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“Really, Horatio, is there no way to make your hair lie flat?” George Newton demanded, leaning across the carriage crossly to attempt in vain to tame Horatio’s wild curls. “It is not at all the fashion.”
Horatio shied away from his brother’s fingers, scowling at him. “Don’t! Seb will murder me if you spoil my hair.”
George snorted at the mention of Horatio’s valet, but fell back, crossing one long leg elegantly over the other. Horatio watched enviously; he was eighteen now, but his body was showing no sign of catching up to his brother’s impressive height. He seemed cursed to remain short and stocky forever. The emerald green jacket and brocade waistcoat Seb had selected especially for this evening felt tight across his broad frame. However, nothing could spoil his excitement. Finally, George was allowing Horatio to accompany him to White’s.
“Remember what we discussed,” George reminded him. “You are dreadful at drinking. Do not make a scene, or get into a state. Do not spend too much at the card table- but do not appear reluctant to spend, either.”
“I am more than capable of socialising with other human beings, George.”
George sniffed, rolling his eyes. “I suppose I should consider myself lucky, really. Poor Somerset has to contend with his dreadful younger brother.”
This was one of George’s favourite topics: William Marwood, a second son whom he had gone to school with. Marwood was a good deal older than Horatio, who remembered a small, nervous boy who used to be forced to visit George with his elder brother, Viscount Alexander Marwood, Lord Somerset. George despised Marwood for reasons that had never seemed clear to Horatio; as far as Horatio could tell, Marwood’s crime was being awkward.
Horatio could sympathise with that. He knew that his own loud, boisterous and sunny disposition was quite at odds with the way a gentleman was supposed to compose himself.
The carriage slowed to a stop.
“For the love of God, be careful about how you discuss women,” George said, reaching for his hat.
George paused, blinking across at his younger brother as though he was a specimen he had found floating in a particularly unpleasant stream. “Women, Horatio. The fairer sex.”
“Why would I discuss women at all?”
George frowned. “You are a man, are you not? Men love to discuss women, to talk about how they have wooed them.”
Horatio had yet to woo a woman. He felt no particular inclination towards it, despite the fact he was certainly of an age where it was expected. He simply assumed it would happen later.
George sighed, apparently reading this information on Horatio’s baffled face. “Just don’t tell a lie which will involve the need for details you clearly have not got, brother.”
With that warm and loving advice, George climbed out of the carriage. Horatio breathed in deeply. Finally, he was a man. For a long time, he had longed for the excitement of the company of other men at a gentleman’s club. He had been begging George to bring him here for three years.
Following George inside, Horatio took another deep lungful of the warm, alcohol-scented air. His hands were trembling slightly, his stomach fluttering nervously. He remembered to give the man who opened a door for them a smile and stepped into a warm, busy room.
Men were everywhere, sat sprawled at tables, sleeves pushed back to reveal forearms. More than one gentleman was well into his cups, peals of drunken laughter echoing over the general din. Cards were being played with furious intent. Horatio glanced at George, watching his brother’s green eyes sweep the room. George held himself with an impressively aloof air. Horatio thought again how much he envied George at times.
“Somerset is approaching,” George muttered, without glancing at Horatio.
Somerset was indeed approaching, and the viscount was clearly popular; he flashed a wide, winning smile at many men as he passed, receiving an equal amount in return. He was a tall, handsome man with dark hair, clearly at ease with himself and the world. When he reached George, he shook his hand with an easy grin.
“Newton!” he greeted. “Is this young rogue your brother?”
Horatio found himself pinned in the glittering stare of the viscount. “Horatio Newton, sir. It is good to meet you.”
If it was possible, Somerset’s smile widened. He took Horatio’s hand and shook it, looking down at him. “I am Alex Marwood, Newton. I am sure we have met before.”
Somerset did not mention that they had met before when Horatio was a mere child, and Horatio found that he appreciated this immensely. He smiled gratefully at the viscount.
“You both must come and drink with us,” Somerset boomed. “Black is here- as is Will.”
Will Marwood. George’s inexplicable nemesis. But George merely smiled coolly. “We would be honoured, Somerset. Lead on.”
Somerset led them across the room, through crowds of men, exchanging those easy, happy smiles with practised grace as they passed. They headed over towards a table by the fire. A broad, chiselled man sat at the table, talking animatedly with a blond-haired man. Standing by the fire, his back turned to the others, was a tall, narrow gentleman dressed in black.
Will Marwood had been a frequent visitor when he was a child; George and Alex Marwood had been friendly as children, and Will was often around. Horatio had been too small to really engage with them, but he remembered the younger Marwood brother as bookish and quiet, nothing special.
There was nothing particularly special about this man in black. He was more slender than the other men, taller than average, and his stance was rigid. If Horatio were feeling uncharitable, his mind may have provided the adjective awkward as fitting.
Despite this, something very strange stirred in Horatio at the sight of this man. There was something wonderful about the way his clothes hugged his narrow waist. His thick, luscious dark hair was the exact shade of Somerset’s, revealing him as Will Marwood. It looked soft, almost silky, and Horatio wondered how it might feel to run his fingers through it. The thought was striking, and he knew it in his bones as quite the opposite of what he was expected to think about another man.
He let out a breath he did not realise he was holding.
“Gentlemen, this is Frederick Black, Damien Grey and my brother Will. Gents, this is Newton’s younger brother, Horatio.”
Horatio barely heard Somerset’s words; they sounded distant and vague as he stared at the slender shoulders of Will Marwood. Horatio wondered what they would feel like beneath his hands; would they be hard and firm? Despite the acute edges of them, Horatio felt certain there was a strength there. His mouth was dry as he stared with a hunger he had never experienced before at the man’s back, his mind trying hard to make sense of the emotions welling up inside of him, the desires.
The tall, lovely man turned around, revealing his bespectacled face. He had the same dark eyes as his brother, but his were intense rather than glittering. The narrow slopes of his face were sharp and angular, and his mouth creased in a frown as he glanced at George before looking over at Horatio. He looked displeased and solemn, and not altogether kind.
Horatio wanted to kiss him.
He wanted to kiss another man.
Someone was shaking his hand, Black perhaps, but Horatio couldn’t tear his eyes away from Marwood, whose dark eyes were serious behind his glasses, fixed on him. He felt George nudge him and plastered a foolish grin on his face.
Marwood offered him a small smile, the corner of his mouth twitching up in a fashion which was almost amused.
Horatio felt a surge of longing so intense it almost made him sick.
“I have to go,” he said.
The words spilled out without any prior thought, but it was true: if Horatio stayed, he was going to say or do something unforgivable. He heard George call his name, and possibly Somerset, too, but he was gone, turning away and pushing back through the crowd with a singular focus. He was entirely unaware of the attention his flight from the room attracted, his eyes still seeing that tiny quirk of a smile Marwood had offered him.
Finally, he burst out into the cool air of the night. He took several ragged breaths, trying to understand what on earth had happened to him.
Will Marwood changed him.
But was it really a change? Horatio had never hungered for women, had he? If he was truly honest, he would admit that the nights he spent in bed, palming himself furiously, involved a lot of images of men. He had always tried to tell himself that was normal; after all, he didn’t know any girls to fantasise about.
His bizarre fantasies had never been so intensely focused on a person he knew in real life. He couldn’t recall ever looking at a man and feeling the way he did about Marwood when the viscount’s brother frowned at him, his eyes burning behind his spectacles.
Horatio’s feet carried him away from the club as he broke into a furious run. The streets were quiet at this time, which was lucky, as he probably appeared deranged. Fleeing through the street, his explosion of curls blowing wildly behind him, his movements constricted by the tight clothes he had been so proud of only hours earlier: Horatio was changed.
He tried to keep his mind clear as his body moved, but all he could think of was Will Marwood, the sardonic slope of his smile, the keenly intelligent eyes behind his glasses.
When he arrived home, he ran in through the service entrance, not wanting to disturb anyone at this hour other than Seb, who he needed desperately. He stopped in the kitchen, one palm on the table as he panted, trying to steady his breathing.
Seb appeared in the kitchen doorway in the sudden, quiet way he was so talented at; he seemed to have a preternatural understanding of when he was needed. Despite the late hour, he was still fully dressed, his bright blue eyes sharply assessing his master.
“Oh, god, Seb,” Horatio choked out.
Seb stepped forward. “Sir, what happened? Are you hurt?”
Horatio had never been more hurt in his life. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, taking a shuddering breath. “Seb, how do you feel about travelling?” he asked.