Authors: Katherine Marlowe
© 2015 by Katherine Marlowe
Cover and internal design by Honeywine Publishing
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
This work contains sexually explicit scenes and may be considered offensive to some readers. Intended for adult audiences only.
, there is a gentleman here about the valet position.”
Lord Loxley, a handsome young man with blond hair and finely-chiseled features, did not look up from his paperwork. “That’s fine, Mrs. Pellicott,” he said, lifting his head to direct a smile in his housekeeper’s direction without ever actually taking his eyes off the contracts covering his desk. “Send him up.”
By the time Mrs. Pellicott had shut the door to fetch up the applicant waiting in the front hall, Lord Fitzhenry Loxley had already forgotten that there was an applicant on the way. He heard the door open again, but supposed it was Mrs. Pellicott bringing lunch.
“My lord,” Mrs. Pellicott said, with a note of urgency in her voice.
“Yes, Mrs. Pellicott,” Lord Loxley said, lifting his head to see what she wanted.
His eyes fell not on Mrs. Pellicott but on the tall, dark-haired man standing beside her. He was dressed in once-fine clothing which had been the height of fashion less than a decade ago, but had since suffered wear and sported several discreet patches. The expensive dark blue tailcoat was fraying at the hem and patched on the elbows, while the neckcloth had lost its whiteness entirely into a sad shade of yellowed ivory. Within the once-splendid suit was a still-splendid man, whose broad shoulders and trim waist were exquisitely displayed by the fine tailoring of his suit. His dark hair was overgrown and shaggy, and his skin was tanned darker than ever, making his Caribbean blood—on his mother’s side—more unmistakeable than it had been at Oxford, when Lord Loxley had seen him last.
,” Lord Loxley said, in absolute shock. He rose quickly to his feet, papers forgotten, as he came across the room to meet his old friend. “Miles Rochester! Good lord, man, I haven’t seen you in years. Forgive me, I’m entirely unprepared for your visit—why didn’t you send word? My dear Miles—“
“It isn’t,” Mr. Rochester interrupted him, “a visit.”
Lord Loxley fell quiet in surprise, striving to come up with a decorous response to that when it was, quite clearly, a visit.
“I’m here about the position,” Mr. Rochester explained.
Blinking, Lord Loxley opened his mouth to inquire as to what position his noble-born friend Mr. Rochester could possibly mean, when all at once he made sense of the ratty suit, lack of appropriate visiting correspondence, and the tense, nearly resentful expression on Miles Rochester’s face.
position,” Lord Loxley said, with an uncomfortable grimace.
It was at this point that Lord Loxley became aware that Mrs. Pellicott was still standing in the doorway, dutifully waiting for instructions or dismissal, and that Mr. Rochester would no doubt prefer
to have an audience for the inevitable and humiliating conversation to follow. “Thank you, Mrs. Pellicott,” Lord Loxley said. He waited until the door had shut behind her to speak again.
“Miles,” he said, searching his brain for adequate words. When last he’d seen his friend, they’d been boys at university, carefree and young. Lord Loxley had lost touch with Miles Rochester after university, and had merely assumed that Miles had no wish to continue a complicated friendship which had contained so many colorful indiscretions—the sort which might be dismissed as boyhood folly while in school, but became much more scandalous when introduced to polite society.
As Lord Loxley recalled, Mr. Rochester’s father had earned a baronetcy for services to the crown and Miles had been a wealthy and handsome young man while in university, with marriage prospects aplenty even despite the widely-known scandal that his mother was a mulatto. Lord Loxley had met her once: she had been a stunningly beautiful woman who had embraced the scandal surrounding her marriage and enjoyed a popular place in high society because of it.
It was only now that Lord Loxley realized that he had heard
of the Rochesters in years. Rurally seated and as politically inconsequential as Lord Loxley was, he was aware that he missed rather a lot of the popular news of London and the goings-on of high society, but it nonetheless struck him as peculiar that he had heard absolutely nothing of Miles Rochester’s life—no marriages, nor mistresses, nor children, nor business dealings. Now it seemed that Lord Loxley had indeed failed to learn of some very
news with regards to the Rochesters, or, at the very least, with regards to Miles.
“I’m aware,” Mr. Rochester began stiffly, “that when we last met I was considerably more free-spirited and ill-inclined to applying myself to my duties, but I wish to reassure you that I am perfectly capable of carrying out the services of a gentleman’s valet and I will apply myself diligently to the position, should you be willing to provide me the opportunity.” He did not look at Lord Loxley as he spoke, keeping his chin high and his jaw tight with pride.
Such concerns had been the furthest thing from Lord Loxley’s mind, and he cleared his throat nervously as he attempted to find the words to express such reassurances. Words failed him yet again and he flushed. When he had risen from his desk, he had advanced really quite close to Mr. Rochester and remained there, at the physical proximity of a close friend rather than maintaining the appropriate distance of a potential employer. This had the added result of reminding Lord Loxley that Mr. Rochester was really
handsome, which was terribly distracting to Lord Loxley’s attempts to form the sort of courteous response that would remove them both from the deeply uncomfortable situation in which they found themselves.
When Lord Loxley’s lack of response had gone on for longer than even the most liberal of society could consider to be decorous, Mr. Rochester turned his head toward his schoolmate and frowned.
“Yes,” Lord Loxley said, too quickly and without explanation.
Mr. Rochester’s frown deepened.
“Yes, of course, Miles—forgive me, Mr. Rochester. If you are indeed
certain that you desire the position, it is yours,” Lord Loxley said, mentally doubling the amount of salary that he’d intended to offer to his potential personal valet. He was searingly curious about the nature of the circumstances that had brought wealthy and handsome Miles Rochester to begging employment of a boyhood friend, but Lord Loxley was far too well-mannered to ask such things, even—especially—of a valet.
“Thank you, sir,” Mr. Rochester said with a bow.
Lord Loxley’s brows drew together, puzzled and displeased by the sight of his dear friend bowing to him. It seemed deeply
for Mr. Rochester to fill the role of a servant, when Lord Loxley had always known him as a wild, confident, laughing young nobleman. The thought made Lord Loxley ache with longing for the rakish and charming young man that he had known, with a taste for adventure and a careless attitude toward scandal.
They’d been in their third year at Oxford the first time Miles had kissed him.
“When shall I begin?” Mr. Rochester asked, distracting Lord Loxley from his memories.
“Oh. Quite.” Lord Loxley breathed in sharply and drew himself up, hoping that Mr. Rochester would not notice the blush on Lord Loxley’s cheeks, even though he had never once in their acquaintance failed to notice and subsequently tease Lord Loxley about such things.
In this case he said nothing, which only made the situation feel all the more unnatural.
“At once,” Lord Loxley decided, hoping that with prolonged re-exposure to Mr. Rochester his presence would feel natural to the point where Lord Loxley would remember how to operate the English language while in immediate proximity to his new valet. That seemed wildly optimistic, considering that Miles Rochester had always had a propensity for leaving Lord Fitzhenry Loxley—
Fitz. He used to call me Fitz.
breathless and incapable of coherent speech.
Mr. Rochester was gazing at him expectantly. Lord Loxley opened his mouth, shut it, swallowed, opened it again, and blushed.
“If it pleases my lord,” said Mr. Rochester, his accent fine and polished as it had always been, “I will present myself to your staff and request that the housekeeper make arrangements regarding my accommodations.”
“Yes,” Lord Loxley agreed, glad that one of them was capable of making sense. “I think that would be best.”
Mr. Rochester bowed again, deeper, and let himself out of the room.
Lord Loxley stared after him in a state of befuddled shock, finally sinking into a chair while he tried to recover his wits and sitting there in silence.
Miles Rochester, the handsome and charming young nobleman who continued to haunt Lord Loxley’s dreams in the most heated of fashions, had evidently suffered some catastrophic loss of status, and had come to Loxley manor to request employment as a personal valet. It was entirely impossible to believe and deeply tragic.
Though he’d received no correspondence from Miles Rochester, Lord Loxley had presumed that the dearth of communication was Rochester’s wish. Miles Rochester had been by far the wealthier and more popular of the two of them in university, with considerably better marriage prospects. In Lord Loxley’s mind, he’d always imagined that Miles Rochester had gone on to marry a dazzling heiress and been simply too busy with his theoretical wife and children to spare a thought for any youthful indiscretions with Fitzhenry Loxley, who had for his part quietly retired to his family’s country estate and spent the interim years doing everything he could to dodge his great-aunt Mathilda’s ambitions of marrying him off.
n hour later
, Mr. Rochester brought Lord Loxley’s supper up to his study.
Lord Loxley, who had been endeavoring to focus on anything
than thoughts of Miles Rochester’s handsome, swarthy body lazing in his bed on any of those sunny mornings that they’d shared in university which always seemed to result in Fitzhenry Loxley ending up late to class, blushed.
Miles Rochester, in what would have been truly heroic self-control when they’d last known each other, did not comment. He didn’t even twitch a smile, didn’t cock a brow, didn’t linger his eyes across the pink in Lord Loxley’s cheeks.
“You blush to the tips of your ears,” Miles had said, and leaned over to nip one of those ears with his teeth. “And all the way down to your—“
Lord Loxley pushed that thought away quickly. “Thank you, Mr. Rochester,” he said. “I trust—“
His voice faltered. Fitzhenry had never excelled at courteous conversation, particularly not in strained social situations, which was a contributing reason as to why he had so swiftly boxed himself off to the countryside as soon as his university and requisite Grand Tour
of the continent had been completed.
Instead of trying, Lord Loxley pushed a page of paper across his desk to his new employee. “Your contract of employment,” he said.
Miles Rochester picked up the contract and began to read it. His handsome face was blank, with the only hint of emotion shown in his tight jaw and sharp eyes. It wasn’t an expression Lord Loxley had ever seen on his friend’s face before. “If there are any of the conditions you’d prefer that I modify—“ he started to offer, but Mr. Rochester ignored him. Reaching out for Lord Loxley’s quill pen—without asking, which was much more like the Miles Rochester that Lord Loxley remembered—Mr. Rochester signed the paper and set it back on the desk.
“Is there anything else you require at the moment, sir?” Mr. Rochester asked.
Lord Loxley swallowed. It still felt deeply
to be sir-ed by Miles Rochester. He desperately wanted to insist that Miles call him… call him…
Even Lord Loxley’s thoughts trailed off.
would be a shockingly inappropriate form of address for a valet with his master, and
would be impossible. No matter how much Lord Loxley wanted to hear it from Miles’ lips once again.
“No,” Lord Loxley said, eyes on the page in front of him. Miles Rochester still signed his name with an extravagantly large
. Lord Loxley remembered teasing him about it, once.
You sign your name like the King.”
Rex. It suited him. Certainly better than servitude did: Lord Loxley didn’t recognize this cold, stern stranger with the sharp eyes, and missed his friend.
“Sir.” Mr. Rochester bowed and excused himself.
Lord Loxley picked at his food without appetite. He couldn’t focus on his correspondence or his accounts for the management of the estate, and after an hour’s trying he abandoned the effort. Clearing his papers aside, he headed for his rooms—
—and found Mr. Rochester seated in the hallway outside on a plain little chair, waiting for him.
Mr. Rochester rose at once, the very model of an attentive gentleman’s valet.
Lord Loxley found himself once again struggling for words. He understood that Mr. Rochester must have been sitting there waiting for him since he’d delivered the supper tray. It was the role of a dutiful valet, to attend and anticipate his master’s every need. It must also have been dreadfully boring.
“I hope,” Lord Loxley said, and then cleared his throat. It was difficult to meet his valet’s eyes, which was contrary to the natural order of a respectable household, but Lord Loxley’s ideas of a respectable household had never included Miles Rochester in a service role. “I hope you will—the library—if you’d like to…” He cleared his throat again, blushing helplessly. Mr. Rochester watched him with a steady gaze and a slightly tilted head, which was doing nothing to help the eloquence of Lord Loxley’s thoughts. “Read. While you’re waiting for me. Please feel free to make use of the library, as it pleases you.”
Mr. Rochester inclined his head in polite recognition of the offer. “I appreciate my lord’s thoughtfulness.”
Lord Loxley didn’t say.
You’re supposed to call me Fitz.
Mr. Rochester did not make any further comment. After a few seconds of this Lord Loxley realized that his new valet was waiting for him to lead the way. Drawing himself up and trying to look the part of a respectable rural gentleman—rather than the part which he did look, which was that of a respectable rural gentleman’s distractible and bookish son—Lord Loxley led the way to his bedroom.