Authors: Ava March
“Lavender?” Julian asked, doubt written all over his face.
“Yes, it would look lovely paired with your black coat or even with a navy one. I could never wear lavender, but you most assuredly can.”
Julian gave his head an indulgent shake, a glimpse of a smile teasing the edges of his mouth. “If you insist.”
but well, if you find you don’t care for it, then you needn’t wear it. I’ll go fetch the tailor.” He crossed to the door. Hand on the knob, he glanced back to Julian. “Would you care for tea? I’ll have the maid bring a tray in. Oh, and I should summon the bootmaker and the glovemaker. Might as well take care of everything in one day.”
If he had his way, and it very much appeared his friend was allowing it, Julian would be the best dressed gentleman in all of London. No one would dare snub him again.
“Mr. Woodhaven, your carriage is ready.”
Oscar gave the Williams’ butler a nod and then looked across the entrance hall to where Julian stood conversing with a pair of ladies and another gentleman. The trio, a married couple and the woman’s younger sister, had decided to leave at the same time as Oscar and Julian, and as such had followed them to the entrance hall. Oscar didn’t blame the ladies for being taken with Julian, but honestly, had they needed to chatter nonstop with him since they’d left the ballroom?
As if sensing Oscar’s attention, Julian glanced over his shoulder, caught Oscar’s eye. Oscar nudged his chin toward the door.
Julian nodded once, letting Oscar know he’d received his unspoken message.
All evening, throughout the supper and the dancing and the card games, Julian had been catching his eye. Quick glances. None held overlong. But enough for Oscar to know he’d been on Julian’s mind even when the man had been paired with a young lady during a country reel.
A short bow to the ladies, a shake of the gentleman’s hand, and Julian finally extricated himself from the group. The new navy coat fit him to perfection, highlighting the breadth of his shoulders and his hard waist. And he did indeed look lovely in lavender, the soft cool shade a perfect complement to his dark hair. No,
wasn’t quite right. Gorgeous. Delicious. Devastatingly handsome, somehow even more so than at last night’s ball. Oscar’s tailor definitely deserved a boon for delivering the garments before they’d left for the Williams’ that evening.
Julian stopped at his side. “The carriage is ready?”
“Yes. Shall we go?”
A nod from Julian and they left the town house. The stone walkway leading to the waiting carriage glistened under the lamplight from the light misty rain. The night air held a bit of remaining warmth from the pleasant spring day. His footman stood at the ready, holding the door of the carriage open for them. Oscar held back and allowed Julian to precede him inside. Instead of sitting on the opposite bench as he had done last night, Julian scooted midway down the facing bench, leaving enough room for Oscar to sit beside him.
A tremble of anticipation gripped him as he sat next to Julian. Not so close that he was pressed full against Julian’s side, but just that bit closer than one would sit next to a mere acquaintance.
The footman shut the door, cloaking them in shadows. A snap of leather lines and the carriage lurched forward.
Folding his hands on his lap, Oscar tried to mask his nerves. He didn’t have a vast array of experience with other men. Really, there had been only two. The groom who had worked in the stables at his aunt and uncle’s home in Yorkshire, and Radcliffe. In both cases, the question of the other party’s interest had not been in doubt. The groom had grabbed his arse while he’d been saddling a horse one evening, and Radcliffe had asked him directly, in an indirect sort of way, if he preferred men. Julian, though, had done neither of those things, leaving Oscar caught in an odd sort of place. Uncertain if Julian was waiting for him to broach the subject, either verbally or in a nonverbal fashion, or if Oscar was completely misinterpreting the man, allowing his wishful thinking to get the better of him.
But men who preferred women didn’t hold another man’s gaze the way Julian had a tendency to do with him, let alone gift him with a slow, sinful smile that had made Oscar just want to…sigh last night. One of those
sighs. And now Julian had maneuvered it so Oscar would sit beside him on the ride home.
The man had to have done it deliberately, hadn’t he?
A glance out the window confirmed the sparseness of the streets. The hour was late, pushing against half-past three in the morning, the city quiet. Most had long ago reached their homes for the night.
Doing his best to appear nonchalant, Oscar removed first one white evening glove and then the other. Gloves clutched in one hand, he began to lift his other from his lap, then paused to glance to Julian from the corner of his eye.
Chin tipped up, the man tugged on his cravat, loosening it about his neck. One of those patently male gestures, signaling the end of a day.
Do it. Now.
Breath held, Oscar dared to reach out, to rest a hand on Julian’s thigh. Julian didn’t shift away or make any move to indicate he didn’t approve. The muscles were hard and strong beneath Oscar’s palm. The heat from Julian’s body quickly seeped through the fine wool trousers, warming his hand.
How would that heat feel when they were pressed together, bare skin to bare skin?
The carriage turned a corner. Oscar didn’t reach for the leather loop by the door. He let the momentum lean him into Julian, his shoulder pressing against Julian’s. The light from a passing streetlamp fell onto the opposite bench then slipped out of the carriage, plunging the interior back into shadows. The moment felt so perfect, he couldn’t stop himself from turning his head and tipping his face up toward Julian’s beautiful mouth.
Soft lips brushed his own.
Desire and relief rushed through him like a tidal surge. A whimper rattled his throat. He clutched Julian’s thigh and stretched his spine, blindly reaching for more, lips parted in welcome and desperate for a taste of Julian.
A gloved hand cupped his jaw, held him steady. Then Julian’s mouth slanted over his. Harsh and firm. A hot tongue pushed inside Oscar’s mouth.
Unable to remain still, Oscar wiggled closer, rubbing against solid muscles as he dove into the kiss. Lips sliding across Julian’s, tongue stroking Julian’s. The man tasted of heat and spice and brandy. Masculine and confident. Exactly how Oscar had imagined he would taste.
Then those lips left his. Left him reaching for Julian’s shoulder, stretching up for more.
Julian’s hand slipped from his jaw, his thumb brushing across Oscar’s parted lips. “We’re home.”
It took a second for Julian’s words to penetrate the fog of lust. Then Oscar’s senses registered the slowing of the carriage.
He quickly moved off Julian’s thigh and back to his spot on the bench. “Indeed we are,” he said, trying to match Julian’s casual tone.
Julian had kissed him.
Pressing his lips together to hide the grin, he tugged on his coat, righting his clothes and using the opportunity to covertly press the heel of his palm to the base of his stiff cock. He couldn’t help but glance to the placket of Julian’s trousers, curious if the man was in a similar state as himself.
Damn shadows. He couldn’t make out anything but darkness.
The carriage shifted slightly. Oscar bit the inside of his cheek, focused on the pain. In a moment, his footman would open the carriage door. Wouldn’t do to be seen exiting a dark carriage with his house guest while sporting an erection. His servants were discreet and loyal, but he’d rather not test the limit of their discretion.
“Ready?” Oscar murmured. If necessary, he could signal to his footman, bade the man to wait.
Julian’s elbow bumped his as the man righted his own coat. “Yes.”
The door opened. Oscar moved to get to his feet.
“Wait. Your gloves.”
He glanced over his shoulder, to the white gloves held in Julian’s outstretched hand. He hadn’t a notion when he’d dropped them, but obviously at some point over the last few minutes—likely when his mouth had been plastered to Julian’s, their tongues tangling together, the strength of the man’s body demanding Oscar get even closer—the gloves had lost all significance.
With a self-deprecating shake of his head, he snatched the gloves.
He bid his night butler good evening, dropped the gloves in the man’s hand, then went up the stairs. He was acutely aware of Julian at his side as they made their way to the second floor, the man’s naturally longer strides shortened to match his. Oscar racked his brain for a bland topic of conversation. Something to fill the void, to fill the silence that stretched between them, stringing his nerves taut. Something to pull his mind off that kiss and where it could possibly lead them. Where he hoped it would lead them.
Should he have asked his butler to have a tray brought up to Julian’s room? He could always summon a maid, but his bedchamber and Julian’s would already be ready for the night. The fires lit, everything tidy and in its place, including Oscar’s valet. And it was late, even later than last night.
No, he shouldn’t summon a maid to bring a nightcap.
“Have you decided what tomorrow evening will hold?” Julian asked, as he reached for the brass knob on his door. After opening the door, he turned to face Oscar.
Tomorrow evening. Of course they would go out. Briefly closing his eyes, he summoned the images of the invitations he’d reviewed that afternoon. “A rout, given by Lord Donner. There’s also a musical party we could attend, but the rout should be better attended.”
“I defer to your greater wisdom about such matters.”
“I wouldn’t call it wisdom. The performers at musicales typically lack talent.”
“Well then, my ears thank you.”
Uncertain what to do with himself, Oscar shifted his weight. Julian just stood there, with what looked suspiciously like an indulgent smile tipping the edges of his mouth.
“My valet’s waiting. So, I should…” Oscar motioned down the corridor, in the direction of his bedchamber.
Julian tipped his head. “If you must.”
What did that mean? Did Julian want Oscar to stay with him for the night, or was the comment a nudge to leave the man in peace? “All right then.” Another shift of his weight. Dear Lord, he was just standing there. Julian must think him a fool. A flush of heat rose up his neck, burning his cheeks. He fought the urge to shake his head at himself. “Good night, Julian.”
But as he walked, not ran, down to his door, he swore he could feel the force of Julian’s gaze on his retreating back.
Oscar stopped in front of the door to the blue bedchamber. His pulse rushed through his veins, his heart beating rapidly against his ribs. His hands shook slightly, rattling the excuse for his late-night call. He adjusted his grip, shifting the two tumblers in his grasp, quieting the faint jangle of crystal against crystal.
It hadn’t been wishful thinking. He was certain of it now. Julian was interested in him. He had felt the attraction in that kiss in the carriage. The man wouldn’t have kissed him if he wasn’t at least somewhat interested. And Julian hadn’t dismissed him when they’d been standing at the open door to his bedchamber. He’d been waiting for Oscar. Had been a gentleman, not pushing Oscar to enter the room unless he wanted to.
And he definitely wanted to.
Therefore, he should knock on the door.
He stared at the solid oak, his arms locked to his sides.
Should he have asked Julian if the man wanted him to stop by? Or at least taken the opportunity as they had walked upstairs to nudge around the topic?
That kiss had been the nudge, you fool.
He shook his head at himself.
Just knock on the door.
Shifting his weight, he glanced up and down the empty corridor. Dark shadows clung to the walls. A pair of sconces cast a pool of golden light on the staircase landing, the other sconces dark. No reason to worry, he reminded himself. The servants had retired for the night, and neither his night butler nor the two footmen had cause to venture up to the second floor.
Briefly closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and then slowly let it out. Didn’t do a bit of good to slow his pulse, but it made him feel a bit settled. Less like he was going to jump out of his skin.
He squared his shoulders.
No time like the present.
Tucking the bottle of brandy under one arm, he rapped his knuckles on the door, careful and gentle, so the sound wouldn’t echo down the corridor.
“Come in.” Julian’s voice seeped through the wood.
Oscar took one last moment in a failed attempt to calm his pulse then turned the knob.
He slipped into the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. His gaze went immediately to the bed, the mattress empty save for the pillows, turned-back coverlet and sheet. A single candle on the bedside table lit the room.
Oscar’s head snapped to the sitting area in the far corner. Clad in only trousers and a white shirt, Julian was casually sprawled in an armchair, his legs stretched out before him.
“Evening, Julian.” Stepping farther into the room, Oscar pulled the bottle from under his elbow and lifted it, offering his excuse for the visit. “Care for a nightcap?”
“Perhaps.” A lazy smile on his lips, Julian stood and crossed the distance between them. “Is that all you’re offering?”
Oscar’s breath hitched. He shook his head.
That lazy smile turned sinful, rich and steeped in lust. Julian took the bottle and glasses from Oscar and set them on the nearby chest of drawers. “I’m rather disappointed in your valet.”
“Why?” He couldn’t pull his eyes from Julian’s neck. The man had abandoned his cravat, his shirt collar laying open, exposing the hollow of his throat. He wanted to press his lips there, lick the smooth skin. Hell, he wanted to lick every inch of Julian’s body.
Julian leaned closer, his head tipping down. Warm lips brushed Oscar’s ear. “He didn’t remove all your clothes.”
A shiver raced up his spine. Actually, his valet had helped him to undress, as the man did every night. Oscar had simply pulled his trousers and shirt back on after the servant had left his bedchamber. “You can see to them, if you’d like.”
“I believe I shall.”
Nerves strung so tight, he nearly gave a start when fingers skimmed his sides to tug his shirttail from his trousers. Straightening, Julian pulled the shirt over Oscar’s head and tossed it aside.
Oscar dragged a quick hand through his hair, which was likely standing up on end. He watched, transfixed, as Julian reached for the placket of Oscar’s trousers. The top button undone, Julian paused, then laid a hand over Oscar’s right pocket, over the small vial hidden within.
“What else did you bring with you?” Julian murmured, dark brow arched in curiosity.