Friday, November 19

Boy / Boy Yumminess -- or NaNoWriMo Revisited

So, as I said a few posts ago, I had to throw in the towel on my official NaNo story... although I did figure out what was wrong with it and I look forward to revisiting those boys in the near future.  In the meantime, I'm chugging away on my Victorian era story and I thought it was a good time to post an excerpt.  PLEASE NOTE: there is no sex in this scene, but it is a scene from an erotic romance!  I do use "naughty" words to describe boy bits.  If you're under eighteen or just don't like frank language, this probably isn't for you.  On the other hand, if you think two boys kissing is hot and don't mind it when the heat gets turned up even higher, come on it!

To give a little background, James Heron (a human police constable, age 24, blond hair, sea green eyes--despite his lowly position as a PC James lives on the West Side of London) and Alun Blayney (a Welsh born lycanthrope living in London's East End, age 43, hot for his age--it's a werewolf thing--  dark hair, dark eyes, lanky but muscular) mete over the body of a woman in an alleyway.  Not the best way for two men to meet, but James ends up inviting Alun home with him and the sparks begin to fly.
The setting is Victorian London, one year after the Ripper Murders.  James has no idea that his new friend is a werewolf.  With any luck, this is spelling error free (many, many, many thanks to my friend Kathy for her patient editing!)

The feeling of loneliness and longing gripped at Alun’s heart again. He could almost taste the sweet Welsh country air… but he’d made his choices. He would live with them. He would live alone, an outcast, his only contact with his own kind coming when the lycans needed somebody to blame. Someone to punish.

“I apologize for your having to witness our little ‘family drama,’ Mr. Blayney,” said James, his voice pulling Alun from his thoughts.

The lycan shrugged. “It’s hardly my concern.”

“Well, in any case, the kitchen’s through there,” he nodded in the direction Mrs. Dunberry had gone. “Assuming you’re brave enough to follow after her,” he added with a wry grin.

The lycan found himself chuckling despite the sudden onslaught of homesickness; James laughed too.

Alun made his way down the hall, past a wide, polished staircase and an arched doorway which into the large front parlor. The room was done up in delicate shades of rose and cream. He glanced over his shoulder at the constable, wondering again what he was doing there—he didn’t belong in a house like this—but James shot him a good-natured smile.

In most homes, proper houses like this one, the kitchen and scullery were in the basement, though Alun didn’t know why. The cottage he’d grown up in certainly hadn’t needed a basement to hide the place where meals were prepared—of course his family hadn’t employed servants. The well-to-do seemed to like to keep their ‘menials’ out of sight and out of mind.

When Alun opened the door at the end of the hall, however, he was greeted by the warmth coming from a small cast-iron range sitting on the opposite wall. Mrs. Dunberry was putting on something in the oven.

“Is that one of your apple pies?” James queried in a hopeful tone.

“It is. But it’ll not be ready until later. I was expecting you at ten.”

The young constable chuckled. “And I apologize for throwing off your carefully planned schedule,” he told her.

She made a small noise in the back of her throat, but otherwise ignored his apology.

The room was large; it probably hadn’t always been a kitchen, Alun thought. The walls were papered with a cheerful design of yellow cabbage roses. The floor was bare, yellow linoleum. Counters lined one of the room’s outer walls; the windows above the yellow countertops opened out to a tidy back garden where Alun spied herbs and a few vegetables growing. He didn’t know if upper class folk usually grew their own vegetables, but it seemed strange. Most of the ones he’d met didn’t like to get their hands dirty if they didn’t have to.

The door leading out the garden, probably by way of the scullery, was on the other outer wall, next to the stove. Opposite the counters and windows, stood a plain wooden table. Two more doors on that wall most likely led to the pantry and larder. There was also a narrow back staircase leading up to the second floor.

“I’m afraid the house is pretty old,” James began apologetically, as he walked over to the stove where there was a large metal bowl filled with water warming at the back of the range. He set it on the table so he and Alun could both get to it easily. “We lack a good many of the modern amenities, hot running water being one of them.”

Looking around the cozy, well-appointed kitchen, Alun hardly found it wanting for anything. He wanted to say as much aloud, but he wasn’t sure how to phrase it to make it sound right, so he kept his thoughts to himself and set about washing his hands and face. He watched James’s housekeeper out of the corner of his eye—the same way she seemed to be watching him—as she headed toward the larder.

Suddenly, a heated, primal scent hit Alun’s nose so hard felt like a physical blow. It was like… like the scent of sweet grass that had caught fire. He looked over his shoulder to find that the source of the heat, the smoke and fire, was… James Heron? The constable had removed the heavy blue coat of his uniform and was standing there, thankfully not facing him, wearing only his trousers, braces, and a thin cotton shirt. The top three buttons were undone, revealing a patch of soft blond curls. Alun averted his gaze quickly…just as quickly, he returned his eyes to Heron’s body, furtively hiding his wanton stare behind his own thick bangs. The younger man’s chest was lean and muscular, tapering tapered into a very well-defined abdomen. Unlike many men of the middle and upper classes, James didn’t need a corset, his figure was… perfect.

Alun’s tongue darted to his lips as James began to unbutton his shirt further, revealing a trail of blond curls leading towards his belly button. The lycan’s cock strained against the fabric of his trousers. He wanted to bury his nose against the other man’s soft neck like he had in the alleyway and inhale the scent of fire and heat. He wanted to press his body up against his, covering every part of him.

“Oh for pity’s sake!” Mrs. Dunberry shrieked; she’d come from the larder with her arms were loaded down with food, easily enough to feed a small army.

Alun jumped at the sound of her voice, sputtering, his mind racing as fast as his heart, scrambling to come up with an explanation for huge bulge in his trousers.

“Master James!” she continued, not looking at their guest at all. “Dress yourself this instant!”

To Alun’s utter surprise, James laughed—he had a fearless laugh. “It’s only you and Mr. Blayney,” he protested, assisting his housekeeper with her burden. “I’m sure he knows what a man looks like and you,” he cupped the back of her head and pulled her forward as he leaned to press an irreverently familiar kiss to her forehead. “You helped me in and out of the bath a thousand times, as you’re so wont to tell me at every turn,” he reminded her. He flashed a cocky grin. The transformation was incredible, Alun thought. Out of his stiff blue uniform, the po-faced police constable was gone, and in his place stood a handsome young man with an irresistible, impetuous smile. “Mrs. Dunberry practically raised me,” he explained to his guest, thankfully only barely glancing his way as he continued to assist Mrs. Dunberry, despite her obvious protests.

“Then perhaps you’d best put on a shirt in due consideration for the good lady’s sensibilities,” Alun heard himself saying, although in reality the last thing he wanted was for James to cover himself back up. Then again, maybe it’s for the best, he decided. If the other man remained in his current state of undress, he would have to sit with a pillow over his lap throughout breakfast, and how in the world would he explain that?

“For you then, Mr. Blayney, not her,” James quipped back over his shoulder.

“Not out of a sense of propriety?” Mrs. Dunberry challenged him.

“Never that.” He pressed another kiss to her forehead before making his exit to go upstairs and get into some more comfortable clothes—or at the very least, clothing that wasn’t his uniform.

“I swear, that boy’s going to be the death of me,” the housekeeper muttered after him; her expression was soft. Affectionate. Her face hardened, however, when she looked back at the tall, slender Welshman standing in the kitchen with her. “He’s a good man, you know,” her tone turned sharp.

Alun looked back to the bowl of water and the soapy washrag; the smile that had been forming lips over James’s playful exchange with Mrs. Dunberry was gone. “Yes, Missus,” he agreed in a subdued tone, keeping himself turned so she couldn’t see the way his trousers had become stretched taut between his legs. He picked up the rag again and went back to washing his face and neck.

“Good men are easily taken advantage of,” she went on, her tone still brusque. “I’ll be keeping my eyes on you, Mr. Blayney, and this house while you’re in it.”

He blinked. Did she realize he was hard as a bloody rock? Don’t be daft, he chided himself. She only meant that she didn’t want him taking advantage of her employer’s generosity. He wasn’t all ribs and sunken cheeks like some men he knew, but it had to show he hadn’t had a proper meal in some while, and he certainly hadn’t slept anywhere better than a doss-house bed in longer than he could remember. He could well imagine James as being on the na├»ve side. Why else would he have brought a complete stranger into a home like this, especially after that stranger had accosted him on the street? Hell, for all James knew he was the one who had killed that woman! All the constable had was his word on it. It made him wonder… but he decided he didn’t want to think about what other down-and-outs the other man might have brought home with him; when he started to, he felt an irrationally possessive rage beginning to burn in his chest.

* * *

James surveyed the crisp cotton shirts hanging in his wardrobe. It wasn’t that he had so many to choose from that he didn’t know what to wear, but he did have a few and a rare streak of vanity was rearing its ugly head, making him indecisive. Something casual, certainly, to keep his guest at ease, assuming Mrs. Dunberry doesn’t run the poor man off before I get back downstairs, he mused. It was inconceivable that the same man who had pinned him so fast and so hard in that alleyway could be so completely cowed by the old dear, but he certainly had seemed to back down from her in a hurry.

He knew he might be making a grave mistake in offering Blayney hospitality in his own home; for all he knew, the Welshman really was the killer… but if he were, I would be dead. It was a sobering thought. He’d never been so close to death before, not like that, not his own death. Or what would have been his death if Blayney were a killer. But something in him told him that he wasn’t.

At length, James selected a light, periwinkle blue shirt out of his wardrobe. His mother had always liked him in blue, particularly this shade of it; she said it brought out the green in his eyes. He paired the shirt with plaid wool trousers and, knowing he would never get past Mrs. Dunberry if he didn’t conform to at least a modicum of social decorum, and a dark blue waistcoat. He would forgo a coat, however, no matter how much she fussed at him. It seemed silly to dress so formally knowing that he would be going to bed within the hour.

His stomach growled loudly, as if to tell him that he wasn’t doing anything before he ate a decent breakfast.

That came as a sobering thought too, as James wondered how long it had been since Mr. Blayney  enjoyed a proper meal—a proper bed. The East Ender had been almost cavalier about paying for his own pastry and admittedly he offered to buy James a drink earlier, but he hardly looked like a man of comfortable means. Maybe, James mused, he should invite his guest to stay the day, get some sleep. He must be exhausted… yet what reason does he have to trust me, any more than I have reason to trust him? he wondered.

Except that James did trust him, he just didn’t know why.


“Take more, please,” James told him. “Mrs. Dunberry going to expect all of this to be gone by the time she comes back in and I can’t eat the rest of that by myself,” he gestured to the half a dozen or so sausage links left on the platter.


“Please,” he entreated. Then he smiled—grinned. “It really is your duty as a good guest to help me empty these plates. I swear, there’ll be bloody Hell to pay if every spec of food isn’t gone. And don’t think for a moment that she’ll go easier on me just because I pay her.”

Despite the tightness in his chest, Alun couldn’t help but chuckle at the image of tiny Mrs. Dunberry having a go at James—and probably him as well—as if they were a pair of errant children who hadn’t finished their supper. Even so, he wasn’t used to people saying ‘take more,’ and he didn’t like charity, especially not from humans… but something about this human made him feel at ease. At home, he thought, the constriction in his chest tightening… loosening.

He met those mossy green eyes and held them in his own dark gaze and for just a moment Alun felt… connected. He shook himself. He was a lycanthrope. James Heron was a human. Wolves and men were, by their very natures, mortal enemies. Except that his host had no idea it was a wolf he was entertaining in his cozy little kitchen. Alun swallowed hard, sobered once more.

James chatted with him while they age; he wasn’t patronizing and he didn’t ask intrusive questions, and somehow, Alun found himself telling the other man more about himself than he’d shared with anyone in a very long time.

“The farm I grew up on was just this tiny little parcel ‘o land, but it was ours,” he told his host with a wistful smile—he had no idea how young he looked when he smiled, or how happy he appeared just then. He had no idea of the affect his happiness had on the human sitting across from him, or how much James wished he knew how to coax more of it out of him, how he wished he could understand the pain that came over Alun’s face every time he reminded himself of how different he was from James Heron, how wolves and men weren’t meant to be friends. Lovers.

Alun only knew that it was odd, talking so openly with a stranger. Usually when he spoke of his home or thought about the land he could never go back to, he felt such longing, such loneliness and sorrow that it was almost unbearable—but sitting next to James Heron, he felt only contentment. He didn’t understand that feeling any more than he understood his body’s intense reaction to the sight of the younger man in his undershirt. He kept talking anyway, enjoying the company even more than he was enjoying the rich food Heron kept heaping onto his plate.

“We raised sheep mostly sheep, an’ ‘ad a cow o’ course, an’ a small garden, just enough for us… although there were a lot o’ us,” he told James with another warm smile. “More ‘an anythin’ else, I miss ‘avin’ fresh fruit in summer. Nothing beats the taste o’ plums straight off the branches o’ the tree. I used to spend hours up in those trees, seein’ ‘ow ‘igh I could climb, eating plums as I went. Mind, I was only a wee lad, so, th’ trees prolly seemed ‘igher up than they really were.”

James chuckled. “My affinity was always strawberries,” he confessed. “My brother and I used to stuff ourselves silly every June… but that was a long time ago.” His smile tightened. Alun didn’t press him as to why, he just teased him about strawberries being a safer ‘affinity’ than plums, seeing as they grow so close to the ground.

“We had this old oak tree, though,” the constable countered. “I used to think that if could just climb high enough, I could touch the moon…one time I got so high up in the stupid thing, my grandfather had to fetch the ladder and get me down. I was terrified. I never did touch the moon,” he sighed, just a little wistfully, at the childhood memory. “It’s silly the things we believe as children.”

Alun merely shrugged. “My mam used t’ tell me it weren’t never silly t’ believe in anything, no matter how impossible it seemed.” He doubted his mother had known at the time what he would grow up to be. She hadn’t even tried to intervene on his behalf when his father ejected him from their pack and its land.

Oblivious to his companion’s dark thoughts, James’s smile had warmed again as he gazed at the older man over his teacup. Something about his smile made it easy for the lycan to smile, too, despite the painful memories. His smile faded, however, when Mrs. Dunberry returned to the kitchen just a moment later. It wasn’t just the lady’s appearance, it was… it was that the platters were mostly empty and that meant the meal was over and it was time for him to be on his way. Alun tried to shake himself of the feeling; after all, James must be exhausted. The sun was shining brightly in through the windows—certainly it was midmorning, at least. He needed to take his leave so the younger man could get to bed.

The housekeeper had changed out of her plain cotton housedress and apron and into a handsome wool suit, making her look less like a servant and more like the lady of the house. It didn’t really surprise the Alun; James Heron didn’t treat his housekeeper like a common menial.

“You could take a lesson from him,” she said to her employer, giving the older man’s plate a scrutinizing gaze and Alun felt the color as it rose in his cheeks, staining them deep red. He’d definitely outstayed his welcome, he decided.

But James only laughed. “It’s hardly my fault you learned to cook from the Royal Army, Mrs. Dunberry.” She wrinkled her nose, which only caused him to laugh all the more. James reached over to clap a friendly hand on his guest’s shoulder. “Mr. Blayney and I have made a valiant effort, good lady, but I fear we are stuffed to the gills. We surrender. We can eat no more.”

She ignored his carrying on. “You mean he made a valiant effort, Master James. What you eat would hardly sustain a sparrow.”

“Should I remind you that birds eat several times their body weight in seed each day?” he quipped back.

“Only if you wish me to ‘forget’ to purchase those dreadful sweets you like so much from the market.”

“You’re a cruel woman,” James informed her.

“So you say.”

The sourness of her tone only inspired another mirthful chuckle. The constable gulped down the last of his tea and stood up. Some of impishness had faded from his expression. “Why don’t you let me get my coat and accompany you—you wouldn’t mind, would you?” he asked of his guest. “You’d be more than welcome to remain, take your rest—”

Alun blinked. James meant for him to stay…?

“Oh for pity’s sake!” Mrs. Dunberry protested. “I went to the market by myself yesterday morning and the morning before that and the day before that as well. I’m perfectly able to do so again today. Sit yourself back down and finish your eggs. I trust the pair of you are capable enough to clear off the table in my absence?” it didn’t sound like a request.

“Yes, Missus,” said Alun obediently. He wondered if her reluctance to leave him alone in the house was mistrust of his intentions, the worry that he might try to rob them. Not that he could blame her, what did she know about him? And even if she did… he nearly shuddered. The less these people knew about him the better, though it wasn’t as if they were in any real danger of having their ignorance shattered. He might have allowed a few details about his younger, happier days slip out, but he wasn’t about tell James Heron how he came from a long, proud, line of shape-shifters.

Feeling less jocular, Alun stood up and began clearing the table, removing the dishes to the sink in the scullery to be washed. Mostly he needed a moment by himself to digest James Heron’s statement about him taking his rest here—and he was surprised when the constable denied him his respite, joining him in the scullery with his sleeves rolled up. Without a word, the younger man began scrubbing the heavy iron skillet that was soaking in the sink.

Alun made no attempt to keep the amazement he felt from showing on his face. He would have expected the dishes to be left for a servant, well-to-do people didn’t wash their own plates or pots and pans. But James Heron didn’t act like the other wealthy people Alun had known.

Noticing his bemused expression, the younger man merely flashed over a smile. “It’s really just the two of us—there are a couple of girls who come in during the day, but… well, it seems silly for a grown man not to do his part in his own home,” he explained with a shrug.

Unable to find fault in his host’s logic, Alun rolled up his sleeves and sidled in next to Heron at the sink. Within moments, the two men fell into easy rhythm, with James washing and Alun drying, setting the clean plates aside to be put away in the pantry when they were done.

“May… would you mind me askin’ you personal question, Mr. ‘Eron?” Alun began tentatively when they’d finished.

“Only if you’ll call me James.”

“I’ll be expectin’ ya t’ call me Alun, then,” he said before he fully realized the words that were coming out of his mouth.

“Fair enough,” the constable agreed. “And by all means, ask whatever you like.” He led the way back to the kitchen where he put the kettle back on the stove for more tea.

“It’s ‘ardly any o’ my business,” began Alun, “but I was wonderin’ ‘ow long’s it been just the two o’ you.”

“Hmm? Oh, you mean Mrs. Dunberry and I?” he shrugged; they took their seats at the table to wait for the kettle to boil. “My parents died when I was seven. My brother Thomas was twelve. Officially, we went to our grandfather’s care. This was his house. He worked here in London, but he didn’t think it was a good place for us. That’s how we ended up in Northumberland with our Uncle John and his family. He hired Mrs. Dunberry to look after us. I suppose you could call it ‘love at first sight,’” he grinned. The smile lit up his face, but it didn’t last. “Tom…” he paused, his gaze shifting toward the window and the little garden beyond.

“’Ow long’s ‘e been gone?” he asked quietly.

“Fever took him last year.”

Without thinking, Alun rested his hand on the other man’s arm; the pain of loss and death was something he knew all too well. “I’m sorry.”

James shrugged but accepted the comfort, settling his hand over top of Alun’s. The constable’s hands were strong. Calloused. Warm.

“It’s been worse on Anna, Tom’s widow,” James told him softly, seemingly barely aware that he was holding Alun’s hand. “She was with child when he died. She gave birth to my nephew only a few weeks after we buried her husband. William Thomas,” a ghost of a smile played across his lips again and he tightened his grip on the other man’s hand, lacing his fingers through Alun’s. “He looks just like his father.”

“I…” he didn’t know what to say, so he gave James’s hand a gentle squeeze. His mouth was filled with cotton, his stomach crawling with ants. The feeling got worse when James met his gaze head on. Something in those moss green eyes made the lycan’s gut tighten with unexpected longing. He looked away. “Where are they now—your sister in law and nephew?” he asked quietly.

“Northumberland. My grandfather’s retired, so he looks after them. I suppose my Uncle John does, too, after a fashion.” His expression soured. “My Uncle John and I have… differences,” he explained. “It’s better for everyone that I’m not there. They have everything they need.”

Alun heard the words he didn’t say: They don’t need me. The pain of the unspoken statement struck a chord deep within the lycanthrope’s soul. Diagen meant unneeded—unwanted. He understood why he was unwanted, but how could James be unwanted? He was… Alun shook himself.

Even if he could forget for the moment that James was a constable and that all forms of homosexual gratification were punishable by law—and never mind that the chance of the constable being inclined toward men was slim—Heron was human. There was no way a human, any human, could ever understand or reciprocate the depth of connection… bonding… love… love was too pale a word to describe what Alun was sure it must feel like to be joined with a mate, to rest in the shelter of that person’s love and offer his own love as shelter in return. Besides, the point was moot. According to the pack’s Elders, that kind of connection only happened between a male and a female. That was why he was diagen, an outcast, because he refused to take a mate. The Elders didn’t understand that it wasn’t a choice, he couldn’t bond with a female.

Goddess knew he’d tried. After his father ejected him from the pack, he tried to find a lycan woman he could at least couple with, hoping that if he came back with a pregnant mate, perhaps… but he couldn’t bring himself to betray who he was at his core. He couldn’t mate with a partner he didn’t love, at least not back when he was young and idealistic. He didn’t know, then or now, why the Goddess had made him the way that She had.

“Are you all right?” the soft sound of James’s voice drew him gently up from his thoughts. James was still holding his hand.

Alun didn’t feel the younger man’s trembling, he was only aware of churning of his own stomach and his overwhelming urge to close his arms around the human male and bury his nose against his neck like he had in the alleyway. He wanted to give everything that he had and everything that he was to James Heron so that neither of them would ever be alone again. He wanted to savor the taste of him, his lips, his mouth, his seed. He wanted to bury his cock deep inside the younger man while he writhed with pleasure beneath him.

Alun pulled away quickly, before he did something they would both regret.

He told himself angrily that James wasn’t lonely, he was a young, handsome, most likely educated and he certainly had money. That meant James Heron had all the ‘company’ he wanted. Even if he don’t, what would ‘e want with me, any’ow? he thought bitterly, surprised by how much the thought made him ache and just how cold the ach was. He liked to think he’d made his peace with his life. He was diagen. That meant he would always be alone.


“Just tired, I reckon,” he lied. He got to his feet and took the boiling kettle from the stove, using a thick towel to shield his hand from the heat. Mostly, it was an excuse to shift further away from the younger man—from temptation. It would be all too easy to press his mouth against the James’s soft pink lips, to taste him, touch him. Claim his mouth for his own before unbuttoning his shirt, his trousers, and take him right there on the kitchen floor. He longed for nothing more—nothing less—than to have the blond constable underneath him, moaning with the all pleasure he knew he could give him, would give him, willingly, happily, if only James wanted it too.

He was too absorbed in his own inexplicable yearning to notice the way James was watching him. He only saw the way the younger man got up and walked across the room to fetch a pair of clean cups from the pantry. He doubted his host would be half so gracious if he had any idea of the carnal desire eating away at his gut.

James brought the cups and a little tin of assorted teabags back to the kitchen. Alun poured the water, falling once more into an easy rhythm with the other man. James only hesitated a moment before selecting teabags for both of them.

Sweet smelling stream rose up from the water when he dropped them into the cups. Alun closed his eyes. He smelled… rose… lavender… something green and mossy… it reminded him of the young blond he wanted so very badly. He didn’t realize that a smile had crept onto his lips as he cradled the cup in his hands, warming his fingers.

“It’s an old recipe of my mum’s,” said James, his tone subdued. “She always gave me a cup before bed. Said it would help me sleep.” He leaned up again the counter, his own cup cradled in his hands; he shifted to rest his shoulder against the older, taller man’s arm.

Alun opened his eyes. James was looking at him, his eyes seeming more grey than green, now. Through the place where their arms were touching, he swore he could feel the younger man’s heart beating; the sound of it steadied his jangled nerves and he closed his eyes again, savoring the moment, wishing it would never end. He was sure he’d never felt half so content in his life as he did just standing there with James Heron, a man he barely knew.

“Do you think you’ll catch whoever killed that woman?” he asked softly, trying to distract his mind from the images it was trying to paint for him. Men didn’t live together in domestic harmony like a man and woman would—and anyway, they weren’t even both men, he was a lycanthrope. Humans and lycans had never lived together in peace.

James shrugged in response to his question, his shoulders rubbing lightly up and down Alun’s arm. “Maybe.”

Alun drank his tea. “Why’d you bring me back ‘ere?” he asked. “You don’t know me from Adam, James.”

“I suppose not,” he agreed.

“I could’ve killed ‘at woman, you know.”

“But you didn’t. I know you didn’t.”

“’Ow? Because I said so?”

James shook his head. “Because you’re right. If you were a killer, we wouldn’t be standing here talking, Dr. Stodderley would be cleaning up my body, too.”

The lycan didn’t answer. He was a killer. He hadn’t killed that woman, he’d had no cause to, but he knew death and pain from both sides. “You shouldn’t be so trustin’,” he heard himself saying. His tone was dark.

“I can’t help it. I think it’s my mum’s fault.” He blew across the top of his cup, cooling the hot tea, filling the air with more of the brew’s sweet scent. “I don’t remember her as much as I’d like, but she always found a way to see the best in everybody—even this wretched governess I had when I was five,” he made a sour face that caused Alun to laugh.

James grinned too, the continued on about his parents. “I remember my father saying more than once that a less charitable woman wouldn’t have given him the time of day, let alone married him. They were very much in love…” his voice trailed off. “Sometimes I’m not sure I’m remembering that right. They had every reason not to love each other, but I’m sure I’ve never seen any other couple so devoted to one another as I remember my parents being. I just don’t understand it. They were so different from one another,” he explained. “Dad was a physician, a surgeon, and very rational man. My mum she… she was an artist, a poet, a musician. Anything but a rational thinker,” he chuckled softly, seemingly half lost in his memories as he drank his tea. “She believed in fairies and dragons. Dad didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t put under a microscope and examine. But they loved each other. I just don’t know how.”

“Love don’t need explanations, it just… it is.” Pain lanced across Alun’s heart, but he ignored it. “It’s as real as… as both fairies and things what you can put under a microscope,” he laughed, just a little.

He was surprised when James didn’t laugh. He looked him square in the eye, instead. “Do you really believe that?” the younger man wanted to know.

“Aye. It’s just not everybody gets to know what it feels like to love like that,” his voice was barely a whisper. He cleared his throat. “I… I oughta be goin’. Thanks. For… for breakfast an'… an' the company. It ain’t real often somebody like you takes half a minute with somebody… somebody so different,” he shrugged, hoping the heat he felt in his cheeks wasn’t visible to the other man.

“I meant my invitation. You’re more than welcome to stay the day, get some sleep. You must be exhausted.”

“I’ve intruded more ‘an enough already.”

“You’ve not intruded at all.”

Alun hesitated. He didn’t feel as dead on his feet as the handsome young constable looked, but he was tired and he had promised himself a real bed… but…

“Please,” James entreated. “It’s hardly as if lack the space,” he added. “Finish your tea and let me show you to one of the guestrooms.”

* * *

When James awoke at dusk, Mrs. Dunberry told him that Mr. Blayney had departed. She hadn’t seen him go and nothing appeared to be missing from the house. James decided not to beg to differ even though he knew something was missing. Alun wasn’t there.

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