This is absolutely a rough first draft and prone to change in the final novel.
The man in the coach was small, slender and utterly unimpressed by the terrifying highwayman currently pointing an enormous weapon at his pretty face.
Charlie Archer had been robbing coaches at gunpoint for the better part of five years. It had taken him a long time to cultivate this current iteration of the Ghostly Highwayman, selecting each component of the disguise with special consideration of how frightening it made him. An enormous black hat cast him in shadows; a soft black mask pulled up to just below his eyes hid his identity entirely. Thick kohl around his eyes drew attention to how dark and cruel they were. His clothes were entirely black and form-fitting, highlighting the fact that Charlie was an enormous, physically imposing man. He opted for a lot of leather.
He was terrifying; Charlie knew that he was damn good at what he did. Nobody had ever faced the Ghostly Highwayman with anything less than absolute horror in their eyes. Certainly, Charlie had never experienced a victim sighing and rolling their eyes.
The man folded his arms. “Can I help you?” he prompted, reminding Charlie that he had forgotten to offer the customary choice between money or life. The man had plummy, aristocratic tones, cool and refined.
“Your money or your life, if you would,” Charlie said, making his voice rough and dangerous.
His victim actually snorted. He was a pretty little thing, unfortunately, with a head of caramel coloured curls and big, clear green eyes. There was something vaguely familiar about him. Several years had passed since Charlie had last spent time around the aristocracy, but he supposed this sense of familiarity around them would never pass. “No,” the man said.
The response was unprecedented. As the man was such a tiny, well-to-do fellow, the stark refusal to participate surprised Charlie.
“I’m only going to ask you once more,” Charlie said, stepping up into the coach so that he could point the gun even more closely at this man’s pretty face. The ceiling was far too low, and he ended up squatting before the stranger, trying to crowd him with his superior size.
“Please do. I can see it means a lot to you.”
The sarcastic little shit. Charlie always remained calmly threatening throughout these robberies, but this man seemed absolutely unaffected by it. Well, Charlie could change that.
“What’s your name, toff?” he snarled.
Rolling those beautifully bright eyes, the man sighed once more. “Alex,” he said, surprising Charlie by the offering of a first name, rather than a surname or title.
“Well, Alex,” Charlie said, and his name came out rough, velvety, a tone he might use with a lover. It wasn’t deliberate, but he noted with some satisfaction that he had finally made the little man shiver. “I strongly suggest you hand over your valuables and rid yourself of the danger I pose to you.”
“If you were truly dangerous, you would have shot me already,” Alex observed.
“Do not mistake my patience for virtue, boy.”
Alex’s eyebrows both flew upwards at the insulting name. “Well, shoot me then.”
Charlie hesitated. What was the correct course of action now?
To his shock, Alex dived at him, his body unsurprisingly light but far stronger than it appeared. The gun fell from Charlie’s gloved fingers with a clatter and he found himself on the bench opposite the one Alex had been sitting on, the smaller man in his lap.
It was not, Charlie noted with a wince, entirely uncomfortable.
Alex smelled of citrus, and this close, Charlie could see the unfashionable freckles which dotted his face. The highwayman was possessed of a strange urge to reach up and trail his fingers across them. It was tragic, really, that he had met Alex as a victim; in any other circumstance, he rather felt he might reach up and kiss the headstrong little bastard.
“Now, listen,” Alex said, in those self-assured tones, “I will have the coach ride onto the nearest town, where you will be arrested and promptly hanged. Or, you can leave now and stop bothering people on the highway. You are clearly dreadful at it.”
This bizarre man was offering him a chance to escape. Not that Charlie needed one, really; he could flip them around in an instant. The only thing stopping him was that the thought of having Alex’s lovely little body beneath him was causing him to have quite impure thoughts. Really, it would be awfully satisfying to shut Alex’s cocky little mouth up with a kiss.
“I’m going to have to decline,” Charlie said.
“Why are you doing this?” Alex asked.
What a question. Charlie was, for one wild moment, tempted to tell him, but he remembered himself at the last second, pushing Alex back firmly so that he fell onto the opposite bench. The gentleman offered him a reluctantly impressed smile. He had surprisingly crooked teeth. It should have been unattractive, but instead it was quite charming.
“Your coach driver fled,” Charlie said. The gun was on the floor between them, but neither moved for it. “We are quite alone here. I suggest you do as I ask.”
Alex reached up and ran a hand through his curls, his green eyes never straying from Charlie’s. “What’s your name?” he asked.
Charlie knew that he should be running out of patience with the little bastard, but he realised that he was enjoying his company. There was something incredibly enticing about the smaller man. He wished they were meeting in different circumstances. “It’s the Ghostly Highwayman.”
“Legally?” Alex asked sarcastically. “Gosh, what cruel parents you had.”
This was taking too long. Every moment Charlie spent in this carriage with Alex heightened the risk of getting caught. He needed to end this.
He crowded Alex once more, placing one hand on either side of the small man’s head, resting his knees on either side of Alex’s slim thighs. Looming above him, Charlie felt enormous and powerful; the contrast in the size of their bodies was strangely erotic. Indeed, Alex seemed to realise this too, staring up at Charlie with one crooked tooth biting into his lower lip. It was only the second time during this entire strange confrontation that he had seemed even vaguely troubled by Charlie’s presence, the first time being when the highwayman had uttered his name in a rough, sensual way.
It occurred to Charlie that Alex felt the same strange attraction as he did.
The pupils of Alex’s beautiful eyes were blown as he stared up at Charlie, and the freckled flesh of his slender throat moved as he swallowed visibly. Tentatively, as though asking for permission, he raised one hand slowly, moving it towards the mask on Charlie’s face. The tip of one finger, impossibly warm and soft, brushed the skin just beneath Charlie’s eye before working beneath the edge of the mask.
Charlie reached up and wrapped his hand around Alex’s wrist, stilling him. “No,” he said. The word came out choked. He wanted nothing more than to ravage the strange, pretty man he had encountered quite accidentally, but he needed to escape. He decided he would simply leave Alex without robbing him.
He wasn’t sure he could bring himself to threaten him anymore, not when Alex was looking up at him like he wanted to be devoured.
Charlie realised he was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling in time with Alex’s. The slender wrist in his grasp did not move, but Alex’s other hand did, pressing something heavy and metallic into Charlie’s other glove.
“I hear horses,” Alex whispered.
It took Charlie a moment to realise that he, too, could hear distant hooves approaching. It was time to leave. He sat back, reaching for his gun and reluctantly stepping out of the coach, away from Alex.
“Ride, you fool,” Alex said. He was sat perfectly still, his expression unreadable, looking barely ruffled in his perfect, green suit.
Charlie needed to listen. He allowed himself one final, hungry look at Alex before nodding, turning to the woods he had come from. He rushed between the dense trees to find his mount, Mortimer, snorting in a displeased fashion. He swung himself up lightly and dug in his heels, sending Mortimer galloping off through the woods to safety.
Away from Alex.
What on earth had just happened? As Charlie rode, he tried not to get distracted by thoughts of the eccentric young man he had just met. It was difficult not to. Those green eyes and adorably crooked smile were intoxicating.
Charlie hadn’t ever failed a robbery. The Ghostly Highwayman was notorious in these parts, a whispered, fearful tale told to travellers as a warning. This was the first time he had ever let a victim escape without taking anything from them. Charlie’s heart hammered in his chest as he thought about his latest victim. He was losing it.
Finally, when it was safe, Charlie slowed Mortimer, resting on a cliff overlooking the sea. The sun was beginning to set, giving the horizon a pink glow, and Charlie pushed down his mask to breathe in the fresh, cool air gratefully.
He looked down at his hand, opening his fingers and seeing the thing Alex had pressed into them. It was a golden ring, engraved with a family crest.
And just like that, Charlie knew exactly who Alex was- and where to find him.