A Collar and Tie (Ganymede Quartet Book 4)

BOOK: A Collar and Tie (Ganymede Quartet Book 4)
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Henry went down to dinner on Saturday evening full of dread,
heart pounding. He risked giving Martin’s hand a squeeze outside the dining
room, a gesture meant to both lend and garner support. He was under a dark
cloud, feeling the full weight of disgrace. That morning, he’d persuaded Martin
to share a little intimacy with him in a secluded corner of Central
Park—against Martin’s better judgment—and they’d been caught half-naked in the
grass. One of the gentlemen who’d stumbled upon them was a reporter familiar
with Hiram Blackwell’s enterprise, and he’d gleefully recognized Henry as being
Father’s concern.

Father’s usual Saturday, which Henry suspected involved
leisure with Mrs. Murdock and her young son, had been cut short by news of
Henry’s error in judgment. Called into an afternoon audience with Father and
Timothy, Henry had expected the worst. Fearing that Martin could be taken from
him, he’d waited in powerless, passive terror for Father to render a verdict.
After consideration, Father issued a punishment: Henry was forbidden the
society of his friends and restricted to home for the week, and Martin was to
have extra chores. That this punishment was shockingly mild did not alleviate
Henry’s fears, and he still half-expected Father to make further demands, exact
further concessions, and he waited in a state of heightened alert, wary and
wanting desperately to protect Martin and keep him close.

At the dinner table, it seemed important to behave as if nothing
had happened, as if he hadn’t been humiliated and horrified, so as not to give
any indication of his shame to his mother. He was quite certain Father would
not have told her of his indiscretion and hoped fervently that it might be kept
from her indefinitely.

There was surreally benign chatter over plates of squab,
Henry tentatively noting that Mother wore another flattering new dress, this
one a low-cut teal taffeta festooned in spiderwebby black lace.

“You’re very observant, darling,” Mother noted, casting a
sharp eye on Father. “A true gentleman notices such things, and ladies do
appreciate it.”

“Hmph.” Father gestured for Timothy to step forward, and he
did so, notebook and pen in hand, and bent low so that Father might dictate
into his ear.

Henry began to relax a very little. It was proving to be an
unremarkable evening. There was a somewhat tedious parade of dishes put before
him, as usual, and Father ignored him, as usual. He was still getting used to
this version of Mother, but she was certainly pleasant enough. Some of the
tension left his shoulders. He knew Martin was on tenterhooks, as well, and
wished there was some way to offer him reassurance without drawing undue
attention.

Father cleared his throat. “Henry.”

Immediately tense again, Henry sat up straight and took
notice. “Sir?”

“I will have to reconsider whether you’ll be allowed to
attend your cousin’s birthday party next Saturday.”

“Oh.” This was certainly disheartening news.

“Hiram!” Mother was incensed. “Why on earth would you
prevent Henry from going to his cousin’s party? You’ve already agreed he could
go!”

“Henry has disappointed me,” Father said. “He behaved very
thoughtlessly. He’s forbidden all social activities for the week as
punishment.”

“Whatever he’s done, I’m sure you’re overreacting,” Mother
insisted, unexpectedly loyal.

“He made a foolish mistake, one he might have easily
avoided. I want to be certain it won’t happen again.” Father’s tone brooked no
argument.

Mother was defiantly immune to Father’s tone. “He’s just a
boy, and boys make mistakes.” She seemed uninterested in the specifics of
Henry’s wrongdoing, perhaps only wanting the excuse to argue with Father.

Father gave her a long look, mustache distorted by his
frown. “We’ll discuss it later, Louisa. I’d like to finish the meal in peace,
please.”

“We
will
discuss it later!” Mother snapped, giving
Father a sharp glare. “You can’t make such decisions without me, Hiram. Henry
is
my
son, too!”

Father sighed. “I am
well aware
he’s your son,
Louisa.”

Henry did not quite like the sound of this. It was surely
not complimentary.

“Well, don’t forget it!” Mother said testily. She stabbed at
her food with sharp, impatient jabs, seeming to seethe with affront.

Henry ate the rest of his dinner meekly. He was not sure
that he welcomed Mother’s intervention; she seemed likely to annoy Father to a
point where he’d want to punish her and Henry both.

Henry kept playing the events of the morning over and over
in his mind. The cocky reporter had seemed so confident and sure of himself,
and Henry began to wonder if Father had really silenced him. What if he took
Father’s hush money and ran a scandalous story anyway? Henry couldn’t quite
trust that all danger of exposure was past.

Upstairs in the family parlor, Pearl read aloud from
The
Lady In Blue
while Henry watched his scowling father read the newspaper.
Was Father scanning the headlines to see if Henry was mentioned? Henry was
struck with the urge to see for himself.

Henry cleared his throat. “Father?”

Pearl stopped reading at the interruption.

Father looked up from the page. “Yes?”

“C-could I see the paper? When you’re finished with it, of
course?”

Father narrowed his eyes, and surely he knew exactly why
Henry was suddenly interested in the news, but he said, “Of course. Martin,
come get it, please.”

As Martin and Timothy put the sections of the paper in order
with minimum fuss, Mother gave Henry a very fond smile and said, “Oh, darling,
how nice to see you take an interest in the world. You’re becoming so grown
up!”

“Thank you?” Henry said, flushing crimson.

Martin brought him the paper with a tentative smile and a
flourish. Henry unfolded the first section and began to scan the pages. Mother
was smiling at him, and when she caught his eye, she nodded encouragement,
clearly pleased to see her boy acting so mature. Henry sighed and made himself
smile at her in return.

There were mentions of all manner of Blackwell interests
throughout the first few sections of the paper, but no mention of Henry, and
certainly no mention of shirtless cavorting in public parks. Henry let his eyes
slide over the columns of the society pages with an increasing sense of safety
and security. He’d always been given to believe that Father was a powerful
person, and he’d had no reason to doubt it, but perhaps this silenced reporter
was the proof.

He folded the sections back together, not particular about
order, with a sense of satisfaction. As far as the
Times
was concerned,
his reputation was spotless.

Yes, the
Times
. But the
Times
wasn’t the only
paper, after all.

He recalled, with jarring unease, that there were, in fact,
many other newspapers.
The New York Tribune
, the
World
, the
Sun
,
and god only knew how many special interest papers. Any of these might publish
a story about him, and surely Father couldn’t get to them all.

Henry realized he didn’t even know the reporter’s name.

Henry’s fingertips and the edges of his cuffs were smudged
with ink from the paper, and he put it aside with a scowl.

Father was a very formidable person, frightening to a great
many people besides Henry. The reporter had been so cocky in his interactions
with Henry, but it seemed less likely he would have been quite as assured when
faced with the wrath of Hiram Blackwell. Henry had to trust that Father had put
the reporter in his place, and that he would be too cowed to move out of it.

Pearl finished her chapter and Henry was dismissed, stopping
on his way out of the room to kiss his mother’s cheek. Father paid him no mind,
in whispered conference with Timothy, and Henry left the room with a sense of
relief that Father had exacted no further concessions from him for his
misdeeds. It would be terribly disappointing to be forbidden Jesse’s birthday
party, but Henry was willing to miss out if it meant he would be able to keep
Martin at his side.

Back in Henry’s room, Henry drew Martin close and kissed
him, was unable to stop kissing him, and clung as if kissing Martin were
keeping him alive.

“Henry.” Martin held Henry off, wresting his lips away from
Henry’s mouth. “Henry, what on earth—?”

“I’m sorry,” Henry said. “I just—” He had no words for it.
He was just so grateful, so relieved that he’d…gotten away with it; that he was
safe, and Martin was safe with him.

As he undressed for bed, Henry slipped into a state of
perfect, settled clarity, fully cognizant that he loved Martin more than he
would ever love any other thing, any other person, and he was only too happy
for that to be the case, but he didn’t try to convey this profound emotion to
Martin. Martin might be in a mood to suggest Henry would fall for another free
man or, ludicrously, a wife, and Henry did not wish to hear it.

When Martin returned from his chores and got into bed, Henry
did all he could to demonstrate his depth of feeling. He used all of his now
not-inconsiderable seductive powers to work Martin into a state of erotic
desperation, and as Martin whimpered broken pleas and tugged on Henry’s hair,
Henry loved him with a focus and sense of purpose he had never applied to any
other activity. If all he ever achieved in his life was proper adoration of
Martin, he would consider it a life well-spent.

As surprising as Henry found it, it seemed that Father
really had no more significant punishment for them than the social restrictions
and extra chores he’d laid out initially. Martin was required to spend several
hours a day below stairs helping the other slaves with tasks that Timothy set
before him. On Sunday, when Martin returned to Henry to dress him for his
dinner, he was full of excited, cheerful talk about the Blackwell household
accounts, and how these practical examples differed from the facsimile account
books the companions had worked with at Ganymede.

“Randolph has a great deal of discretion in
decision-making,” Martin said, his tone indicating his approval of this scheme.
“He uses his best judgment, and he’s fully supported in this by Mr. Tim and
your father both!”

“Is that unusual?” Henry asked, buttoning the bottom half of
his dinner shirt.

Martin nodded as he put the studs into the bib of Henry’s
shirt. “Butlers at other houses aren’t given such leeway. Mr. Tim says your
father doesn’t have the time or inclination to answer questions about household
matters. He says Mr. Blackwell chooses good slaves in the first place so that
he can rely on their expertise.” Martin smiled and patted Henry’s fastened
shirtfront. “I’m not sure you realize, Henry, but your father is a very
progressive master.”

Henry was not entirely pleased by Martin’s admiration of
Father, but it seemed childish and petty to say anything against it.

“Well, I’m glad you feel like you’re learning something
interesting,” Henry said grudgingly. He was more glad than not, at any rate.

“Do you think you’ll follow your father’s example when you
have your own household? When we’re grown?”

Looking at Martin’s hopeful, eager expression, it was
obvious that the only correct answer was ‘yes.’

Really, Henry had no ideas of his own as to how to manage a
household. He would be entirely dependent upon Martin’s willingness to organize
and order his life, and surely Martin knew this already, but perhaps he wanted
to hear Henry say it.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. He had nothing against his
father’s example, after all, except that it was his father’s. “I think this
house runs very nicely, don’t you? We could do things the same, if you want. It’ll
be a lot of work for you, though, won’t it?”

Martin beamed at him and held up his waistcoat for him to
put on. “I don’t mind work!” He was clearly invigorated by the idea of
responsibility and effort, which Henry found somewhat baffling.

Over the school days that followed, Henry managed to turn
down friends’ invitations to visit the arcade or ride bicycles without ever
needing to mention that he was actually forbidden such social pleasures for the
week. Upon returning home in the afternoons, Henry was left alone with his
homework while Martin went downstairs to learn from the more experienced
slaves. Henry was lonely and missed their usual after-school sex, but Martin
seemed to be having a wonderful, busy time, and Henry could not help wishing
that Martin would pine for him a little more, rather than being so bright and
industrious and eager for extra chores.

On Wednesday evening, following some particularly satisfying
intimacy, they lay with sweat cooling on their skins, and Henry felt
breathlessly emotional, quite overcome with the surety that no one was more
admirable than Martin, more deserving of love, or more physically perfect.
Looking at Martin stretched out all pink-and-white on the rumpled sheets, his
hair in loops and tangles, it seemed obvious that anyone would fall for
him—that no one could be faulted for doing so. And with love for such a
creature being inevitable, why should that love need be a secret?

BOOK: A Collar and Tie (Ganymede Quartet Book 4)
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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