JUST FOR THE SUMMER?
It's the beginning of the twentieth century and Bunny finding himself tiring of London follows the advice of an acquaintance and leaves London for the summer. To his surprise and delight he is reunited with Raffles. An inevitable relationship begins between them but what will happen when the summer comes to an end and it is time for Bunny to return to London?
A first time story.
Written: December 2012. Word count: 40,115.
As I made my way through the crowded London streets on my way home from the club where I had met a young acquaintance of mine for luncheon, I realised not for the first time how tired I was growing of London.
Things had changed with the new century and the death of the country's beloved Queen, the motor car was replacing the hansom cab, ladies simply weren't 'ladies' any longer, fashions had changed, London had changed - sometimes it seemed to me that everything had changed. And it was not to my liking; oh, I approved of certain advances that made life more convenient and pleasurable, but many so-called improvements to my mind were not. And the children; everywhere I went there were children and I was tired of it all.
I wanted something different, I wanted things to be as they had once been, I wanted to turn back the clock to an era which I regarded as better. I could not do this of course, at least not in reality, I could do it in the books I wrote, but that was all. Or was it?
During my luncheon I had mentioned my dissatisfaction with London and all the changes to my guest and he had suggested I leave London for the summer and go to a hotel he knew of in Ramsgate. The hotel was for gentlemen only - neither ladies nor children were permitted - and according to my young acquaintance it gave first class service, served excellent food and had an extensive wine cellar; the accommodation he assured me was the best he had ever known and once you had made a booking, your rooms were yours for as long as you wished to stay. He told me he could not recommend it highly enough.
It was of course highly expensive but that was of no concern to me. My books not only sold well, they sold very well and the inheritance I had received upon the deaths of my parents had left me an extremely wealthy young man and even though I had fairly expensive tastes, I was still a wealthy young middle aged man.
I had just completed a book and had promised myself a rest before I embarked on the next one, maybe I should do as Henderson had suggested and leave London for the summer and go instead to the beauties and relative peace of Kent.
By the time I reached my home, having been subjected to what to my mind equated as verbal abuse by a small group of so called young ladies who insisted on trying to persuade me that women should be allowed to vote, as well as being forced off of the pavement by two other ladies pushing prams, who seemed to believe their right to be on the pavement was great than mine was, I had made up my mind: I would ring the hotel and see if they had rooms available for me and if so I would escape from London for the summer. I would escape and return in the early autumn and then I would begin my new novel.
I hastened into my house and went into my study, picked up the phone and asked the operator to connect me with The Albion Hotel in Ramsgate. A few minutes later I replaced the receiver and smiled with satisfaction. I would indeed be spending the summer out of London. I only hoped the hotel would turn out to be as good as Henderson had insisted it would be.
When my housekeeper brought me tea I told her of my plans. To my surprise her face showed more than a degree of distress. "For the whole summer, Mr. Manders?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yes. At least that is my plan. I shall leave next week and return in the first week of September."
"Oh," she said, looking away from me for a moment. "Well, sir, I hope you have a nice time, sir."
Suddenly I realised what the problem was and hastened to reassure you. "Do not worry, Mrs. Abbott, I shall still pay you as usual."
Her eyes widened as she looked at me. "You will, sir?"
"Yes, of course I will."
"For the entire three months, sir?"
"Yes," I said firmly. "And if I may make a suggestion, Mrs. Abbott, why do you not leave London for a week or two as well."
"Oh, I don't know about that, sir."
"Well, I do. You have a sister, do you not?" I seemed to recall she had mentioned a sister.
"Well, yes, sir, I do. She lives in Somerset, sir, and has invited me more than once to go and stay with her now that she's a widow. You see she married somewhat above herself, sir. He was a very nice man, but I never felt, well, quite comfortable in his company, sir. It would be nice to see her again, but -"
"That's decided then," I said, and I opened my desk drawer, took out two pound notes and handed them to her. "And I insist on paying for your train journeys," I said firmly.
"But, sir -" I stared at her and she fell silent as she slowly folded the notes in half. "Thank you, sir," she said, "it's very kind of you, sir." I smiled at her and after hesitating for a moment or two she nodded her head and hurried out of the room.
A WEEK LATER
A hansom cab owned by The Albion took me from the station to the hotel and a porter was on hand immediately to take my luggage inside for me. I stood outside for a moment and looked up at the building; I was very impressed. It was fairly large, but not overly large and although it was rather grand it also looked inviting and friendly even - I could quite easily imagine spending three months here. It overlooked the harbour and a glance in both directions along the street showed only a few men; neither lady nor child was in sight. Yes, I was going to enjoy my summer escape.
An hour later I was sitting in one of the general sitting rooms of which there were several, enjoying a pot of tea and a plate of sandwiches. The good impression the outside of the hotel had given me had continued, not only in my rooms but in all areas of the hotel. My rooms consisted of a good size bedroom and sitting room, a smaller room which the assistant hotel manager who had shown me to my rooms told me a lot of gentlemen used as a study and a bathroom with an extremely fine looking bath.
If I had to sum up the hotel in one word it would be: comfort, because to my eyes that consideration was behind every piece of furniture, every picture, the dťcor and, if the tea I was enjoying was an example, the food and drink. Talking of which the hotel's restaurant was also designed to cater for the gentlemen residents as breakfast was served up until eleven o'clock, luncheon was served between noon and two o'clock, and dinner from seven until ten. And I had been assured by the assistant manager that should I desire a meal at another time I only had to ask and arrangements would be made. Anything a resident wished for they would receive; nothing was too much trouble.
THE FOLLOWING EVENING
To my surprise I found I slept very well; normally if I spend a night in a bed other than my own I find I spend more time awake than asleep. However, I had fallen asleep within minutes of lying down and turning out the light and did not wake again until quite late.
Thus following a late breakfast I ventured out of the hotel and spent some time walking by the harbour and enjoy the sea air. As I had breakfasted fairly late I decided I would not have lunch but would dine a little earlier than normal.
I had just finished the very excellent meal and was trying to decide whether to have brandy or a liquor with my cigar and coffee when a man I had seen before appeared by my side. A single glance at him told me he was a senior member of staff and he confirmed this almost immediately.
"Good evening, Mr. Manders," he said. "My name is Christopher Lincoln and I am the hotel manager. I must apologise for not being present yesterday to welcome you, but it was my day off and I have only just returned to the hotel."
"That's quite all right," I said and smiled.
"I trust you enjoyed your dinner, sir."
"Very much so," I said, part of my mind still on the decision I had to make regarding what drink I would like.
"Mr. Manders." Lincoln looked slightly uneasy and I began to wonder if something was amiss with my booking.
"Yes, Mr. Lincoln," I said.
"This is going to sound a little strange, sir. However, the hotel owner has asked me to invite you to join him in his rooms for an after dinner drink."
"The hotel owner?"
"Yes, sir," Again Lincoln looked a little uneasy. "I am afraid I cannot tell you his name, sir, he specifically told me not to do so." I stared at him, more than a little surprised. "He mentioned that he believes he knows you."
"Really?" I said, wondering quite who was claiming acquaintance with me.
"Yes, sir, from quite some years ago, I believe he said."
I had no idea who the man could be, but as a writer I am naturally interested in all thing, thus meeting the man, whether or not I did know him, who owned such a fine hotel for some reason appealed to me. "I would be pleased to have a drink with the gentleman in question," I said, putting my napkin on the table and standing up.
"Thank you, sir." Lincoln sounded more than a little relieved; I wondered if he had expected me to either refuse of at least insist on knowing the other man's name or even get angry with him. However, a large sherry before dinner and a bottle of fine champagne with dinner had made me feel rather relaxed and affable.
I followed Lincoln across the dinning room and along the long main hallway until we reached a walnut coloured door that I confess I hadn't noticed before; indeed I had thought it just another part of the panelling. Lincoln opened the door with a key and stood back to allow me to precede him through the door which he then relocked behind us.
I am a writer and I have and always have had, even as a young child, a vivid imagination and despite Lincoln's respectful and reassuring manner and the warm feeling the alcohol had given me, I began for a moment to wonder if I was about to be kidnapped and held to ransom or something similar. I shook my head and told myself quite firmly not to be so foolish and instead concentrated on glancing around me as Lincoln led me along another corridor. For a moment one of the pictures on the wall caught my eye and I believed it to be familiar; but it was a common enough print, I am quite sure many gentlemen had it on their walls.
Lincoln finally stopped by a closed door and knocked. I heard a murmured reply and Lincoln opened the door and led me into the somewhat dimly lit room where I saw a man, some several inches taller than I, standing with his back to me. As Lincoln stood to one side, his hand still on the door, the slight feeling of unease I had felt earlier washed back over me.
"Mr. Manders, sir," Lincoln said; he paused for a second before nodding at the static figure who still stood with him back to us, before turning around and leaving the room. I was more than a little relieved when although I heard the door being closed behind Lincoln I did not hear it being locked.
I stood and waited and just stared at the back of the man who had invited me to join him but thus far had not spoken to me nor even looked at me. The next second he turned around and at the same time switched the overhead electric light on and stared at me. After a second or two of blinking furiously at the sudden increase in lighting I gasped as I stared at the man who stood smiling before me. "Raffles?" I whispered.
"Hello, Bunny," he said, "I'm so glad it was the correct Harry Manders." And he strode towards me with his arms out. The next second I was in his arms, mine were around him and twenty-six years fled away and we were back in his study on the worst day of my life where he held me as I sobbed inconsolably, knowing there were mere hours before he would walk out of my life, when he would leave the school for the last time and I would have to survive three years without him.
I would turn forty-one in a little over two months, but as he pulled me a little nearer to him I was the young, small boy of fourteen being held and comforted by the dashingly, handsome, protective and possessive captain of the eleven who would turn twenty in a few months. I clung to him, just as I had clung to him all those years ago and as I held him and in turn was held by him I knew - I admitted to myself - I was still in love with him. A love that had begun almost from the second I had seen him, a love that had grown during the two years we had spent together was still alive some twenty-eight years later.
"Raffles?" I said again, aware but not in the least bit concerned, that my voice was shaking slightly and I could feel tears of happiness burning the back of my eyes. "Oh, Raffles." And I just clung to him a little more and let him gather me even closer to him, holding me just as he had always held me.
Finally he moved back a little, keeping me in a loose embrace as he gazed down at me and smiled, the lazy, affectionate, caring, possessive smile he'd bestowed on me for two years whilst we had been school boys together, and I dared to hope, just as I'd dared to hope on more than one occasion during those two years, that he might kiss me. But he did not; instead he took one arm from around me and with a gesture so familiar it made me gasp slightly as well as made the tears come nearer to the surface, he did what he'd spent two years doing: he brushed my hair back from my forehead.
"Bunny," he said softly, "my dear, dear, dear Bunny. Oh, my rabbit," he murmured, once more pulling me back into a close embrace and resting his head on mine, "I have missed you so very much."
I think the fact that he still using the name he had bestowed on me on the day we had met and calling me 'rabbit' did not trouble me in the slightest, even though I was a man of forty and not a boy of thirteen, showed just how deep the love I had for him still was.
Again he pushed me away from him, this time holding me at arms length as he once again gazed down at me. "You've barely changed," he said.
I laughed a little. "Raffles!" I exclaimed. "I am considerably older than when you last saw me, that statement can hardly be true." And yet even as I dared to disagree with him, I knew in part it did still have quite a lot of truth in it. I was still not tall for a man; I still had very pale skin; my hair although not quite the same light blond as it had been when I was a boy was not significantly darker and I still wore it longer than was usual. And I was still quite the innocent I had been all those years ago - but that of course he could not know from merely looking at me.
And as I went on gazing up at him certain my face was, as it always had done when I was with him or spoke about him or even thought about him, betraying my every emotion, I realised that fundamentally he had not changed a great deal either. His hair was still curled and still ebony with only the odd fleck of grey in it, which to my mind made him look even more handsome than he had done as a school boy; he was still tall and slim and still wore his clothing in a way no one else has ever been able to wear it, and he still exuded an air of confidence and competence and as I stared into the still sparkling, laughing sapphire blue eyes, I saw they still shone with affection for me and if I wasn't mistaken I also saw just a hint of the protectiveness and possessiveness he had shown during our time at school.
He shook his head fondly at me, once again brushed my hair back from my forehead before his hand cupped my cheek. "My rabbit," he said softly. "My own Bunny." And then he took my hand and led me across the room to a sofa. "Do sit down, Bunny, and tell me what you would like to drink. And you must have a Sullivan," he added, reaching into his pocket for his cigarette case and offering it to me.
Just as I had done during our time together at school I deferred to him; I asked him what he was going to have to drink and as he had done at school he just once again shook his head in a fond way and insisted I make my own decision. Thus we finally settled down with a brandy each; Raffles joined me on the sofa, sitting at the opposite end and tucking one of his legs under him so that he could turn and look at me. I envied him his suppleness; I was quite certain that even though I was younger than he, I could not have sat like that, not without being very uncomfortable.
He raised his glass to me. "To you, my dearest Bunny, and to a friendship regained." I smiled, but found I could not speak around the lump that had formed in my throat. "Oh, and I should warn you," he said taking a sip from his glass, "I do not intend to let you slip away from me so easily this time." I just stared at him; once again I was the oh so young boy in awe of my protector. "So, my rabbit," he said, "tell me everything you've been doing since we parted all those years ago. Apart from writing, of course."
I felt my cheeks flush a little. "You know I write?"
He smiled at me. "I not only know, Bunny, I own every book you have written and have read them all more than once. You tell a very good story - your imagination is every bit as good as it was when we were at school. You write well, Bunny. But then I always knew that," I felt my cheeks flush even more as he just looked at me with his steady gaze, "which is why I always fagged you to write my verses for me."
"And because you hated doing it!" I exclaimed.
He laughed. "Just so. Well what else have you spent the years
I shrugged. "The usual things a gentleman does; dinners, the odd ball and house party, I belong to a couple of clubs, that kind of thing. To be honest, Raffles, apart from my writing my life is very dull." I sipped my brandy as I looked at him.
"And how is London?"
I sighed. "Terrible."
He widened his eyes a little. "Surely it is not that bad, my rabbit."
I shrugged. "It's changed, Raffles. It seems far busier than it used to be, there are motorcars and children everywhere and young ladies on street corners stopping one to try to get support for them getting the vote. I know progress is good in many ways, but I miss the old London. So much seems to have changed with the new century and the new King."
He smiled. "My dear Bunny, you talk as if you were sixty not forty."
"Almost forty-one," I declared.
"Yes, I am quite aware of that." His voice was soft and the gaze in his eyes seemed even more affectionate. Suddenly he sat forward, picked up the brandy decanter and poured a little more into our glasses. As he put the decanter back on the table he said, his voice still soft, "I do not believe I have forgotten a single thing about you, my beloved rabbit."
I swallowed hard and tried to stop my cheeks from flushing again as I recalled a number of things I wish he might have forgotten. I can only assume he must have read my face just as he'd done all those years ago because he leant towards me and caught my hand in his and squeezed it. He didn't speak, he just stared at me for a moment or two before letting go of my hand and settling back into the corner of the sofa again.
We sat in silence for a moment or two before I asked, "And what about you, Raffles, what have you been doing? And how did you end up owning a hotel?"
He stared at me. "Well when I came down from Cambridge I played first class cricket for the county and England, but you may be aware of that?"
I nodded. "Oh, yes. In fact I believe I attended every one of your matches."
His eyes widened and then he frowned slightly. "But why, my dear Bunny, did you never seek me out? Why did you never come and speak to me?" I couldn't answer him; I didn't need to answer him as my cheeks once again flushing gave him my answer and I lowered my head. "Oh, Bunny," he said softly, once more leaning forward this time to brush my hair back from my forehead again and then, again as he'd done all those years ago, he put his fingers under my chin and gently pushed my head up. "I never should have let you slip away from me as I did, Bunny. I never should have walked away without looking back. I do regret doing that, my rabbit, - I always have done." And for a moment he slipped his hand into my hair, lightly tangling it around his fingers - another gesture that was so hauntingly familiar it took me all my time to keep the tears from showing.
Again we sat in silence for a moment or two before after ruffling my hair he let his hand slip from it and once more sat back into the corner of the sofa. "Where was I? Ah, yes, cricket. Well apart from playing for Middlesex and England I was invited to a lot of country house parties - but always for my cricket. I was invited and expected to take to the field and show off my skills. I soon tired of it, Bunny. I tried of being invited for a skill and not for myself."
"I'm sure it wasn't just because of your cricket."
He shrugged. "Well, I think being an eligible bachelor may have helped too - but again that wasn't for me, but for what I had." His voice changed and became almost toneless as he once more poured a little more brandy into our glasses. "My parents and sister all died in the same accident and everything came to me."
"I'm so very sorry, Raffles," I said, and this time it was I who leant forward and put my hand on his arm and squeezed it, leaving it there for a moment or two before sitting back up and just staring at him.
"Thank you, Bunny," he said softly and he sighed. "Some ten months after my parents and Alice died, my only other relative - the man who had also been my Godfather - also died. I barely knew him; he was very much a recluse, I think I saw him once. But everything he had - including this hotel - became mine. I didn't know what to do with the hotel, so I took the easy option; I did nothing and let it carry on as it had been doing. That is, I did until the day I received a telegram informing me that the manager had died and the assistant manger who had taken over without consulting me, had lost a dozen of the best staff."
"Goodness, what did you do?"
"Well, it so happened that the telegram arrived at a time when I was completely tired of London, of balls, of dinners, of house parties, even of cricket."
I stared at him in amazement. "You tired of cricket?" I said in a shocked tone.
He nodded. "Yes, Bunny, I did."
"But you . . . You were always so . . . Raffles, you loved it."
He shrugged. "I've loved other things and lost them," he said somewhat cryptically. "Somehow losing my love for the game didn't really seem to matter. It seemed of little importance." He took another sip of brandy and then picked up his cigarette case and offered me another Sullivan.
"Thank you," I said after he had lit it for me. "So did you give London up there and then?"
He smiled. "Very nearly, yes, Bunny, I did. I played my final county match then came down here, took one look at the man who had in six short months all but ruined a very profitable business, dismissed him instantly and knowing that I knew nothing about running a hotel I immediately advertised for a new manager. Christopher," he must have seen the look of surprise on my face at the use of Lincoln's Christian name, as he smiled a little self-deprecatingly and said lightly, "Yes, I know, it's terribly bad form. But it's rather like me calling you 'Bunny' and Charlie 'Charlie', someone 'Lincoln' just didn't seem to fit him. Anyway, Christopher applied for the position, I confess I very nearly didn't even interview him as he was so young and completely without experience, but I decided to and well here we are. He's a first class hotel manager and I rely on him a great deal."
"Is the hotel the same today as it was in when you took it over?"
"Good heavens, no. It was actually Christopher's idea that we make it exclusively for gentlemen, with so many hotels around he thought it would be something different. It was also his idea that when a gentleman took a set of rooms they were his until he decided to leave - that he didn't have to let us know at the time he made the booking for how long he wished to stay. In all honesty, Bunny, I didn't think it could work, but as I didn't actually need the money the hotel had brought in, I decided we might as well give it a try. And it worked very well indeed. Many of the gentlemen are regular customers; quite a few keep their rooms even if they leave for a week or so to attend to business or whatever and then return. And many have told us they choose to come here because they know they won't find children or ladies."
"That's certainly why I came," I said.
"Is it now?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"In which case, it was definitely worth it," he said and smiled.
We sat drinking and smoking and talking for quite some time. Indeed when I happened to glance at the clock standing on the mantelpiece I saw it was two o'clock in the morning. "I really should let you get to bed, Raffles," I declared, emptying my glass, putting out my cigarette and standing up.
Even though he had sat with one leg under him for several hours he glided to his feet in the elegant way I remember from our school days and took my hand in his. "Would you like to spend tomorrow, well I should say today, with me, Bunny?"
"Yes, please, Raffles!" I cried enthusiastically.
He chuckled softly and put his other hand on my cheek. "Dear Bunny," he said. "You really have not changed. Until later today then," he said, his hand now cupping my cheek before once more he brushed my hair from my forehead. "Dear, dear Bunny," he said softly and then after slipping his arm through mine he led me to the door I'd come through some hours before.
He insisted on walking me back to my rooms, taking me a completely different way from the way Lincoln had brought me. I assumed the way he took me was normally not open to guests. At my door it was he who unlocked it with what I presumed to be a master key before I could reach into my pocket for my key, and he who opened the door and turned the light on. It was he who once again took my hand between both of his and squeezed it. "Dear Bunny," he said once more, as he took one hand from mine and sipped it into my hair. "Sleep well, my rabbit," he said - it was yet another echo of our school days.
I stared at him for another moment before I smiled and said softly, "Goodnight, Raffles." And it was I who broke the contact between us and went into my rooms and shut the door behind me.
I certainly did sleep well and my dreams were very pleasant ones indeed.
We had a very enjoyable day which began with Raffles joining me, much to the hastily hidden surprise of the waiter, for breakfast. I was somewhat pleased that he joined me as I was part of the way through my breakfast, rather than having just started it, as to my chagrin as soon as he touched my shoulder, sat down opposite me and gazed at me, I felt my mouth grow dry and I knew I would not be able to eat anything else. I fumbled with my cutlery, dropping the fork onto the floor, which Raffles himself bent and picked up seconds before the waiter came hurrying over with a clean fork.
Thus I sat and sipped my coffee and nibbled from time to time a piece of toast and marmalade whilst Raffles ate bacon and eggs before moving onto toast and marmalade. His attention was focussed solely on me and his gaze barely left my face for more than a second or two. As I stared back at him, once again marvelling at how handsome, how like a classical God he still was, I truly thought we had been transported back all those years to our days as school boys as I still felt so in awe of him.
After breakfast we parted for a short time before meeting again in the reception area. He was there before me and when I arrived I found him leaning against the desk talking to Lincoln. "Ah, Bunny, there you are," he said and smiled at me, his attention once again fully on me.
"I hope I haven't kept you waiting, Raffles," I said hurrying over to him.
"Not at all," he said, his hand coming to rest on my shoulder as he continued to smile down at me. Then to my surprise his hand drifted to my head and he brushed my fringe back from my forehead, letting his fingers linger for a moment or two longer than I thought was advisable. "Just like at school," he murmured softly offering me his arm before he turned to Lincoln. "I shall be out for the rest of the day, Christopher," he said and then added, "and Mr. Manders will not be dining here tonight." I wouldn't be?
"Very well, Mr. Raffles," Lincoln said, glancing from Raffles to me and back again. "I do hope you have an enjoyable day, Mr. Manders."
"Thank you. I'm sure I shall," I smiled and let Raffles lead me out of his hotel. It was a perfectly beautiful summer's day; warm but not oppressive as it would have been in London; there was a pleasant sea breeze and the harbour sparkled in the sun light; the sky was almost entirely blue, broken in only a few places with small, white fluffy clouds. As I stood and looked around me I felt something I didnít remember feeling for many years: a sense of contentment and being at peace - how much of that was to do with the man by my side, the man's arm I had mine through, I didn't quite know.
He turned and looked at me and his ebony curls shone beneath his straw hat and his eyes gleamed as he gazed at me. "Do you have anything in particular you wish to do or see, Bunny? Or are you happy to place yourself entirely in my hands?"
I swallowed hard - if only he knew quite how entirely I'd be happy to place myself in his hands - and just nodded. "Yes, Raffles, of course I am, whatever you wish to do, wherever you wish to take me, is more than acceptable to me."
He smiled at me and straightened my straw hat slightly. "Just like at school," he said again. "Very well, my rabbit, I shall show you some of the beauties of the town." He turned and led me not in the direction where I knew the sands to be but in the opposite direction.
As we walked along, my arm still through his, we talked and smoked and I obediently looked at the various things he pointed out to me. I expressed surprise at how few people we met, enquiring if Ramsgate was not a particular popular holiday destination. He assured me it was but the part he was showing me tended not to form part of the itinerary of those holidaying - as most people preferred the more crowded and popular parts.
We passed three-quarters of an hour is a small, very clean, although slightly shabby looking public house where Raffles seemed to be fairly well know, given the number of people who greeted him. To my faint surprise the people seemed to be fairly mixed as far as class went, but of course Raffles spoke perfectly happier to all and anyone who addressed him, even buying drinks for two men who by their red hands, open-necked shirts and the way they addressed him as 'Mr. Raffles' and didn't quite meet his gaze, appeared most definitely to be of the working class.
We left, this time with Raffles's arm through mine and he paused outside. "Are you hungry, Bunny?" he asked.
I shook my head, "No, not really."
"Well how would you like a trip on our electric tram?" he asked. "It links Ramsgate to Margate and Broadstairs and it is a pleasant trip, especially at this time of day as it will not be particularly crowded being the time most people will be lunching."
I agreed eagerly and that is how we spent the afternoon. We alighted from the tram at both Margate and Broadstairs and spent a shot time in both towns with Raffles promising a return visit, assuming of course I wished to return. I did, of course I did. I didn't reiterate what I had said earlier, but the truth was I didn't mind what we did or where we went as long as I was with Raffles.
We had afternoon tea in a hotel of a similar size to Raffles's in Margate where again he was known, indeed the hotel manager himself appeared within minutes of the waiter taking our order and welcomed us both, telling Raffles it was a pleasure to see him again.
When he'd gone I expressed faint surprise at how well Raffles was known and to how many people. He rested against the back of his chair his steady gaze, as it had been any time we weren't actually walking, was once again firmly affixed on me. "Well, my rabbit," he said, suddenly leaning forward to brush something from my shoulder, "I do not actually work in the hotel, well at least I do not do much. There are times when I do do something, such as helping behind the bar and of course I spend time going over the books with Christopher, but for the most part I am very much a gentleman of leisure."
I felt myself flush slightly. "I didn't think you . . . Of course you wouldn't . . . It's just . . ." I was flustered and silently cursed the man who could still reduce me to the stammering thirteen year old I had been.
He smiled and lightly touched my thigh, "Ah, Bunny, I do apologise, I really should not tease you so. It is just I rather like to see you blush, you still do it so prettily, you know." And of course that made me blush all the more.
"Raffles!" I exclaimed, so flustered I had to look away from him as at that very moment the waiter appeared with our tea.
Once it had been placed on the table and the waiter had left, Raffles assuring him he was quite happy to pour the tea, Raffles once again touched my thigh. "Please forgive me, Bunny. I must endeavour to remember you are now a mature man of almost forty-one and not the boy I met and -" he stopped speaking for a second before saying, as he began to pour the tea into first my cup and then his, "all those years ago."
"It's all right, Raffles," I said. "To be honest I keep almost thinking we are back there, at school."
"Do you now?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"They were good years, were they not, Bunny?"
I stared at him and even though I had suffered a fair bit of teasing and had more rags played on me than most boys, and even though I had being subjected to a number of unpleasant suggestion made to me by some members of the sixth form and some fifth form boys, and even though a lot of the school could not understand why Raffles wanted me around and quite what he saw in me and made quite sure I knew of their feelings, they had indeed been good years. How could they not have been given I had been possessed and owned and protected and cared for by the most wonderful boy at the school? So I smiled at him and said, "Yes, Raffles, they were very good years."
"Bunny," he started to say, but at that moment another man appeared and spoke to Raffles. To what was clearly Raffles's annoyance, after a curt half nod to me, the man did not address me nor did he even look at me again. He and Raffles spoke in low voices and I deliberately forced myself not to listen - it again was how it had been back at school when sometimes his fellow sixth form would wish to speak with him but he was disinclined to send me from his study, so I learnt how not to listen. I did notice Raffles's tone of voice and the look on his face and I got the distinct impression the man was not a friend of his.
Finally the man gave Raffles a curt nod and strode off. Raffles stared after him; the look was not a friendly one and his eyes were hard. Then he turned to me and immediately his gaze softened and he smiled at me. "I do apologise, Bunny," he said, "that is one hotel owner I am more than happy not to have anything to do with."
"It wasn't your fault, Raffles," I said.
"No, Bunny, I know it wasn't, but . . . Oh, let us not dwell on it. Let us finish our tea and take the tram back to Ramsgate."
I smiled at him. "Yes, Raffles," I said.
And that is what we did. Once we returned, we spent half an hour or so walking along the sea front which although considerably busier than the other part of the town we'd spent time in during the morning was not as busy as I'd expected it to be.
Finally with Raffles's arm once again through mine we returned to the hotel where we parted to bathe and change before Raffles took me out to dinner. We dined at The Grand Hotel, which overlooked the sea rather than the harbour. It was an extremely imposing looking building that appeared from the outside to be at least four times the size of Raffles's hotel, and I hoped Raffles didn't intend leaving me alone once we were inside as I feared I might easily get lost.
Once we were inside, however, for whatever reason be it the dťcor or lighting or the graceful, pleasant nature of the staff, or just that I was by Raffles's side and the focus of his full and almost undivided attention the place did not seem quite so imposing and threatening. I still hoped I had no need to be parted from Raffles, but I was more at ease. As I expected the staff all knew him and both the manager and the owner, who I gathered was not normally in residence, came to greet him and both took the time to greet me as well once Raffles had introduced me.
We enjoyed a very fine dinner, shared two bottles of wine with the meal and then brandy and cigars, duly selected by Raffles along with coffee, after we had eaten. However, maybe it was just my slight bias, something he laughingly accused me of being more than once at school when I spoke of his abilities, but I believed the standard of food at Raffles's own hotel to be superior.
We walked back to his hotel through the darkened streets; my arm was once again safely tucked through his, the silence of the night broken by voices only now and again and by the sound of the water lapping against the sand and later when we got nearer to his hotel the harbour wall.
Once we were back inside Raffles, without actually asking me, led me the way Lincoln had taken me the evening before to his rooms where we again spent an hour or two talking, drinking and smoking before he again walked me back to my own rooms where after an invitation to spend the day with him he once more left me.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
Apart from the few hours I spent sleeping each night and an hour or two Raffles had spent with Lincoln going through the accounts and other hotel related things, I had not spent a moment apart from Raffles since the first evening we had become reacquainted, and I had loved every moment spent with him and hoped that things would continue in the same way. I believe I knew Ramsgate almost as well as those who lived there did, I certainly knew it better than most summer visitor knew it, given I had Raffles to show me around.
Indeed I felt I had got to know quite a lot of Kent as we had ventured out of Ramsgate on more than one occasion. We had returned to Margate and Broadstairs, spending entire days there and we had also ventured further afield to Canterbury, Folkestone and Dover.
Every evening we returned to Ramsgate to bathe and change and most evenings ate either in his hotel, sometimes in the dining room other times in his rooms, or another in the town, but on one of two occasions we went to a hotel in Margate and once to one in Canterbury - he even insisted I accompany him to a formal reception one evening and would not accept my objections that I would be unwelcome not being a hotel owner. Not that I wished to stay in his hotel without him; I did not, I just felt I should at least point out I really had no right to accompany him. Naturally it was his will which prevailed and I did spend the evening by his side.
My escape from London for the summer had thus far been even more enjoyable than I had believed and hoped it would be, and I eagerly looked forward to each new day and to the hours I would spend with Raffles as the intimacy we had shared as boys increased each day.
One evening after we had dined in Raffles's own rooms we sat on the sofa, he as he tended to do sitting with one leg tucked up beneath him so he could easily gaze at me, drinking his fine brandy and smoking Sullivans when the conversation drifted as it did from time to time back to our school days.
"Did you keep in touch with Charleston?" I asked; Charleston had been Raffles's best friend at school and on the eleven with him. I'd liked Charleston a great deal and not just because he never seemed to object to my almost constant presence in Raffles's study.
Raffles blew a smoke ring and looked at me through it. "As a matter of fact, Bunny, I did."
"Did he become a doctor?"
He nodded. "Yes. A very fine one."
"Do you see him at all?" I wondered if by chance he practiced in Kent as I would quite liked to have seen him.
"Not for a few years. He," Raffles paused for a moment and looked at me in silence; he seemed to be appraising me, trying to gauge my possible reaction. After he had taken another sip of brandy he spoke again. "He decided to move to Greece," he said quietly. "He believed it was advisable, more suitable for him shall we say." Again he stared at me in silence.
I stared back, frowning for a moment as I tried to work out what he was saying and then I realised. "Oh," I said softly; I had thought on more than once occasion during our years at school that Charleston was somewhat different from most public school boys.
"He's invited me to visit him several times, but I do not believe it would be quite fair for me to do so." Again he paused; again I waited. "He did not go to Greece alone," he said finally.
"Oh," I said again.
"Does that alter your opinion of Charlie?" he asked after a moment or two had gone by.
"Of course not!" I said a little forcefully.
His face softened and I realised he had become a little tense as we had spoken, but now he relaxed again. "Good," he said quietly.
"Why don't you go?" I found myself asking, before I really thought about it. "After all if Charleston went with . . ."
Again Raffles stared at me, then he sighed softly, offered me another Sullivan, lit it and then his own before he said quietly, "I met the person with whom Charlie went on a couple of occasions before they left England and whilst," once more he paused and then said softly but firmly, "he was always very polite, affable even, I got the impression he was a little ill at ease in my company. I believe he may have thought that Charlie was still," he paused again; this time he did not speak, he just carried on looking at me.
I allowed myself to wonder if Charleston was in fact still in love with Raffles. I knew I was, but that didn't mean Charleston was and yet part of me couldn't believe that anyone who fell in love with the man who sat watching me could ever fall completely out of love with him. There was just something about A. J. Raffles that once he had captured you, he never let you go - even if he wasn't the one to hold on.
"A spot more brandy?" Raffles suddenly asked, breaking the silence.
I smiled and nodded. "Yes, please," I said.
After I had taken another fairly large sip, I gathered up my courage and prepared myself to ask him the question I had wished to ask him from the moment we had become reacquainted. "Raffles?"
"Have you ever been married?"
His eyes widened slightly and he stared at me as I felt my cheeks begin to flush. For a moment I was afeared I had taken our intimacy too much for granted; that I had seen it as being more intense than it was; that I had overstepped what was permissible. Then he smiled, "I see my rabbit still has as much pluck as he had all those years ago," he said. "No, Bunny, I have not. And nor I have I been affianced or indeed had any kind of understanding with a young lady or her parents. The expectation I would marry was one of the reasons I decided to leave London."
"Oh," I said, aware I seemed to be becoming very fond of the word. I took another sip of brandy and dug deeply into what I saw as my limited supply of courage and asked, my voice quivering only slightly, "Why not?"
Again his eyes widened, again he stared at me, then he smiled, gave a half-shrug, blew another smoke ring and said, his tone almost nonchalant, "Let us just say that over the years I realised that as it does for Charlie, Greece would in one particular sense suit me very well too."
I felt my mouth become very dry and my palms damp. I carefully picked my glass back up, trying to ignore the fact my hand was shaking just a little and forced my throat to swallow some of the fine brandy as I also managed to stop myself from once again saying 'oh'.
Although Raffles was still settled back into the corner of the sofa, one arm along the back of it another holding a Sullivan, apparently as relaxed and trouble-free as he had been when we had first sat down, I realised he was just a little wary as he carried on staring intently at me. I honestly didn't know quite what to say now, I could hardly ask him if he had a - That really would not be permissible. So I simply sat and held his gaze and waited for him to break what had become a tenser than it had been silence.
"Well, my rabbit," he said after a minute or two had gone by, "am I permitted to ask you the same question?" I swallowed hard and gave a minute nod. "Have you ever married, Bunny? Has there been, indeed is there, a Mrs. Manders?"
Slowly I shook my head. "No, Raffles." My voice sounded strange to my ears and my throat still felt dry. I reached for my glass and emptied it; a moment later he had poured some more brandy into it.
"And why have you never married, my dear Bunny? I would have thought that a writer would have been quite a catch for a young lady."
I shrugged. "I can't talk to ladies, Raffles; I never have been able to. I get tongue tied and forget all the pretty compliments I am meant to pay them and I can't dance and I know nothing about what is considered fashionable. Oh, yes, until they actually had to spend more than a few seconds with me I was indeed considered quite popular but whilst I can write words, I cannot speak them. Ladies always scared me, Raffles, and I have never really enjoyed their company."
He smiled and took a sip from his glass before placing it carefully on the table. "There are alternatives, Bunny."
I shook my head and spoke without thought. "Not for me." I was staring at him as I spoke and I saw his gaze harden and saw him stiffen and realised what my words must have implied. "No," I said swiftly, "I donít mean because of that."
"Well, my rabbit," he said, his tone flat and just a little hard, "what do you mean?"
"Just that," I said, aware I was being more than a little cryptic. He raised an eyebrow, inviting me to continue. "The name you gave me at school really does still fit me, Raffles, it fits me perfectly. I was always far too afeared to - I was afraid of being caught and . . . And anyway -" I came to an abrupt halt and glanced away from him.
He waited; I wasn't looking at him but I was completely aware that his gaze was on me; that his full attention was on me. "And anyway?" he finally asked, his voice low, silky, encouraging.
I once more emptied my glass, gathered ever bit of courage I had along with some I wasn't aware I had, looked back at him and said, "There would have been no point, because it wouldn't have been you." I held my breath and waited.
Despite what he'd said to me about himself, I didn't know how he would react to what I had just said, to what I had just confessed. A small part of me was almost expecting, well fearing, he would stand up and order me not only out of his rooms but also out of his hotel. Another part of me dared to allow myself to hope that he might feel the same about me, that he might - but even as I thought it I realised how foolish a hope it was.
He had never once kissed me during our time together at school despite all the other boys thinking he not only kissed me, he did far more to me. No matter how many times he brushed my hair back from my forehead, pulled me down onto his lap, cuddled me, let me lay on his sofa with my head in his lap, put his arm around me called me 'my dear Bunny' or even 'my beloved rabbit', no matter how he always protected me, stood up for me, and possessed me, he had never kissed me. Why would that have changed? Besides I had all but confessed I was still as innocent as I had been whilst at school and he certainly would not want to take a complete innocent to his bed - not he.
Without it being a conscious movement I slid towards the edge of the sofa and I was about to stand up and bid him goodnight when he caught my hand and held it. "Bunny," he said softly, "do you mean what you have just said?"
I swallowed hard and tried to moisten my lips, but my tongue was too dry. I forced myself to meet his gaze and nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said softly. "I'm rather afraid I do. It's always been you, Raffles, and I'm afraid it always will be you." I stared at him, once again completely uncertain as to what he might do or say.
To my amazement he began to smile, a smile even I had never seen before, and he stood up, tugging me to my feet where he pulled me towards him and gathered me into his arms. "Oh, Bunny," he whispered, pulling me as close as he'd pulled me the first night I had stood in his rooms. "Oh, my dear, dear, most beloved rabbit, I am so glad to hear you say that." And before I could say or do anything, he lowered his head and his mouth met mine.
I should have been ashamed of the noise I made as him mouth met mine, but I'd wanted it for so long, I wasn't. However, after a mere second or two he, to my distress, lifted his head and looked at me. "You don't mind me kissing you, do you, Bunny?" I just stared at him, puzzled as to why on earth he'd be asking me such a question. "After all, my rabbit, you did say you feared being caught."
I frowned. "That wouldn't matter with you," I said and determined pulled his head down until his mouth once again met mine.
This time he did not lift his head, this time he pulled me even closer to him and went on kissing me as I held onto him and pushed myself against him. As his tongue lightly touched my bottom lip and I parted my mouth for him, I felt myself become harder than I can recall ever being and I knew I had to find a release as soon as possible. I pushed myself even closer to him, feeling his echoing hardness and took my mouth from his for long enough to beg, "Please, Raffles."
"There's no rush, my rabbit," he murmured, putting his mouth back on mine and once more encouraging me to open my mouth for him.
But there was; I needed it now. Once more I pulled my mouth away and looked up at him. "Please," I all but cried as I stared at him, certain that the desperation I felt was showing on my face.
It must have been because he smiled, pushed me a little away from him, reclaimed my mouth with his and moved his hand to where I wanted it and within seconds he'd unbuttoned my trousers and had his hand around my painfully, heated hardness. A second later I cried his name into his mouth and my body did what it had been yearning to do and released into his hand. I had never known such a powerful release and clung to him as I staggered slightly and my eyes became blurred and my head spun for a moment.
He held me as he always had: securely and possessively and murmured soothing words into my ear as he still held me lightly, seconds later to my surprise I felt myself begin to harden again and once more I cried his name and clutched him more tightly as my body again released into his hand.
"Raffles," I gasped after another short time had gone by and I felt my legs become steadier and my head stopped spinning. I gazed up at him and saw him smiling down at me. "I'm sorry," I blurted out.
His eyes widened in surprise. "My dearest rabbit," he said, lightly kissing my cheek, "you have nothing for which you need to apologise, nothing at all. Indeed, I am more than a little flattered by your reaction." And he kissed me again before letting go of me, taking his handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his hand as he still gazed at me with more affection and fondness than I had ever seen him look at me before. "Well, Bunny," he said balling the handkerchief up and dropping it onto the sofa, "what say you, shall we retire to my bedroom and . . . ?" he trailed off and just raised an eyebrow as he let his gaze travel up and down my body. I felt my cheeks flush and they flushed even more when he murmured, "So pretty; so very pretty."
"Raffles!" I exclaimed.
He laughed softly, "Oh, do forgive me, my dearest Bunny, I mean no offense." He let his fingertip trail over my cheek and I whimpered at the sheer beauty of the touch and I felt myself begin to harden again.
"Yes, please," I said, answering the question he'd asked a moment or two ago.
He took my hand, "Come along then," and he led me from his sitting room into his bedroom. He closed the door behind us, leant on it for a moment and just gazed at me. "Are you quite certain, Bunny?" he asked softly.
I was deeply touched that he'd ask and smiled as I moved back towards him. "Yes, Raffles," I said, as he once more gathered me back into his arms. "I am quite, quite certain." I tipped my head back and waited for him to kiss me.
However, he just gazed down at me in silence before he said, more than a little formally, "I do love you, Bunny. I always have," he added before I could speak.
I swallowed hard and slid my arms around his neck. "I love you too, Raffles," I said softly, "and I always have."
He gave me a gentle smile, "I know, my rabbit," he said. And then he did kiss me.
His kisses told me what I already knew, unlike me he was experienced, very experienced, and yet as he claimed my mouth, as he took control of the kiss, as his tongue once more sought permission to enter my mouth, despite his obvious experience he managed to kiss me in a way that made me believe I was the only person he had ever kissed - the only person he would ever want to kiss.
One of his hands was tangled in my hair, the other held me tightly against him and once more my body was reacting to his closeness, to his kiss, to his scent and to the way his body had hardened as he pressed against me.
We stood wrapped on one another's embrace for quite some time before finally he gently broke the kiss, smoothed my hair down, brushed my fringe back, smiled, put his arm around me and turned me around before taking my hand again and leading me towards the bed where he turned the covers back. "The sheets were clean yesterday, Bunny, but if you wish me to, I will change them now."
I smiled and shook my head; it wouldn't be the first time I'd been in a bed in which he'd slept. When I used to help him get out of school during the night, I used to spend the time he was away in his bedroom, in his bed.
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes! Now, please, Raffles, take me to bed and -" His mouth on mine silenced me and for another few minutes we stood wrapped in one another's arms just kissing.
This time when he took his mouth from me, he held me at arm's length and gazed down at me. "May I undress you?" he murmured. I nodded and he began to undress me. Again, I knew I wasn't the first man he had undressed, but again it didn't feel like merely a technique as he undid buttons, took studs and cuff-links from my shirt, untied my tie and removed clothing. His hands were sure and steady and his loving gaze never wavered; from time to time he'd pause to caress my skin or kiss me which I confess did make me slightly impatient because as wonderful as it was, I wanted his hands back on me doing wonderful things to me.
Finally all that was left were my drawers; he paused and once more let his gaze travel up and down my almost completely unclothed body before it came to rest just below my waist and he stared quite deliberately at my obvious hardness my drawers did nothing to hide. Then he looked back at me and raised an eyebrow silently asking a question. I nodded and bit my lip as taking care not to brush the cotton against my sensitive tip he pulled my drawers down and once more stared at me before letting his fingertips flirt gently for a moment with my hardness.
I trembled slightly under his appraisal and knew my cheeks were once more flushed and for a second I wondered how I compared to other men he had looked at and taken to bed. But I pushed that thought firmly away; I knew he wasn't an innocent as I was, but I did not wish to think about the other men he had kissed, touched, made love to and bedded - just as I wouldn't let myself think about the boys he kissed and touched when we were at school.
He bent his head and for a moment plundered my mouth before gentling the kiss and simply showing me how much he did love me. Although he pulled me into his arms, he didn't pull me closely against his body, for which I was grateful; my hardness was already quite painful enough without being pressed against the thick material of his clothing.
Finally he lifted his head, urged me to get into bed where I lay on the cool linen gazing up at him as he removed his own clothing somewhat more quickly than he'd removed mine. I confess when he pushed his own drawers down I gasped and fear raced through my body for a moment as I stared at him. I had seen him completely naked once or twice before during our time at school, but despite being tall for his age and almost a young man, he had in fact still been a boy and he certainly had not been aroused.
As I stared at him I swallowed hard and wondered quite how much it was going to hurt when he - I was under no illusion that it would hurt and I have never liked pain. When we were at school he often seemed able to read either my mind or more likely my expression, and it seemed twenty-six years apart had not changed that because after quickly taking his drawers off he sat down on the bed next to me, leant over me and kissed me and said softly, "Do not worry or be afeared, my rabbit, I am not going to do that to you for quite some time."
I felt my cheeks flush and immediately I felt somewhat worried for another reason. "I don't mind if you do," I blurted out, grabbing his hand, suddenly concerned I might lose him if I didn't let him. "I want you to."
He smiled and shook his head as he traced my cheek with his finger. "So sweet," he said softly, "and still so incapable of lying to me. No, don't look away from me, my rabbit, and stop worrying about all the things you are lying there churning over in your mind - because you have no need to be concerned. There are plenty of other ways of making love, Bunny, ways I am going to take a great deal of pleasure teaching you how to enjoy; that can wait." And he kissed me again before getting into bed with me and gathering me into his arms, pulling me against him.
I cried out softly as our unclothed bodies touched one another and put my mouth on his and kissed him. Once more I was desperate for his touch in one place and once more he seemed to know as he slid one hand down my body, my skin felt charged as he touched it, before he took me into his hand again and stroked me to another release.
It was quite some time later before he finally allowed me to return some of the pleasure he'd given me and let me take him into my hand and begin to stroke him. I was quite aware of how inexperienced my touch was, how naÔve my strokes were, how I fumbled more than once to keep them steady, but the way he gasped my name and moved beneath my touch and the way his release finally filled my hand told me he was not troubled by my lack of experience.
After kissing me again, he gathered me into a loose embrace and gazed at me. "I should go back to my room," I mumbled trying and failing to keep my eyes open.
"Yes, Bunny," he said softly, "that's it, close your eyes and go to sleep."
"Just for a minute or two. You'll wake me up won't you, Raffles? So I can go back to my room."
"Yes, Bunny," he said quietly, kissing the top of my head.
THE NEXT DAY
I woke up to the sunlight filtering in through the partly drawn curtains. I blinked and blinked again as I looked up at the ceiling; I was not in my room. Before I could speak or even think clearly, a gentle voice said, "Good morning, my dear Bunny, I trust my rabbit slept well."
"Raffles?" I sat up and stared at him, he was leaning against his dresser, dressed in his dressing-gown, his hair was damp and he was smiling at me.
"Why, yes, Bunny, it is I. Who else were you expecting?" he enquired.
"No one! I mean - Raffles, I'm still in your rooms."
His smiled deepened. "Why, yes, Bunny, I believe you are."
"I'm still in your bed."
"Why, yes, Bunny, you are indeed."
"But I thought . . ."
"Did you now, Bunny?"
"Yes! Raffles, you said . . . You're laughing at me aren't you?"
"I'm sorry, my dear Bunny, but yes, I'm afraid I am. Now come along I have drawn a bath for you. Bathe and shave and then we can return to your room so that you can change before we have breakfast."
After staring at him for a moment, I sighed, pushed the covers back, got out of bed and went into his bathroom.
When I came out freshly bathed, shaved with my teeth brushed he wasn't in the bedroom; the scent of cigarette smoke drifting from the sitting room told me where he was. It seemed very strange dressing in evening clothes at nine o'clock in the morning and very tiresome, given I'd be undressing again within minutes, but there was no other option. So I pulled on my clothes, decided not to bother with shirt studs of cuff-links, both of which I pushed into my pocket and left my tie untied. I borrowed his hairbrush which lay on the dresser before I pulled on my dining jacket and tied my shoes and headed into the sitting room.
He stared at me, letting his gaze travel up and down his body and his eyes twinkled. Before I had time to say anything he had stridden across the room and I was in his arms with his mouth on mine, sharing the smoke from his cigarette - the intimacy of the gesture was nearly my undoing and I came very close to dragging him back into the bedroom.
However, he again seemed to read my mind as he took his mouth from mine, took another drag of his Sullivan before he crushed it out. "Let us go to your room so you can change."
Once outside of his rooms, even though we took the non-public way, the way he'd escorted me ever evening I found myself almost creeping along, keeping close to the walls and glancing around every corner before I went around it. He simply sauntered along slightly behind me, his hands in his pockets, a smile teasing his lips.
Finally as I glanced around yet another corner, he put his hand on my arm. "Bunny, would it help you to know that we permit gentlemen to share a set of rooms?" he said softly.
I stared at him, his meaning suddenly clear. "You do?"
He nodded. "Yes, we do." We stood there and his face changed as he gazed at me, he looked somewhat troubled and a little saddened.
"Raffles?" I asked, touching his cheek. "Is something wrong?"
He shrugged and for a moment looked over my shoulder rather than at me. "I was merely wondering quite why you feel so guilty, that is all. Did you not enjoy last night? Was it not what you were expecting? Do you regret it?"
"Raffles!" I grabbed his arm and stared wide-eyed at him. "How can you ask that?" he gave a half shrug. "No, of course I don't regret it. It was -" I stopped as I realised how loud my voice had become, "- the most wonderful night of my life," I said more softly. "Of course I enjoyed it; I loved it. I love you," I whispered.
Now he looked back at me and smiled. "Then why, my dearest rabbit, are you behaving as if you believe you have done something wrong?" He paused for a moment and then asked quietly, "Do you believe that?"
In that moment I understood what he meant; I was indeed behaving as if we'd done something awful, something that was wrong, something despicable, disgraceful, sickening - which of course in the eyes of many and under the law, we had. But that isn't how I saw it. "No, Raffles," I said, "of course I don't believe that. I'm sorry, Raffles, it's just that I've never done it before and - I told you I was still a rabbit."
He put his arms around me and after freezing for a split second, I relaxed into his embrace. "You're my rabbit," he said, brushing his lips over mine for an instant before he released me. "Now come along, let us walk quite normally to your rooms and get you changed - because I am hungry even if you are not."
I forced myself to cease to skulk along by the wall and didn't look around any more corners; nonetheless I was relieved when we finally reached my rooms that we hadn't met anyone. Again it was he who unlocked my door even before I had a chance to hunt for my key - which I actually found lying on the dresser in my bedroom - and he who shut the door behind us.
"Go and get changed, Bunny," he said leaning back against the door and taking another Sullivan from his cigarette case. "I shall wait here for you."
The firmness of his tone as he said the words had me raising an eyebrow. He laughed softly, put his hand behind my head, pulled me towards him for a brief, somewhat breath-catching kiss and said lightly, "If I come into your bedroom and see you unclothed, I assure you, Bunny, we shall not be eating breakfast." He lit his cigarette and began to smoke it.
I stared at him and found myself smiling with a degree of pleasure at his words; so I had not been inadequate. I hesitated for a second or two before I realised he indeed wasn't the only one who was hungry and I turned around and hurried off to change into my day attire.
LATER THAT NIGHT
"Raffles?" I asked, as I once again lay in his arms in his bed.
"You said last night you'd always loved me."
"I did indeed and yes, I spoke the truth."
I swallowed and moved a little away from him so I could see his face. "Why then did you never kiss me whilst we were at school? Never take me to your bed?"
He sighed softly and touched my cheek. "Because my beloved rabbit, I loved you too much." I frowned. "Oh, Bunny, I couldn't; I simply couldn't."
"Did you want to?"
He was silent for a long moment and I had to prevent myself from squirming in his arms. "Yes, Bunny," he said his tone solemn, "yes, my rabbit, I'm afraid I have to confess that I did indeed wish to kiss you - in fact I wanted to kiss you very much indeed - and also I must admit that I wanted to take you to my bed. But I couldnít."
"Because, Bunny, you were too innocent, too naÔve, too young, too trusting. How could I go from taking you onto my lap, from drying your tears, from keeping you safe from my fellow sixth formers to doing the things to you I prevented them from doing? I couldnít Bunny. Every time I even thought about kissing you, I saw you sitting on my lap, your head on my shoulder, cuddled up to me, completely and utterly trusting of me to keep you safe and not to hurt you."
"You wouldn't have hurt me," I said.
He sighed and took my face between his and kissed my nose. "Oh, but, Bunny, I did hurt you, did I not?" I frowned. "When I walked away from you and never once wrote to you. And had I kissed you or taken you to my bed I would have hurt you far more. Can you deny that? Can you deny any of it?"
I stared at him and then glanced away. "No," I said simply and softly. "No, Raffles, I can't." We lay in silence for a moment before I broke it. "Make love to me, Raffles," I said.
He smiled, pulled me back against him, put his mouth on mine and did that very thing.
Once again I woke up in his bed to find he'd already bathed and shaved and had a bath waiting for me. The only difference from the previous day was that I had, on his suggestion, brought a change of clothes to his rooms. Thus, after bathing and shaving I was able to dress in my day attire before we went to breakfast.
June became July and the hours Raffles and I spent apart could be counted on the fingers of one hand. We spent virtually every waking and sleeping moment together, I hadn't been in my own rooms for at least a week and just about my entire wardrobe and personal items and several books I had brought with me when I had escaped the confines of London, had found their way to Raffles's rooms.
We were having breakfast in his dining room rather than in the hotel dining room one morning, dressed only in dressing gowns, when there was a knock at the door. I glanced swiftly at Raffles and found myself gripping the table. He, however, merely wiped his mouth with his napkin and called, "Who is it?"
"Lincoln, Mr. Raffles."
Raffles leant across the table, smiled and patted my hand before calling out, "Do come in, Christopher. Stay where you are, Bunny," he ordered softly and in a second I was back in his study at school.
"Yes, Raffles," I murmured, forcing myself to try to relax back into my chair. I picked up my coffee cup and was pleased and a little surprised to discover my hand wasn't shaking.
Lincoln came in and closed the door behind him. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Raffles; Mr. Manders," he said, glancing at me. I gave him a faint smile and he turned back to Raffles. "It is just that Mr. Fredrickson has just called and he insists on talking to you. I told him he would not be welcome here again, but he told me he wasn't taking that from a mere manager. I am sorry, sir. I did -"
Raffles interrupted him. "You don't have to apologise, Christopher, we both know what kind of man he is. It does not surprise me in the slightest that he won't accept your word. I shall ring him and inform him you were doing only what I instructed you to do."
Lincoln looked relieved. "Thank you, Mr. Raffles."
"It will be my pleasure." Raffles smiled at Lincoln and I expected him to leave, but he hesitated. "Is there something else, Christopher?" To my discomfort Lincoln glanced at me and his cheeks became a little red.
Lincoln looked back at Raffles. "Well, sir," he said, "it's just that . . . We had another enquiry, Mr. Raffles, from Mr. Vickery, but naturally, I told him that . . . It doesn't matter, sir. I apologise. I'll leave you to your breakfast. Mr. Raffles," he nodded at Raffles, "Mr. Manders," he nodded at me before turning around and hurrying out of the room.
Raffles watched him a frown on his face and then I saw the frown vanish. "Ah," he said, turning his attention back to me.
"Is something wrong, Raffles?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No, Bunny, nothing is wrong. Wait here and finish your coffee whilst I go and ring Fredrickson, then I have something to," he paused, and I saw him formulating his words, "ask you," he finally said.
"Raff-" His mouth touching mine in a brief kiss silenced me.
It was some fifteen minuets before he came back and he did not look happy; indeed his look was the one I'd seen many times at school - never thankfully directed at me - when one of his fellow sixth formers had annoyed him. "That man," he said, pulling out his cigarette case and lighting a Sullivan, "he should be horse-whipped - except that would not be enough."
I stared at him. "What has he done?" I ventured to ask.
"What?" He started almost as if he'd forgotten I was here. Then his face softened and he sat down, offered me his cigarette case and sighed, "I am sorry, Bunny, but he made me so angry. What has he done, you ask?" I nodded. "Well, when he last stayed here he, abused shall we say one of the staff. Oh, it was hushed up - not by my choice, I hasten to add. However, the young man in question insisted he did not wish to make a fuss and Frederickson paid him well enough. But I vowed the man would never set foot inside my hotel again - and I told him so when he left. Yet he had the audacity to ring and I am quite certain verbally abuse Christopher and almost certainly the hotel clerk who would have answered the phone. He is a vile man. It is men like him who should be locked up." His voice had risen as he'd spoken and his face had once more hardened. After a moment or two, he sighed, shook himself and said, "Again I apologise, my dear Bunny, it is not your problem - nor is it your fault," he added swiftly, at which we both laughed as we no doubt both remembered the number of times at school when I'd apologised for things that were not, could not, be my fault.
I squeezed his hand; it didn't surprise me in the least that he had refused to let such a man back into his hotel again even though I imagined the man could if not make trouble then potentially lose him custom - but that wouldn't matter to my Raffles. "You said when you came back you would ask me something," I said.
For a second he frowned; then his look changed. "Ah, yes." He put his cigarette, leant across the table and took my hand. "Bunny?"
"How would you feel about vacating your rooms and spending the rest of your stay here with me in my rooms?" I stared at him, not entirely certain I understood. "The thing is, Bunny, you haven't slept, indeed have barely set foot inside your rooms for some weeks now, and obviously as it hotel policy they are yours for as long as you wish them to be but . . ."
"You've had another gentleman asking if he could come and stay?" Suddenly Lincoln's words made sense.
He nodded. "Yes, we have - and that is what Christopher was trying very hard not to ask me. Well, what say you, Bunny?"
I stared at him. "What do you want me to do, Raffles?"
"Bunny!" he sounded just a little exasperated "Look, my rabbit, we are not at school any longer; this is not a case of you having a mug of cocoa because I want one or taking your blazer off because I suggested it. This is not something I can decide; you're not my thirteen year old fag any longer, youíre my," paused and smiled, "grown up lover."
"But Raffles what you want does matter."
He sighed. "Yes, Bunny, of course it does. But for once I want you to tell me what you would like before I tell you what I would like. Now, do you wish to spend the rest of your holiday here with me in my rooms?"
There was nothing else I wanted more. "Yes, please, Raffles," I said and then something occurred to me. "But what about . . ."
"My staff?" I nodded. "Well, Bunny, I do believe that even before Christopher found you here this morning that it was common knowledge in the hotel where you spent your nights?"
I felt my eyes widen. "How?"
He shook his head in his fond way. "Ah, my dear, sweet, still so innocent rabbit. I believe a lack of any evidence that you slept in your own bed may have been one reason. You didn't slip back to your room every day and pull the covers back and ruffle the sheets, did you?"
I shook my head. "Of course not."
"Well then," he said, leaning across the table to brush his lips over mine. "In which case I shall tell Christopher that he can ring Mr. Vickery back and tell him we do indeed have a set of rooms available."
I gazed at him. "You mean . . . You want me to . . ."
"Of course I do, you silly rabbit. Now come here."
"Oh, Raffles," I sighed as I stood up and went around the table where, to my surprise, he pulled me down onto his lap and began to kiss me.
I believe I mentioned we were both only dressed in dressing gowns, this it wasn't long before the effects of our kissing became quite obvious and I found myself bundled off of his lap and down onto the sofa, where my dressing gown was pulled open and seconds later his mouth was around me.
I gasped and tangled my hands in his hair as I hardened even more and I felt my desire increase until I knew. "Raffles!" I cried, trying to pull his head away from me, even though I knew he wouldn't move - he never did. "Oh, Raffles," I murmured as my body shuddered and my release poured into his mouth. "Oh, Raffles." I trembled with pleasure and felt him sit up and gather me into his arms, pulling his head to my shoulder as he kissed the top of it.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
To my surprise I found that I wasn't troubled in any way by the fact that now the people who worked for Raffles quite obviously knew where I spent my nights and thus about our relationship. No one treated me any differently, no one looked strangely at me; every one just seemed quite happy to accept my presence in Raffles's life. And although I knew full well that had anyone shown even a degree of disapproval the person would find themselves without employment, my instinct told me it was not just that - they genuinely didn't seem troubled by the fact that the man for whom they worked was involved in an illegal activity.
Of course being the man I am, being of the nature I am, no matter how happy Raffles seemed to be, no matter how often he told me or showed me how much he loved me, no matter how he wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with him, I did of course have one or two moments of uncertainty. Indeed one day when Raffles had to leave me alone to attend some meeting, I allowed myself to start to wonder if another reason his staff was not troubled by my presence in Raffles's rooms was because it was something he regularly did, or if not regularly then I wasn't the first guest whom he had invited into his rooms and taken to his bed.
Had Raffles not have been out I am quite certain the idea would have passed through my mind quite quickly and I would have dismissed it, but the meeting was a lengthy one and when it was mid-afternoon and he hadn't returned, all I seemed capable of thinking about was: how many other men who had gone to his hotel as mere guests had moved into his rooms?
I decided to go through into the hotel and have afternoon tea in one of the small sitting rooms rather than in Raffles's rooms, as without him there I did not feel quite comfortable asking for tea to be brought to me.
As I walked through the part of the hotel in which Raffles had his rooms I had to pass Lincoln's office. I am not a person who listens at doors; I never have been, not even when I was at school. However, as I came into the vicinity of Lincoln's office I saw the door was slightly ajar and I heard Lincoln and another man, whose voice I knew but couldn't identify, talking.
"Do you think it'll be just for the summer - Raffles and Manders, I mean?" the man with Lincoln asked.
"I don't honestly know," Lincoln said after a moment or two. "But I hope not. I've never seen Raffles quite as happy as he is at the moment. But with Manders living in London and his books being set in London, I'm not certain he'd want to give it up and move down here permanently."
"Would Raffles move back to London?"
There was another brief silence and I assumed Lincoln was considering the question. "Again, I don't know. I know he's told me more than once he could never live there again, but . . . Well, maybe things are different now. He and Manders are very - close."
"Don't you think it's all a bit fast?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Manders arrives here for the first time and the next thing we know he's spending nights with Raffles and then he's moved into Raffles's rooms. It's just not like Raffles; he's never taken a guest to his bed before, has he?"
I held my breath - I was now deliberately listening.
"Not as far as I know, no. In fact I'm sure he hasn't; he'd think it wasn't proper."
"So why has he broken his own rule with Manders? Why did he even want to meet him - again he doesn't do that."
"Oh, they were at school together," Lincoln said, and I heard a match being struck. "Raffles was checking the list of gentlemen guests as he always does and recognised Manders's name."
"Are you sure they were at school together? There's quite an age difference between them."
"Manders is a few years older than he looks. There's only about five years difference; they were both at the same school for two years - Raffles told me himself."
"Well, I imagine we'll find out at some point where it is just for the summer or not. I don't suppose -"
"No!" Lincoln exclaimed, "I am not going to ask Raffles."
The other man laughed. "It was worth a try. Well, I'd better get back to the hotel."
I turned and hurried back the way I'd come, stopping just outside Raffles's rooms where I leant against the door and took several deep breaths; I realised I had been holding my breath during the conversation. I could feel my pulse throbbing in my temple, my mouth was dry and my palms were damp but I felt elated.
Raffles hadn't taken other guests to his rooms or to his bed. I was the first; of course I knew I wasn't the first man he'd gone to bed with, and I wasn't just counting his years as a school boy, his abilities, his surety told me that - but I'd known anyway. But none of that mattered, because I wasn't just another guest he'd taken a liking to and taken to his rooms. I knew I was smiling, and apart from my time actually in Raffles's company, I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so happy.
"What is my rabbit doing standing outside our rooms? Have you left your key inside again?"
I turned and saw Raffles striding towards me, his straw hat in one hand, his stick in the other. "Raffles!" I cried out in sheer delight and without hesitating for a second, not even to remember where we were, I flung my arms around him and kissed him.
Despite being several inches taller than I and considerably stronger, I nonetheless felt Raffles stagger slightly under my fierce embrace and heard his stick fall to the ground. "Bunny," he managed, as I took my mouth from his long enough to gasp in some air before I kissed him once again. His arms were around me, holding me close against him and his mouth had parted mine and he was deepening the kiss as he slipped one hand up into my hair and tangled it around his fingers.
I'm not quite sure how long we stood in the hallway before he gently broke the kiss and pushed me away from him a little and stared down at me. "Well, Bunny," he said softly, "what has happened to my rabbit?"
I frowned for a second and then I remembered where we were; I felt my cheeks begin to burn and I tried to pull myself out of his arms. "Oh, Raffles," I whispered, glancing away from his steady gaze. "I'm so very sorry. I -"
"Hush, my rabbit, I don't mind. I was just a little surprised, shall we say. Is there any particular reason for your somewhat exuberant greeting?" There was, but I couldn't tell him, so I just stared at him. He put his head slightly on one side and stared back at me. I saw something flicker through his eyes and guessed he'd worked out there was indeed something, but had decided not to press the matter.
Instead he lowered his head, brushed his lips over mine before bending down to pick up both his stick and hat, pulled the key to his rooms out of his pocket, unlocked the door and ushered me inside. There he dropped his hat and stick again - this time onto the sofa - and took me back into his arms and kissed me.
SOME HOURS LATER
"Raffles?" I said, raising my head from his shoulder and looking at him.
"Yes, Bunny?" he brushed my hair from my forehead.
I swallowed and forced myself to ask him something else that had crossed my mind from time to time during the time we had been lovers. "Is this normal?"
He blinked. "To what are you referring, Bunny?"
I flushed. "Well, I mean we . . . How often we . . ." I silently cursed the return of the stammering thirteen year old. Why on earth couldn't I just ask him outright if it was quite normal for two men in their forties to make love as often as we had been doing from the first night he'd taken me to his bed - which was at least once a day and usually more often.
I sometimes felt a little embarrassed by how much I needed and wanted Raffles; needed and wanted his mouth on mine, needed and wanted his fingers, hands and mouth doing wonderful things to my body. Sometimes he only had to look at me and I'd just groan and grab him and kiss him which almost inevitably led to us making love. We had even, more than once, risked arrest and ruin when he'd kissed me outside of his rooms, outside of the hotel, when my desire for his mouth on mine had been too deep to ignore.
Fortunately a number of the places he took me to in the town were well off the normal track for the holiday visitors and we were often alone. There was a rather nice cave in a hard to reach, unless you knew the times of the tides, part of the beach and known it was there as it wasn't obvious from the beach, it had very soft sand, it was cool inside, deserted and . . .
The sound of him quite deliberately and unnecessarily clearing his throat pulled me out of my reverie and I gazed at him; he was smiling as he played with a lock of my hair, winding it around his finger while he stroked my cheek with his other hand. "I believe you were trying to ask me something, my rabbit?" I stared at him and swallowed as again the thirteen year old boy seemed to gain ascendancy.
Then he put his mouth on mine and kissed me passionately for a moment or two before lifting his head. "Could it have something to do with how often we -" and his hand moved from stroking my cheek to stroking another part of my body.
I cried out with pleasure as his long fingers closed around me and I put my head back on the pillow offering him my neck to kiss, which he seemed to enjoy doing. He did indeed put his mouth on my neck, kissing and even lightly sucking the skin as his hand continued to move over me until crying his name my body found the release it craved.
It wasn't only about the release, that was almost an after-effect, it was more about being so intimate with him, having him kiss, touch, stroke, caress and lick me - I might be ashamed to admit it, but no matter how often he kissed me, no matter how often his hand or mouth closed around me, no matter how often his hands moved over my body, it wasn't enough. I always wanted more.
"Well," he asked softly, after I'd stopped trembling, "is that what you wished to ask me about, Bunny? Are you concerned we make love too often?"
I knew my cheeks were flushed as I stared at him and tried to force the stammering thirteen year old away. But I am not Raffles; no hands but his have ever touched me in an intimate way, I have never before shared intense kisses. It wasn't easy for me to put aside my reticence, which given the fact we were in his bed both naked, both having found our release in the other's hand, was more than a little foolish - but I cannot change my nature, and I do not believe he would wish me to do so.
In the end I nodded and tried to look away from him, but his hand was once again tangled in my hair and he tightened his grip just a little and held my head in place. "Well not concerned really, Raffles, I just didn't know if it was . . . You know."
He kissed my nose and loosened his grip on my hair. "I apologise, Bunny, I really should not say things to make you blush, but as I have said more than once, you do so it so prettily and I do so love to see your cheeks redden. Rest assured, my rabbit, you have no cause for concern." Then he frowned and asked his tone light, "Do you not wish to make love so often?"
"What? No! Not at all. In fact -" I bit my lip and felt my cheeks become even warmer.
He chuckled softly and once again put his mouth on mine. "Well, we'll have to see what we can do to make you even happier, won't we?"
A WEEK LATER
As soon as I opened my eyes I knew something was wrong; as soon as I sat up I knew what it was and I knew I had no chance of getting out of bed and to the bathroom. Quite how Raffles knew or how he moved so quickly I do not know. But a second before I vomited all over the bed he had the wastepaper bin in one hand and was holding my hair back with the other.
"It's all right, Bunny," he murmured soothingly. "It's all right, my rabbit."
Finally, exhausted, wet with perspiration and shaking I sank back onto the pillows, trying to breath shallowly and wondering where I'd find the strength from to sit up to vomit again. "I'm sorry, Raffles," I managed my voice shaking as he hurried back into the room with another wastepaper bin in his hand.
He sighed softly and put his hand on my forehead, pushed my damp fringe back and frowned. I didn't have to ask if I was hot; I knew. "You, my dearest Bunny, having nothing for which you need to apologise; you're clearly ill." I knew I was, but even so I still felt more than a little embarrassed by being unable to get to the bathroom. Not that it was the first time I'd been unwell in his presence; he'd held my head and looked after me more than once during out school days. "Do you still feel sick, Bunny?" he asked.
I nodded. "Yes."
"Well, you lie quite still for a while and maybe the feeling will pass. In the meantime I am going to call a doctor."
"Raffles," I caught his hand.
"I am going to call a doctor, Bunny." His tone was firm.
"It's not that. I need to go to the lavatory. I'm sorry," I added.
He sighed softly again and looked at me in his fond way. "Come along then," he said, carefully and gently helping me sit up. I sat for a minute or two breathing steadily as wave after wave of nausea raced through me.
Finally, I won the battle - at least for now - and he pulled the covers back and gently pulled me to my feet. I staggered and he caught and held me securely. "Put your arm around me," he said. I did and he put his around me and slowly with me swaying and clinging to him, he led me to the bathroom.
It is an indication of how ill I felt and of how I knew I could not stand by myself that I did not object to the fact that Raffles not only did not leave me but also stayed by my side, his arm firmly around me.
After I dealt with my pressing need he allowed me to brush my teeth and swill my mouth out before he supported me back to the bed and helped me get back under the covers. I was shaking so much my teeth were banging together and I sincerely doubted I could repeat the journey I had just made.
He stood staring down at me for a moment or two, one hand on my forehead the other on my wrist. I could see he was more than a little concerned about me, but also I knew from the look on his face he was formulating a plan. "Right," he said briskly as he put my arm back on the bed, "first things first." He bent over me, put his arm under my shoulders and slowly and carefully lifted me from the bed before he grabbed the pillows that were on his side of the bed and put them behind me so that I was propped up a little more. He than put the wastepaper bin he'd fetched from the sitting room, took the other one with him and hurried into the bathroom.
He returned almost immediately with several towels which he placed over the bed, patted my hand and once more vanished into the bathroom. This time he didn't reappear for a few minutes; he hadn't closed the door and I heard water running and splashing and when he did reappear he was still drying his face with a towel, thus I assumed he'd had a hasty and sketchy wash.
He dressed swiftly not bothering with a tie, waistcoat or coat and came back to the bed. "Do you feel sick at the moment?" I shook my head once. "Good. Now, I'll be back in a minute or two, Bunny," he said, once more putting his hand on my forehead.
I caught his hand, willing him not to leave me alone, even as I silently chastised myself for being so clingy - but as much as it embarrasses me, I've always hated being alone when I'm ill. He smiled reassuringly at me and linked his fingers with mine. "I won't be long, Bunny, I promise. Let go of my hand, there's my good boy." And gently he extracted his hand from mine and hurried out of his room.
I lay fighting the tears that wanted to slip from my eyes and instead closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing steadily and not feeling or being sick.
He was, just as he had always been, as good as his word and in what seemed like seconds but given he was carrying several bowls and jugs and more towels when he returned must have been a least couple of minutes, he was back by my side. He took the wastepaper bin from the bed, replaced some of the towels he'd draped over the covers with the ones he carried, and put one of the bowls on the bed in place of the bin; he put the other items he'd been carried onto the dresser, pushing the usual items that resided there to one side.
"Right," he said in his practical tone, "Christopher is calling the doctor and he'll be here soon. You'll like him, he's a good man and an excellent doctor, but I do wish Charlie was here. Now, would you like to wash your hands on face?"
For a moment I thought of saying I didn't as it seemed far too much effort, but actually the idea appealed to me. "Yes, please," I said in a croaky voice.
He smiled at me, took one of the bowls from the dresser and again went into the bathroom, returning with a bowl of warm water, a flannel and a towel draped over his shoulder. In the end I simply didn't have the strength to lift my arms and so it was he who as carefully as any nurse or mother, washed my face, neck, hands and arms. "Does that feel better?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you, Raffles." Then I widened my eyes and the next moment he was once more supporting me as I once again vomited.
A few minutes after he'd again washed my face and settled be back onto the pillows and given me another clean bowl there was a knock on the door. "Come in," he called.
Lincoln with another man who I assumed to be the doctor appeared. "Hello, Raffles," the other man said, "I hear you have a patient for me."
"Good morning, Kettleman, yes, I'm afraid I do," he nodded in my direction. The smile he'd given Kettleman told me the men weren't just acquainted in a doctor-patient way, they were also friends. "Harry Manders, he'll be forty-one next month, he lives in London and is down here for the summer and had been here for several weeks. He has no long-term illnesses or anything - that is correct, is it not, Bunny?" I nodded. "He's in good health generally; he was perfectly well last night but woke up this morning and started vomiting. And he clearly has a temperature, his pulse is somewhat faster than it should be and he's very unsteady on his feet; he can't stand up or walk on his own"
"Now that is the kind of information I wish all of my patients would give me." If Kettleman wondered quite what I was doing in Raffles's rooms in his bed he didnít say so nor did he give any indication he found it either strange or repulsive. "How many times has he vomited?" After a quick glance in my direction he looked at Raffles; maybe I should have been somewhat put out, given I was the patient, but in truth I was more than happy to let Raffles take charge - just as he'd always done.
"Twice," Raffles said.
"Did he eat or drink anything strange last night?"
Raffles shook his head. "No. We had exactly the same meal and," he added, staring at Kettleman, "we ate here."
"In which case, I had better not try to blame the food, had I?" Kettleman smiled and Raffles smiled back; they clearly had a lot of respect for one another and were good friends.
After a moment or two Kettleman moved closer to the bed and Raffles moved slightly, but was still close enough to me should I need his assistance which, given Lincoln was still in the room as well as the doctor I dearly hoped I wouldn't. Kettleman looked down at me and his steady stare not only reassured me it made me feel slightly less embarrassed as well. As Raffles had done earlier he put one hand on my forehead and took my wrist with the other and glanced at the clock on the wall.
After about half a minute he put my arm back onto the bed, putting it back gently rather than letting it fall and took his hand from my forehead. "Have you considered giving up hotel ownership and taking up, medicine, Raffles?" he asked with a smile. Raffles smiled back at him. "Well," he said, going to his bag which he'd put down on the table by the door and taking out a bottle. "I have good news and bad news."
Raffles stared at him, "Which is?"
"The good news is that I know what it is. It's a very nasty forty-eight hour vomiting bug that is going around the town. And when I say forty-eight hours, I mean it to the second. Forty-eight hours from the time Manders first vomited, he'll start to feel better."
"And the bad news?"
"Ah, I'm afraid," now he turned to me, " you are going to feel quite bloody for those forty-eight hours. I doubt you'll have ever felt as ill. Sorry, old chap," he said squeezing my shoulder.
"Is it just a vomiting bug?" Raffles asked.
"Thankfully, yes. Would you like me to arrange for a nurse to come and care for Manders?"
Raffles shook his head. "No, thank you, Kettleman, I can take care of him."
Kettleman glanced at me and back at Raffles. "Are you quite certain, Raffles? He's likely to get a lot more unwell during the forty-eight hours and I doubt he'll get to his feet again." He stared at Raffles who just met his gaze.
"I'm quite certain, thank you," he said firmly.
Then Kettleman glanced at the dresser and nodded. "I see you're prepared - are you sure you weren't some kind of nurse or doctor in another life, Raffles?"
Raffles smiled. "Is there anything specific I should do? Do I need to keep him warm or cool or . . ."
"Make sure he drinks plenty of water, which I know is counter-intuitive and the last thing the patient wants to do. But we don't want him to end up dehydrated. And you can give him a dose of this three times a day." He held out the bottle and Raffles took it.
"Will it actually do any good?" he asked.
Kettleman gave a half-laugh and looked slightly abashed. "I shouldn't think so for a moment, it hasn't with anyone else. But most patients need to have something given to them - otherwise they don't think I have done my job and earnt my fee." He spoke cheerfully but then his tone sobered, "Joking aside, it won't do him any harm even if it doesn't do him any good and surprising it actually tastes good. But you don't have to give it to him if you don't want to. I'll leave it with you though."
Raffles shook his head in a fond way, not the way he shook it at me, but again it was more evidence that the men were friends. "Thank you," he said and touched my shoulder.
"Yes, thank you, Dr. Kettleman," I managed.
He turned to me. "I'm just sorry I can't give you something that will make you instantly well, Manders, but you do have my word it will only last for forty-eight hours. Now, do you have anymore patients for me, Raffles?"
After a swift glance at Lincoln, Raffles shook his head. "Not today, no."
"Good. Well I had better be on my way; I do have a number of people on whom I need to call."
"Thank you for coming so swiftly, Kettleman," Raffles said.
Kettleman shrugged. "What are friends for? When you feel better, Manders, you and Raffles must come and have dinner with me."
I swallowed hard; the thought of ever eating anything again made me feel nauseous and closed my eyes.
"Sorry," I heard Kettleman say.
"Christopher will show you out."
"Thank you. Oh, and Raffles, if you change your mind about the nurse, just give me a ring and I'll send someone straight over."
The door had barely closed before Raffles was once more supporting me.
I tried not to dwell on, not even to think about, the things Raffles did for me during those forty-eight hours and sponging my face and holding my hair back and supporting me and even changing the bed on more than one occasion were not the only things - nor were they the most personal by far.
I honestly didn't know how he coped, what made him appear perfectly happy to do such intimate things, why he hadn't taken Kettleman up on his offer of a nurse - who was at least trained in such things. I could only put it down to just how much he loved me. However, I feared that had the situations been reversed I could not have coped as he did.
After he'd rearrange my pyjamas and the covers I said to him, "Raffles, why don't you let Kettleman send a nurse?"
He paused and looked at me. "Would you rather have a nurse, Bunny?"
I stared at him. "No," I said quietly and in truth I wouldn't. If someone had to help me with such things I would much prefer it was he, but it troubled me he had to.
"Well then," he said, putting his hand on my forehead. "Why are you even asking me such a question?"
"It's just that you are having to . . ."
He sat down on the edge of the bed and put his hand on my cheek, before he lightly brushed his lips over mine. "I love you, Bunny," he said.
"Don't you mind?" I asked.
He smiled and brushed my hair back from my forehead. "I mind that you are unwell, my rabbit, and I can't make you well; I mind that you are clearly suffering not just from the bug but also from embarrassment; I mind that you are so troubled, but no, otherwise it does not trouble me in the slightest. Now close your eyes and try to get some rest. I shall be back in a minute or two." And with another brush of his lips over mine, he stood up and went into the bathroom.
FORTY-EIGHT HOURS LATER
I opened my eyes and turned my head to look out of the window at the sun. My gaze fell on Raffles who sat in a chair pulled up close to the bed, his eyes were closed and he looked less than his usual elegant self. My hand was in his and over his lap he had a towel. I think I fell in love with him all over again as I looked at him and remembered the last forty-eight hours.
As if by some instinct he opened his eyes and stared at me. "How do you feel, Bunny?"
I smiled. "Hungry," I said.
He raised an eyebrow and reached for my watch which lay on the table by the bed. He stared at it and shook his head. "Kettleman was right," he said. Then he looked back at me, "Are you certain you don't feel sick?"
I shook my head, something I couldnít have done an hour ago. "No, I feel, well I won't say 'fine' as I still feel shaky and weak and I desperately need to bathe, but other than that I feel quite well, Raffles, and I really am hungry."
After drawing a bath for me, helping me to the bathroom and supporting me whilst I got into the bath, Raffles with more than a degree of reluctance left me and went back to the bedroom - but only after making me promise I would call him if I felt unwell again or before I got out of the bath. I may not have wished to admit it, but I would have had to have called him anyway even if he had not extracted the promise from me as I did still feel rather shaky and weak.
Once I'd dried myself and pulled on my dressing gown, he took my arm and led me back to the bedroom. The bed had once again been stripped and clean linen put on, the bowls and jugs and clean towels were now on the table near the door and the room began to look like a bedroom again and not a sick-room.
I dressed slowly, having to sit down after putting on any item of clothing that required me to stand up whilst Raffles bathed and shaved. Then I sat on the bed and watched him dress before he offered me his hand and helped me to my feet.
We were just discussing whether to breakfast in Raffles's rooms or go to the hotel's dining room when there was a knock at the door. Raffles strode across to open in and revealed Lincoln and Kettleman.
"Good morning, Kettleman, is there a problem?"
"I just thought I'd drop by and see how the patient was." He looked at me and smiled. "I see I was correct in my diagnosis. How are you feeling, Manders?"
"Much better, thank you. Fairly weak and a little shaky but considerably better and I'm hungry."
"That's a good sign. Well don't let me keep you from breakfasting. I just stopped by." I got the impression that no matter how good a doctor Kettleman was, he didn't just 'stop by' all of his patients to see it they had recovered, certainly not those whose recovery he had predicted to the minute. He held out his hand to me. "It's good to see you on your feet, Manders, and I meant it about dinner one evening." He turned to Raffles. "Next Thursday?" he asked.
Raffles glanced at me and then nodded. "Thank you, Kettleman, we'll look forward to that, won't we, Bunny?"
I smiled; I would actually. "Yes, Raffles, we will. Thank you," I smiled at Kettleman. "And thank you for treating me."
"I didn't do a lot, but you are welcome, Manders. So hopefully until next Thursday," he said and after nodding at Raffles he turned to go. "I can find my own way out," he said to Lincoln who after a swift glance at Raffles who nodded, stayed where he was.
"Shall I order breakfast for you and Mr. Manders, Mr. Raffles?"
Raffles glanced at me and I nodded. Suddenly I was feeling too weary to walk to the dining room. "Yes, please," I said and sat back down on the bed.
Instantly Raffles was by my side, sitting on his heels in front of me. "Do you feel ill again, Bunny? Shall I ask Christopher to call Kettleman back?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm fine, Raffles. I just still feel a little unsteady on my feet - I'm sure I'll feel better after I've had something to eat. And you will too," I added, aware that Raffles had barely eaten anything whilst I had been ill.
Raffles looked relieved, but also a little disbelieving; it was the same look I remembered from the times I'd been ill during our school days. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way at him.
"I'll go and order it now," I heard Lincoln say and then I heard the door close; then, not entirely to my surprise, I felt myself pulled to my feet and gathered into Raffles's embrace where he held me securely, protectively, possessively and tenderly - once again it was what he'd always done at school when I'd recovered from an illness. I just put my arms around him, rested against him, letting me take some of my weight and let him hold me, soaking up the deep love and affection he was radiating.
A WEEK LATER
We dined with Kettleman and during dinner he told Raffles he was planning to sell his practice as soon as he could and move to London, saying it would suit him better. When Raffles excused himself for a few minutes Kettleman said that I should look him up once he moved to London to which I said I would. However, to my surprise he made a comment to the effect 'assuming your visit to Ramsgate is just for the summer'. I didn't have a chance to reply as Raffles returned at that moment and we left Kettleman - after Raffles had invited him to dine with us at the hotel the following week.
During our walk back to Raffles's hotel, I got the impression that something was on Raffles's mind. It was nothing obvious, I doubt most people would have noticed, but he was just a little distracted as he held my arm and more than once had to ask me to repeat something I had said to him.
Once we were back in his rooms and seated on the sofa with whisky and Sullivans to hand I asked him if everything was all right.
"Oh, do forgive me, my dear Bunny. I was merely musing on what Kettleman told us about wishing to sell his practice and thinking how nice it would be if Charlie came back. But I'm sure he is quite happy where he is." And he took my hand in his.
I didn't say so, but from his tone I got the impression that Raffles actually did not believe Charleston was happy and I wondered if he had any evidence of that. He had met the man with whom Charleston had gone to Greece and Raffles is a very good judge of character. I didn't say anything not just because I felt it wasn't really my business to speak, but also because the relationship between Raffles and Charleston had been, at least when we were all at school together, as complex as the relationship between Raffles and I.
They had known one another, had been best friends, ever since their first day at prep school and their relationship was very close and intense and intimate. I also know Raffles felt a modicum of irrational guilt at not being able to love Charleston in the way Charleston had loved him - I do believe he would have if he could have, as Charleston was very important to him and Raffles cared a great deal about him and his welfare. I know Raffles was also pleased and relieved by how fond Charleston was of me during our years together. Given I in effect came between them as I spent so much time in Raffles's study and watching him play cricket or practice, and given how obviously fond, protective, possessive and caring of me Raffles was, Charleston could quite easily and naturally resented me, but he never did.
Instead I moved a little nearer to Raffles and sighed with pleasure when he slipped his arm around my shoulders. "You really should go and visit him," I said softly.
He sighed and took a sip of whisky. "I know I should, my rabbit. I know I'm foolish not to, even though I told you my reason for not going, it really isn't rational. But - Oh, I don't know, Bunny." He looked at me and smiled before he took his arm from around my shoulders, brushed my hair from my forehead and lightly began to caress my cheek. Then his eyes brightened for a second and he said, "Maybe -" before he fell silent.
"Maybe?" I asked after a moment or two.
He, however, simply shook his head. "Nothing, my beloved rabbit, now come here and let me kiss you and decide just what I'm going to do to you tonight."
A FORTNIGHT LATER
I hadn't thought it possible but our relationship grew more and more intense seemingly on a daily basis; we were barely ever apart and Raffles seemed to become more and more demanding of me and his kisses and touches became even more intimate and loving. I was as deeply in love with him as I thought it was possible for someone to be, and from what I could tell from the way he looked at me and spoke to me and touched me, he felt the same way about me.
Only two things troubled me: one he still had not taken my innocence from me; not that I believed, given what he had done and did do to me and I did to him, I was still innocent, but in one respect I was. And I confess, given my understanding of physical love between two men was that the act was the thing men did with one another, I was a more than a little troubled by the absence of it. And it wasn't because I hadn't offered; I had done on more than one occasion, but each time he told me it was too soon, that he didn't desire to hurt me and that he didn't need that from me.
The other thing that troubled me was that it was now the end of the first week of August and I was due to return to London in less than four weeks and I had not idea whether I wanted to return. Nor did I know whether Raffles wanted me to go or quite where he saw our relationship going - if indeed he saw it going anywhere; part of me wondered if for him it was 'just for the summer'.
Thus one night as we sat, well Raffles sat I lay with my head in his lap whilst he played with my hair with one hand and his other hand wandered from time to time to another part of my body, dressed in nothing more than our dressing gowns, I decided to broach the subject.
"Raffles," I said and then gasped softly as knowledgeable fingers slipped inside my dressing gown and began to stroke my growing hardness.
"Yes, my rabbit?" he gazed down at me, as his fingers teased me.
"Is this just for the summer?" I asked a little more bluntly than I'd intended, but with his fingers teasing and flirting with my hardness it was more than a little difficult to think of anything other than how soon he'd allow my body the release it would soon be craving.
He stilled his hand and frowned a little. "Is what just for the summer, Bunny?"
I waved one hand in a kind of circular gesture around the two of us. "This," I said. "Us."
He held my gaze in silence and to my surprise and disappointment he removed his hand from inside my dressing gown and made quite sure I was covered up. "Do you wish it to be?" he finally asked, as he lit a Sullivan and passed it to me before lighting another one for himself.
I shook my head and didn't miss the slight widening of his eyes, nor the slight hardening of his body beneath my head as I moved it on him. "No," I said softly, "I want it to be for the rest of our lives. But . . . Well, I live in London and you -"
"Live here." He said the words softly and for a moment he glanced away from me.
"Yes," I said my mouth suddenly dry. "Raffles?" I said after another extended silence. "Do you want it to be just for the summer?" I held my breath.
He smiled, bent his head to lightly kiss me, before he let his hand begin to wander down my body again. "No, Bunny," he said softly. "No, my rabbit, I do not. I do not want that at all. But as you pointed out, you live in London and I live here." And his fingers once more slid beneath the edge of my dressing gown and began to stroke me.
I forced my mind away from the growing pleasure he was giving me and said, "I could move down here. I could leave London and -"
His mouth on mine for a moment or two silenced me. "Let us not talk about it now, my rabbit," he said lifting his mouth. "There are far more pleasurable things we could be doing." And with that he moved so I was no longer laying with my head in his lap, but he was laying next to me, my dressing gown was now completely open as was his and his mouth was possessing mine as his fingers did what they did so very well indeed.
A WEEK LATER
We walked back along the seafront following our diner out, Raffles's arm was through mine and he was in good spirits. "So, Bunny," he said as we stopped and turned to look at the sea, "what does my rabbit want to do on Thursday? Your birthday," he added softly as I turned to look at him.
"Oh," I said. "Well, whatever you want to do, Raffles."
He sighed, rolled his eyes, glanced around him and obviously seeing no-one about, put his arms around me and pulled me into a loose embrace for a moment or two. "Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, how many times do I have to remind you that you are not my school boy fag any longer? I ask you again: what do you wish to do for your birthday? I wish to make it a special day for you."
I felt my cheeks colour but knew he wouldn't be able to see as it was quite dark. I forewent telling him that just spending it with him would make it special; I tried not to let him think me little more than a maiden from a romantic novel too often. The thing was, I truly didn't mind what we did, as long at I spent it with him. Well, now that he had let me know he had remembered it was my birthday, there was one thing I was going to insist on - but that wasn't for discussion now.
He sighed softly, pulled out his cigarette case and offered it to me, struck a match and held it for me to light my cigarette before taking and lighting a Sullivan of his own. Then he once more put his arm through mine and we began to again walk along the seafront. "Let us start with the day, is there somewhere in particular you would like to go? Or something you'd like to do?" His tone was slightly different from how it had been; it was the tone he used to adopt at school on the rare occasion he insisted I speak up and say what I wanted rather than merely falling in with his wishes.
I thought for a moment then said, "Well, I'd rather like to go to Canterbury again. I'd like to go to the Cathedral again and maybe we could have luncheon at the hotel you took me to before."
He stopped walking and turned me around. "Splendid!" he said. "You see, that wasn't too difficult, was it?" I didn't answer him and after sighing he chuckled softly, "Oh, Bunny," he said, "I do love you so very much. Now, what about the evening, how would you like to spend that? Bunny!" he exclaimed a moment later and laughed softly. "I do believe I have quite corrupted you." Quite how he'd known what I'd been thinking, I know not - other than the answer I have always had: he is Raffles. "Putting that aside for a moment, what else would you like to do? Would you like to go out to dine somewhere? Or dine in the hotel either in the restaurant or our rooms? Or would you like me to arrange a small party for you?"
"But no one knows me!" I exclaimed, more than a little horrified at the idea of a party.
He sighed. "That is not quite true, Bunny, Christopher and the rest of my staff know you, we have dined with several of my friends - Kettleman for one - I am quite certain they would be happy to help you celebrate your birthday; if you wish them to, of course."
I sighed. "Raffles, look it's very kind of you, but I'd rather just dine alone with you - parties are not my thing."
"Then it shall be so. Now where do you wish to dine?"
"I'd like a surprise," I said suddenly.
He laughed gently and after another swift glance around us, put his lips on my cheek for a moment. "Very well, my rabbit, it shall be as you wish.
It wasn't quite. When we returned from our day in Canterbury, it was to discover that Lincoln and a few of the other more senior members of Raffles's staff had insisted - without Raffles's knowledge (or so he said, I wasn't completely convinced) - on throwing a small drinks party for me before Raffles and I dined together.
We dined in Raffles's rooms, his reason (which made me flush slightly) being that in his rooms, he didn't have to restrain himself from putting his hands on me (which he rarely did anyway) or his lips (that he did restrain himself from doing) and that once we had eaten we had no distance to go to fulfil the remainder of how I wished to spend the evening of my birthday.
The meal was excellent, the chef had excelled himself and Raffles had ordered all of my favourite dishes; of equal excellence was the champagne, the brandy and cigars. Raffles rather spoilt me when it came to gifts, showering me with them. They included a beautiful leather bound set of Keats's poetry, a rather splendid heavy silk bowtie which he insisted on putting on for me, after he'd taken the one I was wearing off - which delayed the final course by several minutes - a silver cigarette case, cuff-links and a matching tie-pin and a new pocket watch and chain. I had had the same pocket watch since I had turned eighteen and my parents had given it to me as a gift.
We sat on the sofa once we had finished eating enjoying a second glass of the fine brandy and finishing our cigars before we retired to his bedroom where I was determined I would get a final gift. However, as he stubbed his cigar out and emptied his glass he put his hand into his pocket and pulled something out and handed it over to me.
I automatically took it and to my surprise it was a key. "Raffles?" I asked, turning it over in my hand.
He looked away from me for a moment; he then covered my hand with his. "It is a hotel pass-key," he said softly. "It opens all doors." And before I could say anything he pulled me to my feet, took the key back, pushed it into the pocket of my dinning jacket, pulled me into his arms and plundered my mouth with his.
We kissed, the kisses growing more and more passionate by the minute, for quite some time, our bodies pressed against one another's, before he finally took his mouth from mine, took my hand and led me into the bedroom where he undressed me reasonably quickly but without a tremendous amount of haste.
Then still fully dressed himself, he dropped to his knees in front of me and took me into his mouth. "Raffles!" I gasped as his cool mouth compared to my hardness closed around me and I put my hands on his head to steady myself. I fought my body's desire for completion as I rather wanted to be in his bed, with his mouth on mine and his hand around me stroking me, and whilst I had not doubt that I would find release more than once that night, that is what I wanted.
As he'd always seemed capable of doing he seemed able to read my mind as although he took me close to the edge more than once he never took me quite close enough to make me fear I would not win the battle I was having with my body. Thus, after a few minutes, he stood up, brushed his lips over my cheek, turned down the bed and urged me to get onto it whilst he began to remove his own clothing as he stared down at me.
"Touch yourself, Bunny," he whispered softly, pausing with his shirt undone but not removed.
"Raffles!" I exclaimed as my cheeks became warm.
"Please, my rabbit," he murmured, "just for a moment or two," and he locked gazes with me telling me with his eyes how much he loved and desired me.
I was held captive by him, as I had been from the moment I met him, thus not bothering to hide the fact my hand was trembling slightly, I moved it down my body and did as he bid, touching myself, once, twice, three times before he bent and covered my hand with his own, stilling it as he swallowed hard. As I gazed up at him I noticed how flushed he was and how perspiration touched his forehead and upper lip and I ventured to guess he had been somewhat surprised by his reaction to what he had asked me to do.
He removed the rest of his clothes somewhat more quickly than he'd removed his dining jacket and waistcoat and joined me on the bed, gathering me into his arms and kissing me for several minutes before he moved back just far enough to allow him to move his hand and put it where I desired it most of all.
Given the state I was already in from his mouth being around me and from the almost illicit thrill I'd felt when I had touched myself under his gaze, it didn't take long before I was crying his name and shuddering in his arms.
He held me as he always did securely and possessively, one hand still resting lightly on me as he'd learnt I liked whilst he murmured soft words of affection until I opened my eyes and smiled at him. He kissed me deeply again before with me still in a loose embrace he settled back on the bed and looked at me.
It was now or never. I swallowed hard, pushed myself up on one elbow, bent over him, kissed him and then said softly, "Please, Raffles."
"Please what, my rabbit?"
I sighed softly. "You know." And I just stared at him.
"Ah," he said. "Bunny, I -"
"Don't want to hurt me, yes, Raffles, so you have told me on more than one occasion. However, answer me this," I paused and knowing I was going to end up with reddened cheeks and quite possibly stammering slightly, but determined to see it through, I spoke again. "Let us say you didn't do it to me tonight, but waited for another week, another month, another year, longer - could you tell me it would not hurt?"
He sighed softly and pulled me down into his arms and kissed me lightly. "No, my rabbit," he said his tone solemn. "I am afraid to tell you it would always hurt. Which is why I do not -"
"But I want you to," I said firmly. "Look, Raffles, it's my birthday and I think that gives me the right to make love the way I want to."
His lips twitched slightly. "Do you now?"
I swallowed. "Yes. And I want you to make love to me the way other men make love. The way I know you usually make love." I wasn't quite certain from where the last sentence came; I believe it surprised me as much as it surprised him.
He was silent for a moment as his eyes widened and his eyebrows rose and I felt my cheeks become very warm. "Well, my rabbit," he said and then fell silent for a while, so long in fact I thought he wasn't going to speak again. However, after staring at me in the way he used to appraise me from time to time at school, he bushed my hair from my face and said, his tone very solemn, "Are you quite certain, Bunny - no wait, do let me finish. Are you quite certain you want this for you and not simply because you have this idea that I desperately want it for myself?"
"Yes, Raffles," I said matching his tone. "I am quite certain. I want you to make love to me like that, Raffles. I want you to finally take my innocence from me. I want it, Raffles, because I want it." And then I found myself adding, "Do you not?"
"Actually, Bunny, I do, of course I do. But," he added swiftly, "I do not need to make love to you like that. It is not of huge importance to me. Not doing so does not, will not, change the way I feel about you. However, if you really do want it and I truly believe you do, I shall do so. But I tell you one more time, my rabbit, it will hurt you. I will do whatever I can to lessen the pain, I do know how to reduce it, but even I cannot take it away completely. It will hurt; indeed it is likely to hurt quite considerably. Now are you still certain?"
I met his eyes and nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said firmly. "I am quite, quite certain."
"Very well then," he said bending his head to kiss me. He kissed me for some minutes before he moved away from me and got out of bed, hushing me when I started to object. He went to his dresser and came back with a bottle which he uncorked and put on his bedside table before he got back into bed and once more took me into his arms and kissed me again for some minutes before gently he helped me turn over.
He was quite correct; despite the time and care he took it did indeed hurt, it hurt considerably more, despite his warnings, than I had imagined it would hurt. And yet despite never handling pain very well and despite it being a far greater, far more insidious, far deeper hurt than I had ever before experienced, I found I could bear it. And thus finally when he was fully inside me and began to move slowly at first, despite gasping aloud, grabbing his hand which was on my shoulder and clinging to it and tears slipping from my eyes, I found my body reacting to the intimacy and growing hard and I cried his name before he cried mine.
Although, as after holding me and kissing me and soothing me for quite some time he finally left the bed to return a short time later with a bowl of warm water and a flannel which he used to cleanse me, I knew I would hurt for at least a day or two I welcomed he pain as I felt I truly belonged to him in the most ultimate way possible.
"I love you, Raffles," I said, my eyes growing heavy as I was once again being held in his warm, protective, extremely possessive embrace, "I always have and I always will."
"And I, my most beloved Bunny, love you too, just as I always will and," he said softly, kissing my nose, "I always have."
"Hush, my rabbit. Go to sleep."
"Yes, Raffles," I murmured, quite happy to obey him.
"But before you do, Bunny, may I ask one small thing of you?"
I gazed up at him and saw him swallow. "Anything," I said, touching his face.
"Do not leave at the end of the month; stay for September; stay and see what the town is like once most people have gone home after the summer. Will you do that, my rabbit?"
I smiled at him. "Oh, yes, Raffles," I said, stopping myself from adding I'd happily stay forever. And with one more kiss, he gathered me closely to him; I was asleep within seconds.
We were once again dining at The Grand and as always the food and wine were excellent. There were far few people in the dining room than there had been during the summer months; I know Raffles had told me the town tended to empty quickly once August turned into September, but I was surprised by quite how quiet and empty Ramsgate had become.
As we ate, drank and talked about general things I felt Raffles had something on his mind. It wasn't anything I could instantly put my finger on, it was partly the way he kept looking at me, partly the fact he had a slightly distracted and almost uncertain air about him - uncertain is not a word I would ever associate with Raffles, even as a school boy he was one of the most sure and confident people I had ever met. Yet tonight as he lifted his glass to me and smiled, I definitely felt something was on his mind and whatever that something was was indeed making him less than his usual certain self.
I considered asking him what was wrong, because as the evening went on I became more and more certain that something was at least slightly amiss. Indeed my first thought had been to ask him what I had done wrong; had I said or done something that was incorrect? Had I upset him in some way? Yes, even at the age of forty-one, a popular published author, a man who had been deemed to be good enough to have been taken as a lover by the most wonderful, most caring, most protective man in the world, I still believed if anything was amiss it was my fault.
I sighed softly and emptied my glass. Before the waiter could appear Raffles had poured more of the fine wine into my glass and his fingers touched the back of my hand. "Is something wrong with my rabbit?" he asked.
I smiled and shook my head. "No," I said, glancing very slightly over his left shoulder rather than meeting his steady gaze, least he knew I wasn't being totally truthful.
He rested his hand on mine and smiled. "Good," he said quietly. "I never like to think my rabbit is troubled by anything." After a second or two of letting his hand cover mine, he once more picked up his knife and fork and returned to eating.
We left The Grand a couple of hours later, standing at the top of the steps to look down and out over the sea. "It really is so beautiful, is it not, Bunny?" Raffles said, as he slipped his arm through mine and began to descend the steps.
"Yes, Raffles," I replied, "it really is beautiful."
"Are you happy to take a walk before we return to the hotel?"
"Yes, perfectly happy." He didn't need to ask me if I was happy to go for a walk with him and he knew it. However, it was a sign of just what a good man he was, of how he rarely, if ever, he took advantage of my love for him and how he knew I would willingly acquiesce to anything he suggested.
His arm still through mine, he led me across the road and to the steps that led down to the sand and sea. "Are you up to it, Bunny?" he asked, turning and smiling at me.
I stared down the steps. "How many are there?"
"One hundred and twenty." I stared at him. "We can go another way, if you wish, I just felt like walking by the sea. But if you'd rather not, you only have to say."
"No," I said my tone bright. "Let's go this way." And before I could change my mind I began the descent.
When we finally reached the bottom (he had of course been quite correct, there had been one hundred and twenty steps) my legs felt more than a little shaky; I was breathing harder than I normally did and halfway down I'd taken Raffles's arm from mine and slipped mine through his instead. Of course he wasn't breathing any heavier than he normally did and was showing no sign of having just walked down all those steps. We stopped at the bottom and leant against the wall whilst we smoked a Sullivan each - well I leant against the wall, Raffles of course had no need to - before he once again took my arm and we walked along the promenade, listening to the sound of the sea lapping against the beach, watching the last remnants of the sun sink into the water which engulfed it and closed around it.
We walked for quite some way, far farther than we'd normally walked in this direction until we reached another set of steps and I groaned softly. I heard Raffles laugh gently, "It's all right, my rabbit, we won't go up this way, even I find more than two hundred steps in one evening a little hard going." I didn't believe him; I was sure he was just trying to be kind - but I was touched. "We'll turn around and walk back the way we came and then carry on through the town and back to the hotel that way; it's a gentle slope rather than steps. But first," he paused and glanced around him and tugged me closer to the wall, put his arms around me and kissed me for a moment or two, before taking his mouth from mine and gazing down at him.
The moon chose that moment to replace the vanquished sun and I could see his face and eyes in the moonlight; once again he seemed a little troubled and uncertain as he stared down at me. "I do love you, Bunny," he said in his formal tone, "please remember that, my beloved rabbit." And after brushing my hair back from my forehead, he kissed me again, before letting his arms fall from around me and once more taking my arm.
Now I was quite, quite certain something was badly amiss. "Raffles?"
"Later, my rabbit. Let us enjoy the moonlight." I fell silent and walked along at his side. He began to talk about our school days and continued to do so until we reached his hotel and his rooms.
Once inside he helped me off with my overcoat and took my hat and stick from me. "Go and pour some drinks," he said, "I'll be but a moment or two." And after touching my cheek he took our hats, overcoats and sticks and went into the bedroom.
I did as he bid me and took advantage of his absence to quickly empty my glass before pouring another measure - I had an unpleasant feeling I was going to need it.
After a minute of two he came into the sitting room and smiled at me as I handed him his glass. However, he put it down onto the mantelpiece, took my glass from my hand and put his hands on my shoulders as he looked down at me. "My darling rabbit," he murmured. "You are mine, are you not, Bunny?"
I blinked up at him somewhat surprised by the question. "Of course I am, Raffles," I said. "I've always been yours; I always will be yours," I added.
He smiled a half-smile. "You love me very much do you not, Bunny?"
This time I frowned at the strange question. "Of course I do, Raffles. Surely you know that?"
He kissed my forehead and I felt as if icy water had replaced my blood; I knew that gesture; I knew it only too well. He'd done that once at school - it had been the only kiss he'd bestowed on me and I'd never really counted it as a kiss as such. "Yes, my rabbit, I know." His tone was strange and the look on his face even stranger. Suddenly I wanted to get away; to run; once again I was the fourteen year old boy, standing in his study on the last day of his final term, feeling my heart breaking.
I took a step back but he gripped my shoulders even tighter and prevented me from moving. "Raffles, let me go, I need to -"
He shook his head and smiled a little sadly. "No, Bunny, you do not," he said softly, pulling me a little towards him.
I frowned. "Raffles! You've told me more than once during the last few months that I am not your thirteen year old fag, but a grown man, I do believe I am quite capable of knowing when I . . ." I trailed off under the look he was giving me.
He took one hand from my shoulder and touched my cheek. "Ah, Bunny, you may no longer be my thirteen year old fag, but can you deny you are using the same tactic you used all those years ago to escape from something you did not wish to hear?" He spoke gently, fondly, lovingly even as he stared at me.
How could he know? How could he still read me so very well? I sighed and said, my tone resigned, "No, Raffles, I cannot deny it. But one day, you just might be wrong, you know."
He shrugged and pulled me into his arms. I hesitated for a second, before I allowed myself to be gathered and held closely against him and I put my arms around him and waited for him to speak. His next words actually surprised me. "Do you trust me, Bunny?"
I started and lifted my head from where it had rested on against his shoulder, tilted it back and stared at him. "Of course I do, Raffles. I've always trusted you - but you know that, do you not? Why do you keep asking me questions to which you already know the answers?"
He just went on staring at me and chose not to answer me. "I need you to trust me in a way you have never trusted me before, Bunny. I need you to listen to me and to trust me when I say what I am going to say is for the best; it is the right thing."
I shook my head and tried to pull away from him. "Please, Raffles," I begged, "let me -"
"No, Bunny," he said firmly, once again tightening his grip on me. For a second or two I considered struggling, but I knew it would be to no avail as he is still so much stronger than I am.
So I simply sighed and let him pull me against him and let my head once more come to rest against his shoulder as I felt his heart beating near to mine. "Very well, Raffles," I said with resignation in my voice. "Say whatever it is you have to say, I can't stop you." And I gave up fighting him completely and just rested against him. It was all very well him repeatedly telling me I wasn't thirteen any longer, that I wasn't his fag, but if that was how he was going to treat me, then why did he keep objecting when I responded as I had done all those years ago?
He tightened the grip he had on me, pulling me just a little closer to him, until my body was pressed completely against his. I realised for the first time since he'd kissed me and taken me to his bed my body wasn't reacting to his closeness and I sighed silently. "I've been thinking, Bunny," he said, "and I have decided that you have to return to London."
I closed my eyes and forced back the tears that threatened me. Against my conscious will I found myself gripping the back of his dining jacket, clinging to him just as I'd done all those years ago when he prepared to walk away from me. "Alone?" I made it a question, even though I knew the answer.
"Yes, my beloved rabbit. Alone." His voice was flat.
"Very well, Raffles," I said as the thirteen year old boy completely took over. I fell silent and contemplated what to do or say next. And then to my surprise I found anger beginning to radiate through my body and suddenly the thirteen year old boy vanished and the forty-one year old man regained ascendency.
I lifted my head from his shoulder, pulled back and ignoring the fact I knew tears were shining in my eyes, I glared at him. "Actually, Raffles, it's not very well, it's not at all well." I actually raised my voice to him and his eyes widened a fraction. "What makes you think you can just treat me like -"
His mouth on mine silenced me. I struggled, but it was to no avail - I did however manage to keep my mouth tightly closed. Finally he lifted his head, "Trust me, my beloved rabbit. Please, Bunny, trust me. It is not as you think."
Now I looked at him. "Is it not?" He shook his head. "Well, what is it then?" I demanded.
He sighed, brushed his lips over mine, took my hand and led me across the room. He sat down in the armchair and tugged on my hand. "Come here," he said, his meaning clear. I let him pull me down onto his lap, as he'd done many times whilst we'd been at school together. I tried to tell myself it felt strange, given our ages now, to be sitting on his lap; I tried to tell myself I should object, that should get up - but all I could think was how right it felt, how wonderful it felt to once more be on his lap. So after a short time I just sighed with more pleasure than annoyance and did what I used to do all those years ago: rested my head on his shoulder.
He kissed the top of my head. "That's my beloved rabbit," he said, tightening his embrace just a little. I simply sat and waited; if despite his words, he wanted to treat me as if I were again thirteen and he eighteen, well I'd behave like that - which meant I did not speak until he did.
"Bunny," he said finally. "I do not wish to hurt you, that is the last thing I wish to do and yet I know I have. But you have to trust me; it really is for the best - we have to do this."
"Yes, Raffles," I said, agreeing with him as I always had.
He sighed. "Oh, Bunny. Look my sweet rabbit, these few months, since you were returned to my side have been so intense - we need to both know, to be certain of how we feel and the only way we can know is for you to return to London and I to remain here. Do you understand?"
I shrugged; I wasn't certain I did; besides why did I need to understand? It wasn't my place to understand; my place was simply to obey him.
He sighed and pushed me upright and stared at me. "Bunny, you believe you will be quite happy to give up London and live here with me, do you not?" I nodded. "I want you, I need you, Bunny, to be certain of that - and the only way you will be is to return to London for a while and see if you really can give up the theatres, the music halls, your clubs, everything that London can give you that this same town cannot."
I shrugged. "London can't give me you and that's all I want."
He sighed again. "And that, my rabbit, is another thing. Oh, Bunny, I have been your first lover -"
"And the only one I'll ever want."
"Maybe. But again I need to you know that. Bunny, I have - well, I do not believe I need to spell it out, do I?" His voice was tender.
I shook my head. "No. But what are you suggesting, Raffles? What do you want me to do? Go and find other men to kiss to see how they compare to you? Because if that's what you want me to do, I donít need to go back to London; I'm sure you know plenty of men here I could kiss - if you want I'll go and kiss Lincoln now."
His eyes widened so much I felt myself wince. "No! No, Bunny, I do not want you to ever kiss anyone else but me."
I frowned. "Then what do you want me to do?"
"Spend a few weeks apart from me to really make certain you want to spend the rest of your life with me."
"I already know that."
"No, Bunny, you think you do. Look, my rabbit, you have loved me, wanted me, since we were at school together. For some reason, whether it was just your love for me or your naivety or your fear of being caught or your uncertainty and uneasiness of talking to people you do not know well, you have never taken a lover, never kissed or been kissed or touched or been touched by anyone else." I stared at him, waiting for him to come to the point. "Well, now that you have what you believed you have always wanted, you need to know it is indeed what you have always wanted."
I stared at him; it was complicated. If all relationship were this complex, then I was even gladder I had never formed one before. How did people manage? It exhausted me. "I do know," I said, wondering why he was insisting that I didn't.
He stared at me in silence for a moment and then to my surprise, gently but firmly pushed me off his lap, stood up and went to get his drink. He emptied the glass and poured himself another one before finally turning around to look at me. "Well, maybe it is I who needs to know, to be certain," he said softly.
I stared at him. "What?"
He sighed, put his glass down, came back to me and took my hand. "Look, Bunny, I told you I have always felt somewhat guilty about walking away from you at school and not even writing to you once."
"Yes," I wasn't certain, but I rather thought I wasn't going to like what he said next.
"Well, my rabbit, I think I need some time apart from you to be quiet certain I have not," he paused, now I was completely certain I wasn't going to like what I he said next. "That I have not allowed this relationship to develop because of that guilt. And I cannot do that whilst you are here, whilst I can kiss you, touch you, hold you in my arms, take you to my bed, share my rooms with you, go out to dinner with you and all the other things we do. I am somewhat blinded by you and your devotion, Bunny - or at least I may be. Surely you can understand that if that is the reason or the main reason for our relationship then it is not, it cannot be right?"
I stared at him; ice water had once again seeped into my veins. "Yes, Raffles," I said my tone dull. "I do understand. When do you wish me to leave?"
To my surprise he pulled me into his arms and held me tightly. "Actually, Bunny," he said his tone heavy with self-deprecation, "I never want you to leave. I just know you have to. For a short time," he added his lips now on my ear.
And to my amazement I suddenly felt calm and the concern, the fear had vanished. You see, I know Raffles; I actually believe I know him better than he knows himself. I know he has said more than once I am blinded by my love for him, but I'm not - I never have been, well not totally. I know what a good person he is, what an honest person he is and I know that if he really felt, even for an instant. that he may have taken me to his bed merely out of guilt then he wouldn't have done it. And I knew how I felt about him - how I'd always felt about him. I loved him; it was as simple as that; I wasn't going to change in my affections for him.
Thus I would go back to London - because that part I could understand; it had been my home since I had turned eighteen, I did have to make sure I could leave it behind - for a week or two or however long he decided I needed and then I'd return to him, to his arms, to his bed and all would be well again.
I pulled back a little and smiled at him. "So shall I leave tomorrow or stay until the end of the month?"
He blinked and stared at me. "Bunny?" he said softly, "Are you all right?"
"I'm quite all right, thank you, Raffles," I said. "I understand."
I nodded. "Yes. And I know."
"Know what, my rabbit?"
"Oh, many things," I said brightly. "But there's one pressing thing I know: you really do have to let me let me leave you here for a minute or two." And with those words I reached up, brushed my lips over his, extracted himself from his embrace and hurried out of the sitting room.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
It was all very well having decided all would be well and telling him I understood, but it didn't change the fact that I would, on the morrow, be saying goodbye to him. I would be in his arms for the last time for some weeks; I would be without his smile, his touch, his kiss. I would be returning to London and he would be staying here and his life would go back to how it had been before I had decided to spend the summer in Ramsgate - and what if I was wrong about him? What if he did take me to his bed out of guilt? What if he hadn't realised that until I was no longer by his side? What if -
For two weeks I had remained positive, certain that everything would be all right and that I wouldn't be in London for long before I was back in Ramsgate, back with Raffles. For a fortnight I had kept the young boy firmly under control and let the man take charge. But now all I could think of was that night in Raffles's study, the final night before he would be leaving me the following day, walking away from me and it suddenly felt horribly like that.
I had cried so much that evening I had eventually ended up being ill in his study as he'd held me and tried to comfort me, telling me it didn't matter, it would be all right, but all I could think was that nothing would ever be all right again. I'd dared to argue with him when he told me I had to go back to the dorm and spend the nigh in my bed - I who had never questioned anything he'd said to me had argued with him, and he had been as he'd always been with me and had simply pulled me into his arms until finally I'd stopped crying, dug into the reserves of pluck he'd always told me I'd had and let him walk me back to the dorm. He hadn't objected when I'd returned to his study two hours before breakfast and begun to sob again.
As I threw clothes into bags and cases it was taking me all my time not to revert to the sobbing fourteen year old and throw myself into his arms. However, somehow he seemed to know, because he took a shirt from my hands, dropped it onto the bed, took my hand, led me into the sitting room and gathered me into his embrace. "It is not the same, Bunny," he said firmly. "I am not walking away from you."
I clung to him, uncaring that I was really far too old to cling as I was doing, and with my head in its favourite place I forced a sob away and said quietly, "But what if you do?" What if -"
"I won't." He pushed me away from him a little and looked down at me, before his gaze flickered away and he looked over my shoulder.
"Raffles?" The tears suddenly dried up as I stared at him.
He sighed. "I am afraid I wasn't completely honest with you, Bunny. I did not take you to my bed out of guilt - I never would have done that. Had I believed even for a moment that was why I was kissing you then . . . I would have never have let us become anything more than friends. I am not quite that much of a scoundrel. I've done some things in my life of which I am not proud, but I would never do something as despicable as that and take advantage of the person who loves me so much, whom I love so much."
Which is what I'd thought; so why had he suggested it? "Then why did you . . . Raffles?" I whispered; as I stared at him I was shocked by the look that was on his face.
He looked back down at me before closing his eyes and swallowing hard. "I'm afraid I wasn't quite prepared to admit, not even to myself, just how much I - Bunny, I truly never believed I would meet a person, a man, with whom I wished to spend the rest of my life. I did not think I had it in me to ever care enough to share my life or to be faithful to one person. And then you came back into my life; you, my darling rabbit, the boy I had hurt so much, the man whose love for me when he'd been a boy had been deep, but now was . . . But now was beyond anything I had ever seen or known. And I saw you, Bunny, I took you into my arms and I knew - I knew even before the conversation about Charlie and Greece that I loved you as much as you loved me."
But he went on speaking. "And the longer you were with me, the more time I spent with you, the more hours we spent kissing, making love, just being together - the more I wanted and the more deeply I fell in love with you. Bunny, what I am trying to say and not managing to say, is that if I lost you now it would hurt, it would hurt beyond anything I have ever known - it would hurt more than losing my parents and Alice. However, if you stayed for another three months or six or even a year and then realised one day you had made a mistake, either in me or in living here and left me, then I don't honestly know if I could - I do not believe a person, not even I, could survive that level of pain. I want you by my side for the rest of our lives; Bunny, I want you by my side beyond that. I want you with me at all times; I want you to be mine and no one else's; I honestly believe if I could I would take you away to somewhere where there is no one else. So, my rabbit, now you know the truth and you need to decide if you want to be possessed to quite that level. And before you say I possessed you at school, that was quite different; that was the possession of a boy - this is of a man."
He fell silent and I felt a wave of relief pass through my body. I didn't ask him quite why he had not been completely honest with me two weeks ago, because I had no need to ask: I knew the man Arthur 'A. J.' Raffles was - I knew exactly the man he was and that man was the man I had fallen in love with when we had both been boys; the man I still loved and the man I would love until the day I died - and beyond.
Suddenly thoughts of tears and worrying what might happen, memories of that awful final night in his study fled and I smiled. Everything was going to be all right - of that I was quite certain. I took his hand and led him back into the bedroom. I pushed my unpacked clothes onto the floor, ignoring his raised eyebrow, threw my cases and bags into the corner before turning to him, reaching up to pull down his head and I kissed him and went on kissing him.
It was my mouth that parted his; it was my hands that roamed over his body before his moved over mine; it was I who finally broke the kiss and turned my attention to undressing him, albeit with far less competence than the way he undressed me. It was I who urged him onto the bed whilst I removed my own clothing, I who joined him on the bed, I who pulled him back into my arms, I who once more kissed him and finally I who keeping my gaze locked with his moved down the bed until I was able to take him into my mouth and I who stayed where I was even as he tried desperately to pull my head away as he fought his own body's reaction and finally I who stared at him and refused his offer of his handkerchief and swallowed as he stared at me his look a mixture of amazement, affection mingled with just a hint of concern.
THE NEXT MORNING
Of course in the morning my confidence had faded slightly again and I was afeared this would be the last time I saw him. Once more as I flung myself into his arms I was the fourteen year old boy again being comforted by the nineteen year old young man. "Don't make me go, Raffles," I begged as I held onto to him.
"You know why I must, Bunny," he said, kissing the top of my head as he held me closely against him.
"But I won't stop loving you, Raffles. I know I won't. I've loved you since the moment I met you, how can you think I'll suddenly stop?"
He sighed and pulled me even nearer to him. "I don't, my rabbit, not really. But what I do fear is that you will miss London and not be happy to live here with me."
"I won't!" I declared.
He pushed me away from him just a little and gazed down at me. "You cannot know that, Bunny, not until you return and see what it is like. You told me you love London apart from in the summer. You go have to go back and see if you still feel that way."
"I love you more."
He smiled. "I know you do, Bunny, but that isn't really the point."
"But what if I do want to stay? What then, Raffles?" I asked the question I had delayed asking; the question I really didn't want to ask; the question I didn't want him to answer. "Could you live again in London?"
He sighed. "Let us see what you feel when you get back to London, Bunny."
But I insisted. "Could you return to living in London, Raffles?"
He sighed again and closed his eyes. "I truly do not know, my rabbit."
It was what I'd expected him to say - I'd hoped for something different, but I hadn't expected it. I nodded, pressed myself close to him again and after letting the tears fall onto his shirt clad shoulder (just as I'd done on that final day in his study) for some minutes I lifted my head and offered him my mouth (something I hadn't done on that final day in his study).
I clung to him kissing him, being kissed by him, unaware of anything other than how desperately I loved him, how I already missed him, how much I wanted the kiss never to end until - I broke the kiss at the same second as he did and catching sight of the look in his eyes as he stared over my shoulder I turned around.
To my surprise I wasn't surprised nor was I bothered in the slightest to see Lincoln standing in the doorway, his hand on the door knob, his face white as he stared in clear panic at Raffles. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Raffles," he stuttered. "I didn't mean to . . . I did knock, sir . . . And the door was open and I . . . I wouldn't . . . You know that, sir. I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry, sir." He finally tore his gaze from Raffles and looked at me. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
I glanced at Raffles, aware that I was prepared to if necessary stand-up for Lincoln. But Raffles was smiling as he looked at Lincoln and he shrugged. "It really doesn't matter, Christopher," he said, taking his arm from where it had still rested on my shoulders, moving to the chair and picking up my coat which he handed to me before he picked his own up. Lincoln still stood there staring at Raffles; he was slightly less ashen than he had been, but he still looked deeply afeared. Raffles clearly read it to, as once he'd put his coat on, he strode towards Lincoln and put his hand on his shoulder. "Really, it does not matter - as you say the door was open."
"I really did knock, Mr. Raffles."
"I have no doubt you did, Christopher. Please, do not worry. I'm not bothered and I do not believe Mr. Manders is either, are you, Bunny?"
Even though my cheeks were slightly flushed, I shook my head. "No," I said, in what I hoped was a soothing tone.
"So that's that. Now what did you want, Christopher?"
"What?" Lincoln shook himself and under my eyes I saw his trembling cease, his hand finally moved away from the door knob and he began to regain a little of his colour; the frightened young man was returning to the highly efficient hotel manager. "I came to tell you that the cab is ready to take Mr. Manders to the station."
Raffles smiled again. "Thank you, Christopher." He turned to me. "Are you ready, Bunny?"
I wasn't; however I knew I had to be. I nodded and let him help me on with my overcoat before he donned his own. "Yes, Raffles," I said. Then I moved towards Lincoln and held out my hand. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Lincoln," I said.
He took my hand. "And you, Mr. Manders, sir. And," he added, glancing from me to Raffles, "I hope we'll see you again," he paused and I watched him swallow, "very soon, sir," he added quickly.
"So do I." And with that, I let go of his hand, turned back around and picked up a bag and a case.
Between us Raffles, Lincoln and I carried my cases and bags to where the driver waited with the hansom cab. He loaded them into the cab and Raffles and I climbed inside.
At the station Raffles helped me with my luggage before closing the door of my compartment firmly, leaning against it and pulling me into his arms for a lingering and loving kiss. He then squeezed my hand, stroked my cheek, brushed my hair back from my forehead and put his lips on mine for a much briefer second kiss before he just held me in a loose embrace for a moment his gaze locked firmly on mine saying so much without words.
As, all those years ago, he had forbidden me from waiting until his train had left the station, I had forbade him from waiting until mine left. Thus, it was I who watched him walk out of the station rather than he who stood and watched my train leave.
LONDON - A WEEK LATER
I returned home from a meeting firstly with my editor and then with my solicitor and now I only had one more person to speak to before I rang Raffles. I had made my decision; I was leaving London. In truth I had my decision within minutes of my train arriving in London when I had stood on the platform looking for a porter to help me. And once I was out of the station looking around me at the people hurrying by, smelling the odour from the automobiles, nearly being pushed over as someone raced to catch a train, I knew I could not live in London for any longer.
It wasn't just Raffles I missed. It was also the smell of the sea; the wonderful skies, that no matter what the weather were always changing; the sound of the gulls; the fact that hansom cabs and growlers were still far more prevalent; the slower pace of life; the whole feel that Ramsgate had not raced into the twentieth century; that things had not changed so much.
I normally loved London in the autumn, but as I waited for a hansom cab for over twenty minutes to take me home, I knew this was not the London I loved. I wanted to turn around there and then and board a train to take me back to Ramsgate; to take me back to Raffles.
But I had made a promise and I would keep to it. Thus, for six days and evenings I did the things I would normally do: I went to the theatre, to my club, to the Turkish baths, I attended a ball, a dinner party, I lunched with acquaintances - but I knew: it wasn't what I wanted.
On the third day I found myself sitting down in my study and picking up my pen - I had promised my editor I would begin a new book as soon as I returned to London in September, and as I had stayed away a month longer than I had planned, I was now somewhat behind schedule. When I broke off for lunch and read back what I had written, I realised that sub-consciously I had relocated my main character; taking him from London to Kent. I wondered what my editor would think; whether he would still wish to take my books and thus I made an appointment to meet with him.
As I ate luncheon at my club I made the decision: I would leave London, I would return to Kent where I would make a new home, hopefully by Raffles's side, in Raffles's arms, but even if he had changed his mind, I would still find a new home. London was not where I wished to be. I had not heard from him since I had watched him walk out of the station, but I had not expected to do so - we had agreed we would not be in contact, certainly for the first week.
I missed him; I missed his mouth on mine; I missed his arms around me; I missed his hands moving over my body doing wondrous things to me; I missed hearing his voice; I missed gazing at him; I missed his hand on my shoulder; I missed dining with him; I missed walking by his side; I missed being in his bed; I missed just sitting in his rooms of an evening enjoying a whisky and a Sullivan; I missed the way he looked at me; I missed the way he spoke to me; I missed being called 'Bunny' and 'my rabbit'; I missed everything.
In many ways I was reminded of the first few weeks of the summer holidays after he had walked away from me. I had been desolate, lost, I had missed him so much; I'd had no idea how I would survive another three years without him to look after me; I had cried every night and several times during the day when Mother wasn't around and thus could not see me crying and ask me why I was crying.
In one respect the way I felt now was even worse than the way I had felt then; in another it wasn't quite as dreadful - but I did miss him, I missed him very much indeed. I would ring him later in the evening and tell him of my decision. He may feel a week was not long enough, but for once I would not be the pliant, eager and willing to please boy he once knew - I would tell him quite firmly that I knew my own mind. I would tell him that a week was more than long enough for me to know I could no longer live in London and that I knew exactly where I wished to spend the rest of my life: wherever he was.
I reached my house, went up to my sitting room and rang for my housekeeper who appeared looking a little flustered.
"Oh, goodness me, Mr. Manders sir, I wasn't expecting you back so soon, sir, and I didn't hear you come in."
I smiled at her. "Do sit down, Mrs. Abbott," I said waving my hand towards an armchair.
She just stared at me. "Is something wrong, Mr. Manders? Are you ill, sir?"
"No, Mrs. Abbott," I hastened to reassure her, "I am quite well, thank you."
"Have I done something wrong then, sir?"
"No. There is something I have to tell you. Now, please, sit down." I spoke quite firmly this time and after hesitating for a second or two, she sat down and the edge of the chair and stared at me.
I sat down on the sofa opposite her and gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "Mrs. Abbott, I have made a decision. I am leaving London and returning to Kent."
"For another holiday, sir?"
I shook my head. "No. For good." She stared at me in
surprise. "I thought, I believed, a holiday from London was all I needed, but
now I know, London is not where I wish to be any longer. And as you know I
became reacquainted with a very dear friend of mine when I was in Ramsgate and I
should like to spend more time with him."
"What about your books, sir?"
"I shall let you into a secret, Mrs. Abbott, one that only my editor knows; I shall continue to write my books, but I shall relocate them to Kent."
"That sounds nice, sir."
"Now, Mrs. Abbott, I also saw my solicitor today and have made arrangement for you to be paid an annuity four times a year for the rest of your life."
She stared at me and blinked several times. "An annuity, sir?"
"Yes, Mrs. Abbott. You have looked after me extremely well for fifteen years and I want to make sure that you do not have to worry about finding another position, or what will happen when you are no longer able to work."
"But, sir, I . . . Oh, sir. I don't know what to say, sir. Oh, Mr. Manders, you are such a kind man." And to my slight embarrassment her eyes filled with tears. I glanced away whilst she wiped her eyes and after a moment or two she said, her voice slightly shaky, "Thank you, Mr. Manders. I don't . . ."
I smiled at her again. "It is my pleasure, Mrs. Abbott. Have you any idea what you might do? I know this must come as quite a shock to you."
"Well, yes, sir, it has rather. How soon will you be leaving?"
"Fairly soon, by the end of the month. I haven't decided what I am going to do about the house yet, but you will be quite welcome to stay here until I do decide - if you wish to, of course."
She looked down at her lap and then back at me; to my surprise her cheeks were slightly flushed. "Well, sir," she said, "I think I might leave London too. You see those two weeks I spent with my sister were lovely and we both realised how much we'd missed one another. And I realised how foolish I'd been about her husband. We talked, sir, for the first time in years and . . . Well, she asked me to go and live with her. Of course I told her I couldn't leave you and I wouldn't have done, sir, you've been very good to me over the years and I've always liked working for you. But now . . . Well, now I could go and live with her and thanks to your kindness I wouldn't have to -" She stopped speaking abruptly.
I sat and just smiled at her, hoping to encourage her to continue. "Well, in truth sir, that was another reason I was hesitant about going to live with her. I told you she married above herself and well her husband has left her very well off, and of course she said it wouldn't matter if I didn't have anything - oh, I have some savings, sir, I don't spend everything you pay me but . . . "
"You wouldn't be comfortable," I said quietly, I found that I understood fully, "if you couldn't make some contribution."
She smiled at me. "Yes, sir - I'm so glad you understand. But now I could . . . That would be all right with you, wouldn't it, sir?"
I smiled. "Of course it would be, Mrs. Abbott. I think it's an excellent idea, I really do. I -"
The doorbell interrupted me. I glanced at my watch; it was a strange time for someone to be dropping by and indeed I didnít know anyone who did just 'drop by'. The people I knew well enough to invite to my home knew I wrote, and as such they would never just presume I would be able to give them afternoon tea or morning coffee.
"Are you expecting any deliveries, Mrs. Abbott?" I asked.
"No, sir. Are you at home, sir?"
I considered it for a second or two. "No, Mrs. Abbott, I believe I am not."
"Very good, Mr. Manders," she said and hurried off.
When I heard her voice I realised she hadn't closed the sitting room door behind her. "I'm afraid Mr. Manders isn't at home, sir." I heard a male voice reply, but it was too soft for me hear what he was saying.
After a fairly short time I heard Mrs. Abbott say, "Oh, I do believe Mr. Manders may be at home after all, sir. If you'd like to come in."
I sighed and wondered who on earth the person could be that managed to persuade Mrs. Abbott to let him see me, given I had instructed her to say I was not at home. I was not entirely happy, but I knew one or two of my acquaintances could be very forceful. However, I was determined whomever it was would not be invited to stay for tea.
"If you'll come this way, sir." I stood up and turned to the door, prepared to be polite but terse I was determined that whoever the person was, he would stay no more than a mere minute or two at the most. "Mr. Arthur Raffles, Mr. Manders."
I just stared at him; I was frozen to the spot, just staring at him. "Raffles?" I finally managed to whisper.
"Hello, Bunny," he replied his tone soft and full of affection. He too seemed unable to move and he stood just inside the doorway staring at me.
"I'll make some tea, shall I, Mr. Manders?" Mrs. Abbott said her voice much louder than it normally was.
"What?" I turned to her. "Oh, yes, tea. That would be . . . Thank you, Mrs. Abbott."
She looked at me; looked at Raffles; looked back and me and smiled. "I'll go and make it then, sir," she said, and went out firmly closing the door behind her.
Raffles and I stood and looked at one another for another moment or two before he shook himself, dropped his hat onto a chair and strode across the room his arms out towards me. The next second I was in his arms and his mouth was on mine. We kissed and went on kissing, breaking apart briefly to allow us both to breathe, for quite some time; at one point he moved one of his hands to my head and tangled his fingers in my hair.
Finally he took his mouth from mine, held me away from him just a little and whispered, "Oh, Bunny, oh, my dearest, Bunny, I have missed you so." And then he pulled me back into his embrace and gently pushed my head down until it rested against his shoulder. I stood in his arms, mine around him, feeling his heart beat against mine, feeling at peace and perfectly content to go on standing there until the end of my days.
The sound of china moving slightly and a bump on the sitting room door had us moving apart, and it was Raffles who strode across the room, opened the door and took the tray from a slightly flustered looking Mrs. Abbott.
"I'm sorry, sir, the tray was heavier than I thought it would be. I didnít ask Mr. Raffles what kind of tea he liked, so I made both China and Indian, sir, and brought sugar and lemon and some cakes. I hope that is satisfactory, sir?"
Raffles had put the tray down on the table and was already moving cups and saucers. "It's more than satisfactory, Mrs. Abbott," I said, "thank you."
"Well I know Mr. Raffles has come quite a long way, sir, and I didn't know whether he had anything to eat. I'm never too sure about the food they serve on trains. I can fetch something else, if this isn't to your liking, Mr. Raffles."
Raffles turned to Mrs. Abbott and smiled. "It looks very much to my liking, thank you, Mrs. Abbott. I did, as it happens, have lunch on the train, but I am quite certain these cakes are of a far higher standard, they look delicious."
Mrs. Abbott actually flushed slightly and beamed at him. "Why, thank you, Mr. Raffles, sir," she said. I'll leave you gentlemen now; I won't disturb you, Mr. Manders," now she turned to me. "You can ring when you wish me to take the tray away." And with that she turned and walked towards the door. "Why, thank you, sir," she said as Raffles with his long stride was there before her and had opened it for her.
He closed it behind her, turned around and leant on it as he gazed at me. "Do you want tea, Bunny?" he said softly.
I could think of something I'd far rather have than tea, but I decided with only a degree of reluctance it could wait. So I nodded, "Actually, Raffles, I do rather and I can recommended Mrs. Abbott's cakes - they taste even better than they look."
It didn't surprise me, not even given it was my house and not his, that it was Raffles who poured the tea and offered me a cake before sitting next to me on the sofa; sitting just a little closer than was necessary and customary - at least for anyone other than he and me.
"Well, Bunny," he said, after he had taken a sip of tea. "I imagine you are somewhat surprised to see me."
I nodded. "I am, Raffles, yes."
"But I hope it's a pleasant surprise?" he asked softly, and to my surprise the look in his eyes was just a little wary.
"Yes!" I hastened to reply. "Oh, yes, Raffles, a very pleasant one. I've missed you so," I said swiftly. And," I added as he opened his mouth, "I've missed Ramsgate, well Kent in general."
"Have you now?"
I nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I have. I've missed it very much indeed. Look, I know you probably won't think it's long enough, but I know I no longer wish to live in London. It's not the London I love, Raffles; it's changed so much. So I've made my decision."
"Have you now?"
"Yes. And if you wait longer; if you're still not sure, sure of me, sure of - sure of anything, then I'll find somewhere else to stay until you are sure. But I am leaving London as soon as I can and to be honest, Raffles, you can't stop me." I stopped speaking and I knew my cheeks had begun to colour; I was more than a little surprised at myself for being quite so forceful.
He too seemed a little surprised as he had his cup close to his lips but was simply staring at me, his eyes slightly wider than usual. "Well, my rabbit," he said, after finally taking a sip of tea and putting his cup back down, "or maybe I should find a new name for you." My cheeks coloured more.
He put his finger on my cheek, "You really do blush so very prettily, Bunny," he murmured, letting his finger trail down my cheekbone. I shifted on the sofa as my body began to react to the touch. "So, Bunny, do you wish me to find a new name for you, or are you happy to still be my rabbit?"
I stared at him. "Raffles!"
"I am sorry, Bunny," he took my hand in his. "So I cannot stop you from leaving London, eh?"
I shook my head. "No."
"Nor from moving to Kent?"
I swallowed hard but forced myself to continue to meet his eye. "No," I said firmly. "You cannot."
He smiled. "Well, it's just as well I don't want to then, isn't it?"
I stared at him. "Raffles?" I dared to believe I had understood his slightly cryptic comment.
He took my hand. "Oh, Bunny, Bunny, my very own, dearest, most beloved rabbit, I do love you so and I was such a fool to make you leave my side. Bunny, I knew from the moment I walked out of the station that I had been a fool. The day after I let you go I was ready to come up to London and bring you back to Ramsgate with me, or even, assuming you had realised you did still love London, still wish to live here, to tell you I'd live here or whether else you wished to live. I don't care where we live, Bunny, or what we do, as long as we are together."
"Oh, Raffles," I linked my hand with his and smiled at him. We just sat completely lost in one another and then I asked, "Why did you not come then?"
"Ah, well, I was about to go and tell Christopher of my plans when Wilkinson came to tell me Christopher had been taken ill - he had the same forty-eight hour bug you had. Well, I'm sure you can understand I felt I could not leave the hotel, we were expecting two new guests and it also did not seem right to leave Christopher when he was so ill. And no, my rabbit, in case you are wondering I did not care for him myself, I merely allowed Kettleman to send a nurse to care for him. And then once he'd recovered he was, as you will no doubt recall, more than a little weak and again I felt I could not leave him to run the hotel. And then -"
"And then?" I asked after waiting for him to continue.
He glanced away from me, looking down at our joined hands. "Well, my rabbit, I'm afraid I became a little uncertain and started to wonder if it was too soon for me to come to your side. Had I left when I had planned to it would have been a different matter, but I had had five days to think about it and . . . Well, given I was the one who sent you away, the one who said we should be certain I felt . . ."
Again he fell silent. "What changed your mind?"
He laughed lightly. "Christopher," he said. "Last evening he told me in no uncertain terms to come to London and bring you home, adding he didn't know why I was foolish enough to let you go in the first place."
I stared at him. "Lincoln said that to you?"
He smiled and nodded. "As a matter of fact, yes. He can be very forceful, shall we say, at times - although passionate may be a better word. To be completely honest, Bunny, his passion, his forcefulness, his belief, was the main reason I did employ him as my hotel manager. So here I am. Can you forgive me, Bunny, for making you leave me? For being so foolish as to send you away from me?"
I squeezed his hand. "There's nothing to forgive, Raffles," I said. "You did the right thing. And you were quite correct: I had to know; I had to come back to London if only to realise just how much I loved Ramsgate and Kent."
I smiled, "I didn't need to leave you to realise that, Raffles," I said softly and leant towards him and kissed him. His mouth was warm from the tea he'd drunk and under the pressure from my lips on his he parted his mouth whilst putting his arms around me. I moaned softly into his mouth and leant nearer to him. To my surprise he gently stopped me and then took his mouth from mine. "Raffles?"
He smiled at me and touched my cheek. "Don't look at me like that, Bunny," he said softly, moistening his lips.
"Why not?" I demanded.
"Because, my rabbit, if you do, I am likely to forget the good Mrs. Abbott is in the house and do more than merely kiss you. I have missed you very much, Bunny, and want nothing more than to get my hands on your body - but that pleasure must wait until later."
I stared back at him; as much as I hated to admit it I knew he was right. "Very well, Raffles," I said less gracefully than I might otherwise.
He laughed softly and brushed my hair from my forehead before picking up his cup and saucer again and taking another sip of tea. Then he helped himself to a piece of the fine cake Mrs. Abbott had provided. "You are quite right, Bunny, this cake really is excellent; your Mrs. Abbott is a very good cook. Talking of which, have you told her of your plans?"
I nodded and told him everything.
"So it's all worked out very well," I said, emptying my cup and pouring myself another cup of tea. It wasn't that I really wanted a second cup, but I thought it prudent to have something to do with my hands.
"It has indeed. You are a very thoughtful and generous rabbit," he held his cup out to me and I poured him another cup of tea.
I flushed a little and just shrugged. "I wanted to make certain she would be all right; she has looked after me terribly well for fifteen years - and it wasn't always easy being a housekeeper for a writer. She did get extremely adept at telling people I was not at home when I merely didn't wish to be disturbed.
Raffles laughed. "Yes, Bunny, I can attest to that. I did not quite have to resort to putting my foot inside the door to prevent her for closing it. However, I truly believe it was only when I told her I had come from Kent, and was your old school friend that she decided to let me in. Otherwise . . ." he trailed off.
I stared at him. "You mean for once the Raffles charm failed?"
He laughed. "Yes, my dear Bunny, it did. However, once I told her who I was she became quite different. Indeed, she could hardly get me into the house quickly enough." We sat and stared at one another for a short time. Then Raffles drained his cup, ate the last piece of cake, patted his mouth with his napkin and stood up, offering me his hand to help me to my feet. It was something he had done from the moment I had met him at school, and even though I rarely need his help I always accept his hand. "Let us go out for a walk, Bunny," he said.
I stared at him. "Why?"
"Because if we do not I shall break my promise not to do things to you that should only be done in one's bedroom, unless of course one is alone in one's home - and I really do not think that would be a good thing. Come, you can show me how London has changed."
"Oh, very well, Raffles," I said falling quite naturally into doing what he wished to do. "I'll just go and fetch my hat." I dared to reach up and put my mouth on his for a moment or two, before moving away and crossing to the door. There I stopped, "When do you need to get back to Ramsgate?"
"I left it very much open-ended. I have no urgency to return, why do you wish to spend a few more days in London?"
"Well, there are still one or two things I need to do, deciding what to do with this house for one thing, but I really needed to know if you planned on staying?"
He smiled. "I did bring a case with me, Bunny. I left it at the station; I did not wish to simply assume or indeed presume."
I shook my head at him. "Oh, Raffles," I said. "I'll ask Mrs. Abbott to get a room ready for you and she can send one of the local boys who often run errands to fetch your case. Do you have the ticket?" He took it from his waistcoat pocket and handed it over to me. "I'll be back in a minute or two," I said and left the room.
I went downstairs firstly to ask Mrs. Abbott to prepare a room for Raffles, informing here that he would be staying for a few nights and then we would leave for Kent together. And as I had promised Raffles, I also asked her to arrange for his luggage to be collected from the station.
Once that was done I then collected my hat and returned to the sitting room where Raffles had the first chapter of my book in his hands. For a moment I wondered how he could have found it; he would never, not even given our relationship, just wander around someone else's home without being invited to. But then I remembered rather than return the pages to my study when I returned from seeing my editor, I had put them down on the sitting room table.
I do not like anyone, not even my publisher, looking at my writing before I have finished it and expected to feel at least a little annoyed, but I didn't; it didn't trouble me at all - it felt quite natural.
He looked up as I came in and he looked a little abashed. "Do forgive me, Bunny," he said quickly putting the pages back down. "It was quite wrong of me to snoop and read your work."
I smiled at him. "I don't mind, Raffles." I hesitated; I didn't want to ask him what he thought of the chapter and the fact I had decided to move the series to Kent.
However, he got to know me so very well during our two years at school when I'd never actually ask him what he thought of the verses I wrote both for him (he'd always fagged me to write his for him) or for me, but he'd always known I did wish to know. "I think it is an excellent idea, Bunny. A different setting, I do believe your readers will enjoy the books even more - and of course the writing is as always first-rate."
My cheeks flushed. "Thank you, Raffles," I said. "Well, shall we go? I thought we could dine at my club tonight - if you wish to, of course."
"That would be very enjoyable, Bunny, and I do believe I have an idea for what you may wish to do with your house. I shall tell you about it during our walk."
Once outside my house he put his arm through mine and looked around him; I saw him frown slightly as not only one but three automobiles went along the road at a speed that I did not consider decent. "Well, Bunny," he said, "it does indeed seem that London has changed quite a lot from the last time I was here."
I nodded. "I do believe it's changed since I went away for the summer," I said. "Now do you wish to go any where in particular?"
He turned and looked down at me and I saw his eyes twinkle. "I am in your hands, Bunny," he said and smiled as he let his gaze travel up and down my body.
"Raffles!" I hissed even though no one was near to us. I knew my cheeks had begun to colour, "Do not forget, it was your idea to come out for a walk," I said with as much dignity as I could manage as I turned on my heel and began to pointedly walk. Laughing softly he matched his longer stride with mine and we walked along in silence for a while.
My home, although in a nice, at one time very quiet, tree lined street, is not that far from the main part of London. Thus we stopped off at my club where I booked a table for that night and I then, after nearly being bumped into by a group of street urchins we decided to head for the relative peace of the nearby park.
"You were going to tell me," I said as we walked along under the trees whose leaves were changing from green to gold, brown, orange and red - they were, even I had to admit - very beautiful, "what you thought I might do with my house."
He paused to take out his cigarette case which he offered to me before cupping his hand around a match and lighting my Sullivan for me before he lit his own. "Well, I rather thought you might like to keep it - at least for a while."
"Keep it, but why, Raffles?"
"Well, I know you seem to be completely set against London at the moment, but I think it might be quite jolly if we came up from time to time, for a few days to see a show or buy a new suit or something. And it would be far more convenient to have someone we knew we could stay rather than having to take hotel rooms, don't you think?"
I thought for a moment and suddenly I realised I did like the idea; I liked it very much indeed. London would be a much better place with Raffles by my side, and even I had to confess the quality of shows and in most cases clothing was indeed superior to anything I had seen in Kent. I turned and smiled up at him. "I think that is an excellent idea, Raffles, I really do."
Then something occurred to me. "But what about Mrs. Abbott? I can't expect her to stay on and take care for a house which we might visit a few times a year for a few days."
"I wasn't going to suggest you did. All you really need is someone to pop in for an hour or so every week, maybe twice a week, and give the place an airing and dusting and for that person to be ready to prepare a couple of rooms for when we came up to London. I am quite sure the estimable Mrs. Abbott would know of someone who would like that kind of part-time employment. We can ask her when we return."
Indeed she did and an hour later it was all arranged.
Mrs. Abbott had prepared a room for Raffles; she'd given him the one next to mine, which was not the usual guest room - not that I had many guests come to stay. His charm may not have worked when she'd gone to answer the door, but by the time she had showed him his room and ascertained that we were dining out that evening, she was completely under his spell. I swear he could have kissed me in front of her and she wouldn't have been troubled by it.
The thing is, for the most part, his charm came naturally - he rarely deliberately employed it on others in order to win them over. He just behaved in the way he always behaved; he found it easy and natural to speak to anyone no matter what their age or social class and never talked down to a person. His manners had always been impeccable during our time at school and they still were. People liked him and responded to him and without even trying he could have the most formidable housekeeper eating out of his hand.
After he had assured Mrs. Abbott for the third time that he was quite sure he wouldn't need a fire lit in his room and that whatever she wished to give us for breakfast he would be more than happy with, we went to our respective rooms to dress for dinner. As he was my guest I invited him to bathe first and made a point of retiring to my study which was at the opposite end of the house least I be tempted by the thought of his naked body; his wet naked body.
The devil, the same man it has to be remembered who had told me not to look at him in a certain way, actually came into my study once he'd bathed, dressed only in his dressing gown where he sat on the edge of my desk, leant over to help himself to a cigarette, lit it and sat staring at me until I forced myself to flee the room and lock myself in my own bathroom.
We enjoyed a pleasant dinner at my club where I found myself under his constant scrutiny as he found more than once reason to touch my hand, and the looks he gave me made my cheeks grow warm and my skin tingle with anticipation of what might happen once we returned to my house.
Again he managed to charm everyone he spoke to and by the time we left the club, a stranger observing us would quite easily have believed that he was the member and I his guest. Had it been anyone other than Raffles, anyone other than the man I loved, worshipped, adored and yes, was still just a little in awe of, I might have been a little offended. But as it was my beloved Raffles I was not troubled.
To my surprise once we were outside the club, he raised his stick and hailed a passing hansom cab, the automobile hasn't taken over completely, and ushered me inside after giving the driver my address. I was surprised because it was a lovely evening, especially for early October, and my house was not a great distance away. I had quite been looking forward to walking back with him my arm though his. However, I let him usher me into the cab and settled onto the seat and looked at him.
He leant forward, put his hand on my knee, his mouth on my ear and said, his tone slightly self-deprecating, "I'm sorry, my rabbit, but I cannot wait any longer. I fear what may have happened had we walked home." And after lightly licking my ear which caused me to moan softly, he sat back in his seat, moving as far away from me as he could get.
His hand, his mouth and his words had had an effect on my body and I shifted on the seat as I stared at him. I was both gratified and a little surprised by his obvious need, because it was clear it was more than mere desire, for me. He has, after all, had many lovers over the years; I would have thought he would be far less needy than I, being innocent of any kind of love until four months ago. However, the smouldering look he was giving me and the way he too shifted slightly on his seat told me quite a different story.
It was he who paid the cab driver, giving him a handsome tip, and he who took my key from me and unlocked the front door. The single light burning in the hallway together with the hall landing curtains having been drawn and all the downstairs doors firmly shut told me that Mrs. Abbott had retired for the night.
Upon hearing this, Raffles pulled me into his arms, I heard both hats and sticks fall to the floor, and for several minutes plundered my mouth with his, pulling me closer and closer to his body until I feared I would not be able to stop my body from doing what it desperately wanted to do before Raffles put his hand on me.
In fact I am a little ashamed to admit that as his kiss became more intense and his hand slid under my overcoat and dining jacket to caress my back and I felt his desire press against mine, I could not control my body and crying his name into his mouth, I shuddered in his arms, clinging to him as my eyes became misty, my breathing faster than I wished it was and I felt my entire body become weak.
He, of course, supported me with ease, extracting his hand from beneath my clothing and holding me in his arms, letting me rest most of my weight against his body as my head rested against his shoulder. "Oh, Raffles," I murmured, as my heart rate began to slow down somewhat and I managed to lift my head and gaze up at him. At the smile on his lips and the way his eyes twinkled I was quite certain he had quite deliberately kept me in his arms, gone on kissing me and pulling me closely against him in order to get my body to react as it had done. My Raffles definitely, for all his charm, has an evil streak at times.
I just gazed back at him until I had stopped trembling completely; I then took one arm from around him, took his hand and said quite forcefully, "Bed." I let him pause long enough to bend and pick up both hats and sticks before I tugged him towards the stairs and led him up them and to my bedroom where I dragged him inside where not only shut but also locked the door. Once inside I switched the light on and pulled him back into my arms and kissed him with a passion I was still getting used to feeling.
When we finally broke apart I was rather pleased to see he was breathing almost as heavily as I was and that his face was flushed and his desire for me was clear. He pulled off his overcoat and dining jacket, tossing both onto the chair that stood to one side of the door, before pulling my overcoat and dining jacket off and adding them to the pile - our hats and sticks were once again on the floor and this time they stayed there as Raffles led me across the room to the bed.
I glanced at it and back at Raffles and suddenly something hit me. I don't believe I made a noise, but he must have sensed something as he said softly, "My rabbit?"
I shook my head; it was foolish. "It's nothing." I said, sliding my arms around his neck and raising my head for him to kiss.
But he held me firmly. "Tell me," he said softly.
Once again I felt my cheeks begin to flush. "It's just that this will be the first time I've ever shared my own bed with anyone, let alone made love in my own bed - it's almost like the first time." I hadn't meant to blurt out the final words and felt my cheeks colour more and I glanced down at the floor expecting him to laugh at me.
However, he did not. "Ah, my darling rabbit," he said softly, lifting my chin with his fingers. "You must never hide from me, Bunny," he caressed my cheek with his fingertips. "Never; I love you as you are, Bunny, so never try to be someone you are not."
I swallowed hard. "But, Raffles, I -"
He silenced me with a kiss. "Well," he said lifting his head as his hands went to my throat and his deftly untied the bowtie he had tied for me before we had left to dine at my club, "as it is your first time in your own bed, I had better make sure it is somewhat special, had I not?"
As his mouth was on mine again, I forewent telling him that every time was special because he was and simply gave myself over to his loving attention. And our lovemaking was indeed special.
We stayed in London for another week; every night Raffles shared my bed; every morning he made it look as though he had slept in his bed - I am not completely certain Mrs. Abbott was entirely fooled but she said nothing. Most evenings we dined out at various places but one evening we stayed at home and Mrs. Abbott cooked for us - Raffles declared it was the finest meal he'd eaten in London, which caused Mrs. Abbott to flush somewhat.
We ventured out even if only for a short time each day but otherwise spent the time deciding what I wished to take to Ramsgate with me. In the end apart from my clothing, books and other personal items, I decided to leave the house fully furnished for when we returned to London, with the exception of my desk, chair and a few other items in my study of which I was very fond. I learnt that Raffles had already sorted out which room I could use as a study to continue my writing. The area of the hotel in which he lived was a warren of rooms, most of which interconnected with others, so it was quite easy to simply add another room to those he already occupied.
Finally with nothing else left to do we, after saying goodbye to Mrs. Abbott who would be staying on for a couple of days to oversee a thorough clean of the house and make certain Mrs. Darcy who would be the new housekeeper knew exactly what she was expected to do and to show her around, left London.
As the train pulled out of the station I found a slight quiver pass through me. I had no regrets, I knew I was doing the right thing, I was doing what I wanted to do: start a new life with the man I had been in love with from the moment I had met him twenty-eight years ago, but nonetheless the fact that I would no longer live in London did give me a moment's pause as I stared out of the window.
"Regrets, my rabbit?" Raffles's voice was low and he took my hand in his and put his other on my cheek and stared into my eyes. He looked slightly troubled.
I turned to him and smiled. "No, not regrets, Raffles, not at all. It's just . . . Well, it has been my home since I turned eighteen."
"You can still change your mind." I shook my head. "I mean it, Bunny. If you truly do not wish to leave London after all, just say so and I will be the one to move."
I shook my head. "No, Raffles. I do not wish to live in London any longer. I do wish to visit from time to time, but it has stopped being my home. I think it stopped being my home and became simply a place to live some time ago, but I didn't realise it."
He still looked a little troubled. "If you are quite certain, my dear Bunny."
I nodded. "I am. Just as I am regrettably quite certain that if you do not take your hand from my cheek I am going to do something that could not only get us thrown off of the train, but quite possibly into gaol." And with that I quickly brushed my lips over his before I sat back in my seat as he hand slipped from my cheek; he rested it for a moment on my shoulder and then took it away from my body and let go of the hand he still held.
The hansom cab belonging to Raffles's hotel was waiting for us at the station and within a fairly short time it had pulled up outside my new home. Raffles climbed down and held out his hand to me, I took it and within seconds joined him on the pavement. He thanked the driver, who touched his hat and drove off.
We stood for a moment in silence as I stared up at the building I had first seen just over four months ago; I'd liked looking at it then and that hadn't changed; I was happier than I believe I had ever been; I was contented; I was at peace; I was home.
Raffles turned to me and smiled before taking my arm and leading me into the hotel where Lincoln greeted us with a genuine smile of pleasure. "It's very good to see you back, Mr. Manders," he said and held out his hand to me.
I took it and smiled back at him. "It's very good to be back, Mr. Lincoln."
Raffles looked from one to the other of us before, his arm still through mine, he led me through the hotel to his - to our - rooms.
A YEAR LATER
It had been a good year, a very good year indeed. Raffles and I settled down to life together as if we'd never been apart, and I settled to life in Ramsgate as if I had lived there my entire life. We did return to London from time to time for a few days and it was very enjoyable, but I wasn't sorry to return home.
I found, partly to my surprise, that I was rather interested in the running of the hotel and Raffles was very happy with my interest and spent some time explaining things and even introduced me to the simple pleasure, because I found that is what it was, of pouring drinks for the gentlemen who came to stay. I never thought I'd see the day when I was a barman, but I did indeed take a turn behind the bar on more than one occasion and I really enjoyed it.
Raffles also encouraged me to join him and Lincoln for their weekly meetings when they discussed not just the state of the books but any ideas for improving things - and I was able to contribute a few things as seen from the eyes of a guest.
No one in the hotel seemed at all troubled by my presence nor did anyone seem bothered by what was the obvious relationship between Raffles and myself. Raffles in particular made no attempt to hide the fact that we were lovers; I am not saying he kissed me openly, he did not, but it was obvious what we were to one another and that I wasn't simply sharing Raffles's rooms as an old friend. Nor did they seem bothered by the fact that as far as hotel matters went Raffles treated me as his equal partner in the business - indeed one or two occasions when Raffles was out of the hotel, it was I Lincoln or another senior member of the staff came to in the way they would have gone to Raffles were he there.
On the occasion of my forty-second birthday after we had dined together in our rooms and I had thanked Raffles for the various gifts he had bestowed on me he handed me a piece of paper. I was more than a little surprised to see it was a partnership agreement; the hotel now in effect belonged to us jointly. It was just like Raffles that he'd never actually discussed his plans with me, but had simply gone ahead and carried them out. He also informed me that I was, and had been from the moment I moved to Ramsgate permanently, the sole beneficiary in his will. I could hardly object to the fact he hadn't discussed that with me, as I had done the same thing - without informing him.
A year to the day I returned by Raffles's side to Ramsgate and the hotel to begin my new life, he put a wedding ring on my finger and it has never been removed.
It wasn't just the people in the hotel who seemed untroubled by our obvious relationship; it seemed that everyone else whom Raffles knew and regarded as a friend or close business acquaintance was equally unbothered by my presence by Raffles's side and in his life. Even the local Detective Chief Inspector, whom Raffles did regard as a good friend, said nothing about arresting us.
I was writing even more than I had written in London and I believed I was writing even better - and that seemed to be confirmed when I learnt sales of my books had increased quite considerably. It seemed I had not only kept at least most of my regular London readers, but I had gained new ones who were intrigued and in some cases envious of both my character and myself for escaping London. In addition, I also discovered I had gained a large following of readers who lived in Kent. I had never received so many letters before and spent time each day answering them and thinking the people and assuring them I was not going to suddenly stop writing.
I had never been happier.
We were sitting having breakfast in the hotel dining room discussing what we would do that day when Lincoln came in.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your breakfast, Mr. Raffles, Mr. Manders, but you have a visitor, Mr. Raffles." Raffles looked up at Lincoln and raised an eyebrow. "The gentleman gave him name as Dr. Edward Charleston."
Raffles looked at me. "Charlie!" he exclaimed and stood up so quickly he knocked his chair over. "Come along, Bunny," he cried, grabbing my hand and dragging me with him before I had time to put my napkin back onto the table.
Still holding my hand he led me at a fast pace out into the hall where Charleston stood by the reception desk. "Charlie!" Raffles cried, finally letting go off my hand to stride towards Charleston with his arms out.
I followed with a smile on my face and saw the two men who had been best friends at school embrace one another. "Hello, A. J.," Charleston said, smiling in the way he'd always smiled at Raffles. Then he glanced at me and his smile increased, "And Manders too! Hello, Manders." He moved from Raffles's embrace and held out his hand to me.
"Hello, Charleston," I said, smiling back at him and taking his hand to shake as his other came to rest on my shoulder which he squeezed as he smiled down at me. "It's good to see you," I added as he went on shaking my hand.
"It's good to see you too, Manders. I had no idea that - A. J., why didn't you tell me?" I saw him glance at my hand and his gaze rested for a second or two on the ring Raffles had placed there.
Raffles shrugged, pulled out his cigarette case and offered one first to me and then to Charleston, "I wanted it to be a surprise, Charlie," he said, striking a match and lighting all three cigarettes.
Charleston stared at him; he looked a little puzzled. "What do you mean surprise me? You didn't know I was returning to England I never mentioned it in my letters."
Raffles shrugged. "No, but Bunny and I were planning to visit you very soon, were we not, Bunny?"
I hid a smile at the slight surprise that passed over Charleston's face as Raffles used the name he had given me at school and nodded. We'd talked about it quite a lot and indeed we had decided that we would like to go and visit Charleston.
"And you were just going to turn up with Manders?" Charleston was smiling.
"Of course not, Charlie, I was going to tell you I was bringing someone with me but not whom I was bringing." Charleston shook his head in a fond way and he and Raffles stood and stared at one another in silence for a moment or two. Then Raffles said all hints of amusement gone from his tone. "I've missed you, Charlie."
"I've missed you too. A. J.," Charleston said softly.
And they stood gazes still looked on one another. I shifted slightly and said, "I think I'll go and -"
"Stay where you are, Bunny," Raffles ordered - in the tone he used to adopt on occasions when we were at school and I was his fag.
I sighed softly. "Yes, Raffles," I said dutifully and lowered my head to hide the smile that was on my lips. I looked up through my fringe, something I had perfected at school and still used from time to time, to see Charleston's eyes were wide as he stared at Raffles.
"A. J.," he murmured.
I glanced at Raffles who suddenly must have realised the tone he'd used as he turned swiftly to me and put his hand on my shoulder. "Do forgive me, Bunny," he said softly. "Old habits do die hard."
I lifted my head and smiled at him and then as one the three of us began to laugh. I didn't mind, truly I didn't, and it wasn't the first time Raffles had adopted that tone with me since we had become reacquainted. He didn't use it often but on occasions he did - no matter how often he told me I was no longer his fag and we were not school boys.
Charleston again shook his head fondly. "Talking of surprises," he said, "what would you say if I told you I have just bought a practice here in Ramsgate?"
Raffles blinked. "Kettleman's?" Charleston nodded. "I'd be delighted, Charlie, I really would and I know Bunny would be pleased too, wouldn't you, Bunny?"
"Oh, yes, I'd be very pleased."
"But -" Raffles broke off and for a moment stared at Charleston. I watched them, as I had done on more than one occasion whilst we'd all been at school together, have a silent conversation. "Oh, Charlie," Raffles said softly, taking Charleston's hand and giving it a brief squeeze. "I am sorry."
Charleston shrugged. "Don't be, A. J.," he said. "It wasn't right." For a moment or two they stood in silence still staring at one another. I didn't feel excluded; I didn't know if Charleston was still a little bit in love with Raffles, but even if he was I had no need to worry. Firstly, Charleston was too honourable a man to try to come between Raffles and me and secondly, even if he wasn't I had no doubt where Raffles's love lay. He loved Charleston, he always had and he still did, that I could tell from the look on his face, but he'd never loved him in the way Charleston had loved him - and he never would.
As if answering my unspoken thoughts, Raffles turned to me and again took my hand, before he put his other hand on Charleston's shoulder. "Have you had breakfast, Charlie?"
"As a matter of fact I haven't."
"Well come along then, come and join Bunny and me, and you can tell us all about your new practice and anything else you want to tell us."
"And you can tell me quite a few things too," Charleston said, glancing at me and smiling.
With my hand still in his and his other on Charleston's shoulder Raffles led us back into the dining room to the table we'd vacated moments before. I wasnít at all surprised to find that not only had the breakfast which Raffles and I had abandoned been taken away, but that also the table was set for three people not just two.
After the waiter had taken our orders and poured coffee for all of us, Charleston said, "Actually, I do have another surprise for you both."
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