GENTLEMEN CAN BE PLAYERS

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Bunny wants a more intimate relationship with Raffles, but doubt is will ever happen. However, Raffles goes off to a cricking house party and for once is unable to take Bunny with him. Bunny meets an acquaintance of theirs, a man they were both at school with, who tells Bunny things about Raffles Bunny did not know and can hardly believe. Then the man offers Bunny a solution to his greatest wish.

A first time story.

Written: February 2013. Word count: 12,410.

 

 

SATURDAY EVENING

 

"I am sorry, my dear Bunny," Raffle said, his fingers brushing my hair back from my forehead, it was something he used to do several times a day during out two years at school together; it was a gesture which I found incredibly intimate. "However, for once I am unable to take you with me."

 

I forced a smile onto my face. "That's all right, Raffles," I said in a tone which even I recognised as being horrible over bright, "I understand."

 

His other hand was on my shoulder and he tilted his head a little as he stared at me in a way I could not understand. "Do you, my rabbit?" he murmured, "do you really?"

 

I didn't know quite what to say to the question; it was such a strange one. However, I again forced my lips into a smile and said, "Yes, Raffles, of course I do."

 

"My dear Bunny. You know I would take you with me if I could, do you not? I shall miss having my rabbit by my side."

 

I swallowed hard. "Of course I know, Raffles, and I'll miss you too." I hoped my face and voice weren't giving away the depth of quite how much I'd miss him or just how desperately I would miss him of just how deep my desire to be by his side was.

 

"But when I return . . ." he trailed off as he gazed at me and once more brushed my hair back for me. I waited for him to continue, but instead he just smiled and moved his hand from my forehead to touch my cheek, letting his finger stroke my cheekbone. Again it was something he had done on more than one occasion whilst we had been at school. Again it was a gesture which I found to be incredibly intimate - and not one I could remember him making before, other than when we had been at school together.

 

I had to force myself not to moan aloud at beauty of the touch and not to push my face into his palm that now rested on my cheek. If only he knew what his touches did to me; if only he knew how desperately I wanted more; if only he knew quite how deep my love for him went; if only he knew how often I dreamt about him kissing me, touching me in even more intimate ways than he touched me on a daily basis; if only he knew that I didn't just dream about him kissing and touching me, I fantasised about it; if only he knew how much I hated saying goodnight to him of an evening, leaving him at the Albany to return to my own empty flat; if only he knew how much I wanted to be in his bed; if only he knew - If he knew he'd probably forcibly throw me out of his rooms and tell me he never wished to see or even speak to me again.

 

"My rabbit?"

 

I shook myself out of my reverie and turned my full attention onto him once more. He had a faintly bemused look, as well as a look which I could not fathom out, on his face and I wondered quite what my face had revealed to him. I hastily sought around for something to say to him. "May I see you off tomorrow?" I asked.

 

"Do you wish to?"

 

"Of course I do," I declared, a little more forcefully than I maybe should have done as once more he looked at me in a way I could not quite understand.

 

"In that case I would be delighted, Bunny, if you were to see me off."

 

I smiled happily. "I shall see you in the morning then, Raffles. Shall I meet you at the station or come here?"

 

"Oh, I rather think come here, do you not?" I nodded and smiled, quite happy at the thought I would get to spend a little time with him before I would be without his company for six days.

 

SUNDAY MORNING

 

"Well, my rabbit," he said, one hand on my shoulder, his other was holding my hand which he had taken and shaken, but even though he'd ceased to shake it a minute or two ago, he still held it. "Do take care of yourself and do try not to get into any trouble whilst I am away."

 

"I shall, Raffles," I said, not adding that given without him to take me burgling, the chances of me getting into any trouble were remote. He raised an eyebrow and I added, "I mean I shall take care and I won't get into any trouble."

 

He smiled and took his hand from my shoulder to firstly brush my hair from my forehead (maybe it was time I had it cut at least a little, for as much as I did rather like him brushing it back from my face for me, I had noticed that he had been doing it rather a lot recently) and then touched my cheek. "That's my good Bunny," he said.

 

"I hope you have an enjoyable time and good luck, Raffles - not that you'll need it. No doubt you'll be the best cricket player present as always."

 

He laughed softly. "Ah, my rabbit, some things never change, do they? I believe you are just as biased these days as you were when we were at school."

 

"But it's true, Raffles," I declared a little hotly and felt my cheeks flush as he merely laughed softly again and let his finger slide down my cheekbone before he let the hand fall to his side and finally let go of my hand.

 

"I shall see you on Friday," he said, "we shall dine out."

 

I beamed at him. "Yes, please!" I cried.

 

He smiled. "Good."

 

We stared at one another for a moment or two before I broke the silence. "I shall look forward to it, Raffles," I said, moving towards the door of the carriage.

 

"So shall I, my rabbit," he said, pushing his hands into his pockets, "so shall I."

 

I hesitated for a second or two longer before I smiled at him and left him alone.

 

WEDNESDAY MORNING

 

I wandered around my flat rearranging a few pieces of 'family' silver for the - I'd actually lost count of the number of times I'd rearranged the silver as well as how many times I'd rearranged my clothes.

 

The days had dragged terribly since I'd said goodbye to Raffles, since I'd stood in the station and waved to him as his train had pulled away, taking him away from me. But if I thought the days had dragged, well the evenings had seemed at least twice as long as they were when I spent them in his company.

 

I had done the things we normally did, with the exception of burgling of course, but it really wasn't the same. Dining out without Raffles was tedious, even the evening I spent with Knightly palled and I know I was not a good dining companion.

 

I had tried to write at least at times during the days, but had achieved nothing more than a few lines of extremely bad verse.

 

The truth was I was bored and lonely and I was missing Raffles even more than I had believed I would miss him. Had our lives really become so entwined that I could not spend six days without him? I was a grown man; surely I was capable of spending a few days without him by my side? I was quite certain that had I been the one who'd had to go away that he would not have spent the time moping - because even as I hated to admit it, that is what I had been doing: moping and just counting the hours until he would return.

 

I sighed, put down a silver cigarette case on the table from where I had originally picked it up before moving it four times and made a decision: I really wouldn't spend another day moping and wandering aimlessly around my flat or the London streets. I would do - something. I would do something definite, something whereby I could pass a few hours. I would go to the Turkish baths.

 

My decision made, I hurried into my bedroom, collected a fresh kit and set off for the baths. I decided to walk, as they weren't that far away, the day was pleasant - and it would take me longer than if I hailed a cab.

 

 

"Manders," a voice I recognised hailed me.

 

I looked up from where I had been lying on a bench and smiled as I sat up. "Hello, Lessingham," I said. Bernard Lessingham had been at school with Raffles and me and we'd all been in the same house. He and Raffles had been in the same year and although they hadn't been close friends (not in the way Raffles and Charleston had been) they had been reasonably friendly. I had rather liked Lessingham as he'd seemed unperturbed by my almost constant presence at Raffles's side and never once had I feared he might harm me in any way.

 

Lessingham had been abroad for some time, only returning to England and London a month or two ago; we had first bumped into him, quite literally, one rainy lunch time when he had invited us to join him for luncheon. Since then we had seen him several times, he was a member of the club to which Raffles and I belonged and seemed to frequent the Turkish baths quite often.

 

Lessingham sat down next to me and looked around him. "Isn't old A. J. with you?" he asked, surprise evident in his tone.

 

I tried hard not to sigh, but failed. "No," I said, trying and failing to keep the regret from my tone, "he's down at Lord Amersham's playing cricket and he was unable to take me with him this time."

 

Lessingham offered me his cigarette case and I took one, even though I didn't really want one of his cigarettes; you see I have been spoilt by Sullivans (the only brand Raffles will smoke) since Raffles and I had become reacquainted. He lit it for me, lit his own and then looked at me and said, "Yes, I can quite see why Raffles didn't take you with him, Manders."

 

I frowned slightly both at his words and the somewhat odd tone. "Well," I said dismissing the tone and the odd words, "I don't play cricket so . . ." I shrugged.

 

He smoked in silence for a moment or two as he stared at me. Finally he said quietly, "You really think that is why A. J. went down to Lord Amersham's - to play cricket?"

 

I blinked several times and frowned again. "Of course I do, that's what he told me."

 

"Yes, I suppose he would," Lessingham said somewhat cryptically.

 

"Look, Lessingham," I said somewhat forcefully for me. "I really don't know what you're trying to say, but Raffles went down to Lord Amersham's to play cricket - he took his cricket bag with him; I should know I accompanied him to the station."

 

"Oh, I'm quite sure he took his cricket bag with him, but I sincerely doubt he'll be using his bat to," Lessingham paused, took a deep drag on his cigarette, held the smoke in his mouth for several seconds before letting it out and saying softly, "play cricket."

 

I stared at him. "What do you mean?" I demanded.

 

He smiled and stubbed out his cigarette as he put his hand on my arm. "You really don't know, do you, Manders? A. J. has never told you, has he? Well, I suppose I'm not surprised he hasn't actually told you, but I would have thought given quite how close you are, given how much time you spend together that you may at least have some idea."

 

I was starting to get a little irritated by his cryptic comments and, again very unlike me, I told him so. To my surprise he just laughed. "My dear Manders," he said, offering me another cigarette, I shook my head curtly. "You see dear old Raffles is something of a player."

 

"No, he's not," I declared hotly, "He's a gentleman."

 

I was stunned when Lessingham laughed long and hard for several seconds. "Oh, Manders," he said when he finally stopped laughing. "Not everything is about cricket," he said.

 

"Then explain," I demanded.

 

He was silent for a moment and then he looked around him quite carefully, peering though the steam before he looked back at me. He moistened his lips, the tip of his tongue moving over them slowly. For the first time ever I actually found myself a little afeared and surreptitiously shifted along the bench slightly.

 

He saw me and quickly shook his head. "Oh, please don't be afraid, Manders, I am not going to hurt you. I merely wished to see if we were alone. I like A. J. and really have no desire to ruin his reputation."

 

I stared wide-eyed at him and I felt my mouth fall open. "What are you talking about, Lessingham?"

 

"Manders, Manders, Manders," he spoke my name in the kind of calming tone one might use with a child. " You see A. J., well let us say he likes  . . . Variety."

 

"I don't know what you mean."

 

He sighed. "Tell me does A. J. own a set of handcuffs?" I stared at him for a moment and then nodded slowly; he did, I wasn't about to tell Lessingham that they had come in handy on at least two occasions during out burgling exploits. "A blindfold?" Again I nodded, even though I was becoming more and more confused by his questions. "Rope?" This time he went on before I could answer the question. "Silk scarves and ties are a given -"

 

"Lessingham!" I actually raised my voice.

 

He started slightly and raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Manders?"

 

"What," I hissed, "are you implying?"

 

He stared at me and sighed softly. "Are you really still quite that innocent, Manders?" he asked his tone gentle as he just stared at me.

 

I stared back at him, frowning as I tried to work out what he was saying and suddenly the meaning hit me. "Are you trying to say that Raffles . . . That Raffles . . . That Raffles . . . That Raffles likes . . ." I could feel my cheeks were aflame and I hoped he would think the colour came from the heat of the steam and not my abject embarrassment.

 

He seemed completely unconcerned and showed no hint of embarrassment. He shrugged and nodded. "Yes."

 

"Of course he doesn't!" I exclaimed. Lessingham simply stared at me. "He wouldn't! He couldn't!"

 

"Are you quite certain?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, of course I am. If he liked . . . Things like that, I'd know."

 

Now Lessingham widened his eyes and looked at me in a strange way. "Would you now, Manders? Well, it appears that I was incorrect about your," he paused, "relationship with A. J."

 

"I don't know what you mean."

 

He stared at me. "No," he said slowly, "you don't. Look, Manders," he said gently, "I really do not wish to upset you or embarrass you, but you have to admit you do have something of a blind spot, shall we say, when it comes to old A. J. There are things about him you do not know; things he hasn't told you and hasn't done so for a good reason."

 

I stared at him and as I watched him watching me I had a sinking feeling that he was speaking the truth - after all why would he lie? What could he possibly gain from lying to me? Had he and Raffles been enemies at school or had he disliked me, then maybe I could understand why he'd lie to me, but they hadn't been and he'd always been tolerant of me. I suddenly felt chilled, in spite of the heat of the room.

 

I didn't want to believe him; I didn't want to believe that Raffles liked what Lessingham implied he liked; I didn't want to believe that he indulged in that sort of thing, but to my horror I knew I did believe him. Raffles hadn't gone down to Lord Amersham's to play cricket; he'd gone down to - I felt myself begin to tremble and forced my body to obey me and stop. I swallowed hard and wished most fervently that I had never ventured out to the Turkish baths that day. I wished I could have stayed unknowing, innocent and believing that Raffles used his cricket bat to play cricket and not to - I stopped the thought immediately.

 

"Manders?" I looked at Lessingham. "I'm sorry. I really did not mean to upset you," he said in a gentle tone and he was; I could see that quite clearly.

 

"That's all right, Lessingham," I made myself say. "I know you didn't; it's just that . . . Well, I would never have thought Raffles would . . . I thought I knew him," I added softly.

 

He stared at me for a little longer than said, "May I be blunt, Manders?" I nearly laughed, after what he'd told me he was now asking if he could be blunt. I shrugged and nodded. "You really are still as innocent as you were when we were at school, are you not?" I flushed, opened my mouth, closed it again and looked away from him. But I knew I had answered him.

 

He was silent for a moment then he said quietly, "You'll never get A. J. whilst you are still an innocent."

 

"What?" I raised my voice and hastily lowered it again. "What are you trying to say?"

 

He sighed. "Come on, Manders, remember we were at school together," he said. I just glared at him. "Look, let me buy you luncheon; I believe I can help you."

 

"Help me do what?"

 

He looked directly into my eyes and said quietly, "Get A. J. to take you to his bed."

 

I felt my eyes become so wide they hurt me. "Lessingham!" I hissed, lowering my head so that my hair fell around my face and covered my burning cheeks.

 

"Well, if that isn't what you want . . ." I said nothing; I just bit my lip hard enough to taste blood and kept silent. "Well, come and have lunch with me anyway."

 

I found myself agreeing and three quarters of an hour later we were sitting at a table in the Savoy eating oysters and enjoying a bottle of perfectly cooled champagne. We had already had a large sherry each before being shown to our table and the wine was beginning to make me feel rather mellow and relaxed - which I suspect had been Lessingham's plan.

 

Once the silently arriving waiter had topped our glasses up and disappeared as silently as he arrived, Lessingham looked at me. "I could help you, Manders," he said softly. I didn't say anything; I just took a sip from my glass and wiped the corners of my mouth with my napkin. "You see I know A. J. No don't look at me like that, not in that way - but I know him. He is, as I said earlier, a player. He likes variety in partners as well as in," he paused and just raised an eyebrow. I felt my cheeks begin to grow warm and I reached for my glass and drained it.

 

It was Lessingham himself who refilled my glass as his gaze never left my face. I should have been troubled by what he was saying and where he was saying it, but given our table was in a rather secluded corner and the nearest fellow diner was several tables away I wasn't concerned that someone would overhear him. And the amount of alcohol I had consumed made me less reticent than I would normally have been about the subject matter; about the fact he was saying he knew Raffles shared a bed with men.

 

"You see, Manders," he said, pulling out his cigarette case and offering it to me, I took a cigarette and he lit it for me before he went on, "I always felt sorry for you when we were at school."

 

I frowned. "How so?"

 

He shrugged. "Because it was so clear how much you liked Raffles, how much you wanted him to do the things most other boys thought he was doing," he paused for a moment and asked, "you did know with only one of two exceptions, including Charleston and myself, that the other boys thought your fagging duties were not just tidying up and oiling his cricket bat, did you not? You knew they thought he took you to his bed?"

 

I nodded quickly. Of course I'd known, even I had not been unaware of what was being said and whispered about. In fact more than one boy in my dorm has actually openly asked me what it was like. Indeed it was cause of the one disagreement Ollie and I had had; one day out of the blue he'd asked me what it was like and rather than just ignoring him like I did other boys, I told him the truth: that Raffles did not kiss me, touch me in ways he shouldn't nor did he take me to his bed. I had been quite taken aback when Ollie had said he didn't believe me and that he couldn't understand why I'd lie to him as he was my best friend and I his.

 

For a week or two we had barely spoken; in fact the only time we did speak was when we absolutely had to. More than once Raffles had asked me what was amiss between Ollie and me, but I had not told him. And I doubt had I not overheard him one evening talking to Charleston that I ever would have told him - thus Ollie and I would have spent four very unhappy years as we would not have regained our friendship.

 

What I heard Raffles asking Charleston was whether Charleston knew if Ollie and I had become more than best friends. Apparently Raffles had put our not speaking to one another, not spending time with one another and my refusal to tell him what was amiss down to the fact that we had moved beyond best friends and was trying to keep it a secret from other people. It had all sounded terribly complicated to me but I had decided there and then to tell Raffles what had happened between Ollie and me.

 

I had two reasons for deciding to do so. One was that I did not wish Raffles to believe that I was kissing or touching another boy and the other the reason him was the tone of his voice when he'd spoken to Charleston. It was . . . Well, I hadn't been sure what it was, I only knew I'd never heard him use that tone before.

 

Thus stammering dreadfully and knowing my cheeks were aflame I had told Raffles what Ollie had asked me and how he hadn't believed me. I don't really know what Raffles had said to Ollie, but I believe he must have said something, because a day or two later Ollie sought me out during the cricket match we were watching and apologised for not believing me and asking if we could forget it and go back to being best friends. I, of course, had been more than delighted to do so.

 

I was suddenly aware that Lessingham had fallen silent and was staring at me; pulling my mind from the past I looked at him and gave him what I hoped was an apologetic smile. "Yes," I said, "I was aware most boys thought that.

 

He nodded. "But you see, I not only did not believe what the other boys believe, but I also knew he never did." I just stared at him. "He never did what you wanted then and I'm afraid to say, Manders, he never will, no matter how much he loves you, no matter how much he wants to and he does - both love you," well that I knew, even though I believed it to be in a different way from the way I loved him, "and want you," that did surprise me, in fact I wasn't sure I believed Lessingham. "Well, not unless . . ."

 

"Not unless what?"

 

He leant a little nearer to me. "There's one thing A. J. will never do and that is to take an innocent to his bed. He didn't do it whilst he was at school and nor will he have done it since. And that, my dear Manders, is the only reason he has not taken you to his bed - because as I said he wants to, that is more than obvious Well," he said quickly as I opened my mouth to speak, "it is to me. But then I knew you both at school; I saw the way you looked at one another, the way you interacted back then and really to all intents and purposes that has not changed. However, do not worry, the other gentleman and ladies of your acquaintance will not see you and A. J. as I do."

 

I drained my glass and reached for the bottle to refill it. "What can you do to help?" I asked once I'd taken another sip.

 

He smiled and took the bottle from my hand and poured some more into his glass. "Well," he said softly, "as I said I have always felt sorry for you and I would like to help you get what you have always wanted. I could . . ." He trailed off and I waited. "When is A. J. due back?"

 

I blinked. "Friday."

 

He nodded. "Very well. Why do we not have dinner together tomorrow night after which you can come back to my rooms with me and I will . . . I won't harm you, Manders. I will just help you get what you most desire."

 

I stared at him horrified not by what he was suggesting but by the fact I was giving serious consideration to it. "But," I said leaning nearer to him, "even if I agree, how do I let Raffles know I'm not longer . . ."

 

He smiled. "Oh, I can teach you a thing or two that will leave A. J. in no doubt as to your . . . Change in status, shall we say. You see, Manders, A. J. isn't the only player."

 

"Have you and he . . . ?" I blurted it out before I even thought about it and felt my cheeks burn as I began to stammer an apology.

 

He, however, seemed completely untroubled by my question. "Not since we were in the fifth form," he said quietly. "I just know him and . . . Well, he's not the only person to have been invited down to Lord Amersham's." He paused for a moment and said quietly and tonelessly, "And if that doesn't confirm what I said about A. J. not going down there this week to play cricket, then nothing will." I stared at him; if I had been in any doubt before I wasn't now because rather like myself the one thing Lessingham was not was a cricket player; I do believe he was almost as inept as I.

 

I stared at him; once more I was wishing I had never left my rooms that day and that most certainly I had not ventured to the Turkish baths. And yet even as I wished that a small, a very small, part of me was once again giving serious consideration to accepting his offer to dine with him on the morrow and to return to his rooms with him and . . .

 

He really was, as he said, a player, because he played me perfectly. He let me sit, sipping champagne, smoking my cigarette for just long enough before he said quietly, "Well? Do you wish to dine with me tomorrow, Manders?"

 

I opened my mouth to refuse; I couldn't; I was quite certain I couldn't let anyone other than Raffles . . . But even as I opened my mouth to refuse I knew that if I didn't agree, then Raffles never would . . . "Yes," I heard myself saying. "Yes, Lessingham, I will indeed dine with you tomorrow evening."


He smiled at me. "Good," he said and touched my hand, the first contact he had made since he'd touched my arm in the steam room of the Turkish baths. "I shall look forward to it," I managed a faint smile. "And, Manders, rest assured I shall not harm you; you will be quite safe with me."

 

Then suddenly something came to me. "You won't . . . I mean we won't . . . That is . . . Because I really don't think I could . . . I know you say Raffles likes it but . . ."

 

He seemed able to follow my stammerings as he once more touched my hand. "No, Manders, I won't do anything like that; as I said Raffles does like variety and yes, he does like - that, but not all the time. You need not worry, it will be quite . . . Normal," he finally said and smiled at me in a reassuring way.

 

I allowed myself to be reassured and focussed on the fact I would at least have someone with whom I could dine tomorrow evening and not on the fact that I had just agreed to let a man take me to his bed and - Because I knew if I let my mind focus on what would happen after we dined then I would not be dining with him.

 

Once more he seemed able to read my mind, "It will be worth it, Manders," he said softly. "I can promise you it will be worth it. You will finally get what you have wanted since you were thirteen: you'll get A. J. in the way you have always wanted him. Now would you like a brandy?"

 

I forced a smile onto my face and nodded. "Yes, please."

 

He smiled back at me, raised his hand slightly and the next moment our waiter arrived on silent feet.

 

THURSDAY AFTERNOON

 

I had bathed and dressed in my evening clothes far earlier than was necessary. However, I had done so because by the time the morning turned into the afternoon I knew that was I not to bathe and dress and get ready for the evening that I would not do so. I would cancel dinner with Lessingham.

 

As I poured myself a second small brandy I stared at my hand which was shaking and as I added a splash of soda I gave serious consideration to ringing Lessingham and telling him that I had indeed changed my mind. I couldn't go through with it; not matter how much I wanted Raffles to kiss me, touch me and take me to his bed, I couldn't do what Lessingham said I needed to do in order to get Raffles to take me to his bed. I simply couldn't. I would have to go on wanting and yearning and longing and wishing and fantasising - after all I'd done it for two years when we'd been at school and for a year since we became reacquainted, surely I could go on doing thus? Except I didn't want to and I honestly didn't know how long I could go on doing so and at least I'd always liked Lessingham; he'd been a decent boy and I had no reason to believe he wasn't a decent man. I believed him when he'd told me I'd be unharmed, but the idea of . . .

 

The sound of the doorbell made me jump; I glanced at the clock and then at my watch, but it was as I thought, far too early for Lessingham - we had agreed he would call for me at seven o'clock (I think he feared were we just to agree to meet at the club that I wouldn't arrive) and it was only five o'clock.

 

My brandy glass still in my hand I made my way to my front door and opened it. "Raffles!" I exclaimed in shocked horror as I stared into Raffles's smiling face. My shock was so great I felt the glass fall from my hand, and had it not been for Raffles's excellent cricketer's reflexes it would have hit the floor and smashed. However, in a seamless, smooth move, he bent and caught the glass just before it hit the floor - I do believe that not even a drop of brandy splashed over the rim of the glass.

 

"Hello, Bunny," he said still smiling at me although there was now a look of slight concern on his face. He was dressed in the light grey suit I had always thought made him look particularly handsome and I as I stared at him I realised quite how badly I wanted to kiss him and how dreadfully I had missed him.

 

"You're back," I said brightly.

 

He stared at me and nodded. "Yes, Bunny, I believe I am."

 

"You're back a day early."

 

He nodded again. "Yes, yes, I am. Um, may I come in, or were you just about to go out?"

 

I frowned for a second and then realised I was of course dressed in my evening clothes. "Of course," I said swiftly moving back so he could enter and I closed the door behind him and leant against it for a moment as my mind began to whirl. What was I going to do now? How soon could I get rid of him? I shook myself, what was I thinking of, since when did I want to get rid of Raffles?

 

I realised he had already gone into the sitting room and I hurried in after him. He had put my glass down on the table and was sitting on the arm of the chair waiting for me. I hurried over to the table, grabbed my glass and took a long swallow. "Would you like a drink?" I asked brightly.

 

He frowned a little and stared at me. "Are you quite well, my rabbit?" he asked.

 

I nodded. "Of course I am, Raffles. Why should I not be?"

 

"Well," he said slowly, "it is a little early to be -" he stopped abruptly, shook his head and smiled. "Very well, Bunny, I should indeed like a drink."

 

I beamed at him and hurried over to the brandy decanter I poured a little into a clean glass, added a smaller amount to my own glass, before adding soda to both glasses and handed one to him. "Here you are," I said.

 

He took the glass, letting his fingers quite deliberately brush against mine, "Thank you, my rabbit," he said, his steady gaze firmly affixed on me as he took a sip and then put his glass down onto the table. "I see you are dining out," he said.

 

I nodded. "Yes, yes, Raffles, I am." I thought desperately of what else to say, but nothing came to mind, so I just beamed at him.

 

"Would you like me to retie your tie for you?" However, even as he asked the question, he was moving towards me and his hands were at my throat as he swiftly untied my perfectly adequately (at least in my opinion) tied tie and had retied it for me - as he always did. "There," he said adjusting it slightly, "that's better."

 

"Thank you, Raffles." I took another sip of my brandy and just stared at him as I sought for something to say before he asked the obvious question: with whom was I dining out and if it was someone he knew (which it would be, he knew I didn't know anyone he didn't) might he not join us. In my haste to find something to say I brought up the subject I had told myself I would not mention. "So the cricket match finished early did it?"

 

He had just picked his glass back up and had taken another small sip so his slight pause before he answered me could simply have been due to him swallowing the brandy. "Yes, yes, Bunny, it did indeed finish early, as such I decided to return to London today rather than wait until the morrow and I came straight here from the station to see my rabbit." Maybe it was just because I knew the truth, but I thought I heard a very faint edge to his voice as he lied to me and he certainly didn't quite meet my gaze.

 

Although I had breakfasted, apart from an apple I had not eaten anything since breakfast and even though the brandies I had poured myself had not been large, I was aware I had drunk them and that they were doing what alcohol often did to me: giving me more courage than I believed I possessed. I stared at him for a moment, holding his gaze unblinkingly. Then I turned from him and went across to the brandy decanter.

 

"Bunny, do you not think -" He fell silent as I turned around.

 

"You know, Raffles," I said, taking a deep swallow, "you could have told me the truth about why you really went down to Lord Amersham's. I know you believe I am still the innocent, naÔve, scared, dreadfully young boy you met thirteen years ago. But I am not - well not entirely," I added without meaning to. "I am more aware of things, shall we say, I am a grown man and I know things."

 

He stared at me. "Do you now?" he said softly.

 

I nodded and took another sip of the brandy and soda. "Yes, yes, Raffles, I do."

 

"And you believe I did not tell you the truth about my reason for going down to Lord Amersham's?"

 

I swallowed hard. "Actually, Raffles, I know you didn't tell me the truth. And I really don't mind, if that's what you like - well, that's what you like and well . . . I just wish you had been honest with me."

 

"Bun -"

 

For probably the first time ever in our acquaintance I interrupted him. "And whilst I don't mind, Raffles, whilst if you wish to do those things, well it is entirely up to you. But knowing what I know there is one thing I will no longer do and I'm sure you can understand why. I am afraid I will no longer be prepared to oil your cricket bat for you - so please do me the courtesy of never asking me to do so." My hand was trembling and to my annoyance so was I by the time I had finished my little speech and in an attempt to make it stop I reached once more for the brandy decanter.

 

However, he was there before I could pick it up and had taken the glass I held from my hand and put it down onto the table and had taken my other hand and was leading me across my own sitting room to the sofa, where he pushed me down and sat down next to me. "Now, Bunny, my dear, beloved rabbit," he said softly, my hand still in his as with his other hand he brushed my hair from my forehead (I hadn't got it cut whilst he'd been away). "Please tell me what it is you think you know and quite why you do not wish to oil my bat for me again."

 

The look on his face wasn't one of anger, as I had half expected, but one of concern overlaid with the affectionate, possessive, protective way he has always looked at me - although as I met his steady gaze, I realised it hadn't been quite so possessive or protective since our school days. "Raffles" I whispered, suddenly realised I was clinging to his hand in the way I used to do when we had been at school.

 

"It will be all right, Bunny," he said softly, yet again brushing my hair back for me; once more I was transported back to our school days as it was something he'd said to me many an occasion. "Just tell me what you believe you know; there's my good rabbit. I won't be angry," he added softly.

 

"Do you promise?" I whispered, suddenly feeling like the thirteen year old who had once asked him the same question when he'd asked me something and used the same words 'I won't be angry'.

 

He cupped my face and said softly and soothingly, "Of course I promise, my rabbit."

 

I took a deep breath and told him. I told him everything Lessingham had told me, well apart from the bit about why Raffles would never take me to my bed and Lessingham's invitation to take me to dinner and then to his bed so that Raffles would know I was no longer an innocent and thus would kiss me and take me to his bed. Oh, and also apart from the fact that it was Lessingham who had told me.

 

I forced myself to meet his gaze as I told him, no matter how desperately I wanted to look away, wanted to lower my head and let my hair hide my face, hide my what I knew to be red cheeks, hide how badly I was trembling, hide what I knew was fear showing in my eyes, fear that he would simply walk away from me.

 

Finally I fell silent and went on forcing myself to meet his gaze. His face had changed very little during my speech - apart from when I'd stammered out quite what I knew he'd used his cricket bat for when his eyes had widened considerably and he'd stared at me in horror. For several minutes after I'd finished speaking, he remained silent and I could see he was trying to decide what to say. I kept silent myself and forced myself to remain quite still and not to fidget.

 

"Well, Bunny," he said finally, moistening his lips with is tongue for the first time he glanced away from me, looking down at our hands which were still joined. Again he fell silent; again I had to force myself to remain still and not to fidget. Eventually he looked back at me, "That is quite . . . Am I permitted to ask quite how you," he paused for a moment then said softly, "know what you have just told me?"

 

I sighed and for a moment considered refusing to answer or even lying, but I knew he wouldn't accept either option. Thus I sighed again and this time I did look away from him. "I met Bernard Lessingham in the Turkish baths, I mean I bumped into him there, I didn't meet him, I didn't plan to meet him, I -" I fell silent, cursing myself for behaving like a stuttering fool who believed he was owned by the man sitting opposite him, who was making it clear he believed he didn't have any rights to make arrangements to meet anyone unless Raffles knew about it and gave his permission.

 

"And he happened to just come out with this?" Raffles asked carefully.

 

I shook my head. "Not quite; he asked if you were not with me and I mentioned you'd gone down to Lord Amersham's to play cricket and then he . . . Well, he told me what I told you."

 

"I see," he said, his tone slightly clipped as he took his hand from my face.

 

"Raffles," I was suddenly very afeared and grabbed his hand between both of mine. "Raffles, you have to believe me; I don't mind, really I don't. If you like that kind of things well . . . I . . . That is . . . Well, I understand," to be honest I didn't, but that wasn't the point. "It doesn't change you in my eyes," I added with what I thought was a moment of inspiration.

 

"Does it not?"

 

I shook my head hard. "No, of course not. You're still . . . You're still Raffles. It's just I don't want to -"

 

"Oil my bat for me again?" I nodded and felt my cheeks flush as he stared at me. Then to my horror he gently but firmly extracted his hand from mine and stood up. I was about to cry out, but rather than gather his hat and stick, he went to the table on which the brandy decanter and our glasses stood and poured a fairly generous measure into both glasses, added soda and returned to the sofa where he handed me my glass before he sat back next to me and just stared at me. I waited; knowing he had to be the one to speak; knowing that only he could speak.

 

"Bunny," he said quietly, after he'd half-emptied his glass whereas I had merely taken a small sip. "I give you my word, my solemn word, my rabbit, that whilst there is some truth in what Lessingham told you, that I have on a few occasions shared and yes, enjoyed, with likeminded me what you might call different kinds of lovemaking, I have never, nor would I ever use my cricket bat for any other purpose than playing cricket. You have to believe me, my rabbit, you have to trust me. Truly, Bunny, I would not - how can you believe that I would?" He'd taken my hand in his again and was staring intently at me. "The very thought that . . . Bunny, oh, my dear, beloved rabbit." He fell silent again and took another sip of his brandy before he said quietly, "Do you believe me?"

I stared at him for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said. "I do." And I did.

 

He looked quite relieved and squeezed my hand. "That's my good boy," he murmured. "And there's something else on which I can give you my word, Bunny. Whilst I confess I did - that I was less than truthful to you about my actual reasons for going down to Lord Amersham's, I did not go for the purposes of . . ."

 

I stared at him. "But you didn't go to play cricket, did you?"

 

He shook his head. "No. But nor did I go to indulge in the things Lessingham suggested I indulged in."

 

"Then why did he tell me you did?"

 

Raffles sighed softly. "Probably because, my rabbit, he believed that is why I had gone down there. Because there has been a time or two - before you and I became reacquainted - that I did indeed visit Lord Amersham's place, along with other likeminded gentlemen to . . . But I swear that was not the case this time."

 

"Then why did you go down? And why, Raffles, why did you lie to me?"

 

He stared at me for a moment then sighed and said, "Charlie. Charlie is the reason I went down to Lord Amersham's."

 

I stared back at him. "Charleston?" I whispered. "You and Charleston are . . ." If that was the case, if Raffles and his boyhood best friend were lovers then -

 

"No, Bunny," he said, putting his now empty glass down on the table and taking my hand between both of his and holding it tightly. "No, my rabbit, I love Charlie, but no. I do not love him in that way."

 

"I don't understand," I said.

 

He sighed and looked at me. "Bunny, I do not know whether you were ever aware, shall we say, that Charlie was," he paused and I could see him trying to decide quite what to say. "That Charlie was never going to marry," he finally said as he gazed at me.

 

I stared back as I worked out what he was saying and I nodded slowly as I suddenly realised I had somehow known that. "Yes," I said quietly and then added swiftly, "And it doesn't bother me, really it doesn't, Raffles."

 

He brushed my hair from my forehead. "I know it doesn't, Bunny," he said softly, "but thank you for saying so."

 

He fell silent again and finally I said, "I still don't understand, Raffles, why you had to go down to Lord Amersham's."

 

"Charlie made the mistake of," again he paused; again I waited as I watched him decide what to say. "Asking the wrong person to dine with him, shall we say? Now Charlie assures me and I believe him that if the other gentleman in question had not been the one to - To let Charlie believe he was as Charlie is, then he would never have dined with him. And I know Charlie, Bunny, he truly would not have made any approach to the man had he not -"

 

I waited but Raffles fell silent. "What happened?"

 

"Lord Amersham and several of his friends decided to teach Charlie a lesson."

 

"But if they . . . Well, you know."

 

He smiled at me. "Yes, I do know, Bunny. And I actually believe it was a deliberate trap to hurt Charlie."

 

"But why? Charleston's so nice. Who would want to hurt him?"

 

Raffles just gave a kind of shrug. "Some people simply do not like people who are different and whilst Lord Amersham and his friends do indeed enjoy their games, several of them have wives." I stared at him in horror. "Oh, my rabbit, you really are still so very innocent," he said softly, as he cupped my cheek.

 

I bit back a reply and said instead, "How badly was he hurt?"

 

"It could have been considerably worse," Raffle said softly. "If Charlie was not used to . . . And didn't know the human body as well as he does, well . . . I'm not entirely certain he would have survived to tell me."

 

"So you went down to Lord Amersham's to avenge Charleston?" I demanded.

 

"I may not have put in quite those terms, but essentially, yes, Bunny, I did. No one hurts or harms someone about whom I care - you should know that, my rabbit." And I did.

 

"So why did you lie to me? Raffles, I could have come and helped."

 

He smiled at me. "And that, my beloved rabbit, is why I lied to you. No," he said as I opened my mouth to object, "do let me finish. Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, you are a loyal, trustworthy, caring friend, someone whom I am proud, proud note, Bunny, to have by my side. But, my rabbit, you are so very . . . Look, Bunny, had I told you the real reason for my visit you would have insisted on coming with me to help me avenge Charlie, would you not?" I nodded. "And had I refused I would not have put it past you to simply turn up and invent some reason or other for doing so." I felt my cheeks flush but I couldn't deny his words. "And I couldnít let that happen, Bunny. I couldn't take you into that place, I could not let Lord Amersham or his friends anywhere near you - Bunny, my dear, dear Bunny, had I taken you with me, I would have spent the entire time keeping the other men away from you, as you really are just the type of young man they like."

 

I felt myself flush and said in as dignified tone as I could manage, "I am capable of taking care of myself, Raffles," and then added swiftly, "have I ever let you down? Have I ever failed you when we go burgling? Have I ever -"

 

"No, Bunny, you have not. And there is no one I would rather have by my side than my beloved rabbit. But you have to trust me and believe me when I tell you that you could not have helped; you would have at best hindered me and at worst," he paused for a moment and then said his tone flat, "been hurt even more badly than Charlie was hurt as you have not . . ."

 

Against my will I began to tremble at his words at the starkness and clear honesty of them. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me nearer to him, reaching for my glass and holding it to my lips for me. "Drink a little, Bunny," he said softly. "I am sorry, my rabbit, I did not mean to upset you, but now do you understand why I could not take you with me?"

 

I took a sip of the brandy from the glass he held and leant into his embrace. "Yes, Raffles," I said, not even troubling to hide the quiver in my voice. "I'm sorry, Raffles."

 

"For what, my rabbit, are you apologising?"

 

And suddenly I wasn't entire certain if it was for not being stronger, not being more of a man, for being so much of a rabbit, or for confronting him, thus making him tell me about the real reason he'd gone down to Lord Amersham's or for what had happened to Charleston or for what I'd been planning to do that very evening or for - Or for anything. Thus, I just shrugged and for a moment dared to do what I used to do so often at school when we sat close to one another: I rested my head on his shoulder. He tightened the embrace, pulling me a little nearer, encouraging me to keep my head where it was and I swore I felt what I'd felt a few times during our years at school, his lips brushing lightly over my head.

 

And then it hit me. I sat up abruptly, thankfully managing to avoid hitting his chin. "You went down there on your own to . . . To . . . Raffles what if they'd all turned on you? What did you go down there to do?"

 

He smiled at me, his reassuring smile. "It's all right, Bunny, rest assured I did not go down there with the intention of getting physical with them. Believe me if I had done so and had got myself hurt, Charlie would have been extremely angry with me - just as he would have been had I taken you with me. And, Bunny, as kind and gentle and caring as Charlie is, you really do not want an angry Charlie after you." I smiled a little as I remembered him saying a similar thing to me once at school.  "No, I thought I would employ my other talents - the ones only you know of."

 

"You stole from them?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, I did. And yes, I know it goes against my code of never burgling from a house in which I am staying, but under the circumstances -"

 

"You did the right thing!" I declared, interrupting him for the second time that afternoon. "Did you get anything decent?"

 

He laughed, just a little sadly I thought. "Oh, my rabbit, it appears I have corrupted you. As a matter of fact I did. Let us say that we shall not need to go a-burgling for quite some time. And not only that, I found some rather interesting papers and photographs - photographs I am quite, quite certain Lord Amersham would not wish anyone else to see."

 

I widened my eyes and stared at him. "Raffles? Do you mean you'd . . . ?"

 

"Consider blackmail?" I nodded. "As much as it pains me to say so, yes, Bunny, if it came to it, for Charlie, I would, yes."

 

"Can I see them?" I blurted the words out without actually thinking.

 

He stared at me in horror. "No, Bunny," he said firmly. "You may not see them." And once again for a moment it was as if we were back at school again. "Trust me," he added quietly, softening his tone and brushing my hair back from my face, "you really do not want to see them; really, Bunny, you do not wish to see them."

 

I smiled, more relieved than anything else. "Very well, Raffles," I said and smiled at him.

 

We sat in silence for a time before he glanced at the clock. "Well, my rabbit," he said, "why do you not return to the Albany with me so that I might bathe and change and then we can go out to dine?" Before I could say anything, he spoke again, "Oh, do forgive me, Bunny, of course you already have plans, do you not?" I nodded slowly. "Am I permitted to ask with whom you are dining?" I paused just for a second, "because unless it is with some young lady - it isn't, is it, Bunny?"

 

"No, of course not!" I declared hotly, far too hotly if the look that appeared in his eyes was anything to go by.

 

"Well, then may I not join you?"

 

I stared at him; swallowed hard and prepared myself to tell him. "Actually, Raffles, I'm dining with Lessingham."

 

He stared at me, eyes wide, and then said in a tone that he was clearly trying to make sound light, but actually was anything but, "Oh, well, in that case I am quite certain Lessingham wouldn't mind if I joined you."

 

Maybe it was because of what I had already told him; maybe it was the brandy I had consumed; maybe it was the way he had held my hand, cupped my cheek, put his arm around me, kissed my head. Or maybe it was what I suddenly recognised as clear jealousy, a jealousy he had tried to hide, a jealousy I knew I had seen once before, well actually I knew I had heard it in his tone once before, because now as I sat staring at him and heard again his words, I knew what his tone had been betraying the time I had overheard him when we had been at school when he had asked Charleston if he knew whether Ollie and I had taken our relationship beyond that of best friends. But whatever the reason was, I found myself telling him everything.

 

I almost laughed at one point during my little speech when he groped for my glass, put it to his lips and emptied it as he went on staring at me in horror. Finally I fell silent and just sat and gazed at him, waiting for his reaction. When it finally came, I confess it was far more intense than I had expected and for a moment I actually feared he would strike me.

 

He let go of my hand and stood up abruptly and glared down at me. "Bunny, are you trying to tell me that you were going to let - That you were going to let Bernard Lessingham . . ." His face was white, his eyes wide and blazing with - with what I was not quite certain, I just know I had never seen such a look before not even when some boy at school had angered him. His lips were thin and his hands were curled into fists as he oozed rage. I really did fear he would strike me and I prepared to stand up, but he was standing too close to me, so instead I moved backwards along the sofa, getting as far away from him as I could as he went on staring down at me.

 

Suddenly the rage faded and he visibly sagged, he even staggered just a little as he felt for the arm of the sofa and sat back down. "You were going to let a man other than I do things to you that -" He fell silent.

 

"That?" I dared to ask, holding my breath as I heard again his 'a man other than I'.

 

"That . . . That . . ." He swallowed, "That I have always wished to do to you," he said softly.

 

I felt my eyes widen as I stared at him. "Raffles?" I whispered. "Are you saying . . . ? Are you . . . Raffles, what are you trying to say?"

 

He took my hand in one of his and again put his other hand on my cheek. "That, my dearest, sweetest, most beloved, innocent, naÔve rabbit, what I am trying to say is that I love you and I want nothing more than to kiss you and take you to my bed."

 

I stared at him, suddenly I was sure I had fallen asleep and was dreaming. "But I am still innocent," I blurted out.

 

He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, Bunny," he said in his ever patient tone, "I am quite aware of that." I didn't ask him how he knew, I just accepted it as I accept so many other things because he is A. J. Raffles, the man I love beyond explanation or even possibly good sense.

 

"But you donít . . . Lessingham said you don't . . . That you never have . . . That you wouldn't . . . That's why he offered to . . ."

 

He smiled at me in his fond way and again I felt we were back in his study when he had told me something and I'd turned into a stammering wreck. "Oh, Bunny," he said, his tone as fond as his look. "What am I to do with you?" I could think of several things, but I let him continue. To my surprise he frowned a little and said, "Could you have gone to bed with Lessingham? Could you have let him kiss you and touch you?"

 

I froze at the question; one I had pointedly not allowed myself to ask. "I don't know," I said finally. "I think I hoped that if I had enough to drink that . . . Well, that somehow I would be able to . . . But the more I think about it, the more I really don't think I could have . . . And yet . . . I don't know, Raffles, I just knew I had to in order to . . . You know."

 

"Get me to take you to my bed?" He asked softly. I nodded. He sighed and pulled out his cigarette case and offered me a Sullivan. "Look, Bunny," he said when we both held cigarettes and he had once again taken my hand. "To be fair to Lessingham, what he told you was essentially correct. I have never taken an innocent man to my bed, nor did I ever think I would." I was about to ask if he'd taken an innocent lady to bed, but decided I actually didn't wish to know the answer. "But all that changed a year ago when I opened my door to you and saw you again."

 

"Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny, as soon as I saw you again, as soon as your hand was in mine, I knew that the day would come when I would kiss you, touch you and take you to my bed."

 

"Then why . . . ?"

 

"Haven't I done so?" I nodded. "Because, my rabbit, I had to be quite certain the love you believed you had for me wasn't still the pash you had on me at school and also that you weren't staying by my side out of a sense of loyalty because I had helped you save your reputation. I had to be quite certain, Bunny, and so I set out to wait until I was."

 

"And you are now?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, I have been for a short time, actually. However, on the very night I was going to - Well, let us say I had plans for dinner and what would happen afterwards. However, that was the very afternoon, after you had gone home to bathe and change for the evening, when Charlie arrived at my door and - Well, I am quite certain you understand, my rabbit, that as dearly as I loved you, as desperately, because by then I really was quite desperate to get my hands on your unclothed body, I wanted you, I had to deal with Charlie's attackers first."

 

"Of course I understand, Raffles," I said - and I did, really I did.

 

"That's my good boy. I had planned that when I returned from Lord Amersham's that we would have dinner and . . ."

 

"Oh," I said, suddenly hearing his 'But when I return . . ." again. "Oh," I said and smiled. Then to my surprise I found myself asking, "But why, Raffles, have you never taken someone without experience to your bed? Is it because . . . Well you know . . . They wouldn't . . . You know."

 

He smiled and shook his head. "No - actually the idea of being the one to teach someone about such things did have a certain appeal. However, it was because, my beloved rabbit, I did not want the potential complications that might ensue if I took someone's innocence from him. You see experienced men know the rules, they know how to play the game - that is something else Lessingham was fundamentally correct about: like he I am a player - but an innocent . . ." He trailed off and gave a small shrug.

 

Then he sighed and said in a rather matter-of-fact tone that was I believe tinged with just a hint of sadness and self-deprecation. "I am not proud of it, my rabbit, but with the exception of a handful of boys at school, I have never shared a bed with the same man more than once. But," he said swiftly, no doubt correctly interpreting the look I fear had appeared on my face when he'd said he words, "it will be quite different with you."

 

"It will be?" I asked the question with a mixture of hope and uncertainty.

 

He nodded. "Oh, yes, my rabbit, it will be quite, quite different with you. Because, Bunny, I love you; I adore you; I always have and I always will. You are mine, Bunny, mine, and you need to know that."

 

I smiled at him. "I've always known it, Raffles," I said softly. And I had; he had made it quite clear during our school days that I was 'his' and even though he protected me from boys whose interest in me wasn't the same as his interest in me, he also possessed utterly and completely. And since my return to his side that possessiveness has once again been clear; I was his to do with as he wished to; I was his, heart, body and soul.

 

"Good," he said. "So we'll have no more talk about you sharing another's man bed in order to gain experience so that I'll take you to my bed, will we?" I shook my head. "Because I, my dearest rabbit, am really looking forward to introducing you to the joys of lovemaking," he said and then he leant towards me and for a moment, a far too brief a moment, he put his mouth and on mine and kissed me.

 

I'm not quite certain what would have happened; whether we would have gone on kissing; whether in fact we would have spent the night in my bed rather than his, or whether he had indeed only planned for the kiss to be brief and nothing more than a prelude to returning to the Albany where he would -

 

However, at that moment the doorbell rang. I clutched his hand and held it tightly as my eyes became wide. "Raffles!" I moaned. "It's . . . It's . . . What am I going to do? What am I going to say?"

 

He smiled, patted my cheek, brushed his lips over mine for a second before standing up and heading towards the hall. "You my dear Bunny, are not going to say anything, I shall."

 

"Raffles," I called. He stopped and turned back and raised an eyebrow. "Don't . . . I mean . . . It wasn't his fault . . . And he was always kind to me at school," I added quickly.

 

He smiled at me. "Ah, my rabbit, my dear, dear loyal rabbit, do not worry, Bunny, I shall not hit him, if that's what you fear." And with those parting words he turned and his hands in his pockets strode out of the room. He did, not however, close the door, thus I heard the conversation.

 

"Goo - A. J.!"

 

"Hello, Lessingham."

 

"You're back a day early."

 

"Yes, I am." Raffles's tone gave nothing away; it was just his normal speaking tone.

 

Lessingham, however, started to sound more than a little wary. "Er, I was going to dine with Manders tonight," he said.

 

"Yes, I know you were. Bunny told me."

 

Lessingham was silent for several seconds before saying, "Ah. And did he . . ."

 

"He did."

 

"Look, A. J., it's not what you think. Well, it is what you think," I heard Lessingham correct himself swiftly. "But I wouldn't have hurt him - well, I mean I'd have been . . . I'd have taken care, A. J."

 

Now it was Raffles's turn to fall silent. I was quite surprised by his words when he did speak. "Somewhat surprisingly, Lessingham, I find that I believe you."

 

"You do?" Lessingham sounded completely surprised, even a little shocked and if I was honest, I was a little surprised myself, knowing quite how possessive Raffles is of me.

 

"Yes. After all you never harmed Bunny when we were at school, you were one of the few boys I was quite happy to allow Bunny to be around; I never for a moment feared you had any interest in him nor did I worry you would harm him. Maybe I'm the naÔve one, but I do believe that the way a boy, well most boys, behaves at school does stay with him into adulthood."

 

"So you're not angry with me?"

 

Raffles laughed. "I didn't say that. However . . . You do not need to fear for your safety, Lessingham. Indeed, what say you that we all dine together next week?"

 

"Um, I'd like that, A. J."

 

"Shall we say Thursday at the club?" I presume Lessingham nodded because Raffles went on. "Splendid, Bunny and I shall see you then. But one thing, Lessingham," for the first time since he'd opened the door his tone changed and became somewhat harder.

 

"Yes, A. J.?" The what was more of a hint of wariness in Lessingham's tone told me he had heard the change in Raffles's tone quite clearly; I also wondered what Raffles's face might be telling Lessingham.

 

"Never, ever make such a suggestion to Bunny again. Never touch him or get particularly close to him, do you understand what I am saying?" Now Raffles's tone was very hard and flat and I knew exactly what he face would be showing, as I had seen it many times at school.

 

"Oh, yes, A. J., I understand fully." Lessingham spoke swiftly.

 

"Good. You see, Lessingham, he is mine and you know what I do to people who try to take what is mine from me, do you not?" The hardness faded just a little, but was still quite clear and the chill that joined the hardness as Raffles spoke made me shiver just a little - I was more than a little relieved he wasn't addressing me.

 

"Oh, yes, A. J., I do. I most certainly do." Once again Lessingham spoke swiftly; I could hear the words stumbling over one another as he spoke.

 

"Good," Raffles paused for a moment before saying, once again in his normal, well almost normal, tone, "Well, I shall bid you good evening. Enjoy your dinner." I presume Raffles had held his hand out to Lessingham to shake.

 

"Good evening, A. J.," Lessingham said. There was then a slight pause before I heard my front door being firmly closed and then Raffles was back in the sitting room with me.

 

"Well," he said, offering me his hand and helping me to my feet. "I think it's time we returned to the Albany so I can, as I said a short time ago, bathe and change, then we can go out to dinner and then . . . And then we will return to the Albany and I shall . . . Oh, yes, I am quite, quite looking forward to tonight, Bunny."

 

I swallowed hard and tried to ignore the way a part of my body had hardened just a little. I moistened my lips and said somewhat boldly, "Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit?"

 

"Why donít we forget about dining? Why don't we just go back to the Albany and you can take me straight to your bed?"

 

He smiled at me and gathered me into his arms, pulling me closely against him, so closely I knew he must have felt my hardness that increased as it was pressed against his body. "Because my beloved rabbit, I have given a great deal of thought to how this evening will go and I intend to carry out my plans of gentle, slow, loving seduction." And with that he pulled me just a little nearer before he lowered his head, put his mouth on mine and kissed me.

 

This time the door bell didn't ring; this time he went on kissing me for quite some time as my body grew harder and harder and I felt his own body echo mine.

 


 

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