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This story contains explicit male/male and male/female sexual situations. Be warned that this also contains some period English xenophobia - no offence of any sort is intended.
You can find more slash stories by Jen at her Iphicles slash fiction site
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Regency Fuck: Part One
Iphicles Fairfax, Earl of Royston
Captain the Honourable Harry Fairfax, the Earl's younger brother
Alicia Fairfax, Dowager Countess of Royston
Captain Iorweth Burnage, Harry's friend and lover
Yves Marsham, Duke of Aresborough
"It must be a crushing disappointment to you, Alicia," Lady Maria Kempe sympathised with her bosom pal and confidante, the Dowager Countess of Royston. "True, he may not cut such a heroic figure as his brother, but he is nonetheless a personable young man, with a sizeable fortune, and yet there's been no tempting him since the death of his wife."
The Dowager nodded sadly as she followed Lady Kempe's gaze across the ballroom to see her eldest son standing conversing politely with one of the Season's most acclaimed Beauties, with nothing in his attitude save calm good manners.
"I hope that the return of his brother Harry will encourage him," she disclosed all too audibly. "They were never particularly close as children, you know, but now that dear Harry is coming home at long last…" Here her voice became suspended and she had to break off to wipe away a tear.
Lady Kempe patted her hand comfortingly; however little understanding she might have in general, she was sincerely fond of the Dowager and knew of the lady's deep love for her younger son. She, and all her cronies, knew what his buying his colours in the -th Foot had done to his mother, how she grew to dread the newspapers in case she learned that her son had yet again been in the thick of the action.
"Thank you," Alicia whispered after a moment, before continuing in a reasonable approximation of her earlier manner. "I just hope that he is able to make dear Iphicles realise his duty to his family, that he must marry again. He must be brought to an awareness of how much he has, how little he has to mope over. It's almost a year since dear Isabella passed on. He's safe here in England, not like dear Harry who never knows when he'll be facing those dreadful French, he's one of the greatest prizes on the matrimonial market, yet he takes no interest in anything save sitting in that dull Parliament and looking after his estate." She sighed briefly. "He's so like his dear Papa."
Lady Kempe knew that for the terrible condemnation it was. The match between Alicia Ramsbottom and the Earl of Royston had hardly been one of the most successful; the Earl had been a quiet fellow, preferring to spend his time at the family's extensive estate, overseeing its management, and spending the rest of his time in his country house's library with his beloved Greek and Latin texts. The new Countess, on the other hand, had discovered how it felt to have London at her feet; an accredited Beauty, allied to one of the oldest families in the land, the ton was hers. To spend her time immured in the country had not been much to her liking and she had let her husband know of her unhappiness in no uncertain terms. Iphicles' father had passed away in the present Earl's sixth year, a sudden death precipitated, so the rumours went, by the discovery of the true paternity of the younger boy. Malicious gossip had it that Harry had been sired by one of the Royal Dukes - some even said the King himself. Nothing was ever proven, and the Countess remained welcome in society by even the very highest sticklers. If nothing else, she was in a position of influence and who would risk offending one who apparently held the ear - as well as other appendages - of Royalty?
The gentleman whom they were both surveying seemed to become aware of the concentrated gazes upon him, and after turning briefly to meet his mother's eyes, took his leave of the young Miss Westcourt. The Beauty still had her mama's strictures ringing in her ears, and so did nothing to encourage him to stay, save hold his gaze with a trifle more warmth than was seemly as he made his farewell. Who could blame her if she then allowed her eyes to follow the Earl's muscular yet graceful figure as he moved away from her to make his way around the crowded ballroom to his mama's side. Even with her decided partiality for her younger son's blond good looks, so like her own, the Dowager had to admit to herself that her older son was a personable man of some address. His red-gold hair was an eye-catching colour, arranged in one of the casual styles affected by so many of the young people these days. The breadth of his shoulders meant that no padding was needed in the shoulders of his close-fitting coat and, though he was no Corinthian, the active life he led looking after his estate was betrayed by the fact that his skin-tight breeches showed muscular thighs, while his boots gleamed in a way that drew envious speculation from others on the precise blacking used by his valet. In his usual way, the Earl was attired soberly. He wore no fob, and no rings save one with which the dead Countess had presented him, an amber stone that reflected the unusual colour of his eyes.
"You look fagged, Mama," he bent to murmur quietly in her ear, after exchanging greetings with Lady Kempe. "Do you wish to leave?"
The Dowager took his offered hand and stood, smoothing her sadly crushed gown of rose silk which had not stood up to the rigours of the evening as well as she had hoped. It took them a further twenty minutes to leave the ballroom, as she took her leave of various cronies, promising to receive them should they care to call on her the following morning. Iphicles handed her up into the carriage and carefully bestowed a rug around her knees before seating himself.
The Dowager found herself studying the features of her eldest son as he looked out of the carriage window. He was a good looking boy, there could be no doubt of that, and she was sincerely fond of him, yet there was something in his manner she didn't understand, and had never been able to understand. His was a reserved character; he was not one who made friends easily, but those few he made were for life. He had withdrawn completely from society on the death of the Countess and their hoped-for son in childbirth. It had only been the forceful representations of his mother's closest friends that by doing so he was condemning his mama to a life of unrelieved boredom which must surely force her into a decline resulting inevitably in death that had forced him back into the social whirl which, his mother was coming to suspect, he enjoyed not at all. He seemed if anything to gain more enjoyment from overseeing the management of his estate.
"In fact," the Dowager had more than once commented to her closest friends, "If it weren't for me, I fear he would turn into one of those dreadful red-faced country squires, always talking about hunting and the estate."
The friends nodded sagely, telling the Dowager how selfless she had been to allow herself to be escorted to assemblies and balls by her son, with the sole purpose of seeing him married again.
"How did you find Sophia?" she asked him.
"Who?" He frowned briefly as he looked at her. "Oh yes, the Beauty."
"She's of good family, the Westcourts you know. Her fortune is not inconsiderable, and she is well thought of."
His jaw seemed to tighten as he returned his gaze to the view through the window. "I am not looking for a new wife, Mama."
"For goodness sake, Iphicles," Alicia felt her control begin to slip. "It's your duty to sire an heir. What will happen to the title should you die without one?"
The Earl shrugged, seemingly unmoved, before returning his mother's gaze. "It will pass to Harry."
"Should your brother survive the dangers he faces each day." The Countess suddenly turned her face away, but not before he had seen the tears on her cheeks. Cursing silently, he leaned forward and wiped them from her. Clumsy idiot, to remind her of her worst fear.
"You know Harry," he encouraged her gently. "He'll be alright."
She caught his wrist. "Oh I do hope so," a sob broke from her. "You don't know what it's like, Iphicles, to spend each day wondering…"
"He'll be with us soon enough," he comforted her.
Indeed it was not long before his younger brother joined them at the house in Half Moon Street. Captain the Honourable Harry Fairfax had brought with him an old friend, Captain Iorweth Burnage; the two had been inseparable ever since meeting at Eton, and had since bought their commissions together. Despite the dubious foreign origins of his given name, awarded to him by his fond mama in the hope that it would further him in the graces of his rich and single Welsh second cousin whose name it was, Burnage was of good family. Notwithstanding this, it was the younger Fairfax who continually made the headlines in the daily papers. He was always unnamed of course, but all knew the true identity of the young daredevil who outwitted the sly French time and again.
The Earl of Royston paused on entering his own house. The air of excitement which pervaded it was unmistakable. "I take it my brother's arrived, Brownlow?" he queried.
The butler inclined his head. "Indeed, my lord, not ten minutes since. Captain Burnage accompanies him."
Schooling his features into a welcoming expression, the Earl climbed the stairs to the drawing-room, to find the Dowager still flitting between the two new arrivals, laughing and talking, exclaiming again and again her relief at seeing them both unhurt, how wonderful it was to see them, and how their time in the sun had made them even more handsome.
Iphicles stood in the doorway, watching. They were both in uniform, which made Harry's already large figure appear to dwarf the well-appointed room. He was taller than Iphicles, and broader, with dark blond hair, a firm jaw, and clear blue eyes, at present all the more startling a colour against his tan. Iorweth, on the other hand, was shorter and more slender than Iphicles; his blond curls merrily refused to be brushed into any of the accepted styles, instead forming an undeserved halo around his head. His was a restless character; rarely still, he spent any spare time seeking new excitements and diversions. Iphicles watched for a moment longer as his mother smiled up at Harry, her face animated in a way he had not seen for a long time, her delicate features lit with excitement and pleasure. Harry smiled back down at her in full good humour, until he became aware of the Earl's presence.
"Iph!" They clasped hands, warmly, Iphicles then repeating the ritual with Iorweth. The Earl wanted to question the two returned soldiers on the state of things in the Peninsula, but his mother's continued questions about their daily lives, what they were given to eat, were there any beautiful young ladies over there, and weren't those handsome uniforms horribly scratchy, carried the day. It wasn't until after supper, when the Countess had eventually been persuaded to retire for the evening, that the three were able to concentrate on more traditional masculine pursuits.
"I've heard there are some good hells opened up," Iorweth started, his eyes gleaming with suppressed excitement.
Iphicles remained neutral. "Some new hells have opened, certainly," he agreed. "But unless you wish to lose your entire fortune at one sitting, I suggest you avoid them."
"Oh Iph," Harry punched his brother's arm affectionately. "You were never this stuffy before. What's the problem? Don't tell me you've gamed away the family fortune."
Iphicles laughed briefly, a rather forced sound. Nothing like that; it was just that he seemed to have forgotten how to enjoy himself. He couldn't in fact see how to enjoy himself with Bella gone. "Well, don't say I didn't warn you," he compromised. "Full of Greeks and ivory turners, the lot of them."
"Well," Harry linked his arm through his brother's, "In that case you had best come and keep an eye on us, hadn't you?"
For the first time in a very long time, Iphicles felt a smile start naturally. "That sounds like a good idea," he agreed.
On declaring their credentials, the three were admitted to the discreet residence in St. James's Street. Iorweth and Harry immediately made themselves at home at the nearest table, but the Earl chose to wander the rooms instead, partaking of the particularly good wine which the establishment provided and discovering acquaintances, all of whom expressed themselves astonished to see the Earl here. His lips twisted as he recognised that he had begun to earn a reputation as a sober upright pillar of society. Not that he particularly wished to be associated with some of these rakes, but he realised that he had started to behave like a staid family man twice his age.
He sighed slightly as he sat down in an armchair, his long and superbly booted legs sprawled casually before him. He had immersed himself in work and duty since his wife's death, but it was only now he realised how out of touch he had become with his contemporaries. There were several faces here unfamiliar to him. Take the character in the corner, for example - a dark complexion, his dress rich but careless in a way that proclaimed he cared little for the opinion of society. Iphicles was certain he had never before set eyes on him, despite the fact that the deference with which his circle of friends was treating him indicated that he was a man of some standing.
He took the opportunity to ask the servant who was refilling his glass.
"His Grace the Duke of Aresborough, my lord," the servant informed him.
The name was one with which the Earl was familiar. It was a name with which all of London and some of the more enlightened provinces were familiar. The Duke represented all that was decadent in the ton, his philandering ways extending far beyond opera dancers and actresses to ladies of quality. And it was not just widows, nor discreet liaisons with married ladies; it was said of him that he had ruined more than one young maiden. The number of duels which he had fought, always killing his man, the drunken orgies at which he presided, and his losses and gains at the gaming table had all assumed the proportions of legend, and there were still darker things whispered about him. Only the coterie of wild young blades who formed his retinue knew the truth of these, but the tales were there, and the Duke remained unrecognised by all save those wishing to court notoriety.
The Earl suddenly became aware that the Duke was returning his gaze, his heavy-lidded eyes holding a gleam of amusement. As Iphicles watched, the Duke raised his glass in mocking salute before raising it to full lips and tossing back the contents.
Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was the exhilaration of throwing off shackles the existence of which he had only just become aware, but some inner devil prompted the Earl to his feet.
He crossed the room to the Duke and bowed. "Royston, your grace."
Those dark eyebrows raised briefly, a noble head was inclined, and suddenly one of the young men was moving from his seat, offering it to Iphicles.
"So." Aristocratic fingers curved elegantly around the slender stem of his glass, dark eyes surveyed the Earl as he sat. "You're Royston. I didn't think this was your sort of place. I'd thought you more of a White's man."
The provocation was there; it was common knowledge that the Duke had been blackballed by the respectable club.
"Indeed?" Iphicles returned. "And I thought you a legend, your grace, a cautionary tale used by protective parents to keep young cubs in line."
The reaction rippled through the assembled ranks, but Iphicles' eyes were on the Duke's face. A smile touched his lips as he looked at Iphicles. "Touché, Royston," he murmured.
"Iph." Harry's voice broke in. He was not precisely castaway, but polluted enough to blithely ignore all dictates of manners as he tugged at his brother's arm. As he insisted, the Earl allowed himself to be raised to his feet and directed a small bow towards the Duke, before following his brother's urgent strictures to leave, now.
"What is it Harry?" He had been the same ever since nursery days; when he wanted something, he wanted it now, and it was usually attention.
Harry's blue eyes were fixed with deep concern on his brother's face as he tugged the Earl out of the house, their sincerity magnified by the amount of champagne he had put away. "That was Aresborough," he admonished his older sibling.
"And?" Iphicles prompted.
"Don't you know?" Harry's voice was scandalised. "He preys on innocents, men and women alike. It looks as though I got to you just in time."
Iphicles stopped dead, wrenching his arm out of his brother's tenacious hold.
"Is that what you think of me? An innocent at large, unable to look after myself?" he demanded.
Harry had the grace to look a little discomfited. "Not precisely," he averred. "It's just, well, you haven't seen what Iorweth and I have…"
"No, you're right Harry," Iphicles told him with deadly calm. "While you've been fighting to save this country from the threatened incursion of our enemies, I've been working to ensure there's been a country worth your coming back to. Now go and find your friend, do whatever it is the two of you do together, and leave me alone!"
He thrust his brother away from him and strode off, fuming. Hell and damnation but his brother was as blinded by tales of his exploits as was his mother. He truly believed those stories with which his mother had filled his head as a child, reading the translations from the Greek which Iphicles' father had made. He believed himself to be living the part of some hero, with a duty to save the lesser mortals around him. He had been just the same at Eton. He had followed his quieter brother to the school, his junior by two years. But within a short space of time, the masters were unfavourably comparing the two. "Why can't you be more like your brother?" was no longer a chorus he heard only at home. Harry turned in dazzling performances on the playing fields, and unbelievably had some of the older boys clamouring to join his prized circle of intimates. The naturally introspective Earl had been overshadowed in every way, and though he tried desperately not to care, his brother's easygoing contempt of his older sibling's quieter character had flicked him on the raw. It was not enough that he had to bear the name of some long-forgotten Greek hero; Harry had to remind everyone of this, and of the differences between the hero and his brother. That was just the cruelty of children of course; he had long outgrown that particular habit. Now he simply categorised Iphicles as a nonentity, but one of whom he was nonetheless fond in an abstract sort of a way.
That Harry chose to love a man, well that was just another example of the pernicious influence of the classics. Iphicles paused briefly in his step. That wasn't fair. It was just that Harry didn't pretend any longer, unlike the rest of society. For some it remained a phase whilst at school; for others it was a way of life, but most of the latter covered it with the decency of marriage, some even managing to sire an heir on the unfortunate woman who remained their blind to the ton's gossip. The problem was that Harry and Iorweth had never been discreet about their affair, and it had taken all of the Earl's inventiveness to prevent the scandalous rumours coming to the ears of their mama. Occasionally, a small part of him wondered why he did so, why he didn't allow the scales to be wrenched from her eyes. But then he upbraided himself; she had nothing else in her life, save a son whom she didn't understand, and who had signally failed to present her with the heirs to the title which she had every right to expect. He knew he had to marry again, but not yet. It was barely a year since he'd lost Bella. He would find a suitable well-bred woman in due course; no chit out of the schoolroom, with fancies and romance in her head, but a woman who would understand about a marriage of convenience. But not yet.
If Harry thought at all about what Iphicles had said to him, it was not evident. It was ever the way with Harry, Iphicles thought ruefully; if he didn't like what he heard, he ignored it. And truth to tell, while their mother's attentions to the guests drove the Earl out of the house even more often than was his wont, it was a relief at first to have some male company over the supper table, even if it was Harry's and Iorweth's. Of course his mother invited several guests, all families with hopeful daughters. But at least her object was now marriage to Harry; Iphicles was no doubt forgotten until Harry returned to Spain. He took the opportunity of his mother having her other son's company to go to his estate on a matter of business. The necessary arrangements made, Iphicles planned to leave early on Tuesday morning.
On Monday night, Harry and Iorweth again invited the Earl to accompany them on their nightly indulgence. Iphicles agreed, welcoming the opportunity for a more lively evening than those he usually suffered. It was not long after reaching their destination, Covent Garden, that he found himself wishing he had not accepted the invitation. The affair, billed harmlessly enough as a Maquerade, was little more than a wild romp. The company was low, to say the least, and the evening became still more raucous as it went on.
The Earl suffered it for a while; the memory of the other evening and his shocking discovery that he had become a stuffy model of probity would not let him show his disapproval and leave. But after a couple of hours' unmitigated boredom, the loud and extremely shrill shrieking of one female as her masked pursuer clutched her in his arms, his hand squeezing down the front of her dress to grope at her breasts while his tongue probed her ear, was too much for the Earl. He despised vulgarity; it was nothing to do with righteous attitudes but all to do with taste, he realised. There was a time and a place for the pleasures of the flesh, and with anonymous masked figures in public was neither the appropriate time nor place. He glanced around for his companions, ready to make his excuses and leave.
Iorweth and Harry were ensconced in a dimly lit corner only yards away from him, both maskless, their hands moving urgently under one another's clothes before Iorweth began to drop to his knees in front of Harry, tugging at the fastenings of his breeches. Unwilling to believe that his younger brother was ready to make such a spectacle of himself, he watched for a moment longer, time enough to see Iorweth freeing Harry's cock, and guiding its already wet tip towards his open mouth, before his tongue flicked out and along the shaft. Harry's head went back and he groaned, arching his hips forward to encourage Iorweth's attentions. Iorweth's clever fingers worked their way around his balls and squeezed very gently, before he swallowed Harry's cock, and Harry gaspingly cried out, his hands wrapping tightly in disordered blond curls, his hips beginning a rhythmic fucking of his lover's mouth.
Iphicles looked quickly away, and turned to leave, shaking off the various harpies who had been trying for this obviously richly-dressed stranger's attention. He would go and visit Caroline, the widow whose company he enjoyed on a regular basis. She would never be party to such a mockery of pleasure. She combined both breeding and beauty with intelligence and taste. He had sometimes thought he might marry her if it were not for the fact that she declared she could not stand the stuffiness of being a Countess.
"Leaving already, Royston?"
The figure before him was unmistakable, although the mask hid his features. The broad chest and shoulders, athletic build, and the long dark hair, carelessly tied back in a cue in open contempt for fashion, could belong to no other than the Duke of Aresborough.
"Your grace," the Earl bowed stiffly. He was not surprised to see him here. It confirmed him in his reading of the man's character.
"Aresborough," the Duke corrected him. Then that tone mocked again, "You disapprove. A little too indecorous for you, perhaps?"
Iphicles refused to be made to feel like a prig. "A little too blatant is all."
He could have sworn those eyebrows rose again. "You prefer subtlety, do you, Royston?"
"Yes," he said. "So if you will excuse me…"
"Off to visit your ladybird in Hertford Street?
Iphicles swung round on his heel, his eyes quartering what could be seen of the Duke's face. "What do you know of that?" he snapped.
A lazy mocking smile twisted full lips. "I like to do my research, Iphicles." That inclination of the head again before he began to move away. "I trust you have a most… enjoyable evening."
Iphicles was left staring after him.
The Earl left for his estate the following morning, as planned. But as he rode over his land, as he worked with his bailiff on papers, the memory of the Duke's mocking smile kept returning to him. He had asked Caroline whether she knew of the Duke. Her response had been in the negative, other than general gossip, and he had no reason to doubt her. Theirs was an honest relationship, founded on mutual need and acceptance that romantic attachment between them was neither expected nor possible.
The Duke's knowledge worried him. Research, the man had said. For what purpose? Iphicles was no gamester; he gambled a little, as did all men, but no large sums. He drank to excess at times, in the company of his friends, but no more than other men. He might have little patience for his brother, but that was scarcely a novelty in the world. His life was open to inspection; none knew of his attachment to Caroline, as he would not open her to idle gossip, but that apart, there was nothing with which he might be reproached and held to blackmail. His life was a model of propriety - boredom, some might say. Iphicles would not have disagreed with that summation, but he was not one for mindless pleasure. He had tried once, shortly after Bella's death; he had plunged into a short-lived whirl of drinking hard, spending his time with like-minded bloods with fair game in their, admittedly blurred, sights, but it had brought him no relief. All that had served to do was to make him feel guilty.
As he thought of Aresborough, his brother's words came back to him, that the Duke seduced innocents, yet he knew himself to be no innocent. He had known the company of several ladies of doubtful repute before he married Bella, and theirs had been a marriage which fully celebrated the pleasures of the flesh. And now Caroline and he enjoyed their regular liaisons. No, he was no innocent for the plucking.
So it was that when, shortly after his return to town, Iphicles again met the Duke of Aresborough he had little hesitation in accepting the man's invitation to ride together. In fact, he welcomed the diversion. He had been hailed during his morning ride by Lady Annesley who, comfortably established in her barouche, appeared set to continue talking all morning of her daughter Sophia's accomplishments. The Earl was just calculating to himself when his new riding boots would be ready - following the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend, he had tried a different man for the pair he wore this morning and he was not completely satisfied with them - when he suddenly became aware that the good lady had stopped talking. That she was in fact stiffening in outrage.
"My lady?" The Earl questioned, when it became borne in upon him that the formidable matron had apparently run dry.
When there was no immediate answer, Iphicles turned to follow her indignant gaze and saw the Duke approaching, mounted on a mettlesome black horse. The Earl's eyes flickered over the Duke as he drew his mount to a halt before them, his head inclined to Lady Annesley in a way which managed to insult rather than compliment. Aresborough sat his horse with an easy grace, his reins gathered lazily in his right hand. His coat was dark and simple, although the exquisite fit pronounced it to be the handiwork of a master, the white of his buckskins was displayed to advantage against the dark leather saddle, and the polish of his top boots matched that of Iphicles' own.
Aresborough tapped his whip slowly against his left boot as he considered the Earl in return.
"Iphicles?" he invited.
A moment of madness assailed Iphicles. It was this or be condemned to yet another morning of tedious company; most of his friends were men of action and, being on the whole younger sons who didn't suffer the encumbrances of duty to estate, had bought commissions to fight the war against France, so that he had been forced of late to endure almost unrelieved female company. Unless he counted the company of Harry and Iorweth, which he found scarcely more bearable.
Taking his leave of the still speechless Lady Annesley, he turned his horse and accompanied the Duke down the ride.
"Sure you can afford to be seen with me?" That lazy mocking drawl again, a sideways glance from brilliant dark eyes with something that might just have been amusement tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Iphicles kept his eyes between his horse's ears, though he was aware of the scandalised glances his companion was attracting. "Oh, I think my credit can bear it," he agreed blandly.
Silence fell, broken only by the sound of their horses' hooves on the soft turf. Iphicles glanced at his companion. "I don't recall seeing you ride in the Park before," he volunteered after a while.
The smile grew and the Duke turned to face him. "You thought my physical activities to be mostly conducted after dark?" he interpreted.
Iphicles flushed slightly. It was what he had imagined, but he had not meant to imply that. "The inference is yours," he replied, uneasily aware of the colour over his cheekbones.
The Duke laughed softly. "Oh come, Iphicles," he cajoled, then stopped and frowned slightly. "An unusual name," he owned. "Surely not a family tradition?"
The Earl had to bite his tongue to prevent the jibe that the Duke's research had not after all been very thorough. "No," he agreed calmly instead. "My father was something of a classicist and decided to name his first-born according to his interests."
The Duke's eyebrows raised. "Not after his half-brother Hercules?"
"I think I had cross enough to bear with this name," Iphicles informed his companion. "Can you imagine had I been saddled with that?" But he was somewhat nonplussed by the Duke's evident familiarity with the classics; it did not fit with the mental image he had of the man. Not just a sybarite then, but a learned one.
"I admit myself surprised that your brother has not adopted it," the Duke murmured provocatively.
Iphicles shot him an extremely sharp look then concentrated on making his horse step out. "I'm sure he would, had it occurred to him." He knew his tone was bitter and his face gave away more than it should. The heel on the side away from the Duke dug into his mount with sudden force, causing his animal to curvet protestingly, giving the Earl the excuse to turn his attention to soothing him.
The Duke watched in silence, but those heavy-lidded eyes missed nothing. Once Iphicles had brought his horse back under control, the Duke simply remarked, "You have a good seat, Royston."
Without knowing why, the compliment sent colour racing again to Iphicles' face. When he looked back at the Duke, he saw the man was watching him with a curiously intent expression in his gaze.
"Do you feel your credit sufficient to allow you to dine with me tonight?" he asked the Earl.
Iphicles hesitated slightly; he had no intention of forming a close friendship with somebody who had as unsavoury a reputation as did the Duke. On the other hand, there was something about the man's shameless flouting of convention which he, who had been brought up as a dutiful first-born son, found oddly alluring.
"Or would your brother disapprove?"
It was murmured, and blatantly manipulative, but it was enough for Iphicles to meet the Duke's eyes and accept his invitation.
That evening Iphicles spent longer than usual over his toilet. His valet, used to his master's simple tastes, was overjoyed at last to have an opportunity to put into practice some of his skills. The Earl's hair was brushed a la Brutus, his cravat was arranged in the intricate folds of the Waterfall, his waistcoat of watered silk and his black swallow-tailed coat of superfine were chosen only after due consideration, and his biscuit-coloured breeches fitted to perfection, with no hint of a crease to mar them. By the time the Earl was ready, he was -
"Magnificent!" So proclaimed the Dowager on seeing him descend the stairs. She added hopefully, "Are you engaged with Sophia this evening, Iphicles?"
The Earl was puzzled for an instant, until he recalled who Sophia was.
"With friends," he said shortly.
The Dowager's beautiful face fell. "Oh, Iphicles!" she wailed. "Unless you make a push, somebody else will be before you. I understand that Lord Ravenscourt is an assiduous suitor, and his fortune is quite respectable you know, though not as handsome as your own. He is of course only a Viscount, and he has that horrid growth on his nose, but you cannot rely on young girls being constant in their affections if you will not throw her a crumb to show her your intentions. And how I will face dear Lady Annesley - "
The Earl silenced her by raising her hand to his mouth. "Good night, Mama," he said firmly, and left.
On being admitted to the Duke's residence in Berkeley Square, Iphicles was shown to the drawing room where he found a selection of perhaps six or seven young men already present. The Duke came to meet him as soon as he was announced, a half-smile on his lips. "Iphicles."
Once the Duke had ensured he was furnished with a glass of excellent burgundy, apparently laid down by the previous Duke, the Earl was introduced to the others present. He recognised the names, although he had only previously made the acquaintance of two of them. They greeted him politely but were in the throes of a lively debate over the comparative abilities of the latest prizefighters to emerge on the circuit. The Duke smiled slightly in recognition of that fact, and drew Iphicles to one side. He sat - or rather, sprawled - on a chaise longue, indicating for Iphicles to take the chair next to him.
"What news of the war?" he opened.
Iphicles was startled. He was hardly in a better position than anyone else to have knowledge. He had of course heard Harry's and Iorweth's first hand accounts, such as they were, trotted out time and again over the dining table, but as the finer points of strategy were lost on the Dowager, it was the domestic details of their life fighting the French which interested her. Iphicles had seen little of the two returned heroes other than at the family table, and consequently had not learned a great deal.
"I know nothing more than may be gleaned from the papers," he demurred.
"But you have friends recently returned from the fighting," Aresborough pointed out.
Iphicles' rare smile lit his face. "And I can tell you in absorbing detail of the inexplicable delays in paying the officers, of the many challenges posed by bivouacking in peasants' abandoned huts, and of the revolting nature of the food served at Headquarters, but other than that, I am none the wiser."
The Duke laughed briefly. "Fair enough. What then of your horses? I hear you cleaned up at Newmarket."
And so the tone for the evening was set. Relaxed, sensible, masculine conversation, immoderate language (the Duke being a bachelor, the company was of course all male), free-flowing alcohol, and congenial company. Iphicles was seated beside the Duke at the dining table, and found himself enjoying their conversation so much that he was taken by surprise when, the meal ended, the port was finally laid to one side. The man had a breadth of knowledge that surprised the Earl. His views on the ton's double standards were refreshingly frank, and all was couched in the lazy mockery which so intrigued Iphicles. He could not be sure whether he was being laughed at, or with, and the uncertainty lent a particular interest to their exchanges.
At length, the Duke appeared to recall his duty to his other guests, and the party adjourned to the drawing room. A transformation had taken place during their absence; branches of candles had been moved to the front of the room, and chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing this brightly-lit area. It looked like any after-dinner entertainment which Iphicles was used to, were it not for the fact that there was no harpsichord, and no inevitably ill-favoured daughter of the house ready to impress the assembly with her imperfect interpretation of an unfortunate composer. And were it not also for the fact that such a performance would scarcely be proper to a group of young men such as this was. The Earl was a little uncertain about this new development, but as his host took the seat in the middle of the semi-circle, and looked at him with invitation in his gaze, indicating the seat beside him, there was little Iphicles could do but join him.
The Duke leaned towards Iphicles, but not far enough. The Earl had to bend close to catch what he said over the noise of the somewhat inebriated conversations taking place around them.
"A little divertissement for my friends." His voice was smooth and soft, disconcertingly close to Iphicles' ear. "I do find that the digestion is aided by an increased flow of blood, don't you?"
There was that look again, the one which informed Iphicles that he was being mocked by a reference he did not understand. He murmured a platitude, then sat back in his seat to watch as a figure entered the room from the doorway in the far corner. It was immediately apparent what type of divertissement the Duke had in mind for his friends. The lady was blonde, with a figure that Iphicles thought the result of judicious padding of feminine undergarments, until she removed these.
When he was a very young man, Iphicles had gone with friends to the brothels where out of work ladies of the stage earned their keep, and paid for a show which pretended to emulate the one he now witnessed. But their comparison to this was as lemonade to champagne. Iphicles took a deep draught from the glass in his hand, which appeared to refill itself with monotonous regularity, and settled deeper into his seat to watch.
As the lady in question stripped off her final layer of clothing (though it could scarce be described as such, being designed to highlight rather than conceal), and her hands moved over her full breasts, fingers teasing at her already erect nipples, Iphicles' cock announced its discomfort within the skin-tight breeches he wore. The Earl attempted to ignore its message, instead watching speechlessly as the lady laid herself down on her back on the chaise longue, allowing her legs to fall open and what was revealed as a result facing her rapt audience, running her hands slowly and wantonly all over her body, before they finally drifted up her inner thighs, caressing tantalisingly. She then spread them even wider apart, and slid her fingers around the lips of her obviously wet entrance. Iphicles was vaguely aware of the men around him, of their concentration on the picture before them, but his main attention was focused on that hand, stroking herself, before moving her fingers began to move deeply in and out of her, while her other hand continued to caress her breasts and she bit her lip and moaned, tossing her head as she did so. Her pace started to increase, her cries became louder, and Iphicles shifted surreptitiously in his chair. The actresses on whom he had spent his money all those years ago had been a mockery; this woman, with her pliant limbs, her abandoned search for pleasure, right there in front of him, was unbelievably erotic. And the fact that she was doing all this on the same piece of furniture that he seen the Duke seated on only hours before somehow gave an added thrill to what he was seeing.
Iphicles was aware of the Duke sitting still beside him, demonstrating no reaction to the show before him. His muscular legs were open, to be sure, but that was how he had sat down, a provocative sprawl. Everything he did contrived to provoke. Iphicles sat still, trying to ignore the increasing pressure against his breeches, trying to subdue the excitement he felt as he watched her fingers stroking herself to orgasm only yards from him. She finally, gaspingly, came, and the Duke leaned over to him again as she stood and swiftly left the room.
"So, Iphicles, how does that compare to your usual after-dinner entertainments?"
A choke of laughter escaped the Earl as he thought of last evening's performance turned in by an earnest bespectacled young lady in blue dimity. This parody was very deliberate, he suddenly realised.
"She had more talent than most after-dinner performers I've witnessed," he allowed.
A smile hovered around the corners of the Duke's mouth. "Really?" he drawled. "Perhaps I should introduce you to a wider spread of talent."
That unaccustomed rush of wild exhilaration again. Iphicles held his eyes very deliberately. "Perhaps you should."
An aristocratic eyebrow raised. Iphicles realised that he had taken the Duke by surprise, and enjoyed the knowledge. In a deliberate echo of the Duke's first gesture to him, he raised his glass to the Duke before drinking deeply. The look in Aresborough's eyes showed that he remembered the reference. He leaned closer still to Iphicles.
"So you'd like to see more, would you Iphicles?" he offered, his voice low and caressing.
One corner of Iphicles' mouth lifted. "Why not?"
The Duke signalled to one of his servants and murmured something into his ear. The man disappeared through the same door as the star of the show had used. For an instant, Iphicles wondered what the hell he thought he was doing. But as the Duke turned back to him, and dark eyes held his, he regretted nothing.
The next morning, the Earl of Royston rose later than usual. He had not gained his bed until the night sky over the city was beginning to lighten. He woke to the accusing silence of his valet, who was moving around his dressing room gathering up the crumpled clothes which the Earl had let fall to the floor the night before. Unwilling to face his reproach, the Earl decided to keep his bed until the fellow finished and left him in peace. Then he lay there, thinking about the previous night.
The Duke had taken him at his word and shown him more. Iphicles swallowed slightly as he remembered. His desire to surprise the Duke had led him into a declaration that was foolhardy, to say the very least. As soon as the next performers entered the room, Iphicles had known it. His instinct had prompted him to get up and leave. He was scarcely a puritan, but this was quite outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour, even among a party of bloods such as this. But this was in direct response to his request; he could hardly walk away from it. So instead he sought refuge in his wine glass, waiting for it to be over. It was inappropriate, to say the least. Improper, certainly. And exciting…
The Earl threw back his bedclothes and swung his legs round to sit on the side of his bed. Damnation. He had been forced to sit in company and watch a man and a woman having sexual relations, and had found to his horror that it had aroused him. As he had watched the man's cock sliding into the woman, as he had heard the sounds of their passion, his own cock had been sore with need. For a moment he'd thought of Bella; for an even briefer instant, of Caroline. Their relations had always been pleasurable, but the sounds of unbelievable delight and sheer abandonment from the couple before him had been new to him. After what had seemed an interminable time during which the two figures on the makeshift stage continued their pleasuring of one another, the man had stood while the woman knelt before him and took his cock into her mouth, all the time playing to the audience, showing them every step of what was occurring for their pleasure. As he'd watched her moist mouth closing around the hard flesh pushing into her mouth, Iphicles' hand had moved very casually from the arm of his chair to his lap, brushing against where his cock was thrusting against his breeches. He'd swallowed hard and concentrated on his peripheral vision to see whether anybody had noticed. What he'd seen had stopped him dead.
Young Farraday, Lord Linton's youngest son, had been leaning back in his chair, eyes half-closed as he watched the act unfolding before him, while Sir Richard Hazell, seated beside him, had a hand reached out to stroke his erection. Farraday's cock had been clearly visible, pushing against his breeches, and even as Iphicles watched from the corner of his eyes, he had seen Hazell beginning to unbutton the breeches. His cheeks suddenly flushed, Iphicles had jerked his attention back to the scene before him. It hadn't helped him. The man had been beginning to thrust faster into the woman's mouth, and the sight, together with the soft moans from Farraday's direction, and the sounds of flesh against flesh, had proved too much for the Earl. His hand in his lap had moved, so that his wrist rubbed against the hardness through the soft material. He'd had to bite his lip to prevent a sound escaping him, and that was when the Duke had leaned across to him, his mouth close to Iphicles' ear so his low voice wouldn't disturb anyone.
"They're quite good, don't you think?"
The Earl had jumped, guiltily. Firmly keeping his hand still, determinedly away from him, he'd tried to match the Duke's tone. "Not bad," he'd admitted.
"With a little more practice, I might even invite them to entertain us formally."
The Earl had turned to face the Duke, his brow furrowed. The Duke had smiled slowly, and indicated with his eyes past Iphicles, a direction away from the makeshift stage. Iphicles had turned. Aresborough's meaning had been made suddenly clear. Farraday's erection was protruding from his open breeches, proud and dark, while Hazell was now kneeling beside Farraday's seat, a hand reaching and closing around the straining cock with an expertise that had Farraday crying out, his head back and his eyes closed as the hand moved along his shaft. He'd raised his hips to thrust into the hand, and as he'd done so, Hazell had taken the opportunity to begin to work his breeches down. As soon as he'd realised what he was seeing, Iphicles had turned abruptly back to the front.
"What do you think, Iphicles?" The Duke had spoken again. "Are they good enough?"
The Earl had paused for an instant, his attention on not flaring up at the smoothly spoken man beside him, mocking him. Or so he had thought. As he'd glanced at the Duke, Aresborough's eyes had shown no mockery, but a keen interest in his answer.
"I suppose they make up in enthusiasm what they lack in technique," he had commented.
The Duke had smiled, as though truly satisfied about something. "Good," he'd murmured.
And with that remark, he'd turned his attention back to the show before them. Iphicles sat mechanically watching, but it was now the murmured sounds from his left which had held his attention, the soft groans and pleadings. He'd flicked one more glance sideways, and seen Farraday alternately thrusting up into Hazell's hand and then pushing down on his other hand, sounds of need and desire escaping him as he thrust down hard. Iphicles had quickly looked away again, only to find the couple on the stage reaching the climax of their show in parallel with the others. As Farraday's moans became sobbing sounds, he'd found himself incapable of not looking again, and watched as the man writhed on the fingers inside him and finally came in Hazell's practiced hand, his seed spurting over his clothing.
Iphicles had looked away again, to find the couple on open display had also finished. He'd sat there, unwilling to move at first, uncomfortably aware of the fact that his breeches were closely outlining his excitement. When the Duke had risen to his feet however, he'd had to follow suit. He'd found to his relief that, as the chairs were rearranged and casual conversations resumed, his plight began to ease.
Aresborough had again appropriated him; although the Earl was aware that the Duke was neglecting his duty towards his other guests, it did not appear to cause offence. Neither did Farraday and Hazell's sudden disappearance. And Iphicles was enjoying Aresborough's company too much to voluntarily surrender it. The Duke intrigued the Earl; though he had spent several hours in conversation with him, he would not claim to have any idea of the man's true character. Yet there was something about his intelligence and dry sense of humour which the Earl found stimulating.
When the time had come for the Earl to depart, the Duke had wished to have the pleasure of his company again soon. Social niceties were of course being observed, but there was a look in those dark eyes which had convinced Iphicles that he had meant it.
Iphicles rasped a hand irritably over his unshaven chin and decided to get up properly for the day. His mother had requested he accompany her to yet another social gathering this evening; Iphicles just hoped that his mother's friend Lady Linton would not be present. He wasn't sure he could face her, with the memory of her beloved son's shameless public display so fresh in his mind.
An evening of unrelieved boredom was lightened slightly by the appearance of Harry and Iorweth. Iphicles realised he must be mad to think such a thing, but at least they brought some life to the party, some physical masculinity amidst all the talk of fashion and the latest on-dits. The three were very much in demand as suitable partners for the dancing and for once, the scarlet coats failed to carry the day with the ladies. All the young ladies present knew that Sophia Westcourt, the Season's most notable Beauty, cast covetous eyes on the Earl of Royston, and that knowledge made his title and fortune even more desirable. When finally Iphicles managed to break away from the determined attempts of matchmaking mamas and a hostess who was insistent that no young lady should go home from her ball without having danced with at least one handsome young man, he assured his retreat by making his way from the ballroom to the terrace, which though cooler than the stifling ballroom was almost its equal in brightness, lit as it was by a string of colourful lanterns.
There he stood, leaning against the balustrade and staring into the darkness of the gardens. Last night had served only to throw into even sharper relief the emptiness of this life he was forced to lead; there he had been able to speak his mind, and, almost paradoxically, at the same time take delight in the verbal fencing which the Duke enjoyed. Here, there was nothing save being charming and drawing out yet another dull miss who could scarcely bring herself to raise her eyes from his waistcoat, or, if she were a different type of miss, to stop staring into his face. His one consolation was to see that Harry and Iorweth had been booked for almost as many dances as he himself had had to suffer.
He barely stifled an undutiful groan. "Mama." He turned to see her approaching him along the terrace, her gown of primrose sarcenet shining in the light spilling from the large windows and the lanterns, her fair hair partially covered by a Dowager's cap that still managed to make her look fetching. His smile held genuine warmth by the time she reached him.
"Iphicles," she remonstrated with him, "Sophia is in a fit of the sullens because you have only danced with her once. And I understand, from something she let drop, that it is Ravenscourt's corsage she wears tonight, not yours. What is your intention, to let her slip through your fingers to that upstart?"
The Earl with difficulty suppressed a laugh at this unlikely description of a member of a family equal in age, if not distinction, to the Fairfaxes. He also neglected to inform his parent that Sophia Westcourt did not wear his corsage primarily because he had not sent her one. He did however attempt to put the good lady's indignation at rest. "Do you wish me to cause talk about Miss Westcourt by engaging her to dance with me again? I have danced with no other lady more than once; to so single her out would cause comment."
"It would please her," his mother returned sharply.
"Mama, the sooner you accept the fact that I have no interest in Sophia Westcourt, the happier you will be."
His parent changed tack with bewildering rapidity. Standing close to him, she raised her face to his. "You do understand Iphicles, that I'm speaking as your mother. I want only the best for you, for you to be happy again."
He sighed as he looked down into her upturned face. "I know."
"And Sophia is a lovely girl. Oh, she has the Westcourt name of course, and her fortune - did I mention that? - but she's a delightful child. I feel sure you two will deal extremely together, if only you will rid your head of this foolish notion that you are not interested in her."
Goaded, the Earl replied with impatient honesty. "Don't you see, Mama, you've said it yourself. She's a child; she'll be looking for excitement, romance, true love." Iphicles held his mother's gaze for an instant before adding softly, "I can offer her nothing save my name."
Tears shone briefly in Alicia's eyes at the expression on her son's face. "Oh Iphicles, don't you realise? If you allow yourself to be moped forever over dear Bella, you'll never remarry. Do you think that's what she would want for you?"
He turned sharply from her to hide the anger in his face. As if she had really known 'dear Bella' and what she had wanted.
"I'll think about it, Mama," he told her abruptly. "But it won't be Sophia." He had already seen the look in the girl's eyes which told him she was more than halfway to being in love with him, the tragic Earl, widowed so young. To encourage her would be to court disaster.
The following day, the Earl was frustrated to find that Caroline was not at home. After the tedious evening he had been obliged to suffer he felt a need for relaxed conversation and agreeable company. As he walked through the streets, disappointed in his quest, he acknowledged ruefully to himself that conversation and company were not all he felt the need for. Unbidden images had visited his dreams last night; although he could not remember them, he knew they were centred around the scenes he'd witnessed in the Duke's drawing room. Recently he had come to realise that his liaisons with Caroline, while undoubtedly pleasurable, were something of an automatic release for him; for her too, he felt. Without the love he had felt for Bella, the act became simply that. What he had witnessed under the Duke's aegis however had led him to wonder briefly; the performance had been many things, but was as far from just pleasant or a simple relief as he could imagine. Lost in thought, the Earl managed to thoroughly snub the Ladies Emilia and Charlotte Foxcote by dint of not seeing them.
A voice close to his ear brought him with a jerk out of his reverie. "I find you abominably rude, Royston."
He spun round to find the Duke beside him, that ever present half-smile on his lips.
"Your grace," Iphicles uttered, discomposed for an instant.
"Not only have you sent at least two of your most ardent female admirers away with despair in their hearts, determined to wear the willow for you as you no longer have any tender feelings for them," the Duke continued blandly, "but you blatantly ignore my attempt to catch your attention." The Duke paused for an instant. "It seems to me that such execrable manners demand a forfeit."
A slight smile touched Iphicles' lips. "And what might that be?"
The Duke's head tipped thoughtfully to one side as he surveyed the Earl. "I haven't yet decided," he concluded at last. "But I think the first part of it will be to dine with me again tomorrow."
The Earl hesitated for an instant.
"Unless you are otherwise engaged, of course," Aresborough added.
"I should be delighted to join you," Iphicles said swiftly. It was only another assembly tomorrow, another night of slow suffocation, stifling everything he was. And Harry could as easily escort their mother; in fact, it would do him good. The Earl smiled at the thought and met Aresborough's eyes. There it was again, that sudden spurt of elation running through him which led him to the certain knowledge that even if Harry hadn't been at home and able to escort their Mama, Iphicles would still have cried off from the engagement.
The Duke inclined his head, his dark eyes holding Iphicles' as he did so. "I shall see you tomorrow then, Royston," he promised, before turning to cross the street.
Iphicles strode home with renewed vigour. At last he had something to look forward to.
Iphicles looked up from his desk where he had been working on instructions for his man of business.
"What is it, Harry?" His brother looked unusually diffident as he entered the library.
"Are you busy?" Harry indicated the papers strewn across the desk.
Iphicles laid down his pen, wondering what this was all about. "Not really."
"Oh good." Harry regained some of his normal cheery composure and flung himself down into one of the chairs. Iphicles turned in his seat to look at him. "Well?" he encouraged, when nothing further was forthcoming.
Harry grimaced apologetically. "It's Mama, you know," he started. "Wants me to have a talk to you about the succession and so on."
Iphicles snorted briefly. "You talk about siring heirs? Come on Harry, face reality before they cart you off to Bedlam."
There was a flash of resentment in Harry's face. "I'm not the Earl," he muttered, "I don't have a duty to the name. And anyway," he added ingenuously, "I don't like women - you do." As Iphicles stared speechlessly at him, he shifted in his seat and met his brother's gaze with a dazzling smile. "Come on Iph," he coaxed, "What's the harm in gaining a wife? Means you don't have to go elsewhere to get it. And with your title, you can have your pick - you don't have to settle for some antidote. I don't see what the problem is."
"And I don't understand what your sudden interest is." Iphicles' words were clipped.
"Oh yes you do," his brother informed him with devastating honesty. "The longer you go without getting any offspring, the more pressure Mama puts on me to produce some myself, just to make sure. This way, you get to roll around in bed with some female with Mama's blessing, and Iorweth and I get left in peace."
Iphicles was on his feet, his face pale. "It may have escaped your notice, brother, but my wife has been dead no more than a year, and you're telling me to go and get another one, just like that?" He broke off, breathing fast.
Harry stood up slowly, concern on his face. "Iph?" He reached out a hand and touched his brother's arm. "Iph, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you still missed Bella."
"Still?" Iphicles laughed briefly, a sound that had little to do with humour. "She was the only woman I've ever loved, Harry. I know my duty, believe me, but I need more time." He looked into his brother's face. "I know she's dead, I don't mourn her any longer, but can you imagine what it will be like to have somebody else take her title, to have somebody else order the house as they choose, to have somebody else's portrait hanging in the hall? To have Bella relegated to a dusty memory, yet one which is always scorned, or diminished, because they know I loved her?"
"Iph." Harry's face was unwontedly sober. "I'm sorry. I suppose… if I lost Iorweth…" his voice trailed off and his cerulean eyes were suddenly bleak, then he shook his head. "I'll deal with Mama," he said firmly.
Iphicles never found out quite what 'dealing with Mama' entailed, but Harry was evidently successful; Iphicles' next encounter with his mother, as they passed on the stairs, was silent, but she took his hand and pressed it meaningfully, her large eyes fixed speakingly on his face, a tremulous smile tugging at her lips. A trifle bemused, the Earl was enlightened at supper that evening when the subject of the ball to be held by the Davenports was raised, and on discussing the guest list, Alicia merely mentioned Lord and Lady Annesley and daughter, rather than enlarging enthusiastically about said daughter's attractions. The brothers' eyes met across the table in a silent message.
Sadly, their amity was soon rudely shattered. Harry objected strenuously when informed by his brother that he would have to accompany the Dowager to the Trent's assembly.
"Why can't you do it, Iph? You said you would." Harry's face was resentful. "I did my bit at that ball the other night, doing the dutiful to all the old tabbies for Mama's sake. What's come up that's so important you can't miss it?"
"A dinner invitation which I wish to accept." The Earl responded calmly. "And I thought, with you home, you might see your way to spending a little time with Mama." He tried a smile at Harry. "You know how much she would love you to escort her."
An answering smile lit Harry's face for an instant, before disappointment set in again. "But it will be an entire evening," he protested. "Even if you can procure an invitation for Iorweth -" the carrot with which the Earl was trying to tempt his brother - "we'll scarcely be able to spend any time together."
Iphicles shrugged. "So? You have all day every day together, I assume you have an arrangement unknown to the household for the nights. What's the sacrifice in one evening to keep Mama happy?"
Eventually, with great reluctance, Harry agreed. "But I won't do it again," he threatened the Earl.
"Nor should you have to," Iphicles agreed. While discussing who should sacrifice their evening to escorting their parent to yet another mindless gathering, a thought had struck him.
"Harry," he said slowly. His brother looked at him, suspicion large on his countenance. "What if we tried to get Mama paired off?" Iphicles suggested. "Then neither of us need go to those cursed things."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Mama?" he echoed blankly. "But she's… No, damn it Iph, she's our mother. She can't marry again."
Iphicles was far too taken with his sudden idea to pay much heed to his brother. "Sir John Laxom has always been one of her admirers," he mused. "He's a decent sort, reasonable fortune, and his wife died four years ago. Think about it, Harry," he urged his brother, "What will she do with herself once you've returned to Spain and if she succeeds in leg-shackling me to some heiress? Don't you think, as dutiful sons, we should encourage her to find happiness for herself?"
"You mean for me to encourage her, don't you?" Harry was blunt.
"You know she don't listen to a thing I say," Iphicles shrugged. "The alternative of course, is to spend your next leave abroad so you don't have to face this dreary round of pleasure."
A look of horror crossed Harry's face. "What, spend my leave among foreigners? Damn it Iph, I won't do it! Who is this fellow? Will he be there tonight do you think?"
And so the Earl, well satisfied with his afternoon's activities, found himself wishing a pleasant evening to his Mama and a grimly-determined Harry before he left for his own evening's entertainment.
On being admitted to the drawing room, he was a trifle surprised to find he was the only guest present. The Duke was reclining on a chaise longue - the chaise longue Iphicles realised with a shock - and merely gestured at the butler to provide his guest with a drink.
"I don't stand on ceremony with my friends," he informed Iphicles. "Have a seat."
Iphicles did as he was bidden, settling himself comfortably in a chair close enough to the Duke to allow easy conversation.
"I'm surprised you're not engaged to the Trent's tonight," the Duke observed idly. "I have a suspicion they have you in their sights for that second daughter of theirs."
The Earl's lips twisted. "If you know that, you shouldn't be surprised that I'm not there."
There was a gleam in the Duke's eyes as he acknowledged Iphicles' statement. He remained silent for a while, watching his guest. Iphicles sat at his ease in the chair, mentally contrasting this civilised atmosphere to the cattle market which the Trent's assembly would no doubt become.
"Do you have any other guests tonight?" he asked the Duke.
Aresborough's lips curved. "Not unless you wish it, Iphicles." He shifted slightly on the chaise longue, in a way which brought back only too vividly the images of Iphicles' last visit. The Earl suddenly found himself watching the Duke's muscular legs, sprawled in casual possessive ownership of the furniture, and remembering the last pair of legs he'd seen spread wantonly over it. He had the suspicion that his colour was slightly raised as he looked back up at the Duke.
"I had meant, any of your friends," he explained.
The Duke shook his head slowly, holding Iphicles' eyes. "I hoped we might improve our acquaintance."
Iphicles was caught between that swift uprush of exhilaration which he was beginning to feel more and more often in the Duke's presence, and a sudden very peculiar feeling such as he imagined a fly might feel, caught upon a web. Shaking his head slightly, he rapidly dispelled the illusion. There was no conceivable reason for his sudden odd fancy, unless it was too much wine on an empty stomach. His host laughed suddenly and encouraged Iphicles to tell him more of the exceptional cattle he had heard the Earl kept in his stables. With relief Iphicles plunged into an enthusiastic and often heated discussion with his host about the finer points of horseflesh.
By the end of supper, Iphicles found himself invited to be a member of a party the Duke would be hosting at his country seat the following week. Even in this he was flouting convention, by holding such a thing in the midst of the Season. It appealed to Iphicles, both the fact of the masculine retreat from the frills and furbelows of the ton, and the unusual timing. The Duke had added that he wished Iphicles to join him at his hunting lodge in Quorn country later in the year; he had admired the way the Earl sat his horse, and wished to have the opportunity to see him in action. The Earl had accepted both of these invitations, although he was fully sensible of the fact he was unable to reciprocate. To think of presenting a man of the Duke's reputation to his mother was inconceivable. All he could hope was that Harry might be making some headway with the Sir John Laxom plan, and that the Dowager would soon occupy her own place of residence. To be sure, he could insist that she move back to the Dower House, whereupon she had removed when he married, but he did not have the heart to make her do so. He also entertained the lively suspicion that she would spend all her time visiting him in any case.
"I'm sorry?" Iphicles came back to the present, aware his host was evidently awaiting an answer from him.
"I wondered, my dear Lord Royston, if we might adjourn?" The exaggerated politeness, in sharp contrast to their relaxed conversation throughout the meal, showed that he had obviously repeated the question at least once.
Iphicles grinned unrepentantly and stood up. "By all means, your grace," he bowed. "As your grace desires."
The room spun a little as he straightened up. Perhaps the number of different wines they had sampled with each course had not been such a good idea. Or perhaps it had not been the number of wines, but the amount of each which caused the problem. The Duke was a generous host, and there was no doubt but that under his encouragement his guest had been dipping deep. Fighting the urge to grin like a village idiot, a decidedly bosky Iphicles followed the Duke back to the drawing room where, comfortably ensconced in the armchairs, the pair continued their lazy conversation and their steady inroads on as smooth a wine as Iphicles had ever tasted.
Once again, it was at some point in the small hours of the morning that the Earl rose to take his leave of the Duke. Despite the revolutions of the room around him, he managed to make his way to the hall, where the butler returned his coat and hat to him before opening the front door. As the cool night air flooded in, Iphicles made a grab for the doorframe and stood breathing deeply, trying to bring the flight of steps before him back into full focus. His blurred vision informed him that his footman appeared to be starting up the steps towards him.
There was suddenly an amused voice in his ear. "Let me give you a hand, Royston," and his arm was being taken in a reassuringly firm grasp. He was vaguely aware of the Duke waving back the footman and then the steady arm around him was helping him to his carriage. He clutched at the doorway, blindly feeling for the steps, and strong hands were on his waist, steadying him as he swayed up them, before he collapsed into the seat. The carriage was suddenly full as the Duke followed him in, propping him in the corner and straightening his legs. "Just as well your coachman knows where you live, Iphicles."
The Earl's eyes blinked open again and he looked up into the Duke's teasing gaze. A semblance of manners presented themselves to him. "Pleasant evening. Thank you," he uttered thickly.
The hands paused on his legs as the Duke smiled at him. "Sleep well, Iphicles." Then the Duke was gone and the carriage was suddenly cold and empty without his company, his lazy drawl and his touch. Iphicles' eyes closed.
The Earl was somewhat delicate when he finally emerged late the following morning. He was relieved to find that his brother and Burnage were off somewhere, and that his Mama was still in bed, resting in preparation for the evening's exertions. The Earl was left to roam a silent house. He had never before noticed how empty it was, how little he had to do now that his friends were overseas. His acquaintances at White's were simply that, acquaintances, and damned stuffy, most of them. If pushed, he could always visit the Rooms off St. James' Street and enjoy a bout with the fencing master who ran the establishment, but his reactions today were dulled by his continuing headache. He would often take advantage of an empty few hours to pay a visit to Caroline, but the pounding in his head dissuaded him from following that course of action. Instead he sent to the stables for one of his horses and decided to take some mild physical exercise, enough hopefully to clear his head without over-exerting himself.
By the time Iphicles had reached the park, he was beginning to relax, having purposely chosen a smooth actioned well-mannered beast for his mount today. His headache was gradually dissipating in the gentle dampness of the overcast day, and he was able to greet acquaintances among the crowd which thronged the Park at this fashionable hour with an almost convincing display of good health. The thumping in his skull disappeared completely when he saw a familiar figure ahead of him. His pleasure was quickly swamped as unmistakable tones claimed his attention in no uncertain terms. He turned reluctantly to find Lady Foxcote, accompanied by her daughters, hailing him from her landaulet.
"Why, Lord Royston, I confess we have not seen you in what seems like an age - or so my daughters tell me," she declared playfully.
Lady Emilia hung her head, blushing in a not unbecoming manner and murmuring faintly "Mama!" Lady Charlotte however was made of sterner stuff and merely held the Earl's gaze with a world of meaning in her deceptively innocent blue stare. The Earl withdrew his gaze quickly, to find Lady Charlotte's mama not at all discomposed by the forward behaviour of her second daughter.
"Delighted to see you Lady Foxcote, Ladies," Iphicles bowed slightly and would have urged his horse on had not the determined lady continued obliviously.
"Oh, but Lord Royston," she protested, "You have not yet told us if you will be attending the Lennox's ball on Saturday."
The Earl cast a despairing glance past her at the Duke's steadily retreating figure, and his eyes suddenly narrowed. Sir Richard Hazell, mounted on one of his infamously ill-broken youngsters, had joined the Duke, and they were now walking their horses side by side, talking.
With difficulty, Iphicles pulled his attention back to the gushing female before him.
"…. his wonderful deeds in Spain?" She was looking expectantly at him.
"Harry?" He made a shrewd guess, then a sudden thought struck him. He smiled at all three ladies as he warmly invited them to wait upon his Mama tomorrow morning, when he knew for a fact that Captain Fairfax and his good friend Captain Burnage would be present and delighted to entertain them with suitably dashing tales of derring do.
"And may I ask, will you be present, Lord Royston?" The coy glance might have worked from one of her daughters, but from this redoubtable matron the effect was remarkably akin to having a tooth pulled.
"I regret that I have another appointment." He inclined his head courteously, "Ladies," and left before any further entanglements could be attempted.
His immediate impulse was to ride after the Duke and Hazell and join them, but as he saw their figures ahead of him, he hesitated. The Duke was leaning towards the other man, eyes on his face. Hazell was chatting animatedly, his body inclined towards the Duke in a way which suddenly irritated Iphicles.
He abruptly swung his horse around and decided to return home. The morning ride had somehow lost all pleasure for him.
He had not long returned to the house when he decided to call upon Caroline. He had called on her twice since the first time he had dined with the Duke, and on neither occasion had he been fortunate. His luck was none the better on this occasion; if anything, the news he received sank his spirits further.
"Mrs. Howarth is gone out of town, my lord," he was informed by her butler.
Iphicles concealed his surprise at the news. It was unlike Caroline to do such a thing without letting him know.
"When do you expect Mrs. Howarth's return?"
"I really couldn't say, my lord."
And that was as far as the butler would be drawn. Dissastified, the Earl had to admit defeat and retire.
He was out of sorts that evening, unsettled by the day he had spent, which meant that when Harry cornered him he was in no mood to listen to his younger brother, responding ungraciously when the gallant Captain intruded unceremoniously into the sanctuary of the library.
"I'm busy," Iphicles snapped, indicating the papers before him on the desk.
"I need to talk to you, Iph," his brother insisted regardless.
Jabbing his pen into the standish with unnecessary force, the Earl swung round to face him. "What?" he demanded.
"Are you going to offer for the Westcourt chit or not?"
Iphicles was torn between anger and incomprehension. "We've already spoken of my marriage plans, Harry," he managed reasonably, at last. "I have none for the near future."
Harry chewed his lip for a moment, looking distinctly unhappy. "The thing is, Iph," he confided at last, "Mama's started on me again. About seeing me happily settled, with brats to inherit in case you get notice to quit."
"Your concern over my demise is touching, brother," Iphicles spat.
"It's not like that," Harry protested. "We both know that you'll marry again, so why not simply bring your plans forward a little? It's the Lennox's ball on Saturday - a nice romantic setting to make your play. Send her your flowers to wear, compliment her looks, you know how it goes. I wager with your title and fortune the girl would be willing to marry you if you would just play the pretty a little."
"It grieves me to cast a rub in the way of your plans for my future, Harry, but I shall not be at the Lennox's ball." The Earl's precise clipped tone betrayed his fury. "I am going into the country for a time."
Harry's brows drew down. "At this season? Not the estate again, Iph? Devil take it, you're becoming a damned bucolic!"
"Not the estate this time," Iphicles controlled his voice. "With friends."
"Who?" Harry was pugnacious.
"Not that it is any of your concern, but if you must know I am visiting Aresborough."
"Aresborough? But -" Iphicles could almost see the wheels turning behind Harry's blue eyes. "Iph - you're not! You never.. devil take it, you were married! You can't do it - you have to marry again and get an heir! It's your duty, Iph, damn it. You can't shirk it. I won't - "
"You won't be forced into an unpleasant duty, is that it, Harry? Not when you can force me into one instead?" Iphicles' voice was edged with fury. "Your conjectures about my friendship with Aresborough are sheer lunacy, but it makes no difference - I will not be forced into a marriage of convenience by you, Mama, or anybody else. Do you understand me?"
Harry stared for an instant at the furious Earl. "But it's your duty -" he began stubbornly.
"Get out." Iphicles strode to the library door, wrenched it open and held it so until the disconcerted Captain Fairfax, unused to seeing his normally quiet brother so forceful, admitted defeat and retreated, no doubt to seek Iorweth's advice on how best to handle this perplexing situation.
The Earl closed the door and leant his hot forehead against the heavy oak, one hand still holding onto the handle as he breathed heavily, trying to control his anger. Harry's assumptions about his brother's reasons for spending time with Aresborough had been wildly off the mark - were he not so angered by his brother, the Earl might have found them embarrassingly so - but the result was the same: Iphicles would not be browbeaten into a line of action he did not wish to take.
He eventually returned to his seat at the desk and stared blindly down at his papers before cursing and thrusting his chair back. He would give anything to hear the Duke's lazy drawl consigning all paperwork to perdition. The thought that in two day's time he would have that opportunity steadied him slightly. Summoning a footman to bring him some wine, he stood staring into the fireplace, contemplating his escape.
Harry cornered him again the following day. "I can't believe you're going to abandon Mama and ruin your chances with the Westcourt girl to spend time with Aresborough," he challenged. "What's wrong with you, Iphicles?"
Iphicles held his accusing blue eyes. "For once Harry," he informed his brother, "I think that there's nothing wrong with me. I am doing something to please myself, and nobody else. It's an attitude to which I believe you are already accustomed."
It was enough to send Captain Fairfax packing in high dudgeon, no doubt to compare unfavourable notes with his friend Iorweth who had no disagreeable elder brother to concern him, leaving the Earl to his thoughts. The house party would be a change, a much-needed distraction. He was still concerned, when he thought of it, that Caroline had sent him no word, but he had begun to become accustomed to the familiarity of his own hand comfortingly stroking his cock, inevitably bringing him to lonely release each night. And morning. And whenever else he could be sure of privacy. He could not remember, since the days of courting Bella, such desire as now seemed to consume him. Perhaps all he needed was a week or so in the country with like-minded company ready to engage in physical pursuits that would leave him exhausted and ready for sleep each night. It was the boredom, the tedium, which currently led all his excess energy to be focussed in his cock, that was all.
That night, Iphicles unbent enough to accompany his Mama to an evening at the Trent's. He hoped that Sir John Laxom would be present, so that he might observe the two of them together. Following his contretemps with Harry, his younger brother had volunteered no information on how the campaign had progressed the previous evening.
The Trents were hosting yet another glittering party in their determination to marry off both daughters this Season. So determined were they, in fact, that they had produced a guest list that included every bachelor of the ton, regardless of eligibility. The result was a sad crush, the very sort which Alicia decried as being the most tedious of evenings, yet one which she would not miss for the world. Iphicles mentally gritted his teeth and settled himself in for a long evening. The one redeeming feature was his knowledge that once this evening was passed, only one day remained before he became Aresborough's guest.
It was still early when the young lady to whom he was listening earned the opprobrium of all those young ladies who had dextrously manoeuvred themselves into the Earl's line of sight. One moment he stood beside her, head bent in flattering attentiveness to catch her pearls of wisdom; the next, a smile of genuine delight curved his lips and warmed his eyes. Female breasts heaved with envy as jealous eyes watched the undeserving sallow-faced chit who was the sudden recipient of such attention. The young lady, as taken aback as any of those watching, instantly tried to press her advantage, but was disconcerted to find the Earl after a few moments adroitly excusing himself from her company. A glance around her led her to toss her head and smile mysteriously, indicating unmistakably to every other young lady present that she had arranged an assignation with the handsome Earl, and that their parting like this was merely a blind to the old tabbies who acted as chaperones. Gentlemen flocked around her, attempting to find out what had so captivated the Earl. The lady's social success for the rest of the Season was now assured, even though she had to confess herself puzzled by the Earl's inexplicable behaviour.
Iphicles was purposefully making his way through the crowded room when his mama suddenly seized upon his arm.
"Iphicles," she hissed, "This is your chance. That dreadful man, Aresborough, is here and forcing his attentions upon Sophia. Rescue the poor child, and she and her family will be forever grateful to you. Lord Ravenscourt has already made an attempt, but Aresborough is so shameless, he would not yield. Do something!"
It was a challenge to which the Earl rose nobly. He continued to make his way across the room to where he could see the Duke, dressed in dark, understated yet exquisitely cut clothes, talking to Sophia Westcourt. He saw the sparkle in Sophia's deep blue eyes as she gazed up at the Duke's dark face, and knew that Aresborough was exerting himself to be as charming as only he knew how. She did look particularly fetching tonight, Iphicles conceded; her three-quarter dress of sarsnet worn over an underdress of ivory satin was breathtaking on her elegant young figure, the modest pearl drops from her ears speaking further of her youth and innocence. No wonder her parents were worried; she appeared captivated by the Duke.
The Duke's smile reached his eyes as he turned to the Earl. "Iphicles. I had thought you would be present tonight."
Iphicles bowed slightly, then again to Sophia. "Miss Westcourt, delighted," he acknowledged.
She smiled warmly at him, a becoming colour staining her cheeks. "Lord Royston," she welcomed, her eyes conveying her delight at seeing him.
"May I request the pleasure of your hand later?" he enquired.
"A little forward in public, don't you think Royston," the Duke murmured very quietly.
Iphicles ignored him and engaged himself to a waltz later in the evening with the fair Sophia. "I believe Lady Annesley is anxious to introduce you to an old friend who has just arrived," he concluded.
Since the Duke's flattering attention seeming to have wavered, Miss Westcourt reluctantly obeyed Iphicles' unspoken injunction and rejoined her mama, reassured at least by the unusual readiness of the Earl's smile and the warmth in his eyes.
"I thought St. George ended up with the fair maiden, not the dragon," Aresborough jibed as Iphicles remained with him rather than accompanying Miss Westcourt.
"I rather think we are supposed to believe that, as a Knight of the Church, he was chaste and ended up with neither," Iphicles commented wryly.
"Poor St. George," Aresborough mused. "Still, I suppose virtue brings its own reward. Damned if I can see it though."
Iphicles laughed. "Aren't you damned anyway?" he flicked back.
"True enough," the Duke owned. "Speaking of which, I was thinking of trying my luck at this new hell off Pall Mall tonight," he continued. "Join me?"
Iphicles hesitated, torn.
The Duke leaned in close to Iphicles so none would overhear him, his breath caressing the Earl's cheek. "Then maybe you'll just have to dream of your reward, Iphicles. Have a virtuous evening."
With that, he turned and made his way from the crowded room, people in his way moving swiftly to allow him unimpeded egress. Iphicles stood staring after him, damning his conscience, his mother, his brother for not being here to take over responsibility for her, and most of all his odd reaction to the Duke's statement. After a moment he recollected himself, biting back his disappointment, and moved towards his partner for the next dance.
Before he reached her, Lady Annesley descended upon him, declaring herself forever in his debt for rescuing her poor dear lamb from that man, and for then seeing him off.
"Dear Lord Royston, I don't care what the rest of the world thinks - your brother's heroism doesn't hold a candle to you in my estimation."
"Thank you," Iphicles murmured dryly, freeing his sadly crushed sleeve from her eager grasp with a little difficulty, before continuing towards his object.
Somehow he got through the evening, which rapidly descended into a particular form of torture, becoming a whirl of objectionable people claiming his notice, young girls employing the arts of the coquette as they attempted to capture his obviously wandering attention, and capped off by a waltz with Sophia that ended with that young lady almost in tears at the Earl's heartless abstraction. Her crushing disappointment at the change in him from earlier led her into unbecoming frankness. She told him bluntly that she wore Ravenscourt's flowers, again. He nodded. She told him that Ravenscourt had proposed to her. He wished her happy. She asked him in a voice which trembled if he did not care for her. He asked her to repeat what she had said; he had not quite heard it.
She continued the moves of the dance, too well-bred to risk social disapprobation by slapping the Earl across his undeniably handsome but cruel face and storming off, but no sooner had the dance finished than she retreated to her mama and begged to be taken home, pleading a headache.
It was not long before the Earl found his own mother and encouraged her home. Reluctantly she allowed herself to be persuaded from Sir John Laxom's flattering attentions, and agreed. Once she had taken herself to bed, the Earl found himself with one arm leaning on the overmantel, a highly polished boot resting on the fireguard as he stared down into the empty grate in the drawing room, wondering if he might find his way to the new hell of which the Duke had spoken. He angrily conceded that he did not know enough to find it, and was no longer sure how pleased the Duke would be to see him there. With that option denied him, he was not in the mood to find other company tonight. He wanted Caroline with an intensity which took him by surprise; her continued absence had brought him to a new level of frustration. He could always find a lightskirt to release his desires, but the Earl had seen the results of the pox. So he took himself off to bed.
Once his valet had left the room, leaving the Earl in bed, Iphicles' hand went straight to his cock. He thought back to that scene in the Duke's drawing room as his hand moved slowly over his hardening cock, needing release but wanting to prolong the pleasure as long as possible. One finger stroked over the smooth head, and he remembered Caroline's tongue doing the same thing to him. He imagined how it would feel if she were to kneel before him, as the woman at the Duke's had knelt before her partner, so that he could thrust his cock deep into her mouth. As he thought back to that night, he remembered the sounds from Hazell and Farraday. Without volition, he found himself remembering the way Farraday had pushed desperately into Hazell's hand. Iphicles' hand moved faster, his hips lifting as he thrust into his own hand, feeling the sudden wetness of the tip of his cock. Eyes closed, teeth biting into his lip to keep quiet, he thrust faster, thinking of the woman on her knees, taking his cock, taking all of it into her moist mouth as Farraday's moans grew louder, and then the Duke's voice in his ear asked him what he thought. He exploded into his hand, gasping and sweating at the release.
He lay for a moment before turning over, wiping the cum from his hand onto the sheet and closing his eyes. But sleep eluded him still; that same scene, the sound of the Duke's voice in his ear, kept haunting him. It wasn't long before his hand was slowly stroking his cock again, gradually bringing it back to hardness while his other hand began to move across his nipples, touching, then rolling them between his fingers as he worked his full cock. He heard again Farraday's wild sounds of delight as he impaled himself on Hazell's fingers, and tried to discipline his mind, to bring back the mental picture of the man and woman in front of him, but all he could see were bodies, naked and entwined, pleasuring one another, and he could no longer tell who they were.
He groaned as he found himself imagining what it would have been like if the audience had taken off their clothes and joined in, imagining thrusting into the woman until she was writhing under him, begging him for more, and then suddenly he saw the Duke, smiling lazily at him as he brought the woman to orgasm, watching him as he spent his seed deep inside her. Iphicles cried out as he came, his eyes tightly closed, desperately trying to summon a vision of Caroline to him. He failed.
The busy streets of London gave way to open country and the Earl, his attention no longer on threading his match bays through the traffic-filled thoroughfares, found his mind drifting back to his departure from Half Moon Street. He had needed to employ unusually firm measures with his mother to prevent an embarrassing scene as his portmanteaux were loaded.
He had gone into the drawing room to say his farewells, only to find his parent labouring under a strong sense of righteous indignation. She could not understand, indeed she refused to see, any possible reason for Iphicles wishing to leave town at the height of the Season, and as for her feelings upon learning -from Another, moreover, not from the lips of her eldest son - that he would be a guest of that Dreadful man…
Iphicles had eyed her narrowly. "My brother, I take it."
"There is no call to decry your brother for his sense of duty towards his Mama." Her bosom swelled indignantly. "Precisely when did you intend to inform me of your destination, Iphicles? Do you have no consideration for the blow to my sensibilities it has been to find that you know That Man? That you willingly will spend time as his guest?" Her eyes beseeched his tragically. "Have you no proper feeling?"
Here her emotion overcame her and she uncorked the vinaigrette which had been her constant companion since the dire news had been broken to her. Caught between annoyance and concern, the Earl hesitated. At that moment, Harry entered the room, checking on becoming aware of the atmosphere, before advancing to seat himself and watch the show with every appearance of complacence.
"Tell him, Harry," the Dowager appealed with a pitiful flutter of her hand towards her younger son. "Tell him he must not do such a thing."
Captain Fairfax eyed his brother with disenchantment and supposed that the Earl would do as he wished, regardless of his mother's need for her eldest son's support at this time, the anniversary of her husband's death. Gasping at Harry's temerity, Iphicles was wrong-footed for an instant, long enough for his mama to launch into another lament.
"I don't understand what has got into you, Iphicles, that you intend to do this. What shall I tell people? I refuse to repeat that you will be That Man's guest. What in heaven's name possessed you to accept his invitation? You must know his shocking reputation. What will people think?"
Iphicles had finally been pushed into declaring that as the head of the household, what he did was nobody's business save his own. He was leaving now; he would return to his house - a very slight emphasis on the possessive - when he chose, and only then. Harry's furlough was long enough to enable him to keep his Mama company for some time yet, so the Earl need have no fears as to her safety. He wished them farewell, and left.
By the time the Earl reached his destination, many hours later, his unpleasant leave-taking was almost forgotten, and as he swung the curricle neatly between two cotswold stone pillars and past the gatehouse, a sudden sense of release and freedom ran through him. He looked with interest for his first sight of the Duke's country seat, and as he rounded the last bend in the drive, he was not disappointed. Built of the same mellow cotswold stone as the gatehouse, it glowed gently and welcomingly in the afternoon sun. It was an impressive sight, more grandiose by far than the original house which the first Duke had caused to be built. This had been razed almost to the ground as the result of an unfortunate incident involving the third Duke, a chicken and a burning cigarillo. By way of expiation, the third Duke - who had escaped from the blaze only slightly singed, which was more than could be said for the unlucky chicken - had built the present imposing edifice which greeted Iphicles.
He was shown into the great hall, where he was relieved of his many-caped driving coat and gloves, and asked if he wished to be shown to his room before joining the other guests. Impatient suddenly for congenial company, knowing they were not precisely high sticklers and would forgive the travel-worn nature of his garments, and knowing that there was still plenty of time to change for dinner even allowing for the possibility that the Duke kept country hours here, the Earl desired to be taken to the other guests. He entered the room somewhat diffidently as he saw faces he recognised but nobody he knew, and then he relaxed and smiled as the Duke's unmistakable figure crossed the room towards him. Suddenly almost giddy with relief at the removal of any duty except to enjoy himself, the Earl accepted the glass of wine the Duke pressed upon him and joined enthusiastically in the lively debate raging over the finer points of some of the leading actresses.
By the time he came to change for dinner, Iphicles had imbibed generously enough to allow his valet unaccustomed liberties. When finally that worthy allowed the Earl out of his clutches, it was for Iphicles to encounter the Duke in the passageway outside his room.
The Duke's eyebrows raised. "Such splendour in my honour, Iphicles. I'm overwhelmed."
Suddenly self-conscious, Iphicles glanced down at himself, seeing with repugnance at the fob with which his valet had triumphantly finished off his outfit. "Oh my God, I look like a damned dandy," he uttered with loathing.
The Duke laughed, then moved forward. "Let me help you," he offered, and bending his head, concentrated on unfastening the fob at Iphicles' waist. The Earl stood watching the dark head bent before him, breathing in a strangely heady scent as he did so. By the time the Duke looked up, with the offending object safely in his hand, Iphicles' colour was high and his breathing had quickened.
A slow smile curved the Duke's lips. "I should turn the fellow off, if I were you, Iphicles," he said. "He's obviously dressed you too warmly."
It was true. The Earl was aware that his cheeks were flushed, his clothes seemed to cling tightly to him, and perspiration was beginning to gather beneath his shirt, a drop of sweat sliding down his spine as the Duke looked at him.
"Perhaps I should," he agreed automatically, uncomfortably aware that the wine he had drunk appeared to have robbed him of the ability to hold a sensible conversation. He stood staring back into the Duke's dark eyes until they were interrupted by Farraday's eruption from his bedchamber, the one next to Iphicles'.
"Damnation, Aresborough," he demanded indignantly on seeing the Duke, "What the devil do you mean by giving me a room full of paintings of some damned female type wringing her hands and crying over her dead child?"
Aresborough's eyes gleamed with sudden amusement as he turned slightly to look at the indignant peer. "Come now, Rupert, that's one of my esteemed ancestors you're objecting to."
"Well I'm sorry for you Aresborough, that's all I can say." Farraday shuddered artistically. "Can't you do something about it?"
The Duke sighed. "I'm sure I can have it removed, if you find yourself unable to support its presence," he agreed.
"I don't care what the devil you do with it, as long as you get rid of that damned depressing woman!" Farraday informed him, in a manner which suddenly reminded Iphicles irresistibly of Harry. The Duke's gaze let Iphicles know that he shared his amusement even while he assured Farraday that the offending picture would be removed before he had to brave his bedchamber again, and the three of them continued downstairs to where supper would be served.
By the time Iphicles returned to his bedchamber, he was decidedly the worse for wear. In his cups, in fact. He heard a thump from the next door bedchamber announcing Farraday's arrival in his own bed as Iphicles blew his candle out, and deduced that the painting which had so offended Farraday must have been removed. Either that, or he was no longer in a fit condition to notice it. Smiling as he thought of the evening he had spent, the conversation he had enjoyed with the Duke, and the Duke's flattering attention, the Earl slipped into a sound sleep.
He was jerked suddenly awake. He lay there, wondering what had woken him. Then he heard it again. A muffled moan. His brows drawing together, Iphicles sat up, wondering where it was coming from. There it was again, and then a gasping pleading "Yes, now!" His cheeks grew hot as he realised what the sound was which was coming from the bedchamber adjoining his, and he slid back beneath the covers, punching the pillows into shape with enough force to temporarily drown the sounds. Only temporarily though. A low constant groaning became audible, punctuated with another's rhythmic grunts, then Farraday's unmistakable voice, begging, pleading to be taken harder and faster, to be fucked until he couldn't stand. Iphicles turned over in his bed, pulling one of the pillows over his head, trying to block out the sounds. To no avail. The bed next door creaked rhythmically, the groans continued, and to his horror Iphicles found his body responding to the sounds of pleasure.
He tried desperately to ignore it, but as the sounds became wilder, as the grunts turned into gasping cries, close together now as the man's thrusts into Farraday quickened, he was powerless to stop himself shaking free of the muffling pillow or to prevent his hand drifting to his aching cock. He almost groaned as his hand closed around the hot shaft, and he began to work it in time with the groans and gasps from next door, trying to keep silent as his other hand trailed across his lips and his tongue flicked out to wet a finger. His throat dry, he swallowed hard as he drew that one finger very lightly down his throat, across his collar bone, tracing an undeniable path to his nipple. The already tight flesh contracted further at the touch of his finger and raised beneath his touch. Closing his eyes, he took the nipple between his fingers and rolled it as his other hand moved faster, finally pinching his nipple hard as his hand tightened convulsively around his cock. His cry as his warm cum spilled over his stomach was drowned by the abandoned sounds of ecstasy from next door.
Iphicles lay there for a while in the dark, panting, before his hand moved to his mouth and he began to lick it, lovingly tasting his cum in slow comforting swipes of his tongue. The noises from next door had now become the low murmur of conversation, a sudden characteristic laugh informing the Earl that Farraday's visitor was none other than Sir Richard Hazell. An inexplicable wave of melancholy hit Iphicles as he heard the sounds of conversation from next door, and imagined the two of them lying there holding one another. He turned over in his bed and willed sleep to return. Eventually, it did.
Iphicles drifted slowly awake, taking a moment to remember where he was. Dull daylight from between imperfectly drawn curtains lit the room, the sound of rain lashing against the window panes persuading the Earl to turn over in his bed and stay there a while longer. It could not yet be midday as his valet had made no appearance. It was unlikely any of the other guests, or their host, would arise so early following the night they had spent. And the sound of relentless rain which, now he was fully awake, he realised had been going on for some time, did nothing to tempt him from the warm haven of his bed.
He stretched, luxuriating in the sensation of waking muscles, wondering what the day had in store. Last night he had eagerly accepted the Duke's invitation to ride out with him, but there would be little pleasure even in the Duke's company in hacking in this weather. Out of season, there was no hunting or shooting to tempt any of the party outside and no other reason for them to venture out in such persistent rain. Some of the company last night had gamed, although no money appeared to have changed hands, only promissory notes; others, like him and the Duke, had simply talked. Perhaps today would simply be a repeat of last night, only a little less well-lubricated. However the day was spent, Iphicles reflected with a smile, it bore no comparison to the tedium and claustrophobia of tonnish life. He spared a brief thought for his Mama and Harry, wondering idly which of them he felt most sorry for being left with the other, before a noise from next door took the smile from his face.
He glanced at the wall between the two rooms, unwillingly reminded of the activity that had disturbed his sleep last night, and also wondering how it was that noise travelled so clearly through solid stone. In the grey daylight, his question was answered. A door in the wall announced that these two rooms had, at some time, been used as bedchamber and dressing room. Although solidly built, the door was ill-fitting, and the sounds were unavoidably filling the Earl's silent bedchamber. Unmistakable sounds which would not stop, and which could not be ignored. The sounds of hand meeting softer flesh in a series of hard slaps. Each slap was followed immediately by a gasp, a plea, a begging, "Harder, please Richard, harder." But the slaps kept their own slow rhythm, causing Farraday to beg more loudly, more desperately. Then there was sudden silence. Iphicles strained his ears to find out why.
His mouth opened in shock as the silence was broken by the brutal smack of leather against skin. There was a cry of pain, then one of outrage. "Don't stop, for God's sake Richard, do it. Please." Again, leather meeting flesh, the cry, followed by a groan. "More, God, more." Quicker now, groans almost constant, the slap of leather punctuated by Hazell's growled commands. "Beg for it, whore. Tell me you want it." And Farraday's gasping "Yes, please Richard, I want it, please don't stop. Harder. Make me come. Please."
Iphicles lay rigid in his bed, trying to deny what he was hearing, and encouraging the sense of revulsion he knew that he should be feeling. The sounds continued unabated. In desperation, Iphicles threw back his covers and, heroically ignoring the hardened state of his cock, walked across the room to the china bowl. Pouring some water into it, he reached for the washcloth and began to sponge himself. The slight noises he made did little to drown out what was happening. Farraday was whimpering now - pain or pleasure, Iphicles couldn't tell, as the leather continued its inexorable assault. Iphicles looked down, to see the cloth in his hand slowly circling his left nipple, again and again, long after it was necessary. He abruptly threw the cloth into the bowl and snatched up a towel. Drying himself roughly he looked around for a shirt. What in hell had his damned man done with them? He finally located one and pulled it on over his head with clumsy hands, realising his mistake as the shirt slipped lightly down his body, its tails trailing over his aching cock with a soft caress which made his cock jerk and his teeth bite hard into his lip to prevent a whimper escaping him.
His eyes closing, the Earl gave up the unequal fight. Drawing the ends of the shirt aside, he wrapped a comforting hand around himself. Nothing more than that, certainly not to stroke the straining flesh in time with the groans from next door, the sound of leather on flesh, the wild urging for Hazell to continue, harder, to make him come. Iphicles' hand stilled and his cock began to leak as, in a wild string of explosive sounds, Farraday finally came.
Iphicles stood, head down, eyes closed, breathing fast, torn between relief and overwhelming disappointment. He could finish himself off in a business-like manner without being troubled by the inappropriate sounds from next door. That had to be a good thing. He simply felt disappointed because he would now have to be silent, that was all. Just as his hand began to move again, a raw voice came from next door. "Suck me."
Iphicles' eyelids screwed more tightly together as he tried not to think of the scene playing out only yards from him; of Farraday, spattered with his own cum, sore and bruised from Hazell's attentions, kneeling before him, taking the sensitive tip in his mouth before pushing down fully on it. Of Hazell wrapping his hands in Farraday's hair, thrusting into the welcoming mouth, fucking it hard until he was groaning with each thrust. Iphicles' thrusts into his hand were in time, soft moans escaping him as Hazell groaned, and then as the pace quickened both thrust faster, deeper, feeling it build, needing release, desperate to come, desperate…oh God. Iphicles' knees buckled and he made a wild grab at the side of the bed as the world tipped around him.
He opened his eyes to find himself on his knees, the covers pulled half off the bed beside him, and his seed strung across the Axminster carpet beneath him, his lawn shirt damp with sweat. He buried his face in the bed covers where he was clutching them, smelling the lonely scent of his seed on his hand. He knelt there in the silence from next door, waiting for his heart-rate to slow, for his breathing to steady. Waiting for… something.
The rain continued with the particular enthusiasm reserved for an English summer's day, and the party broke down into small groups to pursue their own pleasures in such inclement weather. Iphicles found the Duke at his side after luncheon, offering to show him around the house. He accepted the invitation with alacrity and spent a pleasant hour being shown the picture-gallery, containing paintings from the third Duke onwards, the earlier portraits having been lost when the house was burned. There was a strong family resemblance in the male line of the family, and Iphicles found his gaze flickering between the paintings and the man at his side to verify this. The same dark eyes and hair, the same full lips; even the faintly ridiculous fashions of yesteryear could not hide the muscular build common to each Duke through the years.
The portraits ended with the previous Duke. Iphicles expressed his surprise that there was as yet no portrait of the present Duke.
Aresborough emitted a dry crack of mocking laughter. "Do you really think I have nothing better to do than sit for hours before some damned painter simply to satisfy the vanity of a family of which I am the only surviving member, Iphicles?"
The question seemed rhetorical, so the Earl allowed his attention to be drawn to the series of engravings which followed the portraits. After an instant of shock, he felt his colour rise. They were engravings the like of which he had not previously encountered. Their artistic merit might be questionable, but that was not their purpose. He flicked a sideways glance at the Duke, wondering at the man shamelessly displaying these alongside his family portraits. The Duke was watching him, an amused smile playing across his lips.
"An interesting collection," Iphicles managed. "Is the accumulation of such pieces your work, or a family tradition?"
"I feel it incumbent upon me to patronise struggling artists, Iphicles," the Duke informed him. He looked over the pictures before him before adding, "I believe this one to show particular talent."
His hand gestured towards a painting a little further along the gallery. Iphicles obediently moved along and looked, only to be further discomposed. The others he had glanced over had been of men and women; the one before him was of a man thrusting into a man from behind, the artist capturing in exquisite detail the moment when all control was gone and both were lost in ecstasy.
"It has some merit," Iphicles agreed, his voice oddly tight. Was that what Farraday and Hazell had looked like last night?
"This is one of his also," Aresborough continued.
Iphicles withdrew his gaze from the picture before him and joined the Duke further along the gallery, where he was standing full-square surveying a picture with an expression of satisfaction. The Earl turned to look, wishing above all for this to end. There were not many pictures left before the gallery finished; please God may the Duke not want him to examine every piece of art between where they now stood and the far doorway. He turned his attention to the picture before him. The central figure was a naked man, his arms outstretched, chained between two columns, with figures crouching at his feet, working their way up his legs, tongues snaking over flesh, teeth biting, while he was taken brutally from behind, the pain on his face belied by the way his erect cock strained for attention. Iphicles stared at the painting for a moment before seeing the dark figure at the back of the room watching the action, sprawled on his seat in an oddly familiar manner.
He looked away abruptly, discomposed. "He's good," he agreed again, hardly knowing what he said, his eyes falling on yet another picture as he did so, with yet more naked men in the throes of passionate copulation.
Before the Duke could call his attention to any more pieces, Iphicles made his way towards the doorway at the end of the gallery. To his infinite relief, the Duke didn't call him back to witness any further examples of his particular taste in art. Iphicles stood in the doorway to the next room, relieved beyond words to find it harboured no exotic art or sculpture. It was merely a small room with an escritoire against the window, a few mundane paintings on the walls, and as deadly-looking a pair of gold-mounted pistols as ever he had seen on the wall above the fireplace.
Swiftly crossing the room to them, Iphicles lifted one down, enjoying its weight and balance. It was quite evidently a weapon meant for business, but there would also be pleasure in its employ.
He sighted experimentally along the barrel at a miniature hung on the far wall.
"It throws a trifle left," the Duke informed him. "Allow me…" Moving behind Iphicles, his right arm followed the path of Iphicles' and his hand closed around the Earl's wrist, moving it the appropriate amount to counter the action of the weapon. Iphicles stood very still, the Duke's arm against his, his back against him, and his warm breath stirring the Earl's hair. When the Duke moved back, Iphicles found the room oddly cold. He held the gun a moment longer, for form's sake, before relinquishing it to the Duke. While Aresborough returned it to its original position on the wall, Iphicles moved jerkily across the room to look out of the window and watch the relentless rain over the manicured gardens,
"Do you fence?"
He turned to see an almost feral smile on the Duke's face.
"It has been known," he agreed, a sudden excitement rippling through him at the thought of some activity on this day of unforeseen incarceration.
Calling for a footman, the Duke commanded the man to fetch his foils. He then proceeded to strip off his coat and turn back the sleeves of his shirt. Iphicles followed suit, and when both were ready, the Duke took the foils from the man, dismissing him as he did so.
They moved back to the gallery where the long stretch of floor allowed unimpeded movement, brought their blades together in a swift salute, and began. It did not take long for Iphicles to recognise that he was outclassed; he had a quick eye and a supple wrist, but he was no natural at this. His preferred weapon was the pistol, and he was well-known at Manton's Gallery as a deadly accurate shot. The Duke on the other hand fought with a pace and enjoyment that conveyed his love of the art; his swift moves were disconcertingly unpredictable to his opponent, his teeth bared in a smile as he employed them, but his dark gaze spoke of the careful planning underlying each. He might look to be an undisciplined fighter, but every move and counter-move was thought out.
Iphicles found himself hard-pressed, and could feel himself beginning to sweat as he was forced onto the defensive. Aresborough was steadily moving him backwards along the gallery, his lips drawn back in that same smile even though he was breathing a little more quickly now, his eyes alight with enjoyment, and his body tireless. For an instant, Iphicles found himself fatally distracted by the unusual lightness of the Duke's moves, seeing the answer in the muscled thighs which absorbed the shock of the rapid foot movements. Aresborough took advantage of the instant's inattention to break through his guard. Moving swiftly, Iphicles managed to deflect the Duke's lunge, so the point of the Duke's foil caught his left arm instead of coming to rest above his heart.
With a slight laugh, but aggrieved at himself for giving away the match before it had reached its natural conclusion, the Earl allowed his foil to drop until the end touched the floor. "Touche," he admitted, breathing heavily still.
The Duke's foil clattered to the floor and he was at the Earl's side. "My dear Iphicles, are you hurt? The button must have come off my foil. I would not have such an unfortunate incident happen for the world."
Iphicles stared nonplussed for an instant, before following the Duke's gaze to the left sleeve of his white shirt. There was a fresh red stain on it, growing by the minute. The Earl, lost in the excitement of the challenge, had not felt it when the Duke's blade had caught him, but now he had seen the wound, he could feel the beginnings of a dull ache.
"I'm fine," he muttered, embarrassed.
"Let me see," the Duke commanded peremptorily. When Iphicles made no instant move he insisted, "Oh for God's sake, man, take off your shirt. Let me see."
Iphicles laid his blade to one side, reluctantly ruined his valet's careful work with his neckcloth, and then unfastened his shirt, slipping it off over his head. The injury was bleeding heavily but was quite clearly a clean and superficial cut. Nevertheless the Duke directed Iphicles to be seated whilst he took the Earl's discarded neckcloth and began to mop the flow of blood with it. After he had dealt with the blood which had spilled from the wound, he held the cloth firmly to the injury to arrest any further bleeding. Iphicles sat there in his breeches and began to feel oddly light-headed as he felt the Duke's breath against his bare skin. It was the loss of blood, he realised, but it was not an unpleasant feeling. As though dreaming, he slowly became aware that the Duke had removed the makeshift pad, and he felt another sensation. He looked down at his arm with shock, to see the Duke's tongue moving over the site of his wound. Startled, he pulled away with an oath.
The Duke raised mocking eyes to his. "My apologies, Iphicles, for taking you by surprise, but human saliva holds definite healing qualities," he explained. "It cleanses the wound - any leech worth his salt will tell you that."
Feeling a trifle self-conscious, Iphicles moved back to his previous position. "You took me by surprise," he apologised.
The Duke looked at him, dark eyes gleaming. "Yes, I can see I did." His head began to lower to the Earl's upper arm, before he looked up at the Earl again. "You don't mind, do you, Iphicles?"
"No, I don't mind." And it was the truth as soon as he felt that moist tongue against his flesh. Licking him, cleaning the oozing blood from the wound with slow, deliberate sweeps of his tongue, the damp warmth seeming to draw patterns on his flesh. Iphicles was floating, unwilling to come back to reality as the Duke's mouth closed over the wound. The injury ached, but that soft tongue slowly wiped the pain away. He sat there drifting, his eyes closing as the Duke's tongue worked its magic. It was only slowly that he became aware of the increasing constriction of his breeches, announcing his cock's reaction to the pleasurable sensation. In concert with that reaction, Iphicles was suddenly aware that his nipples were beginning to tighten. It had been too long since he had seen Caroline, that was the trouble; his body was ready to treat any touch from another as stimulation. He sat as still as he could, waiting for it to be over and hoping desperately that the Duke had not noticed his wholly inappropriate reaction to a simple piece of first aid.
Finally, the Duke straightened up from his work.
"I should think you'll live."
His eyes opened at the familiar mocking tone to find the Duke had regained his feet and was extending a hand. Taking it, he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet, and began to put his shirt on.
Iphicles still felt oddly light-headed when he joined the party in the drawing-room before dinner that evening. The Duke had left him to change his shirt after the incident in the gallery, and Iphicles had not seen him since. A quick glance around the assembled company informed him that the Duke was not yet present, so the Earl joined the group closest to him, consisting of Farraday, Sir George Ogborne and Viscount Roslyn.
The Earl attempted to concentrate his mind on their discussion, but each time he glanced at Farraday he found himself reminded of the sounds from the previous night, somehow accompanied by visions of the painting he had seen. Was that really what Farraday and Hazell had looked like together?
Lost in his involuntary reflections, Iphicles was taken by surprise when the company began to move into the dining room. He had not noticed the Duke's arrival, and by the time his group reached the table Iphicles was disappointed to find that the seats beside the Duke had already been taken. He had swiftly discovered the previous evening that no formalities such as planned seating arrangements were in force here. The Earl pulled himself together with an effort and began to take a more active part in the conversation around him. He had after all enjoyed the Duke's company for most of the day, as well as last night. It was damned unreasonable of him to expect any more. He was seated with Farraday on his left hand side, Roslyn beside Farraday, and Ogborne opposite him, with Appleton at Ogborne's side. They were pleasant enough company, Iphicles supposed, then had to suppress a grin as he mentally compared this to what he would be subjected to were he still in London. They were wonderful company, he amended determinedly, and joined in their light-hearted banter with renewed vigour.
As had been the case the previous night, the wine flowed freely and the party grew steadily louder and less inhibited as the meal progressed. Iphicles' enjoyment was dimmed slightly by the fact that each time he looked the Duke appeared to be deep in conversation with Asbury, who was seated to his right, but he thrust that aside and allowed himself to be entertained by Appleton's seemingly endless fund of scandalous stories about Wellington, one of whose Staff happened to be Appleton's younger brother. He idly committed some of these to memory, enjoyably anticipating passing these on to Harry and Iorweth who would, the Earl was sure, relish them as much as did the assembled company.
It was as the port did the rounds and some of the assembled company took snuff that, through his haze of well-being, Iphicles was brought to a realisation that shocked him. As the Earl reached yet again for his glass, a laugh breaking from him at the latest outrageous claim from Appleton, his attention was caught by a movement to his left. A glance was sufficient to inform him that Roslyn's hand was on Farraday's leg. Not just resting there as he made a conversational point, but stroking, moving to his inner thigh as Farraday's legs parted to facilitate this, and then slowly moving upwards towards his cock which was becoming increasingly evident, swelling against his breeches. Iphicles jerked his eyes away. He had thought that Hazell was Farraday's lover, but Hazell was seated further down the table, either unconcerned or unaware of what was taking place; in fact, as Iphicles looked more closely, he could not be sure that a similar scene was not taking place between Hazell and his neighbour.
Disconcerted, Iphicles took a deep draught from his glass. He was not shocked, precisely; he knew of Farraday's and Hazell's preferences, and had not forgotten their previous public uninhibited expression of these, but to indulge these with partners other than each other, and to do so at the dining table, moreoever when seated close beside him, disturbed Iphicles greatly. In his determination to look anywhere but at what was taking place next to him, Iphicles' gaze found Ogborne's blond good looks across the table. Ogborne met his eyes with a smile so suggestive, before dipping a finger in his port and lifting it to his mouth to slowly suck the dripping liquid from it as he held the Earl's gaze, that Iphicles thrust his chair back and left the room with no more than a muttered excuse.
The door swung closed behind him as he made for the sanctuary of the empty drawing room. He stood at the window, resting his overheated forehead against the cool glass and waiting for his breathing to calm. Gradually it did so as he stared out into the grey evening outside, noting with the part of his mind that was attempting to distract him from recent events that it had at last stopped raining. His cheeks heated anew as he realised what he had done, rushing from the room like some schoolroom miss. It was not as though he were precisely a stranger to the habits of the Duke's friends, after all. No, it had been the proximity to him of what had been going on which had so disturbed him. That, and the unmistakable invitation from Ogborne. Iphicles was prepared to ignore the proclivities of those around him in order to enjoy the Duke's company, but to find out that he was now considered as a possible player in their games… His eyes closed and he breathed deeply again, trying to calm the sudden quivering inside him at the thought.
Eventually he turned from the window and wondered what to do. He preferred not to run the gauntlet of returning to the dining room; in any case, he strongly suspected that Farraday and Roslyn would still be indulging themselves and he emphatically did not wish to be seated beside them whilst they did so. No, it would not be long before the company adjourned, no doubt breaking up into smaller groups as they had done yesterday evening. The Duke had made his way to the drawing room when that had happened yesterday, and Iphicles hoped that this would be the case again tonight. He settled himself in a chair and, contemplating the polish on his boots, waited.
It was a full twenty minutes according to the ormolu clock on the mantelshelf when a sudden increase in noise announced that the dining room door had opened and closed. Iphicles waited hopefully, but whoever it was had left had taken themselves elsewhere.
He sat there, watching the hands of the clock, waiting. There were occasional bursts of uproarious laughter from the dining room, but no more movement in or out of the room. He remained undisturbed even by servants in his solitude. Growing ever more uncomfortable, Iphicles finally got to his feet and went looking for company. He knew that there was at least one other no longer at the table. As he walked past the door to the dining room he could still hear voices; although he strained his ears, he could not tell whether or not the Duke was still part of the collected gathering. He made his way along the west corridor of the house, opening doors at random, hoping for company or, at the very least, some sort of diversion. He stood in the doorway to the Yellow Parlour for an instant too long, before he stepped sharply backwards and let the door swing to.
Blindly he sought for the doorway to the gardens and escaped into the warmly damp evening air, desperately seeking sanctuary. He finally made it to the shelter of the line of elm trees and leaned against the wide trunk of one of these for support, lifting his overheated face to the grey skies in denial. Yet still all he could see was the tableau which had greeted him in the Yellow Parlour: Hazell bent over a chair, his breeches around his knees, while the Duke slid his cock into him. Iphicles' hand wrenched at his damnably tight neckcloth as he denied the moment when he had watched, when he had seen the Duke's hard cock pushing into Hazell's ass, the moment when the Duke had looked up and seen Iphicles standing there watching in shock, and smiled. Oh God.
Stumbling slightly as he moved, Iphicles ran. Over the soaking grass, then along the path, gravel spurting beneath his boots, away from the house, away from the sight of the Duke fucking Hazell, away from the laughter and the wine and the confusion.
Continue onto Part Two