Chapter Seventeen

Smutty gazed into Finn’s eyes and caught a glimpse of steel. This wasn’t the boy he once knew. This was a man, and a dangerous one at that. He couldn’t fall into his trap.

Smutty called on all the pent-up hurt he could muster. “You left me. Why the fuck did you leave me like that? It can’t have been that bad, can it?”

“It was a bloody nightmare.”

“Well thanks a bunch.” Smutty’s eyes smarted. Finn’s words had slashed at his dearest memories, tearing them to shreds. He curled his hands into fists and channelled the pain into a ball of anger, low in his guts. “Nice to know that was all I was to you.” His voice came out so bitter, he almost didn’t recognise it as his own.

“Christ, Jupe, I didn’t mean you. I meant the whole situation. The hippy-dippy bullshit we were brought up with. You’re a right idiot sometimes, aren’t you?”

“Well what was I supposed to think? You didn’t leave any other explanation in your note.” That tersely worded note, warning everyone not to come looking for him. It had hurt almost more than the fact of Finn’s departure. “Not so much as a kind word for me.”

Finn gave an exasperated sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed, but not before giving it a suspicious glance. “I didn’t want you following me. There wasn’t room for you in my new life.”

“You never even gave me a chance. I’d have gone with you. I fucking adored you and you knew it.”

Bugger. He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t. Smutty slumped back, the edge of the galley work surface digging into his back, and stared at his boots. He concentrated on a stray leaf that had stuck to the leather on their walk through the orchard. Definitely not going to cry.

“No, you don’t understand. I found my birthright. It had been there all along, and that bitch kept it hidden from me.”

Smutty snapped his head up. “Are you talking about my mum? D’you know how cut up she was when you walked out?”

“Not her. For Christ’s sake, you’re still as dense as ever, aren’t you? I meant Jessica. My mother.”

Smutty bristled at Finn’s put-down, but he needed to hear more so he smothered his irritation. “Tell me what happened.”

“All right, all right. Just don’t go jumping to conclusions before I’m finished, okay?”

Smutty glared. “Tell me.”

Finn took a deep breath. “Okay, well after you fucked me, I couldn’t sleep. Not because it hurt, although it did, but because I was trying to work out what to do. I thought maybe if we could both get away from that place I could be happy, so I went to find Jessica and ask her if she had any money I could borrow. I mean, she always had enough money to score, didn’t she? Ever wonder where all that came from?”

“I’d figured she was on the game.” There had always been a man in Jessica’s camper van, and they didn’t seem to stick around for long.

Finn’s harsh laugh grated against Smutty’s eardrums. “Yeah, me too. Turned out she was doing them all for free, the dirty bitch. She didn’t need the cash. Just had a thing for rough trade.”

Smutty saw through Finn’s sneer to the hurt underneath. Jessica had been a bloody awful mother; even as a small child, Smutty had been able to see that. She’d turned up at Albion one day in a camper van, the six-year-old Finn snivelling on the seat beside her, and never left. At first Smutty had thought her exotic, with her fancy scarves, snooty accent, white-blonde hair and stunning bone-structure, but it hadn’t taken long for the gloss to wear off. She was so wrapped up in her smack habit, she didn’t have any time for Finn, hence Starlight all but adopting the sad-eyed waif.

“She was half-baked when I found her,” Finn continued, “But she listened and told me there was a letter behind the picture, then passed out. I thought it was one of her tall tales, like how she’d pretend she was a cast-out princess sometimes, but I had a look anyway. Had to take down every single fucking picture before I found it.”

That would have been no mean feat. Smutty remembered how she’d covered every inch of spare wall and ceiling with art postcards. Jessica had favoured the Pre-Raphaelites and all those weird Symbolist artists, with their creepy, dark paintings. It was no wonder she’d sunk into depressions, surrounding herself with miserable stuff like that.

“It was just a single sheet dated 1976,” Finn went on, the candles on the galley work surface reflecting in his eyes like distant stars. His voice sounded as if it had come from a far off place, carried on the wind over an empty plain. “One old letter, but it changed everything. It was from her father, telling her she wasn’t welcome home again, and that she’d have to survive on her trust fund. He said he wanted to take the baby, because she wasn’t fit to bring him up. He called the baby Fabian and it took me a while to figure out he meant me. She stole my fucking name, Jupe! She took my birthright.”

Smutty stood up straighter and crossed his arms. The two of them here in a candlelit room, the rain just starting to patter against the roof, made him feel sixteen again. He had to shake the sensation off. Finn–no, Fabian–wasn’t his lover and he didn’t deserve too much sympathy.

“So what? You’re angry because you lost out on being brought up in a nice house? Well screw you, Finn. Most of the world’s population lives in poverty and it doesn’t turn them all into heartless bastards.”

“Yeah, yeah. Spare me the lecture. You’ve always been so fucking right-on, haven’t you?” Finn spat out. “Like you’ve got the moral high ground. How d’you think I felt when Starlight took you off travelling every winter, leaving me with that old cow, shivering in a fucking caravan all on my own because she wouldn’t have me in her van?”

Smutty flushed. “Jessica wouldn’t let mum take you. Starlight wanted to. We both wanted to.”

“Right. Of course. And the two of you couldn’t stand up to one useless junkie.” Finn’s lips curved in an ugly parody of a smile. “Well, as I found out in that letter, I had a home waiting for me all that time. A stately home. And a family who spoke properly and knew how to use a set of cutlery.”

“Glad they had their priorities sorted out, then,” Smutty muttered.

“They did. And they welcomed me, even though I was a sorry excuse for the man I should have been. I was sent over to a school in Switzerland to learn how to behave like someone of my class, and I’ve never looked back since.” Finn raised his chin defiantly, somehow managing to look down his nose even though he was sitting and Smutty was standing. Yeah, Finn had always been a snotty brat when things didn’t suit him. How had Smutty forgotten that side of him?

“And you never thought of me again? Never cared what I might be feeling? Jesus, Finn. You don’t treat people like that.” Smutty began pacing. There wasn’t much room to do it in, but he was too agitated to keep still. “You’ve totally fucked over Giles as well. I should deck you for what you’ve done to him.”

“Oh.” Finn’s smile was knowing. “I see. It’s like that between you, is it? Well don’t you go acting holier-than-thou, you dirty little gold-digger. Good luck with it all. Most of his money is tied up in the property and in trust, so you won’t be able to get your hands on much capital.”

“I don’t want his money.”

“Don’t tell me it’s ‘twu luv’, or I think I’ll be sick. People are all out to get what they can. Why do you think I’m getting married?”

“Married?” Smutty must have heard that wrong, surely?

Finn’s smile was the very definition of smug. “You missed that part of the conversation, didn’t you? Yes, it’s an advantageous match for the both of us. She gets my family name, I get her father’s connections and the chance of an heir.”

“You can’t marry a woman. You’re gay!”

Finn shrugged. “And Letty’s okay with that. Her father’s told her it’s the only way he’ll keep up her allowance. Gives her a veneer of respectability so she can go on partying as much as she likes, while I’ll be taking on a whole new set of lucrative accounts as compensation.” Avarice gleamed in Finn’s eyes, hard and ruthless.

“That’s not what marriage should be about.”

“God, you’re living in some kind of fairy-tale land, aren’t you? You really think Giles is after you for your personality? Give me a break. He knows you’re just an easy lay, and when he’s had enough he’ll move on to someone of his own class.”

“Arsehole.” How dare Finn try to spoil the first good relationship he’d had?

The first time he’d been in love.

It hit Smutty with the force of a juggernaut, crushing all opposition. This was love, wasn’t it? And it was worth sticking around for. Worth making it work, despite all the differences between him and Giles.

“Jesus, you should see the look on your face. You really do care about him, don’t you? Well you’re a perfect match. Trusting fools, both as dumb as each other.”

“It’s not dumb to trust someone, and if that’s what you think, then I feel sorry for you.”

“I don’t need your pity,” Finn snapped, standing. “There’s only one thing I can think of that you could do for me these days.”

Smutty’s skin crawled as the lecherous gaze panned up and down his body.

“You might be a gypsy, but you’re still looking pretty fine. You ever get bored of Giles’ limited repertoire, just look me up and I’ll give you a proper seeing-to.” Finn took a step forward, right into Smutty’s personal space.

“Fuck you.”

“No, I’ll be fucking you.”

Smutty didn’t have to think about it. He slapped Finn’s cheek hard. Shit! Had he really done that? He was meant to be a pacifist. Smutty stared at his stinging palm in disbelief.

Finn slammed a fist into him, knocking the air out of his lungs. Smutty collapsed against the galley counter, knocking a candle sideways. It rolled off the work surface, still lit, but he didn’t hear the thud he expected.

Because his rucksack was there, cushioning the floor.

His fire-dancing rucksack. Full of paraffin-soaked wicks and a half-empty bottle of the stuff.

Smutty tried to speak, but he could only wheeze. Finn loomed in front of him, nostrils flaring and a red handprint stark against his pale skin.

“Is that the best you’ve got? You fight like a girl.”

Smutty saw the light change out of the corner of his eye, a brightness where there should be no light. He finally pulled in a shallow lungful of air, laced with the stench of burning canvas.

“Fire!” he gasped.

***

Chapter Eighteen

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