Authors: Ava March
“Didn’t have a good go at it?” Woodhaven asked, with concern and a bit of hope, as well.
“No. Not in the slightest.”
“Why ever not? I would have thought…” He flicked his fingers, the gesture encompassing Julian’s polished evening shoes to the top of his head. “You cut a fine figure.” As soon as the words left his lips, he went still. His gaze briefly darted about the room, a blush daring to bring some color back to his cheeks. Then he took a quick swallow of brandy.
Woodhaven still had not figured out that Julian preferred men. Not that he’d made it easy for the man to deduce it on his own. Yet.
He caught Woodhaven’s gaze. Held it. “Thank you. But boys there don’t much care about such things.” One’s family, where one had come from and who one was related to, had been of paramount importance.
“So why didn’t you have a good go at it?”
Dragging his free hand across the back of his neck, Julian let out a sigh. Might as well tell Woodhaven now. The man was bound to find out sooner or later. And Julian would rather find out now, before he unpacked his meager bag or kissed those full lips, if it would cause Woodhaven to change his opinion about him. The snubs were the worst when they came from someone he called friend.
“I’m one of
Parkers. You know, there are Parkers and then there are Parkers.” The blank stare indicated Woodhaven did not
so he explained. “Benjamin’s my second cousin, our grandfathers were brothers. His, of course, was the eldest. Mine the youngest. Lord Albert Parker was…well, the polite term is a
. And my father had a bit of a gambling issue, among other things, and well-known at that.”
was putting it very lightly. His father hadn’t been able to stay away from the tables, no matter the number of vowels he’d already written or the desperate pleas from Julian’s mother. Gambling, liquor, whores—there hadn’t been a vice the man could resist. “It’s why we ended up leaving England. Anyway, suffice it to say, I spent a great many hours among my own company at Eton.”
“I’m sorry,” Woodhaven said, weighed down with regret. “Boys can be cruel.” True empathy filled his dark eyes. Not a trace of condescension or pity. Only compassion and understanding.
The revelation struck Julian—Woodhaven understood what it felt like to be snubbed, slighted, to have another look down one’s nose at him. The man possessed a fortune, was fully welcome among Society—judging from Julian’s experience with him at tonight’s ball—and his education had been confined to his relative’s home. Julian hadn’t a notion where Woodhaven would have learned such a lesson in the cruelty of others, yet he had indeed learned it at some point.
“Indeed, boys can be cruel. And so can men. I am hopeful my old schoolmates prove themselves to have poor memories.”
“Because I’ve had enough of their condescending whispers. Rather not have to endure them during the Season. Tonight went well, though. Perhaps I have the passage of time to thank. It’s been a decade since my family left England. My illustrious father died in America, so he hasn’t been back to stir up the gossipmongers. And I had my cousin’s support. Attending with Lord Benjamin Parker certainly helped.”
“You have my support as well, for what it’s worth.”
Julian blinked, taken aback by Woodhaven’s sincerity. “T-Thank you, Woodhaven. Truly. You’re a fine friend.” He hadn’t had a true friend, someone who cared enough to stand by his side, in ages…if ever.
An abashed little pleased smile curved the edges of Woodhaven’s mouth, that faint blush once again warming his cheeks. “You’re a fine friend as well,” he murmured, his gaze locked with Julian’s.
Julian held his gaze. Woodhaven had beautiful eyes. A rich brown, the color of polished mahogany. Large and expressive. He could read everything in them. Blatant interest, an eagerness to please, hesitation. He watched as that hesitation faded, giving way to surprise and uncertainty, as if Woodhaven still wasn’t completely sure if his interest was returned.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside the door. Probably one of the many servants retiring for the night.
The sound broke the spell. Those dark eyes broke contact.
Woodhaven cleared his throat then set his glass down on the side table. “It’s getting late. I best retire. Don’t want to keep my valet up until dawn waiting for me.” He stood and began to cross to the door but stopped by the foot of the bed. He turned back to Julian. “If you leave your clothes out, a servant will have them cleaned and pressed in the morning.”
The man likely thought he only had the clothes on his back. The bag wasn’t empty. He had brought two coats with him, which he needed to replace but hadn’t since he’d been saving to come to London, along with enough shirts and trousers for the journey across the Atlantic. But rather than point that out to Woodhaven, Julian merely stood and nodded his thanks.
Yet Woodhaven didn’t make another move toward the door. He lingered by the bed, his gaze going to the mattress, the navy coverlet drawn back exposing the pristine white sheet, and then back to Julian. Capturing the edge of his bottom lip between his teeth, he shifted his weight.
Julian read the invitation clear as day in Woodhaven’s eyes. If he wanted Woodhaven, the man would be his. He could order Woodhaven to drop his trousers and bend over the side of the bed, and the man would enthusiastically do as bid. He’d likely even thank Julian for buggering him.
It was just the sort of invitation he had been waiting for.
But instead of taking Woodhaven up on the invitation. Instead of taking a step toward the man. Instead of even tugging off his own coat in a silent sign that they were of a like mind, he merely said, “Thank you for the nightcap.” At the disappointment beginning to cloud those beautiful eyes, he added with a smile, “And for the company.”
The disappointment vanished. Woodhaven nodded. An answering smile curved his mouth. “Good night, Julian.” And with that, he slipped out the door.
Oscar flipped to the next invitation in the stack. A musicale given by the wife of a country gentleman. No, it wouldn’t do. With a small shake of his head, he put the invitation on the side table with the others he’d already discarded.
He usually accepted the invitations his friends accepted, not giving much mind to the details of the function or who was hosting. Though it was his first Season, he had attended a near constant stream of events since last summer, and they had all seemed rather the same to him. Rout or musicale, ball or dinner party, all that had mattered was that they kept him from sitting home alone. He’d had enough of his own company while residing with his aunt and uncle, so much so he’d turned a deaf ear to his uncle’s protests and left Yorkshire the moment he had learned it was within his power to do so. Now that he lived in Town, he made it a point to be out and about whenever possible, with little regard to the destination. But today instead of blindly following his friends’ preferences, he passed a critical eye over each invitation, judging its worthiness toward achieving his goal.
He picked up the next crisp white card from the stack on his lap. The Hunts’ ball Saturday night. Everyone of any significance would attend. He and Julian had already discussed the invitation and had an informal wager on the outcome. A definite yes for that one. He set the card on the settee cushion next to his hip.
Turning his attention from the invitations, he looked to Julian, who stood in the middle of the morning room, white-shirted arms outstretched as Oscar’s tailor flittered about him, taking measurements and rattling off numbers to his assistant who was perched on a chair in the corner of the room. Fabric samples littered the low table in front of the settee. Various shades of subdued navy, brown and bottle-green in soft wool for coats, along with rich silks that ran the gamut from pale ivory to deep crimson for waistcoats. Late morning sunlight streamed through the windows, providing Oscar a hint of the hard body beneath Julian’s fine linen shirt. The breadth of his chest, the defined line of his waist, the strong muscles of his arms.
The man was most assuredly all muscle. But not thick and bulky like a prizefighter. Rather he possessed a build that rode the perfect line between massive and sleek. Tall but not so tall that he towered over Oscar. Broad shoulders that weren’t so broad as to make fitting a coat near impossible. Damn near everything would look good on him, even purple velvet.
The tailor dropped to his knees before Julian and ran the length of his measuring tape up the inside of one leg. Oscar swallowed hard. The back of his tailor’s knuckles had to be grazing Julian’s ballocks. He’d never had cause to be jealous of his tailor before, but at the moment, he’d give just about anything to be in the man’s place and take some measurements of his own.
With a mental shake of his head, he forced his mind off Julian’s cock and back to the matter at hand, namely the invitations on his lap. Wouldn’t do to sport an erection. He was beginning to believe Julian wouldn’t take issue, but now wasn’t the ideal time to find out.
“Do you have plans to attend any specific functions with Parker?” Probably best to ask, before Oscar filled his calendar with events for him and Julian to attend.
“No, nothing specific,” Julian said. “He had offered to take me to last night’s ball and had implied the possibility of others but didn’t mention details.”
“Well, don’t be put off by it. Parker hasn’t seemed as—” he waved a hand, struggling to find the right word, “—social as usual of late.”
That got Julian’s attention. “Truly? I assumed he had not yet decided if he wanted to drag me around for the Season.”
“Yes, truly. You shouldn’t assume the lack of details is due to you.” No wonder Julian had been taken aback by Oscar’s offer of support last night. “Perhaps Parker is beginning to tire of the Season. It’s not his first—he has lived in Town for a few years. He still hosts dinner parties on occasion and shows up at White’s in the afternoons. So he’s nowhere near a recluse. He just doesn’t seem to go to as many functions, and when he does attend, I’ve noticed he now departs before the great-grandmothers who do nothing but sit and gossip all evening have grown tired.”
He used to be able to count on Parker to go to the theatre with him or take a ride about the park on a pleasant afternoon when his other friends were occupied. But of late, the man had declined more often than not, leaving Oscar to impose on an acquaintance for company. And acquaintances were merely that—acquaintances. He had a small circle of friends, but most had someone else they preferred above him. Mercer with Stoddart, Norton now with Bennett. Even Radcliffe much preferred Anderson’s company over his own, and Oscar had sucked Radcliffe’s cock and let the man bugger him on occasion. It all left Oscar feeling rather like an unwanted hanger-on, tolerated to the point of politeness and nothing more. And he was well aware the acquaintances who chose to gamble with him at White’s and at balls only did so because he frequently lost.
His shoulders slumped.
Then he rolled his eyes. Now he was making himself feel pathetic.
No use dwelling on what he could not change.
And he could call Julian friend now. Smiling, he picked up the next card. It was immensely grand to have a friend of his own. And a friend who might not only prefer men, but who might actually prefer him.
“How about a supper party with dancing and cards for tonight?” he asked Julian. “Hosted by Lord and Lady Williams. They live off Berkley Square.”
Julian shrugged. “Sounds pleasant.”
The invitation went with the Hunts’ at Oscar’s hip.
“Done.” The tailor stepped back from Julian. “We’ll start with the coat. Single or double-breasted?”
“I prefer single,” Julian said.
With a scratch of his pencil, the assistant made a note in the ledger on his lap.
“And fabric?” the tailor asked, as he folded his measuring tape.
Leaning forward, Oscar set aside the invitations and shifted through the pile of fabric on the table before him. “This navy is nice, Julian, so is the green for an evening coat. The nut-brown would do for a riding coat. And this tan would go well with a blue waistcoat. What do you think, Julian? Do you care for pink for a waistcoat?” He held up a sample of pin-striped pale pink silk.
Lips pursed, Julian surveyed the sample. “Not so much.”
What a shame. With Oscar’s fair skin and red hair, it would look atrocious on him, but it would be divine on Julian.
“I agree with the navy. Might as well match the bedchamber. And cream for a waistcoat.” Julian turned to the tailor. “That will be all.”
“Only a coat and waistcoat? Julian, you’ll be in Town for the Season. You need more than that.”
“Of course, but I don’t need to take care of it today. I can see to it later.”
“But…” Oscar held back the sigh and looked to the tailor. “Can you please give us a moment?”
With a nod, the tailor and his assistant slipped from the room.
Getting to his feet, Oscar rounded the low table. “It’s my tailor, Julian. He’ll send the bill to my banker, with all the others.”
“Don’t give it another thought. Truly. You’re my guest.”
A heavy frown creased Julian’s brow. “That doesn’t mean you need to see to my bills.”
“No, but I want to. Indulge me.” Staring up at Julian, he gave the man a smile, which he hoped would convey just how happy it would make him to see to the man’s bills. Oscar had more money than he knew what to do with. If he could use some of it to help his friend, who obviously did not have much, then he would do it without hesitation. “Please?”
With the crease still marring his brow, Julian’s gaze swept over Oscar’s face. Just when Oscar was certain the man would hold firm, refuse Oscar’s offer, he let out a breath, the tension leaving his shoulders. “All right.”
“Brilliant.” Oscar clapped his hands together. “I’ll call the tailor back while you select some fabrics.”
“Whatever you’d prefer is acceptable to me.”
“No, no. You choose. They’ll be your clothes. Though if you don’t care for pink, maybe consider the lavender.”