21 August 2011 Archives
Feeling at loose ends, he wandered around the periphery of the ballroom, his artist’s eye drawn to the paintings on the walls and the statuettes expertly placed in niches. Whoever owned this place had incredible taste and must have traveled on the continent.
As he was admiring a fine statue of a naked youth, a tall man approached him. Leander eyed the stranger’s costume, a study in black-and-gold satin, with puffed sleeves and a gold ruff. A feathered and gold-trimmed black velvet beret covered his head above a gold mask that covered his entire face. “Good evening,” Leander said. “This is a fine piece of work.”
“It is. Our host has excellent taste.” The man’s voice was muffled a bit, and Leander leaned closer to hear better.
“May I ask who our host is?” he asked.
The man shook his head. “That is not for fools to know.”
Frustrated, Leander shook his head. “This is so confusing. I have no idea what this place is or how I even came to be invited.”
“I do,” the man said cryptically.
Leander frowned. “Do I know you?”
“Did you send me the costume?” He’d racked his brain, trying to figure out who it might have been.
The man nodded his head regally.
“Will I recognize you?”
“I hope so,” the stranger said. “We spent a memorable night together.”
Leander’s heart raced. Could it be the gentleman from the restaurant? The one he’d spent the night with in early January. The one he’d dreamt about for the last two months. Could it really be Rupert?
“Then I must find you when it’s time to unmask,” he said, unwilling to let the man escape again tonight.
The stranger chuckled. “Oh, there will be no unmasking. Too dangerous.”
“I see,” Leander said. That meant there were men here who feared to have their identities revealed. He glanced around the room, wondering who they were: highly placed government officials or judges, perhaps. Or clergymen. Possibly even a prince of the realm. “So we are in good company tonight.”
Leander turned back to his companion. “What of you? Do you, too, fear exposure?”
“Only a fool would not.”
Leander made no reply. It was true, though there were many in London who flouted the law, some quite openly.
“But if we cannot unmask, how will I ever know who you are? Will you at least tell me your name?”
“Then where can we go?” Leander asked, impatient to know who the stranger was.
“The night is young,” the man said mildly. “Do you not wish to stay and party?”
Shocked by his own boldness, Leander answered, “Not if there’s a possibility of a private party.”
“Then come home with me.”
* * *
Rupert held his breath until Leander nodded his agreement. He’d wanted the handsome youth since the moment he’d first seen him in January. He’d fought the impulse to see him again, but images of the lad, so slim and handsome, with his fair hair and blue eyes, had haunted his dreams.
He turned and led the way out of the house, ignoring the merriment around him, pausing only to collect their coats at the door. Leander followed him out into the dark night. Rupert pulled off his hat and the full-face mask, glad to feel the cool air on his face. “That’s better.” The mask had been stifling inside, but necessary.
Leander removed his half-mask and pulled Rupert to where light spilled out of a downstairs window. His gaze searched Rupert’s face. “The man with the green carnation.”
Rupert let out a sigh. He’d been unsure of how the younger man would react to seeing him again. He was no longer a handsome youth, but a man of five-and-thirty, every one of those years limned on his visage. “Then you do remember me.”
Leander reached up to cup his face, flicking a thumb over Rupert’s lips. “I remember you, Rupert,” he said softly.
Rupert grasped Leander’s wrist and turned his head to press a kiss into one palm. “Shall we go?”
They waited until a hansom cab had been summoned. After giving the address of his lodgings, Rupert climbed in, leaving room for the younger man beside him. Once inside, he held onto Leander’s hand in the dark.
“I’m so glad you came tonight,” Rupert said.
“I’m hoping to come again soon.” Leander’s voice held a teasing note.
Rupert laughed at the innuendo. “I think I can help with that.”
“I rather thought you might. And if I can be of any service…”
“I’ll think of something,” Rupert said, his voice thick with desire. Anticipation thrummed in the air, heightening his senses. The short journey seemed interminable, but at last the cab arrived at Rupert’s rented townhouse in Chelsea. Getting out, he paid the driver and motioned Leander toward the door. As he unlocked it, he said, “I gave my man the night off. No one will disturb us.”
* * *
Copyright 2011 by Lyndi Lamont