Rediscovered in a Graveyard


Sequel is Loose Change


He stood at the cliff edge, staring into the cove below, watching the small, urgent figures scurrying from tide-edge to points well beyond the waterline. The rain had eased, although the wind still drove in from the sea; the darkness was broken by flares dotted along the beach.

His face expressionless, Bodie watched as the dead and the injured who had already been swept ashore were stripped of everything of value. It had been a hard winter for the village; the supplies taken from the wreck meant food for hungry bellies and loot to sell if the villagers could strip the ship before the militia arrived. He saw one of the waterlogged figures stir in protest when his pockets were emptied; a cudgel flashed down and the feeble resistance faded. Within seconds the half-naked body had been returned to the sea.

Unmoved, Bodie continued to watch the activity. He was empty of feeling, either for the villagers, or for their victims. His hands dug deep in the pockets of the dark greatcoat which billowed around him, he watched incuriously as spoils were examined, fought over and allotted. There was nothing to interest him here. Recently he had begun to wonder if anything could ever engage his interest again. Non-involvement, that was the secret, he reminded himself tiredly. There were times when he wished he had never learned to open his heart to another, for he had found no easy way to deal with the sense of loss which seemed to sharpen rather than blunt with each year that passed.

Shrugging off his melancholy mood, impatient with himself for wallowing in self-pity, he turned to return to the house, which was empty save for the servants. Impulse took him down the slippery track to the beach, the large hound padding steadily at his heels.

The wind was strengthening, shifting the wreck's position on the rocks. She would not last much longer. The villagers took no notice of the man who had come amongst them, for he and his dog were familiar figures. The relative calm of the busy scene was broken when a fight broke out between two women Bodie did not recognise. Abuse changed to violence when neither woman would give up her prize. Their shrieks sounded above the roar of the incoming tide.

The large figure of the blacksmith lumbered out of the darkness. "D'you want to bring every red coat in the county down on us?"

The women ignored him. He felled her with a hammer-like blow and she dropped like a stone. The other woman whimpered but held her ground, her breath rasping.

"Get goin'," he bellowed, waving a clenched fist.

She fled. Without sparing her a second glance, the blacksmith busied himself with ramming heavy curtaining into the empty chest he had appropriated, before he dragged it further away from the waterline.

Great spars of timber were being tossed nearer to the beach; they would burn well in empty hearths. A ragged chain of villagers waited eagerly, some wading out into the surf to meet them, determined that nothing of value should be lost to the sea. Turning his back on the sight, and quelling his impulse to lend his strength to their endeavours, Bodie headed for the rocky boundary that guarded the flank of the cove. Spray hung whitely over its outer rim before thundering down to froth lacily over the jagged rim and trickle along it, force spent.

It was the dog who found the half-drowned figure of a man tucked in the shadows. His sharp bark drew his master's attention.

"What is it, boy?" Bodie asked softly, silencing the hound with an inconspicuous gesture of his hand.

The man lay face down on a door which had become wedged in the rocks. His wrists were manacled and only the tangled links of the chains, which had wrapped themselves around the ornate door latch, had prevented him from being swept from his makeshift raft. Bodie studied the limp figure thoughtfully, knowing from the reaction of his dog that the man lived, despite his appearance to the contrary. He could make out little detail because of the shadows in which the man lay, except for the pale blur of his shirt. His voice carried down the beach as he called for some light.

Reluctantly Tom Chegwidden set down the wooden chest and looked around. Will Simmons automatically gave up his own flare before going back about his business; he wanted no part of Mister Bodie's.

Chegwidden took the torch with a grunt of acknowledgement and slid across the stones high above the waterline to reach the two figures. As he drew closer his sharp gaze went past Bodie and his dog to the blurred outline behind them.

"Be ye needin' any help, sir?" Chegwidden could see nothing in the unconscious figure to be worth troubling about. Even the clothes were too badly torn to be of value. His eyes widened when he glimpsed the chains. He looked up in silent speculation and meet Bodie's uncommunicative face.

"Forget you've seen him," ordered Bodie. "He was never here, whoever shows an interest. Clear? I have a few questions to put to him when - if - he recovers consciousness." He glanced back down the beach. "You may tell the others they have my permission to store the heaviest goods in the old stables. I suggest they make haste, the militia cannot be far away. Rouse Jedediah and get him to show you the entrance - it's time you were entrusted with its location. The goods will be safe enough there. Captain Ross won't be searching my property again in a hurry."

Chegwidden's face was split by a gap-toothed grin of reminiscent pleasure. "Aye, they bain't be makin' the same mistake twice. Thank 'ee, sir. I'll tell 'un." He hesitated. "'Bout this wreck. Those washed up be French. That's why we bain't be too particular about tending 'un."

"French! Are you sure?"

"They all speak Frog, sir. So you take care with this 'un. I'll be by Friday for orders, the same as allus."

"Thank you, Tom. I'll see you then," Bodie acknowledged.

He looked down the beach to where a few bodies still littered the sand. This ship should have had a larger crew. He looked speculatively at the body at his feet. Waiting until he was alone, and holding the flare aloft in one hand, he bent over the still figure, conscious of a curious sense of foreboding. But the chained man stirred his interest. Passenger ships weren't in the habit of carrying prisoners and this man was undoubtedly a prisoner. But of whom? If he were French he might prove to be a useful source of information. His nationality was by no means certain. The few clothes he had retained must have been of excellent quality before their immersion in the sea; their cut was unmistakeably English - and expensive, the stained boots not dissimilar to those he wore.

Eager to study the stranger in more detail, and with no thought to any injury he might have sustained, Bodie laced ungentle fingers in the sea-matted curls and turned the head. At the same time he eased his foot under the torso and flipped the stranger onto his back. The face was pale under the traces of blood, and that of a youngish man, handsome save for one imperfect cheekbone. The body, while lean, was well-muscled under the torn clothing.

"Ray?" Thunderstruck, Bodie stared at the unconscious face in disbelief, tracing the bruised profile with fingers that shook. Afraid of what he would find, his fingers dipped to seek the pulse in the neck; it was fast but reassuringly strong.

Sensing something amiss, the hound looked up at his master with liquid anxiety. Buffeted by the cold wind, which ruffled his unfashionably cropped hair, Bodie was unaware of the raw cold or the light drizzle which was slowly soaking him. Numb with shock, his insulating wall of indifference in ruins, he remained frozen above the unconscious figure, his hand still cupping the chilled flesh.

He had changed so little.

Bodie had believed him dead these ten years.

He was unaware of the fierce, irrational rage that began to burn within him; the combination of joy, fear and pain. He had found a measure of contentment in this small community. He would not permit Ray Doyle to destroy it.


Staring lugubriously past the jagged rocks and damp sand to the seemingly motionless sea, Ray Doyle became aware that the muttered imprecations drifting over from under the car had increased in volume and intensity. Without turning to investigate, he called back over one shoulder, "Haven't you finished yet?"

There was a clang as a spanner hit the tarmac. Doyle could almost hear the silent count to ten.

"No, I haven't." Bodie's voice held an admirable restraint. There was a short pause. "Want to give me a hand?"

Doyle subdued a satisfied smirk. Taking his time, he settled himself cross-legged on the springy turf. Examining a tuft, he selected a grass stalk, tugged it free and began to chew on it with idle pleasure before he spared the half-hidden figure under the car an unsympathetic glance. "Nope. Ten minutes you said. So what's gone wrong? That was forty-five minutes ago."

The silence from under the car spoke volumes. After a few seconds Doyle heard the work get under way again. His grin widened, his mood miraculously lightened by his partner's obvious frustration.

The sun was hot, the air sweet with the tang of the sea and the perfume drifting across from the hawthorn hedgerow. Dismissing the wild-goose chase that had brought them down to the West Country in the first place, Doyle gave a sigh of satisfaction. Lying back against the grass, he pillowed his head on his arm and closed his eyes, blissfully soaking up the warmth of the sun.

If the car had to spring a leak on them it couldn't have picked a better time or place, he decided with contentment. A whole seventy-two hours off-duty. It had been a hectic nine months, with no time to themselves since Cowley had given them that week off last August; he'd forgotten fresh air could smell this good. All they needed now was a deserted beach - and he would settle for the one down below - a decent pub that could put them up for a couple of nights, and the weather to hold. If they went back with a tan it would upset Cowley no end.

A shadow fell over Doyle's face, drawing him from his reverie. Reluctantly he opened his eyes to find Bodie looming over him, his eyebrows drawn together in a ferocious scowl. Doyle knew some people went in for the dark, smouldering look; as someone who had spent almost seven years in close proximity to a master of the art, he was not amongst them. He resisted the impulse to close his eyes again.

"I've fixed the car," Bodie announced. Doyle looked singularly unimpressed with his feat of engineering. "I thought of leaving you here," Bodie persevered, "decided against it. It's your turn to pay for the petrol."

Doyle sat up indignantly, their previous spat forgotten. "Not a chance, mate. I paid for the last lot." He eyed his partner with a degree of malicious satisfaction. "It took you long enough to see to the car, didn't it?"

"So I made a small miscalculation. Even I can't always be perfect. I wouldn't want to show you up more than necessary. You coming, or are you planning to vegetate here forever?" There was a faint, edgy note to Bodie's voice as he cast another glance around him, obviously not impressed by the scene of bucolic bliss.

Clambering to his feet, Doyle brushed himself down before wandering over to prop himself against the stone wall which overhung the steep drop down to the beach.

"In a minute. Let's enjoy the scenery for a bit. Give yourself a break, relax. Get back to nature. And I don't mean peeing in the hedgerow, you uncouth bugger," he added, forestalling any witticism Bodie might have planned. "What's wrong, missing the sweet smell of pollution?"

Fidgeting uneasily, Bodie came to stand at his side. He took a deep breath, felt the tickle of grass pollen fizzing along his sinuses and sneezed three times in quick succession.

"Sod the countryside," he said thickly, accepting the handkerchief Doyle handed him when his own failed to materialise. There was a telling weariness about him when he leant back against the support of the wall.

"What's wrong with it?" inquired Doyle. Unbuttoning his shirt, he rolled up his sleeves, stretching with a cat-like pleasure under the heat of the sun on his body.

"I dunno," Bodie admitted, shamefaced. Kicking moodily at a tuft of grass, he eyed his companion from under his lashes. Ray was going to laugh himself silly at this next bit, he conceded, before he took a deep breath and added, "It's this place."

"What's wrong with it?" repeated Doyle, with little real concern. Hitching himself up onto the wall, he sat swinging his legs as he tried to calculate whether he could make it down to the beach from this spot without breaking something vital.

"You want to watch yourself," Bodie advised him, his expression serious. "You can get piles doing that."

Doyle grinned at him from over one shoulder. "Don't be daft, you get them from sitting on radiators."

"Oh yeah, so you do. Well, I was close." Bodie's grin faded, his look of irritable unease reappearing. He scanned the hedgerows as if anticipating imminent attack. "There's something - " He gave a shrug which looked untypically like helplessness. "I dunno. This place gives me the creeps."

Doyle shot him a look of surprise. That wasn't an admission he heard from Bodie every day of the week. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember having heard it before. "Old age, mate," he said kindly. "You're getting past it."

Bodie didn't rise to the bait, which was a sign in itself. Chewing pensively on his lower lip, he looked decidedly twitchy. Despite his disbelief Doyle began to take more notice of his surroundings. When Bodie got that broody look there was usually a good reason for it. He was probably just tired, Doyle reasoned, unable to see any cause for alarm in these pastoral surroundings. Fatigue went a long way to explain what had been wrong between them recently. They'd both been irritable, having too many niggling arguments that did nothing to clear the air. Bodie had taken the brunt of the drive down after twenty-four hours on duty, and he had looked tired before they started out. Neither of them had got much sleep by the time they had reported in to Cowley and tidied up the loose ends.

"Hang on a tick," said Doyle lightly. "I've got just the thing to make the world seem a brighter place." Sliding down from his perch, he ambled back to the car, disappearing in to the depths of the back seat to re-emerge with a bulging carrier bag and a wide grin.

"Lunch for later," he explained in answer to the eyebrow Bodie raised in query. "And liquid refreshment for now. We may as well have it out here while you tell your Uncle Ray all about it. I haven't been on a picnic for ages."

With one final glance of unease over his shoulder, Bodie followed the urchin-like figure of his partner as Doyle loped up the road. How anyone could get this enthusiastic about a little fresh air was beyond him.

The bag tucked precariously under one arm, Doyle disappeared over the chest-high stone wall on the other side of the road. There was a muffled "Shit!" before his mournful voice drifted back to his partner. "I don't think you're going to approve of my choice of venue."

Already sitting astride the wall, conscious of the warmth of the stone against his inner thighs, Bodie nodded in grim agreement. He could feel the hair prickling on the back of his neck. "Got it in one, sunshine. What the hell made you pick this spot?"

"Natural talent," Doyle informed him as he limped over a tumbled gravestone, favouring his bruised knee. The apples had fallen out of the carrier bag; chasing the last one, he paused to peer at the inscription on a weathered, lichen-covered tombstone.

"Hey, this is a good one. Old lady of eighty-three. That was going it some in those days. 'Beloved wife and mother to - 'thirteen kids! I wonder if she holds the record for these parts?"

There were times when Bodie wondered about his partner's sanity. "You really are a gruesome little bugger," he remarked.

"Healthy curiosity, mate," replied Doyle cheerfully. He continued to search the stones for interesting epitaphs.

Dropping down into the sunken graveyard and fighting his urge to make off in the opposite direction, Bodie took great pains not to tread on any of the graves. With the weeds and brambles approaching knee height it was not always easy to tell where they were. He looked up to find Doyle watching his cautious progress with a wide grin.

"It wouldn't be respectful, would it?" Bodie said defensively.

Doyle gave a derisive snort and crunched into the apple he held. Bodie flinched at the sound, then gave an embarrassed shrug as he straightened from his defensive crouch.

"Strewth, you have got it bad," Doyle remarked. "You been forgetting to take your vitamin pills again? Here, sit down and drink this." He thrust a can of beer into his partner's unresisting hand.

Bodie gave him a look of undisguised horror. "I can't sit on one of - "

"Sit," Doyle insisted, pushing him downwards.

Bodie obeyed perforce, relaxing only when no bony hand shot up from the ground to grab hold of him. Becoming aware of the reassuring solidity of Doyle's body at his back, he leant against it and closed his eyes.

"This isn't bad," he admitted after a while.

Doyle gave the cropped head a look of affection and began to knead his partner's tense shoulder muscles, the massage slowly becoming a caress. He had yet to take for granted the moments when Bodie let his guard slip and was still wary about the response he made. Bodie needed a hair-cut, he realised. Deciding not to tell him, because he liked the idea of a wavy-haired Bodie, he ruffled the silky hair in parting and gestured to the can of beer his partner still held.

"Drink up, and get your teeth around this. You're looking peaky."

"Peaky?" Bodie looked from the browning, half-eaten apple being thrust at him, to Doyle. "Sure you can spare it?" But he ate it readily enough, core and all, neatly shooting out the pips into the lacy white head of some cow parsley. The sun warm on his face as he drank his beer, he began to relax. He looked down at his partner's engrossed figure, puzzlement creasing his forehead.

"What vitamin pills?" he asked, picking up on his partner's earlier conversation.

Doyle stopped scraping lichen from the slab of granite he was crouched over to look up with a mocking affection; then he took in the marks of weariness around the half-closed blue eyes. "Go back to sleep. No wonder Cowley gave us the time off. You'd be a fat lot of good to anyone right now. Still feeling twitchy?"

"A bit," Bodie admitted. He was unconsciously scanning the area again. "But it's nothing I can explain. I know this place. Or at least it feels like I should. The village down the hill too."

Finishing his beer, Doyle crumpled the can in his hand. "I didn't think you'd ever been down to the West Country before?"

Bodie scooped up a handful of moss, inhaling its moist, green scent as he tossed the bundle between his hands. He was careful not to meet Doyle's eyes. "I haven't."

"Then what - ? You're cracking up, mate," Doyle told him with brisk assurance. "I didn't think you went in for all this mystical stuff. When are you going to start bending teaspoons and reading tea-leaves?"

Bodie got to his feet, his shoulders hunched. "I knew there wasn't any point telling you. Well, get it off your chest, have a damn good laugh."

The mockery faded from Doyle's face. "You're not joking, are you," he realised. He pushed the heavy curls away from his sweating forehead with a sudden impatience, inadvertently smearing his face with green. "Sorry, mate."

"It's OK, I would have had the same reaction." Bodie returned to stand over the kneeling figure, a faint smile at the back of his eyes. "You've got green all over your face. Here." He touched the spot with a gentle finger. "Maybe I am cracking up," he offered, not believing it himself.

"You can't do that," Doyle told him as he rubbed away the dirt, "Cowley wouldn't like it at all. If this place is getting to you, we'll find somewhere else. We can't have you..." His voice trailed away, body tensing as his gaze dropped to where Bodie had been sitting until a few minutes ago.


Doyle slumped back onto his heels, his face wiped clean of all expression. Wordlessly he pointed to the worn gravestone. Time had eroded much of the inscription, half of it having been smoothed away by the elements, but the occupant's surname and a date were clearly visible. There was enough remaining of the two preceding names for a successful guess to be made.

Doyle found he had to clear his throat before he could speak. "For a hundred and fifty year old corpse I'd say you were looking pretty good," he said huskily.

Shaken, Bodie sank next to him and ran his fingertips lightly over the stone. It was his name right enough. "Well I'm buggered," he said mildly, relaxing now he had an explanation for his unease.

Doyle was suddenly galvanised into action; scrambling past Bodie, he was clearly searching for something. Another gravestone rested tipsily on its side against the stone bearing Bodie's name, half-covered by a choking mess of weeds. Doyle gave a grunt of satisfaction and began to clear the weeds with a frenetic urgency, unconscious of the nettles and brambles he grabbed. Under that assault the area was soon clear. He threw himself flat onto his stomach and peered up under the tilted slab so he could read the inscription.

"Raymond Doyle. The birthday's right. You might make a note of it, you forgot last year and I've got expensive tastes. Mmn, died on the same day - 16th May, 1832." Wriggling clear, he rolled free and sat up to stare at Bodie. "I always knew you'd be the death of me," he said with would-be lightness, but his hand closed over his partner's forearm with a bruising force.

"But the chances of - Someone's trying to psych us out," muttered Bodie, refusing to believe the evidence in front of him. Coincidence could stretch only so far.

"They've succeeded," said Doyle, his voice without expression. Kneeling up, he looked around the sunken graveyard before he shook his head.

He looked vital, alive and very desirable, his half-closed eyes giving his face a deceptive look of austerity. The sun gleamed chestnut through his halo of curls and Bodie resisted the urge to bury his face in them and inhale the scent of his lover.

"It doesn't seem a likely place for a set-up," mused Doyle. "Too much trouble for too little effect. Besides, no one could know we would get lost enough to find the village and this cemetery hasn't been touched for years. Look around and think about it. What would be the point? And why both of us, together even then?"

Bodie's expression tightened as he studied his partner's face. He still found it difficult to accept what had been given to him, knowing that sometimes he hurt Doyle by his inability to respond; he would mask the depth of his commitment with some flippant, throw-away comment, yet feel unreasonably hurt when Doyle withdrew in his turn. He lacked the confidence to treat their relationship as an accepted, familiar part of his life. The emotions that continued to creep closer to the surface as the time they spent together increased were too unfamiliar; they'd had little place in his life before Doyle. Recently Bodie had begun to wonder if what he had to offer his lover would be enough. It was probably just his insecurities coming to the fore, he conceded, prepared in this moment of vulnerability to admit that he woke each morning, only half-expecting to find Doyle next to him. Aching for reassurance, he dared not offer it because he was terrified of rejection.

"Who else would put up with you?" he said finally, his casual tone masking the rush of emotion that swept over him.

There was the flash of white and a familiar crease down one cheek as Doyle half-turned and grinned. "True," he conceded.

Bodie swallowed. That smile turned his guts to water every time. "Oh, Ray." Uncaring if half the village was watching, he leant forward to give the wilful mouth a fleeting kiss.

It deepened as with a throaty murmur of pleasure Doyle gave himself totally to the embrace, melting against his partner. His tongue slid with a moist familiarity into the accepting warmth of Bodie's mouth; he tasted of apples, beer and Ray Doyle: the latter had always been an intoxicating mixture. Bodie locked his strong hands in the tangled hair as Doyle cupped his buttocks and drew him closer.

The clear notes of a blackbird and an intrusive bramble reminded them of their surroundings. Reluctantly they drew apart to stare bemusedly at one another, shaken from their usual flippancy by the depths of feeling the other had revealed in that kiss.

In the months since they had become lovers, soon after Doyle had left hospital after being shot by Mayli, they had avoided making any declarations, relying on love-making to speak for them. Treading warily, they had circled around any possible source of confrontation, avoiding the necessity of testing the tenuous relationship because, despite the success of their working partnership, it seemed like tempting fate to believe it could survive.

Bodie blinked, then took a steadying breath. "What made you start scrabbling around like a squirrel who'd just lost his nuts after we found my - that - grave?"

Doyle sucked a nettle-stung palm. "I was afraid you'd ask me that," he confessed. Vaguely embarrassed, he subjected his palm to an unnecessary inspection.

"Well I have, so..." Bodie's expression cleared and he gave a delighted crow of laughter. "Don't tell me you had a - ?"

" - feeling. That's right, I did." Doyle's defensive belligerence faded as he looked into hilarious blue eyes. "I must be getting soft in my old age. I just didn't want to think of you..." His voice faded into an inaudible mumble.

"Me what?"

"Alone, damn it," snapped Doyle, taking the wind out of his partner's sails with that simple admission. He swallowed hard at the expression which appeared in Bodie's eyes - a fleeting look of wonder, followed by a softening of the normally cynical face.

"What the hell am I going to do with you?" whispered Bodie with a helpless tenderness. He felt as if he was crumbling around the edges, while falling slowly from a great height.

Doyle's flippant reply died in his throat when Bodie laced gentle fingers through his hair and leant forward. Drowning in the night-dark eyes, he felt the delicate touch of a warm mouth on his forehead, then on the tip of his nose, Bodie's breath warm and sweet against his cheek. Closing his eyes, he felt the same infinitely gentle caress on each quivering eyelid.

For a moment Doyle remained totally still.

"What was that for?" he asked shakily. His eyes luminous, he stared, bemused, at the naked tenderness on Bodie's smiling face. His knees felt as if they didn't belong to him.

"For being you," Bodie told him simply. "And for putting up with me." His hands curved around his companion's skull, cradling it between his palms, his thumbs caressing the skin behind Doyle's ears. It was ease itself to admit the truth. "I love you."

Doyle's eyes became very bright. "I hadn't forgotten that," he said gently. "And I won't, but it's nice to be reminded occasionally." He gave Bodie a nudge with his nose. "You're very easy to put up with. Well, most of the time," he qualified. "It's just a matter of practice really. And, god, but you're worth it," he breathed, humour dropping away as his grip tightened.

"That's great, mate, but do you think I could breathe now?" inquired Bodie plaintively. His bruised ribs were freed, Doyle's hands sliding down his sides in a parting caress. "We must talk - soon," he added tentatively, knowing that both of them had been avoiding any hint of serious conversation on a personal level for months.

His doubts sliding away, Doyle grinned and slipped a questing finger between the buttons of Bodie's shirt to tickle the few strands of dark hair on the breastbone. "You realise I may just hold you to that? Speaking of practice, do you know what I'd really like to do tonight?"

"I reckon I could take an educated guess," Bodie admitted, his hands sliding down Doyle's spine to cup his buttocks.

"You always were quite bright. I hope you're feeling up to it because tonight I wondered if we might try our hands at making wild, passionate love."

"Wild and passionate, eh?" echoed Bodie meditatively, knowing he never had been able to resist that silken note that entered Doyle's voice when he talked about sex. The muscles of his belly rippled in an involuntary response to Doyle's touch, his erection painfully constricted by this time. He began to nuzzle his lover's throat.

"If you think you'll be able to manage it," said Doyle soulfully, his doubts plain.

Bodie stroked the rounded buttocks, his fingers tracing down the cleft as if the soft denim which covered it had ceased to exist. "I expect I could come up with something," he conceded, grateful that Doyle's hand was moving up his chest rather than over his cock. He released breath he hadn't been conscious he was holding. "Do we have to wait until tonight?"

Doyle tried to look prim and failed dismally, a frankly lecherous look on his face. "There are times when I think you only want me for my body," he remarked. His breathing erratic, his tongue flicked over suddenly dry lips under Bodie's heavy-lidded appraisal.

Staring into the face opposite his own, Bodie desperately wanted to know what went on behind those clear, cool eyes; needing more of Ray Doyle than he had been offered to date. "I think you might be right," he agreed, telling himself to be satisfied with what he had. "But then I'm renowned for my superb taste."

"And modesty. Don't forget the modesty." Reaching behind him, Doyle removed the hands plastered to his backside and draw them around to hold them between their bodies.

Bodie's mouth parted in a silent question.

Like so many others before him Doyle was able to resist everything except temptation and gave the mouth he loved a fleeting kiss. Not permitting the caress to deepen, he drew away and tucked his unfastened shirt back into his jeans. He couldn't seem to stop smiling. Bodie's shyly-voiced declaration had left him feeling about sixteen and in love with the whole world - quite apart from disconcerting him immeasurably.

"Come on," he said briskly.

"Chicken," accused Bodie as he rebuttoned his own shirt. "Where are we going - a hotel?" There was a hopeful, lustful gleam in his eyes.

"Later," Doyle promised him. Batting his eyelashes in an outrageous parody of a sex-god, he grinned when Bodie shook his head, as if despairing of him. "Don't you want to know what happened here?" He picked up the carrier bag and held it in front of his groin for protective cover.

"We - they - died." Only half Bodie's attention was given to their conversation.

"Concentrate, 3.7. Before that."

With an obvious effort Bodie drew his gaze away from that lush mouth, the lips still rosy from his kisses, then stared at the two graves. His expression, while thoughtful, was relaxed. There were worse spots.

"Yes, I want to know," he admitted gruffly. "I want to know who they were. If they were... like us," he finished lamely. "But how are we going to find out anything after all these years?"

Doyle felt his guts melt when he realised that his would-be inscrutable partner had a romantic streak a mile wide - and that Bodie would have died rather than admit it. He promised himself that one day he would make Bodie want to - that and a whole lot more. One day. His look of resolve gave way to amusement when he met Bodie's querying gaze.

"How you ever got accepted into this outfit I'll never know. It must have been your natural charm - unless you've got some hold over Cowley I should know about?"

Bodie reeled back, appalled at the very thought.

"I knew it must be too good to be true," Doyle accepted with regret. "OK, super-sleuth, we start work. The public library, local paper, historical society - bound to be one down here - there can't be much else to do - the church and parish records, local authority records. Think you can stand the excitement?"

"I can hardly wait. Who wanted a holiday anyway? You do realise we don't stand a hope in hell of tracing them?"

Hoisting the still bulging carrier bag against his chest because the handles were threatening to give way - and his erection had subsided by now - Doyle gave his partner an encouraging shove. "You're going to have to stop all this positive thinking," he chided. "We'll dump this in the car, then go down into the village. My brains and beauty, your brawn, we can't fail."

"Shouldn't that be the other way around?" inquired Bodie, floating a punch past the cherubic profile. Catching the retaliatory apple that was tossed to him, he bit into it before passing it across to Doyle. Side by side they headed back to the car.


Grunting with exertion, Bodie completed the last of the series of exercises he had set himself. His arms trembling with fatigue, he released the bars of the small window and dropped into his fetid cell. Kneeling in the filthy straw, he gasped for breath, infuriated by his own weakness. No more slacking, he vowed as he scratched his latest crop of bites, cursing the fleas and longing for a bath and clean garments. Pulling on his shirt, he tried to ignore the ever-present knot of hunger in his belly. He glanced up through the small, slanted window to scan the tiny patch of darkening sky that had helped him to keep his reason during his first, desperate weeks of captivity. He would eat when it was totally dark, having overcome his revulsion at the smell and appearance of the food a long time ago. He was grateful for any sustenance that would keep him alive for long enough to escape this hell-hole.

If only he knew where he was, he reminded himself, quelling the rage that came with the reminder of his predicament. It was his own fault for electing to spend his furlough in Paris. He had been told of the growing political unrest by well-meaning acquaintances, but had shrugged off the warnings as no concern of his. He was an Englishman intent on pleasure, how could his activities interest the authorities?

A reminiscent gleam lit his eyes. Pleasure there had certainly been, in full measure, although he could not have foreseen having the good fortune to meet Clarice on his very first night in the gardens of the Palais Royale. He still didn't know why he had been detained. His last recollection was that of falling asleep, cushioned on Clarice's perfumed warmth. On waking, he had found himself in a small, dank office, being assigned a number.

A number, by all that was holy.

Where he had been brought, and why, remained a mystery. In the six weeks he had spent in this cell he was none the wiser and had almost grown accustomed to the denial of his identity. At least he had been detained under the alias he habitually used when in France, cold comfort though it was. Bodie's breathing steadied as he fought to subdue his despair. The silence was broken by the rustling in the filthy straw and the faint, barely audible sounds of life somewhere outside.

Unable to resist the thought of eating any longer, he ravenously devoured the thin cabbage soup and grey hardtack he had been saving since dawn. His meal finished, he rubbed tiredly at his beard, feeling a familiar frustration overtake him at his inability to do anything to secure his own release. He stiffened when he heard a distant clank of a heavy door thudding shut, then another and another, the sound coming closer. Faint voices grew more distinct, booted feet echoing against stone. There was the screech of a rusty bolt and his door thudded open, light and fresh air flooding his cell.

Remembering the last time Pêche had visited him at night, Bodie remained motionless, waiting to see what the turnkey intended. The beatings since his initial resistance had taught him that one caution. The gaoler and his bored helpers were, in their way, as much prisoners as those they guarded and they sought diversion from those of the prisoners still fit enough to offer a challenge. Bodie had soon realised his error in establishing himself as a challenge but pride did not permit him to modify his manner. Once he had been capable of acting whatever part might be required of him; he had been free then. Pride was one of the few luxuries left to him. Ignoring the twist of apprehension clenching his belly, his body readying itself for battle, he squinted up at the figures who stood behind the hand-held torches.

"We have a visitor for you," announced the gaoler.

"A visitor?" Bodie crossed the small space to stand at the foot of the steps. "But I know no one in Paris except for - "

"We do not have space to waste. This one will share your cell. If you truly wish to be alone..." Pêche shrugged. "You may always rid yourself of him." From the expression on his face it was clear that he expected Bodie to do just that.

At a nod from Pêche the guards released the man they held. His hands bound in front of him, he was propelled through the doorway; momentum sent him tumbling down the steps. He landed with a choked grunt of pain at Bodie's feet, remaining there as the door was slammed shut on them both.

Having stepped back to avoid collision, Bodie stared through the gloom with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. He wasn't sure he wanted to share his solitude. He had always preferred to conduct his life unencumbered and was accustomed to working and living alone. There was also the mundane problem of communication. While he spoke five languages, he spoke none of them well; his command of French was adequate for only the most basic of conversations. Until now, that had been of little consequence.

"Devil take it, I swear my back is broken," announced the ragged figure into the silence. His resigned tone made it clear that was not the case. He stirred and tried to right himself, his breath catching as he found new sore spots. Moving with caution, he propped himself against the bottom step and looked out into the centre of the cell. "I apologise for the intrusion, Monsieur. It was quite inadvertent, I assure you."

"You're English," exclaimed Bodie.

The man gave a gasp of laughter. "Betrayed, by God. So, obviously, are you. Civilisation at last. I was getting damned weary of being addressed as a number. Raymond Doyle of London." He raised his bound hands. "If you would be so kind."

"What? Yes, of course." Feeling at a distinct disadvantage, Bodie concentrated on removing the tightly knotted ropes. The other man's confidence was disconcerting. As soon as Doyle's hands were free he stepped back, careful that the movement should not look like a retreat.

"May I know your name?" Doyle asked.

"John - "

"Not Smith, I trust," interrupted Doyle, amused disbelief in his voice.

"Almost as bad," Bodie admitted, surprised by the other man's quick wits. "Brown. But when electing to choose her husband, my mother neglected to give any consideration to the difficulties my name might occasion in a situation such as this."

"Understandable, if unfortunate in the circumstances," agreed Doyle.

There was a short silence which neither man seemed willing to break.

"It has been a fatiguing day," said Doyle finally. "Perhaps we might continue to make each other's acquaintance tomorrow?" He showed no sign of wanting to move from his position by the steps; straightening his legs out in front of him, he seemed to have made himself comfortable.

"Of course," said Bodie, relieved to have been given a respite.

Lying still in the corner he had adopted for his bed, he listened to the sound of the other man's quiet breathing and knew that Doyle slept no more than he did throughout the night.

The next morning, while apportioning their meagre ration of food for the day, Bodie said with would-be nonchalance, "How long have you been detained here?"

Doyle scratched his untidy-looking beard. "About a month, by my reckoning. You?"

"Slightly longer."

Outside the sky was a blue so bright that it hurt the eyes to see it, but its light gave the cell the closest it ever came to daylight. It was sufficient to give Bodie the opportunity to study his companion. Made uneasy by the cool green gaze which seemed to track his every move, he avoided looking at Doyle more than was necessary and tried to quell his rising irritation. He knew it stemmed from the fact he had not accustomed himself to the notion of sharing his solitude.

Doyle accepted the food placed in front of him with a degree of self-discipline which was obvious to the man watching him. Leaning back against the wall despite the chill that permeated the stone, he chewed on the hard tack, washing it down with sips of the heavily watered wine.

"I still don't know where we are," Bodie said, unable to hide his tension.

Doyle stilled. "You have no idea of your whereabouts?"

"I wouldn't be asking if I did," Bodie snapped with asperity. He gave the other man a look of dislike. There had been a disquieting note of sympathy in his voice and he took pity from no man. Abandoning his meal, he began to pace around the cell.

"You received no indication of the reason for your incarceration?" questioned Doyle, his head following the other man's erratic passage.

"No." Bodie came to a standstill. "I did ask. The question seemed to afford the guards unwarranted humour. I was damned if I would give them the satisfaction of asking again."

"Were you taken at night and brought here by closed wagon by any chance?"

Bodie took a calming breath. "Mister Doyle, you're succeeding only in provoking me. You've asked a number of questions but I've yet to receive the courtesy of a reply."

"My apologies, sir. I had no intention of creating a mystery. You should seat yourself and prepare for the worst. You're in the Bastille. If you were brought here in secret, and have heard nothing regarding your sentence or supposed crime, you may take it that you are here, like the majority of us, under a lettre de cachet."

Bodie slumped against the wall, the blood pounding in his ears. A lettre de cachet was a sentence of death: worse than death. Imprisoned under a warrant from the King, he would remain here until he rotted. He suddenly felt very alone. There was no one who would question his disappearance. What was one more missing mercenary? People disappeared all the time. Clarice would not have spared her erstwhile lover a thought. She had probably forgotten about him already, he conceded realistically.


Black rage flooded him. "The witless harpy," he exclaimed, his voice savage as he realised who must be behind his imprisonment. "The lying jade. I'll kill her."

"I deduce that a chit lies at the root of it." Doyle's cool voice drifted into the silence. "Whose mistress was she?" He possessed the ability to pick just the right question.

"De Lambrière's," answered Bodie, his thoughts far away. "But she assured me he had quit Paris to visit his estates. We were never seen about together." He omitted to mention that from their first meeting all their time together had been spent in her gilded bedchamber, where there had been no communication problems at all.

"I've a notion you weren't careful enough. De Lambrière has a long reach and the ear of the King. It would be well within his power to obtain a lettre de cachet. But I commend your choice. She's a fetching piece. If you enjoy poaching your light o' loves from others, it's as well to start with the cream of society. But you were too ambitious in this instance. De Lambrière has never been known to part with any of his possessions. A pity," Doyle added lightly.

"A pity," exploded Bodie. "A pity! You numbskull. If that's the only consolation you have to offer, I suggest you remain silent."

"Lord, Pêche was right," said Doyle. "He went to great pains to warn me you wouldn't welcome sharing your cell. It's obvious he was correct. It's no wonder your doxy grew tired of your tantrums."

His expression murderous, Bodie swung across the cell, intent on quieting that derisive voice. He halted the blow that would have re-arranged the other man's mocking face at the last moment. Fighting his rage, he clamped his fingers around the belt of his trousers in case they ended up around the other man's throat as he belatedly recognised the deliberate provocation that had been behind the seemingly innocent conversation from the beginning.

"You pox-ridden bastard," he breathed. "To connive so cunningly..." He backed away because he did not trust his own control. It would have been so easy to give the other man the oblivion he sought.

There was a fleeting look of something very like disappointment on Doyle's face before he thought to mask his expression, his features assuming a look of truculent resignation. As Bodie watched, the other man relaxed, no longer tensed for the killing fury he had deliberately provoked.

"So, Mister Raymond Doyle," he said, silky with rage when he recognised just how skilfully he had been manipulated. "You want to die but lack the courage to make a clean job of it yourself." Conscious of the other man's start of surprise, he gave a harsh laugh, his face devoid of pity. "You flatter your skills of deception if you imagined I wouldn't recognise your intent. Confinement may have dulled my wits but not to that degree. I've met others who have shared your wish but at least they sought to resolve the problem for themselves. I should have recognised your purpose from the first. Devil take it, no one is this aggravating unless they are dull-witted - or they try very, very hard."

Doyle made no attempt to answer the accusation. His head bent, he seemed to be trying to withdraw totally from what was being said. His docility angered Bodie afresh. Grasping a handful of the thick hair, he gave the other man a light, contemptuous slap before swinging Doyle's head around with another. Doyle's eyes shot open.

"I'm glad to have your complete attention. I regret having to disappoint you, but I've never been in the business of assassination, whatever Pêche may have led you to believe. If that was the case he would be my first client. You, you're not worth the bother, you gutless little worm!" There was a blistering contempt in Bodie's voice.

Doyle remained stubbornly silent. With some deliberation he closed his eyes, blocking Bodie from his consciousness, but his breathing was ragged.

While Doyle had made no attempt to retaliate or defend himself, Bodie had been aware of the quick flare of anger the other man had been unable to suppress. There had been no fear on his face, just a hard resolve concealed beneath the seeming uninterest. Puzzled, he released Doyle and sought refuge in his own corner of the cell. He had much to reflect upon.

For the first time since he had been detained the hours sped by as he tried to rationalise what had almost taken place with what he sensed of Doyle's character. There were a number of anomalies which prevented him from believing that the other man would submit tamely to captivity. He understood both depression and rage in the face of imprisonment - but to seek death without a struggle was inconceivable to him.

Trying to ignore the physical presence of the motionless figure opposite him, Bodie became increasingly uneasy. His temper was usually under better control but his quick, hot rages had not equipped him to deal with the black depression emanating from the still figure in the corner. The sharp exchange had proved to his satisfaction that whatever Doyle might choose to believe, he had no deep-seated desire to end his existence. Bodie didn't choose to analyse why that knowledge should be so satisfying.

Aware that he was spending an unwarranted amount of time contemplating the motivations of a virtual stranger, Bodie tried to continue with his daily routine as if he was alone. It wasn't easy to begin his exercises, knowing his movements were bound to attract the other man's attention, but Doyle didn't stir and gradually Bodie lost his self-conscious air.

That evening as he settled down to sleep, it occurred to Bodie with something of a shock that Doyle hadn't stirred from where he sat propped against the wall; his back very straight, his eyes were closed, his face set. He would be appallingly stiff when he did change position.

Reminding himself that Doyle's behaviour was no concern of his, Bodie closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind so he could sleep. The unfamiliar sound of someone moving around woke him. Instantly alert, he leant up on one elbow, relaxing as, in the dim light, he saw Doyle leave the far corner below the steps that he used as a privy for want of any other facilities. Reassured, Bodie settled back down to sleep, resolving that tomorrow he would do something to bring this sulky silence to an end.

He jerked upright a moment later when he heard the clang of the water jug being kicked over.

"You blundering dolt," he hissed, keeping his voice low only with great effort. "I know it's dark in here but fiend seize it, try to look where you're treading."

Doyle's humourless laugh was designed to conceal how shaken he was. "I should like to," he said with malicious simplicity, "but as I am blind, that's going to be rather difficult." There was a startled silence and for one glorious moment he wondered if he had succeeded in puncturing a little of the other man's arrogant certainty.

"Damn, that's all I needed," said Bodie in a tone of weary disgust.

His sense of direction gone and his head hurting abominably, Doyle gave a crack of laughter at the fervent honesty in his cell-mate's voice. It was that or cry.

Getting slowly to his feet, Bodie padded across the cell, needing to see the other man properly. Their acquaintance had begun badly and they would have to make some effort to rub along together if they were to live in such close proximity. He was taken aback to discover that Doyle should have been able to conceal his blindness for so long. He understood why the other man had tried to hide his lack of sight. After being regaled with Pêche's tales it could be no pleasant thing to be thrust, blind, in with a stranger. Pushing aside his feeling of pity, Bodie stared assessingly at his cell-mate, who was engaged in brushing himself down.

They appeared to be of an age, but Doyle was a trifle shorter and slighter than himself. Bodie suspected his fragile air was deceptive, despite the boisterously curling hair, which gave him an angelic appearance at total variance with his present expression. As if seeking to further refute the charge Doyle swore colourfully but without passion when he discovered a new rent in his shirt. It seemed impossible that he could be blind; those wide-spaced eyes were too alive.

"I am constrained to remind you that it is considered the height of bad manners to stare," announced Doyle, a hard edge to his voice.

Disconcerted, Bodie stepped away from the gaze directed at him. "Are you sure you cannot see?" he blurted out.

"Rot you, do you seriously imagine I would stoop to lying about a thing like that!" There was raw anguish in Doyle's voice.

Furious with himself for letting the casual question splinter his precarious, hard-won calm, he spun away from Bodie's almost overwhelming vitality and walked, with some force, into the wall. Hands pressed flat against the dank stone, his knee and face smarting from the impact, he remained there for a moment, willing himself not to break down. It was the final humiliation.

Bodie stared at the other man's rigid back in an uncomprehending silence. Belatedly it occurred to him how he would feel if their circumstances were reversed. He closed his eyes, then quickly opened them again, peering gratefully through the gloom. He tried to decide upon the best approach to take with Doyle, while wondering why he should be so concerned with the other man's finer feelings.

"No, I don't believe you would lie about it. I was merely surprised at the ease with which you had disguised your lack of vision until now," he said mildly. "I'm bound to point out that you're unlikely to escape me by attempting to walk through the wall. You're also wet. Come, let me assist you." The tone of the offer was casual in the extreme.

"I don't need any help," grated Doyle, not daring to move. He had never felt so finally and completely helpless in his life and he knew there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.

"Ah, so you make a habit of doing this, do you?" inquired Bodie. "May I suggest you save your English phlegm until you have an audience who will appreciate it. I'm not a great believer in it myself." He placed a hand under Doyle's arm. It was knocked away with a jarring force.

"Damn you, I don't need a wet-nurse!"

Doyle stumbled on the uneven floor and would have fallen if Bodie hadn't caught him. Unseen, Bodie gave the furious face an admiring grin, refusing to be ruffled or rebuffed. His own stubborn nature overrode his inclination to leave the other man to his own devices.

"Perhaps not," he conceded, "but you're going to receive help whether you want it or not." There was a note of determination in his voice that told Doyle any further argument would be pointless.

Giving a weary sigh he allowed himself to be steered back up the cell and seated himself under the window. His mumbled thanks almost choked him.

"You're welcome. There's some food to your right. I apologise for the lack of water," Bodie added, cheered by the signs of temper. He could deal with that.

"I'm not hungry," Doyle told him ungraciously.

"Did I ask if you were hungry? Eat," commanded Bodie in exasperation. "Or do you intend to argue over every plaguey thing I say?"

Doyle directed his scowl where he judged the other man to be.

"A little more to your left," Bodie said helpfully.

Doyle's mouth twitched appreciatively before he surrendered and began to laugh. "I knew I was correct in assuming you wouldn't care to play the nursemaid," he said, sobering. "My behaviour has been abominable. I regret trying to goad you earlier, I was not myself." He was surprised to realise he meant it; it felt good to be alive.

"You would have regretted it even more if your plan had succeeded," Bodie informed him disagreeably. The memory of how easily he had been manipulated still stung.

"Yes, I suppose I would," Doyle accepted meekly. He was beginning to appreciate that what John Brown said did not always reflect what he thought; his voice betrayed little of what was in his mind. "Do you normally hold a grudge for long?"

"No." Bodie answered without thinking, then paused to subject Doyle's too innocent expression to a hard stare. "Why?"

"I'm not going to relish being reminded of this inauspicious beginning to our relationship twenty years from now."

"You don't think we'll still be here?"

Catching the fleeting note of desperation in his cell-mate's voice, for the first time it occurred to Doyle that he wasn't the only one with problems.

"Of course not," he lied. "Not one of my most successful attempts at humour. Between us we should be able to contrive some way of getting out of here." Seeking to lighten the brooding atmosphere, he broke off a piece of the hardtack he was holding. "Here, you must be famished."

About to protest, Bodie accepted the peace offering for what it was. They ate in a companionable silence.

"Perhaps we could start afresh," Bodie suggested casually, sometime later.

Doyle looked up, his expression wary.

"I meant exactly what I said," Bodie said, smiling at the other man's caution. "Some changes are imperative if we are to live together amicably. Doubtless you're aware that you've cut your face. You'll have little skin left to abuse and I shall become very thirsty. Can we accept that you are blind and go on from there?"

"The next time I trip over something I'll endeavour to ensure that the water jug is empty," Doyle promised him.

Bodie laughed and there was a greater ease between the two men as they began to accustom themselves to each other's company.


Jack Hodge sat morosely nursing his pint of bitter under the watchful eye of his wife.

"Drink up, Jack," she encouraged with a brisk impatience, tapping her empty sherry glass with a well-manicured nail. "We're due back at Thelma's at four."

Hodge huddled further down on his wrought-iron chair. "I know," he mumbled unhappily. "Linda, couldn't we give it a miss this afternoon? Take the kids down to the beach, or something. You know I hate her bridge afternoons."

"No we couldn't," she told him, not pausing to consider his request. "It won't hurt you to look after the kids for once. You can chat to Maurice."

Hodge gave an inward shudder at the thought, then resigned himself to his fate.

His wife's voice sharpened as distant, shrieking figures caught her eye. "Luke, stop that at once! Jane, what are you wearing? Well give them back to Mark this instant. Hopeless, take your eyes off them for a moment... I'll see you back at the car," she told her husband before she headed purposefully after her brood of children.

Hodge watched her neat figure disappear with a lingering frown before he roused himself to glare balefully around the near-deserted pub garden. Bloody holidays, he thought for perhaps the fifth time that day. He'd only been away three days and he was already homesick. Wedded bliss had few attractions for him at the best of times; away from the Smoke and the club it had none.

It had been a long time since he had spent more than a few hours alone with the family; he'd make sure it stayed that way. He should never have married her in the first place. Dave had tried to warn him but she was Ted Connolly's only child; his prospects had never seemed brighter. Now he was stuck with her till death did them part. You didn't dump Connolly's daughter - unless you had a death wish. It hadn't been too bad at first, but it was like she'd changed personality once she'd got the ring on her finger - and one through his nose.

Connolly had changed too. Eight years inside had done something to him, like his mainspring had gone. Since getting out at the beginning of the year he'd shown no sign of wanting to get back to business. True, there'd been a lot of changes in the time he'd been away; maybe Ted had lost his touch. Or maybe that had gone the year Ted had appointed an undercover cop planted by the Drugs Squad as his right-hand man. Hodge felt a surge of hatred for what might have been if only he'd been around rather than off on his sodding honeymoon.

Remembering what the doctor had told him about keeping his blood pressure down, he took a calming swallow of beer and idly scanned the other occupied tables, where customers were enjoying the sunshine in the tiny garden of 'The Drunken Duck'. The table closest to his own held another family. He stared at the mild-faced husband who was encouraging his youngest to 'blow', cheered by the thought of someone else sharing his state of misery. Losing interest, his gaze slid over the other tables.

Beer slopped from his glass as he stared with disbelief at the two figures sitting at a table over by the duck pond. The dark one was a stranger to him - a hard man by the look of him - but that other one. It might have been over nine years ago but he never forgot a face. Had good reason to remember this one. Turn around, you sod, he thought viciously. Turn around and let's see if it's really you. A quick call to some of the lads up in Town and his holiday could start to take an unexpected turn for the better. Maybe he'd found just the tonic Ted needed to buck him up a bit.


After a week Doyle had borne all he was prepared to of his cell-mate's sour humour. Brown had woken in a foul temper, his mood worsening as the day progressed. Doyle could hear him pacing; the impression he gave was that if he had a tail it would be lashing.

"Would it help to discuss what is disturbing you?" he asked quietly.

"No," Bodie snapped.

"Then what do you want?" Doyle demanded, on the edge of losing his own temper because he felt he could be of no use to anyone.

"A barber, a bath, something decent to eat and drink, a woman, and some clean linen."

"In that order?"

"In any pox-ridden order," bellowed Bodie in frustration. He threw out an expressive arm and inadvertently grazed his knuckles against the cell wall; he bit off an expletive, glaring at the amusement on Doyle's face when he guessed what must have happened. "Very droll," he said in a biting tone.

With no wish to fan the flames, Doyle struggled to control his expression.

"I suppose you have no desire for any of those?" Bodie jeered. "You'll be lecturing me on the wisdom of accepting one's lot in life next. Or do you propose to tell me that things could be worse?"

Sitting cross-legged in his corner, Doyle tried to judge where the other man might be. "You know they could be," he pointed out, unruffled.

"I wonder if you have any concept of how irritating I find you the majority of the time?" His breath gusting in Doyle's face, Bodie's tone was that of a man who has been tried too far.

Doyle pushed forcefully at the man leaning over him, refusing to feel intimidated. "Only too well if your behaviour is any indication. Stop behaving like a spoilt child. We're imprisoned. Accept it until we can think of a fool-proof way of escaping. I like it no better than you." His scowl reduced Bodie to silence. "Sit down and consider. You might not regard it highly, but while we are incarcerated, we are not chained. We are fed regularly. Whether the notion pleases you or not you must now share your solitude. Is that so bad? You could spend the next forty years in darkness, chained to a wall surrounded by your own filth."

"Possibly," growled Bodie, refusing to be placated. "Everyone gets fed," he asserted, in the mood to argue every point.

"Do they?" Doyle did not trouble to disguise the mocking amusement in his voice.

Pausing, Bodie gave the thin figure an assessing glance; it lengthened as he took in the hollows beneath the cheekbones and the prominent bones beneath his ragged clothes.

"You do have a lean and hungry look," he conceded. "Why did they stop feeding you?"

Doyle was regretting having mentioned the matter. "I found that to be one of the gaoler's more acceptable foibles," he evaded, as if that explained everything.

About to pursue the point, Bodie recalled his first week of captivity. Pêche had visited him every night. Confused, angry and disorientated by his sudden imprisonment, he had seen nothing beyond the gaoler's quiet questions and the guards' bored distaste than a weakness which he might exploit. Then had come the night when Pêche had told him what it was that he desired. It wasn't an unfamiliar offer. On this occasion his own explosive response had almost taken him past the three guards to the door. Beaten to the point where he could not resist, he had lain in the straw as the turnkey's now gentle hands explored him. Pêche hadn't sought to do more than that, nor had he visited him again, except to oversee the occasional beating, but Bodie knew he could at any time. He also knew how fortunate he was that, for reasons best known to himself, Pêche sought an acquiescent partner - or at least one he could take pleasure in wearing down rather than breaking.

"I wondered why Pêche ceased to importune me," he said, having no wish to enter into a prolonged discussion on the topic. "So far we have both been fortunate. No doubt, should it become necessary, we could survive on single rations if he resumed his attentions. I wish he would come here unescorted just once," Bodie added wistfully.

"Dismiss that notion from your mind," commanded Doyle, his voice sharp. He caught hold of Bodie's arm to reinforce his point. "I mean it, Brown. It isn't worth it. Nothing is."

Bodie stared at him with distaste. "You suggest I should just lie back and permit Pêche to take whatever he wants?"

"If that is the only means of staying alive, of course."

Bodie gave a contemptuous laugh. "I suppose that is the only course of action left open to you."

Doyle released him immediately. "Because I'm blind?"

"If you care to make that your excuse," said Bodie with brutal frankness. Watching the colour drain from Doyle's face, he wished the remark unsaid. But the thought that the other man was prepared to capitulate so easily infuriated him. He didn't appear to be of the kidney to submit meekly; he was proving himself to be about as fragile as the Bastille itself.

Bodie looked up but Doyle's head was slightly averted. Something in his uncommunicative profile made Bodie look away again; it felt too much like prying. Fidgeting restlessly in the straw, he finally broke the uncomfortable silence that had fallen, knowing he had been in the wrong from the first.

"I am the last person who should judge the correct course of action another should take," he admitted uncomfortably. "There are any number of events in my own life that I do not regard with any pride but they were necessary to survive. I apologise for my earlier comment," he added with unusual diffidence.

There was no one present to tell Doyle how rare it was to receive an apology from this self-sufficient man. Bodie cared little for the opinion of others and was not renowned for his consideration for their feelings. Drawing his knees up to his chest and propping his chin on them, Doyle seemed to be staring directly at the other man, as if seeking to learn what lay behind that awkward apology.

"It doesn't signify," he dismissed. Falling silent, he was lost in his memories. They brought their own responsibilities. While Brown was infuriating, exasperating and provoking beyond measure, he would be reluctant to see the tentative understanding that was forming between them destroyed.

Getting to his feet, he paced restlessly up and down the centre of the cell. "Neither of us is accustomed to being helpless," he announced. "But I meant what I said earlier. If Pêche comes again, for either of us, accept it as best you can." His voice lost all trace of warmth. "I thought I could best them. I was mistaken. That one error of judgement cost me my sight."

A chill running down his spine, Bodie stared at him. "How?" he croaked, although the last thing he wanted was to become further involved with his cell-mate.

Turning away from him, Doyle's voice was determinedly casual. "In the ensuing fight after Pêche had made his offer I succeeded in disabling him with a chance kick. Two guards restrained me at bayonet point. When Pêche recovered, he knocked me clear across the cell. He is stronger than you give him credit for. When I recovered consciousness I was blind. I have just stopped believing that one morning I will awake and be able to see again."

"It is possible," Bodie encouraged, an empathic shudder going through him.

"Enough!" Doyle's voice broke before it steadied again. "I dare not start believing that or - You witnessed the state of melancholy into which I had fallen. It's - it's so cursed hard to accept that... It's hard," he repeated, his voice barely audible.

Bodie could think of nothing he could offer that would ease the other man's distress. When Doyle turned, he winced at the other man's bleak expression.

"To set your mind at rest, my virtue is unsullied. I just don't believe the price was worth it. Close your eyes and try to remember that darkness if Pêche should return."

There was a tight note of desperation in the roughened voice. Concerned that Doyle might expect some emotional response that he could not give, Bodie launched into speech. "I will endeavour to keep that in mind," he promised. "Now sit down, I grow dizzy trying to follow you. You never did mention your occupation prior to your arrest."

"I was an artist."

After that bald announcement Bodie had the sense to let the conversation lapse.


"You're not seriously proposing to eat all that after the meal the vicar's wife fed us?" demanded Doyle, revolted.

"Watch me," invited Bodie as he took a luxurious bite from a cream-laden scone. He systematically set about clearing the plate, pausing only when he came to the last scone. "You sure you don't want one?" he asked as he slathered it in jam that actually tasted of strawberries.

Nauseated, Doyle shook his head. "Positive. You're indecent. I dunno where you put it."

"Hollow legs and clean living, mate." Bodie flopped back on his chair and eyed the surviving scone with a pensive eye. "Maybe I won't," he conceded, feeling decidedly full.

"Can't take it, eh?"

"Nothing of the sort. But you wouldn't want them wasting away, would you?"


Bodie picked up the plate. "C'mon, let's go feed the ducks. That stroppy one on the left reminds me of you."

Sometimes it was like having a small kid in tow, thought Doyle with resignation as he followed his partner down to the lake's edge. He resisted the temptation to push the crouched figure into the water. Even the appalling amount he had eaten wouldn't slow Bodie down enough for him to get away with that unscathed.

Relaxed in the sunshine and the rare pleasure of being off-duty and together, neither of them noticed the reaction of the lone man at a table behind them, or the speed with which he went in search of a phone.


The walls of the cell ran damp as winter tightened its hold, their breath white in the cold air. After a week of spartan self-sufficiency and precious little sleep, they collected all the straw into one corner and slept huddled together for warmth. At first they were self-conscious about the enforced intimacy of their position but within a couple of days they had ceased to think anything of it, the imperative to survive paramount.

Bodie had been forced to abandon his exercise programme because he had become too weak for long periods of strenuous physical activity, the bone-numbing cold eroding any surplus energy he may have had. As conditions in the cell grew more uncomfortable Bodie and Doyle's relationship improved. They talked for hours, finding that although their backgrounds and experiences were, for the most part, wildly different, they had enough in common to enjoy each other's exploits.

Gradually their discussions embraced edited personal reminiscences. Doyle spoke mainly of his early life, referring with amused affection to his large and boisterous family, while avoiding any mention of the recent past. Bodie offered little information voluntarily, but did deign to tell Doyle a few ribald or humorous exploits, selected to betray as little as possible of himself. Still their growing friendship flourished, almost despite themselves.

Of course there were black periods, and fierce arguments, quite apart from the daily irritations that came from sharing such a small area with one other person day after dragging day. Even when the atmosphere between them was at its most vitriolic both men admitted, if only to themselves, the relief of having someone who understood the bleak moments when blindness and the confines of the cell came to seem well-nigh unendurable.

Busy finger-combing his tangled mat of hair into some kind of order and wincing when he found a particularly vicious tangle, Doyle's head turned in the direction of Bodie's engrossed figure.

"Somehow I've a notion that John Brown isn't your baptismal name," he mused. "You don't possess the manner of a 'Brown', which is a comfortable, middle-aged sort of name. Reassuring."

Bodie looked up from where he was attempting to free a metal bar from the mortar. "Why can't I believe you intend that for a compliment?" he replied, playing for time. "Brown isn't my baptismal name, as it happens. I haven't used that for years - since I ran away from home, as a matter of fact. A name is of little consequence, when all is said and done."

"I suppose it isn't," conceded Doyle, filing away that snippet of information. "But that being the case, I fail to see why I should use the name 'Brown'. What is your number?"

"I refuse to answer to a number," Bodie told him firmly. "That apart, call me what you will."

"That must qualify as the most tempting offer I've received all week," said Doyle, smiling. "I shall have to consider this. You require something brisk and to the point. It has been a source of constant amusement to me how often you forget to answer to John Brown."

"Nonsense," said Bodie, but with little real conviction.

"It's true," insisted Doyle. "You're sadly lacking in imagination. Only you could have selected a name as unimaginative as John Brown."

What would you suggest - something like Raymond Doyle?" Bodie's voice was dry.

Doyle gave an impish grin. "The name is already taken. It is, incidentally, my own." He met Bodie's derisive snort with a shrug of acknowledgement.

"I know, but would you voluntarily accept such an outlandish name as Raymond? Of course you would not. My sister, of course, claims to believe that it becomes me. This was her doing." Doyle gestured to the injured cheekbone, which gave his profile such a piquant charm.

Bodie was already acquainted with the large and confusing Doyle clan; he had heard a great deal of their exploits in the weeks he and Doyle had spent together, primarily about Doyle's nieces and nephews, for whom he had an inordinate affection. Every person in the family had been painted for him in vivid, one-line character sketches.

"Catherine did that?" he asked, interested despite himself.

"My dear, sweet Kitty. I cannot conceive what I did to deserve a sister such as her. It's a wonder I survived to manhood. Did I neglect to tell you of the time she knocked me out?" Doyle added, his face alive with laughter. "She has as true a left hook as you will ever come across."

"You're fortunate to have such a family. I think," added Bodie as he recovered from Doyle's rendition of his own unheroic part in the tale. His face muscles ached from laughter but there was an echo of sadness in his voice. Doyle had conjured up the sunny, carefree days of childhood, surrounded by a loving, mischievous family; very different from his own bleak upbringing.

"What about your own family?" asked Doyle.

"I don't possess one," Bodie said, tensing.

"Nonsense. Everyone has a family, even you."

"Are you daring to pity me?" Bodie demanded, forgetting that his menacing stare was wasted on the other man.

Doyle gave an infuriating grin. "I fancy that I am. Self-sufficiency is all very well, if not carried to excess. Never fear, I don't bite. And I give you my word that I won't hold the fact you have a mother, just like everyone else, against you."

"I prefer not to talk about myself," Bodie told him in a repressive tone, but he sensed he was wasting his breath. Doyle was far too astute at reading between the lines. He might trust the man, but not that much; he had never trusted anyone that much.

"I had noticed," Doyle assured him. "But why so mysterious? I'm tired of hearing the sound of my own voice and I refuse to believe some of the tales you've spun for me about your life as a mercenary."

"Are you doubting my honour?" demanded Bodie, hiding behind anger.

"No, but I believe you have a talent for embroidering the truth," replied Doyle, refusing to be intimidated by the cold menace in the silken voice.

A choke of laughter escaped Bodie's controls. "You may be right," he admitted, "but the truth is really very tedious."

"That's twice in one day," Doyle said with a trace of smug satisfaction.

"Twice what?" asked Bodie, puzzled.

"Twice I've made you laugh in one day."

Bodie glared at him, all traces of good humour leaving his face. "You're not the most joyous of companions yourself at times," he pointed out, angry at being made to feel like an interesting specimen being dissected. Ignoring the feeling of hurt that he should be only a source of entertainment for his cell-mate, he sat with his shoulders hunched, scowling across at Doyle.

"I know that," said Doyle, cursing himself for having broken the light-hearted mood he had worked so hard to create.

It had been a source of great pleasure to hear Brown's rich chuckle and to hear him offer something of himself without prompting. Now every barrier had risen against him. He could feel the tension emanating from the other man and was suddenly flooded with a longing to see Brown's face - to see behind the disguises Brown had learnt to adopt in his voice.

Getting up, Doyle moved restlessly around the cell, pacing out his stride automatically now. They had arranged their meagre possessions so that he knew exactly where everything was placed and there had been no further accidents.

Bodie often forgot his companion's lack of sight because Doyle persisted in trying to pretend it didn't exist, even as he fought to come to terms with it. Looking at Doyle's lack of expression, Bodie recognised the first signs of one of the black depressions which overtook the other man on occasion. Doyle was a born fighter, and made valiant efforts to accept his lack of sight, but it was a totality which came near to defeating him at times. To his surprise, Bodie found himself wanting to help Doyle through those dark periods. It was then that Bodie would talk freely, prepared to do whatever was necessary to draw Doyle from his melancholy, be it with humour, anger or pathos. Doyle had done as much for him on the days when captivity brought Bodie close to the point of trying to ram his fist through the wall. He had learnt that Doyle was unshockable and usually unflappable. He respected Doyle's opinions, and had learnt to tread lightly when the other man lost his formidable temper.

As the weeks passed, Bodie began to feel that he had known the other man all his life. Accepting Doyle as a friend, he had grown accustomed to his quirks of character. It didn't occur to Bodie that he could afford to relax his guards - or that Doyle might already have seen behind them.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I jumped ship in Turkey and ended up in the Seraglio?" Bodie offered casually into the tension-ridden silence.

Doyle halted mid-stride, then turned, suspicion on his face; he was quite clearly in no mood to be humoured. "No, and don't bother," he snapped aggressively.

He was obviously spoiling for a fight. Refusing to accommodate him, Bodie hid his grin. "Well, if I'm boring you," he murmured, retreating into a hurt silence. He had soon learnt how to manipulate his volatile cell-mate, who was too tender-hearted for his own good on occasion.

After a few minutes Doyle could stand it no longer. He stalked to where he judged Bodie to be and stood over him, glowering. "I'll wager you're looking like a whipped pup. Damn it, will you stop humouring me." Pausing, the anger drained from his expression. "After all this time I still have no notion of your appearance."

"Well you wouldn't, would you?" Bodie said, without thinking. He saw Doyle flinch and touched him lightly on the arm. "Sorry. But it seems of little consequence. I'm no oil painting at present."

"An oil painting I can do without," Doyle told him, smiling at that endearing display of vanity. His interest caught, he sank down beside Bodie. "But what do you look like? How old are you? What colour is your hair, your eyes? What build are you? Do you realise how little I know of you?" he demanded, realising how many of the details he had always taken for granted were denied him. They had come to assume an immense importance in his mind, reinforcing his feelings of isolation and helplessness.

"Five and twenty, and I am of medium height and build," replied Bodie promptly.

"Five and - Is that all?" Doyle's voice rose with indignation. "From the tales you have been spinning me I thought you must be fifty at least."

"I started young," Bodie explained winningly, but his blue eyes were wary.

Doyle gave a snort of disbelief. "In the cradle, more like. Hellfire, I have a three-year advantage over you but I seem to have wasted an inordinate amount of time if your example is anything to go by."

"There's no immediate cause for concern," Bodie told him comfortably. "You've kept your boyish good looks." If he hoped to divert or distract his companion he failed.

Doyle knelt up opposite him. "It's strange to think I shall never know what you look like. A voice is so little to go by." Reaching out a tentative hand, he stilled the gesture at the last moment, feeling shy at the intimacy of what he proposed.

Bodie drew back. "What do you intend?" His voice was wary in the extreme.

"Hell's teeth. Not what you're panicking about, that's for sure," said Doyle with a delighted gurgle of amusement. The laughter slowly faded from his face. "But I should like to gain some notion of the shape of your face, to judge the symmetry or otherwise of your features, to discover what I may of your appearance." His hand opened. "My fingers will have to act as my eyes - if you have no objection?" he added hesitantly.

Bodie had any number of objections, although he would have been reluctant to voice any of them. He studied Doyle's uncertain face, his expression relaxing as he realised Doyle would never ask this of him again if he was refused now. Besides, he was curious how he would appear to the other man.

"I have no objection," he lied.

Taking Doyle's fingers in his own, Bodie placed them on either side of his face and sat very still, hardly daring to breathe. Try as he might, he could not be entirely matter-of-fact about this. He felt a rush of heat under his skin as the long fingers gently explored him. The feather-light touch drifted over his cheeks, tracing down his nose, spanning it as Doyle judged the proportions of the face. Obedient to the unspoken request, Bodie closed his eyes, his long lashes quivering under the delicate touch. Sitting in the dark, he shivered, feeling vulnerable and exposed as Doyle continued to draw his image with his hands.

The sulky look had vanished from Doyle's face, overtaken by total concentration. His hands curved around Bodie's head; fingers probed the bone before he ran his hands back to trace the contours of the skull, finally coming to rest on the base of the strong neck.

Of necessity they knelt close together, Doyle's breath warm against Bodie's cheek. His light touch both teased and stimulated after so much sensory deprivation and Bodie gave a small gasp of surprise when he felt himself stir.

"I've not hurt you?" Doyle asked in quick concern. He was too engrossed in the image his hands were supplying to think of the effect his actions might be having on flesh starved of touch.

A haunted look in his eyes, Bodie nervously licked dry lips, willing his errant flesh to subside before it could betray him utterly. It had been too long, that was the simple truth of it, but he would not enjoy explaining that to Ray Doyle.

"Of course not. I'm sensitive around the neck, that is all," he said.

"I must remember that," said Doyle lightly, seeking to reduce the intensity of the moment.

Bodie sat motionless as hands cupped his face once more, tracing over his cheeks and beard before they sought out his mouth, which tightened a little. Abruptly Doyle removed his hands.

"Your hair is dark and you have dark - no, dark blue eyes," he guessed, making no reference to the tension he had felt in the muscles over the jaw.

"That's correct," said Bodie, declining to be impressed. "Well, do I pass muster?"

"You were correct, you're no oil painting," Doyle remarked, flippant as he tried to conceal the effect warm skin and the other man's submission were having on him. "But I could paint you, John Brown. You've an interesting face, and one that doesn't care to be read. You also have the strangest eyebrows I have ever encountered."

"My compliments, but they suit me well enough. Are you in the habit of making these kind of examinations?"

Familiar lines of amusement appeared at the edges of the green eyes. "No, I am not. I am considered eccentric enough as it is. Perhaps I should consider taking up face-reading if all else fails?"

"Only as a last resort," retorted Bodie, flicking an affectionate finger at the other man's nose.

Doyle's eyes widened in surprise. "Do that again."

"What?" Uncertain what his companion meant, Bodie stared at him.

Doyle clambered to his feet, then bent to urge Bodie up. "Do it again. Aim for my face."

Feeling foolish, Bodie did so. "Do you mind telling me why?"

"I've been giving a great deal of thought to our situation, and to quitting this place in particular. The odds are not favourable. One man has little hope of success against Pêche and two armed guards, but if we could both fight... No one would expect an attack to come from me. At present the best I could hope to do would be to place a lucky blow. But it may be that I could be taught to fight blind."

"You really believe that's possible?" With no desire to quash the other man's enthusiasm, Bodie tried to keep the doubt from his voice.

"We won't know until we try, will we?" said Doyle with a confidence he was far from feeling. "This is a chance for you to prove your skills as an instructor."

He had already come to the conclusion that they could not sit passively enduring their confinement. It was time they began to channel their energies into some constructive activity. Until his hands had cupped the other man's face he had not appreciated how starved for touch he was, how vulnerable all his senses would be to the insidious pleasure of skin against warm skin. This development of new skills would provide them with an opportunity of ridding themselves of the self-consciousness which was slowly building between them; it might even prove to be useful.

"Feint a punch to my left, would you?" he requested briskly.

Giving an acquiescent shrug, Bodie complied, making no allowances for the other man's lack of sight.

"And again," said Doyle.

Concentrating, he listened out for every small clue he was offered as Bodie moved, feeling the air change around him, hearing the rustle of straw and cloth and trying to understand what these changes in sound signified. The third time Bodie struck out Doyle judged the blow well enough to avoid it, his own fist stopping an inch short of Bodie's ear.

"Not bad," said Bodie with a hard smile of approval, swallowing his surprise at the other man's quick reflexes and obvious ability.

His hands on his hips, Doyle gave him a knowing grin. "Not bad? Try it from the right this time, and be warned, I've a useful right hook."

By the end of the day they were both breathless and tired. By the end of the week, while they were physically fitter and better pleased with their progress, they were exhausted.


Bodie watched with resignation as his partner effortlessly wound the young records clerk around his finger, ensuring her complete co-operation rather than grudging instructions. Half-listening to her explanations and attempts to flirt with an impervious Ray Doyle, he swore under his breath when he saw the retrieval system they would be using and the amount of material they would have to sift through.

"What time do you close?" he asked, trying not to sound hopeful that they wouldn't have time.

"Five-thirty." She spared him only the briefest of glances.

"Then we've got bags of time," said Doyle cheerfully, straightening his face as Bodie glared at him. "Thanks for your help, love. See you later."

As she walked away, Bodie watched the sway of her hips with a reminiscent pleasure. "There should be a law against what you've just done to her," he told his partner severely.

Slipping the first cassette into the reader and putting it on fast forward, Doyle gave him an absent grin. "There is, mate. Did you see her - ?"

" - couldn't miss 'em, sunshine. Very nice." Seating himself at the adjoining machine, Bodie flicked on the power. "Do you miss it?" he asked with idle interest, as he stared at the blank screen, anticipating the boredom to come.

"Miss what?" asked Doyle absently as he scanned the narrow obituary columns.

"Women, and all that embraces."

Doyle spared him a look of surprise. "I hadn't really thought about it," he confessed.

"Think about it."

Doyle gave his altered life style due consideration for a full ten seconds. "No, I don't miss it." There was a high-pitched buzz as he activated the fast forward switch again. "Do you?"

Bodie decided his partner was looking far too sure of himself. "No. Well, sometimes," he admitted, with just the right trace of reluctance.

He had succeeded in gaining the other man's full attention. His eyebrows drawn together in a frown, Doyle stared at him, his eyes darkened by anxiety and doubt.

"You don't pinch my razor to defuzz your legs," Bodie explained, all innocence. He was laughing too much at how easily he had caught Doyle out to dodge his partner's retaliatory punch. Dismissing thoughts of the flippant conversation, Bodie did not notice the new wariness in Doyle's eyes, or his subdued manner.


"I am too told for this kind of exertion," complained Doyle mournfully. He flexed stiffened muscles and discovered new bruises acquired when one or both of them had miscalculated in a practice session.

Their workouts extended for hours now, neither man giving or expecting any quarter. Bodie was an excellent teacher, possessing a patience Doyle had not expected to find and the knack of explaining exactly what he meant. For his own part, Doyle found he was learning some valuable additions to his fighting skills, although undoubtedly some of the holds would have been frowned upon in polite society. But he refused to admit how exhausted the intense concentration and physical exertion left him.

"Nearing your dotage, more like," Bodie told him with a scant lack of sympathy.

Doyle refused to allow himself to be treated as disadvantaged in any way and had inevitably taken some painful falls. Bodie yelped when a calloused hand swatted his rump as he bent to pick up their food. Straightening, he advanced on his cell-mate, who retreated, his face alive with amusement.

"Try that again," Bodie invited, his voice deceptively mild.

"You wouldn't strike a blind man," pleaded Doyle, breathless with laughter as he tried to place where the other man might be.

"Try me," Bodie threatened. He advanced stealthily out of respect for Doyle's improved skills and lightning-fast reflexes before he came an abrupt standstill. "Do you realise this is the first time you've been able to make light of your lack of sight?"

"I know." Doyle's expression changed as he stood in uncertain silence, wishing fiercely that he could see. There were times when it wasn't enough to read what lay behind that deceptively smooth voice and often caustic wit. This was one of them.

"Then we'll say no more about it," said Bodie, prepared to be magnanimous. "Shall we eat? Then you can resign yourself to hearing the next exciting instalment in my life history," he offered rashly, more because he was worried by the expression which had crossed Doyle's face than because he had any desire to exchange personal confidences.

"That will have the value of novelty. You don't rattle on about yourself. What I know of you would fit, with ease, onto the head of a pin."

"So much?" marvelled Bodie.

Sitting cross-legged in the straw, Doyle picked up his bowl, then glanced up. "It isn't my turn for the spoon this week, is it?"

"No, but I decided to cosset you. You're a sloppy eater at the best of times."

"You're a fine one to talk." Taking his first mouthful of food, Doyle became aware of the change in consistency and improved flavour. "The cuisine has taken a turn for the better. This is almost edible."

"Just don't wonder what might have gone into the making of it," Bodie advised him, quietly finishing his own, smaller, portion.

Refusing to concern himself with non-essentials, Doyle contentedly finished his meagre meal. "They must have taken pity on us. That was almost a good-sized portion."

"Now I know you must be sickening for something," said Bodie lightly, willing him to drop the subject.

There was a short, suspicious silence.

"That decides it," said Doyle finally. "When that innocent tone enters your voice I know you have some nefarious scheme in mind." A possible explanation for the increased quantity of his meals over the last few weeks occurred to him and he set down his bowl with a precise click before turning in the direction of his cell-mate.

"I'm familiar with the concept of stealing coins from a blind man's cup, but this is ridiculous. You're supposed to take something from the cup, blockhead, not to bankrupt yourself."

Bodie fidgeted where he sat. "I suppose you have some notion of what you're talking about?"

"Oh, so innocent," mocked Doyle. He glared in Bodie's direction. "How long have you been supplementing my meals with your rations?"

"The idea's nonsensical," bluffed Bodie irritably.

"And I have perfect vision," responded Doyle, equally tart. "I might be blind, but don't treat me as if I were half-witted." Without warning he poked Bodie's ribs. By the time he returned his hands to his lap, he was wearing a ferocious scowl.

"Understand one thing here and now, John. From this moment I take over responsibility for dividing the food."

Bodie closed his mouth on his protest, wondering how he could have supposed his ruse could succeed. "You divide the food," he agreed with unusual docility, adding with suspect meekness, "Do you wish to check the rations we have left?"

The severity of Doyle's expression melted and he gave an admiring grin. "You never admit defeat, do you? You cannot seriously imagine that I am going to eat anything else. I don't care to think how much weight you've lost. You must be starved, you great chucklehead." For all his scolding, his voice was gentle, and a little unsteady. "I have never been given so much, and for that I thank you with all my heart. But don't do it again, I beg you. Leave me a little pride."

He lightly shook his companion by the shoulder, resisting the urge to hug the stubborn figure to him. "Now eat," he commanded.

Bodie took a joyless bite of the piece of hardtack he held, unable to deny his hunger, which had left him feeling increasingly lightheaded over the last few days.

"If you don't cease to harp on about it, I'll leave you in little pieces," he threatened. "We'll have to reduce the frequency and duration of our practice sessions. You're too thin." He choked when Doyle gave his ribs a meaning prod.

"Change the subject, Ray," he pleaded.

Doyle sat back with a thoughtful air. "I shall be glad to do so the moment I have your word of honour that you will not do such a foolish thing again."

Refusing to be dictated to, Bodie sat in a mutinous silence.

"Very well," accepted Doyle, unsurprised. "Then I don't eat until I have your word."

There was a small silence before Bodie gave a hefty sigh. "You would do that, wouldn't you," he said bitterly.

"If that's what's required to make you see sense, of course."

Bodie didn't doubt for one minute that Doyle meant it. "I give you my word," he mumbled, ungracious in surrender. "Now can we change the subject?"

"Of course. You were going to tell me about yourself. Where were you born?"

"You're possessed of the most insatiable curiosity of anyone I've ever had the misfortune to meet. I fail to see why my private affairs should interest you."

"Some people would take that for a set-down," said Doyle wisely.

Bodie gave a faint, audible sigh. "You're obviously not one of them."

"I am very thick-skinned," Doyle explained with sunny good-humour. "Where were you born?"

Bodie conceded defeat. "Lancashire. My family were - are for all I know - engaged in the wool trade."

Surprised by this gratuitous supply of information, Doyle looked suitably horrified as he reeled back where he sat. "Trade. How dreadful," he said primly. "I must consider whether I feel able to continue to acknowledge you as an acquaintance." His concentration lapsed, he had no warning of the light clout he received.

"Buffoon," accused Bodie, trusting he hadn't hit Doyle too hard.

"Barbarian," retorted Doyle pathetically as he rubbed his smarting ear in a manner which instantly reassured his companion. "You took an unfair advantage."

Bodie's expression was thoughtful now. "If you can maintain this rate of improvement I shall need all the advantage I can gain."

Sensing his devious companion's purpose, Doyle refused to be diverted from his original line of questioning. "When did you run away from home?"

"When I was fourteen. I joined a ship at Liverpool, jumped ship as soon as we came into port again." Even after all the years that had passed, the memories of that first year still haunted him.

Doyle unerringly caught the tension in his companion's voice. "That bad?"

"Worse," said Bodie tersely. He still bore the physical scars of that first year at sea and never permitted himself to linger on that portion of his life, pushing it deep into the recesses of his mind, with all the other unhappy memories.

A hand clasped his, offering an undemanding comfort. "Tell me," coaxed Doyle in his most persuasive tone.

Bodie never knew if it was the quiet voice or the expression on that worldly face, but something melted the reserve of a lifetime. Almost against his own volition he began to talk, stumbling awkwardly at first before the story came tumbling out. Some of the memories lost a little of their sting as they saw the light of day for the first time.

His flat delivery offered neither excuses nor embellishments, but it was still too vivid. Doyle could see with aching clarity the stubborn, emotionally-starved child in the man opposite him. As Brown crept out from behind his barriers Doyle came to understand where his cell-mate's almost religious insistence on non-involvement had stemmed from as he read between the lines of what he was told. When the other man threatened to fall silent he would prompt him with a question or murmur of acknowledgement.

Hours later the story had been told right up to the present day. Bodie raised his head, exhausted by the memories he had relived, to stare at the other man, suddenly aware that he had stripped himself naked in front of this man. All he could see of Doyle was his bent head, the long, matted curls shielding his face.

"So now you're acquainted with my entire sordid history. I trust you found it edifying," he said savagely, cringing from how much he had revealed. Fearing Doyle's reaction, he sat awaiting rejection.



Some unfamiliar note in the husky voice made Bodie lift Doyle's face from concealment. The slighter man tensed but made no further attempt to hide. His cheeks were wet with the silent track of his tears. Some hard core of resistance within Bodie dissolved, melted down by the other man's loving concern. His expression softened as he touched a wet cheek with a gentle fingertip.

"For me?" he said, on the verge of disbelief. "A stranger?"

Doyle jerked away. "I have a weakness for children in trouble," he muttered, his voice husky. Furious with himself for getting so deeply involved, he gave his nose a sharp blow on his shirt tail, wiped away the betraying tears with his hands, and glared belligerently in the other man's direction.

"Any children," he added with asperity. "Even you. Like it or not, we're no longer strangers. You may as well accustom yourself to the notion. What happened to your declared policy of non-involvement?" Too late he realised he should have addressed that question to himself. He and John Brown had come a great distance in a short space of time.

Bodie gave no thought to the defeated anger in Doyle's voice, his eyes on the other man's betraying expression.

"It fell by the wayside some time ago," he admitted, his voice quiet. "I don't know why. I have never..." He gave a shrug indicating his sense of helplessness. "We're involved, I accept that. It's foolish, but I feel as if I have always known you, yet we're strangers."

There was genuine bewilderment in his voice, and hesitancy, as if he couldn't bring himself to accept the extent of their commitment to one another. Gentle hands cupped his bewildered face as Doyle sought to read the truths his troubled features could provide. Fingers brushed the lines of tension on his forehead and between his eyes, skimming down his bearded cheeks before one traced his mouth. Bodie kept his lips firmly compressed, denying his instinctive response.

Doyle's hands slid back to cradle his face between warm palms. Staring sightlessly into the deep blue eyes warily locked with his own, he said matter-of-factly, "Strangers or not, you know me, John Brown. You know me better than any other soul, living or dead."

Bodie's already shaky defences crumbled at the understanding in the quiet voice. To his horror he felt his eyes prickle and blinked in denial of any weakness.

"God help me, I do," he whispered in unwilling acknowledgement. A tear nudged the tip of Doyle's finger as Bodie admitted his growing attachment to this paradoxical being. He gave a shuddering sigh, his head sinking wearily onto the other man's shoulder. "I am not accustomed to - I have never needed anyone before. Never wanted to. But I rather think I need you."

Doyle's arms slid around him in an accepting, comforting embrace, a tender, half-amused, wholly loving smile on his face. "Welcome to the human race, John Brown. We all need somebody, even you.

"Even me," he added softly. "Rest now." Keeping his voice to a low murmur, Doyle gentled Bodie until he had relaxed into a light doze, trusting Doyle enough to sleep while he was still held in that undemanding embrace.

As the harsh winter gave way to spring their physical condition improved. But the change of season reinforced awareness of their captivity and lack of amenities. As the weather grew first mild, then positively benign, it brought other changes that both men were reluctant to admit, even to themselves. The fierce cold had sublimated their sexual energies into the basic need to survive. With the change in the weather came a quickening of the blood and insistent demands of healthy young flesh.

Out of habit they still slept in close quarters, but became uncomfortable at the close proximity they shared as awareness of each other's physical presence increased. The nights were soon spent in a miserable, semi-sleepless silence as they lay with rigid correctness, avoiding the most fleeting of contact.

Plagued by desire, by mutual, unspoken agreement they stopped their practice sessions. When that failed to alleviate the problem they took to sleeping apart. From then on relations between them flourished again.

Gradually the days grew hotter and the cell more fetid as Spring gave way to a sweltering Summer.


"I think I've gone off the idea of fishing trips for a while," said Bodie, breaking the dismal silence which had fallen since they'd left the Archive section of the local newspaper office. Sliding behind the driving wheel, he leant over to release the catch of the passenger door. "All sodding afternoon to find one lousy obituary."

Feeling less than cheerful himself, Doyle stood by the open door staring at his partner, feeling a fierce envy for a man long dead. When Bodie glanced up, one eyebrow raised in silent query, Doyle bundled himself into the car and pulled up his jacket collar, as if to ward off the cold. Staring through the fly-blown windscreen, he said, "Two. There were two obituaries."

"How could I have forgotten?" Bodie's voice was heavily ironic. "It was a lovely write-up. Drowned in a summer squall while out on a fishing trip. Great way to go, that is." His mouth snapped shut as he drew a steadying breath, disconcerted by his over-reaction. He knew he was identifying too closely with men long dead.

Doyle slid further down in his seat, scowling to disguise his true feelings. "It's probably a better death than we can expect."

"There's no good way to die."

"Maybe not, but there's ways of making each day count. The obituary said they'd been living down here for over thirty years - together. Can you see us staying alive that long?" There was a bitter note in Doyle's voice.

The car took off with a vicious turn of speed, leaving the small town behind. Driving with meticulous skill, but at too fast a pace for the narrow, winding lanes, Bodie made no reply.

Barely saving himself from going through the windscreen Doyle turned angrily. Recognising the lack of expression in his partner's cold face, he closed his mouth, gave a resigned sigh and settled back in the seat, his fingers locked over the hand grip above the door. After a few minutes, during which their speed had only increased, he said, "No, Ray, I can't see us living that long either. Particularly not while I'm driving like a lunatic."

"I know what I'm doing," Bodie insisted irritably, but he slowed the car.

"Sure. Where are we heading for then?"

"I was afraid you'd ask me that," Bodie confessed, having begun to wonder if he had missed the turning. The car was purring along at a sedate thirty-five miles per hour by this time. "We've found out how long they were together," he added into the silence. "Now we know how they died, let's quit while we're ahead. They're dead and buried."

His expression bleak, Doyle didn't look up. "If that's what you want."

Bodie didn't answer.

The car turned left down a concealed turning, following the narrow track. Shrubs and trees arched over them, cutting out the early evening light; foliage brushed the sides of the car at times.

"Why have we come down this track?" Doyle inquired, roused from his abstraction by the loss of light. He could see nothing but vegetation.

The track widened, sweeping them onto a semi-circular gravelled driveway. Avoiding the pot-holes, Bodie drew the car up in front of the rambling house that was spread along the cliff edge. What the building lacked in architectural elegance it made up for in character.

"Very nice," murmured Doyle ironically, eyeing it with disbelief. "What time do they let the bats out around here? They're all this place needs."

Bodie had been looking doubtful himself, but naturally covered the fact in the face of his partner's scorn.

"We want a bed for the night, don't we? And I don't known about you, but I'm starving. Cream teas are all very well but I'm a growing lad. This is a hotel, Ray."

Doyle gave him a look of the deepest suspicion. "You could have fooled me. Are you having one of your funny turns again? This place is a dump."

"Not inside it isn't," Bodie reassured him with supreme confidence.

Doyle contented himself with giving Bodie a speaking look.

"Well one of us had to get organised and I knew there was no point expecting that from you so I asked Lyn where the best hotel was around here. This is the only one out of the list she gave me that we can afford, but apparently it got a good write-up in the Good Food Guide."

Propping himself against the side of the car, Doyle tucked his hands in his jacket pockets and shivered. The wind was coming in off the sea as the tide came in and the tangy air had an edge to it. It had been a depressing afternoon; he had the feeling the evening was going to be worse.

"Since when have you cared about good food?" he asked with disbelief. "All you expect is quantity."

"No need to be like that, mate." Bodie hoisted his overnight bag out of the boot; it was stuffed to over-capacity with the extra clothes they'd bought to tide them over their unexpected holiday. He slung Doyle's to him over the roof of the car.

Doyle caught it on automatic reflex, grunting at the unexpected weight. Padding up the short flight of steps to the imposing front entrance, he paused at the massive door, his expression sombre.

"Do you really want to pack up the idea of doing any more research into what our nineteenth century namesakes got up to?"

Pushing the door open, and ignoring the sense of familiarity which swept over him, Bodie held his partner's gaze. "Yes." He saw the disappointment which swept across Doyle's face and smoothly changed tack, ignoring the instinct which said to back off fast. "Of course, if you felt like trying to talk me round using what you claim is your incredible charm, over a decent meal with a little wine, before you have your wicked way with me..." There was a small flame of arousal in the back of his eyes. "Well, let's just say I'm open to persuasion."

They were alone in the small dark lobby.

"Is that a fact?" mused Doyle, an appreciative grin forming as he gave his companion the once-over. His free hand slid down to cup a firm buttock, stroking it gently. "I'll consider it." He felt the muscle twitch in response to his touch.

As Bodie turned, an admonishing look on his face, Doyle gave him a swift, hard pinch, his expression innocence personified. Barely stifling his yelp of surprise, Bodie went through the swing doors into the reception area faster than he had anticipated.

"You're going to regret that," he promised Doyle in his silkiest tone.

"Maybe, maybe not." Doyle loped after him across the wide lobby to the desk. "It's your fault for having such a gorgeous - "

"Evening," cut in Bodie pleasantly to the young and very attractive receptionist. "We'd like two rooms for a couple of nights, please."

"Rooms?" Doyle fell into a chastened silence under a basilisk glare from his partner.

"You'll have to excuse my companion. He's such a cheapskate."

"I'm sorry, sir, but all the available rooms are already taken," the receptionist told Bodie.

He leant confidingly forward onto the counter, weight taken on his folded arms. "Nothing left at all?"

Doyle barely subdued a groan when he heard the seductive note in his partner's voice and saw Bodie's gaze slide with unabashed appreciation down her neat figure before his attention returned to her face.

"There is one suite that's free," she offered, responding to the sultry look in those wonderful eyes despite herself. "But it's in the old wing that the staff use and we decided not to open it to the public this season. It's in dire need of modernisation. The plumbing," she explained succinctly.

"Ah," said Doyle, trying to sound knowledgeable.

Bodie just smiled, his gaze lingering on her full mouth.

"It has a bathroom en suite, of course, but it's rather old. And as it was originally the master bedroom of an old house I'm afraid there's only a double bed, although it is a big one."

Bodie gave a resigned shrug. "Right now we'd take anything that's going. My partner and I are dog-tired. It's been a long, hard week. The room sounds fine and it won't be the first time we've shared a bed, will it, Ray?"

Obedient to the nudge in his ribs, Doyle shook his head. Leaning forward next to Bodie, he treated the receptionist to his most wistful smile. "We're really knackered," he said with a touch of pathos.

Bodie's side-on look told him that he might have over-played that one.

"Well, if you're sure you don't mind," she capitulated, although she still looked doubtful. "Luckily everything in the room's in order. We only decided not to use it last night. If you need anything, just ring across on the internal phone. But I'm afraid I'll have to charge the usual rates."

"That's OK," said Bodie with cheerful unconcern as he glanced at her scribbled calculations. "He's paying." He jerked a gleeful thumb in Doyle's direction.

Doyle swallowed his protest. "Very reasonable," he agreed on hearing the rates. His smile changed to a threatening grimace at Bodie the moment the receptionist turned away to get the key.

"If you could just sign the register, Mr - "

"Doyle. Ray Doyle."

Scrawling out the required details, he listened doubtfully to her directions. "Tell you what, if we're not down for dinner, send out a search-party because we'll be lost. Don't worry, we'll find our way. Short-staffed, are you?"

She gave a rueful shrug. "And then some. The trouble is, all we can offer is long hours and too little pay. Are you sure you don't want any help with your bags?"

Doyle leant forward confidingly. "I know he's on the puny side but I'll help him up the stairs. He's marvellous for his age, really."

"Oh, I believe you Mr Doyle. You're not wearing so badly yourself." Her professional smile embraced them both before she turned away to get back to work, having quite clearly forgotten their existence.

Bodie dragged Doyle off in the direction of the first flight of stairs. "Come on, sunshine, it's way past your bedtime."

"You owe me sixty-four quid," Doyle informed him with ominous clarity as they strolled along a short passageway to the next flight. "For double that I expect to buy the place."

Bodie gave him a soulful look. "Aren't I worth the price?"

Doyle paused at the top of the stairs to give him an assessing look from cropped crown and back again, lingering on the way down. "I don't know," he said finally, his eyes dark with desire. "I'll let you know."

The stairs too public a venue, he started up the next flight of steps.

Bodie tried to ignore the provocation of the rump swaying in front of him, but was tantalised by the way the soft denim hugged the under cheek of Ray's arse almost as closely as he planned to later. "What do you mean you'll let me know?"

"Well, you are planning to pay me in kind, aren't you?" Doyle gave him a hopeful look.

Bodie gave a lecherous grin. "Try and stop me. Hey, why have we started to go downstairs all of a sudden? I thought you knew the way," he accused.

"So did I," muttered Doyle, disconcerted to realise he had been moving by instinct alone. "Have faith. Come on, round this way."

Flinging open the door he had unlocked, he gave a choke of laughter before he dissolved completely. "I don't believe it," he exclaimed, dropping his bag as he wandered around. "This place is fantastic. Look at it, straight out of Hammer Horror via Fawlty Towers."

The room was immense, dark-panelled, with shadowy corners and alcoves; the general tone was that of heavy, Victorian splendour, although some of the worm-scored pieces of furniture were clearly far older. Logs were stacked in the large fireplace, needing only to have a match set to them. Threatening to dwarf everything else was a vast four-poster bed.

"You could hold an orgy in that bed and still have room to spare," remarked Bodie in awe, having walked around it as far as he was able.

Doyle's arms slid around Bodie's flanks to draw him back against him. "I plan to," he whispered. His tongue tip traced the outline of one neat-set ear.

"What, just the pair of us?"

"We'll be enough," Doyle promised him.

A warm mouth found the nape of Bodie's neck, a moist tongue teasing the tender skin. Skilful fingers slipped around, seeking to unfasten his flies. Bodie caught hold of the wayward hands.

"Not now," he said with as much conviction as he could manage in the circumstances. "I'm hungry."

"So am I," confessed Doyle, his voice muffled against Bodie's throat as he explored further.

"And I want a shower," Bodie added, ignoring the effect Doyle's mouth was having on him.

Pressing himself against the length of the muscular back, Doyle rotated his hips suggestively; his arousal was obvious.

"Before dinner," insisted Bodie, abruptly freeing himself from the other man's embrace.

"What's the matter?" asked Doyle quietly. His expression changed when he saw Bodie's face. He felt somehow excluded.

Bodie shook his head in reassurance and brushed a hand down Doyle's flank before he went to pick up his over-night bag and headed for the bathroom. "Not a thing," he said lightly. "I'm just hungry, that's all."

Watching the door close behind the other man, Doyle stared at the threadbare carpet and wondered why Bodie had felt it necessary to lie to him.


Doyle lay curled on his side with his back to his cell-mate's unmoving form, silently cursing the demands of his recalcitrant flesh.

"Enforced abstinence has little to recommend it, don't you agree?" Bodie's calm voice drifted into the tense silence.

Doyle tensed, uncertain where this conversation might be leading.

"But I've never resorted to rape in my life. I have no intention of breaking that habit now with you," Bodie added, a trace of humour evident in his cool voice.

"I never supposed that you would," said Doyle, startled into speech. This was one hell of a personal conversation for a man who avoided them with dedication.

"Equally I have no intention of being raped," continued Bodie.

Doyle sat bolt upright, mouth parted as he faced the spot where Brown lay. "What - ?"

"You have a right hand, make use of it," snapped Bodie with a sudden, rough impatience. "Another night such as this and we'll both turn into gibbering lunatics. Don't be so damn missish."

"Nonsense," protested Doyle weakly, too stunned by the unexpected turn the conversation had taken to think of a more convincing rebuttal.

Bodie gave him a look of disbelief. "Have it your own way, but forgive me if I seek some privacy." Rising to his feet, he moved to the far corner, valiantly trying not to notice the increased stench from the privy.

Desperately embarrassed but thankful that his inconvenient erection had subsided, Doyle tried to close his ears to any sound his companion might make.

There was complete silence, to the point where he could hear his own stomach rumble.

Struck by the ludicrous situation they found themselves in, he began to laugh, quietly at first until the momentum grew and he was giggling uncontrollably, curled in an aching ball. Finally rolling onto his back, Doyle gave a prolonged, sensuous stretch of sheer well-being, scratched briefly, then craned his head in the direction he knew Brown to be occupying.

"I believed, mistakenly it would seem, that it was a problem I was successfully concealing," he said finally.

"No," said Bodie with restraint. "Unless it's usual for you to behave like a bear with a sore... head?"

"Are you plagued by dreams, too?"

"Of course, but I shall share my fantasies only when I have been regaled with yours. I'm beginning to believe I have forgotten what it is like to copulate," he added wistfully.

Doyle propped himself against the wall. "I knew you lacked imagination, but I didn't realise you suffered from a failing memory too. The stench down that end must be appalling. Come back here. I'll try to contain my ungovernable lust for your undeniably desirable body."

"It isn't your reaction which concerns me," Bodie retorted, making a joke from the truth.

The close proximity of the other man took Doyle by surprise; he had not heard Brown move.

Bodie studied Doyle through heavy-lidded eyes. He would have great pleasure in assuaging his dragging physical need for relief with Ray Doyle. That wiry, lithe body and exotic face had come to seem very attractive over the months but he would do nothing until he was certain that such a course of action would not adversely affect their friendship. He wouldn't risk that. As he was unsure of Doyle's reaction, he chose to sleep alone.

"I have never bedded a man," Doyle told him, his face thoughtful, as if he was considering the idea.

Bodie's cock twitched. "It has its merits," he informed Doyle, answering the unasked question.

"I'm sure it does. I can also foresee a number of problems." Doyle moved over to make room for Bodie to lie beside him.

"So can I," Bodie admitted. "That's why I choose to sleep alone."

A brief smile lit Doyle's face at the arrogance which prevented Brown from doubting his powers of persuasion. "I would be more flattered were it not for the fact your choice is somewhat restricted at present," he said dryly.

There was a long pause.

"I doubt my choice would be much different," said Bodie with deliberation.

Doyle caught hold of Brown's arm, knowing the other man rarely spoke without first considering what he said. "Then perhaps I should reconsider. There are few problems that are not capable of solution."

Resolute, Bodie looked away from the unconscious invitation of the well-defined mouth, his senses stroked by that velvet-soft voice.

"Perhaps you should," he agreed, keeping his voice light only with great effort. "Be sure to let me know what you decide. But be equally sure you know what you're agreeing to."

"Are you lecturing me?" demanded Doyle with amused disbelief.

"Yes, I am. You're too soft-hearted for your own well-being. Be certain that when you decide, your decision accords only with your own wishes."

"Oh, I will," Doyle promised him softly, a small, amused smile quirking his mouth. "I'm already certain you'll be the first to learn of my decision."

"Good," said Bodie, content for the moment with that. It was more than he had hoped for.

He stiffened in surprise when Doyle drew closer to relax against him, his head resting comfortably in the crook of his shoulder. Wriggling until he was completely comfortable, Doyle gave a contented sigh.

"There must be others afflicted with your overwhelming conceit," he informed Bodie in sleepy amusement. "I simply haven't had the misfortune to meet them."

"Go to sleep and cease babbling," instructed Bodie, a wide smile on his face as he slung a protective arm around the other man.

The damp, even breath against his neck soon told him that, for once, Doyle had obeyed him. His own position was not particularly comfortable, but Bodie elected to remain where he was because he was reluctant to disturb the sleeping man.

"Kitty has a superb chef," said Doyle dreamily, ignoring the bowl of gruel on the floor next to him. The intense heat had stolen his appetite. "He has a way with fish that - "

"Say one more word," threatened Bodie as he worked through his own portion while trying not to gag at the foul taste, which was even worse than its smell. "If I have to support one more menu I shall probably throw a fit of the vapours."

"Really? Could you?" Doyle asked with interest.

"I don't propose to put it to the test. Eat up," instructed Bodie briskly. "You can continue working to improve my grasp of the French language afterwards. I must be making some progress after all this time."

"Not that you would notice," said Doyle with a melancholy sigh. He had accepted a while back that Brown had no aptitude for languages. "How you contrive to massacre any tongue so atrociously is beyond my comprehension.

"Years of unrelenting endeavour," Bodie informed him with cheerful unconcern.

"I have no wish to be further edified with tales of your exploits in - or out - of the bedchamber," Doyle told him with would-be severity.

Bodie's expression was all bland innocence. "Would I lie?"

"Would you - " Words, almost, failed Doyle. Pausing only to draw a deep breath, he began to enumerate the various occasions on which he had discovered his companion to be less than honest.

"So I exaggerate a little," said Bodie, when the other man had to pause to take in air.

His face lit with amusement, Doyle surrendered. "Let us just agree that you're a congenital liar. Lord, but it's hot." He re-tied his super-abundance of hair with a ragged strip of cotton torn from his shirt before he listlessly sat back against the wall, welcoming the chill of the stone.

"We should renew our attempts to loosen the window bars," he informed Bodie with a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm.

After several weeks of endeavour they had succeeded in removing very little of the mortar in which the sturdy bars were encased. Neither of them chose to consider what help clearing the window would be to their escape plans, for its dimensions were too small for either of them to be able to escape through it, quite apart from the fact it opened onto an inner courtyard which was always bustling with troops.

Bodie looked pensive. "It's a pity you couldn't have remembered that before you ate. You're no light-weight at the best of times."

"Rest easy. I haven't eaten yet," Doyle told him sunnily, enjoying the other man's exasperated sigh.

Balked, Bodie gave a despairing groan and rose resignedly to his feet. He flexed his sore shoulder muscles, that were still protesting from the burden of Doyle's weight the day before.

"Alternatively, it's time I took my turn as a prop," said Doyle.

There was a disconcerted silence during which Doyle struggled to keep his face straight. While Brown would deny it vehemently, he was more protective of his cell-mate's well-being than a hen with one chick. He persevered with his attempts to make the other man accept how nonsensical his attitude was. So far to little effect.

"You lack the necessary inches," Bodie pointed out, grasping at straws.

"All one inch by my reckoning," Doyle returned, his voice dry. "Is that the best objection you can find? Stop mollycoddling me. And don't seek to deny it. I might be blind but I am not half-witted."

Bodie glared at him in impotent frustration, irritated at having been caught out. "Very well," he said gruffly, seeing the other man's determination, "but if you drop me..."

"Save your energy for the bars," Doyle advised him. He offered his cupped hands as a step.

Bodie stared at him with ill-concealed reluctance. "We could always resume our attempt tomorrow," he prevaricated.

Doyle raised his head to glare at him. With a sigh of defeat Bodie clambered up onto his companion's lean back.

Bearing what was fast coming to seem an unendurable weight, Doyle was unconscious of the moment when the cell door was opened. Bodie having been distracted from his task by a glimpse of what could only have been a petticoat, he was oblivious to his surroundings as he strained to see out at a right-angle in the direction the elusive female had gone in.

The first indication that either man had that they were not alone was when the butt of a musket caught Doyle in the kidneys. The blow slammed him, choking with pain, against the wall, sending Bodie tumbling to the ground. Training enabled Bodie to make a swift recovery and he turned, eager to test his skills. The three well-fed and bored guards proved to be both fit and able fighters.

Unable to stand straight, his lower back feeling as if it was on fire, Doyle knew himself to have been forgotten as the guards vented their spleen on Bodie, who had proved to be more difficult to subdue than they had anticipated. Held by two men, the third was systematically beating him.

Controlling the rage which flooded through him, Doyle concentrated, determined to waste none of his element of surprise. As he moved into the attack, one startled guard found himself being wrenched away, his arm twisted to the edge of agony as he was thrown cross-buttock to lie in a stunned heap.

For all Doyle's initial success, he soon discovered that the practice sessions with his cell-mate had been a very different matter from hand to hand combat with strangers intent on injury. But he had a few tricks of his own and had been taught to channel anger to his advantage. That, combined with his element of surprise, gave him the edge until a chance blow caught him on his already bruised kidneys.

He moved before he was fully conscious and instantly regretted it. His first thought, verging on panic, was that he couldn't see. Then memory returned and Doyle gave a choked sound that was caught between a laugh and a groan. The movement brought a wave of stabbing pain in his back which only slowly assumed bearable proportions.

"I was beginning to believe you would never recover consciousness," said Bodie roughly in an attempt to conceal his concern.

His voice came from the other side of the cell and there was a note in it which worried Doyle. "Brown? Are you - Damn!" There was a painful silence as he fought for breath after moving too quickly.


Bodie pulled uselessly at the ropes which bound him wrist to ankle, and drew the cords even tighter. His face in the straw, he tried to wriggle on his belly to where Doyle lay.

"It's nothing," said Doyle in quick reassurance. "Merely bruising. I must be more out of condition than I had supposed. I believe we should resume our practice sessions. I am sadly slow, unless you have been over-protective of me all this time." He frowned. "I didn't strike you in error, did I?"

Bodie came to a painful halt, near to laughter for all his discomfort. "Not as far as I am aware. It became a little crowded on the floor at one point. If it's any consolation, one of the guards was limping when he left and another was sporting the beginnings of a beautiful shiner."

Doyle gave a disgruntled snort. "If this is victory, I should hate to meet the losers. Your voice sounds odd. What's amiss?"

Bodie could not have moved another inch to save his life. "They left me bound. If you could..."

"Where - ? Ah, yes. I have you." Doyle quickly discovered it was possible to move if the inducement was strong enough.

His hands brushing the prone body, it took him a moment to visualise the other man's position. He found the locked muscles in the shoulders and legs where Brown lay on his belly, his body arched in a crude bow enforced by the constraint of the ropes which bound him.

"The pox-ridden bastards. I hope I de-balled one of them," Doyle muttered in fury as he struggled with the knots. He knew from his companion's unnatural silence that each clumsy movement jarred the cramped muscles even more. Sweating with tension, he tried to gain a purchase on the knots.

He lost all awareness of time as he struggled with them, cursing his inability to see and the guards with equal fervour. When he eventually managed to free the central knot Bodie gave a groan of relief as his arms were released from the strain they had been under. Busy with other ropes fastening ankles and legs, Doyle wasn't immediately aware of the effort the other man was making to remain still as the circulation thudded back into his swollen, purple hands.

Having disposed of the final rope, Doyle rested one arm lightly across Bodie's shoulders. "We must present a sorry picture at present." He became aware of the tremors rippling through the other man and belatedly realised that he was shivering with the pain caused by his returning circulation.

"The bastards."

His face taut with rage, Doyle began gently to rub at the swollen hands. Avoiding the torn wrists, he tried to ease the other man's agony as best he could, while wondering how long Brown had been trussed up in that manner. Sweat was soaking through Brown's shirt and tremors still shook his body. It hurt to be powerless to help him. He brushed a rivulet of sweat from Brown's eyes, his hand lingering in a faint caress.

"Save your English phlegm," he reminded his companion, trying to inject some humour in an otherwise humourless situation. "Yell if it helps."

"It doesn't," said Bodie wearily as he rested his head on Doyle's shoulder. Fingers massaged the nape of his neck.

"I knew there was a sound reason for my preferring to keep my feet on the ground," said Bodie with a drowsy pleasure. "This must be it. That feels so good."

"Good. How is the pain?"

"Easing." Raising his head, Bodie took his first good look at his companion and winced. "You look terrible."

"I have no reason to doubt you. I feel it. Come, let's rest. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow might bring. Did the guards see you at the window, do you suppose?"

There was a guilty silence.

"Brown? You were supposed to be attempting to free one of those bars. What were you occupied in doing?"

"I did work on them, but then I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of a petticoat. I leant out to try and get a better view," said Bodie defensively.

Doyle glared impotently past the other man's left shoulder. "Are you telling me that while I was hoisting your weight on my back you were ogling some chit of a girl?"

"Yes," said Bodie, using honesty because that was all that would serve.

"Of all the devious, ungrateful - "

Staring in that infuriated face, Bodie couldn't resist the temptation to disconcert that righteous fury. He silenced his cell-mate's diatribe with a gentle kiss.

Making a sharp sound of surprise, Doyle's mouth remained closed. Palms flat against Bodie's chest, he made as if to push him away.

Cradling Doyle's face between his hands, Bodie persevered, offering all the conflicting emotions that Ray Doyle aroused in him with the deepening caress. His mouth cajoled rather than demanded, his tongue teasing the beautiful lips to part for him. Doyle's tentative response slowly gained in confidence, his mouth firming, tongue touching the other man's as his hands slid around the broad back. By the time they drew apart Doyle's expression was a mixture of bemused speculation and arousal.

"Well, that's certainly one method of silencing an adversary," he said. His arms still around the other man, he was untroubled by his own stirring flesh, or the fact the other man had provoked such a physical and emotional response in him.

Bewilderment on his face, Bodie continued to stare at him, mute. What had been intended as a jest, mingled with ever-present desire, threatened to turn into something he had never intended or sought. He released Doyle firmly but without haste and took a couple of steps away from him.

"I apologise," he said with great formality. "It was an ill-conceived jest that got out of hand."

Propped indolently against the wall, Doyle's head tilted in silent query. He recognised tenderness when it was offered to him. It was that, not the lick of desire which had raced between them which had startled him so. The tension in the other man's voice made him refrain from posing the question which Brown clearly had no intention of facing up to, never mind answering. There would be time, probably far too much time, in which to examine his own feelings and then pose his own questions.

"Not so ill-conceived, John Brown. But not perhaps something we should make a habit of. You need a shave."

Bodie gave a forced laugh, his relief apparent. "I certainly need something."

An impish grin dissolved the pensive look from Doyle's face. "I had noticed."

Bodie flushed for the first time in many years and remained silent, unable to think of a single retort.

Much to their surprise there were no further reprisals of a serious nature. The guards had obviously reported the incident but beyond their ration of food being cut no mention was made of what had occurred. But Pêche came to the cell more often, the report obviously stirring his curiosity as to how the two men dealt with one another. He paid no personal calls, choosing rather to watch them through the grille of the cell door. By unspoken agreement Bodie and Doyle were careful to give no hint of the extent of their friendship lest they be parted. It was safer that Pêche believe they shared the cell in a state of armed neutrality.


Maurice looked up unenthusiastically as the three men trooped into his lounge. Looming over him, they nodded before sinking in silent unison onto the leather settee. He glared at his brother-in-law.

"I thought you said they'd be inconspicuous," he accused. "They stick out like sore bloody thumbs. I've got to live here, you know."

Jack Hodge stretched out his legs, for the first time feeling at ease amongst the marble-topped tables and gilt-edged mirrors.

"Shut up, Morrie. We'll be gone before you know it. All right, Dave. What have you got for me on Ray Doyle?"

"Alec and Ken did a bit of double-checking. It seems Doyle left the Force to move onto better things. Word is he's been with CI5 for nearly eight years now." Dave nodded when the older man gave a silent whistle of surprise.

"That's right, CI5. It's none of my business, Jack, but does Mr C. know what we're running into? We're not equipped to deal with that mob."

"Listen, my son, we ain't gonna tangle with them. This is strictly personal. Besides, can you see that lot giving a monkeys? Course not. They ain't gonna know who it was. There must be a whole queue of people with a score to settle with Doyle by this time, and CI5 aren't best loved. Morrie here established that Doyle's booked into the Shambolt's Cove Hotel, master suite, old wing. Why don't you pay him an early morning call? It's a simple job. Just get him into the boot of the car and away you go, no messing. Not yet anyway," added Hodge with grim satisfaction. "I intend to be there when Doyle gets his."

Sinking further down into his armchair, drawing furiously on his unlit pipe, Maurice tried to look inconspicuous as he wished himself a million miles away. But he couldn't help listening with a horrified fascination as the fine details were worked out.


When their full ration of food was restored to them they gorged themselves.

They stirred to consciousness to find Pêche standing between them.

As he tried to clamber to his feet Bodie realised with a sick self-contempt that their meal must have been doctored with some opiate. It was an effort to keep his eyes open. He propped himself against the wall for support, still swaying, a knot of apprehension gripping him when he saw the expression in the gaoler's eyes as he stared at Doyle. Still sprawled in the straw, Doyle was barely conscious.

"What do you want?" Bodie asked thickly, finding speech and any kind of concentration difficult.

"Prisoner 987, you will accompany me now," Pêche ordered.

Doyle struggled to get to his feet, only to subside as his legs failed him.

"He won't," contradicted Bodie, his expression grim as he tried to go to the other man. His body betrayed him.

The guards restrained him effortlessly; manhandling him against the wall, they chained him there, spread-eagled and helpless.

Doyle staggered to his feet and nearly lost his balance as he tried to rush forward when he heard the impact of fists against flesh.

"Don't," he cried out instinctively.

"Ray, be quiet. You - "

There was the sound of another blow, a gasp and Brown's voice was cut off.

"The pair of you have said enough," said Pêche unemotionally. "He has been sufficiently punished," he told the now panting guards. The taller guard landed one final blow, which made Bodie cry out.

Pêche easily evaded the blow Doyle attempted to land, for the smaller man lacked any co-ordination. Restraining him in an arm-lock, the gaoler gave him an admonishing cuff that made his ears ring.

"You have both courage and great stupidity. What do you imagine you can achieve while you can't stand unassisted? Extend your hands."

Unable to stop yawning, Doyle had no choice but to obey. He felt the heavy draw of manacles shackling his hands a few inches apart but refused to surrender to the fear growing in him.

"May I know where I am to be taken?" He kept his tone courteous in the hope that he might obtain an answer for the benefit of his listening cell-mate. The wary note in the gaoler's voice suggested that the moment he had dreaded since his arrest had arrived.

"You are to be questioned by officers from the Ministry of Justice. I know no more than that." Pêche's own apprehension was clear. "Come, they are waiting."

Bodie wanted desperately to speak but the words refused to form. He was afraid what he might blurt out in his agony of fear for Doyle's safety. Unobtrusively he exerted all his strength against the chains which held him but succeeded only in awakening all the small hurts he had accumulated from this new beating.

With the assistance of a rough hand under each elbow Doyle paused at the top of the stairs, looking down to where he judged Brown to be.

"Well, one thing's for certain, I won't be likely to startle you on my return wearing this finery. Have a care." He was pushed out through the door before he could say more.

Bodie glared up the stairway, his expression murderous as he saw the gaoler staring at him. Unperturbed, Pêche scratched his head and gaze a lazy smile.

"Of course, he may not be capable of walking by the time he returns. If he returns," he added with soft-voiced malice. "Sleep well, monsieur."

It was one of the longest nights of Bodie's life.

Paul Degas took one disgusted look at the prisoner who had been presented to him for questioning and waved the man away, his lace handkerchief held fastidiously to his nose.

"He's an offence to the nostrils. Return him when he ceases to be so."

Aggrieved, Pêche spared the bewigged figure a protesting glance. "But monsieur, we have no facilities for bathing - "

"Then contrive some, man. And quickly. I grow faint from the stench of this place."

Doyle was bundled out of the room as quickly as he had been pushed into it, a beatific smile on his face.

An hour later, bathed and roughly shaved by a sulky guard, and reclothed in a clean shirt and trousers, Doyle felt ready to face anyone.

Conversation ceased as he re-entered the small, humid chamber that was pungent with the perfume of the men waiting to question him.

"That's better," said Degas with approval. "You may go. Leave two guards outside."

Doyle heard the door close behind Pêche and stared expressionlessly in the direction he judged his interrogators to be sitting. He knew there were three men, one, if his laboured breathing was any indication, in poor health. His expression schooled, he waited patiently for the interrogation to begin.

"And now, Monsieur Doyle, we have a few questions to put to you. I would advise you to be careful in the answers you supply."

"Deal with us honestly and you will have nothing to fear," a second, older voice told him with patent insincerity, his breath wheezing.

The third man said nothing then or throughout the time Doyle spent in that room. But from whispered, half-audible fragments of conversation, and once, the scratching of a quill on paper and the new, seemingly inconsequential turn the questions took thereafter Doyle knew it was this third man and not Degas who controlled the interrogation which was inexorably pointing to his likely fate.


A towel knotted precariously around narrow flanks, his head buried in another as he vigorously dried his hair, Doyle ambled to the half-open door of the bathroom. The bedroom was in darkness except for the dim light provided by a standard lamp and the flames of the log fire. He propped himself against the door jamb in self-conscious invitation.

"Well, having promised me this night of wild and passionate love, I hope you're ready to cough up the goods because here I am, clean and ready for anything."

He knew he was being less than honest. He would have been quite happy to be called off-duty and placed on a twenty-four hour surveillance right now, preferably solo. Over dinner their light-hearted mood had evaporated, changing to a politeness which had never existed between them before, even in the early days of their teaming. Bodie's mocking question of this afternoon had rankled, raising all kinds of doubts about the durability of their relationship; doubts that had grown increasingly persistent over the last few months. They might work well together and their sex-life was terrific but he wanted more - only he didn't know what.

Proof of commitment? Fat chance. Bodie's cheerful acceptance of the weeks they had spent apart, the expression in his eyes as they followed their pretty young waitress around the dining room and the growing silence between them over the weeks had done nothing to reassure him that commitment was something his partner had even thought about.

He called out to the motionless figure on the bed. Receiving no reply, he discarded the towel he had been using and stalked across the room to stare at the relaxed figure.

"You can't have fallen asleep on me," he accused, fleeting indignation mixed with relief; anger stirring that he should feel either emotion.

Bodie didn't move. The only sounds in the room were those of the crackling logs, the groaning of the antique plumbing behind the wainscoting, and the soft breathing of the sleeping man. Bodie lay sprawled on his back; one knee crooked, the covers were twisted around his hips, an arm thrown above his head.

"I don't believe it." Doyle leant over him, prepared to wake the sleeper in no uncertain terms. But after a glance at the defenceless face he couldn't bring himself to do it.

Asleep, Bodie looked impossibly young and deceptively vulnerable. His cynical expression smoothed away, the mocking gaze was hidden by the long, dark lashes that fanned his exhausted face. He needed a shave. Studying him, Doyle knew himself to be lost, love for this complex, multi-faceted man stealing through him anew. He experienced a twist of pain, wondering how much longer they could hope to share between the exigencies of the job and their own natures.

Doyle had abandoned his attempts to analyse why it should be Bodie to whom he should have lost his independence; exasperating, wilful, fiercely-independent Bodie. It had never happened to him before; not with Ann, not with anyone. There were times when he resented it fiercely, wishing he could turn back the clock and return to the uncomplicated partnership they had shared.

But had it ever been uncomplicated?

Doyle sank onto the edge of the bed to consider that. He'd never given himself easily to anyone. He still couldn't place the moment when he had looked at this powerful, masculine body and wanted it with a hunger which had shocked him with its intensity. Forced to admit the scope of his love, he had known how completely he was committed to Bodie, whether he liked it or not. Yet most of the time Bodie didn't seem to need anyone, least of all one very confused ex-copper.

Why Bodie? wondered Doyle as he stared broodingly at the sleeping figure. Then anger drained away as he remembered the naked tenderness that had overtaken Bodie's face this morning, and the love that had enfolded him. His flesh twitched with the memory.

"Damn it," he whispered, both to his inconvenient erection and his sleeping partner.

Bodie gave an incoherent murmur and rolled onto his stomach, hugging the pillow to him. Padding around the bed, the towel dropping unnoticed to the floor, Doyle slid into bed beside him, sinking into the soft feather mattress which slid them together in the centre of the bed. Bodie mumbled something, nestling unquestioningly against the familiar warmth offered to him. His stubbled chin grazed Doyle's bare shoulder, one arm resting heavily across Doyle's flat belly, virtually pinning him in place. Doyle felt his toes curl, Bodie's warmth and scent and the sleeping weight of him lighting every sense he possessed.

"Damn you, wake up," he muttered irritably, pricked by desire.

His hand swept down the smooth, muscled back to come to rest over one beautiful buttock. Squeezing it, Doyle pushed back the covers, devouring Bodie's naked length with his eyes. His touch and the cool air brought Bodie back to consciousness with a muffled query.

"Morning," he mumbled, without opening his eyes. He felt too comfortable to want to begin another of the meaningless, petty arguments that had become so common between them recently.

"It's not bloody night-time yet, mate," snapped Doyle.

"Oh. Sorry." Becoming aware of the tension in the body under his hand, Bodie began an idle exploration, brushing crisp, pubic curls before finding the semi-tumescent cock.

"Ah. Been on the boil for long?" he inquired, divining the source of his partner's ill-humour with no difficulty. Fingers grasped his wrist and Bodie obediently stilled his gentle pulling, determined that he wouldn't lose his own temper.

Doyle's grip didn't ease. "You complacent bastard," he snapped.

There was a surge of movement and Bodie found himself pinned under his partner's not inconsiderable weight. His head was taken in a vice-like grip as Doyle's mouth ground against his, teeth bruising. For a split second the instinct to retaliate flared before Bodie controlled it when he remembered the bleak unhappiness on Doyle's face.

Muscles relaxing, Bodie slid his hands caressingly down the thin-fleshed spine, the hot, distended flesh pressing into his belly igniting his own response. Of his own accord his lips parted, accepting the savagery as he offered the sweet confusion of emotions that Ray Doyle aroused in him.

The urgency did not lesson but the violence changed to passion, their bodies, slick with sweat, finding a hard, sure rhythm. Moving fast and strong, Doyle climaxed quickly, his warmth spurting between them. Impatient with Bodie's straining flesh, he slid down, his mouth demanding. Hips thrusting, his hands locked in still damp hair, Bodie arched strongly upwards as he was engulfed in the warm suction that took all he could offer.

Feeling curiously vulnerable, he opened his eyes and found himself staring into narrowed green eyes that glinted with a driven anger as Doyle assessed him with a cold speculation. Pulling free of the embrace which held him, he stared down at the sprawled body that was still sticky from his own climax.

"I want you," he said abruptly, moving to kneel between the sprawled thighs.

Astonished to find that he was shaking, Bodie raised a gentle hand and rested the back of it against his lover's sweating face, brushing back the heavy curls.

"I can see that. But later, eh? There's something wrong. Tell me, Ray. What is it?" he coaxed, his thumb stroking the flawed profile, a strange, sweet ache building in him.

"Nothing you'd understand," snapped Doyle, jerking his head away.

He was too lost in his inexplicable rage to notice the colour drain from Bodie's face and wasn't aware of the moment Bodie reached out for him again, before he stilled the gesture.

"I want to fuck you," Doyle added harshly. "That's simple enough, isn't it. Or do you want to talk about it all night instead?"

There was naked pain in Bodie's eyes before he curtained them with his lashes. "Right now, I'd prefer to talk. Unless you're proposing rape?"

"What?" Disbelief stark on his face, Doyle stared at him in horror, his mouth dropping open.

A humourless smile twisted Bodie's mouth. "No? Well, I didn't think that was your style, but I thought I'd better check. I've begun to wonder just what you do want from me." Quiet despair echoed in his voice.

Unhappy and confused, Doyle sank back on his heels, desire killed by the scene he had precipitated. Uncertain of what it was he wanted - needed - he felt a sick awareness of what he might have done - of what he had said. He pushed the guilt aside.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, all defensive bristles.

Bodie was staring thoughtfully at the sheet. "There's been something bugging you all day. I knew it must be something serious when you groped me in the lobby. You never do that. Touch me just for the pleasure of it, I mean. The only time you touch me is when we're in bed." His eyes bleak, he looked up. "Is that all I'm good for to you, a quick fuck or blow job? You certainly never want to talk things out with me, or bother to find out if I might understand whatever it is that's bothering you. Sometimes I wonder just how you do see me."

The underlying pain in his lover's voice penetrated Doyle's self-absorption. Stung, he looked up, his anger draining away. Bodie had rolled back onto his stomach, his face buried from view in the pillow. It was a totally defenceless position.

"You know bloody well what I think of you. You know that's not true," Doyle denied, his voice husky. The accusation was too stupid to take seriously.

"Of course it's not," agreed Bodie tonelessly. He did not trust himself to say anything else. Subconsciously he waited for the other man to leave, as he had always known he must one day.

The unfamiliar note of defeat in Bodie's voice alerted Doyle fully to the fact that something was seriously wrong. Bodie never gave up; he didn't know the meaning of the word surrender. Doyle stared at the dark head, then at the hand clenched over the pillow, every sinew clearly delineated.

The breath whooshed out of his lungs. He'd always known Bodie could be hurt - and badly. Months ago he had vowed he would never be the one to inflict that kind of pain on him; that he would do everything in his power to keep Bodie from harm. With one short announcement Bodie had shown him how appallingly he had failed, while at the same time revealing the extent of his love and how much he was hurting.

Galvanised into action, Doyle uncurled his cramped legs and moved up the bed to kneel over his prone partner. Wanting desperately to comfort him, he knew that touch alone would not be sufficient to erase the hurt he was responsible for inflicting. Gently touching Bodie's naked shoulder, he pretended not to notice when the other man flinched.

"Hey, you're frozen." Striving for normality, Doyle's voice was tense and strained. He drew the covers up over them both.

Bodie's unnatural rigidity did not ease. Resting a clammy palm over his partner's clenched fist, Doyle's thumb caressed the starkly defined tendons at the wrist.

"We don't talk enough," he conceded, his voice soft in the silence. "Not at all about the things which are important to us. I've known that from the beginning but..." Faltering, he forced himself to go on. "I've been too scared to break the silence. I didn't - don't - want to lose you," he explained baldly.

There was a long silence before Bodie gave a shuddering sigh. When he spoke his voice was indistinct. "The final bloody irony. You don't want to lose me. Every night I wonder... It's got to the point where I wonder if you'll be there when I wake up."

Doyle made a sharp sound of protest.

Bodie raised his head. "It's the truth," he said simply, too weary to be able to lie, or to pretend any more. "It's just that it's got worse recently." He turned his head away from the eyes that seemed to see right to the heart of him. His own vision was too blurred for him to be able to see much at all.

Feeling as if he had just been knifed in the guts, Doyle's free hand shakily rested on the nape of Bodie's neck, massaging it gently. "You daft bugger," he whispered with a helpless tenderness. Giving a fierce sniff, he wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand. "How am I going to walk out on the other half of myself?"

Taking Bodie's hand in his own, he locked the cramped fingers with his own, holding on as tight as he could.

"All this is my fault, I know that. Tonight was about... I was hurt by what you said this afternoon so I took it out on you. I'm sorry. So very sorry. But I could have killed you in that Records Office for frightening me like that." The love in Doyle's voice made a nonsense of the claim. "You made me realise how many things I'd been taking for granted. I wanted to stake my claim on you. I could have taken you there and then. Wanted to. Wanted to lock you away from anyone - everyone - who could take you away from me. Jealous, immature, possessive and stupid, I know. But, Jesus, Bodie," his voice cracked, "will you at least look at me while I'm spilling my heart out to you?"

Bodie's head turned. "That stupid joke of mine hurt you that much?"

"Yeah. But then I've not been thinking too straight recently either."

Bodie rolled onto his back. Reading the truth in Doyle's expression, he gave a soft sigh and shook his head. "And you called me a daft bugger." His fingers curled around Doyle's, sealing the ties between them. "Grown men acting so bloody stupid. I'm beginning to believe we might deserve each other." He felt some deep wound he had never been aware of until then heal, cured by the unmistakable love-light in the eyes fixed on his face.

Doyle's grip on his hand tightened to the point of pain. "I need you," he said with a rough awkwardness. "Sometimes I resent how much I need you. If I haven't talked to you it isn't because I don't think you'll understand. I know you do. You understand me too well for comfort. Put up with more than I have any right to expect. I take you for granted. I do that a lot. Too much."

Bodie gave one of his rare, blinding smiles that dispersed the remnants of the unhappiness in his eyes. "You think you're the only one at fault here? Come on, Ray. You know better than that."

Slinging an arm around him, Doyle drew them both back against the pillows. "You're far from perfect," he conceded with an almost familiar grin. "But sometimes I forget what a fraud you are and take you at face value. I can still remember the surprise all those years ago when I discovered you were nothing but a sheep in wolf's clothing. The hard man..." He ruffled the silky dark hair. "Shoot to kill, can't afford to care, you told me. So how come I've seen you, having had the drop on someone, take a knife in the shoulder rather than do it? Soft as butter."

Mumbling something incomprehensible, a faint colour crept up under Bodie's skin.

"All right, have it your way," said Doyle. "But it just goes to show. I'd have done it. And considering your reputation, how come it's usually you calming me down?"

"That's just my natural superiority coming to the fore," muttered Bodie, uneasy at what amounted to a eulogy from his partner. He gave a wayward curl a friendly tug.

"I'm inclined to believe you," Doyle told him. He grinned when Bodie's jaw dropped. "I rationalise too much, brood much too much. I don't have the guts to accept the consequences of my own actions all the time like you do. There's one big difference between us. You're demonstrative. I'm not. I never have been. I thought you would have realised that by now. I don't use touch to communicate the way you do. Or I didn't. You touch people all the time. It's as much a part of you as that crooked eyebrow."

"Are you suggesting I grope anything that moves?" asked Bodie with a trace of indignation.

"Be serious for a minute. You wanted to know why I don't talk, I'll tell you. You're the best damn interrogator we've got. Even Cowley admits that. The sympathetic ear, the velvet glove, the smiling psycho. Whatever's needed, you provide it. And you get results. You're too good a listener, mate. Once I started talking to you I might not be able to stop."

"Don't be daft. Do you think I'd mind?"

Doyle shook his head decidedly. "Maybe you wouldn't, but I would."

"I'd forgotten what a self-contained little bugger you are." Bodie shrugged and fell silent, uncertain what he was asking for but wanting it anyway.

"Self-contained, me?" said Doyle with puzzlement. "This from the inscrutable man himself. I don't mean to shut you out. I just didn't see any reason to take my moods out on you."

"Try it sometime," suggested Bodie. "It never used to stop you."

Doyle relaxed against him, grinning now. "No, it didn't, did it?" Propped against one another, they were silent for some time, comfortably soaking up the awareness of each other.

Then Doyle stirred to give Bodie a prod in the ribs. "Do you realise we haven't had a decent holiday since last August. You call that normal?"

"No, but things have been tight at work. You off one way, me the other. There's hardly been time to think recently, let alone have time off for a row."

"Right. So when we do get together, where do we end up? Bed, that's where. And, no, I'm not complaining. But these silences, both of us afraid to react normally, got me down while we both pretended everything was great. I'd begun to worry that sex was all you wanted."

Bodie's face was completely unguarded. "That isn't all."

"No, well I know that now. How the hell could we get it so wrong? Enough insecurities to sink the Titanic. We nearly made a right mess of it."

"We still might," Bodie pointed out.

"No way. But when I wake you up at three in the morning because I've had a bad dream and want a cuddle you'd better not complain," Doyle threatened him flippantly.

The blue eyes crinkled at the corners, laughter in their depths. "If it's confession time about insecurities, I suppose I should tell you one of my darkest secrets."

Doyle eyed him warily. "OK, I'll buy it. What?"

"I'm terrified of pigeons," said Bodie, shamefaced.

Doyle's mouth fell open. "Pigeons!"

"Straight up. I dunno why, but even the thought of them is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. I can cope with them, mind, but I don't like it."

It was only then that Doyle realised he was serious. "It's rats with me," he offered, his expression pensive. "And I'm not wild about ear-wigs, if we're on the subject." He became aware that Bodie was shaking with suppressed laughter. "I can't help it. God, when I was in the Force... Some of the sights on the streets. I got to hate rats."

"Sorry, I wasn't laughing at that. Besides, I don't like them much myself. I was just thinking... This conversation isn't going according to plan, is it? Secret neuroses of CI5 agents. Christ." Convulsed with laughter, Bodie buried his face against his partner's shoulder.

Doyle hugged him tight. "And this, god help me, is one of the reasons I love you, you mad bugger. Living with you is like living with a cross between Methuselah and Davy - with maybe a touch of Cowley thrown in."

Resting limply against the other man, Bodie gave a snort of disbelief and sat up. "I don't see it myself." A new smile was already tugging the corners of his mouth.

"Well I'm telling you, so shut up and listen," instructed Doyle in his firmest tone.

Bodie's hand drifted down Doyle's torso, finding and following the thin, crooked line of hair, kneading the flat belly. "You don't have to say any more. Let's just make love. I'm sure my balls must be in a lover's knot by now." He moved so that he could plant a series of kisses down Doyle's quivering stomach muscles.

Doyle tugged at Bodie's hair to get his attention. "Yes, but in a minute, OK? I just want to say one more thing."

Bodie looked up, his face serious. "Listen, I was being stupid. You don't have to tell me a damn thing."

"Yes, I do."

Bodie sighed. "This will teach me."

"I said I loved you. I don't know why exactly. You're autocratic, bloody-minded, possessive, and a rotten cook to boot - even if you can beat the shit out of me in a work-out. But I need you. Everything about you. Even when you're driving me nuts it's never better without you than with you. It just doesn't always occur to me to say so." His hand held in a bruising grip by this time, Doyle shrugged. "It honestly never occurred to me that you couldn't know because it's so much a part of me. I love you, so bloody much." He hugged Bodie again, with strength enough to steal breath away.

Running his hands up and down Doyle's back, Bodie swallowed the lump in his throat. "You and Davy have a lot in common," he said at last. Feeling the damp warmth against his skin, he ruffled Doyle's hair. "You'd be pulling off my shirt buttons too - if I was wearing any. I can see where he gets his tendencies from."

"Yeah," agreed Doyle, wiping his face dry against Bodie's shoulder.

A little later he began to move his body, hands languorously exploring familiar territory with a heightened pleasure. Bodie shivered when Doyle lapped down his neck before nipping over the pulsing artery, marking him with great precision.

"If Davy ever shows any sign of wanting to do this to you I'll have a word with him," Doyle promised, leaning back to admire his handiwork.

"He's a bit young, isn't he?" said Bodie with no more than passing interest.

"Us Doyles start early," his partner informed him smugly, before he went to work on the other side of Bodie's neck. He paused, struck by a thought. "If Cowley could see us now he'd send for the men in white and a padded wagon."

"If Cowley could see us now they could take me without a fight," retorted Bodie, caressing Doyle's arse with his fingertips while he cupped the perfect curves.

Doyle pressed back into Bodie's hands.

"Now. Please."

Strong hands pressed Doyle back against the pillows and held him there with ease. Bodie's breath was warm against the pulse of Doyle's cock.

"Later," Bodie promised him. He set a neat row of sucking kisses up Doyle's inner thigh, traced across the lower belly and down the other side, then began to suck Doyle's testicles. Tonguing them delicately, he could feel them stir and tighten at his touch.

Crying out his partner's name, Doyle's head went back, exposing the long, taut line of his throat. One hand reaching out in blind appeal, the other was clenched in the sheet.

Realising Doyle was beyond speech, Bodie looked very smug. Taking pity on his incoherent lover, he traced up the straining column of flesh before he touched his tongue tip to the head, then traced down the sensitive underside. His hand encircling the root, his mouth accommodated the glistening head. Sucking avidly, he was rewarded by a sudden ripple before Doyle came in the warm, wet sanctuary of his mouth, completing him.

Slow to stir back to life, Doyle gave a long stretch of animal well-being. Reaching out, he caressed whatever portions of Bodie were nearest.

"I want to do that for you," he said lazily.

"That's OK. You still can."

"You're sure you don't mind?" Doyle checked, all mock-anxiety.

Bodie had to bite his bottom lip as the long-fingered hand slid frustratingly down his thigh. "No," he said, in a slightly higher pitch than usual, "I don't mind. In fact I'm almost getting to enjoy it."

"Well I wouldn't want to insist," Doyle cooed, his lips hovering.

Tried beyond endurance, Bodie glared at him. "I'll be past it if you leave it much longer," he warned.

That was his last coherent thought for some time.


The next morning Pêche ordered one of the guards to release Bodie from the wall chains. The musket which covered him was an unnecessary precaution; his muscles unnaturally strained for twelve hours, Bodie was incapable of doing anything but collapse on the floor. Eventually he managed to frame the question uppermost in his mind but neither Pêche nor the guard would speak to him.

Stiff and sore, he allowed himself the luxury of hope when he saw he had been left a double ration of food and watered wine. As the hours passed and Doyle did not return, hope dwindled, his imagination working overtime.

Bodie spent the day pacing around the cell, unconsciously waiting for some mocking comment from Doyle. Even with his eyes closed he could see Doyle's expression as he had been led away. No man should look that vulnerable, he thought painfully as he recalled the pale, resolute face and the burden of chains weighing him down. His thoughts chased furiously on why, after all these months, Doyle should be questioned. And about what.

Anyone detained under the authority of a lettre de cachet ceased to exist as far as the outside world was concerned, no matter who might enquire. It was then that Bodie realised Doyle had never, in all the months of their shared captivity, discussed the circumstances surrounding his own arrest. Indeed, the subject had never arisen.

The Ministry of Justice would be skilled in all forms of interrogation. Having travelled through war-torn countries Bodie had seen and experienced many different styles of questioning. He knew exactly how the sessions could be conducted. Doyle might be dead already.

Worn down by anxiety, Bodie finally had to rest. Sinking onto the straw, he fell into an uneasy, nightmare-ridden doze.

He awoke, chilled by his dreams, to find himself still alone. He spent the remainder of the day hunched in his corner under the window listening to the silence. He had never known a silence like this one, but then he had never experienced such an intense sense of aloneness before. In a life during which he had maintained a careful distance from others there had never been anyone whose company had been that important to him.

And he hadn't even bid Ray farewell...

Forbidding himself to degenerate into morbid sentimentality, he briskly tried to alter the course of his thoughts, but with little success. By the second night, he was almost frantic with worry. Eventually he slept, but waking to look around for Doyle, he found his face wet with tears.

The second time he awoke was when some unfamiliar noise broke through his nightmare. Fear leaden in his belly, he found himself enfolded in a warm embrace. Stunned, he didn't hear the door of the cell slam to a close.

"What's amiss, John Brown?"

The voice sounded impossibly like Doyle's. Bodie stretched out an incredulous hand and brushed a clean-shaven chin. Instantly awake, he wrenched free to glare at the shadowy figure in front of him. From the gleam of white in the dim light he knew Doyle must be smiling his familiar smile.

"Where the devil have you been?" he demanded, his voice roughened by emotion. It rose as he took in his companion's radically improved appearance. "God above! You contrive to take a bath and shave while I've been out of my mind with worry."

"I was given clean clothes, too," said Doyle with glee. The long hours of questioning interposed with periods of solitary confinement and little sleep had demanded all his concentration. Stunned by his temporary reprieve, he was determined to make the most of every second of life he had been given and was oblivious of the growing storm.

Bodie's open-handed slap was delivered with the weight of two days of gut-tearing anxiety behind it. The blow sent Doyle to his knees, his head ringing and his face feeling as if it was on fire.

Biting off an exclamation, he flexed his jaw and got slowly to his feet. Despite himself he gave a wry smile. With John Brown to consider, his own plans could never be certain. His cell-mate was not the most predictable of individuals. "What was that for?" he demanded ruefully.

"I'll show you," growled Bodie, infuriated by the sweetness of that smile.

His fingers tangling in the soft, clean curls, he found the full, lush mouth, his teeth grinding into the soft flesh, demanding entry. He used his superior body weight to pin the slighter man to the wall.

Trapped, Doyle twisted desperately but because he was unwilling to cause the other man harm was unable to free himself. The ruthless strength which pinned him gradually changed in nature. There was more than lust behind the violence, although for now that would have been enough to ignite his own response. Doyle's lips parted willingly, his hand sliding around the unkempt head to draw it to him.

It had been so long.

As a questing tongue thrust to meet his own, Bodie gave a start of surprise and jerked free with a desperate, "Don't!"

Doyle was just grateful for the support of the wall behind him. He could feel the other man trembling under his hands and a surge of affection washed dizzily through him.

"I rather thought the inspiration had been yours," he said, surprised at how calm his voice sounded.

"I must be deranged," said Bodie bitterly. The changing light was sufficient to show him the mess he had made of the other man's face. He touched the bruising with gentle fingertips. "I had no intention of - I don't understand what caused me to - "

Doyle tilted his head. "Do you not?" he said gently. "I think you understand all too well. Come here, John."

"No!" Bodie physically backed away, determined to save them both from any impossible level of commitment.

Doyle paced steadily after him, then paused when all sound in the cell ceased. He had no idea where the other man was.

"You'll have to move sometime," he pointed out into the silence.

There was no answer.

Having bathed, shaved and been given fresh garments, Doyle had grown accustomed to a relatively unpolluted atmosphere. The stench in the call had almost unmanned him. He followed his nose to stand in front of his cell-mate.

"You smell terrible," he informed him gravely. He took a lock of the filthy hair and rubbed it between his fingers. In that moment he was certain of what he wanted, admitting his need to himself for the first time.

Mute, Bodie stared at him, caught between disbelief, longing and amusement. It had been a good many years since he had seen a seduction begun with such casual skill.

"Make love to me," coaxed Doyle, sliding an arm around Bodie's neck. "Now, while we have the chance."

Intoxicated by the scent and feel of the other man, Bodie placed gentle hands on Doyle's shoulders. "You cannot mean... Do you know what you ask?"

The length of his body brushing Bodie's, Doyle's straining erection offered its own silent assurance. "I know," he said with confidence. His questing mouth silenced Bodie's next question.

Bodies sweat-slicked and drowsy after love, they ignored the humidity of the July night to lie curled around and over one another, sometimes talking quietly, then dozing, to awake and find that it had not been a dream after all. Once, waking together, their arms and legs entwined, they heard themselves making murmured promises they both knew they had little hope of being able to keep.

The freedom to touch was a new pleasure. The heat of passion abated, they moved languidly together, their bodies sliding to an unhurried climax.

Sated from love-making and sleep, with Doyle's sleeping head pillowed on his shoulder, Bodie lay contentedly staring up at the ceiling, a new, softer expression in his eyes. Only when the dawn light edged into the cell did he become aware of his companion's almost imperceptible withdrawal, betrayed by the tension in the body still wrapped around his own and Doyle's changed breathing rate.

A part of Bodie wasn't surprised. He had known that the wild, sweet sharing of the night was too good to be true, even in the midst of passion. Such joy always had to be paid for; foolishly, he had allowed himself to hope that the illusion might be maintained a little longer.

As if unaware that Doyle was awake, he slid free from the loose embrace with some care; his face assumed a mask of control when Doyle did not stir. Slowly Bodie dressed himself. Sinking down with his back against the wall, his eyes sought Doyle out again as he resolved to salvage what he could of their relationship.

Last night had been... The best, he admitted to himself, the memory of it having the power to make him smile.

Their nagging, ever-present but rarely admitted physical hunger had been assuaged, rekindled and assuaged again. Physical release had been the least of it. What he treasured most were the small moments; the impulsive Doyle sense of the ridiculous which had sparked off his own humour, usually in the most inappropriate moments. But even more than the gift of laughter, he valued the unthinking trust Doyle had displayed.

He knew Doyle was probably regretting his impulse of the previous night, unable to accept that he had flown in the face of propriety and made love to, and been loved by, a man. Bodie had never considered the gender of his bed-mate to be of any great consequence; one took pleasure from whatever source could offer it. But while gender wasn't important, Ray was. If he couldn't accept the change that had taken place in their relationship...

Bodie knew that if he had to lose the exquisite pleasure of the lean, wiry body to keep what he valued most in Ray Doyle he would do so without hesitation, even as his blood sang at the memory of the other man's touch. For the first time in a life dedicated to denying the tender, loving side of his nature, Bodie had found someone whose well-being was more important to him than his own. They had fed each other's pleasure, touching and stroking insatiably, marvelling at the response they could produce in each other's trembling flesh.

Watching through heavy-lidded eyes as Ray's lazily sensuality exploded into wild abandon under the power of his hands and tongue, Bodie realised just how much of himself he had given to this man. For once in his cautious life he was content to trust, letting instinct sweep him where it would. So now he sat denying his need to speak until Doyle should choose to acknowledge his presence; not from any bizarre notions of humility or gratitude, but because it was something he could offer his lover that Ray obviously desired.

His features highlighted by the light from the small window above him, Doyle's face in repose fascinated Bodie because of the contradictions he knew it concealed. A naked yearning in his eyes, he studied it with new intensity, as if seeking to memorise it.

As if becoming aware that he was under scrutiny, Doyle stirred, his eyes opening very wide in the manner he adopted when he had no wish to betray his inner thoughts. Seeking to avoid the moment when he would have to tell his companion the truth, he asked quietly, "What are you thinking, John Brown?"

"How fortunate you are in your cell-mate," he replied with a flippancy he was far from feeling. Staring at Doyle's closed expression, a wave of love overtook him, frightening in its intensity. For a moment he almost hated Doyle for forcing him from behind his protective barriers. "And how very beautiful you are," he added into the silence.

Grief and fear ripped through belly, chest and throat, Doyle unable to maintain the pretence any longer. "Don't," he cried harshly, rolling onto his stomach and burying his face in his arms. "Don't make it any harder than it is already."

Bodie began to knead the knotted muscles of Doyle's shoulders.

His gentleness was almost more than Doyle could bear.

"What's amiss?" asked Bodie, aware of the terrible tension that defined every muscle. "Do you regret what we did last night?" His voice shook, his dread of what answer he might receive obvious.

Hearing the pain which lay behind that question, Doyle felt his gut lurch and twist. It would have been to John Brown's advantage if he could lie and answer in the affirmative, but there were lies enough between them already.


Turning onto his back, Doyle's expression was bleak with misery. "Never," he said in fierce repudiation of the idea. "Damn it to hell." He gripped Bodie's upper arms with a strength borne of desperation. "Just - hold me. Then let me go, I beg of you."

Bodie's questions died in his throat. His hands inexpressibly gentle, he did as he had been asked. Doyle's breathing was ragged against his neck and he was shaking. Perplexed, Bodie remained silent, offering the undemanding embrace for as long as it should be required.

Eventually, still shivering slightly, Doyle made to draw away. Bodie released him instantly. Remaining silent, he watched as Doyle dragged on his clothes, his movements unusually clumsy, then seated himself some distance away from where Bodie stood.

"My actions last night were inexcusable," Doyle announced, his voice harsher than Bodie had ever heard it. "I used you, John Brown. Without a thought for your well-being I took what I needed. I regret that very much. But nothing else of what passed between us."

"I cannot recall protesting," observed Bodie. "You took nothing I wasn't prepared to offer, and it was an equitable exchange, was it not?"

"Most equitable," Doyle agreed, and despite their bleak situation a reminiscent smile lit his face. When it faded he looked old beyond his years, his face taut with strain. "But I didn't intend... I planned now to offer you falsehood, to make it plain that what we shared was of small matter. I cannot. It is grossly unfair to burden you with unsought declarations of emotion, particularly now. But I don't think I could bear your disapprobation."

It was an effort not to shake the truth from him. "What the blazes are you talking about?"

"I had great need of you last night. I need you now. Tomorrow I leave the Bastille for further questioning. Then I will be executed as an agent of the British Crown." There was nothing in Doyle's tone to prepare Bodie.

He stared at the other man in numb disbelief, colour draining from his face as a chill wave of sweat rose over him. The blood pounded in his ears, external sounds rising to a thin, keen whine as the earth tilted under him. For the first time in his life Bodie fainted.

He regained consciousness to find his head pillowed on Doyle's lap, his face cradled between anxious hands as Ray leant over him.

"I should have broken the news to you in some other fashion," Doyle said with remorse.

"What a piece of missish foolishness that was," Bodie announced in tones of great disgust. "Is it true, you are to be executed?"

Doyle gave a shuddering sigh. "Yes."

Bodie closed his eyes against the tearing hurt. Turning his face, he buried it against Doyle's thigh in instinctive denial, but that stark announcement did not permit disbelief.

"Why?" Bodie demanded in a savage whisper, as if to himself. "In God's name why?"

His fingers soothing the ruffled hair, Doyle offered what he could, but it hurt that, even now, he could not offer the whole truth.

"While I was sketching at a café table last October I was detained on suspicion of activity prejudicial to the safety of the Realm. It has been suggested that my drawing disguised a more serious purpose, that of espionage. Apparently the Ministry of Justice were not aware that I had been detained here until an officer come on a chance inspection of the guard saw the list of prisoners. They attempted to remove me yesterday but neglected to produce the necessary warrant. They will have it by now. I leave tomorrow." He stared sightlessly at Bodie, his face drawn. "Knowing that, I had no right to involve you further but... I needed you very much last night. And I need you now. I am so very sorry."

"You're sorry!" Bodie surged up to grip Doyle by the shoulders before he shook him hard. "Christ, tomorrow you die and you apologise to me." His voice broke as he heard the import of what he was saying and saw its truth imprinted on Doyle's face.

To know the exact time and manner of your death, to be helpless...

"When they come for you, we'll make a fight of it," he said, regaining a semblance of control. "We won't make it easy for them. Let the bastards work for it."

Doyle dredged up a crooked smile. "I concur with your sentiments but no, we won't fight. My fate is fixed. Someone in authority is determined that I must be permanently removed. We won't be given the opportunity to resist. Accept the fact. But one thing would please me greatly."

"Tell me." Bodie knew himself to be on the point of breaking down.

"When you are free of this place - " Doyle cupped his companion's face, a finger running along the compressed mouth. "When you are free again, go home and make your peace with your family."

Bodie tensed, then relaxed under Doyle's hands. "I'll try."

Moved by the other man's capitulation, Doyle attempted to cover the fact with some forced irritation. "The philistines who arrested me had no cause to destroy my portfolio of work. It contained some of my best character studies."

Bodie gave a reluctant smile at the genuine indignation which had appeared in Doyle's voice. "How good an artist are - were - you?" he asked, obediently joining in Doyle's effort to reduce the emotion-laden atmosphere.

Doyle shrugged. "Probably not as good as I thought. I enjoyed the work." He managed to produce a grin. "The sittings could sometimes provide an unexpected bonus. London is full of beautiful but bored women. I did well enough to maintain a comfortable life style. Would you promise to do just one thing for me?" he asked abruptly.

In that moment Bodie would have promised him anything, although he permitted none of that to sound in his voice. "Possibly."

Doyle gave a chuckle of appreciation. "This is the John Brown I became acquainted with, ever cautious. If I should ask you to perform, or refrain from, some action, will you give me your word of honour that you'll do as I request without question?"

Bodie gave him a look of suspicion. Then caution was lost as he became aware of the strain Doyle was attempting to conceal behind his insouciant facade.

"I give you my word," he promised, unable to think beyond tomorrow. He linked their fingers until their flesh was one. The gesture denied his fierce, inner rage which he tried to control for the other man's sake.

Crooking his free arm around the strong neck, Doyle's expression was one of mocking affection as he tried to thrust reality away from him while it was still possible. "It's difficult to recognise you in this submissive mood. Such docility." He edged closer, the full contact of their bodies making him aware of the extent of his companion's fear on his behalf. "There's just one other matter," he added in a tone of unmistakable invitation.

His eyes too bright, Bodie gave a shaky laugh as he felt the gently questing hand brush his groin. "I doubt that I can oblige you," he admitted ruefully.

Doyle's breath was warm against his cheek. "Not even if I were to assist you?"

For the remainder of the day they buried knowledge of the future and suspended thought, refusing to look beyond the moment and each other. Inevitably it was a day of tension and sudden, misery-ridden silences when neither of them could maintain the pretence.

Doyle had no wish to die and was unwilling to submit tamely but in this instance he could see no hope of defeating the forces ranged against him. He had known the risks when he came and had accepted them, but he hadn't considered the possibility that he might implicate an innocent bystander. If what Pêche had intimated was true, Brown's life could be in danger if Degas learnt he hadn't spent his time in the Bastille in solitary confinement. Pêche was the only man in a position to give them that information. To offer his body for one night in return for the gaoler's promise of silence had seemed a small price to pay, in the abstract. As the time drew closer when he must fulfil that bargain Doyle was no longer sure if he would be able to complete his own part of it.

Trapped by his own doubts and fears, he didn't fully appreciate the strain his companion was under as the day progressed. Bodie permitted nothing of what he felt to betray itself to Doyle, offering his strength and love as a support, knowing by instinct when to talk and when to remain silent. Beneath his fear for Doyle's safety he was icily calm, having resolved that when they came for Doyle they would not take him without great cost to themselves. The promise he had made to accept Ray's death was one he had no intention of keeping, and no qualms about breaking.


"I'm hungry," announced Bodie into the panting, unfulfilled darkness. "Do you suppose there's any chance of getting some food?"

"You should have eaten your dinner," Doyle told him sanctimoniously, able to joke now about the dismal meal they had shared. Untangling his legs, he rubbed an incipient twinge of cramp.

Seeing what he was doing, Bodie took over automatically, his fingers finding just the right spot. Doyle gave a sigh of bliss and went limp with pleasure.

"Has anyone ever told you what a self-righteous little sod you can be at times?" Bodie asked him.

"It's been mentioned in passing," Doyle allowed, drifting with the touch of the skilled fingers. Stretching sleek as a cat, he did everything he could to encourage the massage.

"Tomorrow you get a lecture on the subject. What are you grinning about now?"

"You. If we ever get short of cash I'm going to rent you out to one of those massage parlours. You'd be a natural."

The touch was abruptly harder than was strictly necessary.

"Sadist." Getting up only with some difficulty, because Bodie declined to let go, Doyle clambered across the vastness of the bed, falling over twice because the thick feather mattress dipped and swayed beneath him.

"Where are you going now?" Bodie asked.

"I've just remembered. There should be all that food left in the carrier bag. We never did get round to eating it. What are you - ? Lemme go, you idiot. You'll rupture something." Doyle resurfaced, spluttering, before he gave a broad shoulder a forgiving nip.

"I'll eat later," said Bodie comfortably. "There's a certain invitation I'm still hoping to take you up on."

"Well I'm ready and willing, it's your ability that's worrying me, sunshine." Doyle cut short his lover's indignant rebuttal.

There was the susurration of bedclothes being pushed aside and the whisper of flesh against flesh, the movements slowing, changing. The bed creaked when Bodie whispered something and got a lazy affirmative. There was the sound of an indrawn breath. Bodie's stifled curse came almost immediately afterwards as he was swallowed up by the mattress, which seemed to have a life of its own.

"I don't believe it," wailed Doyle in frustration as they righted themselves and he saw Bodie's softened cock. "Not again."

He collapsed into a heap of helpless laughter at the look of chagrin on Bodie's face. Curled, incoherent, on his side, he was vaguely aware of Bodie sinking dejectedly beside him.

"Bloody mattress," growled Bodie. He gave his giggling partner a look of the deepest suspicion. "Are you sure you're really trying?"

"I was trying," Doyle insisted indignantly. Weak with laughter, he dragged himself up to lean against Bodie for support.

"It's only a question of getting up on your hands and knees and keeping your arse in the air."

"Who said poetry was dead?" mused Doyle soulfully. "Maybe if you slowed down?"

"If I get any slower we'll be applying for our pensions before I get inside you," said Bodie, his eyes sparkling with unwilling amusement. "You're just not concentrating."

"How can I?" asked Doyle reasonably. "That's three times we've tried. Three different positions. The first time I damn near stifled, the second I got cramp. The bloody bed's going up and down at all the wrong moments and you, you're - You looked so... Don't you know your way there by now?"

Bodie's slap across his elevated rump flattened him into the mattress. He bounced.

"That hurt," protested Doyle into the mattress. "Mmn, that didn't, but you could do with a shave." He tried to peer back over one shoulder. "What are you doing now?"

"God, but you're thick," Bodie told him lovingly as he sank his teeth into the reddened flesh. Licking the bite, he planted another next to it. "You taste fantastic. Much better than stale sandwiches." Planting a kiss on the back of Doyle's thigh, he swept his hands over the tempting rise of his buttocks and cautiously edged off the bed. "Come on."

"Where're we going?" asked Doyle, but he was already moving. They ended up in front of the fire, where the logs were half-burnt through.

"Where we should have gone half an hour ago, the floor. We'll be well away here, unless the floorboards have got woodworm." Bodie spared the carpeted boards a dubious glance before his eyes rose to lock with Doyle's desire-darkened gaze.

Holding Bodie loosely by the flanks, Doyle ran his tongue between the other man's nipples, tugging gently at them before nuzzling down the rib-cage. He paused at the navel, then glanced up mischievously.

"You sure you know what you're doing down there?" Bodie asked, but his pelvis was already thrusting in instinctive response to the stimulation that was heading towards his groin.

"Lie down and shut up. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Now, what did that manual say was supposed to happen if I do this?"

His bones melting under the subtle, long-fingered touch, Bodie surrendered totally. There was silence, of a sort, for a while.


"Yeah?" Doyle's attention was clearly given elsewhere.

"I thought I was going to make wild and passionate love to you."

All movement stopped.

"So you were," said Doyle. "I'll stop, shall I?" He stifled a cry when Bodie pressed back, the warm, tight channel engulfing his finger. Every sensation centred on his pulsing groin. "Hey, take it easy or it'll be over before it's begun. You OK?"

Bodie grinned over one shoulder. "I will be when you get your finger out and your cock in. Come on, damn it." Pressing back again, he arched up in invitation, wanting and needing this.

He felt Doyle's hands slip to his flanks before there was a moist, damp warmth as a velvet tongue sought him out, caressing the relaxed bud of muscle, easing inwards, leaving him liquid with the wanting.

"Ray, please."

"So impatient," Doyle whispered, knowing his own control to be in tatters.

His hands resting on the muscled flanks he stroked down the cleft of Bodie's arse, sliding down between the parted thighs to cup and caress the tightening balls. Bodie gave a soft groan of impatience. Taking a deep breath, Doyle shivered with pleasure as the head of his cock nudged Bodie's flesh; his eyes closing, he found and entered through the relaxed field of muscle. The initial penetration was almost his undoing. One hand curved around Bodie's straining cock, moving in rhythm to his slow penetration. Bodie thrust back to meet him, demanding a deeper, harder touch, crying out with fervent need as he was filled. Sensation rocked through him as the rhythm increased. Unable to survive the double source of stimulation, he gave a hoarse cry, muscles clamping down as he climaxed.

Doyle gave a husky moan that was triggered by the incredible sensations of that hot, tight encasing flesh along his length. Release spurted into Bodie and from him into Doyle's encasing hand.

Drained, Doyle eased from Bodie's body to slump next to him while he waited for the world to right itself.

"We need more practice at that," he mumbled at last, the taste and the scent of Bodie filling every sense he possessed. His hand smoothed down the still-heaving back that was slick with sweat.

Rolling over, Bodie stared at him, his eyes soft as velvet in the flickering light. Drawing Doyle against him, he gave him a lengthy, possessive kiss before releasing him to study him with a suspect sorrow.

"I would never have thought it," he said mournfully.

All concern, Doyle found the energy to sit up. "I didn't hurt - ?"

"Don't be a prat," Bodie told him kindly, pushing him back down without any effort at all. "I'm fine. Terrific, even. Give me a couple of minutes to get my strength back and I'll go out and conquer the world for you. Of course, tomorrow would be better."

Doyle's self-satisfied grin grew to Cheshire Cat proportions but showed no sign of fading.

"But I never took you for an under-a-minute man," Bodie continued. "No stamina, that's your trouble."

Abashed, Doyle hung his head. "I hoped you weren't timing me this time," he explained. His tentative smile didn't fool his partner for a minute. "But look on the bright side. At least I found my way there unassisted."

Bodie hugged him close. "It was that rotten mattress," he insisted, trying to defend his reputation.

"Of course it was," soothed Doyle, all understanding, but his eyelids were drooping to a close.

"Yeah. And what's more I'll prove it to you."

Doyle gave him a look of sleepy respect. "Now?"

"Well, maybe not right this minute," Bodie prevaricated. He was betrayed by a huge yawn. A gentle hand smoothed over his hair, portions of which were sticking up.

"Poor old has-been. Come on, back to bed."

Propping each other up, they made it back to the vast four-poster. Inevitably they both slid to the centre, lying in a comfortable tangle.

"Maybe if you were to put a sixpence under the pillow the Good Tooth Fairy could help you out," offered Doyle as he snuggled into the curve of Bodie's body. "Who's to say what other spare parts she has lying around."

A hopeful expression crossed Bodie's face. "Do you suppose a fifty-pence piece would do the trick?"

Doyle turned to look at him, kissed him on the nose and rolled onto his stomach in preparation for sleep. "Seems a bit excessive to me, even allowing for inflation. You can have too much of anything, you know. Perhaps you'd better practise with what you've got."

He had fallen asleep before Bodie could think of a suitable retort.


Without warning the cell door swung open. Bodie sprang to his feet and moved with cat-like speed to stand at the foot of the steps, blocking Doyle from view. The light from the torches held by the guards sent bizarre shadows dancing across the cell and revealed his face, which was devoid of expression except for his eyes.

Pêche looked down into that burning gaze with something like sympathy before he gestured for a torch. Setting it in a wall sconce he gestured for the guards to leave the cell. He waited until the door had closed behind them before he moved halfway down the stairs.

Bodie gave a huntsman's smile of the purest satisfaction and padded forward. He halted warily when he recognised the other man's lack of concern and the way his brown eyes sought Doyle out.

"You have not told him of our agreement?"

It took Bodie a moment to realise Pêche was not addressing him.

"No." There was a note in Doyle's voice that Bodie didn't recognise.

"We made a bargain. My part of it is complete, save in one respect."

"I will honour that bargain," confirmed Doyle. His voice was steady and clearer now as he came to stand at Bodie's side.

"What bargain?" Bodie's voice was deceptively mild, his motionless stance threatening.

"Monsieur Pêche was ordered to keep me in solitary confinement until Degas returned with the warrant. Instead, he offered me the opportunity of spending today with you," explained Doyle. His voice was so cold as to be virtually unrecognisable.

"In return for what?" demanded Bodie with quiet menace.

"Tonight he spends with me," said Pêche. He studied the dark-haired prisoner with caution now, aware of the atmosphere of incipient violence that hung around him, mistrusting the expression in the blue eyes.

"Ray, you can't!"

Ignoring him, Doyle was looking in the direction of the gaoler with something like approval on his face.

Bodie wheeled around to stare at Pêche again. "Why?"

"Because I desire him and he is willing."

"The hell you say," snarled Bodie.

Doyle prevented his cell-mate's leap up the stairway, his iron grip tightening as he blocked Pêche from view with his own body. He felt the surge of strength checked and gave Bodie a small shake. "He doesn't lie. I am willing, eager even. His desire is mine."

There was a sharp crack as Bodie backhanded him across his already bruised face.

Doyle made no attempt to defend himself, but his grip on Bodie didn't weaken as the blood rushed to his face, branding his cheek with the imprint of Bodie's hand.

"I gave Monsieur Pêche my word. He gave me his, which he has kept to the letter. Will you see me stripped of all honour? You promised earlier to do as I asked, when I asked it. I ask you now, let me go to him." Doyle wondered savagely whose control would shatter first. He could feel his companion's rage building and knew he could not hope to halt the more powerful man when that fury broke free from the minimal restraint being imposed on it.

"So I am to see you go willingly to him?" Bodie's face was grey.

"Yes, for it's the truth," said Doyle, hating the lie but unable to think of another response that could prevent Brown from risking his own life.

Bode stared into the determined face with a black rage, hating Doyle in that moment for having brought him to this betrayal. Blinded by pain and an all-consuming jealousy, he had no thought for anything else.

"You whoreson. Go then, and may you find much joy in each other." Bodie wrenched himself free, knocking past Doyle to seek the shelter of the shadows.

His back to the door, he didn't see Doyle turn incredulously to stare after him, naked hurt stark on his face.

Pêche quickly came down the last few stairs to take Doyle's arm. His cell-mate's contempt ringing in his ears, his precarious control shattered, Doyle was directionless, unable to move by himself.

"It is time," Pêche told him, uncertain whether the younger man had heard him. Placing Doyle's unresisting hand on his own arm, he led him up the steps and out of the cell.

Bodie didn't hear the door slam to a close. Only when the empty silence had grown to immense proportions did he realise what he had permitted to happen.


"Hey, come on, wake up," urged Doyle as he bounced on the edge of the mattress.

Bleary-eyed, Bodie lifted his head before flopping back against the pillows. "Oh, it's you," he said, his lack of enthusiasm obvious. He gave a lethargic stretch. "Strewth, I think I must have died at some point during the night. What time is it?"

"Er, about - " Doyle's voice was indistinct as he got up to fling open the windows; the room smelt of wood ash, age and sex. A lot of sex. And laughter. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this good.

Made suspicious by the evasion, Bodie leant up on one elbow to glare at him. "What time did you say?"

"Half past five," Doyle admitted, his expression guileless.

"Come here," invited Bodie in a silky voice.

"Uh huh." Doyle shook his head, grinning.


"You bet."

"So why did you wake me?" asked Bodie plaintively. He abandoned his look of menace to sink back against the pillows.

Doyle shifted his weight from foot to foot and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his tracksuit top. "It's a fantastic morning out. Crisp, sunny. I thought I'd go for a run."

"You know better than to think I'm going to come with you at this time of night."

"Morning," corrected Doyle patiently.

"To me it's still the middle of the night. I'm a growing lad, I need to sleep occasionally. So why did you wake me? Oh." A smile of blazing happiness lit Bodie's face before he recovered himself. "And you call me a romantic," he accused softly.

"I didn't want you waking up and wondering where I was," explained Doyle defensively. "I'm off. Go back to sleep, mate. You look awful," he added frankly. "I'll bring you a cup of tea on my way back, OK?"

"I'll let you know after I've drunk it." Bodie opened his closing eyes. "Isn't that the new tracksuit I bought yesterday?"

"So it is. Well, you wouldn't want me to go getting my stuff all sweaty, would you?" Doyle pointed out reasonably.

Bodie glared at the blue-clad figure from over the top of the sheet before he waved him off. "Don't go running over any cliffs," he instructed sleepily before he disappeared back under the bedcovers.

"I'll be careful not to tear this if I do," Doyle promised him.

Bodie heard the jaunty squeak of trainered feet leave the room and the door close. He was asleep before Doyle had left the hotel, a faint smile still on his face.

Stirring when he heard the door click to a close, Bodie said sleepily, "Forget the tea and come back to bed and give me a cuddle." His eyes snapped open when cold steel ground into the back of his neck. He remained perfectly still, his brain racing as he assessed the situation.

"Oh, that's very cool. We'll carry on taking things nice and easy, shall we? Now, who were you expecting and when's she due back?"

It was, Bodie remembered with some surprise, a natural enough presumption. "One of the hotel staff. She's gone to make me some tea," he lied. There were three men.

"The room's clear," announced a soft, south-London accented voice. Bodie heard the bathroom door click to a close. "His gun's under that jacket. A Smith and Wesson. Nice piece. Do we take it?"

"No. We leave everything as we found it. We'll be moving now," the voice told Bodie. The bed covers were ripped away. "Out of bed, nice and easy. No tricks, unless you want to see your girlfriend splattered all over the walls. Get dressed, and don't waste our time. We know all about your fancy tricks, Mr Raymond fucking Doyle. Now move."

Bodie's expression did not alter by so much as a hairsbreadth. Absorbing his change of identity, he hurriedly dressed when he remembered this room was booked in Ray's name; he hadn't signed the register. Ignoring the fact that he was held in a cross-fire, with the third man standing at the door, he scanned the room. He could see the bulge of Ray's holster under his jacket that was slung over the easy chair; knowing he had no chance of reaching it, Bodie was grateful he had put his own jacket away. But it meant that Doyle was unarmed and off-guard; he could be coming back at any minute. He dared not risk asking the time to find out how long Doyle had been gone.

"Who wants me?" he asked, as he zipped up his flies.

"That's for us to know. Let's just say it's an old acquaintance. This your shirt? Then get it on. Ken, take the jacket, he can have it later. Now, we're going out the front. You can either walk under your own steam or be dragged. It makes no difference to us. Any tricks and you'll be the first one who gets it, understand?"

Bodie's hard blue gaze moved between the men, who had been careful to give him no opening. "Perfectly," he said, assessing his chances - and Ray's - if he got it wrong. "Let's be off then," he said, assuming command.

"You're a cool one and no mistake."

Bodie gave a feral smile that didn't reach his eyes. "That's right, I am," he said arrogantly, waiting for his baiting to take effect.

The smallest of the three men stepped forward.

"Leave it, Ken. He'll get his later. After you, Mr Doyle."

The small procession, with Bodie in the lead, left the hotel without encountering anyone. He eyed the electric blue Granada parked at the side of the drive with disfavour as he shivered in the cool air. Doyle must have been feeling fantastic to call this a sunny morning, he thought absently.

Ken passed his Magnum across for safe-keeping before he moved behind Bodie, fumbling in his jacket pockets. "Hands behind your back. Come on, move it."

Seeing there was no alternative, Bodie did as he was told and felt the cuffs snap on. The car boot was swung up and he looked unenthusiastically into it, knowing he wasn't going to enjoy the next portion of his journey. Ducking, he avoided the plaster about to be strapped over his mouth.

"Leave that petrol rag in the boot and I'm going to puke. If you want me to choke to death on my own puke, fine. If not, get rid of it."

Dave Lennon held the challenging gaze and signalled for the arrogant mouth to be taped. "I'm starting to take a personal interest in this," he told Bodie. "Get rid of the rag, Alec. No, not on the drive, cretin. Right, get in, Doyle. And here's hoping you don't choke, too much."

Curled in an uncomfortable ball, Bodie watched the lid of the boot slam down, leaving him in a cramped, evil-smelling darkness. Emptying his mind of all extraneous thoughts, focussing his strength on one task, he began to test the structure of the boot with his feet.


In the privacy of his quarters Pêche studied the prize he had never thought to gain, a gleam of anticipation lighting his eyes. "So you are a man of your word after all," he mused.

Feeling what must be the edge of a cot pressing against the back of his legs, Doyle nodded dully. He took a step toward where he judged Pêche to be. "Shall we begin?" He pulled his shirt free from the waistband of his trousers, wanting this to be over with before he had time to think - or to lose his nerve. There was the faint odour of stale sweat and snuff, with a hint of cheap cologne as the gaoler drew closer.

"Where is the need for haste? We have all night." Pêche's voice thickened as he studied the face of the man opposite him, wanting to see that reserve turn to passion.

Doyle bit his lower lip when a calloused hand traced his profile, lingering to cup his neck before it slid under the open neck of his shirt. He willed himself to relax.

"You said you would give me what you were able. Is it really so little?" asked Pêche. His grip tightened. "Or is it that you fear I may yet speak of your companion?"

Doyle's eyes widened, his blind gaze searching the other man's face. The implied threat to John Brown could not be ignored, but Pêche was no ogre. He sought a willing bedmate, not a rape victim. At least he now had some experience with which to meet the gaoler's advances. He slammed his mind shut against the pain which came with the thought. That was over. Finished. He'd had to act many roles in this life. This wasn't so very different.

Knowing with aching clarity that it was, Doyle rested his hand, the palm clammy with sweat, over the gaoler's. "Show me what you desire," he murmured. Easing closer, he slid his arms around the thick neck; his body pressing against the stocky frame, he sought out the other man's mouth with his own.

Pêche's lips opened greedily, his thick tongue thrusting into Doyle's mouth. Damp hands travelled over his body, pushing aside clothing and his stomach lurched when he felt Pêche stir against him. His shirt was slid from his shoulders and he heard Pêche sigh before the hands travelled over him again.

"Remove your trousers," instructed Pêche thickly.

Doyle obediently kicked them off. Naked, he made no resistance when he was drawn down onto the stale-smelling cot. Hard fingers explored him in the most intimate of areas. He closed his eyes when he smelt the other man's arousal.

"Maybe you'll get more lively when I stick this beauty in you. Turn onto your hands and knees," commanded Pêche feverishly. He slapped a rounded buttock when Doyle was slow to obey.

His skin crawling, a cold sweat ran down Doyle's back. He hadn't expected this; couldn't believe that the act could be pleasurable. He arched when fingers slick with some kind of stinking grease pushed into him and he bit his lip, sickness roiling in his belly. Trying to withdraw mentally from what was about to happen, it was a while before he became aware that the thudding he could hear wasn't his own heart but a hammering at the door. Pêche stilled and the slick hardness nudging the back of his thigh withdrew.

"I'm off-duty!" he bellowed.

"Not any longer. The Governor wants you. Now! There's trouble on the streets. A mob. He wants us to be prepared in case they try to storm the Bastille." There was unmistakable panic in the guard's voice.

"Storm - But that's impossible."

The gaoler's erection was wilting against Doyle's flesh, uncertainty and panic in Pêche's voice now. Doyle felt the other man move away, then heard him leave the bed, clothing rustling as it was refastened. His face hidden from view, he remained motionless, not knowing whether to be glad of this reprieve or not.

Doyle forgotten, Pêche hurried out of the room, but he remembered to lock the door behind him.

Bodie knew it must be morning because it was light. That was all he knew; he had no memory of time passing.

Distant noises grew louder as the day progressed but he paid them no heed. The sound of shots and cannon, then of tocsins pealing barely penetrated his consciousness. When the exultant mob hurled open the door to his cell, delighted to have discovered someone in need of rescue, Bodie was sitting quietly, staring at the wall.

Try as they might, the excited crowd could not make him understand that he was a free man. Eventually, taking him to be another of the lunatics, they bundled him out with them into the heat and noise of the Parisian streets.

The Bastille had been stormed in just four hours. Locked in his own private hell, it made little difference to Bodie where he was. By then all his exhausted mind could comprehend was that Ray Doyle must be dead and that he had died alone and friendless.

Buffeted and pushed by the euphoric crowds who were growing ever larger as news of the storming of the ancient fortress spread through the city, Doyle found shelter with his back to the sun-heated wall of a patisserie. Disorientated by the noise and bustle, he tried to make sense of events since Pêche had been called away; the gaoler had never returned.

The scents of the streets assaulted him in a confusing, vibrant wave of life: dust; sweat; wine; horse dung; fresh bread and coffee. But beneath those everyday scents which had been missing from his life for so long he could still smell the sickly sweet reek of blood. He had smelt it the strongest when he was hustled, barely dressed, through the winding passageways of the Bastille and out across the drawbridge. Somewhere off to his right a man had screamed, the sound cut off, to be followed by victorious cheering. Once outside, his rescuers had lost interest in him when they discovered that his own desire was to return to the place of his confinement. They had abandoned him and he had no idea where he might be in relation to the Bastille.

Doyle tried to force himself to move but his legs would not obey him. The totality of his helplessness enfolded him in a choking wave of anger. Blind, lost in a foreign city, how was he to make his way back to the Bastille to find John Brown if he was too gutless to put one foot in front of the other? Enraged with himself, Doyle grasped the sleeve of a passer-by and demanded to know his location. Intoxicated by free wine and the excitement of the day, the man brushed him to one side. The next person Doyle selected wasn't so gentle. Grim-faced, he picked himself out of the dust and ignoring the taunts of street urchins began to concentrate on the snatches of conversation going on around him.

"Doyle, me old darlin'! Is it truly you?"

The warm velvet tones were instantly familiar and Doyle turned incredulously, certain he must be going mad.

"Murphy?" His outstretched hand was taken and firmly grasped before he was pulled into a bear-hug of delight.

"None other," said Murphy with assumed cheerfulness as he studied his companion. He knew better than to probe too deeply and so kept up a light flow of inconsequential chatter to ease the moment. Ray's disorientation was obvious, his physical condition poor.

"So where have you been hiding yourself all these long, dreary months? And me being forced over here in your stead? The old man's less than pleased with his green-eyed boy. He hated the notion of you let loose on an unsuspecting Paris." Murphy's voice sharpened. "Ray, step back, man!" As he spoke he dragged Doyle from the approaching wheels of a heavily-laden wagon.

Shaken, Doyle faced him full on for the first time and Murphy sucked in his breath when he saw the other man's gaze slip past him.

"What day and month is it?" Doyle's set expression dared the other man to offer him pity. "I was an inmate of the Bastille until my release earlier today."

"So that's where you were taken. Dear God, Ray. It's the fourteenth of July 1789."

"I thought the year must be further advanced than that," said Doyle after a moment. It seemed that he and John Brown had spent a lifetime together. "I must return there - to the Bastille. Now. There's someone I must find. A prisoner. Like me. My cell-mate."

Murphy's hard gaze softened when he saw the other man's forceful stare try to command the lintel of a door. "There's no one left alive in there. As I passed they were hoisting heads onto pikes." He grabbed the swaying figure, concerned by the other man's loss of colour. "Bear up, man. Here, sit for a moment."

Doyle shook himself free. "I am well enough."

"You should see the bruises you're sporting."

"Damn it, Murphy, there's someone I must find. A friend." He clutched the other man's arm, his grip biting to the bone.

"I might have guessed," muttered the Irishman, no proof against the poorly-hidden grief. "That tender heart of yours. How long have you been blind?"

"Since last October," replied Doyle absently, unconsciously listening for one voice among the multitude thronging around them. "Go to the Bastille for me. Ascertain the whereabouts and well-being of a man called John Brown. Of England. He was a prisoner as I was."

"Only a lunatic would return there at present. You have no comprehension. The whole area is swarming like a disturbed hornets' nest and as the wine flows the violence - There's no hope of being able to trace one man."

"I'll go myself as you're so reluctant."

One glance at his companion's expression killed whatever comment had been hovering on Murphy's lips. "Ah, well, if it's that determined that you are, I'll do what I can. Can you give me a description of him at all?"

"You swear you'll try?" demanded Doyle, remembering those honeyed tones of old.

Murphy gave a wounded sigh. "Saints alive, your spell in prison has done nothing to blunt your tongue. I swear by the old man's teeth," he said, using the oath familiar to all those in the section who had listened to innocents meeting George Cowley for the first time swear that his bark was worse than his bite.

Doyle relaxed his grip on the other man's forearm. "I would appreciate it, Pat. He's important to me." He quickly supplied a description, adding, "Oh, and he has oddly shaped eyebrows."

"Oddly shaped eyebrows?" echoed Murphy with disbelief. He heaved a weighty sigh and put his hand under Doyle's elbow with a firmness which refused to be shaken off. "Well, with a description like that, how could I be missing him? Let's get you to a place of safety and I'll go in search of your paragon."

The tension in Doyle's face was relieved when he gave a small grin. "It's no paragon you'll be finding, Murphy me old darling." It was an appalling imitation of the other man's warm brogue. "Far from it. I advise caution when you approach him."

"If you've started to think of caution I've a mind to find myself a suit of armour," said Murphy dryly as he recalled with ominous clarity some of his companion's madcap exploits of the past.

"Just find him for me, Pat."

"I'll try, I promise you that much."

With some relief, Murphy saw Doyle taken into the care of his manservant in the small house he had taken on the outskirts of the St. Antoine area of the city.

To give him his due, Murphy did search diligently for Doyle's mysterious Englishman. Those who had participated in the storming of the fortress had long since left to celebrate their victory, or to have their injuries tended to. Most of the guard were dead, but among the few disfigured bodies that were still sprawled in the passageways Murphy found one who matched the description he had been given, except that the face had been hideously disfigured by shot.

Resolving to make no mention of his find, or his suspicion that this was the missing prisoner to Doyle, and relieved to have an excuse to leave a country gone mad, Murphy returned to his small house to make arrangements for Doyle's safe passage to England.


His top plastered to him, his hair damp with sweat, Doyle elbowed the bedroom door open and almost lost the contents of the laden tray in the process. "Rise and shine," he called cheerfully, closing the door by the simple expedient of leaning against it. "You'll enjoy this. You'd better. I damn nearly blew us up making it. The kitchen's on the decrepit side. Bodie, come on, mate. This weighs a ton."

Glancing up, he saw the empty bed and rumpled bedclothes. Setting down the tray, Doyle checked the bathroom with a curious dread. He already knew it would be empty. Then he just stood for a moment; the silence of the room was deafening.

He automatically checked their few belongings, noting that some were missing but too dazed to notice which. His hands shaking slightly, he opened the vast wardrobe. Disbelief stopped him in his tracks. Bodie's leather jacket still hung there in lonely splendour, his holster and Magnum half-hidden beneath it. His weekend bag sat on the floor of the wardrobe, still neatly packed. Not daring to hope, Doyle checked the pockets of the jacket. Bodie's car keys, ID and wallet were all there. The lining smelt faintly of aftershave and Bodie.

Puzzled by this time, Doyle closed the wardrobe and relaxed back against it, feeling ashamed that he had found it so easy to believe Bodie would just walk out on him. Bodie was the one who was more willing to try...

Bodie must have gone to meet him, which was strange, because he hated early morning runs as a rule, claiming he'd been forced to go on too many in the army to do it when he was on holiday. Unlacing his running shoes, Doyle kicked them under a chair before he poured himself a cup of the cooling tea. If he went out again, the odds were that he'd miss Bodie.

Sprawling on the rumpled bed, he hitched up the pillows and made himself comfortable while he drank his tea. Enjoying the luxury of an unhurried morning, he idly listened to the sounds of life increasing; the smell of cooking bacon drifted through the open window.

After a leisurely bath and shave, he went to find clean clothes. He emptied the contents of his weekend bag onto the floor when his clean briefs and socks failed to materialise. If Bodie had nicked his because he'd forgotten to pack any again he would kill him. Hauling out his partner's bag, he found Bodie's and made his selection. It took a while to find his jeans where they had fallen to the floor behind the easy chair. His head halfway through his olive-green tee shirt, he realised that the silk shirt he had worn the day before was missing. Bodie, fastidious as a cat, would never voluntarily wear the same shirt two days running - let alone someone else's shirt. It was then that Doyle noticed that his jacket was missing.

What the hell was Bodie playing at? Come to that, where was he? It was half-past nine. He should have been back ages ago. Doyle studied the room through newly alert eyes. Uneasy, he remembered the state it had been in on his return. There was no way Bodie would have got up to go after him. He'd looked knackered. If it had been a call on CI5 business he would have waited, or found him, fast. Any other reason and he would have left a note or a message.

There was definitely no note. Doyle went to the internal phone and checked with the receptionist who had just taken over from the night porter Doyle had seen dozing when he returned to the hotel just before seven. Nope, no message. So where was he? With no money or car he wasn't going to get very far - unless he'd been taken. There was no sign of a struggle, but then there was no sign of Bodie either.

Anyone who could take Bodie that easily was either very good - Doyle's eyes came to rest on his own holster, the Smith and Wesson nestling inside the coiled strap - or Bodie realised he wasn't armed and knew he could be coming back at any time.

The certainty grew in him that Bodie must have been abducted. Not wasting his time and energy wondering by whom and for what purpose, Doyle pulled on his holster and grabbed Bodie's leather jacket from the wardrobe before he raced off to find an outside telephone line so he could contact the police.


"So now we are alone, what is it you wished to tell me?" asked Cowley briskly. He stared at the man who had been his most valuable agent, wondering if he would ever be able to make use of Doyle's formidable skills again.

"Someone within our organisation is supplying information to the French."

This was the first time Doyle had been alone with Cowley in the three days since he had been brought to the bustling offices just off Horse Guards Parade. Doyle still had not recovered from the bout of fever which had laid him low on the journey back to England. His debriefing about his time in France had to be paced to match the limits of his strength. Collecting his thoughts, he offered all the shreds of evidence which led him to suspect a traitor in their midst. When he eventually fell silent Cowley's expression was thoughtful as he looked at the younger man's exhausted face.

"Aye, well, that was all very edifying. I'll take what you told me into consideration when forming my appraisal of the situation," he said.

Doyle looked up sharply. "I should advise you to do more than that, sir."

"You wouldn't be attempting to teach me my own job by any chance?" Cowley inquired with suspect affability.

A faint smile lit Doyle's tired face. "I would not dare." After a few moments, he added, "I should like, if I may, to see - To be given the opportunity of being reunited with my family."

"Of course. I have a post-chaise waiting to convey you there. You'll have a great deal to catch up on. But make the most of your leave. I have plenty of work here to keep you busy on your return."

"But I'm blind," said Doyle blankly. It was the first time he had voluntarily referred to his lack of sight.

Cowley gave a smile of the grimmest satisfaction; it was a start. "I had noticed, lad. But you are not, I think, half-witted. There's a matter I want to discuss with you on your return to duty. But that's for the future. Let's get you home. You must be weary of this place."

It took no great strength of imagination to understand what the journey back to England and the bustle of London must have been like to a man who had been imprisoned for over nine months. There was a growing hesitancy in Doyle's manner that Cowley had no intention of permitting to develop. There were going to be some difficult times ahead as Doyle adjusted to his lack of vision in a once familiar world.

Picking up his silver-topped cane, Cowley limped around his desk. "Come, lad. Let's get you home," he repeated gruffly.

Sitting upright in his corner of the jolting coach, Cowley spared his companion an assessing glance. Slouched in the opposite corner, his hands dug into the pockets of his skin-tight breeches as he swayed with the movement of the coach, Doyle's expression was marred by a ferocious scowl. He had fallen silent as their journey out of London continued, his thoughts clearly unhappy. Cowley did not make the mistake of believing Doyle to be anticipating his reunion with his family. The brooding figure was impossible to ignore.

"Cheer up, man," he said with the brisk irritation of the healthy with the sick, "the worst is behind you." Doyle's head swung around in his direction, the icy gaze unerringly placing him.

"No doubt," agreed Doyle without colour. "My resignation will be on your desk the moment I find someone able to pen it for me."

"You're being nonsensical," snapped Cowley. He had to raise his voice over the noise outside. A horn blared out, followed by shouts from their coachman and guard. "What the blazes - ?"

There was a jarring crash and the world turned upside down. Shaken, Cowley heard the shrill scream of terrified horses. The post-chaise lay drunkenly in a ditch into which it had been forced. Righting himself and dabbing at his split lip, he picked himself up and lowered the window to thrust his head out.

"You, Turner, isn't it? What the devil do you mean by this? Are you foxed, man? Come, help me out. Don't just stand there gawping."

"I am not foxed, sir," refuted Turner nervously, wishing he had denied all knowledge of being able to handle a team of four. But it had been an opportunity to bring himself to Cowley's attention. "We were forced off the road by some young bucks out to make sport." He pointed to the phaeton bowling down the highway.

"I'll take a description of them later," promised Cowley with a grim displeasure. "The horses?"

"Frightened, no more. Jem is tending to them now. We'll soon have the coach to rights, sir. What of Mister Doyle?"

"What indeed?" Cowley turned back to the body of the coach. "Ray, come on, man. Let's be having you."

Doyle, who lay sprawled on the floor, did not move. His face was pale and there was an already darkening bruise visible over one eye.

"Damn," said Cowley savagely. "Turner, don't just stand there, man. Help me to get him out. And carefully."

Within a short space of time they had Doyle lying on the grassy bank, his head pillowed on Turner's folded coat, and his neckcloth loosened. He seemed to have sustained no other injury except the blow to his head.

"Shall I send Jem for a physician, sir?" asked Turner anxiously.

Cowley was watching the unconscious face intently, noting the signs of a return to awareness. "We'll see how he does first."

One hand going to his skull, which felt as if it had been cracked, Doyle blinked dazedly, wincing as he opened his eyes and was assaulted by the light. Unsurprised, he stared up into Cowley's face.

"There's blood on your lip," Doyle told him matter-of-factly. He sat up, then stood, with caution.

Cowley was too taken aback to think of stopping him. "I cut my lip when the coach overturned."

Turner made to speak and Cowley bore down hard on his foot.

Doyle turned to the younger man, who was scarlet as he choked on a grunt of pain. There was a frown between Doyle's narrowed eyes. "Simon Turner, is it not? Were you injured?"

"You were our first casualty," Cowley broke in to tell him. He glared Turner into silence. "You have a fine lump above your eye. How do you feel otherwise?" he added, watching Doyle intently.

"I'm well enough, although the sunlight is enough to - " Doyle's voice trailed away. His eyes huge in a pale face, he stared at Cowley.

"I can see!" he choked huskily, his disbelief obvious. He went terribly still, as if he was afraid to move.

"So you can," agreed Cowley, at his most prosaic. "Come and sit down, laddie. Rest a while. Don't overtax your strength."

Turner wondered at the older man's softened expression.

"I can see!" Doyle slowly raised his hand and stared at it as if he had never seen it before. Blinking rapidly, he turned full circle, absorbing the colours and forms of the August countryside, the wrecked carriage, and the faces staring at him with various degrees of concern. His own expression slowly changed.

"I can see!"

A blazing smile of sheer triumph lit his face. Motionless, energy seemed to pour from him. Then he leapt forward to take Cowley in a fierce bear-hug, whirling him around in a joyous dance before he released him, self-consciously straightened the older man's sober waistcoat and stepped back a pace.

"My apologies, sir," he said with abrupt formality, but an irrepressible smile broke through, almost seducing Cowley into responding.

"Aye, well, I doubt that you'll be planning to make a habit of it," he said dryly. Clapping Doyle on the shoulder, his smile was warm with affection. "Congratulations, lad. What was that you were saying about resigning?"

Still on the edge of shock, Doyle stared at him, a grin spreading across his face. "You devious, double-dealing old bastard," he breathed in a tone pitched for the older man's ears alone. "Do you never let up?"

Cowley subjected him to a severe glare. "Not when there are matters requiring your attention. Two weeks' leave should suffice, I think. Turner, give us ten minutes. We'll stroll on ahead."

Adjusting his stride to the older man's slower pace, Doyle walked in silence as he absorbed the glorious fact that he could see again. He found that he had to avoid the sun, which made his eyes water at present, but otherwise his vision was perfect. Cowley, with more sensitivity than many of his men would have given him credit for, did not interrupt his reverie.

"I shall require more than two weeks' leave," Doyle announced finally, in a tone Cowley had not dared to hope he might hear yet awhile. "I shall need a month beside."

"For what purpose?" Cowley demanded.

"I have a journey to make."

Cowley stopped walking. "If you are trying to provoke me you're succeeding admirably. A journey to where?"

"Lancashire. Do we have any contacts there?"

"Lancashire?" repeated Cowley blankly. "What the devil takes you to Lancashire?"

"There's someone I mean to find." Doyle's expression was sombre, his brows drawn together as he frowned down at the roadway.

Cowley knew the younger man had enjoyed precious few opportunities of meeting anyone. Only one name had recurred. "John Brown, your former cell-mate?" he hazarded.

Already making plans, Doyle gave an absent nod.

Giving him a look of deep regret, Cowley sighed. He hated what he must tell Doyle, now of all times.

"John Brown is dead," he said quietly. "Murphy found his body in the Bastille. He had been dead for some hours. Shot. Murphy could not bring himself to tell you when you were already so ill with the fever."

Doyle flinched as if he had just received a mortal wound.

He didn't doubt the truth of what Cowley had told him, or attempt to question him in any way. His too-controlled face was devoid of colour or expression.

"I'm sorry, lad. Fortunes of war," offered Cowley awkwardly.

Doyle stared, his eyes blank, at the empty road ahead of him. "Would you have any objection to my walking on alone for a while, sir?" he said, too numb to be surprised at how normal his voice sounded.

"Of course not, lad. We'll pick you up."

When Cowley returned to the coach he turned to see that Doyle was still standing where he had left him, his head bowed. Turning from the sight, his expression grim, Cowley deliberately slowed the work of repairing the traces to give the younger man time to come to terms with his loss in private.


Becoming increasingly enraged at the contents and style of the poorly written report he was reading, Cowley avoided tipping over his cup as he made a grab for the telephone receiver. "What?" he demanded with impatience, still scanning the printed page.

"Doyle, sir. Bodie's been taken."

"Taken where?" asked Cowley absently. Having granted his two top operatives some leave, he had dismissed them from his thoughts. With only half his attention given to the conversation he had not noticed the lack of colour in Doyle's quiet voice.

"Unknown. He was abducted while I was out running this morning. The hotel is old, the night porter was dozing. I contacted the local police at 9.35. Their investigations have revealed that Bodie may have been taken as early as six o'clock. The getaway car could be an electric blue Granada."

Doyle swiftly itemised the actions he had taken and the scanty information they had gathered. "They're still trying to trace the Granada," he added.

The report forgotten, Cowley had already called through to his secretary and passed her a scribbled note.

"So why did they take Bodie?"

"I think in mistake for me. The porter reported getting a phone call late last night asking if I had checked in yet. The caller was male - London accent is the best I could get. Though down here anyone from the south-east would probably qualify. The room was booked in my name, Bodie forgot to sign the register, so as far as anyone but the receptionist knew I was alone. Besides, Bodie left wearing my shirt and jacket. I think he was trying to tell me what had happened the only way he could."

"So you think someone wants you that badly. Careless of them not to have a description of you. Sloppy. I can't believe it will take long to find them. Is this a CI5 matter or a left-over from your time in the Met?"

"Unknown. My guess would be the Met. I need some computer time."

"I thought you might," said Cowley dryly, knowing a tie-in was already taking place with the computer at Scotland Yard. Establishing who out of Doyle's arrests over the years, both in the police force and CI5, would have sufficient motive, means and opportunity wasn't going to be easy. "I'm glad to hear you're actually using the brains you were given. Are you still at the hotel?"

"Yes, because - "

"Then get yourself back here on the double. You're going to have a lot of work to do." The door opened and Cowley waved Connors and Rice onto chairs opposite him.

"I'm staying here," said Doyle in flat contradiction. "I'm not risking the fact they might not know how else to trace me. They're going to discover they've got the wrong man. There's a good chance they'll try to bargain with Bodie if they want me badly enough. That'll give us a lead to him."

"I'll have no bargaining with kidnappers," snapped Cowley immediately.

"You won't have to, it's me they want."

"4.5, let's get one thing quite clear. While you work for CI5 you work under orders or not at all. You call me before you take any action." There was no response. "Doyle, did you hear me?"

"Clearly, but we both know I'm staying here. You'll let me know what names the computer comes up with?" There was a hard, abrasive quality to Doyle's voice that warned Cowley not to push too hard.

"Of course. They're working on it already." Cowley was checking through duty rosters and locations. "You'll have a back-up team with you within an hour or so. I'm sending a helicopter down to you. You'll need it in the event you get a call. As soon as you do, I want to hear about it. Clear? Bodie's well able to take care of himself."

Cowley recognised the inanity of what he had said too late. Doyle's response, given the strain he was under, was predictable. Cowley heard him out in a forbearing silence. Connors and Rice studiously looked out of the window; they could hear Doyle's voice from where they sat.

"Thank you, 4.5. I'll take your suggestions under advisement. Meanwhile, I suggest you get a grip on your temper," Cowley said icily when Doyle had to pause for breath. He spoke to an empty line; Doyle had cut the connection.

Deciding that he would have a word or two to say to him when next they met, Cowley continued to set the investigative wheels in motion.


Barging through a side door, mindful of the unconscious figure in his arms, Bodie called out, "Jedediah, where the blazes are you, man? Can't we have some light about the place. Damn it. Jedediah!"

He stumbled into the hallway, inadvertently tripping over a low footstool. Cursing, he just avoided stumbling over the dog, who was still padding at his heels.

Jedediah, who had been on the point of retiring for the night, glared down from the top of the stairs, his expression growing more sour as he saw the unconscious man in Bodie's arms. Eyeing the body with open disfavour, he dragged on his outdoor coat over his nightshirt.

"There you are. Are there any bedrooms fit for use?" Bodie asked more moderately as he mounted the stairs.

"You know full well there ain't. Bertha's been a beggin' of you to get her more staff. Now you know why. Who's that?"

"It will have to be my chamber then," said Bodie with a resigned sigh. "He's a survivor from the wreck. Until I find out more about him, you'll take pains not to mention his presence outside the house. Clear?"

"Clear," acknowledged Jedediah, his eyes fixed on the chains on the stranger's thin wrists. "Nice line in guests you have."

"Jedediah...." warned Bodie. He was in no mood for a lecture.

"All right, all right. Just so long as you know what you're doing. No one else ever does, that's for sure."

Picking up a branch of candles, Jedediah glared at the younger man from beneath his grizzled eyebrows but forbore to say anything else. He hadn't seen this light in the Master's eyes since he was seven years old and he and Bertha had given the boy one of Elsa's pups. He'd just stood there, his eyes glowing, almost afraid to touch the wriggling bundle. That inner glow had remained with him for a full month, until his father had returned home and ordered one of the stable lads to drown the pup.

There was some quality in the unconscious face lolling over the back of Bodie's arm that made Jedediah fear for his master's peace of mind. Whatever he might choose to pretend, Master William was too involved with this stranger already. Dangerously so. Collecting his scattered wits, Jedediah realised they had arrived in the main bedchamber. He looked up as Bodie, breathing heavily now from his climb, gave him an impatient nudge with his shoulder.

"Well, pull back the curtains. Or were you proposing to stand there gawping all night?" He carefully deposited Doyle on the bed, noting the bloodstained shirt with grim eyes.

"I'll want hot water, linen and some brandy," he announced without turning.

"And a physician by the look of him," said Jedediah pessimistically, making no effort to move. "He's in poor shape and he's soaking wet besides. It didn't occur to you to strip him off before you placed him on the bed?"

"No. No, it didn't," Bodie admitted vaguely, his attention elsewhere. "You'd best add fresh bed-linen to the list."

Jedediah glared at the younger man's back.

Bodie's attention remained fixed on the unconscious figure as he tried to make sense of his turbulent emotions. He both feared and yearned for the moment when Ray would recover consciousness. Hating the other man, he was drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

He started when a hand rested on his arm.

"And yourself, are you all right?"

Turning in surprise, a brief smile of great sweetness lit Bodie's face when he saw the ill-concealed affection in Jedediah's eyes.

"Never better," he assured the older man. He gestured to Doyle. "Will Bertha tend to him, do you think?"

Jedediah paused in the doorway and gave a wry grin. "You know Bertha. She'll revel in having an invalid under her charge. You'd best be getting him out of those wet rags afore he bleeds all over the spread, while I go and rouse her. She's been sleeping this hour and more."

Bodie nodded his thanks and re-approached the bedside. He studied Doyle's face, scarcely able to believe that Ray was alive. But the proof was indubitably lying here in front of him. It was too distinctive a face to be easily banished from the mind's eye. He had changed so little. The years had obviously been kind to him.

Then he noticed the lines around the eyes and well-defined mouth, the hint of unhappiness in the curve of the lips. In repose Doyle's face had an austere, passionless quality, the bone structure reminding him of religious effigies from the Middle Ages. He smiled at his flight of fancy. Unless Ray had undergone a radical change of character that comparison was totally inaccurate. He could almost hear Doyle's wicked chuckle at the notion. His grin faded as he saw the touches of grey mingled with the chestnut hair at the sideburns. There were events in Ray's life for those signs of hurt that he would never know of. Ten years...

When Jedediah returned, trailing behind the comfortable bulk of his wife, Bodie was still staring at the waterlogged figure on the bed.

Scolding under her breath, Bertha took efficient and kindly charge of proceedings. Within a short space of time Doyle had been stripped of his wet clothing; the extensive wounds on his back and shoulders had been cleansed, his bruises anointed and his cracked ribs securely taped against further injury. At no point during her ministrations did he fully recover consciousness, although he had tried to twist away as she washed his gashed back with vinegar and water.

It had taken Bodie only a few minutes to open the locks of the manacles around Doyle's wrists, using a slender metal probe. Wordlessly he handed them to Jedediah to dispose of, his face a careful blank, denying the memories. Bertha seemed disposed to fuss over her charge. Bodie firmly indicated that he would sit up with the injured man and tend to him if necessary until he should regain consciousness.

After one glance at his set expression and the curiously vulnerable light in his eyes, Bertha made no further demur. Bundling her husband out of the room, she left the two men alone in the flickering firelight.

Bodie's eyes snapped open when he heard the unintelligible moan. Doyle had yet to regain consciousness but his feverish tossing had grown more violent, his face twisting with the pain such movements cost him. His skin was flaming to the touch, and drawn too tight across the bones of a face devoid of colour except for the hectic splashes across the cheekbones.

His reservations gone now he could act to some purpose, Bodie set about trying to break the fever. Wrapping damp sheets around the heated body, he sponged Doyle down, with a care for his wounds. The heat radiating from him quickly dried the sheets, whose confining folds Doyle obviously found uncomfortable. Eventually Bodie let him rest, for each sound of pain the unconscious man made tore through him.

The temperature in the room rose. Item by item Bodie peeled off his coat and waistcoat, unfastening his neckcloth and folding back the sleeves of his shirt. He became almost as damp as the man he was tending. He tried to persuade the semi-conscious figure to drink, alternately bullying and coaxing in an effort to get fluids inside him.

His calm, firm voice finally penetrated Doyle's fever-fogged brain. Blinking in the flickering half-light, he stared up into the pale face of the man at his side.

"Where am I?" he demanded huskily, staring with puzzled eyes at his unfamiliar surroundings.

Bodie told him, caution making his voice brisk and impersonal as he awaited the moment when Doyle would recognise it.

"... the storm must have driven your ship onto the rocks at the mouth of the cove," he concluded.

Doyle gave a wry smile. "Fortunately for me, as it happens. I was about to be cast, like bread, upon the waters." He couldn't control his bouts of shivering. He plucked at the clammy sheets which were wrapped around him and looked up in silent question.

"You have a high fever. They may be uncomfortable but they will help to reduce your temperature," explained Bodie.

Concerned, he forced himself to look directly at the conscious figure for the first time. The colour drained from his face as he met Doyle's eyes; green, and glittering with fever, they studied his every move with unconcealed interest.

"You can see," Bodie exclaimed, panic flooding through him. He took an unconscious step backwards.

Doyle's eyebrows arched up beneath his hairline before he winced and put a cautious hand to the swelling lump at his temple. "It's not an uncommon practice," he told his host, a half-question behind the levity.

Bodie stared at him with numb disbelief, a slow, cold pain spreading through him when he realised there was no recognition in Doyle's eyes, only a growing puzzlement.

"I feared the blow you'd sustained might have impaired your vision," he said brusquely.

His explanation didn't appear to convince Doyle, but he was obviously too well-mannered to comment further.

Bodie forgot his shock and dragging misery when, opening his mouth to say something, Doyle began to cough and immediately convulsed as the harsh movements jarred his cracked ribs. Having started to cough he could not seem to stop and the pain intensified in a fiery spiral.

"My thanks," he croaked weakly when at last the fit was over. He gave an unconscious sigh when strong, cool hands settled him comfortably back against the support of the pillows.

"It's of no consequence," Bodie told him shortly. He was appalled at the sound of the harsh, racking cough and the struggle to regain breath afterwards. Remembering Bertha's instructions, he handed Doyle a glass of fruit juice.

Doyle gave it an unenthusiastic look and made no move to take it from him.

"You must drink fluids," Bodie told him firmly. "This will ease your throat and help to flush the fever from your system."

He seemed an unlikely source of such homely advice, thought Doyle with a flash of amusement. The stabbing pain in his side and chest easing, he obediently took the proffered glass. Eyeing his host from over the rim with speculative interest, he took a cautious sip. It was unexpectedly pleasant, if reminiscent of his nursery days.

"I am being a great trial to you," he said apologetically. "May I know who I am to thank? My name is Doyle. Raymond Doyle of London."

"Bodie," he said, remembering another time and another introduction.

A smile twitched the corners of Doyle's mouth. "Mister Bodie, no more?"

Ray's curiosity had always been his besetting sin, Bodie remembered absently, unaware that he had returned the other man's smile.

"William Andrew Philip. I prefer to use Bodie only."

"Short and not too sweet. It suits you," murmured Doyle, his eyelids dropping to a close.

Suddenly realising what he had let slip in his drowsy state his eyes snapped open again. He looked ruefully up at Bodie with a heightened colour. "My apologies, that was not intended as a slight."

"I know." Bodie's next smile took the years from his face and made Doyle reassess the other man's age. "Rest easy. I rarely take offence where none was intended." Bodie turned away to place Doyle's empty glass onto the bedside table, made uneasy by the searching gaze that had lost none of its power to disconcert.

"Forgive me, but have we met somewhere before?" asked Doyle hesitantly. With some effort he pulled himself up the bed, tantalised by the strange sense of familiarity he was experiencing with his host. He bit his lip when his cracked ribs protested.

Bodie tensed and took care that his face should remain in the shadows. "No." The lie was instinctive, self-preservation coming to the fore. He didn't trust his control enough to respond with the obvious question.

To be so close yet so distant was unbearable. His hand clenched with unconscious power around the glass he still held; it shattered. Acting as if nothing untoward had occurred, he collected up the pieces and deposited them in the fire, ignoring the smart of his gashed palm.

"That should be attended to," Doyle advised him, watching the other man's every move. He was aware of the tension in the room but could not begin to guess at its cause.

Bodie whirled around to glare down at him from his advantage of height. "You should be asleep."

"Doubtless, but at the risk of sounding ungrateful, my ribs will not permit me sufficient ease." Doyle offered a placating smile.

With a look of intense displeasure Bodie approached the bedside table and took up a small bottle. "I have laudanum here. You should have spoken earlier." He poured a few drops into a measure.

Doyle's hand shot out, restraining him with an unexpected power. "No," he exclaimed with some force.

Bodie's eyebrows snapped together. He stared haughtily down, first at the hand gripping his wrist, then into Doyle's eyes. His rising anger blinded him to the fleeting panic which crossed Doyle's face, beneath the determination.

"I never take laudanum," he stated in a flat voice that brooked no contradiction. He offered no other explanation for his behaviour.

"You will on this occasion," Bodie told him, infuriated by the other man's high-handed attitude.

Doyle's gaze did not waver as he searched Bodie's indifferent face. "You could force me to take the dose, of course," he conceded, his voice cold. "But if you truly seek my recovery I should not advise you to try. The attempt will injure us both."

"Damn it to hell, who do you imagine you are talking to?" demanded Bodie, his temper slipping from constraint. He held out the measure, determined to help the other man whether he wanted that help or not.

His face taut with repudiation, Doyle swung his head away, his lips compressed. Bodie grasped his chin and forcibly turned him back to the waiting measure. His eyes narrowed to slits of fury, Doyle knocked the measure from his hand, spilling the contents down Bodie's shirt front. The other man's instinctive retaliatory blow was blocked with a force that jarred bone.

Forgetting Doyle's injuries, and indeed who he was fighting and why, Bodie grimly set about mastering the other man. As Doyle twisted to evade his grip, hampered by the sheets wrapped around him, a sharp cry of agony escaped him. Clutching his side, his knees jack-knifed up into his chest; he curled on his uninjured side in a fruitless attempt to minimise the pain. Then his breath caught and he began to cough again.

His eyes dark with remorse, Bodie held him as the tearing spasms gained momentum, to the point where Doyle began to retch, dry heaves convulsing him. His face scarlet, his lashes damp and spiky, he lay spent over Bodie's supporting arm, trembling with pain and his breath coming in ragged gasps. The wounds in his back had re-opened but Bodie was more concerned that a cracked rib might have penetrated a lung. His scanty medical knowledge was sufficient to make him check Doyle's lips; while colourless, there was no sign of blood on them. Not knowing what other symptoms to look out for, Bodie could only trust that all was well and offer what comfort he could to the exhausted, pain-racked man in his arms.

Drawing closer, he offered his own body warmth until the pain should have eased enough for Doyle to settle back under dry covers. Dragging away the damp sheeting, he pulled the warmth of the feather spread as far over Doyle as he could while he was still supporting him. With that close proximity he discovered he had forgotten nothing about Ray Doyle; he remembered the sensation of the skin under his fingertips, the contours of the spine and curve of the throat. Memories flooding him, Bodie closed his eyes, seeking to regain his shaky composure. Opening them moments later, he stared with grim concentration at the panelling behind the headboard and tried to ignore the soft tangle of hair tickling his chin.

Aware only of the palpable tension between them, Doyle forced himself to raise his bowed head as he stared at his host's half-averted face. Misinterpreting Bodie's tension for anger, he resisted the temptation simply to close his eyes and feign unconsciousness. In truth, it would not have been difficult. Doyle knew further resistance to be beyond him, and knew also that he must offer some explanation for his behaviour. Bodie had meant well in offering him the opiate; his over-reaction must seem both inexplicable and unforgivable.

"You deserve some explanation for my behaviour," he said in an attenuated whisper, pain spearing him with each breath. "I'm an artist. My life hasn't always followed the conventional paths. There was a period when I took vast quantities of laudanum in its unrefined state. It came to the point where I could no longer function without it."

He didn't choose to add that his addiction had been forced on him, nor to make any mention of the black period when he had fought to regain his independence from the drug, hiding himself away from both friends and family while he did so. The mission had not been one of his outstanding successes; the memory of it could still make him sweat.

Square-tipped, capable hands ran lightly and up down his sides in reassurance. "You have no need to explain further. I have met people so addicted," said Bodie tightly. He wondered with horror at the straits which could have brought Ray to seek such a desperate escape from reality.

Seeing Doyle's eyes darken and his gaze drop, assuming his revulsion at the disclosure, Bodie could barely resist the temptation to hug the other man to him.

"Until now I have never met anyone who succeeded in evading its clutches," he added, his hands gentling the tensed frame.

"You believe me?" Doyle's expression betrayed his surprise at the other man's unquestioning acceptance of his word.

"I can do little else. You fight too well to be disbelieved. I'm a poor host to abuse a guest so. As you have witnessed, my temper is not mild when thwarted. The laudanum will be removed, have no fear. I will see that Bertha knows not to offer it. She has other herbs that may relieve your discomfort - she's wise in the ways of the country. There will be no potions to bring you harm, my word on it."

"I did not hurt you in the struggle?" Doyle checked anxiously.

Bodie's lips twitched. "Hardly. Though I would not care to meet you on equal terms. Do you think you could rest now?" He swallowed hard when Doyle's head drooped to rest trustingly in the hollow of his shoulder. The other man's breath was warm and damp against the skin of his throat.

Totally relaxed against the powerful body that held him with such gentleness, Doyle gave an acquiescent nod. He felt warm for the first time that night, and curiously reluctant to move from his comfortable resting place. But it was clear to him from the tension in the other man's body that Bodie was anxious to withdraw from the contact they shared. With some reluctance Doyle drew away and moments later lay back against the support of the pillows, his set face denying his discomfort. Bodie did not do him the courtesy of pretending to believe in his appearance of ease.

"I would offer you brandy but I think it would be unwise. You have a high fever and Bertha believes alcohol mixed with a fever impedes recovery. Shall I wake her to see if there is anything we can offer you?"

"Perhaps an undertaker?" Doyle suggested with would-be lightness. The sudden rigidity in Bodie's face caused his smile to fade. "It was but a jest."

"A poor one," Bodie told him in his most crushing manner. Drawing dry bed linen over Doyle with a deft competence, he avoided so much as the fleeting brush of skin on skin.

Doyle blinked but accepted the rebuke meekly. "Agreed. Thank you. There's nothing further I require. I have the constitution of a horse. The fever will soon pass. But, and only if you are not too fatigued, could you bear to exchange a little conversation?"

"Give me a moment to tend the fire," said Bodie immediately.

He did not hurry over the task. As he drew up a wing-backed chair by the side of the bed he took care to position it so that his face was in the shadows. It offered him the opportunity of studying Doyle without himself being observed too closely.

Doyle suppressed a smile as he recognised what Bodie had done, certain it could not have been accidental. But he didn't comment on the action; he had no wish to cross the other man again until he had the mental and physical strength for such a tussle. He found Bodie's behaviour intriguing; there was some mystery here that he would resolve before he was finished. Bodie was a cautious, if unorthodox host, his abrupt manner in direct contrast to the gentleness of his hands. He seemed remarkably unshockable for a country squire and Doyle looked forward to becoming better acquainted with him.

Uneasy under that unwavering stare, Bodie broke into speech. "When I discovered you on the beach, you wore chains. From your earlier comment it seems that you expected to find a watery grave. I wasn't aware that artists lived such adventurous lives."

Cursing his slackened wits, Doyle tried to collect his thoughts. He found concentration difficult; his sense of familiarity with his host, despite Bodie's lack of overt recognition, was another disconcerting factor to their conversation. He gave the shadowy figure a speculative look, tantalised by something he could not put a name to.

"Nor was I," he admitted easily. "I had a commission to fulfil in Plymouth." That, at least, was the truth. Cowley would have to be notified that their man had been intercepted and killed and the despatches taken. "When the sitting was over for the day I wandered down to the harbour where I was set upon by three men and rendered unconscious. The next thing I knew I was on board ship, destined for a watery grave." Doyle kept his tone light only with difficulty, knowing that his fate would have been even less pleasant but for the storm.

"May I ask why?" Bodie's voice revealed no more than polite interest. "The crew washed ashore were French, not British."

Doyle rubbed his nose, an expression of rueful irritation in his eyes. Damn, did the man miss nothing?

"I have no sympathies with the new régime, I assure you. I should explain, in my line of work... Well, suffice to say that each day can offer a new temptation. Many of my subjects are female. Bored, lonely women, unaccustomed to receiving any flattering attention from their menfolk. One of my sitters had unfortunately conceived an ill-timed passion for my person. Misunderstanding my interest, she declared her intention of abandoning her husband for me." Doyle allowed a hint of indignation to creep into his voice as he warmed to the tale he was concocting. "That's when I made my escape from London - for naturally she hadn't thought to consult me before making her announcement. The first I knew of it was when her husband, Marc Bonnard, an emigré, indicated his disapproval on board that ship. The storm was most timely." He paused and asked, "How many survived?"

"None save yourself that I am aware of," said Bodie unemotionally. He watched the changes of expression on Doyle's mercurial face.

He didn't believe the story he had been told for one moment. Equally, he could not believe him to be in the employ of the French - not after the experiences they had shared in France. He chose not to remember that their imprisonment had been under the old régime, or to recall Ray's weakness for supporting the underdog.

Doyle stared at him. "None? Dear God, but the sea is a hard task-master."

"I have known worse," replied Bodie laconically. He stretched out his legs as he leant back in his chair.

"So have I," Doyle admitted after a moment, his thoughts straying back to his calvinistic employer. "The storm must indeed have been fierce. It seems that I am further in your debt than I knew. My thanks. If I might impose further upon your kindness, I should like to send a missive to my lawyer to obtain funds and fresh clothing. I will burden your household for no longer than is necessary."

"You're no burden." His manner brusque, Bodie's brooding gaze was on the dancing flames in the grate. "I think it unlikely that you will be in any condition to travel for some days yet. Rest easy, man," he said with impatience, his dark gaze pinning Doyle where he lay, forestalling any protest he may have wished to voice. "I have no objection to a guest, although I can offer few comforts. I will arrange for your letter to be despatched when you are better able to write it. You will have others concerned for your welfare. May I send a message to your home?"

Doyle gingerly shook his aching head. "There's no need to put you to such inconvenience. My man will not expect me back until the end of the month at the earliest."

"You're not wed?"

Doyle was too exhausted to be able to conceal his surprise at the urgent note in the other man's voice. "No, and at eight and thirty I think it an unlikely occurrence now. My lifestyle is not secure - settled - enough," he amended, bitterness in his voice as he recalled Ann's pretext for ending their betrothal.

Seeing the shadowed eyes, Bodie changed the subject. Taking over the conversational burden when he saw the effort the other man was making to remain awake, he began a tedious description of the most recent acquisition to his stables. Keeping his voice at a monotone, he avoided any hint of the humorous and eventually had the satisfaction of seeing Doyle fall into a light doze.

Neither man gained much benefit from the remaining hours of the night. Each time Doyle stirred, Bodie could see his physical condition was worsening and could hear his rasping struggles for air and occasional gasps of pain. By the time Bertha came to relieve him just before dawn he was frankly glad to escape the tossing, pain-ridden figure for a cleansing ride along the cliff-top as he tried to batten down his errant emotions.

His cropped hair tousled in the sharp, clean air, he dismounted to stare sightlessly out at the horizon. In some ways the situation was easier than he could have anticipated. The Raymond Doyle lying back in his bedchamber was a stranger to him, a lifetime of shared experiences separating them.

It was obvious Doyle had no notion of his identity. Bodie tried to quash the memories that kept flicking through his tired brain. It would be impossible to resume a friendship begun under such bizarre conditions as a prison cell; propinquity had drawn them together, nothing else. Nothing, he told himself fiercely, closing his mind against the memories of tenderness, humour, passion and anger they had been able to share, the bond between them only strengthened by the sharing.

Riding back through the bustling village, smiling faintly when he overheard the ribald comments made about his unshaven appearance, Bodie resolved to take each day as it came. When Doyle recovered his physical strength he would leave to resume his own life. It would be better if he could accept that loss now and try to keep himself distanced from the other man's dangerous charm.


Fighting not to vomit, Bodie felt the car pull up to a halt and devoutly hoped the journey was over. The car shuddered as doors were slammed, then there was a scratching sound in his ear and keys jingled. He shut his eyes, feigning unconsciousness. Anything to buy time.

Fresh air rushed in, easing his immediate plight as the boot lid was raised.

"Right, out you come."

The fingers which locked in his hair brought tears to his eyes. Blinking balefully, Bodie squinted against the barrage of sunlight. In the event, they had physically to lift him out of the confined space. It had been a tight fit in the first place and his cramped and knotted body simply refused to obey him. He was half-carried, half-dragged into the lift by the side of the underground garage, which was empty except for another car. Letting his captors bear his full weight, Bodie didn't waste time assessing his chances of escape. He couldn't even stand unassisted at the moment. Not for the first time he cursed the efficiency of police-issue handcuffs.

"You look terrible," Ken told him happily.

Bodie closed his eyes, only too willing to believe him.

"Never mind," said Lennon cheerfully. "You wait till you see him later, Ken."

The lift doors opened onto a small, functional reception area, empty except for a half-completed desk and counter and some packing cases. The place smelt of wood shavings, glue and paint.

A faint groan escaped Bodie when he landed in an untidy heap in the corner of what was obviously intended for a storeroom. Windowless, with only one sturdy door that locked from the outside, it would make an efficient cell. He sat patiently encouraging the circulation to return to his bloodless limbs, while projecting a look of defeat.

Lennon stood watching him with a worried frown, his face ghostly in the harsh light cast by the solitary bulb. "I don't trust him," he said to no one in particular.

Bodie tried to look harmless but had a conspicuous lack of success.

"Ken, keep him covered. Alec, get rid of that tape. I've got a few questions I want to ask, Doyle."

Timing his movement and hoping he could achieve the necessary power from this angle, Bodie's leg slammed up, his foot aimed at Alec's groin. Tied as he was, the move lacked his usual speed and power; already wary, Alec turned and took the force of the blow on his outer thigh. As Bodie moved to follow through a bullet was placed between his parted thighs, kicking up splinters of wood. He froze.

Losing the plaster across his mouth was agony. That was before Alec kicked him once in the balls, leaving Bodie writhing in a foetal ball of pain, his lungs straining for air.

"All right, Alec. That's enough. Let's not damage the goods too much," Lennon reminded him quietly.

"Well done, Dave," said a new voice from the doorway. "I wasn't expectin' to see you this early. You've done a good - Who the fuck is he?" yelled Jack Hodge in disbelief as Bodie finally managed to sit up.

"Ray Doyle," Lennon said, looking from Bodie to Hodge and back again.

Wiping the worst of the blood onto his sleeve, Bodie gave an urbane smile. "Oh, did you think I was Ray?" he said, all innocence. "Sorry. He was out running when you picked me up. I'm his partner, Bodie."

Hodge blocked Lennon's blow at the last moment, his own rage cooling. There was a thoughtful look on his face which Bodie didn't care for at all.

"Leave it Dave. For now, anyway. I'm getting the beginnings of a good idea. It's my fault for not giving you a description of Doyle. I forgot none of you lot had ever met the double-dealing bastard." There was pure venom in his voice, his eyes mirroring it when he turned his attention back to Bodie. "Doyle's partner, did you say? Then maybe we'll find out how much you're worth to him alive."

Bodie manufactured an amused grin. "I doubt it, sunshine. There's no love lost between us. He'll probably volunteer to help you. Or pay you to keep me."

"Then how come the pair of you were sharing a room?" demanded Ken, latching on to the one fact he was certain of.

Bodie was almost tempted to tell them the truth before sanity prevailed.

"We were undercover." He sounded bored. Stretching out his legs with every appearance of ease, he glanced at each man in turn. "You really fucked up big-time, fellas," he told them provocatively. "Now you've got every copper and CI5 agent in the country looking out for me. And you."

"Maybe we have," Hodge conceded, "but first they've got to find you. Ken, dump the shooters. We won't need them here. There's other ways to keep this one under control. Well, Mister Bodie. Suppose we find out just how much your partner does think of you. You'd better pray it's enough. It probably will be," he added reflectively, "Doyle always was an easy touch for a sob-story."

No change there then, Bodie thought with resignation.

Hodge turned back to Lennon. "OK, he's all yours. If you've got any scores to settle, do it now. Just don't break too much. I'm off to make a couple of phone calls." As he left the small room Dave Lennon was already advancing on Bodie.


Bodie took his place in the master bedroom on the fourth night, half-dreading what he would find. Doyle's condition had deteriorated with a frightening rapidity. Only Bertha's skill with herbs and his own mistrust of medical men had prevented him from sending for a physician long ago.

"Remember now, call me if you need anything or if he grows worse," whispered Bertha. She turned in the doorway, her expression concerned. "And make sure you get some rest yourself, instead of tryin' to burn the candle at both ends. This one's a good enough lad but he ain't worth you wrecking your own health over, Master William."

"Bodie. His name is Bodie. No more, no less," said a husky voice from the bed.

Even as he turned Bodie knew Doyle would be smiling that familiar smile. His grin of delight faded when Doyle immediately began to cough again, the harsh sound tearing through the quiet room. All his attention given to Doyle, he did not notice Bertha leave the room at her husband's urging.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Bodie supported Doyle until he slumped against him in a semi-conscious stupor, exhausted by the paroxysm. His touch sure and gentle, Bodie wiped the burning skin with a cool cloth before he returned Doyle to the support of the banked-up pillows and brushed the tangled hair from his eyes. Doyle didn't stir but his drawn face revealed the toll four days of fever had taken of his strength. Only the bruises down one side of his face and the dark crescents of his lashes provided any colour to his seemingly bloodless skin. His rasping struggles for air and the crackling of the logs in the fireplace were the only sounds, except for the roar of the incoming tide.

Bodie sank into his armchair close to the bedside, hating it and everything else about the room now. Would the damn fever never break? Doyle was burning up before his eyes and there wasn't a single thing he could do but watch it happen. Patience had never been one of his virtues. He wasn't accustomed to feeling so helpless for he had always relied on his own resources to survive, taking his own strength and abilities for granted. Here they were of no purpose, for they could not aid Ray.

He had seen many die from congestion of the lungs. He had even nursed a fellow mercenary when they had been cut off from their main troop behind enemy lines. He had looked after him of necessity and with competence, but O'Herlian's death, when it had come, had not touched him beyond a moment of fleeting regret. Staring blankly into the glowing heart of the fire, Bodie tried to erase the fear from his mind. If he didn't think about it the worst would never happen. It was a childish superstition he had put behind him at the age of seven. Damn it, and damn Ray for making him care after all the years that had passed.

It was very hot in the room and he had not slept for more than two hours at a stretch since Doyle had been swept into his life. Under the hypnotic influence of the fire his eyelids drooped to a close; he was asleep in seconds.

Stiff and disorientated, he awoke to find the candles burnt down and Doyle in the throes of some feverish nightmare. He was thrashing wildly in a tangle of bed-linen, his face taut with the horror of what he saw. Before Bodie could reach him, pain from the cracked ribs obviously penetrated his fogged nightmare. He gave a shuddering cry, his eyes snapping open.

Bodie grasped the outflung hand. The sight of him seemed to reassure Doyle, who gave a faint, relieved smile before he was overtaken by another fit of coughing which threatened to tear him apart.

His eyes streaming by the time the fit eased, Doyle slumped against Bodie, each strained inhalation for air bringing fresh pain. Gradually his breathing eased, his face losing its unnatural colour. Small tremors of pain shivered through him; a whimper escaped him, his grasp on Bodie's arm tightening.

It was that sound which defeated Bodie utterly, for he knew what it took to bring the other man to such a case. Grasping Doyle's face firmly between his palms, he glared into the fever-bright eyes.

"Damn you to hell. Are you going to give up without a struggle and die on me? Fight, damn you," he commanded savagely. His hands cradled Doyle's burning skin, his fingers hard against the high planes of the cheekbones, shaking him slightly. "Come on, Ray, fight. Fight me, if not the fever."

The too-bright eyes closed. Bodie wasn't sure if Doyle had even heard his anguished plea. For a moment he was on the point of giving up. His eyes squeezed shut, he buried his face in the matted hair, his fingers lacing around the skull.

"If you die on me now I swear I'll follow you," he threatened shakily, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "I won't lose you again, do you hear me? I won't lose you again!"

Doyle mumbled something it was impossible to distinguish and burrowed closer into the warmth, vaguely aware that someone was calling him but unwilling to leave his safe refuge. There was an inexpressible relief in being able to trust so openly; to be able to set his burdens on a pair of broad shoulders until he should have recovered his strength. He eased into a dream-free sleep.

Bodie raised his head, fingers urgent as he checked the pulse in Doyle's neck before he relaxed. Heat was still radiating from Doyle's body, his skin burning to the touch, but his breathing seemed less laboured and he had not coughed for some minutes. Bodie sat holding the other man in that semi-embrace for what remained of the night.

Watching over the sleeping figure with the concentration of a hawk over a rabbit warren, Bodie willed his strength and vitality into the other man as he soothed Doyle with his voice and hands, flushing absurdly with pleasure when he realised that both seemed to quieten him a little.

By dawn the entwined figures were both drenched with sweat: the fever had broken.

Propped against a bank of pillows, Doyle slammed shut the book he had been staring at, abandoning the pretence of being able to read it. Bodie had left the house early the day before, having left the door of the library locked. In the absence of a key, this was the only volume Bertha had been able to produce. Doyle gave it a look of disbelief. He refused to believe Bodie would ever entertain the notion of sitting through a single sermon, never mind actually perusing a book of them.

Giving a gusty sigh, he tossed the book to the foot of the bed as he admitted the real cause of his irritation. He was bored to distraction. Too weak to leave the bed, he was recovered enough to resent his predicament, ready to vent his frustration on the first person he saw.

No one had come near him. Bodie was away on unspecified business, Jedediah had taken Bertha to the local market and the two chits who now spent part of every day working here had been warned away from him by Bertha in no uncertain terms. They were doubtless giggling together in the kitchen.

It had been a long, tedious day. Even the dog, who had taken to spending some hours with him each day, lolling fatuously under a caressing hand, had abandoned him for the pleasure of the Spring sunshine that was flooding the room.

Doyle was prepared to admit to himself that during the last two days he had come to miss his host abominably. Bodie's caustic wit and bracing manner had provided a welcome diversion from his discomfort and Bertha's over-protective care, although it still pained him to laugh. He knew his feelings of abandonment to be unreasonable but, wallowing in misery, he was too irritable to care. Bodie had taken to spending each evening with him. They would talk over the port, or he would read aloud, adding his own scurrilous comments to the broadsheets that still appeared, or they played cards or dice. Bodie cheated without shame on discovering Doyle's habitual good fortune. He was a skilled card-sharp and Doyle still had to master the knack of palming the ace as neatly, despite Bodie's patient efforts to teach him that art.

Bodie made an unpredictable companion; moments of ease could freeze into a cold formality, then thaw again, all for no cause that Doyle could discern. He didn't question the swings in the other man's mood because it would have been an unwarranted intrusion of a privacy which Bodie obviously held dear. Besides, it was clear that he was exhausted.

Doyle had been at a loss to account for the cause, until it occurred to him that Bertha and Jedediah could not have tended him continuously. Much of his stay at Shambolt's Cove was unclear to him, lost in a pain-ridden confusion of fever, but he remembered cool hands against his heat and the sound of a calm voice waking him from some fever-driven nightmare.

It was the tenderness he remembered which had made Doyle doubt it could have been Bodie, for there was no hint that he was capable of such gentle emotion in his usual manner. Then, one night, unable to sleep for any period of time, he had stirred to find Bodie sitting beside him, his unguarded expression one Doyle could still see in his mind's eye. Sensing the deep unhappiness of the brooding figure he had asked what was wrong and recognised his mistake immediately. His face smoothing in an instant, Bodie had made some flippant comment and left soon afterwards. When he returned in the morning it was in the company of Bertha and his manner had been curt to the point of incivility, drawing a reproof from Bertha. Doyle had seen little of Bodie since then.

He reminded himself that he had no cause to complain of the change. It was only to be expected. Bodie had expended a great deal of time and effort in tending to him. He was an unlikely candidate for a nursemaid; his patience was obviously worn away.

Cowley would receive his message by the end of the week. It should only take a few days longer for someone to make the journey down from London to receive his report and bring him funds and clothing. Then he would be free to leave Shambolt's Cove and put up at a posting house until he was equal to making the journey back to town.

Doyle refused to admit, even to himself, how weak the bout of fever had left him. It still took all his strength to leave the bed, never mind contemplate quitting the house. Worse than that, he had no real wish to leave. In fact he would welcome the opportunity to further his acquaintance with his host. Bodie infuriated, intrigued and exasperated him, sometimes at the same moment, but he couldn't quash the conviction that in Bodie he had found someone he could call 'friend' and mean it. But there was little chance of such a relationship flourishing. He must leave and permit Bodie to resume his normal lifestyle as soon as he was able. Besides, if he truly wished to know the other man better he would have to be prepared to commit himself, and that was something he had done only once in his life.

Blocking the memory, something he had become expert at over the years, Doyle decided it was time to hasten the speed of his recovery. Throwing back the bedcovers, he sat on the edge of the mattress, grimacing as his ribs and torn back protested at the same time. Swaying, he made it to his feet.

He was weaker than a babe in arms, he discovered, the realisation spurring him to move from the security of the bed. Moving with caution, his hand pressed to his side, he finally reached the casement windows that looked down onto the rocks below. Grateful for any prop, he leant forward and rested his heated face against the glass. He had found the temperature in the room warm before his endeavours; he was sweating freely now, the hair clinging damply to his forehead. When he had the breath to spare he opened the stiff casement window. He gave a sigh of relief as the warm, salt-laden air played over his skin.

It was a fine day, the near-motionless sea glinting innocently in the sunlight, its power leashed after the storm that had pounded the coastline for the last twelve days.

Doyle frowned pensively as he stared out across the horizon. Cowley was going to be furious that the despatches had been lost. There must be another breach in their security; it was the only explanation for their man being intercepted before he had a chance to pass on the papers. Ten years ago another breach had been traced to the Foreign Office via a trail of blackmail and gambling debts. This time? Who knew? There had been an increasing number of assignments that had gone awry, not merely those relating to the surveillance of the situation in France or conduct of the war. Finding the traitor in their midst was Cowley's task. If he couldn't succeed, no man could. Until then, it was an uneasy feeling to know you could not trust the men with whom you worked. But then he should be used to that. He'd known the risks when he had joined.

That did not reduce his sense of loneliness. The one time he had been free to trust he had been a prisoner. But propinquity had had nothing to do with the friendship - damn it, the love - which had grown between John -

Doyle clamped down hard on the memories. Reminiscing was a pastime he had forbidden himself to indulge in; it was too painful. Lost in melancholy thoughts, he did not hear the bedroom door open.

Still dressed in his mud-stained riding clothes, Bodie came to an abrupt halt, his greeting dying unvoiced when he saw Doyle's naked figure standing directly in front of him. His hand clenched over the door handle as his breath caught in his throat.

Ray stood in the full light of the sun which flooded through the leaded windows, the play of light and shadow highlighting the naked length of him. He looked a lonely and somewhat vulnerable figure, his bowed head and slumped shoulders giving some indication of his mood. The unruly hair curling riotously to the nape of his neck was lit in a myriad shades of chestnut by the sun, the breeze from the open window ruffling it into further disorder. Unwilling to disturb the other man, Bodie continued to study him through hungry eyes.

Doyle moved slightly, re-apportioning his weight, and Bodie was made achingly aware of every flex of muscle down the long spine; the clench of a rounded buttock, the bunch of muscle in calf and thigh as he leant forward again, his head drooping as if his neck could not bear its weight. There was a forlorn dignity about him as he stood quite unconscious of the man watching him so intently.

Bodie discovered he was shaking. He hadn't realised how beautiful the other man was. The light in the cell had been poor, Doyle's blindness preventing him from studying his companion as avidly as he might otherwise have done. Since Doyle's arrival at Shambolt's Cove he had forbidden himself to study him through the eyes of a lover, trying to maintain his distance.

He might just as well have tried to stop himself from breathing.

It was impossible to stop staring, trying to imprint every tiny detail in his mind's eye. The muscled planes of the wide shoulders were still marred by the deep, ugly-looking gashes Doyle had sustained as he was buffeted against the rocks, but elsewhere his skin gleamed in the mellow light of the afternoon sun, the faint sheen of sweat highlighting the dusting of hair in the hollow of his back, and the more generous allowance on his legs and forearms. When a long-fingered hand moved where it rested against the window catch Bodie relived the memories of that hand on his body, loving him.

His very bones feeling as if he was melting, Bodie knew with an aching clarity that all his efforts to keep himself distanced from Doyle had been useless. He was captured whether he willed it or no, the ten years falling away as if they had never been. Whatever he might have tried to convince himself earlier, Ray was no stranger to him. The years might have wrought many changes but not that many. He was beginning to believe that no amount of time could achieve that.

It didn't surprise him that he should still desire the elegant body, but foolishly he had hoped that physical hunger was all that remained. Now he could no longer pretend that was the case. Even with his blood singing with a sweet fire, his body yearning for that muscular strength moving against him, he knew that desire was the least of his feelings. For the first time in ten years he felt alive with every cell of his body.

His hand clenched white-knuckled with pressure on the door handle. He wanted desperately to break his self-imposed ban and reveal his true identity to Doyle. Fear constricted his throat. Having kept silent for this long, what possible explanation could he offer now? Besides, he wasn't sure if he would be able to bear Doyle's rejection, or to see him remember and look at him questioningly, trying from courtesy to offer some response. Those green eyes had always been able to see into the heart of him. Even when blind Ray had possessed an uncanny perception. Now that he could see...

From the moment he had found the injured, sea-swept figure on the beach Bodie had been braced for some spark of recognition, some hint of familiarity. There had been none except for that one query Doyle had made on the first night. He would have staked his life on Doyle's genuine feeling for him when they had shared their captivity. Obviously he had been in error. What they had shared couldn't have meant much; Doyle would not otherwise have dismissed John Brown so readily from his thoughts.

Pain from his cramped fingers drew Bodie back to an awareness of his situation and the role he had chosen to play. If he continued to stand here like a love-sick puppy Ray would believe he was deranged. Needing both support, and to hide his erection, Bodie leant over the back of a wing-backed chair, schooled his expression and announced his presence.

"Bertha led me to believe you would be resting, so how is it that I find you out of bed?"

Doyle turned, a smile of unconcealed pleasure lighting the bleakness of his face. "I thought you must be away for another night at least."

"I should have been," Bodie admitted, "but I managed to conclude the transaction earlier than I had anticipated." He didn't choose to explain that the speed with which he had done so had been costly, or to admit he had been anxious to return and satisfy himself as to Ray's well-being.

Doyle surveyed him thoughtfully, a smile at the back of his eyes. "Business went well for you."

"What makes you assume that?"

"Your faint look of superiority," Doyle told him with mock-seriousness, still trying to place the other man's expression. Bodie just grinned before unfastening his coat and pulling his neckcloth free with a small sigh of relief.

Taking in the dark blue finery of Bodie's riding coat and the buff, mud-stained breeches, while noting how well they became the other man's muscular thighs and calves, Doyle said, "It's a fine day to have been out riding."

"It is indeed." Bodie tried to appear unconscious of the frank appraisal of his person. "But until you can walk unaided from this room you'll have to resign yourself to hearing of my success at the sales. You're looking fitter already," he added encouragingly. "At this rate you'll soon be up and about."

Doyle grunted in agreement, half-turning to glance out of the window. He had been confined for so long. The light caught his face, revealing the lines of pain and fatigue he sought to disguise. The full mouth was drawn in a little and from the set of his shoulders it was clear he was still in some discomfort.

"Can you return to bed without assistance?" Bodie asked, quelling the rush of tenderness which threatened to overwhelm him. It hurt to see Ray in pain, knowing he could do so little to ease his discomfort.

"Of course I can," snapped Doyle in irritation, pushing aside his own doubts.

"Then do so," ordered Bodie tartly. "And the next time don a robe when you rise, unless it's your intention that we should have to nurse you for even longer."

Doyle took an impetuous step forward. "You weren't asked to nurse me at all." To his disgust he heard the rasping wheeze return to his voice and felt his meagre ration of strength ebb. Trying to make his change of stance appear casual rather than one of necessity, he leant against the window sill. Glaring at Bodie, his eyes were hot and angry as he became aware of the other man's boundless vitality. Dark blue eyes met his before subjecting him to a lengthy scrutiny from toe to crown, their expression one of chilling indifference.

"No, I was not," agreed Bodie finally, his voice deceptively mild. "Nor was Bertha, but it would be less than courteous of you to point that out to her. She's come to hold you in unaccountable regard. I won't have her hurt. Now, if you will excuse me, I have matters requiring my attention elsewhere." He turned to leave, not trusting his mingled desire to shake and hug the stubborn figure opposite him.

Doyle's voice brought him to a standstill. "Damn, I did not intend... Bodie, I'm sorry," he offered in a quiet, sincere voice. "I obviously saved my ill-humour for your return. It's a poor recompense for all your kindness. I won't burden you with protestations of gratitude, but I am aware that I owe you my life. That isn't a debt I take lightly."

Wheeling around, Bodie's face was dark with anger. "There's no debt, you owe me nothing."

"No?" Giving a faint smile of disbelief, Doyle parted his hands, conceding the point. "Have it as you will. We must agree to differ on that, I fear." Pushing himself to his feet, he stood swaying. The bed had never looked so inviting. His eyes lit with a rueful amusement, he looked at Bodie. "I should be grateful if you would assist me after all. The room seems to have grown somewhat larger since I first crossed it."

Shaking his head slightly, Bodie saw him back to bed, refraining from any comment when he saw the drain that exertion had placed on his strength. "If Bertha should ever discover what you were about while her back was turned..."

"You'll not tell her?" Doyle pleaded.

Bodie grinned openly. Bertha had a tendency to swamp her patients with kindness. Ray obviously found being cossetted no more to his liking than he did. "I won't need to," he said frankly. "One look at you and she's bound to guess. No doubt I shall bear the blame for that, too," he added with a doleful sigh.

Doyle ignored it. "You twist her around your little finger."

"And you do not, I suppose?" mocked Bodie.

"Perhaps," Doyle conceded immodestly. "But I could not have received more care from my own family. Has she known you for long?"

"Since I was in short coats." Bodie's tone warned Doyle not to question him further and he scowled and fell silent. "You are in an appalling humour," added Bodie frankly. "What's amiss?" He perched on the arm of the chair and spotted the book lying by Doyle's feet. Reaching over, he opened it with idle curiosity then gave a crack of laughter when he read the title page. "I see you've resorted to religion."

Sorely tried, Doyle hitched himself up in bed, his sense of grievance returned in full force. "I had no choice. It was the only volume Bertha could find for me. You left the library locked. While I'm on the subject, what are you doing with a volume of sermons in the first place?"

"I'm not sure," Bodie admitted, his forehead wrinkling as he tried to place the volume. "It may have been wedging open the serving hatch in the pantry. I must get that fixed," he added absently.

Doyle had never met anyone who took so little note of their surroundings. "Has the house been in your family for many years?"

Bodie raised a surprised eyebrow. "No. I acquired it nearly nine years ago on the throw of a dice. The stables and bloodstock that came with it persuaded me not to sell The house had been permitted to fall into a sad state of repair."

It still seemed so to Doyle but he maintained a polite silence.

Bodie understood him instantly. "It was a great deal worse than it is now, I promise you. At least the structure is sound. Bertha dreams of seeing the place renovated overnight."

"You must play for high stakes," said Doyle, covering how disconcerted he had been to be read so easily.

"Sometimes." Bodie straightened where he sat, warmth vanished from his expression. "The game was a fair one."

"I did not doubt it," said Doyle calmly.

"Did you not?"

Ignoring Bodie's scepticism, Doyle grinned. "Despite your blatant dishonesty when playing faro with me, no, it did not occur to me. Now will you stop scowling?"

"You're very trusting," sneered Bodie.

"Far from it, as a rule. But I do trust you."


Caught in the intent gaze holding his own, Doyle dropped his eyes. "Why not?" he countered, unable to provide a single rational argument to satisfy himself, let alone Bodie. "On discovering me in chains, aboard a French ship, you chose to wait to hear my story rather than summoning the militia or a magistrate. That's a curious act of trust for one who claims to be a sceptic."

"I might have some nefarious purpose behind my action," Bodie told the counterpane.

"Now that," said Doyle with conviction, "is a distinct possibility."

Grinning, Bodie adroitly changed the subject to that of horseflesh and the remainder of the day passed quickly in amicable discussion.

Paper propped on the edge of the kitchen table, the homely smells of cooking around him, Doyle sat happily engrossed in sketching Bertha as she prepared a batch of baking.

The large, comfortable kitchen was one of the best-lit rooms in the house and ideal for his purpose. His concentration centred on his subject, Doyle studied the proportions of Bertha's face with a critical eye. Having come to take his presence here for granted by this time, she paid him no heed. Humming softly to herself, she added the finishing touches to an apple pie.

Jedediah spared Doyle a frown of disapproval as he stomped through the side door, but he held his peace. Bertha was happy with someone to tend to and Master William seemed more like his old self again, except that he spent most of his evenings with Doyle, rather than out carousing. Maybe the lad wasn't so bad to have about the place, for all that he made a deal of extra work.

It was only Doyle's third day out of bed. He had made an abominable patient in the last stages of convalescence, only his lack of clothing restricting his wanderings to the house. On discovering him strolling with naked unconcern in the direction of the library, Bertha had given in and supplied him with clothing from Bodie's wardrobe. The two men were enough of a size for that to be possible, although Doyle had to wear his own sea-stained boots until he should be able to go to town to purchase new ones. At least she didn't have to fret about him running into Tom Chegwidden's two girls, who were helping around the house. Not that they'd complain. Master Ray neither, from the glint in his eyes when he'd first seen them. But Tom kept a close eye on his daughters, for all that they were flighty pieces.

Contentedly Bertha started to make some macaroons. The hours of the afternoon slid by unnoticed by either occupant of the kitchen.

Doyle finally glanced up, drawn as much by the fading light as the sound of a carriage pulling up outside. "We have visitors," he announced, appropriating a warm macaroon where they were cooling on a wire tray next to him. Biting into it, his mumble of appreciation turned to a muffled yelp as Bertha caught him across the knuckles with her heavy serving ladle.

"That hurt," he told her indignantly as he sucked at the reddened flesh. "But I'll forgive you. You cook like an angel."

Bertha gave a sniff of disbelief. "I set no store by cupboard love," she told him briskly, but she made no demur when another tart went the way of the first.

A shirt-sleeved arm reached over Doyle's shoulder, neatly stealing the tart Doyle had appropriated. Leaning back, he looked up into smiling blue eyes.

"Thief," he accused.

"Not at all. The carriage you heard signals your official arrival to Shambolt's Cove," Bodie told him as he studied the drawing Doyle had been working on. "These tarts are good, Bertha."

"Well don't go eating them all."

"My arrival?" queried Doyle.

"That's right. As from this moment you're an official guest of mine. An acquaintance from London."

"Does that mean I'm permitted to call you William?" inquired Doyle irrepressibly.

Bodie aimed a friendly swipe in his direction. "It does not, unless you wish to become my late acquaintance in short order."

"That's no more than I expected," said Doyle philosophically. "Is this pretence really necessary?"

"You can answer that better than I. But I believe so. Captain Ross was here asking a number of pointed questions about any passengers the ship you were on may have been carrying."

His expression a studied blank, Doyle fought the temptation to tell Bodie the truth. But despite his instinct to trust the man, smuggling was rife along this portion of the coast, almost on a par with that in the south-east. Cowley suspected some of the smugglers of being involved in a trade more sinister than importing brandy and lace. He dare not risk it.

"Well at least I shall be free to leave the house now," he said, stretching out his legs.

"To hear you talk anyone would imagine you'd been imprisoned here," said Bodie irritably.

"You mean I haven't?" Doyle looked up at him through his lashes.

Seeming to misunderstand that teasing remark, Bodie tensed.

"There's no call to go takin' that tone," Bertha told Doyle. "And if you've quite done with your scribbling I'll thank you to leave me to my kitchen before you eat everything on that tray."

"But I'm hungry," complained Doyle plaintively.

"You should have eaten something this morning then," Bertha told him forcefully. Glancing at the woebegone face turned up to her she relented and pushed the tray closer to him. "You should have gone on the stage," she told him dryly.

"I know." He gave her another dazzling smile. "But these are good." Tapping Bodie on the arm, he passed him another tart by way of a peace offering.

Bodie took it absently. "So are these," he said as he flicked through the sketch pad. Some of the line drawings were only half-completed but one page held four sketches of Bertha's face; the vitality in the brief lines leapt from the page.

"Of course they are," said Doyle, but he couldn't hide his gratification.

Bodie gave him a quelling glance. "There's no 'of course' about it. You have a real ability. I like this one, you've caught Bertha exactly."

He held it up, and as he knew it would, succeeded in arousing her interest. Wiping her floury hands on a cloth, she came around the table to stand between them.

"It can't do no harm to take a look," she conceded grudgingly.

Doyle took the pad from Bodie. "No, I wouldn't want you to feel obliged to admire them just to please me," he said. "You get back to your baking. We've disturbed you enough."

"Huh!" She ousted him from his chair, removed the pad from his slackened grasp, and seated herself. "Have done, Master Ray. Can't you do anything with him?" she appealed to Bodie.

Perched on the corner of the table, one booted foot swinging lazily, Bodie was watching the pair of them with a barely concealed amusement. "He's no concern of mine," he told her with lazy good-humour. He could think of a number of things he would enjoy doing with the mischievous-faced man now leaning over Bertha's shoulder, engaged in whispering outrageous compliments in her ear.

"You've made me too handsome," she told Doyle severely, but her eyes were sparkling like a girl of seventeen.

Doyle gave her a swift kiss, then another, lingering longer this time. "And so you are," he told her affectionately. "I drew only what I saw. Look in the mirror. Or better still, ask Jedediah what he thinks of them. If you get tired of cooking for such louts I'll take you to London with me."

"Stop talking so daft," Bertha advised him. She softened the reproof by brushing back a wayward curl from the eyes smiling at her, feeling the pull of his charm for all that she was old enough to be his mother. "You're a good lad, despite your foolish talk. I've a fancy to have one as a keepsake. Can I?"

Inordinately pleased, Doyle gave her a quick hug. "You could have my heart on a plate and a knife to cut it with. They're all yours if you want them. But let me keep these a while longer. I've a fancy to paint you in oils, but unless you're going to let me work in your kitchen, I shall need these to work from."

"I'm not having no paints messin' up my kitchen, that's for sure." Her eyes searched his face. "Lad, are you sure you want the bother of paintin' the likes of me?"

"I'm positive." Doyle traced the line of her jaw with his finger. "I haven't captured this properly yet. You have beautiful bones. Besides, this will be a labour of love."

"Poppycock," snorted Jedediah with disgust from behind them. "No one's thought to ask me what I think of the notion, I see."

"And why should they?" demanded Bertha, eyeing him with impatience. "It's me he's after painting. Give over belly-achin' do."

Doyle left his perch on the corner of the table. "I will make a good job of it," he promised the older man, conscious of Jedediah's dislike without understanding its cause. "But if you object in any way I would be happy to make the preliminary sketches while you were present." There was no trace of mockery in the offer and it was clear he regarded himself as speaking to an equal.

Bodie glanced between the two men but remained silent. The decision was Jedediah's to make. Bertha also remained silent, but there was an ominous glint in her eyes as she looked at her spouse. Trapped, Jedediah glared at the cause of his troubles, then down at his wife again, his hard gaze softening despite himself.

"You'd best do as you think fit, the same as always," he told her gruffly. His eyes slid back to the final drawing on the pad, then widened in surprised delight. He touched a work-scarred finger to the generous mouth that twitched with humour even on the page.

"This be Bertha, right enough. You've caught her just perfect. I'd be 'bliged if you'd do it," he told Doyle. "It'd be fine to have a picture of my Bertha."

"Good," said Doyle briskly, his manner softening when he saw the awkwardness in the older man's demeanour. "And thank you. I shall enjoy doing this very much." He was warmed by their obvious pleasure in his skill. It had been too long since he had treated his true work seriously, much too long. "I'll begin the preliminary sketches tomorrow and go into town for some..." His voice trailed away when Bodie's cough reminded him of the other man's presence and position in the household.

He raised guilty eyes to meet the hilarious ones of his host. "That is, if you have no objection to my staying on," he said hesitantly, flushing slightly.

"I wondered when you would remember my existence," Bodie told him, enjoying the other man's confusion. "Quite apart from the fact you're in no condition to ride anywhere at present, you are welcome to stay for as long as you wish. You'd best give me a list of the supplies you require." As he spoke he realised the offer was contrary to everything he had planned when the time came. He had intended to speed Doyle on his way and then contrive to forget him as quickly as possible.

"If you're sure?" There was still a trace of doubt on Doyle's face.

Bodie poured them both tankards of ale and thrust one at Doyle. "Drink this. Of course I'm sure. Hell, you're almost part of the family already. Which room are you planning to disrupt next?"

Leaning indolently back against the wall, one hand shoved in his breeches pocket, Doyle gave him a speculative look. "Your room has the best light."

Bodie groaned. "It had to be my room. I suppose that means you want it back to paint in?"


"I always wanted to try out each bedchamber in the house," Bodie remarked to no one in particular.

"Then it's fortunate I came along, isn't it?" Doyle told him.

The dog dozing on his crossed ankles, Doyle looked up from the book he was endeavouring to read when the library door opened.

"Visitor for 'ee," announced Jedediah. "A Mister Cowley. He claims to be a friend of yourn."

Wondering what he could have done to offend Jedediah now, a wide smile swept across Doyle's face as he rose to his feet. The discarded book fell on the sleeping dog. As Cowley entered the room, Doyle was bent to calm a justifiably irate animal. He straightened, one hand outstretched in welcome.

"I did not think to see you here in person," he exclaimed, mindful of Jedediah's presence.

"Sometimes I wonder whether you are capable of rational thought at all. Had you been more circumspect, my journey would not have been necessary," he said severely, giving Doyle an assessing stare as he sank onto a chair.

"No, sir," agreed Doyle with unwonted obedience, refusing to rise to the bait when he recognised the older man's fatigue.

"No doubt you'll be explaining everything to my satisfaction," said Cowley in dry invitation. He didn't turn to acknowledge Jedediah, who was unashamedly eavesdropping in the doorway.

"No doubt," Doyle agreed, his mouth twitching with amusement. "Jedediah, has Bodie returned home? My host," he explained to Cowley in a quick aside.

"I dunno but you know him by now. I'd be the last to be told. Why?"

Doyle sighed. There were times when he wondered how Bodie could tolerate the older man's manner. This was one of them.

"I had hoped he could meet my - an old friend - for I know Mister Cowley will not be able to stay long. Sir, may I offer you any refreshment?"

"Any of Master William's, you mean," interjected Jedediah sourly but he fell silent under Doyle's quelling stare.

"Careful, Jedediah, you're in danger of making a guest feel welcome. You may close the door behind you."

"You don't want me here?"

"Have you been at the brandy again? If so, you can put yourself to bed this time, I'll have nothing to do with it. But you'd best steer clear of Bertha in the meantime," Doyle warned.

Jedediah gave an indignant snort but he didn't stay to argue the matter, knowing himself to be in a poor defensive position. He made his point by leaving the door for Doyle to close.

Cowley got up and removed his travelling cape, hanging it over the back of his chair. "He has no great love for you - or anyone else, it would seem. Is he an old family retainer of your host?"

"Old, certainly. As for the rest, God knows," said Doyle with a shrug. "It's the only reason I can conceive for putting up with him, but he's loyal to Bodie and does whatever might be necessary. Have you dined, sir? While we keep early hours in the country, I know Bertha would be happy to provide you with something."

"I've dined. The meal isn't an experience I would care to repeat." Cowley eyed the dog bristling at Doyle's side, aware of the soft menace rumbling from the animal's throat. "Is that thing safe?"

"Who, Dog?" Doyle caressed a silky ear and the rumbling subsided. "Completely, but in common with the rest of the household he has no love for strangers." Seeing Cowley's doubtful looks at the creature he escorted the hound out of the room.

"I'm beginning to understand why this is not one of the most populated spots in the country," Cowley remarked. Glimpsing the time from the ornate clock on the mantelshelf, his manner grew more brisk. "I haven't come all this way to exchange social pleasantries. How did those dispatches come to be lost?"

"No," said Doyle with decision when he had heard Cowley out an hour later. "I won't do it."

"I beg your pardon?" The older man's voice was icy.

"You heard me. By God, this is the end!" Doyle wheeled around, his eyes dark with anger. "You cannot seriously expect me to spy on my host?"

"Why not?" returned Cowley with polite interest. "You've done so before. Why should this be any different? Bodie may be engaged in smuggling something more dangerous - and valuable - than brandy."

Doyle stopped his restless pacing and leant over the back of the chair he had vacated. "Let me be clear on this. The only proof you have that Bodie might be engaged in smuggling contraband is founded on rumour and malicious gossip. He chooses not to conform to what local society expects of the head of the household. Then you have the valuable opinion, nothing more, of Captain Ross, the commander of the local garrison." There was a biting contempt in his voice by this time. "Having met that gentleman three days ago, I can understand why he was posted to this out-of-the-way spot. He's a small-minded man who permits personal considerations to colour his professional judgement. I place no faith in his opinion." He gave Cowley a severe look. "And if we have to descend to relying upon men of his calibre, I suggest you begin recruiting for new blood with some speed. He's a poor leader of men. The fool cannot even command himself."

"I know your host and he enjoy a mutual antipathy. I wasn't aware you shared it."

"Captain Ross takes himself too seriously for my taste," said Doyle more moderately.

"You find the safety of the realm a matter for levity?" The question dropped coldly between them.

Doyle straightened, his eyes narrowing with anger. "If I did, I would hardly have spent these last fifteen years in its service. Though I'm damned if I know why."

"You've been well rewarded," Cowley reminded him, aware of the comfortable Doyle fortune which ensured the younger man need never have a financial care. The barb placed, he sat back.

"You imagine that's the reason - ? Be damned to you."

His lips compressed, Doyle came to an abrupt halt, visibly reining in his temper. Some of Cowley's satisfaction seemed to reach him because, pushing back his hair from his eyes, he sighed. "Every time you goad me in this way I react and - You would imagine I would have learnt something of your methods in fifteen years."

"You've learnt a great deal, but I should be disappointed if I couldn't catch you out on occasion," said Cowley mildly.

Doyle pulled a face and sank back onto his chair. Taking up his glass of brandy, his other hand unconsciously moved to his side, which was paining him.

Cowley watched him thoughtfully from over the top of his glass. "Are the doctors satisfied with your recovery?" His abrupt manner failed to cover his concern.

"I am satisfied, that's all that need concern you," Doyle said shortly.

His gaze dropping, he stared into the amber depths of his glass but he made no attempt to drink from it. "I arrived a penniless vagabond and was nursed back to health with skill and kindness. How can I in all conscience pry into the affairs of the man responsible for giving me my life?"

"Your host is obviously a man of many parts, and capable of winning your respect. But he's dangerous. Until he settled here rumour has it he roamed the less salubrious parts of Europe selling his skills as a mercenary. I believe they are formidable. He possesses some curious talents for a country squire."

"He has lived in peaceful obscurity for nine years," protested Doyle, unable to believe in Bodie's pastoral lifestyle himself.

"Perhaps he has, but I believe it to be unlikely. That's what I want you to ascertain. I have no one else down here, competent or otherwise. You have already been accepted as part of local society. If Bodie isn't our traitor I want to know who is. The rights and wrongs of smuggling are no concern of mine - This is a remarkably fine brandy. If there is any more?"

He watched quizzically as Doyle poured him a generous measure. Cowley cupped the glass between his palms, inhaling the aroma with a gentle pleasure. "I appreciate your distaste for this task but I must use a man I can trust. Frankly there are few people on that list at present."

"Why am I so honoured?"

"Necessity," Cowley told him with brutal honesty.

Doyle gave a smile of genuine appreciation. "That's what I imagined. God knows it's rare enough to bask in the sunshine of your approval. I feared you might be losing your touch."

"Did you now?" Cowley smiled as he toasted the younger man. He'd missed Doyle's abrasive presence over the last few weeks. Few of his operatives possessed this man's experience and talents. He'd grown accustomed to Doyle over the years, learning to deal with his tiresome bouts of morality and conscience, and his spurts of temper and always irreverent manner toward himself. If Bodie were cleared, perhaps... But that must come later, when Doyle had completed his task here.

"You're protective of your host. May I rely upon your judgement in this matter or must I send for someone else?"

The brusque tone did not rouse Doyle from his abstraction as he stared into the fire, knowing himself to be trapped in the nebulous concept he thought of as duty.

"Oh yes, you may rely upon my judgement," he acknowledged dully. Unable to remain still, he tended unnecessarily to the fire. Gripping the mantelshelf, he stared into the flames, disliking himself and the task he had agreed to perform in equal measure.

"To whom should I report?" he asked, his back still to the room. "It may take some time to establish the truth. Fortunately Bodie has extended his hospitality until such time as I wish to leave."

"That certainly makes things easier," Cowley said with satisfaction. "Report to me and only to me. Continue to use the address at Lincoln's Inn for written communications. Commit yourself as little as possible to paper, regular, trivial messages will suffice. The matter is not yet urgent but this is one gap in the coastline that I'll see filled. The operation is run too smoothly. Should you require assistance, call on Captain Ross. He's aware you're an agent for the Crown."

Doyle swung around. Cowley waved him into silence.

"I know, but he had to be supplied with some tale to explain your presence. He knew of your arrival within three days, and was on the point of detaining you on suspicion of being an agent for the French. The secret of your presence wasn't well kept, whatever your host might believe. Word travels fast in small communities."

"Indeed it does." Doyle wondered if Bodie knew of the traitor in his midst. "Very well, I will do what I can."

"You must do more than that. Find our traitorous friend. The defeat at Aboukir Bay may have quietened the fears of the Admiralty, but the political situation in France is such that - I don't believe they've abandoned their invasion plans. French intelligence has been stepped up by a marked degree. I want this man. More particularly, I want whoever recruited him." Uncertain of Doyle's mood, Cowley stared at the bowed head. "Well, cheer up, man. It's a task you've undertaken before and doubtless you'll have to do so in the future. This is no different. But have a care. I've no mind to lose your services."

"No, sir," said Doyle colourlessly.

His subdued manner was still in evidence when Cowley left shortly before ten, his carriage no longer burdened by the luggage he had brought for Doyle.

As he carried the last trunk up to his room Doyle knew that whatever he might admit to George Cowley, this operation was different from any other he had undertaken. This time he had committed the cardinal error of permitting himself to care for everyone at Shambolt's Cove, even Jedediah.

Having no wish to meet Bodie while he was prey to such melancholy thoughts, Doyle saw to the dog's needs and retired for the night. He did not sleep well.


Alone in the bedroom once more, Doyle heaved a sigh of relief and pushed a tired hand back through his hair. He'd never enjoyed working solo. Or not for some years.

Seven years, to be exact. And during those years he had always known, roughly, where Bodie was, what he was up to. Now...

He gave the silent telephone a look of impatient dislike. Ring, damn you.

Even the plumbing was silent.

Cowley's promised backup had arrived just before eleven. Now he had an outside phone, duly tapped and a man on the switchboard, ready to divert any calls. The team Cowley had sent down were competent and unobtrusive, smoothly taking charge of liaising with the police investigation that was still underway in tracing the blue Granada and the other details that abounded in this kind of operation. They were good all right, but all they'd left him to do was wait.

Not his strong point.

The room was quiet, leaving him with memories of last night and the guilt. He should have been here.

Self-defeating thing, guilt. Bodie would give him hell for indulging in it.

Pacing across the room, Doyle paused in front of the dead fire; gripping the mantelpiece, he gazed blankly down at the grey wood ash in the hearth, fighting his growing fear for his partner's safety.

He couldn't remember feeling like this before. Numb round the edges and inside carrying a weight of pain that threatened to tear him apart. He'd been afraid before - more times than he liked to admit. Fear was a way of life in CI5. When you stopped being afraid it was time to leave. He'd learnt, to a degree, how to handle the fear, make it work for him.


Christ, he could be dead and he wouldn't know it.

Doyle's head flung back, his eyes hot with anger. Morbid and stupid, he castigated himself. Of course he'd know. You couldn't lost half yourself and not know it.

The first chime of the clock made him leap towards the phone before he realised what the sound was. It must be the room getting to him, he decided, shivering despite the sun outside.

There was something... peculiar about this room. Glaring around the dark panelled walls with bitter dislike, he sank onto a wing-backed chair by the dead fire to wait, his sense of loss intensifying as the cold familiarity of the room settled around him.


"Where's Ray?" asked Bodie as he strolled into the warm kitchen.

"He went to town before luncheon," said Jedediah. He didn't look up from his mug of ale as he sat by the blazing fire, his damp stockinged feet steaming as he thawed out.

"And you let him go out in this?"

Jedediah glared up at him. "You try stoppin' that one when he puts his mind to something. He said he had business to attend to. I dunno what," he added, forestalling Bodie's question. "What in tarnation are you doin'?" he yelled in outrage as the back door was flung open. An icy blast whistled in, speckling everything in the vicinity with rain.

"I'm going after him," said Bodie, too angry to say more.

"What for?" asked Jedediah reasonably, getting up to close the door again. "He's a man full grown. Let him be. If he wants to get chilled to the bone, that's his affair."

Bodie stared out at the storm that was raging. His arm was paining him badly now and he was feeling the effects of missing a night's sleep. He was being nonsensical. Ray was fully recovered and had proved himself capable of riding any mount the stable could provide. He knew the way to town as well as Bodie himself did - and wouldn't take kindly to being searched out like a truant schoolboy. He eyed Jedediah thoughtfully before pouring himself some ale.

"You don't care for Ray overmuch, do you? Any particular reason?"

Jedediah made to speak, thought the better of it and then gained courage from another mouthful of ale. "Any number," he mumbled, fumbling for his clay pipe, then tucking it back out of sight.

"Smoke if you wish. Bertha's upstairs chivvying Polly Chegwidden about her duties. She'll be gone long enough to allow you a decent smoke. What reasons, Jedediah?"

"I'm not afeared of Bertha," Jedediah avowed, "it's just that she don' take kindly to pipe smoke in her kitchen. He's a trouble-maker."

"Ray? Don't be ridiculous."

"Have it your own way. But I ain't the only one to think so. He's allus underfoot when you least expect him, sneaking around, asking questions. Last week I found him snooping around your desk. He opened it smooth as you please."

His eyes narrowed in fury, Bodie stared at him in an icy silence.

"It's no use you glarin' at me like that, Master William. I know what I saw. I wouldn't set no store by it save for the fact I seen him open it with one of them fancy probes like what you use. And it weren't yourn, it were his own. Yesterday he nearly caught Tom Chegwidden and Ned Pollock on their way home, laden from the share-out. Tom was still sweating over that this morning and swearin' fit to bust."

"Ray was out at that time of night?"

"Aye, for all he might have told you different. At least the horses be getting exercised regular. Fine recompense, ain't it?" Jedediah spat into the flames before taking up a spill and relighting his pipe. "D'you reckon he's a Revenue man? He hangs around with Ross more than's natural."

Lips pursed, Bodie stared sightlessly at his booted foot, one hand cramped around the tankard he held.

Jedediah cleared his throat in an awkward way. "I didn't want to tell you this, but I don't have no choice. Some of the men have started to fear for their safety, especially after last night. "You've got to tell them something about him."

"Have I?" said Bodie with a dangerous calm. "Have I indeed. What do I owe those pox-ridden bastards that I haven't repaid a thousand-fold? If it wasn't for me they'd be worm's meat long since - or transported. Even Ross would have been able to catch them red-handed. The men will do as I tell them if they know what's good for them."

"Mebbe they will, for a time. But have a care, Master William. If he is a Revenue man he's no friend of yourn."

"Who isn't a friend of yours?" asked Doyle from the doorway. He pushed the door shut with his shoulder, still clasping waterlogged packages, which dripped onto the matting. He was very muddy.

Both men jumped.

"Did no one teach you to knock?" snapped Bodie. "Or do you imagine me undeserving of even the most minor courtesy?"

Setting down the parcels, Doyle removed his sodden hat, all trace of amusement wiped from his face. "I was guilty of forgetting I'm a guest in your house. My apologies. I had no intention of intruding."

Jedediah began to hope he might take umbrage and leave for good.

But Bodie had seen the quickly veiled expression of hurt in Doyle's eyes. "Don't be nonsensical," he said roughly. "You startled me. It must be this damned rain. There's so much work to be done outside. What have you got there? No, don't tell me. More canvas, paints and, possibly, some brushes."

Easing off a greatcoat which had doubled in weight as it absorbed the rain, Doyle gave a faint smile, although his expression was still wary. "Am I so predictable?"

"In some things," Bodie told him gently. "We were discussing Captain Ross when you came in."

Doyle pulled a face. "I came across him in town, running around in ever-decreasing circles. He's an imbecile. Claims he was this far," his finger and thumb indicated a tiny measure, "from capturing a band of cut-throats last night and that he winged one of the desperadoes himself before they vanished in front of his eyes. The army deserves better men than he for the task of rounding up smugglers."

"You disapprove of the gentlemen of the night - the free-traders?"

"Few of them are gentle when crossed," Doyle pointed out dryly, "and the practice of smuggling goods with the intention of evading excise duty is contrary to the law of the land."

Jedediah gave a derisive snort. "I haven't noticed you refusin' to drink the brandy you're offered, nor cutting the lace from those fancy shirts of yourn."

There was a wry twist to Doyle's mouth. "You're right, Jedediah. Now what are you trying to tell me?"

"That all the brandy in this, and every other house of consequence along the coast is smuggled," announced Bodie.

Jedediah choked on his ale.

Steaming gently as he warmed his hands at the fire, Doyle did not turn around. "It's the same in London," he admitted. "I care little for that. But there are those who would seek to trade in other matters. The secrets of others, for one."

"Not round these parts they don't," said Jedediah truculently. "You won't catch no one round these parts helpin' the enemy. One lad was taken by the press-gang when he went to Plymouth with his Da. It was a French bullet what finished him though, out in foreign parts."

"Will Simmons' oldest boy?"

Bodie gave Doyle a shrewd look. "You're well-informed."

Doyle paused in the middle of struggling out of his closely-fitting jacket. "So would you be if you'd been forced to dine with the Reverend Walker instead of contriving to slide out of it. I've rarely heard anyone prattle about so little for so long. He wished me to undertake a portrait of his eldest girl Lucinda."

"Will you do it?"

Doyle pulled off his second boot and glared at Jedediah, who had been watching his struggles with some amusement. "No I will not," he said tartly.

"Why? She's a fetching piece."

"And her father's been trying to catch a husband for her these last two seasons. I thank you, but no. I should be compromised in a trice."

"What, afraid of a country parson?" mocked Bodie.

"Just his wife and daughter. Though after the way he cross-examined me about my prospects..." Doyle unfastened the laces of his shirt.

Rain-clouds darkening the sky, the glow from the fire provided the only illumination. Bodie turned from fixing the lamp to see Doyle, dressed only in his breeches, his voluminous shirt hanging open from his shoulders, as he busied himself at the stove.

"What do you imagine you're about?" Bodie demanded, avoiding looking at the half-naked figure.

"Well, in the absence of volunteers," Doyle gave Jedediah a pointed glare, "I'm preparing water for a bath."

"I ain't carryin' water up all them stairs," growled Jedediah, sinking deeper onto his chair. "What d'you want another one for, you only had one Sunday?"

"And today is Wednesday." Doyle dragged the hip bath in front of the fire. "I'm cold, I'm tired, and I'm damned if I want to listen to you complaining any longer. I'll bathe down here. Besides, it's warmer," he admitted, hearing Bodie spluttering with laughter behind him.

"You're as bad as the Master here. He's always bathing. Unnatural, I calls it. But I suppose his stay in the B - "

"That will do." Bodie's voice cracked across the flow of Jedediah's speech.

Meeting the fury in his eyes, Jedediah fell silent, knowing he had spoken about a forbidden portion of Bodie's life that had only been referred to once, when the Master had been drunk.

Swallowing his curiosity, Doyle began to fill the tub and set more water to boil. The rain continued to pour down, lashing against the windows and once sending a small discharge of soot into the fire, making it hiss angrily.

"Likely the chimney needs sweepin'," remarked Jedediah gloomily, by way of a peace offering.

"Then arrange for it to be done," snapped Bodie before he stalked over to the far windows. Staring out of them, he cut out the other occupants of the room.

His pipe forgotten, Jedediah hauled himself from his chair to stand at Doyle's shoulder. "You'll be needing a change of linen," he said awkwardly. "D'you want me to get it?"

Doyle looked at him in surprise, followed his gaze to where Bodie stood and understood the reason for the offer. "Thank you. Who's responsible for keeping the tack-room in good order?"

"Me, of course."

"Then I suggest you give the task your full attention. My girth was half-severed. It gave completely as I came back along the cliff road. Fortunately I felt it go."

Despite Doyle's soft tone Jedediah became aware of the banked anger Doyle had concealed so successfully until now. "Cut? An' you believe I - "

"If I did I would hardly be talking to you now. No, I don't imagine it was your doing. I know you've no love for me but I can't imagine you'd stoop to attempting to murder me. It may not have been directed at me. I took out Challenger," Doyle admitted with a trace of guilt, lowering his voice even more so Bodie would not hear.

"Challenger?" At Doyle's gesture, Jedediah obediently quietened. "If you've gone and harmed the Master's favourite you can tell him so yourself. I'll have no part of it," he warned.

"He's unharmed, just disconcerted to have lost me so suddenly. John Joe is tending to him. He refused to let me help. The saddle's still out on the track. I had job enough with Challenger and the canvas. It was the last in stock."

"You're crazed. And I'm willin' to bet you kept a firm hold of that when you fell. Mad-brained, that's what you are. Any rate, no one's harmed. You've not told the Master. Mind tellin' me why?"

"And have him fussing every time I set foot out the door? I would rather not. Does he have any enemies who would attempt such a thing?"

"I wouldn't have said so, but then... Leave it with me to find out. I'd give a lot to know why you should care what happens to him. You fight like cat and dog for the most part." Jedediah dried up at Doyle's look of hauteur and held out a conciliatory hand. "I'll not see him harmed just to save your pride, or anything else about you, I'll tell you that straight."

Doyle gave a smile that took Jedediah aback. "Nor will I, so for the first time we find ourselves in accord. You were going to fetch me a change of clothing."

Jedediah took the rebuff in his stride. Against his better judgement he believed the younger man. "You want anything in particular?"

"Whatever comes to hand. We're not expecting guests for dinner, are we?" Doyle raised his voice and turned to include the silent man standing in the shadows.

There was no reply.

Watching Jedediah leave, Doyle strolled to where Bodie stood and rested a hand on his forearm. He was shocked by the tension he felt there. "What's amiss? Can I be of assistance?" he asked with concern.

His eyes bleak, Bodie refocused on the half-naked figure, Doyle's skin shaded umber in the glow from the lamp and fire. "Why should you suppose anything is wrong?" he demanded harshly, drawing away.

"Because, although as Jedediah has just pointed out, you and I habitually snap at each other, today you seem to be lacking your usual verve in our exchange. Is something troubling you?"

Bodie roused himself with a perceptible effort. "I'm just blue-devilled," he said with more warmth. "Truly. It will pass."

Doyle continued to watch him with concern. Placing his uninjured arm around the other man's shoulders, Bodie steered him back to the fire. "You're very wet," he said.

"And liable to become wetter," Doyle added as he emptied the last pan of boiling water into the bath.

"I could use something stronger than ale to drink. Will you join me in a brandy?"

It had little appeal on an empty stomach but Doyle accepted the offer.

"Have your bath. I'll bring a glass through to you. Enjoy your ablutions." Bodie made his escape, unable to face the thought of remaining to watch the other man in such an intimate moment.

Doyle peeled off the remainder of his damp clothing and sank with caution into the steaming water. His latest report was safely on its way to London, containing nothing that would interest Cowley. Depression flooded him. In the month since Cowley had left he had tried to discover what he could of Bodie's involvement in local smuggling and had come to the reluctant conclusion that his lack of success wasn't due to the fact there was nothing to discover.

It was as if there was a conspiracy of silence, and not merely amongst the villagers. Even the Reverend Walker and the Squire seemed to assume he was a party to Bodie's activities. Indeed, the Squire, with many a nudge to his still tender ribs, seemed to take it for granted that he was involved. Two bottles of port later and he had been no closer to discovering in what. But everything he heard pointed to Bodie as a focal point in whatever it was.

Hell, Doyle told himself irritably as he sank deeper into the tub, it was time to admit that Bodie wasn't a part of it, he was it: the organiser and leader. But of what exactly? Damn Cowley. He'd killed all chance of he and Bodie being able to meet as...

As what exactly? Friends? Dear God.

He should have stayed overnight in town, or taken up the Reverend's offer with the obliging Lucinda. She was a fetching piece. Only it wasn't her he wanted.

He began to soap himself vigorously, concentrating on washing away the mud acquired in his fall, but his body continued to respond to heated mental images. Reaching out for the pan at the side of the bath to rinse his head and shoulders, he gasped as the icy water flowed over his skin, but it had the desired effect on his errant flesh.

Only when he stood knee-deep in the cooling water did he appreciate that he had neglected to provide himself with a towel. Jedediah had yet to return with his change of raiment.

"Damn," he muttered with heart-felt irritation as the wind rattled the windows, sending draughts of cold air scurrying across the room. Bending his head, he wrung the excess moisture from his hair and found a large towel being thrust at him.

"Thanks," he mumbled, applying it first to his hair to prevent water from trickling down his back.

"It's no trouble," said Bertha serenely, eyeing him with unabashed appreciation.

The towel slipped from his slackened grasp to fall into the tub. "Bertha!" He forbade himself to sink into the water or grab the wet towel and made himself meet her eyes, trying to look unconcerned. He was defeated in seconds when she continued to study him openly.

"For Heaven's sake," he protested, laughing a little now. "Have a thought for my nerves. It isn't fitting," he added weakly.

"That it isn't," agreed Bodie from the doorway, unable to move as he eyed the beautiful, fire-lit body bared for him.

Relieved to have some support, Doyle swung around then realised his mistake and froze. "So much for privacy. There's no one else liable to appear, is there?"

Taking pity on him, Bertha removed the robe Bodie had taken from Jedediah when he met him in the hall and handed it to Doyle. Stepping from the tub, he shrugged into it and fastened it securely, trying not to appear to hurry.

"Give over, Master Ray," she chided, "an' me married these thirty-five years and more. Who do you suppose stripped and nursed you when you was ailing? I didn't see you worrying about what state you was in then."

Swooping on her, Doyle lifted her effortlessly out of the way. "You're a shameless hussy," he told her with severity as he began to drag the hip-bath to the door.

"That's as may be but you've no call to be timid as a maid. Your back ain't healin' as it should. Are you still using that salve I gave you?"

Engrossed in tipping bath water out of the door into the muddy yard, Doyle used the noise as an excuse not to hear her. Bertha patiently repeated herself.

Closing the door, Doyle gave her guilty look.

"I thought as much," she said with a grim satisfaction. "And why not pray?"

Doyle began to fidget under her severe gaze. "It isn't easy to apply unless you have arms of a length that would qualify you for a place in a stall at the fair," he said at last.

"And what's wrong with asking me to do it? Or Jedediah? Well, no," she conceded fairly. "Maybe he wouldn't be the one to ask. Master William, stop your laughing and take him upstairs. It's the salve in the blue pot. Keep rubbing until it's gone right into the skin," she instructed.

"Now?" Bodie asked plaintively, wishing he had remained in the study.

"Now," she insisted. "And there's no call for you to be drinking at this time of the day neither, what with my kitchen in this state and all."

Sensing she was but warming to her theme, Doyle edged towards the door.

"Dinner," she added ominously, "will be late."

"This is your doing," Bodie accused Doyle, refusing to let him pass until he had made his peace.

Giving him a speaking glance, Doyle drifted back across the kitchen to plant a placating kiss on Bertha's cheek. She pulled away from him.

"Just tell me what needs doing," he coaxed, "and I'll put it to rights."

Her mouth twitched before she smiled. She'd never been able to maintain her anger, particularly not in the face of such blatant charm. "Get along," she scolded him affectionately, "and leave me to get on in peace."

"Whoever did you complain about before I arrived?" Doyle teased.

"Master William, of course. There's little to choose between the pair of you for making work. Now get along, do."

Brandy glasses surreptitiously still in hand, they went up to Doyle's bedchamber.

Dressed in breeches and boots, Doyle glanced at his companion's face, trying to place his sense of familiarity with this complex man.

Bodie picked up the pot of salve. "If you turn around," he suggested, wanting this over with as quickly as possible.

Experiencing a curious reluctance, Doyle remained where he was, his shirt in hand, his fingers clenched over the lace. "I can manage very well by - "

"For pity's sake let's have done with it," muttered Bodie, placing a hand on his bare shoulder before he moved behind Doyle. "Seat yourself on this stool."

The salve was cool, which explained Doyle's initial flinch, but Bodie was aware that the tension knotting each muscle did not lessen as he rubbed in the sweetly scented ointment. Able to relax now his expression was hidden, Bodie concentrated on his task; lightly massaging the scarred tissue and smooth flesh around it, he was rewarded by feeling the knots in the muscles slowly ease.

Remembering to breathe occasionally, his head propped on his hands, Doyle let the skilled fingers take him where they would. He was aware of the touch to his toes, sensation stroking down his spine to centre in his groin. The silence was uneasy, spiked with tension and awareness of one another's sensuality.

"I had no idea Bertha had come in," Doyle said eventually, ashamed of his body's response to that light touch. "I did not hear the kitchen door open."

"It didn't. She came down the back stairway that leads through the pantry," Bodie told him.

Doyle was surprised into half-turning. "I didn't know there was a back stairway."

Bodie tossed the other man his shirt. "That should do for now. I'll call in on you tomorrow night to apply more. I believe the salve stops the healing flesh from pulling so much as it draws together. As for the house, it has a number of surprises. Haven't I shown you the priest-hole or cave yet?"

Fascinated, Doyle shook his head as he continued to dress, grateful for the subtle reduction of tension. Surely a guilty man would not be so free with his secrets? Knowing himself to be grasping at straws in an effort to establish Bodie's innocence rather than apply himself to the task of discovering the truth, he shrugged the knowledge aside and paused to rearrange his neckcloth. He turned from the mirror to find Bodie holding his jacket out for him, his manner as obsequious as the worst kind of manservant.

"If I ever require the services of a valet, be certain that you need not apply," Doyle informed him as he shrugged into the first sleeve.

Crushed, Bodie replaced the lid on the pot of salve. "After dinner, if you care for it, I'll take you on a guided tour of the house," he offered casually.

"At last Romance and Intrigue have entered my life." Doyle struck a dramatic pose in the doorway.

Bodie pushed him into the hall. "More like damp and dry-rot," he said prosaically.

As they made their way to the library each man was engrossed in his own, very different thoughts.

"How did you come to discover the priest-hole?" asked Doyle as he wandered down from the upper storey of the house. They had acquired a number of stains in their explorations; the upper floor was rarely used and the air smelt musty, dust hanging in the air and catching in the back of the throat.

Bodie turned on the stairs to give him a grin. "As you might have guessed, it was Bertha who discovered it. Now she has the Chegwidden girls to aid her she'll soon have the whole house neat as a new pin. I shudder to think what she'll stumble on next. She discovered that while rigorously testing the panelling for woodworm. Not that any self-respecting worm would dare linger here."

Chuckling, Doyle followed him downstairs to the familiar scents of polish, herbs, food and wet dog; odours blending into the scent which in a short space of time had come to mean home to him.

"It's the cave which intrigues me the most, I must confess," he said as they went into the large entrance hall.

"That's my pride and joy. I discovered the steps leading to it quite by chance - and damned nearly broke my neck in the process. Come, it's this way. You'll need to stoop, the ceiling inside is low."

Bodie reached out and a portion of panelling in the hall swung open to reveal an unobtrusive door which proved to be far heavier than it appeared; it swung open with an oiled ease. Bodie took care to prop a wedge under the door.

"I was trapped down here once and it's the devil of a walk back to the house from the beach. Always presuming the tide is out, of course."

The low passageway gave way to a narrow stairway that descended at a dizzy angle, the rough, uneven steps hewn from stone. A strong current of air met them, damp and smelling strongly of the sea. The sound of their footsteps echoed eerily, light from the candles casting bizarre shadows. Once Doyle slipped when the heel of his boot lost its purchase and he just managed to save himself by clutching at the wall.


"Unharmed," he said cheerfully as Bodie returned to his side. "Just clumsy." Pausing, he scrabbled around to re-affix the fallen candles in their holders and re-light them from the flickering branch Bodie held.

"If I had my wits about me I would have brought a lantern," said Bodie as he guarded the flames from the strong current of air. "But no matter, if we take care. Contrive not to trip over your own feet." He grinned at the speaking look he received.

A short time later they reached the foot of the stairway, where Doyle found himself at the edge of a vaulting antechamber of rock, the walls striated in varying shades from the palest grey to blue-black, shining in places.

"This is remarkable," he said in an awed whisper as he gazed up at the deeply scored walls and narrow fissures, uncertain if it was possible to pass through any of them. "But I thought this led onto the beach?"

Enjoying his companion's reaction, Bodie smiled. "I'd a notion you'd like it. There are three passageways. One, though it's deuced uncomfortable, twists around into the upper reaches of a cave that takes in the sea. As you see the tide never penetrates this far. The - "

"Master William, there be a visitor for 'ee." Jedediah's stentorian bellow floated down to them, echoing in the cavern.

"Damn, I wasn't expecting him until the morrow. Ray, will you excuse me, for I must deal with him while I may. Will you come up with me or remain here?"

"I shall be happy to be left to explore," said Doyle with truth, his eyes sparkling in the candlelight. "I wish I'd discovered a place like this when I was a boy. It's a paradise for children. Where's the buried treasure located?"

"If you find any it's yours," Bodie promised him with a grin which made him look years younger. "But be wary of the skeletal hand that guards it," he added in a sepulchral whisper into Doyle's ear.

Despite himself, Doyle felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. "Very droll," he admonished dryly. "Are you trying to make me lose what few wits I have left? Go about your business and leave me to mine."

"You're sure you'll be comfortable down here? Not everyone cares for such a confined space and the darkness."

"I grew accustomed to it years ago," said Doyle absently. "Neither hold any fears for me. I shall do very well." Asperity crept into his voice. "I am eight and thirty and well able to care for myself."

"You poor ancient," Bodie mocked as he began to climb the steep steps. "Console yourself with the thought you look well enough on it. Not too many grey hairs."

"Yet. I know. I notice you're not so free with your insults when you're close at hand. I'll have you know those grey hairs are a mark of distinction, not age."

Bodie's snort of derision drifted down to him.

Smiling, Doyle continued to explore. He stiffened when he heard an echoing slam. The wedge to the door must have been kicked free. Curious, he went back up the stairway, just avoiding some spilled wax, to find he was shut in. It was one way of subduing an errant guest, he thought, smiling again. About to call out, the sound died in his throat when he heard two voices close at hand.

The quiet, smooth tone was unmistakeably Bodie's but it was the soft accented English of the man who accompanied him who caught Doyle's attention and kept him, ears strained, at the door to hear what he could of their conversation.

" - latest despatch?"

"It's on its way," replied Bodie. "There's no cause for alarm."

"Next time... ensure... margin for error."

"A diversion for the local garrison is arranged."

"Good. Join you... brandy."

The voice faded as the speakers moved away. All trace of humour wiped from his face, Doyle slid down the wall to crouch on his haunches as he stared at the floor, a curious sickness in the pit of his stomach. What he had just done was despicable but that wasn't the source of his regret. The evidence wasn't conclusive but it continued to point to Bodie's involvement in trading in more than smuggled brandy and tobacco.

"You fool," he whispered savagely. "You damned fool." But whether he addressed himself or Bodie was not clear.

"Ray? I didn't think to take so long. My apologies, I'd no notion you were shut in and without light. You must be bored to distraction. Ray?" Standing at the top of the stairway, a branch of candles in his hand, Bodie held them aloft and smiled at the hunched figure he could just make out where he sat in the shadows. "You haven't taken umbrage at being so treated, I trust?" he asked lightly as he began his descent.

One moment Bodie was moving with smooth co-ordination, then he slipped. The candles went out and there was a muffled curse abruptly cut off before Bodie tumbled bonelessly down the remaining steps.

Hearing the commotion, Doyle scrambled to his feet. "Bodie, where are you?"

It was as black as pitch without a light. Trying to hurry to the other man he walked into the same outcrop of rock twice, losing himself among the narrow projections. He couldn't see his hand in front of his face and might as well be blind.

He came to an abrupt halt.

He had managed to move around in the dark once, why not again? Closing his eyes, he tried to rediscover the skills he had needed to function ten years ago. Time was when he and darkness had been old friends.

It worked, after a fashion. While he still stumbled on the uneven floor, he could move a lot faster. After what seemed like an eternity he found Bodie where he had fallen unconscious. Dropping beside him, Doyle's fingers closed over one of Bodie's hands; the flesh was too warm but there was a pulse. A further examination revealed that none of his limbs seemed to be broken. Relieved, he traced up the arm and shoulder to Bodie's head, trying to establish what had caused him to lose consciousness. Determined that he wouldn't remember the only other occasion when he had used his hands to draw another man's image, his fingers delicately probed the contours of the cropped-haired skull. There was no obvious injury there but Bodie was sweating freely despite the cool air.

Doyle stroked across the damp forehead and across the idiosyncratic eyebrows, where he found a warm stickiness above one, the flesh around the cut swollen and tender to the touch.

"You clumsy idiot," he whispered, relief coursing through him as he cradled Bodie's head in his lap.

It was strange how his perception of the other man had changed now he was relying on touch alone. He would have sworn he knew the features well enough. Continuing with his tactile exploration, he realised how wrong he had been, intrigued by the new details his fingers revealed that he wasn't aware of having seen. It was a strong face with a determined jaw and sensual mouth, relaxed now under his butterfly touch. Skimming the planes and angles of the cheeks and jaw in a near caress he half-hoped Bodie wouldn't recover consciousness for a moment longer; he wouldn't care to explain his actions. Luxuriating in being able to touch so freely, he traced over the eyelids, feeling the soft length of the lashes before he spanned the nose, then found the quirk in the eyebrows again.

Time stopped.

For a moment Doyle forgot to breathe. It couldn't be. It was a sick fantasy, no more. John Brown had been dead these ten years.

Shaking, he stared sightlessly at the unmoving figure as if willing it to offer him its truths. It couldn't be.

He had to know. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes again, seeking to control the joy and hope building within him. Now he must concentrate and remember. He retraced each feature of the unconscious face, comparing it with that other, much loved and never forgotten one. The eyebrows, hairline and bone structure were familiar, as were the set of the eyes and proportions of the features. Scent was an unreliable memory, tainted by ten years and the unwashed months they had spent together. But how could he have forgotten these hands? Strong and powerful, with callousing now across the finger pads, these hands had tended him, taught him to fight, shared out their food and loved him. And the voice... heard recently in anger, laughter, disgust and boredom, even in tenderness. He had yet to hear it roughened by passion again but the memories of that one night they had shared ripped through him like a flood-tide, bringing a hunger such as he had never known.

"Dear Christ, you're alive!"

Bent over Bodie, Doyle was unaware of the tears streaming down his face or of the ferocity of his grip on the unconscious figure. He never knew how long they remained there. He finally stirred when a chill wave of air eddied past him and up the steep stairway as light filtered over them.

"Master William? What the hell be going on down there?"

Doyle blinked and peered upwards. "Jedediah?" He had to clear his throat before he could call out again. "There's been an accident. Bodie's injured. I shall need your assistance to get him up these stairs. Mind you don't slip on the candle-grease." Wiping his face dry with the heel of a shaking hand, he fought for a measure of calm with which to face the older man.

"Is he hurt bad?" demanded Jedediah, having moved faster down the stairs than Doyle would have believed possible for a man of his bulk and years.

"I don't believe so. See the swelling here?" Doyle indicated the spot with his finger, careful that his face should not catch the light from the lantern Jedediah carried and betray him utterly. "We'd best get him to bed before he takes a chill down here."

Jedediah thrust the lantern forward and stared at Doyle's ravaged face, noting the brilliance of the eyes and only belatedly recognising their expression. The light was withdrawn as abruptly as it had been offered.

"I dunno what's been goin' on, but you've the look of one who's lost a farthin' only to find a sovereign. You drunk?"

Only with joy, thought Doyle incoherently. He gave the older man a dazzling smile and having done so found it impossible to quench it again.

"No," he said quietly, his voice threaded with laughter, "not at all. Merely, happy. Help me get him upstairs." His manner was a mixture of the fantastic and the strictly practical.

His mind on his master, Jedediah abandoned useless speculation for the time being and concentrated on the difficult task ahead of them.


Opening the bedroom door, Connors hesitated on the threshold when he saw the motionless figure standing opposite him by the window, his back to the light.

"Doyle?" When the man glanced up, hope naked on his pale face, Connors shook his head and answered the unasked question. "We've heard nothing. The old man's been on the blower. He's given you another hour, after that he wants you in London where you'll be - where he thinks you'll be able to do more," he paraphrased.

"Does he?" Doyle did not sound remotely interested. "Thanks. But we'll have heard something before then."

Connors found that certainty highly exasperating. He had never worked with Doyle before but he'd heard plenty about him, from a number of sources. Cowley had told them that working with Doyle would be good experience for them. It might be, if they ever got round to doing that. All Doyle had done so far was snap out a few instructions and mope in his room. It wasn't what he had expected.

"How can you be so sure?" Connors said sullenly.

"I dunno. Copper's instinct. Call it what you like, I know they'll ring eventually. They'll have to if they want me." Doyle ran a hand back through his hair. "You and Tim may as well start back to town. There's nothing you can do down here. Not that there ever was. Cowley sent you on a wild-goose chase. It happens sometimes. They've got Bodie in London."

"Cowley sent us down here," Connors pointed out, unwillingly impressed by the other man's total, unemphatic certainty.

Some of the younger man's banked frustration seemed to reach him because Doyle turned back to him, dredging up some concession to small talk. "Thanks for what you and Tim have done down here. I appreciate it. I'll do the same for you if they ever snatch your partner."

It was the first hint Connors had been given that something might be going on behind that remote-looking face. He hadn't thought of it like that before; he'd never even seen Bodie around the corridors of CI5, just knew Doyle had worked with him for a number of years. He hadn't taken the realisation further. He and Tim had worked together as a team for nine months. They were... mates. Awkwardly shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he uneasily tried to think of something he could offer Doyle's self-contained figure.

"It's all right. Like you say, it happens sometimes. I'll get you something to eat before I go. It's going to be a long day."

"I'd noticed." Doyle's tone gentled. "I'll get something later." He just wanted to get rid of the desperately earnest figure, hoping vaguely that it wasn't too obvious. "I'll see you, Pete."

"Yeah, sure. Bodie, too."

There was a quiet click as the door closed behind Connors, leaving him alone in the too-quiet room. Doyle gave a tired stretch. He was bone-weary and aching with tension. He'd never been very good at waiting but had no alternative at the moment. Wandering into the bathroom he filled a glass of water from the cold tap. Padding back into the huge bedroom, he scanned the nooks and crannies, trying to avoid looking at the vast emptiness of the bed. It was an old bed; a lot of people would have lived and loved and died in that bed.

With no real surprise by this time, Doyle felt his sense of familiarity with the room slip into focus as he accepted all the emotions it must have known. Had known. None of them were new to him, although he'd only come to accept some of them in the last nine months or so. Others he was just beginning to learn, abandoning detachment without a backward glance.

Sipping water as he wandered around the room, absorbing the atmosphere, Doyle relaxed. No wonder Bodie had picked this hotel. That other Bodie and Doyle had lived here, in this very room. He'd stake his life on it. A wry smile twisted his mouth as he glanced at the bed again, remember the problems he and Bodie had had getting it together on that mattress.

He wondered if their counterparts had experienced the same difficulty. Though in their day the mattress would have been new, most likely. They were probably the ones who had ruined it. Still, they would have got a kick out of knowing their latter-day namesakes had done their best.

Patience, he reminded himself tiredly, feeling the tension tightening his belly and chest. Wait it out. Don't waste energy.

For want of something to do until the phone should ring and he could start to function again he absently seated himself at an old desk half-hidden in the far corner of the room. Hardly aware of what he was doing, he began to open and shut the drawers, fiddling with the pads of hotel stationery and the accumulated rubbish he found there. Pulling one drawer out too far, he almost dropped it. As he tried to replace it he discovered what felt like some sort of catch. Crouching down to have a better look, he tried to work out how to release it. He'd heard about the secret drawers some old desks had but he'd never thought to find something like this in a hotel room. It would be empty, of course. Some kid fiddling with it on a wet day would have...

There was an audible click and Doyle's eyebrows disappeared beneath his hair. The drawer slid open with an oiled ease which denied the passage of time. It contained a yellowing drawing pad, together with sheaves of loose sketches. His eyes widening, he flipped through them, studying the faces; some of them were familiar, others unknown. The style was instantly recognisable but they showed an ability which far outshone his own. This bugger had known what he was doing all right, he admitted, envying a talent which would never been his.

Glancing up an untold time later, he realised how little the room could have changed since the sketches had been completed. A few of the line drawings were even dated. There were some desiccated stalks of what could be grass adhering to the back of a couple of sketches, giving them an added immediacy.

How he could have thought this room threatening was beyond him now. There again, this wasn't the sort of thing you expected to happen, he acknowledged. Particularly not when you worked for CI5. He'd just qualified himself for a place in the padded wagon; but at least he understood how Bodie had felt in that graveyard yesterday.

One drawing in particular held his attention. For the first time in some hours, Doyle smiled.

Well-known flared nostrils, the arrogant curl to the long mouth, the slant of the eyebrows: all unmistakable as Bodie stared disdainfully off the page. But there was an expression in the eyes half-shuttered by those ridiculously long lashes which gave him away to anyone who knew him. That Ray Doyle had certainly known his Bodie; better, perhaps, than he knew his.

Blinking rapidly, he placed a gentle finger to the just-parted lips before he replaced the sketch in the drawer and closed it. He wanted to see Bodie's face when he found those sketches for himself.

He had a few years yet in which to learn all his Bodie's secrets. If the telephone rang.


Bodie drifted back to consciousness, at first aware only of the discomfort down the left side of his body and a throbbing pain in his upper arm. He tried to recall what he could have been doing to arrive in this sorry state but his tired brain refused to co-operate. With a vague awareness that contentment did not lie in examining his predicament too closely, he relaxed against the pillows. His discomfort easing to manageable proportions, he became aware of a sensation of warmth against his uninjured side and a weight lying limp and heavy across a portion of his chest.

Stirring slightly, he peered down. He was still wearing his shirt and breeches and the warmth he felt was that of another person. He was sharing a bed with someone. Gratifying, but odd. He thought he would have remembered. His companion was undemanding, their presence strangely reassuring considering he had no notion who it might be. He opened a cautious eye, squinting against the early morning sun flooding through the window. But the effort was too much to sustain and his weighted lid closed again.

Drifting in a semi-conscious haze between wakefulness and fever, Bodie eased onto his uninjured side and snuggled with drowsy acceptance into the warmth, his injured arm curving over the figure beside him. His hand stilled when it settled over a firm, undeniably masculine buttock clothed in skin-tight breeches. Almost of their own volition his fingers caressed the curved flesh with reminiscent pleasure. After all, this was a dream, he thought reasonably, and in a dream anything was permissible; any memory could be relived.

The man at his side gave a soft mumble of pleasure and wriggled closer, a thigh crooking over him with an odd familiarity. Absorbing the added weight and warmth and security brought with this new intimacy, Bodie's breath caught when he felt the brush of the confined genitals nudge against him. A steady pulse of pleasure throbbed through his blood to centre in his groin. Going along with his fantasy, Bodie caressed the generous mound, rubbing it with a firm, rhythmic pressure until, inevitably, he cupped a deliciously erect cock. A tremor ran through the body plastered against him.

"Mmn, good morning John Brown." There was absolute contentment in the sleepy whisper from a man barely awake.

"Ray?" Bodie's eyes opened in a trice, his hand rising to Doyle's face, while wishing he could capture the reality of the man with such ease.

As he watched the heavy-lidded eyes opened sleepily and blinked on seeing him. Then he was the recipient of a heart-stopping smile. Forgetful of physical discomfort, Bodie matched their bodies with a careful precision. Each move was a subtle caress as they melted into each other with an ease which denied the press of bone at rib, hip and knee and the encumbrance of clothes.

Now completely wake, Doyle drew in a shaken breath, his smile fixed in a second of shock and uncertainty. Putting Bodie to bed, he had fallen asleep next to him while waiting for him to regain consciousness. He had not expected this.

Thought stopped, doubts fleeing, overcome by physical sensation. The combination of the endearing concentration on Bodie's face and the strong body which moulded itself so delicately to his own was irresistible. With a muffled groan of welcome Doyle gave himself up to the mixture of tenderness and passion offered to him, his arms locking around the powerful body. He felt dizzy with the joy of discovering John Brown, hardly able to believe that he and Bodie could be the same man, yet knowing it to be so.

"Ray." On this occasion there was only a wealth of satisfaction in Bodie's voice, his eyes alight as he studied the sensual mouth and desire-darkened eyes.

The heat swelling between them demanded release. Sliding caresses became more urgent, languid strokings quickening as they arched and thrust, driving themselves to a near-simultaneous orgasm.

Only with the warm stickiness soaking his breeches and the easing of the painful pressure of Doyle's hands on his bruised back did Bodie fully realise that this was no dream but reality. Still trying to catch his breath, dazed by the incoherent sweetness of their shared passion, he stared, appalled, at the open sensuality of the flushed face below his.

"Dear God, what have we done?" he mumbled.

Shaken to the core by the tenderness which had loved him so surely, Doyle gave him a smile uncomplicated by doubts and dazzling in its intensity of happiness. "What have we done?" he echoed, his voice quivering with laughter. "Why, I fancy we made love." His eyes darkened. "But how I could have failed to recognise you..."

Remembering the anguish and the mourning and the years lost to them, he gripped Bodie with a fierce strength. His face buried in the hollow of the other man's throat, he was overwhelmed by the intensity of emotion surging through him. So many wasted years.

Bodie remained totally still, neither accepting nor rejecting the embrace. Recognising that something was wrong, Doyle eased his grip. Leaning up as best he could for the body pinning him to the mattress, he kissed the frown gouging Bodie's forehead.

"I never thought I would see you, John Brown," he explained in a shaken voice. It didn't occur to him to add he had believed him to be dead. He forced himself to look away when he realised he was making the other man uneasy.

Extricating himself from Doyle's embrace, Bodie rolled onto his back. "You know who I am?" he said dully, only now picking up on Doyle's use of his pseudonym.

Only then did it occur to Doyle that Bodie clearly didn't share his happiness. More, Bodie must have known who he was from the first but had chosen to remain silent. A number of explanations for this occurred to Doyle in quick succession, all of them wrong. He stared into the other man's unresponsive face.

"Did you imagine I wouldn't? Eventually." There was a deceptive mildness to his voice.

Bodie gave him a look of assumed indifference. "Why should you remember me? It was many years ago."

Doyle heard him out in disbelief but Bodie's shuttered face and still body offered no clue as to its owner's true feelings. An icy chill crept though him. As yet he couldn't separate John Brown from William Bodie, or make of the two a coherent whole. For the life of him he couldn't equate the love he had received from one with rejection by the other.

"Ten years," he reminded Bodie, his voice soft. "Ten years ago I would have given everything to be able to see you. I hadn't realised - " Floundering, Doyle gave a helpless shrug. "I didn't realise how beautiful you are."

Bodie jerked away from the hand that reached out to him. "No," he exclaimed in repudiation, rolling away to sit on the edge of the bed, his legs curled beneath him.

Doyle tried to mask his hurt, his hands unsteady. There had been something very like revulsion in Bodie's voice and unmistakable panic in his withdrawal. Aware of his stickiness within rumpled clothing, and the reason for it, he looked up, bitterly holding Bodie's eyes. His gaze hardened when he saw the signs of rejection and repudiation on the coldly beautiful face before Bodie turned his head away.

"Isn't it a trifle late for a display of modesty?" he asked, an icy clarity in his voice as he absorbed the other man's rejection. "You weren't so reticent a few minutes ago. You must have known me from the first. Whatever your feelings, you could have made yourself known to me when it was obvious I had no notion that you and John Brown were one and the same. No wonder so much about you seemed familiar. I suppose I should be grateful for your fall or I might still be ignorant of your identity. You have distinctive eyebrows, you see," he added with sudden savagery, feeling a fierce satisfaction when Bodie flinched, knowing he must be remembering, as he was, another time and place.

"But - " Doyle's voice broke before he regained control " - why wouldn't you tell me? Or was it too good a sport to remain silent?"

Bodie winced at the bitterness in the cutting voice. It was obvious Ray was losing his grip on his formidable temper but what answer could he possibly offer in excuse? To tell the truth was unthinkable; besides, he was no longer sure what the truth was any more. His shields of emotional detachment had failed him utterly.

"What, you can't even contrive a polite falsehood?" derided Doyle, infuriated and hurt by a silence he took for indifference.

Bodie helplessly shook his head, exhausted by physical and emotional trauma.

Doyle's blow caught him unprepared, delivered as it was with a speed and strength that followed on from the soul-destroying realisation of betrayal.

His fist returned to his side, Doyle sat back on his heels, fighting not to follow that blow with another more punishing. He wanted to annihilate the calm arrogance of the man who could shatter the course of his life with so little thought. Bodie had made a mockery of the friendship which had grown between them this time around, and forever tarnished his memories of his lover, leaving him with nothing.

"Why didn't you leave me on that beach? Or do you imagine I always repay hospitality by bedding my current host?" he demanded crudely, trying to relegate his uninhibited physical response to a different level. He was grateful only that shock had prevented him from betraying himself utterly and babbling all the foolish, sentimental hopes which he had been harbouring, albeit for such a short time.

Picking himself up from the floor, Bodie wiped the blood from his mouth. Icy cold, he shivered and tried to focus on the man glaring at him, wounded by the poorly disguised hurt which lay behind Doyle's fury.

"I couldn't have left you to die," he explained, as if the fact should have been obvious.

Doyle snorted.

Racked by tremors, Bodie doggedly continued, "I thought at first you would be bound to recognise my voice. Then I thought that perhaps you wouldn't welcome the reminder when you failed to. By then it was too late. I'd left it too long." His voice trailed away as he slumped onto the edge of the bed. He didn't possess the energy to deal with the rage awaiting him, unable to bear to block out that cold face any longer.

There was a rustle of movement and the bed dipped, almost casting him back onto the floor before Doyle was standing in front of him. Looking up, Bodie saw the astonishment on the other man's face.

"You didn't know if I would welcome... You stupid dolt. What do you imagine I've been trying to tell you?" Grasping Bodie by the upper arms, Doyle gave him a hard shake. "Damn you, did you forget me so easily that you could believe I would be so fickle?"

His face grey, Bodie made a choked sound as strong fingers clenched over the pulsating wound in his arm, sending a sick agony flaring down his body. He tried vainly to free himself; the effort sent sweat shivering down his face.

"John - Bodie, what's amiss?"

He gave a sob of relief as the crushing pressure on his arm eased when Doyle released him. Throwing back his head, Bodie gulped for air. Doyle's voice seemed to be receding into the distance and he peered at him through a haze of pain. Lucid enough to recognize the anxiety in the softened voice, he reached out a hand that shook to trace the flawed profile.

"How could I forget you?" he said simply, his voice an exhausted thread of sound.

Doyle murmured something he could not catch. There was such a marked change to his voice that it made Bodie hope it might still be possible to salvage something from the morass of misunderstanding into which they had fallen. The pain in his arm was assuming bearable proportions again. He wearily rested his forehead against the support of Doyle's body and felt gentle hands at his back.

"When first I found you," he explained haltingly into the lawn shirt, "I couldn't credit - I believed you dead before the Bastille was stormed. Pêche and the other guards were killed. There was no one who knew of your existence." He shivered as he remembered the bleak days when he had tried to establish the whereabouts of one blind Englishman.

Staring incredulously at the head tucked into his throat, Doyle stopped listening as he saw the spreading crimson stain where he had grasped Bodie's arm. The overheated body made it obvious Bodie had a fever. Colour draining from his face, he heard the echo of Ross's nasal voice gleefully relating how he had wounded one of the smugglers he had so nearly trapped.

"When were you shot?" Doyle asked quietly. "And by whom?"

Trying to concentrate, Bodie stared at him owlishly and managed a faint, ironic smile. What was the point in offering falsehood? "The night before last, by Ross. I lead the local band of freetraders. Ross literally stumbled upon us as we made our way home. If he hadn't placed this lucky shot I should find his consternation at the time amusing."

He couldn't see Doyle's expression but there had been no start of surprise. It was as he suspected, Ray already knew. Bodie's tangled thread of thought was broken when cool hands eased him from his shirt and unpeeled the rag he had tied over the thick pad in an effort to conceal the wound.

Doyle sucked in his breath when he saw the torn, angry-looking flesh that was still bleeding sluggishly. "This should have been tended to at once. Do you have no sense?" he scolded, too busy worrying about Bodie's well-being to consider his revelation in much detail. He accepted the trust such a revelation implied without a thought.

Bodie gave an affectionate grin. "I should have recalled how difficult you are to shock," he said, voluntarily referring to their period of shared captivity.

Disposing of the blood-sodden pad, a faint smile overtook Doyle's worried scowl. "Your memory always was accommodating. I'm sorry for -" He gestured to the wound, reluctant to touch Bodie in case he caused him further pain.

"You have nothing with which to reproach yourself," Bodie told him firmly.

Swallowing against the obstruction in his throat, Doyle laced his fingers with the fever-hot ones that gripped him, but he said only, "Can you disrobe unaided?"

The rich blue eyes glittered with an unholy mixture of laughter and fever. "With sufficient inducement, undoubtedly."

Crouching opposite Bodie, Doyle cupped the heated face between his hands, a rueful smile on his face. Leaning forward, he gently set his lips to the small hurt he had inflicted at the corner of Bodie's mouth. His eyes were warm with affection.

"You were - and are - incorrigible," he told Bodie, continuing to study him. "But there's a bullet in your arm that must come out before the wound festers. We dare not send for a surgeon in the circumstances. Either Bertha or I must tend to you. Which of us will you have?"

"You," said Bodie without hesitation.

"You don't even know if I'm competent to undertake such a task," protested Doyle, moved by the trust in Bodie's eyes.

"I know," Bodie contradicted him firmly. "You wouldn't otherwise have offered. Besides," an irrepressible grin broke through his pain and fatigue, "you'll fuss less than Bertha."

"Don't you believe it," Doyle warned him. Bodie's absolute certainty in him was an unwanted reminder that his sole object in remaining at Shambolt's Cove was so he could spy on his host and, if necessary, give him up to the authorities. He doubted if he would have been capable of that betrayal against William Bodie; he knew beyond question that he couldn't do it to John Brown. Relief coursed through him. Whatever William Bodie might do, John Brown was no traitor. All that remained for him to do was prove it.

Refusing to dwell on that difficulty, he smoothed Bodie's ruffled hair. "Get yourself to bed and I'll return shortly with everything we'll need."

The dark lashes quivered, then flickered more strongly, signalling the return to consciousness. Finally Bodie stirred, gasping when an incautious move jarred his arm. Watching him through guilt-stricken eyes, Doyle took Bodie's other hand in a comforting grasp and gave a smile of sheer relief.

Bodie relaxed on seeing who sat beside him, but it was noticeable he looked everywhere but at Doyle, his eyes heavy with pain and brilliant with fever.

"The bullet is out. I'm sorry it took so long," apologised Doyle softly, knowing what lay behind that unnatural rigidity and unwillingness even to breathe. His own hands had only just stopped shaking. "It was lodged close to the bone. Do you feel any easier?"

He knew it to be a foolish question, prompted by feelings of guilt for the hurt he had inflicted, necessary as it had been. The room stank of blood and sweat and the spirit he had used to cleanse the wound. Doyle felt like a butcher. It had been hard enough to operate on a tight-lipped stoic; it had been worse when Bodie had finally given a choked cry and fainted. It had taken him so long to regain consciousness.

"I'm quite recovered," said Bodie in dismissal, his voice barely audible. With a polite lack of haste he withdrew his hand from Doyle's grasp, his self-possession firmly wrapped around him. His expression made it clear that he found the other man's presence an irritant.

Doyle's gaze dropped as he accepted the rebuff. As he gazed at Bodie's bound arm, his face mirrored his feelings.

Bodie felt a pang of guilt. "The wound aches," he lied, "you could expect nothing else. But you were more deft than I could have hoped, and more thorough than the local sawbones. Thank you." The wound pulsed in throbbing waves that increased in intensity as he spoke; his arm felt as if it was being ripped apart with fiery pincers. Exhausted by the effort of speaking, and fighting a desolating sense of isolation, pride prevented him from reaching out.

"Oh, yes, I've done a fine job," said Doyle ironically. "Your recovery is obvious. Do you take me for a fool that I can't see what case I've left you in?" Compressing his lips, he bit back his anger. There was no excuse for taking his sense of inadequacy and guilt out on Bodie. "I'll fetch Bertha. The brandy has done nothing to give you ease. She may have a potion that can help."

"I only need the chance to sleep uninterrupted," Bodie informed him pointedly. Without moving a muscle he seemed to withdraw, disdaining the care offered to him. Pain hammered up his arm and shoulder; his breath sucking inwards, his glare dared the other man to notice. "My thanks for your assistance but I shall do very well - alone." Closing his eyes, he completed the dismissal.

Looking at nothing in particular, Doyle got to his feet. Bodie had made it clear he was neither wanted nor needed. Unable to see beyond that rejection, he collected the bloodied bowls of water, swabs and stained linen, placing them on a tray ready to dispose of downstairs. He paused in the doorway, his back to the room, before looking around. Bodie's face was pinched with pain, his motionless figure having the lifeless appearance of a wax-work effigy. What kept Doyle standing there was the aura of loneliness which surrounded the defenceless figure.

Knowing himself to be a fool, he placed the tray outside the bedroom door and went back inside, closing the door behind him. He couldn't leave Bodie alone while he looked like this.

Hearing the door close Bodie gave a shaky exhalation of relief. Believing himself to be alone, as he thought he had wanted, his unguarded face betrayed the extent of his discomfort. He refused to be an object of pity for any man, least of all Ray Doyle. Too many tangled memories lay between them; confused emotions they had yet to come to terms with. If he had been in his right mind this morning their love-making would never have occurred but it had felt so gloriously natural to wake beside Ray.

He needed no one, whatever maudlin self-pity might try and persuade him.

But why hadn't Ray known who he was?

Physically twisting away from the thought, Bodie gave a choked cry as agony crashed in on him. It made his eyes water with pain and left him gasping for air like a stranded fish, each inhalation increasing his torment. An instant later he was taken in an embrace which supported him through the worst of it, a comforting shoulder offering both a brace and a haven.

His face taut with empathic pain, Doyle gentled Bodie as best he could, wishing fiercely that there was more he could do. "Easy. Don't fight it so."

The dark head was tucked into the hollow of his neck, Bodie's hand clenching over him with strength enough to make him gasp. Keeping his voice a soft monotone, Doyle caressed the damp nape of the exposed neck in a slow, rhythmical movement. If he could relieve the tension it might help to release Bodie from the spiralling pain.

The desperate grip slowly eased, the shallow gasps for air deepening as Bodie began to relax.

"I thought myself alone," he mumbled, coming as close as he was prepared to in admitting his need. The monstrous pain was fading, giving him a measure of control and he tried to draw away.

"Easy," admonished Doyle, releasing him onto the support of banked-up pillows and wincing almost before Bodie did. "I know you have no wish for my company. I'll go the moment you are asleep."

"There is no need - "

"There is every need," Doyle contradicted him. "I know you'll not agree but I'm convinced I shall make as competent a nurse as you, given the opportunity to prove myself. I'll not disturb you."

Bodie gave a sardonic smile. Ray must be more of a simpleton than he had supposed if he imagined his presence could go unremarked. "Have it your own way. I shall make an abominable patient," he warned.

Doyle's grin held genuine amusement. "I believe you. But perhaps I shall discover a degree of patience which will surprise us both." Checking that the bandaging was still secure, he was relieved to see it only faintly stained. He gave Bodie an approving pat on the leg as he got to his feet.

Casting him a speaking look, Bodie relaxed against the pillows. A glass of amber liquid was handed to him.

"Come, drink this and several more besides. It will dull the pain," Doyle urged.

The smell of brandy was suddenly disgusting, its scent mingled with memories of muddied fields, torn flesh and strangled cries; memories he had obscured since his days as a mercenary. Nauseated, Bodie shook his head. Doyle's sympathetic grimace showed he understood what lay behind the refusal, for he did not press the point.

Bodie watched with a heavy-eyed contentment as Doyle padded around, setting the disordered room to rights with a deft competence. Relaxing to the vague, comforting sounds of domesticity, and feeling abominably weak, Bodie was asleep within minutes.

As the day progressed Bodie's fever mounted, despite the potions Bertha lovingly prepared for him. It took Jedediah and Doyle to help her restrain the violent thrashing of his fever-induced delirium.

By the early hours of the following morning Bodie's incoherent mumblings had begun to fade. Doyle sat on the bed beside him, talking with a quiet inconsequence when he realised his voice seemed to have a soothing effect on the other man.

Watching the too-pale face with a dazed intensity, Doyle tried not to think of the time he had spent in this bed, drifting awake in Bodie's embrace. Drowning in sweetness...

Now he knew Bodie was John Brown - and a smuggler by Bodie's cheerful admission. What was he to do with a trust he hadn't sought and didn't want? A trust he might yet have to betray.

No easy solution occurred to him.

Bodie awoke to a delicate touch on his injured arm and knew without needing to open his eyes who it must be. The moment he could talk he asked the question which had been plaguing him since he realised Doyle knew of his dual identity.

"Why didn't you recognise me? We shared a cell for nine months." His flat, exhausted voice betrayed more feeling than he realised.

Concentrating on fastening a fresh bandage around the powerful muscle of Bodie's upper arm, Doyle's fingers were unsteady. Bodie waited for a reply with untypical patience. Unable to sustain that vivid gaze Doyle stared across the room, his thoughts far away.

"I was blind. I knew your voice, the sound of your movements and your scent and touch. The cell was small and there were few sensory distractions. That's all the information I had." There was an intense sadness in Doyle's voice as he acknowledged the time they had lost. "It isn't enough to enable one to recognise someone years later in different surroundings. Not nearly enough. Besides, I was told John Brown had died when the Bastille was stormed. An acquaintance returned to the Bastille on my behalf to search for you, armed only with the inadequate description I could provide."

"Go on," urged Bodie, when it seemed Doyle wasn't going to continue.

"I can't blame Pat for his mistake, or the lie he told me in saying you must have escaped. It can have been no easy task to be saddled with a blind man wanted by the authorities. He got me back to England before we were apprehended. Knowing your ingenuity, I made no demur for I was certain you would be there before me. Shortly after arriving in England I was involved in a minor coach accident. I regained my sight after a blow to the head. I was planning my journey to Lancashire to find you when they told me that you - John Brown - had died. In the years since, I wouldn't permit myself to remember those months we shared. But I didn't forget. I never forgot!"

Moved by that vehemence, Bodie found himself smiling foolishly. "I know. It was the same for me," he said gently.

Doyle seemed to have missed that reassurance. "I thought you dead, God help me. And now I find you are not and I don't know what - " His emotions in turmoil, his voice trailed away.

Bodie touched the flawed profile, oddly shaken when Doyle's hand rose to cover his.

"I am as confused as you," Bodie confessed. "I've learned not to expect such good fortune. I should have visited your family, for I knew your exact direction." His voice was sad as he wondered how different the intervening years might have been for them both if he had done so. He didn't add he had been unable to bear the prospect of meeting a brother or nephew in case their likeness to Ray should shatter the brittle shell within which he had lived during those early days.

"Then we are a pair of fools," said Doyle gently. But a slow, warm smile softened his face as his thumb continued to caress the back of Bodie's hand.


A booted toe in his ribs brought Bodie choking back to consciousness. Glaring balefully at the floor through an eye swollen half-shut, he discovered his inability to move more than two inches in any direction unless he wanted to scream the place down. Clenching his jaw against the pain which spread from his shoulder down spine, side and chest, he persevered and wondered fleetingly if he might not be getting too old for this kind of work. There again, if he was past it, what did that make Ray? Poor old sod, he thought condescendingly. He gave a silent snort of laughter but the resultant jolt of agony extinguished his amusement as remembrance of his situation returned.

When Hodge offered an exchange Ray would accept it. The thought made Bodie's blood run cold. In the past he could have trusted Ray to use his head, take his time and not take unnecessary risks. Neither of them had any use for mock heroics. What had kept them alive was a strong vein of common sense, allied to an ability to predict when a risk had an acceptable chance of success and when to play it by the book.

Ray was too emotionally involved and Cowley wouldn't have a snowball in hell's chance of keeping him off the case.

Emotionally involved. Good phrase that, thought Bodie vaguely. It would be even better if it didn't result in Ray getting himself killed. He had a touch of the martyr complex as it was. And he was dangerously tired. They both were.

In the hours since he had been abducted, Bodie had had plenty of time to think and had recognised that many of the problems between Ray and himself were due to the bone-deep weariness which had been dragging them down for months. The Cow had kept the pressure on for too long; they were punch drunk with it. His own reaction times and thought processes were way below par. Ray would be the same. Probably in an even worse state by this time; caught on a treadmill of tension, guilt, fear, love and anger if he knew his Ray. Not good odds for survival at all.

So it was up to him to get himself free before Ray meekly arrived like a lamb to the slaughter.

Bodie pieced together all he had learned of his prison. A new, nine-storey office block waiting for the decorators to add the finishing touches before the workers moved in. They were on the top floor; the lift and stairs were easy to defend, always supposing they could get a team into the building. The windows gave a panoramic view of the whole area. This the only office block in a light industrial complex, now the factories had shut down for the weekend, anyone moving on foot or by car would stick out like tits on a ram.

After dark then? Bodie tried to recall what he had seen from his brief glimpse out of the window as he'd been hustled into the storeroom. High chain-link fences, the perimeter well-lit. From the small screen he'd spotted flickering by the reception desk, it looked as if there were video cameras on the entrance doors already in operation.

Knowing he could only be a handicap to Doyle, whatever Ray might have in mind, did nothing to improve Bodie's mood. He lay still, irrationally hoping that by doing so he could produce some kind of miracle cure to a body that felt as if it had given up the ghost.

Oh great, he thought sardonically. Thinking like that won't help. A dislocated shoulder never finished anyone. Try positive thinking.

His plan received a set-back when he was roughly flipped onto his back. The move wrenched a strangled grunt from him as he fought to remain conscious.

"Alec, let him be. He looks bad enough as it is," remarked Ken Rowe with unwilling concern. He avoided looking at Bodie's battered face more than he need. After Jack had given them that free hand things had gone too far for his taste, even if the stubborn bastard had asked for it.

"Alec! Leave him. We don't want him croakin' on us," he insisted, pulling at his larger partner's arm.

His cuffed hands held to his throbbing side, Bodie stared hazily up at him with the cold promise of retribution if he ever had the luck to meet the other man when he was in a position to respond as he would like.

"He's tough as old boots," dismissed Alec as he shook himself free of restraint.

"Maybe he is," conceded Rowe, "but I wouldn't want a pair in the state he's in now. Take it easy, eh? He can't do nothing trussed up like that."

Brushing back his thinning, sandy hair Alec gave him a half-apologetic glance. "Jack wants him by the phone ready for when he arranges that swop with Doyle and I'm not carrying him there."

"It's time we got this settled," said Ken with exasperation. "I hadn't reckoned on the job taking this long. I'm due over in Highgate at half seven, done up like a dog's dinner."

Straddling Bodie's prone figure, Alec turned. "Highgate? You've come up in the world, haven't you?"

"Nah." Ken gave a sheepish grin. "Me sister Sue's just got herself engaged to a bloke who lives over that way. Dunno how she pulled him, mind. They're havin' a bash to celebrate and Julie promised we'd be there."

"She's got you on a string, mate."

"It isn't such a bad place to be. You should try it before you knock it," replied Ken, unperturbed.

"Sometimes I wonder about you," snorted Alec. "Bloody Highgate yet."

His fist bunched around Bodie's collar, he tried to haul him to his feet. Bodie gave a stifled yelp of agony, and to his intense annoyance, fainted. Not having given their prisoner's physical condition a thought, Alec wasn't prepared for the unexpected weight. Caught off balance, he landed heavily on top of Bodie.

"You'll be fallin' over standing still next," Ken told his shamefaced partner as he extended a helping hand.

"Up yours. He's no light weight, that's for sure. Give us a hand to get him to the office."

"Getting soft are we then," jeered Ken, but he bent willingly enough.

Between them they hauled the unconscious man into the other room. Dumping Bodie ungently into a chair, breathing heavily with exertion, Alec motioned for Ken to hold him there as he peered at the unconscious figure.

"He's out like a light. What's wrong with him?"

"Maybe we should have been more careful. I forgot. He's got a dislocated shoulder, courtesy of Dave, who lost his rag with him. I had one myself once after playing in a friendly match." He rubbed his arm reminiscently. "Not nice. I remember trying not to breathe but I'd got this cold and sneezed. Next thing I remember is waking up in hospital just after they'd put it back for me. I tell you, even covered in lumps and with a stinking head cold I felt bloody marvellous in comparison to how it had been."

Alec gave Bodie's grey, sweating face a look of something approaching sympathy. "Not nice at all. Dave tends to over-react. He didn't have to leave him like this."

Knowing his partner wouldn't appreciate any comments, Ken subdued a grin.

Looking defensive, Alec said, "How about we put it back while he's still out? He still won't be up to much but - "

"You leave that shoulder the way it is," interrupted Hodge harshly as he came into the office behind them. "With a handicap like that he's no trouble. I heard he had a go at Dave. How is he? Where is he, come to that?"

"Out getting some food," Ken told him absently as he watched Bodie return to consciousness. "He's limpin' a bit but I reckon it hurt his pride more than anything." It had been one hell of a trick Bodie had tried. It had almost worked, too. He was a tough one all right. It occurred to him that there might be easier ways of repaying the favour he owed Jack. This job had turned sour almost from the first, and it was heavier than he'd been expecting. Not his style. Alec neither. He turned to Hodge.

"Look, why not let him go? Forget the whole thing."

"Forget?" Hodge's voice rose. "Forget three stinking years inside? You forget it, Ken. Me, I can't forget. You owe me big time. Alec, too. Or have you forgotten your obligations?" His face was crimson with anger.

"We haven't forgotten," placated Alec. "It was just an idea. What's the point of this though, Jack? Nothing's going to give you back those years."

Sitting down at the desk, Hodge glared at him. "This phone working now?"

At Ken's nod, he fumbled in his jacket pocket and fished out a crumpled piece of paper. He flattened it over and over again with the palm of his hand, his expression darkening.

"I know nothing can give me back that time. I don't need reminding. It's the principle. That double-crossing bastard owes me. By the time I've finished with him Mr Raymond-fucking-Doyle's gonna regret the day he was born."

Not caring for the expression on Hodge's face, Alec caught hold of his arm as he started to dial. "Me and Ken won't kill for you, Jack," he warned.

Hodge smiled and Bodie felt a twist of apprehension when he recognised the expression in the pale eyes. Oh fuck, he thought numbly. A psycho was all they needed.

"Who said anything about killing him?" said Hodge jovially.

Hiding his disgust, Alec released him while resolving to have a word with his partner in private about what they'd got themselves into.

"Right, so I'll make my call. Time's a-wastin'. Let's get Doyle on the road, shall we," said Hodge.

No one answered him.


Bodie had been correct in assuming he would make an abominable patient. He tried the good humour and patience of everyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with him. In consequence, he won his battle to quit his room the moment he was strong enough to stand unassisted. He continued to make a rapid recovery thereafter, despite his insistence on behaving as if his strength was unimpaired. The majority of his exploits were curtailed after Doyle discovered him, weak to the point of swooning, in the disused stables.

Caught attempting to move a broken trace so he could reach behind it, Bodie claimed to be looking for some liniment for one of the mares who had contrived to injure herself the previous day.

"You bird-brained numbskull," Doyle snapped when Bodie moved into the light and he saw the blood-stained sleeve where the half-healed wound had re-opened. "What if I had been Ross or one of his men? Even he's capable of deducing the truth if he's presented with the unlikely coincidence of your having been wounded at exactly the same time that he shot one of the smugglers." Pausing only to take an angry breath, he ignored the appeasing wave of a hand. "Do you have a death wish, or merely a desire to see foreign parts that you must behave so rashly?"

Bodie pulled a wry face but had the sense to remain silent. The furious tirade came to a halt as Doyle pulled his own shirt free from its moorings and ruthlessly tore a strip from the bottom.

"To come needlessly into a place such as this with an open wound is an invitation to watch your arm fester and rot," he snapped with a tartness designed to conceal his concern. Seeing the sweat beading Bodie's face, his manner softened slightly. "Come, sit and let me tend to you before you collapse at my feet."

Grasping the elbow of his injured arm to support it as he leant back against a wooden upright, Bodie raised one eyebrow. "Ross will be in no great hurry to visit here again. On his last visit he contrived to run foul of the Squire. His timing was unfortunate, of course," he added fairly, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes. "The Squire called by to ask if I could let him have a keg of brandy. While he isn't sure, Wilkes suspects I may know more than he of what goes on around this coastline. He didn't care for Ross overmuch before that moment. By the time the chuckle-head had finished he had inflamed the Squire to such a degree I half thought he'd have an apoplexy." His tone made it obvious he remembered the scene with some fondness.

His very hair seeming to bristle with annoyance, Doyle subjected him to a hard glare of disapproval. "I wish I could share your amusement. I suggest you don't under-rate the worthy Captain. He's not the fool you take him for and you obviously delight in taking unnecessary risks."

"The challenge they offer is a way of knowing I'm still alive. It breaks the tedium," said Bodie, amusement falling away to reveal the bleakness beneath it.

Doyle gave a snort of exasperation and chose to ignore his sense of identification with the sentiment. "So is diving from a cliff top when the tide is out. Damn it, keep still so I can bind that arm before you bleed to death." He took a step closer. "Or must we continue with the mockery of pretending there's nothing amiss? I've seen as much of your blood as I care to over the last few days."

"Why don't you leave if you find it so distasteful?" retorted Bodie, discomfort unbridling his tongue. "There's nothing to hold you here after all."

In the silence which fell Doyle could hear the muffled squeaks of the rats nesting close at hand and the subdued roar of John Joe's voice as he berated a luckless stablelad in the yard.

Bodie had boxed himself in against the crumbling support of an old stall in his retreat. Doyle caught hold of his wrist, immobilising his arm. Blocking the other man's escape route with his body, he wordlessly tore the stained sleeve of the shirt apart to expose the wound.

Bodie stiffened in anger, but he made no further protest because he knew he was in the wrong of it. The pulsating waves of pain emanating from the reopened wound made thought difficult.

Doyle's gentle touch denied the impatient anger on his face as he applied a makeshift bandage. The last knot tied, he looked up into the half-defiant face with an unfathomable expression in his lucid gaze.

"If you wish me to leave I can be gone by nightfall," he said without emotion.

Pride forbade the simple apology Bodie knew was necessary. He could feel the weight of Doyle's gaze on him but would not meet it. This presented an easy solution. Better by far for Ray to leave before they became irrevocably committed to a friendship which had little chance of being able to survive, let alone of flourishing.

Doyle gave a brisk nod as if Bodie had spoken, leaving the other man with the sense that his mind had been read.

"If you'll excuse me, I have packing to attend to and arrangements to make."

Doyle turned away the instant he had finished speaking. His deceptively slow stride took him away faster than Bodie had anticipated. Watching him leave, he knew he could not permit Ray to go, however difficult they might find it to live in such close proximity at present. About to go after the other man, he had to clutch the half-rotten stall for support. He tried to call out as the stables tilted disastrously around him.

Recovering consciousness, Bodie found himself lying flat on his back, head pillowed on a pad of straw. Doyle sat cross-legged and inscrutable next to him, fingers on his wrist monitoring his pulse.

"Perhaps next time you'll have the sense to do as you're bid," Doyle said with the grim satisfaction of one who has been proved right.

"You seem sure there will be another such occasion," mumbled Bodie. He was disconcerted to see that his hand was shaking slightly.

"With you? There will be any number," said Doyle. Bodie's long-lashed disorientation was his undoing. He softened the reproof by placing an affectionate kiss against the side of the dry-lipped mouth.

Before Bodie could respond Doyle had withdrawn again. While there was little light in the shadows under the hay-loft, Bodie could glimpse his bewildering companion's expression and he wondered hazily whether he had imagined that caress.

"I thought you were supposed to be packing?" he said aggressively.

"That was my intention," Doyle admitted. "Then I had this curious notion that you might prefer me to stay."

"I would." Bodie heard his own voice and wondered if he had really said that. He hadn't intended to.


The simple question dropped between them like a stone.

Since Bodie's recovery from the extraction of the bullet they had avoided personal conversations, both battling with the unaccustomed emotions assailing them. When they were together conversation was constrained and awkward, tempers on a constant knife-edge of being lost.

Taken by surprise, Bodie blinked. "Why what?" he asked, trying to gain himself time.

Doyle's expression was one of patient resignation. "Exactly what I said. Why do you wish me to stay? Why should you? In the past we squabbled like delinquent children, now we don't even do that."

Peer as he might Bodie couldn't make out the other man's expression in the half-light and the flat voice betrayed nothing of its owner's feelings. He rubbed tired eyes with a weary hand and wished his head was clearer. "Last time I was here there was a lamp located on the shelf above you. Would you light it for me?"

There was a short pause before Doyle rose to do as he had been asked. He could feel the blue eyes following his every move. Trying to ignore their power over him, he began to fumble over the simple task, becoming irritated by his inability to act naturally. It was ridiculous that he should be overcome by another man's gaze, unsettling that Bodie should always be watching him. Unless Bodie's interest was solely in an attractive bedmate? Doyle frowned. If that was the case it would account for the change in Bodie's manner. He must be wondering how to rid himself of an unwanted emotional encumbrance. It would be easy enough to put it to the test and learn the truth.

And if that was all Bodie wanted? Idiotic to be missish about it. They could bed together easily enough. Desire would soon outrun itself and when their passion was slaked they would be free of one another.

Doyle's expression hardened as he ruthlessly suppressed the disbelief that accompanied the thought. He replaced the lamp on the shelf and sank onto the straw, seating himself some distance from Bodie's prone figure. He was reluctant to put his bleak theory to the test, too afraid that it might be true.

The golden light spilling from the lantern did nothing to assist Bodie in making his answer, rather it distracted him further. Motes of dust hung in the air around them, casting rich, golden shadows around Doyle's riotously curling hair.

Seeming engrossed in plaiting the straws he had picked up, Doyle turned his head and the light caught one side of his face. His set features gave no clue as to his thoughts, but the move highlighted the plane of cheekbone and line of muscle to the jaw, leaving his eyes in the shadow and exposing the wickedly sensual mouth.

The slow, sweet ache began to build anew. It was a view of Ray not unlike one he had known ten years before. They had lain on straw then, too, but it had not been so difficult to communicate. Bodie closed his eyes on the memories, no longer caring what interpretation his companion placed on his actions.

There was the slither and rustle of straw as Doyle eased closer. His eyes snapping open, Bodie flinched when cool fingers gently stroked across his damp forehead, the thumb soothing the lines of tension drawn between his eyes, before the hand slipped to rest in the hollow between neck and shoulder.


Reluctantly he met the other man's steady gaze.

"You've taken pains not to answer my question. If you're now hoping to seek refuge in physical weakness, having denied any hint of it up till this point, I have to tell you that your ploy is doomed to failure."

Doyle's voice held a hint of amusement, and some other emotion Bodie could not immediately identify. His eyes narrowing with suspicion, he watched Doyle lick away the sweat beading his upper lip with a slow, provocative flick of his tongue, the heavy-lidded eyes clouding as he leant down, his mouth still slightly parted. Fingers offered subtle caresses across his skin.

Twisting his head away, Bodie sat up with angry disbelief. His gesture of repudiation lost much of its impact when he was forced to clutch giddily at Doyle's shoulder for support.

"You're behaving like a second-rate harlot," he said with dismissive contempt, grimly aware of his own arousal.

He was taken in a painful grip as Doyle thrust him away with a look of ferocity. "You did notice, then! Forgive my presumption. I supposed that was what you expected of me. If my manner just now was so distasteful, perhaps you'll cease staring at me as if I were indeed such a creature."

Staring open-mouthed at the furious face so close to his own, Bodie belatedly realised just how angry Doyle was and how well he had been concealing the fact until now.

"I don't... Are you serious?" he stammered.

Doyle's hard laugh was devoid of humour. "Very. It's time for a little honesty between us. It will have the value of novelty if nothing else." His hands eased their punishing grip on Bodie's sides. "Do you take me for a fool that I can't see in your manner towards me what must be obvious to the rest of the world?" Shaking his head, his mouth quirked in a faint, wry smile. "I know you desire me," he said with a matter-of-factness which deprived Bodie of breath. He prepared to deny the charge. "And if you try to deny it so help me you'll leave these stables in a worse condition than you entered them." His voice softened. "Is it such a cause of shame to you?"

When Bodie did not reply, Doyle's look of resignation gave way to one of hopelessness. "As you will. I simply wished to know if that was all you felt for me."

As mesmerised as a rabbit in front of a weasel, Bodie could not look away. "I don't know," he admitted.

Doyle's shoulders slumped as he stared at the floor.

Already regretting that half-truth, Bodie stared at the concealed face and bowed head as he heard the sharp inhalation, followed by another and another, tremors shaking Doyle's body. Instinctively reaching out, he drew Ray's head up in the same moment that he placed a familiar sound.

"You're laughing," he accused, indignation and relief mixed in his face and voice.

Helpless with the spasms by this time Doyle held onto him as if to a lifeline, knowing how close the laughter was to tears. But it provided its own release, calming him, and his residual anger drained away. There was a tender, half-mocking expression on his face when next he spoke.

"Would you rather I wept over you?"

Bodie was barely conscious of what Doyle had said, aware only of the man in his arms, the ever-present awareness of him a stirring between them, firing his blood and turning his guts to water. He grasped the heavy curls, drawing Doyle's face into the light to stare ruefully into the brilliant eyes.

"In truth I don't know what I desire," he said quietly, "but I suspect it's a great deal more than - " His hands parted as he gestured to their surroundings " - a speedy coupling in the straw."

Failing to make the flippant rejoinder Bodie had been expecting Doyle's unblinking eyes searched the other man's face, a hint of sadness apparent in their depths. Cowley and the task he had been ordered to complete were far from his thoughts as he looked into the vulnerable night-dark eyes, knowing that whatever he chose to do, the course of his life had already changed irrevocably.

"Of course," added Bodie with a forced lightness, "no doubt I could contrive that as well, should you wish it."

"Oh, Bodie." With a muffled choke Doyle wrapped his arms around the stubborn figure.

Returning the embrace, his face buried in the other man's hair, Bodie was too relieved to notice the defeat in the quiet voice.


"Doyle! Ray, we've got something," yelled Connors exultantly. He almost tripped over his own feet as he rushed into the room.

Doyle caught hold of his arm. "OK, Pete. Slow down, catch your breath. Let's hear what the Inspector has to say first." His eyes were on the uniformed figure in the doorway.

"You'll remember that Granada we've been trying to trace from the partial number we were given? Well, the computer's thrown up an interesting connection. One that can be traced to a local car-hire firm," Gates said with a calm satisfaction. "The firm is co-owned by Maurice Slade and Jack Hodge."

Gates paused and Connors gave Doyle an expectant look.

Having gathered up his jacket, which he would need to cover his holster, Doyle paused and glanced between the two men. "All right, I give up. The names are supposed to mean something, so tell me, Pete. I'm not in the mood to play Twenty Questions."

"Jack Hodge worked for Ted Connolly. You helped to - "

"Put them both away," finished Doyle reminiscently, his eyes narrowing as he thought back. "I remember. "It was close on ten years ago. An undercover op. So old Ted's out again. He must have gone crazy. This isn't his style at all. A classy worker was our Ted."

"He died six weeks ago," said Gates into the silence.

"What? Oh, christ, then it must be that nutter Hodge," said Doyle with dawning horror.

The Inspector's quiet, country burr overrode him. "Slade is a local man. He lives about twenty minutes from here. I have a plainclothes detail watching his house now. All the signs are that he's alone at present. They saw a couple of women and a parcel of kids drive off just after they arrived.

"Thanks," said Doyle. "Right, let's be off to see Maurice Slade then."

"And what happens if Hodge tries to get through to you here in the meantime?" Connors reminded him. He wilted under the venom in the glare he received before Doyle got a grip on his temper, knowing it to be misdirected.

As if on cue, the telephone rang.


A chill draught preceded Doyle as he stalked into the warmth of the kitchen. Shrugging out of the worsted jacket he had borrowed from John Joe, he let it drop onto the table. He felt bone-weary, the long hours in the saddle showing in his stiffened gait.

"Where's Bodie?"

Jedediah bit into an apple, chewing on it reflectively before he deigned to reply. "Asleep in his room the last time I looked. Bertha slipped a sleeping draught in his meal," he explained in answer to Doyle's look of concern.

"He'll not be happy when he discovers what she's done," Doyle warned, trying to remember when Bodie had been anything other than displeased. Sinking onto a chair, he lay back wearily and stretched out his legs.

"He won't know unless you tell 'un," remarked Jedediah sourly. He threw his apple core onto the fire, where it hissed angrily. "He wore hisself out this morning trying to ride out with John Joe. He's weaker than a kitten but refuses to admit it." Moving to stand above the younger man, he glared down at him. "I don't pretend to know what's goin' on around here but a blind man could see summat's up. You two don't even talk no more. What's amiss, finding country life too much for your delicate constitution?"

Doyle bit back the response he had been about to make. He was in no mood to tolerate Jedediah's disapproval tonight. Besides, his antagonism was painful. He had hoped that by now - Giving a shrug of defeat, he busied himself with pouring out a tankard of ale.

"Imagine what pleases you most," he said. "Incidentally, the sale went well and the mares are safely installed in their new home. Stewart's stableman seemed pleased with them. If he has any say in the matter there will be other sales to that quarter. Bodie's making quite a reputation for supplying prime blood-stock around these parts."

Surprised, Jedediah stared at the other man's back. "You didn't see Stewart hisself?"

Turning, Doyle tweaked the coarse fabric of the shirt he wore with a work-calloused finger. "Dressed like this? He took me for the stockman. It was easier not to dispel his delusion lest he take further offence."

"You should have let me go in your stead," muttered Jedediah, assailed by an unaccustomed twinge of guilt. Stewart was a high-stepping bastard with a vicious tongue on him; glancing at Doyle he had the notion that the younger man had experienced it in full measure. That would have dented his pride right enough, for he and Stewart were as like as two peas in the pod about some things. Still, he must have kept a civil tongue in his head or the sale wouldn't have gone through.

"Even you can't be in two places at once," said Doyle.

"Maybe not, but it ain't fitting for you to do all you've taken on round the place. You ain't used to the labour. The Master weren't best pleased when he found you'd gone - especially after what he'd said to you earlier." He and Bertha had heard the sounds of the argument from the kitchen.

Seated by the fire, slowly thawing out, Doyle opened his eyes warily. "You were supposed to keep my whereabouts quiet."

"It weren't my doing," exclaimed Jedediah, refuting the accusation indignantly as he took in the marks of weariness on the pale face and the way Doyle's hand strayed to his side, as if his healed ribs were paining him. "Bertha told 'un."

"Oh." Bleakly sipping his ale, Doyle supposed that summed it up quite neatly. It meant he had an irate Bodie to look forward to. But not tonight, he recalled thankfully. He was in no mood to sustain another angry diatribe.

"Have you eaten?" demanded Jedediah.

"No. I'm for bed. I thought everyone would be asleep by now." Cold, tired and depressed, Doyle felt very much the interloper. He would have welcomed the chance to share an evening of light conversation with Bodie in front of the fire, relaxing in the company of the abrasive wit which matched his own so well. They had not spent an evening in such a way for many a day; he had begun to wonder if they would ever do so again.

A plate was thrust at him, breaking his train of thought. It held a hunk of crusty bread and a generous wedge of cheese, together with an apple.

"Eat," commanded Jedediah. "You look worn to a frazzle. Stewart's an unchancy bastard at the best of times. No doubt the Master will come around."

Taken aback by this display of solicitude, Doyle began to eat, and in the process discovered just how hungry he was. Jedediah got up and set more bread and cheese on the table, then hovered.

Doyle gave him a curious look. "What's amiss, man?"

"Remember when that girth was cut? You thought it might have been intended for Master Bodie. Well, I did some ferreting around, like I promised. 'Twas meant for thee, not the Master, and it won't happen again," Jedediah assured Doyle, his expression one of grim satisfaction.

Depositing the empty plate on the floor, Doyle crunched into the apple, finding the flesh tart and crisp. "And that's all you propose to tell me?"

Jedediah eyed him in a perplexed silence, worried by this stranger who had made himself a part of life at Shambolt's Cove. Master Ray was a good enough lad but when it came down to it, what did they know of him? He gave away little enough about himself and had surprised him too many times for him to be totally easy when it came to predicting his reactions to anything.

"If I tell you who it was, will 'ee let it lie?" he bargained craftily.

Doyle licked his juice-sticky fingers. "I don't know. What was the purpose behind it? Did they intend my death?"

Shocked, Jedediah shook his head, but it was obvious he wasn't certain. "I'm sure they didn't. It was but a warning. And if I tell' ee why, his identity will be no secret. Ain't it enough to know it won't happen again?" His gaze dropped at the derision on Doyle's face. "No, I suppose it ain't," he admitted, reluctant to unleash Doyle on a man he had come to look upon as a friend, for all that he was a muddle-headed fool at times.

"So it was Tom Chegwidden," said Doyle.

Jedediah swore under his breath. "Too clever by half, that's you. Yes, it was Tom. He was afeared for his girls' virtue. He'd seen you eyein' them and heard them talk of you. He had no mind to see 'em end up dockside doxies."

Doyle nodded wisely. "So that night I came across Tom and Ned Pollock on their way home had no bearing on his motives. Well, that's a relief."

Jedediah's fist slammed against the arm of the chair. "Damnation! How much do 'ee know about that?"

"Only that Bodie organises the local traders - or did until Ross put him out of commission. I could not help but notice the inordinate amount of attention I seem to attract every time I venture into the village." He watched with ill-concealed amusement as Jedediah failed to hide his consternation.

"Well, what did you expect?" Doyle added kindly. "It's not been a well-kept secret. Since Bodie's injury it would be difficult for a simpleton to miss. Tom's a poor substitute for Bodie's leadership. Too slow-witted by far."

"How do you know about that?" There was sudden menace in Jedediah's burly figure as he loomed over the seated Doyle, who studied him with unexcited interest.

"Oh, sit down man," he said, impatient with the minor drama. "God's teeth, what do you imagine I intend to do about it? Why should I care? I confess I'd begun to wonder at all the local activity when the moon is full, long before I dug that bullet out of Bodie's arm. It took little intelligence to work it out from there." His eyes narrowed in angry comprehension as Jedediah's change of attitude became clear. "Why so relieved? Did you imagine I should flee to Ross to inform him of my discovery?"

"You've made it clear you've no likin' for the traders," mumbled Jedediah defensively.

"No, I haven't," Doyle agreed. "But I also possess an excellent memory. I owe the members of this household my life. That's not a debt I take lightly."

"Gratitude," spat Jedediah.

"Not just gratitude," said Doyle quietly, "but that would be enough to keep you safe at my hands." He shrugged in dismissal. "What does it matter? Believe what you will, my back's broad. It should be enough for you to know Bodie will take no harm at my hands. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm away to bed."

Left alone in the kitchen, Jedediah automatically cleared away and stoked up the fire before he placed the guard around it. No harm, he repeated to himself with sour disbelief. If that was the case, maybe someone could tell him why the Master had taken to drinking heavy again.


Replacing the telephone receiver with a hand that shook, Doyle looked up dull-eyed, only now aware of Connors standing at his shoulder. "Where's Gates?" he asked incuriously as he tested his tension-tight voice.

"He got called downstairs." Connors kept a rein on his impatience.

"You catch any of that?" Doyle nodded to the phone.

"Enough. They've got Bodie," said Connors, sticking to essentials.

Doyle drew in a shuddering breath. "They've got him right enough." He turned away, looking for the jacket he remembered throwing down as he had leapt for the phone. "Christ knows what they've done to him." He yawned uncontrollably, feeling the hinges of his jaw crack as his tension sought some escape. "He wouldn't co-operate when I asked for proof that he was alive. So they made him scream. Bodie," he muttered, unaware that he had spoken aloud.

"At least he's alive," Connors offered in awkward consolation, not knowing what else to say.

"Of all the fucking stupid statements that has to be - Sorry," Doyle added, as he brought himself up. "You're right. I wasn't thinking."

Unnerved by how jittery he was, he hauled out his R/T and called Tim Rice. "4.5 here. Did they get an accurate fix on those calls?"

"Nope, there wasn't enough time. But they did manage to narrow it down to the London area."

His mouth drawing in, Doyle didn't attempt to reply. Shoving the R/T back into his jacket pocket, he studied his feet for a moment before he looked up fast enough to pin Connors with an intimidating glare.

"I seem to be losing my sense of humour, never mind my patience. Maybe they'll come back at the same time I get Bodie back. Until then - " He paused to take a steadying breath, "Until then, don't push it. Not now, OK? Or I might do something we'll both regret."

"Do you always come on this heavy?" demanded Connors. "It was just a - "

"Joke? You've got an odd sense of humour. This is all the time I plan to waste here. Are you coming?" Doyle was already out of the door.

"Where are we going?" called Connors, racing after the other man and mentally promising himself that no self-declared has-been was going to outrun him.

"To Maurice Slade's, of course. Why do you think I made a point of stressing how long it would take me to drive to London? They don't know about the helicopter. That gives me time to see Slade and find out what he knows."

"Shouldn't we tell Cowley where we're going?" Connors felt duty-bound to ask as they took the last flight of stairs three at a time.

"Of course. When we know something," snapped Doyle, unaccustomed to having to spell things out. He literally hauled Tim Rice after him as the young black agent emerged from the Gents.

Pushing himself to the limit, Connors just got to the driver's seat before Doyle as his partner bundled into the back. "I'm driving," he insisted pugnaciously as he struggled for air. "I'm not having you kill us on the way there."

Doyle didn't waste valuable time arguing. "Then you'd better be a bloody good driver, sunshine," he snarled as he slammed into the passenger seat.

The car accelerated away with a hiss of gravel. The short journey was completed at skilful high speed while Doyle talked to the local inspector over the R/T.

"Not bad. We'll make a driver of you yet," Doyle commented as Connors brought the car to a halt at the side of a leafy country road. "Thanks to the Inspector we know the layout of the house and that Slade is still inside. Tim, you and Pete take the back. I'm going in the front. Don't forget, you're only here for backup."

"And to keep you from mashing Slade to a pulp," said Rice, no longer deceived by the too-calm face. The guy was a nutter.

Doyle gave the younger agent a lengthy survey, sublimely unaware of the impression he was giving. "Me? Didn't they tell you? Bodie's the violent one of this team." Sliding out of the car, he strolled up the drive leading to the comfortable, mock-Tudor house which sat snugly back from the road amidst a large, well-tended garden.

With a muttered, "Shit," Rice followed his own partner, using the prolific and mature shrubs as cover as they made their inconspicuous way to the back door. Scanning the area, Rice spared the silently fuming Connors a glance.

"You figure Doyle was joking?" he asked.

Connors gave a heartfelt sigh. "God knows, but rather Bodie than me." He gave a faint grin. "I'm beginning to think you've got more good points than I've been giving you credit for."

"That's not saying much," Rice pointed out, the solemnity of his face split by a gap-toothed grin.

"Think nothing of it," murmured Connors. Tim always knew how to get him out of the moodies.

"Are you listening for the screams, too?" he asked a few minutes later, tension tightening his scalp.

Rice was about to reply when the back door was wrenched open.

"Not bad reaction times," noted Doyle with approval, "but you'd both be goners if I wasn't one of the good guys. I could hear you talking from the kitchen. Don't they teach you anything nowadays?"

Rice stepped in front of his more volatile partner and found a tight-lipped smile from somewhere. "They do their best. Perhaps you should consider taking over from Macklin," he added with heavy sarcasm.

An unholy gleam appeared in Doyle's eyes. "Now there's a thought to conjure with - if I can get the Cow to go for it. I could use the rest." Like a light going out, his expression grew bleak. "Slade knew where they've taken Bodie. It's Hodge running this snatch. Tim, get the local coppers to take Slade in and keep him on ice until this is over. I'm off back to the chopper. Pete, drive me? You can come back for Tim."

"Sure." Unenthusiastically following Doyle through the ornate lounge, Connors noticed that Slade, unruffled and seemingly unharmed, was placidly smoking his pipe. The only damage seemed to be to the telephone, which had been disconnected.

"Tim, I'll catch you later." Connors just stopped himself from adding, "Be careful," but saw Rice read his intention and mouth a cheerful obscenity in return.

Eyeing Connors thoughtfully as he got into the passenger seat, Doyle propped one knee against the dashboard. "Maurice will be no trouble," he said reassuringly as he stared out of the windscreen.

"What makes you so sure?" Connors refused to admit his concern to this man.

"He was pathetically grateful to have someone he could spill it to. Our Maurice isn't in to the heavy stuff. A parking ticket would be his idea of crime. He'll be relieved to see brother-in-law Jack back inside."

"That's what he told you?"

"In a manner of speaking," said Doyle, his voice flat. He felt bone-weary and about one hundred and three.

"And you believed him?" Connors said incredulously.

Doyle gave the faintest of smiles. "I've always been a bit gullible."

The car shot into the concealed driveway to the hotel at too fast a speed, causing Doyle to grab the strap above the passenger door. Beginning to appreciate how hard he'd been riding the younger man he didn't make any comment.

"You'll be calling the Old Man up now, I suppose," said Connors.

Doyle suppressed a grin. Pete was proving quick to learn the fine art of irritating his elders. "No, but I'll inform Mister Cowley of the situation in due course," he said sedately, his diction perfect. He saw no reason to add that he would be ringing Cowley the moment he got rid of his audience.

Refusing to be snubbed, Connors shot him a look of dislike as they pulled up outside the hotel, in front of which, incongruously, the helicopter sat.

"As we're OK for time will you tell me one thing?" he asked.

One leg already out of the car, Doyle turned. "Sure."

"How come Bodie puts up with a miserable git like you for a partner?" continued Connors calmly, having taken all he was prepared to from Ray Doyle.

A uneven grin wiped the exhaustion from Doyle's face. "I dunno," he admitted. Slamming the door shut, he paused outside the car and then leant in through the open window. "I suppose he just got used to working with the best."

"I never thought of that," Connors admitted, giving a reluctant grin.

"Understandable. I'll see you in Town."

"I'll look forward to it," Connors responded, surprised to realise he meant it. He was still smiling faintly when he went back to pick up his partner.

Watching Tim Rice's broad back as he stood beside the unmarked police car, talking to the driver, Connors wondered if the very mention of his name would ever make Tim's face lighten the way Ray Doyle's had done just now.


Unable to postpone the moment, Doyle pushed open the door to Bodie's bedchamber. Taking in the state of the room and the reek of spirits and stale sweat, he stopped abruptly, then closed the door behind him and leant back against it.

"So you've finally deigned to put in an appearance," drawled Bodie in the soft, slurred voice that had become too familiar in recent weeks. "I'm grateful you were able to fit me into your busy schedule."

"I'm late, I know," Doyle acknowledged, his easy tone belying his prickle of anger. He quashed it before it could grow, determined that tonight would be different. Tonight he wouldn't lose his temper, although it was obvious Bodie wasn't going to make his resolve an easy one to keep.

"Why should you apologise?" asked Bodie, his hand sweeping out, his eyes bright with malice. "After all, you have so much to occupy your time these days. I hear the place is running smooth as clockwork under your delicate touch." There was a betraying edge to the soft voice now. "The Squire is most impressed. What activity of mine have you contrived to take charge of now - free-trading perhaps? For an artist you're possessed of some diverse talents." When he saw Doyle's mouth tighten he bitterly drained the contents of the glass he held.

"I do the best I can," replied Doyle as he came further into the room, seeking to diffuse the other man's anger.

Bodie's moods had been dangerously unpredictable over the last three weeks. He already knew better than to imagine Bodie was fully recovered from the bout of fever which had laid him low for more than a week. He was still too weak to leave his chamber for more than short periods and took his frustration out on anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with him. His drinking was a cause for concern to them all.

"I'm a poor substitute, you have been sorely missed about the place," Doyle added with truth. When Bodie gave a derisive whoop of laughter he knew he had misunderstood the source of the other man's anger yet again.

"What, while you're at hand? I find that hard to credit. You're doing an excellent job, both in bed and out of it. Although, I, of course, can vouch for only the former of your abilities." Bodie's voice was soft with insolence as he raised his freshly filled glass. "Are you sure you won't join me?"

Doyle clamped a work-roughened hand over his wrist. "You've had enough."

"So damn moral," Bodie sneered as he wrenched himself free, unconscious of the brandy spilling over his robe or Doyle's gasp of pain.

Flexing a numbed hand, Doyle sank onto the chair on the other side of the hearth and watched Bodie in a brooding silence as he searched for a way to reach the drunken stranger opposite him. His own anger was perilously close to the surface.

"What is it you seek, Bodie?" There was a trace of desperation behind the question.

Glittering blue eyes studied him in insulting detail before Bodie pulled a sad clown's face. "Well I imagined I wanted you at one point," he confessed, "but I find I was mistaken. You reek of the stables. I fear I'll have to make do with the Chegwidden chit tonight."

The glass was knocked from his hand. Neither man heard it shatter in the hearth.

"D'you suppose anyone would take you in this state?" demanded Doyle with contempt. Staring with near-hatred at the drink-slackened face, he was shocked by the jealousy which ripped through him, even though he was sure Bodie had no intention of doing what he had said.

The atmosphere between them had been worsening over the last few weeks. Their verbal exchanges were vitriolic and kept to the minimum: they both found it too easy to hurt the other. But at night desire drew them together to drown their unvoiced hopes in a driving lust which clamped them together in a writhing frenzy. They remained together only for as long as it took them to exhaust that need. It was an ugly, bitter existence that frightened them both into further excesses, further widening the gulf between them. Falling into an exhausted sleep, each in their solitary beds afterwards, both men knew it could not continue.

Bodie's hand shot out to cup Doyle's genitals, offering a brief, contemptuous squeeze. "You weren't always so nice in your requirements. Perhaps the novelty has worn off for us both. I - "

The sound of the open-handed blow Doyle delivered echoed around the room. "You want a change? Then by God you shall have one," he promised in a voice which shook with fury.

His hand locked in the cropped hair, wrenching Bodie's head up. The weight of his body drove the seated man back into the winged-back leather chair as his mouth took Bodie's with a bruising force. Bodie's response was immediate but he failed to dislodge the other man and was only half sure he wanted to as he caught Doyle in a merciless grip. The violence which had flared between them wasn't new and masked a myriad of other emotions, offering only mutual destruction.

The struggle was fierce but brief. Doyle felt a savage satisfaction when he made Bodie wince, tasting blood where he had bitten down. It was then that a measure of sanity returned. Wrenching free, he backed away, disgust on his face that he should have sunk so low.

Colourless and shaking, Bodie made no attempt to press his strategic advantage. Straightening his robe, he stretched out in the chair with every appearance of ease and reached for the decanter to erase the insidious taste of Ray Doyle in the only way left to him.

"So damn moral," he repeated in a soft, slurred voice.

Uncertain of what he had intended to achieve, Bodie knew that all he had done was hurt Ray in a way that had nothing to do with bruised flesh or that bloodied lip. Draining his glass, he refilled it immediately.

His clenched fists rammed in the pockets of his jacket, Doyle stared at him in sick disbelief. He wanted nothing more than to escape this madness and find some calm haven from this storm of ugly emotion. His rage ebbing, he was left with a vast weariness. Staunching the blood from his rapidly swelling lip, he realised how drunk Bodie was when he noticed the poor co-ordination and unfocussed gaze. Bodie must have been drinking steadily throughout the day to have achieved this level of intoxication so early in the evening. Frozen to the spot, his tongue glued to the roof of his mouth, he waited for this waking nightmare to be over.

The glass Bodie gripped visibly trembled. Intense concentration on his face, he steadied it with his other hand and carefully raised it to his lips to drain it with a steadfast determination. As he refilled the glass yet again his expression was completely unguarded.

Doyle had never seen such unhappiness on anyone's face before. His stomach twisting with the pain of it, he re-approached the chair to crouch beside the man isolated in his own private hell.

"What is it you seek?" he asked again, but there was a wealth of difference in his quiet voice.

Slowly becoming aware of the presence at his side, Bodie stared drunkenly into the face turned up to him, wanting to shatter that self-contained calm as his own had been destroyed. Held by Doyle's steady gaze, his upraised fist uncurled, his hand settling in the other man's hair before his fingers locked painfully in the curls beside the broken cheekbone.

Wincing, Doyle blinked away the tears of pain but made no attempt to escape or retaliate. The grip eased immediately, fingers soothing the small hurt they had unthinkingly caused.

"What are we doing to each other, Ray?" Bodie's bewildered but relatively lucid gaze took in the disordered room, the shattered glass in the hearth and Doyle's swollen bottom lip. Discovering himself to be clutching a full glass of spirits, he carefully set it down on the side-table next to where he sat.

"What are we doing?" he repeated with the hurt puzzlement of a child who has been chastised for no reason it can understand.

His hand rising to cover the one entangled in his hair, Doyle unwound the locked fingers and kept them in a gentle clasp. "I don't know," he said honestly, "but that's over now. Don't fret about it for a space. Come, rest." Rising to his feet, he urged Bodie out of the chair and supported the wavering figure against him when Bodie's legs gave way under him.

"You're not going to leave?" Bodie checked anxiously.

Mute, Doyle shook his head. There had been unmistakable fear in Bodie's eyes before he masked the expression with his lashes. Perhaps that was what lay behind the arguments and drinking; anything to eradicate, or at least camouflage, his need. How could he know his need was shared?

"No," he reassured Bodie gently, "I'm not leaving you."

Bodie stared at him for what seemed like forever before his head drooped.

Gripped by tenderness as he stared at the dark head resting against his shoulder, Doyle recognised that he might have sought refuge in a bottle if he hadn't had the escape provided by often hard physical labour on unfamiliar projects; they left him with little time or energy to think about anything else. That denied him, Bodie had begun to drink and so the pattern had been set, their insecurities blinding them to each other's needs. One of them must break the wall of silence which had grown between them and Doyle had the sinking feeling he knew which of them it would have to be.

Then Bodie stirred and would have fallen but for his continued support. Holding him more securely, Doyle was overtaken by a wave of love as he caressed the nape of the exposed neck. It was the first moment of gentleness they had enjoyed for some time. Longer than he cared to remember.

He placed a light kiss on top of Bodie's head. He'd become accustomed to regarding Bodie through defensive eyes, as if he was the enemy instead of his lover. He'd been fool enough to accept the facade Bodie presented to the world. Well, no more, Doyle promised himself with a fierce protectiveness for the man in his arms. From the even breathing and relaxed weight against him he knew the other man was almost unconscious on his feet.

Smiling ruefully, he untied Bodie's robe and slipped it from his shoulders before continuing to undress the dishevelled figure. Bodie remained passive under his hands, moving only when prompted. Every movement was clearly difficult for him to co-ordinate. Naked, he remained in the circle of Doyle's hands, the muscled planes of his body lit gold and amber in the flickering light of fire and candle. Old and new scars were softened as he stood unselfconscious under Doyle's appreciative gaze.

"Come to bed," coaxed Doyle. "We'll talk in the morning." His hands on naked flesh as he supported the other man, he curbed his desire.

A drunken, lop-sided smile of great sweetness crooked Bodie's mouth, as if he had become aware of Doyle's physical response to him. "No point, m'dear. 'M too drunk," he explained with sorrow. His hand moved in an over-large sweep of dismissal before it landed unsteadily on the other man's shoulder.

Doyle subdued a sigh of exasperation, knowing there was little profit in trying to reason with Bodie while he was foxed. "That's of no matter. Just come to bed," he coaxed when Bodie stubbornly resisted the gentle pressure.

"Can't. You're still dressed," Bodie pointed out with slurred reasonableness. He gave a reproving shake of his head, then had to clutch at Doyle when the room swung dizzyingly around him. "It's bad form to wear your boots in bed." The unsteady finger he had been pointing at Doyle slid down the line of his nose, coming to rest on the lush mouth before it stroked across the closed lips.

"I hurt you," Bodie discovered. Remorseful blue eyes anxiously studied the face inches from his own. "'M always doing that. 'S too easy," he explained, over-enunciating every word. "Get involved and you're lost. No hope. So sad." He cradled Doyle's bemused face between his hands.

"I know," soothed Doyle, fervently wishing Bodie was sober. But then if he was sober they would be unlikely to be having this conversation. Caught by the other man's intense blue stare, he couldn't look away, drowning in its depths. Wrenching his gaze away, he was caught and held by the tender vulnerability of Bodie's mouth. "You and I were involved a long time ago. We just refused to admit as much, even to ourselves. There's nothing to fear, I promise you. Trust me."

Blinking owlishly, Bodie gave up the struggle and lowered his head to rest his forehead against Doyle's. "I do," he said simply. "Stupid, but I do."

That simple admission was almost Doyle's undoing. Unconscious of his dazzling smile, he stroked down Bodie's naked back, less in desire than the need to offer whatever comfort it was in his power to bestow.

"Come and rest now. Come," he urged.

At Doyle's gentle insistence Bodie finally reached the disordered bed. He tumbled onto it, almost dragging Doyle with him. Sighing, Doyle drew up the covers as best he could around the huddled figure, then undressed, shivering in the cool air. Snuffing out the candles, he padded around to slide in beside Bodie. He couldn't leave him to sleep alone, as much for his own sake as for Bodie's, he admitted.

Drawn by the warmth, Bodie snuggled close with a contented sigh. Opening his eyes, their expression was deceptively lucid as he stared into Doyle's startled face. Bodie nodded wisely, as if confirming something.

"Love you so much," he mumbled, before he tucked his head beneath Doyle's chin. Hiccuping twice, he was asleep within seconds, leaving his bedmate to stare out into the darkness, holding him in a protective embrace.

Woken by a sharp sense of discomfort, Doyle peered blearily over the sheet, discovered the cause and pushed ineffectually at the weight pressing him into the mattress.

"Bodie," he hissed in exasperation. "Wake up. Or at least sleep on your side of the bed. God knows it's large enough." But his hands swept over Bodie more in caress than in strong protest.

"Mmngh?" Bodie flopped over onto his back as a result of Doyle's manoeuvrings. Opening blood-shot eyes, he attempted to focus before closing them again. His stomach rebelling, his mouth disowning him, he put a cautious hand to his pounding head and gave a heartfelt groan.

Leaning up on one elbow, Doyle gave a faint smile and traced Bodie's profile with his forefinger. "You look terrible," he announced cheerfully. "How do you feel?"

"Go away," Bodie pleaded in a muted whisper, taking Doyle's presence next to him for granted. "But if you have any regard for me, do it quietly." He eyed Doyle's widening grin with disfavour before his eyes drooped to a close again. "I've a notion I'm dying," he said with a touch of pathos.

Sliding out of bed to relieve himself, Doyle shrugged into Bodie's robe, his nose wrinkling at the reek of spirit which rose from it. "The wages of sin," he reminded his stricken lover unsympathetically. "You need some tea."

Bodie shuddered.

"Coffee, then."

Bodie groaned.

"I'll see if Bertha can't concoct something for you," Doyle offered, pity stirring in him.

Moving cautiously, Bodie sighed and hauled himself into a sitting position against the pillow Doyle presented him with. "Just tea," he said faintly. "Bertha would give me an interminable lecture while administering her potion and I'll be left with an even worse head. While I doubtless deserve it, pray don't point that out yet."

"Later then, when you're feeling more the thing." Leaning back against the door, Doyle looked appallingly vivacious in the sunlight streaming through a crack in the curtains. There was an expression on his face which made Bodie feel uneasy.

Plucking at the sheet, while taking pains to avoid Doyle's eyes, he said, "I've a notion I was exceedingly drunk last night."

"You were," confirmed Doyle.

"I cannot quite recall. Did I say anything - ? That is, I seem to remember..." He stumbled to a halt, his fingers clenching over the sheet.

Doyle came to sit next to him, taking Bodie's hands in his own as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Last night you were foxed. There was a short, unpleasant interlude which was more my fault than yours, then we went to bed. You fell asleep almost immediately." He appeared not to hear Bodie's sigh of relief. "Just before that you told me something."

Wary blue eyes rose to study Doyle's face, a hint of panic in their depths.

"You need have no fear," said Doyle with soft self-derision for the hope he had stupidly permitted himself to feel, "I'll not hold you to something you said when foxed. But if you believed yourself to be the only fool you can rest easy. I share your stupidity, if that's what it is. I love you, Bodie. Though God knows why. You need say nothing. I just needed you to know that."

Rolling onto his side, Bodie presented his back to the other man. "Oh, yes, there's been a deal of love between us," he said bitterly, as he recalled their violent couplings.

Firm hands drew him over to meet Doyle's steady gaze. "Little that has taken place between us in this bed has had to do with love, but that's not to deny its existence."

For all his seeming casualness Bodie was watching him with hawk-like concentration, to the point where he saw the erratic movement of the silver chain where it was caught crookedly in the hollow of the collar bone. For the first time it occurred to him that Doyle might not be so matter-of-fact as he might wish to appear. But the dispassionate face with its shuttered eyes gave him no clue as to its owner's true feelings. He ran a hand over his hair, afraid of uttering anything that could be construed as a desire for commitment while wanting to bind himself indissolubly to this one man. He yearned for such a union with a strength which frightened him.

Watching the play of emotions cross Bodie's face, Doyle gave a sigh of defeat. Patting a tense shoulder, he got to his feet. "It's of no great matter. I'll get that tea." But his control slipped fractionally, allowing Bodie to see his unguarded expression.

Before he was conscious of having moved he was standing in front of Doyle, holding him lightly by the flanks. "I would have preferred to remain silent but I cannot deny that... That I... Hell, I'm making a complete mull of this," he muttered. "Damn it, I do love you."

A tender smile lit Doyle's face, but no surprise. "I know you do," he said, holding Bodie loosely. "I finally realised that last night. I just wondered how long it would take you to admit the fact to yourself." His voice was suddenly unsteady. "I did not dare hope to hear you say it."

His nostrils flaring, Bodie glared at him.

"There's little point in your attempting to cow me into silence now," Doyle pointed out. "There's no shame in admitting it and you're not bound by it. Unless you want to be?"

Cupping Bodie's face between his palms, he stared steadily into those impossibly blue eyes. "I love you," he repeated, and felt the heat run up over his own skin. "Why should that be so hard to say?" he wondered, trying to deny his embarrassment.

"I wish to be bound," Bodie told him, his hands sliding up and down the tense spine. "And perhaps any declaration is so difficult to voice because we're not accustomed to admitting ourselves capable of such... such a... need?"

"Definitely a need," Doyle agreed, laughter and love spilling from his eyes.

Their bodies slid together the last few inches to merge with grateful familiarity, at first seeking only reassurance from the contact.

Bodie's hands massaging his rump through the silk robe he was still wearing, although it was unfastened by this time, Doyle raised his eyebrows when he felt Bodie's cock rigid against him.

"Your head?" he murmured innocently.

Bodie gave a soft, warm chuckle. "I'm not proposing to use that." His questing mouth smothered Doyle's answering riposte.

It was past midday when Bodie and Doyle finally left the bedchamber, having only just become conscious of the time. No one kept fashionable hours at Shambolt's Cove, tending to rise with the sun. There was always plenty of work and with the harvest underway the work-force was sorely stretched. Casual labour was easy enough to come by, but Bodie's financial resources were too strained for him to be able to take full advantage of the fact.

Closing the bedroom door Bodie gave a faint sigh. He had been guilty of neglecting his responsibilities for too long. While he had moped in a drunken stupor Ray had taken on the task of running the estate. The tanned, lean body which had wrapped itself around him earlier this morning had shown him that Ray, as was his own habit, preferred to work alongside those he commanded. That was the least of what he had learned this morning.

Unconscious of the smile on his face, Bodie strolled along the upper hallway, his easy movements belying the remains of a crashing headache. Loose-limbed and replete, Doyle was at his side.

Doyle gave his companion a questioning look when he noticed the contrast between the contentment in Bodie's eyes and the crease between his eyebrows. "I had supposed that your head had cleared. Should we renew our attempts to ease it?" he inquired innocently.

His palm in the hollow of Doyle's back as they descended the stairs, Bodie gave a relaxed grin. "You have the strength?"

"Only the inclination."

"That's a relief. I was beginning to wonder whether you intended that such delight be reserved only for occasions on which one, or both of us, is foxed."

"Not at all," said Doyle, all mock-sobriety. "Indeed, I've begun to wonder how improved your performance might be when you're completely sober."

Willing himself not to laugh for the sheer joy of it, Bodie raised a sceptical eyebrow. "You have some complaint?"

Pausing at the foot of the stairway Doyle brushed an imaginary speck of lint from Bodie's coat, needing to reassure himself this was not a dream. "No," he said placidly, having no objection to adding to Bodie's supreme self-satisfaction, "but no doubt one will occur to me by this evening."

"You do seem to be most inventive," Bodie agreed. Doyle's throaty chuckle was almost his undoing but his answering smile faded as they entered the kitchen.

Bertha pinned him with a forbidding glare. "This is a fine time to decide to start the day and no mistake. The men have been hard at work these past seven hours and more. And no, I ain't blamin' you, Master Ray," she added, interrupting Doyle. "You ain't used to the life. It's Master William that be in the wrong. And you know it," she scolded him. Her expression softened as she studied his relaxed figure, taking in the contentment on his face.

"Mind," she conceded, "you look better for your spell abed."

Bodie was overly conscious of the muffled choke from his companion as, his shoulders shaking, Doyle turned away, making the need to prepare tea his excuse.

Impervious to Bodie's imploring look, Bertha continued, "What might do for other folk ain't for you. This drinkin' must -"

" - stop," anticipated Bodie. Sinking onto a chair at the scrubbed table, he gave her a look of rueful affection. "I know. Don't scold me any more, there's a love, for I've the deuce of a head. I've already been subjected to a lengthy lecture on the subject from Ray." The memory of its circumstance made him smile again. He was careful not to look at Doyle, certain his expression would betray them both. It occurred to him that this present sense of well-being was one totally outside his previous experience; for some reason he could not seem to stop smiling.

"Just so long as it does stop," said Bertha severely, breaking into his happy abstraction. When he nodded, she turned her attention back to Doyle. The approval in the look she gave him made Bodie smile again. "I always thought Master Ray had more sense in his little finger than - And what in tarnation happened to you?" she demanded when Doyle turned into the light and she caught sight of his swollen lower lip.

Setting the tray on the table, he gave her a look of query. Bertha gestured to his mouth. His eyes widening in comprehension, Doyle placed a finger to it. The small wound had re-opened this morning when he had taken Bodie's prick into his mouth. He lowered his gaze in the hope of concealing their reminiscent gleam.

"Don't fuss, Bertha," he told her placidly. "I tripped over the rug in Bodie's room last night, but I have no wish to advertise my clumsiness to the world."

"Oho, is that a fact?" She gave him a look of patent disbelief, before directing a look of suspicion at Bodie, who was engaged in sipping his hot tea with every appearance of enjoyment. Sensing her gaze, his expression was one of supreme innocence.

Feeling totally at his ease for the first time in more days than he cared to remember, Doyle nodded, smiled, and sat opposite Bodie before serving himself with tea. He was determined that this new serenity between them would not easily be lost. This morning past mistakes had been left behind as unimportant irrelevancies as they gave their joy physical expression. Their shared passion was only one cause for delight. Sated, they had lain together; for the first time they had spoken of a future, certain there would be one they would share. Rather than an intense sense of excitement, Doyle sat sipping his tea while he watched all the small movements Bodie made and knew himself to be completely and utterly content.

Slamming the drawer of the dresser shut, Bertha gave one final snort of disbelief. With a muttered, "Have it as you will," she flounced out of the room, leaving the two men in a companionable silence.

Doyle drained his second dish of tea and served Bodie with a third. "This morning I was to have assisted John Joe in moving that batch of yearlings into the west pasture."

No more than mildly interested, Bodie crooked one arm over the back of his chair and continued to watch him with lazy pleasure. "There's always tomorrow. Or the day after."

Doyle gave him what was intended to be a look of severity. "I hope you plan to be present to defend me when I proffer that excuse to John Joe," he said with feeling, having fallen short of the irascible stableman's high standards in the past.

"He'll not scold you," Bodie assured him.

"I wish I could share your confidence. What makes you so sure?"

"The fact he's already confided to Jedediah that you're a fine young sprig who knows his own mind, but who's willing to listen to advice on occasion," paraphrased Bodie. "I can't say I've noticed much of the latter in your manner, but there we are. Perhaps if I adopted a little of John Joe's manner in my approach to you?"

"There's nothing wrong with your present approach," Doyle told him absently. "John Joe said that about me?"

"I had a notion you'd be surprised. He doesn't care to wear his heart on his sleeve but he's not shown you the rough side of his tongue, I promise you. You're his blue-eyed boy."

"Then may Heaven preserve anyone who is not."

"I haven't thanked you yet," added Bodie.

"For what?"

"The work you've undertaken on my behalf. I was sober enough yesterday morning to have a word with Jedediah. The clearing of the fields has never progressed so well. It will be an excellent harvest."

"You have good workers," said Doyle, dismissing his own efforts. "They give of their best."

"Agreed. But they might not have done so but for the fact you willingly work alongside them. There was no necessity for you to show any interest, let alone work as you are doing."

"I enjoy it," said Doyle in defensive half-truth. "This is a style of life I would never have associated with you. It is equally foreign to me. I welcome the new experience, so there's no need to continue to discuss the matter, is there?"

"No," said Bodie with suspect humility.

"Will you be serious? I'm but a green beginner. Inevitably I'll have made mistakes. I hope none of them prove to be costly. Honesty compels me to admit, much of John Joe's praise stems from the fact that he and I are very alike in some ways. Both stubborn," he added when Bodie looked disbelieving because he could think of no point of similarity between the man sitting opposite him and his dour stableman.

"Had I been about my duties rather than drinking myself under the table you would - "

" - still have joined you in the fields, like as not. Have done. Neither of us has conducted ourselves as we should have liked over recent weeks, but do you find me castigating myself for past mistakes?"

Only too happy to elucidate, Bodie nodded and began to speak. Waving him into silence, Doyle conceded defeat with a rueful shrug. "And I thought I was stubborn. We should at least ride out to the men." Bodie nodded with an obvious lack of enthusiasm and Doyle's smile widened. "But not today?"

Bodie brightened. "Definitely not today," he confirmed with alacrity. "Besides," he gave Doyle a critical once-over, "you scarcely look to have the strength to mount anything my stables can provide." He immediately realised his mistake in presenting such an obvious opening.

His eyes sparkling with laughter, Doyle crooked a disbelieving eyebrow. "Anything? Surely not."

"Well I lack the energy to put you to the test this minute." A speculative look entered Bodie's eyes. "But by this evening..."


Unrepentant, Bodie cheerfully agreed with him as he shared out the last of the tea.

Staring into the unwanted drink, Doyle returned to his former point. "You need a bailiff to help you run the estate. The task is too much for one man."

"I do and it is. But a good man who would fit in with my style of life... Besides, I doubt if I could afford his services," Bodie added candidly.

Doyle looked faintly surprised. "The outgoings are so high?"

"Higher. We'll survive. Money had to be ploughed back into the place after so many years of neglect. I was guilty of neglecting it myself in my first few years here. But we keep our heads above water. Next year should be easier. While we are on the topic, I must be away tomorrow. There are arrangements that must be completed before the end of the month."

Doyle did not make the mistake of believing the arrangements had anything to do with livestock or crops. "May I accompany you?"

"No." Softening his instinctive denial, Bodie smiled ruefully and added in a more moderate tone, "I will not have you placing yourself at risk for something you disapprove of so strongly. Besides, as far as the world is aware you are no more than a guest of mine down for the summer months. Should anything untoward occur you will not be implicated. I would prefer the situation to remain that way."

Doyle gave him a look of exasperated affection. "Perhaps it has escaped your attention but I could not be more involved if I tried. Few people will believe me innocent, despite your enchanting faith in my acting ability. That aside, what other objections can you find to my accompanying you? I'm no longer blind, and I'm quite capable of defending myself if you fear I'll be a burden should the going get rough."

"I've no doubts on that score," said Bodie with a reluctant, reminiscent grin. "I see I was correct in one thing I said yesterday. For an artist, you're possessed of some diverse talents."

Doyle attempted to look suitably modest. "We aim to please." His humble tone was betrayed by the glint in his eyes.

"Oh, you do," Bodie assured him. "While I think of it, do you shoot?"

Doyle gave a lascivious chuckle, but sobered under the influence of a stern look. "Tolerably." Propping his chin on his hands, he studied Bodie thoughtfully. "I should give a lot to know how you see me. You seem possessed of a charming naivety where I'm concerned. Exactly what kind of a sheltered life do you imagine I've led? I'll wager I could out shoot you, even with pistols of your choosing."

"Done," said Bodie promptly, accepting the implied slur on his character without a blink. His face dropped. "I have little enough to wager in all conscience." A speculative gleam lit his eyes. "You'd not care to wager for love?"

Doyle eyed him with a lazy appreciation. "Not on this occasion," he said with regret, but he had no intention of surrendering the advantage he had gained for himself, determined he would be present to guard the other man's back.

"Faint heart," mocked Bodie.

Doyle rubbed his nose. "Amongst other parts. I believe you've worn me out."

"You are the grey-hair here," Bodie allowed, just managing to keep his twitching mouth under control.

"I might tell you that with age comes experience," said Doyle, refusing to rise to the bait. "As to our wager, if I best you then I accompany you on your travels."

The humour fading from his face, it was almost a minute before Bodie gave a reluctant nod. It would be good to have Doyle riding at his side, were it not for the element of risk involved. "And if you lose?" he asked silkily.

Doyle raised his eyebrows. "You're not trying to pretend you can't conceive of something you want from me?"

"Oh, I can suggest any number of things," Bodie conceded with a lecherous grin. "I've always been considered most inventive. But I'm damned if I can see why you should gain as much pleasure from any of them as I."

"First win your wager," retorted Doyle.

Bodie gave him a look of reproof. "I intend to."

Bodie stared with disbelief at the drilled playing card they had used as a target in lieu of a wafer. "Chance," he dismissed, his tone airy as he tried not to look impressed.

Doyle smiled. "It was no great test, I know. May I?" Strolling across the yard, he relieved Bodie of his pistol "These haven't been tended to as they ought," he reproved. "I'll clean them properly this evening." He tossed a coin to his suitably chastened companion.

Bodie caught it in automatic reflex, then eyed the worn farthing he held. "Thank you," he said politely, "but we're not yet in such dire straits that I need charitable handouts."

"Contrive not to sound a bigger fool than you need," begged Doyle, who had primed and loaded the second pistol. "Throw it."

"You can't be serious in this light."

"Just throw the coin, Bodie."

Bodie did as he'd been bidden, watching the narrow-eyed concentration which almost anticipated him. Powder hung in the air.

It took Bodie a while to find the misshapen coin, torn where the shot had clipped it. He stared at it with disbelief. At a distance of fifteen paces and in a poor light that had been an astonishing display of accuracy and speed of reflex.

"I'm out of practice," said Doyle with dissatisfaction. "Although the trigger of this pistol is out of true. Hair-line." He gave a derisive snort. "Although that doesn't excuse my - "

"You used your left hand on that occasion," said Bodie, finally placing what had been bothering him about that display.

"It seemed a useful skill to acquire." Faintly ashamed of the bravado which had made him show off in such a fashion, Doyle gave an apologetic grimace.

Shaking his head, Bodie slung an arm around his shoulders. "Don't tell me you fence as well," he said dolefully, aware that he was totally outflanked on the question of Doyle's ability to defend himself.

Collecting up the walnut case the pistols normally resided in and tucking it under his arm, Doyle led the way back into the house. "Ah, now there I will not even pretend any ability," he allowed. "Two left feet and no co-ordination to speak of."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really," he confirmed, grinning at Bodie's look of astonishment. "Tutor me?"

"Thank you, but I've had all the shocks my system can take for a while. I admit I have my due share of pride, but you wouldn't be attempting to salvage some of it for me, would you?" asked Bodie with suspicion. It was difficult to believe that Doyle's impressive eye-to-hand co-ordination could not be successfully applied to any physical endeavour he chose to undertake.

Doyle ruefully shook his head, then nodded as he paused at the door of the gun-room. "A little perhaps, but in truth I am barely competent with a foil. I'll wager, for love, that you'll best me with ease."

"Ah, but then you claimed only to be a tolerable shot," Bodie reminded him as he set out oil and rags on the table before seating himself and stretching out his legs with a comfortable sigh.

Doyle began to clean the first of the matched pair of pistols. "Just as you neglected to tell me these drew to the left, I presume?"

"I would have told you," protested Bodie, injured. He allowed a pause of just the right length to develop. "After the wager, of course."

Laughing, he dodged the powder-stained rag Doyle tossed at him.


After a glance at Doyle's withdrawn expression as he bundled himself into the passenger seat, Charlie Lyme kept a prudent silence and applied himself to the task of flying them back to London. Maybe one day someone would tell him what this was all about. He could wait. He wasn't about to invite personal injury by asking Doyle. He'd always thought him a cold, self-contained bastard - he hadn't known the half of it.

His head hunched inside the collar of his borrowed jacket, Doyle did not even notice the man at his side. He was still simmering with an anger all the more dangerous for being banked. Cowley must be losing his grip if he thought he'd be permitted to screw up any chance of getting Bodie out of this mess alive. Doyle fidgeted on his seat as he relived the short, furious argument which had taken place over the phone. Apart from losing his temper and telling Cowley exactly what he thought of him he'd gained sod all.

Maybe not though. Cowley had agreed he should continue to follow Hodge's instructions, while he sent in the team of 'gas-men' to dig up the road outside the address Maurice Slade had given them. Get them in place and working long before the swap was arranged. Handy things, gas leaks. A well-known pain-in-the-arse to any Londoner.

Hodge had sounded bloody twitchy. If anyone screwed up before he got there...

Bodie wasn't going to be in any state to help when the time came.

His hands clenched in his jacket pockets, Doyle concentrated on anything but what might have happened to his partner. There had been pure agony in Bodie's voice, a muffled thud, then silence. He'd missed what Hodge had said next. It wasn't until he'd listened to the tape Cowley had played to him down the phone that he knew he'd continued to function, doing the job on some automatic level.

Thank christ Slade had been such a smug, gutless bastard. Knowing Bodie's location, the temptation to go in mob-handed was acute. But Cowley was right, to a degree. They had to take it slow and cautious. He was going in alone when the time came and bugger Cowley's thoughts on the subject.

Hodge must have lost it to think he could get away with a snatch this clumsy. He'd made no real effort to cover his tracks. This was a strictly amateur operation.

There again, Jack might get away with it. He had Bodie.

Christ, but he'd screamed.


Closing his eyes, Doyle made himself a silent promise. He'd get them both out of this mess alive somehow. They'd come through worse than this.

And if not both of them...


"Is there anything you want in town?" asked Doyle drowsily, his head still propped on Bodie's shoulder.

As reluctant as his companion to leave the warmth of the bed, Bodie tightened the arm encircling his lover before beginning a slow exploration of already familiar territory.

"Bertha was muttering about needing candles last I heard," he said vaguely. "Why must you go into town today? You can't want more paints. No," he corrected himself, "you'd not go to town if that was so. You deprived Reynolds of his last item of stock on your last visit."

Leaning up on one elbow Doyle studied Bodie's relaxed face with its blue jaw, sleepy eyes and relaxed mouth. "And when do you imagine I've had the chance to paint recently?" He bent to nuzzle the new-pink scar which adorned Bodie's upper arm. "You heal fast," he noted with approval, his tongue tracing up the smooth flesh of the inner arm before it began to explore the curving muscle.

"Healthy flesh and clean living," explained Bodie smugly. Exerting himself, he drew Doyle down over him, revelling in the press of bone and muscle and the heat and hardness of his lover's prick as it rose to greet his touch. There was a sharp tingle of pleasure where an erect nipple scraped his chest. His hand swept over the beautiful buttocks, longing for the one intimacy they had yet to share.

Doyle groaned. "Not now. I must make an early start if I wish to catch the midday stage."

The languid stroking halted in the hollow of his spine, Bodie staring at him in silent question.

Kneeling astride him, enjoying the illusory sense of power the position gave him, Doyle shook his head in reproof as he balanced on the flat belly. "You have the most abominable memory. I'm proposing to send Bertha's portrait to London to be framed. If I miss the stage today it will another week before I can send it off and I hope to get it back for her birthday."

"You made no mention of the fact it was finished. Why haven't I been permitted to see it?"

"You'll see it on its return duly framed. Have patience," Doyle said severely. His expression grew cloudy as Bodie began to stroke down his torso, teasing his nipples into hard nubs, caressing his rib cage and belly before settling palm down on his upper thighs, having ignored his blindly seeking prick.

"I'm a very patient man," Bodie assured him in his smoothest tone, and with a scant regard for the truth. His thumbs held Doyle at the place where thigh and groin met, caressing him as if unaware of the effect he was having on the other man. "But why London? Surely Plymouth - ?"

Doyle struggled to keep his attention on their conversation. "There's a man in London unequalled in the skill. This is for Bertha. I intend she shall have the best."

Bodie's expression softened, and he made no attempt to tease when he recognised Doyle's embarrassment at having been caught out in a kindness. "You'll want to take the wagon then. A canvas of any size will be the devil to handle on horseback."

"You can spare it?"

"I can spare it," he confirmed.

His fingers offered slow, circular caresses up and down Doyle's inner thighs, making Ray shiver, then whimper before he bit his inner lip.

"You'd best make ready then, if you wish to meet the stage," Bodie reminded him, his eyes all blue, limpid innocence.

Still precariously balanced on Bodie's belly, Doyle stared at him in growing frustration, his very bones liquid with the wanting. "Like this?" he demanded incredulously, his voice husky as he gestured to his swollen prick.

Bodie just stopped himself from licking his lips with anticipation. "That would seem to be a problem."


There was a warning note in Doyle's voice, and the scent and warmth and beauty of him filled Bodie's senses. His crooked smile widened as he sat up, leant forward and ran a caressing finger from root to tip.

Doyle's face tautened, his head going back as he threw his hands out behind him for support, his beautiful prick jutting proudly.

Bodie took told of him, pulling on him slowly at first, letting the rhythm build to a crescendo. Mindless, Doyle surrendered himself totally to Bodie's hands. As if from a great distance he heard himself cry out as his warmth splattered over Bodie's wrists and forearms.

Collapsing bonelessly sideways onto the bed, he opened his eyes when he felt a moist, warm touch and saw Bodie delicately licking his belly and thighs clean. The small, lapping strokes were followed by luxurious swathes of a velvet tongue tracing along his nerve ends. Groaning with sheer pleasure, he stretched sleekly under that touch, blinking with sleepy satiation.

"That was - " His eyes smoky, he waved an expressive hand before resting it on Bodie's head.

"We aim to please." Bodie's voice was tight with need.

Hearing that hunger, Doyle saw the beautiful cock which strained to meet his touch. Crooking a loving arm around Bodie's shoulders he eased him onto the bed and knelt above him.

"A very patient man, eh?" He licked down throat, sternum and quivering belly muscles, avoiding the bobbing prick. But his hair brushed the ultra-sensitive head and Bodie arched with a choked sound, his expression openly pleading. "You're so beautiful," whispered Doyle, his throat tightening when he recognised the vulnerability on Bodie's face. "What I wouldn't give to paint you looking like this." He caressed a muscled flank, marvelling that skin, bone and muscle could produce such emotions in him.

"Ray, for pity's sake. I'll do whatever you wish. Anything. But later. Please."

"Hush, love." Lying next to him, Doyle slowly immersed the urgent flesh in the warm, wet sanctuary of his mouth, tongue caressing the head. Sucking strongly, one hand kneading the flesh of the lower belly in rhythm, he increased the pace. Eyes narrowed to pleasure-filled slits, he felt Bodie's first spasm and heard the soft sound he made as Bodie arched fully up into him, hands clenching in the final moment.

When at last the world righted itself Bodie gave an unsteady sigh, his sticky fingers entwined in Doyle's hair. He gave one heavy curl an imperious tug.

Delivering an absent-minded kiss to one side of Bodie's navel, scraping the tender skin slightly with his stubble-roughened chin, Doyle reluctantly raised his head; his eyes looked drugged with pleasure. "What?" he asked vaguely.

"If you ever decide to demonstrate your artistic temperament at such an inopportune moment again I shall - " The threat faded away when Doyle smiled at him.

"You will do what?" he asked encouragingly.

"I expect I'll contrive to think of something," said Bodie with a resigned sigh, still mildly exasperated.

"I didn't intend to tease," Doyle assured him as his fingers traced an abstract pattern across a pectoral muscle, making it twitch in response to his touch. The small pink-brown nipple tautened as he circled it, just before he licked it with a thoughtful appreciation. "But you're so damn beautiful."

Moments later Bodie found himself half-buried under Doyle's not-inconsiderable weight. He wasn't given the opportunity to complain.

Turning away to ready his own mount, Bodie idly wondered if Ray would contrive to get to town in time to meet the stage. He was still smiling as he paused just inside the stable to whisper a soft greeting to Cleo. The chestnut mare whickered at him in greeting, nuzzling his caressing hand.

"I need a word with 'ee," Jedediah said, his truculent voice shattering the moment.

"What's amiss?"

"You saw Tom on Friday, the same as allus."

Knowing better than to try and rush the older man, Bodie gave an encouraging nod.

"While he wuz leaving by the path off the old stables - t'wuz a rare ol' night, you'll recall - he sees Master Ray and that bastard Ross leaving the stables together, deep in conversation."

After a moment Bodie continued to stroke the mare, but all his attention was elsewhere.

Shifting his weight to his other foot, Jedediah dug his hands into the pockets of his shapeless jacket. "I told 'ee," he said with a trace of angry desperation. "He ain't to be trusted. The men be afeared for their lives with him around. I just heard, they've something planned. And if they mean Master Ray harm there ain't anything you or I can do to stop them. You can't guard his back all the time. They kicked when 'ee brought him along last month, but they trusted you. Still do, I think. But not Master Ray. Not any more."

"Where's their cause for complaint? Ray did all that was asked of him." Knowing there was something amiss in the stables, Bodie tried to place what it could be.

"Oh, he did that right enough," acknowledged Jedediah sourly. "Mebbe it's not dawned on 'ee. You've allus been trusting where friends is concerned. Last month the trawler came in early and took us unawares. What chance did he have to act the Judas?"

Bodie turned to face him fully. "You believe Ray means to betray us?"

Jedediah kicked aimlessly at the straw by his feet. "I dunno, Master William. I just dunno. What do we do?" he added helplessly.

"Do?" Bodie gave a crack of humourless laughter. "Why, we guard Ray's back, of course."

"And if he decides to inform on us?"

"Then we all swing together."

Intimidated by the cold ferocity in the gaze turned upon him, Jedediah had the sense to leave well alone. It wasn't until a couple of hours later that he thought to inform Bodie that Tom Chegwidden had borrowed four of the working nags for the day so that he and three of the men might go into town on unspecified business.

His last purchase completed, Doyle stowed the sack in the back of the wagon, checked that he had fulfilled all Bertha's commissions and fixed the tailboard. He was whistling tunelessly between his teeth as he lightly flicked the reins to set them on the way home.

All in all it had been a successful day. He had managed to get the portrait on the London-bound stage, although he hadn't anticipated the argument required to get them to accept the securely wrapped canvas; the fee they initially proposed was iniquitous. But at least that, and his latest despatch to Cowley, were both safely on their way. Bodie had kept his part of the wager and Raymond Doyle was now an active free trader.

Riding at Bodie's shoulder he had felt the antagonism bristling under the masks of the men who rode with them, and the eyes which followed his every move. Their elementary attempts at disguise had not prevented him from identifying every man from his build, eyes and voice. Most of the village was represented in the band of men Bodie controlled and they had not welcomed his presence.

He had ridden straight-backed, sweat prickling down his spine in anticipation of a 'stray' shot, but had permitted none of that to betray itself in his manner. Only Bodie had guessed how terrified he had been, as he should have expected. They were coming to know each other well, small pretences falling by the wayside now they had stopped trying to hide themselves from the other.

Humming to himself, Doyle smiled. Despite his fear of assassination it had been a worthwhile exercise. He had remained with Bodie all the time and had seen every step of the operation. The cargo had been a large one, but it had contained only brandy, lace and tobacco, which were now safely stored in the cache under the floorboards of the old stables. There had been no papers and no despatches, either bound from or to London.

Doyle had taken inordinate satisfaction in preparing his last report for Cowley, which had itemised the extent of his findings and his suspicions as to who might be involved in traitorous activities along this coastline; Stewart was the man for his money. He had tendered his resignation at the same time, feeling a mixture of regret and relief for what he must do. But he couldn't continue to function as he had been doing. While his loyalties were torn, he was in no doubt that, should the worst be true, he would get Bodie to safety somehow. He could only trust that his report would be enough to clear Bodie from suspicion. If it was not... He had some useful contacts of his own and would use them shamelessly in Bodie's service should it become necessary.

The cold aroused Doyle from his abstraction, but despite the chill, damp atmosphere he was whistling contentedly as he took in his surroundings. The thick, early morning mist had never fully cleared, low cloud seeming to skim the roofs and tree tops.

The road was deserted now he had left the outskirts of town behind. The mist that closed around him muffled all other sound except for the distant roar of the sea. Oppressed by the silence, he stopped whistling, scanning the road ahead with unease. The fog rolled in off the sea, blanketing everything in fine droplets of moisture.

When the high hedgerows gave way to flat common ground again, he chided himself for his over-active imagination. His face and lashes sparkled with the fine rain which had began to fall, so softly as to be barely perceptible. He had not thought to take up his greatcoat and his jacket and breeches clung to him damply, his once crisp neckcloth limp and clammy around his neck. He unfastened it with a sound of impatience, then began to hum, the unpleasant weather unable to dampen his spirits.

Steaming in the chill air the horses continued stolidly on their way. Except for the rattle and jolt of the aged wagon on the uneven track and the jingle of the harness there was no sound at all, even the sea muted by a rise in the land and the muffling effects of the fog. There was an eerie beauty to the landscape under its blanket of soft, shifting grey. Eyeing the vague shapes through its folds, Doyle wondered if it would be possible to capture such elusive beauty on canvas. But first he would sketch Bodie, whether he willed it or not.

Five riders loomed out of the fog, effectively blocking the road. Silently cursing his inattention, Doyle brought the wagon to a halt and applied the brake. The riders fanned out as they approached him.

"Good day to you," he said pleasantly, assessing the threat they posed as he spoke. "If it's robbery you have in mind, I must tell you that you've come too late. My pockets are to let. I've not so much as a farthing about my person. The wagon is full, should you have a pressing need for candles."

There was no response.

"I thought not," said Doyle in the same deceptively mild tone. His bland expression offered no hint of his intention.

No one in the menacing group encircling him spoke but they continued to press in upon the wagon, one approaching him from either side, three remaining in front to block the track. He could see two stout cudgels, a length of chain and another of knotted rope; there was no sign of firearms. He preferred not to speculate whether they might be carrying knives. No doubt he would soon find out.

"Right, get him," growled one man.

"You're welcome to try," Doyle invited coldly.

Judging his moment to a nicety he launched himself from the wagon onto the rider sidling up on his left. Having recognised the mare, he knew her placid disposition would offer him the best chance of success. It was the work of seconds to straddle Megan's broad back, one arm locking around the rider's throat. Grasping the man's right forearm, his grip changed until he held it in an elbow lock behind the man's back. He gave a cry, more of shock than pain, and lost the reins.

The mare sidled and snorted, unsettled by the dark apparition who had caught her eye and the double weight shifting on her back. Feeling herself freed from restraint, she side-kicked indignantly, then broke into a canter.

Doyle swore with feeling as the rider redoubled his efforts to free himself at the same time. Feeling himself lose his balance, and having no wish to break the rider's neck, he changed his grip, dragging the man off Megan's back with him and contriving that it was the masked man and not himself who bore the brunt of the fall.

The rider's companions had been slow to react, obviously not having considered he might attempt a counter-attack, but their surprise fading, they were coming to his aid. Twisting around, Doyle locked his arm around the man's throat.

"Come any closer and I'll snap his neck," he promised, tightening his grip. The man choked, his face turning puce as he panicked, one hand reaching back in a futile attempt to reach his captor.

The men stopped in their tracks.

"If I'm to die I intend to ensure I don't go alone," Doyle added. His bruised hip and elbow throbbed angrily, the cold and damp sapping his strength. The odds against him were too high for his liking and for the first time he wondered whether he might end his existence in this unprepossessing spot. The cold glare he had directed at the men held them off for a pace before they edged forward again. None of them had spoken but their mounts were all known to him, he realised, making the connection. Relaxing his grip, he was torn between a desire to laugh and to swear.

"God rot you, Tom Chegwidden, your theatrical display has made me rip this jacket. You'd better have a good reason for this nonsensical show."

The thickset figure in front of him started, before recovering some of his confidence. A low mutter of surprise spread around the small group of men.

"How did you know it wuz me?" demanded the blacksmith aggressively. He peeled off his mask now the need for it was clearly gone.

"Do you take me for a simpleton? Your mounts alone betray you. I groomed Megan myself only last week."

The man Doyle held was taut with pain, unable to move in his strong grip. Without warning, Doyle released him and got to his feet.

"On your way, Ned. Your throat will be bruised but you've taken no lasting harm." His gaze remained on Chegwidden. "That's the only gesture of good faith I intend to make," he warned. "Perhaps you'll have the goodness to explain what this is in aid of." There was an unmistakable command in his voice.

"You don't cozen me with your smooth tongue, Revenue man," Chegwidden snarled. As he stepped closer he was aware that his companions had stepped in the opposite direction. "Sell us out, would 'ee?"

He lumbered forward, his cudgel raised. Grateful for the flat ground behind him, Doyle retreated, ducking to avoid the first swing. In two swift moves he had disarmed the other man. Tossing the cudgel behind him, he stared icily at Chegwidden, who was clambering to his feet with obvious surprise at having been bested by a man half his size.

"Who claims I'm a Revenue man?" demanded Doyle.

"I seen 'ee with my own eyes. You and Ross. Last week. You wuz plotting together as you came out from the old stables," Tom answered sullenly as he flexed the hand numbed by Doyle's grip.

"That makes a fine place for an assignation, of course," said Doyle with contempt. "Good God, man. If I intended to betray you sorry excuses for men, I should contrive to find somewhere more private than that, I promise you." He could see for himself that the other men were here only at the blacksmith's insistence, but Tom had their loyalty, so it was Tom he must take pains to convince.

"What you undoubtedly failed to notice," he continued, "was the fact I was endeavouring to get rid of Ross before he noticed the hole I'd just made in those damn floor boards. They're rotting even as we speak. The old stables provide an excellent storehouse, but only if they're kept in a good state of repair. I was under the impression that was your job," he said to Chegwidden. "Is such a simple matter beyond you, or have you been too busy worrying about my concerns?"

Chegwidden fought the urge to excuse himself, and just stopped himself from shifting his weight from foot to foot. "That's what 'ee say, but I know what I see," he insisted stubbornly. "'Tis all right for a fine gentleman such as yourself," he added with heavy irony, "but it's our lives at stake here an' I've no mind to lose mine fer the likes of you."

"Very right and proper," agreed Doyle. "But in case it has escaped your notice, my neck is as vulnerable as yours."

"Huh! You tellin' me Ross would turn 'ee in? I know what I seen," Chegwidden repeated. "You an' he looked tighter than - "

"What would you have me do?" snapped Doyle. Losing all patience he stalked forward to stand in front of the angry and bewildered blacksmith. "You think I should turn him off the place for trespassing? Rouse his suspicions even higher? Use your head, if you are able."

"And if I permit him to keep it," drawled a cool voice from behind the group.

There was an uneasy silence before the men parted ranks to allow Bodie and his mount through. His cocked pistol remained trained on the blacksmith, only his narrowed eyes betraying his fury. The remaining men tried to appear inconspicuous; one contemptuous glare from furious blue eyes told them they had failed.

Doyle looked at the mounted figure in angry disbelief, of no mind to be rescued by his ever-competent host. Ignoring their audience, he said, "How did you know what would be happening out here?" There was no trace of relief or welcome in his voice.

"The fact that so many of my nags were missing, and from something I was told."

"By Jedediah?" Doyle's voice was too soft to carry to the others.

Bodie gave a reluctant nod.

"I wish he'd seen fit to inform me at the same time. No doubt he hoped to be rid of an unwanted guest."

"You believe that of him?" said Bodie incredulously.

Doyle rubbed his throbbing elbow and pulled a wry face. "No, of course not. I spoke in the heat of the moment."

"That seems to be something of a habit around here at present," said Bodie, his gaze sweeping the group of men. "Perhaps you'll have the goodness to tell me exactly what you intend by this?" he invited Chegwidden. For all his stillness, he was clearly on the edge of violence.

Stepping forward, Doyle's anger spilled over. "When I require your assistance to deal with the situation, I'll be sure to ask for it. Until then, I should be glad if you would continue about your business and leave me to mine."

He succeeded in disconcerting everyone present.

"While you're a guest of mine, you're my concern. I wouldn't have expected to have to remind you, or anyone else, of that fact," snapped Bodie, once he had recovered his breath from the sheer arrogance of the damp and dishevelled figure.

"I've no intention of being kept on leading reins by you or anyone else. Is that clearly understood?" demanded Doyle, who was at his most imperious. He was too furious to give a thought to the hurt his unequivocal rejection of any assistance might be giving to the other man.

This a conversation that could not be continued in so public a place, Bodie contained his own anger. His face schooled, he gave a brief nod of acknowledgement and said curtly, "As you wish. You must forgive my untimely arrival. I had supposed you to be out-numbered."

"By these sorry excuses?" There was scathing contempt in Doyle's voice as he gestured to the group of men. "Ezekiel Newbold, Ned Pollock, Tom, of course, Abel Harris and - " he stared thoughtfully at the fifth figure. "I confess, you have me stumped. Ah, no. I have it. Will Simmons, is it not? Another recent addition to our happy band of freetraders. I see you're welcomed more warmly than I. Consider yourself fortunate. You've not yet been accused of treachery." He was too angry to notice the man's guilty start.

Glancing up, he spared Bodie a disparaging glance. "I'll join you back at the house shortly. I have some unfinished business to complete with Tom here, then I propose that the matter be forgotten." His tone was pointed.

"Who am I to argue?" said Bodie, a sick apprehension for Doyle's safety clenching his belly.

Doyle was peeling off his damp jacket; he gave the torn seam a look of disfavour. "Damnation! You've cost me dear already, Tom Chegwidden."

"And not only you," Bodie told him as he re-cocked his pistol. Slipping it into the pocket of his greatcoat, he knew his peace of mind depended on this man's continued existence. It would be a battle royal to shackle that wilful independence - or come to terms with it. "You seem determined to make your point in your own way, so I shall leave you to do so."

Doyle paused uncertainly when some quality in the muted voice reached him. "Bodie?" He reached up a questioning hand, then let it fall as the other man looked through him with the eyes of a stranger. "I'll see you shortly," he repeated in a warmer tone.

"Oh, you'll certainly do that," Bodie agreed with cold promise.

The blacksmith had been watching Doyle's preparations with unease and he turned an appealing gaze to Bodie. "If it's a duel he's intendin' then it's me that'll be murdered."

"Should I care?" wondered Bodie, his lack of concern obvious. "You weren't so nice in your reckoning of the odds when first you set out. Five men against one. You contemptible bastards! Ray, are you armed?"

Doyle didn't spare him a glance. "No, but that's my concern." While Bodie's clipped tone told him how angry he was, he didn't appreciate how much of that anger was due to his own intransigent attitude.

"So you've been at great pains to remind me," Bodie acknowledged without emotion. He leant forward in the saddle, rain dripping from the brim of his hat. "I'll take the wagon and leave Challenger for you to bring home."

His expression remarkably changed, his gaze swept icily around the small ineffectual group. Needing no further urging they hastily returned to their mounts and soggily began the journey home. They weren't looking forward to their forthcoming interviews with the Master. Ned Pollock started off down the track after his mount, still massaging his bruised throat.

Dismounting and looping the reins around a convenient gorse bush, Bodie stepped up into the wagon, pausing to toss Doyle his hat which lay, forgotten, upon the seat.

"Yours, I believe," he said with a faint smile - the first he had given since arriving upon the group. Resisting the temptation to say more, he drove the wagon off at a brisk pace, leaving Doyle and Chegwidden alone in the clearing.

Doyle peeled off his wet gloves and viewed his hands thoughtfully.

"You must be mazed to have spoken so," Chegwidden accused him, his sense of grievance finding a new outlet. "Now the Master's mad clean through with the pair o' us. You'll not escape a reckoning with 'un, no more than I will."

"Perhaps not," acknowledged Doyle, shivering in the damp air, "but at least both of us will now survive to regret the experience." His anger had worn itself out, leaving him able to see the futility of what he proposed. Shaking his head, exasperated with his own hot temper, rain-water sprayed from his soaked hair. "What in God's name possessed you to set up such a mad-brained scheme? I know you have no great love for me - the affair with the saddle," he reminded him. "But couldn't you have checked with me? Or am I such an obvious villain? You forget, if I betray you, I must needs betray my host."

Chegwidden's gaze did not soften. "So 'ee know about the saddle. I did wonder. I didn't intend to kill 'ee. Just to frighten 'ee away once and fer all. Looks like that wouldn't have worked no how. But I don't trust 'ee. You may fool the rest o' them with that soft tongue and fine manners. I trust none of thee and I'll not swing because of 'ee. For 'ee maybe," he conceded, a gleam of anticipation lighting his eyes. "Is that what 'ee intend? A mill - with me?" Incredulous, he glanced from his own powerful frame to Doyle.

"If it will settle our differences, why not?" shrugged Doyle. "I've no mind to find cold steel in my back one night. And I've no intention of leaving Shambolt's Cove."

Chegwidden's scowl lightened as he peeled off his heavy coat. "Well, t'will be murder right enough," he told Doyle cheerfully. "You've more pluck than sense, I'll grant 'ee that much." He rolled up his sleeves to reveal brawny forearms and shook his head as he stared at the other man. "Right, we settle existing scores here and now. But if I find 'ee be agin us..."

"Oh, for God's sake let's have done with it," said Doyle impatiently. He wasn't looking forward to what was to come and wanted it over with.

It was dusk before Challenger stepped into the yard, disdainfully carrying his half-unconscious burden home, making for the open stable doors. Stirring as he was enfolded in the horse-laden warmth of the stables, Doyle painfully straightened before he slid with a distinct lack of grace from the saddle and gasped, grasping the pommel for support.

Tom had been quite correct, he admitted with a trace of rueful amusement. It had been murder right enough, unfortunately it had been he who had been murdered. His body just didn't know it had died.

When he felt able, he stripped off his soggy jacket to reveal a torn and bloodied shirt that was liberally streaked with mud. Cursing his cold, numb fingers, he fumbled with the girth. Challenger bore his clumsiness with unusual patience but Doyle could have sworn he saw amusement in the large eye that turned inquiringly to watch his halting progress.

"And don't think I'll forget your part in this fiasco," he told the stallion thickly as he wiped his running nose on the back of his hand and sniffed, wincing when pain shot up the side of his face.

"Well, you look in a sorry state and no mistake," said Jedediah with gloomy satisfaction as he stepped out from the shadows. "Still, at least Tom took it easy with 'ee."

Giving him a look of silent disbelief, Doyle grasped the saddle and tried to summon the strength to lift it free. Jedediah gently brushed him to one side. "I'll tend to Challenger. You'd best start tryin' to clean yourself up afore Bertha catches sight of 'ee. But you've had one piece of luck. The Master's just gone out for the evening."

Turning too quickly, Doyle's face mirrored his discomfort. "Gone out? To where?"

"He said you'd have forgotten. Other things on your mind, no doubt. The Squire's place. You and the Master wuz both invited but he said to tell 'ee he'll present your apologies." Jedediah paused to take breath. "Oh, an' he said to tell 'ee, no, to suggest - he wuz most particular about that - suggest that 'ee went straight to bed. He'll see 'ee in the morning. He's not best pleased," he added, pregnant with unvoiced questions.

"You surprise me," murmured Doyle dryly. He knew he had a number of apologies to make about his behaviour today before he began any other explanations. "I was - er - a trifle annoyed by the time Bodie came upon us," he explained defensively.

"You sent him off about his business in no uncertain terms." There was a trace of reproach in the older man's eyes.

Doyle's smile faded, then he frowned. "Is that how it appeared? I suppose it must have done. Damnation!" His hands hanging loosely at his sides, he gave a weighty sigh. "Oh, Jedediah. Sometimes I wonder..." His voice trailed away as he realised what he had been about to say.

"What?" inquired the older man as he led the stallion into his stall and placed a piece of sacking over him until he should have cooled down.

"How with a temper like mine I have contrived to survive to this great age," said Doyle evasively. He would make his peace with Bodie in the morning; admit that while he had been right in substance, his manner had left much to be desired.

Jedediah gave him a sharp look. "Well, there's no sense frettin' about it now," he said in rough consolation, making no attempt to pretend he understood what lay behind that soft statement. "He's an independent bastard hisself, so if'n he stops to think... Go get yourself cleaned up."

Doyle shot him a look of surprise, then gave a faint smile. "I thought you disapproved of me?"

The older man paused. "You ain't perfect, that's fer sure," he said gruffly, "but you'll do, I suppose. Now will you do as you're told?"

"Yes, Jedediah." His legs unsteady, Doyle made his uneven way over to the bucket of water. Staring at it unenthusiastically, he tore off a portion of his ragged shirt and dabbed gingerly at his bloodied nose.

"Gimme that," instructed Jedediah with resignation. Deftly taking charge, he seated the younger man on a bale of straw before he should collapse. "You're foxed," he accused as he inhaled the fumes rising from Doyle's water-logged figure.

"Merely a trifle bosky," Doyle assured him, ignoring the protestations of his abused stomach. "That bastard animal," he gestured at Challenger, who was placidly munching hay, "took himself off while Tom and I were fighting. We spent almost an hour trying to catch him. We needed something to warm us."

"Tom helped 'ee?" Jedediah fixed a cold compress to the swelling lump on Doyle's previously unmarked cheekbone and nodded for Doyle to hold it in place as he continued to clean him up,

Beginning to feel distinctly unwell, Doyle nodded in muzzy agreement. "After I explained that Bodie was unlikely to be in the mood for excuses should his favourite mount be lost, of course Tom did."

"You'd charm the birds from the trees, you would," Jedediah told him with sour admiration.

"I wish I could have succeeded with Tom sooner," Doyle admitted, one hand pressed to his bruised belly.

"You couldn't have done too bad a job. Tom's been County Champion these past five years," Jedediah told him comfortably.

Doyle groaned. "I should have known. You should have been present, for my pride undoubtedly went before a fall. Several falls as I recall."

"It didn't occur to 'ee to stay down after the first, I suppose?" said Jedediah dryly as he tilted Doyle's head. He answered his own question. "No, not with you. Piece of foolishness, the pair of 'ee. I'll be givin' Tom a piece of my mind tomorrow."

Doyle's sympathy for the blacksmith vanished. His face parchment-coloured, he rose abruptly and vanished to a corner behind some bales of straw, already heaving.

Jedediah tactfully ignored the muted sounds of distress, leaving Doyle to his own devices. When he finally emerged, looking wan and damp, he held out a brimming tankard.

Doyle shuddered and made no attempt to take it as he sank back onto the bale of straw. "No. My guts are in ruins as it is."

"'Twill settle 'ee. And as Bertha's waitin' in the house to give you a piece of her mind, 'ee'd best be sober."

Doyle drank the potion without further argument.

Chastened, Doyle eventually made his way upstairs to bed. Standing in the middle of the hallway, he paused between two doors. They had taken to sharing his bed, for it was by far the most comfortable, but tonight it might not occur to Bodie to come to him. His behaviour might have made Bodie suppose he wouldn't be welcome.

Doyle headed into Bodie's room, peeled off his ruined clothes and dropped them at the foot of the bed. Crawling in between the sheets he wondered if he would be able to remain awake until Bodie came home.

Bored, a trifle foxed and more than a little disgruntled, Bodie made his way up the darkened staircase. Events of earlier in the day were overshadowed by the monumental tedium of the evening he had been forced to endure alone. He'd seen Ray's less than triumphant return or he wouldn't have gone out for the evening. But the period of waiting until that moment had given him time to reflect on what Ray had told him so forcefully.

The trouble of it was that Ray had been right. He mustn't permit himself to become over-protective of his lover; he had a tendency to treat Ray as if he was still blind. He'd seen Ray's fleeting irritation before, but they hadn't yet spoken of the problem. Today it had been brought home to him in no uncertain terms. He had never done anything so difficult as leaving Ray alone with Tom Chegwidden. Ray's fierce independence and his own possessive attitude would both have to be accepted and dealt with. A compromise must be possible.

A wistful expression on his face, Bodie paused in the hallway. Ray wouldn't welcome company tonight. Giving a faint sigh, he pushed open the door to his neglected bedchamber. The sprawled shape in the centre of the bed was instantly recognisable. Relief lighting his eyes, Bodie stared at the sleeper.

It wasn't the most gracious apology he had ever received, but if he knew Ray Doyle this might be the most he would get until Ray's temper had cooled. Having already discovered that his own pride wasn't the most important thing in this relationship, Bodie swiftly undressed and slipped in beside Doyle. Edging him over, he gently moved the hand which rested on the empty side of the bed.

Doyle stirred, mumbled and curled around the warm body beside him, one arm curving possessively over Bodie's broad chest.

"I'd a notion I'd be asleep by the time you came home." He winced when a hand found one of his many bruises. "Next time," he mumbled, "I intend to insist that you stay right by my side."

The last of Bodie's anger melted away. He gave the tousled head an indulgent, unseen smile. "You seem very sure there will be another such occasion," he said mildly.

Doyle gave a soft choke of laughter, his breath warm and damp against Bodie's shoulder. "With you and I it's inevitable. I shouldn't have spoken to you as I did. Mmn. You feel so good."

About to lecture him, Bodie realised with a trace of incredulous amusement that his companion had fallen back into an exhausted sleep. He gave Doyle a gentle poke, just to make sure; in response his companion gave a faint snore and a leg draped itself over his calf. Giving a resigned sigh, Bodie pulled up the covers as far as he could. Moving with care for the bruised body lying half over him, he settled down to sleep himself, still smiling faintly.

Stirring at last, Doyle stared groggily around him at the unfamiliar bedchamber with initial puzzlement. The space on the mattress next to him held an impression on both sheet and pillow to demonstrate he hadn't spent the entire night alone. He vaguely remembered Bodie coming to bed, so that was all right.

Pausing mid-stretch, his breath caught as pain from his stiffened body caught up with him. The County Champion, he remembered wryly. Next time Bodie could take over.

Knowing that if he wished to be able to move at all the only course open to him was to work off the stiffness, he crawled out of bed and labouriously began to dress. Moving slowly, he made his way down to the stables.

He didn't see Bodie all day, and upon reflection was glad of it.

They must talk tonight but he did not look forward to the confession he must make. Bodie had trusted him utterly and now he must tell him that trust had been misplaced from the first.

Clean, changed and decidedly more mobile, Doyle quietly entered the library in the early evening, his decision made. The large black hound looked up in welcome but did not move from his master's feet.

Bodie watched Doyle cross the room and seat himself with care. Making no attempt to break the silence, Bodie took another sip of his wine and continued to study the other man. The worst signs of the fight had been removed but some interesting colours had appeared down one side of a face which seemed slightly swollen. The care with which Doyle was moving told its own story.

Some of Bodie's angry concern returned.

Doyle essayed a faint smile which faded as, unsmiling and severe, Bodie continued to study him in brooding silence. Feeling like a truant schoolboy brought to account, Doyle felt a prickle of righteous indignation.

Damn it, he had been in the right of it. He would brook interference in his affairs from no man, not even Bodie. Fidgeting, he tried to accommodate his bruises in more comfort.

"If you're proposing to sit there glowering at me for the remainder of the evening, I give you fair warning, I shall seek more congenial company," he said, his tone sharper than he had intended.

"My apologies," said Bodie quietly. "I was trying to decide whether to congratulate you or commiserate with you."

There was something in his subdued manner that made Doyle spare him a second glance. Gnawing the inside of his bottom lip, he stared pensively at the flickering fire, as if seeking inspiration from an external source. He had behaved badly yesterday, without a thought for Bodie's feelings, or how he might have felt if it had been Bodie in such a position of risk. The thought brought him to his feet and standing in front of the other man's chair.

"I didn't pause to consider how difficult it must have been for you to leave yesterday," he said quietly. "I should have done. I doubt if I could have done it. I am truly sorry. My behaviour was abominable."

"Yes, it was," Bodie agreed unemotionally. Scanning the damaged face, he was able to guess at the injuries hidden beneath the voluminous shirt. "Well, honour having been called into play, did you manage to convert Tom Chegwidden with your brave show?" There was the merest flick of contempt in his voice now.

Doyle accepted it. "I doubt it, but he certainly ensured that my pride received a set-back," he conceded ruefully.

A brief flash of anger escaped Bodie's controls. "Did you really expect any other outcome? Oh, yes, you would, of course. Supreme arrogance. You bloody fool," he added wearily. "Such grand gestures might serve you well enough in London, but you'll not survive long down here if you intend to rely upon them. This is a small, close-knit community. Even after more than nine years here I am considered an outsider and not to be trusted in most matters." Draining his glass, he stared into it. "I should never have permitted you to accompany me. The reaction of the men wasn't unreasonable in the circumstances. I neglected to spare them a thought. It's easy for us. They have more at stake. Families to consider. If the breadwinner should be lost, some family members might not survive."

It was a side of the other man Doyle hadn't been permitted to know before. He seated himself on the floor in front of the fire in the cross-legged pose that Bodie had come to realise he habitually adopted.

"You take your responsibilities as a leader seriously. I already knew that. I'd wondered at your difficulty in making ends meet," Doyle mused, "but no more. How many of the village families do you support?"

Bodie's indrawn breath was audible. "That's none of your concern," he said repressively.

"Is it not?" returned Doyle, turning to him with a faint smile. "I think perhaps it is, for we are involved, are we not, or are you to be as guilty as I of forgetting that?"

The face Bodie pulled was answer enough.

"It shouldn't be this difficult but we're both too accustomed to going our own way alone. No doubt we shall learn by our mistakes," said Doyle. "I wonder if I'll ever fully understand you. I'm not the most perceptive of men, you'll have to bear with me." He fingered his suddenly tight neckcloth. "Bodie, there's something I must tell you."

"You have my undivided attention," Bodie told him flippantly, but there was an intent expression in his eyes as he watched the tense back presented to him.

Hating what he must now admit, Doyle turned to study the handsome face that could conceal so successfully whatever its owner might be feeling. He could find no easy way to explain.

"Tom Chegwidden wasn't totally wrong in his suspicions of me," he said into the silence.

The crackling of the fire seemed very loud to him.

"In what way?" asked Bodie quietly.

"I have been - " Doyle drew his crumpled neckcloth free with an impatient gesture, " - working for the British Crown for a number of years. Until recently in fact," he added, determined to be completely honest where it could compromise no one else's safety.

His face uninformative, Bodie sat staring at nothing in particular. "How recently?" he inquired, his calm voice betraying no more than polite interest.

"Until yesterday morning," Doyle admitted without looking up.

Engrossed in unhappy thoughts, he was not aware of movement until Bodie sank onto the floor next to him, sitting so close that his shoulder and thigh brushed his in a companionable way.

"Your resignation was rather sudden, was it not?" queried Bodie, his mouth quirking at the corners.

"I haven't officially resigned yet," Doyle told him absently, lost in gloom. "I sent my resignation off with the London stage but I'm not even sure if I can resign."

Surfacing from the guilt which had been assailing him, Bodie's matter-of-fact acceptance of his announcement penetrated his consciousness. He gave his companion a look in which suspicion and awareness mingled. "Why is it that I have the notion you already knew that?"

"Perhaps because it's true," Bodie told him placidly.

"You knew?" Pole-axed, Doyle could only stare at him.

"Ray, I know I sometimes seem obtuse, but I do eventually contrive to reason things out," Bodie told him with a trace of exasperation. "Ten years ago it was many months before I could bear to think of you at all, given the circumstances in which we parted company. Incidentally," he broke off to say severely, "if you ever again do anything as stupid as the arrangement you made with Pêche - "

"That's over, done with," Doyle said firmly. "Besides, I was fortunate. Pêche was called away before he could - " He visibly shook himself from unhappy memories and reached out to take Bodie's hand in his own, needing the reassurance of touch.

Bodie's fingers tightened around his before the pressure eased. "Just don't look to me to sympathise with his loss," he said with forced lightness.

"I won't," Doyle promised him fervently, and they both laughed.

"But..." Bodie paused to stare at Doyle's wrist, half-hidden by the lace ruffles cascading over it, then at the bruised and skinned knuckles and calloused fingers. He tightened his grip. "Even in France - The charges of espionage against you weren't false, were they?"

Doyle shook his head. "No. But I couldn't tell you anything about my purpose there then and I can't tell you now."

"I can guess well enough - particularly in view of events that have taken place over there in the last ten years. So you work for the British Crown. What brought you to this coastline?"

"Some things don't change. Espionage," Doyle added briefly, sliding his hand free of Bodie's grasp. Rising to his feet, needing to release some of his tension, he paced the room; unconscious of what he did, he unlaced the strings of his shirt, fiddling with the long ties.

Swivelling around, Bodie stared at him with dawning comprehension. "Well, that explains how you came to be on a French ship and washed up in the cove below. But why did you remain at Shambolt's Cove after you had recovered?"

"I was ordered to remain by my employer." The bald statement sat there, Doyle offering neither explanation or excuse.

"Ah, yes. Your mysterious lawyer who travelled down to see you," nodded Bodie. Accepting everything Doyle's confession encompassed, he stared sightlessly across the room. Eventually he nodded to himself, got to his feet and crossed the room to face the man who had been watching him all the while.

"I take it I'm under suspicion of treason," said Bodie calmly.

Doyle nodded.

"And you were to obtain proof of this?"

"That's right. Your smuggling activities were already suspected, but of no concern to us. The despatches passing between London and Paris were another matter. The night you showed me the cave I overheard you with your visitor from France. Your French hasn't improved much," Doyle added. His crooked smile faded, leaving the bleak expression in his eyes.

"So eavesdropping is another of your talents. Raoul's English is more than adequate for our purpose. Yes, I can see it was unfortunate you should overhear that particular conversation. It must have made things a trifle awkward for you. But should you be telling me this?"

Dull-eyed, Doyle looked at him, too caught in misery to see much, or care what became of him. "Why not?" he shrugged.

Bodie placed a gentle hand over a bared collar bone and pushed back the edges of the lawn shirt. Doyle flinched at the first touch but made no attempt to stop him. Moving closer, Bodie brought his free hand to rest over the other collar bone and slid his hands around to encircle the powerful throat. He could feel the kick of Doyle's life-blood against his hand, and the movement when the other man swallowed.

Passive, Doyle stood between Bodie's hands; his unblinking expression hadn't changed throughout. He steadied himself by resting his hands at Bodie's waist as the pressure at his throat verged on the uncomfortable.

"So even ten years ago you were lying to me," said Bodie conversationally. "It was you I heard speaking so vehemently of the need for honesty between us, was it not? Or did I imagine that?"

Life flashed into Doyle's eyes. "Do you imagine I'm proud of my behaviour?" He raised his chin, as if daring Bodie to do his worst.

It was only then that Bodie realised Ray had misunderstood his purpose from the beginning. A wave of love swept over him when he appreciated how complete a trust he had been offered. "No, I don't think that," he murmured. "You trusting fool."

The surprise on Doyle's face when gentle fingers ruffled the curls at the back of his neck betrayed him. Then he saw the loving warmth in the eyes smiling at him, recognised the unconventional touch for what it was and gave a wry smile.

"That over-fertile imagination of yours will probably be the death of us both," Bodie told him ruefully as he felt the tension in the other man's body ease. "What in heaven's name did you imagine I would do? What can I do? Two months ago I admit my reaction might have been more heated, but now? There are more important considerations. But - " he gave Doyle a slight shake " - would you please consider forgiving yourself for having failed your own high standards - or must we both go through recrimination and counter-recrimination?" His thumbs stroked the sharp press of bone at the base of Doyle's throat.

"You may rest easy, I'm no traitor," he added, almost as an after-thought. Their physical proximity was a serious distraction by this time.

"I'd contrived to grasp that simple detail," Doyle told him with exasperation.

"On what did you base that assumption?"

"Nothing but irrefutable fact," Doyle told him with dignity, but there was a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Whatever William Bodie might consider doing in one of his blacker moods, John Brown is no traitor."

Bodie repressed the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth and dancing in his eyes. "That's little enough to base a decision on in all conscience. Are you usually so trusting?"

"Not usually, no," said Doyle, leaning into the body brushing his own. "There were other unusual - " he searched for and failed to find an appropriate phrase " - factors at hand."

"Meaning me," said Bodie with evident satisfaction, still caressing the warm, brown flesh of Doyle's throat.

"Meaning you," Doyle confirmed. A warm smile lit his face. "Bodie, you're quite abominable. I was going to explain this sorry mess so rationally and here you are, treating me as if I were some schoolroom chit entering upon her first flirtation." His throaty chuckle met his companion's look of wounded innocence. "That wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that, at the moment, that's exactly what you've reduced me to." He cupped Bodie's face between his hands, his fierce kiss that of a hungry man who knew exactly what he wanted.

The need for air finally drew them apart.

"Like no schoolroom chit I've ever encountered," Bodie whispered, his mouth brushing Doyle's ear.

"You're so familiar with the species," Doyle mocked, his hands urgent against the firm buttocks to draw Bodie closer to his burgeoning erection as he nipped at Bodie's ear lobe and nuzzled the strong neck.

"Not recently, no," conceded Bodie, his breath catching in his throat. "They tend to be in short supply down here."

Doyle was busy unfastening and parting Bodie's coat and waistcoat and unlacing the strings of his shirt. "I must introduce you to my nieces," he murmured.

"Bring 'em on," said Bodie confidently. A faint doubt assailed him and he drew away to study his lover's face. "How many are there?"

There was a short pause while Doyle worked it out. "Twenty-one, at the last count."

Bodie swallowed. "Twenty-one? Well, no doubt I could cope," he said, confident it would never be put to the test.

"No doubt you could," agreed Doyle, "but not, I believe, while I'm at hand."

"Decidedly not while you are, so fortuitously, at hand," confirmed Bodie, answering the silent question in the gaze travelling over his face. Bending to the already parted mouth, there was nothing languid about his kisses.

The vastness of the dog moving from rabbit-strewn dreams by the fire to waking frenzy at the closed door of the library almost bowled over the two lovers where they stood in a close-entwined embrace.

"That damn animal," snapped Bodie when the noise showed no sign of abating. "Quiet, Dog. Quiet, I say."

Naturally he was ignored and the volume of sound increased. In self-defence, Doyle opened the door.

"Damn, a carriage has drawn up outside," he reported with disgust, seeing his frustration mirrored in Bodie's face and body. Resolute, Doyle drew his gaze from temptation.

"At this hour?" exclaimed Bodie, aggrieved. "Hell-fire. We could always pretend we were not at home."

They heard Jedediah's voice at the door at that precise moment.

Bodie gave a rueful grin and started to rearrange his disordered clothing. "Later?" he checked with Doyle.

"Later," he agreed. A familiar voice in the hallway brought a ludicrous expression of dismay to Doyle's face.

"Ray? What's amiss?" asked Bodie, touching him on the arm.

Opening the eyes he had scrunched shut, Doyle gave a resigned shrug. "The fates must be against us. It's nothing wrong really, merely that our visitor is George Cowley, my lawyer. Also my employer."

Bodie reached past him to push the door to a close. "You work - worked - for George Cowley?" There was an odd note in his voice.

"Yes. Why? Do you know him?" After the revelations so far this evening, Doyle was prepared to believe it.

"Of him, certainly," replied Bodie in an absent voice. "Well, well, well. George Cowley." He gave a small sigh of satisfaction. "The evening promises to be most enjoyable. Go out and greet him while I make myself presentable. No one expects you to look other than..." He allowed his voice to trail away.

But Doyle had more immediate concerns, mistrusting the gleam in his companion's eye. "Enjoyable?" he enquired doubtfully.

"Enjoyable," repeated Bodie with unmistakable anticipation.

"I'm beginning to believe you have the oddest taste," Doyle told him severely. Bracing himself, he went out to greet their unexpected guest.


"He's come," said Ken, his voice rising in disbelief as he peered out of the rain-soaked window. "By christ, the stupid bastard's turned up alone, like Jack told him."

"Maybe, but 'e's likely to have the rest of CI5 behind him, isn't he?" pointed out Alec. Standing at Ken's shoulder, he scanned the puddled forecourt.

So that was Ray Doyle. As the rain-sodden figure passed the workmen busy just outside the perimeter fence, a suspicion formed. It was too late for gasmen to be working on anything but a major emergency. He tried to catch his partner's eye.

"Maybe he has. Maybe he had the sense to keep quiet. Either way it'll do him no good," crooned Hodge. His nose pressed against the glass, he peered with something close to affection at the man approaching the entrance to the office block, seemingly unconscious of his audience.

"That's all very well, but what about us? How do we get away?" demanded Alec.

Going over to the desk, Hodge activated the television screen which offered a view of the lobby and drew up a typist's chair, altering its height so he could use the intercom in comfort. Glancing up in response to Alec's question, his expression was blank before he thought to produce a bright smile. It was obvious to everyone present that he had failed to consider their escape, every thought and all his energy given to getting his revenge on Doyle.

Watching Hodge's eyes, Ken wished fervently that he and Alec had scarpered when they'd had the chance. Now he thought about it, Dave had been a hell of a long time getting them food. Glancing at his watch, he was surprised to find it was just gone six. He'd thought it must be later; they seemed to have been here for ever. They should never have got rid of their shooters. Jack was visibly cracking up, almost drooling over the counter as he studied Doyle on the screen; the glitter in his eyes made Ken feel distinctly uneasy.

About to voice a vehement protest, Alec bit off what he had been about to say when Rowe trod on his foot and shook his head. Hodge didn't notice the interplay because the intercom had just crackled into life.

"Hodge? It's Ray Doyle. Here on time, just like you said. Where's Bodie?"

Hodge glanced at the barely conscious figure slumped on a chair next to him and gave a grim smile of satisfaction. It hadn't been difficult to keep that one out of action. "He's sitting right next to me. Why don't you come up and see for yourself?"

The picture on the television was a grainy black and white and it flickered a lot but there was no mistaking who it was. Apart from the longer hair Doyle didn't seem to have changed; if anything he looked younger. Conscious that he had withstood the test of time less well, Hodge felt a renewed surge of bitterness.

Doyle leant nonchalantly against the wall, his hands at his sides, his watchful eyes cold. "Come up?" he echoed with scorn. "You must be joking. I don't leave this lobby until I've got proof Bodie's alive and on his way down. That was the deal." No need to add he hadn't believed a word of it at the time it had been made; his options had been limited.

Smiling at him, Hodge felt giddy with the heady satisfaction of having Doyle within his grasp at last. "Oh, I think you'll change your mind," he said, his smile widening, "because if you don't I'll put a match to Mr Bodie here. And as he's soaked in petrol..." He allowed his voice to trail away.

Stirring, Bodie opened his mouth to deny that and warn Doyle away. He gagged when a hand gripped his throat, the fingers tightening inexorably. Blood pounded blackly in his ears, his vision blurring. Eventually the grip eased; by then he was in too much pain to notice.

Hodge shook his head sadly. "Over-enthusiastic, that's your trouble," he told Bodie.


Even through the tinny sound of the intercom Bodie recognised the tight note of horror in Ray's voice. They had both seen victims of a petrol-bomb attack; winos doused in petrol by a bored kid.

"Nothing that need concern you, Doyle. Just your partner here, feeling his oats. You coming up?"

"When I get proof Bodie's alive," reiterated Doyle, fighting his instinct to rush in.

"My pleasure," said Hodge smoothly as he reached under the desk. "This is a two-way system, you know. Switch on the TV and watch closely."

Sensing what Hodge intended, Ken leapt forward, horror on his face. "Jack, you can't go doing that to - "

Hodge knocked him to the floor, his head impacting with the edge of the desk. Alec stepped protectively in front of his partner, a cold warning on his face. Hodge gave a dismissive shrug.

"No one tells me what to do any more, Alec. You might remind Ken of that. You might want to keep it in mind yourself."

Still gasping for air, Bodie gagged, fighting to remain conscious as the heady fumes of petrol encircled him. Cold and deadly, it brought every cut and scrape to burning life as it soaked through shirt and jeans, trickling down his ribs onto belly, groin and thighs as the petrol can was emptied over him. He knew a moment of unadulterated terror when the last of the petrol dripped from his cropped hair, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut.

His face all stark muscle, Bodie fought the panic, trying to block all thought and starve the imagination of what would happen to him if Hodge carried out his threat. Already in shock from prolonged pain from his dislocated shoulder he stifled the imperative to cough because he knew the agony the movement would bring and he needed to be conscious for Doyle's sake.

Standing behind Bodie's saturated, pain-immobilised figure, Hodge reached inside his jacket pocket and brought out a box of matches, shaking them gently. Bodie flinched, then froze, trying to convince himself the other man was bluffing.

"Can you still hear me, Doyle?" Hodge called out, raising his voice a little.

Bodie blinked, focussing on the small screen. His bruised throat prevented speech, a sick dread twisting in his stomach when he saw the determination on Ray's face.

"I hear you," confirmed Doyle. He appeared unaffected by what he had seen, except that the colour had drained from his face.

"That's good. I wouldn't want you to miss a thing. Unless you want your partner to fry, you'd better get up here. Ninth floor, take the lift."

Doyle shrugged his acquiescence and moved towards the door. He almost got away with it.

"Nice try, Doyle. But first get rid of the hardware. I don't like surprises. Take off your jacket and holster and leave them where I can see them. Oh, and your boots," Hodge added in an afterthought, remembering the number of films he had seen where the villains secreted guns in the most unlikely places.

Not having spent so many hours in the cinema, there was a flicker of puzzlement on Doyle's face. "My boots?"

"Just do it instead of querying every friggin' thing I say."

Doyle spread out his hands in a placating gesture. "OK, Jack. Boots as well." Trying to buy himself some time, he tugged at his left boot, making a production out of its tight fit and the difficulty of keeping his balance.

On his feet by this time, one hand to his throbbing head, Ken Rowe's expression was murderous when he looked at Hodge. Alec made a calming gesture and mouthed, "Later."

Wincing against the pain in his head, Rowe nodded.

They glanced back at the television screen to see that Doyle was bare-foot, wearing only faded denims and a tee-shirt that clung wetly to him, revealing nothing but an elegant economy of bone and muscle.

"Now that's more like it," said Hodge with approval. "Right, come on up. I've been looking forward to the chance for a chat about old times for a while now. Take the lift. You'll be met."

Doyle nodded. "And Bodie?"

"Christ, but you're persistent. He's here. You do as you're told and he'll be all right. He's goes free once I get my hands on you. Mind," Hodge shook a reproving finger, "it's no good expecting much help from him. He's not feeling too good, are you, mate?"

Helpless to stop it, Doyle watched as Hodge slung an arm around Bodie's curiously hunched back and squeezed a muscled shoulder.

Bodie convulsed with a strangled cry before his body went limp, slumping against Hodge. Releasing him, Hodge let him slip from the chair to land on the floor.

His face all rigid control, Doyle gave no outward reaction because he knew it would only make things worse for Bodie. He could see that Hodge was too close to the edge for threats or reason to reach him. Forbidding himself to look at his partner's unconscious figure, he did his best to keep his manner easy and his voice light and non-threatening. His unblinking eyes gave no hint of the monumental rage building within him.

"I see what you mean," he said flatly. "Bodie always was a stupid bastard. I'm on my way." Walking into the hallway, keeping his movements slow and deliberate, he strolled towards the lift, his spine braced as if anticipation of a bullet in the back.

Seeing that Hodge's attention was far away, Rowe nudged his partner and murmured, "If he feels like that about him, what's Doyle doing here?"

Alec spared him a look of mild exasperation. "And you believed him, I suppose? Listen, if a nutter like Jack got hold of me, what would you say?"

Ken pulled a face. "I hadn't thought of it like that. Those workmen outside have been working too long and too hard to be the real thing. I reckon CI5 could be here already, waiting for Doyle's signal. I want out even if they're not. Are you with me?"

"What do you think?" retorted Alec.

"It looks like we might need to help them out," Ken warned.

Sparing Hodge a look of contempt, Alec shrugged his acceptance at the necessity of breaking the code of a lifetime. "For once that'll almost be a pleasure. He lied to - "

"That's enough whispering, " said Hodge sharply as he became aware of the air of conspiracy around him. "Alec, go and wait for the lift. Cuff Doyle and get him in here. Ken, get behind that door. I don't trust Doyle further than I can throw him."

Neither man moved to obey him.

"Listen, you either do as I ask, or you do it because I tell you to, but either way, you'll do it. Got it?"

Alec and Ken stared appalled at the Magnum which had appeared in Hodge's hand.

"You told us to get rid of the shooters with CI5 being involved," said Alec as calmly as he could. The large muzzle wavered somewhere between Ken's shoulder and belly. He could see the tension on Hodge's face and knew how little it would take to make him pull the trigger.

"So you got rid of them," said Hodge, nodding his approval. "And now I'm telling you to get Doyle and bring him in here - if you know what's good for Ken. Clear?"

Sweating profusely, Ken swallowed. "Do it, Alec. Please."

Turning to him, Alec met his partner's fear-bright eyes and read their dual message. Nodding, he went out to the lift.


"Mister Cowley, I did not look to see you here again so soon," said Doyle with as much warmth in his voice as he could contrive.

The Scotsman's acute, disapproving gaze made him instantly aware of his unlaced shirt and dishevelled appearance. He tilted his chin, the light of battle entering his eye.

"Good evening, Doyle."

Cowley held out his caped greatcoat with an expectant air. Doyle meekly took it from him, gathering from the other man's tone that he was out of favour. It was with some relief that he heard the sound of booted footsteps. Bodie, he noticed wryly, looked neat as a new pin.

"Mister Cowley, may I present your host, William Bodie. Bodie, George Cowley."

There was a moment of mutual assessment before Bodie said easily, "Good evening, sir. Welcome to Shambolt's Cove. You'll dine with us, of course?"

"Thank you, Mister - er - Bodie but I - " Cowley paused to eye the understated elegance of his host with mild approval. To Doyle's surprise he gave a faint smile. "I should be delighted, sir."

"Then if you will excuse me, I will ask Bertha to lay an extra cover at table," Bodie murmured, winking at Doyle as he passed him again.

"And perhaps after dinner you and I might have a word in private," Cowley said to Doyle. It was not a request.

"No doubt," agreed Doyle, his voice colourless as he led the way into the library and poured the older man a generous measure of brandy.

"You're not joining me?" queried Cowley as he took in the evidence of recent bruising.

"Not at the moment," replied Doyle, barely concealing his relief as Bodie rejoined them. He was ready to hazard that he would be in need of several large drinks after Cowley had done with him. He had few illusions as to what could have brought his employer down to Cornwall. In retrospect, he was only surprised Cowley had been so forbearing with him.

"I'm delighted to have this opportunity to meet you at last, sir," said Bodie politely into the uneasy silence which had fallen. "I've heard much about you."

"From Doyle?" Cowley's tone was icy.

Doyle deemed it prudent to remain silent on the sidelines until he had determined exactly what his companion was about. He had learned to mistrust Bodie in this sparkling mood.

"From Ray?" Bodie achieved a look of faint surprise. "On the contrary. He made his first reference to you earlier this evening. No, I first heard your name from other sources entirely. Major Cowley, is it not?"

"I ceased to use my rank some years ago," Cowley informed him, a hint of frost in his voice.

Refusing to be snubbed, Bodie raised a polite eyebrow. "I seem to recall Lawson mentioning something to that effect," he admitted, his expression innocence personified.

Cowley set his glass down with a decided click. "Lawson? Maurice Lawson of the Admiralty?"

"You know him? But of course you must, you have so much in common."

"Do we now, Mister Bodie?"

"So I have been led to believe, although of course I have not had cause to visit your office," mused Bodie. He took an appreciative sip of brandy.

There was no question about it, Doyle decided, Bodie was enjoying himself.

"In Lincoln's Fields?"

"No, the office off Horseguards Parade," Bodie reminded him, as if wishing to be helpful. Suppressing a smile, he watched Ray's jaw sag.

Cowley's expression did not change. He stretched out an appreciative hand to the blazing fire before picking up his glass again and surveying his host's imperturbable figure from over the top of it.

"It would see you and I have much to discuss, Mister Bodie," he said finally, his voice smooth.

Bodie smiled, showing white, even teeth. "I believe you may be correct, sir," he agreed politely. As Jedediah appeared, scowling, in the doorway, he rose to his feet. "Shall we go into dinner?"

By the time they had reached the port Doyle had begun to wonder if he might have become invisible for all the notice that either of his companions had taken of him. The meal had been an informal affair. Bodie having dismissed Jedediah from the first, the conversation had been almost entirely between Cowley and himself; a delicate verbal sparring which taught them both to be wary in their dealings with each other.

Sitting back in his chair, every bruise making its presence felt, Doyle experienced a surge of irritation and decided it was time he became better informed on certain topics.

"Who, exactly, is Maurice Lawson?" he asked with seeming idleness into the silence which had fallen.

Cowley shot him a quick glance, obviously disapproving of his still unlaced shirt. "Persons in some quarters would consider that a pertinent question, Doyle." His tone made it plain he considered it an unwarranted intrusion.

Refusing to be intimidated, Doyle continued to stare at him until Cowley gave a grim smile. "Mister Lawson is loosely affiliated with the Admiralty," he told the younger man.

"Very loosely, I would have said." Bodie's voice was as smooth as the fine brandy they were drinking.

"You appear to be well acquainted with the gentleman," prompted Doyle, casting his provoking companion an interrogatory glance; he could guess much about Lawson from Bodie's uninformative voice.

"I have performed a minor service for him on occasion," admitted Bodie.

"He employs you?"

Bodie gave Cowley an admonishing stare. "The word 'employ' denotes payment."

"I stand corrected," murmured Cowley sardonically. "Forgive my curiosity, but I cannot conceive why Mister Lawson should have need of your services," he pressed.

"I aid him in the field of communications," replied Bodie evasively, by no means determined to trust this sharp-witted Scot with anything, least of all Ray.

Issues were becoming at once clear and muddied. Caught sipping his port, Doyle choked slightly. "You passed the smuggled despatches to Lawson?"

He was subjected to attack from two very different pairs of blue eyes.

Refusing to be intimidated, Doyle shared his glare impartially between the two men. "Let's have done with the niceties. I'm weary of innuendo. We all know what I'm referring to. Can we now be adult enough to admit as much?"

"So you're weary of innuendo, are you?" said Cowley with acid disapproval. "By all means let us speak plainly. I shall want a word with you in private. We have any number of urgent matters to discuss. Not least your dereliction of duty and apparent willingness to breach the security of my department." A bite to his voice now, his expression was one of icy displeasure as he held Doyle's gaze. He paused to sip from his glass, and to be certain he had contained his jubilation at having his suspicions about the man at the head of the table confirmed.

Unmoved, Doyle refilled his own glass before pushing the bottle in Bodie's direction. "Hardly dereliction of duty," he said with cheerful unconcern. "I've resigned."

"Have you now? I've seen no sign of your resignation on my desk," Cowley told him, knowing the younger man was capable of such quixotic foolishness if the mood took him.

Doyle gave a faint grin. "It only left on the London stage yesterday morning. It will be something for you to anticipate on your return to London."

"As you say. The decision was rather sudden, was it not? May I ask what prompted it?" Cowley's voice was deceptively mild.

"You may not," snapped Doyle, because he hadn't concocted a reasoned argument that would satisfy Cowley's insatiable curiosity.

"How long have we been acquainted - fifteen, sixteen years, yet you decline to answer a simple question," mused Cowley. "Your reasons wouldn't have any bearing on your current assignment, would they?" His face was as bland as warm milk.

"They would not," snapped Doyle, refusing to feel guilty but experiencing an unexpected regret anyway.

"Ray." Bodie gave an exasperated sigh and turned to Cowley. "I don't know how well informed you are about me, sir, but I believe it to be more than I would care for. Ray and I first met in the Bastille, when I went under the name of - "

"John Brown," anticipated Cowley smoothly. "Aye, I managed to ascertain that much."

"You did?" Setting down his glass with a force that threatened to break the stem, Doyle stared at him. "When - exactly?" he demanded.

"Will you have the courtesy to let me finish what I was saying before you snap my head off?" reproved Cowley. He nodded with satisfaction when the younger man sat back in his chair. "Thank you. Naturally I took steps to investigate what I could of Mister Bodie's past." He turned to give the dark, powerful man at the head of the table a faint smile. "You led an eventful life until you took up residence in the West Country." His disparaging tone made his opinion of the country plain.

"It's had its eventful side since - even in the wilds of Cornwall," Bodie replied absently, not caring overmuch for the notion he had been investigated.

"I'm sure it has, particularly of recent months," agreed Cowley in his plummiest tones. "Doyle sometimes contrives to have that effect on situations. When did your association with Lawson commence?"

"Perhaps you should ask him." There was a faint edge to Bodie's voice by this time.

Cowley gave the tight-lipped smile Doyle had learnt to mistrust. "I already have," he said placidly. "Lawson denied knowledge of any acquaintance with you."

"He did what?" Each word was clearly enunciated as Bodie stared incredulously across the table. He took a steadying breath, forcing himself to think this incredible piece of news through to its natural conclusion. "Why should he object to - ? There can be no harm in admitting to a passing acquaintance." A number of pieces of the puzzle slid into place. "Espionage I believe you said?" he looked down the table at Doyle, who took his point immediately.

"If the information you've been sending to London has been falling into the wrong hands, I believe we have just discovered the source," he told Bodie lightly, sensing the other man's immense, banked rage at the betrayal he had suffered. He knew how he would feel were he to discover George Cowley had betrayed him so completely and sold out to the enemy. "You've been duped, m'dear. As have I," he added with a clipped savagery when he realised what Cowley had chosen to do instead. He spared the sandy-haired man an angry glance. There were times he wearied of the Scotsman's propensity for treating those who worked for him as pawns to be manipulated for his own convenience.

"Is that supposed to help?" snapped Bodie, rejecting sympathy out of hand.

Doyle shook his head. "Not at all. I just thought you might care to know you're not alone," he said quietly.

The hard glitter faded from Bodie's eyes. Ignoring Cowley, he raised his half-filled glass in a silent toast. "I already knew that, but you were right to remind me."

His gaze impartial, Cowley was watching the pair of them. Noting how well they interacted, he experienced a faint sense of shock when he realised the extent of their commitment. That was a contingency he had not considered. He made no effort to quell his inner satisfaction despite the small set-back. His initial speculation, begun ten years ago when he had first heard Doyle speak of his cell-mate had been correct. These two would make a superb team; there were times when a rugged individualism was insufficient, he needed men who could work together as one.

"Lawson's activities have been under suspicion for some time," he told them. "His information route was traced to this coastline. The fact Doyle was cast upon your doorstep, in a manner of speaking, was merely a fortuitous accident." Cowley's satisfaction was obvious.

"For whom?" inquired Bodie dryly, believing he had received all the shocks he was prepared for in one day.

"George Cowley, of course," interrupted Doyle tartly as he tried to contain his anger. Leaving the table abruptly, his hands were deep in the pockets of his breeches as he strode the length and breadth of the room in an attempt to dissipate some of his anger.

"Let me see if I understand you correctly, sir. You came down here in May, already knowing of Bodie's dual identity, but did not see fit to enlighten me when you assigned me the task of spying on my host."

Having accepted that Bodie was probably better informed about both himself and Doyle's purpose here than he would have chosen, Cowley nodded.

"Essentially correct."

"Essentially - " Doyle paused to control his breathing. "Didn't it occur to you that I might have some thoughts upon the subject?"

"It occurred to me, yes. But your preferences are unimportant in light of what was at stake. I had every confidence you would rediscover the truth for yourself. Why do you suppose you were selected for the task?" Cowley reminded him.

"Because I was all that was available," Doyle snapped, rounding on him. Glimpsing the amusement Bodie was making no attempt to disguise, he pulled an angry hand back through his dishevelled hair and visibly collected himself. "In the event, your confidence in my abilities was misguided. I became - "

" - emotionally involved," completed Cowley when Doyle showed no sign of continuing. "I contrived to gather that much. Most regrettable." He gave Doyle a look of severity.

"It would have been the more so had I been the traitor you supposed," interrupted Bodie, anger sparkling in his eyes at the older man's ruthlessness.

Cowley waved that irrelevancy to one side. "Your probity was never truly in question," he dismissed. "But I did hope to gather certain other information." He was aware of a slight disappointment when neither man picked him up on that.

Doyle was literally speechless by this time. He stalked stiff-legged with rage to where Cowley sat. Slamming his palms flat on the table top, his gaze blazed across the space between them. "You already knew Bodie to be innocent of treasonable activities?"

"Of course. You didn't suppose I would risk your undoubtedly valuable services in such a reckless manner, did you?"

There was a short, stunned pause while Doyle absorbed the oblique compliment. Its rarity made him neglect to ask why he had been instructed to remain at Shambolt's Cove. Dazed by all he had learned, he sank onto a chair facing Cowley. Leaning back, he began to chuckle helplessly.

"It's priceless," he announced as he wiped his streaming eyes. "Just how am I supposed to follow your convoluted thought processes? Apart from which, I have never noticed you to be slow at putting me in a position of risk when it suited you." There was no rancour in his voice, only resignation.

"You've managed well enough for fifteen years. No doubt now you have recovered your - " there was an infinitesimal pause " - emotional stability, you will continue to function with your normal efficiency."

"I have resigned, if you recall."

"You cannot," Cowley told him simply.

"No?" Hauteur slipping away, Doyle shrugged as he acknowledged the truth of what the older man had said. "No, I suppose I can't." He cast Bodie a speaking glance, then smiled. "What did I tell you? How do you suppose you'll enjoy being associated with George Cowley?"

Straightening where he sat, Bodie gave him a look of disbelief. "Let us understand one thing here and now. Having made one monumental error of judgement I'm not about to compound that stupidity by making another." His brooding gaze settled on the lined face watching him. "I shall be slow in giving my trust again," he added, making it plain to whom that remark was addressed.

"Very wise," said Cowley comfortably. "I can see we shall deal well together."

"I've heard as much about the manner in which you conduct your affairs as I care to. If you imagine for one moment that I trust you enough to - "

"Och, you'll fit in perfectly, lad," Cowley told him cheerfully, interrupting what promised to be a lengthy diatribe.

Gathering his dignity about him, Bodie refused to respond to the deliberate provocation offered to him. He vowed to have a word with Ray in private, wanting no further dealings with this devious Scot.

Studying Doyle as he watched Bodie, Cowley felt a vague regret at having to disturb the relative calm which had fallen. But time was short and he had expended a great deal of effort on bringing this team together. It occurred to him that there might be benefit in making them aware of the fact. He knew that Doyle, at least, would have a lot to say after his next revelation, but he believed - hoped - the younger man's sense of the ridiculous would enable him to accept his reasoning - once he had calmed down, of course.

"There is one small detail I neglected to tell you, Doyle," he said into the silence.

Groaning, Doyle covered his face for a moment. "I don't believe I wish to hear this," he said, only half-joking. "You'll grow accustomed to this," he assured Bodie. "There's always 'one small detail' with George Cowley. Very well, sir. What is it this time?"

For the first time Bodie became aware of the depth of affection between the two men.

"Your thought processes have slowed, Doyle," Cowley reproved. "Didn't it occur to you to question why, if I already had sufficient evidence of Lawson's guilt, and knew that Mister Bodie was your former cell-mate, I should leave you here enjoying an undeserved spell of leave when we have been exceedingly busy elsewhere?"

Doyle's look of suspicion turned to unease. "You didn't - Even you couldn't be that devious," he murmured, hesitating even to voice the thought.

Cowley nodded.

His expression incredulous, Doyle parted his hands. "All this, just for Bodie?"

Not having the faintest notion what Ray was talking about, but recognising a slight when he heard one, Bodie gave an affronted snort and decided it was time he entered the conversation.

"What was all about me?"

A malicious smile in his eyes, Doyle sat back and let the older man explain.

Untroubled, Cowley obliged. "At the time Doyle was injured in that shipwreck we were still gathering information, both on Lawson's activities and your background. Shortly before I came to see Doyle more information came to light. From that, it was clear you were no more than the innocent dupe in - "

" - party, if you please," corrected Bodie acidly, giving Doyle a quelling glare. Doyle obediently straightened his grinning mouth.

"Party," amended Cowley obediently, a faint smile appearing. "Nevertheless, you interested me. You're a man of many parts, possessed of some useful skills. It was obvious you would be a valuable addition to my - er - group."

"So we're agreed on my undoubted brilliance. I still don't see the relevance of - "

"It's really quite simple," cut in Doyle with a matter-of-fact tone guaranteed to irritate the mildest of men. "Having decided we would make a splendid team, Mister Cowley took it upon himself to do all his power to throw us together, thus ensuring we became one."

Not for the first time, Bodie succeeded in surprising him by his mild acceptance of the news. Lips pursed, he studied Cowley for a moment.

"So, from beginning to end you have been manipulating Ray and myself. How fortunate for you that Ray and I get on so well."

"On the whole," interjected Doyle, deadpan.

"I'm quite willing to concede that piece of good fortune," agreed Cowley with great good humour. "It's been a most gratifying operation."

"It must have been," agreed Doyle with suspect affability. His glare would have shrivelled a lesser man. "You must be crazed if you imagine I'll continue to work for - I don't need to," he added with an indignation which suggested he had only just remembered the fact.

"Indeed you do not," agreed Cowley with a faint sigh. "Of course, if you harbour such strong feelings on the subject there's no more to be said, for I can offer little to persuade you."

Bodie had learnt enough of this sharp-witted Scot to spare him a suspicious glance, before the brisk, accented voice drew him from his musings.

"Mister Bodie, I would appreciate a full report from you on the course of your dealings with Lawson. For the record, you understand," Cowley explained smoothly, deciding it would not be politic to let this young man discover exactly how scanty the information he possessed was.

"I'm sure you would," Bodie said affably, "but it will have to wait for a spell. I must away to London tomorrow. A small matter of overdue accounts."

"I shall accompany you," announced Doyle.

"You won't."

"I shall enjoy seeing you try to prevent me. We go together."

"I rather thought that might be your reaction," interrupted Cowley, anxious to intervene before the argument could escalate.

Both men turned as one.

"Mister Lawson has retired from public service," he told them.

"A trifle sudden, wasn't it?" demanded Doyle, his gaze returning to Bodie's face.

"That makes no difference to my plans," said Bodie.

"I see you do not fully understand," continued Cowley, anticipating Doyle. "Mister Lawson's retirement is - how shall I put this? - final."

There was a disconcerted silence.

"You didn't lead me to believe you were a member of an assassination bureau," Bodie said to Doyle, his expression lighting as relief washed through him. He had respected Lawson. Damn it, he had trusted the man. It would not have been easy to -

"I'm not. What happened, sir?"

"It was most regrettable. He killed himself ten days since," Cowley told them with no sign of regret. It had been inconvenient, right enough, he thought, remembering the information that had been irretrievably lost about French intelligence.

Doyle studied him, then gave a satisfied nod. "God knows why I should believe you, but I do. Fifteen years' habit dies hard," he explained to Bodie.

"You believe him just because he says it is so?" said Bodie in amazement.

"I've been called many things in my time but gullible isn't one of them. I believe him." Doyle understood Bodie's hesitation. He had suffered enough betrayals in his life from family, friends and lovers - himself included. The wonder of it was that he was still prepared to trust.

Bodie looked at the perversely beautiful face, recognising the understanding and love in the eyes studying him so anxiously. "Then it appears I must do the same," he conceded, his reluctance obvious.

Cowley looked suitably unmoved at the singular honour being done to him. "Then you'll join us?" he asked briskly.

Bodie stared at him in silence. The question wasn't unexpected but... He glanced at Doyle. "Ray?"

Smiling, Doyle shook his head. "The decision must be yours."

"I know. You'll continue to work for him despite the shameful way he has used you?"

Doyle's smile widened. "You'll grow accustomed to that." Elbows propped on the table, he watched his lover's face. "It's not a usual occurrence but honesty compels me to admit that it has a habit of working out for the best - as a rule. I'll work for him. But I intend to base myself in the West Country," he warned Cowley in a tone which made it plain the point was not negotiable.

Cowley's expression had not changed but his pleasure was apparent for all that as he said briskly, "Very well. That can be arranged. You'll have no qualms about returning to London for short periods, I trust - or to short spells of travel?"

"If they're short - and not during the harvest, no."

Cowley smiled his satisfaction. "Good. Mister Bodie, will you join us?"

Bodie stared into the middle distance. This was a mad enterprise - but tempting. He worked best alone - or he had. He'd learned enough to know that he and Ray worked well together and their differing fields of expertise complemented one another.

"There's a great deal I shall want to know before I give you my final answer," he warned.

Cowley gave an impatient nod. "I would expect nothing else. I'll answer your queries where I can. You may trust the answers you're given, my word on that."

A rueful smile appeared in Bodie's eyes. "I think you'd better start calling me Bodie."

Cowley's look of satisfaction became fixed when the dining-room door crashed open.

"That will be Jedediah come to clear away," explained Doyle, not needing to turn to know who it was. He gained a certain simple enjoyment from the fleeting expression which crossed his employer's face.

"If you've quite done with shouting the house down," said Jedediah with heavy irony, "there's other folk with work to do. The library's free," he added pointedly. He ignored Doyle completely.

"Then we'd best repair there." Bodie gave his henchman a glare of intense displeasure.

"And I must be away," said Cowley, rising stiffly to his feet. "I had not anticipated the evening taking this course and have been guilty of over-staying my welcome."

Doyle's snort clashed with Bodie's polite denial.

"Nonsense. You must stay the night - unless you have pressing business elsewhere," said Bodie as he noticed the lines of pain around the older man's mouth. He was about to comment when Doyle caught his eye; the small shake of his head warned Bodie to leave well alone. Bodie subdued a smile. Ray's protective attitude only confirmed the long-standing affection between the two men and helped to convince him that he and Cowley might be able to deal tolerably well together. Naturally he had no intention of announcing as much yet.

"And if Mister Cowley be stayin', which room wuz 'ee proposing he should have?" demanded Jedediah, truculent because he knew who would be doing the work.

"He can have my room. I can share with Bodie for the night," added Doyle. His expression of pious innocence was almost Bodie's undoing.

"Your room! Have 'ee seen the state of it?" And who'll tend to changin' the bed linen an' - "

"That's enough!"

Seeing his host was torn between anger and laughter, Cowley decided not to voice the usual polite conventions that had been hovering on the tip of his tongue. Besides, he didn't relish the thought of travelling any distance tonight; the hour was far advanced and his leg was paining him.

"Oh, I'll do it," Jedediah sighed with a martyred air. He shot Cowley a look of disapproval before turning his attention to Doyle, who had neglected to wipe the smile from his face in time. "I jus' hope he ain't plannin' to be the same kind o' guest as 'ee," he remarked. "I've come to think of 'ee as a fixture round the place."

While he did not sound overjoyed at the fact, there was a clear question in his face and voice that Doyle, who had long since passed the stage of being offended by Jedediah's manner, recognised immediately. He knew better than to remark on it openly.

"And who would you complain about if I were absent?" he asked. "You'd better brace yourself, for I'm afraid I'm likely to remain something of a fixture here."

Jedediah paused in the doorway, then turned with a grudging smile. "We could do worse, I suppose. When all's said and done 'tis better the devil you know. You're not such a bad lad." He left without waiting for a response.

Doyle turned to Bodie, astonishment on his face. "Did I hear him correctly?"

"You may cease to fish for compliments," Bodie told him. "You know as well as I that he would miss you sorely." His accompanying smile was warmer than he knew.

Standing by his chair, waiting to be remembered, Cowley gave a polite cough.

Bodie turned in an instant. "My apologies, sir. If you'll bear with us for a moment more, we'll see what we can contrive to make your stay here a comfortable one."

If Cowley doubted that to be possible he kept the thought to himself. He was feeling decidedly mellow. Matters were progressing to his complete satisfaction; he had much to consider and no little strategy to plan. And the meal, while simple, had been unexpectedly good. The wines had been excellent.

"Thank you. If you could spare me some time in the morning I should be grateful," he added briskly. "There are some points about your involvement with Lawson which I should like to clarify."

Bodie shook his head with genuine regret. "I am afraid I must be away at first light and my time until then is spoken for." Unconscious of what he did his gaze flicked to Doyle, who smiled in sleepy acknowledgement. "There's a sale in Devon I must attend, but I will return by the end of the week."

Knowing he must be in London by Monday, Cowley frowned, before his expression cleared. "Doyle, you'll have to go in Bodie's stead. I'll have no further need of you for a while and I'll know better what I want to say to you after seeing your report."

Ignoring the implied threat in the last part of that sentence, Doyle glared at him. "Thank you," he said, his voice dry. "You may consider this a trivial detail but perhaps Bodie would prefer it if I didn't conduct essential business on his behalf."

"Pay me no mind," begged Bodie acidly, appreciating that steps would be necessary to deal with the older man's high-handed attitude. But the single-minded devotion to duty struck an answering chord within him.

Cowley chose to take the remark at face value. "Then it's settled," he said with satisfaction.

"The hell it is," replied Doyle indignantly. "You don't know if I'm competent - or conversant with Bodie's plans." He gave Bodie a glare which told him to keep silent.

"While your competence has been questionable over recent months I've had little cause for complaint over the years. As for your being conversant with your host's plans - you can answer that better than I."

"Well, yes, I am," Doyle admitted with reluctance. "But that's hardly the issue."

"Mister Stewart seemed impressed with you," said Cowley. "But while he admired your grasp of essentials, he told me he found your local accent lacking in conviction. You must strive to pay more attention to the small details."

"You know Stewart?" Bodie and Doyle spoke in unison, and with matching disbelief.

"We served together, more years ago than I care to remember," Cowley told them, his voice tranquil as he eyed them with amusement. "He's not averse to lending a helping hand when the need arises."

Doyle gave an impotent shrug and turned to face Bodie, his face alight with mischief. "As I said, you'll not be bored while working for George Cowley, whatever else might happen to you. You devious old bastard," he added to the older man. "You must have had Stewart on hand all the time!"

"There's a certain lack of respect in your manner at times," remarked Cowley, unmoved. It was obviously a comment he had made before. He eyed the younger man's pacing figure with a well-concealed affection. "I prefer to take no chances."

"No," mused Bodie. "I rather gathered that."

Cowley's look of reproof clashed with Doyle's splutter of laughter as they all went into the hall. The dog, who had been lying in wait, greeted Bodie and Doyle's reappearance with rapturous approval and eyed Cowley with a hint of anticipation. Excusing himself, Doyle went into the library. Scooping up a heavy volume, he reappeared and led the way upstairs, the decanter of brandy and a glass already in his hands, leaving Bodie to arrange for Cowley's bags to be brought up to him.

Jedediah had already tidied Doyle's bedchamber, to the point of sweeping the hearth and drawing the curtains.

Standing on the threshold, Cowley took several cautious breaths. "I should have guessed," he said with resignation. "Turpentine."

"Painting is what I do best," Doyle reminded him as he set down the decanter and glass.

"I wouldn't say that," replied Cowley absently. "Why paint in your bedchamber?"

"It's one of the best-lit rooms in the house and Bertha won't permit me to set foot in her kitchen, which is the only other room with such a good aspect," Doyle explained readily.

"Ah. Well, no doubt I shall accustom myself to the odour." Cowley looked around the room with surprised pleasure. He had not expected such order or comfort - particularly not from a room frequented by Doyle.

Turning back to the younger man, he became aware of the heavy volume tucked under Doyle's arm. "I'll not be needing that," he dismissed.

"Yes, you will," contradicted Doyle with a trace of glee. "This door has no functioning lock and Dog here," he gestured downwards, "has taken to sleeping on my bed. He's taken a fancy to you already, I see. This is to wedge the door shut against him."

Cowley took one look at the damp, drooling mouth and glistening teeth of the animal panting at Doyle's side and meekly took the book.

Still fully dressed, Doyle collapsed back onto the bed with an exhausted sigh of relief; his eyes drooped to a close as if weighted. "Thank God for that. I thought we should never get away. What o'clock is it?"

"Almost three," replied Bodie as he stripped off his jacket and hung it away.

"What a day."Doyle opened his eyes. "Bodie, I - "

"No recriminations, remember?" Bodie reminded him. "Neither of us has been particularly honest with the other so righteous indignation would be a trifle out of place. I can imagine how difficult the charade must have been for you. You're less than subtle, you know. Jedediah caught you opening my desk. Hence his disapproval."

Doyle's gaze dropped, his face tightening as a slight flush spread over his cheeks.

Bodie waved a hand in dismissal, then let his neckcloth fall onto a chair. "That's done. We can discuss all that has happened in more detail when we have rid ourselves of Mister Cowley, if you wish. I, for one, do not have the energy to spare after an evening in his company. Agreed?" he asked softly, a wave of tenderness engulfing him as he watched the exhausted figure on the bed relax.

Reassured by the untroubled expression in the blue eyes smiling at him, Doyle nodded. "Agreed," he murmured tiredly. Stretching, he winced. "I have aches in muscles I didn't know I possessed. Next time I attempt anything so rash as to challenge a man the size of Tom Chegwidden, stop me," he instructed sleepily.

"I should be glad to, if you'll tell me how I'm to effect that miracle," Bodie said dryly.

"Next time I shall listen to you," Doyle promised him. "What else, in all conscience, can I do? There are two of us to consider now, are there not?"

That silenced Bodie. Knowing his fierce independence, it was a capitulation he had not expected from Doyle. Striving for the necessary lightness of tone, he removed his last item of clothing. "Then it seems I owe Tom a debt of gratitude," he said.

Doyle's smile widened.

Naked, Bodie padded around the room, placing his disordered clothes in the wardrobe and tending to the fire. Pouring them both a drink, he snuffed out all but one candle and returned to the bed.

"Ray?" He gave the sprawled figure a light shake.

The heavy-lidded eyes were slow to open. "Mmn?" Blearily focussing, Doyle became aware of the candle-lit, naked form standing over him and the proffered glass of brandy. "Mmmn," he repeated, if in a different tone.

To Bodie's disappointment he elected to take the brandy first, propping himself up on one elbow to sip it. Doyle's gaze travelled with a slow appreciation over the lines of the sleekly powerful body in front of him. Setting his empty glass on the floor, he clambered to the edge of the bed where he sat, tugging ineffectually at a booted foot.

"Hopeless," sighed Bodie. With a long-suffering look he went to the rescue.

Doyle gave him a sleepy smile of thanks as his boots were removed. He was still awake enough to appreciate the play of muscle down the broad back that remained tantalisingly out of reach. Stumbling to his feet, he peeled off his few remaining items of clothing, allowing them to drop to the ground. Befuddled, he lazily scratched a bruised shoulder and belatedly became aware that Bodie had been following him around the room, patiently collecting up each discarded item of clothing and hanging them up neatly.

"You're not usually so particular," Doyle pointed out, surprised by this untypical concern.

"In case it has escaped your notice, the remainder of your clothes are in Cowley's room," Bodie reminded him.

Doyle paused, mid-yawn. "So they are." He ran a hand back through his hair. "No matter, you have any amount of clean linen," he said cheerfully.

"The point being that it is mine." Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, Bodie's tone was resigned.

Doyle waved that triviality aside; he was too tired to argue the point. Padding around the bed, he crawled between the sheets with a murmur of relief; his eyes closed immediately.

Giving a faint, resigned sigh, Bodie extinguished the last candle and slid in beside him. "Why," he said into the darkness, "do I have the notion that the only thing on your mind at this moment is sleep?"

Doyle's head snuggled into his shoulder. "I can't imagine," he replied, his voice slurred with fatigue. Giving the smooth skin beneath him a nuzzling caress, he was asleep before Bodie had time to respond.

One arm tucked over the gently snoring man curved around him, Bodie gave a wry smile. George Cowley had much to answer for, one way and another, he thought absently. He gently smoothed the tangled chestnut hair away from the relaxed face then winced when a thin elbow dug into his ribs as Doyle wriggled closer to the warmth he offered, murmuring something unintelligible. Yes, Cowley had much to answer for but not all of it was bad, he conceded, smiling as he removed the intrusive elbow.

Not by a long chalk.


As the lift doors slid open Alec darted between them, raising a hand to Doyle's mouth in an urgent message of silence. Doyle halted his instinctive countermove, his eyes wary.

"Hodge has flipped," said Alec in an urgent whisper. "He's got a loaded Magnum. The gun's trained on Ken - my partner - right now. Bodie's next to him. Ken and I want out. We'll help all we can but until that gun's off Ken I'll do whatever Hodge wants. If it's you or Ken, it's no contest. Clear?"

Beginning to believe in the age of miracles, Doyle gave him an assessing stare. "You want out?" he echoed.

"Both of us. You distract Hodge and get Ken out of his sights and you've got yourself odds of three to one."

Doyle made no response.

Alec shook him. "For christ's sake! Have you got any other option? Trust me, we'll help all we can. You help us later. Jack lied to us. We didn't know what we were getting in to."

"If I can," Doyle told him, not prepared to make any promises.

"Where the fuck's the bloody lift?"

Alec froze and Doyle pointed downwards.

"On its way," Alec shouted back through the closed swing doors.

"About bloody time. You send Doyle in first, cuffed, you hear?"

"Got it."

"Bodie - ?" Doyle said urgently.

"Will need a doctor. Dislocated shoulder and beaten up," replied Alec succinctly. Fishing out the handcuffs, he gave Doyle a look of query. "For god's sake, yes or no?" He seemed to wait forever as the clear, unblinking eyes assessed him.

"I don't seem to have much choice," allowed Doyle. He raised his voice to add harshly, "All right, all right. I'm coming, damn it. It's not my fault the bloody lift got stuck."

Brushing past Alec, he stood passively in the hallway, holding his hands out in front of him for the handcuffs and allowing them to be fastened. His quiet voice took Alec by surprise. "If anything happens to me, ask for Cowley. Tell him I gave you his name. Then it'll be up to him. You'll see to Bodie?"

"Yes, for god's sake. Come on, you scum, move it," Alec snarled, slapping his cupped palm against the wall. At Doyle's nod of agreement, he pushed the slighter man through the swing doors.


Doyle reined in his mount to permit the carriage exit through the narrow gateway. The window was pulled down as a familiar voice brought the equipage to a halt. A sparsely-covered sandy head poked out.

"Doyle, I didn't look to see you back before my departure," said Cowley. "This meeting is fortuitous. I'm expecting the pair of you in my office on the morning of the third of November. We have a great deal to discuss so don't be tardy," he added pointedly.

Doyle achieved an expression of supreme virtue.

"Oh, and if Bodie should have any remaining questions about our - er - activities, you may answer them as freely and as frankly as you deem prudent," Cowley added.

Doyle's eyebrows rose. "You're prepared to rely upon my discretion?"

"Odd as it may seem, yes." Cowley paused. "I have always maintained that every man has a price that will buy him. A subject upon which his good judgement will fail him."

"And you believe Bodie to be my blind spot?"

"Isn't he?"

Doyle pushed back the brim of his hat before settling it more firmly in place. "Very possibly. But I have trusted him with my life. I can do little more."

"I'm inclined to believe your trust is well placed," Cowley agreed. "Although my judgement owes less to intuition and more to reason." His eyes narrowing, he asked abruptly, "Is something amiss? Something I should be aware of, or did you merely mishandle Bodie's commission at the sale?"

Doyle smiled. "You have a touching faith in my abilities. The trouble is merely that of local personalities, no more. While I think of it, steps will have to be taken to curtail Captain Ross's enthusiasm for his task. There's another shipment due at the end of the month. If you wish to continue to monitor the despatches - "

"We'll need Ross out of the way. Yes, of course," mused Cowley, his expression thoughtful. "With a degree of prudence it should be possible to convince the French that Lawson's successor is equally amenable to dividing his loyalties. Leave Ross to me. There must be a number of postings for an ambitious young officer where such an incompetent won't be able to put lives in jeopardy. Now, I must be on my way." In the act of drawing back into his carriage, Cowley gave an unexpected smile. "You really intend to settle in this back of beyond?"

His expression serene, Doyle smiled. "I have every intention of doing so. Do you doubt that I'll find enough to content me here?" To anyone who knew him well the faint trace of mockery was apparent.

Cowley knew him extremely well and could not recall having seen such tranquillity in the normally restless figure. He thought briefly of the two men as he had seen them together, already finding the notion easier to accept.

"No," he admitted. "I have no doubts on that score. Until we meet in London, then."

"Until then. God speed and a safe journey, sir." Knowing that nothing, as usual, had escaped Cowley's notice, Doyle smiled. He watched the coach begin the first leg of its journey before he continued his ride into the yard.

Doyle eventually located Bodie in the room he would least have expected during the hours of daylight: the library. The hunched figure was surrounded by sheaves of paper. His shirt unfastened and his hair in disarray, Bodie sat engrossed in his calculations. He was looking remarkably cross.

A rueful smile in his eyes, Doyle quietly closed the door and padded across the room to stand, unnoticed, behind the dishevelled figure. Unable to resist the temptation he lightly kissed the back of the exposed neck where the dark hair curled rebelliously.

Bodie swore and jumped when the nib of his pen spluttered as it dug into the paper. Doyle ruffled the already disordered hair and perched on the edge of the desk at the other man's side. "I did not think to find you with a pen in your hand," he teased. His hungry gaze devoured every detail about his lover, needing to reassure himself that nothing had changed in his absence.

"What in Heaven's name are you doing back so soon? I missed you," Bodie added huskily. Leaning forward, his eyes alight, his intention was obvious.

A hand at his chest held him at bay.

"Ray?" Bodie obediently sat back in his chair, puzzlement on his face. "What's amiss? You look distinctly wary," he discovered, having taken some seconds to identify his companion's exact expression. "And not a little guilty. What have you been about?"

His expression one of open tenderness, Doyle brushed Bodie's cheek with his knuckles. "Am I so transparent?"

Bodie caught and held his hand. "On occasion. How is it that you've returned so soon? I'd resigned myself to being alone for another - Was there any difficulty at the sale?"

Freeing his hand, Doyle's expression was pensive. "I've no notion, for I never got there," he said, almost defiant because he knew that the stallion he was to have purchased on Bodie's behalf would have been a much needed addition to the stables.

"Damnation, you knew how - " Bodie cut off what he had been about to say and left his chair, pacing the room as he tried to contain his anger. When he finally turned to the man still seated on the desk top his expression was one of wry impatience with himself; he stood so close that they shared body warmth.

"One day," he said ruminatively, "you'll decide to try my patience too far. Cease to be so provoking. So you didn't go to the sales. Could you now tell me why, for I know there must have been a good reason."

Doyle blinked rapidly and Bodie smiled and settled his hand over the leg closest to him, giving it a light shake. "Noddlecock," he said lovingly.

The expression in Bodie's eyes had stolen away coherent thought. Sliding from the desk top, Doyle took him a fierce grasp. "Must you always be so trusting?" he muttered. In the kiss which followed he offered all the urgency and love within him.

When they finally drew apart a little, the need to breathe overcoming their passion, Bodie gave a crooked smile of satisfaction. Then he nodded. The hunger his eyes revealed sent an answering tremor shivering down Doyle's body.

"God, but I love you, William Bodie," he muttered harshly.

"Just Bodie," he was reminded firmly.

Doyle shook his head. "Oh no." The intensity lessening, he released Bodie and resumed his perch on the desk. "You are not 'just' anything. I'm sorry, but there were pressing reasons why I could not attend the sale."

"We had established that much. But why were you so wary of telling me? Did you imagine I would be so enraged I shouldn't stop to listen to you?"

A finger brushed his cheek. "The notion occurred to me," Doyle confessed, a gamine grin lighting his sombre expression at the face Bodie pulled before he reseated himself. "I set off by way of the road which goes past the old tin mine. I came upon Will Simmons and discovered why Captain Ross's interest in your activities has increased over recent months."

"Will? But he - " Sitting up in his chair, all trace of humour had faded from Bodie's eyes. "Go on," he instructed, a grim set to his mouth.

Relieving Bodie of his glass of Madeira, Doyle's anger and frustration were much in evidence as he gulped the liquid down, setting the glass back on the desk top with a sharp click.

"Ross is a bastard! I knew him to be ambitious and I know that legally he is in the right of it, but if the opportunity arises to block his career, by God I'll not be slow in making the most of the chance."

Bodie rocked a tense leg. "Easy, Ray. Just tell me."

"I'll explain in more detail when I'm calmer. To be brief, I came across Will with his oldest son, Nathan. The lad wasn't killed in battle as we believed, he was injured. When his ship returned to Plymouth - Nathan's a deserter," Doyle said harshly. "Will's been hiding him out in the old mine since the lad returned home. He's been trying to scrape together the money to get the boy to a place of safety."

"Young Nathan alive?" Bodie frowned in puzzlement. "But why the blazes didn't Will confide in me from the first? He couldn't believe I would betray the lad, surely? Nathan can be no more than sixteen now. He was scarce fourteen when the bastards pressed him," he added, a cold savagery about him at the memory.

"Will had no choice but to remain silent." There was a tone in Doyle's voice that boded ill for someone. "Ross saw him going out to the mine one night and followed him. Nathan's likeness to his father is marked. Ross gave Will a choice. Work for him in discovering what he could of the freetraders, or see his son returned to the tender mercies of the Navy and face the punishment due a deserter."

Seeing Bodie's expression, Doyle's hand settled over a broad shoulder, his fingers caressing it. "It was a rare choice, was it not? Will claims he's told Ross little, least of all about his own involvement within the band. I believe him. He thought at first that I intended to betray him. But that's why he joined Tom and the others, of course. You must have suspected that Will approves of the freetraders as little as I."

"I thought his need for money to be greater than his scruples," said Bodie, who was frowning.

"That's certainly true. The poor bastard was trapped, lacking the resources to get his family to safety. I had to do something to help. No man should be expected to live under that kind of strain. I eventually prevailed upon Will to tell me the whole sorry tale."

Bodie cocked a disbelieving eyebrow.

"Truly. I think he was relieved to have someone to confide in," Doyle assured him. "He was at his wit's end. There's another child on the way and Nathan himself is still ailing. His wound has not healed as it ought. Also, Will knew that should any of the villagers discover what he has been about he was done for. And what would become of his family then? The eldest girl is just on ten and - "

"Ray, you're preaching to the converted," Bodie reminded him.

Doyle pulled a self-conscious face. "I know, but I had - " His voice trailed away.

"So at this point you decided to take a hand in their affairs," prompted Bodie, amused affection on his face. "What mad-cap scheme did you devise?"

"I saw them off on a ship bound for the Americas at first light this morning," Doyle said simply.


"I'm not that hard of hearing," Doyle told him. Leaning across the desk to reach the decanter, he re-filled Bodie's glass and offered it to him before pouring himself a drink. "This area wasn't safe for them and wherever they went in England they would have lived in fear. Ross made himself out to be an omnipotent figure whose reach could extend to find them wherever they went."

"Oh yes, he'd take pleasure in that," acknowledged Bodie. "But how did you contrive to arrange it all so speedily? You've scarcely been gone three days."

"The main difficulty was that of finance," Doyle admitted with candour. "It's been a number of years since I've been so devoid of resources. I left Will and Nathan at the mine, went into town and hired a wagon. Thereafter it was simplicity itself to get Marian and the rest of the brood away. We steered clear of the main route and made our way to Plymouth."

"You're crazed," Bodie told him with conviction. "Completely crazed. How the devil could Will afford the passage? And what are they supposed to live on when they get there? He's a fine carpenter, I'll grant you, but he has a number of mouths to feed and the situation there is not settled."

Doyle took care to avoid his companion's eyes. "The passage was paid for from the money you gave me to fulfil your commissions. As it wasn't sufficient I - er - I sold Cleo," he confessed in a rush.

Bodie spilt his drink.

"I bought her back the following day," Doyle assured him hastily as he mopped up the spilled liquid. Bodie stared at him in disbelieving silence. "John Joe is tending to her now. But you'd not credit the sudden demand for chestnut mares," Doyle added lugubriously, knowing his companion would enjoy hearing how he had been fleeced like any Johnny Raw.

A spark of interest entered Bodie's eyes. "How much did you lose on the exchange?" he demanded, intrigued despite himself.

"Thirty guineas and my tie pin," Doyle admitted wryly.

Bodie grinned. "You were robbed. That pin alone was worth more than Cleo's price, much as I love her."

"I wasn't in a position of bargaining strength," Doyle reminded him with dignity. "It was bad enough that I must make use of your purse without losing you Cleo. For don't think that I haven't noticed she's the love of your life. Had I returned without her - You may have mellowed, but not to that extent!"

A caressing hand slid along his thigh as Bodie conceded the point with a gesture of his free hand. "No doubt I would have forgiven you in due course."

"It's the due course which concerned me." Rummaging in a misshapen pocket, Doyle deposited a soft leather bag on the desk. It settled with a smooth, clinking sound.

Bodie eyed it with suspicion before looking at Doyle, serious now. "What might that be?"

"I'm returning the money you gave me, of course."

Bodie rubbed his hand over his face. "I need another drink," he said with conviction. "Unless my wits are failing me utterly how can this be mine? You spent my money buying the Simmons brood their passage to the Americas. Why there?"

"Will has a brother settled there these past ten years. And it was the first ship which could offer them passage. As for the money, that was simplicity itself. I arranged for monies to be transferred to me from my London bankers, but until that could be arranged I had no choice but to borrow yours." Doyle's tone was apologetic.

Bodie took a reflective swallow of his drink and eyed his lover's fidgeting figure from over the top of his glass. "That isn't the issue and you know it. Let me be clear on this. In effect you've paid for their passage and the loss you made in re-purchasing Cleo. No doubt you also contrived to find some money to stake the Simmons family while you were about it."

Doyle gave a betraying twitch. "That," he said with an attempt at dignity, "is my concern."

"Odd that where a matter is to our joint advantage you refer to 'our' concerns and when you're disadvantaged we resume the singular," mused Bodie. "Can you afford it?" he added bluntly. The mound of bills he had been working over caught his eye and he pushed them aside and rested his booted feet comfortably in that spot.

"Better than you, that's for certain," Doyle said with asperity. He skimmed through the bills uppermost on the pile. His eyebrows disappeared beneath his hair when he saw the amount due to the chandler. "Do you never settle a bill?"

"Not if I can help it," Bodie told him with placid unconcern. "Although I suppose I must now break the habit of a lifetime. Some of my creditors won't wait any longer."

"This is nonsensical. It's something we haven't had time to discuss but I could settle these and never notice," Doyle said in irritation.

"Splendid," Bodie congratulated him, smoothly covering his surprise. "But that's of little consequence. The debts are my concern and I'm perfectly able to manage my own affairs." A flash of anger escaped his controls.

"Oh, perfectly," mocked Doyle affectionately. "Do you take me for a fool? If that's the case, perhaps you'll explain why the house is falling down around our ears while you struggle to make ends meet. You stiff-necked fool. Let me help." He recognised his mistake too late.

"I'll not be kept by you or anyone else," retorted Bodie.

The argument was nonsensical in the extreme but there must be a way around Bodie's pride, Doyle mused. A speculative gleam entered his eyes as the beginning of an idea formed.

"Very right and proper," he approved. "So what do you propose? It's the very devil of a ride out to the Tregellis place."

"What the blazes are you about now?" complained Bodie, utterly confused by this time.

"It's the nearest vacant house," explained Doyle. "If I'm not to be permitted to pay my share of household expenses then obviously I must needs buy my own establishment. I have my share of pride," he pointed out when Bodie would have interrupted him. "No doubt we'll see each other in passing," he added mournfully. "And, of course, you'll be welcome to have a bed any night you wish it."

"Why the Tregellis place?" asked Bodie, holding on to the one certain fact as he tried to make sense of what Doyle was saying.

"It's the nearest house," said Doyle, as if the explanation was obvious. "I confess I shall miss this place. It has a piquant charm, for all its dilapidation, and the light in my room is excellent."

Bodie caught hold of his shoulders and glared at him in sheer exasperation. "You're being nonsensical. You'll remain here and there's an end to it."

The smile which had been lurking at the back of Doyle's eyes was open now. "I was afraid you would never see sense," he announced with the smug satisfaction of one who knew he would get his own way.

"I'll not be kept by you," Bodie repeated, with what he trusted was finality.

"Now there's a thought to conjure with." A lascivious look on his face, Doyle slipped his hand through the loosened ties of Bodie's shirt.

"This isn't a matter for levity," Bodie told him, but he was weakening as a hand stroked down his rib-cage.

"Of course it isn't," Doyle soothed. "But you will sell a half interest in Shambolt's Cove to me, won't you?"

Bodie stiffened - not with passion. "Sell - You're crazed."

"You keep saying that," complained Doyle mildly, as he edged closer. "It's the obvious solution. I must have some place to live," he pointed out, crooking an arm around Bodie's neck, "and I can think of nowhere I would rather be."

Bodie wouldn't have thought it possible for that face to assume such a look of supreme innocence.

"Once I'm co-owner then of course I'll restrict any improvements solely to my half of the house," Doyle promised him, all solemnity. A hint of worry appeared in his eyes. "Although, of course, the process of deciding who to is have which half of the bed may require a degree of negotiation."

The unshaven, travel-stained face was now only a breath away from Bodie's own and he gave an audible swallow, yet to appreciate that his hands were already cupping his lover's exquisite rump.

"Ray, there's - "

A warm, wine-sweet mouth muffled whatever protest he had been about to voice next. A moist tongue stroked along his inner lip before inviting exploration with unusual docility.

The need for air finally drew them apart, barely coherent.

"I prefer to sleep on the left side of the bed," Bodie murmured in capitulation, his tongue returning to trace the well-defined upper lip. Questing hands had finally succeeded in unfastening his breeches.

"So do I. No matter. I'm confident we'll be able to solve the problem in some amicable fashion," Doyle told him comfortably.

Having remembered to refasten his breeches, Bodie urged him towards the door. "There's no time like the present," he offered, his voice thickened by desire. He inwardly cursed Bertha's presence in the kitchen and the number of stairs they must climb to reach their bedchamber, where there was a key in the lock and the hope of some privacy.

Doyle held the door open for him then caught hold of his wrist, hurrying him upwards.

In the event, Bodie didn't remember ascending the stairs.


Even though he had been waiting for it, Hodge flinched when the swing doors crashed open and a hunched figure skidded, off-balance, across the floor towards him.

Hodge's knuckles whitened ominously, the Magnum wavering before it steadied. A slow smile of intense satisfaction lit his face, the blood pounding in his ears. For the first time since he had spotted Doyle in the garden of that country pub the fierce ache in his gut eased.

"Long time, no see, Doyle," he acknowledged with pleasure, moving out from behind the half-completed reception desk.

"Hello, Jack," Doyle said. His eyes wary, he remained where he had landed, assessing Hodge's mental stability and his own chances of survival.

The only illumination came from the desk lamp on the reception desk; otherwise the room was in gloomy half-light, rain drops obscuring the windows, the sky grey and overcast. The open-plan area was barren of furnishings, except for some packing cases and a half-completed wall of metal shelving. The motionless figure he saw as he came in must be Ken; from the look of frozen terror on his face he would be worse than useless when the time came to make a move.

Doyle sighed. First he had to make a move himself; get between Ken and that bloody cannon Hodge was holding. For whether by accident or design Hodge still had Ken in his sights. His only view of Bodie was a scuffed shoe poking out from behind the reception desk. He felt relief course through him. Bodie was in the safest place back there. With a bit of luck he'd be able to make Hodge concentrate on him. Jack had always been the sort of bloke who enjoyed pulling the wings off flies.

"On your feet, you bastard," Hodge said with venomous dislike. "Get up before I shoot you where you are. We don't want to hurry things too much, do we?" he added jovially.

It was going to be cat and mouse then, realised Doyle, his guarded face disguising his satisfaction. He'd been hoping for this. It would keep him alive and give them some time.

Despite the risk of its being found if they had searched him, Doyle admitted privately that he should have accepted the bug they'd tried to make him wear in accordance with Cowley's orders. As it was, no one was paying any attention to that video camera so the time it was taking the engineer downstairs to jam it was a wasted effort. One way or another it would be over before CI5 got here.

He got to his feet slowly, taking care that his stumble forward, which blocked Ken from Hodge's sight, should look accidental.

Alec remained on the sidelines, ostensibly waiting for orders. His gaze flicked between his partner and Hodge, still not satisfied that Ken was protected. But Doyle was showing willing to keep his side of the bargain so Alec moved a little closer, confident enough of his own skills to wait for the moment.

Hodge gave a harsh laugh. "Nice try, that, Doyle. But I haven't forgotten what a tricky bastard you were and I can't believe that will have changed. You stay right where you are. And you can keep still, too, Alec. Before you could get to me, I can go through Doyle and get Ken."

"What?" Alec creased his face in hurt puzzlement and hoped he wasn't overdoing the injured innocence. "Have you gone crazy? What d'you wanna threaten us for? Me and Ken are working for you."

"That's what I thought," nodded Hodge, but the expression in his eyes was chillingly unpredictable. He gaze slid around the room, lingering when it settled on Doyle. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I am crazy, but then, maybe I'm not. Do you think I'm stupid? Your heart hasn't been in this from the beginning. What's up, lost your bottle?"

"Course not." Alec moved a few paces closer, his hands tucked reassuringly into his pockets. "We're old mates. You don't let an old mate down. That's what me and Ken are doing here. Helping out an old mate. But we didn't realise exactly the sort of help you wanted. I mean, we knew you wanted to come down hard on Doyle here - give him something to remember you by. That's OK, no sweat. But that's all we do, Jack. We're not cop-killers."

"It's a bit late to turn moral on me now," Hodge snapped, half convinced. "Well, if you're still working for me, now's your chance to prove it. Doyle here. Will you look at the cold bastard? You wouldn't think he'd got a care in the world, would you? You'd never guess I'm only five years older than him," he added bitterly. "Going inside does that to a man, Alec. It ages him."

"That was your choice, Jack," Doyle reminded him, edging closer. "It was always going to happen. If not me, then someone else. I was just doing my job. When it came down, Ted understood that. Luck of the draw, he said."

"Shuddup!" Hodge's face contorted, filling with an ugly colour as he remembered the humiliation of coming back off his honeymoon to find Ted had installed some snot-nosed stranger as his second-in-command, chosen because of his quick wits and skill with a shooter. It was only later that Doyle had revealed his other talents - grassing, for one. Since he'd shopped them to the Drugs Squad nothing in his life had gone right. All Doyle's fault. All of it. The years lost, the jobs they'd missed out on because he'd made them a bloody laughing stock, the failures and the boredom. Maybe now everything would start working out again. He and Ted could start up afresh and...

Hodge blinked as the icy realisation trickled through.

When he'd attended to Doyle it might be an idea to take things easy for a while. He must be over-doing it. Ted Connolly was dead. He'd croaked at the beginning of April.

Suddenly very lucid, Hodge knew it wouldn't be a good idea to let anyone know he'd ever forgotten that.

Doyle had stopped moving the moment Hodge spoke, his eyes on the finger slowly relaxing around the trigger. Jack had been a useful shot in his day; a competent enough lackey if kept under supervision. He'd never been an innovator though. He'd lacked basic common sense, or the ability to think actions through to their logical conclusion. But he was bright enough to recognise his own failures; his personality was the sort that needed to place the blame on someone else's shoulders. That must be why he had decided to come after him. Ted's death must have sparked off the memory.

The expression in Hodge's eyes left his back prickling with fear. Doyle dared not risk wiping away the sweat trickling down from his temple. So far he'd never been gut-shot and he didn't want to make it a first for Jack Hodge.

"So you're still a strong-arm man, are you, Alec?" mused Hodge, sparing his henchman a glance. "I hope your time going straight hasn't made you soft because now's your chance to prove yourself. Break Doyle for me."

Alec blinked, then glanced at Doyle, catching his infinitesimal nod of agreement.

"What, by myself? For chrissake, Jack. He's CI5."

"He's also four inches shorter, a hell of a lot lighter and handcuffed. Besides which, while I'm holding this he's in no position to argue overmuch. Let's see how fit these CI5 men really are, shall we?"

"So this is how you get your jollies now, is it? What's the trouble, this the only way you can get it up these days?" taunted Doyle as he moved closer, wondering what the hell could be taking Cowley so long to get his men in.

Hodge ignored him.

"Alec, I'm gonna count to three. After that Ken's gonna be walkin' with a limp - if they manage to save his leg."

Alec believed that matter-of-fact statement of intent more than any elaborate threats. He could see the strain etched on Ken's face; the frozen fear that kept him pinned to the far wall. He gave his partner a reassuring smile. It wasn't Ken's fault that his nerve had gone after that job in Peckham had turned sour. You couldn't ask for a better mate. After he'd come out of hospital they'd loosened old ties and got themselves into the scrap metal business. They'd been doing all right - until Jack had decided to call in old debts.

Shrugging out of his jacket, Alec padded purposefully towards Doyle. He still worked out twice a week; he hadn't let himself go. He should be able to take it easy with Doyle, make it look good and wait for Jack's concentration to slip.

At first it was easy, Doyle was surprised at how easy. Alec must have been good in his day and he still moved with a fluid economy of action oddly reminiscent of Bodie. He choreographed their fight with Bodie's skill, knowing exactly where to place his blows to cause minimum damage for maximum effect.

The larger man's talent gave Doyle a relatively easy task at first. Weaving and dodging, he took what punishment he must to satisfy Hodge, playing up the effect upon himself for all he could as their movements continued to take them closer to Jack. But Hodge's concentration hadn't been eroded to the degree that they could risk moving in on him.

Time passed until the fight had gone on too long for Doyle's small reserve of physical strength; he had been exhausted at the outset. The whole scene came to seem like some bizarre game to his tired mind. A thin-lipped smile lit the intensity of his expression. Some game.

He was starting to hurt in earnest now, his limbs heavy and weighted, every movement an effort. The instinct for survival which had brought him through far worse than this was gone, eroded by months of over-long hours and the sheer hard work that had gone before.

Backing away from Alec again, gasping for breath by this time, Doyle's gaze flicked away from his opponent when Bodie appeared in his line of vision, slumped heavily against the side of the reception desk.

Bodie had returned to consciousness to hear the sounds of a fight; he knew Doyle must be here by now. The rasping breaths and gasps for air told their own story; the solid sound of fists impacting with flesh giving him sufficient motivation to move.

His face twisting with the effort, sweat pouring from him, Bodie leant groggily against the side of the reception desk and tried to focus. In that moment he saw Doyle's concentration slip, distracted by his appearing in view. Bodie winced when a straight-armed blow to Doyle's unprotected belly doubled him over. Alec's follow-up was too fast for Ray to be able to dodge and it caught him low in the ribs, its force sending him crashing, shoulder-first, into the sharp edges of the uncompleted corner of the metal shelving. The impact wrenched a cry from him before he slipped to the floor.

Blind rage gave Bodie the strength to move, his own hurts forgotten. Handcuffed, and with one arm grossly swollen by this time, his options were few; he couldn't even stand. His thigh muscles bunched, and using every ounce of power left in him, he swept his legs out and up, scything Hodge to the floor and trying to follow through.

Hodge's finger tightened reflexively on the trigger as he fell, the shot gouging a chunk out of the wooden floorboards. Scrabbling free of Bodie's weight, he rolled clear and knelt up, his face contorted with rage and shock. He had forgotten Doyle's partner completely until now.

On the edge of consciousness, Bodie knew only that he had failed and that there was no way Hodge could miss him from this distance. He felt a savage anger with himself. What a fucking stupid way to -


The primeval yell of outrage made everyone turn as it echoed around the area.

Doyle came from a crumpled ball on the floor to cover the width of the room with a startling burst of speed, heading for the kneeling man in a suicidal attack. He made no attempt to protect himself, every thought directed to keeping Bodie alive.

With a smile of sheer joy Hodge took unhurried aim at the man racing towards him, his closing finger gentle as a lover.

He never saw the blow that felled him. The second shot, discharged by reflex, missed Doyle by inches and brought barely-dried plaster flaking to the floor.

There was a brief, sweat-ridden silence before, shakily, everyone began to breathe again.

Unclenching his clubbed hands, Alec stared from one CI5 agent to the other. The dark-haired one was curled on his side, barely conscious, his face twisted with pain. Doyle, the back of his tee shirt torn and stained with blood, had collapsed over the desk top gasping for air, cuffed hands pressed briefly to his ribs. The look of savagery was still stamped in the bones of his face as he reached down to his partner.

Alec nodded to himself, relieved his move had worked. Doyle would have taken Jack apart with his bare hands, Magnum or no. He'd seen that look on a man's face before - and what had been left of his victim.

Bloody CI5. They had no cause to go employing nutters like that, he thought, aggrieved and a little shaken himself now that it was over.

With a quick competence he gathered up the fallen Magnum, unloaded it and placed it on the desk top before he hurried over to his own partner, who was still slumped against the wall.

Seconds later the room was flooded with light and CI5 agents.

The ambulance men moved swiftly out of the room, Jack Hodge's pain-racked figure on the stretcher they were carrying.

It was too bloody ironic for words, thought Connors as he saw them into the lift. Fine thing when a mad bastard like that had to take precedence over one of their own men, but there was no arguing with a coronary.

Even funnier when you thought that it was Doyle who had got to Hodge first, tending him with a deft competence that belied the anger still smouldering in his eyes. It had been he who had ordered the ambulance men not to wait for Bodie, knowing Hodge couldn't spare the time it would take.

Connors shoved his hands back in his pockets as he strolled aimlessly back through the swing doors, unable to think of anything he could do here. Glancing around, it took him a moment to find Doyle again, having lost sight of him because of all the people milling around. Those poor unfortunates who had been masquerading as gas-men for half the day were taking the opportunity to dry out; he recognised a number of faces from the training course he and Tim had first been paired on. People were talking in relaxed huddles before they returned to HQ; the room stank of petrol, damp coats, paint, sweat and woodshavings.

Relieved that the operation had been completed without serious harm to any of their own, there were a lot of bad jokes floating around, the voices louder than was usual. The atmosphere was almost party-like, except for the lack of booze. As a group of people headed for the door, Connors saw Doyle kneel beside a dark, very battered man, who was giving him a ferocious scowl. As if conscious of being under outside surveillance, Doyle glanced up, saw Connors and gestured for the younger man to stay away.

Giving a resigned sigh, Connors did as he had been told. So that was Bodie. Curious, he continued to watch the pair of dissimilar men.

" - stupid bastard," Bodie finished in a furious, attenuated whisper. "Could have got yourself killed." He was shaking from pain and reaction.

"I know. That's why you went for Hodge yourself, I suppose," Doyle reminded him. His voice was mild as he accepted the rage being thrown at him because he recognised the terror for his safety which lay beneath it. Sinking back on to his heels, he halted the hand he had reached out because he could not see a portion of Bodie that wasn't bruised.

"You look terrible," he added shakily, longing to touch and to hold and knowing he would have to wait before he could do either. He couldn't even say what he wanted to, not while they were surrounded by this mob and technically on duty. At least they had a bit of space to themselves.

"Feel it," Bodie admitted honestly, his rage calmed. They'd both behaved like bloody fools, there was no profit in labouring the point, he told himself. Though if he'd had the ability he would have belted Ray from sheer relief.

"Your shoulder? The tall bloke - Alec - told me it was dislocated."

"Yes, and the sooner it's put back where it belongs - my whole arm's numb by now - the better. It'll be OK. I hope." Bodie's voice trailed away when Doyle bent towards him, open love on his face.

For one horror-stricken moment Bodie was afraid Ray was really going to do it - that he was intending to kiss him in public.

The panic in Bodie's eyes reminded Doyle where they were, stopping him. Amusement lit his face. Bodie had never been one for public demonstrations of affection. Despite the impression he liked to give he was a conventional soul; he'd always hated it when any of his birds had draped themselves over him in public.

Chicken," Doyle whispered, teasing now.

"You bet," said Bodie, unrepentant.

"You know you've gone and bled all over my favourite shirt," Doyle added. He fulfilled his need to touch and reassure himself that Bodie was alive by fingering the edge of the silk shirt his partner wore. That shade of green would never be Bodie's colour, even without the bruises.

Feeling better already, Bodie peered down at himself. "I forgot I was wearing this. I've bust a shoulder seam, too. Green never was my lucky colour. Well, not in clothes, anyway," he amended, the corners of his mouth curling up in an involuntary smile.

If Ray didn't stop looking at him like this the news would be all over CI5 by midnight. Not that he cared. He couldn't imagine Ray worrying overmuch either. But having been discreet all this time it might be as well to notify Cowley first - officially.

"You're blowing our cover, you daft bugger," he admonished.

"Quite likely," Doyle agreed without concern, but he made some minor attempt to control his expression.

The unconvincing result made Bodie smile. "Anything interesting happening?"

Turning in reluctant acknowledgement of the outside world, Doyle had to stifle a yelp at the pain which streaked down his back. "Stretcher's on its way," he announced, correctly interpreting Connors's sign language. "And - Oh christ, I can hear Cowley's dulcet tones. I'm going to have to go and straighten out a couple of things. I wanted to come with you," he added unnecessarily. Looking down at his battered love he felt the slow burn of anger return. "Christ, those bastards really did a number on you."

Careful not to jar his shoulder, Bodie covered the hand still fingering his shirt edge; their handcuffs clinked companionably. "I don't need a nursemaid yet, you know. You silly sod. If Cowley doesn't give you a rollicking for this, I will," he promised. While his voice was grim, the expression in his eyes was tender as he took in his partner's haggard face and darkening bruises. "You don't look too good yourself, come to that. Serious?"

Doyle grinned in immediate reassurance, sniffed, then shook his head. "It's nothing. Bruises, cuts, that's all. Alec knew what he was doing." Unable to resist it any longer he reached out, wiping the sweat from Bodie's face with his hand and smelling the petrol fumes which continued to obscure Bodie's own scent. A wave of hatred swept him for what Hodge had done - and for the obscenity of what he had threatened to do. "The bastard even took your ambulance," he grated.

Recognising the tension in Doyle's voice, Bodie shook his arm. "Hey, come on, sunshine. Another's on its way. I can wait. There's no need to hurry anything any more."

"I know." Relaxing, Doyle clasped Bodie's hand and smiled foolishly down at him. The handcuffs finally getting his attention, he gestured to them with a tired grin. "A fine pair we make. I'll find the keys for yours - or a pair of cutters." He gave an unexpected urchin grin. "Don't go away, all right?"

"Sod off," said Bodie weakly as Doyle disappeared from his line of vision.

It was Connors who actually released him from the cuffs and oversaw his transfer onto the stretcher. When at last he had the breath to spare, Bodie made them stop and tried to look around.

"Where's Doyle?"

"Sorting out a deal with the two heavies Hodge brought along with him. They'd wanted out a while back apparently. And as Alec saved Doyle's bacon -yours, too, by all accounts - Doyle's trying to talk the old man round to the idea. He'd be more convincing if he hadn't seen the state they'd left you in. Come on, I'll see you to the hospital," added Connors kindly.

"For chrissake - " Bodie stopped on an exasperated breath. "I don't need a bloody keeper. You stay here, where you're needed."

"Uh huh." Connors shook his head with a grin, having taken a liking to Bodie. "Doyle told me to go with you."

"And I'm telling you to stay here." There was no mistaking the command in the pain-roughened voice.

"Shut up, Bodie," said Doyle mildly as he came to stand at Connors's side. "It's no good you glaring at me like that, mate," he added with a grin of sympathy. "You're in no state to do anything about it. Besides, Cowley agrees with me, so that's that."

"Stupid bastards." Seeing the determination on his partner's face, Bodie stopped protesting. He felt a light, parting brush of fingers against his hair.

"I'll see you later," Doyle promised when he heard Cowley call his name.

Bodie's eyes narrowed in puzzlement as he watched Doyle walk away; recognising something wrong about the other man's appearance, he couldn't place what it was. Before he could say anything else, the stretcher moved off again and it took all his concentration not to scream, just before he lost consciousness.

He came round in the ambulance to find Connors sitting at his side and he gave what he hoped was a reassuring grin. "Hey, Connors, isn't it? Cheer up, mate. You won't have to cough up for a wreath yet. Your expression's enough to give a man a relapse."

The youngster gave an uncertain smile and leant over him. "Are you OK?"

Ray must have had a field day with this one, Bodie thought, highly amused. Sometimes he wondered what nursery Cowley had taken to robbing. They seemed to get younger by the minute.

"I'll live," he dismissed. "Listen, I know I'm a bit dopey at the moment but why was Ray in bare feet? Or is Cowley saving the sackcloth and ashes till next week?"

Connors, who had been watching him nervously for some reason, relaxed. "I don't think it's anything to do with the old man but I didn't like to ask Doyle about his personal habits."

It hurt to laugh, but Bodie chuckled all the same. "Nah, you could have. Ray's very broad-minded. While he's got his faults, he's never been too kinky. Not so far, anyway," he added drowsily. Despite his discomfort and the noise of the siren and jolting of the ambulance he fell asleep, the smudges of exhaustion beneath his eyes darker than the bruises which were beginning to appear.

Pole-axed, Connors stared at the unconscious face. Bodie and Doyle? Doyle and Bodie? Bloody hell.

I must have misunderstood, he told himself. But remembering the fleeting expression on Doyle's incredibly changed face just before he had turned away from the stretcher, Connors lost some of his certainty. He wasn't even sure how he felt about it, come to that. He'd mention it to Tim, see what he thought.

Or maybe not, he allowed, suddenly feeling rather hot under the collar.

Propped against the reception desk, shivering as the sweat dried on him, Doyle endured Cowley's icy displeasure in a stony-faced silence. When it became apparent he wasn't going to be dismissed with ignominy, or even de-balled at dawn, he stopped listening so intently. There hadn't been time to relax yet; to accept that he and Bodie had survived and come to terms with another near brush with death. Normally that wouldn't matter. They were trained to live with tension. Now he was so tired he was barely functional. And all the time he kept wondering how long it would be before he could get back to Bodie.

" - left with few options," Cowley told him with sour disapproval. He nodded in the direction of the two men under guard on the other side of the room. "Next time you take it upon yourself to make open-ended promises - "

Doyle didn't have the energy or inclination to defend himself.

" - you can explain it to the inspector in charge. This kind of flagrant disregard for usual procedures does our relationship with the police no good at all. Are you listening to me?" Cowley demanded.

"Yes, sir." Doyle's response was wooden, his face tightening as his hurts began to make their presence felt.

With most of his mind on another assignment nearing completion on the other side of London, Cowley did not notice the younger man's untypically muted response. "I'm glad to hear it. Very well, lose the pair of them. But do it carefully. I'll expect your report - in triplicate - on my desk in two hours." His chilly gaze raked the younger man from crown to toe. "You look a mess. You don't require hospitalisation, I trust?" he added with no more than a cursory interest, wanting to be gone.

"No, sir." Doyle took his hand from his bruised ribs. "First I want to go to the hospital to see - "

"I'm not interested in your wishes. Lose Rowe and his partner before the inspector gets sight of them. I trust that even you would agree that any official identification at this stage would be undesirable? Excellent. Then I want that report. I'll talk to you afterwards. Clear?"

" - hospital to see Bodie," continued Doyle as if there had been no interruption.

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear the first time," said Cowley with deceptive calm. "I want you in my office in two hours." Then he was gone, the tails of his coat streaming out behind him.

The blast of his unleashed rage had penetrated even Doyle's fatigue-induced detachment. He stood quite still, trying to summon strength he wasn't sure he possessed. Moving on the count of three, he set about losing the two men he knew to be primarily responsible for Bodie's battered condition.

Eventually he was free to leave himself. Bidding the lone constable watching over the now deserted premises a quiet goodnight, Doyle wandered out through the lobby and into the muggy air, the light drizzle quickly damping him. It was only then that he remembered his lack of transport. About to turn back to phone for a taxi, he saw a tall, dark figure waiting for him in the shadows.

"I thought you could use a lift," called Tim Rice cheerfully as he strolled into the light, rain gleaming on his hair.

"I could. But shouldn't you be back at - "

"HQ? Yes, but there's nothing doing there until eleven at the earliest so I thought I'd do my good deed for the day." Rice pretended not to notice the careful way Doyle eased onto the passenger seat, his back arching when it touched the upholstery. Cowley must have been really pissed off with him not to have bundled Doyle into the ambulance with his partner. While he wasn't sure what all the aggro was about, Rice didn't envy Doyle his forthcoming interview with the old man.

"Here, take this," he said, handing over the spare sweater he kept in the boot of the car. "You look terrible."

"I'll mess it up," Doyle warned, looking at the heavy Aran warmth of it with longing.

"You can buy me a new one if you do. Anyway, navy, who's to see?"

"A man after my own heart," said Doyle, his voice muffled as he pulled it on without further demur. His jacket, boots and gun had disappeared from the lobby, obviously taken in by some over-enthusiastic soul who had neglected to think what he would wear in the meantime. In consequence he was still barefoot, the hem of his jeans muddy and damp from the puddles he had failed to negotiate on his way to the car.

"Do you want the heater on?" Rice offered a few minutes later when he noticed that the other man's shivering was intensifying rather than abating.

Doyle shook his head. "It's OK. No need for you to cook on my account. I'm not so much cold as shit scared," he added with brutal frankness. He wished it was Bodie sitting next to him, exchanging rotten jokes and snide remarks until they could talk it through, getting it out of their systems in the way that worked best for them.

Rice concentrated on negotiating the next roundabout. The roads were busy with Saturday night revellers starting out for the evening. "Shock?" he suggested tentatively.

Doyle almost smiled at the surprise in Tim's voice. So bloody earnest. It wasn't anything to do with Tim's age either, because he'd never been like that in his life. It must be the new breed. No wonder some of them were having a job to cut it in CI5.

"It gets to everyone sooner or later. Worse when you're tired. It always hits me late, Bodie immediately. It just means we yell at each other for a bit longer than some partners," he explained, unconcerned. It was just another fact of life to be lived with; a part of his existence he took for granted.

"It's the same pattern with Pete and me," admitted Rice, braking smoothly to avoid flattening a suicidal cat. "Only we're still new to this game. It isn't the kind of thing you can go around asking about in the locker room. We thought it was just us."

"No way." Doyle kept his gaze on the windscreen, making it easier for the younger man. "We all get some reaction, some time. It takes everyone differently. The Cow gets very benign, if you can imagine it. You've probably been bitching about not getting more to do since you came onto the squad. This is one of the reasons Cowley starts the new people off slow. All the training and theorising in the world can't tell you how you're going to react or how you'll learn to deal with it. If you're working with a partner it's different again. Two sets of reactions to get used to. Do you and Pete work well together?" he asked abruptly.

"You've seen us," Rice reminded him mildly.

"I know. But how do you think you work together?"

"Well." There was no hesitation in Rice's voice.

Doyle made no immediate response and the younger man grinned in acknowledgement. "OK," he qualified. "We work together well most of the time. Sometimes we're a disaster. You know, there's something you're going to have to watch."

Doyle turned with a look of inquiry.

"Sometimes you sound more like Cowley than Cowley does," Rice told him. While he grinned, he was only partly joking.

Doyle gave him a look of appalled disbelief, then shrugged. "There's no need to be insulting. You might be right though. Recently I've been waiting to hear myself say, 'In my day'," he admitted, his voice heavy with gloom. "You may laugh, my son. It'll happen to you, just wait," he prophesied.

"If we live that long."

Doyle shot Rice a look. "There's always that, of course. It doesn't pay to think about it too much. Where do you think I got these grey hairs from?"

For the first time Rice felt at ease in Doyle's company; as if he was accepted as an equal rather than an irritating encumbrance to be endured. Conversation after that was desultory but friendly. They seemed to catch every red light, although Doyle made a good job of hiding his impatience.

"Is there any news of Bodie yet?" he asked at last, his tone casual.

"Christ, I knew there was something. He's all right," Rice broke off to say, realising he was only making things worse.

"OK," soothed Doyle, relaxing. "Now tell me, Tim."

"Cowley came through just before you appeared. They've had Bodie down in X-ray, checking on his shoulder now it's been strapped up. Apart from that and deep-seated bruising - everywhere - he's fine, except for shock. And exhaustion. It seems he's been over-working. Anyway, they're all set to keep him in for a few days and he'll be off work for at least two weeks after that. Oh, Cowley said there's no point you turning up because they're not allowing any visitors. Besides which, Bodie keeps falling asleep."

"It sounds to me like he fell asleep on Cowley," said Doyle with a crooked grin as relief washed through him. "Poor old sod. Bodie's not going to like being kept in once he's caught up on his sleep."

"You look like you should be in there with him," Rice told him, as he brought the car to a standstill outside the dingy back entrance to CI5 headquarters.

"I probably will be once Cowley's finished with me," Doyle said morosely. He wasn't looking forward to the forthcoming interview. "I'm all right. Just tired. Are you off-duty now?"

"No such luck." Rice's face was woebegone. "Pete and me are on stand-by all weekend. That international conference," he reminded Doyle when he looked surprised. "We got a tip-off there'd be an assassination attempt on the Israeli Minister. He leaves in - Thank god for that. He's just flown out. Maybe we will get some time off. Just as well. It's been quiet so far but we'll be short-staffed if there's a crisis."

Doyle gave him a quizzical look. "I hadn't thought of it as being quiet, I must admit," he said as he crawled out of the car. "But you could be right. I can see I'd be a bit biassed about this weekend, what with one thing and another. Incidentally, you're getting to sound almost as smug as Bodie. You want to watch that," he added with a grin. "I'll see you around. Thanks for the lift."

Before the embarrassed Rice could qualify his statement, Doyle had gone in through the swing doors.

"You look terrible," Kirsty told him for the third time, as she handed him an extra-strong coffee. "Are you sure you're supposed to be here?"

"Positive," replied Doyle. Slurping the hot liquid, he winced when he burnt his lip. "I'm waiting for my Master's voice, aren't I? How much longer is the old man going to be? I was due to see him at half nine." Feeling his eyelids drooping to a close again, he picked up the thick folder sitting on her desk top and began to flick through it.

"Have a heart. He's only been back ten minutes and he's been on the phone since then. Had you forgotten you're not wearing any shoes?"

Doyle gave her a look of exaggerated surprise. "I thought there was something missing. Come off it, love. I'm not that far gone. I lost them, didn't I? Some stupid sod brought them in but I haven't been able to track them down. And there's too many stairs to the locker room. It doesn't matter. I think my feet have gone numb." He peered at the grimy objects in question.

Kirsty gave him a look of exasperation. "Well, you can't go in to see Mister Cowley looking like this. He's already in a bad mood. Do you want me to get the stuff for you?" she offered with resignation. But Ray really did look awful. She knew he must be feeling rough when he failed to give her breasts a second glance.

Doyle's air of pathos melted away and he gave her a huge beam and nodded. "I think I'm in love," he announced to the air.

"You're almost as big a con man as that partner of yours," she told him, unmoved by his declaration. "Look at the state of you. There's everything you'll need in my bottom drawer. At least clean yourself up a bit while I'm gone," she urged. Switching the telephone through to the adjoining office, she went off to find some shoes for the unlikeliest Cinderella of them all.

Slumping onto the chair behind her desk, Doyle winced when he leant down to fish out her small desk mirror. Casting a cursory glance into it, he scowled and put it away again. She had a point, but the nearest washroom was too far away. Damping a tissue by the simple expedient of spitting onto it, he mopped the worst of the dried blood from the cut above his eyebrow. Tossing the tissue into the bin, he promptly forgot about his appearance. He'd clean up his face when he got home. If he ever got home.

On ringing the hospital for the third time he got short shrift from the duty sister he had spoken to only thirty minutes before. Eventually she unbent enough to tell him that Bodie was sleeping like a baby.

One down and one to go, Doyle thought as he hung up.

The coffee doing nothing whatever to help keep him awake, he idly flicked through the file again. It was no more than a compilation of duty rosters for the preceding twelve months, the hours of duty for each agent neatly logged. As a pattern began to emerge, Doyle went back through the file with growing disbelief as he calculated how many hours he and Bodie had logged in comparison with almost every one else on the squad.

No wonder Bodie looked exhausted. He was lucky to be alive. That bastard Cowley.

When Kirsty returned to her office Doyle was gone and the record file was missing from her desk top. On being told that 4.5 had taken himself off to Cowley's office only moments before, she winced, made a brief call through to Cowley, and then, dropping the squash socks, trainers and sweatshirt on the vacated chair, got back to work.

On the point of returning the phone receiver to the handset, Cowley glanced up unsurprised when Doyle erupted into his office with a face like thunder and slammed a file down on his desk top. Before the younger man could do more than draw an angry breath Cowley pinned him with an icy stare that was more effective than a deluge of cold water.

"Shut the door, 4.5. Before we proceed, perhaps you'd care to explain why you've taken it upon yourself to abandon the normal social pleasantries?"

"You bastard! If - " Doyle cut off what he had been about to say, seeing from the lined face that it would be no more than wasted breath. "If this is how you want to play it, by all means, sir." There was a rare, biting contempt in the last word.

Doyle closed the door with studied care. He made no attempt to re-approach the desk, choosing rather to stand at the side of the window, in the shadows. His mood was such that he didn't trust himself to get any closer. Violence would come to him too easily now. Cowley could have got Bodie killed; had wantonly risked his life, without thought, over a prolonged period.

"I want to know what - "

"Your query will have to wait," Cowley snapped. "First there are two matters which I want to draw to your attention, the main one being that your present manner and mode of conduct aren't those I'm prepared to tolerate."

Doyle met his disapproval head on. There was a cold viciousness in his eyes that provoked Cowley into attempting to steamroller him into compliance rather than de-fusing the scene with two, short sentences. But he had had enough. It was time Doyle learned a few of the social graces. Whatever his excuse, he wasn't prepared to tolerate these outbursts of temperament.

"Regarding the Hodge debacle. Your behaviour might be excusable were it not for the level of incompetence you demonstrated throughout. Doubtless it will eventually dawn on you that, but for the intervention of Alec Peterson, you and Bodie would almost certainly be dead. It's quite possible that other operatives would have been severely injured while storming the area. You may take that loss lightly, 4.5. I do not."

He knew the accusation to be largely unjustified, but Doyle had demonstrated a total disregard for his orders, and a preoccupation with his partner's well-being which had threatened the lives of others. It was time Doyle was reminded of his prime responsibility. Before he could continue, the telephone rang again.

On hearing the Minister's mellifluous tones, Cowley gestured for Doyle to remain. He was surprised that the younger man should have remembered that simple courtesy in his present mood; it wasn't something which usually occurred to him.

Listening with only half an ear, he stared at his agent, who was oblivious to his scrutiny. Kirsty was right, Doyle had been hurt. It was obvious from the way he held himself. Stubborn young fool, thought Cowley irritably, his anger fading as he recognised the signs of exhaustion which he should have picked up on weeks ago.

Slumped against the wall as he stared out of the window, Doyle's face was grey-tinged and drawn, his eyes red-rimmed and looking over-large. The baggy sweater he wore only emphasised the too-prominent bones on a frame which had never been more than wiry.

Making no effort to cut the Minister's meanderings short, Cowley speculated on the likely cause of Doyle's untypical outburst. He might, of course, have heard about the investigation that had been conducted into the extent of his involvement with his partner. The record file he'd brought with him suggested otherwise. Squinting, Cowley could just make out its heading and his eyes widened in comprehension. While his sympathies were with his agents, he wasn't prepared to accept less than one hundred per cent commitment from any of his operatives. He needed to know the extent of Doyle's; the surest way to do that was to keep him angry and off-balance. Only then was he likely to hear the other man's true feelings.

"Yes, I'll be glad to pass on your congratulations to the agents concerned, Minister. I agree. Most gratifying. Good evening to you."

Slowly becoming aware of the silence, Doyle looked up, his expression sullen and uncompromising, to find Cowley studying him as if he were some interesting but unprepossessing specimen. It was a technique the older man often employed. Today it had no effect.

"You'd just got to my incompetence," Doyle reminded him, his voice unyielding.

"I hadn't forgotten," Cowley assured him. "Until I've had a chance to consider your report in greater detail, you may consider yourself suspended from duty."

Doyle took an involuntary step forward. "Suspended?"

"Unless you can offer an acceptable explanation for your behaviour, certainly. I've lost too many agents this year to be prepared to risk partnering you with anyone at present."

Doyle stalked over to the desk, pushing the file he had dropped on it towards Cowley. "So you're not satisfied with my manners or performance? It hasn't occurred to you to wonder why they might not be up to scratch?" He gave a bitter laugh. "No, of course it wouldn't have. All that interests you is results. It's a shame that, because we're not all bloody robots. Your answer's in that file. You could always try reading it if you're really interested." His fury was building and rebuilding, giving the older man no chance to reply.

"In the last six months Bodie and I have worked an average of a hundred-hour week, minimum. The last time we had more than twenty-four hours off-duty at a stretch was last August. Do you know how much leave we have owing to us? Of course you don't. Well I'll tell you, we need some of it now or someday soon we'll be so tired we'll shoot some innocent bystander and really fuck up CI5's publicity." His speech was so thick it was barely comprehensible; he paused to take an angry breath. "I'm prepared to believe you're superhuman. That you never get tired or make mistakes. But I do. So does Bodie. And anyone else who's halfway human. You know your trouble - you've been sitting safe behind that desk for too long."

Cowley refused to react to what had been flung at him. Doyle's manner toward him had always tended to be guarded and wary; it was an interesting insight into how the younger man viewed him, and one he could scarcely object to in principle. It was, after all, the impression he sought to give. Having decided to use Doyle's anger to discover his feelings on a number of topics, he couldn't blame Doyle if he heard some unpalatable home truths in the process.

"So you claim your incompetence is due to my having expected you to be capable of carrying out the job you elected to do?" he inquired, with only the faintest bite to his voice.

Blinking rapidly, Doyle looked down, disconcerted. He hadn't expected sarcasm, not from Cowley. Not about this. Its very unexpectedness caught at him. There wasn't anything he could say to that without betraying the effect it had had on him. He swallowed hard, then gave a defiant sniff.

"If you found the effort required of you beyond your capabilities, you should have said so before. You're not normally so reticent," continued Cowley, pressing his advantage.

Ignoring his unaccountable sense of betrayal at the lack of interest in the older man's face, Doyle stared blindly ahead of him, unaware of the hurt puzzlement he was revealing. Suddenly this whole over-emotional scene he had precipitated seemed ridiculous. What was the point? He couldn't talk to Cowley. He'd never been able to talk to him. Not properly. While Cowley had a high opinion of his usefulness to the department, he had no interest whatsoever in Ray Doyle, human being. That was probably as it should be. It was just that he'd preferred to delude himself into seeing a warmth that wasn't, and never had been there for him. He was too tired to notice the understanding in the eyes which continued to study him, or to wonder why Cowley should be taking the time to press him so hard, rather than simply dismissing him out of hand.

"OK, forget it," Doyle said, his voice sounding husky and unfamiliar to his own ears. "As for all that suspension crap, I'll save you the bother. I resign. Let's quit while we're ahead." It wasn't until he heard his own voice that he realised what he had said. He felt only relief as he turned away.

It belatedly occurred to Cowley that he had made a serious error of judgement in the handling of a man who had always been one of his most difficult agents. He had taken that ferocity at face value, until now missing the sense of betrayal the younger man was feeling and had expected some response to. From the pattern of work over the last year it must seem, particularly to a tired mind, as if he had over-used his best people with no thought to the possible consequence to them.

Although he had, of course. He'd had no choice.

Taking off his spectacles, Cowley watched the uneven, stiff-backed walk away from him, irritation and affection mixed in equal proportion on his face. Why he should seem such an omnipotent, all-seeing figure to his operatives was a mystery to him; they sometimes demonstrated a maddening belief in his ability to read minds. Realising that Doyle was about to leave, he said prosaically, "Very dramatic, 4.5, but hardly productive. You can't resign."

Slamming the door shut again, Doyle wheeled around to stare at him in disbelief. "You really are priceless. You watch me, and bugger all that small print because I've had it, and you, up to here."

"You're resigning from pique?" The Scotsman's voice betrayed no more than polite interest.

"You think I - ? Think what the fuck you like. I don't know why the hell it should bother me."

"Don't you?" For the first time Cowley permitted his face to mirror his thoughts. "Och, for pity's sake take that look of injured pathos from your face and sit down before you fall down."

To his secret relief Doyle did as he was told, although his truculent scowl made his feelings plain. But the caution with which he sank onto the chair told its own story.

"So you've had enough," echoed Cowley, his voice deceptively mild. "You're unlikely to be the only one of my operatives to be feeling this way after the last few months. If you leave this department, have you spared a thought for what will become of your erstwhile partner?"

"Bodie and I are lovers, not Siamese twins," snapped Doyle incautiously. "He's got a mind of his own, he'll make his own decision."

And he really believed that, Cowley realised. It seemed an odd blind spot for an otherwise perceptive individual. But then Doyle had never been aware how great an influence he had on his partner, or seemed to suspect his importance in Bodie's life. This was the first reference either man had made in his presence to their changed relationship.

"I would imagine that Bodie will choose to leave the department as well," he said in a thoughtful tone.

Doyle gave a slight start, obviously considering the matter for the first time. "Well he isn't going to be too thrilled at the way you've used him, that's for sure. He's done the work of three while some people around here haven't got their arses off a chair. And no, I'm not talking about you," he added when he saw Cowley stiffen slightly. "The last thing we need is you breathing down our necks all the time."

That odd reassurance made Cowley give a faint smile. "I'm relieved to hear it."

Perched on the edge of his chair, Doyle leant forward, his elbows on the desk top. "We need some leave. Do you have any idea what it's been like these last few months, watching Bodie crawl out of bed and try to find the energy to face a new day? He's wiped out. So tired he's punch-drunk. You know why the hospital are keeping him in? Exhaustion. What I don't understand is why you let it go on so long. You must have known what it was doing to him." He swept on without giving Cowley a chance to reply.

"Yesterday was the first time we'd had to ourselves for weeks. It made me realise. Considering we're supposed to be your best team I'm starting to wonder what you're up to. You've taken every opportunity to separate us - Bodie on solo operations, me with some snot-nosed kid who doesn't know his arse from his elbow."

Cowley leant back in his seat, content to let Doyle go on. After almost seven years he still knew less about Ray Doyle than any other of his operatives. His career was well enough documented but what went on inside that tousled head was a mystery. The few insights he had gained over the years stemmed from watching and listening to Bodie, who had never seemed to suffer problems of that kind with his partner whatever other clashes they might have had.

"... by Friday afternoon we were further apart than we've ever been. We came that close to blowing it." There was remembered horror in Doyle's voice, a hint of despair which betrayed the intensity of his emotions.

Cowley's look of speculation betrayed his surprise. He'd failed to appreciate just how seriously Doyle took the relationship, having believed, when he paused to consider the matter at all, that it must have been initiated and sustained by Bodie, with Doyle being content to humour him for reasons best known to himself. He had obviously been in error.

Doyle's eyes refocused with a speculation of their own as he stared across the desk as if seeing the older man for the first time. "But then Bodie and me blowing it wouldn't bother you one bit, would it?" he said slowly, accusation burning in his bloodshot eyes. "I knew you wouldn't approve but ignoring the non-fraternisation rule, what exactly is it you've got against us being lovers? Is it just that you don't like the thought of queers in CI5? There's no security risk if we're involved with each other. And at least you won't have to worry about either of us getting pregnant and mucking up your duty rosters."

Sipping his long-cold coffee, Cowley continued to watch him, unshocked and unshockable.

Doyle shook his head, answering his own question. "Nah, that's not it. You've never been worried about breaking the rules when it suits you. It wouldn't be the fact I'm involved because you couldn't care less what I get up to. That only leaves Bodie." His voice sharpened. "That's it, isn't it? It's the fact Bodie's got himself involved with me. So any free time we do get, he spends with me. What's wrong, Cowley? Jeal - "

His lips clamped together, he lurched to his feet and turned away. There were some things you didn't say, even at the height of rage.

His movements slowing, Doyle came to a gradual halt. The stupid thing was, he knew damn well that Cowley wasn't jealous of his relationship with Bodie. Well, not in the conventional sense of the word: the sexual sense. Not even in the proprietorial sense, come to that. Cowley probably couldn't see Bodie and him making a go of it. Well, welcome to the club, George.

Only now realising that he couldn't remember what he might have said, Doyle began to worry about his memory lapse. He'd never understood the relationship between Bodie and Cowley. Not from the first - watching Bodie get away with murder and, untypically, not taking advantage of it.

It was something he'd never discussed with his partner in all the years they'd been together. He'd never been able to think of an easy way to broach the subject. He thought too much of both men to want to see self-consciousness enter a completely unselfconscious relationship, which was what would happen if he came out with any of his wilder theories. Anyway, recently he'd been too busy worrying about Bodie and himself to spare Cowley a thought.

Doyle knew that whatever feeling existed between the two men, he didn't resent it, or begrudge either of them their abiding friendship. More than friendship, he mentally corrected. Love, then?

Whatever it was, he enjoyed watching them together. The relationship wasn't that of father and son, or brother for brother, but it was more than simple friendship. There was an almost empathic sense of belonging, akin to that of blood ties. Better than most families had, though.

Sexual attachment then, albeit an unconscious one? Doyle dismissed that thought immediately. While he couldn't speak with any certainty for Cowley, he thought it unlikely. He knew without doubt there was no sexual attraction on Bodie's side. It wouldn't have occurred to him. But then a lot of things didn't occur to Bodie. Including how easy he was to love.

Sometimes Bodie betrayed a startling naivety about people. For a self-declared cynic he still possessed an astonishing level of trust. How many times had he watched that trust be betrayed - not least by himself - and still Bodie came back for more. Very forgiving, was Bodie. And he didn't give up on people. Especially not anyone lucky enough to be called 'friend'.

At least Cowley would never use him - not emotionally, anyway. Bodie was too vulnerable for his own good; tender and tough, there was a wealth of love inside him, and so few people he would open up with, for all his trust. But Cowley understood him, and Bodie understood the old man in a way Doyle knew he could never share. Sometimes the pair of them made him feel about five years old and simple-minded to boot. Maybe it was their shared military backgrounds, and the fact they had both commanded men, though that explanation was a bit glib. The why wasn't important. It was just good to know Bodie would have someone he could turn to if anything should happen to him.

As for Cowley, what drew that dry intelligence to Bodie's irreverent warmth? Doyle blinked tiredly and abandoned the muddled train of thought. He couldn't pretend to know what went on inside Cowley's head at the best of times.

Looking up, he found the older man was still watching him, his spectacles swinging between a thumb and forefinger.

"Sir, I - "His expression one of rueful apology, Doyle shrugged. "I lost my train of thought," he explained weakly, before he took a deep breath. "Look, I'm sorry for busting in half-cocked." He waved a vague, all-embracing hand. "I can't remember everything I said. I probably didn't mean most of it." Fishing in his back pocket he found and produced his identity card and placed it on the desk. "If you want - need - it, my resignation still stands."

"I was beginning to think you must have fallen asleep on your feet," remarked Cowley. In truth he had begun to worry about Doyle's motionless stance, uncertain what was going through his mind. He was just relieved that Doyle seemed to have resolved whatever the problem had been for himself.

Uncertain what to do next, Doyle just stood there.

"Och, sit yourself down, lad, and see if you can let me finish one sentence without interruption," begged Cowley, at his most acid. He gave the proffered card a prod of disdain with one finger. "And you can take that back. When I want it, I'll be sure to let you know."

The atmosphere in the room had undergone a marked change.

Smiling faintly, Doyle pocketed the card and obediently sat down. Glancing at Cowley's changed expression, it dawned on him that perhaps Bodie wasn't the only one who had an odd relationship with him. How did he explain his own feelings for the cantankerous old sod?

The fairest way seemed to be to apply the same criteria he'd used for Bodie. Well, his own father was very much alive and kicking and more than enough for him to deal with. The thought of another brother was enough to make him want to shoot himself. Lover?

Doyle barely suppressed a delighted gurgle of amusement, light-headed from the release of tension and fatigue. He might as well give up now and accept he had a soft spot for the old bastard, even if he didn't know why.

"4.5? Are you listening to me?" Cowley asked with a trace of resignation.

Doyle opened his eyes again. "Course, sir," he replied, smiling across the desk with sleepy affection.

The sight so unnerved Cowley that he decided to abandon all thoughts of further conversation until such time as Doyle was likely to be coherent.

"Never mind," he sighed. "It can wait for a day or so. I'll have a word with you later. In the meantime, you'd best get yourself off to hospital. They are expecting you," he added, his urbane manner concealing a faint trace of guilt.

If it hadn't been for an overheard remark from Tim Rice to his partner, he wouldn't have given Doyle's physical well-being a thought. It already rankled that he had spoken to Doyle after the Hodge affair without noticing anything amiss.

Doyle's face lit up. "Oh good. I want to check on how Bodie's - "

"As a patient, Doyle. In case it's escaped your notice you've been bleeding all over my wall. Why you couldn't have arranged this for yourself, I don't know."

"Sorry, sir." Doyle had reached the stage where he would agree to anything if it meant he would get some sleep.

"I doubt it. Are you fit enough to drive yourself in?" Cowley was already certain he knew the answer to that. But he could always take the opportunity to visit Jax and Bodie at the same time, for all that it was late.

Doyle blinked, considering the matter.

Muttering impatiently under his breath, Cowley got to his feet and drew on the remnants of his patience. "Forget I asked. Come on, laddie. Let's get rid of you so I can get on with some work."


"Master William! Master William!"

Bodie was sure it must be his fevered imagination. Bertha couldn't possibly want him now. Intending to ignore the call echoing up the stairs so they could slip into Doyle's room, where he could see his companion already stripped to his shirt and breeches, he gave a guilty start when a relieved voice said,

"There 'ee be. I've been callin' and callin'. Best come quick. One of the mares is in labour an' in a rare old state."

Stopped in his tracks, Bodie's expression lengthened when Doyle froze with his shirt half-off, then shrugged back into it with a resigned sigh, mouthing for him to 'Go on'.

Pulling a wry face because he knew he had no real choice, Bodie leant over the banister. "Can't John Joe deal with it?"

"He's gone to town fer the evening," she called up to him. "An' Jess be that mazed he don't know whether he be comin' or goin'. The mare's right poorly by all accounts."

"Very well," sighed Bodie. "Tell Jess I'll be there directly. And have one of the lads set out after John Joe, for if matters are that bad I'll need his expertise."

"I'll be sendin' Jess hisself then, for the lad's good for nothing else," she sniffed, having no time for the unfortunate stable lad. She disappeared back in the direction of the kitchen.

A dejected slump to his shoulders, Bodie remained where he was for a moment, woefully considering his lot in life. The last thing he'd been anticipating was a prolonged stay in a draughty stable. He started at the light touch on his arm.

"I suggest you rearrange your clothing before you go down," Doyle whispered in his ear, his own expression a mixture of frustration, exasperation and amusement.

"Ray, I wanted - "

"I know exactly what you wanted," Doyle assured him with feeling as he pulled on a shapeless worsted jacket. "We'll simply have to wait."

Bodie contented himself with giving his partner a look of intense disgust as he descended the stairs, his clothing decorously arranged once more.

"I like it no more than you," Doyle pointed out, suppressed laughter thinly disguised. "For pity's sake take that expression from your face or Bertha will believe you ruined or some similar calamity."

"That's what it feels like," Bodie told him grimly, glancing down at his groin.

Doyle gave it a fleeting pat. "You'll survive," he said hard-heartedly, but his grin was belied by the longing in his eyes.

Bodie tried to maintain a look of hurt. "I'm beginning to wonder if you might not prove to be too philosophical for my own good," he said, but an unwilling grin was twitching at the corners of his mouth.

Ushering Doyle out of the back door in front of him, both of them taking it for granted they would go to the stables together, Bodie slung a casual arm over his lover's shoulders.

By late evening both men were chilled to the bone, but there was an unmistakable air of contentment in the draughty, lantern-lit stable. The foal was safely delivered at last and promised to be a fine young filly; the mare, while exhausted from a difficult labour, was making a good recovery.

Leaning back against a bale of straw, looking half-asleep, Doyle's attention was given to studying his lover's engrossed profile. It wasn't often that he saw Bodie's face so still, the mobile mouth relaxed in a half-smile, the chin blue-jawed and roughened by stubble. His gaze lingered on the endearing line of nose and the ridiculously long-lashed eyes. It was always a pleasure to watch Bodie performing tasks; he possessed a smooth economy of movement that made every action appear effortless and which made it easy to forget the strength and speed he was capable of displaying if the need arose. Doyle felt a sweet yearning, which culminated in an itchy stirring in his groin as he watched the capable hands deftly tend to the mare, remembering those hands on his own body. Longing to feel their caresses, he was resigned to waiting.

Watching his lover, he wondered if it would be possible to capture the essence of Bodie on canvas. Infinitely content, he finally broke the comfortable silence.

"I meant to ask you a while ago, but for some reason it slipped my mind. Why did you feel the need to adopt the name John Brown while you were in France?"

Bodie glanced up in surprise. "I thought you were asleep. The name? There was no need for me to assume a false identity, but early in life I fell into the habit of never using my own name when another would serve me equally well. By the time you and I were on such terms that I would admit the deception we had far more interesting things to discuss. I forgot," he admitted, wondering how the course of their lives might have been changed but for his stupidity. "John Brown or William Bodie, it makes no difference. You accepted me for what I was."

"I don't recall having any option," teased Doyle. "I had not appreciated how little importance you placed on a name - your own in particular. You still won't permit me to address you as William," he added sadly, lowering his gaze to disguise the amusement in his eyes.

Bodie scooped up and threw a soiled rag which Doyle dodged with ease.

"Half-wit," Bodie said in crushing rebuke. "A name isn't important. My own least of all. Perhaps because it was the one thing which my father had no choice but to give me, I chose to rid myself of it as soon as I could. Besides, I have - had," he amended, the expression in his eyes softening, "a dislike of being leg-shackled in any way, be it with a name, a possession or a person."

"I'm delighted to hear you confirm that's no longer the case," said Doyle with lazy confidence. He could do nothing to control the wide smile which threatened to split his face in two.

"I fail to see why you should assume I refer solely, or indeed at all, to you," Bodie said unconvincingly. "Look at me, with not only you but all this too." He waved a mocking hand around the stables. "I concede I was glad enough to take refuge here to recover from the rackety mode of life I had begun to lead. As time passed, I realised I had somehow accumulated more possessions than I knew how to keep repaired."

Doyle chuckled at the wry look on his companion's face.

"You may laugh now," said Bodie darkly, "but we'll have you in debtor's gaol yet, while the house continues to fall down around our ears. Easy, my beauty," he breathed to the mare. Gentling her with his voice and his hands, he ensured she had not lost her cover; the air was chill and she had been sweating heavily.

"It's gratifying to know I have my uses," Doyle murmured, Bodie's flippant remarks confirming that he was prepared to take as well as to give, and that he accepted the notion of sharing everything.

Turning back to him, Bodie's face was alight with happiness. "Oh, you have," he assured him unnecessarily. "You should take yourself off to bed. There's little enough you can do here, and no reason why both of us should be chilled to the bone."

Doyle waved a hand in dismissal. "I'm comfortable enough where I am."

"Then you're easy to please." Bodie cast a disparaging glance around the stables.

"I'm watching you," Doyle told him simply. With amused tenderness he saw the colour run up under his lover's pale skin. Taking pity on his sometimes easy-to-disconcert companion, he added inconsequentially, "But you're a fine sight for one who was boasting being a man of property. Those breeches have worn so thin they're barely decent."

"Then I'm wearing them in the right company." Caught by the urgency of his physical need, Bodie continued to stare at Doyle, who lay sprawled at his ease in the straw. Leaning back on one arm, the other was propped over a bent knee; his face in the half-light was that of a dissolute cherub. The glow from the lantern highlighted a muscled flank and thigh and the soft swelling at his groin. The half-open shirt gave a tantalising glimpse of warm, brown flesh, the thrust of a puckered nipple inviting the attentions of a loving tongue.

Meeting the intensity of Bodie's gaze, Doyle gave a rueful chuckle. "There's little point in your looking at me like a starving hound watching a bone. You won't be finished here for an hour or more. It's your own fault," he added with a hint of asperity. "Who else would send his stableman to bed and sit up over a sick mare himself?"

"John Joe is getting on in years," Bodie defended.

"And you are you. I would have it no other way. Well, not many changes," Doyle amended when Bodie cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at him.

About to reply at greater length, Bodie was distracted by the mare's sound of distress. As she shuddered, her silken flanks rippling, the moment was lost as he gave all his attention to her needs.

"Here, take this," offered Doyle, his voice low and quiet as he re-entered the stables. Standing above his lover, he held out one of the tankards of mulled wine he had gone to prepare.

Bodie took it with a nod of gratitude. Curling his hands around the warmed pewter, he took a deep, anticipatory sniff.

Glancing around, Doyle saw that the soiled straw and aftermath of birth had been disposed of. "I told you I would attend to that on my return," he scolded. Shrugging out of his jacket, he sank onto the straw next to his partner.

"The activity helped keep me awake," Bodie explained, casting his free arm around his lover, his hand slipping inside the rumpled shirt.

Doyle flinched. "Bodie..." he protested, but he wriggled closer.

"The water," Bodie pointed out, "is cold. And I had this curious notion you wouldn't appreciate my arm covered in - "

"You were correct." Placing his jacket around Bodie, Doyle ignored the clucking sounds his companion made. "You feel chilled to the bone. Come closer. I'm warm enough for the pair of us."

After a token look of outrage, Bodie took up the suggestion with a sighed, "If you insist."

"So innocent. I don't recall giving your left hand licence to rove. Concentrate on drinking your wine before it gets cold," Doyle told him with what firmness he could muster in the circumstances. His own hand slid to cover the fingers which had been exploring his inner thigh in a friendly fashion.

Able to see the reaction his touch was producing, Bodie desisted with reluctance. "Perhaps you are right," he conceded.

"I know I am," said Doyle, his voice tart with the wanting. "Come, drink your mulled wine before it cools. We have all the time in the world, and I'm in the mood to linger over our loving tonight."

Bodie drank up without demur.

Sipping his own wine, Doyle decided it was time to change the subject. He was in no mind to spend the next hour with his balls tied in knots just because of the silent pleading in those wistful blue eyes.

"On falling over the dog on my way out, it occurred to me that he is a prime example of your disregard for names. Couldn't you have contrived something more original than 'Dog'?"

Nose wreathed in the fragrant steam rising from his tankard, Bodie looked up, his expression sombre. "That stems from some foolish superstition of mine. He was only a pup when I arrived here and I had no intention of doing anything but selling the place as soon as I could find anyone crazed enough to buy it. I had to call him something after he took to following me about the place."

"Yes, I can see that for someone who had no wish to be leg-shackled a dog that size could be considered something of an embarrassment," Doyle agreed. "But why so wary of giving him a name?" he asked more gently.

Embarrassed by his own sentimentality, Bodie shrugged, although he knew Doyle would understand. "As I child I was given a pup - Elsa. Childlike, I gave her my heart. My father ordered her drowned," he added expressionlessly. "Thereafter, I vowed not to be so free with my affections. I had no reason to reverse that decision until a certain individual threw himself at my feet in a prison cell. Not content with that, he then contrived to be washed up on my very doorstep." He was smiling now, relaxed against his lover's warmth.

The surge of hatred which swept through Doyle for those who had so wounded his lover that twenty-five years later Bodie still hesitated to name a pup, shocked him with its intensity. But he was still learning of the depth of emotion Bodie could inspire in him and so remained silent. His arm tightened around the other man in a comforting embrace.

"I have this curious notion that you'll be insisting I did that very thing for years to come," he murmured, brushing the heel of his hand across a bristled jaw. "And to make matters worse, I doubt that I shall make much effort to defend myself."

Hearing the wealth of love behind the casual tone, Bodie gave a stubble-darkened cheek a brief kiss, still finding it difficult to credit his good fortune. "Are you certain there's enough here to content you?" he asked with untypical diffidence. A moment later he was caught in a fierce embrace, wine spilling down his shirt-front with the impetuosity of Doyle's move.

"I'm certain," Doyle told him flatly. He cupped Bodie's face between his palms. "Now I know you must be fatigued. My home is wherever you are, be it Shambolt's Cove, London or St. Petersburg. You great dolt. I love you. Without you... Who can make me laugh as you do?" he demanded, knowing only that with Bodie he felt complete.

Bodie drew him into a fierce embrace, his kiss deep and urgent.

"I wasn't questioning your feelings for me," he explained, when finally they drew apart, shaking with desire. "Dear God, but I want you."

Their faces scant inches apart, Doyle's smile had a devastating effect. "Then let us repair to the house," he said, casting a cursory glance at the mare nuzzling her suckling foal. "We're no longer needed here and I - "

"Yes, I believe we should. You must be fagged to death, riding about the countryside as you have been."

"You're incorrigible," Doyle told him, placing a gentle finger to the mouth curving in a wicked grin. "If I had the resolve I should be delighted to pretend that was the case, if only to see your expression."

"But my charm overwhelmed you?" Bodie suggested, ever modest.

"Is that what you call it?"

"Get your jacket and we can be gone," Bodie told him, giving him a light, encouraging swat in the right direction. "There's no time to waste."

His attention elsewhere, it took Doyle only a moment to swoop down and scoop up his jacket. Gathering it to him, he gave a yell of pure revulsion when the young rat who had been investigating the contents of a capacious pocket suddenly appeared. His face stark and pinched with terror, Doyle froze. There was a flash of grey-brown fur as the rat streaked up his shirt-clad arm, disappearing over his shoulder to launch itself into the shadows on the other side of the light.


Bodie gave a sympathetic grimace, shaken himself by its sudden appearance, before he realised Doyle had not moved and that small tremors were running down his body.

"It's gone," he reassured him, picking up the fallen jacket and shaking it out. "That was enough to make me lose what few wits I have remaining. The stables are riddled with the damn things. Ray?"

Rigid with horror, his skin alive to every small touch of claw and fur, Doyle couldn't speak. His face colourless and damp with the cold sweat of absolute revulsion, he blindly reached out, seeking Bodie.

That wordless appeal was enough.

Without pausing to turn down the lamp, Bodie swept the helpless figure against him and hurried them both out of the stables, taking them first into the warmth and light of the house and then up into his bedchamber. Still half-supported, Doyle moved woodenly, his fingers clenched around Bodie's. It was only with difficulty that Bodie freed his hand. Standing them in front of the fire, he began to undress Doyle, then himself, before he took them both to bed. Throughout he maintained a soft stream of murmured reassurance and endearments, not sure if Ray could even hear him. There was a distant look to him, as if he was in another time and place.

Once in bed, he drew Doyle over his own body, wrapping himself around the other man's fear-chilled flesh. He stroked and soothed, continuing the murmured reassurances until that terrible tension eased, the muscles in Doyle's back unlocking under his touch.

"Dear Christ, I thought I'd forgotten that." Burying his face in the hollow of Bodie's throat, Doyle said fiercely, "Make me forget." His own hands moved to some purpose.

Bodie stilled. He knew it to be within his powers to make Doyle forget everything but the needs of his flesh, to leave him incoherent and writhing with desire. That, delicious as it might be, would solve nothing.

"Tell me what's wrong," he coaxed softly. "It helps to share the bad as well as the good. Just tell me," he repeated, his hand brushing back the sweat-dampened hair.

"There's nothing to tell," said Doyle in harsh denial. "I simply - I'm terrified of rats and there's an end to it."

"I could see that much for myself. Few people care for them, I don't myself, but your level of revulsion... There must be some reason behind it. Why won't you confide in me, Ray? Is it because you believe I won't be able to understand?" Bodie added with a well-judged trace of sadness.

Doyle stirred then. Leaning up on one elbow, he stared at Bodie, concern in his eyes as he searched his lover's face. "Don't be ridiculous," he said in more of his usual tone. "I may be reduced to a quivering jelly by the sight of a rat, but I'm not utterly - " Stopping, he gave a wry grin of recognition as Bodie just looked at him.

His expression softening, Doyle kissed the tip of his lover's nose. "You did that very well. For a moment I believed - Thank you. I was wallowing in self-pity, wasn't I?"

Bodie gave him a swift kiss. "Only a little," he assured Doyle, fighting his urge to hug the other man to him. But this was a problem best solved by Ray himself.

"A little too much," said Doyle, disgusted with his own behaviour.

"Oh, be done with castigating yourself." Cupping the independent, often wilful face between his hands, Bodie held his lover's gaze. "But you should talk about a memory that can produce so powerful an effect on you. Tell me." This time it was a virtual order.

Doyle looked away. "It's an ugly tale."

"Tell me," Bodie repeated quietly.

Sliding onto his side, one arm curved over Bodie's chest, Doyle began to trace an inconsequential pattern on the arm and shoulder nearest to him, concentrating on the movement of his drifting finger. "Some six or seven years ago I was seeking an informant out in Cheapside. When I got to our usual meeting place, a cellar, I could not see Anstey. The steps leading down into it were steep and, as I discovered when one gave way under me, rotten. In the fall I broke my leg and was to all intents and purposes immobilised."

Bodie's face tightened, able to guess what lay behind Doyle's terror now.

"I was trapped down there for three days with Anstey's corpse. I had a fever but I dared not sleep. I knew if I slept they would turn on me. They were already feeding from Anstey. I couldn't prevent it. The nights were the worst. Hearing them. Seeing their eyes in the dark. Once I recovered consciousness to feel them on me and - Jesus." Damp with the chill of fear, Doyle shuddered.

"And then help came and you were rescued." Bodie ached to say more but knew that Ray must come to terms with his fear for himself.

Bodie's voice was blessedly normal; making no judgements, he accepted what the reality must have been like. His very matter-of-factness returned Doyle to the present.

"And then help came," he confirmed, taking Bodie's hand in his own and linking their fingers. "I recovered quickly enough, and my leg healed but - I cannot bear rats at any price. It was feeling one upon me again that made me remember."


"My reaction was out of all proportion." Doyle smoothed the back of Bodie's hand up and down his own body.

"Not in the circumstances you described. In fact it was remarkably restrained. I should be a gibbering wreck. I'll take steps to get the stables cleared of them."

Bodie found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. He was over-conscious of the soft chest hair tickling the back of his hand, the tingling awareness of a taut nipple travelling up his entire arm to centre in his groin.

Seeing Bodie's distant expression, Doyle gave a faint grin. "There's no need to do so on my account. You were right, as usual. I won't swoon on you next time a rat appears, even if I do beat a somewhat hasty retreat," he added, able now to venture a mild joke on the topic. "I wasn't expecting such an encounter." He idly trailed Bodie's hand across his belly, his own muscles twitching in response.

"Your mind was on other matters entirely," conceded Bodie, trying to free his hand so he could make his own explorations.

His flesh lifting to meet Bodie's touch, Doyle made a contented sound deep in his throat, before he stopped. "Earlier. I wanted to use you to bury my fear."

"I know."

Doyle gave him a stern look. "Don't ever permit me to do that to you. Not ever," he added fiercely. "For if you allow me to manipulate you, I shall do so shamelessly."

Bodie placed a gentle hand over his mouth. "Have done with your fretting. I'll permit you to do just as you will - while it suits my purpose," he added after a suitable pause had elapsed.

Flummoxed, Doyle stared at him for a moment before he dissolved into laughter. Hugging Bodie to him, he smothered him with kisses, delighted by the reappearance of the arrogance which had once so irritated him.

"You are incorrigible," he said, when they finally stopped kissing.

"Completely," Bodie confirmed.

"I wish I could bring myself to believe you were joking."

"Only partly," Bodie admitted. "I know you, and I know my own nature. But that's just one of the matters we have to resolve."

Doyle gave him a thoughtful look. One of the things which had begun to worry him since they had accepted that they would make their lives together was Bodie's growing reluctance to impose even a flash of temper on him - almost as if he was afraid their relationship could not stand up to such a minor test. As one who was naturally prone to moodiness, such restraint sometimes seemed almost more than human to Doyle. He knew the inauspicious start to their relationship was partly to blame. Then, their sexual tension and doubts as to what they really wanted had culminated in open, though mercifully short-lived violence. But since then...

It wasn't only Bodie who was being so wary, he realised. They'd both been inordinately careful of each other, even in their love-making. Doyle knew his own responses to have been leashed because he was hesitant to make demands of Bodie that he might be unwilling to meet, afraid of discovering the limits, if any, of their sensuality. Now, watching Bodie's face with its veiled eyes, he was willing to swear that Bodie had been monitoring his own responses in the same way, for exactly the same reasons. Perhaps when they had demonstrated that physical reticence was unnecessary their partnership could be more open in every respect.

Rolling onto his side, Doyle gave his lover a speculative look from desire-clouded eyes. "So you'll permit me to do just as I want, while it suits you, will you?" he mused without rancour.

A jolt of desire shook Bodie as he recognised the invitation in the passion-roughened voice. Wordless, he nodded, every inch of him aware of the body beside him even though they weren't touching.

"Then make love to me, Bodie."

A moment later Bodie found himself locked in a bruising embrace that trapped their sensitised flesh together but did not permit any movement. Doyle's weight effectively pinned him to the mattress, which was too unstable to permit him to move with any degree of certainty. His genitals gone from tense awareness to aching arousal, Bodie made a soft sound of frustration.

"Wait, only wait. Not like this. Not tonight. Tonight I want you to take me. I want to feel you deep inside me." While there was a catch in Doyle's voice it sounded almost cool in contrast to the heat in his eyes. "All that hard, hungry power of you. In me. Fucking me."

When he moved it was to roll onto his back. He gathered Bodie to him, locking strong thighs around his lover's muscular waist as he guided Bodie to where he wanted him most.

Poised, the snub head of his cock nudging the entrance to Doyle's body, Bodie shuddered to a halt. He wanted this so very much but equally he wanted no passive partner, and from this position it would be difficult for Ray to respond as freely as he might wish. The tension he felt in the corded thigh muscles decided him.

"Yes, but not like this," he said on his second attempt at speech, his tongue seemingly glued to the roof of his mouth. "You'll get cramp," he explained when he received a look of incredulity.

It was then that Bodie discovered his hands were shaking.

"I hope that's from passion," said Doyle, tart because the ache in his loins was ruling him. But he released his lover, a trace of amusement mingling with desire as he privately admitted his willingness to hang by his heels from the rafters if that was what Bodie asked of him.

He leant up on one elbow to watch with unabashed appreciation as Bodie left the bed on unsteady legs to pad across the room; he returned with a small pot of Bertha's salve.

Half-on, half-off the bed, Bodie smiled ruefully down at him. Then, for no good reason except the joy of it they both began to laugh, becoming tangled in sweeping embraces and bed-linen. Fumbling in their urgency, they applied the sweet-smelling ointment to their hands and each other; the heat of their flesh dispersed it quickly, leaving them fragrant but slippery.

Nuzzling Bodie's testicles a final time, his tongue slipping around the tautly-drawn flesh, Doyle rolled onto his belly then rose up on his hands and knees.

"Now, Bodie. Please."

Kneeling, head down, his thighs spread wide and his hands twisted in the sheets, Doyle gave a low moan as first one then a second finger eased into his body and began to move in a slow, inexorable rhythm. The sounds he made grew, swelling with pleasure as he thrust back to meet the touch, the breath rasping in his throat.


Neither man knew who had cried out.

A hand slipped beneath Doyle to cup and gently squeeze his balls before encircling his cock, the thumb rubbing across the weeping tip. Doyle's breath caught as a sleek, smooth bulk nudged against his newly sensitised flesh, entered him with ease, then paused before thrusting forward and pausing again.

It felt - Doyle gave a growl of frustration, arching up and back as he cried out at the incredible sensation of Bodie within him.

"Come on, damn you," he ordered, moving because Bodie would not. "More. Harder."

"Patience," Bodie whispered hoarsely, his face tight with ecstasy. "Just... be... patient."

A hand reached back to find him as Doyle wriggled again, mouthing obscenities and soft pleas.

Then all that hot, tight need was more than Bodie could bear.

Doyle gave a shuddering moan of pure pleasure as Bodie moved strongly, the velvet strength of him withdrawing almost completely before filling him again and again and again.

Bodie's hand still trapped beneath his body, sticky with his own seed, Doyle eventually stirred weakly under the weight that was pressing him into the mattress, only now appreciating they had both survived the annihilating climax. Reaching behind him, he found sweat-slick skin and stroked a muscled flank.


There was a soft groan, then cooler air as Bodie rolled to lie beside him, still quivering from the force which had ripped through them - him - he was no longer sure.

Doyle wriggled until he was in a position to take the other man in his arms; Bodie just found the strength to return the embrace.

"Well..." Still lost to the incredible sensations they had created and shared, Doyle lost the thread of what he had been about to say and began to chuckle instead.

"Mmn?" Smiling fatuously to himself, Bodie opened one eye.

"I believe it's safe to assume that we have established I don't break," Doyle announced, trying to sound matter-of-fact and succeeding only in sounding smug. His guts turned to water at the love in Bodie's eyes. Taking the relaxed hand resting on his chest in his own, he licked the sticky fingers clean before kissing each tip; his tongue slid across the palm, making the fingers curl in instinctive response.

"Tastes good," Doyle remarked, linking his fingers with Bodie's again.

"You do," Bodie told him lovingly, "everywhere." Making a soft, incoherent sound, he drew Doyle to him and kissed his face, his neck and his face again, testing his taste and his scent and the glorious feel of him.

"We established something else just now," Bodie informed him, his voice roughened. "It was passion."

Doyle gave a helpless gurgle of amusement. "I had contrived to work that out for myself. What was?" he added in vague afterthought.

"Passion that caused my hands to shake," Bodie explained.

He found to energy to move so he could reach a rose-brown nipple. Licking it with a thoughtful pleasure, enjoying the brush of hair against his cheek, he rubbed his chin across the high rib-cage. He gave a muffled yelp when he received a sharp pinch before the small hurt was massaged away, Doyle's slowly circling palm caressing his entire buttock. Bodie peered with more hope than expectation into his lover's pleasured, heavy-lidded face.

Doyle read his expression with ease.

"Oh no," he said, laughing. "I shall have to wait, and so will you. For what I could contrive now... After that?" he added incredulously. His body was still singing where it sprawled heavy and sated against Bodie's. "Besides, I had that hard ride earlier, remember?"

Bodie's blinding smile turned to a lecherous grin as he glanced at their entwined bodies. They were both marked with each other's hands and teeth; the blood coursed through him at the memory of the passion they had unleashed, uninhibited responses merging, the sweet savagery offered and embraced wholeheartedly.

"I believe my ride was the harder," he said, barely stifling a huge yawn. Tucking his head under Doyle's chin, his arm pinned the other man in place.

Doyle was still chuckling faintly when he realised Bodie had fallen asleep in his arms. Lightly kissing the top of the cropped head, he just managed to reach the covers and draw them up, taking care to tuck them around his lover. Bodie stirred with a half-sound. Doyle quietly soothed him back to sleep, his fingers laced in the dark, damp curls at the nape of Bodie's neck.

The bed was sticky, rumpled and uncomfortable, the air seeming chill to his passion-warmed skin. Otherwise completely content, Doyle realised he had never cared for this bed. The mattress had a tendency towards the unpredictable and was lumpy besides, and the drapes around the heavy, imposing frame were musty and half-rotten. Perhaps Bodie would... Glancing at the half-averted profile, defenceless in sleep, he grinned. He couldn't imagine Bodie being prepared to sleep permanently in his chamber with the smell of turpentine. It caused him to sneeze too often and inopportunely.

So, a new bed then.

Somehow he could not foresee Bodie permitting him to renovate his bedroom, whatever other work was carried on in the house. But there must be some solution. Doyle stared thoughtfully at the heavy posts which supported the canopy above them, a devious smile forming.

Woodworm could strike in the most unexpected places. And with a little judicious sawing where that post curved inwards...

Tomorrow, he thought sleepily, he would find himself a saw.


"George, it simply won't do," expostulated Doctor Kenyon severely, blocking Cowley's retreat with his comfortable bulk.

"Good morning, Laurence," acknowledged Cowley with resignation. "What won't?" he added with a brisk curiosity.

"You've been driving your people too hard. That's the third one I've had in here in as many days - and all of them suffering from exhaustion. Is it an epidemic? Jax has got his plaster on now so he can leave today, but he needs time off, not just time away from the firing line. And as for Bodie and Doyle..."

Cowley interrupted what threatened to be a lengthy monologue. "I've just come to tell them they can have two weeks off, beginning today," he lied smoothly, having learnt how to negotiate with the other man over the years.

Kenyon shook his head and smiled his disbelief. "Oh, no, not this time. That wound in Doyle's back took fifteen stitches and he's got two cracked ribs besides. Bodie can't walk more than six paces without turning grey and he'll need physiotherapy on that shoulder for some time. So neither of them are going to be any use to you. Two weeks' sick-leave for the pair of them, followed by a month's leave. And I'm not including this week in that calculation." He smiled when he was the recipient of an intimidating glare.

"Three weeks?"

"I'm not negotiating on this one, George. Why all the fuss? I thought things had quietened down in the last week or so? They'll be more of a liability on duty if you try to use them."

"They're in that bad a shape?" Cowley said, genuinely surprised.

"Bad enough. Their reaction times are down by almost a third. Quite," Kenyon said dryly, when he saw Cowley's expression. "They aren't the only ones. Collins should never have had that accident. And as for Stuart... If you don't do something about him soon I trust you're ready to answer for the consequences."

Aware that he now had Cowley's complete attention, Kenyon steered him down the corridor towards his office. "Let the youngsters take over for a while. You have to throw them into the deep end sometime, and it isn't as if you're totally without experienced backup. The responsibility will do them good at this stage. You can't keep putting it off."

There were few people Cowley allowed to speak to him in such a manner; even fewer whose advice he took seriously. Kenyon was one of those few. He considered what he had been told, then nodded.

"Maybe you're right. This last year has dented my nerve. Ten men lost." He roused himself with a perceptible effort. "Don't worry yourself about Stuart. I'll see him. You're right, of course. Damn you."

"I don't envy you your meeting with Stuart. He's a spiky bastard to deal with at the best of times," Kenyon told him frankly.

Cowley gave an unsympathetic laugh. "Not all my operatives think doctors are wonderful," he agreed, knowing that Bodie, for one, would be less than happy in his present surroundings.

Kenyon led the way into his office and automatically poured out two cups of coffee, passing one to his companion. "I accept that, George, but it would be a pleasant change if I came across just one who appreciated our efforts," he said wistfully.

"You're getting soft, Laurence. 11.8's due for a physical next week. Does that console you at all?" offered Cowley, betraying the fact he had taken the trouble to check the files of each of his agents since he had seen the doctor on Sunday night.

Kenyon's eyes lit up with a most unprofessional gleam as he remembered the shapely and charming agent in question. "Send her in today and I'll even volunteer to tell Bodie he's got to stay here until the end of the week myself," he promised rashly.

"It's a deal," said Cowley with regrettable promptness. "Well, I must be away. I'll look in again on Wednesday to see how he's taken the news."

"Good morning, Doyle," said Cowley as he strolled into the private room.

Busy with a mouthful of cornflakes, Doyle grinned and lifted his spoon in welcome as he crunched valiantly. "Morning, sir," he managed. His eyes lit up with anticipation when he saw the bag Cowley was carrying. "Grapes, Mayfair, scotch, or all three?" he asked hopefully.

"Socks, sneakers and a sweatshirt courtesy of Kirsty," replied Cowley, placing the bag at the side of the bed. "Though no doubt you'll find something to interest you in the bottom."

His cornflakes disposed of, Doyle swung the table free of the bed and rolled his eyes in mock dismay. "So I should hope. We'll need something to keep our strength up. It's hell in here," he added pathetically.

"You've heard they're keeping you in until the end of the week then?"

Doyle gave a dispirited nod. "With no time off for good behaviour either."

Cowley sank onto a chair at the side of the bed and cast a meaning glance at the clock. "Isn't it late for breakfast?"

"Elevenses," defended Doyle. "Besides, I slept through breakfast. I'm getting them trained not to wake up me just to ask if I'm asleep," he added with satisfaction. "I heard about the sick-leave. It's ridiculous. I don't need all that time." With only a hazy recall of what he'd said to Cowley on Saturday night, he gave the older man a look compounded of unease and guilt. "My suspension?"

"Never took effect. Well, you'd hardly be in this wing, where you're allowed to play havoc with the nursing schedule, if you weren't still on the squad, would you?" Cowley reminded him affably.

He knew Kenyon's assessment of Doyle must be correct when he read, with ease, the younger man's relief.

"How are you feeling now?" he asked gruffly.

From the expression in Cowley's eyes, Doyle knew better than to make a joke of his answer. "Lousy," he said honestly. "It would be better if I could stop falling asleep."

"Well, you must need it. Where's Bodie?" added Cowley, glancing at the other bed.

"The lady in white took him away to have her wicked way with him just before you arrived. Bodie's not very happy. Claims half an hour with her is worse than a set-to with Macklin. After that he's due down in X-ray again. It's all go, you know. Especially now they've given him wheels. A wheelchair," Doyle explained in answer to Cowley's raised eyebrows. "And he doesn't take very kindly to that, either."

Bodie had always hated hospitals, Cowley recalled. It had been his suggestion that the two men share a room, on the basis that Doyle stood more chance of getting Bodie to co-operate fully with his treatment. It also saved the necessity of searching the corridors for the pair of them as they wandered off to check on each other's progress.

"No, I don't suppose he does," Cowley said wryly. "But he'll do exactly as he's told. You too," he added with an admonishing glare.

Doyle took it meekly. "Of course, sir. Don't we always? Rhetorical question," he added with haste when Cowley showed every sign of replying.

"You mentioned Macklin earlier," Cowley reminded him, deciding to come to the point of his visit while Doyle was still awake.

The drooping eyelids re-opened and Doyle gave him a wary look from beneath his lashes. "I think I'd better sit up to hear this," he mumbled, before he tried to straighten. With a brisk sound of impatience Cowley came to the rescue.

"Should you be trying to do that alone?" he asked, concerned.

"Forgot, didn't I?" said Doyle when his protesting ribs had quietened down. "You shouldn't go frightening me like that. I'm not ready for horror stories. What about Macklin?" he demanded, experience having taught him to mistrust that tone in the older man's voice.

"I understand you're likely to be fit enough for light duties by the end of the week, although Bodie, while ambulatory, is unlikely to be well enough to overtax his strength." Cowley paused, checked the time and continued at a slightly faster pace.

"I had hoped to speak to the pair of you, but I must be away by noon. The new training course is due to begin on the sixth of June. I'd like the pair of you to go down there for the first fortnight with a view to giving me your assessment of the course, the staff and the methods they employ. You'll be interested spectators, no more, with full clearance to go everywhere. You won't," he warned, "be doing anything else. Absolutely nothing. Kenyon will have my blood otherwise."

Doyle blinked and tried to cover his surprise. "Well, the course needs bucking up," he said at last. "Some of the kids they've been sending out hardly know what day of the week it is. The physical training side seems all right, as far as it goes. They're all fit enough." His tone was disparaging.

"Then you'll do it?"

"We have a choice?" Doyle's voice was higher than normal. He wished Bodie was here to enjoy the rare sight of Cowley asking anyone to do anything, least of all them. Snapped-out commands was his usual style.

"You're technically on sick-leave," Cowley pointed out with an unusual degree of patience, "and would be within your rights to refuse."

"Oh yeah, I can see that scenario," Doyle agreed dryly before he gave the older man a look of consternation. "Look, sir, if it's about what I said on Saturday..." Before it trailed away his voice had travelled through mockery and apology to irritated exasperation when the penny finally dropped.

"I know you've got used to not letting your right hand know what the hell the left one's doing, but didn't it occur to you to let us know how bad things were? I hadn't stopped to think how many we lost last year. Well, you don't, unless you're of a really morbid turn of mind. But that's why we've been working our bollocks off these last few months, isn't it? And not just us. All the old guard - Jax, Murphy, Stuart..."

His expression grim, Cowley nodded. "That's why. I lost ten men in as many months. That kind of expertise isn't replaced overnight. As for telling you, I'm not in the habit of confiding in my operatives," he reminded Doyle with asperity before his tone softened. "Perhaps I should have done in this instance. Of course, Barnes and Jary didn't exactly help matters by putting themselves out of action for over a month," he added with acid disapproval.

"Be fair, it was hardly their fault," Doyle pointed out, grinning like mad. "I mean, you couldn't expect them to know that Ambassador's kid was going to give them mumps. Besides, they got off lightly. It could have been very nasty, that."

"Why I expected a serious answer from you I'll never know," sighed Cowley, relaxing for the first time.

"Hope springing eternal," Doyle said absently as he peered into the depths of the metal teapot on the table, before he raised it in query. Cowley nodded.

"Here, take this." Doyle handed over a lukewarm cup of tea. "You look like you could use something and this is all I've got. Don't drink too far down, there's still some sugar in the bottom of the cup."

Cowley drank his tea piping hot and without sugar, but he accepted the peace-offering in the spirit in which it had been made. He winced as he absent-mindedly stirred it, then had to drink the over-sweet brew.

"For almost two months the only experienced agents left on their feet were those who work to best advantage solo - with the exception of yourself," Cowley added.

"And Bodie," Doyle reminded him as he munched a previously discarded toast crust with evident enjoyment.

"Only when partnered with you," Cowley said, recalling his unsuccessful attempts to pair Bodie with anyone else when it had become necessary to split his most successful team.

"That's true," Doyle conceded fairly. "He's a bit set in his ways. He'd eat some of the cretins you lumbered me with for breakfast."

"He isn't the only one if I'm to believe some of the tales of woe I've been hearing." Cowley's voice was dry with displeasure. When Doyle looked up with dawning comprehension, he gave a faint smile. "I had three very unhappy young agents by the time you finished with them. Connors holds you in some - "

"I did ride him and Tim hard," Doyle admitted. "My patience had worn a bit thin by that time. Those two are shaping up nicely. They're ready to come onto full strength. OK, so now I understand why you did what you did. But it's got to slow down, sir. We can't keep up that pace."

"Aye. I should have realised that sooner," Cowley admitted, disconcerting the younger man into choking on a toast crumb. "You and Bodie are good enough for me to take your services for granted. And not just you two. The situation's in the process of being rectified. I'll be bringing a number of the more junior members of the squad onto full operational strength in the next few days."

Cowley gestured to the bag he had brought with him. "I want your assessment of Rice and Connors, together with reports on Gregson, Peters and Rabinowitz. You'll find copies of everything you'll need in there, together with a tape deck. Well, I can't have you in here twiddling your thumbs with nothing to do, can I?" he pointed out when Doyle gave him a look of disgust.

"Your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired, you know that? All right," he sighed. "You're planning to bring them on strength then?"

"Amongst others. If your assessment concurs with others being made. You've worked with all of them for varying periods of time."

"There'd better be a bloody bottle of scotch in this somewhere."

"There will be," Cowley assured him. "Just as soon as Doctor Kenyon says you can have it."

Settling against the pillows with care for his sore back, Doyle saw how tired the older man was looking. If Cowley had driven his people hard, he had driven himself harder. Maybe CI5 was his life, and he certainly seemed to have few outside interests beyond the odd game of golf, but he looked as if he could use a holiday himself. It would be easier to tell him to have his leg off.

With a hazy memory of himself lecturing Cowley, Doyle winced. He'd been over-emotional, unprofessional and a pain in the bloody arse. All in all he'd made a right prat of himself. Guilt prompted him into speech. Looking self-conscious, he met the older man's eyes.

"Listen, that leave I was bitching about. A couple of weeks in the country watching everyone else work themselves into the ground will be as good as a holiday. Why not give Hodgkinson back to me while Bodie's on leave and I'll see if I can't do something with him this time," Doyle offered with true heroism.

Cowley was hard-pressed to hide his amusement; in the end he abandoned the attempt. While Doyle had a sharp tongue, his losses of temper were short, if spectacular, and his innate sense of fair play usually led him to make amends if he knew it had been unjustified. But this was an unprecedented level of repentance.

"I appreciate the sacrifice, Doyle, but it won't be necessary. Hodgkinson has left CI5."

Doyle pulled a relieved face. "You've just saved a few lives there." His flippant manner did not disguise an underlying truth. "I never dared tell Bodie that cretin had been in the Paras."

"I'd been wondering about that myself," Cowley confessed, unbending a little. "Well, he's gone. I might be short-staffed but I see no reason to lower the existing high standard that has been set. Besides, I have three new teams ready for the full-scale operations."

He replaced the cup on the table. "A car will take you and Bodie down to the centre on Monday morning. I'll see you both the following Friday to hear your reports. Incidentally, the medical staff have been fully briefed and provision made for Bodie to continue his treatment. You'll have your own medical on Friday morning. Thereafter you're both scheduled for four weeks leave."

"Four - " It was rare to see Doyle at a loss for words. "I knew it," he said with conviction, when he had got his breath back, "you've finally cracked."

"Your faith in me is touching. Nevertheless, a month's leave." Cowley got to his feet. "Take it, lad. The pair of you have earned it." He brushed a hand back over his hair, checked his watch to make sure he wasn't running late, and added with seeming inconsequence, "Incidentally, the Squad recently underwent another security check. You and Bodie are both in the clear."

"That's nice," said Doyle, before his eyes narrowed in puzzlement. "How the hell can we be in the clear? We're queer."

Standing by his chair, Cowley studied the younger man with more than a trace of amusement. "Are you trying to tell me you're a homosexual?"

Under the impression he had already let that particular cat out of the bag, Doyle wondered just how specific he had to be. "Eh?" he said, to win himself more time.

"You heard me. Or are you simply being wilfully obtuse?"

Doyle's face was lit by a brief, vivid grin. "By way of a change, no, sir, I'm not. Look, I'm not being difficult but - Oh, what the hell. Bodie and I - I love him, I sleep with him and I live with him, when I get the chance," he added in a disrespectful aside, afraid he might otherwise become too emotional. "And I intend to keep on doing all of them until he tells me he's had enough."

Cowley nodded, waiting for him to get to the point.

Sighing, Doyle continued, "That means I'm sharing a permanent, committed, sexual relationship with a man. If that doesn't make me queer, what do I have to do to qualify?"

Cowley gave a faint sigh of his own. "Sometimes I wonder about you. You have a brain, try to use it. Have you ever slept with another man?"

Deciding not to take offence at the question, Doyle chuckled instead. "Any number." He took the time to enjoy Cowley's start of surprise. "Murph, Stuart, Wilson, you, come to that. Then there was - "

Cowley's glare had reached intimidating proportions. Sobering, Doyle shook his head. "No, sir, I haven't."

"One day, Doyle," Cowley promised him. "Bodie aside, have you ever felt a sexual attraction for other member of your own sex - to the degree where you would act upon it?"

"Not a flicker," said Doyle casually. "I dunno if that's normal, but I was too hooked on the ladies to give blokes a thought. I had offers, of course. Almost inevitable that."

Cowley nodded. "And women? Since your relationship with Bodie began. Are there any you might not wish him to know about?"

The faint hint of distaste told Doyle Cowley was enjoying this conversation no more than he was. Though to give credit where it was due, Cowley had never pried into his agents' private lives, except where they might adversely affect CI5.

"None so far," he said as lightly as he could. "Bodie's all I want." Hearing what he had said, he looked away uneasily. This wasn't the sort of conversation he had ever expected to have with George Cowley. There again, better him than Bodie. And if it got Intelligence off their backs...

"I'd managed to grasp that simple detail," Cowley told him dryly. But his face softened as he watched the range of expressions which had played across Doyle's face. "From what you've said, I think we can assume that your taste is heterosexual, with one notable exception. An important detail only in so far as Intelligence are concerned because they seem to have grasped the fact that the relationship you and Bodie formed last August is a committed and stable one. They also know that I have been aware of it from the beginning."

"I thought you must have been," Doyle murmured. "But it isn't the sort of thing you throw into a Monday morning conversation. We meant to tell you."

"Sometime. Aye, I can imagine. It's been accepted that you two are less likely to pose a security risk than some of my other operatives."

"Intelligence won't have liked it though," Doyle hazarded, beginning to relax. If this conversation was necessary, and he knew it was, he would rather have it with Cowley.

"They aren't required to approve," Cowley told him in his most repressive tones, "merely to accept the facts and my recommendation. I've just received formal notification that you and Bodie have been cleared. This isn't the first time the non-fraternisation rule has been set aside, you know," he added, in case they should have the audacity to believe his efforts had been solely for their benefit.

"It isn't?" Fascinated, Doyle began to speculate wildly, ignoring the more conventional pairings which he knew of. "Not Murph and Stuart?" he said irrepressibly, offering the most unlikely combination, after Bodie and himself, that he could think of.

Cowley's lips twitched but he gave Doyle a quelling glare when it occurred to him that no conceivable pairing could be ruled out. If Bodie and Doyle had finally settled down - as a pair - nothing was impossible. He'd been forced to waste an inordinate amount of time over their case; should a similar situation arise... Well, he had all the arguments marshalled now. But it would be a relief to let the matter rest; he had never shared the prurient interest in his agents' sex lives that was displayed by those responsible for vetting all the various branches of the Intelligence services.

"You know better than to expect an answer to that," he said, rousing from his abstraction to fix the other man with a cold eye. "I must go or I'll be late. I'll see the pair of you on Friday the twenty-fourth."

"Fine. Uh, thanks, sir." Doyle could imagine the amount of in-fighting Cowley must have had to do to keep Bodie and him on the squad. Whatever the old man's motives, the fact remained that he had done it, and had then taken the trouble to let them know they were in the clear.

Recognising that denial would be pointless, Cowley paused in the doorway. "I should think so," he said severely. "My entertainments bill has reached an extortionate level, thanks to you two. I'll be looking to the pair of you to reimburse some of it."

Doyle's offer of, "A penny a week," floated down the corridor behind him.

"You're looking remarkably pleased with yourself," said a familiar voice suspiciously.

Doyle stirred awake to find Bodie sitting on the edge of his bed. "Wha- ?"

"Smirking in your sleep. Disgusting, it was."

Stretching with caution, Doyle gave a sleepy, lascivious chuckle. "What do you expect? I was thinking about you." He looked at Bodie properly for the first time in glorious and swollen technicolour. "You're looking - God, you look horrible. That face is enough to give anyone nightmares." But his outstretched hand hovered, hesitant about touching the damaged areas.

"You should be so lucky. I'm fussy about the nightmares I star in. But for you..." Bodie leant down, mindful of his bruises and the bandaged torso beneath him.

"No. Listen, get off me, will you? What if one of the nurses comes in?" Doyle protested weakly, but his lips were already responding.

"She'll see me kissing you, won't she?" Bodie told him happily.

He managed the merest peck on Doyle's lips before he groaned. "Christ, I can't even do that properly. It hurts too much," he discovered woefully.

"It's OK," Doyle comforted him, his voice muffled and his touch feather-light. "I'll kiss you instead."

Avoiding the cut and swollen mouth, he contented himself with a chaste caress between the blue eyes smiling down at him. "You've even got sexy wrinkles," he said wonderingly.

"Character lines, mate. And you're a fine one to talk. It's like sharing a room with Rip Van Winkle. Still, you're starting to look more like Dorian Gray again so the sleep must have done you good. What's that?" Bodie added casually when he caught sight of the bag at the side of Doyle's bed.

"Reports Cowley wants done. Next Monday he wants us to assess the training course. A fortnight's stint, if you feel up to it?" Doyle added with a trace of doubt.

Bodie gave him a look of astonishment. "You mean he gave us a choice?"

Doyle nodded, enjoying his partner's expression.

"What's up? The old man discovered religion or something?"

"No way." Carefully drawing himself up in bed and wincing even then, Doyle waited to catch his breath before adding, "We had a long chat while you were gone."

"That's nice. I can't say I'm sorry to have missed it. What about?" Bodie added incuriously. One hand resting on the other man's pyjama-covered hip bone, he stroked him with absent-minded affection.

Doyle offered him a guileless smile. "Nothing much. I told him I loved you and Cowley told us we weren't queer."

Bodie's jaw sagged before he recovered his aplomb. He sniffed, winced, and said casually, "It sounds like an interesting conversation."

"It had its moments," Doyle admitted, his expression wry. "Intelligence cleared us. They decided our relationship wasn't a security risk."

"Good of them," said Bodie with a trace of acidity. "Cheaper if they'd just asked us."

"Yeah, well, they asked Cowley instead."


"Quite. He's not such a bad old sod."

"I could have told you that. You had a row with him then."

Doyle sighed. "It's lucky I'm not the secretive sort. Yeah. Not about that, but about the hours we've been working. I got a bit uptight," he admitted, shamefaced.

"I can imagine. For such a law-abiding little sod you can let rip when it suits you," said Bodie, knowing he would hear all about it in due course. "He didn't chuck you out then?"

"Of course not. Though at the time I think he was tempted. He'll not risk losing you though. He has this stupid idea that you'd quit if I did," said Doyle absently. Unable to stop staring at his lover, the realisation grew of what he had almost lost.

A loving smile curled Bodie's mouth, lighting his eyes as they crinkled at the corners. If George Cowley could see it as an outsider, how could Ray be so thick?

"Not so stupid," he said. "Whither thou goest and all that. You're stuck with me, sunshine."

Doyle gripped his hand, his fingers tightening to the point of discomfort; his eyes were very bright. "Bodie?"

At the open plea on his face, Bodie bent, his mouth hungry, his hurts forgotten in the need to comfort - and for the joy of it.

"I wish to god you were a bank clerk," Doyle muttered finally, his fingers still laced in the dark hair as he inhaled the scents of the hospital: shampoo, antiseptic and beneath that mask, the essence of the man he loved.

"You have the weirdest fantasies of anyone I've ever met," Bodie mumbled. "Or is it just the thought of me behind bars?"

"It's the thought of you here, safe," Doyle said fiercely, his gaze devouring the man in front of him.

There was a world of understanding in Bodie's eyes.

"I know," he agreed quietly. "You can stop the guilt trip you've started on right now. It wasn't your fault I got snatched. We both got complacent and forgot to take adequate precautions. There's nothing wrong with me that a few days' kip won't put right so don't start going broody on me," he warned. He ruined the stern effect when he gave a huge yawn. Abashed, his face wrinkled in wry apology.

"I wasn't thinking of that," Doyle told him with a trace of melancholy. "Just that... It would be nice if you were the sort to take up knitting instead of deep-sea diving."

Bodie gave the wickedest of grins. "Ah, but think of me in all that black rubber."

"Yeah, them long zippers, too," mused Doyle thoughtfully.

It was then he accepted that he was going to have to accustom himself to the gut-tearing anxiety every time Bodie put himself in a position of risk. He'd been afraid for Bodie many times before but for some reason, had never actually believed he would lose him. Not even that time Bodie had got himself knifed. Somehow he'd always been sustained by an unshakeable belief in his partner's immortality. And it was that belief which he had lost.

But Bodie had never had that comforting belief and he managed to go on. More importantly, Bodie had found the guts to let him go on; had silently let him risk his neck time after time, rarely betraying what that must have cost him. Caught on a wave of love, Doyle contented himself with ruffling the dark silk of his companion's hair.

Bodie just gave another huge, jaw-cracking yawn.

"Come on, sunshine," Doyle urged. "Bed, before you fall asleep on mine and get us thrown out of here. Where's the wheelchair?" he demanded, narrow-eyed and accusing when he noticed the lack for the first time.

"I don't need it, do it?" Bodie told him with a trace of smugness. Rising painfully to his feet, he discovered the other bed was further away than it looked.

"CI5's finest," mocked Doyle. "Come on." Swinging himself out of bed, he gave a yelp when he pulled the stitches across his shoulder blade. Sagging against his unprepared partner for support, there was a moment when they were propping each other up.

"What a pair," sniffed Bodie in disgust, appalled to discover how weak he was. "Listen, I'll race you back to bed, OK?"

"Get stuffed. I'm going to tuck you in whatever you say, so you may as well give in gracefully."

"Now there's an offer." But by the time Bodie sank onto the mattress there were white marks of pain around his mouth. His expression lightened as he watched the heavily bandaged torso and pyjama-clad bottom limping away from him.

"It's a sin to cover that arse," he mumbled with regret, winning a lop-sided grin of acknowledgement.

"Viewing will take place between the hours of three and six," Doyle told him sedately as he eased into his own bed with obvious relief.

"Wake me up for it. A man's got to have some pleasures in this place. There's no chance we'll get any leave, I suppose?" Bodie added drowsily.

Doyle snorted. "Only a month, after we've completed that assessment. I'll tell you later. Go to sleep."

"A month!" A beatific smile appeared. "Four whole weeks?" Bodie checked anxiously, wanting to be clear on this.

"Four whole weeks," Doyle confirmed.

"Christ," Bodie whispered, with the closest he ever came to reverence. "You and me and four glorious weeks off. It's summer time, we might even get some sun." Drifting on a happy haze of expectancy, he stirred when an unhappy thought surfaced. "Hang on, the state we're in what will we do with that leave?" he asked with some pathos.

His plans already made, Doyle grinned into his pillow. He knew Bodie's recuperative powers. "I expect we'll be able to come up with something."

A sleepy blue eye opened. "I wouldn't bank on it, sunshine. Not for a while, anyway."

"Trust me."

"While you're smirking like that? Not a chance." Bodie gave a heavy sigh and tried to be philosophical. "Never mind. We can always spend our time looking at your baby pictures."

Doyle's grin widened. "Funny you should say that."

Bodie groaned.

"I was very photogenic," Doyle told him, all dignity. "Then we're going back to that hotel in Cornwall, lay a few ghosts."

"Might get to lay me, if you're really lucky," Bodie told him drowsily.

Distracted, Doyle just looked at him.

His bones turning to water under the impact of Ray's slow, sweet smile, Bodie conceded that there might be some hope for this leave after all.

"All that sun, Cornish beaches, swimming. And when we get back I'm going to teach you to cook, then we'll get my bike on the road, and..."

Doyle's voice provided a very good background, thought Bodie muzzily as he drifted with it. Moments later he was asleep.

Lying on his side, Doyle watched his lover's sleeping face and felt at peace for the first time in many months. Some deep spring of never-before-discovered happiness began to well in him.

He was looking forward to seeing Bodie on the beach. He'd be like some overgrown kid.

Neither man was awake when the staff nurse came in to offer them lunch.

His expression one of heavy gloom, Bodie succeeded in ridding himself of his unwanted escort at the door of his room. Stepping inside, he cast a disparaging glance around the spartan quarters he had been allocated.

It was like a cell, he thought with disgust, conveniently forgetting that not so many years ago he had been more than happy to settle for a place in one of the six-bed dormitories now occupied by another batch of recruits. During the first two weeks they spent here approximately three-fifths of those eager to join CI5 would drop out; then the real weeding-out process would begin.

The view from the window, to Bodie's somewhat jaundiced eye, was lousy. He had always thought the pleasures of the countryside over-rated, especially in an establishment like this where they expected you to run halfway across it before breakfast.

He scowled. Ray was somewhere out there now, watching some bloody assault course. A whole fortnight of watching over-earnest, eager young incompetents. He'd go crazy.

It was all right for Ray, thought Bodie morosely, feeling exhausted, abandoned and unloved. With that poker face of his he could be thinking about anything - and he probably was. The old man must have a screw loose to send them down here. It was all very well to tell them to keep a low profile. Jack Crane, the bastard, had loused that up in the first five minutes. Odd that he should get called away like that, leaving him and Ray knee-deep in that discussion on urban survival tactics that Jack had drawn them into.

His unpacking finished, Bodie sank thankfully onto the support of the bed. The discussion itself hadn't been that bad; they seemed a bright enough bunch. In fact he'd almost been enjoying it by the time Jack had got back. If only they would stop calling him 'sir' all the time.

Yawning, Bodie glanced at his watch. Nine o'clock and he'd kill to go to bed. He must be getting old. He felt lousy. And it was no consolation to realise he had brought it on himself. He'd had the option of staying at his flat and letting Ray get on with it down here, like everyone had advised. Advised? Hell, everyone had been busting a gasket to tell him what to do, which was why he'd done the opposite. Besides, Ray had been looking so bloody chirpy that it hadn't occurred to him that his own recovery might take longer, particularly while he continued to ignore what the doctors had been telling him.

He rubbed the healing scar by his eyebrow with absent irritation. It wouldn't be so bad if everyone he met didn't start off the conversation by asking how he felt. He'd have felt a whole lot better if Ray hadn't been thrusting chairs under him all day - as if he was some geriatric.

Nine-fifteen, he discovered, giving his watch another morose glance. He may as well have a bath and then go to bed, he decided with resignation. There wasn't anything else to do down here.

It took Bodie longer than he had anticipated to get out of the bath. By the time he padded, naked, back to his room, he was feeling distinctly the worse for wear.

Curtains drawn, he came to an abrupt, unamused halt. The narrow bed looked singularly uninviting. Muttering dire predictions about Cowley, his partner and the uncaring world in general, he crawled in between the sheets and switched off the light, convinced he wouldn't sleep a wink for the racket the birds were making outside his window.

"Well, this is a fine welcome, I must say. Come on, sunshine, shift your arse."

Bodie sat up, reaching for the Magnum he no longer carried before he was fully awake.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded truculently, scowling as he switched on the light, having recognised his intruder.

"Freezing to death, right now. There's a bloody hurricane coming through that window. Come on, move over. My goose bumps are getting chilly," Doyle urged.

"The bed's too small," protested Bodie, stubbornly staying where he was.

Doyle ignored that lack of enthusiasm and clambered under the covers, easing himself onto the mattress; he still came close to pushing Bodie out of the other side of the bed.

"Strewth, you weren't joking, were you? Never mind," Doyle said comfortably, "I've got nothing against losing all sense of feeling down one side in a good cause. Will you snuggle close, I'm not a contagious disease."

Bodie's expression begged to differ.

After some determined wriggling, Doyle, by dint of lying three-quarters under his partner, proved that there was room for the pair of them.

"Your feet are frozen!" Bodie protested.

"You'll soon warm me up," Doyle assured him. But he was careful for all his flippancy, not so much out of respect for his own rapidly-healing flesh as for Bodie. That shoulder was still giving him trouble and from the marks that were only now beginning to fade, it was obvious someone must have put the boot in. Pushing the bedding down a little, Doyle eyed his lover with regret and ran a gentle finger down his lover's rib-cage and belly. "At least the colours are starting to tone down but you still look terrible," he said frankly.

He had spent more of the afternoon session than he cared to admit wondering if Bodie was going to collapse.

Bodie pushed away the hand caressing him and fumbled for the bedding. "I feel fine, or I did until you insisted on waking me up," he grumbled irritably.

His abrupt awakening and instinctive response to possible attack had started up all the small throbbing aches again and his growing discomfort was doing nothing to sweeten his mood. Trying to move in the small amount of space allocated to him, he winced under the press of a bony shoulder.

"Oh, this is going to be really comfortable, this is," he groused sulkily. "Perched on the edge of the bloody bed all night. Why you couldn't stay in your own room I don't know."

His voice trailed away when it dawned on him that he had several more inches of mattress to his name. Not only that, but Ray hadn't shut him up with one of his acid one-liners, or an elbow in the ribs. Aggrieved, he turned his head. There was a distinctly dopey look on Ray's face, even allowing for the fact that he was smiling.

"And what's so bloody amusing?" demanded Bodie with aggressive dignity. He moved to take up the space that had been made for him and more besides, glaring into the face inches from his own. A look he did not recognise entered Doyle's eyes before the expression was veiled by the fan of lashes.

"You always did get ratty when you're woken up," Doyle told him, his voice oozing a nauseating, and highly irritating, patient understanding.

Bodie ground his teeth. "Oh, did I? Well, you being such a bundle of joy to have around the place would know all about that of course. If you must stay, for chrissake shut up. I'm tired, even if you're not." If he had been capable of it, his eyes would have slammed shut.

A few moments later, realising that the bedside lamp was on his side of the bed, Bodie had to open them to switch it off. Turning with considerable difficulty, he presented his back to Doyle. He felt unaccountably hard done by when no mocking comment was offered, and an arm didn't reach out to draw him closer.

After fifteen minutes of lying on the edge of the mattress, increasingly conscious of the soft breath at his back and the warmth that was almost but not quite brushing the length of his body, Bodie discovered he wasn't sleepy any more. Snapping the light back on, he turned to give his partner an accusing glare.

"How did you get in here anyway? Those doors have got security locks fitted."

Blinking in the light, Doyle made no attempt to advance or withdraw, but gave an easy grin, as if he was unaware of his companion's ill-humour. "Easy. After an afternoon with Billy Miles a kid of six could open them. I dropped round to see him on Thursday afternoon for a refresher course. I needn't have bothered, they haven't changed the system since the first time I was here."

"You must be bloody mad," Bodie announced when he had finally got his breath back. "As a security risk it'll have to go in our report to Cowley, and he's going to have no trouble guessing whose room you experimented on. And why," he added bitterly.

"Well he won't be wrong, will he?"

"Christ, I've met some funny ex-coppers in my time but you're something else."

"I wanted to be with you, didn't I?" said Doyle with truth.

"What the hell's got into you tonight?" demanded Bodie explosively, having had enough of this saint-like - and untypical - forbearance. It made him uneasy. He wanted Ray back.

"Nothing. Go to sleep, mate. You need the rest."

That soft note of concern was the last straw.

Bodie heaved himself up against the pillows, stifling a yelp of pain, and gave the portion of pillow Doyle had been using an unceremonious yank. "Stop telling me what I need. I'm a big boy now."

Used to Doyle's hair-trigger response time, Bodie was puzzled by the ensuing silence.

"Sorry," Doyle murmured eventually, edging away with a faint sigh. "You're right, of course. I'd better go back to my own room and let you get some rest. I'll see you in the morning." It had the sound of a question, as if there could be any doubt about it.

Bodie grabbed Doyle's arm and dragged him back onto the bed with a strength which surprised himself. But then this was a crisis. Glaring down at Doyle, who was flat on his back, he suppressed a small pang of guilt when he saw the resigned acceptance in his eyes and the lack of expression on his face.

But enough was enough, he reminded himself. Ray had been driving him nuts all day, hovering around him. And when it had got to the point of Ray fetching him a cup of tea...

"For chrissake, Doyle," he hissed in a furious whisper, abruptly remembering any neighbours he might have. "What the hell's wrong with you?"

Sliding to sit up, his legs tucked into his chest with his chin propped on his bony knees, Doyle didn't reply immediately.

"I've turned over a new leaf, haven't I," he said quietly, looking at Bodie with wide, grave eyes.

"What new leaf?" demanded Bodie with suspicion.

Sighing, Doyle looked away again. "I've been doing some thinking," he said, his voice subdued. "About you and me. I know I can be difficult to live with at times. A bit moody."


"Well, I'm going to try and change all that. It's not fair to take it out on you all the time, like I've been doing. It'll be different from now on, you'll see," Doyle promised, his expression earnest. Peering over the top of his knees with his hair straggling around that near-cherubic face, he was all guileless eyes and lush, drooping mouth. He would have roused anyone's protective instincts.

His mind on other things, Bodie had all his instincts under strict control.

"What the - ?" Reaching out, he rested the back of his hand against Doyle's forehead. The skin was warm and dry; it felt normal enough. "What is this, some kind of joke?" he demanded.

His head bowed, Doyle shook his head, gave an audible swallow and said with a kind of weary hopelessness, "I should have expected you to expect that from me."

Bodie's stomach lurched as he experienced a genuine pang of remorse. He hadn't intended to hurt Ray's feelings, he just hadn't learnt how to deal with a Ray Doyle who seemed to be in danger of changing out of all recognition. He slid a comforting arm around the hunched figure.

"Listen, sunshine, I don't know what brought this fit on. Was it something I said? I mean... Christ, I can't stand any more of this," he said baldly, the sight of the too-quiet and vulnerable figure doing something peculiar to his insides.

Uncurling, Doyle slid down to lie full length on the mattress, staring up at the ceiling dull-eyed.

Bodie carried on as if his partner had in fact spoken. "OK, so you can be a vicious-mouthed little sod when it suits you. I've got used to that." He prodded the thinly-covered ribs to reinforce his point. "It's you I need, not some mealy-mouthed prat who'll let me walk all over them."

The crescent-shaped fan of lashes lifted then, eyes shining. "But I thought..."

"I don't give a shit what you thought," Bodie interrupted with ruthless vehemence. "I was just starting to get used to living with the old Ray Doyle. The last thing I need is a new model being dumped in my lap. You're fine as you are."

Doyle stared at him in silence.

"Come on," Bodie added with a rough impatience which imperfectly concealed his concern. "You know I bloody love you - everything about you." He leant assertively over his partner.

"You're sure?" Doyle checked, an unusual catch in his voice.

"I'm bloody positive," Bodie assured him, guilt supreme in him at the moment.

"Then get your fucking elbow out of my ribs and gimme my fair share of the bed," snapped Doyle in a more familiar tone, his eyes alight with laughter.

Caught off-balance, Bodie stared at him with dawning comprehension as his lover's soft chuckles shook them both.

"You rotten, lousy, stinking, devious little bastard," he breathed, scarcely able to believe he could have been conned so easily.

Doyle was still laughing, the sound muffled against Bodie's shoulder.

"Just checking," he said happily. He curved a possessive arm over the broad chest as he curled around his infuriated lover, his voice a thread of amused sound in Bodie's ear.

"On what?"

"Can tell you never listened to any of those psychology lectures they dish out here. That you love me for what I am and not just for my beautiful body or undoubted superiority as CI5's finest." Doyle's tongue delved in to chart the intricacies of Bodie's inner ear in the spirit of friendly exploration.

Fighting against the distraction, Bodie tried to hold onto his anger. "You can think yourself lucky I don't beat that beautiful body into a pulp. I've a good mind to when I've got my strength back. Of all the rotten..."

Crouching over him, Doyle beamed into the scowling, black-browed face of his love. Bodie had been wallowing in self-pity for three days. At least he was showing a spark of life and interest in something other than his aches and pains. In fact he was looking decidedly healthy. It wasn't often Bodie went on a downer, but when he did...

"You and whose army?" he inquired fondly.

By no means won over, Bodie gave a slow smile that would have warned Doyle, had he been watching. "Just me," he promised, silky-voiced.

Flicking back the duvet, his hand cracked down with unlover-like force across Doyle's curved and defenceless rump.

Unprepared, he gave a muffled yelp of surprise, the force of the blow collapsing him onto Bodie. All his muscles tensed before they unexpectedly softened; buttocks unclenching, his fingers slipped through Bodie's hair.

"If that's what you want," he whispered, his voice husky and accepting as he nuzzled the skin between Bodie's neck and shoulder.

Bodie shivered. He'd thought he was prepared for anything Ray might throw at him by now but that voice promised... Raising his head to kiss his lover, he caught sight of the crimson imprint of his hand emblazoned on the pale skin of Doyle's backside. Surprised, he gave the warmed flesh a comforting, open-palmed rub, his movements slowing to a sensuous caress.

"I didn't mean to belt you that hard," he mumbled apologetically, discovering that the contact brought its own distractions.

Doyle slid easily against him, his free hand slipping down Bodie's flank. "It's all right, I don't mind."

"You into s 'n' m now?" Bodie inquired, his manner absent as his hand moved in sweeping caresses from buttock to thigh, sliding between the parting legs to brush the heavy testicles. He heard the soft groan of pleasure and felt the stir of Ray's cock against his hip.

Supporting himself on his elbows, Doyle stared into Bodie's face, narrowed eyes heavy with need. "I think I must be," he admitted. "I can't think of anything I wouldn't like to try with you."

Before Bodie could respond to that matter-of-fact declaration, the hard press of Doyle was all about him, his cock slick and hard and hot brushing against his own straining flesh. Doyle cradled them side by side, a strong thigh curving over his flank to draw them groin to groin and belly to belly.

Losing the exquisite sensation for a second as Doyle changed position again, Bodie groaned with a mixture of frustration and pleasure. The sound was muffled against Doyle's mouth, swallowed in their first kiss.

Entwining himself with his damaged love, Doyle moved with great care for his partner's well-being. He caressed the muscled buttocks, sliding up the dark-haired cleft to rim the anus. His finger slick with saliva, he pressed gently until he sank into welcoming heat, withdrawing and sinking deeper and deeper, his slow, rhythmic movements taking them higher and higher.

Bodie made a soft sound deep in his throat, his eyes scrunched shut in ecstasy, the muscles down his back, and thighs bunching as he reached the short strokes.

Doyle watched his lover's face at the moment of orgasm, feeling every point of contact they shared through to his heart as Bodie arched strongly against him then stiffened and came, the smooth, rich heat of him pulsing against his skin. He climaxed moments later, triggered by that heavy-lidded fervour and the passion-roughened voice that whispered his name over and over again.

"I told you there'd be room in this bed," mumbled Doyle smugly when he felt Bodie stir against him. He blithely ignored the protest of the scar tissue where his shoulder dug into the edge of the bedside table. He still wasn't sure when he had moved to this side of the bed.

"That's what I like most about you, modest to the end," Bodie told him with drowsy contentment, his uninjured arm heavy and numb from the weight of his partner's body.

Doyle moved lethargically, then paused, caught by an encompassing yawn. "I'm stiff in all the wrong places," he discovered. "Damn, it's twenty to eight. I should have left two hours ago. Any ideas how I get back to my room without making it obvious I've been here all night?" He sounded less than concerned.

"That's your problem, mate," Bodie told him, ever-helpful. "I was quite happy in my monastic little bed," he added mendaciously.

"Oh, yeah?"

"Resigned, anyway," Bodie amended, smiling.

Sitting up with care, he gave a cautious stretch and was surprised to discover he felt halfway human. Looking down at the dishevelled sprawl of his partner beside him, he knew where to place the credit for that improvement.

"What's that look of superiority for?" asked Doyle with idle interest. Reaching out, he traced a meandering path across Bodie's rib-cage, loving the warm smoothness of the virtually hairless skin and the leashed power.

"I was just wondering how anyone as skinny as you could look and feel so good. You're going to have to take up eating again, Ray. I'm sure I've got a couple of new bruises from your hipbones."

"I'll tell you how I look so good, inbred elegance, mate. That's the secret. Some of us have got it. Too much of it in some cases." Doyle gave his companion's thickened waistline a look of meaning.

"I wish I was the one who wasted away and went pale and interesting," complained Bodie ruefully. He was too used to their different metabolisms to be troubled by it now.

Doyle gave him a quick kiss. "Always interesting," he assured him. "Besides, a few early morning jogging sessions..."

Bodie gave a theatrical groan.

Becoming aware of some localised soreness, Doyle rolled onto his stomach, one arm sweeping out to prevent Bodie from being thrown from the bed in automatic compensation.

"Speaking of bruises, how does it look?" he inquired mischievously as he tried to peer over one shoulder to see his backside.

A fatuous grin on his face, Bodie happily surveyed the area in question before subjecting it to a lengthy and tactile exploration. "Beautiful," he said dreamily, before he delivered a parting pat. "But I'd love to know how you're going to explain that bruise away at your medical."

A look of consternation crossed Doyle's face. "Oh shit. Well, that's that, then," he added, serenity regained when he realised that all traces of the minor bruise would have faded by then.

"What is?"

"Disturbed nights. You're in for a spell of celibacy, mate. This body is going to be unsullied and unmarked when I go for my medical."


"Yeah. There's no need to look so pathetic. It's only - " Doyle started to count the days off on his fingers but stopped when the total was approaching a depressing number.

Bodie stared at him, a ridiculously hopeful expression on his face.

"All right," Doyle surrendered, "but no nipping, chewing, sucking, smacking..." His breath caught as Bodie stroked down his length, hands settling on his buttocks, where his thumbs caressed up and down the edge of the cleft.

"It'll be a bit dull then."

"Nah, just like always," Doyle said lovingly, dipping and rising against him; already half-hard, he could feel Bodie stirring in response to the rhythmic stimulation.

"You've got a beautiful arse," Bodie told him, his voice catching as he moved beneath his lover.

"Bodie." Caught between lust and concern, Doyle tried to concentrate. "You're supposed to be taking things easy," he reminded him, his voice breaking when his balls were rolled between his partner's competent fingers in just the right way to make him lose what semblance of mind he had left.

"We got anything I can use?" asked Bodie hoarsely.

"Yeah, in your bag. Wait. I've gotta move to get it, sunshine," Doyle pointed out.

He was back on the bed in a matter of seconds. His hands on the narrow hips, encouraging Doyle onto his hands and knees, Bodie nuzzled the warm, sweet flesh that smelt and tasted of Doyle, tonguing down his cleft. The stubble on his chin was an abrasion which drew Doyle's cock up towards his belly. He moaned when Bodie applied the lubricant.

"I'll take it easy," Bodie promised, his voice tight with need as Doyle opened to him - still incredibly moved that it should be so. He tongued the heavy testicles, before gently squeezing the tightening flesh.

"Easy?" groaned Doyle. "That'll be the day. God, yes!"

Running a finger along the heavy vein pulsing in Ray's cock, feeling him quiver at his touch, Bodie centred himself.

Doyle was mumbling incoherent encouragement as he arched back. "Just do it, Bodie. Please. Just do it. Yeah..."

Filled with the glorious heat and strength and bulk that was his lover, thrusting up and back to meet him, Doyle forgot everything, lost in the twin sensations of Bodie's cock inside him and the sure hand encircling him, drawing him into an ever-tightening spiral of pleasure. Reaching back, he clasped Bodie's flank, wanting to keep Bodie with him forever.

"Now will you believe me when I say I'm fine?" demanded Bodie, his voice an exhausted thread of sound. He opened a suspicious eye at the muffled choke which greeted his claim, to meet Doyle's uneven-toothed grin. "What's so funny?"

"You look shagged out," Doyle told him lovingly.

"It's not unnatural in the circumstances," Bodie said, defending his powers of recuperation with dignity. He felt about ninety, but marvellous with it.

Cupping the side of his partner's face, Doyle kissed the corner of Bodie's mouth. "Course it isn't." Aiming for sobriety, he could do nothing about the huge smile plastered across his face. "But I'm afraid you've missed breakfast."

Bodie gave a moan of anguish. "We can't have. I'm starving," he added with pathos. His stomach chose that moment to support his claim.

"It's a quarter to eleven."

"It can't be," said Bodie with great authority as he struggled to sit up. "Oh," he added, having peered at the small alarm clock. Recovering fast, he gave a lecherous grin and gently ruffled Doyle's hair. "I know you said to take it easy but - "

"Cretin. Fell asleep on me, didn't you," accused Doyle, untroubled.

"Did I?" Bodie was purposefully vague.

"Yeah." Doyle gave his shoulder a forgiving nudge with his nose. "You did. It won't do you any harm to miss breakfast. You can always have a huge lunch," he added consolingly.

Bodie's arm slid back around him, the tight press of their bodies disregarding the growing heat of the day. "You should have shifted me."

"I would have but I fell asleep myself, didn't I? You do realise we were supposed to start today's assessment at eight?"

"Then we'd've been late anyway."

"Not the point, is it? We're meant to be on the job."

"We were," Bodie interrupted him, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes.

Doyle ignored him. "Not having it away like there was no tomorrow. Still, I don't suppose they'll have missed us. It isn't as though we had a fixed schedule."

"I don't care if they did," said Bodie with sleepy unconcern. "I could make my assessment right now. This place is too slack, complacent. Security's a joke. Anyway, you and me have got a lot of time to make up for, and you can't pretend you'd rather have been eating your Shreddies."

"I wasn't going to try. Rather eat you any day of the week. It was good. But then you always are for me," Doyle added, feeling a ridiculous lump settle in his throat, loving Bodie so much it was almost a physical pang.

Staring into his partner's too-bright eyes and changed expression, Bodie pulled a comical face. "You going all soft and sentimental on me, Raymond?"

"I think so," he admitted. "Can't seem to stop myself."

"About bloody time, too," Bodie told him approvingly. His head dropped back onto the pillow they were sharing.

Doyle snuggled a little closer. "You don't mind then?"

"I've been wondering how long it would take," Bodie confessed, one finger teasing through an over-long chestnut curl. "I told you last night, I don't suppose you took any notice though." His lugubrious tone was negated by the happy light in his eyes.

"Which bit in particular?" Doyle asked in the tone of one unable to recall any earth-shattering revelations.

Bodie gave a wounded sigh that didn't fool his companion for a moment. "I might have known. I only told you that you're everything I want and need, all in one irritating, loveable package."

"I'd forgotten that," Doyle admitted, his smile apparent in his voice. "I never could remember poetry. Nice hearing you say it though," he confessed sheepishly. "Know what I love most about you?"

Bleary-eyed, Bodie lifted his head fractionally off the pillow. "Nah, but you're bound to tell me anyway." His tone was that of one expecting the worst, just before his face contorted as he yawned.

Doyle winced. "Strewth, what a sight. You've got a nice throat though. Sexy."

"That a fact?" mumbled Bodie, noticeably unmoved.

"You can't possibly be planning to go back to sleep."

The impossibly long lashes slowly lifted to reveal drowsy eyes so blue a man could drown in them. "Why not?" asked Bodie, all reasonable sweetness.

"Apart from the fact we're meant to be working. What if anyone comes in?"

"They'll find me asleep, cuddling you," Bodie told him with sleepy unconcern.

"Well, if you put it like that..."

But Bodie was already asleep.


"Home at last," said Bodie with satisfaction as they rode in through the narrow gateway to Shambolt's Cove. He brought his mount to an abrupt standstill to stare about him in amazed disbelief. "What the devil - ?"

The yard was almost unrecognisable, with nary a weed in sight. Even the viscous mud seemed less than was usual for this time of year and the cobbled area around the stables positively gleamed. Piles of lumber were stacked in neat heaps waiting to be disposed of, and innumerable figures were still to be seen working on the scaffolding above the kitchen wing, for all that the evening was closing in.

A wry expression on his face, Doyle let out a long sigh, his breath hanging whitely in the air. "I had anticipated that the work might be completed by the time we returned," he said ruefully.

"The work might - " Bodie turned in the saddle. "What work?"

"Oh, come. You must recall," Doyle urged him. He drew up the collar of his greatcoat against the tendrils of fog collecting around them. "The work of renovating Shambolt's Cove. Our house," he reminded Bodie with a sunny smile. Even now the change about the place was a remarkable improvement.

Bodie glared at him. "The deeds were only signed five days ago," he reminded him with quiet menace. "The workmen have clearly been here for far longer."

Doyle dismounted, a trifle stiff from his hours in the saddle, to give his irate companion an appeasing smile. "I know, but as you had already signified your agreement in principle, I was sure you would have no serious objection," he offered, with more hope than veracity.

"Then you were mistaken," Bodie snapped, all ruffled pride.

Urging his mount forward, he went to investigate what liberties had been taken in his absence. The remnants of a smile still lighting his eyes, Doyle watched the stubborn set of the straight back recede from view before he gave a faint sigh. Stubborn did not begin to describe Bodie, he decided, unperturbed by his companion's ire because he trusted in his own powers of persuasion. Calling on a stable lad to take charge of his horse, he made his way into the house.

Bertha took him in a delighted hug the moment he stepped inside the door. "Eh, lad, but it's grand what they've been doing. Come and see what they've made of my kitchen," she urged him, relegating their seven-week sojourn in London to its rightful place in the scale of local events.

Peeling off his damp greatcoat, Doyle dropped it on the oak settle in the hallway and tossed his hat, gloves and riding crop on top of it.

"You're satisfied with the quality of workmanship?" he inquired, slipping an arm around her waist as he duly expressed his admiration for the work which had been completed.

"Give over, do," she scolded, smoothing a fond hand across the wool of the dark green coat he wore. "You know it be all I hoped for an' more. An' as for the upstairs, you'd not credit what they've done there. I've had no trouble with the men neither. They're as good a bunch of lads as you could hope to find."

"What did I tell you?" said Doyle with a hint of smugness.

In her delight at seeing him again Bertha let that pass. "An' you're looking in fine trim yourself," she told him, pausing to take in the evidence of his town finery, although his pale primrose breeches and high-polished boots were sadly marred by mud splashes.

Doyle made her an elegant bow. "You approve?"

"Vainer than a maid, you be. Where's the Master? Ain't he with you?" she asked with sudden anxiety.

"Er..." Doyle wrinkled his nose and pulled an expressive face. "He's out in the yard. He was taken aback to find - That is, I had neglected to - "

" - acquaint me with what was going on behind my back. I take it that you and Jedediah knew from the first?" asked a dry voice from the doorway.

"Master William!" Bertha turned in a trice then came to a halt as she took in the dark elegance of the man leaning negligently against the door jamb. "Oh..."

Safe behind her shoulder, Doyle gave a satisfied smirk. Bertha's appreciation made all his struggles to persuade Bodie to take up with a decent tailor while they were in Town worthwhile.

Looking bashful at the reception he had been met with, Bodie's hand moved in a dismissive gesture. "This outfit was Ray's doing," he said defensively.

"Aye, well, he's been known to have the occasional notion worth taking heed of. You look grand, but you can take your shoulder from that doorway this instant," Bertha told him severely in an imperfect attempt to conceal her delight and pride in his appearance.

Bodie gave her a wide, loving smile. "You shameless fraud," he accused her softly. Returning her fierce hug with one of his own, he planted a kiss on either cheek. "I do believe you've missed me - both of us," he amended, his glance straying to encompass his companion.

Having no difficulty in interpreting the light in the blue gaze turned upon him, Doyle gave him a wary look.

"It's been mortal quiet, if'n that's what 'ee mean," announced Jedediah sourly as he came into the hallway. "You've seen what's been going on?"

"It would have been difficult to have missed it," Bodie acknowledged as he went over to greet him.

"Aye, well, we've been doing right enough without 'ee," Jedediah told him with gruff pleasure. "I half thought you'd be stayin' up in London for a spell. You've been gone a powerful long while." His glance at Doyle mixed accusation and welcome, demonstrating that he knew where to place the blame for the continued absence.

Feeling under attack from all sides, Doyle began to wend an inconspicuous path backwards to the door.

Seeming to have eyes in the back of his head Bodie reached out a lazy hand to restrain him. "I shall want a word with you shortly," he warned. "My room."

"Best make it Master Ray's," Jedediah told him with gloomy relish. "The plaster ain't dry in your'n yet, nor in any of the others on that floor, for all that there be fires in every room. You'll be a mite cramped as it is. We had to put the furniture somewhere," he added when Bodie raised an eyebrow in question.

Doyle decided this was an appropriate moment at which to retire and duly slid away.

Continuing to stare at the older man, Bodie let him go. "I should have guessed," he said with a resigned sigh, before he gave a delighted grin, the years dropping away from him. "But from what little I've seen I hardly know the place, it looks so fine," he confessed, making no attempt to conceal his pleasure now Doyle was out of earshot.

Jedediah viewed him with an indulgent eye. "It's well enough. No doubt you'll be tellin' us 'bout the gallivanting you two got up to in due course." The invitation was clear.

Recalling their days of intensive hard work and the long hours spent at Cowley's dingy office, culminating in three days of feverish activity down in Rye, Bodie schooled his expressio n to one of nonchalant surprise.

"There's little enough to tell in all conscience," he said, perjuring his soul without a moment's hesitation. "Before we made our way back we spent several days with Ray's family. None of the workmen have brought their families with them, I trust," he added in an abrupt change of subject.

Bertha gave him a look of surprise. "They're locals in the main, so there was no call. But that's never troubled you in the past."

Helping himself to a tankard of ale, Bodie passed another to Jedediah. "Ray has an inordinately large family, most of whom seemed to be present at the time of our visit." His long-suffering tone told its own story.

"You allus had a soft spot for young 'uns."

"Perhaps so, but I trust I shall never again meet as many in such a confined space for an appreciable time," Bodie told her wryly as he recalled the small house set in extensive grounds on the river. The whole place had teemed with the ebullient Doyle offspring, ranging from those barely out of short-coats to Andrew, with Ray's great-niece and nephew in tow.

Jedediah gave an amused grunt. "You'll be glad of the quiet down here then."

A heavily laden cart rolled past the kitchen window, rumbling and groaning under its load of workers bound for the village now that the light had completely gone. Then came a welter of indignant voices, calming into shouts of conflicting advice as the cart became bogged down in the mud. Numerous dogs voiced their protest, Dog's deep bay predominating.

Bodie just grinned. "Aye, I'll be glad enough o' that," he said, in a poor imitation of Jedediah. "There are a number of matters I intend to settle with Ray," he added, unaware of his grim expression. "Don't fuss over preparing any food, Bertha. We can forage for bread and cheese, should we be hungry. We ate well in Plymouth. Jedediah, our luggage should arrive tomorrow morning. You'll arrange for it to be brought in?"

Jedediah nodded, a faint look of anxiety in his eyes. As Bodie made to leave, he moved to detain him. "About Master Ray," he began awkwardly. Bodie gave him a nod of encouragement. "The work about the place. The lad meant well enough. I swear 'ee thought 'ee'd be pleased. You'll not be too hard on 'un?"

Giving him a look of astonishment, the corners of Bodie's mouth began to twitch with amusement. Ray had obviously found himself a champion.

"No," he promised, with what gravity he could contrive. "No more than he deserves. Rest assured, I'll see no serious harm comes to your prodigal."

Moving with a deceptively slow stride up the stairs, he gave his henchman no opportunity to deny that claim, nor did he see the look of comprehension which entered the older man's shrewd grey eyes.

"What be troublin' 'ee?" asked Bertha.

He turned to his wife, his expression wondrously softened as his arm went around her, a calloused hand caressing an ample buttock with familiar pleasure. "Nothin', maid," he reassured her, seeing her eyes sparkle as they had when they were first wed.

"We'll have none o' that in public, Jedediah Tombey," she told him severely. "'sides, there's nothin' needin' our attention down here."

Never one who needed telling twice, Jedediah checked that the back door was locked and followed her up the staircase off the pantry, which led to their quarters.

The gentry were willin' to try anything, he'd always known that. He hadn't ever thought to see Master William take up with them dandified ways, least of all with -

Hearing the rustle of Bertha's petticoats, Jedediah paused in the act of stoking the fire blazing in the hearth.

Unnatural ways... But whatever his views on the subject there was no denyin' a matched pair when you came upon 'em. Besides, when all was said and done, it was no concern of his where the Master spent his nights. They were content enough, that was plain to a blind man.

Then he forgot everything else when Bertha crouched beside him, one hand slipping under the waistband of his corduroy breeches.

"You be takin' a mortal while with that fire, old man," she chided.

"There be time for everythin'," he informed her with gruff pleasure, inhaling the familiar scents of linen, lavender and Bertha.

"Aye, an' now's the time for 'un."

Jedediah needed no further urging.

Entering Doyle's bedchamber, Bodie paused to turn the key in the lock before he leant back against the door, his arms folded, eyes searching out his companion through the extra furniture the room now contained.

Standing by the window, Doyle turned at the first sound and watched his every move through tranquil, welcoming eyes. He smiled at the expression on Bodie's face. "You can't still be displeased?"

Those wide-spaced eyes seemed to glow in the candlelight, their colour difficult to determine as they picked up a hint of the silver-grey of his waistcoat, the green of the jacket which hung with scant regard for its well-being from a negligent hand, and the gold of the candle flames.

A familiar sweet tightening centred itself in Bodie's groin. "Can I not?" he inquired with suspect affability, taking an indolent step forward.

Doyle gave him a thoughtful look from under his lashes, deducing Bodie's intent with no difficulty at all. "I wanted to surprise you," he explained, taking care to keep the wing-backed chair between Bodie and himself.

His jacket undone, Bodie finally succeeded in removing it, cursing its close-fitting lines. "Oh, you did," he conceded, untying his neckcloth and letting it fall where it would as he unfastened his waistcoat.

"But you have no real objections?"

Bodie could do nothing about the smile which lit his face. "None that we cannot resolve," he admitted.

"What are you doing?" Doyle asked, diverted.

Bodie gave him a look of disbelief. "What does it look like?" His fingers unsteady as he began to unlace his shirt, his heavy-lidded gaze remained on the desirable, over-dressed figure who stood such a tantalising distance away.

Doyle smothered a lecherous chuckle. "It's a trifle early for you to be considering retiring for the night?"

"It is," Bodie agreed, wrenching one boot free and dropping it by the foot of the wing-backed chair. His eyes never left Doyle's face.

"You're not too fatigued from our journey?" Doyle checked, trying to control his expression.

"No," Bodie said smoothly as he removed his other boot, "I am not."

Doyle's jacket slid, unnoticed, to the floor. "Nor sore?" he said, referring to the mill they had been involved in only a week before.

"Not nearly as sore as you'll be when I've done with you," Bodie promised him in his silkiest tone.

His face alight with anticipation, Doyle gave a lazy sensual stretch and ran an idle hand down his body. "A threat?"

"Or a promise. Whatever it takes to keep you in one place for long enough for me to reach you - or must we circle around this damn chair all night?" complained Bodie, abandoning his never too convincing air of menace.

Doyle had never been able to resist the longing in those blue eyes. Placing a hand on the chair-back, he effortlessly cleared the seat. Bodie caught hold of him with urgent hands, his mouth finding Doyle's, needing the unique touch and taste and feel that was his lover's.

"Eleven days," he muttered in bitter complaint when their mouths parted.

His eyes clouded with desire for this one body, his hands were busy with the small buttons of Doyle's waistcoat; he ripped one free when it would not open quickly enough to suit him.

"I wasn't to know my mother's house would be full," Doyle excused himself as he tugged Bodie's shirt free, his fingers clumsy with the buttons of Bodie's breeches. The wanting had built to an almost unbearable level as he inhaled his lover's fragrance, staring at the half-dressed, dishevelled figure before him.

Abandoning his quest with the laces of Doyle's shirt, Bodie caught hold of his partner's unsteady hands and held them firmly away from himself. "Perhaps not, but you might have warned me that we should find ourselves bedded at opposite ends of the house. Every occasion that I ventured forth to find you I came upon one damn relative or another, whatever the hour. I gave up in the end."

"That's fortunate," Doyle told him with a crooked grin as he insinuated his body closer to Bodie's, enjoying the heat and soft swelling that twitched as his flank brushed his lover's groin. "I can see you're not accustomed to large families."

"A situation you're taking pains to rectify," Bodie said with a rueful grin.

Freeing Doyle's hands, he parted the lawn shirt, sliding in open-palmed. His mouth traced the line of the collar bone before moving downwards, enjoying the soft brush of body hair against his cheek. His nose brushed the taut press of an erect nipple. Rubbing it, he felt a shudder of response echo through his lover's wiry frame.

"We'll not need to visit - "

" - my mother for another year," anticipated Doyle, a trifle breathlessly. He gave a sharp gasp of pleasure at the tongue teasing down his belly, muscles contracting. He drew Bodie upright, sliding his own hands inside the waistband of the partially unfastened breeches.

His hips thrusting forward in involuntary response to the touch which was so tantalisingly close to his aching flesh, Bodie took the seeking hands back in a firm grasp. "Oh, no," he said, with as much firmness as he could muster.

His face flushed, his eyes glittering with need, Doyle stared at the determined face with open disbelief. "No?" His tongue flicked over dry lips. "Bodie..."

"No," he repeated. "Tonight I mean to have my revenge for those eleven days of abstinence."

"They weren't my doing," Doyle protested with a trace of indignation. Blood racing through his veins, his skins tingled at that rough-voiced promise. "Cowley - "

"What I have planned for you would not suit Mister Cowley at all," Bodie told him. By this time his hands were busy with the second buckle at Doyle's waist; finally succeeding in unfastening it, he drew the breeches down the beautiful buttocks to bare them, Doyle's engorged cock springing from confinement. Bodie gave a soft sigh of appreciation and teased a finger around his lover's anus.

Doyle groaned, his hips thrusting, his cock bobbing with every breath he dragged into his lungs. Gasping, he had to clutch at Bodie's flanks for support.

"Please." Whether the plea was for more or less stimulation wasn't clear.

Bodie drew Doyle tighter against him, locking them groin to groin, his open-palmed hand firm in the centre of his lover's buttocks as his middle finger delved inward in a searching caress.

"Tonight, ah, tonight I want you to beg for it," he whispered into Doyle's ear.

Shivering with anticipation, every small hair on his over-stimulated skin erect by this time, Doyle's head drooped to rest on Bodie's shoulder, his hair an unconscious tease as it tickled Bodie's naked flesh.

"Oh, I'll beg," he promised fervently. "Now, if you wish it. Oh, God, yes. Let me at you."

But the teasing finger moved again, causing Doyle to arch and twist against the soft abrasive rub of Bodie's breeches and confined sex.

It was too much.

His need overcoming desire, Doyle gave a low cry as warmth pulsed from him in dizzying bursts of pleasure. Limbs heavy and leaden, he remained upright only because of the powerful body supporting him. Limp and breathless, he whispered soft obscenities into his lover's throat at the waste of it.

"Though it's no more than you deserve for treating me so," he told Bodie eventually. His would-be severity melted away when he saw his lover's expression and became aware of the tension in every line of the powerful body he was pressed against.

Unlocking his arms from around Bodie's neck, Doyle stroked the side of his lover's face as Bodie slumped onto the arm of the chair. The clear definition of his erect flesh where it strained against his breeches, leaving the smallest of damp patches, offered mute testimony of his need.

"Wait but a moment," he promised softly, bending to unbutton his breeches at the knees, thankful he had already discarded his boots as he pulled them free and then slipped off his shirt. He held out one hand.

"Why so tardy?" he teased. "For here I am, at your complete disposal. It would be a double tragedy to permit that to go to waste," he added, his gaze fixed on Bodie's erection. He brushed it tenderly with the knuckles of his hand.

Bodie made an incoherent sound of pleasure, his head going back when cool fingers parted his clothing. His flesh jutting in silent plea, his every need was centred in his groin.

"Ah, love," murmured Doyle.

Then all thought was lost, Bodie's world splintering into shimmering fragments of pulsing pleasure as Doyle's mouth took him in and he gave himself up to that loving touch.

Floating in heavy-limbed languor Bodie felt gentle hands on him and obediently moved as they indicated. Flinching when he was seated on chilly leather, he was vaguely aware that the last of his clothing was being removed. Sated, he opened his eyes to see a tousled head at groin level, Doyle kneeling at his feet.

His fingers drifted over the riotous curls. "Ray?"

"Ah, you've rejoined the land of the living, have you?" Doyle teased, resting his elbows on Bodie's knees, his chin propped on his folded arms.

"This wasn't quite what I intended," Bodie admitted, his mouth quirking wryly.

"I rather gathered that. But confess, you've always wanted to see me kneeling at your feet." He brushed a finger across Bodie's lower belly, enjoying the way the silken skin quivered at his touch. "There's always tomorrow, or the day after."

Still dazed, Bodie looked at him in disbelief. "You would imagine this to be our first loving, so urgent was our - Oh, God, Ray..." His mouth found the already parted lips, tasting Doyle and himself, then returning for more.

"Enough," Doyle told him firmly. Drawing away a little, he shivered as draughts eddied around his cooled flesh. "For while we may have the inclination, I doubt that either of us possesses the ability." He planted a light kiss against the lax penis nestling in tautly curled dark hair, and heard Bodie's weighty sigh of acknowledgement.

Rising to his feet, Doyle pulled on a heavy crimson robe and drew it around him. "Get you to bed," he ordered. "I'll make up the fire and fetch us some food and wine."

"Why so domesticated?" inquired Bodie. He found the energy to cross to the first of the two beds and clambered between the covers, gasping at the chilly touch of unwarmed linen.

Doyle grinned at him from over one shoulder before his smile fixed as he took in the picture Bodie presented. Lounging at his ease, one leg crooked, he raised one hand to rub the back of his neck and muscles played down the length of his arm. Transfixed, Doyle felt as if he had never seen the human body before, enraptured by the play of candlelight over a pale flank and dark-shadowed groin. He would capture that beauty on canvas if he had to tie Bodie to the bed while he did so, he vowed to himself. An anticipatory gleam lit his eyes.

"Why so smug?" demanded Bodie as he became aware of his lover's intent stare.

"Smug? I?" Doyle prevaricated, his eyes wide and innocent as he paused in the doorway.

Bodie gave a long-suffering sigh. "Food, menial! Get me food before I fade away before your eyes. No doubt I shall discover what you're proposing for me in due course."

"Oh, you will," Doyle promised him before he disappeared into the kitchen.


"Well, second time lucky," said Bodie as the car swept into the hotel drive. This time they avoided the potholes they had found the hard way on their first visit.

Drawing up in the car park at the side of the modern wing, Doyle gave him an interrogative glance. "You sure you're happy about staying here after last time?"

This early in the morning the only occupants of the car park were some foraging sparrows.

Bodie brought his hand to rest on a velvet-clad thigh. "I'm delirious," he said firmly. "No, honest, it's fine. Besides, you said something about that room we had the last time. It being the other Bodie and Doyle's room."

Stretching where he sat behind the steering wheel, Doyle relaxed back into his seat. "I can't understand how you didn't notice something our first night there. What made you pick this hotel in the first place? There are plenty of others."

"I dunno," Bodie admitted, looking puzzled. "I'd three others on my list. All above this because it was in alphabetical order. Maybe it was the name - Shambolt's Cove. Then when we got here... it felt familiar. But good familiar, you know? Besides, I'd got other things on my mind by then."

Doyle's hand covered the one on his thigh. "Like us?"

"Like us." Bodie's expression was sombre. "I couldn't see any way of bridging the gap between us. And I was too busy envying that pair their thirty years together," he added, pulling a wry face.

Doyle leant over and gave him a lightning kiss somewhere in the region of his right ear before he sat demurely back in his seat again. "You and me both, sunshine. You got any doubts now?"

Bodie gave a familiar, arrogant grin. "What, with my charm? It was my fault, anyway. I should have said something sooner rather than go all broody on you."

Giving him a thoughtful look, Doyle pulled down his dark glasses to peer over the top of them before he took them off altogether and slipped them into his jacket pocket. "One of your most loveable traits must be the way you take the blame for my cockups."

"And you can stop squinting at me like that," Bodie warned him. "I'm likely to go all of a tremble. We both mucked it up. We're not going to start arguing about whose fault it was, are we?"

"Nah," replied Doyle serenely, giving Bodie's hand a gentle squeeze, "because I'm never wrong."

"More than once a day," Bodie agreed, ignoring his partner's wounded expression.

"It must have been a good life down here for them," said Doyle, inhaling the warm, salt-laden breeze with pleasure.

Recognising the trace of wistfulness in his lover's voice, Bodie shot him a glance. "No CI5?" he asked, understanding the feeling.

Snapping out of his vague melancholy before it could spoil the day, Doyle gave him a grin of acknowledgement. "Something like that. It's all right, I'm not going to get broody on you again. Mind - "He hesitated.

"OK, what is it?"

Doyle pulled a face. "It sounds stupid. Fanciful, even. But somehow I can't see that other pair, if they were anything like us, settling down to a life of domesticity."

Bodie made no attempt to disagree. Such a life, all the time, would drive them crazy.

Doyle scanned the rambling facade of the hotel as if seeking to learn the secrets it could offer before he visibly shrugged free. "I can't see how we're ever going to find out what they did. Anyway, it's not important. Come on, let's see if the hotel will take us back."

"You mean you didn't reserve a room?" Bodie demanded.

Doyle gave a shamefaced shrug. "I forgot, didn't I?"

"How could you forget? You've been rabbiting on about this bloody place ever since we got out of hospital."

"You kept side-tracking me, didn't you?" Doyle accused as he got out of the car.

"Excuses, excuses," sniffed Bodie as he watched Doyle unlock the stuffed-to-capacity boot. "Let's get booked in and down to the beach. I fancy a swim."

"It's lucky I packed your water-wings then," grunted Doyle as he hoisted the last of their luggage out of the boot. Because they still had three weeks' leave left and weren't sure what they were going to do with it all they had come prepared for every contingency, bar the outbreak of war - and knowing Bodie, he'd probably have something up his sleeve for that.

Staring at the mound of luggage surrounding him, Bodie held the elbow of his injured arm with a well-judged wince. Like taking sweets from a baby, he mused with glee as Doyle staggered across the car park laden like an eastern beast of burden.

Doyle paused at the front entrance of the hotel to give him a look of suspicion. "Funny your shoulder should start to play you up now," he said conversationally.

"It is odd, isn't it," Bodie agreed. "But the doctor knows best. Must be careful not to overdo it," he added, oozing virtue.

Convinced by this time that he was being had, Doyle gave a snort of derision.

"Not too heavy for you, are they?" Bodie asked with concern.

"Oh, no. I'll probably just end up with a double hernia. Nothing for you to worry about," Doyle gasped bravely as he shouldered his way through the swing doors into the small lobby, staggering when one of the cases caught against the door frame.

"And they called this man a seven-stone weakling. Little did they know, behind this puny frame was - "

Doyle winced at the appalling imitation of an American accent. "Very funny, that, mate. Only thing in its favour is that it's better than your impersonation of Cowley. No, it's all right. Don't worry about this next lot of doors."

"OK," said Bodie obediently, standing back to enjoy his partner's struggles.

The small lobby was dim, cool and, except for themselves, deserted. A wicked grin sliding across his face, Bodie watched the beautiful definition of Doyle's arse moving in front of him, the flesh firm, rounded and tempting, sheathed as it was in soft, brown velvet jeans. He reached out.

There was an indignant yelp as Doyle fell through the next lot of doors, tripped over a suitcase and fell, hard, onto the object of his partner's lustful thoughts.

About to detonate, Doyle recognised the gleam in Bodie's eyes and the poorly concealed grin and remembered how he had had the upper hand the last time they had visited this hotel.

"Next time we come here maybe it'll be with a bit of decorum and dignity," he said. Taking hold of the hand Bodie extended to him, he made no attempt to get to his feet. "I deserved that."

Bodie drew him up without visible effort. "Quite probably. But that isn't the reason I did it." Slinging a bag over his good shoulder, he picked up one of the cases.

"No?" Having paused to rub the afflicted area, Doyle was virtually trotting to catch up with his partner's stride across the entrance hall.

Bodie paused, his voice too low to carry beyond Doyle. "Nah, it's those trousers. "I've always fancied you in them."

"That's why I bought this new pair," Doyle told him, dropping the cases with relief once they reached the reception desk. "Make the most of them. It looks like it's going to be too hot for anything but shorts."

"I'll try to bear up," said Bodie bravely. Velvet was good, but tight, faded denim cut-offs were better.

"Stop drooling," hissed Doyle.

"I was that obvious?"

Doyle sighed. "Only to me."

There was no mystery at all to Bodie in the look in Doyle's eyes. His expression softened, a delighted grin quirking his mouth as he discovered his secret weapon. "I'll give you a request list," he promised under his breath as the receptionist came out of the small office.

"Good morning, gentleman. How can I - Oh, it's you." Her welcoming smile congealed, disapproval taking its place.

"You remember us then," said Doyle with would-be nonchalance. He tried an ingratiating smile.

"Vividly. It isn't every day one of our guests gets himself kidnapped and we get inundated with police and CI5 agents. Or a helicopter parks in the middle of the croquet lawn."

Doyle choked back a giggle at the fleeting look of pain on Bodie's face.

Ignoring his partner, Bodie smoothly bridged the silence. "That's one of the reasons we wanted to come back here," he said with complete disregard for the truth. "To apologise for all the inconvenience we caused. I know you'll have been reimbursed for any damage CI5's chopper caused but that can't compensate for the extra work you would have been put to. We're really grateful."

While sceptical, the receptionist began to thaw under the impact of Bodie's smile.

"Well, I suppose it wasn't your fault," she conceded fairly.

His expression earnest, Doyle nodded in grave agreement. "Most upsetting all round," he said, in a passable imitation of Cowley with one of the more pompous Home Secretaries he'd had to deal with. He saw Bodie's mouth twitch in appreciation. "But everyone here was really helpful."

She relaxed a little more, remembering how all this one's hard competence hadn't succeeded in camouflaging his concern for his partner. He'd seemed to have aged ten years by the time he'd flown out in the helicopter. Besides, the lawn was as good as new again.

"I see you got him back," she said.

It was a moment before Doyle placed the reference. "They wouldn't keep him, would they? Can't blame them really. He eats enough for two and would you want this lying around, making the place look untidy?"

Bodie gave him a patient look.

"Any time," she told him cheerfully, before she peered over the desk top at their mound of luggage. "You've come to try your luck a second time?"

"Something like that," agreed Bodie, realising Doyle was too busy not smirking. "We've been given some leave and wondered if there was any chance of a room."

"Rooms," Doyle corrected

"I'm sorry, but it's the start of our high season. The whole place is booked solid for the next six weeks."

"No room at all?" checked Bodie, his appealing expression threatening to become cute if he wasn't careful.

Doyle wanted to be ill. Bodie could be nauseating at times. What was worse, women fell for it. At least he'd got the excuse of loving the shameless bugger.

"I'm sorry, no. Unless... Well, there's always that suite you had last time," she offered doubtfully.

Bodie's face brightened.

"Oh, well, that's it then," said Doyle, shaking his head.

Bodie kicked him in the ankle. Ray always had a tendency to overplay.

"I did warn you last time," she reminded them. They made a welcome change from the hotel's usual line of expense-account guests.

"I know, love. I wasn't complaining," Doyle assured her. "It was very - er - It's just that... the plumbing," he added delicately. "Still, it's a fantastic coastline. And all these sea breezes. You're sure there's nowhere else?"

"It's that or nothing. But why do you want to stay here so badly? I know I'm biased because I love the place but it isn't smart and it is expensive. Though our food is excellent."

Flummoxed, Doyle gave her a fish-eyed look.

Bodie leant confidentially across the desk. "He's a bit shy about mentioning this - it doesn't go with the image, see - but, well, he does a bit of sketching. He started one last time we were here. From the window."

"Oh." Her expression brightened. "An artist. We get lots of those."

"Not exactly an artist," said Doyle uneasily, aware of his shortcomings in that direction.

"More of a butcher," added Bodie sotto voce.

"You can't be worse than some of the 'talent' we get," she told him with feeling. "But I'm afraid the old suite's all that's available. But at least you know the worst," she encouraged them, eager to let it out. They could always use the business to tide them through the lean months. Besides, she'd always had a soft spot for that old wing, for all that it was hell to keep clean.

Doyle nodded thoughtfully, in the manner of one doing an enormous favour. "Why not?" he said. "We'll be here at least a week, but we're not sure what we'll be doing after that. Can we let you know when the time comes?" There was a strong chance they'd be bored out of their minds after a week down here.

Losing interest in technicalities like the register, Bodie sniffed the air, aware of the delicious aroma of frying bacon somewhere close at hand. It had been hours since they'd had what Ray had called breakfast. Following his nose, he drifted over to find the restaurant.

Only when he and Doyle were halfway through a full English breakfast did Bodie remember what this place had cost the last time.

"Can we afford the arm and leg it'll cost us to stay here?" he asked through a mouthful of fried bread.

Doyle crunched a burnt bacon rind with pleasure. "Mmn."

"Have we had a rise I should know about?"

"I'm paying. Careful, your chin nearly dropped into the egg stain on your shirt," Doyle advised him.

"You're paying?"

"Why not?" said Doyle mildly. He was enjoying his meal too much to rise to the familiar teasing.

"Bloody hell." Sobering, Bodie stared at him. "Look, there's no need for this. It's my turn. Anyway, since when haven't we shared?"

"Finish your breakfast," Doyle told him with placid uninterest.

Shrugging, Bodie did as he'd been told.

Doyle grinned and poured him a second cup of tea. "If it offends your finer feelings to be a kept man, you can always pay me back - in kind." His foot slid up Bodie's calf.

"Ray, will you... Stop it," Bodie hissed, distracted when the foot crept higher, to tickle the inside of his knee. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you're pissed," he added severely.

Infinitely content, Doyle's fork reached across the small distance between them and, to the disgust of the couple at the next table, appropriated the lone tomato sitting on his partner's plate. He ate it with evident enjoyment.

"If I didn't know better, I'd agree with you," he said happily. Bodie's dismay was all he had hoped for.

Bodie started in on his toast before that vanished too. "I can see I'm going to have trouble with you," he said resignedly, spreading strawberry jam with a liberal hand.

"Nothing you can't handle," said Doyle, holding his gaze. One hand disappeared beneath the table cloth; the tables were only small.

By the time Bodie had stopped choking on an errant toast crumb, the couple at the adjoining table had given up and left, their disapproving glances and audible asides about juvenile behaviour going unnoticed.


"If this weather continues we'll have to consider moving the stock down into the West Pasture," Bodie announced into the comfortable silence.

Doyle glanced up from his sketch pad, his face lit by the branch of candles placed on the table at his side. "Jedediah believes we're in for a blizzard so it's as well that the repairs have been completed or heaven only knows what state we should find ourselves in."

"It would have been a trifle chilly," Bodie agreed with a faint grin, not troubling to open his eyes. "But I should warn you that Jedediah's predictions about the weather are notoriously inaccurate."

"I'll tell him you said so," Doyle offered.

Bodie's mouth slid into a grin. "Too kind," he murmured.

His chin sunk into his neck-cloth, warm, content and weary from their exertions that day, he fell into a semi-drowse.

Studying the relaxed, fire-lit figure through narrowed eyes, Doyle returned to his sketching, pausing to enjoy the occasional sip of brandy as the wind howled around the sturdy walls of Shambolt's Cove. It was rare to find Bodie remaining still for any length of time; Doyle was determined not to waste the opportunity his partner had unwittingly presented him with. There was a certain, elusive quality about Bodie that was impossible to capture from memory alone and a desire to immortalise him, even in a sketch if he could not persuade Bodie to sit for a full portrait in oils, had been obsessing him for some weeks.

The room was silent but for the companionable crackle of the fire, which hissed and spat as errant snowflakes found their way down the chimney, and the sound of the wind outside. Becoming aware of his surroundings an untold time later, Doyle discovered himself to be under a heavy-lidded, unamused scrutiny. With a guilty start he laid aside the sketch pad and charcoal.

"The subject is myself, I presume," said Bodie, his displeasure obvious in his icy manner.

Doyle gave a rueful nod.

"How many times must I tell you - ?" Bodie gave an uneasy twitch where he sat, trying not to appear as self-conscious as he felt.

Doyle gave an exasperated snort. "One would suppose you had either some guilty secret in your past or that you were so pudding-faced it would be a penance to look upon you," he said, aggrieved.

Avoiding his lover's gaze, Bodie said, "No, it's neither of those but - It makes me wonder if I've begun to sprout horns. Do you have any conception of how disconcerting it is to find oneself caught in a green-eyed glare? You looked through me for a five-minute stretch just now."

"My using you as a subject for a sketch really does make you uneasy, doesn't it," Doyle realised, taking Bodie seriously this time.

Bodie gave him a wary look, searching for some sign of amusement. Finding none, he relaxed. "Yes," he admitted simply.

Doyle gave a rueful nod. "Very well," he sighed, conceding defeat, "then I'll plague you no more." The fleeting look he cast at his abandoned pad was unconsciously wistful.

Rising to pour them both some more brandy, Bodie dismissed the subject from his mind. Desultory conversation continued while they played a couple of hands of faro, discussing what work remained to be done around the farm in view of the weather conditions. By mutual consent, they resumed their seats by the fire. Throughout the evening Bodie was aware that something was amiss about Doyle's manner; Ray wasn't sulking, or brooding, and he didn't seem to bear any grudge about his disinclination to be dissected and reassembled on paper, but his manner was undoubtedly muted, the light absent from his eyes.

"Oh, for pity's sake," Bodie said with impatience.

When Doyle looked up in inquiry, he stalked across the room to take up the sketch pad, before thrusting it at his partner.

"What - ?"

"Oh, so innocent," mocked Bodie, giving him an affectionate cuff. "I know you almost as well as I know myself. Take the damn pad, sketch what you please so long as you cease to look so damn pathetic. But if you intend to make me the subject of any of the drawings I don't wish to know of it. Clear?"

A wide smile lit Doyle's face.

"I knew it," muttered Bodie with despair. "Damn it, I had a suspicion you were bamboozling me from the first. Why I should permit you to manipulate me in this fashion I cannot conceive."

Tossing the pad onto the floor, Doyle gave a contented chuckle. "I could hazard a guess. I'll plague you no more on the topic. You won't be aware of me but - Won't you sit for just one?" he wheedled.

Bodie glowered at him.

"I love it when you pout," Doyle told him. Rising to his feet, he strolled over to where his irate lover sat, stroking a teasing finger across the severe mouth, which slid into a reluctant grin.

The expression in Ray's eyes was irresistible. With a sound of exasperation, Bodie took a handful of the wayward curls and shook Doyle's head from side to side. "You wouldn't be attempting to seduce me into compliance by any chance?" he inquired, already knowing he was lost.

Unrepentant, Doyle studied him in lecherous, lingering appraisal. "Would I succeed?"

"More than likely," Bodie admitted, abandoning even a token show of independence as he slid his arms around his companion.

Doyle slipped from the embrace to snuff out the candles. "Sometimes I despair of you," he said, giving his partner a gentle push in the direction of the door.

"Is that serious?" asked Bodie, pausing in the doorway.

"Nothing we can't resolve," Doyle assured him, caressing a warm flank. "Provoking isn't the word for you on occasion. Vanity is abhorrent in anyone but your singular lack of that vice tries my patience beyond belief. Don't you have any idea how beautiful you are?"

Pausing at the foot of the stairs, Bodie resisted the firm pressure in the small of his back. "Beautiful?" His nose wrinkled with distaste.

"Yes, damn it all, beautiful," Doyle all but yelled at him, tenderness overwhelmed by sheer exasperation. "And when we finally get into the Godforsaken bedchamber I intend to prove it to you if it takes all night."

Anticipation and apprehension mixed in his expression, Bodie meekly allowed himself to be pushed up the stairs.


Squinting ferociously in the brilliant sun, the salt water drying on his skin, Doyle caught his breath as Bodie waded out of the sea. The waves lapped, smooth as silk, around the bunched thigh muscles, rising to brush the snug swelling at his groin before receding again; droplets of water glistened across the broad shoulders and down his chest.

Like bloody Aphrodite, thought Doyle, tearing his gaze away because a crowded beach was neither the time nor the place.

"You're looking a bit flushed," remarked Bodie. He sank onto the towel Doyle had left out for him. "You been getting too much sun?" His head vanished into a towel as he rough-dried the worst of the water from his hair and face.

Re-emerging, he found Doyle simply sitting, staring at him. Correctly interpreting the expression being directed at him over the top of the sunglasses perched on the end of Doyle's nose he gave an abashed grin.

"Oh. Wasn't thinking."

"Yeah, oh," Doyle mimicked affectionately. "Sorry, mate. You'll have to get used to me lusting wistfully. I don't normally get to see so much of you."

"We can't all be sun-worshippers," Bodie told him loftily as he watched his partner basking in the sun with a cat-like sensuality.

"Maybe not. Still, you're a decent colour. Sort of pale Rich Tea biscuit," Doyle offered.

"Thanks a bundle." Bodie delved into a convenient rock pool for a can of their beer. "You'll get all wrinkled and prune-like if you're not careful."

"Not me, mate."

"Ugh! This beer's warm. You want any?" Bodie added, ever solicitous for his lover's well-being.

"Too kind. Nah, it's too hot. You don't really need that shirt on, you know. You won't catch a chill." That was an understatement if ever there was one. It must be over ninety in the sun.

"Listen, I know you love me for my body, but will you still love me when I'm lobster-red and peeling?"

"Always," Doyle told him, all seriousness, before the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled. "I'd love you even more if the beach wasn't so crowded."

"It's OK," Bodie told him comfortably. "I've found this cave, haven't I?"

"What? Where?"

"All in good time. If you behave I'll show you this evening," Bodie promised him lazily.

"You'd better," Doyle threatened, subsiding onto the sand.

"Oh, I will. Deep and dark and damp it is. The sand's soft in there, too," he added reflectively.

"You're a tormenting sod," Doyle told him with feeling.

Bodie made a contented sound of agreement. By unobtrusive stages he fell asleep. Doyle gently relieved him of the can of beer before it should spill over him. He couldn't think of a leave he had enjoyed more than the last eight days. The weather had been fantastic, early morning mist making it cool enough to go for a decent run in comfort before the mist dispersed to reveal unblemished skies and a brilliant sun.

As a kid he'd never enjoyed beach holidays overmuch; watching Bodie unselfconsciously enjoying himself, Doyle had rediscovered all the childish pleasures of a holiday by the sea, not the least of which had been watching Bodie constructing a huge sand-fortress with the receptionist's kids when they'd come to the rescue and offered to baby-sit for a morning. It had never been Doyle's favourite occupation but he had made no demur when Bodie had offered to take them off Lorna's hands, a part of him eager to see yet another facet of his partner. Even after all these years there were so many things he had still to discover about him.

Sweat trickling down his ribs, Doyle moved into the shade opposite where Bodie lay, leaning back against a relatively smooth side of rock. Reaching out, he dragged over their bag and fished out the sketch pad and pencil he'd bought from the village store.

It had been a good many years since he had done any sketching - applied himself to the sheer discipline of studying form and composition with a critical eye. Bodie, lying prone, with one leg crooked and relaxed, was perfectly posed, he thought, wondering if he could be objective.

Gradually losing awareness of his surroundings, Doyle was not conscious of the passage of time or of the adenoidal breathing that had been gusting down his left ear for the past few minutes.

"That's nuffink like 'im, you know," a gruff voice informed him out of the blue.

Doyle jumped, his 2B pencil skidding across the page. Turning, he scowled at his uninvited critic, a skinny kid of about ten, all ears and scabbed knee-caps.

"What would you know about it?" he demanded.

"Got eyes, haven't I?"

"OK, so you've got eyes. Keep your voice down unless you want to wake up the whole beach."

Bodie smothered a grin and decided to play possum until Ray had reached the limits of his patience. It shouldn't take long.

"I'm Ray," the boy announced, pulling a piece of flaking skin from his peeling arm. He sat next to Doyle; too close for Doyle's liking.

"So am I," he said without enthusiasm.

"Hell, innit," Ray said with heavy gloom.

"No need to swear," said Doyle automatically, having been kept in practice the previous morning.

He received a surly glare from under an unprepossessing fringe, followed by a huffy silence.

"Won't your mates be wondering where you are?" Doyle asked a few minutes later, inhibited by his heavy-breathing audience.

"Ain't got none."


"D'you get all them jokes about your name?" Ray asked in a lugubrious voice as he peeled off another piece of skin.

Trying not to watch, Doyle said, "What jokes?"

"Sunbeam. Bleedin' sunbeam. I ask you!"

Taking off his sunglasses, Doyle shook his head. "Not sunbeam. Not often anyway. Sunshine," he said with a grin. He'd used the term himself for so many years he couldn't remember where it had originated; now he was used to hearing it from one person in particular.

"Doesn't it bother you?"

"I've been called worse," Doyle replied.

Unimpressed, Ray wiped his nose on the back of his hand, then examined the result before turning his attention back to Doyle. "Where did you get that funny scar from?"

"None of your business," Doyle told him placidly, refusing to look down at the faint, pink tracery on his chest.

"You a soldier?"

Doyle continued to shade the area around Bodie's knee.

"Car accident?"

He'd got Bodie's legs OK, even his position was right. The proportions weren't bad and that left hand, with the fingers curled into the palm, was bloody good. So why the hell does it look so lifeless? he wondered, aggrieved.


Christ, he was a persistent little bugger. Leaning over, Doyle peered into their rock pool. "Want a coke?"

"Don't mind if I do."

"Then help yourself. Put the ring-top in the bag. I don't want to go stepping on it later."

Muttering under his breath, Ray did as he'd been told, then took a long swallow of his drink. "Ugh, it's warm."

"Tough," Doyle told him unsympathetically, staring at the sketch again.

"So where did you get that scar from then?"

Enjoying himself immensely up to this point, Bodie almost choked on his rising hysteria. He had a private bet with himself how long Ray - Doyle - would last.

"I fell off me ladder into a cold-frame," said Doyle with awful dignity.

"You're a window cleaner!"

"What's wrong with it? It's a good, steady job," said Doyle sententiously.

Bodie bit down on his inner cheek and ventured to open his eyes a fraction, peering through his lashes. No question about it, he thought with glee, Doyle was definitely getting a hunted look.

"Nuffink," said Ray hastily; his disillusion was obvious. "You don't 'ave to tell me if you don't want to."

"Listen, mate, you and me are going to fall out any minute now. Pack it in, will you?" Doyle demanded in exasperation. "If you want me to be James Bond, I'm James Bond, all right?"

"Have you seen his latest?"

"Yeah, before we came down here. Like his films, do you?"

Ten minutes later Doyle wished he hadn't asked. The subject of cars took them through another fifteen minutes, by which time he'd had enough. But he couldn't bring himself to get rid of his unwanted companion.

"Fancy a game of football?" Ray asked hopefully when the conversation flagged again. His gaze drifted wistfully to the game in progress on the far side of the beach.

"No ball," said Doyle, feeling a pang at that look despite himself.

"I've got one on the other side of them rocks."

You would have, Doyle thought with disbelief. "I'm too old and it's too hot," he said. He could feel the conker-coloured eyes studying his grey hairs; despite himself, he rose to the silent challenge.

"All right, we'll play football. But you'd better be good," he warned. Getting to his feet, he dusted the sand from his legs.

"What about 'im?" Ray jerked his head in Bodie's direction.

"What indeed?" said Doyle in a tone that his partner recognised all too well.

"'E sleeps a lot, don' he?"

Bodie concentrated on keeping his breathing at just the right level, but he was pretty sure it was too late.

"Not as much as you'd think," Doyle told Ray grimly, having realised a while ago what his partner was up to. He studied the close-lidded face, his own expression preoccupied, then bent down to pick up the sketch he'd been working on.

"You were right," he admitted wryly. "This isn't anything like him."

"Told you, didn't I? It's not your fault, he's got a funny face," Ray consoled.

Warming to his unprepossessing companion by the minute, Doyle grinned. "That's what I'm always telling him." He crumpled the drawing and tossed it into Bodie's lap. "C'mon, Sleeping Beauty. Ice cream van's at the top of the beach. What do you fancy, Ray?"

"You buyin'?" Ray demanded with innate caution.

"Nah, he is," said Doyle as he met rueful blue eyes.

"Pistachio 'n' raisin - with a flake. A big 'un."

Doyle shuddered. "Strawberry for me. No flake. And don't go eating ours on your way back. Come on, Ray, I'll teach you how to play football."

Uncharacteristically Ray hesitated, toes scuffing the sand as he stared between Doyle and Bodie, who was raking through their bag for his wallet.

"Actually . . The thing is," he said in a confidential tone, "it's me Gran's birthday on Monday."

"That's nice." Doyle waited.

"An' me Mum sent me out to get her a present. Gave me a quid."

Doyle didn't take him up on his hopeful pause, forcing Ray to labour on.

"You can't get much for a quid. Not for an old lady. Anyway, I spent it."

"What on?" asked Doyle with resignation.

"Space Invaders."

"Ah. So now you've got nothing for your Gran and you want me to give you a quid," guessed Doyle, having decided it would be cheap at the price.

"Course not," said Ray with near contempt.

Bodie decided to postpone his trip until he'd heard the punchline.

"Oh. Well, what do you want?" pursued Doyle.

"I saw you drawin'. That's what brought me over," said Ray artfully.

"But you said I couldn't draw," protested Doyle, feeling a faint glow of gratification despite himself. He'd known he couldn't be that bad.

"No, I just said you couldn't draw him," corrected Ray patiently.

"Because I've got a funny face. I heard you," Bodie told him.

As untroubled as his namesake by Bodie's scowl, Ray gave him a wide grin. "No offence," he assured him.

"None taken," said Bodie, perching on a nearby rock.

"So you want me to do a drawing of you to give to your Gran," guessed Doyle, failing to hide his pleasure at having someone, albeit a scruffy kid, taking his art seriously.

"Not likely," said Ray with deflating haste. "Nah, I wondered if I could 'ave your sunglasses for me Gran. They're just what she could do with. An' if I clean 'em up she'll never know they're not new."

Bodie laughed so hard he fell off the rock.

"Will you just shut up?" implored Doyle, holding his aching ribs as he unlocked the door to their room.

Red-faced with laughter, Bodie leaned weakly against the door, unable to make more than faint wheezing noises.

He set Doyle off again.

"It wasn't that funny," Doyle protested eventually. Needing some support, he swept Bodie's trainers from the armchair.

Bodie beat him to the chair and leant back in it. "I don't know which was best," he spluttered, "your face when he first told you or watching you give him the damn glasses. He must have seen you coming, mate. And when he said, 'not likely'. Oh, christ. That second ice cream was a mistake."

Moving in on the seated figure, Doyle placed a hand on either side of the cracked leather wings, framing Bodie's face as he stared into the laughter-creased eyes while trying to maintain his look of menace.

"And what's wrong with my face?" he demanded.

Hiccupping now, Bodie stared back, taking in every inch of the nut-brown skin and the cool, green eyes. "Not one thing," he conceded, kissing Doyle on the nose and watching him go cross-eyed.

Doyle blinked, cleared his blurred vision, and kissed him back with a leisurely pleasure, his hands cupping Bodie's face by this time. "Well, that's all right then."

"It's a pity though," mused Bodie reflectively. He licked the hollow of Doyle's collar bone, tasting the sun, sweat and sun-oil; he wrinkled his nose at the latter, preferring unadulterated Ray Doyle.

"What is?" asked Doyle vaguely, beginning to lose the thread of this particular conversation.

"That you can't draw."

His head buried between a salt-coated arm and rib-cage, Doyle bit Bodie with some care for placement, but when he looked up his face was alight with laughter. "Y'know, that's what really hurts. I was so chuffed he wanted one of my drawings. The little sod."

"You can't blame him," said Bodie fairly.

"That bad?"

"Better than I can do," Bodie consoled, ruffling the salt-sticky hair.

"Oh, thanks a bundle."

Leaning back on his heels, a beatific smile appeared on Doyle's face as he glanced over the arm of the chair to the shabby, worm-eaten desk in the corner of the room. He wanted Bodie to discover those sketches for himself; wanted to be there when Bodie found them. That desk would look really terrible in Bodie's flat.

The fledgling thought appealed no end.

His hands braced on Bodie's knees, he pushed himself up onto his feet. "Back in a minute."

"Ray, where are you off to now?"

Doyle was already halfway downstairs to undertake an important transaction, hoping that the woodworm would be taken into account when it came to valuing an antique desk.


Having been given grudging permission to sketch his mate, Doyle could not bear to waste any time in taking Bodie up on his offer. He already knew that one, two or even a dozen attempts would not be sufficient. How could he content himself with capturing just one of Bodie's many faces or moods? But there was one moment in particular that he ached to capture - the expression on Bodie's face after love: drowsy, sated and totally desirable, the hint of arrogant complacency, and the tender delight.

The only possible setting was their bedchamber, gloomy though it was. While the light in Bodie's room was far from ideal, particularly during these dark winter months, it would have to do, for he could bear to delay no longer. Doyle began to plan his campaign with unusual subtlety.

Over the next few days Bodie accepted the sketch pad as part of the furnishings, and the blazing fire when he awoke each morning as being due to Doyle feeling the cold more than he. The open drapes puzzled, until he saw some hurried sketches outlining the frosty vista from their window. Why Ray should find a snowland scene so irresistible that he must leave their warm bed at some unearthly hour in the morning was beyond Bodie's sleepy comprehension, but while he had been woken so sweetly these past three mornings it scarcely seemed to matter.

The fourth morning their loving was as wild and sweet as if it was the first - and last - time they would share. Bodie drifted back to sleep, aware that it was barely light, to the accompaniment of the murmuring voice that had woken him in the first place.

When next he awoke it was still at an earlier hour than was customary for him, due in part to the fact that the inclement weather had kept them both within the confines of house and yard for the past four days; for once Jedediah's predictions about the weather had proved to be correct.

Bodie's first conscious thought was that he was cold, his second that he was alone in the bed. Rather than bestir himself to pull up the covers, which he seemed to have lost, he remained sprawled with heavy-limbed languor against the pillows, intrigued by the soft sounds he could hear. He knew they must originate from Ray but could not establish what he could be doing. He felt too comfortable to make the effort to open his eyes and find out. He heard a soft, faintly abrasive whispering sound, then a muttered imprecation. Ray was sketching again then.

There were times when he wished he had taken a wheelwright to his bed rather than an artist.

Bodie gave a silent laugh, denying the notion. Perhaps not. Ray would be just as single-minded, whatever his passion. Heaven only knew why he should feel the urge to sketch at this unearthly hour of the day. The light must be abysmal.

Suspicion of what his companion might be sketching dawned only slowly; he had forgotten Doyle's earlier preoccupation with his face and form. The suspicion crystallised when he heard a rustle, followed by a dissatisfied sigh. Moments later the quilt was drawn back over him, a chilly hand offering a fleeting caress to his thigh.

Bodie opened his eyes, startling Doyle as he straightened from where he was bent over the bed.

"Good morning," said Bodie in a non-committal tone. "You began work early this morning."

"I didn't intend to wake you," said Doyle, certain he must look as guilty as he felt. If Bodie did not suffer from this absurd missishness this subterfuge wouldn't be necessary. As he made to leave the bedside a strong hand shot out, restraining him.

"No, I don't suppose you did," Bodie agreed, his voice too even as his suspicion became a certainty. "Particularly not while you took such pains to ensure I should sleep sounder than usual." Rising in one smoothly coordinated movement, he tipped Doyle onto the bed. Ignoring his murmur of surprise, Bodie went over to the table under the window.

Doyle half rose to stop him then shrugged and lay back on his elbows, resignation on his face as Bodie found the abandoned sketch. Bodie gave the charcoal drawing one incredulous glance before letting it fall back onto the table.

"You scheming bastard," he breathed, contempt echoing in the insult. "So this is why I've been woken so sweetly these past few mornings. Why I awoke chilled - " He ran a hand over his cool flesh. "I thought I imagined your touch." Mercifully, words failed him.

Watching him through troubled eyes Doyle realised he had totally misjudged Bodie's feelings on the subject. Already frustrated by his inability to capture what he wanted of Bodie's expression for the fourth consecutive morning, he said only, "You didn't imagine my touch." Spurred on by the scorn on Bodie's face he added, "But unless you do me the courtesy of actually looking at the sketch in any detail you're unlikely to understand my intent. Or do you seriously imagine that I regard you only as some magnificent animal to be captured in all its sensuality?"

"Don't you? One would never suspect otherwise! This piece of - of pornography reveals quite eloquently what regard you hold me in, I thank you."

Doyle flinched, the accusation striking home. The fact that his loving intent could be so misconstrued, that Bodie should believe him capable of such insensitivity, sinking in, an icy anger ran through him.

"You must believe what suits you best," said Doyle at his chilliest. "I realise nothing I say is likely to convince you."

Bewildered and hurt, Bodie was experiencing an unacknowledged jealousy of a passion he could not share; now he heard only the hard, biting tone, not the pain it failed to conceal.

"No, there's nothing you could say," he retorted. "I know your arguments too well by now. Unless you propose we fuck? The sketch isn't completed, after all."

Doyle's mute, white face spurred him on.

"God's teeth!" In his rage Bodie swept the decanter and glasses from the table, feeling a savage satisfaction as they shattered on the floorboard. "I went to great pains to make it clear I had no desire, even some dread, of being immortalised, but you went right ahead, regardless. Anything to satisfy your artistic whim. Well, I trust you've studied me for long enough, lover." There was a bitter irony to the endearment.

"Why, is it to be my last opportunity?" mocked Doyle.

"You once accused me of treating you like some second-rate whore," Bodie reminded him in a harsh tone, ignoring the question and the sickness in the pit of his belly. "What name would you give your recent behaviour? Or am I supposed to feel so grateful for your attentions that I shouldn't care?"

"Bodie - " Doyle didn't want this ugly scene to go any further, or for them to rip into each other any more, but stung pride and the knowledge that he had been in the wrong prevented him from stopping it. "I meant it only for the best," he said lamely.

"Best?" Bodie gave a humourless laugh. "Whose best? Mine? I beg to doubt it." His tone cutting, he watched with bleak satisfaction as Doyle, curiously silent by this time, flinched as if his attack had been a physical one. "But I'm a fool," continued Bodie in the same deceptively gentle voice. "Why should I expect you to consider my wishes when your art is at stake?"

Before he could say more Doyle made a low sound of fury. Launching himself from the bed he knocked Bodie aside with his shoulder. Reaching the table, he took up the sketch, tearing it in two, then again before thrusting the pieces at the other man.

"Well, take it then. It's a test, is it not? My feelings for you versus my art. Very well, you win. Much joy may your prize bring you."

His fine rage vanquished by the expression in Doyle's eyes, knowing his over-reaction had stemmed solely from an irrational jealousy that there was a portion of Ray's life which he could not fully understand or share, Bodie caught hold of him.

"Ray, don't - I didn't - "

The torn pieces of the sketch fluttered around him to fall to the floor amid the broken glass and spilt brandy. Doyle had already turned away, freeing himself from Bodie's grasp with ease as he headed for his own room and the half-completed work stored there, prepared in his fury to destroy everything.

Bodie caught up with him in the doorway, the door still wincing on its hinges, and was only just able to restrain the other man.

"Ray, for God's sake! Ray!"

Wrenching free, Doyle swung around, his expression murderous, his temper fully unleashed. His eyes blazed a feral green, his face implacable. It was the face of a stranger, and shockingly wild.

"This is what you wanted, isn't it? No rivals." The thickened voice was equally unrecognisable.

Sliding past him, Bodie blocked the way into the room with his own body. "Ray, I'm sorry. I meant none of it. None of it, do you hear? I just - forget on occasion how important this is to you. I don't fully comprehend it and sometimes... Sometimes I resent it." He cupped the livid face between gentle hands, half-expecting a blow. It never came.

His gaze clearing, Doyle stared at him in near-shock as he relaxed under Bodie's hands. Seeing the love in the worried face opposite his own, he realised what he had almost done. Giving a shuddering sigh of remorse, he rested his head against Bodie's shoulder for a moment before he straightened again.

"Well, that's as fine a display of reasoned debate as you're likely to meet from me," he said in almost his usual tone. Shamed, he met the remorseful eyes dark with anxiety and recognised the love there for him.

"What I ever did to deserve you I shall never know," he whispered, running a gentle finger down the worried crease between Bodie's eyes. "The fault isn't yours. I have an appalling temper - particularly when I know myself to be in the wrong." His voice became muffled as, holding Bodie as tight as he could, he buried his face in his lover's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."

"So am I, God knows." His hands slipped between the folds of the robe Doyle wore, needing this gentleness. "You find me so worthy of your time that you're willing to get up at this unearthly hour to sketch me?" Bodie asked with a trace of hesitation, wanting to understand.

Doyle drew away a little to give him a searching look, then nodded; his smile had reached his eyes by this time. Accepting the mistakes they had both made with unusual tranquillity, he was determined to learn from them. At Bodie's look of puzzlement he encouraged his lover back to the warmth of the fire and quietly closed the door to their room. Shrugging out of his robe, he slipped it around Bodie's shoulders on realising how chilled the other man had become.

"I sometimes wonder whether I'll try your patience too far one day. I didn't think, Bodie. Like a greedy, thoughtless child I just took what I wanted and in the taking I hurt you."

Bodie's reply was immediate and tart, as an antidote to sentiment. "Yes, you did. But if you imagine for one moment that I now wish to hear you castigate yourself for the next hour in penance you're much mistaken."

Doyle stiffened with surprised hauteur before, recognising the wry expression on Bodie's face, he gave a choke of laughter and hugged the other man to him as his sense of the ridiculous came to his rescue.

"That's my Bodie, always subtle. It's your damned face," he complained. "It's so irresistible to try and capture... I didn't stop to think about you. But I swear there was no premeditation in our pre-dawn loving. No cold-blooded decision. It was simply the fact I could not resist you. After that... The opportunity seemed too good to waste. I give you my word not to sketch you clandestinely again. Besides," a heavy sigh escaped him, "I doubt I shall ever capture what I seek. I lack the skill."

"What, am I so difficult a subject? That I can't believe," Bodie told him briskly. He heard himself doing an about-face and knew it was because Doyle would keep his promise otherwise.

Crossing the room, stepping over broken glass as if it wasn't there, he bent to scoop up the pieces of the torn sketch and placed the quarters on the desk top. This time he did not concentrate on the explicit nature of the drawing which had so shocked him at first viewing but took the time to study the face. The relaxed, drooping eyelids, barely-glimpsed eyes, dishevelled hair and curve of the lips all betrayed...

A sweet melting pierced his gut.

"How in Heaven's name did you contrive this? Ray, 'tis almost indecent to see one's every thought mirrored in this fashion," he said with a helpless gesture of his hand. He felt a lick of arousal at the sight of his sated face and languidly sprawled body, willing to swear he could see his lover curved over the lines of his own body.

Only half-believing Bodie's reaction, Doyle smiled and shook his head as he came to stand at his side. "It's all right, you need not pretend to -"

"I know. I wouldn't lie. Not after having made the fuss I did." Aware that Doyle did not believe him, Bodie pulled a face. "I can see you are going to take some convincing. Is this truly how you see me?"

Doyle nodded in puzzlement.

"Dear God," Bodie repeated, but with a vast difference in his tone. This time it held a kind of awed wonder.

Under Doyle's surprised gaze Bodie shrugged free of the robe and taking Doyle by the arm, headed for the bed he had left so precipitately.

"Bodie, what are you - ?"

"Now I know you are not that naive. Research," Bodie told him with succinct glee. "Well, come on then."

"An admirable thought," chuckled Doyle, "but I don't believe I could." His face was alight with happiness even so.

"Well, I certainly can, so why not leave all the work to me?" Bodie suggested kindly. He gave a yelp of surprise. "What are you about? Put me down, you imbecile."

"Make me," gasped Doyle, just before he tipped Bodie onto the bed, breathless with the effort it had required.

Bodie had never been able to resist a challenge. The ensuing wrestling match did the ageing mattress no good at all, causing it to lurch in the most alarming manner. There was a faint groaning sound which neither man heard.

"Surrender," demanded Bodie, leaning over his partner.

"Never," declaimed Doyle dramatically. As he levered Bodie away from him he forgot that the other man still had a grip on his shoulders. Only one of the heavy, carved bed-posts prevented them from being flung from the bed to the floor. They were so engrossed in one another that neither of them heard the sound of protest it made.

"You were saying something about surrender?" Doyle said silkily a few moments later as Bodie heaved and twisted beneath him. "How convenient," he breathed, nipping at the curved buttock presented to him.

Bodie was laughing too hard to offer any resistance, half-stifled by the thick, feather mattress. "I surrender," he said weakly, going limp under Doyle's hands. Rolling onto his back, he drew Doyle down with him. "But you must swear to be gentle with me."

"Oh, I will be," Doyle assured him, voice soft with promise. His earnest tone was belied by the sparkle of anticipation in his eyes. "You'll scarce know what I'm about."

"There's no cause to go to the other extreme," Bodie protested, his hands smoothing down the ridges of Doyle's spine as he held them belly to belly.

Arching up as best he could for the weight of his lover, Bodie gave a low groan of pleasure as their cocks met. Doyle's hands tightened over his shoulders and he saw his desire mirrored in the clouded eyes staring into his own.

Conversation faded as they found a slow rhythm, leisurely kisses deepening, then easing as their breathing became less controlled. Languid pleasure in each other's bodies increased to a hard urgency and a moment of shared intensity as their warmth mingled between their close-locked flesh. Caught at the height of pleasure, there was a groaning crack, and a shudder, followed by a rending sound. Seconds later they were almost buried in a heavy, musty darkness.

For a moment there was a shocked silence before they began to cough and splutter from the clouds of dust enfolding them in their soft prison.

"Ray?" There was an odd note in Bodie's voice, not accounted for by the fact he had begun to cough in the hot, arid space they shared.

Plastered against his partner, a soft, heavy weight pressing into the small of his back, Doyle was shaking with spasms of laughter.

"Oh Lord. I'm familiar with the little death," he near-wailed, almost incoherent.

"And here was I about to take the credit," gurgled Bodie, just before he buried his over-heated face in the hollow of Doyle's throat and shoulder.

They laughed until they were weak from it and scarce able to draw breath.

"This is no occasion for levity," Bodie informed a hiccupping Doyle with mock severity. He began to push and poke at the folds of the heavy fabric encasing them. "What in hell's name - ? Ah, rest easy. It wasn't Armageddon, merely the canopy collapsing on top of us and bringing down two of the drapes." As he spoke he inadvertently put his fist through the half-rotten damask. He cursed the ensuing cloud of dust.

At least they could breathe again, though Doyle had begun to shiver, the temperature seeming chilly after the half-suffocating darkness they had been trapped in. Blinking against the light, fraying crimson threads and an ancient cobweb trailing from his curls, he cautiously raised his head to peer out at the ruin of the bed.

"I trust you appreciate that if the canopy had chosen to collapse only a moment before it did, the consequences to ourselves could have been severe," he announced, glancing at his quiescent flesh with meaning.

Bodie chuckled. "Not to mention painful. I wonder what caused the disaster." Wriggling free, he knelt up on the mattress and immediately saw that one of the carved bed-posts supporting the canopy had broken in two at its narrowest point. His eyebrows snapped together.

"How did that come about?" he wondered out loud. "Woodworm, or perhaps it was weakened by being moved from one room to another?"

"Or old age," said Doyle acidly.

Straightening only with difficulty, he flexed his stiffened spine. Then, bending again, he began to haul the rotting material clear of the mattress, bundling it up as best he could. He was forced to pause several times, racked by minor convulsions as the dust made him sneeze. Wiping his reddened and weeping eyes and unconsciously smearing the dust coating his face a little further, he paused to give Bodie a stern look.

"You will recall that it was you who wouldn't entertain the notion of this room or its contents being touched in any way," he said, unable to hide his satisfaction at being proved right.

"So I was in error. Everyone is permitted one mistake," said Bodie, admitting defeat. "We'll repair to one of the guest rooms and recall the workmen."

"Can we afford it?" asked Doyle, all mischief.

"Of course we can, for surely I heard the Squire commissioning you to do a portrait of his wife. We'll use the proceeds of that," said Bodie, ever generous with other people's belongings.

Doyle threw a remnant of the drape at him. "Imbecile."

"Quite possibly. I took up with you. You look a complete urchin at present," Bodie told him frankly, grinning as he took in the full glory of his companion's dusty and dishevelled appearance.

"While you're neat as a new pin, I suppose," snorted Doyle. He tried to manhandle the pile of material into a less obtrusive heap with a conspicuous lack of success.

Bodie had turned back to the bed-post, frowning as something about its appearance struck him. The break was too far above his head for him to be able to see it in detail and he fetched a high-backed chair, stepping up onto it so he might better be able to examine the cause of the accident.

"No, this wasn't caused by worm, I'm glad to say," he said slowly, sounding puzzled. "It's the strangest thing. The post has been sawn halfway through. You may see the marks quite plainly. Who the devil would wish to - ?" His voice faded away when he saw the expression on his partner's face.

Guilty as a truant schoolboy, Doyle looked at him across the ruin of the bed, recalling his endeavours of the previous October only too plainly, having forgotten them until this moment.

"Er, I - That is... I can explain," he told Bodie feebly.

Betraying laughter perilously close to the surface, Bodie stepped down from the chair and padded towards his lover with slow deliberation.

"Of course you can," he said, all patient understanding. He flexed his hand in a meaning way.

"It was just - It seemed an excellent notion at the time," Doyle told him lamely. "This bed's damnably uncomfortable and I knew you would not entertain the notion of replacing it." He had begun to retreat, rightly mistrusting the gleam in those blue eyes.

"So you sought to force me to replace it," nodded Bodie, experiencing no difficulty at all in following his bird-brained companion's thought processes.

Gratified by Bodie's immediate grasp of the situation, Doyle nodded and offered a tentative smile. He relaxed the moment it was returned.

"I was in the wrong of it, I know," he admitted, "but it had slipped my mind, what with one thing," his hand moved in a vague, all-embracing gesture, "and another."

"Yes, I can see that it would," Bodie agreed softly. Without warning, he pounced on his off-guard mate, his face alight with laughter. But when his hand moved there was nothing vague about it.

Doyle's indignant yelp was muffled by a warm, amused mouth as Bodie tumbled him onto the bundle of curtaining.

Spreadeagled under Bodie's weight, his hands again held above his head, Doyle opened sated eyes and gave a contented sigh.

"Beautiful," he muttered with dreamy pleasure. His body was still tingling from the touch of Bodie's hands and mouth over him which had held him captive and captivated.

Bodie gave him a look of the deepest suspicion.

Untroubled, Doyle grinned. "I was not referring to you," he assured his lover.


"Well, only in part," Doyle admitted. "Lord, that was - I would not have believed I could be brought to - What of you?" he added huskily. His expression softened when he realised Bodie was unlikely to require his aid for some time. "Love you," he mumbled.

"I know," Bodie replied absently, his attention elsewhere.

"You could have tried for a becoming modesty," Doyle pointed out with a touch of acid.

Bodie refocussed. "What do I have to be modest about?" he retorted, jumping when Doyle stuck his tongue in his ear, about all the retaliation open to him while he was pinned.

Rubbing his cheek over and over against his lover's shoulder and inhaling his scent, Bodie was deep in thought again. So Ray was expecting a new bed, was he? Miller was an excellent carpenter and would be able to replace the damaged post in a trice. But he had no objection to purchasing a more stable mattress; the present one seemed to have a life and will of its own on occasion. There was no need to tell Ray about that concession, however.

"You may leave the question of the bed to me," he declared.

Doyle was only too happy to do so; despite his exhausted state he had more important matters on his mind.

"On one condition," Bodie added. He smiled at the wary look he received.

"I know that look," Doyle warned darkly. "If you have some outrageous notion planned so that you may gain your revenge, I give you fair warning - "

"Be still. Am I a child?" Bodie silenced the budding argument by finding the parted mouth for a lingering kiss. "You may sketch me to your heart's content," he whispered into dusty curls. "On one condition. I want at least one sketch of you."

"Me?" Doyle all but squawked.

"You," Bodie confirmed blandly, enjoying the expression on his lover's face.

"But, but it's impossible," spluttered Doyle, appalled at the notion. "I couldn't do it."

"I expect you'll contrive to produce something," Bodie told him complacently. "No sketch of you, no sketch of me. It's very simple." He listened placidly to a lengthy diatribe regarding his parentage, nature, sexual habits and appearance.

"A fine vocabulary, but I mean it, Ray. If I'm to suffer the indignity of being captured by your acute eye at every turn I fail to see why I should suffer alone. Besides, I shall want to look at this beauty when we're both old and wrinkled."

Sighing, Doyle gave him a glare of frustration, but the pleading look in the blue eyes melted away his resistance faster than mist in the sun.

"Very well," he acquiesced, "I'll try."

Bodie gave a smirk of satisfaction. "I thought you'd come round to my way of thinking," he said smugly.

"Getting over-confident?" inquired Doyle, but without resentment.

"Very probably."

"You have cause," Doyle admitted. "Release my hands?" he requested meekly.

"Why should I?" asked Bodie with lazy pleasure, knowing Ray could have freed himself at any time if he had wished to.

"Because I cannot touch you and I want to, very much."

Bodie released him without another word.

By the time the blizzard had stopped howling around the house both men were curled together, filthy and exhausted in front of the fire, sound asleep.


Turning irritably on the same damp spot on the bed, Bodie gave up all pretence of being comfortable. After an aggrieved look around the room, he turned his attention to his partner, who was sprawled limply at his side.

"Ray, you awake?"


Cheered by this vague sound of life, Bodie rolled lethargically onto his side. "It's too hot to get a decent night's sleep," he announced to an expanse of brown back, feeling the need to explain why he had woken so early to himself as much as to an uninterested Ray Doyle.

The air hung hot and heavy in Bodie's usually cool flat; even with every window cast wide there was no breeze and he could feel the prickle of sticky heat where he rested on the once-crisp sheet. Despite the early hour, muted traffic sounds were louder than usual as people set off to work earlier in the hope of avoiding at least one polluted journey in a humid traffic jam. Listening to the sounds outside, Bodie was conscious of a smug satisfaction that at least they didn't have to go to work. Not yet, anyway.

On the edge of sleep, Doyle snuggled deeper into his pillow. Sprawled face down on the mattress, his arms outstretched above him, he looked infuriatingly cool and by no means awake.

Running a light finger down the ridges of Doyle's spine, Bodie was reassured to find the smooth brown flesh felt as hot and damp as his own, despite its appearance to the contrary. Doyle didn't so much as twitch at the contact.

"That scar on your back's healed up a treat," Bodie said, persevering. "It didn't give you any trouble yesterday, did it?"

Aware of a faint tickling sensation, Doyle tried to shrug it away. "Ump."

"That's all right, then. As we spent all yesterday in the gym I thought we could take a break today. Go out in the country, find somewhere quiet. All green and cool," Bodie added, ever the optimist.

"Nowhere's cool," mumbled Doyle, reluctantly conceding that Bodie was going to keep talking whether he responded or not. Lifting his head, bleary-eyed, from the pillow, and cursing muscles stiffened after his hours working in the gym, he pulled a face when he saw what time it was. With a muffled groan, he subsided again.

There was a blissful silence until a tentative finger poked him in the ribs. "Are you going back to sleep again? I've been awake for ages."

Bodie sounded so pathetic that Doyle had to grin with a rare indulgence. Leaning up on one elbow, he yawned widely, then shook his head.

"Obviously not, with you in this mood. Why don't you go and make us both breakfast?" he suggested. He would have at least another half-hour's peace that way. Bodie wasn't the fastest thing on two legs first thing in the morning. "It was just a thought," he conceded at the expressive look he received.

"Not one of your best," Bodie told him, enjoying the sight of his naked companion as if it was their first morning together as lovers. The even, dark-honey tan was complete except for the narrow expanse of cream over buttocks, flanks and groin, highlighting already attractive areas. He'd thought those shorts of Ray's were a bit brief at the time but the resultant demarcation between what was and what wasn't for public viewing was a stirring sight.

He slid his hand under the heavy curls to caress the nape of Doyle's neck, the skin there already damp with sweat. The hair lay, soft and silky, between his fingers.

"You could do with a haircut," he said absently, sifting through it.

"You're starting to sound like my mum. Pack it in, will you? Anyway, I'm having one this afternoon, three o'clock."

"You never told me."

Trapping Bodie's hand as he rolled over, Doyle gave a lazy grin. "I didn't think you'd be interested, mate."

"I'm interested in everything you do," Bodie assured him.

His hand curved over the ball of Doyle's shoulder, tracing along the collar-bone before brushing across the definition of the pectoral muscles; feeling them quiver, Bodie let his hand trickle down the rib-cage, his fingers drifting to tease the soft, sun-bleached hair where it arrowed in a thin line down the flat belly.

Doyle looked from beneath his lashes at the engrossed face bent to him. "You said it was too hot last night," he reminded his lover. His toes were starting to twitch in response to Bodie's attentions, but otherwise he managed to remain still.

"That was last night."

"It's still hot," Doyle pointed out, stretching with a lazy pleasure. His arching spine flaunted his growing interest in the path of Bodie's hand.

"So am I," Bodie whispered.

"We'll get all hot and sticky," Doyle warned him.

Bodie just gave a slow, sweet smile, his mouth but a breath away.

With a soft, incoherent sound, Doyle drew his lover to him.

"Where's breakfast then?" demanded Bodie as he strolled into the kitchen, his skin still damp from his shower, his hair sleeked down over his skull. "I'm starving."

As naked as his partner, Doyle nodded over to the table as he put the milk back in the fridge and came over with their mugs of coffee. Bodie studied the frugal display in appalled disbelief.


"And fresh fruit," encouraged Doyle.

"I'm a growing lad," Bodie told him pathetically as he slumped down on his chair. He gave the small tub in front of him a look of dislike.

"We had this discussion yesterday, remember?"

Bodie's mournful nod spoke volumes.

Doyle gave a sigh of exasperation. "Listen, mate, yesterday down at the gym only proved that neither of us is in what you could call the peak of physical fitness, so we've got to start doing something about it. We both know that Cowley's bound to pack us off to get hammered by Macklin when we get back - especially after that assessment we turned in."

"Thrashed you at squash though, didn't I?" Bodie retorted with satisfaction.

"Fluke," Doyle dismissed as he finished his mug of coffee.


"Yeah. Christ, I don't believe this conversation. We both know you always beat me at squash."

"You won once," Bodie reminded him kindly, determined to be fair. He got up and poured them fresh mugs of coffee.

Dipping his spoon into his yoghurt, Doyle made as if to flick some at his partner.

Unfazed, Bodie just grinned at him. "You'll do better to eat it. You'll need the energy."

It was a relief to know Ray was almost back to normal after nearly a month of over-protective, watchful concern. It had been starting to get him down. That stint in the gym yesterday must have completed the reassurance. Doyle had been a walk-over, but things wouldn't be that easy for him again.

The sound of Doyle scraping out the last spoonful of yoghurt made Bodie realise he hadn't started on his own breakfast. He began a familiar fight with the foil top on his tub; as usual, it got the better of him. He swore with feeling when he received an unwanted splattering of natural yoghurt down his cheek.

"It's supposed to be good for the complexion," Doyle announced conversationally.

"We talking sex or yoghurt here?"

Doyle thought about it. "Both."

"Know what I'd rather have," Bodie grumbled. "Bet there's a damn sight more vitamins to be had from you, too." Wiping away the last trace of yoghurt from his cheek he grinned, feeling too good to be able to pretend otherwise. "So what are we doing today, the gym, country-air or what?"

"I don't mind. We should get fit," said Doyle conscientiously. "Still, we can do that this evening, when it's cooler. How about going down to - "He broke off to peer around but couldn't see a calendar. "What date is it? I've lost track while we've been on leave."

"The eighth," Bodie told him promptly as he started in on a plump peach, the downy skin and warm colour faintly reminiscent of the hollow of Ray's back.

"Bugger. Sorry, mate, I can't go out this morning."

"Why not?"

"I've got something being delivered at eleven," said Doyle evasively.

Bodie groaned. "Terrific. Your flat will be hell after being locked up in this heat."

"That's all right, it's being delivered here, isn't it."

"Here?" Bodie gave his partner's bland face a long look. "OK, what have you been up to this time?" he demanded, sounding resigned.


"Yeah, you. I know that bug-eyed look of old. What have you been up to, Ray?"

"Nothing. Well, nothing you'll object to," Doyle amended. "Probably," he added after a pause for reflection. "It's a present." He achieved a nicely judged air of self-consciousness.

Bodie's face lit up. "For me?"

"That's right." Doyle began to suck the last shreds of succulent flesh from his peach stone with great relish and even more noise.

"Your table manners are really horrible, you know that?"

"It's been mentioned," Doyle conceded sunnily.

"I'll just bet it has. What is it then?"

Doyle was all limpid innocence. "Ah, now that would be telling. You'll just have to be patient."

And despite artful questions, pleas and out-and-out threats he would say no more on the subject.

Bodie started to unpeel the solid object which was cluttering up the centre of his living-room as soon as the delivery men left. Pulling away the last sheet of corrugated cardboard, his face dropped in dismay.

"It's a desk." His incredulity and disappointment were obvious, although he made a valiant effort to brighten.

Doyle, who hadn't considered the impact of the desk itself, felt a pang of regret. Still, Bodie had always been quick on the uptake, it shouldn't take him long.

"I thought it would look good under that window," he offered, gesturing across the room.

"Yeah. You what?" Studying the battered piece of furniture with more care, Bodie swung around, his expression mirroring his disbelief. "It's... it's got woodworm, Ray," he pointed out with some delicacy, not wishing to give offence.

Slinging an arm around Bodie's shoulders, Doyle gave him a quick, impetuous hug. "A bit," he agreed ruefully.

"A bit? It's riddled with the - " The penny dropped. "OK, what does it do, explode, get up and make the tea or pee on the carpet?"

Circling the desk, Bodie eyed it with caution. His puzzled frown turned to a look of recognition. "All of a sudden I get this feeling that I've seen this before. Hang on, isn't this the desk from - You haven't taken to nicking furniture from hotel rooms, I hope?" he demanded severely.

"No, I haven't," Doyle denied indignantly. It hurt to think of the hole purchasing this worm-eaten lump of firewood had made in his bank balance. "All bought and paid for, this is."

"But why did you buy it from the hotel? Oh." Bodie was smiling now. "I suppose the period would be about right. They'd have used this, wouldn't they?" From his emphasis it was clear who he was talking about. He ran a gentle hand over the dented and scratched wood.

"Oh, they used it all right," Doyle told him, moving to kneel beside him.

Something in his lover's voice made Bodie give him a look of question. "Why do I get the feeling you know they did? Come on, Ray. What's all this in aid of?"

"You're not usually this slow on the uptake. I just thought you'd enjoy looking at it. In detail," he added with deliberation, getting up to perch on the arm of one of the easy chairs.

"Detail?" Bodie stared from Doyle to the desk and back to Doyle again. "There was something about these old desks, wasn't there. Yeah, what was it Cowley was burbling about that time? Secret drawers? And the only reason for having them is to put something in - " He was talking out loud rather than to Doyle as he walked around the desk, assessing it.

Doyle gave him a fond smile. Bodie never had been able to resist a puzzle. He watched the other man slide the drawers free and place them on the carpet, having examined each one with great thoroughness. His capable fingers ran lightly over the wood with something like a lover's touch, growing attached to this worn survivor from another age as much for its own sake as for any association it might have. He assessed each joint and curve, studying the craftsmanship through eyes that could measure out two miles or two inches with equal ease.

"They really knew how to make things in those days," he announced in ungrudging appreciation. "I like this, Ray. Really."

"I can see that, sunshine." Doyle smiled again, wondering where the hell they were going to find a furniture restorer. They'd have to do something about that woodworm before Bodie's floorboards disappeared.

There was a small click and Bodie made a soft sound of satisfaction as he slid the drawer free and placed it carefully on the desk top before getting to his feet. "What have we here then?"

His voice trailed away as he lifted out the first sheet of paper, his breath hissing inwards in a sharp sound before he began to study the drawing.

He was silent after that but he removed each sketch with deliberation, handling them with the greatest of care before he went on to the next, studying each one with an intensity which told its own story. Long before he reached the end his hands began to tremble.

There was a level of near-reverence in the slow, deliberate movements that was so different from Bodie's usual fluid speed that it brought a lump to Doyle's throat. Loving Bodie very much, he watched the bent head and half-visible profile, the long, dark lashes shadowing the curve of cheek, the lips just parted in wonder.

As if becoming aware that he was under surveillance, Bodie swung fully back to Doyle.

"Ray, I - Oh, christ." His eyes too bright, and incredibly softened, he kissed Doyle fiercely, his fingers locked in brown curls.

"They're beautiful," Bodie said at last, his voice still tinged with disbelief. "Seeing them like this..." Caught in a tangle of emotion, he couldn't find the words. Burying his face against Doyle's shoulder, he held on with all his strength.

Doyle cupped the dark head between his palms and drew it up so he could see Bodie's face. "You like them then," he said with fine understatement.

Bodie's eyes seemed to be lit from within by small, blue flames. "Oh, I like them, sunshine." He drew a shaky breath. "God, Ray. This is the most beautiful thing anyone's - You set these up for me to find, didn't you?"

"Found them by accident when I was stuck in the room, waiting to hear from Hodge. I knew you'd - I wanted to see your face when you found them for yourself. He knew his Bodie, did that Ray Doyle. But while they might be good, I'd rather have the original."

"That's lucky, because you're stuck with me, mate," Bodie told him, wiping the moisture from his face with no trace of self-consciousness. He gave a dazzling smile of sheer happiness, half-tender, half-bashful. "It's nice to know they had what we've got." Long fingers caught hold of his, twining between them.

"And you wondered why I started going soft on you," mocked Doyle gently. "Yeah, it's nice." He eyed the desk top, which was covered in sketches. "I thought we might get them framed. It's a shame to keep them hidden away. Besides, they'd look great on the walls."

A look he didn't understand crossed his partner's face.

"I'm not sure I'd go that far," Bodie said with a trace of unease. "I mean... Well, some of them aren't the sort of thing I'd like visitors to walk in on."

Doyle gave him a look of astonishment. "Come off it, mate. Where's the harm? It might be a bit narcissistic, but I'd be happy."

Bodie began to look faintly hunted. "Listen, I'm all for being liberal-minded and keeping you happy, but some of them are a bit explicit, you know. I can't see the meter-man appreciating a semi-tumescent me staring him in the eyeballs first thing in the morning."

Doyle was on his feet and looking at the sketches before Bodie had finished speaking.

"Christ." Pole-axed, Doyle just stared at the drawings, appreciation, envy, amazement and sheer lust on his face. "They're fucking fantastic," he breathed, leaning back against Bodie for support. "I've never seen anything so - " He gave himself a small shake and tore his gaze away from them. "The only thing is, they're not the drawings I found. There must be two secret drawers. Trust me, I would have remembered these. Who could forget them?" he added helplessly.

Drawn back to the sketches, one in particular caught his attention. He touched it with an unsteady finger.

"Yeah, I can see they've had quite an effect on you," Bodie remarked, studying his lover's body with barely concealed amusement. "More to the point, how do you feel about the original?"

He had to repeat the question to gain Doyle's attention. The heavy lids rose on lust-bright eyes which roved slowly over him before they lifted to hold his gaze.

"Passable," Doyle conceded throatily. But he turned his back on the sketches on the desk without a moment's hesitation.

Sitting on the carpet at Bodie's feet, his hair brushing a bony knee, Doyle raised his condensation-frosted glass. "Lucky you'd stuck this in the fridge," he said, taking an appreciative swallow. It wasn't particularly comfortable leaning against the hard press of Bodie's shin and knee but he was unwilling to lose the contact.

"Forethought, that's what it's called," Bodie told him with smug content. He reached out for the bottle at his side to top up their glasses.

"I thought it might be nice if we gave the old man one of those pictures," Doyle announced, leaning back to peer up at him.

Choking, Bodie sprayed his partner with a mouthful of liquid, the minor convulsion upending the remainder of the well-chilled wine into Doyle's unsuspecting lap.

LONDON, 14th JULY 1983

Becoming aware that he wasn't alone, Cowley glanced up, his expression of angry impatience fading when he saw who the intruders were.

His door jamb was being propped up from two directions. Doyle, his legs nonchalantly crossed at the ankle, hands in his pockets, was brown as a nut, the smooth tan accentuated by the pale, half-open shirt and his uneven grin. There was a decidedly mischievous expression in the light eyes. Bodie, propped against the other side of the door, his arms folded, looked pale in comparison, but there was an air about his relaxed figure that Cowley could not immediately place. Then he realised: serenity wasn't a word he usually thought of associating with Bodie but it was apt now. The crooked grin curving the long mouth also lit the rich, blue eyes; that had not always been the case.

"Well, you may as well come in," he snapped testily, beckoning them in with a brisk gesture to cover the pleasure he felt at the sight of them. "You're cluttering up the hallway and letting the hot air in."

His small electric fan clicked noisily in the background, failing even to stir the papers on his desk.

Their grins widening, they obeyed him with unusual alacrity, Bodie's smooth easy stride contrasting with his partner's loping bounce. They slid onto chairs on the opposite side of the desk, Bodie sitting straight-backed but informal, Doyle slouching down, one leg propped over the other; some things never changed. Neither of them made any attempt to break the silence but their expressions had more in common with truant schoolboys than what he expected from two of his top operatives. Cowley trusted neither of them in this mood of bright expectancy.

Placing his pen on the blotter and folding his hands upon it, he sat back to watch them with polite interest. When it became clear they were prepared to wait him out rather than break the now lengthy silence, he gave an exasperated snort.

"Och, you know where the bottle is better than I do."

Bodie gave a gratified smirk.

Doyle was crouching down at the cupboard, taking out the glasses before he had finished speaking.

"Thought you'd never ask," he said impudently, rising with an enviable ease. Standing at the desk he poured out three generous measure, ignoring Cowley's look of pain at his liberality.

"Oh, did you now?" Cowley said with dry disbelief as he accepted his own glass. "Well, I suppose it's something that you waited to be asked."

Sliding his spectacles from his nose, he sat back in his chair, undoing the second button of his shirt before studying them with barely concealed satisfaction. Bodie had lost and Doyle had gained weight. They both looked rested, fit and disconcertingly ready for anything. For a moment he felt old and tired.

"You certainly look as if you had a good leave," he remarked dryly.

Bodie took a luxurious swallow of whisky, his expression mirroring his approval, before he shrugged and gestured to his shoulder. "Not only was it good, it was careful, too," he announced in a voice heavy with gloom.

Lifting his eyes heavenwards, Doyle slid further down his chair, disowning his partner.

Cowley's level gaze remained on the too-innocent face until Bodie began to fidget. "I see your jokes haven't improved."

"I'm working on him," Doyle said with mournful resignation. He spared Cowley a sad, confiding glance. "Mind, it's an uphill task."

"Night and day he works on me," Bodie confirmed, dead-pan.

From Bodie's grimace Cowley judged that Doyle had probably applied a little heavy pressure from a trainered foot, because Bodie subsided with a suspect meekness, his face assuming an expression of wounded innocence.

"After your prolonged leave, may I take it that you're both ready to resume your duties bright and early Monday morning?" he inquired blandly, looking from one man to the other.

There was a tangible difference between the pair of them, he realised. Their jokes and manners continued to be appalling; they sat no closer and found no excuse for fleeting body contact, in fact they seemed not to need to glance at each other quite so often, as if they had already anticipated each other's thoughts. Their unity was an almost tangible thing; perfectly attuned, they were comfortable and unmistakeably content with each other. He no longer found it difficult to accept that they could achieve a stable, durable relationship. The evidence sat in front of him: a matched pair.

There was an almost palpable aura of vitality surrounding them, a poised-on-a-knife-edge expectancy. This time he had no need to fear which way they would fall. Stale and over-tired as they had been, it was a wonder they hadn't got themselves, or someone else, killed.

He made a brisk mental note to review the duty rosters for all field agents on a continuing basis; there seemed to be something to be said for a prolonged period of leave, judiciously applied.

Sensing he now had the older man's full attention, Bodie looked up from his drink. "We're ready and willing for work," he said with supreme confidence. "Knew you must have missed us," he added with a typical display of cheek.

Cowley raised his eyebrows as he refilled their glasses, ignoring Doyle's exaggerated double-take at this uncommon privilege.

"Well, you always say we're your best team," Bodie added encouragingly, his face dropping in dismay when he compared his own short measure with Doyle's comfortably filled glass.

"I may have said something to that effect," conceded Cowley, who was in a rare expansive mood. "In one of my weaker moments." He topped up Bodie's glass, then gave him an appraising look. "But situations change."

Bodie set his glass down, the contents untouched. "What situations?" he demanded, his deceptively lazy smile vanishing.

Next to him, Doyle straightened in his chair in one smooth movement. They exchanged a fleeting look before subjecting him to a joint glare.

"Your fitness for the job - both physical and mental. There's the possibility that you've lost your cutting edge, in which case you're of no use to CI5 or me. Then there's the question of your shoulder, Bodie, and the small matter of 4.5's insubordinate manner."

Receiving a look of deep reproach from Doyle, Cowley realised Bodie hadn't been told everything that had passed between Doyle and himself.

Bodie had obviously begun to suspect the same thing because his eyes were narrowed and thoughtful as he turned to look at his partner.

"You been misbehaving, Raymond?" he inquired. He'd already had his suspicions about his partner's debriefing with the old man, particularly after Ray had actually admitted to losing his temper. He glossed over the reference to his own physical condition with the ease of long practice.

Cowley had always admired Doyle's acting ability, but never more so than at this minute.

"Who, me?" The wide-eyed indignation was judged to a nicety. "Nah, more like some little activity of yours that I'm getting the stick for."

Bodie didn't appear to be convinced by Doyle's look of candour. "You didn't by any chance - "

To his surprise, Cowley heard himself coming to Doyle's rescue.

"4.5's behaviour has, to the best of my knowledge, been exemplary," he interrupted, casting a quelling look in Bodie's direction. "I merely anticipate his normal course of conduct."

Diverted, Bodie gave a crack of surprised laughter. "What, old do-it-by-the-book Doyle? You must be confusing him with someone else," he said in blithe dismissal.

Unnoticed by his partner, Doyle breathed a sigh of relief. The last time he'd been in this office he'd made a right prat of himself. Not for the first time by any means, but there were a couple of scenes he'd rather tell Bodie about himself. Sometime.

"It's a bad habit I'm trying to pass on to him," continued Bodie, "but it's not easy. He keeps insisting on doing everything by numbers. The human body's only so flexible, you know," he added in a confiding aside, a reminiscent gleam in his eyes.

"I'll take your word for it," replied Cowley, his voice ultra-dry as he subdued the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth out of respect for the expression on Doyle's face.

He had wondered how Bodie would take the news that he was, and always had been, aware that they had become lovers. Bodie was taking considerable pleasure in showing him. But then Bodie had always hidden the depths of his emotional responses behind a flippant style of humour designed to distract the attention. If he should do so in grief, it was fitting he should do so when happy.

And there was no mistaking the fact he was happy.

"Incidentally, while I think of it, Bodie, you're due to see Doctor Kenyon again on Monday morning, eight-thirty sharp. Whatever he says regarding your fitness goes, so you can save the arguments. Clear?"

"As crystal," replied Doyle placidly, his equanimity restored. "He'll pass the medical if I have to carry him through it. He's only looking pathetic in the hope of getting some old lady's seat on the bus home."

"Save the fare and jog instead," said Cowley. "When I'm satisfied you're both fit enough to resume operational status you're scheduled for a three-day refresher course. After a month off, you'll need it."

"I told you we shouldn't have left Bognor," said Bodie with a mournful air, casting a look of reproach at his partner.

Doyle ignored him. "Macklin hasn't retired then?" he checked with a trace of desperation.

Cowley took a sip of whisky and gave Doyle a smile of great affability. "Indeed no, but I'll ensure he hears of your concern for his aged bones. He's enjoyed a short spell of leave himself, so you'll be equally fresh."

"Oh, good," said Doyle, his voice hollow.

"We wouldn't want to take unfair advantage," said Bodie, trying to be objective about the prospect ahead of them.

"Speak for yourself," Doyle told him without heat. "I'll take all the advantage I can get with that sadistic bastard, including a howitzer," he added, knowing himself to be in the peak of condition. Macklin might find himself getting a few surprises of his own.

"I have every confidence you'll survive somehow," Cowley said with a noticeable lack of concern. Catching sight of the time, he remembered the half-finished report he wanted to clear tonight if he was to fit in a game of golf in the morning before the Security Committee Meeting. "Much as I appreciate the pleasure of your company, what exactly are you doing here four days before your leave expires?"

There was a short silence.

"We wanted to catch you alone," Bodie explained with an airy wave of his hand.

"You've succeeded," Cowley told him unhelpfully, waiting for an explanation.

Bodie tried an ingratiating smile and when that failed nudged his partner in the ribs. "Go and get it then," he hissed in exasperation when Doyle just gave him a wounded look.

Cowley had always suspected Doyle's look of polite attention to be a facade.

Dreamily enjoying the sight of Bodie ill-at-ease, Doyle was slow to recover. "What? Oh, yeah, it wouldn't do to go forgetting that," he agreed chattily. "Back in a tick, sir." Padding across the office, he opened the door and hooked his arm around the corner; when it came back into view, he was holding an attractively wrapped package.

Rectangular, weight approximately five pounds and about thirteen inches by nine, Cowley judged, eyeing it with suspicion and interest in equal measure.

Returning to stand in front of the desk, Doyle tried to pass the package to his partner.

Shaking his head, Bodie was having none of it. "It was your idea," he said, all pious virtue.

Sparing him a venomous glare, Doyle fidgeted, coughed, then, failing to find inspiration in the wall above Cowley's sandy head, thrust the parcel over the desk.

"For you," he said baldly, his expression as wary as if delivering a ticking bomb.

Giving him a look of the darkest mistrust, Cowley made no attempt to take the package. With the pair of them in this mood there was no knowing what crazy stunt they might try to pull.

"Why?" he demanded. "What for?"

There was a disconcerted silence, neither man having anticipated this reaction, when they had paused to think this far.

"Christmas present?" offered Bodie, clutching at straws.

"Today is the fourteenth of July, 3.7." His glare effectively quenched the grin tweaking the edges of Bodie's mouth.

"Birthday?" suggested Doyle, his manner a little too bright. "I always thought you were a typical Gemini, sir."

"Try November," said Cowley dryly.

"Might have known you'd have the sting in the tail," mumbled Bodie.

Cowley elected to ignore that remark. "I repeat, why have you presented me with this?"

Doyle gave a helpless shrug and stuffed a hand into the back pocket of his faded denims as he hitched the package further up under his arm. It had seemed a good idea at the time, he remembered dolefully.

Bodie's barely audible, "Would you settle for love and kisses?" caught Doyle unprepared. He choked, coughing sharply to try and cover the fact while hoping the old man hadn't heard the quiet aside.

"To celebrate Bastille Day," he suggested with hoarse desperation. "Community spirit and all that." He stepped back onto his partner's foot, wishing he was wearing his boots rather than trainers.

Cowley gave a faint smile of approval. "Well, on that basis," he reached out and removed the package from Doyle's nerveless grasp, "I accept."

Doyle shot his companion a look of wicked triumph and Bodie experienced a moment of sheer panic about which sketch Ray had actually framed and wrapped before he relaxed again. If Ray had gone to the trouble to stagger back from the library with all those books on picture framing to reinforce the rudiments he'd touched on nearly twenty years ago while at art college, it didn't seem too likely that he'd present Cowley with one of the sketches which turned him on every time he glanced at them.

His face betraying none of his curiosity, Cowley unwrapped the oddly shaped gift. Even in this he remained in character. Bodie would have torn indiscriminately at the paper, with no thought to the care which had gone into the wrapping of the parcel. Doyle would have prodded and shaken it, trying to guess the contents before he gave way to curiosity and did the same thing. Cowley continued to peel away the tape meticulously, folding back the paper with slow deliberation.

Losing patience, Bodie began to fidget. "It's all right, sir. The paper shortage finished nearly forty years ago and we won't be wanting to use the sellotape again."

Doyle slid to block him from Cowley's wrath. "High spirits," he excused, spreading his hands wide. His gaze dropped back to the half-unwrapped parcel, awaiting Cowley's reaction. He hoped the old man liked it.

"Maybe so, but I'll have you know, Bodie, that a tidy mind is more of an asset to a - "Cowley's voice trailed away.

For the first time his men saw him silenced as he stared at the sombrely-framed portrait sitting between his hands. His face alight with disbelief and a growing pleasure, he reached for his spectacles. Looking up an untold time later in unspoken question, he met Doyle's uneven grin and Bodie's expectant smile.

"Better than a stick of rock, we thought," ventured Doyle diffidently.

"More original than a paperweight that snows when you shake it," added Bodie, uneasy at Cowley's lack of reaction.

Cowley opened his mouth but could think of nothing to say.

More perceptive than his partner at this time, Doyle urged Bodie to his feet with a hand under his arm. "Right, now that's done we'll be off to enjoy the rest of our leave. Glad you liked it, sir. See you Monday. Come on, sunshine."


"And if you're good I'll buy the first round," coaxed Doyle, almost dragging his partner in the direction of the door.

Clearing his throat, Cowley said, "I like it fine. If you'll hang on, I think I could manage to stand you both a drink at the Red Lion."


"Not before time," added Bodie disrespectfully, a faint question in his eyes as he shot a look at his partner. Doyle gave him a reassuring nod. The old man liked it.

"And perhaps you'll tell me how you came by it," Cowley invited. Rising stiffly to his feet, he gave the portrait a last, lingering look of disbelief.

Doyle's disappointment was obvious. "You didn't, even for a moment, think I might have done it?" he inquired hopefully.

Remembering the only artistic effort of Doyle's he had been unfortunate enough to see, a somewhat modernistic thing, Cowley gave him a look of pain.

"Nah, I thought not," accepted Doyle, knowing his limitations. "That bugger could draw," he added wistfully.

"You know the artist?" Cowley asked, alerted by Bodie's expression.

Bodie nodded with glee. "So do you."

"But this is a genuine - " Cowley caught sight of the small, cramped signature with disbelief and shared his threatening glare impartially between the two men. "You'll tell me where you came by this in the Red Lion."

"Of course," said Bodie easily. "Once you've got a couple of drinks inside you. You'll need 'em," he added happily, having already decided he would leave most of the explaining to Doyle. After all, it had been his idea.

"Did we mention we're drinking doubles now?" Doyle said as he ushered Cowley out of the door.

"Remy Martin, at that," added Bodie, resisting the temptation to mention the old man's pet hate, cocktails.

As it was, Cowley's voice, raised in protest, could be heard receding down the corridor.

The signed and framed portrait, circa 1803, remained on Cowley's desk. The flowing lines of the charcoal sketch stood out on the yellowing paper, as fresh and vibrant as the day they had been drawn. The three men were grouped informally around a table, looking, despite the half-filled glasses and decanter, as if they had been caught in the middle of a heated argument; but the older man was smiling faintly at the mutinous scowls on the two younger faces.

-- THE END --

Written January - July 1982
Published as a zine novel, Doghouse Press, 1998

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