He thinks he has everything. Until someone tries to steal it.
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, Book 5
For friends and lovers Orlando Coppersmith and Jonty Stewart, a visit to Bath starts out full of promise. While Orlando assesses the value of some old manuscripts, Jonty plans to finish his book of sonnets. Nothing exciting...until they are asked to investigate the mysterious death of a prostitute.
Then Orlando discovers that the famous curse of Macbeth extends far beyond the stage. It's bad enough that Jonty gets drawn into a local theatre's rehearsals of the play. The producer is none other than Jimmy Harding, a friend from Jonty's university days who clearly finds his old pal irresistible. Worse, Jimmy makes sure Orlando knows it, posing the greatest threat so far to their happiness.
With Jonty involved in the play, Orlando must do his sleuthing alone. Meanwhile, Jonty finds himself sorely tempted by Jimmy's undeniable allure. Even if Orlando solves the murder, his only reward could be burying his and Jonty's love in an early grave...
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October 05, 2010
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Excerpt from Lessons in Temptation by Charlie Cochrane
"Stewart? Jonty Stewart?"
An attractive American brogue split the air, making Orlando and Jonty spin around. They'd been standing admiring Ralph Allen's folly and watching the activity surrounding it. The rudiments of a stage was going up, business being worked out at the same time, groups of people rehearsing scenes or looking at properties. It had made an amusing scene and they weren't prepared for interruption.
"Harding! What the deuce are you doing here?"
"Putting on a play, of course."
"You're producing the Shakespeare here? The Scottish play?"
"Say it--say Macbeth. Surely you don't believe in that old chestnut about it being unlucky?" The newcomer smiled, an expression which was immediately mirrored by Jonty.
"Macbeth it is, then."
"Good. Don't you dare say it around the rest of the company, though. They're all infected with the usual superstitions. I have to refer to 'himself' as the Thane or some other euphemism--I need someone I can talk to without the nonsense or I'll go mad." He grinned again.
"You're not going to play Macbeth yourself, surely?" Jonty, almost dancing with delight, waved eagerly at the stage.
"No, I'll be Banquo. And I'm producing, of course." The actor swept his hand around, encompassing all the properties and players.
Orlando could stay silent no longer. "Am I to be introduced?"
"I'm so sorry." Jonty touched his arm, lightly. "Dr. Coppersmith, this is Mr. Harding. Jimmy, this is Orlando."
Orlando felt bad enough that he'd been ignored, left out of this obviously happy meeting, but for Jonty to break one of their cardinal rules was scandalous. He'd used Christian names in public and they weren't on holiday, or hadn't declared themselves as being so yet. He could feel the hackles rising, a knot of anger moving up his spine. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. Harding."
"My apologies, Mister Harding." If Orlando had openly said I don't like you or your smarmy face, go away and leave us alone, his feelings couldn't have been plainer.
"We were at University College together." Jonty had picked up the ice in his lover's tone and sought to smooth the situation with pleasantries. "Jimmy studied English literature at home, in America, then came over to improve his already considerable knowledge of the Bard. Now he runs his own productions on both sides of the Atlantic." He looked uneasily from one man to the other, knowing he'd committed a terrible social faux pas in not introducing them straightaway. In the sheer delight of seeing his old friend all decorum had fled from his brain.
"They told me there was some guy from Cambridge who'd been lurking about and offering his services..."
Orlando bridled at the unflattering description of what Jonty had been doing. Only he was allowed to make fun of or criticise the man.
"I'd have never in a million years guessed it was you." Harding smiled, the genuine pleasure he felt at seeing his old acquaintance again shining through.
"You don't mind the prospect of me hanging around getting under everyone's feet?"
"Not at all. I'm sure you'll put me right on all my mistakes of interpretation. You were always pretty hot about the nitty-gritty of production. And we'll have to find you a part to play." A huge grin crossed the American's face. "Lady Macbeth will need a handmaiden or two. Fancy being a traditional player?"
Luckily, Orlando didn't catch this remark, his mind being full of visions involving his fist and Harding's face.
"Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid." Jonty laughed but couldn't shake off his discomfort. "I'll be the porter if you need one, or else just a part of Birnham Wood."
"I'll see what I can work out. Will you join me for dinner? Both of you?" Harding added as an afterthought.
"Not tonight, I'm afraid. Tomorrow perhaps?"
"It's a deal then. Come and watch us practise tomorrow, though. I'd like your input on the Out damned spot bit."
Jonty nodded. "Tomorrow then."
Harding smiled and held out his hand to Jonty to be shaken. "Excellent." He offered Orlando his hand as well. The man grasped it grudgingly.
Jonty strode down the hill. He could sense Orlando's unease--anyone not completely oblivious would have--and felt the need to be away from the makeshift theatre, getting a chance to clear his mind. Jimmy Harding had been a pleasant enough young man back in the London days, but somehow in the intervening three years he'd matured, like a wine or cheese which gradually reaches the peak of its perfection. He had been agreeable, now he was gorgeous. Heart-stoppingly gorgeous.
Realising this simple fact caused a curious and unsettling sensation in Jonty's brain. The last two years he'd had eyes for Orlando alone and now he'd been "brought up with a round turn", as his papa might term it when at his most extravagantly eloquent. The sheer charisma of Harding had knocked all the social proprieties out of Jonty's noddle, threatening to reduce him to a gibbering wreck if he didn't take a close rein on himself.
The horse-drawn two-seater cab that had brought them up the hill was waiting for them, Jonty having insisted they retain it. Orlando wasn't as talkative for the journey back down to the Grand as he'd been coming up.
"What is eating you, Orlando?" Jonty could have answered the question easily enough, but he wanted the air cleared.
"How well did you know him in London?" The inquisition started.
"Jimmy? We knew each other for a couple of years at University College." Jonty looked out the window, at the floor, avoided Orlando's gaze. "Met at lectures, naturally, and then we discovered we were members of the same club. His father had arranged his membership, so he'd have an easier time of it when he first came over. Not that Jimmy finds it hard to make friends."
"I can see that. Very easy going. Have you kept in touch?"
"Just cards at Christmas, with a few words of news. Thought you'd have spotted them on the old mantelpiece in my set of rooms at St. Bride's." Jonty kept his tone light and easy, yet inside the prickles of tetchiness were breaking out.
"I don't go through your post, sir."
"Orlando, whatever is the matter?" Jonty grabbed his lover's hand, turning to face him for the first time in the journey.
"Isn't it supposed to be Dr. Coppersmith in public? We aren't on holiday."
Jonty could feel his blood starting to boil--this was all getting so bloody silly. "I've declared it holiday time, Orlando. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what's bothering you? You've been like a bear with a migraine ever since Harding hove into view."
"I don't like him."
"Oh, is it Mr. Ainslie all over again? Afraid he's going to take you off behind the castle and ravish you?"
Orlando didn't reply. Clenched hands and muttered, indistinct words made any reply unnecessary.
"Well, is it?" The truth suddenly dawned. "Or do you think he's going to take me off and ravish me?" Jonty didn't need to wait for an answer. The pathetic look of feigned innocence on Orlando's face was enough to tell him all he needed to know. "Maybe you think he's already done that, back in London and that I somehow neglected to tell you? Oh sorry, Orlando, it wasn't just you and Richard Marsters I've been to bed with, I had Jimmy as well. And Clive and Gerald and Francis and the entire second fifteen. What sort of man do you think I am?"
He tapped on the roof to get the cab to stop, then stepped out, ignoring Orlando's sudden shocked protest--not a voiced one but a hand firmly grabbing his arm.
"I may see you later, Dr. Coppersmith. Or maybe not." Jonty slammed the door shut and made his way off into the crowd.
Orlando sat in the hotel room quietly cursing himself--the last hour had been a catalogue of errors and all of them his fault. Why on earth had he accused his lover, or to all intents and purposes accused him, of being unfaithful with Harding? Jonty hadn't even known Orlando at the time he'd last seen the man in question, so technically he couldn't be guilty of adulterous behaviour even if a liaison had occurred. And what evidence had he based these accusations on? The horribly condemning facts that Jonty had been a bit free and easy with their Christian names and had, for once, not quite observed the proprieties of social etiquette.
Orlando put his head in his hands, moaning theatrically even though no one was there to hear him. It all seemed so stupid now, as he recalled all they'd said, then analysed every word for its meaning. Jonty had just been displaying his usual friendly character, genuinely pleased to be meeting an old friend, and he'd acted like a big soppy schoolgirl, all pouting jealousy. One who needed a slapping.
Then to have crowned all the idiocy by going and misplacing Jonty in the crowd. He'd been a fraction too slow in getting out of the coach, half his mind on throwing some money at the cabman, only to find he'd lost sight of that golden head in the throng. Jonty had never gone off before. And the only time he'd threatened it--after an argument over some shrubs, for heaven's sake--Orlando had reminded him that Mrs. Stewart would give him a piece of her mind should he turn up on her doorstep. Then she'd tie the little beast up until he came to claim him.
Wandering the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of his lover, his anger soon dissipated to be replaced by panic. What if Jonty just took off somewhere? The thought that he might take himself straight off to Harding flitted through Orlando's brain but was soon dispatched as being too uncomfortable for consideration.
Logic eventually reasserted itself, as Orlando quartered the area around the Abbey. Jonty would have to return to the hotel for all his things, so that was where he had to go and station himself. When the shocking thought occurred to him en route that his friend might just decide to leave all his things behind, along with his discarded lover, Orlando ignored that, too.
But Jonty was not, and had not been, back at the Grand. Now Orlando was beginning to despair of him ever appearing; if there'd been sackcloth and ashes to hand, then he would have indulged in them. No one wanted him to do detecting, he couldn't cure Jonty, and now he'd even failed at keeping a hold on his lover.
He was beating himself about the proverbial head, if not the literal one, when the door creaked slightly and a familiar tread came over the threshold. Orlando swung around, leapt up, then bounded over to his lover. "Jonty, please forgive me. I was stupid and I won't blame you if you decide to shout or punch me. But I beg you not to leave me."
Jonty shook his head. "I was never going to leave you, I just needed some time to calm down, you should know me by now."
"I bet you're fuming with me. I was completely wrong saying those things, I never meant to be so hard. This stupid disagreement is all my fault, I'm sorry." The words tumbled out randomly, pouring all Orlando's emotions with them.
"If there's any more of this I'll start calling you Dr. Hairshirt. In the Senior Common Room if need be." Jonty grinned.
"Don't joke, it isn't funny. I was worried sick."
"I'm a grown man, Orlando. I wasn't going to come to any harm walking the streets for an hour." The grin turned itself off.
"You might have if you'd gone back to the folly."
"And what precisely do you mean by that?" The grin had become an icy, thin-lipped glare.
Orlando didn't dare answer. If he'd got it all wrong, Jonty really would kill him and if he'd got it right, Jonty would be off again like a shot.
"I think I misunderstood what was going on up there, when we talked to Harding. I made some rash assumptions." Orlando studied his shoes, but they didn't reassure him.
"You certainly did." The icy edge in Jonty's voice eased into weariness. "Look here, Jimmy was only ever a friend, I promise you. He meant nothing more to me than Lavinia's Ralph does." Jonty leaned up to kiss his lover's brow. "Now shut up about it. We need to get changed for dinner or else there'll be nothing left except stale bread and rancid butter."
They might now be lacking a turn of pace on the rugby pitch, but getting into dinner jackets Orlando and Jonty could tackle like sprinters. They did justice to the rack of lamb, although conversation over dinner was a bit stilted, but the port over coffee, taken sitting in the lounge, loosened their tongues. It seemed, for the moment, as if the whole incident regarding Harding had never happened. Or maybe it was just too painful to refer to at present.
A muffled wailing coming from the street outside drew them to look out of the window. A small, obviously spoiled boy was leading his keeper a merry dance. Orlando wasn't impressed. His experience of children was admittedly limited to the smaller Stewarts, all of whom had beautiful manners even if they were high spirited, and all of whom were given appropriate discipline when the situation demanded.
"That child should be given as good a spanking as Mama gave you." For the first time since lunch, Jonty's voice has its old spark of mischief.
Orlando grimaced. When they'd broken their journey at the Stewarts' home, Jonty's mother had walloped his backside, for nothing worse than dosing her husband with an experimental analgesic powder. All purely in the interests of science and not appreciated by his hostess. "I suspect I still bear the mark. I can certainly feel the imprint of her hand even now, if I lie awkwardly."
"That has to be the most blatant lie. It was days ago." Jonty signalled for the waiter to refill their glasses. The memory alone deserved two ports.
"It may well have been days, but I swear that I'll carry the scars, emotional and physical, to my dying day."
"You are wonderfully dramatic. Have you considered offering to play Lady Macbeth?"
Why on earth did Jonty have to mention that wretched play again? Just when Orlando had got his thoughts away from handsome, smarmy Americans and onto happier times. "The less said about that hussy, the better." He yawned, equally theatrically. "I need my bed."
"So do I. I could sleep for a week."
The fact that Jonty obviously meant the sentiment, that he wasn't acting a part in public, left Orlando both disappointed and unnerved.
Despite what he'd said, Jonty couldn't sleep. Normally his head would hit the pillow and he'd be oblivious until dawn, yet tonight he couldn't locate the magic switch to turn off consciousness. In truth he was feeling rather uncomfortable, not at his display of petulance on the way home from the folly--something he felt was justified in the face of an accusation of disloyalty--but at some of the thoughts which had been flitting through his own brain this last hour.
Jimmy Harding had attracted him enormously. That simple fact had been a great shock. There was a whole raft of guilt loading him down concerning this man's animal magnetism, or whatever it was. Jonty had never looked at any other man since he'd met Orlando, had never wanted to, yet he'd have been happy to look at Harding all afternoon. It was wrong, Jonty knew it was, and earlier he'd wrestled with a tangle of emotions as he'd wandered around the city or sat in the gardens deep in thought.
How could he in all honesty be cross at Orlando when he'd hit so near to the truth of things?