Authors: Josephine Myles
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, let me tell you why I don’t drink. I’m such a lightweight if I have so much as
one unit of alcohol I’m absolutely smashed. Something I expect I inherited from my dad, but I guess I’ll never know for sure.” Smutty swallowed away the old pain of that thought and forced himself to carry on. “Anyway, some of the dodgier places I’ve travelled I’ve had guys spike my drinks. Usually I can taste it, but not always. Not if it’s hot and I’m parched and I down the thing before I realise.”
“Smutty, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
“No, wait, you should hear this because if we’re going to do anything again I owe it to you to tell you the risks.” Smutty’s palms broke out in a cold sweat. It wasn’t usually this bad, telling blokes, but Giles was different. Gods knew how the man would react. He could only hope for the best, though, so he steeled himself to go on. “It’s happened at least six times. I’m not going to say I was raped, because as far as I remember I went along with it every time—all except the alcohol part—but some of those bastards didn’t bother using protection and I was too wasted to insist. My last test came back negative, but I won’t be in the clear until my next test in July.”
Giles stared, open-mouthed.
Smutty let out a shuddering breath. Suddenly the boat felt too small, too crowded. He needed some fresh air to blow away the fog of Giles’s disapproval. He started to push himself up from the bed.
A hand closed around his wrist and held him tight.
Smutty glanced back to see Giles’s eyes clouded with anger.
“How can you just be so casual about it?” Giles demanded.
“Believe me, I’m far from casual right now.” Smutty twisted his arm, trying to get free but Giles’s grip held fast. “For fuck’s sake, will you let go?”
Giles ignored him, his expression churlish. “But you’ve just let them off the hook.
Those… those rapists.” The way he spat the last word out surprised Smutty. “Next thing I know, you’ll be saying some utter rubbish like you led them on and it was all your fault they took advantage of you.”
Smutty stared. He’d never had anyone react like this before. The wounded look in
Giles’s eyes barely took the edge off his righteous anger. It was too much to deal with right now so he tried to make light of it. “Bloody hell, you make it sound like I’m some kind of defenceless maiden in a Victorian novel. I’m not Tess of the bloody d’Urbervilles, you know.
I can stand up for myself. And for the record, I reckon I probably did lead them on, not that that’s any excuse for what they did.”
“You’re damn right it isn’t! Christ, Smutty, don’t talk about yourself like that.” Giles loosed his hold on Smutty’s wrist, only to fold him up in a crushing hug. “You’re not some cheap tart who had it coming.”
“I know that,” Smutty said, his words muffled by having his face pressed into Giles’s chest hair. “And I hope you’re not calling Tess Durbyfield a cheap tart.” It was almost funny, having someone so starchy like Giles getting this possessive. He had an image of Giles in doublet and hose, fighting a duel to defend his honour. Smutty gave a wry smile, wondering how differently things might have turned out if he’d someone like Giles on his side earlier.
Not that Giles would be the type to travel around, doing odd jobs in strange places and staying up all night partying under the moon. No, he was more the dinner party type—all polite conversation and meaningless chit-chat. Mind you, Smutty found it hard to picture Giles in that kind of situation either—surely the man would end up drenched in irate party-goers’ drinks after putting his foot in it every time he opened his mouth.
Giles’s chest heaved. Smutty shifted his head to one side so that he could hear that powerful heartbeat and watch Giles’s face as he struggled with his emotions. “Look, this all happened ages ago so don’t get bent out of shape over it. I’ve been much more careful since that last time.” That time Smutty still didn’t want to think too closely about, as the state of his arse on waking, combined with the vague memories of the previous night, led him to believe there’d been more than one of them. “I only drink from bottles I’ve watched being opened and I don’t leave them unattended.” It was a bugger, though, having to be so vigilant all the time.
“You had some of my wine last night,” Giles pointed out.
“I’d been coughing. And anyway, I noticed straight away.”
Giles nodded but he didn’t look mollified. “You shouldn’t be so trusting. There are
bad people out there.” His arms tightened again, and a hand came up to stroke Smutty’s hair.
“You need someone to look out for you.”
“I do okay,” Smutty said, but his throat tightened painfully and the words weren’t as convincing as he’d intended.
“You deserve better than that.” Giles’s words were barely a whisper, but they seared themselves into Smutty’s consciousness.
They lay like that for a long while, Smutty tracing patterns through the hair on Giles’s chest and enjoying the sensation of Giles playing with his dreadlocks. Eventually, though, Giles shifted underneath him.
“I need to use your facilities.”
“Facilities?” Smutty grinned then screwed up his nose as he remembered the current
state of the Porta-potti. “Um, you might be better off pissing outside. That toilet’s seriously honking. I need to scrub it out today. Might even have to use hardcore chemicals if you’ve got any bleach in the house.”
Giles got up, walked over to the tiny wetroom and pulled back the curtain. “Jesus
Christ! How can you live like this? That thing should be condemned.”
“I did warn you.”
“I think I’ll head back to the house instead. Have a proper shower too. You’re
welcome to join me, if you want to.”
Giles sounded hesitant, and Smutty didn’t want to push his luck. “Nah, I’ll be fine
here. Need to get on with cleaning the place out anyway. And there’s plenty to get going with on your garden too.”
Giles gave him a strange look that Smutty couldn’t interpret, and started to pull on his clothing. “Come up and borrow any cleaning stuff you need. The kitchen door’s always unlocked.”
“And you’re telling me I’m too trusting?”
But Giles didn’t rise to the bait—he finished dressing and came back to the bed for a quick, yet thorough, kiss, leaving Smutty half-hard and panting.
“I’ll come and find you later,” Giles said, his voice a low rumble.
Smutty watched him leave, anticipation thrilling through him. Giles had heard the
worst and still wanted more. Maybe the bloke would even bring some supplies with him next time. And he wasn’t thinking about Domestos.
He hummed to himself as he began clearing out the piles of junk.
stride through the garden. The window was wide open and he almost called and waved, but checked the impulse and observed instead. That shock of flame coloured dreadlocks was like a beacon, blazing brightly against the surrounding palette of fresh greens, and Giles found it impossible to look away. Smutty might be lean and lanky, but he moved with the same grace he’d revealed in his fire juggling the previous night.
The previous night. A flicker of arousal stirred Giles’s body but was swiftly dampened down by anger at Smutty’s revelations. How could the man talk so casually about the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of those animals who had drugged and raped him? Because that’s what had happened, no matter how Smutty tried to sugar-coat the raw truth. At least Giles had followed the rules he’d been given at the start of their encounter, which must have helped Smutty to feel safe. He remembered how deliciously responsive Smutty had been to his touch. It had been what they both wanted. Needed, in Giles’s case.
It had been far too long.
Giles’s thoughts turned to Fabian as he opened the antique wardrobe and eyed his row of clothing. They’d chosen the furniture in this room together, Fabian displaying his usual exquisite taste and mastery of haggling, and Giles had been glad at the time to be with someone so ruthless in getting his own way. As long as their ambitions had melded it had been great, with Fabian enriching Giles’s world with exotic holidays and extravagant outings, trips to the opera and cocktails in his club. But it hadn’t lasted, and when Giles began to talk about leaving his stressful yet well-paid teaching job to concentrate on his painting, Fabian had exerted all his influence to persuade him not to. Giles needed routine, apparently. Or so Fabian had said.
The row of bland yet tasteful suits was like an accusation, taunting Giles for being so easily manipulated. Such a pushover. Well, he wasn’t going to be a pushover anymore. And he wasn’t going to spend his morning engaged in pointless cleaning, either. There were things that needed his attention. Things he’d been ignoring for too long now. He selected a charcoal grey suit, black tie and the blue shirt that always enhanced the colour of his eyes. If he was going to do this, he needed his armour in place.
He made one quick phone call before leaving the house by the front door, determined
not to allow himself to be distracted by Smutty until he’d got this unpleasant task out of the way.
professionally distant receptionist as earlier. Once inside the echoing hallway with its marble-cold terrazzo flooring, he had a sudden attack of nerves. Palms sweating, Giles leant back against the wall and concentrated on his breathing. His eyes traced the vines on the William Morris wallpaper lining the stairwell, and the simple task had a calming effect. He could do this. He could keep his resolve and demand answers. He wasn’t going to be bamboozled by phoney charm and jargon. Not this time.
“Mr Rathbourne, it’s a pleasure to see you again. Please make yourself comfortable
while you wait.” The woman gave Giles a cool smile which he couldn’t bring himself to return, and gestured with manicured talons towards the ornate yet uncomfortable-looking chaise longue.
“I’ll stand, thank you. Please tell Mr Bonneville that I need to see him immediately.”
The woman’s face momentarily registered something like irritation, and she spoke
into her intercom, frowning almost imperceptibly at the reply before the mask-like
smoothness obliterated her expression again.
“Mr Bonneville will be out shortly. Can I offer you a drink?”
Giles declined and did his best to resist pacing. He positioned himself by the tall sash window, looking out over the magnificent cityscape of mellow Bath stone and grey tiled roofs, arranged in graceful rows and sweeping crescents. Fabian must have to pay a small fortune for the privilege of having a view like this, but Giles would trade it in a heartbeat for the one over his own, overgrown garden.
“Giles! What a pleasant surprise to see you here. How the devil are you?” a
mellifluous voice asked, breaking through Giles’s reverie.
Giles snapped his head round to see Fabian advancing towards him, arms
outstretched, a predatory smile on his face.
“Fabian.” Giles allowed himself to be hugged, feeling the soft brush of Fabian’s blond hair against his cheek, but he kept his body stiff and Fabian soon drew back with a puzzled frown.
“It really is delightful to see you again. I know you’re probably still angry with me, but I can explain. Let me make it up to you over a coffee. There’s this chic little place just opened up on George Street with a gorgeous roof terrace. You’ll love it, darling.” He reached out to put a placating hand on Giles’s arm.
Giles shrugged him off. “In here is fine. This won’t take long.”
A flash of something less than friendly sped across Fabian’s refined features, but he acquiesced and led the way to his office. Once the door was shut behind them, Fabian began in a soothing tone. “I’m so sorry about the way things ended, Giles. I was a terrible coward and can’t really defend the way I behaved. I know I should have stuck things out, found you the help you needed for your little problem.”
“Problem? What problem?”
“Darling, I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you.” Giles remained silent until Fabian continued. “The drinking, I mean. And the cleaning obsession. I’ve been reading up on them since and I realise that what you really needed was a psychiatrist, whereas all I did was nag. Tell me, darling, can you ever forgive me?”
“Forgive?” Bugger, he was starting to sound like a bloody parrot. Giles knuckled his brow and tried to make sense of what Fabian was getting at. “Are you saying you think I’m mentally ill?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that. I’m sure it’s nothing a decent therapist and the right prescription couldn’t sort out. It’s such a shame my poor mother never had those or she might still be with us.”
Giles remembered Fabian’s tale of childhood woe with a pang of guilt. It had been
one of the things that first drew them together, both orphans with a parent who had
committed suicide. He couldn’t really blame the man from running from a relationship that might have reminded him of that traumatic time. But it wasn’t the same thing at all.
“I’m not ill!” Giles’s temples began to throb, the way they so often did around Fabian.
“Now, now, dear. You just sit yourself down and I’ll get Jocasta to make us some
coffee. Is your head still bothering you? You really should avoid stressful situations, you know.”
Giles looked down into clear grey-green eyes, liquid with concern. Christ, why did
Fabian have to be so bloody attentive? It made it almost impossible to brush him off without being a complete bastard. He let himself be led to the sofa and sat down, dazed by Fabian’s revelations. Giles wasn’t suicidal and never had been. He might have his father’s propensity for a drink or two when things got difficult, but he had it under control. He’d never let himself fall too far into the darkness that had claimed his father’s soul.