Lord Vincent Prescot's life couldn't be better. Thriving investments, well-respected by his peers, and mind blowing sex with a man who submits to his every desire -- what more could he want?
Lord Oliver Marsden should be more than happy with his life. He's been in love with Vincent for over a decade and six months ago the impossible happened and they became lovers. But since then, nothing has changed. More specifically, Vincent hasn't changed. Oliver has tried to be patient -- it took a lot for Vincent to accept the fact he preferred men. But what felt like a tiny distance between them six months ago now feels like an ever-widening chasm. Why can't Vincent stay the night? Is it too much to ask for Vincent to call him Oliver and not Marsden? He knows Vincent cares for him, but does Vincent love him?
Then Vincent's father asks him for a favor -- one that involves marriage. If Vincent agrees, he'll have the respect he's craved from his father his entire life but he could lose Oliver. Nor does Oliver make the decision easy. To keep Oliver, he'll have to do more than deny his father. He'll have to give Oliver his heart.
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April 28, 2009
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Excerpt from Bound to Him by Ava March
Under normal circumstances, the sight of a gambling hell wouldn't put a smile on Lord Vincent Prescot's face. Especially not a somewhat questionable one in Cheapside.
But tonight he had a reason to smile and an even better reason to go inside that hell.
He leaned right, reaching for the brass lever on the carriage door, but stopped short as the movement caused a hard object to bump against his outer thigh. No way could he go into a hell with that in his pocket. He highly doubted the servants who tended to the guests' coats did so without thoroughly examining the garments as soon as their owners were out of sight. The thought of a footman finding the gift, and wondering why he would possess such an object, did not sit well. Odd, considering he'd had no such qualms purchasing the thing. Then again, he hadn't been with another man at the time. But he would most certainly leave the hell tonight with another man. And not just any man, but a man who had become so much more than his old childhood friend.
Only four-and-twenty and already Vincent possessed what most men strove their entire lives to attain: the respect of his peers, a thriving bank account, and incredible sex with someone who submitted to his every desire. Someone who loved him.
Chuckling in amazement at his good fortune, he removed his greatcoat, carefully folded it, and placed it on the leather bench. Then he got out of the carriage and gave his navy evening coat a sharp tug to straighten it.
"I'll be about an hour, but stay nearby," he instructed his driver.
The October night air was cool and thick, holding a heavy reminder of the rains that had made the roads from Rotherham to London a muddy mess. After three days of travel and more than three weeks of near constant work that should have only taken two weeks, he should be exhausted. And he had been exhausted, until he had left his townhouse to come here.
He sidestepped around the young bucks gesturing in drunken conversation by the streetlamp and went inside Dennett's gambling hell. The burly guard stationed inside the door barely looked at him before tipping his head, allowing Vincent to pass. As he went through the entrance hall, his upper lip curled into a sneer at the scarlet and plum-patterned rug, the equally vibrant paper covering the walls, and the worn velvet upholstery on the two armchairs in the corner. Purple and red--what a ghastly color combination. And had they gilded every piece of exposed metal? The chandelier, the candelabras on the console table, and even the hinges on the door shone bright gold. The place was a garishly overdone imitation of a West End gentlemen's gambling hell. A greedy merchant's paradise. Definitely not up to his usual standards, but Dennett's was out of the way and, most importantly, only a five-minute drive from Lord Oliver Marsden's apartments.
He stopped just inside the main hall and, using his height to his full advantage, scanned the room. The shouts of victory, the curses of defeat, and the drone of many voices pressed against his ears. The chatter of the various games rode under the din: the flick of cards being shuffled, the click of gambling chips, and the roll of dice. In less than a second, he found Marsden in the crowd. Slighter built and a good four inches shorter than Vincent's own six feet two, the man stood at one of the gaming tables near the center of the room, his back to Vincent. A smile curved Vincent's lips, the last lingering bit of exhaustion slipping from his body. Had it only been four weeks since he had seen him? Hell, it felt like four years. His sights on those hunched shoulders and the unruly mop of dark brown hair, Vincent wove around the other patrons.
One hand braced on the ledge of the roulette table, Marsden leaned forward to place a bet. The tails of his brown coat draped over his arse as he bent at the waist, his hips tilting at a most inviting angle. Vincent clenched and unclenched his hands, tamping down the impulse to rip off those poorly tailored clothes and expose the sleek, honed body. To lay a hard smack on that round arse and grab those slim hips, to hold them steady as he--
Gritting his teeth, he threw off the flare of lust and pacified himself with the knowledge that there would be plenty of time to fuck Marsden later tonight.
He took up a place beside him just as the man straightened. "Evening, Marsden," he said, clapping him on the shoulder.
His hand hadn't remained on his shoulder an instant longer than polite manners dictated, yet he felt Marsden's shudder. The man's responsiveness stroked Vincent's ego to no end in the bedchamber, but it wasn't such a desirable trait when they were together in public. Marsden claimed he worried overmuch, that no one would ever suspect Lord Vincent Prescot would bugger another man. Still, Vincent couldn't help but worry; sodomy was, of course, against the law, never mind that his reputation would be ruined if word got out. Hence one of the reasons Vincent had chosen to meet here instead of at White's.
Marsden shifted his weight then shoved his wire-rimmed spectacles higher on his nose before turning his attention to Vincent. His movement caused the jade pin affixed directly below his cravat to catch the light from the gaudy chandelier overhead. For the past six months, ever since Vincent had given it to him, Marsden had worn the pin whenever he left his apartments. And every time Vincent saw it, he felt that tug on his chest. No one else but the two of them knew what that pin meant, but to Vincent, it was akin to a brand on the man's forehead, declaring to whom he belonged.
Though the pin didn't do a bit of good at helping to keep the man's cravat straight. No matter Vincent's efforts, Marsden couldn't quite get the hang of tying a respectable Mathematical knot. Should have gone with a Gordian knot. He could manage a passable one of those.
"Evening, Prescot. How was Rotherham?" Marsden asked, referring to the property Vincent had purchased almost a year ago.
"Good." He pulled a fold of pound notes from his coat pocket and tossed them onto the green baize.
"All right. More than good." The croupier pushed three stacks of chips to Vincent. With a couple of taps of his fingertips, he straightened the stacks. Then he took five chips and placed them at the bottom of the third column of numbers on the table. "That rather large vein of coal is actually quite significant."
Marsden's full lips curved into a genuine smile, his dark brown eyes crinkling at the edges. "Well done, Prescot."
Would he ever tire of hearing those words from Marsden?
No. Not ever.
The croupier shouted to the men gathered around the table, calling for an end to the betting.
"How have you been, Marsden? Your grandmother keeping her harassments to a minimum?"
"Don't think she's capable of that. Always has some new complaint when I visit her. Though yesterday I could have sworn she was actually pleased to see me."
"Why wouldn't she be? You're her only family member who puts up with her. If not for you, she wouldn't have any callers." Marsden's only answer was an uncomfortable shrug. The man had the patience of a saint. Vincent would have found a companion for the old woman years ago and parted with whatever sum necessary to see the task done. "And how are the tables tonight? Having any luck?" he asked, as the small marble clickety-clacked around the roulette wheel.
Marsden let out a sigh. "No." Though he need not have answered. The paltry stack of chips before him was answer enough.
He didn't believe it possible, but at the croupier's shout, somehow Marsden's shoulders slumped even further.
"What bet did you place?"
He had bet his age? Vincent picked up the ten chips the croupier pushed toward him and placed them at the bottom of the second column of numbers on the table. "Straight-up? You didn't bet the corners or a split?"
Marsden shook his head.
"Would you prefer to play vingt-et-un or faro instead? Maybe something that relies on more than blind luck to win. I'll partner you at whist if you'd like."
"No. I don't want to be responsible for your losses. In any case, the wheel seems fond of you. Might as well play it a bit longer."
Perhaps he should not have suggested they meet at Dennett's. Marsden certainly did not have a knack for gambling, and honestly, Vincent shouldn't encourage him. The last thing he wanted was for Marsden to become a degenerate gambler like his father, the Marquis of Campden, who had recently fled Town to escape his debts.
Marsden turned his attention back to the green baize. Full bottom lip caught between his teeth and brow scrunched in concentration, he contemplated his next bet. Well aware of Marsden's precarious financial situation, he covertly nudged one of his stacks of chips, moving it next to Marsden's tiny stack. Since he had been the one to choose Dennett's, the least he could do was compensate for his losses.
Clutching a full glass of wine, a man squeezed into the space beside Vincent. Determined not to get Bordeaux spilled on his coat sleeve, he moved aside, creating enough room for the man's large frame and even larger belly, and ended up pressed against Marsden. Pure heat blazed from his upper arm to his knee, one long continual line down the side of his body. They were so close a turn of his head would have his lips brushing the dark waves of Marsden's hair. Marsden let out a low grunt. Senses perpetually attuned to the other man, Vincent could scent his arousal even at a smoke-filled gambling hell. Marsden shifted his weight, his thigh rubbing against Vincent's, his hand curling into a white-knuckled fist around the chip he held.
Please, Marsden, get yourself under control.
Vincent chanced a quick, nervous glance around the roulette table, but the other patrons appeared blissfully ignorant of the erection he was certain now tented the placket of Marsden's trousers. It wasn't as if those across from them could see it anyway--the table came up to Marsden's waist. Still, the man next to Marsden could happen to glance down, or--
"Prescot!" a voice called from behind him.
Thank heaven for a distraction. Suppressing a relieved sigh, he took a step back from Marsden and turned to face a slim young gentleman with blond hair.
"Good evening, Winters."
"Never expected to come across you here," Frank Winters said with a jovial smile. Judging by the low cut, red silk gown and the heavily applied rouge, what could only be a cheap whore clung to his arm. Likely picked her up off the street. Winters brought his glass to his lips and looked around Vincent's shoulder. "Ah, that answers it. You're with Marsden. Don't know why you bother with him. Won't be long before he follows his father to the continent."
Vincent glared at him, a muscle ticking along his jaw, a fierce rush of protectiveness tightening his throat. How dare this little whelp--by God, he was only the son of a mere baron and not a very well heeled one at that--speak so callously about Marsden when he was but two feet behind Vincent? The urge to slam his fist into the man's smug face was almost overwhelming. Through sheer force of will, Vincent kept his arm at his side and managed to speak in a cool, bored drawl. "Have a care with the gin, Winters. Wouldn't want you to follow in your father's footsteps."
Winters's hazel eyes widened, a flush creeping up his neck to cover his cheeks, at the blunt reminder of his drunkard of a father who had made an arse out of himself at more than one social function. When he opened his mouth to speak, Vincent turned his back to him. And bumped shoulders with Marsden as the man turned from the gaming table.
Heat flared across his biceps, momentarily distracting him. He blinked and watched Marsden's brown-coated back weaving between the patrons. Where the hell was he going?
"Red fourteen!" the croupier shouted.
Vincent snatched up his winnings and made to pick up his other chips, but stopped, hand poised above the three stacks, one not quite as neat as the others. An annoyed grumble rumbling his chest, he pocketed the chips. Marsden and his damn pride. He'd just leave a few pounds at the man's apartments. The place was always such a disorganized mess. It would take Marsden days to come across the money, and by then, he'd likely assume he had merely misplaced it and not connect it to Vincent.
He scanned the room, spotted Marsden's dark head over at the cashier's cage, and went over to him. He stopped at Marsden's shoulder, ignoring the protests from the two men in line behind him. "Ready to leave already?" He would admit to a certain eagerness to go on to Marsden's apartments. All right, more than eager. But since he'd been gone for weeks, he had rather looked forward to spending some time with him. Outside of his bedchamber.
"I've had enough gambling for one night." Marsden took the few shillings the cashier pushed under the gilded bars of the cage. Then he lowered his voice. "I've been here for two hours. Your note said eight, Prescot, not ten o'clock."
Vincent gave his chips to the cashier. "The rains delayed my travel. As it was, I only stopped home long enough for a change of clothes." And to pick up your gift.
Marsden said nothing, merely shoved his hands in his pockets and contemplated his scuffed evening shoes.
While the cashier meticulously counted a pile of gold sovereigns, Vincent tipped his head toward his friend. "My apologies, Marsden," he murmured. "I didn't know the roads would be such a mess when I wrote you. As it was, I was fortunate to make it to London tonight."
Marsden tucked an errant wavy strand behind his ear and studied him from the corner of his eye. It wasn't as if Vincent had purposefully dallied on his journey. Hell, he had no control over the weather. So why was he so worried Marsden would hold it against him?
Those long, dark lashes swept down. Ducking his chin, a little smile tugged on the corner of Marsden's mouth, and he lifted one shoulder. "I understand. I'm glad you made it back safely."
Vincent couldn't hold back the smile as the tension slipped out of him, and in its place settled the delicious hum of anticipation. He had spent the greater part of the afternoon staring out the window of his carriage as it slowly made its way to London and planning exactly what he would do to Marsden once he had the man alone. "Shall we be on our way then?"
Marsden nodded, a quick jerk of his head.
He pocketed the gold sovereigns, leaving one for the cashier. When they reached the entrance hall, he stopped near the footman stationed at the cloak room. "Your greatcoat?"
Marsden didn't pause but continued on. "Didn't bother with it. Did you take your carriage or hire a hackney?"
Three long strides had him at Marsden's shoulder once again. "My carriage." The burly guard opened the front door as they approached. "Marsden, it's October. You should not have left your greatcoat at home." Marsden walked most everywhere he went in Town. His apartments were close, but not so close that he wouldn't have risked catching a chill if it had rained.
"So where's yours?"
Marsden was getting an extra smack on the arse later for that cheeky comment. Then again, knowing his friend, it would only encourage him. "My coat is in the carriage. Unlike you, I only had to walk twenty feet to reach the hell." He stopped at the streetlamp and flicked his fingers, motioning to his driver waiting for him a few buildings down the road.
His team of four bays pulled up next to him. "Lord Oliver's apartments," he informed his driver as he stepped into the carriage.
Marsden's knees brushed his as he settled on the bench opposite him. The driver snapped the whip, and the carriage lurched forward. Only the soft light from the streetlamps they passed broke the darkness, the golden glow cutting across Marsden's profile; it illuminated the long curve of his lashes behind his spectacles, the high arch of his cheekbones, and the slightly parted full lips. How had Vincent managed to go four weeks without those lips wrapped around his cock?
"God, I missed you." The desperation in Marsden's whispered words sent a thrill through him.
Marsden shifted forward, as if to move to sit beside him. Aware of the open shade on the window, Vincent lifted one leg and pressed a foot over his groin, holding him down, keeping him on the opposite bench. Marsden instantly submitted, settling back, yielding to the pressure, his legs falling open. Vincent rotated his foot, rubbing the sole of his evening shoe over Marsden's rapidly hardening cock. "Were you good, boy, in my absence?" he asked, voice pitched low but with a hard edge that would have Marsden panting in no time.
Marsden's tongue darted out, a quick swipe across his lower lip. "Yes."
He pressed harder, pulling a grunt from Marsden. "Yes, what?"
"Hmm." He passed a hand over his jaw as he continued to rub Marsden's cock through the placket of his trousers, the soft wool sliding easily over silken skin. It didn't feel as though Marsden had worn drawers. One less piece of clothing for the man to remove when they reached his apartments. "Are you certain? Did you take yourself in hand?" He knew the answer, but couldn't resist the urge to voice the question. To torment Marsden. To make the man squirm with a mixture of embarrassment and pure, stark need. To ratchet up the anticipation hanging in the air between them, so heavy he could feel it.
"Yes or no, Marsden. Did you pleasure yourself in my absence?"
He lifted his hips, seeking even more pressure, and speared Vincent with a hot stare. "Yes."
"And what did you do, exactly."
"Stroked my cock until I came." The words rushed out of Marsden's mouth, the sharp pants of his breaths filling the closed carriage.
"That was all? Did you penetrate yourself?" At Marsden's quick nod, he asked, "With what? Your fingers or one of your toys?" Marsden possessed a collection that rivaled the quaint little shop off Bond Street that sold a nice array of paddles and leather goods, in addition to the usual erotic offerings. A collection Vincent had taken great delight in watching Marsden sample on more than one occasion.
The faint light from a passing streetlamp gave him a glimpse of the blush staining Marsden's cheeks. "Both."
"At the same time?"
His dark eyes flared. "N-no."
Vincent tsked. "A shame. Perhaps we shall need to try that." He dropped his voice to a low rumbling growl. "See if you can take it." Marsden's breathy whimper shot straight to his groin. The man was so wonderfully responsive, so eager to please, so absolutely beautiful. So perfect. Warmth blossomed across his chest, a lush, comforting sensation that had nothing to do with the lust spiking his senses. Vincent tamped down the grin and instead kept his features schooled in a hard mask that approached disinterest. "Would you like that, boy?"
Even with the motion of the carriage, he could feel Marsden's body vibrate as the man fought to remain still, his hands curled in tight fists on his thighs. "Y-yes, please, milord."
The thought of Marsden naked on the bed, his golden skin flushed with arousal, knees drawn up to his chest, working his fingers alongside a slim dildo in his tight arse... Vincent swallowed back the grunt. Damnation. Yes, indeed, he would definitely need to coax Marsden into giving it a try. "But not tonight. I have other plans for you." He laid a hand on the greatcoat folded at his hip, over the hard length hidden in the pocket. The man would get stuffed full, but with only one object at a time tonight. He glanced out the window. "Almost there. Best get yourself under control." He gave Marsden's prick a light tap before moving his foot back to the floorboards.
"Already?" Groaning, Marsden tipped his head back and ran his hands through his hair, further disheveling the dark waves. "Hell. Should have brought my greatcoat. Would have hidden it." He sucked in a long controlled breath, as if he were steeling himself for something unpleasant. Then he spread his legs wider, grabbed his ballocks through his trousers, and tugged, hissing sharply through his clenched teeth.
Ouch. That had to have hurt. And not in a good way. "Yes, you should have," Vincent said with a chuckle, as he put on his own coat and did up the buttons to hide his straining erection.
The carriage slowed to a stop at a familiar three-story building that looked more like a boarding house than bachelor apartments. He turned a blind eye to the bent wrought-iron rail on the stone steps leading to the front door with its peeling black paint. Instead, he focused on the two dark windows on the top floor. In just a few moments, they would be in that apartment, and he would have Marsden all to himself without having to worry about the judging eyes of others upon them.
As Marsden reached for the brass lever on the door, Vincent laid a hand on his forearm, staying him. Questioning eyes so rich and dark they almost approached black met his. He tucked that errant wavy strand back behind Marsden's ear and murmured, "I missed you, too." Then he winked. "Now get your arse inside so I can fuck you."