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A Seditious Affair

By:K.J. Charles

now. There is no need for regrets."

"I disagree there. Do you not have regrets?" Lord Richard asked.

"I can't see the point. There's nothing one can do about them, after all. My mother says the sole point of the past is to ensure you don't fall into the same traps in the future."

"That is certainly a tempting philosophy." Lord Richard sighed. "And has some truth to it. You are ever a comfort, my Cyprian."

David stared at the embroidery in front of him, giving himself a self-indulgent second to absorb the words. Your Cyprian. All yours, if you just ask. "I hope to give you satisfaction, my lord."

"You do."

"Whatever you need," David said on a breath, and felt Lord Richard jolt under his hands. He moved his fingers to the next button of the waistcoat, the top one, close to the opening of the fine lawn shirt, and Lord Richard's hand came down over his. Skin against skin, trapping David's fingers against his chest.

He might as well have grabbed David by the balls.

David looked up, into Lord Richard's face, his deep blue eyes indigo in the candlelight and a little wide, as if he was startled by his own act. They stood, inches apart, in silence, Lord Richard's heart beating under David's hand, and David felt his hard-fought poise crumble like sand walls under the tide.

Lord Richard's big hand was over his own, engulfing it, and either his fingers were trembling or David's were, or perhaps both. David flattened his fingers against Lord Richard's chest and felt Lord Richard's fingers tense over them.

Please. Please.

There was an endless second, and then Lord Richard lifted his hand away. "Enough. I'll do the rest myself. Go to bed."

David's mouth opened. Lord Richard stepped back, not quite meeting his eyes. "It's late. Go on."

It was just one in the morning. He had the rest of the evening's duties. He didn't want to go, not now, with his master's touch hot on his hand. "My lord-"

"Good night."

It was flat dismissal, not to be argued with. "Yes, my lord," David said in his usual, neutral tone, and turned away.

He had reached the door when Lord Richard spoke again. "You are-invaluable to me, Cyprian. I hope you know that."

"Thank you, my lord," David managed, wondering how his own voice was so level. "Good night."

He shut the door without a sound and padded down the hall, face blank, manner correct. Nobody who saw him would see anything but a valet about his duties. Nobody ever did.

Silas had gone when he reached his own room. David sat on the bed and put his face in his hands, breathing hard.

It was weeks since that touch in the book room, the connection that couldn't be explained away as valeting duties or accident or anything else. Weeks since Lord Richard had been forced to accept Mason in his own house, to acknowledge that the lost love of his life was happy elsewhere. Weeks of morning and night together in a bedchamber, of feeling Lord Richard trying not to respond to his touch, of knowing that he was right.

Weeks in an increasing conviction that David wasn't going to get what he wanted.

His lordship might embrace the future, but he wouldn't embrace a servant. That was all there was to it. He was the marquess's son, holding his place with pride and duty. He did not stoop, and he didn't abuse his position either. David recalled him dressing down a cousin who'd been a nuisance to a housemaid, his deep voice carrying through two sets of walls with unrestrained anger. He'd forced the scarlet young gentleman to make his near-tearful apologies to the wide-eyed girl, and then escorted him out of the house in a way that reminded David of his friend who threw drunks out of a club. Lord Richard protected his own. It was no wonder his servants adored him.

His lordship carried his birth, responsibility, and principles very heavily indeed. Desire didn't stand a chance against those serried ranks, and particularly not desire for a servant with hair of such a repulsive shade that he'd been ordered to wear it powdered at all times.

He'd seen Lord Richard watching him. He'd felt his lord's breathing coming harder sometimes as David's fingers moved over him, felt his big body tense, maintaining control. Another master would have reached for him. David was no stranger to this game; he knew hungry eyes when he felt them on his skin. Lord Richard had wanted him a hundred times, and if he had extended a hand or spoken a word, David would have come willingly. But he had not; he never would.

It only made it worse that they both knew. David had felt the crackle of attraction all those years back at his interview for the post, and it hadn't gone away, any more than the sensation of that accidental, long-held touch on his fingers, which had felt so much like a door opening.

But Lord Richard had shut it. He would not reach for David, no matter how much he wanted to. And for once in his life, David didn't know what to do.

He solved his master's problems, and those of his friends. That was easy enough for an ingenious man unencumbered by principles and backed by Lord Richard's money and influence. With Lord Richard behind him, he could do anything. With Lord Richard in flat opposition …

Because, in the end, David was his valet. He could persuade, even disagree, since his master generously permitted disagreement. He could not argue or overrule. He could not defy or persist. He could manipulate, of course; he was fairly sure that he could overcome his master's objections for a night. Lord Richard was only a man, and men could be led; it was what David did best. But a single night would not do, and anyway that wasn't what David wanted. Not at all.

It was easy to lie when one didn't care for the truth, to play when it was just a game with living pieces. He couldn't do that to Lord Richard, because Lord Richard's truth mattered to David as none other. He did not want to get his way with tricks now, to be the invisible puppet master. He wanted Lord Richard to see him. He wanted him to choose.

And that left David, whose weapons were manipulation and deception, quite hopelessly adrift. All he could do was offer, as blatantly as he might, but without saying anything that would force Lord Richard to a decision, because David was too afraid that the decision would be no.

He was perhaps the best-paid valet in London and certainly one of the most envied. The great Cyprian, he was called by some, just as Brummell's valet had been the great Robinson, and if he left Lord Richard's service he would be able to name his next master and his salary too. That should be enough for any man in his position, and of his background. More than enough.

But it wasn't. Because if David Cyprian had been asked to define his own particular hell, it would be night after night in Lord Richard's bedroom, night after night undressing him with murmured words and infinite care, and then walking away to an empty room again, alone.