“Oh, it’s the West Indies for us,” Sir George replied, beckoning for more wine. “Seasickness, mosquitoes, and malaria. Though I will say that at my age, that prospect is somewhat less daunting than mud and frostbite. And the rations are less difficult to manage, of course.”

Hal relaxed a bit at the revelation that Sir George would not be remaining long in England. Benedicta’s money was her own, and safe, for the most part—or as safe as law and Hal could make it. It was his mother’s physical welfare with which he was mostly concerned at the moment. That was, presumably, the point of this luncheon: to indicate firmly to Sir George that Benedicta Grey’s sons took a close interest in her affairs, and intended to continue doing so after her marriage.

Surely you don’t suppose he would beat her? Grey inquired silently of his brother, brows raised. Or install a mistress at Jermyn Street?

Hal adopted a po-faced expression, indicating that Grey was an innocent in the wicked ways of men. Fortunately, Hal himself was not so trusting!

Grey rolled his eyes briefly and averted his gaze from his brother as the steward brought in a dish of hot prunes to accompany the mutton.

Sir George and Hal went off into an intense discussion of the problems of recruitment and supply, leaving Grey and Percy Wainwright once more to their own devices.

“Lord John?” Wainwright spoke low-voiced, brows raised. “It is Lord John?”

“Lord John,” Grey agreed, with a brief sigh.

“But—” Percy glanced again at Hal, who had put down his fork and was drawing up a complicated pattern of troop movements upon the linen tablecloth, using the silver pencil he always kept to hand. The steward was observing this, looking rather bleak.

Is he not a duke, then? “Lord John” was the proper address for the younger son of a duke, while the younger son of an earl would be simply “the Honorable John Grey.” But if Grey’s father had been a duke, then…

“Yes,” Grey said, casting his own eyes up toward the ceiling in token of helplessness.

Apparently, Sir George had not had time to brief his stepson on the matter, beyond warning him not to address Hal as “Your Grace”—the proper address for a duke.

Grey made a slight gesture, not quite a shrug, indicating that he would explain the intricacies of the situation later. The simple fact of the matter, he reflected, was that he was quite as stubborn as his brother. The thought gave him an obscure feeling of pleasure.

“So you think of purchasing a commission in the Forty-sixth?” Grey asked, using his bread to soak up the juices on his plate.

“Perhaps. If that should be agreeable to…all parties,” Wainwright said, glancing at his stepfather and Hal, then back at Grey.

And would it be agreeable to you?

“I should think it an ideal arrangement,” Grey replied. He smiled at Wainwright, a slow smile. “We should be brothers-in-arms, then, as well as brothers by marriage.” He picked up his wineglass in toast to the idea, then took a sip of wine, which he rolled round his mouth, enjoying the feeling of Percy’s eyes fixed on his face.

Percy drank, too, and licked his lips. They were soft and full, stained red with wine.

“Lord John—tell me, please, how did you find our Prussian allies? Was it an artillery regiment with which you were placed, or foot? I confess, I am not so familiar as I should be with arrangements on the eastern front.”

Sir George’s question pulled Grey’s attention momentarily away from Percy, and the conversation became general again. Hal was relaxing by degrees, though Grey could see that he was still a long way from succumbing entirely to Sir George’s charm.

You are a suspicious bastard, you know, he said with a glance at his brother after one particularly probing question.

Yes, and a good thing, too, Hal’s dark look at him replied, before turning to Percy Wainwright with a courteous renewal of Grey’s invitation to visit the regimental quarters.

By the time the pudding arrived, though, cordial relations appeared to have been established on all fronts. Sir George had replied satisfactorily to all Hal’s questions, seeming quite untroubled by the intrusive nature of some of them. In fact, Grey had the feeling that Sir George was privately rather amused by his brother, though taking great care to ensure that Hal was not aware of it.

Meanwhile, he and Percy Wainwright had discovered a mutual enthusiasm for horse-racing, the theater, and French novelists—a discussion of this last subject causing his brother to mutter, “Oh, God!” beneath his breath and order a fresh round of brandy.

Snow had begun to fall outside; in a momentary lull in the conversation, Grey heard the whisper of it against the window, though the heavy drapes were closed against the winter’s chill, and candles lit the room. A pleasant shiver ran down his back at the sound.

“Do you find the room cold, Lord John?” Wainwright asked, noticing.

He did not; there was an excellent fire, roaring away in the hearth and constantly kept up by the ministrations of the Beefsteak’s servants. Beyond that, a plentitude of hot food, wine, and brandy ensured sufficient warmth. Even now, the steward was bringing in cups of mulled wine, and a Caribbean hint of cinnamon spiced the air.

“No,” he replied, taking his cup from the proffered tray. “But there is nothing so pleasant as being inside, warm and well-fed, when the elements are hostile without. Do you not agree?”

“Oh, yes.” Wainwright’s eyelids had gone heavy, and he leaned back in his chair, his clear skin flushed in the candlelight. “Most…pleasant.” Long fingers touched his neckcloth briefly, as though finding it a little tight.

Awareness floated warm in the air between them, heady as the scents of cinnamon and wine. Hal and Sir George were beginning to make noises indicative of leave-taking, with many expressions of mutual regard.

Percy’s long dark lashes rested for a moment on his cheek, and then swept up, so that his eyes met Grey’s.

“Perhaps you would be interested to come with me to Lady Jonas’s salon—Diderot will be there. Saturday afternoon, if you are at liberty?”

So, shall we be lovers, then?

“Oh, yes,” said Grey, and touched the linen napkin to his mouth. His pulse throbbed in his fingertips. “I think so.”

br />

“Oh, it’s the West Indies for us,” Sir George replied, beckoning for more wine. “Seasickness, mosquitoes, and malaria. Though I will say that at my age, that prospect is somewhat less daunting than mud and frostbite. And the rations are less difficult to manage, of course.”

Hal relaxed a bit at the revelation that Sir George would not be remaining long in England. Benedicta’s money was her own, and safe, for the most part—or as safe as law and Hal could make it. It was his mother’s physical welfare with which he was mostly concerned at the moment. That was, presumably, the point of this luncheon: to indicate firmly to Sir George that Benedicta Grey’s sons took a close interest in her affairs, and intended to continue doing so after her marriage.

Surely you don’t suppose he would beat her? Grey inquired silently of his brother, brows raised. Or install a mistress at Jermyn Street?

Hal adopted a po-faced expression, indicating that Grey was an innocent in the wicked ways of men. Fortunately, Hal himself was not so trusting!

Grey rolled his eyes briefly and averted his gaze from his brother as the steward brought in a dish of hot prunes to accompany the mutton.

Sir George and Hal went off into an intense discussion of the problems of recruitment and supply, leaving Grey and Percy Wainwright once more to their own devices.

“Lord John?” Wainwright spoke low-voiced, brows raised. “It is Lord John?”

“Lord John,” Grey agreed, with a brief sigh.

“But—” Percy glanced again at Hal, who had put down his fork and was drawing up a complicated pattern of troop movements upon the linen tablecloth, using the silver pencil he always kept to hand. The steward was observing this, looking rather bleak.

Is he not a duke, then? “Lord John” was the proper address for the younger son of a duke, while the younger son of an earl would be simply “the Honorable John Grey.” But if Grey’s father had been a duke, then…

“Yes,” Grey said, casting his own eyes up toward the ceiling in token of helplessness.

Apparently, Sir George had not had time to brief his stepson on the matter, beyond warning him not to address Hal as “Your Grace”—the proper address for a duke.

Grey made a slight gesture, not quite a shrug, indicating that he would explain the intricacies of the situation later. The simple fact of the matter, he reflected, was that he was quite as stubborn as his brother. The thought gave him an obscure feeling of pleasure.

“So you think of purchasing a commission in the Forty-sixth?” Grey asked, using his bread to soak up the juices on his plate.

“Perhaps. If that should be agreeable to…all parties,” Wainwright said, glancing at his stepfather and Hal, then back at Grey.

And would it be agreeable to you?

“I should think it an ideal arrangement,” Grey replied. He smiled at Wainwright, a slow smile. “We should be brothers-in-arms, then, as well as brothers by marriage.” He picked up his wineglass in toast to the idea, then took a sip of wine, which he rolled round his mouth, enjoying the feeling of Percy’s eyes fixed on his face.

Percy drank, too, and licked his lips. They were soft and full, stained red with wine.

“Lord John—tell me, please, how did you find our Prussian allies? Was it an artillery regiment with which you were placed, or foot? I confess, I am not so familiar as I should be with arrangements on the eastern front.”

Sir George’s question pulled Grey’s attention momentarily away from Percy, and the conversation became general again. Hal was relaxing by degrees, though Grey could see that he was still a long way from succumbing entirely to Sir George’s charm.

You are a suspicious bastard, you know, he said with a glance at his brother after one particularly probing question.

Yes, and a good thing, too, Hal’s dark look at him replied, before turning to Percy Wainwright with a courteous renewal of Grey’s invitation to visit the regimental quarters.

By the time the pudding arrived, though, cordial relations appeared to have been established on all fronts. Sir George had replied satisfactorily to all Hal’s questions, seeming quite untroubled by the intrusive nature of some of them. In fact, Grey had the feeling that Sir George was privately rather amused by his brother, though taking great care to ensure that Hal was not aware of it.

Meanwhile, he and Percy Wainwright had discovered a mutual enthusiasm for horse-racing, the theater, and French novelists—a discussion of this last subject causing his brother to mutter, “Oh, God!” beneath his breath and order a fresh round of brandy.

Snow had begun to fall outside; in a momentary lull in the conversation, Grey heard the whisper of it against the window, though the heavy drapes were closed against the winter’s chill, and candles lit the room. A pleasant shiver ran down his back at the sound.

“Do you find the room cold, Lord John?” Wainwright asked, noticing.

He did not; there was an excellent fire, roaring away in the hearth and constantly kept up by the ministrations of the Beefsteak’s servants. Beyond that, a plentitude of hot food, wine, and brandy ensured sufficient warmth. Even now, the steward was bringing in cups of mulled wine, and a Caribbean hint of cinnamon spiced the air.

“No,” he replied, taking his cup from the proffered tray. “But there is nothing so pleasant as being inside, warm and well-fed, when the elements are hostile without. Do you not agree?”

“Oh, yes.” Wainwright’s eyelids had gone heavy, and he leaned back in his chair, his clear skin flushed in the candlelight. “Most…pleasant.” Long fingers touched his neckcloth briefly, as though finding it a little tight.

Awareness floated warm in the air between them, heady as the scents of cinnamon and wine. Hal and Sir George were beginning to make noises indicative of leave-taking, with many expressions of mutual regard.

Percy’s long dark lashes rested for a moment on his cheek, and then swept up, so that his eyes met Grey’s.

“Perhaps you would be interested to come with me to Lady Jonas’s salon—Diderot will be there. Saturday afternoon, if you are at liberty?”

So, shall we be lovers, then?

“Oh, yes,” said Grey, and touched the linen napkin to his mouth. His pulse throbbed in his fingertips. “I think so.”

Well, he thought, I don’t suppose it’s really incest, and pushed his chair back to arise.

Tom Byrd, Grey’s valet, was rubbing at the gold lace on Grey’s dress uniform with a lump of bread to brighten it, and listening with a lively interest to Grey’s account of the luncheon with General Stanley and his stepson.

“So the general means to make his home here, me lord?” Grey could see Tom calculating what this change might mean to his own world; the general would doubtless bring some of his own servants, including a valet or orderly. “Will the son come, too, this Mr. Wainwright?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so.” In fact, the notion had not occurred to Grey, and he took a moment to examine it. Wainwright had said he had his own rooms, somewhere in Westminster. Having seen the cordial relations that appeared to exist between Sir George and his stepson, though, he had assumed that this state of things was either to do with the cramped nature of the general’s present lodgings—or with Wainwright’s desire for privacy.

“I don’t know. Perhaps he would.” It was an unsettling thought, though not necessarily unpleasant. Grey smiled at Tom, and pulled his banyan close for warmth; despite the fire, the room was cold. “I shouldn’t think he will bring a valet with him if he does come, though.”

“Ho,” Byrd said thoughtfully. “Would you want me to do for him as well, me lord? I wouldn’t mind,” he added quickly. “Is he a dandy, though, would you say?”

There was such a hopeful tone to this last question that Grey laughed.

“Very kind of you, Tom. He dresses decently, but is no macaroni. I believe he means to take up a commission, though. Nothing but more uniforms for you, I’m afraid.”

Byrd made no audible reply to this, but his glance at Grey’s boots, standing caked with mud, straw, and manure by the hearth, was eloquent. He shook his head, squinted at the coat he was holding, decided it would do, and stood up, brushing bread crumbs into the fire.

“Very good, me lord,” he said, resigned. “You’ll look decent for the wedding, though, if I die for it. Come to that, if we’re a-going back to France in March, you’d best be calling on your tailor this week.”

“Oh? All right. Make me a list, then, of what’s needed. Smallclothes, certainly.” Both of them grimaced, in joint memory of what passed for drawers on the Continent.

“Yes, me lord.” Tom bent to shovel embers into the warming pan. “And a pair of doeskin breeches.”

“Don’t I have a pair?” Grey asked, surprised.

“You do,” Byrd said, straightening, “and Lord only knows what you sat on whilst wearing ’em.” He gave Grey a disapproving look; Tom was eighteen, and round-faced as a pie, but his disapproving looks would have done credit to an old gaffer of eighty.

“I’ve done me best, me lord, but bear in mind, if you go out in those breeches, don’t be taking your coat off, or folk will be sure you’ve beshit yourself.”

Grey laughed, and stood aside for Tom to warm the bed. He shucked his banyan and slippers and slid between the sheets, the heat grateful on his chilly feet.

“You have several brothers, don’t you, Tom?”

“Five, me lord. I’d never had a bed to meself until I came to work for you.” Tom shook his head, marveling at his luck, then grinned at Grey. “Don’t suppose you’ll need to share your bed with this Mr. Wainwright, though, will you?”

Grey had a sudden vision of Percy Wainwright, stretched solid beside him in the bed, and an extraordinary sense of warmth pulsed through him, quite incommensurate with the heat provided by the warming pan.

“I doubt it,” he said, remembering to smile. “You can put out the candle, Tom, thank you.”

“Good night, me lord.”

The door closed behind Tom Byrd, and Grey lay watching the firelight play over the furnishings of the room. He was not particularly attached to places—a soldier couldn’t be—nor was this house a great part of his past; the countess had bought it only a few years before. And yet he felt a sudden peculiar nostalgia—for what, he couldn’t have said.

The night was still and cold, and yet seemed full of restless movement. The flicker of the fire; the flicker of arousal that burned in his flesh. He felt things shift and stir, unseen, and had the odd feeling that nothing would ever again be the same. This was nonsense, of course; it never was.

Still, he lay a long time sleepless, wishing time to stay; the night, the house, and himself to remain as they were, just a little longer. And yet the fire died, and he slept, conscious in his dreams of the rising wind outside.

Chapter 2

Not a Betting Man

Grey spent the next morning in a drafty room in Whitehall, enduring the necessary tedium of a colonels’ meeting with the Ordnance Office, featuring a long-winded address by Mr. Adams, First Secretary of the Ministry of Ordnance. Hal, pleading press of business, had dispatched Grey in his place—meaning, Grey thought, manfully swallowing a yawn, that Hal was likely either still at home enjoying breakfast, or at White’s Chocolate House, wallowing in sugared buns and gossip, whilst Grey sat through bum-numbing hours of argument over powder allocations. Well, rank had its privileges.

He found his situation not unpleasant, though. The 46th was fortunately provided for with regards to gunpowder; his half brother Edgar owned one of the largest powder mills in the country. And as Grey was junior to most of the other officers present, he was seldom required to say anything, and thus free to allow his thoughts to drift into speculation regarding Percy Wainwright.

Had he mistaken the attraction? No. He could still feel the extraordinary warmth of Wainwright’s eyes—and the warmth of his touch, when they had shaken hands in farewell.

The notion of Percy Wainwright’s joining the regiment was intriguing. Considered in the sober light of day, it might also be dangerous.

He knew nothing of the man. True, the fact that he was General Stanley’s stepson argued that he must be at least discreet—but Grey knew several discreet villains. And he must not forget that his first meeting with Wainwright had been at Lavender House, a place whose polished surfaces hid many secrets.

Had Wainwright been with anyone on that occasion? Grey frowned, trying to recall the scene, but in fact, his attention had been so distracted at the time that he had noticed only a few faces. He thought that Percy had been alone, but…yes. He must have been, for he had not only introduced himself—he had kissed Grey’s hand.

He’d forgotten that, and his hand closed involuntarily, a small jolt running up his arm as though he had touched something hot.

“Yes, I’d like to throttle him, too,” muttered the man beside him. “Bloody windbag.” Startled, Grey glanced at the officer, an infantry colonel named Jones-Osborn, who nodded, glowering, at Mr. Adams, whose rather high-pitched voice had been going on for some time.

Grey had no idea what Adams had been saying, but grunted agreement and glowered in sympathy. This provoked the man on his other side, who, encouraged by this show of support, shouted a contradiction at Adams, liberally laced with epithet.

The secretary, Irish by birth and no mean hand at confrontation, replied in kind with spirit, and within moments, the meeting had degenerated into something more resembling a session of Parliament than the sober deliberations of military strategists.

Drawn perforce into the ensuing melee, this followed by a cordial luncheon with Jones-Osborn and the rest of the anti-Adams faction, Grey thought no more of Percy Wainwright until he found himself at mid-afternoon in his brother’s office at regimental headquarters.


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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