Authors: Ava March
“More?” Oscar asked, as Julian refilled his empty tumbler.
A grim nod.
“You are determined to get me foxed, aren’t you?”
“Sometimes one needs to get foxed. Good for the soul and all.” He set the decanter back on the side table. “Your inheritance must be impressive, given your relatives’ behavior.”
Oscar shrugged as he brought the glass to his lips to take a long sip. “The prospect of eight hundred can do that to a person.” But even his inheritance hadn’t been enough to garner the appearance of care from his relatives. Fortunately London hadn’t proved as fickle. Friends, even if motivated by his bank account, were preferable to no friends at all.
Julian glanced about the study. “All of this on an income of eight hundred a year?”
“Oh no. I was referring to the sum not the income, and I meant thousand. Eight hundred thousand.”
Julian’s features blanked with shock. Oscar knew how he felt. There were times when his fortune overwhelmed him. The sheer enormity of it, the myriad of investments and properties, both in England and on the continent. He couldn’t name them all, let alone identify them on a list as his if asked. His father’s illness had been swift, but he’d had the opportunity to put his affairs in order. To appoint a more than competent team of bankers and estate managers and solicitors and trustees to oversee everything in his stead. A team that still managed everything. One day, Oscar knew he would need to fully step into his father’s shoes, but the mere thought of it alone was more than daunting. Downright intimidating.
“Did you actually give your aunt and uncle forty thousand pounds?”
“Yes. My uncle really wasn’t pleased when I told him I was moving to London. The sum quieted his tirade. And they did take me in. They didn’t have to. Wasn’t forced upon them.”
Julian’s features hardened. “They didn’t deserve your generosity.”
“Likely not,” Oscar admitted with a shrug. And it wasn’t as if his relatives had no money of their own. His uncle’s property brought in a comfortable income. “But it has kept them from making demands upon me. Well, at least until today. I’m hopeful the reminder will keep them in check for a while longer.”
If they had just been kind to him. If they had just pretended to want him around, he would have freely given them anything they desired. But after enduring years of their contempt… Frankly, he’d had enough. He doubted anyone in all of England would blame him for turning his aunt and uncle away today.
He drained the contents of his glass, the whisky flowing down his throat in a soothing glide. His mind had become comfortably fuzzy, the tension long gone. Leaning right, he made to set the empty glass on the side table. Julian’s hand shot out, catching the tumbler before it could fall to the floor.
He met Julian’s gaze. “Thank you for being my friend.”
Julian set the glass on the table then reached for Oscar’s hand hanging limp over the arm of the couch. Long fingers wrapped around his, gave his hand a squeeze. “Thank you for being mine. And…thank you for the pocket watch.”
“Do you like it?” Pathetic to need the reassurance, yet he couldn’t stop himself from asking.
Julian nodded once. “Very much so,” he said, low and almost reverent.
A smile spread across Oscar’s mouth. All right, it was likely one of those drunken grins, but he didn’t much care. To hell with his relatives. All that mattered was that Julian liked the gift.
After a long moment, he pulled his hand free of Julian’s and sat back on the couch. The coals shifted on the grate, the fire popping and crackling in the hearth. He glanced to the windows, the drapes drawn back exposing the night sky.
“It’s getting late,” Oscar said. “We should leave for White’s.”
“We needn’t go to White’s tonight.”
Julian didn’t want to go to White’s? He had seemed rather keen on the idea earlier. “I thought you wanted to go?”
“Well yes, but we can go another night. We can stay here tonight if you wish.”
“No, I want to go out.” Especially after the altercation with his relatives. He wanted to be out and about, to have a jolly good evening, not stay home and brood over the horrid afternoon. “Though let’s go to the theatre instead of the rout.” There was no guarantee he wouldn’t bump into his aunt and uncle at Lord Donner’s, whereas he’d purchased the box at Drury Lane last summer. To his knowledge, his relatives knew nothing of its existence. Not that he planned to change his calendar completely, but he’d rather not see them again today.
“If you insist, I certainly won’t object to taking in a performance.”
“I damn well do insist,” Oscar said with a grin. He pushed to his feet. His head swam from the abrupt movement, his knees giving out from under him, landing him back on the couch.
Dear Lord. Clearly he was more foxed than he’d realized.
At Julian’s chuckle, he shot the man a stern look, or what he hoped amounted to a stern look. “It’s your doing.”
“Indeed, and I take full responsibility. Therefore, you stay right there while I call for a tea tray and some biscuits. White’s can wait an hour.”
Likely wise. Wouldn’t do to be seen stumbling about White’s, at least not so early in the evening.
Oscar shrugged his agreement. Julian stood, grabbed the bottle of whisky and then left the room, throwing one last concerned glance over his shoulder before shutting the door behind him.
The man truly was a fine friend.
“I keep a lodge up in Durham. Prime ground for pheasants in the autumn. Do you enjoy shooting, Parker?”
“Who doesn’t enjoy killing a pheasant or two,” Julian replied, though he hadn’t a notion if he would enjoy it or not. The opportunity had never before presented itself, but he wasn’t about to bring that to Miss Katherine Wright’s brother’s attention.
The man’s chuckle was almost lost in the drone of the many conversations filling the grand saloon. If Drury Lane was a ball, one could say it had definitely approached crush status. Clusters of people filled the saloon, chatting among acquaintances and catching up on the latest bits of gossip while they waited for the time to draw near for the performance to start.
“Indeed, Parker. You should join us on our next excursion into the wilds of Durham.” Mark Wright slapped the man standing next to him good-naturedly on the back. “Montgomery here is a prime shot. Almost as prime as myself.”
Julian tipped his head. “Thank you for the invitation. I will most assuredly consider it.”
If Wright thought well enough of him to extend an invitation for shooting, then that was a very good sign any recollections of the gossip Julian’s father had stirred up were far, far in the back of man’s mind. In fact, Julian had yet to receive any outright cuts or sneers of disgust. Being seen with Oscar was just as good if not better than being seen with Benjamin. Everyone welcomed the fellow, and in turn welcomed him. Even White’s had gone exceedingly well, where they had dined at a table with Wright and a few other men. He’d been willing to give Oscar a quiet evening at home after the incident with his relatives, but Oscar had insisted they go out, and who was he to argue if Oscar wanted to take him to White’s and the theatre? He had, however, managed a bit of a delay to sober an adorably tipsy Oscar.
As Wright went on about his hunting lodge, Julian let his gaze drift over the man’s shoulder. One glance and he found Oscar’s auburn head in the crowd. He was still talking with a blond young gentleman with delicate, almost feminine features. One of his friends, if Julian recalled correctly. Oscar had pointed him out at the ball the first night they met.
The surrounding crowd was starting to thin, people moving toward the grand staircase. Julian pulled out his new pocket watch. Almost time for the performance to start. When Wright paused to take a breath, Julian took the opportunity to bid the man good evening.
As he crossed the saloon, he saw Oscar doing the same, extending a hand to his friend then turning on his heel.
The broad smile, the flush of pink in his cheeks, the looseness of his stride… He was nudging against tipsy again. Not quite there but close. The tea and biscuits earlier had done their duty, making him steady on his feet after the whisky, but he’d had three glasses of brandy while at White’s. All in all, quite a bit of liquor for one evening for a man of Oscar’s stature. Julian had merely kept an eye on him, not wanting to do anything to dim that carefree smile.
Once he reached Julian, Oscar motioned toward the staircase. “Shall we go to the box? It’s up on the first circle.”
“The friend you were speaking to,” Julian said, as they made their way up the stairs. “I don’t recall his name.”
“Alexander Norton. Nice fellow. He’s been rather scarce of late. Been helping Bennett, another friend of mine, open his new hotel.”
“One of your friends is in trade?” Young gentlemen of the
spent their afternoons at White’s or visiting acquaintances or other idle pursuits, not in gainful employment.
“Bennett’s a hotelier, not a shopkeeper, and he’s from a good family. But even if he was a butcher, it wouldn’t matter to me.” A disapproving frown touched Oscar’s eyes.
He hadn’t meant the comment as an insult. “My apologies, I don’t mean to imply that he isn’t a decent fellow. I was under the impression most young gentlemen in London didn’t, well, work.”
“Some of them do, Julian. In fact, I should be one of them. Shouldn’t leave everything to my estate managers, at least not indefinitely.”
And now he was in danger of Oscar thinking him a lazy snob. Wonderful. “It’s not that I have anything against employment. I was familiar with it myself before I left Philadelphia.”
“What line of business were you in?” Oscar asked, the disapproving frown a distant memory.
“I held a position with a shipping firm.” A lowly clerk’s position. But a step up from the maids who saw to the rubbish bins. Three years of being bent over that damn desk, but it had eventually earned him enough to get back to London and that was all that mattered.
“I have one of those. Quite profitable, according to my banker. Good line of business to be in. Do you plan to remain in shipping?”
“I haven’t yet decided. Figured I’d enjoy the Season before I turned my mind to future pursuits.” If the Season went as he hoped, he would never need to turn his mind anywhere toward a clerk’s desk again.
Fortunately, a pair of older ladies, their gray hair done up in neat curls and their necks draped with jewels, chose that moment to stop them in the corridor to exchange pleasantries with Oscar, saving Julian from any further discussion on the subject of his employment plans. As had become his custom, Oscar introduced him as his “good friend,” earning Julian a kind smile from both ladies. After Oscar extended his own inquiries into the ladies’ grandchildren and received a plea for both he and Julian to call on them soon, Oscar bid the women good evening.
They continued down the corridor, passing other boxes, the doors open, providing glimpses of gentlemen and ladies moving about within and preparing to take their seats.
“Wright seems fond of you.”
Julian shrugged, then admitted after a brief hesitation, “He invited me to go shooting in the autumn. Keeps a lodge up in Durham.”
“That’s wonderful, Julian.” Rather than look put-out, Oscar appeared genuinely pleased for him. “From what I hear, Wright’s quite the enthusiast.”
Julian rolled his eyes. “Brilliant. I’ve never shot in my life.”
“Neither have I, but if you want to accept the invitation, I’m sure I can find someone to teach you. I believe I have a property not far outside of London. We could go there, fire some guns. Might prove to be a spot of fun. Ah, here we are. My box. We have it all to ourselves,” he said, flashing Julian a smile.
Julian followed him inside, shutting the door behind him. A thick velvet curtain bordered one side, the gathered length indicating the curtain could be drawn to close out the noise of the theatre and provide privacy. Four chairs were situated near the front and angled slightly toward the stage. The space held a peaceful, dignified air about it, and—he went to the railing and looked down—was a stark contrast to the two-shilling gallery on the ground floor.
From his vantage point, Julian could take in the entire theatre. It was shaped like a horseshoe, with boxes flanking each long side and rows upon rows of seats in the middle. He counted six boxes, their bow-front railings adorned with elaborate plaster work, across from Oscar’s on the same level. A glance to his left and right confirmed one on the left, the box empty, and four to their right.
A hand touched his forearm. “Grand, isn’t it?”
“Indeed,” he said, pulling his attention off the crowd. Oscar fairly vibrated with excitement. He had a fortune that rivaled the king’s, could build a dozen of his own theatres without making a dent in that fortune, and owned a town house that could hold the entire crowd about them, yet the spark in his dark eyes indicated he wasn’t the least bit jaded by it all.
Though the brandy and whisky could have something to do with his over-excited state. Whatever the cause, Julian was glad for it.
“Keen’s performing tonight, too.” Oscar turned from the railing and took the chair closest to the curtain. “Have a seat, Julian,” he said, patting the chair beside him. “The performance should start momentarily.”
Julian couldn’t help but chuckle. Oscar’s excitement was definitely infectious.
As he took his place next to Oscar, he noticed how his and Oscar’s chairs were a bit closer to each other than the other two. So close that when Oscar scooted to the edge of his cushion and leaned forward to look around the curtain to the box on their right, his knee bumped Julian’s.
A knee that stayed pressed against his even after Oscar sat back.
The chandeliers suspended over the galley dimmed then went out, cloaking the theatre in darkness. Then the stage lights flared to life and the great green curtain lifted.
Fingertips grazed his outer thigh. A whisper of a caress, there and then gone.
Deliberate on Oscar’s part or accidental?
Another touch, this one holding the weight of a slim hand.
He looked to Oscar. His attention was fixed on the actors. From the glow of the lights on the stage, he could make out the little smile tugging the edges of his mouth.
That slim hand slowly drifted up Julian’s leg, fingers curving in to brush the sensitive skin of his inner thigh.
Oscar caught his gaze from the corner of his eye. Julian arched a brow. A quirk of Oscar’s lips then he went back to watching the performance.
Yet those fingers continued their upward path.
Julian glanced about. Given the height of the rail in front of them, the positions of their seats in the box and the surrounding shadows, no one would be able to detect what Oscar was up to. Keeping his expression wiped clean of anything but polite interest in the performance, Julian waited, curious to discover how far Oscar would take his game.
Wooden joints creaked faintly as Oscar shifted on his chair, wiggling closer yet not so close as to rouse suspicion. His hand drifted up higher. Fingertips skimmed across the placket, across the head of Julian’s hardening cock, tentative yet teasing. He spread his legs a bit wider, giving Oscar greater access.
And the man took it.
The performance continued on, the actors moving about the stage in elaborate costumes, their strong voices ringing throughout the theatre. It had all the trappings of a brilliant performance, but the actors could have been children putting on a pantomime for all Julian cared. His senses were completely and absolutely focused on the man beside him. On Oscar and his inquisitive, eager hand.
That delicious touch grew more urgent, demanding. Stroking harder, gripping the length, caressing the needy crown. The man had the most innocent expression on his face, eyes wide with rapt attention and lips slightly parted, while his hand was doing quite an indecent thing. No one could see what Oscar was up to. No one would suspect, as long as Julian did not give it away. But the knowledge that a couple of thousand people surrounded them while Oscar stroked his cock…
“Naughty man,” he murmured, lips barely moving, eyes fixed on the stage. “Stroking my cock at the theatre.”
Oscar’s breath caught. He shifted again, an impatient little motion, tense limbs bumping Julian’s.
Daring to slouch a bit, Julian let his spine go lax and pulled the knee nearest Oscar to the side of the chair. To those around them, he’d appear as if he was simply relaxing, taking in the performance. “Cup my ballocks,” he said in that same low tone designed to just reach Oscar’s ears.
It was all he could do to keep the groan inside as those talented fingers reached lower to fondle his sac, the touch gentle yet firm and somehow finding the most sensitive spots even through the fabric of his trousers.
A laugh rippled through the crowd then silence descended again.
Abandoning Julian’s ballocks, Oscar went back to stroking his cock. Julian locked his muscles, remained still, resisting the urge to rock his hips and push into Oscar’s grip.
But he couldn’t resist the urge to close his eyes. To let his mind wander beyond the restrictions of their surroundings. To Oscar, tugging on the placket, freeing Julian’s erection. Oscar bending over Julian’s lap, those ever-smiling lips opening wide, taking his cock into his mouth. Sucking him off right there at the theatre.
Soft lips dragging up and down his length. The wonderful heat and wetness of an eager mouth—
That hand left him, taking with it the slim body sitting beside him and jolting Julian to the present.
He opened his eyes. Shoulders hunched, Oscar rounded the other side of the chair and disappeared into the back of the box.
Had something upset him?
After giving his head a quick shake to right his senses, Julian stood. Keeping his hands casually clasped before him to hide his erection, he followed Oscar.
He found the man leaning against the back corner of the box, deep in the shadows, a pale hand pressed over the placket of his trousers.
Oscar took a deep breath, the air shuddering on the exhale. A clear attempt to regain control over himself. “Do you truly wish to watch the performance?”
“I can think of more pleasant activities to fill the hour.”
“Thank God,” was Oscar’s quick reply. “Follow me.”
After making an adjustment of his own, he followed Oscar out of the box. A glance up and down the empty corridor, and Oscar grabbed his wrist and tugged him toward a plain door with a hastily murmured, “This way.”
They took a back stairway that led out onto Russell Street, along the side of the theatre. Once they were on the walkway, Oscar released his wrist. Town carriages bordered both sides of the street, footmen chatting in groups, waiting for the performance to end.
“That way,” Julian said, nudging his chin toward Oscar’s four matching grays hitched to his sleek black town carriage.
The moment the footman shut the door, closing them inside the carriage, Julian pulled the shade down. Before the driver could snap the lines, Oscar’s mouth was on his, desperation and urgency drenching the kiss. Hands tugged frantically at the buttons on Julian’s trousers, freed his erection. Oscar broke the kiss, dropped his head over Julian’s lap.
Soft, silken lips slid down his length, engulfing his cock in blissful wet heat.
Obviously they had been of a similar mind back at the theatre.