“I apologize,” Simon said, “if I have misread the situation. But your brother said that you require money, and the cards didn’t yield any. And then this…” He waved a hand. “Upstairs. In a bedroom.” He felt his face redden, but he refused to remain silent. If Christopher could be outrageous, he could at least attempt to meet him partway. “I wanted to be honest, but if you’re insulted, I am sincerely sorry.”
“It isn’t my intention to charge you for anything.” Christopher’s smile didn’t seem real. “Oh, I’ve been called worse. I have a thick skin. But it does feel odd to be offered money for that. No one has in the past, you see, and we have had dire times.” Now his smile seemed real, as if recalling marvelous occasions instead of a time he would have sold his body to stay alive.
He cocked his head to the side and examined Simon. “It’s odd that this situation should be an insult to me but not to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You assume that I wouldn’t spend time with you without charging you. Seems rather as if you expect it would only be worth my while to gain profit and not to simply enjoy your company.”
Simon hardly supposed a creature this bright needed company. “I suppose the insult comes from using a person like a money box, for one, and a place to deposit, um, pleasure.”
Christopher whooped with laughter. Really, it was the strangest situation Simon had ever encountered. “Depositing pleasure,” he said and began to laugh again. “Such a bank,” he explained.
Simon smiled. “Sticky,” he said, and that sent Christopher off again.
When he could speak, he said, “It’s a pity this will never work in any kind of routine. I can imagine the master of ceremonies would call for a player’s removal the moment he discussed that kind of bank…” He went off into a wheezing fit. The man was a party, a celebration of life unto himself, and Simon couldn’t help but be buoyed along on such a wild current. He too began to chuckle, then laugh until he was whooping breathlessly along with his unexpected companion.
When was the last time he’d laughed loudly and freely without concern? Never with Thomas Millard, who’d cared very much about appearing sophisticated and, now that Simon thought of it, had been quite vain about his appearance. Millard would never have let go and laughed like a child about something entirely silly. But still, Simon had cared for him, and the thought of the lover who had badly used him sobered him from his laughter.
Christopher’s laughter also slowed, though his ever-present smile remained. “What is it? This is a night for confidences. You know all about me already. I’m a performer and a man who is perhaps too much entangled with his family. Tell me about the dark thing that haunts you during this joyous holiday season.”
“Haunts?” Simon snorted. “I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge. I have no ghosts that haunt me.”
“But something has happened to you, and fairly recently, I’ll wager.” Christopher set the wax fruits and nuts on the marble table, so close to Simon, he held his breath.
Christopher walked to the bed and perched on it. He patted the counterpane. “Sit, please, and tell me.”
Simon rose from the chair but was afraid to take a step. If he sat on that bed beside this man, it was tantamount to admitting what they were both here for and that he trusted Christopher. And despite Christopher’s talk about “just talk,” Simon knew better.
But the man was too damned appealing with those sparkling eyes and that too-wide mouth stretched even farther by a smile. Simon uncrossed his arms and took a seat on the bed. He still didn’t speak and, what a wonder, neither did Christopher for a few moments.
“Tell me,” he murmured again. “Was your heart broken?”
“A bit pummeled, but I shall be fine.” Simon didn’t intend to say more. His affair with Millard was his—at first to treasure and now to grieve over. But then words began tumbling out. “I had a lover for a time. I thought what we did…what we had was more than physical, but I was wrong. He lived off my largesse, and I foolishly offered whatever he wanted to take.”
“Ah.” Christopher nodded. “Giving you good reason to fear every man might desire you for the same reason.” He rested a hand on Simon’s knee, and the heat of it burned straight through his woolen trousers. “Trust me. I am not that sort. I may swindle or fudge the facts on occasion, but never in matters of the heart. That is the worst sort of confidence scheme.”
Simon gazed into eyes sharp as razors, and even though he’d only recently been deceived by a fine actor, he believed Christopher Andrews spoke the truth.
“Tonight,” Christopher continued in a hypnotic purr that soothed Simon even as it aroused him, “we will enjoy ourselves and each other. This is a season for celebration. We shall drink deeply of one of the great joys of life.”
Simon gazed at the sensually moving lips, then back at the devilish eyes. Mouth. Eyes. His gaze went back and forth while his body inclined forward almost of its own accord.
This is not happening. This is some sort of dream. I am not a man who tumbles so easily into… The warm pressure of a stranger’s mouth against his own stopped Simon’s thoughts dead.
Christopher smelled of cigar smoke from the cardroom and of something crisp and tangy. Gin, perhaps, with its infusion of pine. He tasted piney too as his tongue insinuated itself between Simon’s lips and stroked his. Delicious. Warm. One kiss made him crave more. And now Christopher’s hands had gone around his back, pulling him closer. The man gave a rumbling contented noise that made Simon’s rising cock swell harder.
A stranger’s body in his arms. A stranger’s tongue twisting around his. Clever kisses and capable hands. Was he actually sharing an illicit interlude right above the stolid, masculine rooms of his club? Below, Jenks continued to slide into his stupor with his newspaper spread over him and the card games went on with no one the wiser. That thought made their groping hands and devouring kisses all the more exciting.
Simon tugged at Christopher’s jacket until he shrugged it off. Then he scrabbled at shirt studs with clumsy fingers until Christopher gently removed his hands and took off the shirt himself. For a moment, Simon merely stared at the performer in an undershirt that bared sinewy arms and molded a muscular chest. With his braces off and his ill-fitting trousers sagging at the waist, the bulge in his drawers was visible.
Simon had to see what lay beneath. He reached out with both hands to open this unexpected Christmas gift.