excerpt

Stuff cover - art by Lou HarperExcerpt from Stuff by Josephine Myles

The curtain swished back behind the young man with the angelic face, and Perry let his body sag with relief. What the blazes had been going on there? The chap clearly wanted something more than the trousers, but figuring out what was beyond Perry’s limited people skills. Perhaps he’d been sent by Perry’s father to check up on him.

But no, that was just paranoia talking, wasn’t it? His father wouldn’t stoop to underhand dealings like that. In fact, his father would probably come himself so he could deliver a lecture. If he even cared enough to check up on what Perry was doing with his life.

“There a mirror in here anywhere?” a voice called from the other room, rousing Perry from visions of his father lecturing him about wasting his potential and shirking his responsibilities. The customer. Right. Concentrate on him, who most definitively wasn’t anything more than a casual browser, because there was no way his father would employ someone in such cheap clothing.

“A mirror?”

The man poked his head around the curtain, surprising Perry into taking a step backwards. “A big shiny reflective thing. Most clothes shops have them to let people see how things fit. I mean, I can tell they’re comfy and they look good from this angle, but it’s next to impossible to get a good view of my arse. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Perry couldn’t stop himself taking a quick peek at the rear in question. He was no expert on men’s posteriors. He was no expert on women’s either, but he had an inkling that the rear in question would probably fit most people’s definition of attractive. The burgundy wool pulled tight over rounded buttocks. Too tight, actually. There were pull lines running across and spoiling the overall look. “They don’t fit quite right. At the back. You’d need more fabric there.”

“Are you saying my bum looks big in this?” The young man batted his long eyelashes at Perry and thrust his rear end even farther out. He’d split a seam if he wasn’t careful.

“It does look a little too large. But not in a bad way,” Perry rushed to add.

“Don’t worry, I’m not offended. I’m just flattered you noticed.”

Perry hesitated before replying. Were they flirting? He’d never flirted with a man before—not knowingly, anyway—but it felt a little like the awkward conversations he’d had with women he was trying to pick up in the past. Back in the days before he’d decided to ditch that whole confusing part of the proceedings and go straight to a professional instead. “I noticed,” he ended up mumbling. “Maybe we could find you something else that fits better.”

“Nah, you’re all right. I shouldn’t really be buying anything right now anyway. Just lost my job, didn’t I?”

“Dreadfully sorry to hear that.”

Now the man was grinning at him with quite the widest, toothiest smile Perry had ever seen. “You’re a posh one, aren’t you? What are you doing hanging out in a dump like this?”

It didn’t feel like an insult, coming from someone with an expression of what felt like genuine interest. And while he knew he should probably take offence, Perry had to face it, the shop was a dump. In the end, he just stuck his hand out. “Peregrine Cavendish-Fiennes at your service. And I own this dump. Well, the business side of it. Not the premises, unfortunately, and at this rate, I’m never likely to. I live upstairs.” Now he was babbling, while the man with the pretty smile and the well-formed rear was holding his hand and stroking his thumb across the back of his hand. Definitely not a platonic handshake, and it sent a strange kind of shiver all the way up Perry’s arm and down his spine, ending up somewhere in his groin.

“Nice to meetcha, Peregrine.” The name came out tentatively, as if he was testing it on the way. “Is that like the falcon?”

“It’s a family name. My paternal great-grandfather’s. But please call me Perry. Everyone does.”

“Perry. I like it. I’m Mas. And that’s short for Tobias Maslin, so I guess that’s kind of a family name too. Not that I ever knew my dad’s surname. Some Greek waiter called Cassius, according to Mum.”

“You’re Greek?” Perhaps that explained the colouring. Mas’s bone structure was too dainty to look classically Greek, but he had a golden bloom to his skin, and the thickest dark eyelashes Perry had ever seen.

“Possibly half-Greek. Or Mum might be lying. Or he might have been lying and was really from Chigwell. There’s no real way of knowing, is there? Not without a time-machine, and I ain’t got one of those stashed away at home anywhere.” Mas seemed perfectly cheerful about his status as a bastard of indeterminate ethnicity, but then again, not everyone had been brought up in a family that could trace their ancestry back to beyond the Norman invasion. Not everyone had a family coat of arms either. Perry wished he could swap places with the hoi polloi. Life must be much simpler without the weight of all that history dragging you down.

“So, Perry, mind if I ask you a favour?” Mas began, and to his horror Perry watched him start to unbutton the trousers. “What?” Mas glanced down at his hands, then back up at Perry. Amusement glinted in his eyes. “Oh, not that kind of a favour. No need to panic. Not that I’d turn you down if you offered or anything, but I wouldn’t ask. Well, that’s bullshit. If we were in a club, I might. You’ve got a lush set of lips on you. Bet they’d feel amazing.”

Perry clapped his hand over his mouth.