by O Yardley
While his unexpected visitor was stabling his horse, Bodie sped up the wide, uncarpeted staircase three steps at a time to his huge bedchamber, there to throw on shirt, pantaloons and Hessians as quickly as he could.
Ridiculous to feel at a disadvantage clad only in a dressing-gown but undeniable all the same: even the reassurance of a nightshirt would have been some small solace but he'd not worn - or even owned - such a garment since his childhood.
Extraordinary that they should have met as they had last night, and impossible this morning to dissemble under that wide, green gaze; he hadn't even considered it at the time though doubtless it would have been safer, and saner, had they both pretended last night had never happened.
But with his blood singing in his veins as it had not done for long, long months, Bodie knew that he could not have denied what had passed between them, nor did he want to.
Originally intending only to gain the advantage, the kiss he had initiated had flared so swiftly into urgent and overwhelming need that even in retrospect it took his breath away. His fingers fumbled at the ties of his cambric shirt and he cursed under his breath as he fastened them unintentionally into a knot which he abandoned, knowing he had neither time nor patience to sort it out now. A small smile trembled on his mouth. Typical Bodie, he thought cynically, try something like that on someone who was clearly experienced in such matters....
God, yes! Once again the thought provided a physical echo that pierced through him and he stared at himself in the dusty mirror, astounded that simply the memory of another man's touch should be able to arouse him so. He couldn't go down there like this, body half-hard, breathing erratic, palms sweaty... he was reacting like some snotty-nosed schoolboy to his first doxy.
Moving across to the door he stood for a moment gathering his senses and when he was satisfied he had himself once more properly under control, opened it and went down the stairs, strolling as calmly as though there were all the time in the world and no one to meet.
In the kitchen he drew a jug of ale, collected the ham Mrs. Hawben had cooked for him but two days since - with her usual grumbling lecture on his fecklessness of course, but she had kissed him kindly on leaving as she always did - and a loaf of the bread young Lucy Hawben had left in the larder this morning. It was a poor meal but it would have to serve. He might even be able to find some tea, should the fellow require it.
Halfway through his preparations he paused to grin at himself - rushing about like any maid on the fret at being caught unprepared. Who was this damned jackanapes that he should put himself about for him? Something within him shied away from that, not wanting an answer, and a footstep in the passageway demanded his attention.
"In here," he called. "I thought perhaps... a light nuncheon after your ride..."
The man who had introduced himself as Doyle grinned irrepressibly as he tossed his hat and gloves onto the end of the dresser atop the clutter of string, candle-ends, tack, and next to a massive cheese dish large enough to cover a seven-pound Stilton.
"Doubtless you have given the butler a day off," he said solemnly as he came to the table.
"Doubtless." Bodie flashed a quick smile as he deftly carved ham. "Along with the footman, the chef, the parlour maids, tweenies, boot and knife boy and my lady's dresser!"
"Is there one?"
The green eyes raised directly to his temporarily made Bodie less than quick on the uptake.
"Does it look as though there are any of them?" he countered, gesturing about him.
"My lady, I mean."
"Not officially," Bodie murmured.
"Women are a complication, according to Cowley. It was to be my only acceptable excuse, should I return without you - that you were... um... legally legshackled."
Bodie snorted. "At present not even illegally. Can you imagine any woman taking on all this for no more reward than the pleasures of my bed?"
His glance fell comprehensively around him.
Doyle looked about assessingly. The kitchen was large, old fashioned, with no modern appurtenances such as closed stoves, but it bore the unmistakeable mark of decayed grandeur and the number and range of tarnished copper pans adorning the shelves and hooks clearly spoke of a household that had at one time been both large and flourishing.
He shrugged. "It wants only a little money...."
Bodie laughed unmirthfully. "And that is precisely what I have - only a little money!"
He passed over the plateful of ham he had carved and Doyle attacked it with every sign of relish, hacking off a huge crust of bread to accompany it.
"Which accounts for your present night-time activities, no doubt," he said somewhat thickly.
His face as bland as egg custard, Bodie said, "I have various... dependents, old family retainers and the like...."
A crack of laughter startled him.
Doyle laid down his fork. "Forgive me, but the vision of you as a latter-day Robin Hood is somewhat... incongruous."
Bodie's own lips twitched. "I do have obligations," he said neutrally, "and small means with which to honour them."
"Not to mention a largely unsatisfied thirst for excitement."
Bodie's eyes fell before the level gaze: the quiet words expertly summed up his feelings of frustration ever since he had been forced to sell out of the army on receiving his mother's desperate message two years ago and the feeling that this unexpected visitor would not only understand his sentiments perfectly but probably share them in every respect was very strong.
"The Cow told me you had been forced to sell out," Doyle said evenly, "but not why."
Bodie's face expressed his surprise. "I would not have thought he would have remembered me at all," he said, cutting them both a second helping of the excellent ham, "our acquaintance was of the slightest and many years ago."
Doyle grinned engagingly, accepting the second plateful and liberally applying mustard.
"I do not believe George Cowley ever forgets anyone he has a use for," he said. "He has a way of calling in obligations of very long standing which is well-nigh unparallelled."
Bodie could not suppress a chuckle. "You too?"
"In point of fact, no." Doyle's smile widened. "Rather, he is placing me under an obligation in offering me employment when I am otherwise like to have starved - or so he would have me believe. Were it not that I know how difficult it is to find Irish Protestants with the entree to Catholic society I might be inclined to believe him."
"Is that what he wants of you?"
"Of us," Doyle corrected. "Our first assignment is to be in Dublin, gleaning what knowledge we can of these Irish Volunteers as they call themselves - but he agrees one man alone will not do, he must have someone to guard his back. I am of the impression that we are also to spy, each on the other, and report to him."
Bodie grunted. "It sounds much like the Major Cowley I used to know. There was never his like for double-dealing."
Doyle met his eyes. "So long as we know where we are with one another..."
Bodie's eyes fell under that direct gaze, its compelling quality was positively unnerving.
After a short silence Doyle continued calmly, "I am empowered to offer you the princely sum of six hundred pounds per annum for the service to your country, with further settlements upon results."
Bodie's eyes widened. "Princely indeed - but scarce enough to bring this place back into repair...."
"Oh, no, he expects you to sell up."
"Sell..." Bodie broke off, mild anger vying with amusement at this high-handedness.
"He wishes us - as he so charmingly puts it - to be able to sustain at least the outward characters of gentlemen," Doyle chuckled, "with sufficient private means to give us the entree into the ton. He seemed to think the house and land here would command a price sufficient to provide your pensioners with a respectable annuity apiece."
Bodie eyed him sardonically. "And I am to have no say in the matter, I presume?"
"He gave me to understand you would have little love for the place itself or much sentimental attachment to it as the home of your ancestors...."
Bodie's chair clattered to the floor as he stood up abruptly. "Damn him, what right has he to prate of my affairs?"
"None at all," Doyle agreed unblinkingly. "And to give him his due, he did not. I know no more than what I have just mentioned."
But his face bore a lively curiosity for all that.
Bodie paced irritably up and down the stone-flagged floor for a while until at last, meeting that green, unquenchably interested gaze, he paused, his own face twitching into a rueful smile and he picked up the fallen chair, set it back into its place and seated himself once more.
"I am behaving most boorishly," he said with a degree more tolerance. "You are not to blame for Cowley's machinations, I daresay."
The straight, green gaze crinkled into an irrepressible smile. "I daresay that is something we had best agree upon right from the start," Doyle nodded. "We are neither of us ever to be held responsible for George Cowley's actions. That way we shall be able to deal tolerably well together."
Mildly exasperated, Bodie said, "You seem very sure that I will agree to this."
The heavy-lidded eyes did not leave his face as Doyle reached for the jug and refilled his tankard with another draught of Mrs. Hawben's potent home-brewed.
"Yes, I am."
"I have given you no reason...."
"Yes, you have."
The stranger spoke with ruthless certainty.
"I gave..." For once Bodie found himself at a loss for words.
When his host had fallen into an awkward silence the stranger grinned.
"You were the first to offer a partnership, not I," he said in soft reminder. "Mine has the advantage - minor, I grant you - of being legal at least insofar as this country is concerned, but more importantly of being reliably more rewarding financially and of offering, from time to time, periods of extreme danger and challenge to offset the humdrum boredom of civilian life, the which I would personally do my best to alleviate whenever possible."
There was no mistaking his meaning, the lascivious note in his voice and accompanying gleam in his eye gave Bodie little room for doubt and he was left floundering, partly in amazement at the fellow's audacity and partly in a swift, anticipatory tremor he could not control.
"Doubtless," Doyle continued with a suavity Bodie could not but admire, "your own offer of last night was for much the same reason in essence."
Bodie's eyes dropped, closing his heavy lids over any possible vulnerability he might reveal.
"Doubtless it was," he agreed non-committally.
Occupied as he was in his idle study of the grimed, deal table top he did not see the long-fingered hand until it covered his. His brief impulse to draw away was quickly overcome.
"You do not know," Doyle half-whispered, "how tempted I was last night to throw discretion to the winds and join my lot with yours.... Even a life on the snaffling-lay had its attractions if you were to be there...."
"I am no Nancy homey," Bodie said harshly, finally pulling his hand out of that warm grasp.
A long pause ensued which eventually drew Bodie's eyes up to see its cause. The green eyes were coolly appraising of him and a small fire lurked in their depths.
"I saw nothing effeminate in you then, nor do I now," Doyle said evenly. "I suspect that was your first experience... well, it was not mine. I had a lover. He died of wounds received at Quatre Bras."
The bald statement covered a wealth of feeling.
Finding nothing to say but seeing that Doyle's hand still lay, close to him, upon the table, Bodie recaptured it and squeezed comfortingly.
"Do you wish to speak of it?"
The green eyes held a simple candour. "Not yet - one day, perhaps. You would have dealt exceeding well, you and Johnny. For the moment... sufficient to say that last night made me finally understand what Johnny had tried to make me see in myself. I do not desire women. Up to then I had thought our coming together was just... I do not know...."
Something in the quiet voice, some unspoken truth, made Bodie eye him compassionately, seeing more from his bowed head and the quiet fading into silence than perhaps Doyle had bargained for.
"You loved him," Bodie discovered in quiet wonder.
Not having looked for such acceptance, Doyle could only nod.
Bodie did not really understand but he was willing to let it go at that for now.
"There is little enough to keep me here, certainly," he said slowly. "There will be one or two who will mayhap miss me but I have formed few ties in the two years I have been here."
"But two years - " Doyle tried not to look surprised.
"Perhaps less." Bodie shrugged. "It is of little matter. I had never been next nor nigh the place until two years since when my grandfather took it into his head that he was dying and consented at last to receive my mother as a gesture of reconciliation to his son's widow. It pleased her to be the recipient of his condescension and nothing would satisfy the old skin-flint but to have me sell out the commission I bought with the legacy I had from my mother's only brother and made formally his heir - introduced to all his tenants and dependants as their future benefactor. The only thing he omitted to mention was that the money - what little there was - died with him. He had seen to that, intended there should be nothing to pass on. The news killed my mother - she was never strong - "
The firm handclasp was a lifeline as old and bitter memories surged.
"There is nothing to keep you here," Doyle urged quietly. "Major Cowley told me I was to tell you he has a buyer in mind, everything ready. All you will have to do is sign and those that look to you will be cared for. He gives you his word. You may rely on that in this case."
Bodie got to his feet, clattering plates together, replacing the ham in the mesh-covered cage in the cool, north-facing larder.
"Lucy - girl from the village - comes in to wash up and so on," he said vaguely.
"Good. I was never of a domestic turn of mind," Doyle said, smiling on him broadly.
"When does Cowley...?"
"The day after tomorrow. We have no need to leave before morning... and not too early at that."
Yet again Bodie's eyes dropped, unwilling to meet the openness of the green ones, unwilling and - if the truth be known - a little afraid.
And yet there seemed little enough to fear as they spent the afternoon in quiet converse, each learning something of the other's past, of Doyle's determined loyalty to his widowed, Protestant mother who had raised him until he was nine and then had died untimely, leaving him to the care of his only living relations, her Catholic husband's priestly brother and the unmarried sister who kept house for him.
"They did their best to whip the Protestant devil out of me," Doyle admitted wryly, "but it was of small avail. I gave their church but lip-service while I had to."
Bodie nodded, understanding. He too had paid lip-service to his grandfather while his mother still lived, believing that after his death he would be able to provide for her, give her the things she had always gone without - proper food, pretty clothes, security - but it was not to be.
As the evening drew on they repaired to the cellars to search out what bottles they might from among the cobwebs and the dust.
"There were few enough," Bodie said wryly, "even before I made my first sortie among them...."
They brought up a handful each, some past their prime but possibly potable still, and one real find, a bottle of the '84 port.
"If," Bodie remarked sagely, "it is not still drinkable after thirty years, it was not drinkable in the first place."
They made an adequate meal, this time at the dusty dining-table, and afterwards sat over it, drinking their port and pronouncing it excellent. Both of them would indignantly and correctly have refuted any suggestion that they were foxed but equally they had drunk enough to be pleasantly mellow and relaxed - precisely the atmosphere Doyle for one had been intending.
When dusk finally turned into darkness, Bodie stirred uncomfortably.
"'Tis dark. I had best light candles...."
"No need." The quiet voice of his new-found partner sounded amused yet infinitely kind. "Doubtless you can find your way to your bedchamber in the dark - I'll warrant t'will not be the first time...."
"But you..." Bodie was floundering again, silently cursing himself, "you will need...."
His visitor was closer than he knew. Two thin but strong arms wound themselves about his shoulders, pinning him back in the chair, while a contented voice murmured close into his ear: "I need naught but the spare edge of your own bed. You will not try to tell me 'tis a truckle too small for the two of us?"
Recalling the decaying grandeur of the antique over their heads, Bodie could not restrain a chuckle. "No, I'll not fob you off with any such Banbury tale but...."
"Then what is it? You do not fancy my presence? Do I smell of the stables? I own I sat down with you in all my dirt but I had not thought it necessary for us to stand on ceremony - in any case, a quick visit to that excellent pump I saw out in the yard will quickly set all to rights...."
Weakly, Bodie gave in. "Very well."
He found himself trapped in a gaze that, even in the gloaming, he could see was speculative.
"In any case - if there is no one about, a visit to the pump would be most welcome...."
It had been a warm day for early September, Bodie agreed silently, and he was sweating heavily himself, albeit uneasily aware this was not due to the day's warmth but rather to the presence of a green-eyed stranger who had set his world all about....
First undertaking the few tasks Bodie became guiltily aware he had neglected about the stables and hen run, they stripped off their clothes in the kitchen.
Bodie found himself struggling unavailingly with the string of his shirt and recalled the knot he had allowed to stay in it after his hurried dressing that morning.
Grateful for the darkness, he reddened uncomfortably as Doyle came towards him.
"May I help?"
"'Tis nothing but a cursed knot." Bodie broke the fabric. "There, I have done it."
He heard a tiny chuckle. "I thought you had dressed in a devilish hurry."
Bodie evaded him. "There are towels in the dresser here. I will leave them on the table."
He led the way into the yard.
A silver moon gazed down at them benignly, emphasising Doyle's Puckish quality and making Bodie catch his breath as he surveyed him.
"Come, then." Bodie threw a cake of Mrs. Hawben's soap Doyle's way and gripped the pump handle. "Visitors first."
Chuckling at Doyle's initial gasp due to the coldness of the water as it sluiced down his warm chest and flanks, amusement soon turned to open appreciation as the long-fingered hands began to run over the scrawny body in deliberate invitation, lingering over nipples and belly, finally dropping to the shadowed area between the stranger's thighs. The water was too cold to encourage the priapism Bodie longed to see, however, but his gaze did not falter as the hands worked busily, cleansing the lithe body, although the flow of water became just a little erratic.
Doyle grinned but - all tact today - made no comment.
By the time Bodie took his turn reserve was gone and his movements were as slow and deliberate as his growing urgency could make them: he took up a pose over the stone drain that was both arrogant and lustful.
Back in the kitchen they towelled down a little breathlessly, eyeing each other as best they could in the darkness.
Doyle was the first to move.
Dropping his towel he stepped forward, eyes purposeful, and took a hearty grip on the damp, chilly shape of the man he wanted to call lover as well as friend, and pressing their bodies together found a damp, warm softness between the muscled thighs that he pressed fondly with his own.
Freed from the rush of cold water, both bodies reacted strongly to the contact.
Bodie gasped and, pushing Doyle away said severely, "There is a perfectly respectable bed upstairs - unless you wish to prove me a table-end man."
Eyes alight with laughter, Doyle shook his head. "By no means. Let us retire to that perfectly respectable bed and hope that its character will not prove too inhibiting to our lust."
"I doubt it could were it the bed of the greatest prude in Hampshire," Bodie commented a little breathlessly.
"Which it is not," Doyle said in happy certainty.
"Which it most assuredly is not," Bodie agreed.
Halfway to the door, however, he realised his visitor had not followed him but was dabbling about on the dresser, knocking its untidily piled contents to the floor as he persisted in his blind search.
Bodie gave a loud, exaggerated sigh. "Your hat is upon the extreme left-hand end, sir, though what use 't will be to you at present escapes me wholly."
A laugh, so vulgar in its sound as to deserve only the description of a cackle, was at first his only reply.
"A candle, you fool," Doyle told him eventually. "I know there was one hereabouts... ah, I have it. Now for a tinder...."
"On the mantelshelf," Bodie said patiently. "But I thought... you said the dark...." He trailed into silence as the spark from the tinder ignited the candle, illuminating his guest's face and throwing it into weird emphasis - the huge, wide eyes, the flawed cheekbone, the full, well-defined mouth.
Losing the thread of what he had been about to say he could only stare back, lost in that serious, wide-eyed gaze.
"I find in myself a great desire to see you," Doyle told him in a firm but low voice. "I want our loving to be open and unashamed, not a furtive fumbling between the sheets."
Dry-throated, Bodie nodded, collected five more candle-ends from the dresser and smiled blindingly upon his companion.
"I wouldn't want either of us to miss anything," he explained with solemn thoughtfulness as he led the way upstairs.
Having placed two of the lighted candles one each side of the vast bed and left the other four unlit but ready should the first ones burn down before they had finished with them, Bodie threw back the large, patchwork quilt and sheet. The night was warm; they would need no coverlet for the present.
Sensing not a shyness but a faint and understandable diffidence in the other man, Doyle drew close to him and pulled him into his arms, handling him with all the care he would have lavished upon a virgin bride, but with a deal more longing.
"You have but to say the word," he said quietly, "and I will stop."
Bodie knew he was shaking, knew equally it was not fear but a combination of desire and anticipation of the unknown. Nor was he afraid to admit to it: it would be foolish to claim experience when he had none and Doyle would not think any the worse of him for it.
"After last night," he said softly, "I cursed myself all the way home for being such a slow-top as not to enquire your name and I had intended when I woke this morning, to go and make enquiry at the Bear to find what they could tell me of you. One thing I was sure of - you were not going to ride out of my life without I made some push to make your acquaintance...."
Doyle gave an inarticulate murmur and pulled him down into the flickering shadows of the bed, its linen redolent with lavender despite the dust upon its hangings.
"And having made it?" He trailed a hand down Bodie's body, enjoying the smooth lines of flank and torso, intent upon the pulsating swell of eager flesh as his hands moved, enjoying the sensation of power as he brought his partner to full erection.
"I had not thought... so far... ahead."
Bodie was doing his best to be articulate, propped up upon one elbow watching the subtle spells being woven on his eager sex.
"Not even to this?"
Long fingers grasped him, ringing him, travelling upwards until a thumb could lie, as if designed to fit, across the head of his throbbing cock.
He pushed forward gently, wanting the feel of those fingers moving on him but not liking to make demands - then, afraid of being selfish and eager in any case for reciprocal caresses, he let his hand slide over Doyle's velvet flank down to the thin but muscular thigh with its downy thatch gold-tipped in the candlelight.
He had never looked on another man before with the eye of desire but he found Doyle beautiful and wished to say so but something - shyness or an ignorance of the right words - stayed his tongue.
No such inhibitions ruled his partner, however, and as his hands roved ever more intimately about the powerful body so willingly offered, he murmured his appreciation of its numerous attractions, but returned with ever more fervency to the erect and swaying cock as it bobbed to his movements.
Driven almost to frenzy, Bodie threw back his head, moaning aloud, incapable for the moment of doing anything save accept what was being done to him, accept and revel in it.
After a while Doyle's movements stopped and Bodie managed to collect himself sufficiently to open an eye in query.
Doyle smiled at him, heart-stoppingly, revealing a chipped tooth that seemed to add to the Puckish charm of his flawed beauty.
"My apologies," he said contritely. "I'm going too fast, am I not? I'll slow down, give you time...."
"If you mean to give me time to think again," Bodie managed to say, "then you are but wasting your effort - but if you wish to give me time to savour the joy...."
He lapsed into a hungry silence, devouring Doyle with his eyes, then he leaned up, using his greater weight to overcome the smaller man and thrust him down into the pillows and with a grunt of pleasure, set about learning his body in his turn, finding what made him groan and writhe with reaction or gasp in a sudden abandonment to lust.
After a while a hand touched his in gentle pleading and he paused.
When Doyle had his erratic breathing under some semblance of control he smiled a little shakily and said, "Had you carried on it would have been all over far too soon."
"Too soon?" Bodie tilted an enquiring eyebrow.
"Much too soon," Doyle repeated gravely. He leaned closer. "Or would you rather I did not take you in my mouth?"
Bodie's insides turned to fire and melted at one and the same time. Shaking slightly he tried to speak, failed dismally, and reached for Doyle in reassurance.
Doyle slithered down the bed, nipping and nibbling at him as he went and then the mop of brown curls, red-tinted in the candlelight, bent towards Bodie's groin and, head tilted so that Bodie could see what he was about, the full mouth slowly enveloped Bodie's leaping flesh from tip to root in one, smooth swallow.
It was too much. With a soft, moaning cry Bodie came and came, pouring in a long, never-ending stream down that warm, accepting throat, hot tears forcing themselves from under tight-closed lids.
When the world righted itself he could see that the heavy weight on his thigh was Doyle's head: his now softened sex had slipped from the open lips but still lay in trustful abandon against the lightly stubbled cheek. The slighter man's eyes were closed but a smile of content curved his mouth and he seemed at peace with his world.
Wondering a little at the joy of it, Bodie reached down and touched him and the green eyes opened to smile at him in a way no other eyes had ever done, with a mixture of lust and happiness, invitation and acceptance and an open trust that wrung Bodie's heart. He had to speak - say something -
The word was a sigh, a benediction and a question all at once.
The smiling mouth smiled further. "No one has called me that since Johnny died."
"I don't even know your name," Bodie said, suddenly shamefaced. There had been other things, more important than the exchange of names.
The relaxed face flexed in a grimace. "Raymond... or Ray. And yours is William."
Surprised by his own vehemence, Bodie smiled deprecatingly. "My grandfather called me that... every other word, the simpering, evil old fool. Holding my mother at his side as the cheap housekeeper he was too mean to pay, keeping me here with the sickly promises of the wealth and privilege that were to be hers once he was dead and I had his title - he was as weak and as vengeful as his son who married to spite his father and drank his life away regretting it and damning the woman he had brought to beggary.... Call me Bodie!"
Ray Doyle nodded, quietly accepting. "It suits you."
The green eyes became speculative, at last revealing their own, banked down need.
No longer diffident, Bodie tugged at him. "Come here - lover."
And with an exulting happiness that sang through every vein like angels-song, he lavished all the pent-up love he had locked away within him since the death of his mother, upon the skinny, writhing, willing figure in his arms, feasting upon it lavishly and finally taking the beautiful, rosy organ in his mouth and drawing the life essence of his lover into him in an act that was almost worship.
They slept fitfully, waking often to caress or love again with increasing abandon, finally falling into a deep sleep shortly before dawn and not long before the last of the candles sputtered out.
When Bodie woke it was to a feeling of total lethargy and a content so great he did not want to move. Instantly knowing whose was the heavy body that lay against his, he simply curled himself around it more possessively, enjoying the quiet sigh and murmur of half-awake content that gusted into his ear.
He had never felt so good in his whole life.
Nor so randy!
Impossibly so one would have said after last night but he was not the only one sporting a hearty pride of the morning: he could feel the urgent swell of Ray's against his hipbone.
He chuckled. "Convince me that is not only piss-proud and I might do something about it."
Devilish green eyes opened slowly at once amused and challenging. "Such as?"
Bodie's hands slipped between offering a comforting and secure nest for the urgency, an offer as quickly reciprocated as, in a tangle of arms and legs and mouths, they pleasured each other into sighing content whence they slipped once more into an easy doze.
The second awakening was both a joy and a discomfort.
"Gods, but I am sticky," sighed Bodie.
"Aye, and this time I am but piss-proud," Doyle said, his mournful tone oversetting his companion completely - and nearly with disastrous results.
That problem solved, they made their way downstairs and - once Bodie had peered carefully round the kitchen door to be sure that Lucy Hawben had come and gone again - they strolled out into the yard for another, brisk wash at the pump before dressing.
"Will your affairs here take long to set in order?" Doyle asked, tucking his shirt-tails neatly into his riding breeches in the privacy of Bodie's room.
Bodie shrugged. "What affairs? I have but to leave messages with the Hawbens, leave them a guinea or so and all is done. You say Cowley expects us?"
"Tomorrow at 10:00. You may spend the night at my lodgings."
"This night and others."
The blue gaze was steady and Doyle met it without guile.
"As often as you wish, Bodie, I make no demands...."
"I am not sure I can offer you the same forbearance."
There, it was out, let Doyle make of it what he would.
The lurking smile grew wider still but Doyle said merely, "There is time in plenty for talk. At least, I believe there may be. One can never tell when Cowley calls the tune, I understand."
Bodie nodded, smiling. "So long as we make time for each other...."
"Oh, we will do that," Doyle promised him. "We will."
-- THE END --