Sometimes Bunny wonders if Raffles cares for him at all and after an evening spent watching Raffles dance with and pay attention to a particularly attractive young lady, Bunny decides to challenge Raffles.
An established relationship story.
Written: August 2012. Word count: 22,336.
I stood by the side of the dance floor sipping what I knew to be extremely fine champagne, I was however in no mood to appreciate its fineness. As I stood there I watched the couples dance around the floor; or rather my attention was focussed on one particular couple.
Suddenly I was aware that someone was standing next to me and I dragged my gaze away from the dancers and turned my attention to Lady Helen Mowbray, the young lady for whom the ball was being held. "Good evening, Lady Helen," I said and nodded politely
She smiled at me in a somewhat distracted way and I could see her quickly trying to recall my name. It barely troubled me any longer that few of the hosts or hostesses whose dinner table, balls and country house parties I frequented at Raffles's side remembered by name with ease.
She hesitated for another moment and I saw a slight frown crease her brow, then she smiled and said, "Mr. Manders, I do hope you are enjoying yourself? I do not believe I have seen you dancing."
She was quite correct she hadn't. I forced a smile and took another sip from my glass of champagne. "I'm afraid I'm not much of a dancer, Lady Helen," I said.
"Unlike your Mr. Raffles," she said, her gaze travelling to where mine had been only moments before. "I do believe he has barely left the floor all evening." I was about to reply to her when she spoke again. "They do make a lovely couple, do you not agree, Mr. Manders?"
"Who do?" I said foolishly.
She blinked as she looked at me and another frown touched her brow for a moment. "Why Mr. Raffles and Lady Adelaide," she said. "They have been dancing together for most of the evening; I thought that is who you were watching so intently when I arrived."
It had been; that is exactly whom I had been watching. I was about to refute her comment about them making 'a lovely couple', but then Raffles with Lady Adelaide held securely in his arms danced by in front of me and in that instant I saw what Lady Helen meant.
Swallowing a sigh and forcing myself to speak in a natural if somewhat overly bright tone I said, "Yes, yes, they do. They make a very attractive couple, a very attractive couple indeed."
"And Lady Adelaide does like cricket," Lady Helen said. "In fact she and I attended Mr. Raffles's last test match - you were there, I believe?"
I nodded. "Oh, yes," I said, adding without really thinking about it, "I always accompany him."
She looked at me a little appraisingly and I saw what I'd seen so many times on the faces of people we knew: just why was I always present at Raffles's side? I didn't play cricket; I didn't dance; I wasn't a card player; I often got tongue tied; I wasn't worldly or knowledgeable - in fact I was the most unlikely friend someone like Raffles would be likely to have.
"Yes," she said, "they do make a very charming couple. Has Mr. Raffles been selected for the second test? I believe it begins on Thursday, does it not?"
"Yes, yes, it does. But no, he hasn't, not this time." I swallowed the last of my champagne and the next moment a footman appeared with a tray of full glasses. I put my glass on the tray and took another glass, noticing just before I was about to sip from it that Lady Helen's own glass was empty. With what I hoped was a gallant smile, I gave a slight bow, took her empty glass from her and handed her the one I had taken before I put her empty glass on the try and took another full one for myself.
"Thank you, Mr. Manders," she said giving me a faint smile as she took a careful sip from the glass making sure neither it nor the champagne touched her lips. I had always wondered how ladies managed to achieve that, I knew I'd spill it. "It is a shame Mr. Raffles has not been selected," she said. "I happen to know that Lady Adelaide -"
Whatever she was about to say was halted by the arrival of Raffles and Lady Adelaide. "That Lady Adelaide . . . ? What were you about to say, Helen?" Lady Adelaide, whose hand rested on Raffles's arm asked.
Lady Helen smiled, "Oh, nothing, Adelaide, Mr. Manders and I were just making polite conversation." She turned to smile at me; Raffles also looked in my direction and raised an eyebrow slightly.
I deliberately looked away from him and instead looked at Lady Adelaide and said, "May I fetch you a drink, Lady Adelaide?" I put my own glass down on a nearby table.
She turned her attention to me. "Oh, that would be very kind, Mr. -" despite Lady Helen having referred to me by name, it was obvious that Lady Adelaide had failed to remember it. "Manders," she said suddenly. Despite the fact I was studiously avoiding looking at him, I did see Raffles's lips press together more tightly at the slight. "Thank you very much, Mr. Manders," she repeated my name unnecessarily. "I do seem to have been dancing for a rather long time, thanks to Mr. Raffles." She turned to smile at him and he matched her smile as he lifted her hand to his lips and lightly kissed it.
I managed to maintain a smile on my face as I turned around quickly. I narrowly avoided knocking over the tray of glasses of champagne a footman was carrying and instead took two glasses turned back and handed one to Lady Adelaide and the second to Raffles.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Manders," Lady Adelaide said putting the glass close to her lips and taking a sip, as Lady Helen had managed a short time before, I noticed she also managed to drink without either the glass or the champagne touching her lips.
"Yes, thank you, Bunny," Raffles said, quite deliberately but in a way that would appear to be accidental, letting his fingers brush against mine as he took the glass from me. I smiled at Lady Adelaide, gave Raffles a minute curt nod, before picking my own glass back up from the table and taking a long swallow.
The ladies stayed and talked to us for a few minutes, well they talked to Raffles whilst I stood in silence, before they left us. Once they had departed, Raffles pulled out his watch and glanced at it before looking at me and smiling in the intimate way he does smile at me; the way that instantly made me long for his mouth on mine; the way that made me forget my irritation. "We can leave soon, Bunny," he said, his low tone and as intimate as the smile he had given me; I felt my cheeks become a little warm which caused him to smile again.
With Raffles standing closely by my side I felt much happier and even found myself enjoying the ball for the first time since Raffles had left my side to dance with Lady Adelaide. We stood mostly in silence sipping our champagne watching the dancers. Suddenly Raffles turned to me and asked, "About what were you and Lady Helen talking, Bunny?"
I wasn't certain but I believed I detected a hint of something I couldn't quite describe in his tone. I shrugged a little. "Oh, she was just saying what a lovely couple you and Lady Adelaide made," I said; I was very happy to see him frown slightly.
"Was she now?" His tone was now quite clipped.
I nodded. "Yes, and apparently Lady Adelaide enjoys cricket."
Now Raffles sighed softly. "So she told me whilst we were dancing. We shall shortly be receiving an invitation to attend her father's country house party where there will be a special cricket match between the gentlemen and the local men." He sighed again.
"We will be receiving?" I asked.
He gave a half shrug and glanced away from me for a moment. "Well, I certainly shall, but I have already informed her you will be accompanying me." Now he looked back at me. "I told her I didn't go anywhere without you."
"Raffles! You didn't?" I exclaimed so loudly more than one head turned in our direction.
He smiled. "Well not quite, but I made it perfectly clear if she expected me to attend and take to the field then I expected you to also be invited; if she fails to remember to invite you, you shall simply accompany me." I stared at him, warmed by his words. I was about to say something when Lady Adelaide appeared again.
"Ah, Mr. Raffles," she said, not even glancing in my direction. "I do believe you promised me this dance." And without giving Raffles the chance to reply, she put her hand on his and turned towards the dance floor leaving Raffles no choice but to go with her. He swiftly pushed his half empty champagne glass into my hand, gave me an 'I made no such promise' look, before smiling and taking her into his arms.
I emptied my glass, his and had taken and emptied one and a half further glassed before he finally reappeared by my side, took the half empty glass from me, emptied it himself and took my arm. "Now we can leave," he said, and without waiting for me to reply he led me across the room and out into the hallway.
After saying our polite goodbyes and expressing our thanks for being invited to Lady Helen and her parents, we left, Raffles's arm firmly through mine. He suggested we'd have a better chance of getting a hansom cab if we walked part of the way and I was not about to object. Thus arm-in-arm we walked along until Raffles flagged down a cab which took us the rest of the way to the Albany.
We exchanged a few words with Parker before ascending to Raffles's rooms. Once we were inside he firmly locked the door, divested me of my hat and overcoat, hung them up along with his own and led me into his sitting room where he took me into his arms and put his mouth on mine.
I moaned slightly under the sheer beauty of his kiss and pressed myself against him as I opened my mouth beneath his and let his tongue slip inside my mouth. He tasted of Sullivans and champagne and when he finally took his mouth away from mine for long enough to allow us to breath I took a deep breath. In that instant the over-riding scent of heavy perfume hit my nostrils and I recognised it as the same scent which had surrounded Lady Adelaide.
Without thinking I pulled myself away from him and turned around. "Bunny?" he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "Is something wrong with my rabbit?"
I don't know what it was, why his words, words he'd said to me on many occasions both at school and as adults, but something about his words and his tone angered me. Maybe I had had a glass of champagne too many as I had stood and watched him dance with Lady Adelaide; maybe I was just tired of so many evenings spent watching him dance with and hearing him say pretty things to the ladies of our acquaintance; maybe even I had finally had enough of not being remembered or noticed.
Whatever it was it made me speak before I consciously thought. I turned around under his hand and looked up at him. "Have you ever really cared for me Raffles?" I demanded, my tone harsh, "or am I just convenient?"
His eyes widened and he stared at me in surprise, shock even. Then he blinked several times and frowned as he said, "Convenient?"
I nodded. "Yes. I'm always available when you want me, be it to attend a ball or dinner party with you or dine with you or accompany you to a cricket match or the Turkish baths, or to burgle with you or oil your bats or go to your bed. You never ask me if I already had plans, you never even consider I might have them and even if I had a previous engagement you would expect me to break it for you. Whenever you want me, whatever you want me for, you know I'll -" I stopped speaking as my words finally hit me. I briefly closed my eyes; when I opened them again and looked at him I could not read the expression in his eyes or on his face. "Look, Raffles," I said quickly, "I have rather a bad head-ache; I think I'll go home." I forcibly stopped myself from adding 'if you don't mind'.
He just stood seemingly frozen in place for a moment with the still unfathomable look on his face, his hand still on my shoulder just staring at me. I met the gaze and watched him visible shake himself and force a smile, a smile that was as strange as the look in his eyes. "I am sorry to hear that, my dear Bunny," he said. "Maybe you had a little too much champagne?"
I nodded quickly, grateful for his words. "Yes, I'm sure that's all it is. Well, I'll say goodnight then, Raffles." And I started to turn away.
However, he caught me and to my surprise gathered me carefully, so carefully you'd have thought I was made of china, into his arms and put his mouth on mine, kissing me gently, sweetly. It reminded me of the first and only time he'd kissed me whilst we were at school - on the day he had walked out of my life for ten years.
It was he who broke the kiss, he who let his arms slip from around me, he who put one hand on my cheek and cupped it before he brushed my hair from my forehead. "Sleep well, my beloved rabbit," he said his tone oddly formal. "I do hope you feel better in the morning."
I forced a smile to touch my lips. "I'm sure I shall," I said and then I found myself taking his arm. "Raffles -" I started to say, but his lips brushing lightly over mine silenced me. This time when he lifted his head from mine, he put his arm around me and led me into the hall where he helped me on with my hat and overcoat and opened his front door for me.
"Sleep well," he repeated and smiled his strange smile.
I hesitated for only a second before I smiled back, nodded, turned and headed down the stairs. I called goodnight to Parker as I hurried out into the night, ignoring his hastily covered up surprise at how soon after I had arrived I was leaving.
I walked back to Mount Street, a sense of dread beginning to seep into my bones and despite the fact the evening wasn't that could, I was shivering by the time I let myself into my own flat. Telling myself it was merely to warm me up, I poured a large whisky, ignored the soda and without removing my overcoat slumped down in the arm chair - which was where I woke up the following morning.
I bathed, shaved and dressed all the time trying to ignore the sense of dread that was now fully established in my body. What had I done? Why had I said such a foolish thing? I wasn't even certain if I'd meant it - well at the time I had and forcing myself to be rational and to see Raffles for what he truly was and not with eyes of love, I had to admit part of me still believed it. And as I sipped a cup of coffee I had made but no longer wanted I allowed myself to admit that part of me had always believed I was nothing more than a convenience to Raffles to be picked up and put down again as and when he wished to do so.
Hand over my mouth I raced into the bathroom. It was some time later when cold and shaking I emerged only to sink down into an arm chair, put my head in my hands and allow a tear or two to fall from my eyes. I was now certain of one thing: our relationship beyond that of friendship was over and maybe even the friendship would be over too. It was the way he'd kissed me, both the penultimate and the final times. Both had been exactly the same way as he'd kissed me before he'd picked up his cases and bags and walked out of my life, leaving me to face another three years at school without him to take care of me.
"Oh, Raffles," I whispered as I leant back against the chair and closed my eyes. Maybe we could remain friends, but could the intimate friendship we had remain? Of that I was not certain; with one foolish question I believed I had lost the man whom I had loved from the moment I had met him as a boy; the only person I had ever truly loved - outside of my parents, of course.
I remained in my flat for the rest of the day hoping against hope that the phone or the doorbell might ring and it would be he - both remained silent.
I must have fallen asleep once again in the arm chair because I awoke with a jolt to the sound of his voice. "My dear Bunny, what on earth are you doing sleeping in your chair?"
I opened my eyes, tried to ignore the awful taste in my mouth as well as the empty whisky decanter that stood on the table by the side of my chair, blinked several times and looked up at him. "Hello, Raffles," I managed, choosing not to answer his question. He looked as devastatingly handsome and fresh and well groomed as he always did; not a hair was out of place, his tie was perfectly neat, his watch chain hung precisely, and he had shaved cleanly. Whereas I was well aware my suit was creased, my hair a mess, my chin showing clearly I had not shaved since the previous morning and my tie was half undone.
As he stared down at me he looked a little troubled as if he did not know what to say. Then he reached out and with his fingers brushed my hair back off my forehead. "Go and bathe and shave, Bunny," he said gently, letting his hand fall from my head and instead holding it out to help me to my feet. His tone reminded me faintly of the tone he used to use at school from time to time and it did not help my sense of dread.
"Yes, Raffles," I said obediently, just as I'd done all those years ago, as I let him help me to my feet.
To my surprise he kept my hand in his as he just stood and stared at me; in turn I simply stood and gazed up at him, willing him to say something that might reassure me. Finally he let my hand fall from his and spoke. "I merely dropped by, Bunny, to enquire if you wished to dine with me tonight? That is of course," he added quickly before I had a chance to reply, "if you do not already have plans."
I shook my head and glanced away from the dark blue steady gaze that although looked at me in the fond way he always looked at me also contained a modicum of what I truly believed was pain. "No, Raffles," I said my tone low, "I haven't any other plans. I'd be more than happy to join you for dinner." To my ears my words sound stilted and my response the kind I would make to a mere acquaintance.
I looked back at him and he smiled at me, but like the look in his eyes although it was the smile I had never seen him bestow on anyone else, it also had an edge of again what I thought was pain in it. "Good," he said and smiled again. "I was particularly hoping you would be available tonight," he added after a moment or two or silence.
"Were you?" I asked after another moment or two of silence when I realised he was expecting me to ask.
"Yes. Yes, I was." He then yet again surprised me by not only looking away from me, but turning away from me. "You see the thing is, Bunny," he said his tone bright in a way I had never heard it. I moved slightly and gripped the chair I'd stood up from. "The thing is, I received a telegram yesterday." Again he paused; this time I just waited. "I've been selected at the last moment to play for England," he said finally. "And as I leave for Manchester tomorrow I was hoping to be able to see you tonight. I won't, of course, presume you will accompany me; I am quite sure you have plans for at least some of the time and with it being such a late . . ." He trailed off and turned back around to look at me.
I swallowed hard and forced myself to offer a semblance of a smile to him. "Congratulations, Raffles," I said. "I knew they'd made a mistake not selecting you in the first place and yes, I do have . . . Well, there is something . . . The club?" I finally said, knowing full well I couldn’t complete the lie.
For a second he looked surprised but covered it up quickly. "Yes, yes, the club would be ideal. Shall we say eight o'clock?"
I nodded. "Eight o'clock," I repeated and smiled.
He hesitated for a second or two and I thought he might say something else, but finally he just took a step towards me, squeezed my shoulder before turning around on his heel and leaving my sitting room. As I heard the front door open and close behind him I sank back into the chair he'd helped me out off and again put my head in my hands.
As if by silent agreement we didn't talk about the test match or what had been said two nights ago as we dinned together. In many ways it was familiar, in other ways it was quite strange; it was like dining with an intimate friend and a mere acquaintance.
It was rather earlier than other evenings when he put his cigarette out, swallowed the last of the fine brandy we had enjoyed and stood up. "I really must go home and pack, Bunny," he said.
I opened my mouth to offer to accompany him and do it for him, but closed it again. Instead I said, "I'll walk back with you, if you don't mind."
"I'm afraid I won't be able to invite you in for a drink, Bunny," he said after a moment or two, "my train goes deucedly early tomorrow."
"I don't mind," I said and forced a smile onto my lips.
He smiled back and gave what I took to be a nod of agreement. Thus arm-in-arm, his arm through mine, we walked from the club to the Albany, smoking a Sullivan each but saying nothing.
To my complete surprise a street or so before we reached the Albany, he suddenly glanced around him before dragging me into a alleyway where he pulled me into his arms and kissed me in what for a second or two seemed like desperation before it turned into another what I had in my mind began to refer to as his 'farewell kiss'. I didn't even trouble to fear we might be caught, I just clung to him and kissed him back, wishing with all my heart that I could take back what I had said two nights before.
Finally he took his mouth from mine, took a deep breath, before bending his head and brushing his lips lightly over mind. "If you manage to finish what it is you have planned earlier than you expect to, I would be very happy for you to join me in Manchester," he said, his tone was formal and if he was looking at me I couldn’t see as the alleyway was without any form of lighting.
I swallowed hard. "I'd like that," I said, ensuring my own tone was as formal as his had been.
His hand came to rest on my cheek. "But only if you do complete whatever plans you had made. I wouldn't want you to change them, not for my sake."
"I won't," I whispered, leaning into the caress.
"Good," he said. Then he brushed his lips over mine once more, took my arm and led me back out of the alleyway. There he let go of my arm and offered me his hand whilst the other came to rest on my shoulder. "I'll say goodnight then, Bunny," he said.
I shook his hand. "Goodnight, Raffles," I said. "And good luck - for the test I mean."
"Thank you, Bunny. If you are unable to . . . Shall I drop by and see you when I return from Manchester?"
"Oh, yes, please, Raffles," I said almost stumbling over the words. "If of course you wish -" I stopped speaking abruptly, turned on my heel and said again, "Goodnight, Raffles." This time I walked away from him and made my lonely way back to Mount Street.
I made sure that night I slept in my bed, even if the sleep was once again assisted somewhat by the large whisky I poured myself upon my return to my flat. The whisky I took into my bedroom and drank whilst I undressed.
When I awoke the following day the sun was shining. I sighed more than once as I bathed, shaved and dressed, wondering quite how I was going to fill the next five days - always assuming I did not give into my desire and take the train up to Manchester.
I of course, as Raffles knew only too well, had no plans, had nothing to complete or put off. However, it was I who had as good as accused him of expecting me to drop anything and everything I might have planned to do as he wished me to do or accompany him somewhere. Thus, I really felt I couldn't go to Manchester immediately - if indeed at all.
As I wandered around my flat during the morning I told myself countless times what a fool I'd been. I should simply have told him I had nothing to do and would be delighted to accompany him as I always had done. Why had I let my pride stop me? Would it really have mattered to admit to what we both knew to be the truth?
I still didn't know what the status of our relationship was; in one way it seemed that despite my words nothing had changed (putting aside the fact that he was in Manchester and I was still in London); he'd kissed me several times after my accusation; he had called to see me; he'd invited me to join him in Manchester; he'd asked if he could come and see me if I couldn’t join him and yet despite all of that it still in many ways felt as if he was working up to saying 'goodbye' to me.
Against my will I remembered the final few weeks of his time at the school. I had thought I'd spent a lot of time in his company during the two years we'd been there together, indeed I would not have thought it possible (certainly not given the differences in our ages, thus we would never take lessons together) that I could have spent any more time with him. But I did; even during break and lunch times, time in the past that he'd spent with Charleston or his fellow sixth formers I found he spent with me and more than one cricket practise involved him sitting with me rather than playing - his rationale being he was leaving the school, thus he didn't need to practise with the team. And he kept me in his study as late as he possibly could before he walked me back to the dorm - and on more than one occasion it was past the time I should have been in bed before he let me go.
And somehow it felt like that now; not that he was spending more time with me, but in other ways, it seemed very similar. My accusation that I was nothing more than a convenience to him, would almost certainly have ended instantly any other relationship that wasn't as close, as intimate, as intense, with so much history as ours, but because of how close we were and our friendship going back to our school days I could understand why he couldn't just walk away. He would do it over a period of time. And yet -
I shook my head as I stared out into the sun streaked streets of London; my thoughts were getting far too convoluted and confused and my head was beginning to ache. I decided to go out for luncheon; anything to get away from the suddenly suffocating atmosphere that had taken over my flat.
I was walking along trying to decide where to lunch, when I heard from behind me my name being called. "Harry!" I stopped walking and turned around to see Lady Lucille Donaldson hurrying towards me.
"Hello, Lucy," I said, glancing around me to see if anyone was looking disapprovingly at hearing a young lady call out a gentleman's name in the street. Not that Lucy would be at all perturbed if anyone did look disapprovingly, to my slight discomfort she was a very modern young lady.
She caught up with me and put her hand on my arm. "What are you doing in London, Harry?" she asked, surprise clear in her voice. And then before I could reply she went on. "Johnny told me Arthur had been selected at the last moment for the second test in Manchester."
I nodded. "Yes, he was." Johnny was Lord James Oswald Henry Nicholas Donaldson, Lucy's husband, known to the gentlemen with whom he played cricked as 'John'. Raffles and I had known Lucy for years longer than her husband; we had first met her when we were at school when she accompanied her best friend, with whose family she lived as her own parents were abroad to Founder's Day. Lucy's friend's brother was the same age as Raffles and on the eleven with him. Even then, some three years younger than I, Lucy was quite the modern little girl and rather outspoken and her first words upon being introduced by her best friend's brother to Raffles were 'I hate cricket'. Raffles had merely smiled at her and from that day whenever she came to the school she would seek Raffles and thus myself out.
We became reacquainted some months after Raffles and I had rejoined forces when we met at a ball. As at school her first words to Raffles then had been 'I still hate cricket'. Nonetheless, she ended up marrying the England cricket captain to whom Raffles introduced her one day - it really was love at first sight. In fact I have never said anything, well I couldn’t, but the look on her face when she first met Lord James Donaldson reminded me very much of the look I knew was on my face when I met Raffles for the first time.
"Well," she demanded, "why aren't you with him?" I stared at her no longer conscious of the fact we were standing in the middle of the pavement and people had to walk onto the road to get around us. I didn't know what to say; I couldn't tell her the truth, but I've never found it easy to lie to someone I know - certainly not when face to face with them. Before I could decide what I might say she spoke again. "You haven't had a row, have you?"
I shook my head. "No," I said, because we hadn't, well, not really.
"Then why are you here alone in London and not with Arthur in Manchester?"
"I . . . I had things to do," I said suddenly. "Well Raffles was selected at the very last minute. I had things I couldn't . . ." I trailed off under the look she was giving me and I felt my cheeks begin to grow warm.
"What things, Harry? Do tell me quite what was so important that you could not put it off so that you could accompany Arthur as you always do? Well," she said after a moment or two during which I searched my mind for something even half plausible, "I'm waiting."
Suddenly I had an inspiration and if it wasn't exactly the truth, or anywhere near the truth, I thought it might amuse her. "Taking you to lunch," I said and smiled at her.
For a moment she just stood and stared at me; then she laughed quite loudly in a very unladylike way and shook her head as she looked at me - it was more than a little reminiscent of the way Raffles shook his head at me at times.
Then to my slight discomfort, she was, after all a married lady and I an unmarried gentleman, she put her arm through mine and said, "You may indeed buy me lunch, Harry, and then you are catching the train for Manchester. No," she said, beginning to walk which meant I had to go with her, "I will not take no for an answer. However, you may tell me quite why you felt you had to invent something to do and what is amiss between you and Arthur. Now, the Savoy, I think. Do you not?"
I nodded, "Yes, Lucy," I said placidly, wondering as we walked along quite what I could tell her that would placate her and be believable enough to her without actually telling her the truth - which of course I could not do.
I sat in the corner of the carriage listening to the train rumble over the tracks as it took me to Manchester - no, as it took me to Raffles's side. After a longer than expected luncheon with Lucy, I had hurried home, bathed again, packed a case with several days' worth of clothing before taking a cab to the railway station where I purchased a ticket to Manchester.
Now as I sat in the otherwise empty compartment smoking a Sullivan I recalled the lunch with Lucy. If I had expected her to let the matter as to why I was still in London whilst Raffles was in Manchester drop, I'd been sadly mistaken.
She did allow us to get through the pre-luncheon drink and indeed our first course before she raised the matter again. I'd hoped by the time she had asked, I would have managed to find something convincing that wasn't the whole truth, but wasn't a complete lie. I believe I did and as I sat there smoking, attempting and failing as I always do, to blow a smoke ring, I heard the conversation again.
"Well, Harry, come along, tell me exactly why you," she paused for a moment, took a sip of wine and then looked at me directly, he green eyes holding mine. "Lied to Arthur?"
"Lucy!" I said, somewhat shocked and I felt my cheeks begin to burn. "I didn't lie to him." I hadn't, Raffles had known as well as I had that I had no plans; that I never have any plans unless they involve Raffles. Thus, I did not believe my words to him to have been a lie. Under her steady, appraising gaze I shifted slightly on my chair.
She continued to stare at me, apart from the difference in eye colour, her look was very similar to the one Raffles cast on me from time to time. "Very well," she said, carefully dabbing her lips with her napkin, "I will accept you did not lie to Arthur. But pray tell me why you felt you had to tell him you had something else to do that prevented you from accompanying him to Manchester?"
I sighed; there was no way out, I really had to tell her something. "It's just that I've been wondering if I'm too compliant as far as Raffles is concerned." I fell silent, hoping that might be enough, but she just continued to stare at me. "I'm always available when he wants me, be it to lunch or dine with him or attend his cricket matches or accompany him to a ball or to a dinner or to a party or to the theatre or to -" Hastily I cut myself off as the only other two things left, burgling with him and going to his bed, were the two things I really could not tell Lucy.
"Or?" she asked.
I shrugged and smiled and thought quickly. I had it. "Or meet him at the Turkish baths or anything else he wants to do," I added. "I'm always available," I said again. "I never say 'no'."
"And do you never suggest dinner or a trip to the theatre or anything else?" she asked.
"Of course I do."
"And does Arthur accept your invitation?"
I nodded. "Yes!" I said quite loudly then repeated more quietly, "Yes. Yes, he does."
"I see." Lucy fell silent as the waiter appeared and served our next course.
Once he'd gone, as unobtrusively as he'd appeared, she leaned forward a little and put her hand on mine. "Harry," she said gently, "you know I'm very fond of you, do you not?"
I felt my cheeks flush again as I nodded. It was true, I did know she was fond of me, indeed I sometimes thought she was a little fonder of me than she was of Raffles - but that was probably because I didn't play the game she hated.
"Good," she said, smiling and picking up her fork. "So I hope you won't be upset when I tell you that for once I can quite understand why Arthur gave you the name he alone calls you." And with that she patted my hand, took hers away, picked her knife up and began to eat.
My cheeks burnt more as I grabbed my wine glass took a large swallow, patted my lips, picked my own knife and fork up and began to eat, ensuring my full attention was on my plate and not on Lucy.
We ate in silence, a silence she broke by putting her knife and fork down onto her plate more loudly than was necessary. I looked up and met her gaze. "Harry," she said, once more touching my hand. "I really did not mean to upset you. Johnny is always saying I speak before I think at times. But surely you understand why I said what I said? Does it really matter if Arthur asks you to dine with him more often than you ask him? Do you think he keeps count?"
Slowly I shook my head as I began to understand what she was saying. "No," I said quietly, then added as something else came to me, "But -"
"And before you suggest that other people might think you are too ready to fall in with Arthur's plans," she read my mind in a rather frightening way, in the way I believed only Raffles was capable of. "I ask you, when have other peoples' opinions of what you and Arthur do, of your relationship mattered?"
I glanced away from her for a moment before looking back. "Never," I said quietly.
"Exactly." She smiled and squeezed my hand. "And that it why you are going to take the train up to Manchester this very evening. No," she said forestalling me, "I will not be argued with. I am expecting a baby and it is not good manners to argue with a pregnant lady."
"What?" I exclaimed, glancing around me, hoping no one was close enough to hear how inappropriate her words were. "Lucy, you shouldn't have told me that." I hissed.
She stared at me and shook her head. "Why not, Harry? You are one of my closest friends and I'm sure by now Johnny has told the England team; he is quite, quite delighted by the news."
"Yes, but . . . but . . . but . . . Lucy, it's . . . It's not proper."
She laughed softly for a moment before she glanced around her and leant forward. "You do know where babies come from, do you not, Harry?"
"Lucy!" I spluttered, aware my cheeks were now quite red. I sat there just staring at her, not at all certain what to say or do. What would Raffles do? "Congratulations," I managed, realising that had Raffles been sitting where I was he wouldn't have blushed or even given a hint he believed she had acted inappropriately by telling me, and he would of course have offered his congratulations.
She smiled. "Thank you, Harry," she said. "So do I have your word you will go to Manchester later today? You will join Arthur?" she added quickly.
I nodded. "Yes, Lucy. You have my word." And in truth, even had she not urged me - ordered me - to go to Raffles's side, I would have done so. There was no place I wanted to be other than by his side, as I always was; as I was always happy to be.
"Good." She smiled.
So that was why I was sitting in a first class compartment on my way to Manchester - on my way to Raffles. I thought about whether or I should have dinner, but it was somewhat early, given I had lunched well and I rather hoped I'd be invited to dine with the England team once I arrived. I felt sure I would be, assuming of course Raffles didn't turn me away and given he had been the one to suggest if I finished what I had to do sooner than expected I should join him, I didn't think he would, as they were used to be being the thirteenth man.
A cab dropped me off outside the hotel I knew the England team always stayed at and after paying and tipping the man, I picked up my case and went inside and made my way to the desk. "Good evening," I said to the man behind the desk. "I'd like to book a room for tonight and the next four nights, please."
He looked at me for a moment and opened the register. "Of course, sir," he said and turned his attention to the register. I watched him frown and look again before he looked back at me. "I'm very sorry, sir, but we do not have any rooms available."
"None?" I said in horror my voice slightly loud.
He shook his head. "No, sir. I'm afraid not, sir."
"Look," I said. "I don't mind what the room is like. I don't mind where it is. I just need a room."
He sighed. "Sir, I assure you if I had any room available, I would offer it to you. But the hotel is full."
"But I've come all the way from London," I said.
"There are other hotels, sir. I am sure -"
I shook my head. "I've come to join the England cricket team, I'm not a player," I said swiftly then I added, "they are staying here, are they not?"
He nodded. "Yes, sir. As are the Australian team." I stared at him in surprise. He glanced around him, before leaning forward a little and saying more quietly, "I believe their previous hotel was not up to . . . Expectation, shall we say. That is why we do not have any rooms available."
"Oh," I said, wondering if I looked and sounded as despondent as I felt. I thought for a moment and then asked, "Would it be possible for me to see Mr. Raffles? He's one of the -"
"Yes, sir, I am quite aware who Mr. Raffles is. Well, sir, the England team will be dining very soon and I really do not wish to disturb them."
I pulled out a sovereign and held it out. "I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to enquire as to whether he'd be willing to see me, would it? My name is Manders, Harry Manders." I waited.
The man looked around him quickly and then took the sovereign and put it into this pocket. "I am sure it wouldn't hurt, Mr. Manders, to ask." He clicked his fingers and a young pageboy hurried over. "Take a message to Mr. Raffles, Henry, he's with -"
"The England cricket team, I know that, Mr. Parsons; he's the best player on the team. Shocking it was that he was only picked at the last minute."
"Yes, quite. Tell Mr. Raffles that a Mr. Harry Manders is here and is asking if Mr. Raffles could spare him a moment or two of his time."
Henry turned to look at me and I was subjected to an intense scrutiny. "I know you," he said after a moment. "You're the gent who's usually with Mr. Raffles, ain't you? I saw him play last time and you arrived with him."
I nodded quickly. "Yes, I am."
"I'll tell him, sir. Reckon he'll be happy to see you." And he stuck his hands in his pockets and whistling sauntered off across the reception area.
I heard Parsons sigh from behind me and mutter something about 'not being able to get the staff these days', but I choose to ignore the comment; after all he did have a sovereign for what was in effect very little trouble.
I stood and waited, trying to ignore how dry my throat was and how damp my palms and back were. What if he refused to see me? What would I do then? What if -
My musings were interrupted by his voice. "My dear Bunny!" he called, hurrying towards me with his arms out, by his side was Lord John Donaldson. As they reached me I really thought Raffles was going to take me into his arms, but at the last second one hand took mine and shook it rigorously and the other came to rest on my shoulder. "You came," he smiled down at me and I swallowed hard as I gazed up at him. "You did manage to finish your article sooner than you expected then?"
I was used to following Raffles's lead and so his question did not faze me. Instead I smiled and nodded. "Yes," I said. "Inspiration hit me in the early hours of the morning and I'd finished by lunch time."
"That's good," Raffles said, finally letting go of my hand which he'd ceased to shake some moments ago. His other hand still lingered on my shoulder.
As caught up in the way he was looking down at me as I was, I remembered he wasn't alone and I turned to Donaldson. "Good evening, Lord John," I said, nodding my head slightly. I know such an address was not strictly speaking correct. However he had never liked the name 'James' thus had been known as 'John' from his prep school days. He had suggested on more than one occasion that I, like the England team, drop the 'Lord' but to my mind that was completely unacceptable.
Donaldson shook his head slightly as he looked at me. "Hello, Manders. I'm jolly glad to see you." I must have expressed surprise in my look because he continued to speak. "A. J. here was quite morose without you." I dared to glance at Raffles who looked as if he was about to say something, but before he could Donaldson went on. "Not to mention that without you here we had no luck at all."
"It rained all day," Raffles said quickly, "did you not see the evening paper, Bunny?"
I shook my head. "No, I didn't really have time."
"Well you're here now," Donaldson said. "Although what article you deemed to be so important you had to remain in London, I don't know." Swiftly I glanced at Raffles, but Donaldson didn't appear to expect an answer as he spoke again. "I trust you'll join us for dinner, Manders?"
"Thank you, Lord John, I'd be delighted to do so."
"Good," he said. "I'll go and tell them to delay it for twenty minutes, no better make it half an hour," he added, glancing swiftly at Raffles, "I'm sure you'd like time for a drink before dinner, right, Manders?"
I nodded. "Yes, thank you. There is one problem, however."
"Don't tell me you didn't pack your evening wear, Bunny," Raffles said.
"No, of course I have that. It's just that the hotel is full; there isn’t an available room."
"No room?" Donaldson said. "Leave it to me, I'll sort it out. In the meantime I'm quite sure A. J. will be happy to let you change in his room."
"Quite happy," Raffles said. "Come along, Bunny." And before I could do so, he picked my case up.
Donaldson glanced at both of us. "Yes, half an hour," he said. "I'll tell the other chaps they'll have to wait; I'll get them another drink. Oh, A. J.?" he called as Raffles began to lead me towards the lift.
Raffles stopped. "Yes, John?"
"As you are going upstairs be a good chap and get my cigarette case for me, please?" As he spoke he pulled out a key and tossed it across to Raffles who caught it quite easily, even though he had my case in his right hand and had to take his left off my shoulder to catch it.
"Of course," he said, and once more started to lead me away.
However, something came to me and I stopped and turned. "Lord John," I said.
"I just thought I should let you know I took Lady Lucy to lunch. I do hope you didn't mind."
He stared at me and shook his head as he glanced at Raffles. "Of course I don't mind, Manders. You and A. J. have known Lucy longer than I have. And even if I did mind, which I don't, that wouldn't stop Lucy - we all know how headstrong my wife is. I just hope the child doesn't take after her." I could see Raffles out of the corner of my eye and he didn't seem surprised by the words so I could only assume Donaldson had, as Lucy had suggested, told the team. "I presume Lucy did tell you, Manders, that we are expecting our first child?"
To my slight embarrassment I felt my cheeks burn a little and stammered slightly as I said, "Um, yes, Lord John, she did."
I saw a faint smile touch his lips and he once again glanced at Raffles and shook his head slightly. Raffles's hand tightened on my shoulder and he said, "Come along, Bunny, let's go and get changed."
"And I'll sort out a room for you," Donaldson called, turning away and heading towards the desk, behind which Parsons still stood.
The lift hadn't arrived by the time Donaldson started to talk to Parsons and given he did not moderate his voice, Raffles and I heard him quite clearly. "What do you mean you haven't got a room for Mr. Manders? Come along, you can't tell me the hotel doesn't always keep a room in case of emergencies, shall we say. Well this is one of those 'emergencies'; Mr. Manders is a friend of mine and I expect you to find him a room."
"I'm really sorry, my Lord, I assure you nothing would make me happier, my Lord, than to find a room for Mr. Manders. But it just is not possible. As you may be aware we have had to find rooms for the Australian team and I assure you there isn't anything available at all. I am sorry, my Lord."
Parsons shook his head. "No, my Lord."
Leaving my case on the ground but keeping his hand on my shoulder, thus effectively meaning I had no choice but to move when he did, Raffles strolled over to the desk where Donaldson was glaring at Parsons and Parsons was looking apologetic - I felt quite sorry for him.
"It's not a problem, John," Raffles said, "Bunny can share my room."
"Share?" Parson said his voice rather high.
Raffles turned to look at him. "Yes, is there a problem with that?" His voice was icy.
"I'm not sure the hotel management would . . ." Parsons trailed off as both Raffles and Donaldson stared at him. Quailing under the double icy stare he swallowed. "I'll see if there is any possibility of finding a room for Mr. Manders," he said quickly.
"And if not just send a maid to make up a bed on the sofa, it really is quite comfortable. I took a short nap there myself before dressing for dinner." And with that Raffles put his hand back on my shoulder, nodded to Donaldson and once more led me away to where the lift stood waiting.
As soon as he had closed the door of his room, he dropped my case onto the floor and pulled me into his arms as his mouth met mine. For a second I hesitated, not certain I could bear another 'goodbye' kiss. But this was nothing like that; this was the kind of kiss he bestowed on me all the time.
I slid my arms around him and began to kiss him back, opening my mouth beneath his demanding tongue and pressing myself right against him - knowing full well it would be scant seconds before my body started to react to his closeness, his scent, the scent I loved not adulterated by a lady's perfume, his kiss, as well as the way he was holding me: possessively with one hand, whilst his other tangled in my hair.
As he deepened the kiss even more and pulled me nearer to him as he quite simply took full possession of me, my body did indeed react to him and I felt myself harden. I moaned into his mouth and pushed against him, moving slightly against his lower body, desperate for a release I hadn't had for days, desperate for his touch.
"Raffles," I managed, breaking the kiss long enough to allow me to take a deep
breath and murmur his name. I wasn't certain he'd comply with my wishes, my now
desperate need for his touch, given I still had to change. But my Raffles knows
me, knows my body so very well and seconds later he moved me back just a little
as long fingers I loved to watch do things with cricket balls and locks and hold
cigarettes and glasses, but loved even more when they touched me, unbuttoned my
trousers and seconds later my painfully hard, heated hardness was gently tugged
from inside my drawers and trousers by his cool hand which he wrapped around me
and began to move it in the way he knew I liked best.
It took less than a minute before I pulled my mouth from his, buried my head in his shoulder and sobbed his name over and over again as into his hand my body found the release it craved so badly. "Raffles," I sobbed his name softly as he gathered me even more possessively and now protectively into a one armed embrace and softly hushed me.
"Oh, Raffles," I said finally lifting my head from his shoulder and gazing up at him certain my face was showing him how much I loved him, needed him, never wanted be apart from him. "I'm so sorry, Raffles," I clung to him.
He frowned slightly for a moment as I muttered my apology. Then I saw understanding pass over his face. He smiled, bent his head to kiss me again before straightening up, taking his handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his hand. "We'll talk about it later, Bunny," he said gently.
"Do we have to?" I all but begged him.
He dropped the handkerchief onto the table by the door and after carefully, reverentially even and very gently tucked me away, rearranging my drawers, but not bothering to re-button my trousers, he gathered me back into a loose embrace and kissed my forehead and then put his mouth on mine again for a moment.
"Yes, my dear Bunny," he said gently but firmly as he took his mouth away. "We do. But not now, my rabbit; now you must get changed so that we can dine. I really don't think the rest of the team will want to wait too much longer for their dinner.
I opened my mouth to object but sighed softly and said, "Very well, Raffles." And after brushing my own lips over his, I turned from him, picked my case up, put it on his bed and began to remove my clothing.
"That's my good rabbit," he said, coming to stand next to me for a moment and his hand touched my hair before he crossed to the dresser, leant against it, took a cigarette out, lit it and stood quite deliberately watching me as I undressed.
I paused for a second and looked at him. "Am I yours?" I said softly.
He stared at me for a moment before blowing a perfect smoke ring and stubbing his half smoked cigarette out. "I shall show you later exactly how much you are 'mine', my beloved Bunny," he said softly. "And now finish dressing whilst I wash my hands and fetch John's cigarette case, then we can join the others. Leave your tie," he said, as he headed towards the door. "I shall tie that for you when I return."
"Yes, Raffles," I said obediently; he had no need to tell me to leave it untied given he always ties it or reties it for me - he claims I am incapable of tying a bowtie to his satisfaction. Maybe I can't tie it quite as well as he can but I did manage for some years before he took possession of me again. Not that I had any intention of objecting; I enjoyed, maybe a little too much, his ministering to me as he did.
Hands washed, a fresh handkerchief in his pocket, my tie tied, he paused long enough to kiss me again, before he picked Donaldson's cigarette case up from where he had placed it on the dresser and with his hand once more on my shoulder he led me across the room, out into the hallway, into the lift and finally into the room where the rest of the England team were enjoying, quite loudly, a drink.
They all greeted me, some more loudly and seemingly enthusiastically than others, but I got the warming feeling that not one of them was in any way irritated by my presence, annoyed that yet again they would be joined for dinner by a non-cricket player. In truth there had only been one member of the England team who had ever made me feel uncomfortable, made me feel as though I had no right to be present and he hadn't been on the team for some time.
Thus, dinner was a very enjoyable affair; Raffles sat, as he always did, by my side and more than once, as it always did, his hand found its way onto my arm or shoulder or even to brush my fringe from my forehead. I had long since forced myself to give up worrying about such gestures, worrying as to what the other men might think - if indeed they might think the truth. If any of them did and it has to be said more than once I had the vague feeling that Donaldson at the very least wondered about the true nature of the relationship Raffles and I shared, no one seemed bothered or seemed to regard it as any of their business.
It was just before eleven when Donaldson started to make veiled and then not so veiled suggestions about it being time we all retired for the night and finally by half past eleven he had managed to persuade all members of the team to head towards their bedrooms and not by the route of the public bar.
Finally, only he, Raffles and I were left in the dining room and we walked out into the hotel foyer together. "I suppose I had better see if they have found me a room," I said, hoping I didn't sound as despondent as I felt at the possibility.
"We'll come with you," Donaldson said, turning and heading towards the desk where Parsons still stood.
Raffles caught my arm, stopping me from following, bent his head and put his lips to my ear. "Whether they have found you a room or not, Bunny, I promise you that you will be spending the night in my bed." And with that, his hand once again on my shoulder he followed Donaldson.
"I'm sorry, my Lord," Parsons was saying, looking everywhere but at Donaldson. "I assure you I tried, my Lord, I tried every possibility, but there simply isn't an empty room."
Raffles shrugged. "It really is of no matter, John," he said, as Donaldson was about to no doubt argue with Parsons. "Bunny and I will be quite happy to share a room." My vague feelings that maybe, just maybe Donaldson had suspicions about the exact nature of the relationship Raffles and I shared became somewhat less vague as Donaldson turned to Raffles, raised an eyebrow and smiled at him. I forced myself not to fidget and not to lower my head and stare at the ground.
At that moment Parsons spoke. "The maid has made a bed up on your sofa, Mr. Raffles." He didn't sound particularly pleased, but really it wasn't any of his concern.
Raffles nodded. "Thank you," he said, polite as always. And with that he turned around and the three of us made our way upstairs.
As we parted, Donaldson to go one way, Raffles and I the other, my less than vague feelings became considerably less than vague. "Do try to get some sleep, A. J.," Donaldson said staring directly at Raffles. "We expect you to do wonderful things on the field tomorrow." And with that and before Raffles could reply, he turned on his heel and sauntered off whistling.
"Raffles?" I said now more than a little aghast, looking up at him as he led me to his room. It was quite one thing having a feeling that Donaldson might suspect about the true nature of the relationship Raffles and I share, but quite another to have those suspicions all but confirmed.
"Yes, Bunny?" Raffles said unlocking the door and ushering me inside.
"Do you think he . . . Lord John that is . . . Do he think he . . . I mean . . . What he said . . . Raffles?"
Raffles looked faintly bemused as I stammered; to my surprise he simply smiled, lowered his head, brushed his lips over mine before straightening up and saying, "Of course he does, Bunny. Now let us get comfortable and we can have that talk - a talk which I believe is long overdue."
I was just staring at him, my mouth open. "But . . ." I started to stammer. "But . . ." I repeated. "Surely he . . . Raffles! Isn't he . . . Doesn't he . . . Raffles, don't you think we should . . ."
He stared at me for a moment or two his fond smile on his lips, before he ruffled my hair. "Ah, my dear, sweet, innocent Bunny," he said in his loving tone. "I am so glad I haven't corrupted you totally." And with that he removed his dining jacket, waistcoat and shoes, untied his tie and sat on the bed, leaning against the head-board and crossing his ankles as he stared at me; his look clearly told me I was to join him.
I wished we didn't have to talk; I wished I'd never said the words I said, but I knew my Raffles so well, so very well. He had decided we would talk; thus talk we would. Therefore I removed my own, dining jacket, waistcoat and shoes, untied my tie and joined him on the bed. For a fleeting second I thought about trying to persuade him by means of my mouth and hands that we really didn't need to talk. However one look at his face which told me clearly he'd already anticipated my idea and would not be swayed by it.
So instead I sighed, picked up my cigarette case which I'd put on the table by the bed before removing my dining jacket offered it to him, took one myself and accepted the match he held for me. I then settled back and waited - it was his idea we talk; he could begin.
However, for a few moments he said nothing, we just sat in silence and smoked. Then to my surprise he stubbed out his cigarette, pushed himself away from the headboard, turned round and sat on the bed cross-legged so he could look at me.
"Convenient?" he said softly. "Are you merely convenient to me, that is what you," he paused for a second before manoeuvring himself forward a little to open his own cigarette case and lighting another Sullivan. He put the ashtray on the bed in front of him and looked at me. "That is what you asked me, is it not, Bunny?"
I nodded and forced myself to remain looking at him. "Yes," I said softly, knowing my cheeks were faintly flushed. "Look, Raffles, I didn't -"
"Convenient. Tell me, Bunny, what made you use that particular term?"
I sighed softly, knowing my cheeks were now even more flushed. "I'm jealous, Raffles," I said, still forcing myself to meet his gaze.
His eyes widened. "Jealous? My dear Bunny, of whom are you jealous?"
"All the women you dance with, pay pretty compliments to, put your arms around, kiss," I added softly.
He frowned. "Do you really believe I kiss them, Bunny?"
I stared at him and shrugged. "I don’t know," I murmured.
"Oh, Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, my very own rabbit; I had no idea you considered even for a moment that I might - Bunny, I give you my word I have not kissed a young lady since you and I - since the first night I kissed you and took you to my bed."
I stared at him. "You haven't?"
"Of course I haven't. Why, my dear Bunny, have you?"
"No!" I said loudly and quickly. "Of course not!" I added. "I wouldn’t I couldn't. I . . ." I trailed off under the somewhat amused look on his face.
"So why should you assume that I would be any different?" he asked softly. I didn't have an answer, I just glanced down at my lap and let my hair fall around my face hiding both my eyes and how red I knew my cheeks now were.
After a moment or two, I felt his hand on mine. "Look at me, Bunny," he said gently using the words he'd used many times during our time at school together. "Come along, my rabbit, look at me. I am not angry with you," he added.
Finally I did look up, knowing that if I didn't he'd simply make me, as he used to do at school when I failed to obey his gentle order. "That's better," he said, patting my hand and straightening up. "Now, let me assure you, Bunny, you have no need to be jealous. I dance with the young ladies; I pay them pretty compliments because it is expected of me. I have no desire to do either, of that I promise you. However, it is expected and so I do it."
"But you had Lady Adelaide's perfume all over you," I said before I could stop myself.
He stared at me. "Not through any actions or desires of my own," he said simply; his look told me quite clearly not to ask anything else.
I stared at him and swallowed hard. "Raffles," I started to say.
But he spoke again. "Bunny, I have you. You are all I want. You have my word you have no need to be jealous. I am not going to leave you for some pretty, perfume, painted lady - no matter how much she claims to like cricket."
He held out his hand to me and I took it letting him link his fingers with mine. "Raffles," I whispered, hoping that was the end of our talk but fearing it wasn't.
He squeezed my hand and then let it fall back to my lap as he looked at me. "Convenient," he said softly. "Oh, Bunny, you really could not have chosen a more inappropriate word." I stared at him in silence. He lit another Sullivan and looked at me. "Do you really think falling in love with you whilst we were at school was convenient? Do you really think loving you so much I spent many of my waking hours worrying about who might be doing what to you was convenient? Do you think all the hours I spent protecting you, foiling nasty plans that some of my fellow sixth formers had for you was convenient? Do you really think not allowing myself to kiss or touch you because I loved you so much I didn't want to take that innocence away from you was convenient? Do you think the hours I spent whilst at Cambridge and in the years before you returned to me regretting not kissing you, regretting not keeping in touch you, regretting not telling you quite how much you meant to me, how important you were to me was convenient?"
My mouth had fallen open and my eyes were wide as I just stared at him. "Raffles?" I made his name a question, not even certain what I could say after his words.
But he shook his head. "Do please let me finish, my dearest Bunny," he said and I fell silent, wondering what else was to come. For a moment or two he just sat and looked at me through the smoke from his cigarette. Then he spoke again. "Do you think it's convenient when we go out burgling that I worry far more about getting caught now that you are by my side because whilst I have no desire to go to goal, I have even less desire for you to go? Do you think it is convenient not to be able to tell people exactly what you are to me? Do you think it is convenient to have to dance with and pay attention to the young ladies we meet? Do you think it is convenient for me not to be able to tell people 'this is the person, this is the man whom I love; the man I shall spend the rest of my life with?"
"Raff-" I started to say, but his look silenced me.
"Do you think it is convenient not to be able to marry you? To pretend to everyone you are nothing more than my close and intimate friend? Do you think I enjoy people failing to remember your name? Do you think it does not anger me that you are seen as nothing more than 'Mr. Raffles's insignificant little friend'? Do you think I do not wish to tell them how insulting they are being? Do you think it is convenient for me to have to, when invited to a house party, invent plans you and I already have and keep pressing those reasons until the person realises that to get me they have to invite you too? Do you truly think any of those things are convenient, Bunny?"
"Bunny, my dearest, most beloved, sweetest rabbit, you are the most inconvenient thing ever to happen to me. The most inconvenient part of my life - but I would not be without you. I will not be without you. No matter how inconvenient things are, you are all I want; you are everything to me. I love you, Bunny."
I just went on staring at him as I felt my fingers become hot and I jumped and dropped the cigarette that had burnt right down into the ashtray. The next moment he'd captured my hand, taken it to his mouth and was kissing my fingers. "Raffles," I managed. "You're never . . . You've never told me," I stammered.
He shook his head and smiled in his ever fond way. "No, Bunny, I have not. I rather fancied I did not have to as I hoped, indeed I assumed, that you felt the same."
I clutched his hand. "I do! Raffles, I do. I love you. I've loved you since the moment I first saw you. I . . . I . . . You're everything to me, Raffles. You're the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of before I go to sleep. I hate every moment I am not by your side. I love being with you, no matter what we're doing. I want to spend all my time with you. I hate going back to my flat on the nights we don't . . . And even on some nights when we do, but feel I can't stay too often least Parker . . . And there are times I want to just sleep with you, Raffles, not make love, just. . . Just be with you, just to kiss you and be in your arms. Raffles, I . . . You're my life; my entire world; without you I am nothing. I love you, Raffles."
My eyes had not wavered from his face once during my confession and I'd seen his own eyes widen as I'd spoken with more and more passion. Now I saw him swallow very hard indeed and then swallow again and a third time before he said softly, his voice shaking in a way I had never heard it shake before, "You've never told me."
I blinked. "Well no, I haven't. But I assumed you knew how I felt. You told me
at school I couldn't keep anything from you. I just assumed I still couldn't.
I swallowed. "And I didn't want to sound like a romantic novel."
He laughed softly. "I think we have both achieved that, Bunny," he said softly, uncrossing his legs and moving back to sit next to me. He put his arm around me and pulled me close to him, gently encouraging me to put my head down onto his shoulder. "And I for one do not regret for a second sounding like one."
I sighed with pleasure as he began to stroke my hair and I moved a little closer to him and settled my head more comfortably on his shoulder. "Nor do I," I said.
"Good," he said kissing the top of my head. "And so we'll have no more talk about you being merely convenient to me, will we?"
"No, Raffles," I said.
"Good," he said, tightening his grip on me. We just sat in silence in the embrace for at least a minute before he said softly, "And now I do believe it is time we got undressed and got into bed so that I can keep the promise I made to you before we dined."
I sighed with pleasure but then felt I should ask, "Don't you think you'd better sleep instead?"
He laughed softly. "As I told you, Bunny, I did have a short nap before you arrived. Besides, I don't feel in the least bit sleepy - do you?"
I lifted my head from his shoulder and gazed into his intense dark blue eyes. "No, Raffles," I murmured, offering my mouth to him to kiss.
As we kissed Raffles moved us both further down the bed until we were lying rather than sitting and his hands began to wander over my body, causing me to moan into his mouth with pleasure. Far too soon for my liking, however, he took both his mouth and hands from me and sat up.
"Raffles," I objected, trying to pull him back down or at least touch him. But he is far stronger than I am and it was easy for him to simply capture my hands in his and hold them.
He bent his head and lightly kissed me, before sitting back again. "Let us get undressed and into bed, Bunny," he said. "It will be far more comfortable and I rather do want to get my hands on your unclothed body.
I shivered with anticipation as I watched him get off the bed before he came around to the side I was still lying on and gently tugged me to my feet and into his arms where he spent some minutes kissing me once again, before he gently pushed me away and began to undress me. Raffles likes to undress me and he is extremely good and efficient at it - far more so than I am at undressing him. Even after all the time we have been lovers I still occasionally find it difficult undoing buttons on the opposite side to the one I am used to.
Thus more often than not I let Raffles undress me and then himself and I occupy myself with watching his body become revealed to me and daring to touch his ivory skin as it is exposed. Tonight was no exception; he stripped me with care and competence, never once making me think it was mere routine to him, a skill he had honed on men before me.
Once he finally had me naked and my clothes piled neatly on a chair, he put his hands on my shoulders and held me away from him letting his gaze travel up and down my body, coming to rest on my clear hardness. I saw him smile and seconds later he dropped to his knees in front of me and took me into his mouth.
I gasped and clutched his head; he never ceases to amaze me when he does this to me. The idea that he of all people would be willing to do that to me, especially this way with he on his knees in front of me, moves and touches me far more than I have ever told him. I fear were I to do so he might either laugh at me or shake his head in his fondly exasperated way. I do not think he truly understands quite how in awe I still of him, quite how even after all these years I still feel more than a little inadequate when compared to him.
As his mouth moved over me and I went on clutching his head I wondered if he would go on until my body found its release in his willing mouth - because he would never move away, something again that touched me beyond words. I would never say so, but as wonderful as being in his mouth was, I actually preferred his hand on me whilst his mouth was on mine - and I certainly preferred lying down.
Whether it was just always his intention to let this be a mere interlude I know not, but after a moment or two longer of using his mouth on me in a way that had me softly crying out his name, he gently ceased his ministrations, kissed me instead and glided in his ever elegant way to his feet, pulled me into his arms and kissed the top of my head. Moments later I found myself on the bed gazing up at him as he stripped himself, pausing long enough only to put his cuff-links and shirt studs with mine onto the dresser and his discarded clothing on top of mine on the chair. He then joined me in the bed, pulled the covers up around us both and gathered me into his arms, pulling me right against his body and plundering my mouth.
Considerably more than an hour later after he had more than kept his promise to me, he put his mouth on mine again and kissed me with more love and less passion before lifting his head and gazing at me. "Regretfully, my dearest Bunny, I really do believe I should get some sleep; I do need to live up to expectations tomorrow."
I gazed up at him. "You always do," I murmured.
He laughed softly, kissed me once more, reached over me to turn off the lamp that was still on and settled down with his head on his pillow and his arms still around me. "Some might say, Bunny, that you are just a little biased."
"They'd be wrong," I murmured, moving a little nearer to him and closing my eyes; I was safe, secure, protected and possessed. The sound of his gentle laughter and the feel of his lips on my head were the last things I heard and felt until sunlight filtered into the room.
A few hours later I was watching fingers that had done wonderful things to me as they'd bent me totally to his will now do wonderful things to a cricket ball and he took one wicket after another, finally ending the Australians' first innings on the very last ball before tea. The wicket had certainly suited Raffles and of the ten wickets to fall he had taken seven of them for the loss of sixty-three runs.
As we enjoyed tea, the England team were already in a jubilant mood as the Australian team had ended their first innings on a hundred and thirteen all out - thanks mainly to Raffles who even at this early stage of the test was being congratulated. I heard Donaldson tell him he'd more than proved a point to the England selectors.
Still in buoyant mood England's opening batsmen took to the crease. The optimism faded somewhat as the Australian team showed it was a bowlers' wicket and took three wickets in fairly short time. The relaxed mood around the ground faded as Donaldson strode to the crease where within a few minutes he showed why he was not only the captain but also widely regarded, certainly by Raffles, as the best batsman England had as he began to knock the Australian balls all over the ground.
However, once again the sense of confidence faded as he lost not only one but two batting partners within the same over. However, I knew all would now be well because the next batsman to join him at the crease was none other than my Raffles.
England ended the day on eighty-five for five with Raffles and Donaldson not only still in but showing no signs of getting out any time soon. Side by side Raffles and Donaldson walked off the field to the applause from the crowd and the rest of the England team - and of course me.
Dinner was once again enjoyable and a very relaxed affair; I got the impression that the England team didn't believe they could lose the match. Indeed with Raffles and Donaldson in the form they were in, I believed the only thing that could prevent England from going two-love up in the test series was the weather - and I believed even that would be on our side.
Despite how confident the team were feeling, Donaldson once again rounded them all up and insisted everyone be in his room before midnight. The hotel still hadn't found a room for me, not that I was in any way bothered, quite the opposite, I was more than happy to share Raffles's room - and bed.
Once again Raffles and I parted from Donaldson on the floor our rooms were. "Goodnight A. J., goodnight, Manders," Donaldson said, adding before we could reply, "Whatever you did last night, A. J. to prepare for today, I suggest you do it again."
To my horror I felt my cheeks begin to burn; the heat increased as Raffles laughed gently, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Oh, I'm quite sure I shall, John. Don't you agree, Bunny?" I couldn't answer, I just lowered my head, letting my hair fall around my face covering my now I was sure were very red cheeks, stared at the floor and silently cursed Raffles.
Donaldson laughed, repeated his 'goodnight', to which Raffles replied heartedly I managed a mumbled response before his hand still on my shoulder now guiding me as I still had my head bowed, Raffles led us to his room.
"Raffles!" I exclaimed once we were inside and the door was locked.
"Yes, Bunny?" he asked, leaning back against the door and staring at me.
"How could you?"
"How could I what, my rabbit?" Now he pulled me into his arms, but I remained upright and stiff.
"You know what! You have to know. What you said to Lord John," I managed as he just continued to stare at me. "That was -"
His mouth of mine silenced me. I tried hard to ignore the kiss and the way his hands began to roam over my body; truly I tried. However, if you have never been kissed by Raffles you won't know how impossible it is to refuse him for long and within seconds, my body had relaxed into his arms and my mouth was kissing him back with as much passion and love as he was kissing me.
"I told you, my rabbit," he said sometime later as he began to once again strip me, "John knows and doesn't care. Now, come here and let me fulfil the orders of my captain." And my now completely unclothed body was pulled into his arms for several minutes before being guided down to the bed where after what seemed like mere seconds he joined me and again took me into his arms and put his mouth on mine.
The second test was won by England with several hours to spare and in what I at least believed to be a fitting moment, it was Raffles who hit the winning runs, sending a ball up into the air and over the boundary for a six.
Dinner that night was extremely noisy and the wine, brandy, port and whisky flowed freely. This time Donaldson didn't insist on the men being in bed by midnight and it was nearly one thirty when we finally left the dining room - some of the men were extremely worse for wear, far worse than I was and I was grateful of Raffles's arm through mine.
As we walked through the foyer, I heard a voice call, "Excuse me, my Lord, may I have a word with you and Mr. Manders?" Donaldson, Raffles and I stopped and all headed towards Parsons where Donaldson raised an eyebrow. "We now have a room for Mr. Manders," Parsons declared; he looked very pleased with himself. Raffles and Donaldson looked at one another and laughed. Parsons looked from Donaldson to Raffles and back again. "My Lord?"
Donaldson leant on the desk and stared at Parsons. "You are aware," he said, "that we are leaving the hotel tomorrow morning?" He spoke more slowly than he usually did, but to my ears his voice was not in anyway slurred.
"Yes, my Lord, I do."
"So do you really think Mr. Manders wishes to pack his things, move to another room, unpack them again and repack them in the morning? Well," he said his tone now slightly sharp, "do you?"
"Er, no, my Lord, I imagine not. I just thought . . ." He trailed off as both Donaldson and Raffles stared at him. "Sleep well gentleman, my Lord," he added; I noticed, as Raffles led me away, that his cheeks were slightly flushed and I found a twinge of sympathy for him pass through me.
That night I got another of my wishes, as apart from kissing me and pulling me into his protective, possessive embrace Raffles did nothing more and I got to spend the night in his arms, in his bed just for the pleasure of sleeping with him.
We arrived back in London in the middle of the afternoon, having lunched on the train. Although it was a beautiful day, just the right kind of day for strolling along, as Raffles had his cricket bag as well as his case, he hailed an hansom cab and directed the driver to go to Mount Street first and then onto the Albany.
"So, my dear Bunny," he said as the cab made its way to Mount Street, "shall we dine at the club tonight? Unless of course you already have plans." His eyes twinkled as he said the words and he was smiling. Nonetheless I found myself groaning silently and knew my cheeks had become a little red. Was he never going to forget what I had said? He put his hand on my thigh and patted it. "Do forgive me, Bunny," he said, "I should not tease you so. I swear it will be the last time I mention it."
I smiled at him. "That's all right, Raffles," I said and then in a light tone added, "as a matter of fact I believe I am free for dinner tonight."
He laughed and again patted my thigh before his hand slid a little higher and he let the tips of his fingertips brush over me before he took his hand away and stared at me in his innocent way. "Shall we meet there at eight?" he asked. I nodded and smiled.
He leant back in his seat and looked at me for a moment. Then he said in a nonchalant tone, "I keep meaning to ask you, Bunny, is your watch of any sentimental value to you?"
I looked at him; it seemed a somewhat odd question to suddenly ask, especially as he'd been meaning to ask for some time. But Raffles's interest in things can occasionally seem somewhat strange.
I nodded, "The watch itself does; it was a gift from my parents upon the occasion of my eighteenth birthday. I'm afraid the chain they bought me to go with it was sold some time ago when I needed . . ." I trailed off and we just looked at one another in silence for a moment as I remembered the night I'd gone to his rooms and had been dragged into his world. "This is just a rather cheap replacement that looks far better than it actually is." I very nearly asked him why he'd asked, but decided not to. If he wanted me to know he'd tell me. He just smiled at me and patted my knee.
When the cab arrived at Mount Street he alighted with me and handed me my case before taking my hand and shaking it whilst his other hand came to rest on my shoulder. "Until tonight," he said gazing at me intently.
I swallowed an invitation to come up to my flat, knowing full well if he accepted the leisurely bath and hour with the newspapers I had planned would not happen. Instead I smiled and repeated his words. "Until tonight." He squeezed my shoulder again and climbed back into the cab. I waited until it had disappeared from sight before I went up to my flat.
I had just finished my planned leisurely bath and had shaved again and was just about to put my dressing gown on when the phone rang. I tied my dressing gown cord around me tightly and hurried out into the hall to answer it. "Hello?"
"Good afternoon, sir, it's Parker; from the Albany," he added quite unnecessarily.
I gripped the table on which the telephone stood and pressed myself against the wall as visions of Raffles lying ill or hurt flashed through my mind - why else would Parker ring me. "Is something wrong with Mr. Raffles? Is he ill? Hurt? Shall I come at once?" I managed.
"Oh, bless you, sir. No, Mr. Raffles is quite well, sir." I breathed a sigh of relief, but if Raffles was well and not hurt, why had Parker rung me? "It's just that he had to go our, sir, on an important errand and he asked me if I'd ring you up and ask if you'd come to the Albany tonight, rather than meeting him at your club."
I breathed another sigh of relief and hastened to reply. "Yes, of course I will, Parker. Did he mention a particular time?"
"I believe he said about half past six, sir. Assuming of course that is acceptable to your self, sir."
I glanced at the clock; it was only five o'clock, which gave me plenty of time to dress, peruse the papers and get to the Albany. "That's perfectly acceptable to me, Parker."
"Oh, I am glad, sir, Mr. Raffles will be pleased."
"And he really is all right?" I asked again. "He's not . . . He doesn't need me
to come any earlier, does he?"
"Yes, sir. He really is perfectly well. And no, sir, Mr. Raffles was quite insistent about the time, sir. 'No earlier than half past six', is what he said, sir. As I told you he is on an important errand at the moment."
"Half past six it is then," I said. "Thank you for ringing, Parker."
"It was my pleasure, Mr. Manders sir. I'll tell Mr. Raffles he can expect you at the agreed time."
"Yes, Parker, yes, you can."
"Well, good afternoon to you, sir."
"Good afternoon, Parker," I replied and replaced the receiver, flexing my hand slightly as I realised how tightly I'd been gripping the phone.
Before dressing I made myself a cup of tea and spent half an hour reading the papers before I went into my bedroom to dress for dinner. My bowtie was far from being well tied - not even by my own less than exacting standards, but it would suffice until I got to the Albany where no matter how well or badly tied it was, Raffles would insist on retying it for me.
It was a few minutes after half past six when the cab I'd hailed upon discovering the weather had changed and it was raining heavily, pulled up outside the Albany. I hastened out, handed the driver a half sovereign and without waiting for any change hurried into the Albany where Parker was waiting for me.
"Good evening, Mr. Manders sir," he said, touching his hat. "It's not a very nice evening is it, sir?"
"No," I said. "I only realised it was raining so heavily when I left my flat."
"Did you, sir? Oh, dear. Well at least you're inside again now."
"Yes. Is Mr. Raffles in his rooms?" Without waiting for an answer I started to move towards the stairs. I stopped abruptly at Parker's words.
"I'll take you up, sir." He came towards me and smiled. "Mr. Raffles's orders, shall we say, sir." He smiled again and began to climb up the stairs.
After hesitating for a second or two, I followed him. What on earth was going on? First Raffles had asked Parker to telephone me and ask me to go to the Albany rather than meeting him as planned at the club and now he had insisted Parker show me up to his rooms - a journey I had been making on an almost daily basis and often more than once again for quite some time. Once more I began to fear that something was wrong with Raffles, that he was ill or hurt. Maybe he had been out in the sun too long in Manchester? Although did sunstroke usually take over twenty-four hours to come on?
I didn't know. My surprise and concern increased as rather than stop on the floor where Raffles had his rooms, Parker continued up to the next floor. With a deep feeling of foreboding, I followed him up the second flight of stairs and into a corridor where Raffles was pacing up and down in front of a door.
He stopped when he saw us, smiled at me and came towards us, taking my hand as soon as he reached my side. "There you are, Bunny, I was beginning to fear something had happened to you."
I forced myself to smile as I looked at him, letting my gaze linger on his face before moving discreetly down his body. He seemed perfectly well; his wasn't abnormally flushed or pale; his eyes shone; his lips were their usual colour; he was, as always, impeccably dressed; his tone was perfectly normal; he didn't appear to be limping; he had no obvious bandages or injury - he seemed quite well, as Parker had told me. So what was going on?
From behind us I heard Parker clear this throat and Raffles let go of my hand and looked at him. "Ah, yes, Parker, of course. I do apologise for keeping you waiting."
"Not all, Mr. Raffles. Are you ready to go in, sir?"
Raffles smiled at him and nodded. "Yes, yes, we're quite ready." And he stood to one side as Parker slipped by us, pulled a set of keys out from his pocket and unlocked the door Raffles had been pacing up and down in front of us. He stood to one side and Raffles put his hand on my shoulder and led me inside into a hall that apart from the décor and furnishings looked exactly the same as Raffles's own hallway.
Parker followed us inside and closed the door. "I'll wait here for you, sir," he said. "Of course really I should come around with you as the rooms are still occupied and were it any other gentleman but you, Mr. Raffles, I would. But seeing as it's you, I know I have no need."
"If it will make you feel more comfortable, Parker, then please do accompany us," Raffles said. "Bunny and I do not mind, do we Bunny?" I felt as if I'd walked into the middle of a play in which I was expected to perform but no one had told me what my part was nor had they given me my lines. I just stared at Raffles and gave me what I hoped was an encouraging nod. I was now beginning to fear that whatever malady was affecting Raffles was affecting Parker too and I wondered if I could discreetly call for a doctor.
"No, Mr. Raffles, sir, as I said there is no need as it is you. I shall wait here."
"Very well, Parker. If I were you, I'd sit down. I'm sure Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Fayrebrother won't mind." And he nodded towards an upright chair.
Parker hesitated for a moment and then said. "I believe I will do that, sir. Thank you."
"Well come along then, Bunny," Raffles said and still with his hand on my shoulder he led me into the sitting room. There he took my hand and began to lead me through the rest of the rooms, pausing for a moment or two in each one to look around him, nodding in an approving way. For myself I still felt more than a little dazed and after a quick glance at each room I spent my time studying, in what I hoped was an unobtrusive way, Raffles.
As we walked around the rooms I noticed that the sitting room and bathroom were somewhat larger than those in Raffles's rooms, but other than that there seemed to be no difference - not even in the layout - the décor and furnishings aside, of course.
Finally Raffles led me back to the sitting room where he let go of my hand and put his hands on my shoulders and gazed down at me. "Well?" he said in what for he was a fairly excited tone; again I was certain he wasn't well. In fact now I wondered if Parker was merely humouring him, playing along so to speak, whilst waiting for me to deal with whatever was ailing Raffles.
"Well?" I repeatedly slowly.
He frowned. "What do you think? Of the rooms?"
"I . . . Raffles?"
"Are you feeling quite well?"
He frowned again and laughed lightly. "Perfectly well, thank you, my dear Bunny. Why do you ask?"
"Well," I said carefully as I put one hand on his cheek and cupped it; his skin was as it looked, quite normal in temperature. "I'm just not quite certain why you asked Parker to show you, to show us," I added quickly, "another set of rooms in the Albany. Are you thinking of changing your rooms? Because if so, well I don't really see why you'd move up here, apart from the sitting room and bathroom being a little larger than your own and apart from it being on a floor above yours, there really isn't any difference. Is it worth all the trouble moving would cause you for a slightly larger sitting room and bathroom? Or is it that you do want to be on a higher floor? Is that it, Raffles? But why?" I took my hand away from his cheek and put it on his arm instead.
He stared down at me; he looked more than a little bemused and he shook his head slightly. "Higher floor? Larger sitting room and bathroom? Bunny, I really don't know . . . And you are asking me if I am all right. I rather feel that I should be the one to ask you if you are quite well."
But I hurried on, barely hearing him. "And whilst we're talking about it, maybe you could explain why you asked Parker to ring me up earlier and ask you to come here rather than meet you at the club?"
"Why didn't you ring me yourself earlier? Why did you ask Parker to ring me?"
"I had an important errand to run - did Parker not tell you that?"
"Well, yes, he did, but . . . Raffles, are you quite sure you are not feeling unwell? Would you like me to call a doctor? Because I can, I can do so quite easily and no one need know, Raffles. I know Parker won't say anything. And I'm sure whatever is ailing you can be sorted out very quickly indeed. And I'm -"
"Bunny!" At his raised voice I fell silent. "Bunny," he said again, moving his hands from my shoulders to cup my face between them. "Bunny," he said for a third time, "you know I love you dearly, do you not?"
Once again I was more than a little surprised. "Well, yes, Raffles, I do, but -"
"So you will forgive me and try not to be offended when I say that whilst I do indeed love you dearly, whilst I adore you, I do sometimes have to wonder about your intelligence - or rather why you do not use it."
I simply stared at him. "Raffles?"
He shook his head again, bent his head and brushed his lips over mine, before firmly taking my hand and leading me back through the rooms until he pushed open a door. "Now this, my dear Bunny, is a bedroom," he said.
I looked at him; now I was even more certainly than ever that he was unwell. "Yes, Raffles," I said slowly and precisely, "I know that; it has a bed in it."
He beamed at me. "That's my good boy," he said his tone exactly the same as it had been some fifteen years ago when he'd say the same thing to me at school.
I frowned and came close to objecting to the tone when he pulled me out of the room and into another one. "And this room, Bunny, is . . . ?" he beamed down expectantly at me.
I stared into the room. "Another bedroom, Raffles," I said carefully.
"Indeed it is, Bunny. You really are my clever rabbit." Once again he spoke to me as if he were eighteen and I thirteen.
I frowned and opened my mouth this time I was going to say something about his tone when it dawned on me. "Two bedrooms?" I said, turning back to look at him. "The rooms have two bedrooms."
He beamed at me and I waited for another school days type comment. However, his look became serious and his tone when he spoke to me was also serious. "Yes, Bunny, two bedrooms." He continued to hold my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder as he gazed down at me, smiling in his special way.
I frowned slightly, wondering why on earth he would need two bedrooms and then it dawned on me. "Oh," I said, flushing slightly as I looked at him. "I get it." He continued to smile at me, now in his encouraging way. "You want to take these rooms so that when I stay with you for the night no one will have any cause to wonder because you'll have two bedrooms?"
He smiled a little more. "Um," he said softly. "You're almost correct, Bunny, but not quite. Why don't you try again?"
I frowned. If that wasn't why he wanted to take these rooms then I didn't know - "Oh," I said suddenly as something hit me. "Raffles?" I whispered his name.
"Are you . . . I mean . . . Are you suggesting . . . ?" I trailed off and felt my cheeks begin to burn; no of course he didn't mean that; he wouldn't. I couldn't say it; I didn't want to make an even bigger fool of myself than I already had.
"Am I suggesting what? Go on, Bunny, say it." His tone was lower and the affectionate look in his eyes made me dare to speak.
"Are you suggesting we share these rooms, Raffles?" I swallowed hard at the answer in his eyes and I may even have trembled just a little as he gathered me into his arms and kissed me.
"Yes, my dearest Bunny," he said taking his mouth from mine. "I am. Well, what say you?"
"Yes, please!" I said. "Oh, Raffles . . . But you are quite certain you wish to -" He silenced me with another kiss.
"Now," he said when he again took his mouth from mine. "Let us go and tell Parker we will take the rooms and then we can go down to my rooms and have a drink before we leave for dinner at the club."
He once again led me through the rooms only letting go of my hand when we reached the sitting room door. Parker stood up as we went out into the hall and looked at Raffles with one eyebrow slightly raised. "Yes, Parker, we will be very happy to take over the lease of these rooms, will we not, Bunny?"
I nodded. "Yes, very happy."
Parker smiled. "Good. I am pleased, Mr. Raffles. It makes a lot of sense given how much time Mr. Manders spends at the Albany."
"Yes, yes it does. But are you quite certain there will not be a problem with the Albany management?"
Parker shook his head. "You leave it to me, Mr. Raffles. I know the best person to approach and they'll be quite happy, sir, you being such a good tenant and all, sir."
"What time frame are we looking at?"
"Well, sir, as you know the usual notice period for vacating rooms is four weeks. But I happen to know Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Fayrebrother will be leaving in a fortnight. I believe I told you they are going to live in America, didn't I, sir?"
"Yes, you did, Parker."
"And with you already having rooms here, sir, you won't be expected to give notice, sir, just to move from one set of rooms to the other. So they will be available to you any time after Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Fayrebrother have departed."
"Splendid," Raffles said. "How much notice do you have to give on your flat, Bunny?"
"Well that will all work out very well, won't it, sirs?"
"It certainly will," Raffles said with a smile.
"Oh and, Mr. Raffles?"
"Mrs. Timpson who cleans for you now also cleans for Mr. Ambrose and Mr. Fayrebrother, sir. And as I'm sure you know, sir, she isn't one to talk out of turn."
"That is splendid news, Parker."
"I thought you'd be pleased, sir, knowing how particular you are and what a good cleaner Mrs. Timpson is, sir."
"Indeed she is; we'll be well looked after, Bunny." I merely smiled at him.
"Well now, sir, have you seen everything you want to see?"
"Yes, thank you, Parker." And Raffles and I followed Parker out into the Albany hallway where Parker carefully locked up the rooms again and returned the keys to his pocket. "I hope you have a nice dinner, gentlemen," he said turning to go.
Raffles stopped him. "Parker?"
"Yes, Mr. Raffles?"
"You know I have never insulted you by offering you a tip."
"Indeed you haven't, sir. Not like some of the," Parker paused, "gentlemen," he finally said, " who live here. And I hope you are not about to do so now." He stared at Raffles, his look somewhat different from his usual genial, deferential one.
"No," Raffles hastened to reassure him. "Of course I am not going to do that. However, it is some months until Christmas and you have done me, done us," he clarified glancing at me, "a very good turn and as such I should like to say thank you, so to speak."
"There's really no need, Mr. Raffles, sir."
"I believe there is, Parker. So is there something I can give you?"
Parker and Raffles stared at one another for several moments. Finally Parker glanced away, cleared his throat and said, "Well, sir, there is something, sir."
"It's just that I've always wanted to see you play cricket, sir. Now I know I could have attended one of your matches, but it didn't seem appropriate like. However -"
"My dear Parker, you shall - nothing simpler. Two weeks on Sunday I am to play in a county match, you shall be my guest. No," he held up his hand to forestall Parker's objection. "I will not take no for an answer, you will travel with Mr. Manders and myself and you will be my guest." He stared at Parker with the look that I'd never dare to disagree with.
Parker's cheeks coloured a little and he again glanced away from Raffles's gaze before looking back and saying his tone lower than it had been, "Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. Raffles; I should like that very much indeed."
Raffles clapped him on the shoulder. "Splendid," he said, smiling at Parker before he led me away down to his rooms where he poured two whiskies, added soda to them, took out his cigarette case and offered me a Sullivan taking one for himself and lighting both.
He sat down on the sofa and I settled down next to him, turning slightly so that I could look at him. "You arranged all that this afternoon?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Yes and no. I'd been thinking a lot about what you said the other night concerning you spending the night here and how it couldn't happen as often as either of us wished it could. And I began to think about quite how much time we spent in one another's company and suddenly I could see no reason for you living in Mount Street and me living here. Thus, I had planned to have a word with Parker upon our return to see if there was any chance of a set of rooms with two bedrooms becoming available. I confess I did not expect that to be the case; there are very few such rooms. So my best hope was that Parker would know of other similar places that did cater for gentlemen who wished to share rooms."
"You never mentioned it to me," I said.
"Well, no, Bunny, I didn't want to get -" He came to an abrupt halt and stared at me. "Oh, Bunny," he said softly, putting his glass down on the table which stood behind the sofa and taking my hand. "Please tell me I have not done it again?"
I frowned. "Done what, Raffles?"
"Just presumed you would -"
"No!" I said quickly, putting my own glass down and holding his hand between both of mine. "No, Raffles, not at all. The idea of sharing rooms with you is . . ." I trailed off, aware I couldn't quite put it into words. "Wonderful," I finally said, aware it was more than a little inadequate. "It's just that I know how much you like from time to time to be on your own so I never thought, I never dared to dream you'd want to . . ."
"Live with you?" he asked softly. I nodded. "Well, yes, I admit there will be times I shall wish to spend some time alone - and I imagine there will be times you will wish the same." I didn't know about that, but I didn't say anything, I merely gave him what I hoped was an encouraging smile. "In which case I can go for a walk or even into another room or something - the details are unimportant. What is important, my rabbit, is that I want to be with you as often as possible without fearing that one day someone really is going to ask quite why you spend so many nights here."
I smiled. "I want that too, Raffles."
"Good. Now where was I?"
"You were telling me you'd intended to speak to Parker upon your return to ascertain if he -"
"Ah, yes. Well, imagine my surprise when I arrived back here to discover Parker not only in his usual place but actually waiting to see me, to speak to me."
"Indeed. And imagine how much deeper my surprise went when his news was that Ambrose and Fayrebrother were leaving London for America and that their rooms would therefore become available."
I stared at him. "Parker told you that?" Raffles nodded. "But why?"
"Well, my dear Bunny, I believe it is - now don't be alarmed there's my good boy - more than possible that Parker has began to wonder, shall we say, as to quite why you spend so much time here and quite why, when you have a perfectly good flat of your own which isn't exactly far from here, you spend so many nights here."
I felt my eyes widen and as I grabbed my glass and drained it I noticed my hand was shaking. "Raffles!"
"Yes, Bunny?" He was still calm and relaxed as I stared at him in horror.
"He . . . Are you trying to tell me that . . . That . . . That Parker . . . knows . . . Knows about us?" I finished, glancing around me and lowering my voice as I caught his hand and clung to it.
He stared at me. "Well, I would beg to differ about the word 'knows' but I believe he suspects we do more than sit up all night and talk."
"But . . . but . . . but . . . Raffles!"
"Don't you think . . . ?"
"Don't I think what, Bunny?"
"That we should . . ."
"Yes?" Raffle said in his encouraging tone.
I stared open-mouthed at him. It was one thing him telling me Donaldson knew and wasn't bothered, but Parker! Parker was . . . He could . . . "Aren't you worried?" I finally managed.
He blinked and looked surprised. "About?" Why was he suddenly being so dense? "Oh, you mean am I worried that Parker might talk?" I nodded. "Not in the slightest, Bunny. After all he has never talked about Ambrose and Fayrebrother, so why should he suddenly start talking about you and me?"
"You mean they . . ."
He nodded. "Yes, Bunny. Did you not work that out? I thought it was quite obvious from how exceptionally tidy the second bedroom was and how clearly no one had pulled back the covers on the bed since it was made - and given it was not Mrs. Timpson's day to clean, that was not today."
"I need another drink," I said about to stand up. However, Raffles caught my hand and pulled me back down; it was he who stood up and poured me another drink, taking it from my hand before I could empty the glass.
He sat back down, putting one leg beneath him and turning to face me. "Bunny," he said quietly, taking my hand. "Are you quite certain you wish to share rooms with me?"
"Of course I am, Raffles!"
"It's just that if you are going to get so worried all the time about people knowing or suspecting about the real nature of our relationship. Well, I just don't want to cause you any more distress."
"You won't. I won't . . . It's just a . . . I want to live with you, Raffles," I said quietly. "I want it more than I want anything else." Part of me knew I was being foolish given that I was more than happy for him not to keep his hands off me when we were in the company of the England team and indeed the Middlesex team. However, discovering within such a short time that Raffles believed - was certain - that not only one person but two were aware of the true nature of our relationship, shook me more than a little. Unlike he, I needed time to adjust to such things.
He stared at me for some time before he smiled and patted my hand. "Very well then."
I let out the breath I hadn't realised I was holding. "You were telling me about Parker telling you about the rooms becoming vacant."
"Ah, yes. Well it appears one evening several weeks ago Ambrose and Fayrebrother were discussing, quite openly, as they stood outside Parker's office, a possible move to America. They even called to Parker and asked him if he'd ever been. As such, Parker took it upon himself to ask them if they did decide to emigrate that they mention it to he before telling the Albany management as he knew of someone who might like to take over their rooms. I'm sure it made no difference to Ambrose and Fayrebrother who they told first, so they agreed and two days ago, whilst we were in Manchester, they told Parker they had made their decision and the rooms would be available shortly. In turn he told me and given I had, as I told you, fully intended speaking to him about the possibility of such rooms becoming available, I felt maybe fate had intervened and the rest you know. Now, are you ready to go to dinner?"
I smiled. "Yes."
He stood up, unfolding his leg from beneath him and offered me his hand to help me up. Had I been sitting on my leg as he had done I would not have moved as fluidly or as easily.
After a lengthy dinner we walked back arm-in-arm to the Albany where Raffles invited me up to his rooms for a nightcap. For a second or two, as I glanced into Parker's office where he sat at his desk reading the newspaper I hesitated. Raffles, however, took the decision out of my hands by putting his arm back through mine and leading me, calling out a greeting to Parker on the way, up to his rooms.
Once he had me settled at one end of the sofa with a glass of whisky and soda and a Sullivan, he left me for a short time, returning now dressed in one of his innumerable blazers rather than his dining jacket. He didn't join me on the sofa, instead he stood in front of the gentle fire sipping his whisky and soda and smoking a Sullivan his gaze firmly affixed on me.
After a short time, he threw his half smoked cigarette into the fire and came towards the sofa where to my surprise he dropped to his knees in front of me. "Bunny, I have a gift for you," he said. "Well actually I have two." And he put his hand into his left pocket and pulled something out, holding it covered by his hand.
Then he opened his hand and I saw a small box resting on the palm. He opened the box and I gazed down at the plain gold ring that nestled in dark blue silk. He took it out and looked at me, before he took my left hand in his. "Bunny," he said. "I am unable to marry you in the true sense of the word; that option is regrettably not available to me and I wonder if the day will ever come when people of the same sex will be permitted to marry. And I know you cannot wear this ring outside of our rooms. However, the legal aspect aside, I offer you this ring in the same way as any man offers a ring to the person he loves; the person he wishes to spend the rest of his life with; the person he takes as his."
Now he took my third finger in his hand and slipped the ring on, pushing it down to the knuckle where he held it for a moment. "I give you my heart, my love, my fidelity and a promise you will be mine as I will be yours until death parts us - and hopefully long beyond that." He tightened his grip a little on the ring and said softly, "Do you accept me, Bunny? Do you accept my ring? My words? My promise? Do you accept my love?"
I swallowed and blinked hard, trying to force the tears that were hovering on my lashes not to fall. I failed and it was he who brushed them, one from each cheek, away with the tip of his finger as he gazed with more love than I'd ever seen him show before. "Yes, Raffles," I managed. "I do." And I smiled as he pushed the ring over my knuckle and down the remainder of my finger until it came to rest at the bottom. He then lifted my hand to his mouth and kissed my finger, the ring and finally the palm before kneeling up far enough to lightly kiss my lips.
I expected him to rise to his feet; however he stayed where he was as I turned my attention from his face to look at the gold ring that fitted perfectly. He was right of course I could only wear it when we were alone, but it wasn't the ring itself that mattered as much as the promise he had given me.
"And now, for the second gift," he said, putting his hand into his right pocket and pulling out a larger box. Again it was he who opened it and showed it to me. I stared at the simple, but clearly expensive and elegant golden watch chain. "And this, Bunny, is why I asked you about your watch," he said as his fingers moved to remove my watch from my pocket and began to replace the chain with the one he had bought for me.
"Raffles," I said deeply touched and annoyed at my inability to express quite how I felt.
"And this," he said, as he finally put the new chain onto my watch, "you can wear all the time. And look," he held the chain up and showed me the perfect gold ring at one end, "In everything but size, this ring matches the one I have just put on your finger." I swallowed hard again and once more blinked furiously as he put the watch back into place, adjusted it slightly and sat back on his heels.
"Oh, Raffles," I managed, gazing at him. "I don't . . . Thank you," I said in the end opting for the simple, but heartfelt words.
He smiled at me and cupped my cheek. "You are mine, Bunny," he said softly. "You know that, do you not?"
"I've been yours since the minute we met, Raffles." And the words were true; I had indeed been his from the very moment he had put his hand on my shoulder and spoken so kindly to me.
"I believe you have been, Bunny," he said, taking my hand. We sat in silence for a moment or two before he stood up and pulled me to my feet and into his arms where his mouth found mine. I expected a lingering kiss, but to my surprise and regret it was rather brief.
"Raffles?" I asked as he moved back a little and held me with his hands on my shoulders.
"I actually have another - I believe you would call it - gift for you," he said; I noticed his tone was quite different and he wasn't quite meeting my eye. I waited in silence as he turned his attention back to me and stared down at me before he let go of my shoulder with one hand and took a letter from his blazer pocket. "This was waiting for me when I returned to the Albany," he said.
"What is it?"
He was silent for a moment before sitting down on the sofa and pulling me down to sit next to him. "I rarely speak of my people," he said, "and certainly not beyond my parents and sister. However, I have, I had, a great-uncle after whom I was named. I believe I met him once when I was four or five and apparently I, according to this letter he left to be sent to me upon his death, stole his pocket-watch." He laughed a little but the sound was somewhat strange. "My meeting him was a surprise to all, as he was a recluse, didn't like people and lived alone, apart from a house-keeper. He was very wealthy, actually, he was extremely wealthy and he has left his entire fortune, less a very handsome legacy for his house-keeper, everything to me."
"Raffles," I said quietly.
"I seem to remember telling you that we would not have to commit any more burglaries for the better part of a year thanks to the Appleby diamonds, did I not?"
I blinked, somewhat thrown by the change of subject. "Yes, yes, you did," I said quickly.
"Apparently I was somewhat incorrect."
"Oh," I said. "Well never mind, we all -"
"It would have been nearer two years. Yes, my dearest rabbit, I was indeed somewhat incorrect." Two years as honest men; two yeas where I didn't have to fear the knock on the door, or tremble at the thought of meeting Mackenzie, or worry if that night would be our last and our next address would be Wormwood Scrubs. It appealed to me so much; I'd gone into crime willingly enough, after all I could have walked away from him after the first time, but I hadn't. I'd stayed, I'd done my bit, I'd helped him take things that weren't ours and had lived off the profits. But I'd never enjoyed it, not in the way he had. Was I now about to spend the next two years not feeling I had to look over my shoulder every five minutes?
"You'd like that, would you not, Bunny?" he asked, once more capturing my hand and staring at me.
I swallowed hard. "Yes, Raffles," I whispered softly. "Yes, I would. I'd like it very much. I know you -"
"Well, Bunny, how would you like it if it were not two years but," he paused and tightened the grip he had on my hand, "the rest of our lives?"
"Great-Uncle Arthur's legacy is almost embarrassing large. No matter how excessively we spent money, I doubt we could spend half of it during our lives, Bunny. So what say you, my beloved rabbit, how does no more nights spent burgling sound to you?"
I gazed at him. "Wonderful," I said simply and then added quickly, "but what about you, Raffles. I know for you it is not just about the money you received for the stolen jewels, but also about the challenge. Would you be happy to give it up?"
Raffles stared at me. "I shall have to find another challenge, shall I not, Bunny? One that doesn't carry quite so many risks that I shall one day be caught and taken from your side."
"You're not doing this just for me, are you?"
He stared at me and smiled. "Actually, Bunny, no I am not. I have tired of the game over the years and the rewards rarely come close to matching the risk or indeed the worth. Also, it will have another advantage, one of which we'll both approve."
"Well," he said, tugging me nearer to him and putting his arm around me. "I shall not feel the need to agree to accept every invitation to country house parties and cricket matches nor indeed for every ball or dinner party."
"Because, my dear rabbit, I will not be 'on the look out' so to speak for our next 'heist'. I shall have no need to attend such functions merely to look at the jewellery the ladies deck themselves in. We can choose those invitations we wish to accept and I will be able to refuse those that are simply inviting me purely for my cricket. And of course the fewer such things we attend, the fewer young ladies will be in my arms - which I believe will make us both even happier than I think we already are. Do you not agree, Bunny?"
I lifted my head from where it had come to rest on his shoulder and gazed at him. "Yes, Raffles," I said, hoping he'd ignore the way I knew my eyes were shining with yet more unshed tears and the way my cheeks had become slightly warm as I tried to hide the fact that despite the ring on my finger and the second one on my watch chain, I still disliked the idea of Raffles dancing with and saying pretty words to the young ladies we knew.
The look on his face, however, told me he saw, understood fully and was not troubled by my feelings. "Good," he said, bending his head to kiss me. "That is settled then. And also, Bunny, I was thinking that as we would have more free time and less need for money you might like to pick up your pen to write something for pleasure. I know how much you enjoy writing. But only if you wish to, of course." He kissed me again - I rather liked the idea, in fact I liked the idea very much.
We remained on his sofa for several minutes kissing before his hands began to wander over my body and I murmured my pleasure. However, after lightly touching me for a moment or two, he kissed my cheek, untangled our bodies from one another, stood up and held out his hand to me. "And now I do believe that it is time, given that I have in effect married you, we went to bed and finalised our marriage."
I gazed at him. "Don't you think . . . As we're going to be sharing rooms very soon that . . . Well, I wouldn't want -"
"Bunny, if you leave my rooms tonight all you will do is to embarrass Parker as he will realise that we know what he suspects."
"Oh," I said, not certain his logic for once made any great sense. However, I was not about to argue with him, thus I more than willing let him put his arm around my shoulders and guide me into his bedroom where he undressed both of us, pulled back the covers on his bed and fulfilled his role as the bridegroom.
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