SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR NEW YEAR'S EVE

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Raffles puts a proposition to Bunny.

An established relationship story.

Written: December 2012. Word count: 18,790.

 

 

THREE WEEKS BEFORE NEW YEAR'S EVE

 

"Oh, come along, Bunny. It would only be just the once; do say yes." Raffles put his arm around my shoulders and smiled down at me; it was the smile that nearly always got him his own way. "I really do want to spend New Year's Eve with you, not with other people. And if you don't agree to my suggestion then apart is how we will spend it."

 

Raffles was of course perfectly correct. We were due to attend Lady Falcon's ball and if I did not agree to his suggestion, he would spend it dancing young and even some older ladies around the room, whereas I would spend it standing, champagne in my hand, watching him dance and wishing it was I in his arms and not the pretty young ladies in their pretty dresses as they gazed up at him in adoration and listened to the charming compliments he paid them.

 

Oh, I would dance at least once - Lady Falcon insisted on every gentleman dancing with her at least once and there would also likely to be the odd young lady, usually invited to even up numbers, who would agree to my offer of a turn on the floor. However, for the most part Raffles would dance and I would watch. We would indeed be alone - and like Raffles I did not really care for that. I rather wished we were not going to the ball, but we had accepted and a gentleman does not go back on his word.

 

However, as much as I did wish to spend the evening with Raffles, I still wasn't certain I could acquiesce to his idea. "But, Raffles," I said. "I really don't think it's a good idea."

 

"Come along, Bunny, where's your sense of adventure?" He turned me under his arm and put a hand on each of my shoulders as he gazed down at me.

 

"I think we have quite enough adventures, Raffles, without adding this to them. Besides, it's quite possibly illegal."

 

He laughed. "I do not think so, my rabbit. Strange some might say, but unlike the other things we indulge in, it really is not illegal." I sighed and looked away from the twinkling blue eyes and the special smile he was bestowing on me. This time I was determined to stand my ground and not give in. "Oh, come along, Bunny," he said again, "wouldn't you like to be able to dance with me in public?"

 

And before I could reply, he took one of my hands in his, slid his arm around my waist and with a single twirl, during which my other hand automatically went to rest on his shoulder, he began to waltz me around our sitting room and through into our dining room and back again, all the time humming a perfect waltz tune. Of course he negotiated his way around all the furniture perfectly, he even managed to avoid the large Christmas tree that stood in one corner, and not once did he come close to brushing against any of the candles that formed part of the decorations of our rooms.

 

Given on the somewhat infrequent occasions I do dance I am the person who takes the lead, one would have thought following another man would be difficult. However, I know I have never danced better than I did then, in Raffles's arms with him leading me. Raffles is an excellent dancer, unlike I, and following his lead is so very easy. I admit the prospect of being held in his arms, of being danced around the floor, of being able to hold his arm in a public room, did appeal greatly to me.

 

I happily let him dance me around for a minute or two, before I felt the last strains of objection leave me. "Oh, very well," I said, smiling at him. "I'll do it."

 

He stopped waltzing, put his hands on my face and kissed me. "Oh, Bunny, you are such a good sport. We'll have so much fun, you see if we don't."

 

I leant into the kiss and put my arms around him and for some time no other words were said. Eventually though it became necessary to part in order to remain breathing. He tugged me towards the sofa, threw himself down and pulled me down with him. "I do love you, Bunny," he said in a rare moment of declaration of the affection I knew he had for me.

 

"Only because you always get your own way," I countered with a laugh.

 

But he became serious, sitting forward to look at me as he took my hands between his and stared into my face, all hints of humour had left his eyes and face. "Is that what you really believe, my rabbit?" he asked his tone as serious as his eyes.

 

I had to swallow hard around the lump which suddenly appeared in my throat as I saw and heard quite clearly just how deep his love was and how true for me was. I put my hand on his cheek and stroked it. "No, Raffles," I said, leaning in to kiss him gently, "of course not."

 

We just sat staring at one another for a few seconds, before he ruffled my hair, lightly kissed me and jumped up again and headed for the whisky decanter and cigarette box. "Good," he said, as he poured whisky into two glasses and selected two Sullivans. "Now all we have to do is to work out quite how we are going to achieve it." He handed me a glass and cigarette and struck a match for me.

 

"Yes, well, that is the problem, Raffles."

 

"How so?" he asked, lighting his own Sullivan and throwing the match into the fire, before picking up his own glass and rejoining me on the sofa.

 

"Well, from where are we going to get an evening dress and all the necessary accessories?" I asked. "It's not as though you can take me shopping, is it? And I don't believe even you have ladies clothing in your studio, and even if you did they wouldn't fit me. And for this to work, the clothes have to fit perfectly." I was now certain I had in effect won. I had agreed to the plan, but it couldn't happen. And absurdly, given my earlier objections I felt disappointed by the fact it could not happen.

 

He crossed his legs and stared at me through the smoke. I could see his mind working on the problem, but I was confident that not even the great mind of A. J. Raffles could find a solution. And then he smiled the smile I know so very well. "Mary," he said his tone more than a little affectionate.

 

I shook my head at his words, angry and hurt beyond reason and I stood up; I had to get away from him least I say or do something I would regret. I stared down at him as he sat still smoking, one leg still crossed over the other, still smiling at me; he seemed untroubled, as if he had said nothing wrong.

 

And as I stood just gazing down at the man I loved beyond measure, the man I was still in awe of, the deep jealousy I had always felt before we had become lovers when he paid attention to the array of females who all but threw themselves at him, raged through me. If he really thought I was going to let one of his past conquests, especially one he was quite likely to have bedded, assist me, he was sadly mistaken. I love Raffles; I will do pretty much anything for him - but even I have my limits. And his past lovers were most definitely off limits as far as I was concerned.

 

It didn't help that despite the fact we'd been lovers for over two years, despite the fact he had given, a few months ago, me a very special anniversary present, despite the fact he had mere days after he had taken me to his bed for the first time, pledged his fidelity to me, telling me there would be no one else for as long as I wanted him, despite knowing how much he loved me, despite all those things and many more, a part of me still kept waiting for the day to come when he would choose someone else, one of the beauties he danced with, plied with pretty compliments and smiled at, over me.

 

Jealousy and insecurity entwined together and ran through me as I stared at him. I couldn't believe he would be so cruel to expect me to not only meet one of his past lovers, but to allow her to - No. I would tell him firmly that I had no intention of letting her anywhere near me. I opened my mouth to speak, to tell him firmly how I felt about the matter.

 

However, before I had the chance to do so, he stood up, threw his cigarette onto the fire and gathered me into his arms and was holding me. I didn't return the embrace, I stood rigid, letting him hold me, but making no attempt to touch him. "Oh, Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, my dear, sweet rabbit," he chided gently. "Do you think that little of me to believe I would do that to you? And don't look so surprised, you know your face and eyes always betray you - at least to me. You know I always know what you're thinking. Bunny, I as good as put a ring on your finger six months ago, if I could I would willingly put an actual ring on your finger and openly show the world you are mine. But I cannot. I don't want anyone else, Bunny, I only want you. Maybe one day you'll have enough confidence in yourself, and in me, to believe that." His voice had got lower and a hint of sadness had touched it when he said 'and in me' and instantly guilt was added to the jealousy and insecurity.

 

"Raffles," I murmured, now moving further into his embrace, slipping my arms around him and putting my head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry," I whispered. "I didn't mean to . . . It's just . . ." Again I trailed off, unable to find the words to say what I wished to say.

 

I felt him kiss the top of my head and one of his hands slid under my coat and began to stroke my back. "I know, Bunny," he murmured. "I know." I lifted my head from his shoulder and he kissed me.

 

"Now," he said, a few minutes later, "come and sit back down and let me tell you just who Mary is." I let him pull me down onto the sofa next to him, he put his arm around my shoulders and I happily let my head come to rest on his shoulder. "Now, you must hear me out, Bunny, before you react. Do I have your word?"

 

"Yes, Raffles."

 

"Good. Well, Mary once saved if not my life, then certainly my reputation and my freedom."

 

"How so?" I asked, forgetting I'd promised to let him finish telling me the story before I spoke.

 

He laughed. "One evening, a fortnight I believe it was, before I took the biggest gamble of my life and trusted in being able to read you and thus took you to my bed, I was so in need of company after you left my rooms that I - No, keep your head on my shoulder; I think it's better for both of us. Anyway, I ventured out into the streets and -"

 

Once again I'd forgotten I had promised to let him finish telling me the tale before I spoke. "She was a -"

 

"No! Well, yes, actually she was. But it wasn't a woman I was seeking, Bunny, it was a man. I couldn't have you, so I went looking for a substitute. You may be surprised at what goes on in some of the alleyways and back streets, yes, even in the nicer parts of London. I heard the cry of 'police' and in an instant I felt the man pushed from me and she replaced him. The constable merely gave me a lecture about such behaviour and suggested I find a more suitable place for such an assignation. I was left somewhat red-faced, part of my clothing in disarray, but at least my reputation and freedom were intact. I owed her a lot, Bunny; I owed her my reputation and my freedom. I offered her money, but she wouldn't take it."

 

"But she was -"

 

"Yes. But she had her standards. She had, in her opinion, done nothing to earn money from me from her line of work. But I had to give her something. We were quite near to one of the London public houses where no one is out of place. I should take you there one day; it will enhance your education even more. You'll find gentleman, even some titled ones, ladies in their finery and you'll find the solid middle classes, the people who earn a living as Mary does, and many others. On second thoughts I believe I shan't take you. I would be far too uneasy for you. Anyway, I took her there, bought her a gin and orange and invited her to tell me what I could do for her. I asked her to tell me about herself and her dreams."

 

"You could have been paying for life, Raffles."

 

"I could have. But there was something about her, Bunny, which fascinated me; something that made me trust her and believe in her. I finally persuaded her to tell me what her dream was. She wanted a different life and I gave her one. Does the name Mary McAllister mean anything to you?"

 

I sat up and moved away from him in order to look into his eyes that twinkled as he gazed back at me. "Raffles! Are you telling that the woman who runs the best, most expensive and desirable school for young ladies in London was once a . . ."

 

Raffles laughed and pulled me nearer to him and kissed me. "Yes, my dear Bunny, I am. And I'll tell you two other things as well. One, she paid me back every penny I paid out in order to get her started and she would not let me refuse to take it. I told you, Bunny, she has standards and honour."

 

"So it seems. But, Raffles, what makes you think she'll be prepared to help you, help us? She owes you nothing; yes, you set her up in her new business, but as you said, she has repaid you and anyway, she saved you. What on earth makes you think she'll be prepared to do what you want her to do? And what excuse would you give her anyway? No, it's impossible, Raffles."

 

"I wouldn't insult her by making an excuse."

 

"You'd tell her the truth? Raffles are you mad?" I again pulled away from him and just stared in horror at him.

 

He sighed. "Bunny, when she first saw me I had a man on his knees in front of me. I think we can safely say she has at least an idea of what kind of man I am; where my preferences, shall we say, lie." He smiled and laughed softly, as his gaze travelled down my body, coming to rest on my lap.

 

"Yes, but, Raffles. You can't. You'd trust her?"

 

"With my life, Bunny. And much more importantly, I would trust her with yours." All hints of humour had fled from his tone and from his gaze as he took my hands in his. I simply stared back at him. In those few words he had told me so much.


I swallowed hard and for a moment I was forced to look away from the intense look in his eyes. "You had better contact her, then," I said simply, looking back at him.

 

He smiled. "That's my Bunny," he said. "And I promise you that you will liker her," he added, tugging on my hands until I feel forward against him. With a soft sigh of pleasure he gathered me more closely to him, manoeuvring me until I sat on his lap, facing him and he plundered my mouth as his hands pulled me closer and closer against his body - it wasn't long until both of our bodies reacted and we both got what we wanted.

 

 

Much later that evening I raised my head from where it was happily using his shoulder as a pillow and gazed down at him. "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

"You never did tell me that other thing you were going to tell me about Mary."

 

A slight frown creased his forehead for a second or two; then it was gone and he smiled up at me and his eyes twinkled with mirth. "Ah, yes. Mary's deputy, Evie Sanderson, also happens to be to Mary what you are to me."

 

And as I stared in wide-eyed amazement, he with a soft chuckle manoeuvred me over onto my back and let his mouth and hands render me senseless with pleasure.

 

 THREE DAYS LATER

 

"Bunny, do sit down and try to relax," Raffles said, looking up at me from where he sat, one leg thrown over the other on the sofa watching me walk around the sitting room, fiddling with things as I walked, rearranging cards and candles and photos that did not need to be rearranged. He held out his hand to me and after a moment or two of hesitation I moved towards him and let him tug me down onto the sofa next to him. "Look," he said, brushing my hair from my forehead, "if you have changed your mind, just say so. I won't mind, if that's what you're thinking."

 

"I haven't," I said staring at him as he raised an eyebrow. "Really I haven't, Raffles. I want to do it. It's just . . ."

 

"Just?" I glanced away from him, looking down at my lap until, as I had expected, I felt his fingers under my chin gently pushing my head back up until I once again met his gaze. "Just?" he asked again, his tone was soft but leaving me in no doubt he expected me to answer him.

 

Not for the first time since we had become reacquainted, I was transported back to our school days, to those wonderful two years when I had belonged to him and he had kept me safe and cared for me and I had been completely in awe of him. I gave a half shrug and just stared at him in silence; I was unable to put my feelings into words - it didn't help that I wasn't altogether certain of quite why I was so nervous and ill at ease.

 

As we just stared at one another, I saw his fond look cross his face and saw him smile a little and shake his head. The look told me, not for the first time in our acquaintance both as school boys and later as gentlemen about town, that he understood what I couldn't verbalise or work out. "Oh, my beloved rabbit," he said, pulling me a little nearer to him before cupping my face between his hands and lightly kissing me. "It will be all right," he said, taking his hands from my face and putting his arms around me before once more kissing me, this time somewhat more deeply.

 

HALF AN HOUR LATER

 

The sound of the door knocker caused me to start and it was only Raffles's hand on my arm that stopped me from jumping to my feet. With an elegance I have always envied, he glided to his feet, bent down for a moment to brush his lips over mine and then hands in his pockets, strode out of the sitting room, pulling the door partly closed behind him.

 

Seconds later I heard the sound of the front door being unlocked and opened. "Mary!" I heard him cry, "it is good to see you."

 

"Hello, Arthur; it's lovely to see you too." Her voice was pleasant, fairly low for a lady and I found that it put me a little at ease.

 

"Do come in."

 

"Thank you." I heard the sound of the door being closed again and slightly muffled sounds of what I assumed to be Raffles helping our visitor off with her coat.

 

"Do come along into the sitting room and get warm."

 

"Thank you; it is a very cold day."

 

"Well, I assure you the sitting room is nice and warm; the fire has been burning for hours."

 

I stood up and turned towards the door. I don't quite know what I'd been expecting; even before Raffles had told me about his acquaintance with Mary McAllister, I had heard of her and her school, but I had never seen her. I had tried very hard not to let her previous profession colour any judgement I may have made about her. However, at times I have an overly vivid imagination and it had certainly played me false as I stared at the lady who stood by Raffles's side.

 

She was simply but clearly expensively dressed in a dark brown and cream outfit; her brown hair was very smart and suited her face, she wore delicate gold ear-rings and a matching brooch and somewhat to my surprise, given what Raffles had told me about her and her deputy, an elegant diamond and sapphire ring on the third finger of her left hand. She was also an inch or two taller than I, and her smile made her look very beautiful.

 

"Mary, this is Harry Manders; Bunny, Miss Mary McAllister."

 

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Manders," she said, gliding across the room to where I still stood and holding out her hand.

 

I took it and shook it. "I'm pleased to meet you too, Miss McAllister."

 

Raffles had followed her across the room and stood next to me, not quite close enough to actually touch me, but closer than one person would normally stand to another person. I was grateful for the support as now Miss McAllister was staring at me, studying me even, her gaze wandered over my face and body, and despite the soft smile on her face it was taking me all my time to stand still under her clear appraisal.

 

I think Raffles must have sensed my slight unease because he let his hand come to rest on my shoulder; again I was more grateful than I could possibly have said for his support. I noticed Miss McAllister's gaze flicker to where Raffles's hand rested and I watched her gaze soften and her smile increase and she had a very fond look on her face.

 

"Well, Mary?" Raffles asked after she had continued to appraise me for a little longer. "What do you think? Will our plan work?"

 

She turned her gaze from me to Raffles and to my surprise I saw a small flush of colour touch her cheeks. When she'd turned her gaze onto Raffles, I had looked at him as well and now I saw him raise an eyebrow. "Oh, do forgive me, Mr. Manders," she said, looking at me once again. "I do not wish to offend you, but," she paused and I felt a strong sense of disappointment as I imagined what she was about to say - Raffles and I would be forced to, in effect, spend New Year's Eve apart.

 

Raffles frowned just a little. "Mary?"

 

Her cheeks became a little redder. "It's just that - oh, as I said, Mr. Manders, please, please do not be offended - I think your plan will work very well indeed. Arthur, Mr. Manders will actually look wonderful in a dress; he'll make a very good lady."

 

As she said the words in a hurry and let her gaze move back and forth between Raffles and myself, I didn't, for a moment, know whether to be offended or complimented by her words.

 

Raffles clearly didn't have any such dilemmas as he smiled and laughed softly as he turned his full attention on me. "Well, my rabbit," he said his tone more than a little delighted, "maybe I will be able to put an actual ring on your finger after all," and he brushed my hair from my forehead.

 

"Raffles!" I exclaimed forcing a light laugh into my voice as I tried to keep the colour from flooding onto my face. I knew, of course I knew, that Raffles had been honest with Miss McAllister about the true nature of our relationship, but knowing that and hearing him refer to it quite so blatantly were quite different things.

 

He just shook his head as he gazed fondly at me. "Ah, my dear Bunny," he said softly. I swallowed hard at the depth of the affection I read in his gaze. We all stood in silence for what seemed like several minutes, but in reality was only a few seconds, before Raffles once again brushed my hair back from my forehead and turned to Miss McAllister. "So, will you help us, Mary?"

 

She smiled. "I'll be very happy to help you and Mr. Manders, Arthur," she said looking from him to me. "It will be fun."

 

At that moment there was a knock on the door. "Ah," Raffles exclaimed glancing at his watch, "tea. I'll be back in a moment," and after squeezing my shoulder in a 'don't you dare run away, Bunny', way he hurried out of the room.

 

I glanced at Miss McAllister who to my sudden discomfort was watching me. I rarely know what to say to young ladies and find myself tongue tied (unlike Raffles of course) and the thought that this lady had - I pushed that image from my mind and fell back on what I did know well: my manners and courtesy. "Please do sit down, Miss McAllister," I said and smiled.

 

She smiled back at me, it really did make her look even more beautiful and it was a genuine smile. "Thank you, Mr. Manders." And she turned and sat down in the arm chair, arranging the skirt of her outfit around her and smoothing it down. I suddenly found myself watching her closely in a way I had never watched a young lady before as I realised something: clothing wasn't the only thing I had to worry about.

 

I sat down myself on the edge of the sofa trying to remember how she had sat and once I was seated I tried to sit more in the way she was sitting, but it did not come easily. "Once you have a dress on, Mr. Manders," she said seeming to read my mind as Raffles does, "it will be much easier."

 

"Will it?"

 

She nodded. "Yes. Don't worry so."

 

I swallowed hard; it was easy for her to say that. "I'll try not to."

 

She put her head on one side and said quietly, "If you don't wish to do this, Mr. Manders, just say so; Arthur won't mind - but then you know that, don't you? You know that far better than I do."

 

I was about to reply when Raffles carrying a large tray containing tea for three came back in. I stood up again and hovered as he, needing no assistance from me, put the tray down on the table and started to move plates and cups and sandwiches and cakes before he poured the tea. I took the cup he held out and handed it to Miss McAllister and then gave her a plate and offered her the plate of sandwiches before taking my own cup and sitting back down on the sofa.

 

"Well, this is jolly," Raffles declared after sitting down next to me on the sofa and taking a bite from his sandwich and looking at me.

 

I smiled back at him and took a sip of tea; I was determined to relax; I wanted to do this. In fact as I sat enjoying the fine tea the Albany kitchen had provided us with, listening to Raffles and Miss McAllister talk, I realised I wanted to do this very much indeed. The idea of being in Raffles's arms as he led me around the dance floor, of being able to hold his arm and have him give me his full attention appealed to me very much indeed.

 

 

"Well," Raffles said, as he put the final plate back onto the loaded tray, "what do you need to do, Mary?"

 

"First of all I need Mr. Manders's measurements; I've brought a tape measure with me. And no, Mr. Manders, I'm afraid I can't ask your tailor, the measurement I need to know will not be the ones your tailor takes." She smiled at me and I forced myself to smile back. She glanced at Raffles quickly and then back at me. "It would be easier if you removed your clothes."

 

I swallowed hard and felt Raffles's hand come to rest on my shoulder. "Go into the bedroom and get undressed, Bunny. Mary and I will join you in a few minutes." His tone was the one he used to use from time to time when we had been at school and I had belonged to him - it was gentle, but it wasn't one to be argued with.

 

I glanced at Miss McAllister and then back at Raffles. "Yes, Raffles," I said, once more the thirteen year old small boy and I stood up and turned to leave the room.

 

"Oh, Mr. Manders?"

 

I turned back to look at her. "Yes, Miss McAllister?"

 

"You may leave your drawers on," she said softly.

 

My cheeks aflame I turned again and this time hurried from the sitting room. Once in the sanctuary of our bedroom (except it wouldn't be for much longer) I hurriedly, before I could change my mind, undressed leaving only my drawers on, and pulled my dressing gown on before sinking down onto the edge of the bed and waiting for Raffles and Miss McAllister to arrive.

 

It was less than a minute before I heard Raffles's voice and I stood back up, tied the cord of my dressing gown more firmly around me and pushed my hands into the pockets. Once they were both inside the room, Raffles closed the door and leant against it his hands in his pockets, his steady, reassuring gaze on me.

 

I saw Miss McAllister glance at him, then at me and finally back at him. "Ah," Raffles said, apparently reading something in her gaze. "Bunny my boy, it'd be much easier for Mary if you removed your dressing gown." His eyes as he stared at me were full of affection and understanding. I hesitated for only a second before I turned around untied the cord of my dressing down and slowly removed it. I stood completely still, the dressing gown clutched in my hand, my back still to Miss McAllister before I felt Raffles by my side; he took my dressing gown from me and gently but firmly turned me around.

 

I had never been in the presence of a lady without being fully clothed - my mother and matron didn't count - and I knew my cheeks were burning as Miss McAllister swiftly and very competently took measurements my tailor had never taken. Even though I still had my drawers on I felt completely naked and knew the fact I was trembling must be completely obvious. As Miss McAllister did what she did, gently instructing me from time to time to lift my arms or stand up straighter or other little things, Raffles remained by my side, not so near as to interfere with Miss McAllister, but near enough for me to take some comfort in the silent reassurance, support and love he was giving me.

 

"That's enough," she said a few minutes later. "I have everything I need. Thank you, Mr. Manders, for being so helpful."

 

I smiled at her and took my dressing gown which Raffles held out for me and pulled it back on. "We'll leave you to -" The sound of the telephone ringing, interrupted Raffles; he hesitated for no more than a second or two before smiling at me, squeezing my shoulder and hurrying towards the door. "Do excuse me," he said as he left the room.

 

I waited for Miss McAllister to follow him and leave me to once more put my clothing back on, which she did do. At least she went as far as the door where she paused and turned back to me. "Mr. Manders," she said, and then frowned slightly as she looked at me. "Look, I'm quite sure Arthur told you how he and I met, did he not?" I nodded and hoped my cheeks hadn't flushed even more. "So you'll know I'm not exactly a lady, at least not the kind you are used to meeting and interacting with." The tone of her voice and the look on her face told me quite clearly she didn't want any pretty objections from me, so instead I gave her what I hoped she knew was a genuine smile.

 

I think she did realise that as she smiled back. "As such it allows me to say things, suggest things, a true lady would not." I felt my eyes widen slightly and she laughed lightly, "Do not look so startled, Mr. Manders, I was merely going to ask if you would object awfully if we forewent the 'Mr. Manders' and 'Miss McAllister' and pretended we had known one another long enough to use 'Harry' and 'Mary'. I know that is terribly forward of me and not quite proper, but given we are going to be quite closely involved over the next week or so, I thought it might make you feel a little more at ease to be less formal - or would it make you more uncomfortable?"

 

I stared at her; the idea was quite, quite foreign to me. To call a lady by her Christian name after such a short acquaintance felt very wrong to me and yet at the same time I realised it actually might help. I moistened my lips and said, "I think it might indeed help," I paused and made myself say, "Mary." To my surprise the name came quite naturally.

 

She smiled and her eyes shone. "Thank you, Harry," she said. "And now before I go and leave you to get dressed I just want to assure you, just in case you might be worrying, that Arthur means nothing to me other than a good friend; the man who quite honestly saved me from -" She broke off and gave a delicate shrug and for the first time since she had arrived a hint of colour touched her cheeks. "And even if I did have any interest in him, which I assure you I do not, he has none in me. He only has interest in one person - you, Harry; that is so very, very clear. You should see the way he looks at you; well of course you do, but you should see it from the eyes of someone else. And now, I shall leave you."

 

And before I could reply, she turned around and glided out of the room. I dressed again quickly and went back to the sitting room where Raffle and Mi- Mary were sitting talking. As I came in Raffles stood up, came towards me, put his hand on my shoulder and brushed my hair from my forehead with his other hand. And then with his hand still on my shoulder he guided me back to the sofa and we both sat down.

 

"What is next, Mary?" he asked.

 

"To get an evening gown made for Harry. I know just the style that will suit him; something that is elegant and quite well fitting but not too revealing or fussy. And I'll need to purchase underclothing and stockings and an evening cloak and well - you know what a lady needs Arthur."

 

"Jewellery?" Raffles asked.

 

She nodded. "Again it should be elegant and understated and not too much of it; I would suggest nothing more than a necklace and earrings. Now your hair, it's a pity it is not a little longer, but I know what I can do with it and what will suit you very well."

 

"Thank you," I said as her gaze came to rest on me.

 

"I think that's it, well, apart from the really important decision: the colour of your gown. Have you any ideas? Do either of you have a favourite colour or a colour you'd like to avoid?"

 

"I don't want anything too - bright," I said quickly.

 

"What Bunny means is he doesn't want to draw attention to himself," Raffles said, putting his hand on my thigh for a moment and giving me a fond smile.

 

I didn't argue; he was quite right. I had no desire at all to draw attention to myself - even though I knew that Raffles appearing with a lady on his arm was inevitably going to draw the attention of the other people at the ball; in fact I was trying very hard to ignore that particular thought. I suddenly realised that both Raffles and Mary were looking at me and smiling, and I hid a groan as their smiles told me quite clearly that they were both thinking was I was trying to avoid thinking.

 

"What colour would you suggest, Mary? What do you think might suit Bunny?"

 

She frowned a little and stared at me. "Stand up again, please, Harry," she instructed, as she rose to her own feet. I stood, as did Raffles, and remained quite still as she stared hard at me. "Blue," she said decisively after what seemed like several minutes had gone by. "It's a fairly neutral colour, not bright or shocking, it's a comfortable colour. It will suit you - I just need to decide which blue. Nothing too pale, that would be quite wrong with your colouring. I would think either a blue to match Arthur's eyes or maybe something a little darker or even a cornflower blue or even a combination. I shall consider it." And with that she sat back down again. "You have nothing against blue, do you, Harry?"

 

I shook my head. "No, in fact I rather like it."

 

She smiled. "Good. Arthur?"

 

He shook his head. "I'm with Bunny and I agree with you, Mary, blue will suit him very well." And his gaze once more wandered to my face. I almost wished he wouldn't look at me in quite such an intimate way as it made me desire something I knew I could not have - at least not at that moment. My eyes, or maybe it was just his knowledge of me, must have betrayed me as his eyes widened slightly for a moment and he flashed me a 'later, my rabbit', look as he once more brushed my hair from my forehead.

 

For a moment or two we just sat and gazed at one another, before Raffles shook himself slightly and looked away from me. I looked at Mary and saw she was watching us with a fond almost maternal look on her face - which was an odd thing to say given she was, I guessed, my own age or maybe a year or two older, thus a few years younger than Raffles was.

 

"Well," she said standing up, "it's time I bid you both good afternoon and left you. I'd like to visit the dressmaker I have in mind today if possible."

 

Raffles crossed to her and bent his head to kiss her cheek. "Thank you again, Mary," he said, "it really is very kind of you to help us."

 

She smiled and reached up slightly to kiss his cheek in return. "It really is my pleasure, Arthur, as I said it is going to be a lot of fun. And I get to the meet the person who finally captured the great A. J. Raffles's heart."

 

Raffles laughed softly; I, however, felt my cheeks flush a little. She turned to me. "Harry," she said and held out her hands to me. I hurried over and took one of her hands and she kissed my cheek. "It's been wonderful meeting you and I promise you I'll take great care of making sure you look delightful." And she kissed me cheek again.

 

"It's been lovely meeting you too, Mary," I said, knowing as I said the words that they were not merely a formality, but that I meant them. "And thank you," I added as I lightly, and more than a little daringly for me, kissed her cheek.

 

Raffles offered her his arm and I followed them out into the hall and watched as he helped her on with her coat. She smiled her thanks and said, "I'll see you both again very soon; hopefully before Christmas."

 

"We'll look forward to it, Mary," Raffles said opening the door.

 

"Yes, we will," I added.

 

She smiled. "So shall I. Oh, Harry?"

 

"Yes, Mary?"

 

"You might like to get into the habit, at least whilst you are alone, of calling Arthur 'Arthur' rather than 'Raffles', just as you will have to do on the night of the ball. Or 'A. J.' if you prefer, but I imagine that is more suited to your school friends and your fellow cricket playing gentlemen, is it not, Arthur?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, it is."

 

I nodded, even though I was suddenly starting once again to have doubts as to the validity of this; not only did I have to dress up in ladies' clothing including shoes and wear jewellery, have something done to my hair and learn how to behave, walk and sit like a lady, I also had to remember to call Raffles by his Christian name. It really did seem as if what I had believed and thought to be something enjoyable was going to be quite exhausting and stressful.

 

Again, as she'd done earlier, Mary seemed to be able to read me as she hurried to my side and squeezed by hand. "You'll be fine, Harry. I know it seems an awful lot of thing you are going to have to do, but I know everything will go well." I told my self that that was something and that at least one of us did and a glance at Raffles's face told me I was in the minority.

 

So I forced a smile and nodded as she again turned and with a wave left us.

 

Raffles closed, locked and bolted the door and when he turned to look at me, I felt a shiver of desire and pleasure race through my body and a certain part of it began to harden at a speed that took me by surprise. His gaze flickered from my face down my body, coming to rest on what a swift glance down my own body showed me was my obvious yearning for him.

 

He held out his arms. "Come here, Bunny," he murmured, his voice low, soft and sensual. I hurried across the short distance that separated us and let him enfold me into his embrace. I sighed with pleasure as his arms tightened around me and his lips met my ear. "You are the best rabbit ever," he murmured, making me shiver with pleasure. The next second his mouth was on mine, his lips parting mine as he pulled me even nearer to him, allowing me to feel he was as aroused as I was. As we exchanged a kiss that went from loving to deeply passionate within seconds I fought my body's desire to have its release where we stood. I moaned into his mouth as the way he was pulling me against him left me in no doubt as to the fact he wanted me to lose control.

 

Just as I felt certain he would be the victor he took his mouth from mine, pushed me away from him just a little and gazed down at me. "I imagine you must be a little tired, Bunny, undressing and dressing again can be quite fatiguing. And given we are to dine with Lawrence tonight, what say you we retire to the bedroom and . . . Rest for a while?" The wicked look in his eyes told me quite clearly that 'rest' was the last thing he had in mind.

 

I smiled at him. "I do believe you are correct, Raffles," I said, reaching up and brushing my lips over his. "A . . . rest sounds an extremely good idea." And after kissing him quickly again, it was I who linked my hand with his and started to lead him towards the bedroom.

 

This time rather than remove my own clothes I let him strip me - something he not only did extremely well, he seemed to take immense pleasure in doing. Even as he striped me, the devil's hands kept wandering to the part of my body that cried out for him to touch it, flirting with and stroking the now almost painful hardness as he continued in his now blatant attempt to make me lose control.

 

But at times I can be as determined as he. Thus, even though I wanted nothing more than to succumb to his touches and to give him and my body what they wanted, I continued to fight my release until with only my drawers still remaining on my body, he gave me a look which conceded defeat and swiftly pulled my drawers down my legs with one hand as the other closed around my hot hardness. It was an extremely short lived victory, if indeed it could be called that, as the second his hand touched my naked hard flesh I lost my battle and was clinging to his shoulders, murmuring his name over and over as my body got the release it craved in his hand.

 

CHRISTMAS EVE

 

"Bunny! Will you come and sit down!" I jumped at the sharpness in Raffles's tone and managed to knock three of the Christmas ornaments he had placed so very carefully and precisely on the tree down onto the ground. I had been pacing around the sitting room ever since Mary had rung to say she had everything and thus was going to visit us that afternoon.

 

As I bent to pick the ornaments up I looked guiltily at Raffles who was now on his feet just staring at me and shaking his head in his fond way. "Come here," he said his tone far softer than it had been and he held his arms out to me. I hurried over to him let him take the ornaments from my hands and put them on the table before he pulled me into his arms and held me. "Oh, my rabbit," he said his tone still soft and now tinged with humour, "what am I to do with you?"

 

I could think of several things - well, one in particular, but given Mary would be arriving in less than ten minutes it wasn't possible. He had pushed me away from him a little as he'd asked the question and was now gazing down at me with one eyebrow raced and a smile on his lips; a smile that made more than one promise. "Ah, my rabbit, I see my corruption of you, in one way at least, is complete," he said lightly, before he put his lips on mine and kissed me gently, lovingly and without the passion that would make my body react to his kiss.

 

By the time the door was knocked I was feeling quite relaxed and even excited to see what Mary had bought for me. "Good afternoon, Mary," I heard Raffles say. "Here let me take those from you."

 

"Thank you, Arthur." The next second, still wearing her hat and coat Marry came into the sitting room and hurried over to me. "Hello, Harry," she said, kissing my cheek and squeezing my hand.

 

"Hello, Mary," I replied smiling at her. "Shall I take your coat?"

 

"Thank you." She let me take both her hat and coat before she moved to the fire and stood in front of it warming her hands as Raffles, carrying several large items came into the room. Mary looked at him, "If you'd be kind enough to take them to the bedroom, please, Arthur," she said, smiling at him - I noticed she smiled a lot, a warm, genuine, pleasing smile.

 

Then she looked at me and for the first time since making her acquaintance I noticed she seemed just a little uncertain, nervous even, although I could tell she was also more than a little excited. "Is something wrong, Mary?" I asked.

 

She smiled and shook her head in the way someone does when they do not really mean it. She gave a little shrug and said, "Oh, it's foolish; it's just, I hope you like the gown I've chosen for you and I really hope it suits you. I was so sure when I ordered it and choose the colours, but now . . ." A little colour touched her cheeks, "I don't want to Arthur or you down, Harry," she said softly, and suddenly the self-assured lady I had always seen vanished and she looked several years younger.

 

I hurried across to her and took both of her hands in mine. "You won't let us down, Mary," I said firmly, "and I'm quite certain I'll love the gown."

 

She smiled at me. "I can quite easily see why you captured Arthur," she said softly. "You are such a lovely young man."

 

Now it was my turn to colour and I felt my cheeks burn even more as Raffles (I hadn't heard him come back into the sitting room) said quietly, "He is." For a moment we all stood in silence before Raffles broke it. "Well, now, do we want tea before or after?"

 

"After, I think," Mary said swiftly. "Oh, and, Arthur, I do hope you, and Harry of course don't mind but I asked Evie to drop by in about, she glanced at the clock which stood on the mantelpiece, "an hour. I thought we needed the eye of someone who wasn't as invested in this as you and I are, Arthur, to give an honest opinion of how Harry looks. And you'll get that from Evie, she is far more rational and less emotional than I. You don't mind, do you? Because if you do, I can easily ring her and -"

 

"No," Raffles said, moving away from the wall which he'd been leaning against and coming across to where Mary and I still stood. "Of course we don't mind, I think it's a splendid idea. In that case I shall order tea for four for an hour and quarter's time."

 

"That sounds perfect. Right, well, come along, Harry, let's go and see if I did choose correctly." She slipped her arm through mine, "oh, and Arthur."

 

"Yes, Mary?"

 

"You are not to come into the bedroom this time. I want you to see Harry only when he fully dressed, all right?"

 

Raffles's glanced swiftly at me as I forced myself not to tremble or become tense. I could read the question in his eyes and see that he was more than a little concerned for me. I swallowed hard; I could do this; I didn't need Raffles to hold my hand all the time; I wasn't a small, scared, nervous, somewhat prone to tears, dreadfully naive thirteen year old boy any longer; I was a man - and not just any man; I was the man who had A. J. Raffles as a lover. I was he man who the most wonderful man in the world had in effect put a ring on the finger of; the man whom Raffles loved.

 

Thus I swallowed hard again, forced a faint smile onto my lips and gave Raffles a small nod. He smiled at me, again it held more than one promise, before he turned his attention to Mary, gave a half bow and said, "You wish, milady, is our command, is it not, Bunny?"

 

I laughed softly and nodded. "Yes. Yes, it is."

 

"Good." Mary said, and tightening the grip she had on my arm she began to walk, thus leaving me no choice but to go with her.

 

Raffles had put everything on the bed and I stared down at what looked like an awful lot of items for one person for one evening as Mary firmly closed the door. "Right," she said briskly, going to the bed and beginning to unwrap things, "get undressed, Harry." I hesitated; it was quite bad enough being alone in a bedroom with a lady, but to get undressed in her presence, to be unclothed in her presence seemed quite, quite wrong to me. I contemplated asking if Raffles could come in if he promised to keep his eyes closed. But again I forced myself to remind myself I was a grown man.

 

Nonetheless I still couldn't bring myself to begin to remove my clothing. She looked up and smiled reassuringly, "You can go into the bathroom, if you'd rather, Harry, but I promise you I won't look at you - I have quite enough to keep me occupied," and she glanced down at the parcels on the bed.

 

I forced myself to remove my coat and put it on the chair, telling myself it was a start and realising it actually hadnít been as hard to do as I had feared. Hating the fact that my hands were trembling slightly I began to untie my tie. "You must think me very foolish," I said.

 

She paused and glanced at me. "Not at all, Harry. I think you are a reserved young man who is prepared to go to great lengths to make the man you love happy, no matter how uncomfortable that makes you. It's actually quite reassuring to know such gentlemen still do exist," and she smiled. "Look, I'll fetch Arthur, shall I? It really won't matter if he sees you getting ready rather than once you are ready." She turned towards the door.

 

"No!" I called quickly, hurrying across the room towards her and putting my hand over hers as she was about to open the door. "Don't get Raffles. I want him to see me when you've done whatever it is you're doing to do to me. I want him to see me . . ." I trailed off. "You know," I added.

 

She smiled. "I do. But are you quite certain, Harry? Because I don't want you to be uncomfortable - well not awfully uncomfortable; trust me, some of the clothing you have to put on isn't the most comfortable and if you're uneasy as well, it won't help."

 

"I'm sure; really I am, Mary," I said and determinedly pulled me tie off and unbuttoned my waist-coat.

 

She smiled again and touched my hand. "Dear Harry," she said, "you really are such a dear man." And with another smile she returned to the bed where she quite pointedly kept her gaze affixed on the parcels she was unwrapping as I continued to remove my clothing until I was dressed in only my drawers and trousers.

 

She glanced up quickly and then straightened as she saw me standing looking at her. "Here," she said coming towards me with two items of clothing, the first seemed to be a pair of ladies drawers or whatever they called them, which were somewhat frillier than anything a gentleman would wear. Whereas the second looked something like a tablecloth whose ends had been joined together, given its length I guessed it was some kind of underskirt. "You shouldn't have any problems putting these on," she said, "just pull the petticoat and drawers up and hold them and I'll tie them for you."

"Can't I keep my own drawers on?" I asked taking both items of clothing; I was rather relieved to see they were both white and appeared to be made of cotton, even if they did both have lace on them.

 

She shook her head. "No, Harry," she said firmly, "if we are going to do this, we have to do it properly and that includes ladies drawers. I stared at the said drawers noticing they didn't have any buttons on them. Thankfully before I could comment on the fact I realised why they didn't. "You just pull them up, Harry, and as I said I will tie them for you," she said matter-of-factly. "Now come along, there's a good boy or," she added smiling at me in a way she hadn't smiled at me before, "do you want me to help you?"

 

"No!" I cried, feeling my cheeks flush as for a fleeting second I considered fleeing the room. And then I found myself laughing and to my surprise relaxed as I realised she had only been trying to put me at my ease - and I also realised that somewhat surprisingly her tactics had worked.

 

I pointedly turned my back on her which made her begin to laugh, and still smiling myself I quickly pulled off my trousers, hesitated for only a second before determinedly removing my drawers and pulling on the drawers she had given me; I pulled them up my legs and tried discreetly to arrange myself so I wasn't too uncomfortable. They felt a little strange, but not as strange as I had believed they would feel and they seemed content to stay around my waist, at least for now, without slipping off again, thus allowing me both hands to deal with the petticoat. I then stepped into the petticoat and pulled that up, holding it and the drawers at my waist before Mary tied the laces on both firmly and adjusted the petticoat slightly.

 

She smiled and hurried back to the bed to return with another very elaborately laced and embroidered piece of clothing that was a simply cut, sleeveless garment with narrow shoulder straps. At least I didnít have to guess where it went and I pulled it on over my head, leaving it to Mary smooth down and arrange; again it was white and of fine cotton, a finer cotton than the drawers were made of. "Right," she said looking at me, "that's the easy part."

 

By the time I had been dressed in what Mary assured me was actually very little underwear, including stockings and garters and another petticoat, I was more than a little in awe of what ladies went through every day. She handed me a pair of dark blue thankfully low-healed shoes, they seemed to be only a little higher than the boots I often wore, with a single strap across them. I sat down on the chair to put them on and allowed her to fasten the strap for me; then using the dresser to support me, I stood up. Although I felt myself almost stumble, after a moment or two I found my centre of balance and after Mary had made me walk up and down the room several times I felt quite confident.

 

"You're going to have to practise dancing in the shoes, Harry," she said, "well in everything. And now," she said before I could reply, "the gown." She stared at me her eyes bright, her cheeks a little flushed as she took her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment and clasped her hands together.

 

"Well?" I said lightly, "what are you waiting for?" Suddenly I was eager to see the dress.

 

"Close you eyes," she said and I duly obliged as I heard her hurry across the room to the bed. "Okay," she said, "you can open them now."

 

I opened them and stared at the dress - gown - she was holding up. It was as she promised: simple and elegant, well certainly compared to how many ladies of the day dressed. The top of the dress was fitted, it had short sleeves and a respectable height neckline; the skirt was full, but thankfully not too full, and panelled. To say it was blue, again as she had promised, was far too simple. It was blue; in fact it consisted of two blues; one, the main blue the colour of the larger panels of the skirt and the bulk of the bodice, was indeed the colour of Raffles's eyes, the other blue, the one of the small panels and small parts of the bodice a much darker blue. I guessed from the way it shimmered and seemed to move of its own accord and the way the lighter blue changed colour depending on how you looked at it, that it was heavy silk. And once Mary brought it to me and I touched it, I knew it was, all apart from the darker blue on the bodice; that was soft velvet.

 

"Do you like it, Harry?" she asked with more than a touch of anxiety in her voice.

 

Did I like it? It was rather like asking me if I liked Raffles. I loved it; part of me couldn't quite believe that I, a gentleman, was reacting in such a way to a lady's dress, but it captivated me, it drew me in and I wanted nothing more than to put it on. I suddenly realised that I hadn't answered her. "Oh, yes," I cried, "I love it, Mary. It's beautiful. It's . . ." I ran out of words to describe it, thus I just smiled at her.

 

She looked relieved. "Oh, good, " she said, "and look," and pushing the gown into my hands she hurried back to the bed and held up a full length ladies evening cloak. It was the same dark blue as part of the gown and the lining was the same lighter blue as the rest of the gown. "You really are going to look beautiful, Harry," she exclaimed, hurrying back to me and once more taking the gown from my hands. "Oh, I do hope I havenít offended you."

 

I laughed. "No, not at all. When I first saw Raffles I thought he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen." I blurted the words out without really thinking about them and then bit my lip as my cheeks flushed.

 

"Dear Harry," she said, touching my arm. "So, are you ready to try to gown on?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, please."

 

"There," Mary said, after a minute or two, as she stood back and looked at me. "Now just turn around slowly, Harry, that's it," she added as I began to slowly turn around. "That's perfect," she smiled and despite her words she smoothed down the parts of dark blue velvet that came together just above the waist of the dress.

 

She took another step back and looked me up and down as I fought the urge to fidget; instead I ran my hands over the heavy silk enjoying the way it felt. Given it was the first time I had ever worn a dress it felt surprisingly natural and comfortable. "Now," she said, "we just need to do something with your hair and you'll be ready to show Arthur just how lovely your look."

 

She took my hand and led me to the dressing-table and helped me to sit down on the stool; sitting was not as easy as standing as the skirt of the gown had a lot of material, but after shifting about a little for a moment or two and listening to Mary's advice, I managed to get comfortable. I noticed she had covered the mirror (just as she'd covered the full-length one which stood next to the wardrobe) which stood atop of the dressing table and wondered quite when I was going to get to see what I looked like.

 

I also wondered quite what she was going to do with my hair, because although I did wear it a little longer than most men (I rather liked the way Raffles pushed it back from my forehead and also the way his hands would tangle in it, which they had done from the moment we had met) it really wasn't a suitable length for a lady. I fancied she would produce a wig, which if I was honest I wasn't particularly looking forward to wearing.

 

However, she didn't; instead she had several softly curled hairpieces which she carefully and cleverly mixed with my own hair, affixing the pieces I knew not how. The feel of her fingers in my hair was a new sensation as it was nothing like the way Raffles caressed my scalp. "When may I see, Mary?" I asked her, as she stepped back and tilted my head slightly one way and then the other.

 

"Very soon, I promise. It's lucky you are naturally pale as I don't have to do anything to make your skin pale." I raised an eyebrow and she smiled, "Oh, believe me, you really do not want to know the lengths to which some ladies go to in order to achieve the perfect porcelain look." She was silent for a moment or two then shook her head, "No, I'm not going to do anything else to you. You're ready." She hurried away from me and uncovered the full length mirror and held out her hand.

 

Carefully I stood up and walked towards her; my mouth was more than a little dry and I felt my heart rate increase. I almost didn't want to look - yet at the same time I did. I wanted to see what I looked like, but I was more than a little afeared that despite Mary's words I would look just as I was: a gentleman in a dress. I kept my gaze lowered as I stood in front of the mirror trying to dig up the courage to raise my eyes and look.

 

"Look up, Harry," she said gently. "Trust me," she added, "you look lovely. Really you do." Her hand brushed over my shoulders, making minute adjustments to the neckline and sleeves of dress. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard and slowly looked up. I gasped aloud as I saw my reflection and looked at Mary, my mouth slightly open, my eyes wide. She took my hand and squeezed it. "Yes, Harry," she said, "it really is you. I told you you'd look beautiful."

 

I looked back in the mirror again, blinking to clear my eyes from a hint of unexpected tears. I wasn't sure 'beautiful' was an apt description, but even I had to confess I looked rather nice. The colours of the gown suited me perfectly and my hair looked shiny and luxurious, and even my skin looked paler than it normally did and the blues of the gown made my eyes shine. I looked back at Mary and smiled, "Thank you," I said, brushing my lips over her cheek as she smiled back at me. "It's . . ." I truly was lost for words.

 

"Well," she said, once more making a minute adjustment to the gown. "Lets us go and see if Arthur is as lost for words."

 

Again I swallowed hard; again I both wanted to go into the sitting room and let him see me, whilst as the same time I wanted to stay where I was and hide from him. I let Mary take my hand and lead me out of the bedroom, through the dining room until we stood just outside the door to the sitting room.

 

"Ready?" I wasn't sure I was, but then I wasn't certain I ever would be. So I just nodded and Mary opened the door, let go of my hand and with very gently encouraged me into the room, following me in and standing by my side.

 

Raffles stood up as I entered the room and the cigarette case he'd been holding fell from his hand onto the sofa as he just stared at me, his eyes were wide. I can normally read Raffles very well indeed, I should be able to after all the years we've known one another both as boys and as men, but this time I could not read his expression. He just stood eyes wide, his lips very slightly parted, staring at me. After a moment or two of his gaze never leaving my face his eyes flickered away and he let his gaze travel down and then back up my body. But other than that, still he did not move; nor did he speak.

 

My mouth was once again very dry and my heart rate was far higher than it should be given I was just standing still. I sincerely wished he'd say something - and yet at the same time I feared quite what he might say. I still believed I looked acceptable, nice even, and Mary had used the words 'lovely' and 'beautiful' but I knew that deep down his was the only approval I wanted.

 

Finally he swallowed hard twice and began to move slowly towards me. "Bunny?" he whispered as he came to a stop in front of me and he raised his hand to touch my hair, to my amazement it shook very slightly.

 

I moistened my lips and was almost certain I heard a very faint moan come from him. "Harriett," I said softly, lowering the volume of my voice rather than the timbre.

 

He blinked. "I'm sorry?"

 

I smiled and took his hand. "You cannot call me 'Bunny' Ra- Arthur."

 

"He's right, Arthur," Mary said from my side. We all stood in silence again until finally Mary demanded, her tone more than a little exasperated, "Well? Well, Arthur, say something; what do you think?"

 

"What?" Raffles dragged his gaze from me and looked at Mary.

 

She glanced upwards and shook her head. "Of Harry, what do you think?"

 

"Oh," he said with a smile as he looked away from Mary and back at me. "You're beautiful," he said. "You look beautiful; just perfect." I felt my cheeks flush and he touched one with the tip of his forefinger. "So very pretty," he murmured, brushing his finger over where the colour was, which if course made me flush even more as I gazed up at him completely in awe of him and the way he was looking at me. The way he was looking at me. I suddenly knew with complete clarity that were it not for Mary's presence we would be -

 

Mary cleared her throat and we both turned to look at her. "As we have a few minutes before Evie is due to arrive, and given you walk so well in the shoes, Harry, why don't you try dancing together?" And before either of us could reply, she began to hum a waltz tune.

 

Raffles took my hand in his, brought it to his lips and kissed it before taking me in his arms; my hands moved to the correct position and after a second or two of listening to Mary, he began to waltz me around the room. For the first few steps I felt clumsy as I tried to adjust to both the shoes and to the dress, but after that it seemed as if I'd been dancing dressed as I was dressed for years. Of course Raffles is such as wonderful dancer, I would dare anyone not to dance well with him.

 

As Mary ended the tune, Raffles brought us both to a stop and took his arm from around me, but he still kept his hand in mine as once more our eyes found one another. The stares became so intense I could feel passion beginning to surround us, and I wanted nothing more than to be back in his arms, this time with his mouth on mine and his hands -

 

Again Mary cleared her throat again we both looked at her. "Well," she said looking from Raffles to me and back again, "I suspect that is not the first time you have danced together." I flushed and Raffles smiled. "You are very natural together," she added, "and, Harry, the way you move . . . I assure you will have no problems next week, none at all. It's all going to be perfect. And -" Whatever else she was going to say was lost by the sound of the door being knocked. "That will be Evie." I was looking at Mary as she spoke and I was surprised to see her flush a little and a somewhat anxious look crossed her face as her hands moved to her hair which she smoothed.

 

Raffles let go of my hand, touched one of my curls for a moment before turning on his heel and hurrying out of the room. "Good afternoon, Miss Sanderson, do come in."

 

"Good afternoon, Mr. Raffles, it's a pleasure to see you again." I heard the door being closed behind her.

 

"May I take your coat?"

 

"Thank you."

 

Mary had again moved to stand next to me and I noticed the somewhat anxious look had increased as we waited for Raffles and Miss Sanderson; she was clearly more than a little concerned and she had her hands clasped together. "You look wonderful," she said glancing at me; her tone told me she was doing as much to reassure herself as she was me, and I remembered her words about Miss Sanderson.

 

After what seemed like an unnaturally long time for someone to remove their coat and hat Raffles ushered a young lady in to the sitting room. She was about the same age as Mary, an inch or two taller, her hair was dark and she was dressed even more conservatively than Mary. Her eyes came to rest on Mary as she came into the room and she smiled; it changed her face completely and I risked a glance to my side to see Mary gazing back at her - their looks hid nothing; their relationship was completely clear. I wondered if that's how they always looked at one another or if it was just because they knew about Raffles and me.

 

Suddenly Miss Sanders looked away from Mary and looked at me and to my horror she frowned. Her eyes flashed with displeasure and she turned to Mary. "Why are you playing games with me, Mary?" she demanded. "Why are you teasing me; you know I do not like it."

 

Mary hurried towards her and took her hand. "I'm not, Evie. Really I'm not." She tightened the grip she had on Miss Sanderson's hand.

 

Twitching her skirt with one hand Miss Sanders crossed to me and stared hard at me; just for a moment the steadiness of her stare faltered and she frowned again but not in the angry way she'd frowned earlier, this was more of a confused way. "Mary?" her voice was lower as she looked at Mary. "Are you quite certain you and Mr. Raffles are not teasing me?" There was a hint of a plea in her voice.

 

"Quite, quite certain, Evie. I promise you."

 

She looked back at me. "Can you prove you're a man?" she demanded.

 

I swallowed a gasp, Raffles looked a little shocked and Mary gasped. "Evie!"

 

I watched as Miss Sanderson's cheeks became extremely red and she bit her bottom lip as she looked down at the floor. "Do forgive me," she whispered, "I . . ." She swallowed and looked back up, once more looking at me. And then I saw a faint smile touch her lips and she shook her hair back as she held my gaze. "Well, can you?"

 

Once more Mary gasped; I was still completely uncertain what to say as I just glanced over her shoulder at Raffles. He strode to my side and took my hand; his eyes twinkled as he looked from me to Mary and finally to Miss Sanderson. "Oh, yes, Miss Sanderson, I assure you that he can," he said. "However, I will not allow it."

 

For a moment silence filled the room as we all stared at Miss Sanderson whilst she just went on staring at me. Then she laughed and took my hand. "I really am very sorry, Mr. Manders, is it not?" I nodded. "I truly am. It's just that . . . I really did think I was the victim of a practical joke and I have never liked them. Can you forgive me?"

 

I squeezed her hand. "Of course, Miss Sanderson," I said, "and I've never liked practical jokes either, nor being teased."

 

She smiled at me. "Thank you." Then she turned to Raffles. "One thing which I advise, Mr. Raffles, is that you do not let Mr. Manders out of our sight next week."

 

For another moment we just all stood in silence before Mary broke it. "Well," she said, "I do believe that answers any lingering concerns we may have had, do you not agree, Arthur?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, I most certainly do."

 

She looked at me. "Harry?"

 

I smiled as again I felt my cheeks flush a little. "Yes, Mary," I said. "Thank you, Miss Sanderson."

 

Again she frowned just a little. Then she said firmly, "Evie." The tone in her voice left no one in doubt that she meant it.

 

I mentally forced myself to adjust from 'Miss Sanderson' to 'Evie'; things really were beginning to change.

 

"That's settled then," Mary said, smiling. "Well, I think it's time Harry changed before we have tea." And without waiting for anyone to reply she took my arm and led me out of the sitting room.

 

As we went I heard Raffles say, "Do sit down, Evie; tea should be here in about ten minutes."

 

"Thank you," she paused for a fleeting second before saying firmly, "Arthur."

 

LATER THAT NIGHT

 

I lay in Raffles's arms, my head on his shoulder, enjoying the gentle way his fingertips caressed my cheeks and body from time to time as he held me in what was a very possessive, protective, loving way.

 

We had been in bed since the moment after Raffles had closed, locked and bolted the door behind Mary and Evie. The second after he'd closed, locked and bolted it he had pulled me into his arms and had plundered my mouth with his. His kiss was so intense and hard that his teeth had grazed my lip, making it bleed a little causing me to both gasp with the sharp pain but also to experience hardness at a speed I had rarely known as Raffles sucked on the lip his teeth had cut. As he did, he pulled me even closer to him, his hand tangled so tightly in my hair I froze in his embrace, not wanting his long fingers to pull out any of my hair.

 

My arousal and his were both so fierce I sincerely doubted we would get to the bedroom, but clearly my Raffles had other ideas as after another almost painfully intense kiss, he pushed me away just far enough to allow him to brush his hand over my hardness, causing me to gasp loudly, before he'd taken my hand and hurried me to the bedroom where he'd stripped us both so speedily that more than one shirt button had come off.

 

The look on his face had left me in no doubt what he wanted. We didn't make love in the way I believed most men who made love with other men made love, not because I or he didn't enjoy it, but because my Raffles hates hurting me and no matter how long he would take, doing things that made me shiver with pleasure as well as blush, preparing me, gently making me ready for the moment he would slide himself inside me - and he did take an inordinate amount of time - it hurt, it hurt considerably. I have never liked pain (what sane person does?) and nor have I ever been able to hide, at least from him, the fact that I was in pain. As such, given he said the pleasure of joining with me in such a way was reduced for him as he knew how much it hurt me, we rarely made love that way.

 

But his face told me that is what he wanted - and not only wanted, needed in a way I do not believe he has ever needed it before. I of course, despite the knowledge it would hurt, made no objections; indeed his desire, his need, his desperation, made me want it even more and fuelled my own desire and need.

 

He took his time as he always did, but even as his fingers did things to me I could feel his fight with himself, I could feel the desperation to be inside me, a desperation I have never known from him. One of the many things my Raffles is is self-controlled, but this afternoon he showed me a side of him I had never before seen and it excited, thrilled, delighted as well as scared me just a little. Whether it was his clear need or the fact his desire had enflamed mine more than it usually do I do not know, but as he joined with me, as he slipped inside me causing me to gasp with both pleasure and pain, it actually hurt a little less than it had done in the past.

 

His completion was also far, far quicker than it normally was and as his body released into mine and he cried my name more than once, I managed to turn my head and saw tears shining in his eyes and watched one slip down his cheek. Once he had removed himself from my body and cleansed me as he always does he took me into his arms and began to give me the pleasure he knows I like most of all: his mouth on mine whilst his hand strokes my hardness.

 

I lost count of the number of times my body and his found their release, I just knew as I lay enjoying the intimacy of his fingers and mouth on my face, lips and body, that I would be incapable of another release again that night.

 

We had been due to dine at the club; indeed rather than being naked and in our bed, we should have been dressed and dining. However, he'd left me just long enough to call the club and inform them we would be unable to keep our reservation that evening, but confirming we would, as arranged, lunch there on Christmas Day.

 

"I do love you, my dearest Bunny," he said quietly, his tone somewhat solemn, as he pushed himself up on one arm and gazed down at me whilst one fingertip stroked my cheek. "You do know that, do you not, my darling rabbit?"

 

I swallowed hard at the look in his eyes and smiled as I echoed his gesture and lightly stroked his cheek. "Of course I do, Raffles," I said, "just as I hope you know how much I love you."

 

He nodded and settled down next to me again, turning slightly so he could look at me. "Of course I do, Bunny. I have always known. It is quite possible I knew even before you did. I just sometimes think I do not tell you or indeed show you quite how much I care, quite how important, vital even, you are to me. I adore you, Bunny, I always have and I always will - I hope you will never forget that." Again he sounded so solemn, so formal even, and I caught a hint of the same desperation I had felt in his body earlier in his tone. It troubled me very slightly especially as he almost seemed a little uncertain - and uncertainty is not something anyone would ever associate with A. J. Raffles.

 

"Raffles?" I said his name, not even knowing what I would say next; what I could say next.

 

He smiled and kissed me and went on kissing me as his hands began to wander over my body in a much more definite manner as they proved that my belief I could not harden or find release again that evening had been a false one.

 

NEW YEAR'S EVE

 

We stood outside our rooms my arm was through Raffles's, Mary was making another minute adjustment to one of my curls and Evie (who had surprised us by arriving with Mary to help me get ready for the ball) was just staring at me with a faint smile on her face.

 

Suddenly I began to think this was all a big mistake and that we would never fool anyone. "Raffles," I said turning to look at him. "Are you . . . I mean do you really think . . . Should we perhaps . . ."

 

All three of them just stared at me as I came to a stammering halt and felt my cheeks begin to flush. "Everything will go perfectly, my rabbit," Raffles said, touching my cheek, "but if you have changed your mind, you only have to say; I won't mind." And the look in his eyes told me he spoke the truth; he really wouldn't mind if I said I had changed my mind.

 

It was what a needed as after swallowing hard I smiled at him. "No, Arthur," I'd been making myself call him by his Christian name for the last couple of days, at least as often as I remembered to do so. It still felt somewhat strange, but I knew it was essential that I did call him 'Arthur'. "I haven't changed my mind."

 

"Good," he said and brought my hand to his lips to kiss lightly.

 

Mary smiled and took my other hand. "Have a wonderful time, Harry, just remember to look at Arthur as you always do look at him and everything will be fine."

 

"Thank you, Mary."

 

Evie nodded. "You really do look lovely," she said and smiled before she turned to Raffles. "And remember what I told you, Arthur, I really wouldn't let him out of my sight."

 

Raffles smiled, "I shall endeavour to do that thing, Evie," he said. "Thank you - both of you for your help. And now, I expect the cab will be at the door." And offering me his arm again he led me down the stairs.

 

"I hope you have a nice evening, Mr. Raffles, sir," Parker called as we walked by his office.

 

"Thank you, Parker, I am quite certain I shall."

 

"And you too, Mis- . . . Mr. Manders?" Parker's eyes widened and he stared at me for a moment before looking at Mary and Evie and then at Raffles. "Mr. Raffles, is that . . . ?"

 

Raffles smiled. "Yes, Parker, yes, it is indeed Mr. Manders."

 

Parker looked back at me. "Oh," he managed. "I assume it's a costume ball, sir?"

 

Again it was Raffles who answered. "Yes, yes, it is, Parker."

 

Parker continued to stare at me and I fought the urge to either fidget or turn on my heel and hurry back to our rooms. "Well, Mr. Manders, if you don't mind me saying so, sir, you look . . . Very nice, sir," he finally said.

 

"Thank you, Parker," I managed, as I tried to loosen the grip I had on Raffles's arm which had become much tighter once Parker had recognised me. "Um," I said suddenly realising something. I looked from Parker to Raffles who raised an eyebrow. "The thing is, Parker," I said turning back to him, "you recognised me."

 

"Well, yes, sir, that I did. But then, with respect, sir, I do see you every day and given Mr. Raffles is here, well, sir, where else would you be other than with him, sir?"

 

Again I glanced at Raffles, who this time spoke. "Parker, do you think there is any danger of anyone else recognising Mr. Manders?"

 

Parker looked back at me and studied me for several seconds, during which I once again began to clutch Raffles's arm more tightly, until he put his other hand over mine and gently loosened the fierce grip I had on him, in fact he took my hand from his arm. Once again I had to fight the desire to simply declare that I had changed my mind after all, and return to our rooms or to fidget under Parker's scrutiny.

 

Finally Parker spoke. "No, sir. I do not."

 

"Are you quite certain, Parker? You are not merely saying that to appease us are you?"

 

"No, Mr. Raffles, sir, I wouldn't do that." Parker sounded slightly offended.

 

Hastily Raffles sought to offer an apology. "I do apologise, Parker, I should not have said such a thing. I know you wouldn't do that. It's just that . . ." For once even Raffles seemed to have run out of words.

 

Parker stared at Raffles. "That's all right, sir," he said finally. "But I did mean it, sir, I really don't think anyone else will recognise Mr. Manders, because no one else sees him every day, sir."

 

I glanced at Raffles who gave a half shrug and a look that said 'it's up to you'; then I looked at Mary and Evie who stood watching us; they both smiled in an encouraging way.

 

I glanced down at myself and made the decision. I had gone to a great deal of trouble, as had Mary in particular, and I really liked the gown and the cloak and I wanted to wear them and even more I wanted to dance with Raffles. And I would. I smiled up at Raffles and nodded; he returned my smile and tucked my arm back through his. "Well, come along then, Bunny," he said, "we have a ball to attend."

 

"Yes, Raffles," I said ignoring the frown Mary gave me.

 

To my surprise there were two cabs outside and after Raffles had helped me into one he left me for a moment to offer his hand to Mary and Evie before he joined me. "Ready?" he asked, taking my hand in his.

 

I nodded. "Yes."

 

"Good." And he leant toward me and brushed his lips over mine.

 

 

We arrived at Lady Falcon's residence to find the house ablaze with lights, cabs lined the driveway as gentlemen and ladies alighted. I found myself watching the ladies in particular as they got out of the cabs in order that I might imitate it when Raffles got down and offered me his hand again.

 

Once inside it was Raffles who took my cloak from my shoulders and handed it along with his hat, overcoat, stick and gloves to the cloakroom maid. It was Raffles who brushed his hand over one of my shoulders, straightening the sleeve that I really didn't think needed straightening, and Raffles who again offered me his arm to lead me past groups and couples, most of whom stood and stared in clear amazement.

 

As we waited for the footman to announce us, he bent his head a little, put his lips on my ear, which caused me, against my will, to shiver slightly and said, "That necklace really suits you, my dear Harriet."

 

Mary had lent me some ear-rings, saying it was foolish to spend money on something I would only be able to wear once. However, just as she was about to help me on with my cloak, Raffles had dipped his hand into the pocket of his evening jacket and had pulled out a stunningly beautiful, elegant diamond and sapphire necklace set in gold, which he carefully put around my neck. Both Mary and Evie had stared with clear approval at the necklace and I had to admit it was a beautiful one. Indeed as Raffles spoke the words, my fingers found their way, of their own accord, to the necklace and for a moment I let them linger there.

 

"It is beautiful, Arthur," I murmured as I gazed up at him.

 

"But not was beautiful was you are," Raffles said, letting his hand linger on my shoulder for a moment before he straightened up.

 

I was aware that more than one person was looking at us, as several hastily glanced away as Raffles straightened up. I was quite certain many - ladies in particular - were wondering just who I was and why I was attending Lady Falcon's New Year's Eve ball as Raffles's guest.

 

"Mr. Arthur Raffles and Miss Harriet Chanders," the footman announced as Raffles led me into the main ballroom. Chanders had been my mother's maiden name and as such it seemed sensible to use it.

 

"Good evening, Mr. Raffles. It is a pleasure to see you here." Lady Falcon herself was the first person to speak.

 

"The pleasure is all mine, Lady Falcon," Raffles said, as he made a slight bow, took the hand she offered him and put his lips on it. She smiled like a young girl and even flushed very slightly as she let him hold her hand for a second or two longer than was usual. I stood by Raffles's side waiting for her attention to turn to me.

 

"And this charming young lady is?"

 

Raffles took my hand in his. "Miss Harriet Chanders," he said, "a very," he paused for just long enough to make his meaning quite clear, "dear friend of mine," he added.

 

Her eyes widened very slightly and she looked at me, her gaze travelled down my body and back up again and to my surprise she nodded in what appeared to be an approving way. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Chanders," she said as she held out her hand to me.

 

"Thank you, Lady Falcon," I said taking her hand. "And I am delighted to meet you."

 

She looked at me and then back at Raffles and then to my complete surprise she took a step nearer to me and said in a very soft voice, "Although I fear there will be many young ladies who will not be quite so pleased to see you here with Mr. Raffles." I felt my cheeks flush at her words and I had no idea what to say to her. But I had no need to speak, because after smiling at me and inclining her head she once again turned to Raffles. "You will partner me in the second waltz, Mr. Raffles," she said, her tone making it quite clear that she was not to be argued with, "after you have danced with Miss Chanders, of course. And Lord Falcon will be delighted to escort Miss Chanders around the floor."

 

"We will be honoured, Lady Falcon," Raffles said swiftly and I smiled, hoping it didn't appear to be as forced a smile as I feared it was. We had known that even if Raffles quite simply refused to allow me to dance with any other man and he himself didn't dance with any other young lady, that we would have to dance with Lord and Lady Falcon. It was expected at their balls; no one, even the least accomplished dancer, got away without dancing with them. Even I had, on occasions, escorted Lady Falcon around the floor, something I am quite certain neither of us had enjoyed, when Raffles and I had attended her previous balls.

 

She nodded once more at me and then at Raffles before she moved to speak to another lady and gentleman. I glanced at Raffles and swallowed hard. Suddenly I was desperately thirsty; as if capable of reading my need, a footman arrived silently and offered a tray of champagne to Raffles who took two glasses, handing one to me. I took a small sip and then a second as I looked around at our fellow ball guests. I saw more than one young lady stating at me with what I can only describe as displeasure, jealousy even. I was somewhat surprised to see that Lady Falcon's words were correct; not everyone was pleased to see me by Raffles's side; I had expected surprise, but not displeasure. But then I reminded myself that Raffles was a very handsome, accomplished, eligible bachelor - so really I suppose I should not have been surprised that my presences was not wholly appreciated.

 

 

The dancing had not yet started and we were standing sipping champagne and conversing from time to time when Phillips, an acquaintance of both Raffles and myself appeared. He glanced at me, inclined his head in the way a gentleman does acknowledge a lady he does not know and then began to talk to Raffles.

 

I turned away slightly and let my gaze wander around the room. As I did I heard my name mentioned and to my slight shame I found myself listening to the conversation. "Who is she?"

 

"I don't know; no one knows. No one has ever seen Mr. Raffles with her before, but the way they are behaving they quite clearly haven't just met."

 

"I believe someone said they knew one another back when Raffles was a school boy. She's the sister of one of his friends or something." I hid a smile at the blatant untruth, that I was the sister of one of Raffles's friends, and wondered quite from where people got their information.

 

"It's very surprising to see Mr. Raffles without his little friend."

 

"Oh, Mr. Manders, yes, I was thinking that. I believe he's unwell - at least that's what I heard Mr. Raffles saying." That was true; we had indeed agreed that was the best thing to say, should anyone trouble to ask - and to my surprise more than one person had enquired, even if most of those people had failed to ask about me by name instead asking about me merely by reference as Raffles's friend.

 

A voice I hadn't heard speak before said, "Do you really believe that?"

 

"What do you mean, Felicity?"

 

"Nothing, it's just that . . . Well," Felicity lowered her voice and I couldn't hear what she said.

 

"Felicity! You can't think that!" The young lady seemed shocked by whatever Felicity had said.

 

"Why not?"

 

"But it's . . . Really, Felicity, you can't go around saying things like that. You could get Mr. Raffles into a great deal of trouble - or worse."

 

"I'm not going to say it to anyone else." Felicity sounded more than a little petulant.

 

"I should think not. Now, let's change the subject. Do you think Mr. Raffles will dance with anyone else other than Miss Chanders?"

 

At that moment I felt Raffles hand on my arm. "Harriet," he said, his tone making it clear it wasn't the first time he'd said my name. I started, turned quickly and very nearly dropped my glass of champagne. However Raffles, of course, steadied my hand and gazed down into my eyes; his look made my cheeks flush and they flushed more as he murmured far too softly for anyone else to hear, "So very, very pretty."

 

"Yes, Arthur," I forced myself to say, glancing away from him very slightly as the look in his eyes made me feel both hot and cold. I put the glass to my lips and took a swallow to moisten my mouth.

 

He took the nearly empty glass from my hand and put it down on the table and held out his arm as I heard the orchestra begin to play a waltz. I smiled and let him lead me onto the dance floor where he took me into his arms and we began to dance.

 

With the exception of what turned out to be two rather than one dances with Lady Falcon, whilst Lord Falcon attempted not to stand on my feet too often, Raffles barely let me out of his arms - he seemed to be following Evie's 'I wouldn't let him out of my sight' to the letter. Two or three young men did ask Raffles's permission to dance with me, but he politely refused, just as he politely but very pointedly ignored the somewhat forward young ladies who appeared by his side and made it clear they wished him to invite them to dance.

 

I had never really paid a great deal of attention to couples attending balls or parties, my focus had only ever been on Raffles and watching him and wishing it was I in his arms and not the gaily dressed young ladies. As such I wasn't completely certain as to whether his behaviour, the way he kept me by his side, the way his hands came to rest on my shoulder or arm or the way he took my hand, not to mention the way he looked at me was quite usual.

 

However, given that apart from more than one look of displeasure and clear jealousy, no one seemed particularly perturbed by his behaviour, I imagined it must not be completely out of place. And thus rather than worry whether we were drawing too much attention to ourselves, I simply contented myself with gazing in what I knew was clear adoration and love at him and taking immense pleasure in the way he touched me and looked at me.

 

Given within the first half an hour we had spoken to a number of people whom we knew and not one of them had looked twice at me or looked at me in a strange way, I accepted that my disguise was in fact, as Mary and Evie and Raffles had said, quite perfect. There were times when being so insignificant, as I was normally, was actually a positive thing.

 

As the clock struck midnight, Raffles who had his arm around me, turned me towards him and kissed me. I had expected him to brush his lips over my hand or my cheek, but his lips met mine and remained in place for several seconds before he lifted his head. My cheeks I knew were flushed and I was more than a little surprised to see a hint of colour touched his cheeks as well.

 

TWO HOURS LATER

 

Raffles helped me down from the cab, paid the driver and offered me his arm before leading me into the Albany. I was tired and my feet in particular hurt, but I was happier than I could ever remember being. It had been a wonderful evening; a fairy-tale evening really, and in some ways I hated it to be over. Although I wouldn't be sorry to remove my shoes nor my underclothing - how ladies managed each day I did not know.

 

"Good evening again, Mr. Raffles, Mr. Manders," Parker said my name considerably more quietly than Raffles's. "I trust you both had a good evening."

 

"We did, thank you, Parker."

 

"Good, I am glad to hear that, sir. And may I wish both of you a very Happy New Year?"

 

Raffles smiled. "Thank you, Parker, and a Happy New Year to you too." He looked at me.

 

"Happy New Year, Parker," I said and smiled.

 

"Thank you, gentlemen," he inclined his head and then offered his hand first to Raffles and then to me.

 

After shaking Parker's hand, Raffles once more offered me his arm and we made our way up to our rooms.

 

Once inside Raffles closed, locked and bolted the front door, took his overcoat, hat and gloves off, put his stick down and then took my cloak from around my shoulders, letting his lips brush over the side of my neck as he did so. I put my head back a little giving him more access and sighed softly as his lips lingered for a moment or two, before he put my cloak down on the chair, took my hand and led me into the sitting room where he threw a little more coal onto the fire and lit several candles whilst I slipped my shoes off and groaned with pleasure.

 

He laughed softly and the next moment I was in his arms and he was kissing me deeply. "Well, my rabbit," he said, lifting his head, taking my hand and tugging me towards an arm chair which he sat down in and then pulled me onto his lap. I'd sat on his lap many times, he seemed to enjoy it and I certainly did, both at school and since, but it felt more than a little awkward in my ball gown. I shifted a little for a moment or two until I managed to get comfortable at which point I sighed and did what I usually did when I sat on his lap: I put my head on his shoulder.


"Yes, Raffles?" I murmured.

 

"Did you enjoy yourself tonight?"

 

I sat back up and gazed at him. "Actually, I did, I enjoyed myself very much indeed - more than I thought I would. Did you?"

 

He was silent for a moment as he looked at me and his hand went to my hair, firstly to my fringe to brush it back from my forehead and then to the curls which he gently stroked, tangled around his fingers and played with - just as he always played with my hair. I felt him begin to unpin the curls and untangle my own hair from where they had been affixed. "I did, Bunny," he finally said, his voice soft and serious. "I really did."

 

"But?" I asked, gazing at him as he continued to unpin my hair.

 

"But I wouldn't want it all the time." Again his tone was soft and serious and I frowned a little, not quite certain what he meant. "I would miss out on too much of you, of too much of your time, if you were a lady," he said.

 

"Raffles?" I wasn't quite certain to what he was referring.

 

"Bunny, my dearest, dearest Bunny, I loved tonight; I loved holding you in my arms and dancing with you; I loved being able to look at you as I always want to look at you, to be able to touch you in a more intimate way than I can touch you normally; I loved being able to kiss you even; I loved that people saw us and believed you to be a lady. But I wouldn't exchange that for what we have. Oh, Bunny, just think what we'd lose? I couldn't take you to the Turkish baths or the club or many other places where ladies are not permitted. Yes, we could dine out, we could even go to the theatre but it wouldn't be the same."

 

I stared at him. "I'm not sure I understand," I said quietly.

 

He pulled my head down and kissed me. "No, my rabbit, I know you do not. Oh, Bunny, when I saw you for the first time in this dress I was . . . For a moment I thought I . . . That's why I -"

 

"Made love to me as you did?" I asked softly, suddenly understanding.

 

He caught my hand and held it tightly and as he gazed at me I saw a hint of fear in the steady blue gaze, fear I had never seen him display before. "Yes," he whispered. "I . . . Oh, Bunny, you have to believe me. It's you as you I want; it's the man you are I love; it's just that for a moment I wanted . . . I wanted more, Bunny. I wanted what I could not have; what I wonder if two men will ever be able to have."

 

"Raffles?"

 

"I wanted to truly put a ring on your finger; to openly take you as mine; to let everyone know exactly how much I love you; exactly what you are to me. I wanted to stop pretending we are nothing more than best friends; I wanted to be able to hold your hand to kiss you to -" He broke off and shrugged. "Do you understand?" he asked quietly. "Can you understand?"

 

I smiled at him. "Yes, Raffles, yes, I do. I understand very well indeed - because it's what I want too. But," I lowered my head and kissed him, "we both know we cannot have that and so we have to have what we can have."

 

"Which is you by my side as much of the time as is possible - which means not in a gown, no matter how beautiful and alluring you look."

 

I flushed again. "So we're saying goodbye to Miss Chanders, are we?" I asked, "that will make a lot of young ladies very happy."

 

He looked at me. "Well," he said softly, "maybe we don't have to say goodbye to her entirely." I held his gaze and smiled. "But," he said, tugging my head down to kiss me in the way that left me in no doubt as to what was going to happen next. I shifted again on his lap as my body began to harden and become, enclosed as it was in ladies drawers, very uncomfortable. "I think we can say goodbye to her for tonight, do you not?" And as he spoke he tugged my gown up and the next moment he had somehow managed to undo the tie on my drawers, pulled them down a little and had take me in his hand as he sighed with clear and obvious pleasure. "And I'd definitely miss doing this," he whispered, his lips on my ear as I blushed furiously.

 

I shifted on his lap. "Take me to bed, Raffles," I demanded, moving again and pressing down somewhat as I moved until I felt his body's reaction and heard his soft gasp.

 

It was he who, after another intense kiss, pulled my drawers back up, my gown down, guided me off of his lap and stood up, taking my hand and leading me from the sitting room, pausing only long enough to extinguish the candles, and into the bedroom.

 

"I hope you know how to remove ladies clothing," I said with a soft a laugh, holding my gown up at one edge to stop myself from tripping over it now that I hadn't got any shoes on. I may have said the words lightly and with a laugh, but I meant them - I had no idea how to get out of the clothing I wore. I imagined I could probably manage to remove the dress, although even that had strange fastenings, but I knew I'd never be able to remove my underclothing by myself.

 

He left me in the doorway in order to turn the lamps on by the bed before returning to me and taking my hand in his again. "Well," he said leading me across the room, pulling me into his arms to kiss me briefly before turning me around and beginning to unfasten my dress. "It has been quite a number of years, but yes, Bunny, I believe I still do remember."

 

And he clearly did because before too long the dress was carefully laid on a chair and the underclothing covered the floor as he stripped himself whilst gazing down at me as I lay on my back on our bed completely naked, clearly aroused and getting harder as I watched his body be revealed.

 

My first release happened mere seconds after he joined me on the bed and took me into his hands as his mouth covered mine. His first release was almost as quick as once my heart rate had calmed a little, I put my mouth on his whilst taking him into my hand and stroking him.

 

 

New Year's Day was several hours old before we finally, without troubling to turn the lamps off, fell asleep; me in his arms, with my head on his shoulder; him holding me in his possessive, protective way.

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