“I should appreciate your company very much, Lord John,” he said, and though the words were formal, his bloodshot eyes were warm.

They didn’t speak in the coach. The rain had ceased and they left the windows down, the air cold and fresh on their faces. Grey’s thoughts were disordered by the amount of wine drunk with dinner, more so by the tumultuous emotions of the day—and, most of all, by Stephan’s close presence. He was a large man, and his knee vibrated with the coach’s movement, no more than an inch from Grey’s.

As he followed Stephan from the coach, he caught the scent of von Namtzen’s cologne, something faint and spicy—cloves, he thought, and was absurdly reminded of Christmas, and oranges studded thick with cloves, the smell festive in the house.

His hand closed on the orange, cool and round in his pocket, and he thought of other rounded things that might fit in his hand, these warm.

“Fool,” he said to himself, under his breath. “Don’t even think about it.”

It was, of course, impossible not to think about it.

Dismissing the yawning butler who let them in, Stephan led Grey to a small sitting room where a banked fire smoldered in the hearth. He waved Grey to a comfortable chair and took up the poker himself to stir the embers into life.

“You will have something to drink?” he asked, with a nod over his shoulder to a sideboard on which glasses and bottles stood in orderly ranks, graded by size. Grey smiled at the Germanic neatness of the array, but poured a small brandy for himself and—with a glance at Stephan’s broad back—a slightly larger one for his friend.

Several of the bottles were half empty, and he wondered how long Stephan had been in London.

Seated before the fire, they sipped at their drinks in a companionable silence, watching the flames.

“It was kind of you to come with me,” Stephan said at last. “I did not want to be alone tonight.”

Grey lifted one shoulder in dismissal. “I am only sorry that it should be tragedy that brings us together again,” he said, and meant it. He hesitated. “You … miss your wife greatly?”

Stephan pursed his lips a little. “I—well … of course I mourn Louisa,” he said, with more formality than Grey would have expected. “She was a fine woman. Very good at managing things.” A faint, sad smile touched his lips. “No, it is my poor children for whom I am sorrowful.”

The shadow Grey had noted before clouded the broad face, clean-limned as a Teutonic saint’s. “Elise and Alexander … They lost their own mother when they were quite small, and they loved Louisa very much; she was a wonderful mother, as kind to them as to her own son.”

“Ah,” Grey said. “Siggy?” He’d met young Siegfried, Louisa’s son by her first marriage, and smiled at the memory.

“Siggy,” von Namtzen agreed, and smiled a little, too, but the smile soon faded. “He must remain in Lowenstein, of course; he is the heir. And that also is too bad for Lise and Sascha—they are very fond of him, and now he is gone from them, too. It’s better for them to be with my sister. I could not leave them at Lowenstein, but their faces when I had to say farewell to them this afternoon …”

His own face crumpled for a moment, and Grey felt by reflex in his pocket for a handkerchief, but von Namtzen buried his grief in his glass for a moment and got control of himself again.

Grey rose and turned his back tactfully as he refreshed his drink, saying something casual about his cousin Olivia’s child, Cromwell, now aged almost two and the terror of the household.

“Cromwell?” von Namtzen said, clearing his throat and sounding bemused. “This is an English name?”

“Couldn’t be more so.” An explanation of the history of the lord protector carried them into safe waters—though Grey suffered a slight private pang; he couldn’t think of young Cromwell without remembering Percy, the stepbrother who had also been his lover. They had both been present—inadvertently—at young Cromwell’s birth, and his description of this hair-raising occasion made Stephan laugh.

The house was quiet, and the small room seemed removed from everything, a warm refuge in the depths of the night. He felt as though the two of them were castaways, thrown up together on some island by the storms of life, passing uncharted time by exchanging their stories.

It wasn’t the first time. When he had been wounded after Crefeld, he had been taken to Stephan’s hunting lodge at Waldesruh to recover, and once he was able to carry on a conversation that lasted more than two sentences, they had often talked like this, late into the night.

“You are feeling well?” Stephan asked suddenly, picking up his train of thought in the way that close friends sometimes do. “Your wounds—do they still pain you?”

“No,” he said. He had wounds that still did, but not physical ones. “Und dein Arm?”

Stephan laughed with pleasure at hearing him speak German and lifted the stump of his left arm a little.

“Nein. Eine Unannehmlichkeit, mehr nicht.” A nuisance, no more.

He watched Stephan as they talked, now in both languages, seeing the light move on his face, as it went from humor to seriousness and back again, expressions flickering like fire shadow over his broad Teutonic bones. Grey had been startled, as well as moved, by the depth of Stephan’s feeling for his children—though, on consideration, he shouldn’t have been. He’d long been struck by the apparent contradiction in the Teutonic character, swinging from cold logic and ferocity in battle to the deepest romanticism and sentimentality.

Passion, he supposed you’d call it. Weirdly enough, it reminded him of the Scots, who were emotionally much the same, though less disciplined about it.

Master me, he thought. Or shall I your master be?

And with that casual thought, something moved viscerally in him. Well, it had been moving for some time, in all honesty. But with that particular thought, his attraction to Stephan suddenly merged with the things he had been deliberately not thinking—or feeling—with regard to Jamie Fraser, and he found himself grow flushed, discomfited.

Did he want Stephan only because of the physical similarities between him and Fraser? They were both big men, tall and commanding, both the sort that made people turn to look at them. And to look at either of them stirred him, deeply.

It was quite different, though. Stephan was his friend, his good friend, and Jamie Fraser never would be. Fraser, though, was something that Stephan never could be.

“You are hungry?” Without waiting for an answer, Stephan rose and rummaged in a cupboard, coming out with a plate of biscuits and a pot of orange marmalade.

Grey smiled, remembering his earlier prediction regarding von Namtzen’s appetite. He took an almond biscuit from politeness rather than hunger and, with a feeling of affection, watched Stephan devour biscuits spread with marmalade.

The affection was tinged with doubt, though. There was a sense of deep closeness between them, here in the night, quite alone—no doubt at all of that. But what sort of closeness …?

Stephan’s hand brushed his, reaching for a biscuit, and von Namtzen squeezed his fingers lightly, smiling, before letting go and taking up the marmalade spoon. The touch ran up Grey’s arm and straight down his spine, raising hairs in its wake.

No, he thought, struggling for logic, for decency. I can’t.

It wouldn’t be right. Not right to use Stephan, to try to slake his physical need with Stephan, perhaps risk their friendship by trying. And yet the temptation was there, no doubt of that, either. Not only the immediate desire—which was bloody strong—but the ignoble thought that he might by such means exorcise, or at least temper, the hold Fraser had upon him. It would be far easier to face Fraser, to deal with him calmly, if the sense of physical desire was at least muted, if not gone entirely.

But … he looked at Stephan, the kindness and the sadness in his broad face, and knew he couldn’t.

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“I should appreciate your company very much, Lord John,” he said, and though the words were formal, his bloodshot eyes were warm.

They didn’t speak in the coach. The rain had ceased and they left the windows down, the air cold and fresh on their faces. Grey’s thoughts were disordered by the amount of wine drunk with dinner, more so by the tumultuous emotions of the day—and, most of all, by Stephan’s close presence. He was a large man, and his knee vibrated with the coach’s movement, no more than an inch from Grey’s.

As he followed Stephan from the coach, he caught the scent of von Namtzen’s cologne, something faint and spicy—cloves, he thought, and was absurdly reminded of Christmas, and oranges studded thick with cloves, the smell festive in the house.

His hand closed on the orange, cool and round in his pocket, and he thought of other rounded things that might fit in his hand, these warm.

“Fool,” he said to himself, under his breath. “Don’t even think about it.”

It was, of course, impossible not to think about it.

Dismissing the yawning butler who let them in, Stephan led Grey to a small sitting room where a banked fire smoldered in the hearth. He waved Grey to a comfortable chair and took up the poker himself to stir the embers into life.

“You will have something to drink?” he asked, with a nod over his shoulder to a sideboard on which glasses and bottles stood in orderly ranks, graded by size. Grey smiled at the Germanic neatness of the array, but poured a small brandy for himself and—with a glance at Stephan’s broad back—a slightly larger one for his friend.

Several of the bottles were half empty, and he wondered how long Stephan had been in London.

Seated before the fire, they sipped at their drinks in a companionable silence, watching the flames.

“It was kind of you to come with me,” Stephan said at last. “I did not want to be alone tonight.”

Grey lifted one shoulder in dismissal. “I am only sorry that it should be tragedy that brings us together again,” he said, and meant it. He hesitated. “You … miss your wife greatly?”

Stephan pursed his lips a little. “I—well … of course I mourn Louisa,” he said, with more formality than Grey would have expected. “She was a fine woman. Very good at managing things.” A faint, sad smile touched his lips. “No, it is my poor children for whom I am sorrowful.”

The shadow Grey had noted before clouded the broad face, clean-limned as a Teutonic saint’s. “Elise and Alexander … They lost their own mother when they were quite small, and they loved Louisa very much; she was a wonderful mother, as kind to them as to her own son.”

“Ah,” Grey said. “Siggy?” He’d met young Siegfried, Louisa’s son by her first marriage, and smiled at the memory.

“Siggy,” von Namtzen agreed, and smiled a little, too, but the smile soon faded. “He must remain in Lowenstein, of course; he is the heir. And that also is too bad for Lise and Sascha—they are very fond of him, and now he is gone from them, too. It’s better for them to be with my sister. I could not leave them at Lowenstein, but their faces when I had to say farewell to them this afternoon …”

His own face crumpled for a moment, and Grey felt by reflex in his pocket for a handkerchief, but von Namtzen buried his grief in his glass for a moment and got control of himself again.

Grey rose and turned his back tactfully as he refreshed his drink, saying something casual about his cousin Olivia’s child, Cromwell, now aged almost two and the terror of the household.

“Cromwell?” von Namtzen said, clearing his throat and sounding bemused. “This is an English name?”

“Couldn’t be more so.” An explanation of the history of the lord protector carried them into safe waters—though Grey suffered a slight private pang; he couldn’t think of young Cromwell without remembering Percy, the stepbrother who had also been his lover. They had both been present—inadvertently—at young Cromwell’s birth, and his description of this hair-raising occasion made Stephan laugh.

The house was quiet, and the small room seemed removed from everything, a warm refuge in the depths of the night. He felt as though the two of them were castaways, thrown up together on some island by the storms of life, passing uncharted time by exchanging their stories.

It wasn’t the first time. When he had been wounded after Crefeld, he had been taken to Stephan’s hunting lodge at Waldesruh to recover, and once he was able to carry on a conversation that lasted more than two sentences, they had often talked like this, late into the night.

“You are feeling well?” Stephan asked suddenly, picking up his train of thought in the way that close friends sometimes do. “Your wounds—do they still pain you?”

“No,” he said. He had wounds that still did, but not physical ones. “Und dein Arm?”

Stephan laughed with pleasure at hearing him speak German and lifted the stump of his left arm a little.

“Nein. Eine Unannehmlichkeit, mehr nicht.” A nuisance, no more.

He watched Stephan as they talked, now in both languages, seeing the light move on his face, as it went from humor to seriousness and back again, expressions flickering like fire shadow over his broad Teutonic bones. Grey had been startled, as well as moved, by the depth of Stephan’s feeling for his children—though, on consideration, he shouldn’t have been. He’d long been struck by the apparent contradiction in the Teutonic character, swinging from cold logic and ferocity in battle to the deepest romanticism and sentimentality.

Passion, he supposed you’d call it. Weirdly enough, it reminded him of the Scots, who were emotionally much the same, though less disciplined about it.

Master me, he thought. Or shall I your master be?

And with that casual thought, something moved viscerally in him. Well, it had been moving for some time, in all honesty. But with that particular thought, his attraction to Stephan suddenly merged with the things he had been deliberately not thinking—or feeling—with regard to Jamie Fraser, and he found himself grow flushed, discomfited.

Did he want Stephan only because of the physical similarities between him and Fraser? They were both big men, tall and commanding, both the sort that made people turn to look at them. And to look at either of them stirred him, deeply.

It was quite different, though. Stephan was his friend, his good friend, and Jamie Fraser never would be. Fraser, though, was something that Stephan never could be.

“You are hungry?” Without waiting for an answer, Stephan rose and rummaged in a cupboard, coming out with a plate of biscuits and a pot of orange marmalade.

Grey smiled, remembering his earlier prediction regarding von Namtzen’s appetite. He took an almond biscuit from politeness rather than hunger and, with a feeling of affection, watched Stephan devour biscuits spread with marmalade.

The affection was tinged with doubt, though. There was a sense of deep closeness between them, here in the night, quite alone—no doubt at all of that. But what sort of closeness …?

Stephan’s hand brushed his, reaching for a biscuit, and von Namtzen squeezed his fingers lightly, smiling, before letting go and taking up the marmalade spoon. The touch ran up Grey’s arm and straight down his spine, raising hairs in its wake.

No, he thought, struggling for logic, for decency. I can’t.

It wouldn’t be right. Not right to use Stephan, to try to slake his physical need with Stephan, perhaps risk their friendship by trying. And yet the temptation was there, no doubt of that, either. Not only the immediate desire—which was bloody strong—but the ignoble thought that he might by such means exorcise, or at least temper, the hold Fraser had upon him. It would be far easier to face Fraser, to deal with him calmly, if the sense of physical desire was at least muted, if not gone entirely.

But … he looked at Stephan, the kindness and the sadness in his broad face, and knew he couldn’t.

“I must go,” he said abruptly, and stood up, brushing crumbs from his shirt ruffle. “It’s very late.”

“Must you go?” Stephan sounded surprised, but rose, too.

“I—yes. Stephan—I’m so glad we met this evening,” he said on impulse, and held out a hand.

Stephan took it, but rather than shake it, drew him close, and the taste of oranges was suddenly in his mouth.

“WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?” he asked at last, not sure whether he wanted to hear the answer but needing to hear Stephan speak.

To his relief, Stephan smiled, his eyes still closed, and drew his large, warm fingers gently down the slope of Grey’s shoulder and over the curve of his forearm, where they curled round his wrist.

“I am wondering what is the risk that I will die before St. Catherine’s Day.”

“What? Why? And when is St. Catherine’s Day?”

“In three weeks. That is when Father Gehring returns from Salzburg.”

“Oh, yes?”

Stephan let go of his wrist and opened his eyes.

“If I go back to Hanover and confess this to Father Fenstermacher, I will probably have to hear Mass every day for a year or undertake a pilgrimage to Trier. Father Gehring is somewhat … less exacting.”

“I see. And if you die before making your confession—”

“I will go to hell, of course,” Stephan said matter-of-factly. “But I think it is worth the risk. It’s a long walk to Trier.” He coughed and cleared his throat.

“That—what you did. To me.” He wouldn’t meet Grey’s eye, and a deep color rose across his broad cheekbones.

“I did a lot of things to you, Stephan.” Grey struggled to keep the laughter out of his voice, but without much success. “Which one? This one?” He leaned forward on his elbow and kissed von Namtzen’s mouth, enjoying the little start von Namtzen gave at the touch of his lips.

Stephan kissed men frequently, in that exuberant German way of his. But he didn’t kiss them this way.

To feel the strength of those broad shoulders rise under his palm, then feel them give way, the powerful flesh melting slowly as Stephan’s mouth softened, yielding to him …

“Better than your hundred-year-old brandy,” Grey whispered.

Stephan sighed deeply. “I want to give you pleasure,” he said simply, meeting Grey’s eyes for the first time. “What would you like?”

Grey was speechless. Not so much at the declaration, moving as it was—but at the multitude of images that one sentence conjured. What would he like?

“Everything, Stephan,” he said, his voice husky. “Anything. It—I mean—to touch you—just to watch you gives me pleasure.”

Stephan’s mouth curled up at that.

“You can watch,” he assured Grey. “You will let me touch you, though?”

Grey nodded. “Oh, yes,” he said.

“Good. What I wish to know, though—how best?” He reached out and took hold of Grey’s half-hard prick, inspecting it critically.

“How?” Grey croaked. All the blood had left his head, very suddenly.

“Ja. Shall I put my mouth upon this? I am not sure what to do then, you see, how this is done correctly. I see there is some skill in this, which I do not have. And you are not quite ready yet, I think?”

Grey opened his mouth to observe that this condition was rapidly adjusting itself, but Stephan went on, squeezing gently.

“It is more straightforward if I put my member into your bottom and use you in that fashion. I am ready, and I am confident I can do that; it is much like what I do with my—with women.”

“I—yes, I’m sure you can,” Grey said rather faintly.

“But I think if I do that, I might hurt you.” Stephan let go of Grey’s prick and took hold of his own, frowning at the comparison. “It hurt, at first, when you did this to me. Not later—I liked it very much,” he assured Grey hastily. “But at first. And I am … somewhat large.”

Grey’s mouth was so dry that it was an effort to speak. “Some … what,” he managed. He glanced at Stephan’s prick, freshly erect, then away. Then, slowly, back again, eyes drawn like iron to a magnet.

It would hurt. A lot. At least … at first …

He swallowed audibly. “If … I mean … if you …”

“I will do it very slowly, ja.” Stephan smiled, sudden as the sun coming from behind clouds, and reached for the large cushion they had used earlier. He threw it down and patted it. “Come then, and bend over. I will oil you.”

He had taken Stephan from behind, thinking that Stephan would be less self-conscious that way, he himself loving the sight of the broad, smooth back beneath him, the powerful waist and muscular buttocks, surrendered so completely to him. He felt his own clench a little at the memory.

“Not—that way.” He pushed the cushion back against the headboard and scrambled up, bracing his shoulders securely against it. “You said I could watch.” And the position would give him some control—and at least a chance to avoid serious injury, should Stephan’s enthusiasm outrun his caution.

Are you insane? he asked himself, wiping sweating palms against the counterpane. You haven’t got to do this, you know. You don’t even like to … God, you’ll feel it for a week, even if he doesn’t …

“Oh, Jesus!”

Stephan paused, surprised, in the act of pouring oil into the dish. “I have not even begun. You are all right?” A small frown drew his brows together. “You have … done this before?”

“Yes. Yes, I … I’m fine. I … just … anticipation.”


Tags: Diana Gabaldon Lord John Grey Suspense
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