireplaces and both rooms were comfortable warm.  Standing in the middle of the room, Philip stared unseeing into the distance, replaying the fight with Michael and planning his next move.  He had no desire to go back to his townhouse, having to explain why he had returned after ordering the house closed for a month.  Worse, he had no desire to face his mother's wrath.  She would be still be furious over his decision to send her back to the country.  Sinking onto the lid of one of his still closed trunks, he stared into the fire.  A knock on the servants' door jerked him from his thoughts and he glanced at the door, waiting for it to open.  When it didn't, he remembered Michael's orders.  "Come," he called out.

 

The door opened, admitting a young maid, who curtsied immediately.  "Excuse me, my lord, the fire," she said quietly, nodding in its direction.

 

Gracing her with a brief smile, Philip said, "It's fine.  Thank you."

 

"Yes my lord," she said, curtsying again and backing out of the room.

 

As she closed the door, he turned back toward the fire.  Several minutes later, a knock came from the bedroom's door.  Ignoring it, Philip continued to study the fire.  The knocking resumed a moment later, setting his teeth on edge.  Walking to the door, he jerked it open, expecting to see a footman or another maid with crossed signals checking the fire.  "Oh," he said, as he saw Michael standing there.  Making a face, he asked, "Why didn't you just come in?  It's your home and you certainly don't have to ask my permission."  Turning, he walked back into the room, resuming his earlier seat on the trunk.

 

"I'm sorry," Michael said from the doorway.  "I'm sorry I didn't tell you immediately about my decision to let Richardson know that you were …"  His voice faltered as he tried to find the word.  "That our relationship was that of a couple.  It was wrong and I'm sorry."  When Philip didn't say anything, he continued, still standing in the doorway.  "I'm used to simply doing, to making decisions, that's what I've done with others for the past several years.  Edward was my only lover to insist that …"  His voice faltered again, causing Philip to look at him.  "Even though Edward accepted my authority over him, we were both equals.  He wouldn't have it any other way.  I forgot that part of being in a relationship after so many years of not being in one."

 

"That's a rather important part to forget," Philip countered, twisting on his seat to face the other man fully. 

 

"I know and I'm sorry."

 

Philip looked at him for a long moment. "Why are you still standing in the doorway?"

 

Michael smiled. "Because you haven't invited me in.  You're not my property and I can't simply demand things of you."  Pausing for a minute, he added, "It won't happen again."

 

"It better not."   Glancing back into the fire, Philip sat for a long minute, replaying Michael's words before slowly turning back to the doorway.  Smiling a bit, he held out his hand.  "Come."

 

Moving slowly, Michael came into the room, settling onto the trunk lid next to Philip.  He picked up one of Philip's hands and kissed it.  "Thank you."

 

Philip smiled.  "Don't repeat past errors.  I'm not so forgiving the second time."  Giving a small laugh as his hand was kissed again, he tried to jerk it away.  "That tickles."

 

"I'd like to do more than tickle you," Michael said softly, glancing behind them at one of the sofas in the room.  "Did you notice what I had put in my bedroom?"

 

Thinking for a moment, Philip shook his head.  "No, what?"

 

Michael leaned closer, whispering, "The blue silk chaise longue I saw when we were here last time together. I told you I couldn't wait to see you laid out on it.  It's been the main feature in my dreams these last two weeks."

 

Holding perfectly still, Philip smiled. "I wouldn't have thought you lacked for imagination, sir.  The same dream for two weeks …"

 

"It's a very, very good dream."

 

Philip swallowed, breaking the mood first and pulling back with a cough.  He glanced out the windows on either side of the fireplace and suddenly stood up.  "It's too beautiful a day to waste inside.  Our tour of the gardens was cut short during our last visit.  Let's finish it now."

 

Michael laughed, standing up. "All right my dear little earl.  Let's go for a walk while the sun is out."  Reaching out, he pulled Philip close, kissing him hard as his tongue briefly swept inside, claiming the other's mouth as his own.  "Once the sun is gone, you're mine."  He laughed as Philip shivered in his arms, dropping a hand and caressing his wool covered butt.  "All mine."

 

"But the sun is still out, Captain Preston," Philip said softly, as he reluctantly pulled free.   Walking over to the fireplace, he pulled a silken cord.

 

A moment later a knock sounded at the servants' entrance.

 

"Come," Philip said, sparing Michael a quick smile.  "Captain Preston and I are going out into the gardens.  Would you please have our cloaks fetched and warmed for us."

 

The young maid dropped a small curtsy, murmuring, "Yes, my lord."

 

"What shall we do in the meantime?" Michael asked, moving closer slowly as a smile spread across his lips.  "There's much to be said for stolen moments."

 

Philip smiled, moving closer. "Yes, there is."  He leaned in and kissed Michael quickly before jerking away with a laugh, dancing back so that he was out of reach.  "There's also much to be said for patience and denial."  Opening the door to his own bedroom, he asked, "Did you have anything special put in my bedroom or are all the best pieces for yours?" 

 

Navigating the two clothes trunks opened in the bedroom, Michael followed Philip inside the spacious room.  It was done in cream and dark navy, a large, dark wood bed dominating the far wall.  "This was cream and yellow," he said.  "I had it redone for you.  I didn't think you'd like large cabbage roses."

 

"It's very nice," Philip said with a smile.  "I like ivy much better than flowers."

 

"So does that mean I can tear down the hothouse?"

 

Philip laughed.  "No, you'll need that for dinner parties and the kitchen.  Without a place for flowers and to help with growing plants, you'll end up spending a fortune on the simplest things."  Walking over to the bed, he pressed on the soft mattress before glancing back at Michael, his lips twitching.  "Very nice."

 

"Only the best," Michael said with a smile, before adding, "even if you don't get a chance to use it much."

 

"I don't see a chaise longue," Philip said, looking around.  The room also had a small, hard day bed pushed under a window, a tall commode, dressing table and writing desk.  Multiple candelabras decorated the flat surfaces, with candle wall scones spaced evenly on the walls, their mirrors shining brightly.  

 

Moving over, Michael sat on the day bed, patting the surface next to him.  "It's not my fantasy, but if you're interested, we could certainly try it …"  He reached out for Philip. "It's been several weeks since I've gotten to enjoy all of you."

 

Philip laughed, moving closer. "You don't think you saw enough of me this morning?"

 

Michael laughed, reaching out and snagging Philip, pulling him down onto the bed with him.  "Never enough, Philip.  Not even …"

 

A knock on the sitting room's door cut him off, causing Philip to jump off with a laugh.  "Saved again from your dastardly plans, pirate."

 

Michael stood up, calling for the servant to come in.  "Opportunist," he corrected with a smile.  "And trust me, I intend to take every opportunity to enjoy you this evening."

 

The snow crunched under their boots as they walked along the marked paths of the formal garden, the red brick boundaries just visible as a small line of mounds running in straight lines.  As soon as they were out of direct sight of the house, Michael reached down and captured Philip's gloved hand in his, holding it tight.  They were silent for a long time, simply enjoying the fresh air and the sensation of going deeper and deeper into woods, now blocked from view by large evergreen cypresses.  "I miss snow," Michael said, breaking the silence.  "I don't miss the cold, but I miss the snow.  I miss the sound of it falling and the pure whiteness now that we're out of the city."

 

"It's very pretty," Philip agreed, looking around.  It had snowed the night before and large clumps still clung to tree branches and lay mostly undisturbed still on the ground.  Occasionally, small animal tracks could be seen, but most animals were tucked snugly into burrows, waiting for warmer weather.   

"I feel that I need to clarify an issue with you, Philip," Michael said seriously.  "I've brought it up with you, but before it becomes an issue, I feel it best to confirm that you understand fully."

 

Philip glanced at him. "All right.  What's the issue?"

 

"I want it to be perfectly clear that I am the head of this private household, Philip.  I consider you my full equal, but a house can only have one master.  A relationship may only have one head."

 

Philip narrowed his eyes as he glanced at Michael.  "What exactly does that mean?  I've already told you that I will not be your wife."

 

Michael laughed and then stopped, seeing on Philip's face that it was not appreciated.  "I apologize, I'm not laughing at you.  I'm laughing at myself, making this sound more formal and more serious than it really should be."  Squeezing the hand he still held, he said, "Do you agree that a house needs a head?  Needs a master?"

 

"Yes."

 

"All right and then do you agree that a relationship must have a leader?  Must have one person who makes the ultimate decisions about the relationship?"

 

Philip paused, his mouth open slightly as he started to speak and then stopped himself.  A moment later he said carefully, "I agree that after both people discuss all matters, having one person make the ultimate decision, if the two people can't agree, makes sense.  Otherwise, things might never happen.  Someone has to make a decision sometimes."

 

Michael nodded.  "Exactly.  Someone has to have the ultimate responsibility and that person is me, in this relationship."

 

Shrugging, Philip nodded.  "All right.  I don't mind."

 

Michael paused, pulling Philip close, sliding his hands around him so that their cloaks overlapped, wrapping them both in warmth.  Resting his hands on Philip's butt, he patted one check gently.  "Like I told the servants earlier, Philip, I run a strict but fair house.  No more stomping off in a sulk: if you have a problem, we sit down and discuss it.  I won't have you storming out every time you don't like something, that's just running away.  We'll also be respectful of each other, mindful of each other's feelings, being hurtful just leads to bad feelings that eat away at a relationship."  He patted Philip's butt again. "And of course, you know how I feel about those silly little lies of yours."

 

"What exactly are you saying, Michael?"

 

"Like I told you the night we first meet, like I showed you the night in your bedroom, I will have no reservations about exposing this adorable butt of yours and tanning it, if I feel that it's called for.  Silly little lies, acting childishly, acting rudely or showing an attitude, or acting in a way I think is harmful to our relationship, will find you over my knee facing the carpet while I thoroughly warm your butt."  The words came out bluntly, firmly and without reservation, as Michael stared at Philip. 

 

Phillip stared back at him, his face flushed with cold and embarrassment.  "And if I don't agree?"

 

Michael shrugged.  "We can discuss it if you wish, but considering this is a common arrangement, I doubt you can make much of a case against it."  Leaning down slightly, he kissed Philip gently. "But I think you are fine with this arrangement, aren't you?"

 

Philip shook his head slowly.  "Why would I be OK with this?  I refuse to be treated like a school boy."

 

"Then don't do anything to warrant being punished for," Michael said with a smile.  "And trust me, Philip.  If I'm forced to punish you, it will be nothing like your tutor's punishments."  He kissed Philip again, "You are my equal, my dear little earl, but that doesn't mean you don't also belong to me."  When Philip opened his mouth to protest, Michael kissed him again. "Not as a wife belongs to her husband, by the force of God and law, but by the force of our relationship.  You're not required to, but you want to belong to me."

 

"I don't know that," Philip said slowly.

 

Michael kissed him again, "I do, but I respect your uncertainty.  Things will change in June and this can change too at that time. We can discuss it again then.  Will that settle your fears?"

 

Looking out across the snowy grounds for a long moment, Philip slowly relaxed into Michael's embrace, nodding.  "I'm not your wife," he repeated. 

 

"You're not my wife," Michael affirmed.  "You're much better."  Kissing him again, he held him tight for a long moment.  "Shall we walk again?"

 

Philip nodded, still silently mulling over the conversation.  Still holding hands, they continued through the paths, going deeper into the property and down a small hill where an ice covered lake glistened in the distance.  "Tell me about growing up as a pirate," Philip said, then smiled.  "Excuse me, I mean as an opportunist."

 

Michael laughed, squeezing his hand, "It was very interesting.  My fathers were extremely involved in all of our education – both on the water, sailing, managing men – and then on shore with books and your traditional education.  Both were educated men, one – Captain Montgomery – actually was a Jesuit, teaching at their school.  He handled much of our traditional education, while Captain Wheeler, who served in the Royal Navy for a time, handled most of the ship training."

 

"So how did a Jesuit priest and a Navy sailor end up as opportunists in the Caribbean, serving as foster fathers for four boys?"

 

"There were actually six of us at one time."  Michael smiled, his thoughts going back in time, "Marcus, unfortunately and despite our family doctor's best efforts, died of infection several years after I joined the family and Edward, of course, died four years ago from tuberculosis."

 

Philip caressed the hand still gripping his, running a thumb across the back as he squeezed gently.  "But what about the two captains?" he asked, turning the conversation to happier topics.

 

"Oh, that's a whole other, long story," Michael said.  "But when I think back to how I grew up and think of how my life might have turned out, I'm grateful.  I couldn't have asked for a better childhood."  He laughed. "What can be more fun for a boy than having the ocean as your back yard, warm breezes and a supply of brothers who were always willing to have fun."

 

"What did you all do for fun?"

 

Michael smiled, lost in thought again. "Everything and anything really.  We had rules, of course, and I would swear our fathers wore out a leather strap a year keeping us all in line and out of trouble.  With that many boys, things just happen.  Someone gets an excellent idea and it builds and takes on a life of its own effortlessly, common sense quickly flying out the window."    Stopping at the edge of the lake, he brushed off a fallen log and sat down, pulling Philip down onto his lap. 

 

"You love that, I think," Philip said, settling onto his perch. 

 

"What?"

 

Philip smiled. "Me sitting on your lap, you holding me like this."

 

Michael laughed, jostling him slightly.  "I do, I like to keep my hands on you, I think sometimes you're a bit like a new colt.  You shy quickly, you're skittish if you're not kept in hand and on a tight rein, two things I intend to do with you."  Leaning over, he kissed Philip. "Plus, right now, you're nice and warm, which is an added benefit."

 

Philip laughed, kissing him back. "I knew there was an ulterior motive."

 

"So tell me, my dear little earl, what was your childhood like?  Growing up in a grand home with a title, it must have been very different than mine."

 

Philip shrugged, pulling his cloak tighter around himself. "It was very normal and traditional, at least among my friends.  My father was absent often, he kept a series of young mistresses in the city that my mother, safely ensconced at the estate with three children, pretended to know nothing about.  Edward, my Edward, was four years older than I was.  My sister Julia is four years younger than I am, there was another baby between us, and two after that, who didn't survive.  Nice little stair steps, complete with an heir and a spare.  Mother did her duty to her husband and he did his by providing well for her."  He shrugged again. "Very traditional."

 

"Was it difficult going from the spare to the heir?"

 

"I don't know," Philip said, thinking.  "It was an adjustment.  I remember my father sitting me down in his study, my mother beside him, two days after the funeral.  They both impressed upon me my new duties, responsibilities and title.  When Father was home, he did take more interest in my education and I sat with him while he oversaw local disputes and met with his workers.  I was as prepared as any 17 year old can be, I believe, when he died."  He gave a joyless laugh. "Of course, my mother pointed out that if I had been Edward, I would have been 21 and much better prepared to deal with everything and make the right decisions."

 

Michael squeezed his waist. "Was he her favorite?"

 

Philip was silent for a moment before he shook his head.  "No, I don't believe so.  I don't think Mother had a favorite.  She tolerates me now – or at least did until this little break for freedom – because she has to.  She has little property of her own, of course, and even that is controlled by me.  The allowance my father set up for her care is under my control.  She could petition the King if she felt her allowance was being mishandled but that's not the case, obviously.  She tolerates Julia as her last bargaining chip she can play in Society.  Who my sister marries is a game my Mother hopes to play for another year or two."  He laughed again.  "I'm sure if Edward had been alive, I would have been tolerated for something as well.  We all have at least some value to her, in our own special way."

 

"Well, that's something at least," Michael said.

 

"Oh yes," Philip agreed, turning so he was looking him.  "I don't mean to suggest that she's evil or unloving."  He shrugged, "She's playing the hand she was dealt, a young widow, she's barely 40 now, who isn't ready to retire to the country yet.  I made introductions to several widowers who already have heirs and are simply looking for companionship and a hostess, but she's not interested."  He shivered.  "Let's go back, my bones are starting to ice over and it's growing dark."  Standing up, he reached out a hand to help Michael up.  "Let's have a hut built here, Michael.   It's so pretty. We can have a fire and tea and skating.   You should ask Richardson how far we are from the nearest village; you may want to open the land to your workers for their own amusement.  They would appreciate a safe place to bring their children and go skating themselves."

 

Looking around, Michael smiled. "Excellent idea, do you think they'd want to?"

 

Philip nodded.  "Without a doubt.  At home, one of our ponds is turned into a rink for the workers.  Every Sunday, it's full of people and also fosters a nice bit of commerce.  Some of the more enterprising set up booths for hot tea, chestnuts, knitting, hot stones for muffs, that sort of thing. It's a lot of fun and helps them at the same time."

 

"I knew there was a reason I loved you," Michael said, leaning down to kiss him.

 

Jerking away, Philip laughed.  "A reason?  A single reason?  And for that you expect to be able to kiss me?"

 

Michael laughed, reaching out and trying to snag the younger man, who was walking quickly away backward.  "Well, if I think hard enough, I might be able to come up with at least one more.  Will two get me a kiss?"

 

"I suggest you try for a least ten," Philip countered, turning and bolting through the snow.  After several steps, he turned and yelled as Michael quickly began to close the gap.

 

 

 

"Eight," Michael whispered in the dark, laying kisses gently along Philip's jaw line.  "You're funny, Philip, you make me laugh like no one has in years."  His hands were resting on Philip's bare butt, holding him close. 

 

Philip moaned softly, spreading his legs wider around Michael, opening himself up further to the exploring fingers, his hand rubbing both of their hard cocks together, slightly slick from the small pot of oil resting on the table next to him.  They were sitting on a single chair, facing each other in front of the sitting room's fire place.  The chair was low and wide, providing plenty of support as Philip shifted and squirmed beneath Michael's hands.  "Please," he said softly, leaning his head back, exposing his neck, "please touch me."

 

"Nine: you're strong and confident, even when you don't think you are," Michael said.  "You have an inner reserve that you're able to tap that serves you well and I can't wait to see how strong you can be."  Moving one hand, Michael dipped his fingers inside Philip's crease, inching toward his opening,  Philip's position sitting on his knees spreading him open to the caress.  While his lips latched on to Philip's mouth, he slowly pushed a finger inside, matching the movements of his tongue.  He felt Philip stiffen and gasp, jerking back.  "Be strong, Philip.  Accept what you know you want and don't worry about anything else."

 

Sucking in his breath, Philip cried out as the finger pushed fully inside of him, his legs tightening as he tried to block the invasion.  "Michael – wait!"

 

"No," Michael said, moving his free hand up so it rested on the small of Philip's back, holding him close.  His other hand moved slowly, allowing the finger to gently move inside.  "Does it hurt?" he asked a moment later as he gentle kissed Philip.

 

Philip moaned again as the finger slid deep inside, stilling for a moment before it began to slide out.  "No, but …"  He moaned again, hands moving from their cocks to Michael's side, griping hard.  "Oh god …. please.  Please don't, you shouldn't."  Squirming and twisting in response to the probing finger, he cried out again when he found he was unable to escape.  "Michael …" he gasped, leaning into the other man. 

 

"Touch yourself, Philip," Michael ordered softly into his ear even as he wished for more than two hands.  If he trusted the younger man to be steady on his own, he could remove his hand from the lower back, but that wasn't the case.  "Bring your hand between us and touch yourself," he repeated, shifting, grinding himself against Philip's cock, groaning in frustration. 

 

Slowly, Philip loosened his grip and dropped his hand between them, tentatively stroking the two cocks again.  His eyes were screwed tight as he fought against the waves of emotion crashing over him, his breath coming in ragged gasps.  He cried out again, throwing his head to one side as Michael slipped a second finger inside, spreading him wider at the same time as he kissed him.

 

"That's it, my little earl," Michael said in a hoarse whisper.  "Feel me inside you, stroking you like you've never been stroked before, touching you where no one else has ever touched you.  Show me how much you love it."  Kissing him deeply, he mirrored his fingers' movements with his tongue, thrusting and possessing the squirming body on his lap.  He was aware that Philip had once again resumed stroking and he could feel his own balls tightening, as his cock pulsed.  "Come with me, Philip," he said, stilling his fingers so they simply pressed lightly on his prostate.  "Come for me, I want you come with me."

 

"God," Philip cried, bending his head and biting the other man's shoulder as he came, aware of Michael's own release a moment later.  "Please, don't …. please … Michael … god …"  The rest of the words were lost in the bitter sob that escaped his lips as the waves of release washed over him.  

 

"Ten," Michael said softly, stroking Philip's bare back, feeling his warm breath on his chest.  They had stumbled from the sitting room into his bedroom on shaky legs before both falling asleep, clutching each other, legs intertwined.  He patted Philip's butt absently.

 

"What's ten?" Philip asked, yawning and stirring against Michael's arms.  "Don't tell me I let you kiss me and you couldn't even come up with ten reasons you love me." 

 

Beneath him, Michael laughed, cupping his butt, fingers curling once again into the crease.  "You let, huh?  You seemed to be doing a good deal of kissing yourself, my little earl."

 

"I let you do much more than kiss," Philip countered, trying unsuccessfully to squirm free for a moment before giving up and relaxing.  Idly playing with Michael's thin chest hair, he suddenly kissed one of his nipples, twirling his tongue around it.  "Hmm …" he said in a mock serious tone as Michael squirmed and yelped, his hands jerking free to come to his nipple's aid, "that was an interesting response, I'll have to remember that."   Suddenly free, he sat up, blankets pool around his waist.

 

"That wasn't fair," Michael countered, looking up.

 

Philip smiled sweetly. "What's ten?"

 

Michael laughed, reaching out a hand and pulling Philip back down once again.  "The tenth reason I love you is because you're going to be a very enthusiastic lover," he said in a whisper, reaching out and stroking Philip's cock.  "This is going to rise when I say your name, the same way that mine stands to attention when you whisper mine.  You'll scream my name even as you spread your legs wide for me to take, just as I'll scream your name as I come deep inside you."

 

The younger man squirmed, shaking his head, "You shouldn't say such things."

 

"Why not? They're true."

 

Blushing, Philip turned away, ducking his head under the blankets.

 

"Philip," Michael said, pulling the blankets down to expose him.  "I love this about you.  Why is it a bad thing?  Why is it something to be ashamed of?  It's just us here and this is something wonderful between us.  It's what everyone wants and so few actually achieve."

 

Philip was silent for a long moment before quietly saying, "I can't help but think what my mother would say if she had seen me earlier.  How ashamed, how ashamed I would be to have such a display, such actions, witnessed."

 

Michael laughed out loud, kissing Philip.  "My god, Philip, even I would be horrified if your mother saw us.  That's a terrifying thought, so please, let's not think about it.  Sex is just between two people, no one wants others brought in.  As accepting as my fathers are, I wouldn't want them to witness me having sex with anyone – man or woman.  You lose control, you do things, you say things, that you otherwise wouldn't.  That naturally should be shared only with someone you love, someone you trust."  Looking at Philip for a long moment, Michael asked, "But you've had sex before.  Did those times not bother you?"

 

Philip shook his head.  "No, not like this."  He smiled.  "I wouldn't have wanted witnesses, but then, those times, it was simple release.  It was natural and little different than a private fantasy in the bath or at night."

"And you were in control."

 

Philip nodded, blushing again.  "In control, not squirming and screaming and moaning."

 

"You are an excellent moaner."  Michael nodded sagely and then laughed, gasping, as he was elbowed hard in the side.  "Well, my dear little earl," he said, pulling the other man back up to rest on his chest, hand once again on his bare butt.  "You are simply going to have to get used to it because you're all mine and I intend to hear you moan and scream my name and squirm against me, on top of me, under me, many, many times."

 

"What if I don't want you to?"

 

Patting his butt, Michael gave a low chuckle.  "You can tell me that all you want.  Then I'll see your cock, the same one I can feel hard against my thigh now, and simply turn you over and spank you for telling another stupid lie.  Then, once you're hot and red, I'll take you hard and listen to your cries turn to pleasure."  Beneath his hands, he felt Philip silently shift, his cock growing harder.

 

 

 

Dinner that night was served at a small table in the back parlor.  The dining room's fireplace was in need of repair and, as a result, the room was chilly and uninviting.  A footman stood in silent attendance as they chatted casually about the estate and possible improvements.  Taking a large spoonful of the rich beef broth of the soup, Michael smiled.  "Excellent.  I love the cook Steven brought from Jamaica, but the woman has always struggled with hot soups.  We rarely had them, so she has had little chance to learn.  I shall have to bring her down here to learn for a few weeks."

 

"It is excellent," Philip agreed, looking over the laden table.  Michael had requested a simple meal and as a result, there were only five courses, including cheese and desert.  He laughed, suddenly thinking of something.  At Michael's questioning glance, he smiled, "It reminds me of several years ago when I first moved out.  I couldn't bear to live with my mother and sister for another moment, my current home became available and I bought it without even consulting anyone.  It was my first real, official purchase as Earl."

 

Michael nodded. "And a smart one."

 

Philip nodded. "It was the right move, but of course my mother was furious.  She felt it was improper for her and Julia to live alone, a waste of money, etc.  Every excuse, but I held my ground, which is surprising when I look back at it now." He took a small bite of cheese before continuing, "As revenge for my abandonment of her, as she saw it, she expressly forbade any of the servants from coming with me or for me to take any of them."

 

Michael looked puzzled.  "But how could she do that?  They are all free men and women, correct?"

 

"Of course, but she said she would ruin their reputations and ensure that when I saw the error of my ways and came back, they would be unable to find respectable employment with any family."  Philip laughed, shaking his head, "Most listened and since at the time since I felt shaky over my own decision, I couldn't in good faith ask anyone and possibly put them in a bad spot later."

 

Michael laughed.  "What did you do?"

 

Shrugging slightly, embarrassed at the forthcoming admission, Philp grinned ruefully. "I lived in the house for a month with just two servants who weren't afraid of my mother and came with me.  I eventually found out from a friend where one goes to find good, trustworthy servants and got the mess sorted out.  But it was a cold month with poor food.  I believe I ate at the club or with friends every supper."

 

"Did your mother ever address the issue, once she saw you had managed to create a fully functional household without her help?"

 

Philip shook his head.  "No, not a word, but I'm sure she was disappointed not to have me even ask for her help or advice."  Finishing the last of his tart, he sighed, "This really was superb."

 

Nodding to the footman, Michael stood up.   "I believe I saw a chess board in the library, care to join me?"

 

Philip nodded, standing as well.  Turning to the footman, he said, "Please pass along my compliments to the kitchen.  It was as fine as I've had in London."

 

The footman bowed, keeping his eyes firmly on the carpet even as he said quietly, "Yes, my lord."

 

Sitting down at the table and beginning to set up the pieces, Michael glanced around the room.  "I was surprised that the house came with so much furniture.  I was willing to purchase some pieces, but in reality, most of this came without me asking.  Did you know the family who lived here before?"

 

"The Delareeces?" Philip asked, sitting down opposite Michael.  "A bit, their youngest granddaughter's season was two years ago and I saw her frequently at balls and parties.  Her parents had died and she was a ward of her grandparents.  From what I remember, she was a pretty enough thing, a bit on the plain side, but certainly a good catch, with a nice dowry from her father's estate.  Why?"

 

"Oh, just curious," Michael said.  "Do you know what happened to them?  Why they left everything?"

 

Philip shrugged. "Only what I heard through rumor.  Robert Delareece, the Viscount of Rockrod, died suddenly after several of his ships went down in the Atlantic, taking with them most of his fortune.  The gossip going around was that they slipped out in the dead of night before their creditors could catch up with them.  Their granddaughter married two years ago and lives in the colonies, I believe.  Her husband is in the military."  Pausing for a moment, Philip made his opening move, sliding his pawn forward.  " I think most assume they fled to the colonies as well, but I don't know for sure." 

 

"Bad luck," Michael commented, as he studied the board before moving one of his own black pawns directly across from Philip's piece.

 

Philip glanced up.  "Is it all about luck? Is that all your ships ride on?"

 

Michael smiled.  "No."  But then, pausing, he corrected himself. "Some luck, of course.  Fluke things can and do happen: waves, storms that come out of nowhere, cargos that spoil or rot through no one's fault.  But a good man is prepared and never puts his whole worth into a few ships."  He nodded toward the board. "Your move."

 

Quickly moving one of his knights, Philip asked, "So you won't be fleeing in the night to avoid creditors?"

 

Laughing, Michael moved his own knight and shook his head.  "No, Philip.  My family and my own investments are very diverse, While I would hate to lose a ship and certainly, several, and it would hurt, it won't send me to the poor house."

 

Philip nodded, moving his bishop. "Good."  Smiling, he nudged the other man's leg with his foot.  "And stop copying my moves."

 

"But they're such cute moves," Michael countered, even as he reached for his other knight.  "In the name of domestic peace though …" 

 

Evenly matched, they played swiftly and in a casual manner, teasing and laughing into the evening.  As Philip stood up and stretched, after ceding the last game to Michael, he realized that it was one of the most enjoyable nights he had ever experienced.

 

"Shall we retire to bed, my dear little earl?" Michael asked as he stood.  "It's been a long day."

 

Philip smiled. "You may escort me, Captain Preston, but only as far as my bedroom."  Giving a large, obviously fake yawn, he said, "It has been a long day and I am looking forward to nothing more than a good night's sleep in the wonderful bed you've provided."

 

"Are you now?" Michael asked.

 

"I am." 

 

"And do you think that's going to happen?" Michael asked.

 

Philip laughed, heading toward the door.  Glancing over his shoulder, he smiled and said softly, "I hope not."

 

"I know not."

 

 

 

Slowly waking the next morning, Philip blinked in the unfamiliar, weak, gray light seeping through the windows and suddenly jerked wide awake as the reality of the situation and his surroundings came crashing through to him.  He blushed as he remembered pleasuring Michael the night before with his mouth, this time much more successfully than in the carriage, and then lying curled together as Michael's hand brought him equal pleasure. 

 

"Shh," Michael said, blindly reaching out and patting his leg.  "It's early."

 

Getting out of bed, Philip said, "Yes and I need to get back to my room before the servants come to stoke up the fires."

 

"Don't be silly, Philip," Michael countered.  "The curtains are mostly drawn, they won't even notice."

 

"I'll notice," Philip said, slipping out of the room and back to his own bed.  Settling into the soft mattress, he tried to relax.  Instead, his cock hardened as the events of the last day once again flooded his mind.  The feel of Michael's fingers deep inside him, stroking him even as he stroked himself, the full sensation and the sharp spikes of pleasure at each minute movement inside.  Shifting, Philip blushed at the thought of being filled with Michael's cock and not just his fingers and how that would feel, if he would even be able to handle such a seemingly impossible invasion.   Drifting back to a light sleep, his dreams were filled with his imagination of such a penetration.

 

"You look very satisfied."

 

Jerking awake for the second time that morning, Philip stared at Michael.  "Get out," he hissed even as he noticed the bed curtains were completely drawn, hiding them from view.  "How long have you been in here?"

 

Michael laughed softly, lying back down and holding out his arm. "Not long.  Come, lie back down.  The fires have been stoked and we're alone again."

 

Reluctantly settling back down, Philip sighed as Michael drew him close, his warmth seeping back into his chilled skin.  "Very nice," he murmured, feeling himself relax. 

 

"So what were you thinking about when I woke you up?  I couldn't help notice you were smiling in your sleep."

 

Philip laughed, blushing slightly and moving closer.  "Nothing important." 

 

Nuzzling against his neck, Michael asked, "Do I need to turn you over my lap again and warm your butt, or will you tell me the truth?"  Running his hands across Philip's bare butt, he said, "Hmm...which will it be, my dear little earl?  The truth or do I warm this?"

 

Philip laughed, trying to twist away.  "All right, all right.  I was thinking about you."

 

"Just me," Michael asked, "or something specific?"

 

Philip laughed again, ducking his head, embarrassed to even utter the words.  "Something specific."

 

Michael laughed, caressing him.  "So … since you seem so embarrassed and unwilling to tell me,  I'll have to guess."  He paused.  "Were you dreaming about my knees?"

 

Philip laughed. "On your knees would be a good dream, but that's not it."

 

Michael laughed, pleased the younger man was getting into the game.  "How about my ears?"

 

Pulling back, Philip studied Michael's ears.  "While they are very nicely shaped, sir, I don't think they are the stuff of dreams."

 

Michael nodded. "True enough."  Leaning closer, he kissed Philip, whispering, "How about my feet?"

 

"Well …" Philip hedged.  "They do say that feet are a good indication of the size of the part I was dreaming about."

 

Laughing, Michael said triumphantly, "Ha, I knew it.  You were lying here fantasizing about my nose!"

 

Philip laughed. "Yes, Michael, that's exactly it.  I've been lying here, dreaming about your nose."  He blushed, brushing his hand against Michael's cock.  "This is a bit more like it."  He swallowed. "I was thinking what it would feel like …"  He trailed off, unwilling to complete the thought.

 

"Feel like taking you?" Michael asked softly, stroking the bare butt again.  "Feel like when it nudges this and replaces my fingers?"  When Philip silently nodded, Michael kissed him again. "I promise, Philip, you will love it.  It's the most amazing sensation that can't really be described."  Rolling closer so that he was almost on top of Philip, he slid his knee between his legs, nudging them apart.  "Shall we try it now?"

 

Feeling instantly afraid, Philip shook his head.  "No, please."

 

Kissing him, Michael stroked his face, rolling off.  "Not until you're ready," he said.  "In the meantime, how about some breakfast?"

 

"Breakfast sounds excellent.  What else would you like to do today?" 

 

Giving Philip a wolfish grin, Michael stroked his thigh, causing him to laugh and jerk away.

 

"Besides that, Michael."

 

Michael shrugged.  "I know it sounds rather boring, but there are a lot of books and stacks of old records for the estate that I would like to go through, catalog and discard what's no longer needed.  I need to be able to get a fair accounting of what the land's produced in the past and see how it matches with what the agent said."

 

Philip sat up, nodding.  "That's actually an excellent idea.  I know when I went through my estate books, I found multiple areas of … shall I call them discrepancies?  I don't know if they were simple bookkeeping errors, or the fact that my father trusted for too long and those he trusted took advantage, or a combination of issues.  But costs were up, production was down and I could find no reason for it."

 

"Estates are like cards," Michael said with a smile, sliding out of bed.  "Trust, but cut the cards."

 

Laughing, Philip nodded, sliding out of bed after him.  "Exactly right.

 

The next two weeks went by quickly, the mornings spent sorting through records and estate paperwork, trying to put the old owner's files in some sort of order so that they could then be examined.  Luckily, familiar with the area's crops and systems, Philip was able to create a working file system that was simple to use and allowed quick access to the hundreds of sheets of papers.  The afternoons were spent exploring the house and grounds from top to bottom, making lists of which rooms should be cleaned and filled immediately, repairs to be done and furnishings to be purchased.  Every other day, Michael would meet with Richardson, Philip sitting silently off to one side, to review the lists and the servants' progress in the house, as well as address any issues that the major domo was aware of.

 

The evenings were quiet, dinner remaining a simple event with small meals served casually.  Even though the fireplace in the dining room was fixed, Michael and Philip continued to take their meals in the back parlor.  Afterward, they would play chess or cards or simply read by the fire, occasionally out loud to each other, but mostly silently, each lost in his own world, connected to the other by intertwined legs or the occasional brush of hands.  Later, they would retire together in Michael's room.  Philip enjoyed the connection and release, but still slipped out during the night to retreat to his own room.  Michael never pushed, but rejoined Philip in bed after the morning fires were stoked and their privacy was once again assured. 

 

 

 

"The snow has stopped," Philip said, looking out the window as he studied the eave's icicles clinging to the roof line and masonry.  "You should have someone knock these down before they fall and hurt someone." 

 

From his warm nest in Philip's bed, Michael nodded, barely looking up from the book he was reading.  "Why don't you tell them?"

 

Turning from the window, Philip smiled. "Because it's not my house.  I'm simply a guest who has stayed a very long time."  Eyeing the bed wistfully, he turned away, tightening the belt on his flannel dressing gown.  "It's Saturday, we should do something fun."

 

Michael laughed, tossing aside the leather bound volume.  "And you don't think we've been having fun these last few weeks?   You haven't enjoyed sorting hundreds of sheets of crumbling paper and trying to decipher a semi-illiterate's handwriting and number system?" 

 

"It's been very interesting, but I'm tired of that and would like to do something fun today," Philip said with a smile.  "Wouldn't you?  How about the pond?  You've had the hut set up for a week now and we haven't had a chance to visit it."   A knock on his bedroom door caused him to jump, staring at the door.  "Damnation," he muttered, glancing at Michael.  Grabbing a silk robe from the day bed, he tossed at Michael.  "Who's there?" he called.

 

"Excuse me, my lord," an older voice said from the other side of the door.  "I have a matter of the utmost urgency to discuss with Captain Preston."

 

Slipping on the dressing gown, Michael walked casually toward the door and opened it.  "Good morning, Richardson," he said, admitting the other man inside.

 

Without blinking, the servant bowed.  "Good morning, Captain Preston, Lord Devonshire, I'm very sorry to have disturbed you, but a situation has arisen that I felt you needed to be made aware of immediately."

 

"Go on," Michael said, folding his arms. 

 

"One of the footmen was found this morning in the bed of one of the parlor maids, lying with her.  He is unmarried, but she is not.  Last summer, while on leave, she married a boy in her hometown.  He lost his position shortly after and as a result, she has stayed in service," Richardson explained.  "They are both in the servants' dining room awaiting you, Captain."

 

Michael shook his head for a moment before giving Richardson a quick nod.  "Thank you for bringing this to my attention at once.  Please meet me in the front foyer and we shall go down to the dining room together to address this matter immediately."

 

"Very good, Captain," Richardson said, bowing to him and then, turning slightly, bowing again in Philip's direction before backing out of the room.

 

When the door was shut, Michael turned to Philip.  "So much for your fun morning."

 

Philip laughed. "The demands of a large house.  What are you going to do?"

 

Shrugging, Michael shook his head.  "I'm not entirely sure.  Sack her, of course.  I can't have an adulteress under my roof, corrupting the other maids.  But do I sack him, as well?  Do I turn them both over to the law?"

 

"Traditionally," Philip said, "the law would not be brought in.  This is a matter for you to handle privately on your own estate.  No serious crime was committed, plus, it gives the girl a chance to redeem herself without  public scandal.  By simply sacking her, you allow her to return home and set things right with her husband."

 

"And what about the footman?"

 

Philip shrugged.  "When this happened to my father, he simple thrashed the offender and took away his day off for a period of time.  Being sore and tired seems to cure many inclinations to cause trouble."

 

Michael looked at Philip.  "So you wouldn't sack him?"

 

"He's not married," Philip countered.  "Bad judgment, yes, but you don't even know for sure if he committed a crime.  The girl might not have told him she was married, so he might not have even known."

 

"That's a good point," Michael agreed, walking toward the door.  Giving Philip a quick smile, he said, "This is one of the reasons I keep you around."

 

"Just one, huh?" Philip said.

 

Michael laughed.  "Get dressed, please, and join me in my room so we can go down together."

 

Walking down the stairwell together, Philip said, "I shouldn't be involved in this.  This isn't my business."

 

Michael stopped halfway down. "What do you mean?  You're a member of this household."

 

"No, I'm really not.  I'm a guest here and this is a private household matter."  Philip smiled, reaching out and stroking his cheek.  "Plus you don't need my support, I'm sure you've thrashed men before and expressed your extreme displeasure at others' actions.  This is the same thing, but instead of sailors, it's servants." 

 

"You're right," Michael said reluctantly.  "But I consider you a member of the household as much as anyone."

 

"I'll meet you in the study afterward," Philip said, resuming their walk down the steps.

 

Spying the older servant waiting for him in the foyer, Michael nodded. "All right Mr. Richardson, let's get this over with as quickly as possible.  Is everyone assembled?"

 

"Yes, Captain," he said, nodding.  "Everyone is downstairs with the exception of one of the stable boys who took a horse into town early this morning to be shod.  He has not yet returned."

 

"Very good," Michael said, "I've decided to keep this matter private and not involve the law.  The girl should be sacked immediately.  You may give her a reference, if you feel her performance beyond this incident warrants one.  I will thrash the footman and he is to lose his next four days off.  With less time on his hands, hopefully he will be less inclined to dally where he doesn't belong."

 

Philip watched them walk down the corridor leading to the main servants' staircase with a mixture of sadness and relief.  He was glad he was not the one forced to deal with this matter, even though he knew he would need to eventually.  It was impossible to have this many young people together for such long periods of time and not have romances bloom.  The smart and lucky ones hid it well; the unlucky ones were made examples of.  It was strange, though, to be a part of the house and yet not be a member of the household.  Walking into the study, Philip wondered if that's how his relationship with Michael would always be.  Part but not whole, there but not entirely, known but not acknowledged.  He shook his head, trying to rid himself of such gloomy thoughts.

 

Twenty minutes later, Michel strolled in, shutting the door firmly behind him.  "What an unpleasant start to a morning," he said. 

 

"Did everything go all right?" Philip asked, motioning for Michael to sit down as he poured juice from one of the crystal decanters put out with the breakfast buffet.  Handing Michael the glass, he sat on the edge of the desk so he could watch him.

 

Drinking the juice in two long sips, Michael nodded, sinking down onto one of the sofas.  "As well as could be expected.  She cried, but wasn't surprised.  I think he was relieved not to be sacked.  I did tell him – told all of them – that the only reason he wasn't was because I couldn't prove he was aware she was married.  I then had him bend over one of the chairs and gave him twenty-five strokes with the knife strap.  It's a wicked looking thing.   One of the maids almost fainted half way through."  He shuddered slightly at the memory.  "I thought the strap my fathers used was bad, but this must have stung like the devil, judging by the noises this idiot made."

 

Philip laughed.  "Well, a sore ass never killed anyone and I'm sure has prevented a lot of problems."

 

"And this is over with now, at least," Michael said.  "Hopefully she's not pregnant and they can both move on.  He can find someone appropriate; she can resume life with her husband, where she belongs." 

 

Moving carefully, Philip came toward Michael, raising an eyebrow at him and glancing at his lap.

 

Michael smiled, opening his arms, allowing Philip to settle himself, pleased with the action. Shifting a bit, he too settled himself against the sofa back, his arms holding Philip firmly.

 

"I know this isn't really the appropriate time," Philip started, "but while I was up here, my mind kept returning to something you told me when we first got here and now, listening to your story, I have to know." 

 

Waiting for Philip to continue, Michael nodded encouragingly.  "You can always talk to me about anything, Philip," he said softly, after a long pause.

 

"If you were to punish me, how would you do it?"

 

Michael kissed Philip, stroking his thigh through his woolen pants.  "Certainly not with that strap," he said firmly.  "And most certainly nowhere public or where there's a chance we would be seen."

 

Philip nodded, but remained quiet.

 

Sensing that he needed the details, Michael smiled gently.  "If – when – that time comes, I'll bare your butt and settle you face down over my lap so I have easy access to you.  I'll most likely use my hand, harder and longer than the time in your bedroom, but in a similar fashion.  I'm sure you'll cry, because it will hurt.  But it won't be unbearable, just a solid reminder of what's right and wrong and our rules, a firm correction of your behavior."

 

"Have you spanked someone like that before?" Philip asked.

 

"Edward," Michael said honestly, with a smile, "multiple times.  He was rash and had a temper on him that often needed to be reined in."  Laughing at the memory, he said, "In fact, I got so tired of my hand hurting, I moved on to using a small paddle and strap on him."  Kissing Philip he said, "But he was very different than you, so don't worry about it.  When the time comes, I'll take care of you.  You may hate it, probably will hate it , but afterwards, you'll thank me."

 

Philip laughed.  "Thank you?  That sounds suspiciously like what my tutor expected.  He would take a rod to my palms for poor penmanship and  I had to thank him after each stroke and I hated him."  He studied Michael for a second, leaning in close, "What makes you so sure?"

 

"Because I know what I'm talking about, want only the best for you and would never, ever hurt you."  Michael smiled, kissing Philip as he rubbed his butt.  "Warm this a bit when you need it, but never hurt you.  You can trust me," he said softly.

 

"I know," Philip said, kissing him back, his hands and tongue beginning to explore the now familiar territory.  "I feel like there is so much about you I still don't know, but I do know that."

 

Breaking the kiss five minutes later, Michael grinned, slightly out of breath.  "If you keep this up, my dear little earl, we'll never go skating."

 

"Who says I still want to go?" Philip asked softly. 

 

Michael laughed, kissing him briefly but deeply before pulling back and sliding Philip off his lap.  "Oh no, I know how you work.  I'll take you upstairs and have my way with you, leaving me drained and exhausted, and you'll then be in the mood to go skating."  Holding out his hand, he said, "Come Philip.  Let me wear you out on the cold pond so I have a chance to wear you out in bed this afternoon.  Tired and pliable, that's how I like you."

 

"Pirate," the other man shot back, even as he stood and laughed, jerking away as Michael swatted him playfully.  "Fine, sorry, opportunist!"

 

Pulling the call rope to issue orders for the hut to be warmed and supplies brought to the pond, Michael watched Philip straighten the desk's papers he had been going through, still amazed at his good luck.  When he had meet Philip half a world away and then lost him, he had been disappointed.  Possibilities had filled his mind, but most were put aside as he asked around the small community and found that Philip had cultivated a reputation among the women.  He was always a gentlemen, never a hint of scandal, but he left a trail of broken hearts and disappointed mothers as three Seasons passed and he continued to woo and hint, but never commit.  When Michael's friend had mentioned Philip's name and the special club they shared, it took all Michael's patience not to board a ship and sail immediately.  It had been a rocky courtship, but now Michael had what he wanted, what he had dreamed of and judging by Philip's happiness, what he had secretly dreamed of as well.

 

"You look like you're a cat with a big dish of cream," Philip said, coming up next to him.  "Share?"

 

Michael smiled.  "I'm just thinking of all the twists and turns and choices that have brought us here.  I wouldn't change any of them."

 

Philip laughed. "I would have made you buy this place the first time we visited, even if I had to front you the money myself.  I would have demanded that clothes and supplies be sent that night and we would have never left."

 

"It's hard to be romantic with workers swarming all over the place at all hours for two straight weeks, preparing even these main rooms," Michael said.  "But I would have dragged you back to my place and had my way with you then, instead of waiting."

 

Philip rolled his eyes slightly.  "You have an obsession with dragging me, Michael.  Come, shall we get going?  You can prove your prowess by dragging me around the ice this morning, if you wish."

 

Reaching out for Philip, Michael pulled him close, tickling him slightly as he squirmed.  "How about my prowess at plowing virgin territory?"

 

Squirming away, Philip shook his head.  "Maybe later.  Now I want to skate and drink hot cider and eat the fresh doughnuts Cook will fry for us."

 

"I'm a patient man, my dear little earl," Michael said, "but I'm no saint."  His tone was easy but matter of fact, his meaning clear as he grasped Philip's hand and held him tight.  "Trust me."

 

 

 

As more snow clouds rolled in, Philip stumbled slightly as they crossed the icy terrace hours later.

 

"Careful," Michael said, reaching out and grabbing Philip's elbow to steady him. 

 

"I'm freezing," Philip complained, shivering.  "I didn't notice how cold it had gotten until we started back and then it just hit me.  I'm chilled to the bone."

 

Michael nodded, stamping his boots against the rail to knock off most of the snow before stepping into the marble foyer.  "I know, as soon as the sun disappeared, the temperature plunged and the winds increased."  Glancing behind them, he could just make out the cart of supplies being brought back in.  "I sent one of the footmen ahead to have a hot bath made ready in your room," he said. 

 

Philip smiled, stepping inside a moment later. "Really?  Thank you, Michael."  He laughed, shaking his head slightly.  "I know it might sound silly, but I think that's the best thing anyone has ever done for me.  Thank you."  Despite the public setting, he leaned over and kissed Michael quickly, resting a hand on his chest.  "Thank you," he whispered softly.  "I trust that you'll join me and also enjoy the warmth."

 

"I don't think we can both fit, but I'll certainly go after you and enjoy the view of you beforehand," Michael said with a smile, pleased that his idea was such a hit.  He had been afraid the younger man would have been embarrassed, but cold obviously overcame any shyness and fear of the servants' gossip.

 

Making their way upstairs, boots and outer clothes left abandoned to be cleaned in the vestibule, they were both quiet.  It had been a fun day, filled with laughter and good food.  Many of the villagers had come, at first tentative when they saw them already skating, but soon relaxed enough to enjoy themselves as well.  Michael had bought something from the each of the four merchants selling food, eating each and proclaiming it better than the previous.  Philip had been thrilled that his idea had broken the barrier and knew the relationships formed in the winter would benefit the estate greatly as spring and summer came and Captain Preston slowly became less of a name on a deed and more their Master.  It was something his father had successfully been able to do and it had served the family well even as his mother became more and more distant from the tenants. 

 

"I don't see anything," Philip cried, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.  He had been looking forward to a hot bath and now the promised tub was nowhere in sight.

 

Coming into the other bedroom, Michael nodded in the direction of his room.  "I'm sorry, but they put it in there.  It looks wonderful.  Covered and wrapped, it looks warm and inviting."  He smiled, "Even though it's in my room, I'll still let you have the first go."

 

Philip laughed, bowing low.  "Your generosity knows no bounds, Captain Preston." 

 

"That and I still intend to watch, which is more fun for me than sitting in water."

 

Philip shook his head, walking through the sitting room with Michael trailing behind him.  "Sorry, Michael, while I admit you do seem the stuff of Greek statues, my bones are frozen and I can no longer feel my toes.  Sitting in a warm bath and allowing the heat to penetrate ever fiber wins out over simply looking at you this time."

 

"To each his own," Michael said, closing the bedroom door behind them and motioning to the screen.  Set up in front of the fire place, a large copper tub sat steaming in the dim light.  Flannel towels had been placed on a stool, along with several bars of lavender-scented soap.  "Shall I help you undress?" he asked, grinning again.

 

"I can manage," Philip said, grinning back.  "Besides which, I'm afraid that you will linger, I'll become distracted and the water will cool by the time we're done."

 

"I can be very quick," Michael said.

 

Philip laughed, nodding toward the stool.  "Sit and enjoy the view."  Watching as Michael made his way over to the stool and sat down, Philip slowly began to undress.  He had dressed for the weather, with several layers of flannel and cotton under his thick wool pants.  When the last layer was finally off, he walked slowly to the tub, maintaining eye contact with Michael even as he stepped in and sank into the water with a sigh.

 

"Do you know Shakespeare?" Michael asked, shifting a bit on the hard stool as his cock began to throb.  "Romeo and Juliet?'

 

Philip nodded, lifting a sponge and drizzling the water down on his shoulders, squirming a bit as the warmth slowly seeped in.  "Yes, I've read most of his plays or seen them performed.  Why?"

 

"There's a scene where Romeo is talking to Juliet on the balcony and she leans her face on her gloved hand.  He says that he would do anything just to be the glove, so that he might touch her face."  Michael grinned. "I would do anything if I could be that water, so I might touch all of you."  Laughing, he raised an eyebrow. "I'm more selfish than Romeo.  I want all of you, forever.  Not just your face for a day."

 

Philip blushed, ducking his head for a moment before looking up.  "You may have all of me, Michael.  I'm yours."

 

Michael looked at Philip for a long moment before asking, "Are you sure?"

 

Without looking up from the water, Philip nodded.  "All of me," he repeated quietly, the tone of his voice making it clear further conversation wasn't welcome.

 

Picking up on the tone, Michael fell silent, thinking about his next action.  Fifteen minutes later, he stood up, holding out a towel.  "Come on, my dear little earl, you're starting to wrinkle and fall asleep in there. Don't ruin a perfectly good tub by dying in it, please."

 

Standing up on unsteady legs, Philip yawned again, feeling utterly relaxed as he allowed Michael to wrap him in a warm towel.  "So good," he muttered, stepping out of the tub.

 

"I can tell," Michael said with a quiet laugh.  "Come, sit here while I enjoy the last drops of warmth myself."  Settling Philip on the chaise longue, he smiled, shaking his head. 

 

"So this is the infamous chaise longue," Philip said, as Michael slipped into the still warm water.  Yawning, he laid his head back, enjoying the quiet sounds of the room.  "I can only imagine what sort of fantasies you've had that starred this place.  In fact, I was starting to think about them while I was in the tub."

 

Michael smiled, raising an eyebrow, "Were you now?"

 

Philip nodded, but again remained quiet, his thoughts almost visibly running around in his head.

 

Washing quickly, Michael stepped out of the water ten minutes later, warmed thoroughly.  He glanced toward the chaise longue as he dried off with the warm flannel towels and smiled.  "What do we have here?"

 

Philip smiled back lazily, holding out one hand, while with his other hand he stroked himself under the towel.  "I told you I had been doing some thinking, since I had to find something to do while you were busy thinking more about your fantasies.  Thinking about you thinking about your fantasies filled me with all sorts of ideas," he said with a small laugh, even as the blush rose on his checks.  Giving another small, slightly embarrassed laugh, he smiled.  "Would you like to see?"

 

Dropping the towel on the floor, Michael walked over, his cock hardening in the few short steps.  He sat down on the edge of the chaise longue and smiled as he pulled back the towel to expose Philip.  "Since I believe your toy belongs to me, I am very curious about what you are doing with my property."

 

Philip laughed. "Your property, sir?  I believe the courts have ruled in similar cases that possession is 9/10th of the law."  His hand stroked his own cock slightly. "And it's fully under my possession."

 

"Is it now?" Michael asked with a wolfish grin, before he gently batted the hand away and replaced it with his own.  "Hmm...seems as if you willingly surrendered your claim."  Leaning down, he gently kissed Philip, tongue darting inside.  "Very willingly," he repeated in a whisper, as he felt the younger man relax into his touch.   Breaking the kiss a few minutes later, he grinned. "Stay, my dear little earl, I need to fetch something." 

 

Putting his hand back on his cock, Philip said, "Hurry.  I don't want to have all this fun alone."

 

From the darkened corner near the bed, Michael laughed. "Seems like you're enjoying having fun alone though."  Coming back into the firelight, he smiled, "Yes, lots of fun alone."  Sitting back on the chaise longue, he put a small pot of oil on the floor, even as he leaned in and resumed his kissing. 

 

"But it's better this way," Philip said between kisses, reaching out with his other hand and finding Michael's hardening cock.

 

"I've got that," Michael said in a hoarse whisper.  "Let's take care of you first.  I think you'll be more relaxed and that will help."

 

Philip swallowed, glancing away for a moment before taking a deep breath and smiling slightly.  "All right."

 

Leaning back down, Michael kissed him deeply, one hand stroking Philip's cock while his other hand cradled his head.  "I promise, you'll love this Philip.  You'll love every part of this."

 

"I trust you," Philip whispered, closing his eyes and relaxing into the sensation of being stroked and kissed, his own hands gripping at Michael and holding him close.  Grinding his hips Philip moaned, parting his legs slightly, his body knowing what it craved, overriding his mind's fear.  "Please," he said a few minutes later, feeling his balls tighten as his hands dug into Michael's arms,  Arching up slightly, Philip leaned his head back, exposing his neck even as he cried out, coming hard in a rush of emotion.  "God," he whispered.

 

Breaking off his kisses, Michael laughed. "No, just me."  He bent down and unscrewed the pot's lid, quickly and effectively spreading the oil on his own hard cock.  "I bet three months ago, you never would have imagined lying by a fireplace, totally bare in front of another man, and feeling this good."

 

Philip shook his head, eyes still closed, totally relaxed in the heat of the room.  "No," he said simply.  Leaning his head back against the cushion, he spread his legs further apart.  "Take me, Michael.  I want to be taken, I want you to do it now before I lose my nerve."

 

"Open your eyes, Philip," Michael ordered softly, tapping a leg.  When the younger man did as he was told, he smiled.  "Are you sure?"

 

Philip nodded.  "I've been sure since the day by the pond.  I just had to be sure I was sure," he laughed. "I want you  … there."

 

Leaning down, Michael kissed him gently, whispering, "And I want to be there."  Pulling back, he smiled again.  "Put your hands on the chaise longue's arms, out of the way for me, and just relax."  Sliding down slightly, he pushed Philip's legs up so they were bent at the knees and moved between them, spreading them wide.  "Lift up for a moment," he ordered as he pushed a small pillow under Philip's hips, raising them up for a better angle.  "Perfect."

 

Philip moaned in embarrassment, closing his eyes as his hands gripped the two side arms.  "Michael …."

 

Kneeling up, Michael swiftly slid his slick fingers inside Philip, making him moan again and squirm.  "I've got you," he murmured, stroking inside.  "Relax … you look so amazing and I know you want this so much."

 

Silently, Philip nodded.

 

Michael pulled his fingers free, giving them a quick swipe on the blanket pooled by the side of the chaise longue.  Leaning up, he spread Philip's legs wide as he moved closer, nudging the opening with his hard cock.  "Take a deep breath for me, Philip," Michael said softly, leaning down and pushing his way inside slowly.

 

At the first penetration, Philip cried out, arching, driving the cock further into himself even as his hands reached up and gripped Michael.  "God," he moaned as his movements and Michael's steady pressure drove the cock completely inside of him.  "I ….  I …."

 

"Shh …" Michael said, stilling his movements and kissing Philip, pushing down the primal urge to begin moving immediately.  Latching on to Philip's grimacing mouth, Michael continued to gently kiss him, not beginning the slow pull out until he felt Philip responding to his kisses.  "I'm all the way inside you," he whispered, sinking back inside again, feeling his balls gently slap against Philip.  Repeating the movement several more times, he slowly felt Philip relax into the invasion.  "All the way inside you …."

 

"Michael … " Philip moaned.  "Please …"

 

Unable to resist any longer, Michael picked up speed, pulling back slightly for a better angle as his thrusts went deeper.  "So good," he said, his breath coming out in short gasps as he thrust over and over again, spreading Philip's legs wider for better access.

 

Philip groaned, grabbing at his own leg with one hand and pulling it back, while his other hand went to his hardening cock.  "Please …" he said in a strangled voice. 

 

"Please what?" Michael asked.  "What do you want, Philip?"  Sinking all the way inside, he leaned down, covering the other man as he kissed him deeply.  "What do you want?"

 

"God … I don't know," Philip cried, arching up again as his hand came free from his leg so he could grab Michael, holding him close.  "So hard, so full.  I don't know. You need to stop.  I can't … please …"

 

Michael laughed, blocking out the rest of the protest with another kiss.  "I don't think so, my little earl," he said, thrusting again before sinking back down and kissing Philip gently.  "I can see how much you're enjoying this and I know how much I'm enjoying it.  So tell me what you want."

 

"Fuck me," Philip whispered, kissing him back.  "That's what I want, I want you to fuck me." Pulling his legs back, he took a deep breath and relaxed slightly.  "That's what I want."

 

Michael kissed him again before sitting back up, "Your wish is my command, my lord."  Cupping Philip's hands in his, he thrust harder and faster than before, causing Philip to moan softly and arch up with each thrust, before finally coming with a soft groan deep inside. 

 

Beneath him, Philip laughed suddenly, wrapping his legs around Michael to hold him close.  "Stay," he ordered as he felt Michael begin to pull free.  "Lie with me."

 

Allowing himself to be pulled down, Michael settled on his new lover's shoulder, trying to avoid putting his full weight on him.  "Damn earls," he muttered with a laugh, "think they can boss everyone around even when they don't know what they're talking about."

 

"I know exactly what I'm talking about. You won't hurt me," Philip said, brushing back his sweaty hair.  "If you didn't hurt me with that, lying here certainly won't hurt me.  Plus, I need you to."

 

"Need me to what?" Michael asked, looking up.

 

Philip smiled at him, shifting as he felt the softened cock come free.  "I'll tell you later."  Holding Michael tight, he kissed him gently.  "I've got you as much as you have me, Michael."

 

Michael laughed, relaxing a bit as he felt Philip's fingers softly caress his spine.  "Yes, you do, but I have the better part of that deal.  I'm sorry for you."

 

"Spoken like a true pirate."

 

"Opportunist."

 

 

 

"Again?" Philip asked, laughing as Michael kissed him from behind.  The room was still dark, but he had heard the clock on the mantle strike two am a few minutes earlier. 

 

"And again and again and again," Michael said, rolling on top of the younger man as he began to push his way back inside.  "You're mine now," he said, sinking deeply inside.  "All mine."

 

Philip moaned, stretching and twisting as his muscles complained against the hard intrusion even as his mind welcomed it.  "Am I?" he asked softly, capturing Michael's hand from around his waist and bringing it to his cock.  "Prove it to me," he demanded.  "Make me yours."

 

Michael laughed as he kissed the exposed neck again before gently beginning to thrust and rock.  "Gladly, my dear little earl."  Brushing against the hardening cock, he laughed again. "Or maybe not so little right now."

 

Moving and urging both the hand and the cock onward, Philip laughed.  "That's right, big and impressive."  His next laugh was cut off with a satisfied moan as Michael took the challenge.

 

Blinking slightly in the dawn's pale light, Philip saw a maid stoking the dying fire back to life.  He was on his stomach, Michael clearly draped over him, even though they were covered by blankets, the bed drapes only half pulled closed.  He knew the young woman had to have seen them in the bed together in the darkness.  There was simply no way to have missed the fact that they had had sex.  Damp towels were on the floor from their baths, again advertising the fact that they had been together.  He saw her bend down and simply, effectively picked up the flannels, draping them over the warming rack by the fire for them to dry.  Yawning silently, Philip closed his eyes again, praying she would leave quickly.   He had gone from a blushing virgin to well used, stretched, wanton lover in a single night.  Philip was sure it was a record, even among the lowest on Molly Street, and the idea settled into his stomach like a block of ice.  Shifting silently, he could feel Michael's cock still inside of him and the idea made him blush.

 

Above him, Michael shifted too, reaching out with a clumsy hand and stroking his back as he half came awake.  Pushing himself deeper inside Philip, he sighed, muttering, "So nice."

 

Shifted as his muscles adjusted to the deeper penetration, Philip saw the maid glance quickly toward the bed at the sound and movement.  As Michael began to thrust gently, Philip bit his lip to stifle any noise he might make, shamed at the idea of being taken in such a way, humiliated that his moans were from pleasure and desire rather than pain.  Closing his eyes, he concentrated on remaining quiet and prayed it would be over soon.

 

Michael came with a soft groan, thrusting deep into Philip as his cock jerked inside, his hands and legs wrapped around Philip, pinning him in place.  Kissing the back of his neck softly, he sighed and fell back asleep, fully sated.

 

For his part, Philip was wide awake, mind racing in a thousand directions and overflowing with emotions.  The maid had fled quickly, he had heard the shutting of the door behind her, but still he knew she was well aware of what was happening in the bed.  He silently thanked god that she had been as horrified as he was and hasn't stood there in the shadows watching him being fucked like a helpless stable boy or woman.  To have an actual witness to the full event would have been unbearable.  Philip quietly pulled free from Michael's embrace. 

 

This would never happen again, Philip vowed.  This incident proved they could not sleep together all night.  It was simply too risky.  Limping across the bedroom, he made his way back into his own room and slipped into bed.  He ached inside and his cock throbbed with desire as he rolled onto his stomach as the memory of being taken by Michael filled him.  Closing his eyes, he fell into a fitful sleep.

 

 

 

Opening his eyes again, this time in the bright sunlight, Philip groaned as he sat up.

 

"If you had stayed where you belong, you would be warm and satisfied," Michael said from by the fireplace, where he sat in his dressing gown, casually reading.  

 

"What are you doing here?  Did it ever occur to you that I came to my room for some privacy and didn't want to be disturbed?" Philip asked crossly, shifting on the bed.  "I feel like churned butter."

 

"Double churned and I was going to ask you the same question," Michael countered with a low chuckle, standing up as he tossed the book back onto the side table.  "You're in a fine mood all of a sudden this morning.  I came in because I was disappointed to wake up and find a cold spot instead of you.  It was an unpleasant surprise, since I was looking forward to having more fun with you this morning before church.  Twice just isn't enough to hold me until we can escape back here after dinner."

 

Philip glared at him for a moment before sliding out of bed.  "Three times, Michael.  Don't you remember fucking me this morning?  I'm sure the maid who was in the room at the time certainly does.  You can ask her if you need your memory refreshed."  Stiffly walking over to the wash basin, he poured cold water into the bowl and splashed some on his face.  "Last night was fun, but I won't spend the night in your bed again and I forbid you to spend it in mine.  I won't have a repeat of that again." The humiliation from the morning surfaced again, replaced by anger.

 

"Forbid me?" Michael asked in a low voice, ignoring the rest of the comments as he came closer to stand directly behind the other man.  "You forbid me to spend the night in your room?"

 

Turning around, Philip met his glare.  "Yes.  I won't be shamed like that again in front of the servants."

 

"There's nothing to be ashamed of," Michael countered.  "I'm sure it's not the first time the girl has walked in on things not meant for her eyes and it certainly won't be the last."

 

"Between us, it will be," Philip said firmly, turning back around.  "I won't spend the night with you again like that and I won't allow you to spend it in my room.  It was a mistake to go back on what I said when I first came here.  I let myself be lulled into a false sense of security by your pretty words and have now been shamed because of it.  During the evening hours …"

 

Reaching out, Michael pulled Philip closer and kissed him roughly, pushing his tongue inside as his hands began to knead his bare butt.  "Try to stop it, Philip," he said softly between kisses, "and see what happens.  The only shame is in your imagination. I'm sorry if I hurt you this morning, that wasn't my intention, and certainly I didn't mean to shame you.   But that being said, I won't be kept away from what's mine, especially when it very clearly belongs to me."  Kissing Philip again, he curled the fingers of one hand into the crease of Philip's butt, teasing at the opening.

 

"Stop, Michael. I want to be left alone and for you to get out." Philip said, reaching out and gripping Michael's arm.  The impact of his words was lost as he shifted, kissing Michael back and allowing greater access to the exploring fingers.  A small cry escaped from Philip's lips as a finger slid inside and he felt himself relax into Michael's grasp, moaning and crying as the finger gently stroked inside.  Bowing his head, the memory and the shame of being taken washed over him.  Grasping the silk lapels of the gown as his cock began to throb in time with the deep strokes, Philip moaned again as he struggled with his warring emotions.

 

"This is mine, you belong to me," Michael repeated firmly.  "We can talk about what happened this morning, we can discuss how to avoid a repeat, but you will not issue blanket statements about what you won't allow and what I won't be allowed to do.  I am the master of this house, the master of you.  I will treat you with all the respect and love you deserve, but you do not forbid me to do something that is within my rights."  With his free hand, he lifted Philip's face and kissed him gently.  "Now, you have a choice, my dear little earl.  Do you want to follow your head and agree to calmly discuss what happened this morning?  Or do you want to keep up this facade of you forbidding me my rights?  In which case, I'll simple carry you back to my room, spank you until you understand who is the master of this house, and then spread your legs and take you hard."  Michael laughed, kissing Philip again.  "If the choice was mine, I would simply keep you naked in our rooms and have my way endlessly with you."  Grinning wolfishly, he added, "But I'm very much in love with you and can't seem to keep my hands to myself."

 

Philip took a deep breath and tried to fight the pull of desire at being so dominated.  Closing his eyes, he gave in to pleasure and said softly, "I'm very much in love with you, too."

 

Michael smiled back, kissing him again lightly.  "Excellent.  So shall we sit down and discuss this morning or …"

 

"Or maybe we can go with your other idea," Philip said softly, embarrassed by his throbbing cock pressed against Michael's thigh.  "Minus the spanking, of course," he added quickly.

 

Michael grinned back at him. "This time only though.  I won't allow you to go stalking off alone to brood.  You're to talk to me and we will work out whatever the issue is."  Kissing Philip again, he said, "I don't want to go chasing you down again.  If I do, you'll pay for it regardless.  Is that understood?"

 

"I wasn't …"  Changing his mind as his eyes meet Michael's, Philip nodded. "Understood." 

 

"Now, about my other ideas, we have at least an hour before we're to leave for services."  Carefully withdrawing his finger, Michael washed quickly in the basin before holding out his hand to Philip.  "Shall we?"

 

Philip nodded, turning back toward the bed.   He gave a quick yelp as Michael reached out and swatted him across the butt.  "What was that for?" Philip demanded, turning back around quickly.

 

Raising an eyebrow, Michael smiled.  "It was just too inviting a target, my dear little earl.  I have a feeling I might need to rethink my earlier assumption that you're not begging for your butt to be well warmed often.  If you had stayed in my bed where you belonged, I wouldn't have been tempted.  Remember that and what I said about brooding alone."

 

Philip laughed, feeling the icy knot in his stomach completely disappear as he bolted for the bed.  "Well, in the future, I shall have to make sure it's well out of reach."

 

"I love a challenge."

 

Two hours later, shifting on the hard wooden pew, listening to the minister drone on about the story of Jonah and the great fish and God's testing of faith, Philip tried hard to focus and block out the slight throbbing deep inside.  The more he tried to block it out, the more he thought about it.  His cock twitched as the memories flooded into him and he knew he was blushing.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Michael smile and heard the low, familiar laugh and knew his new lover had seen the blush.  

 

"Thinking about anything interesting," Michael whispered, leaning close.

 

Standing up for the final hymn, Philip shot him a glare.  "We're in church and I can assure you that all my thoughts are holy and pure."

 

"Considering how many times you called out God's name last night .. and this morning .. and later this morning …." Michael said softly, leaning close as if studying Philip's hymnal. 

 

Jerking his book away, Philip laughed softly, feeling his cheeks flush.  "Stop."

 

"I can't wait to hear you call out his name again.  Maybe on the carriage ride back to the house? As hard as I am now, it won't take long.  You can kneel by the seat as if in prayer, I can kneel behind you, pretending to be the randy priest up there who I swear has been eyeing you  …" Michael jerked back.  "Ouch!"

 

Philip smiled sweetly at him. "Oh I'm sorry, Captain Preston.  Did I step on your foot?  It was an accident, I can assure you."

 

Michael smiled wolfishly at him as the song continued. "I would expect nothing else, Lord Ashton, from one whose thoughts are as pure and innocent as yours.  Of course, you should know that my own thoughts are nothing of the kind."

 

"I can't wait for you to prove that to me," Philip said with a laugh.

 

"I can do that now, if you wish.  I'm sure there's a nice cloak room we can use."

 

Philip glanced back over at him and saw Michael grinning.  Rolling his eyes, Philip turned his gaze firmly back toward the book and began to virtuously sing loudly.  A moment later, he whispered, "The carriage is soon enough."  His blush rose higher as he heard Michael's chuckle.

 

 

 

"Admit you love this," Michael said softly, as he gently thrust deeply into Philip.  "Say it and maybe I'll let you come."  Leaning over slightly, he kissed the back of Philip's neck before pulling back and resuming his long, deep thrusts from his position behind Philip.  "Personal experience this afternoon has proven to me that it's a wonderful experience." 

 

Shaking his head, Philip laughed into the pillow he was gripping.   "No," he said, squirming under the assault.  "I'm a peer of the realm, an earl. I will never yield to a pirate. Never!"

 

Kissing him again, Michael laughed.  "And I believe that is when I shall let you come again, then."  He could feel his cock hardening further from the friction against it and stilling his thrusts, he rolled them onto their sides, content to simply hold Philip for the time being and drift asleep.

 

Philip sighed and snuggled closer into Michael's arms, forcing the doubt and worry from his mind.  Both doors were locked and while that was highly impractical for day to day living, it was a requirement Philip had put forth during their discussions.   The incident with the maid had happened over two weeks ago and yet his feeling of shame lingered. Like that morning, his two sides were once again at war with each other as silence settled over him.  One side craved the straight forward domination and submission in bed Michael represented, while the other side cringed in shame at the mental picture of their actions.   Michael had entered him from behind this afternoon, as he knelt on the bed, his head buried in his hands and his legs spread wide to welcome the hard intrusion.  He had moaned and writhed in pleasure, rocking backwards with each thrust to drive Michael's cock deeper inside, urging Michael on with abandon.  The memory now made him cringe and the feeling of Michael still buried inside made him blush and squirm, giving a soft groan.

 

"Shh," Michael murmured, not opening his eyes or coming fully awake as he stroked Philip's bare hip.  "A bit longer and I'll have you again, love."

 

Ten minutes later, unable to bear the weight of his thoughts any longer, Philip slowly and carefully pulled free.  Biting back another groan as he felt Michael slip from his body, he rolled off the bed and quietly padded back to his own room.  A servant had stoked the fire and the room was comfortable as he settled himself on the sofa, now wrapped in a silk dressing gown.   They had been officially, illegally lovers for almost three weeks now and his internal muscles were slowly getting used to their activities.  He idly wondered, as he stared into the fire, if he would ever be so accustomed to making love that his cock would stop reacting.  Now, shamefully and to Michael's great amusement, every time Philip shifted in his seat he felt a slight twinge inside.  His cock would remember their actions and spring to life, eager for a repeat.  Michael always noticed and took it as an invitation.  Philip blushed, remembering two nights earlier when dinner had been interrupted by such an event.  Their laughter had filled the small room as they made love on the carpet in front of the fireplace. 

 

"It doesn't matter," Michael had whispered into his ear, laying him down on the rug and spreading his legs even as Philip protested about the servants.  Philip admitted he had stopped caring for awhile about anyone else with the first taste of Michael's lips on his.

 

"We must stop, get control," Philip whispered to himself as he jerked his hand away from his cock.  "It's wrong."

 

"No, what's wrong is the fact that you once again stalked off alone to brood and worry instead of talking to me."

 

Philip jumped and looked behind him to see Michael in the doorway to his bedroom.  "I wasn't doing any of that," he countered.

 

Michael sighed, coming into the bedroom.  "Are we going to add on the sin of lying?"

 

Philip shook his head, turning back around and once again looking into the fire.

 

Settling in next to him, Michael picked up his hand and kissed it gently.  "Speak to me, love.  Tell me what's going on."

 

"I was simply thinking."

 

"About?"

 

Philip sighed.  "That I must get control over my emotions and desires.  It's humiliating to act with such abandon.  I can't help but think of the maid from weeks ago and how I would feel if anyone had seen me earlier with you, acting like that."

 

Michael laughed softly, kissing Philip's hand again.  "It's liberating to act with such abandon.  I love that about you, that when you finally do let go, you throw your whole self into the moment."

 

"No, control is better."

 

Michael shook his head.  "I thought we were in agreement that I was the one in control of this relationship, my dear little earl."  He glanced into the fire for a moment before smiling at Philip. "We spoke about this already and I fully respect your concerns.  The curtains will be firmly drawn around the bed from now on so there will be no prying eyes in the morning.  We shall lock the door in the afternoon."

 

"And you will ask before simply deciding to fuck me," Philip said firmly.  "I don't like being used like a stable boy, ripe for the picking."

 

Michael shook his head with a small smile. "No, that's not what we agreed to."  Reaching over, he pulled Philip toward him and kissed him.  "What we agreed to was that I would do my best to be considerate and if you were in serious distress, you would tell me.  But I won't be denied access to you or ask for permission every time we're in bed together and I'd like to have you.  Your presence, our relationship, is all the consent I need."  He kissed Philip again, pulling him closer.  Dropping his hand to Philip's crotch, he stroked it through the silk.  "You say you're troubled, you're ashamed of what we do and how I might possibly treat you and yet this tells a different story."

 

"That's different," Philip said.

 

"How?"

 

Philip shrugged.  "It simply is.  I don't have control over that and despite my best attempts, I've failed."

 

"Then stop trying," Michael softly whispered into his ear.  "Let me worry about it.  All you need to worry about is doing what you want, without concern over anyone else's opinion save mine."

 

Philip shook his head.  "I can't do that, Michael.  It's impossible at this point.  I've worried for too many years to simply stop because you say so."

 

"Well, that's something we shall have to work at together."  Standing up, Michael drew Philip up with him.  "In the meantime, we have the issue of you once again stalking off to deal with." 

 

"Michael," Philip started to say, and then yelped as Michael swatted his butt. 

 

Quickly sitting back on the couch, Michael pulled Philip face down over his lap so that his arms and upper body were resting on the cushions.  "I warned you what would happen, Philip, if you insisted on stalking off alone to sulk or brood instead of talking to me."

 

"That was different," Philip protested, and then gasped as his silk dressing gown was pushed clear, exposing him.  "Don't."

 

Michael shook his head.  "I warned you I would spank you and yet you persisted in your actions, so don't tell me that it's different.  Be happy it's simply my hand, Philip.  If you persist in disobeying me, I have a wooden paddle I won't hesitate to use."  Raising his hand, he brought it down sharply on Philip's butt repeatedly, delivering five quick, sharp swats in a matter of moments.  "You will learn to come to me with your concerns and not simply skulk off alone to brood.  It solves nothing," Michael lectured, as he continued to spank the squirming Philip.

 

"I can solve my own damn problems!" Philip yelped as he tried to twist away.  "And I wasn't skulking!"

 

Michael shook his head, delivering five more quick swats that left Philip gasping and teary.  "I'm sure you can typically solve your own problems," Michael agreed, as he delivered swat after swat across Philip's entire reddening butt.  "You're very smart and capable, but the problems you are struggling with over our relationship appear too large for you to handle on your own.  Because of that, I am telling you that you are no longer allowed to handle them on your own.  I'm not saying you lack the ability, but that I refuse to allow you to struggle alone."

 

Giving up his struggle for freedom, Philip focused on not crying out loud as he buried his head into his hands, mouth clamped firmly shut as the swats continued.  "But I can do it," he finally cried out.  "I swear, I can!"

 

Michael delivered four more swats, all concentrated on the center part of the younger man's butt, before stilling his hand on the reddened and warm skin.  "Philip, I know you can do anything you put your mind to.  This is not a question of ability, this is simply a question of what I will allow a cherished lover of mine to endure alone."  He gently patted Philip's butt before asking in a softer voice, "Is that clear?"

 

Unwilling to risk speech, Philip nodded, his head still buried in his hands.

 

"And we're clear on what course of action I'll take if you persist in going off on your own to brood and sulk instead of speaking with me.  You don't even have to tell me everything on your mind, love.  You simply have to tell me that you're troubled or worried," Michael said softly, patting Philip gently.

 

Philip nodded silently again and took a deep, ragged breath.  "May I get up now?" he asked.

 

Michael shook his head, resting his hand on the warm butt.  "No, I think you can stay here for a bit longer.  I think it's an excellent position from which to reflect on what we talked about and what happened."  His voice was firm, even as his other hand reached out and gently began to stroke Philip's hair.  "And, as you have observed in the past, I enjoy this particular view."

 

Shifting under Michael's hands, Philip bristled at his touch.  "I want up," he said firmly.

 

"And yet you're not allowed up," Michael said simply.  Patting Philip's butt, Michael chuckled softly. "I do believe I might need to rethink your personality, my dear little earl.  Maybe keeping this warmed is as important as keeping you regularly filled?  Is that the support you need, Philip, to keep you from feeling as if you are utterly alone?  Knowing that you are loved and cherished regardless?"  When Philip remained silent, Michael nodded, "All right, we shall work on that together later.  In the meantime, lie here and simply be still, Philip.  Think about what we talked about.  That's all that you need to do."

 

Silently, Philip nodded and began to slowly relax.  He took a deep breath and felt it catch in his throat as the reality of the situation and Michael's words began to invade his thoughts.  His butt ached and burned and he could feel Michael's hand resting heavily and possessively on its center.  Blinking back the tears forming in his eyes, he took another ragged breath and shifted again.

 

"It's OK, love," Michael said softly, patting his butt and stroking his hair,  "I've got you."

 

Giving up on controlling the tears, Philip began to slowly and silently cry into his hands.  A sob broke free a minute later as he pictured what he must look like: turned over like a child, his butt bare and red, all dignity gone.  If the idea of being the passive participant in their sexual activities was hard to accept, this new reality was almost unbearable.  At the same time, it was a much-welcomed relief.

 

 

 

As the household accounts became more organized, spring approached and Philip's own responsibilities began to follow him to the country.  He and Michael had slowly revised their earlier work routine.  Now, their mornings were filled with rides around the property and visits with the local farmers for friendly chats and to discuss the upcoming season.  They always made it a point to shop in the village or have a bite in one of the taverns.  After a light supper, they would retire to their suite of rooms for an hour or two.  The doors were always firmly shut and the curtains drawn around the bed while they enjoyed each other.  Refreshed, Philip would delve into his own work, sitting at his half of the large double desk, while Michael busied himself with various projects and issues.  Michael's side of the desk was littered with paper and several log books, both from this estate and what looked to be ship's records.

 

Shifting in the hard desk chair, Philip sighed, glancing out at the growing dusk of the afternoon.  A pile of papers were stacked neatly off to one side, already read and answered by him.  A smaller pile of letters lay still unopened at his elbow and he dreaded their messages.   He hadn't had the stomach so far to open either of the two letters from the Dowager Countess.   She had written him at least ten other notes so far during his stay, none of which contained anything important, just an increasing number of barbed comments designed to increase his guilt: complaints about her household, requests for his help in solving problems personally and not simply sending the solicitor.  So far, they had not worked.   Pushing thoughts of her endless complaints aside, he focused on the fire and allowed his mind to drift back to earlier in the day and making love to Michael.  It had been soft and gentle this afternoon, with long deep strokes broken by much kissing and petting.  He shifted again as his cock twitched at the memory of being so loved and cared for and of coming along with Michael as they both found release in the soft bed.

 

"Ready for a break?"

 

Philip jerked his head up, met Michael's eyes across the large wooden expanse of the double desk and smiled, feeling a faint blush rise on his cheeks.  "No, I need to at least open these," he said, indicating the smaller pile.  "My mother again, spreading cheer and warm wishes with every letter."

 

Michael nodded, his lips forming a knowing smile, as he reached out and took a sip of his cooled tea.  Making a face at the taste of the tea, he stood and pulled the silken cord.  While they waited for a servant to appear, he smiled at Philip. "I love working in here together.  It's something my fathers always did."  

 

Philip smiled. "I like it too.  It's nice to work together."

 

"Even if you're sometimes a distraction," Michael said with a laugh, and then glanced at the door as someone knocked on the wood.  "Come," he called. 

 

"Sirs," a young footman said, stepping just inside the door and bowing slightly. 

 

"Tea," Michael said.  "Also something to go with it, please, Whitman.  If Cook has some of the little tart things left from yesterday, that would be wonderful."

 

The footman bowed again and backed out of the room.

 

As soon as the door was closed, Philip smiled and pushed back from the desk.  "What is this about a distraction, Captain Preston?  When have I ever distracted you?"

 

Michael laughed, glancing at the leather ottoman meaningfully for a moment before turning back to his lover.

 

"That was you," Philip countered.  "I was simply working in here when I was attacked and dragged over there, protesting all the way if I remember correctly."

 

"And three days ago on the sofa? Or yesterday with you on your knees?"

 

Philip shrugged. "Again, purely innocent.  I simply dropped a note under the desk and went to retrieve it."  He gave a dazzling smile.  "How was I to know that it would have drifted all the way toward your area?  And when I couldn't find it immediately, it only made sense to search … everywhere."

 

Michael shook his head, eyeing the closed door for a second before moving toward the younger man.  Pulling Philip up so they were standing together, he smiled, running his hand down his butt and patting it.  "Such silly little lies, my dear little earl."  He gave a quick shake of the head in mock disappointment before bending slightly and kissing Philip.

 

Philip smiled under the assault, spreading his legs slightly and rubbing himself against the other man's leg as their tongues and lips vied for space.  "Purely innocent, I swear," he murmured.

 

"It's been a week since I've warmed this, do I need to do it again?" Michael asked between kisses.  "Or are you firmly in your place being filled so often?"

 

Philip blushed, squirming slightly as he pulled back with a laugh.  "I would hope that you are filling me so often not out of any desire to rehabilitate me, but for our mutual satisfaction, my dear Captain Preston?"

 

Capturing Philip's hand, Michael brought it to his lips and kissed it before pulling Philip close again and kissing him on the lips, tongue once again pushing its way inside for the briefest of moments.  "Mutual satisfaction to be sure, but I also love teaching you many lessons at the same time, my dear little earl.  That you are happiest submitting to me, that you are happiest once you give up some of the control you hold so dear, and that life without someone like me will be empty," he whispered as his free hand kneaded Philip's butt.

 

Philip nodded slowly, feeling himself begin to respond.  He jerked as a knock again sounded on the door and dove back toward his chair.

 

"Hellfire," Michael muttered quietly with a shake of his head.  Adjusting his coat to hide his hardening cock, he said loudly, "Come."

 

"Almost did, thanks to you."  Philip snickered quietly as he watched a serving girl carry in the tray for tea.  The mood broken, he passed over a letter from his mother and instead, picked up an unopened envelope from Henrietta and slit it open to read all her happy prattles about the wedding preparations.   Skimming the note quickly, he reached for a sheet of his own letterhead and jotted down a brief note of his own in response.  There was never any mention of love or missing him and for that he was glad.  He felt guilty enough every time he spied a pale blue envelope in the pile of letters sent by messenger from his town house every few days.

 

"How is dearest Henrietta?" Michael asked from his own seat across the desk.

 

"She's well," Philip said.  "A friend of hers is to be married two weeks after us and she's asking if we can postpone our trip to Italy."

 

Michael's head jerked up. "Italy?  I thought you were heading to Jamaica immediately after the wedding?"

 

Philip shrugged.  "I've told her several times and yet she seems to be ignoring me.  I don't know if she's simply conveniently forgetting, or hoping that if she keeps saying Italy, I will agree."

 

Michael laughed.  "You should put a stop to that sort of game playing and remind her who is her master."

 

"She'll learn soon enough," Philip said, "when we board a boat in South Hampton heading west toward the Caribbean instead of south toward Italy."  Glancing at the note, he shrugged again.  "My first impression was that she was your typical, docile girl, but I think she's also rather used to getting her own way.  To her way of thinking, she's due a trip to Italy after she's married and that's exactly what she intends to get.  A bit spoiled, maybe."

 

"I'd like to meet her," Michael said.

 

Philip glanced up, surprised at the request.  "Really?  Why?"

 

Michael laughed. "Because, Philip, if you really intend to marry this girl, you're a friend and I would like to make the acquaintance of my good friend's fiancee."

 

"Oh," Philip said slowly.  "That does make sense."

 

"If you decide to marry her," Michael clarified.

 

"I have."

 

"Then I will meet her."

 

Philip nodded, turning back to the note he was writing as his thoughts whirled at the prospect of his two lives colliding.  Would his fiancee sense anything, like wives are suppose to sense their husband's mistresses?  Or would she simply see a handsome man who would be a perfect match for some of her still single friends?  The idea of Michael being set up made Philip idly wonder how Michael would react to such a suggestion.  Looking up, Philip smiled. "Michael?"

 

Glancing up from his log book, Michael smiled back. "What?  Shall I distract you again or you planning to distract me?"

 

"How would you feel if Henrietta wanted to set you up with some of her single friends?" Philip asked, grinning.

 

Michael made a face. "And that just put me totally out of the mood, Philip."

 

"Never mind," Philip laughed.

 

 

 

"You're thinking again," Michael said, stroking Philip's legs as they draped over his lap.    The sitting room's fire was crackling and giving the entire room a warm glow in the fading light.  It had been raining most of the afternoon and the window panes were fogged over, blocking out the gloomy scene.

 

"I can't help it," Philip said, looking up.  He was lying on his back, leaning against the arm of the sofa, three letters unopened next to him, another crushed under his hand on his chest.  "I try to block out what I've done, what I've allowed done, what we've done, what you've done to me…"

 

Michael laughed, stroking Philip's legs again. "What was done by someone to someone, or with someone, at least."

 

"What I've done," Philip said, settling on the words he wanted, "but then I move and I can feel you in me all over again and everything comes flooding back and I can't block it out.  What we do together is starting to consume me.  I can't concentrate."  He shook his head, tapping the letter on his chest.  "I can't concentrate on anything … I don't know."

 

"What don't you know, Philip?" Michael asked softly, gently stroking his legs, but making no move to go above his knees, sensing that the younger man needed to talk.

 

Philip sighed. "I don't know anything.  I'm to be married in three weeks, I have to leave here in a week to go back to London, and I don't know how I can bear it.  These last weeks have been..."  He paused, searching again for the words. "Unbelievable."

 

"Well, there is a solution to that," Michael said softly, not looking at his lover.  "We could make it work."

 

Philip sighed, jerking his legs away as he sat up.  "That's not a solution, Michael.  You've mentioned it before and I've told you, I have to go.  I can't stay here, or anywhere, with you.  I have responsibilities that I can't just toss aside for a fantasy.  You don't understand." Philip waved his hand in the air, his voice rising. "This is all a fantasy!  I have to live in the real world.  In the real world, what we do – who we are - is illegal and a sin and is disgusting to everyone.  It's only acceptable here and in the little fantasy island place you call home.  I can't live there with you, though; I belong to the real world."

 

"You don't think I understand having responsibilities? That I don't deal with the real world day in and day out?" Michael's voice was low but hard as he spoke, looking at Philip.  "Do you think that I would expect you to simply ignore all your responsibilities when I have my own that will affect us daily?  That we wouldn't find a way to make it work, just like it's worked here, a way to balance both being together and your duties and my duties?"

 

Standing up, Philip shook his head. "It doesn't matter and it wouldn't work."

 

"It's working fine now.  We could make it work, if it was important enough to you," Michael countered.  "It's important enough to me."

 

Philip looked at him.  "I guess that means it's really not that important to me." 

 

Michael frowned.  "I don't believe that for one minute, Philip.  I think it is that important to you and you're just being a coward, like you were when we first met.  You can't wait to go running home to where it's safe and familiar and where you'll be miserable.  But that's OK, you'll accept being miserable, because it's all you know, all you expect from life.  I demand more."

 

"I am not a coward," Philip said hotly, hands balling into fists at his sides. 

 

"Of course you are," Michael said in a matter of fact tone, giving an indifferent shrug.  "You're scared of what being happy with me means.  You're afraid of what it says about you that you happily spread your legs for me every chance you get.  You're terrified of what other people think, even though what we do is private.  You're so afraid that being happy like this is a fatal flaw in your character, that you're deliberately making yourself unhappy just to prove you can live through it!"  His voice rising, Michael gave in to his own emotions and angrily shook his head.  "I thought we were working past this cowardliness of yours, but I see I was wrong."

 

"Shut up, Michael," Philip said. 

 

Michael met Philip's glare, continuing as if he hadn't been interrupted, anger clear in his voice.  "Tell me I'm wrong then, Philip! Don't just tell me to shut up!  Tell me you're truly at peace with what we're doing, that you're at peace with how much you love me fucking you, that you're at peace knowing you crave my cock up your ass and how much you love the threat and knowledge that I'll warm your butt if you step out of line."

 

"You're disgusting," Philip interrupted, his own anger boiling to the surface.  "None of that is true. I'm not afraid of anything.  This has been fun, but I never intended to live like this forever!  It was a fun game, a fun fantasy, but we both know that's all it is, a fantasy!"

 

"Liar."

 

Philip snorted, holding up his hand to stop the conversation.  "Fine.  Obviously, neither one of us is in the correct mood right now to discuss anything and I personally refuse to sink to your level."  Scooping up the letters from where they had fallen on the carpet, he said, "I'm going to my room and I wish to be alone."

 

"Fine, avoid the issues at hand as usual, Philip."

 

Closing and locking his bedroom door behind him, Philip sighed again, shaking, as he made his way over to the small writing desk and sat down, tossing the letters on the desk.  Cupping his head in his hands, he tried to control his emotions, fluctuating wildly between despair and fear and anger and indignation.  The idea of living forever with Michael danced in front of him like a tantalizing dream that vanished with the sun, leaving behind only fragments.  In a week, he would be back in London.  In another two weeks, he would be standing before God and witnesses with Henrietta as he took his marriage vows.  Things would never be the same.  He would certainly keep his club membership, as Henrietta turned a blind eye to his foibles. He might even still be able to be with Michael.  But things would never be the same.

 

"Open the door, Philip," Michael called from the other room, knocking loudly on the wood.

 

"I said to leave me alone!  I'm in no mood to talk to you and you certainly are in no mood to talk to me!" 

 

Michael banged on the door again.  "You have until the count of three to unlock the door."

 

"Go fuck yourself, pirate!  I have nothing to say to you," Philip yelled back, standing up and glaring at the door.  Swallowing as silence fell on the room, he stepped back, eyes fixed on the door.  His stomach sank slightly as he heard the lock click open.

 

"Keys are very useful things, my dear little earl," Michael said, slowly walking into the room.  Pocketing the metal ring in his vest, he glared at Philip.  "Since you said you have no intention of talking to me, Philip, I take that to mean I should simply bend you over the desk and give you the long, hard plowing you seem to be begging for.  Or maybe bare your butt over my knee and paddle you for once again stalking off instead of talking out the situation, not to mention lying again."  Advancing toward Philip, Michael kept his eyes firmly on him.  "Personally, while both of those options hold enormous appeal for me, and rest assured, I'm sure that we will end up doing at least one of those tonight, I would much prefer to simply sit down like gentlemen and resume our conversation.  Neither one of us handled ourselves admirably before and I'd like to solve the problem."

 

Philip crossed his arms. "I don't know what in my actions could possible give you the impression that I'm asking – much less begging – for you to fuck me in that manner."

 

Stopping in front of Philip, but making no move to touch him, Michael smiled slightly, his voice low.  "My dear little earl, you are always begging to be fucked.  You squirm and blush like a virgin every time I mention it and yet you flirt like a rent boy.  You eagerly spread your legs with the smallest stroke of my hand, your mouth is eager to be kissed and you moan with pleasure when I slide inside of you.  You love fucking on the carpet in the study, you love surrendering to my touches and kisses in our bed, and you will love being plowed hard bent over a desk with your pants around your knees."

 

Philip blanched, looking away and slowly shaking his head.  "You're horrible," he said softly.  "You say you love me and yet that's not how lovers speak to each other.  They don't deliberately humiliate their partners."

 

"I'm not saying anything to deliberately humiliate you, love," Michael said, still keeping his hands at his side even as they twitched, wanting to reach out.  "I'm simply trying to get you to face reality."

 

"That's not reality though," Philip shot back.  Waving his hand around the room, he shook his head.  "None of this is reality.  Reality is my townhouse in London, my fiancee waiting for me to marry her in three weeks.  Being with you isn't reality, no matter how much I crave it, Michael.  No matter how much I would love to run away with you on your ship and live in a beautiful tropical hideaway…" Philip's voice cracked as he blinked back tears.  "And I do want it, I want all of that, but that's not my reality.  That's your reality, but it's not mine and it can never be mine."

 

Giving in, Michael reached out and pulled Philip close.  "But don't you understand what I'm saying, Philip?  It can be your reality.  I'm offering it to you; we can make it work.  You just have to reach out and take it."

 

"I can't!"

 

"You won't!"

 

Pushing away, Philip stumbled back toward the desk.  Grabbing the unopened letters sitting there, he waved them at Michael.  "Do you know what these are?  Do you know what these say?"

 

"No and neither do you, since they're unopened," Michael shot back calmly as he folded his arms and stared at Philip.

 

Philip shook his head.  "Oh no, I know exactly what they say."  He held up two cream envelopes with his family crest visible on the outside.  "These tell me what a horrible son I am, how my mother is dying in the country, unloved and alone, even though she's in perfectly fine health and my sister is there with her, along with a good twenty servants.  But she's also resigned to her fate of being replaced and unloved the rest of her days."  Holding up another one, he said, "And this one is negotiations for my sister's hand in marriage, which is solely my responsibility since I'm the head of the household. Endless back and forth between her intended's father and me and our solicitors, in order to iron out the contract.   If I don't pick a good husband for Julia, someone from a respectable family, and settle on a favorable contract to protect her if she doesn't produce an heir or is widowed young, she'll be miserable and it'll be my fault.  Luckily, my sister is agreeable and seems to like the young man who I've picked.  I just pray to God that my choice is a good one and she'll be happy."  Panting slightly, Philip shook his head in frustration.  "This is my reality and what I have to deal with, and I haven't even gone into the estate business and the lives depending on me and my decisions."

 

"I understand," Michael said, "I really do.  You're not the only one with responsibilities.  But we can make it work …"

 

"I'm the Earl of Devonshire," Philip said in a dead voice, all his anger drained away.  "My ability to be just Philip Ashton was lost years ago and even though I've enjoyed being him again these last few months with you, simply living and being cherished, the time has come to stop.  It's time for me to put away childish things."

 

"I love Philip Ashton," Michael said softly, holding out his hand.  "I refuse to let him go."

 

Philip smiled slightly, taking his hand and allowing himself to be pulled in.  "Love me, Michael. Take me to your bed and remind me who Philip belongs to and where his place is."

 

"Gladly, but it's our bed," Michael corrected, bending his head slightly to kiss him.

 

“Show me, please.”

 

 

 

Rolling over the next morning, Michael found the bed empty and Philip gone. 

 

 

 

Rolling over in bed two weeks later, Philip was jarred awake when his hand found only cool linen instead of Michael's warmth.  It had happened the same way yesterday and the day before and every morning since his return.  He had slipped out of the warm bed at the country estate in the middle of the night and borrowed a horse, riding all night back to his townhouse.  The groom had been shocked to find his master standing over him when he awoke the next morning.  The horse had been returned, of course, and two days later, trunks of his clothing and other personal items left at the country estate had been delivered without a note.

 

"Good morning, sir," Hutchinson said quietly as he opened the blinds, allowing the early morning light into the bedroom.

 

"That remains to be seen," Philip said, sitting up in bed tiredly.

 

"Yes, sir," the older servant said evenly, pouring heated water into the shaving basin.  "According to your schedule, you have a luncheon to attend with Lady Bloomington and her family at the Dowager Countess's home.  You are also to escort the Dowager Countess and Lady Julia to the opera this evening.  Lady Bloomington is also attending with her three cousins, but will be sitting in her family's box.  The assumption is that you will split your time evenly between the two.  Your tailor is also scheduled for this morning for your final fitting of your wedding outfit. He and his assistant will be here in an hour."

 

Philip sighed, getting out of bed and stumbling to his shaving chair.  Sinking down onto the leather stool, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back.  As the servant wrapped a towel around his face, he said, "And that confirms that you in fact lied, Hutchinson.  It's not going to be a good day."

 

Hutchinson laughed.  "I'll remember that for the future, sir."  As he began to shave Philip, he added, "A message was also delivered this morning, sir.  I brought it up for you and it's on your breakfast tray."

Trying not to jerk, Philip opened his eyes and said calmly, "Who is the message from?"

 

"Sir Howard, sir."

 

Closing his eyes again, Philip tried to keep the disappointment out of his voice.  "I'll read it at breakfast, thank you."  Their negotiations were almost complete and he knew that Julia was looking forward to seeing Frederick Howard at the wedding.  There were still five days to go and he idly wondered if announcing his sister's engagement at his wedding would annoy Henrietta.  If it wasn't announced then, it would have to be at the breakfast the next morning.  They were scheduled to leave for Jamaica two days later and it was his responsibility.  "Hutchinson," he said, "please add to my schedule that we'll need to announce Julia's engagement to the Howard boy before Lady Bloomington and I leave.  My mother will have a fit if it's not done properly.  She's already in a rare mood about the whole matter and we don't need her further annoyed."

 

The servant bit back a laugh and simply nodded.  "Yes, sir.  I'll make note of it."

 

"I simply do not understand," the Dowager Countess hissed softly at her son, "why you insist on this match, Philip.  You know I am against it and yet you persist.  One would think that you are doing it solely to aggravate me."

 

Philip closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath before speaking, making sure his tone was even and firm.  "Believe what you will, Mother but this match is settled.  Sir Howard and his solicitor agreed to my conditions this morning and we are signing the papers tomorrow afternoon.  You may sit with me this evening when I inform Julia – "  He held up a hand as she began to speak.  "Stop and let me finish, Mother.  You may sit with me if you are capable of doing so with pleasant words and a pleasant expression.  Otherwise, you may make your excuses and I will escort Julia to the opera alone.  Henrietta and her cousins are going and we will simply combine parties.  Julia will be thrilled by the news and I won't allow you to spoil her happiness.  Is that understood?"

 

The older woman stared at her son for a long moment before drawing herself up to her full height.  "Who do you think you are to be speaking to me in such a manner?"

 

Meeting her gaze evenly, he smiled slightly and said, "I'm the Earl of Devonshire and your devoted son.  As your son, I ask that you be happy for my sister and your daughter in making what seems to be a good and loving match.  She's happy and content and I can't imagine that you would want less for your child."  Waiting for a moment until she gave a small nod, he continued, "And as the Earl and your lord, I am telling you that you will either be pleasant and supportive, or you will remove yourself from the situation and I will make your excuses. The choice is yours."

 

"Your father would never have made such demands," she said, her voice suddenly trembling slightly as she dabbed at her eyes.  "He always asked for my counsel and respected my opinion.  He never meddled in household affairs or spoke to me in such a way."

 

Pushing aside a wave of disgust at her dramatics as he remembered the realities of his parents' marriage, without equality and in which exchanges of opinions never happened, Philip smiled at her.  "I do value your opinion, Mother, greatly.  But the ultimate decision is mine and mine alone.  I must do what I feel is right for our family.  I've listened to your counsel often, but I must also listen to my own. That is exactly what Father taught me to do and what he himself did."

 

"Very well," she said icily, tears gone as quickly as they appeared.  "I hope I can be happy for Julia, but it's such a poor – "

 

"Enough," Philip said sharply, holding up his hand.  "Pleasant only, Mother, or I will make your excuses.  I'm sure the return to the noise and dirt of the city has been stressful.  It might do you good to retire again to the country after the wedding."

 

She eyed him for a long moment before giving a small nod.  "I'll be pleased to sit with you when you tell Julia the good news."

 

Philip smiled, giving her a small bow. "I'm so pleased to hear that, Mother and I know Julia will be, too."

 

"You've changed, Philip," she said softly.  "I see so much of your father in you now.  His voice, his mannerisms, his way of handling issues.  I'm sure he would be proud of the man you've become."

 

Smiling at her, he bowed again, his mind flashing back to Michael and their relationship.  His father would be anything but proud to have seen his son the last few months. 

 

A tap on the door caused them both to jump slightly.

 

"Come in," Philip called.

 

A footman stepped into the parlor and bowed.  "Excuse me, sir, madam, but Count and Countess Bloomington and their daughter have arrived."

 

Philip nodded. "Thank you."

 

Reaching out, she patted his check softly, her eyes solemn. "Just don't lose yourself to him," she gently.  "Be your own man." 

 

As he watched her walk out of the parlor to great her guests, he wondered at her words and their meaning.

 

 

 

Five days later, Philip stood in the nave of the small family chapel, watching as Henrietta began the slow walk toward him on her father's arm, her pale silver dress shot through with gold threads.   He saw it all in flashes: snippets of the ceremony, taking her hand, kneeling to receive communion, her voice low as she promised to honor and obey him while he promised to cherish her above all others.  Above them, the priest droned on as Philip struggled to stay still and not sway with exhaustion – both physical and mental.  His mind raced endlessly, his emotions warred constantly with his head, as they had done for the last month, even as he rode toward her family estates two days earlier.  If he had not been at the head of the caravan, surrounded by several friends and two of Henrietta's brothers, he was sure he would have turned back at least three separate times.  Now it was too late and the finality of the situation drained his reserves.  He was married and death alone had the power to separate them.

 

"What is wrong, husband?" Henrietta asked, softly, taking his hand in hers as they strolled along the garden path.  "You seem so quiet." 

 

Philip smiled at her, kissing her hand briefly.  "I am fine ... wife," he said, stumbling slightly over the unfamiliar word.   "Just tired and relieved that it's finally over."

 

Henrietta giggled. "Yes and we are well and truly married now.  When I left the city in February, after we weren't allowed to marry quickly, I had nightmares for weeks that it wouldn't happen.  That you would be taken from me somehow and that this day that I had dreamed about for so long would never arrive.  You often seemed distant in your rare notes to me." 

 

"I'm sorry," Philip said, "I'm not much of a writer.  I hope I didn't offend."

 

She smiled at him, beaming in the morning light.  "No, not at all.  I'm silly to even bring it up, I just worried that I would end up an old maid, never be married or have a house of my own. But now we are married and we can begin our lives together."

 

"Yes," he said simply and then quickly giving her hand another kiss, continued,  "Oh good, it looks like the breakfast is ready."  Nodding toward the house's lawn, he smiled.  The grassy area was set with long tables and baskets of flowers.  Yards of silk and netting draped along arches and ribbons hung from the trees lining the walkways.  "It's very beautiful, Hen.  You've done a marvelous job."

 

"Philip," she said, her face twisting into a pout as she stopped walking, "are you sure we must go to Jamaica?  I've always wanted to visit Italy and it doesn't seem fair to me.  What if I get with child immediately, then what am I to do?  Do you really want to put my health and the child's health at risk?"  Her voice had gone from carefree and happy to cajoling and whining in seconds.

 

Caught off guard by the sudden switch of topics and her tone, Philip stared at her for a long moment.  "Henrietta, Hen," he said, using her nickname to soften his words, "it's not dangerous and I've already explained to you that I must go.  My estates need attention and you are now their Countess and they would like to see you.  It's good for you to also meet them. We can go to Italy at another time."

 

"But it's not fair," she whined, stamping her foot on the ground.  "I always wanted to go to Italy for my wedding trip."

 

Resisting the urge to laugh out loud at her actions, Philip shook his head.  "I've already explained.  There's no sense discussing it further.  The matter is settled.  You are my wife and you will go where I tell you to go."

 

"But it's not fair!"

 

Philip took a deep breath, turning back toward the lawn and their waiting guests, ready to leave her behind.  "Life isn't fair," he muttered, walking away.  A moment later, he felt her hand slide into his and he glanced down at her.

 

"Jamaica sounds wonderful, husband," she said softly.  "And we can plan our Italian tour for next year."

 

"Yes," he said with a nod.  "Next year."

 

 

 

"Will you grow to love me, Philip?"

 

Blinking in the darkness of their bedroom, he shifted and looked down at her.  "What are you talking about, Hen?  Of course I love you, I just married you."  He reached out and tentatively stroked her back through the thin cotton of her nightgown.

 

She sighed, snuggling closer to him.  "Don't lie to me, Philip.  I can see it in your eyes and I'm not upset.  While I would like to have the naivete of a child and marry for love, I have a responsibility.  You're a good match and we make a good couple.  Our families together will create an important partnership that we all will benefit from."  Pausing for a moment, she continued, the words coming out in a rush, "I just want to know if you think you'll be able to grow to love me.  I need to know what's in store for me and for us.  I don't expect you to be devoted, that's not the way of men.  But I would like to be loved.  I think everyone deserves to be loved at least." 

 

The lie was on his lips, poised to be spoken, when he suddenly swallowed it back, unwilling to take the coward's way out and lie to her when she had the courage to ask him.  Taking a deep breath, he nodded into the darkness.  "I do hope I can grow to love you, because you're right, you deserve to be loved."

 

"And you too," she added quickly.

 

"And me too," he agreed softly.

 

Leaning up, she quickly kissed him.  "Thank you for being honest with me, husband.  And for being gentle. While I know we don't yet have the love I hope we may come to have, I felt loved and cherished tonight.  I thank you for that."

 

Self consciously kissing her back, he stroked her check.  "It was very good for me, as well."  That lie, more a half truth really, he knew was one he would take to his grave.  Luckily, thanks to his father's well rounded education, he was well aware of the needs of women and knew she had no reason to complain or gossip about his performance.  Their marriage had been consummated and he would continue to perform his duties with her regularly, leaving no doubt about his virility and hopefully getting her with child soon.  The six week voyage to the island would provide a welcome break where he could demur due to close quarters, so not to cause her any embarrassment.  Despite her own wishes, he knew she could not protest and seem unladylike.

 

"We've been married a day already," she said quietly, as a clock chimed one am in the front hall. 

 

"Just the start of the next thirty years," Philip said, hoping that he sounded upbeat about the prospect.  Feeling her fall back asleep curled up next to him, he silently mulled over her words.  The fact that she would have the courage to ask and the understanding of human emotion to worry about and understand such a thing surprised him.  He knew she wasn't dumb, but this new depth was unexpected.  His mother he knew had multiple faces, one to match each of her roles, which she could easily exchange.  He hadn't thought his new bride to be similar, but maybe it was that way with everyone. He was well aware of his own multiple faces, calm and collected when need be, playful and passionate, as Michael would say, in private.  The thought of Michael instantly freed all the emotions carefully bottled up inside Philip and he almost cried out in pain.  He had hoped that Michael would come to the wedding as invited, or at least send a note saying he understood and wished the couple the best.  Instead, there had been only silence.

 

 

 

"Philip," Henrietta said, turning from the boat rail to look at him.

 

Not looking up from the packet of papers he was reading on the bench, he said, "What?"  Philip's temper was frayed badly and all semblance of patience had gone.  He was exhausted and the thought of spending the next six weeks crossing the Atlantic in close quarters with his wife and little distraction set his teeth on edge.  The last thread of hope of word from Michael had broken as the ship pulled away from the dock.  They had been delayed several days by no wind and a poorly fitted sail and the three extra nights spent in a small inn had almost driven him mad.  Henrietta talked constantly and twice reminded him that she had wanted to go to Italy.

 

She made a face at his tone. "Never mind.  I'm sorry I bothered you."

 

"That's fine," he said, still not looking up.  He had received a fresh packet from his Jamaican overseer and the new figures made no sense when compared to the ones received previously.  There was also no mention of any labor issues or crop problems outlined before.  Shoving the packet back into his oiled, lined bag, he tried to push the puzzle out of his mind.  The man probably didn't mention anything since he had already explained the situation and there were no changes.  No sense going through the issues again.   "I'm going to our cabin, Hen," he said, leaning his head against the wood at his back.  "I have a headache and want to see if I can get some sleep before dinner."

 

"Shall I come with you, husband?"

 

Philip shook his head, holding out his hand for her.  "No, but thank you, and I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier.  My head is throbbing and it's put me in a foul temper."

 

Smiling at him, Henrietta nodded.  "I understand and there's no need to apologize."

 

"Will you be all right up here by yourself?  The captain said to inform him immediately if any one of the crew bothers you or becomes overly friendly."  Smiling at her as he stood up, he added, "They're used to passengers, but none so beautiful, I'm sure."  He bowed at her as she laughed, curtseying back at him. 

 

"Go rest, Philip.  I expect you to be in peak form tonight."

 

"Madame!" he said, giving an exaggerated shocked expression.

 

Shaking her head, she blushed and giggled.  "For dinner, husband.  I meant only for dinner."

 

He smiled, kissing her quickly and nodding.  "I should hope so.  I'd hate to think that my wife would have anything else on her mind."  Walking down the stairs, he smiled at their exchange.  In reality, if he was honest with himself, her biggest fault was something she couldn't change: she was a woman.  She would be a very good wife.  He knew he had chosen wisely when he picked her and once they were through the adjustment phase, things would settle in nicely.  Michael and those months together would fade, haunting his memories only as a faint ghost of the past.  He had been happy before and he would be happy again,  Henrietta would give him children and they would create a life together; his club would fill his evenings with the male companionship he craved, with men who understood the rules and what was expected of them.  They, like her, would never ask for more or demand that he do anything other than what was expected of him.  This voyage was simply the start of a good, safe life.

 

 

 

A loud banging on the cabin's door five weeks later shattered all of his carefully laid plans.  The voyage until then had been uneventful, with hours spend chatting with Henrietta as they walked around the deck and leaned over the side to watch for fish and whales.  As he had hoped, she had thanked him for not risking embarrassing her and their lovemaking had been infrequent.  Evenings instead had been spent playing cards, chess and reading, each vowing their desire for the privacy of the estate where they would be free to resume marital relations.  He was lying, but he knew that she was not.

 

Jerking up as the banging continued, Philip reached for the flint to strike the candle.  Instinctively reaching for the pistol he kept tucked into the mattress, he pushed Henrietta down as the cabin door opened.

 

"Excuse me, my lord," the captain said, giving a short bow, his eyes firmly on the floor.  "There's a problem.  Best come up and see."  He glanced up nervously to meet the other man's eyes before adding, "Quickly."

 

Hearing the urgency in the captain's voice, Philip nodded.  "Of course."  Slipping a pair of trousers on under his nightshirt, he pulled his cloak on to block out the cool wind.  Even in July, the night was damp and chilly.  "Stay in the cabin, Hen, and don't open the door for anyone but the captain or me."  Philip had no idea what the problem was, but the captain's urgency told him it was not good.

 

"Philip…."  she started and then stopped as she saw his face.  Shrinking back slightly into the covers, she nodded. 

 

"Lock the door.  You might want to also get dressed," he said quickly, as he shut the door behind him.

 

Hurrying up the steps, Philip wondered what the problem was.  The weather was calm and they did not seem to be listing like they would if they were taking on water.   His breath caught in his throat as he stepped out onto the deck and saw the two other boats.  "Dear God in heaven," he said quietly.    One boat was about 50 feet away, directly next to theirs, while the other was slightly ahead, ready to cut them off if they suddenly changed course to run.

 

Next to him, the captain nodded, eyes fixed on the ships.  Both were made with dark wood and black accents.  That fact alone would have made seeing both of them together on the open ocean an ominous sight.  The fact that all their cannon flaps were raised, ready to fire, and that both proudly flew the infamous Jolly Roger flag made the seamen clustered around the rail weak in the knees.   Both ships flew the same black silk cloth, the white hourglass embossed with a cross flashing toward the men in the early morning breeze. 

 

"What do they want?" Philip asked, his voice hoarse in his throat.

 

The captain glanced at him for a moment.  "Besides the obvious?"

 

He nodded, understanding the stupidity of his question.  "But why are they just waiting there?  Why haven't they boarded us?"

 

"According to the watchman, they just appeared about an hour ago, coming up fast.  By the time he sounded the alarm, they were already in position.  We've seen signal lights flashing between the ships and they're clearly together.  I can only imagine they were waiting for first light."  The captain glanced at the dawning sun. "Which means we should hear something from them at any time."

 

Philip nodded, glancing at the stairs.  "My wife must be protected at all cost."

 

The captain looked at him and nodded, glancing around at the seamen.  Snapping his fingers at one man, he beckoned him over.  "Fetch your spare uniform and bring it to His Lordship's cabin for his wife.  Quietly spread the word that there is to be no mention that we have a lady on board."  Turning to Philip, he gave a shrug.  "That's the best we can do.  Typically, pirates only want the cargo.  If they're short handed or need special skills they might press a few of the sailors, but that's it.  There's no sense tempting them though."

 

"I'm going to go tell her what the situation is," Philip said.  "Please come get me when you hear from them."

 

The captain gave a humorless chuckle, "Oh, sir, trust me.  You'll know when they make contact."

 

Pausing at the top of the stairs, Philip added, "Please tell the crew that there will be a fifty pound reward for each man if my wife escapes this ordeal unharmed, as thanks for their silence."

 

Giving a brief nod, the captain turned back toward the water to watch the ships.

 

Meeting the sailor by his cabin door, Philip gratefully took the clothes. "Thank you, I won't forget this," he said.  "Hen," he called, knocking quietly and almost falling inside as the cabin door flew open.

 

"What's going on?" Henrietta demanded, her eyes wide. 

 

"Pirates," he said, knowing the one word would do enough damage.  "We need to get ready."

 

Her eyes filled with tears. "Philip – "  She screamed as a cannon roared and the ship rocked.

 

"Get dressed," Philip ordered, shoving the clothes at her.  Tucking his nightshirt into his trousers, he bent low and pulled out a small trunk.  Opening it, he pulled out his spare pistol and powder.  "Get dressed now, Henrietta," he repeated as he glanced up and saw her frozen in place. 

 

"What do they want?"  she asked, her voice trembling.

 

"Just cargo," he said calmly.  "They just want cargo, they're not interested in you or me for sure. But I don't want to take any chances.  I want you to get dressed and to stay here while I go back on deck."

 

"I want to stay with you," she said, slowly undoing the buttons of her dress.

 

"No," he said firmly.  Giving her a quick kiss, he glanced at the clothes.  "Get dressed, keep quiet and don't leave the cabin."

 

Running up the steps, he felt the ship rocking slightly as it stopped in the water, the sails hurriedly being pulled down as the captain surrendered the boat without a fight.

 

The captain glanced up and met his eyes.  "There's no use fighting.  It'll just make things worse for us.  I've been in this situation before and they should be gone in an hour or two and we'll be on our way."  His words were brave and he flashed Philip a quick smile.  "Look sharp, boys!" he called.  "And remember the agreement we have.  Everything else is fair game and not worth losing your life over."

 

Philip nodded, knowing the wisdom of the words and appreciating the captain's steadiness.  Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm his nerves as the boat closest to them sent out hooks to tow them in.  Even though he was expecting it, his stomach still twisted as the two boats bumped against each other and the walkway was thrown over the gap.   The third boat kept its same distance, blocking any chance for escape.

 

The sailors gathered around them in a loose circle, casually pushing Philip into the center, while the captain stood in front.  "Don't worry, sir," one of them whispered.  "We'll protect her."

 

Not daring to speak, Philip nodded and watched as a man about his own age appeared at the walkway. 

 

Dressed in black, silver sword swinging from one hip and black pistol positioned on the other, he made his way across and jumped to the deck.  He bowed slightly and smiled at the captain.  "Thank you for seeing the wisdom of your predicament," he said in a slight French accent.  Eyes traveling over the crew, he took in their number and nodded.  "Who shall I say is the wise man that made this decision?  My own captain would like to speak with him."

 

Stepping forward, the captain nodded.  "It's my vessel, sir, and my crew.  We are en route to Kingston with a load of general merchandise."  Waving a hand at the holds, he said, "What we have is yours."

 

The French pirate nodded, slowly walking among the crew.  "Obviously," he said.  Turning back toward his ship, he raised a hand and a dozen more simply dressed pirates started across the walkway.  "The hold," he said with a nod.   A minute later, his eyes landed on Philip and he stared at him. 

 

Philip met his gaze for a moment before glancing down at the wooden deck. 

 

"You are not a sailor," the pirate stated, his eyes on Philip.

 

"That's my nephew – " the captain started to say.  He fell silent as the pirate pulled out his sword and pointed it at him. 

 

"When I want to speak with you, I will speak to you," the pirate said.  Then, turning to a fellow pirate, he said, "Search the ship.  We have a well-heeled passenger on board.  I'm sure his cabin will have papers with his name.  We'll find out the true size of the fish we have caught."

 

Fifteen minutes later, Henrietta leaned against Philip, crying softly, while the French pirate leaned against the rail and sifted through the papers brought up from the cabin.  The crew, now tied together, had been given water and moved to the shaded area against the quarter deck, while the pirate crew unloaded the ship.

 

"Come," the French pirate said, standing up fully and motioning to Philip.  "My captain will want to speak with you.  Judging by these papers, I think you and your wife are more valuable than the rest of the boat together."  He smiled at Henrietta, clearly eyeing the shape of her legs in the pants. "And certainly more attractive."  He paused, giving Philip a half shrug before continuing, "Now that I think about it, my captain might appreciate her company more than yours …"

 

Jerking away with a yell, Philip suddenly swung at the other man, connecting sharply with his chin, following with a hard punch to his side.

 

With a startled oomph, the French pirate crumbled to the deck.

 

"Hey!" yelled one of the pirates unloading the freight.  Jumping into the fray, he swung his pistol and connected sharply with Philip's temple.

 

Glancing at Henrietta as he fell, the last thing Philip heard were her screaming cries and the yells of the other pirates.

 

 

 

Groaning, Philip leaned over the side of the bed he was lying on and threw up as the room swam around him. 

 

"Very nice," a voice said dryly from somewhere in the room. 

 

Philip struggled to sit up, holding his head and feeling the wetness of fresh blood from a cut on his temple.  Swallowing hard, he forced his eyes open and tried to focus on the figure sitting against the far wall, partially hidden in the shadows.  "Who are you?" he asked, glancing between the figure and a younger cabin boy hovering nearby

 

"Death," the voice said evenly.

 

"Am I dead?" Philip asked, even though some part of his brain told him that he clearly wasn't.  It seemed like a logical question.

 

"Yes."

 

Philip jerked his head up and instantly regretted the action, as he was wracked by pain and the room spun again.  Learning forward, he gagged again, bring up bile as he coughed and choked.

 

With a sigh, the figure motioned to a cabin boy who silently held out a cup.  "Drink."

 

"I'm not dead though," Philip said after he took several sips of the sweet cider.  "Clearly, I'm not dead."  The realization and the cider slowly making him feel better, he glanced around the room and saw what appeared to be a cabin.  "Am I on the pirate ship?  Who are you?"

 

"You don't consider yourself one of the walking dead?" the figure asked.  "Is what you're doing actually living?  When you wake in the morning, do you thank God for giving you another day with those you love or do you simply continue to exist, to do your duty and handle your responsibilities in the most joyless way possible?"

 

Philip stared at the figure hidden by the shadows, feeling the heaviness of the words as tears began to prickle his eyes.  Wiping them away, he took a deep breath.  "You have no idea what you're talking about.  I am not dead, walking or otherwise."

 

Stepping forward, the figure looked at him. "Haven't I warned you about those silly lies, my dear little earl?"

 

Philip stared at the figure, his mind racing.  With a shake of his head, he said, "Michael?"

 

Motioning the cabin boy away, he waited until the door was once again shut, giving them privacy.  "You told me one time," Michael said, stepping closer to the bed where Philip sat, "that only death could separate you from Henrietta and free you from your responsibilities."

 

Blinking, Philip shook his head again. "How?  Why?"  He stood up on shaking legs, grabbing onto the bed for support as his voice rose in anger.  "You never sent word to me!  Not even a note of congratulations!  I invited you to the wedding, I wanted you there!"

 

Michael laughed.  "You wanted me to have to witness the love of my life willingly sacrifice himself for a women who I knew he didn't love?  Why would I want to see that, Philip?  And, shall I point out that you were the one who slipped out in the dead of night like a coward, with not even a note."

 

"That was different," Philip said firmly, hearing how ridiculous that sounded even to his own ears.

 

"If I wasn't scared you'd throw up again, I'd turn you over my knee and spank you until you cried," Michael said firmly, shaking his head. 

 

Philip laughed, sinking back down on the bed. 

 

Sitting down next to him, Michael picked up his hand and kissed it before pulling him closer.  "I've missed you, Philip."

 

"I've missed you, too.  These have been the longest and worst few weeks of my life," Philip said softly, feeling tears welling in his eyes again.  "But I'm married now.  I have responsibilities.  I can't leave, no matter how much I want to, Michael. I just can't do anything about it."

 

Michael stroked his back as Philip curled into him.  "But I'm Death, I can take care of it, if you accept my terms."

 

Laughing, Philip said, "And what sort of terms does Death have for getting me out of this situation?"

 

Kissing his forehead, Michael reached down and patted Philip's butt.  "First, this will be warmed regularly. You seem to do much better with firm discipline and not be so inclined to go off on silly larks like getting yourself married."

 

Philip laughed, shifting as Michael's hand stroked his butt.

 

"Second, it will be filled even more regularly.  Same agreements we had before you bolted."  Kissing his hand, Michael said, "This is your last chance, Philip.  This is the last time you'll have a chance to belong to me.  I feel as if you have already given me your soul, now I just need your body."

 

"I don't want to be spanked," Philip said softly, leaning in as Michael continued to stroke him.

 

"Then don't do anything else that would make me spank you," Michael said with a chuckle.  "But, I must tell you, you've already earned one spanking when we're back in the privacy of our house.  Bolting in the middle of the night?  Much worse than simply stalking off to brood on your own."

 

Philip laughed. "Will you make love to me first? I want to be with you first."

 

"We're three days away from home, my dear little earl.  Trust me, I'll make love to you and fuck you many, many times before I finally spank you."

 

Philip laughed, putting his hand on Michael's cock.  "This feels like it's almost ready now."

 

"First, there's some business to take care of."

 

 

 

Glancing behind him nervously, Philip stood at the pirate ship's railing and swallowed.  "Please don't cry, Hen.  This is the only way."

 

"But I don't understand," she cried, held firmly in the hands of their captain.  "Please, Philip!"

 

"Hen," he said, shifting as one of the other pirates moved slightly, the sword pressed to his side sliding slightly against his skin.  "They promise to keep me just until we get to Kingston.  I'll be able to access my accounts there and get the ransom they want from the solicitors there.  They promised that if I do this, you'll be able to go free."

 

"If you want, dear," the French pirate called, "you are more than welcome to take his place!  He's giving us triple what we asked for as long as we allow you and your ship to go on … unmolested."  He smiled at the word and licked his lips as he eyed her.  "Personally, I would take less money to enjoy the time with you."

 

Henrietta screamed, backing away from the rail, her face growing pale.

 

"Hen, Hen!" Philip called, "will you do me a favor please?"

 

"Of course, Philip!" she said, struggling to gain her composure. 

 

He glanced back at the pirates nervously, "If for some reason …."

 

She screamed again, hands covering her face, "No! Don't say it!"

 

"Hen – stop!" Philip ordered.  "Listen to me, please."  He waited until she had once again composed herself before continuing, "If something should happen and I don't make it back, please tell my Mother that I …"  He paused, visibly struggling for words. "I went as a gentleman and for the honor and protection of my dearly loved wife."

 

"Isn't that sweet," the French pirate said with a laugh.  Calling across the water, he said, "With those sweet words, dear, are you sure you don't want to change your mind?"  He laughed again and called, "Release the boat and make way!"  Turning to the captain, he said.  "Don't leave until we're a speck on the horizon."  Pointing to the other pirate ship, he said, "We'll know and won't hesitate to scoop up that pretty little fishy and send the rest of you to the bottom."

 

The captain nodded mutely, stunned by the scene playing out before him.

 

Sinking down to her knees, Henrietta sobbed.  "I love you Philip!  I'll see you soon!  I'll be your faithful and devoted wife no matter how long it takes for you to return to me!"  Struggling to stand between sobs, she held out her hand. "And if you don't, I'll wear widow's weeds for the rest of my life in honor of your sacrifice!"

 

Philip smiled at her, reaching out his hand as the boats slowly separated and pulled away.

 

The pirate next to him grabbed him roughly by the arm and yanked him away from the railing and toward the steps.

 

"Here you go," the French pirate said, holding out his hand at the bottom.  "Watch the last step, it's off a bit and no matter how many times I go up and down, I stumble almost every time."

 

Philip smiled.  "Thanks, Martin.  I'm sorry about the chin, I hope it's OK."

 

Michael's youngest brother moved his jaw.  "It's fine.  The ribbing I get from the rest of them will be much worse than your punch."  Reaching out, he brushed aside Philip's hair.  "How that doing?"

 

Philip shrugged. "I'll live."

 

Martin laughed. "Go on with you, then.  I'm sure my brother is eager to see you again."

 

Philip held out his hand.  "Thank you for your part in this whole thing."

 

"It was my pleasure and the most fun I've had in awhile."  Martin shook Philip's hand. "Plus we'll make a nice profit from everything we took off the ship.  Steven's done well, too.   While he was out looking for you, he ran across a sweet little clipper nicely loaded from the islands with ….."

 

"All right, Martin," a voice said from down the hall, "let's remember that Philip is new to the whole idea of being an opportunist."

 

The younger brother laughed and gave a mock salute.  "Of course, dearest brother, I won't scare him off now that you've managed to catch him again."

 

Michael laughed and cocked a finger at Philip.  "Come, my dear little earl, I believe we have some unfinished business between us."

 

Martin laughed. "Have fun."

 

Slowly walking down the darkened corridor, Philip smiled at his lover.  "Hello," he said softly.

 

Leaning down, Michael kissed him deeply as his hands roamed down Philip's body.  "I believe you made a request that I promised to honor before we arrived home to deal with more unpleasant promises."

 

Philip laughed, allowing himself to be led into the cabin.  "Actually, Captain Preston, you promised to honor it multiple times."

 

"Then we had  best get started."

 

 

 

Stretching out face down against the white cotton bed covers, Philip sighed and closed his eyes, allowing the sun to warm his skin and ease his aching butt even as an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment settled over him.  The sunlight poured into the room from the now open shutters, diffused by the mosquito netting that covered each window and surrounded the bed.   Despite the fact that Michael had been true to his word or maybe because of, he mused silently as he relaxed, he had never been happier.  The other man was still regularly applying a heavy hand whenever he stepped out of line. He had been paddled soundly the afternoon before after a disagreement and could still feel the faint echoes of the paddle’s strokes against his butt. 

 

"You look very delicious," Michael said, stepping into the bedroom and shutting the door behind him.  "All tan skin and a rosy butt just begging to be stroked and filled."

 

Philip rolled over and held out a hand.  "Then come join me, love.  It's too early to be up anyway.  It's barely eight am.  I only got up to open the shutters and let the light in."

 

Putting down the mail he carried, Michael quickly stripped off his clothes and slid into the bed.  "How do you feel?" he asked, stroking the upturned butt next to him.

 

Philip wiggled slightly under the touch.  "A bit sore," he said.

 

"A good reminder then that when I say no, I mean no," Michael said with a nod.  "Sooner or later you'll remember on your own."

 

Philip laughed. "Don't count on it, love."

 

"I won't," he said with a laugh.  Bending low, he began kissing Philip's neck, “I missed having you last night.”

 

Stretching out full on his stomach as he spread his legs slightly, Philip glanced over his shoulder and smiled.  “I feel much better this morning.  Maybe yesterday’s afternoon’s lesson deserves a more pleasant follow up reminder this morning of who is in charge?”

 

Reaching for the bottle of oil, Michael grinned.  “Not only are you amazing to look at, you’re smart as well.”  Oil quickly spread on his hardening cock, he began to kiss his way down the other man’s back, pausing to nibble at each check, fingers thrusting inside gently, causing Philip to squirm and moan.

 

Philip sighed with pleasure as Michael finally pulled his teasing fingers free and lived up to his other promise.

 

 

 

"Did you see the paper," Philip asked an hour later, his voice high with shock.  He was still stretched out on his stomach in bed, Michael dozing next to him.

 

Opening an eye, Michael looked at him.  "No, it was just brought in by Martin.  It's almost two months old, I'm sure.  Why?"

 

Philip glanced at the date.  "Seven weeks," he confirmed and shook his head.  "Unbelievable.  Look at this," he said, shoving the paper at his lover.

 

Glancing at the column headline, Michael laughed.  "So much for undying love."

 

"So much for wearing widow's weeds forever," Philip countered with a snort.

 

Rolling on top of Philip, Michael gently wedged a knee between his legs to move them apart.  As he began to rub against the younger man, making him squirm and laugh, Michael said between kisses,  "Well, you didn't actually die.  You simply told her that you had been permanently damaged by the dastardly pirates who held you in captivity.  You were no longer fit company or a fit husband and were going to spend the rest of your few remaining days in seclusion on the island.  You granted her an annulment with a handsome pension."

 

"But to get married again within a month of the annulment?" Philip countered with a laugh.  "The ink was barely dry!"

 

Michael laughed, cock poised at Philip's entrance.  "So if she would have waited longer to get remarried, how long were you supposed to wait before taking another to your bed?"

 

Pushing back against Michael's cock, Philip laughed.  "Fuck me again, pirate.  I’ve wasted too many years with too many inadequate men and have much catching up to do.”

 

"The term is opportunist," Michael corrected, pushing in all the way, "and I'll be happy to make up for your earlier bad experiences.  You will soon forget the heartless Henrietta who so quickly moved on once you sacrificed everything for her safely.”

 

"Already forgotten," Philip said, before groaning as Michael's thrusts increased.  "I promise."

 

Stilling himself deep inside Philip, Michael laughed. "I'll hold you to that, my dear little earl."

 

"I expect nothing else, Captain Preston."

 

The End