Giles towelled off his hair as he watched Smutty stride through the garden. The window was wide open and he almost called and waved, but checked the impulse and observed instead. That shock of flame coloured dreadlocks was like a beacon, blazing brightly against the surrounding palette of fresh greens, and Giles found it impossible to look away. Smutty might be lean and lanky, but he moved with the same grace he’d revealed in his fire juggling the previous night.
The previous night. A flicker of arousal stirred Giles’ body but was swiftly dampened down by anger at Smutty’s revelations. How could the man talk so casually about the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of those animals who had drugged and raped him? Because that’s what had happened, no matter how Smutty tried to sugar-coat the raw truth. At least Giles had followed the rules he’d been given at the start of their encounter, which must have helped Smutty to feel safe. He remembered how deliciously responsive Smutty had been to his touch. It had been what they both wanted. Needed, in Giles’ case.
It had been far too long.
Giles’ thoughts turned to Fabian as he opened the antique wardrobe and eyed his row of clothing. They’d chosen the furniture in this room together, Fabian displaying his usual exquisite taste and mastery of haggling, and Giles had been glad at the time to be with someone so ruthless in getting his own way. As long as their ambitions had melded it had been great, with Fabian enriching Giles’ world with exotic holidays and extravagant outings, trips to the opera and cocktails in his club. But it hadn’t lasted, and when Giles began to talk about leaving his stressful yet well-paid teaching job to concentrate on his painting, Fabian had exerted all his influence to persuade him not to.
The row of bland yet tasteful suits was like an accusation, taunting Giles for being so easily manipulated. Such a pushover. Well, he wasn’t going to be a pushover anymore. And he wasn’t going to spend his morning engaged in pointless cleaning, either. There were things that needed his attention. Things he’d been ignoring for too long now. He selected a charcoal grey suit, black tie and the blue shirt that always enhanced the colour of his eyes. If he was going to do this, he needed his armour in place.
He made one quick phone call before leaving the house by the front door, determined not to allow himself to be distracted by Smutty until he’d got this unpleasant task out of the way.
The drive in to Bath didn’t take long, and Giles parked his Saab in front of the graceful Georgian townhouse before he’d had time to talk himself out of the trip. The offices were on the second floor and he buzzed the intercom to gain access, speaking to the same professionally distant receptionist as earlier. Once inside the echoing hallway with its marble-cold terrazzo flooring, he had a sudden attack of nerves. Palms sweating, Giles leant back against the wall and concentrated on his breathing. His eyes traced the vines on the William Morris wallpaper lining the stairwell, and the simple task had a calming effect. He could do this. He could keep his resolve and demand answers. He wasn’t going to be bamboozled by phoney charm and jargon. Not this time.
“Mr. Rathbourne, it’s a pleasure to see you again. Please make yourself comfortable while you wait.” The woman gave Giles a cool smile which he couldn’t bring himself to return, and gestured with manicured talons towards the elegant yet uncomfortable-looking chaise longue.
“I’ll stand, thank you. Please tell Mr. Bonneville that I need to see him immediately.”
The woman’s face momentarily registered something like irritation, and she spoke into her intercom, frowning almost imperceptibly at the reply before the mask-like smoothness obliterated her expression again.
“Mr. Bonneville will be out shortly. Can I offer you a drink?”
Giles declined and did his best to resist pacing. He positioned himself by the tall sash window, looking out over the magnificent cityscape of mellow Bath stone and grey tiled roofs, arranged in graceful rows and sweeping crescents. Fabian must have to pay a small fortune for the privilege of having a view like this, but Giles would trade it in a heartbeat for the one over his own, overgrown garden.
“Giles! What a pleasant surprise to see you here. How the devil are you?” a mellifluous voice asked, breaking through Gile’s reverie.
Giles snapped his head round to see Fabian advancing towards him, arms outstretched, a predatory smile on his face.
“Fabian.” Giles allowed himself to be hugged, feeling the soft brush of Fabian’s blond hair against his cheek, but he kept his body stiff and Fabian soon drew back with a puzzled frown.
“It really is delightful to see you again. I know you’re probably still angry with me, but I can explain. Let me make it up to you over a coffee. There’s this chic little place just opened up on George Street with a gorgeous roof terrace. You’ll love it, darling.” He reached out to put a placating hand on Giles’ arm.
Giles shrugged him off. “In here is fine. This won’t take long.”
A flash of something less than friendly sped across Fabian’s refined features, but he acquiesced and led the way to his office. Once the door was shut behind them, Fabian began in a soothing tone. “I’m so sorry about the way things ended, Giles. I was a terrible coward and can’t really defend the way I behaved. I know I should have stuck things out, found you the help you needed for your little problem.”
“Problem? What problem?”
“Darling, I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you.” Giles remained silent until Fabian continued. “The drinking, I mean. And the cleaning obsession. I’ve been reading up on them since and I realise that what you really needed was a psychiatrist, whereas all I did was nag. Tell me, darling, can you ever forgive me?”
“Forgive?” Bugger, he was starting to sound like a bloody parrot. Giles knuckled his brow and tried to make sense of what Fabian was getting at. “Are you saying you think I’m mentally ill?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that. I’m sure it’s nothing a decent therapist and the right prescription couldn’t sort out. It’s such a shame my poor mother never had those or she might still be with us.”
Giles remembered Fabian’s tale of childhood woe with a pang of guilt. It had been one of the things that first drew them together, both orphans with a parent who had committed suicide. He couldn’t really blame the man from running from a relationship that might have reminded him of that traumatic time. “I’m not ill!” Giles’ temples began to throb, the way they so often did around Fabian.
“Now, now, dear. You just sit yourself down and I’ll get Jocasta to make us some coffee. Is your head still bothering you? You really should avoid stressful situations, you know.”
Giles looked down into clear grey-green eyes, liquid with concern. Christ, why did Fabian have to be so bloody attentive? It made it almost impossible to brush him off without being a complete bastard. He let himself be led to the sofa and sat down, dazed by Fabian’s revelations. Giles wasn’t suicidal and never had been. He might have his father’s propensity for a drink or two when things got difficult, but he had it under control. He’d never let himself fall too far into the darkness that had claimed his father’s soul.
Fabian interrupted Giles’ train of thought by sitting next to him and taking one of his hands, caressing it gently. The familiar touch calmed him, and he had to fight to remember why he was here.
Fabian gave a quizzical lift to his eyebrow. “Yes?”
“From the investments. It’s not going into my account anymore.”
“Yes?” Fabian didn’t seem at all ruffled or guilty, damn him. “Of course not, darling. You asked me to set you up with an offshore account. Surely you had the letters through? You should have a debit card to use with it.”
Had he had letters through? Giles thought of the pile of correspondence he’d stuffed into the drawer of the credenza in the hallway and broke out into a sweat.
“Have you been ignoring your post again? Honestly darling, it’s not like it’s going to bite you.” Fabian gave a theatrical sigh. “You need a man in your life, don’t you? Look, I know I left but I’ve never intended it to be permanent. That’s why I haven’t been back for all my things. I want to make it work between us.” Giles looked at him in stunned surprise, but Fabian only gave a sad smile and squeezed his hand. “We were good together, weren’t we? Remember that time we spent the weekend in Honfleur? Eating scallops in that bijou restaurant on the harbour and then retiring to our room for the rest of the afternoon?”
Giles tried to resist the spell Fabian was conjuring, but the memories of the picturesque Normandy resort wove themselves through his senses. The rich salty tang of the scallops, the smooth sheets in the hotel, the way Fabian had submitted to him without a fight—something that had become far less frequent as time went on. It had been their honeymoon period and it had been good.
The door opened with a soft whisper and the receptionist walked in with a tray of coffee things.
“Ah, Jocasta, perfect timing. Thank you, my dear. You’re an angel.”
Giles watched the ice queen melt and simper under Fabian’s attentions. The man had always had a talent for surrounding himself with sycophants, but Giles was damned if he was ever going to be one of them again.
“It’s Jamaica Blue Mountain,” Fabian said, pouring out the expensive coffee into two delicate porcelain cups and adding a lump of demerara sugar to Giles’—just the way he liked it. “Your favourite. Let’s drink to setting aside our differences and seeing what’s really important. Giles,”—Fabian fixed him with an intense gaze that made him squirm—“Please give me another chance. I want to help you. Make things right again. What do you say?”
Giles stared in mute surprise and Fabian gave a slow smile.
It was the smile that did it. There was a smug twist to Fabian’s lips that wiped away Giles’ confusion. No, damn it! He wasn’t about to let himself be manipulated into being the bad guy again. Giles stood and strode over to the window, deliberately turning his back on Fabian. He barely noticed the stunning cityscape, concentrating instead on steadying his breathing, on channelling his recalcitrant impulses into a more coherent plan of action. Fabian was clever, so Giles needed to use his intellect to get the better of the devious bastard. When Giles was angry and emotional, Fabian always won.
“I don’t want to make things right again. Things haven’t been right between us for a long time.” Giles focused on a lone gull perched on one of the nearby chimney pots. Better that than risk looking at Fabian, in case he pulled that little-boy-lost face he always used when things weren’t going the way he wanted. Trouble was, no matter how Giles tried to guard against it, that look cut right through his defences. Fabian had suffered a terrible upbringing—he might have been privileged in terms of money and education, but to watch your own mother deteriorate in that way when you were just a small child… well, that would have to leave scars.
He watched the gull flap powerful wings and take flight, a flash of brilliant white against the cerulean sky. He felt a stab of envy. What he wouldn’t give to soar that high, that free.
But wasn’t that what he’d done for a few short moments last night? Untethered by responsibilities and expectations, floating on the primal bliss of another body held tight to his own? He wanted to try that again. To see if it was really Smutty who made him feel that way, and if that wild magic could be repeated without being tamed and losing its power.
Fabian was talking, Giles realised. He tuned in reluctantly, unwilling to give up the mental picture of his and Smutty’s bodies tangled together.
“—and I realise you’ll need time to think things through, but please don’t go throwing away everything we had together on a whim.”
Giles laughed, the sound harsh and bitter. “A whim? That’s what you’re calling this, is it? No, I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, thanks. I’ve had a whole month of sick leave all by myself to dwell on it and turn it over again and again. Believe me, you did me a favour, leaving. I’d never have had the guts to do it myself, but you freed me.” Giles took a moment to think through what he’d just said. “God, that’s right!” Giles turned to face Fabian, buoyed up on his new certainty. “I’m free now. I don’t have to listen to you any more, and I don’t need your approval. That’s not how a relationship should work.”
Fabian gave him a pitying gaze. “But darling, you’ve never had a relationship with anyone else. What makes you the expert all of a sudden?”
Giles kept his mouth firmly closed. He wasn’t going to share anything about Smutty, because he knew exactly what Fabian would say about him. “Degenerate gypsy” would be about the best he could hope for. Besides, it wasn’t like one night together was a relationship, was it? Yet, it was strange to admit it to himself, but he’d confided more of what dwelt deep inside him in that one night than he’d ever managed in all his years with Fabian.
“I don’t believe it,” Fabian said, stepping close enough for Giles to catch a waft of his spicy cologne. “There’s someone else, isn’t there? Who could you have met? You never even go out anywhere.”
Giles didn’t respond, but Fabian seemed to take that as an affirmative. “Please be careful, Giles. You’re a wealthy man. You need a man who’s your equal, not some gold-digger out to take advantage of your generous nature.” He laid a hand on Giles’ arm and gave him a beseeching look.
“He’s not like that. And it’s not what you think, anyway. I just… I’m ready to start again. To make plans, and you’re not a part of them.”
The beauty fled from Fabain’s eyes as they hardened. “I just hope you know what you’re doing, darling.” The endearment sounded forced and unnatural. “My offer won’t stay open forever, you know.”
Any remaining shoots of compassion in Giles’ breast shrivelled up and died. He gave a wry smile. “Fabian, darling, that’s a chance I’m perfectly willing to take.”
Giles walked out of Fabian’s office and carried on down to his car without looking back. He didn’t want to stop moving until he was back home and he’d found Smutty.
He had a theory to test.