ZERO TOLERANCE

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Raffles is many things, not all of them salubrious. However, he is in many ways a very moral man does not like to see people about whom he cares hurt in anyway. When a young lady starts to show more than just a passing interest in Bunny and Raffles's realises there is something about her which doesn't fit with the person Bunny believes her to be, he sets out to do something about it. However, the young lady concerned demands that Bunny ask Raffles the truth about why he did what he did and Raffles is forced to face the truth about his own feelings about his rabbit.

A first time story.

Written: August 2013. Word count: 38,170.

 

 

I sat at dining table appearing to listen to the pretty young lady whom I had been seated next to tell me the same things as, almost without exception, all of the young ladies I met at dinners and balls said to me. Almost without exception they all claimed to love the game of cricket; some could actually quote my most recent batting or bowling figures; some knew when the next test match would be played; some merely simpered and told me what a wonderful cricket player I was. However, it was quite clear to me that their interest did not lie in the game, but in the man who played the game.

 

It amused me at times to know that I was considered by many a hostess to be a worthy catch; such a suitably eligible potential husband for their daughter or niece or the daughter of a close friend, when in truth, I was anything but.

 

I dutifully smiled as Miss Messenger regaled me with some tale or other concerning her elder brother's exploits on the cricket field, and how he had been on the eleven when he had been at school and thus, how she had grown up loving the game. However, as I smiled at her, my gaze came to rest on Bunny who was, as was quite usual, seated at the opposite end of the table from me.

 

Despite being my intimate friend and companion and rarely seen away from my side, my rabbit was not considered to be a particularly eligible bachelor, thus hostesses tended to place him at the part of the table reserved for young men such as he. He was seen as a perfectly adequate young man, one with good manners, who was quiet and respectful, but that was about all. Indeed, I was both saddened and, it has to be said, a little irritated by the fact that I knew were it not for him being my best friend, and for hostesses somehow learning that the best way to get me to join their table or attend their ball or house party was to invite Bunny as well, that he would not be invited to quite a lot of the dinners, balls and house parties we attended together.

 

I hadn't particularly wished to attend tonight's dinner and subsequent ball, even though I had accepted Lady Wheatfill's invitation some weeks ago. I was all for ringing up and making my (and Bunny's apologies). However, when I told him this, my rabbit had declared that he wished to go - he seems to enjoy these things, even though he isn't a dancer, nor does he make conversation with people, in particular young ladies, very well. However, I was still disinclined to attend and had intended to ring Lady Wheatfill and thenl he reminded me that I had said, only the previous morning, that our funds were becoming rather low and that I needed to find some jewels which we could liberate.

 

Lord and Lady Wheatfill had only fairly recently moved to this part of London, and as such I believed a good proportion of their guests at the dinner and ball might well be people across whom we had not hitherto come. As such I, with a degree of reluctance, agreed that we would indeed attend the ball.

 

As my gaze settled on Bunny, I was more than a little surprised to see that he was not only deep in conversation with the young lady seated next to him, but he also seemed quite at ease, relaxed even and not at all troubled by the fact he was conversing with a young lady whom he did not know - certainly I had never seen her before and I believe I would have remembered her. And further to my surprise, the young lady seemed to be enjoying whatever it was Bunny was saying to her, and seemed to be as happy as he was to be conversing with him - which is not always the case. It gives me no pleasure to confess that many of the young ladies next to whom my rabbit is seated at such dinners merely tolerate him, and often make little attempt to hide the fact they would rather be seated next to anyone other than he.

 

However, his current companion seemed quite, quite content to be in the company of Bunny. As I stared at them I suddenly wondered if in fact her interest wasn't as much in Bunny himself, but in whose friend he was. She would not be the first young lady to feign an interest in my rabbit merely as a means of getting to speak to me. I really hoped that wasn't the case, as I hated to see Bunny hurt or disappointed as he would be if all she wanted was an opportunity to spend a few minuets with me.

 

"And what do you think, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I quickly turned my head and gave what I hoped was a flattering smile. "Oh, do please forgive me, Miss Messenger, I was -"

 

"Far too interested in just whom the young lady is in whom your Mr. Manders seems so enamoured," she said with a light laugh, and what I believed to be a genuine smile. For a moment I wondered if indeed her interest in cricket was in fact genuine.

 

I inclined my head and gave her what I hoped was a suitably chastised smile and said, "Alas, Miss Messenger, I must confess myself to be guilty as charged. I do hope you will forgive my quite unforgiveable rudeness."

 

Her eyes sparkled and I saw an intelligence I had hitherto not seen from her, and once again I had to re-evaluate my thoughts about the young lady I had seen from time to time at dinners, had danced with at balls and had spent a minute or two here and there talking to. "I shall forgive you on one condition and one condition only, Mr. Raffles."

 

"Name it, Miss Messenger."

 

"That you invite me to dance with you this evening more often than you invite any other young lady."

 

I took her hand from where it rested on the table and brought it to my lips. "I assure you, Miss Messenger, there is no other young lady with whom I would wish to dance."

 

Her lips twitched upwards and again her eyes sparkled. "But of course you will dance with other young ladies, will you not, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Alas, one is expected to do these things. When one is invited to a ball such as this, there are expectations one is expected to conform to, even when one does not wish to so do." I spoke the words I was expected to speak, and was a little bemused to see, from the way she was looking at me, that she was perfectly aware my words were indeed just that - words. However, I also saw that, for whatever reason, she was quite prepared to play the game and take them as if I had meant them.

 

"I do, of course, understand perfectly, Mr. Raffles, and as you have been so kind and said all the pretty things you are expected to say, I shall tell you what you wish to know."

 

I raised an eyebrow. "And that would be what, Miss Messenger?"

 

"Who the young lady your Mr. Manders is talking to in a way I have never seen him talk to anyone - other than you of course." She fell silent for a moment, then smiled and moved just a little nearer to me, "You do wish to know who she is, do you not, Mr. Raffles."

 

I gave what I hoped was an almost dismissive shrug, as I realised I was not overly keen to let her know quite how much I did wish to know the name of the young lady in question. "If you wish to tell me, Miss Messenger, I should of course be interested to know. I do not believe I have seen her before."

 

"No, you have not. Her parents are friends of Lord and Lady Wheatfill and have only very recently moved from somewhere in the north of England to London. Her name is Miss Constance Upton."

 

I inclined my head and smiled at her. "Thank you, Miss Messenger, for your information."

 

"It was my pleasure, Mr. Raffles. And I must say, upon meeting Miss Upton for the first time earlier this eveing, I do believe she is a very nice young lady; very suitable, one might say, for your Mr. Manders."

 

I smiled again. "I shall remember to tell Mr. Manders of your approval."

 

Her cheeks flushed a little and for a moment she looked a little afeared. "Oh, Mr. Raffles, that would be quite -" She broke off and stared at me, and the look of concern fled as she smiled and her cheeks flushed just a little more. "You are teasing me, are you not, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I smiled once more. "I am afraid I am once again guilty as charged, Miss Messenger."

 

"You really will have to ensure you dance with no other lady more times than you dance with me, Mr. Raffles, or I shall simply never forgive you."

 

I was as good as my word and did indeed ensure that I danced with no other young lady more times than I danced with Miss Messenger. As we danced and exchanged idle conversation, I began to realise more and more that I really should re-evaluate my initial impression of her. She was more intelligent than a great number of the young ladies whom I danced around the floor - or maybe it was a case that she made no attempt to hide the fact that she had a brain. She had been given a very good education (her father believing firmly that she should be educated as well as her brother) and as such actually had opinions on things. I even decided that her interest in cricket was a genuine one, and not just a feigned one designed merely to impress me.

 

Nevertheless, despite her intelligence and the fact that she danced very well and did not cling to me in the way some young ladies did, I found I was more than a little bored. Normally once the dancing begins, Bunny will seek me out and stand by the side of the dance floor waiting for me to finish dancing each young lady - or older lady - around the floor.

 

However, tonight he had not done so. Oh, I saw him from time to time, and each time I caught sight of him he was either dancing with Miss Upton or standing talking to her. To my surprise I found I missed my rabbit's company; I missed it very much - or maybe it was simply I missed having someone around for whom I was the most important person in the room. I did not truly believe that to be the case - in fact I knew it wasn't; I really did actually missed talking to and sharing a Sullivan or two with Bunny.

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles," Miss Messenger said, as I spun her around, "your Mr. Manders is still dancing with Miss Upton." I stared down at her and to my surprise she laughed lightly. "Oh, Mr. Raffles, do not look at me in such a disapproving way. It is only natural that you should be interested in where and with whom Mr. Manders is."

 

"Is it?" I said, a little more curtly than I had intended.

 

However, she merely smiled at me again and nodded. "Yes, after all you are used to him being at your side, are you not? It is very unusual to see him actually dancing, at least quite as much as he is doing."

 

I smiled back at her and we danced the remainder of the dance in silence. "Thank you, Miss Messenger," I said, as I escorted her off the floor. "I enjoyed the dance."

 

"Thank you, Mr. Raffles, I did too."

 

A moment later Hugh Cassidy, a gentleman of my acquaintance, invited Miss Messenger to dance and I was left alone by the side of the floor staring at the dancers in an attempt to see Bunny, sipping champagne and smoking a Sullivan. I frowned as I watched each couple dance by me as I could not see my rabbit.

 

A moment later I started slightly as I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard Bunny's voice. "There you are, Raffles!" he cried, "I've been looking for you."

 

I turned around quickly and smiled at him. My smile became, I realised, just a little less exuberant when I saw he had Miss Upton by his side. "Have you now, Bunny?" I said, automatically brushing his hair from his forehead.

 

"Yes. I'd like to introduce you to Miss Upton," he said, turning from me to smile at the young lady who stood by his side. "This is Mr. Arthur Raffles, Miss Upton. Raffles, Miss Constance Upton."

 

I took her hand and bent my head over it slightly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Upton," I said.

 

"You too, Mr. Raffles, although I do quite believe I know you already." I frowned a little; I had never met her or even seen her before. She laughed softly and a flush of colour touched her cheeks. "Oh, do forgive me, Mr. Raffles, I did not mean that we have met before, we have not. I merely meant that given Mr. Manders has talked about you so much, I feel as if I know you."

 

"I haven't said that much," Bunny hastened to say, as his cheeks became very red.

 

I felt a wave of irritation pass through me, irritation aimed at Miss Upton and the way she had caused my rabbit a degree of embarrassment. I put my hand on his shoulder, "I'm sure you haven't, Bunny," I said firmly. "After all, why would you wish to waste your time talking of me when you are in such charming company? I am certain you had many other things about which you could talk." I turned my attention from Bunny to Miss Upton and saw her cheeks once more become a little red.

 

"I do apologise, Mr. Manders, I did not wish to - offend you in any way," she said swiftly.

 

"Oh, I wasn't offended," Bunny said swiftly. "Not at all and thinking about it, I believe I did mention Raffles's name more than a few times. I do hope I did not bore you too much." His cheeks were flushed again and once more I felt a hint of irritation pass through me.

 

"You did not bore me at all, Mr. Manders, not at all," she repeated and Bunny beamed at her. "Well," he said, after we had stood in silence for a moment or two, "if you don't mind, Raffles, I believe this is the last dance and," he turned from me to smile at Miss Upton, "I'd be honoured, Miss Upton, if you would permit me to dance with you again."

 

Miss Upton smiled and put her hand on his, but otherwise didn't answer him. I didn't feel I needed to reply, until he glanced at me, his look quite clearly asking me if I did mind. "Of course I don't mind, my rabbit," I said swiftly. I didn't miss the look that passed over Miss Upton's face as I used the term 'my rabbit'. "In fact I believe -"

 

"Ah, there you are, Mr. Raffles. I do hope you hadn't forgotten you promised to dance the final dance with me."

 

I turned to see Miss Messenger standing behind me and I took her hand in mine. "Of course I hadn't forgotten, Miss Messenger; I have been looking forward to it."

 

She smiled then looked at Bunny. "Good evening, Mr. Manders."

 

"Good evening, Miss Messenger."

 

"It really is a pleasure to see you enjoying yourself so much, is it not, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I smiled and nodded. "Indeed it is."

 

"Constance," Miss Messenger said, and nodded at Miss Upton.

 

"Elizabeth," Miss Upton replied and in turn nodded at Miss Messenger.

 

HALF AN HOUR LATER

 

After saying goodnight to Lord and Lady Wheatfill and thanking them for a very enjoyable evening, I offered Bunny my arm and we walked along, smoking Sullivans, until I saw a cab, which I hailed and instructed the driver to take us to the Albany.

 

"Well, my rabbit," I said, settling back in the seat. "I do believe you enjoyed yourself tonight, did you not?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, Raffles, as a matter of fact I did. In fact, I enjoyed myself very much indeed."

 

"I am glad to hear it. And you certain danced more than I believe I have ever seen you dance."

 

"Yes, I did. And I tell you now, Raffles, I don't know how you do it?"

 

"Do what, my rabbit?"

 

"Dance as often as you do at all the balls to which we are invited. I confess I am quite fatigued."

 

I smiled and put my hand on his arm. "Not too fatigued, I hope, to come up to my rooms and have a drink and Sullivan with me?" I said lightly.

 

"Of course not!" he exclaimed, and then added more softly, "I'm never too tried to spend time with you, Raffles."

 

"I am glad to hear it," I said. We travelled the remainder of the way back to the Albany in comparative silence and when we did exchange words, the ball was not mentioned.

 

We reached the Albany and I paid the driver, giving him a generous tip, before I led Bunny inside. We paused long enough to greet Parker and then went up to my rooms where I took Bunny's overcoat from him and hung it up along with my own.

 

The fire was still burning in the sitting room, although the room wasn't particularly warm. I threw some more coal onto the burning embers, poured whisky and soda for both of us and joined Bunny on the sofa where I offered him a Sullivan from the box on the table and lit it for him.

 

I settled back into one corner of the sofa, tucking one leg beneath me so that I could turn and look at him and smiled. "Well, my rabbit, do tell me about Miss Upton."

 

He looked a little flustered for a moment; indeed he even looked away from me and lowered his head just a little which allowed his overly-long hair to fall around his face. "There's really nothing to tell, Raffles," he said, after a moment or two. "She's a nice young lady, that's all."

 

"And one who clearly enjoyed your company."

 

He shrugged, flushed a little more and said, "I don't know about that, Raffles."

 

I lent forward and put my hand on his knee and squeezed it a little. "Well, I do, Bunny, I do not believe I saw you all evening - well, not until you came to introduce Miss Upton to me, that is." And then I added swiftly, "Of course I saw you, but . . ." I shrugged.

 

He stared at me. "I'm sorry, Raffles," he said quickly, as his cheeks became even redder. "I should have -"

 

I once more squeezed his knee. "Bunny, Bunny, Bunny; there is nothing for which you need to apologise. I am merely teasing you, my dear rabbit, that is all."

 

"Oh," he said and sipped his drink. "So you didn't mind?"

 

I blinked. "Why on earth should I mind, Bunny?"

 

He shrugged and quickly shook his head and once more fell silent for a short time before asking, "Did you see anything you liked the look of?"

 

I hesitated for a moment, but then decided to allow him to change the subject. After all it had only been one dinner and one ball; it did not necessarily mean, even assuming Miss Upton was invited to other balls, that she would wish to spend the evening with Bunny again. "As a matter of fact, my rabbit, I did - several things."

 

"Oh, good!" I looked at him in surprise, given quite how enthusiastic he had sounded. "It's just that - Well, it's been a while and -"

 

"You find you miss it?" I heard the surprise in my voice and had no doubt my face was showing the same level of surprise.

 

"No! Well, not exactly. It's just . . . So where are we going, Raffles, and when?"

 

I stared at him, but he once more looked away from me. I moved along the sofa a little and put my hand on his arm. "Do you need, money, my rabbit?" I asked, "because if you do, you only need to -"

 

He shook his head. "No, Raffles, of course I don't. I just - I thought you'd be pleased I was finally - Oh, it doesnít matter." And he lowered his head.

 

As I had done many times during our school days, I put my fingers beneath his chin and gently pushed his head up, before I brushed his hair from his face. "I am, Bunny, really I am. I'm just . . ." I trailed off and shrugged and then smiled at him and for a moment cupped his cheek with my hand. "As a matter of fact I thought we'd go out tomorrow evening. I happen to know that Mr. and Mrs. Riley are dining out. However, given they are dining with her family which happens to be somewhat less well off than they are, she will not be wearing many of her jewels - certainly not her more expensive ones. Thus, it should be a nice, easy and safe job."

 

He stared at me for a moment and then said lightly, "Nice, easy and safe? You'll be stealing money next, Raffles." And he laughed at the look of horror I gave him.

 

I laughed too and moved a little nearer to him and put one arm around his shoulders. To my faint surprise, a moment later I felt him do what he had done many times at school: rest his head on my shoulder. "I missed you tonight, my rabbit," I heard myself say.

 

He lifted his head, taking care as he had done all those years ago not to hit my chin and looked at me. "Did you, Raffles? Did you really?"

 

I smiled and nodded. "Yes, my dear Bunny, I really did." He smiled with obvious pleasure as he cheeks flushed a little once more and he rested his head on my shoulder again.

 

After a moment or two he once more sat up and emptied his glass before he sighed softly. "I believe it is time I went home, Raffles," he said.

 

I shrugged. "You don't have to, Bunny, not unless you want to."

 

"But it's after two."

 

I shrugged again. "I have nothing planned for the morning, other than lunching with you, so the time is of no importance. Do you have plans?"

 

"Of course not!" I smiled and felt a little foolish; when did Bunny ever have plans that did not involve me.

 

"That's settled then." I took my arm from around his shoulders, patted his thigh and stood up. I poured another whisky and soda for us, poked the fire, turned the gas lamp down just a little and once more joined him on the sofa and lit cigarettes for both of us.

 

It was an hour later before he finally said he really did have to go home as he was staring to feel quite stiff from all the dancing he had done that night. I escorted him to the door, helped him on with his coat, handed him his hat, extracted a promise from him that he would take a cab home, even though he lived only  a few streets away from the Albany, and watched him go down the stairs until I could not see him any longer.

 

THE FOLLOWING EVENING

 

"Well," I said, slipping my arm through Bunny's and glancing around us swiftly, before I led him out of the Rileys' garden and into the street once more. "That really was incredibly simple, was it not?"

 

Despite how easy it had been to get into the Rileys' house, find where Mrs. Riley kept her jewels and extract those I wanted, before making certain everything looked exactly as it had before we had arrived, my rabbit's arm was shaking just a little. I tightened my grip somewhat and slowed my pace just a little as I felt him press against me.

 

"Yes, Raffles," he replied softly; he clearly tried to keep the faint tremor from his voice; however, he failed. I tightened my grip on his arm even more, "I wish they were all that simple," he added. "However, I'm sure you do not."

 

I gave a small shrug. "Well, maybe not all of the time," I said lightly, "where would the excitement and the risk be, if they were all that simple?" I felt him shrug slightly, but was also pleased to feel he was no longer trembling quite as much. "I do believe we have earnt ourselves a good supper at the club, do you not, Bunny?"

 

"Yes, please, Raffles."

 

I squeezed his arm. "Good."

 

A FORTNIGHT LATER

 

Two weeks had gone by since we had attended the dinner and ball at the home of Lord and Lady Wheatfill, and during that time we had been invited to, and had attended, two further balls - balls to which Miss Upton had also been invited. And as it had been at the ball of Lord and Lady Wheatfill, I found I barely saw anything of my rabbit as he spent a considerable amount of the evening talking to or dancing with Miss Upton.

 

Whether it was because I had passed comment on the fact that I had not spent any time with him at the Wheatfills' ball, or simply because he wished to do so, but I did find that he didn't let Miss Upton monopolise quite all of his time. More than once during each of the balls he had excused himself, leaving her talking to other young ladies, and had returned to my side where we talked, smoked and drank champagne before Miss Upton arrived to remind him he had promised her a particular dance.

 

It was the middle of the afternoon and I was passing the time by reading the morning's newspaper prior to bathing and shaving and going out to meet Bunny for dinner, when suddenly the phone rang.

 

I frowned and glanced at my watch. Few people rang me; indeed few people actually knew I had had the telephone installed. In fact the only person who rang me regularly was my rabbit, and why would he be ringing me when we were due to meet in a few hours? Unless of course he had been taken suddenly ill - in which case he may need my assistance.

 

I hurried to the phone and was more than a little concerned when I picked the phone up to hear Bunny hiss, "Raffles? Is that you?" I forewent asking him quite who else he might imagine would be answering my phone, and instead confirmed it was indeed I. "You have to come round to my flat now, Raffles. Let yourself in with the key I gave you and say you were just passing."

 

I became a little more concerned at the urgency in his voice - he didn't exactly sound unwell, however, he did not sound like himself either. "Bun-"

 

"Please, Raffles. Come at once - get a cab." And before I could say anything he had hung up. I stood with the now silent phone in my hand and for a moment considered ringing him back and asking him to explain.

 

However, the urgency, the entreaty in his voice, instead led me to grab my hat and stick and hurry down the stairs where I found a cab outside the Albany. The driver told me he was waiting for another gentleman, however when I promised him four times the fare, he agreed to take me to Mount Street and to drive as fast as he could.

 

We arrived there in a matter of minutes and I paid him and hastened out of the cab and hurried up to Bunny's flat. Outside I paused for a moment and took a deep breath, thanks to all the time I spent playing cricket I was not remotely out of breath. However, once again, I felt a flash of concern pass through me - concern as to whether something had happened to my beloved rabbit, and if I might find him lying injured or worse on the floor. Except he had specifically told me to say that I had been passing, something I couldn't believe he would have said had he been in any actual danger.

 

Thus, I pulled the key he had insisted on giving me out of my pocket, unlocked the door and went in; I put my hat and stick down and strode towards the sitting room door. As I opened it, I called out, "Hello, Bunny, I was just passing and I thought I would drop in and join you for tea - I do hope you donít mind."

 

"Raffles!" he cried, jumping to his feet and hurrying over to me. "It's lovely to see you and no, of course I don't mind, I'm always happy to see you." He smiled at me.

 

"Oh," I said, suddenly realising he was not alone, but that Miss Upton and Miss Gower, a young lady whom I knew rather well (at least in one way) or rather I had done at one time, were sitting on Bunny's sofa. "Do, please forgive me, ladies. I had no idea that Bunny had company, otherwise I would not have interrupted."

 

"It isn't an interruption, Mr. Raffles," Miss Upton said and held out her hand. I hurried across the room and took it in mine, "Is it, Felicity."

 

Miss Gower smiled at me, moistened her bottom lip and said in a low tone, "Not at all, Constance. It's always a pleasure to see Mr. Raffles." And once I had bowed over Miss Upton's hand, she held hers out to me.

 

"Miss Upton and Miss Gower dropped by for tea; wasn't that nice of them?" Bunny said in far too bright tone.

 

"Yes, very nice indeed, Bunny," I said as I smiled at him. "But do you actually have any tea?"

 

"Of course I do, Raffles! I just do not have anything to . . . Well, go with the tea."

 

"In that case," I said swiftly, "we shall go out to tea. No," I said quickly as Miss Upton appeared to be about to object. "I insist. The Savoy does a particularly nice tea, very suitable for two such charming young ladies." I smiled at them.

 

After a moment or two Miss Upton said, "Thank you, Mr. Raffles; that would be very pleasant, I am sure. Are you happy with the change in plan, Felicity?"

 

Miss Gower smiled, "I'm quite happy, Constance - as long as Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders are quite certain it isn't inconveniencing them in any way."

 

"Not at all," I said, "is that not so, Bunny?"

 

Bunny beamed and looked incredibly relieved. "Not at all," he said. "I'll go and get a cab, shall I?"

 

And before anyone could wonder quite why, given it was his flat, he was the one to go and hail a cab thus, leaving me to escort the ladies from his flat and down the stairs and of course lock up behind us, he had gone.

 

"Well," I said, smiling at Miss Upton and Miss Gower, "shall we?" I offered my hand firstly to Miss Gower who took it and allowed me to help her stand up and then to Miss Upton who did the same.

 

I collected my hat and stick and let the ladies precede me out of Bunny's flat. I locked the door behind me and took the ladies down in the lift to where Bunny was waiting with a cab which took us to the Savoy.

 

LATER THAT EVENING

 

"They just dropped by, Raffles."

 

"Yes, Bunny, I know they did; you have told me so more than once," I said, my tone patient.

 

"Oh." He flushed a little. "I'm sorry."

 

I touched his hand across the table and smiled. "It's quite all right, my rabbit." I took a sip of the champagne I had ordered and looked at him. "The thing is, Bunny, I am not all together certain why you are so," I paused for a moment and sought for the right word. "Upset."

 

"I'm not upset!" Bunny declared more than a little loudly, which caused several of our fellow diners to turn and look at him, which of course made his cheeks turn even redder. He grabbed his glass and emptied it. "Thank you," he said, when I refilled it for him, "it's just -"

 

"Just what, my rabbit?"

 

"Well, people don't just drop by to see other people."

 

I stared at him and took another sip of the fine champagne. "Do they not?"

 

"No!"

 

"I see. So you always let me know before you come to see me?"

 

He stared at me and as his cheeks became even more flushed I felt a modicum of guilt at teasing him pass through me. "That's different," he said more softly.

 

"How so?"

 

"Because we're friends; we're - You don't mind me just dropping by, do you, Raffles?"

 

I put my hand over his and patted it in what I hoped was a reassuring way. "Of course I don't mind, Bunny. Had I done so I would have told you by now, wouldn't I?"

 

He looked at me. "Would you?"

 

I nodded. "Yes."

 

"And it's different because well, you're a man and I'm a man."

 

"Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. I took a sip of champagne, softened my tone and said, "Bunny, Miss Upton wasn't alone; you can rest assured that your reputation has not been sullied in any way. And besides, things are changing, my rabbit."

 

"I know." He sounded more than a little gloomy and I had to hide a smile.

 

"But I thought you embraced changes, Bunny. Aren't you the one who persuaded me to have a telephone and electricity installed?"

 

"Well, yes, but that's different."

 

I smiled and once more put my hand over his. "Oh, Bunny," I said softly, as I stared into the eyes of the man who from time to time still reminded me of the young boy I had met at school. "Do you not like Miss Upton?" I asked, leaning back and taking out my cigarette case.

 

Once more his cheeks flushed and he glanced away from me. "Yes, I like her," he said, after a moment or two of just staring at the table. "She's a nice young lady; I can talk to her."

 

"But?"

 

"I still don't know why she just dropped by to have tea with me."

 

"Well, Bunny, you and she have been . . . You do spend quite some time together at dinners and balls, do you not?"

 

"Well, yes, but - We've never . . . I've never . . . I haven't, Raffles."

 

"Yet you talk together, you dance together. Look, Bunny, I haven't said anything before, but I do believe you should know that more than one person has mentioned what a nice couple you make, and some believe you are walking out together."

 

"We're not!"

 

I shrugged. "Actually, my rabbit, in a way you are."

 

He grabbed my hand. "Raffles," he whispered, actually sounding more than a little aghast. "What should I do?"

 

"What do you wish to do, Bunny?"

 

He stared at me. "I don't know," he said.

 

At that moment the waiter arrived and took out plates away and I ordered another bottle of champagne. I waited until the waiter had returned with the champagne and the next course, before I said, "Bunny, if you truly have no interest in Miss Upton beyond being seated next to her at dinner, dancing with her and talking with her at balls, then you must make that clear to her. It is not fair on her otherwise. Clearly she, given her arriving at your flat earlier today, is interested in a deeper relationship with you."

 

He stared at me. "Do you think so? Do you really think so?" One of the things I have always prided myself on is being able to read my rabbit's expression and the tone in his voice. However, for the first time ever, I realised that I did not know if he was pleased by what I had said or if my words had made him unhappy, troubled even. I truly did not know if he liked Miss Upton in a way a gentleman liked a lady to whom he might at some point propose marriage, or if his liking of her really was just someone to dance with and talk to.

 

"Yes, Bunny," I said firmly. "I not only think so, I am certain."

 

"Oh." Once more he grabbed his glass and emptied it.

 

I sighed softly and refilled it for him. "Well?" I asked.

 

He frowned at me. "Well what?"

 

I put down my knife and fork and leant towards him a little. "Is Miss Upton a young lady to whom you could see yourself, at some point in the future, proposing marriage?" I asked somewhat bluntly. And as I waited for his reply, I realised that I did not know what I wanted him to say, what I expected him to say. Bunny married would be . . . Well, it would make life quite, quite different.

 

My rabbit would not be mine any longer; he would belong to another. And surely I had always known, always believed, that one day he would marry? And yet had I? Had I ever truly thought about it? I knew, of course I did, he had been fond of a young lady before we had become reacquainted. Indeed, I recalled him telling me that there had been some kind of understanding between them, but it had never come to anything - and since then . . . Well, since then he had barely been apart from me and had certainly never shown any interest in any other young lady; his devotion had always been to me. Had I expected that to continue? Did I want it to continue? Did I wish to remain the focus of his attention and affection?

 

"I . . . I . . . I . . ." He stammered and took another deep swallow of champagne before looking down at the table and saying quietly, "I do believe she might be."

 

I stared at his bowed head and realised, to my surprise, I was quite taken aback by his admittance and not entirely happy. "Well, my rabbit," I made myself say, "in that case, I do believe you should -"

 

"But, Raffles. I couldn't."

 

I frowned. "Why on earth not?"

 

"Well, I've never . . ."

 

"Oh, it's really quite easy, Bunny. I'm sure you'd soon get the -"

 

"Raffles!" Once more heads turned to look at us. "I didn't mean that," he hissed, his cheeks once more aflame.

 

I widened my eyes and to my horror heard myself say, "You mean you have?"

 

"No! Of course I haven't. I'm not like you."

 

"Then what exactly did you mean, Bunny?"

 

"I don't want to talk about it any more, Raffles," he said firmly. "Let us talk about something else."

 

"If that's what my rabbit wants."

 

"It is!"

 

A MONTH LATER

 

The weeks continued to go by, as weeks do. It was the ball season and as such not a week went by when Bunny and I weren't invited to at least one ball, and for the most part more than one. I continued to dance a variety of young ladies around the floor and continued to take to bed those who made it clear they were more quite, quite willing, and also who made it clear that they knew there would be no attachment between us.

 

However, the more I danced, the more I took young ladies to bed, the more I felt I was merely playing a part in a play. After our aborted conversation, Bunny and I had not spoken of Miss Upton or his feelings for her again. Nonetheless, it seemed for me that part of my life had been put on hold; it was very strange and I wasn't particularly happy or indeed comfortable by the fact, but I felt as if I was just waiting for something to happen, so that I knew what my life would entail.

 

Bunny and Miss Upton continued to sit together, dance together and talk together, and one evening he even managed to pluck up the courage to invite her to take afternoon tea with him. Of course being Bunny, he had already insisted that I agree to accompany them, and so once more Miss Upton, Miss Gower, Bunny and I took tea at the Savoy.

 

It was during tea that I realised I did not actually care for Miss Upton and worse still, I did not entirely trust her. I could not say what caused me to feel that way; there was just something about her that afternoon. It was partly the way she spent more of her time watching me rather than watching Bunny; the slight look of distaste on her face, always hastily covered up, when I called him 'Bunny' or 'my rabbit', and the complete look of disapproval, irritation even when it was I who paid for tea rather than Bunny.

 

It hadn't been deliberate, not at all. It is just that when Bunny and I dine out or take tea together or a cab or indeed anything, I am always the one who pays. It really makes no difference, given our money comes from the same source; it is just one of those things. I am older than he, I pay - I pushed away thoughts of any other reason there could be for me being the one to pay.

 

As I held the stare she was giving me, thankfully Bunny seemed quite oblivious (Miss Gower, however, wasn't, she seemed almost amused) I truly thought she was about to say something. Indeed, she did begin to open her mouth, but suddenly Miss Gower put her hand on her arm and said something so quietly, I could not hear what it was. Whatever it was, it was enough to prevent Miss Upton from saying whatever she had been about to say.

 

Instead she and then Miss Gower thanked us for tea and after hesitating for a moment, during which Miss Upton stared at Bunny - I do believe she was waiting for him to either offer to escort them home or to suggest a further liaison - for a few seconds during which he just smiled back at her, they stood up, thanked us again and left.

 

Once they had gone I took out my cigarette case and offered it to Bunny. "I must apologise, Bunny," I said, striking a match and holding it so that he could light his Sullivan.

 

He frowned and looked at me. "For what, Raffles?"

 

"For being the one to pay for tea."

 

He looked at me and it was quite clear he had no idea what the problem was. "But you are always the one to pay," he finally said.

 

"Well, yes, my rabbit, that is indeed the case when you and I go out. However, this was somewhat different."

 

"How so?"

 

I sighed softly. "Bunny, you - you note - invited Miss Upton out for tea. As such I should have allowed you to pay."

 

"Oh," he said; I was quite certain he still didn't really understand that there was anything amiss. "Well, it doesn't matter, does it? I don't mind."

 

I blew a smoke ring and said quietly, "You may not, Bunny.  However, I do believe Miss Upton minded - on your behalf."

 

He stared at me as if he was suddenly doubting my sanity. Then he just shook his head and patted my hand. "I'm sure she didn't, Raffles. Why would she? It's only afternoon tea and it's not as if she and I were alone. It made no difference whether you paid or I did - now shall we go home?"

 

I smiled at him. "Yes, Bunny, let us do that thing." I decided that continuing to push the matter was of no worth, and to be honest I didn't really care if Miss Upton disapproved or not.

 

We walked back to the Albany arm-in-arm where we parted, he to go to his flat in order to bathe and change and I to go to my rooms and do that same thing before we met at the club to dine.

 

A FORTNIGHT LATER

 

We were at yet another ball. I was waiting for Bunny to return from fetching his cigarette case which he had left in his overcoat pocket when our hats, coats and sticks had been taken from us. I had a glass of champagne in one hand and a Sullivan in the other, and was quite deliberately avoiding making eye contact with anyone.

 

I was standing quite near to the large window which opened onto the balcony and as I heard voices I realised the window was actually open slightly. "Well, come along, Constance, tell me, has Mr. Manders invited you out to tea again?" I heard Miss Gower say.

 

"No, he has not."

 

"Why don't you ask him? Ladies do these days, you know."

 

"I can't, Felicity. You saw how he was when we went to his flat that afternoon - remember, it just ended with him ringing Mr. Raffles and telling him to come around and rescue him."

 

"Do you really think he rang Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Yes, I am quite certain he did. Why did you believe that Mr. Raffles just happened to be passing?"

 

"Well, they are terribly good friends. Why would he not be?"

 

"Because Mount Street doesn't go to anywhere; at least nowhere I believe Mr. Raffles would visit. So he wasn't passing. Harry called him."

 

I heard Miss Gower gasp. "You call him Harry? Oh, Constance!"

 

"Well, I haven't actually called him Harry in his hearing, but - What, Felicity, we have been . . . It's been several weeks."


"Well, yes, I know but - Are you going to ask him to call you 'Constance'?"

 

I heard Miss Upton sigh. "If I could find an appropriate time or place, then yes, why not? Things are changing, you said so yourself. This whole Mr. and Miss thing seems so old fashioned; at least once you've known someone for more than a week or two."

 

"You could do it tonight."

 

"No, I don't want to do it in a public place. I believe he will be rather shocked, and I don't wish to embarrass him or make a fool of him."

 

"Well, what are you going to do?"

 

"My parents wish to meet him. I have invited him to join us for luncheon on more than one occasion."

 

She had? Well, now, Bunny had not told me that! I wondered why.

 

"That's exciting."

 

"Yes, it might be if he ever said yes. But he doesn't. He always makes an excuse - and it's always the same one."

 

"What is it?"

 

"Mr. Raffles. He's already made plans to luncheon with Mr. Raffles or more often Mr. Raffles is playing in a cricket match and he has to accompany him."

 

"Oh, well that's easy."

 

"It is?"

 

"Yes. You invite Mr. Raffles as well."

 

"But, Felicity, I do not wish to invite Mr. Raffles."

 

"Ah, but you do it in a way whereby he will decline, but will tell Mr. Manders he should join you."

 

"You mean he'll give Harry his permission to take luncheon with me?"

 

Miss Gower was silent for a moment and then said softly, "Why do you dislike Mr. Raffles so much?"


"I don't dislike him. I just - Oh, I don't know. It's . . . Oh, Felicity, I'm sorry; you and Mr. Raffles are -"

 

"What? Oh, no. No. We're just friends - well, nowadays anyway."

 

"Felicity. You haven't?"

 

"Why shouldn't I have?"

 

"It's just that . . ." And then Miss Upton said something I couldnít hear, to which Miss Gower replied. Again I could not hear what was said, but from the slightly  high gasp that Miss Upton made, followed by the way they started to giggle like school girls, I feared I could guess.

 

In fact I was quite certain when I heard Miss Gower say, "Has Mr. Manders even kissed you?"

 

I was suddenly aware that I did not wish to hear Miss Upton's answer, and as at that moment Bunny appeared, I strode away from the window and across the room to join him.

 

We stood and talked for some minutes before I became aware that someone was behind us. I turned around just as Miss Upton said, "Mr. Manders, you're here. I was beginning to fear you had been taken ill or something." She held out her hand to him, albeit not quite in the way one offers a hand to be shaken.

 

After a second's hesitation he took her hand and let her squeeze his. "No, I am quite well, thank you, Miss Upton. I was just - but it's of no importance. I trust you are well?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Manders, I am quite well, thank you for asking." She let go of his hand and turned to me. "Do forgive my ill manners, Mr. Raffles. I am quite tardy in saying good evening to you." She held out her hand to me.

 

I took it and bent my head slightly over it. "There is nothing to forgive, Miss Upton. Naturally you were pleased to see that Bunny is quite well."

 

For a fleeting second her face froze, and then she laughed softly and took her hand from mine. "Yes, I was."

 

I nodded and looked at Miss Gower. "Good evening, Miss Gower," I said, taking her hand. "It is a pleasure to see you, and I must say you are looking quite lovely tonight."

 

She smiled at me, a gentle smile, one which teased her lips and made her eyes sparkle and for a moment I remembered how they had shone when I had - "Good evening, Mr. Raffles, Mr. Manders," she turned to Bunny who nodded at her and murmured his own greeting. "It is a pleasure to see you too - both of you - and thank you for your kind compliment."

 

A waiter was moving between the guests with a tray of champagne. I stopped him and took two glasses which I handed to Miss Gower and Miss Upton, and for a moment or two we stood and talked about the weather.

 

Suddenly Miss Gower said brightly, "Oh, Constance, I do believe you mentioned there was something you wished to ask Mr. Manders, did you not?"


"Something you wish to ask me?" Bunny said and started. I believe were it not for the fact that I put my hand on his hand and steadied the glass he held, that the champagne in the glass would now be all over his evening jacket. He glanced at me, his eyes slightly wide and as I stared fondly down at him, I was truly reminded of a startled rabbit. I let my hand linger on his for a moment or two longer, during which Miss Upton's attention came to rest on my hand, before I took it away and looked at Miss Upton.

 

"Go on, Constance," Miss Gower said. "Ask Mr. Manders."

 

Miss Upton smiled and turned her full attention to Bunny. "It is just that Mother and Father have invited you once again to join us for luncheon on Sunday, Mr. Manders. Actually," she added swiftly, "they also invited Mr. Raffles as well. However, I know Mr. Raffles is due to play in a county match on Sunday - is that not so, Mr. Raffles?" I gave a curt nod. She smiled at me, moistened her bottom lip and said lightly, "Would it not be possible, Mr. Raffles, for you to do without Ha - Mr. Manders's company for one day? Would you permit him to join Mother, Father and I for luncheon?"

 

I held her gaze in silence for a moment. Out of the corner of one eye I could see Bunny was biting his bottom lip and looked more than a little uneasy - I suspected it had as much to do with her 'once again' as the actual invitation. Out of the corner of my other eye, I could see Miss Gower was looking at me with a faint smile on her face, and suddenly I got the distinct impression that she was enjoying this.

 

I took a sip of the champagne and gave a nonchalant shrug. "Bunny does not need my permission, Miss Upton, do you, my rabbit?"

 

I almost disliked myself at the look of clear panic that crossed Bunny's face. "I . . . I . . . That is, no, of course I don't," he finally managed to stammer out.

 

I gave fleeting consideration to patting his shoulder and telling him he was a good boy, but I stopped myself. "There you are, Miss Upton, my permission is not required. If Bunny wishes to take luncheon with your parents, he quite at liberty to do so."

 

She turned to Bunny. "And do you, Mr. Manders? Do you wish to join my parents and me for luncheon?"

 

Bunny turned to me, which rather spoilt the whole 'not needing my permission' before looking back at Miss Upton. "I . . . I . . . Yes, please, Miss Upton, I'd like that."

 

I wasn't certain who was the more surprised by his words - he or Miss Upton. I wasn't surprised because, given what I had said, I had really left him no other option but to say aye. Nor did Miss Gower look particularly surprised; she was, after all, quite an intelligent young lady.

 

Miss Upton regained her composure first. "Well, I am delighted, Harry - oh, dear, do forgive me," she said swiftly as Bunny stared at her. "It's just well . . . I know, Mr. Manders, that you are a real gentleman, but have we not been," she paused for just the right amount of time, and then said with a very pretty laugh, "friends for long enough now to dispose of Miss Upton and Mr. Manders? May I not call you Harry? And you of course, if you wish to, call me Constance - but not," she added swiftly, "if it will make you uncomfortable. I would not like to make you uncomfortable. So do you mind?"

 

I saw Bunny's head begin to turn towards me, but I quickly looked at Miss Gower and went on staring at her, refusing to meet Bunny's desperate gaze. "I . . . I don't mind," Bunny said. "If you wish to call me Harry, Miss Upton, then please do."

 

"Oh, thank you," she said and touched his hand as she smiled. "As I was saying," she paused for a moment and then said firmly, "Harry, I am delighted that you will finally be able to meet Mother and Father. And I am sorry, Mr. Raffles, that you will not be able to join us - maybe another time."

 

"Well," I said and moistened my bottom lip. Miss Gower turned her head swiftly and looked at me. "As a matter of fact I am not actually playing cricket on Sunday."

 

"You're not?"

 

"Raffles, but you told -"

 

"No. I am not. It's a fairly minor thing, but I strained my wrist slightly earlier today, and as such, I fear I shall not be able to bowl or indeed bat adequately - especially as the third test will start in less than a fortnight. I'm sure you understand."

 

"Raffles! Why didn't you tell me? Does it hurt a great deal? Shouldn't you have it bandaged or something? Here, let me hold your glass for you."

 

"Bunny, Bunny, Bunny," I said, taking my glass back from him and putting my left hand onto his shoulder. "Do not worry so, my rabbit. It is nothing serious; as I said it is just a slight strain, nothing more. I can hardly feel it - but it will interfere with my bowling and batting." I squeezed his shoulder and once more turned to Miss Upton. "As such, Miss Upton, I shall be delighted to accept your parents' kind invitation to join you for lunch, if of course that is all right with you."

 

Miss Gower had taken a step back so she was now slightly behind Miss Upton, and I let my gaze flicker to her and saw sheer delight on her face - she really was enjoying this, far too much I felt.

 

As Miss Upton cleared her throat, Miss Gower swiftly looked at her. "Of course it is perfectly all right with me, Mr. Raffles. It will be a pleasure to have you join us."

 

"I shall look forward to it. Well, we both shall, is that not so, Bunny?"

 

"Oh, yes. Yes," Bunny now sounded quite happy. "We certainly will, Miss Upton."

 

"Very well. If you wish to bring a young lady to accompany you, Mr. Raffles, you may of course do so."

 

I glanced at Miss Gower and raised an eyebrow. "Are you free for luncheon on Sunday, Miss Gower?" I asked.

 

She smiled and gave me a look that once again had me wondering if I should maybe ask her to join me somewhere else again. "I certain am, Mr. Raffles. I'd be very happy to accompany you and Mr. Manders - if that is all right with you, Constance?"

 

Miss Upton looked more than a little relieved, and she took Miss Gower's arm. "Oh, Felicity, that would be lovely, it really would."

 

"In that case, I too shall look forward to it."  At that moment the orchestra began to play and Miss Gower looked at me; I nodded, took her arm and led her on to the floor.

 

"You," I said as we danced, "were enjoying that rather too much, I feel, Miss Gower."

 

"I was bored. You don't realise, Mr. Raffles, quite how it is for a lady. We are not as free as you gentlemen are; we are bound so much more by society's expectations."

 

"Oh, really," I said, bending my head a little, "and I do believe I heard you say that things were changing."

 

She gasped softly and moved back in my arms to gaze up at me as her cheeks coloured just a little. "Well really, Mr. Raffles," she said, and then laughed lightly. We danced for a moment or two in silence before she said softly, "Will Mr. Manders be returning to your rooms with you for a drink after you leave the ball?"

 

I moved back a little and gazed down at her - her meaning was quite clear. "He usually does, yes. However, even if he were not to do so, you know ladies are not permitted in the Albany."

 

She smiled. "It so happens my parents are not at home; they have gone to visit my sister for a few days."

 

"Is that so?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles, it is. And it really is quite boring, shall we say, to be alone."

 

I stared at her and considered her clear suggestion. An hour or two in her company would be most pleasant, and I had no need to fear that she would expect more than an hour or two's pleasure from me.

 

However, for some reason I wasn't altogether certain I wished to do so. In fact I was just about to tell her I remembered there was something important I had to do later, when Bunny danced by with Miss Upton in his arms. She was holding onto him a little more tightly than seemed appropriate, as well as being somewhat nearer to him than a lady usually got to a gentleman.

 

Thus, as I opened my mouth to decline Miss Gower's kind invitation, I heard myself say, "I shall tell Bunny I am somewhat fatigued and thus he may only stay for a short while."

 

She smiled at me. "Or you could tell him that your wrist is hurting you rather more than you'd led him to believe it was." Before I could reply, the dance came to an end and I took my arm from around her. "Thank you for the dance, Mr. Raffles, I hope you will ask me again later," she said and with a swish of her gown, she turned and left me.

 

SEVERAL HOURS LATER

 

I made my way from Miss Gower's home back to the Albany. The time I had spent with Miss Gower had indeed been pleasant. However, as I walked through the empty, dark streets I felt more than a little unsatisfied, both physically and in my mind.

 

It wasn't that I regretted accepting her invitation, just that I almost wished I hadn't accepted it. I shouldn't have done so; I shouldn't have told Bunny I was feeling a little tired and thus he had to leave at an earlier hour than he normally did. I should have spent the time I had spent with Miss Gower with my rabbit - I believed that I would now be more satisfied had I done that thing.

 

I greeted Parker and then went up to my rooms. As I went by the telephone I paused for a moment and found I was giving serious consideration to ringing Bunny. However, I hastily pushed the thought from my mind; what reason could I give him for ringing him at three in the morning? There wasn't one, certainly not one he would believe, especially not when I had been the one to send him home before he wished to go home, and before I wished him to have gone home.

 

Thus, I instead went to my bedroom, stripped, visited the bathroom and then got into bed and turned out the light; I expected to fall asleep easily. However, twenty minutes later I was still wide awake and found the image of Bunny with Miss Upton in his arms and the way they were looking at one another, the way they seemed so happy, so oblivious to everyone else, wouldn't leave me.

 

I forced it from my mind and instead began to question quite why I had lied to both my beloved rabbit and to Miss Upton over having slightly sprained my wrist. Why had I been so determined not to allow Bunny to join Miss Upton and her parents for luncheon without me being by his side? However, I realised I didn't really want to examine my reasons too closely; thus I forced that subject from my mind as well and instead turned my attention to at least giving myself some physical satisfaction.

 

SUNDAY

 

With Bunny holding a bouquet of flowers for Mrs. Upton, we took a cab to the home of the Uptons. Miss Gower had spent the weekend with Miss Upton and I idly wondered quite what she and Miss Upton would have spoken of.

 

"Are you certain this tie is suitable, Raffles?" Bunny sounded a little anxious and he kept taking his watch out and checking the time - even though we had left the Albany with plenty of time to spare.

 

I put my hand on his arms. "It is perfectly suitable, Bunny, and we will not be late. Do not worry so, my rabbit."

 

He sighed softly. "I'm glad you're here, Raffles."

 

"Are you, my rabbit? Are you really?"

 

"Yes, of course I am. The idea of meeting Mr. and Mrs. Upton alone and having to make conversation with them - well, it rather scared me."

 

I turned to look at him and brushed his hair from his forehead; he really was in so many ways still the young boy I met all those years ago. "Is that why you kept making excuses not to accept Miss Upton's invitation to luncheon?"

 

He stared at me and flushed slightly. "I'm sorry I didnít tell you about them, Raffles. I didn't know - Well you know."

 

Actually for once I didn't. "You do not need to apologise, Bunny, you are not obligated in any way to tell me such things - well to tell me anything. If you wish to accept an invitation to luncheon, then accept it - as I told Miss Upton you do not need my permission." I smiled at him and then said quietly, "You do know that, do you not, Bunny?"

 

"Of course I do, Raffles! It's not as if we're still at school and I'm still your fag, is it?"

 

I smiled. "No, my rabbit, it isn't. So was being somewhat afeared you wouldn't be able to make conversation with Miss Upton's parents the only reason for not accepting the previous invitations? Did you not wish to meet them? Did you not wish to spend time with Miss Upton?"

 

"Of course I did. I like her, Raffles. But I also wanted to be with you and I always come to watch you play cricket. I enjoy it."

 

I stared at him and once more my hand swept his hair from his forehead (maybe I should have suggested he have a haircut before meeting Miss Upton's parents, however, it was rather too late for that now). "Well, Bunny, I enjoy your company and it's always nice to have someone you know watching you play. However, things do change, circumstances change and . . ." I shrugged.

 

"Are you telling me you donít want me to accompany you any more?"

 

I shook my head and said, realising my tone was slightly exasperated, "No, Bunny, of course I'm not. Do try not to be quite such a rabbit." His eyes widened and he looked more than a little hurt. I hastened to put matters right, "I do apologise, my dear Bunny, please forgive me. I did not mean to talk sharply to you. It's just that I haven't slept that well for a few nights." Actually, that wasn't a complete lie.

 

"I'm sorry to hear that, Raffles, was it because of your wrist?"

 

"What? Oh, yes, I believe it might have had something to do with it. For some reason I found it hurt a little more when I laid down." Now that was a complete lie and I felt more than a little uneasy about not only lying, but also in continuing to perpetuate a lie I never should have begun.

 

He put his hand on my arm and gave me a concerned look. "Why didn't you say something? Or why didn't you ring Charleston and ask him to prescribe a powder for you, either to help you sleep or with the pain."

 

"It wasn't that bad, Bunny, really. You know I don't like to take such things."

 

"But -"

 

"Hush, Bunny. Now I believe I was about to reassure you that of course I still wish you to accompany me to my cricket matches. Please don't ever think I do not want you at my side, because I do; there's no one I want more to be with me. However, things are a little different for you now and will quite possibly get more different for you in due course. Maybe Miss Upton will not wish you to accompany me to so many matches." Or any - but I didn't say that.

 

"It won't have anything to do with her!"

 

I sighed softly and squeezed his hand. "My dear rabbit, if you marry her, it will have. She may not be quite the modern young lady some of the young ladies we know are - or at least she does not appear to be. However, she is of a different generation from our mothers, and as such I believe she will expect to have at least some say in how you spend your time. And it would be quite understandable if she objected to you spending so much time accompanying me to cricket matches - or anywhere," I added.

 

He stared in horror at me. "I'm not going to marry her if I can't see you!" he declared.

 

To my surprise, I felt my throat tighten just a little. I did not know why his words touched me quite so much given I have always known how important I am to him, how much he cares, how much he loves me - and always has done. "I did not say you wouldn't be able to spend any time with me, Bunny, just that if you marry Miss Upton - or indeed any young lady - we will not be able to spend as much time together as we do now. I believe she will expect you to dine with her most evenings. But let us not spoil the day by thinking about such things," I smiled at him and then a very unpleasant thought found its way into my mind and before I even gave consideration as to whether I wanted to hear what he might say, I heard myself ask, "You weren't planning on speaking to Mr. Upton today, were you, Bunny?"

 

He stared at me. "Of course I plan to speak to him, Raffles. I may not be as good a conversationalist as you, but it would be very bad manners if I did not say anything to him."

 

I counted to five and said softly, "That is not quite what I meant, Bunny. I merely wondered if you intended to speak to him about his daughter," he still looked somewhat confused so I sighed and added, "to ask if you might marry her?"

 

"What! No, Raffles! No. No, I hadn't intended to do that. Do you think he's expecting me to?" He grabbed my hand.

 

"I do not know, Bunny. I do not know what Miss Upton has told her parents about you and about your and she; you know her far better than I do. However, as they have invited you to their home and wish to meet you, it is possible . . ."

 

"Raffles! You have to promise me something."

 

"If it's something I can promise, my rabbit, then of course I shall do so."

 

"Don't leave me alone with Mr. Upton. Please, Raffles, promise me."

 

"I promise I shall endeavour not to do that, Bunny. However, it may not be possible; if Mr. Upton invites you to join him in his study or something and does not invite me to accompany you . . . Well, I can hardly insist upon going with you, can I?"

 

"No, of course not. It's just -"

 

"Just?"

 

"I don't know, Raffles."

 

"Do you not wish to marry Miss Upton?" Again I wondered quite why I was asking the question and pushing the matter when in truth I really didn't want to hear what he might say.

 

"It's not that. I think I do, I believe I do. I'm almost certain I do. I just don't want to . . . Say anything today. It's too soon, Raffles."

 

I was aware the cab was slowing down and I presumed we had reached the Uptons' home. Thus, I once more squeezed his hand, brushed his hair back from him forehead (as I did I told myself firmly I must not do that when we were with the Uptons) and said brightly, "In that case, my rabbit, we will have to hope Mr. Upton does not say anything. However, if he does, then you'll just have to be firm with him and let him know that whilst you like his daughter, you believe it is a little too soon to talk of marriage."

 

"Be firm," he nodded and then looked at me. "Raffles . . ."

 

"Come along, Bunny, I do believe we are here. Now smile and try to relax and be yourself. I'm sure Mr. and Mrs. Upton are perfectly nice people."

 

For a moment he gave me a look that I thought was how a doomed man on his way to his own execution might look. However, I merely patted his hand, opened the cab door and got out. I paid the driver as Bunny joined me on the pavement and then I put my arm through his and led him up to the front door.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Upton were indeed very nice people, who seemed genuinely pleased to meet us. Bunny did not have to worry about the possibility of being invited by Mr. Upton to join him in his study because as soon as he learnt I was A. J. Raffles, the cricketer, I was the one to whom he spoke - at great length - much to the obvious displeasure of Miss Upton.

 

For the most part, luncheon and the hour or so we spent with the Uptons after lunch was very pleasant. Mrs. Upton certainly had an excellent cook and Mr. Upton had a fine wine cellar and once Bunny discovered I was the focus of Mr. Upton's attention and conversation, he relaxed and conversed quite easily with Mrs. Upton, Miss Upton and Miss Gower.

 

There were, however, two instances which caused a little unease. The first occurred when, in an attempt to get her father to focus on Bunny rather than on me, Miss Upton told her father that Bunny was a writer. Bunny, of course, became somewhat incoherent, flushed and stammered that he wasn't really. In an attempt to come to his rescue I told Mr. Upton that Bunny had written some rather good articles for one of the newspapers - which he had.

 

At that point, Miss Upton interrupted and told us all that Bunny was in fact planning to write a novel, indeed a series of novels, because he was far too fine a writer to waste his life writing mere articles for small newspapers. Now, as far as the standard of my rabbit's writing goes she spoke the truth; Bunny is a better writer than he believes himself to be.

 

However, this was the first time I had heard of his apparent plans and I spoke without thought. "Well, my rabbit," I said (instantly regretting the term, I had up until that point ensured I only called or referred to him as 'Bunny'). "I was not aware of your plans, you did not tell me you intended to write a novel."

 

"Harry doesn't have to tell you everything, Mr. Raffles," Miss Upton said in a tone that was quite harsh. I believe from the look that crossed her face, the way her cheeks turned slightly red, the way she bit her bottom lip and glanced away from me, that she too had spoken without thought.

 

"Constance! You will apologise at once to Mr. Raffles."

 

"Yes, Father." Her head was still bowed and as she lifted it and looked at me I saw she had turned more than a little pale. "I do apologise, Mr. Raffles. I spoke too hastily and had right to say what I said. It was discourteous of me. I am sorry."

 

I smiled and inclined my head. "An apology is not necessary, Miss Upton," I said. "Indeed if anyone should apologise, it is I. Of course there are things Bunny tells you that he doesn't tell me. And for what it is worth, I believe he would write a splendid novel." I glanced at Bunny now and smiled as he looked as if he would rather be anywhere other than where he was.

 

"You are too kind, Mr. Raffles."

 

"Yes, he is," Mr. Upton said, and for a moment the air around the table became more than a little frosty.

 

In an attempt to make things better, I turned to Mr. Upton and said, "Look, Mr. Upton, how would you like to be my guest at the test match the week after next?"

 

Instantly Mr. Upton's mood changed and he not only accepted my invitation, he sent the butler to open another bottle of wine. Miss Upton, however, was clearly not at all happy with me.

 

The other incident occurred after luncheon when we were all out in the garden admiring the flowers and Miss Upton told her father than she believed that Bunny wished to speak to him.

 

Bunny dropped the Sullivan I had just held a match to and gave me a look that made me fear he might suddenly turn and hasten away.

 

Mr. Upton turned to Bunny. "Well, Manders, what is it you wish to say to me? Come along, out with it, boy?"

 

"Father, I think -"

 

"Be quiet, Constance. Well, Manders, what's so darn important my daughter thinks she has to tell me you wish to talk to me?"

 

Bunny glanced at me, but I knew there was nothing I could say to help. "Um," and then I saw an idea flash across my rabbit's face. "It was just that I was wondering if you would like to dine with me, well with Raffles and me, at our club one evening next week?"

 

"With you and Raffles, you say?"

 

"Yes, sir."

 

"I'd be delighted, my boy. Delighted."

 

"Harry -"

 

"Come along, Raffles, Manders, let's leave the ladies to admire the flowers. I've got a rather good bottle of port in the library." And without waiting for anyone to reply, Mr. Upton strode off and Bunny and I followed him. As we walked past the ladies, I caught Miss Gower's eye and saw that she was hiding a smile - she really was enjoying this rivalry far too much.

 

Upton kept us in his study, drinking his very fine port and smoking cigars for well over an hour before we all rejoined the ladies in the garden, where we once more admired the flowers.

 

It was a short time before it would be time for us to leave, one never liked to outstay one's welcome, when Miss Gower came up to us and slipped her arm though mine. "Might I have a word with you, Mr. Raffles?" she said, and even before I answered her, she began to walk away from Bunny and Miss Upton.

 

We walked further down the garden before we stopped. "What did you wish to say to me, Miss Gower?" I asked.

 

She smiled at me and a faint hint of colour touched her cheeks. "Actually, Mr. Raffles, I do not need to talk with you. It is just that Constance asked me to take you away as she wished to talk to Mr. Manders alone." I stared at her. "I'm sorry," she said, in a tone that told me she was anything but, "however, I am Constance's friend, am I not?"

 

"Are you?" I said, glancing to where Bunny and Miss Upton stood. "I sometimes wonder."

 

"Really, Mr. Raffles!" she exclaimed and then laughed.

 

THREE QUARTERS OF AN HOUR LATER

 

We were once again back at the Albany, sitting on my sofa, Sullivans in our hands.  I was once again sitting with one leg tucked under me so that I could turn and look at Bunny. I blew a smoke ring and asked in what I hoped was a nonchalant tone, "What did Miss Upton wish to speak to you about?"

 

"She said that as her father and I would both be attending the test match in which you would be playing, that I would be able to speak to him then." And he sighed.

 

"I see," I said, standing up and going across the pour us both a small whisky and soda. To my surprise I found that I was actually giving semi-serious consideration to informing the England selectors that I would not be able to play, citing my wrist as a reason. We could still all attend the match, well at least one day's play, but Bunny wouldn't be alone with Upton.

 

I mentally shook myself, what on earth was I thinking of? I simply couldn't do something like that - not even if it meant delaying what I was truly beginning to believe was the inevitable: my rabbit marrying Miss Upton and slipping from my life.

 

What I had said to Bunny about he and I spending less time together had been quite true - I honestly believed Miss Upton would do whatever she could to keep my rabbit away from me on as many occasions as possible. And the thing is that whilst Bunny does love me, whilst I am his best friend, whilst he enjoys spending time with me and would, I am quite certain, miss me, he is more than a little accommodating. I off all people should know that! As such, he would almost certainly bow to Miss Upton's wishes and thus we would go from seeing one another on a daily basis to maybe a couple of days a week to one day a week to twice a month to once a month to -

 

"I'm sorry, Bunny," I said, suddenly realising Bunny had spoken.

 

"I merely said I told her that I did not intend to speak to her father at the moment."

 

I stared at him and hoping my face was not showing quite how surprised (or pleased) I was. "Did you, Bunny?"

 

"Yes. Yes, Raffles, I did. I told you before we went to lunch that I believed it was too soon to be asking permission to marry her. Besides," he paused and took a long swallow from the glass I had given him.

 

I waited for him to continue but he didn't. I sat back down on the sofa and once more turned so I could look at him. "Besides?"

 

He shrugged and then turned around himself, tucking one leg beneath him and leaning toward me. "The thing is, Raffles, how would I support her?"

 

"Ah," I said.

 

"I mean it's not as if I can continue to - Continue in the way we get our money now, is it?"

 

"I imagine not. No, my rabbit, you are quite correct. It would not be an easy thing for you to do."

 

"And the money I get from the newspaper articles don't even allow me to keep myself, so it won't allow me to support a wife and provide a home for her and then . . . Well, it's possible that . . . Likely even there would be . . ."

 

"Children?" I said softly.

 

He looked at me and his cheeks became a little red. "Yes," he said softly. Although his tone was soft there was something in it which I couldn't quite understand.

 

"Do you not wish to be a father, Bunny?"

 

He shrugged, looked away from me and then looked directly at me. "I don't know, Raffles. I really don't know. Actually," he added, draining his glass and holding it between his hands, "that isn't true."

 

I took the empty glass from his hands and poured him another drink. "Is it not, my rabbit?"

 

"Thank you." He again took a long swallow as I sat down, this time closer to him than before, close enough to allow me to put my hand on his arm. "No, it isn't. You see, Raffles, I have no desire at all to be a father. None whatsoever," he said firmly.

 

"Ah," was all I could say, as even I had not an answer to his declaration.

 

We sat in silence for some time during which my hand found its way to his hair, which I pushed back from his forehead and then tangled his hair around my fingers. I swear it had not been a conscious move, but it elicited a soft sigh or what was obvious pleasure from Bunny - a noise that he used to make at school when I did the same thing.

 

He turned his head a little and gazed at me and for a moment I -

 

"Raffles? Is something amiss?" he asked, as I pulled my hand from his hair and stood up abruptly.

 

I said the first thing that came into my head, the one excuse I could have for leaving him. "I need to go to the lavatory," I said, and swiftly left the room and headed for my bathroom where I took advantage of the facilities even though I had no real need to do so. I washed my hands and splashed cold water on my face and stared at myself in the mirror. What on earth had I been thinking? What on earth had I nearly done? And why now? I stayed in the bathroom until I realised that if I didn't return to him soon, he might get anxious and come to see if all was well.

 

I returned to the sitting room and he looked up at me; the concern and even a degree of apprehension were clear on his face. "Have I done or said something, Raffles?"

 

"What? No, Bunny, not at all." I made myself sit down next to him and put my hand on his shoulder. "I merely needed to go to the lavatory, that's all, my rabbit." He didn't look completely convinced, but he did manage a soft smile. I patted his shoulder in a reassuring way and said, "What about the book Miss Upton mentioned? I'm sure that the proceeds from that, plus any articles you write would be sufficient for you to marry and set up home with her."

 

"Raffles, I can't write a book. It wasn't my idea; it was Const- Miss Upton's."

 

"Actually, Bunny, I do believe that in this matter Miss Upton is correct. You could write a book, and I'm certain it would be a very good book."

 

He stared at me. "Do you really think so, Raffles? I mean really? You aren't just saying that?"

 

I shook my head. "No, my rabbit, I am not just saying that. I actually do believe it. Don't forget I am more knowledgeable of your work and have seen more of it than Miss Upton has." He gave me a slightly strange look and I wondered quite what my tone and the expression on my face may have told him. "Why do you not at least try?"

 

He shrugged. "I suppose I could. I confess I do rather like the idea, but -" He fell silent.

 

"But?"

 

He glanced away from me and twisted his fingers together. "Well, it's just that if I write a book, it's going to take time and . . . Well, we wouldn't . . . I wouldn't -"

 

"Bunny." I spoke a little more sharply than I had intended and quickly moderated my tone. "My dear, dear rabbit, as I have told you, if you marry Miss Upton then you and I will spend considerably less time together than we do now. Thus, maybe you should . . . Maybe we should . . . Maybe we should start to get used to it."

 

"I don't want to," he said softly.

 

I sighed and slid my arm around his shoulders; for a moment be rested his head on my shoulder and once again I was transported back to those times in my study of an evening when he would do the same thing. "Neither do I, Bunny, neither do I. However, everything in life comes with a price. Now," I said taking my arm from around his shoulders, "why do you not go home, bathe and change and we'll dine out at the club. In fact, why don't you go home, make a start on your novel, then bathe and change and we'll dine at the club."

 

"You want to dine with me?"

 

I sighed and shook my head in the fond way I have been doing ever since we met. "Oh, my dearest Bunny, don't be such a rabbit, there's my good boy. Of course I want to dine with you; I want -" and then suddenly I had an idea. I stood up abruptly once more, took Bunny's hand and pulled him to his feet and led him over to my desk. "Paper," I said, opening a drawer and pulling some out; "pen," I handed him the one I had had ever since my school days. I rarely used it, but he would, I was certain, remember it, especially as he used to admire it and occasionally I would catch him holding it and gazing at it. "Now write. I shall return to the sofa and read."

 

"But, Raffles -"

 

"Write, Bunny," I said and quite deliberately adopted the tone I used a mere handful of times at school when giving him an order. "That's my good boy," I added, once more slipping my hand into his hair and tangling it around my fingers for a moment or two before I gently extracted it.

 

I grabbed a book from one of the book cases and sat down on the sofa with my feet up. He sat for a moment or two and I could see him thinking before he bent his head and began to write. It really wasn't sensible; in fact it wasn't at all sensible; in fact it was very foolish. I had been correct in what I had said about us getting used to spending less time together - but I couldn't; not yet. No matter how sensible it would be to do so, I knew that I was going to hold on to my rabbit for as long as I possibly could.

 

FOUR MONTHS LATER

 

Bunny and I didn't spend any less time together, in fact we spent even more time together than we had done before, as he declared he wrote better in my rooms than he did in his flat. Even though I knew I should have done so - for both of our sakes - I made no objection.

 

Thus, he would arrive at my rooms after breakfast where he would sit at my desk and write whilst I read the newspapers or a book or planned out next burglary and at some point I would make coffee for us. We would then have lunch together, sometime venturing out; sometimes having something sent up from the Albany kitchens. After lunch he usually wrote a little more, although sometimes we just sat and talked, before he returned home to bathe and change and then we would dine together or attend a dinner or a ball or go to the theatre or even the opera.

 

The only exceptions to the routine were the handful of times when Miss Upton insisted upon him (but not I) joining her for morning coffee or for luncheon (once more without me) at her parents' home. I believe from what he said, and from overhearing part of a telephone conversation when I paid a visit to his flat on the day he had rung me to say he had contracted a nasty cold and as it was raining and raining heavily he was going to say in his flat, that Miss Upton had tried to insist upon more outings for them, but he had declined, telling her he had to write.

 

He happily showed me his work and even though he, not I, was the writer, I was able to make a few suggestions for small improvements - from the eye of the reader. However, he had flatly refused to allow Miss Upton to read his story, telling her she would have to wait until he had completely finished it.

 

This had not made her happy; I believe she believed that as it had been her idea that my rabbit write a novel that she believed it gave her some right to it. She became even less happy when she learnt that whilst Bunny refused to let her read it, he did allow me, indeed he encouraged me, to read it.

 

For myself I would not have mentioned it. However, at one of the dinners to which all three of us (along with Miss Gower) were invited, she asked me a direct question. Thus, I gave her a direct answer. She had become a little flushed and her eyes became hard and she left me in no doubt (had I by then had any) of quite how much she disliked me. Bunny had, to my surprise, merely stood his ground, saying nothing, but making it quite clear he was not troubled or embarrassed that she knew I read his work.  Miss Gower's eyes had gleamed as she had looked from Miss Upton to me and back again and I knew she was hiding a smile.

 

There had been one other change during the four months: my rabbit had finally spoken to Upton and now Miss Upton had an engagement ring on her finger. It had been paid for not by any proceeds from our burglary, but from an advance the brother of the man who owned the paper for whom Bunny wrote articles, had given Bunny following my suggestion that Bunny send the first few chapters of his book to the editor.

 

Bunny had insisted upon me accompanying him to choose and purchase the ring and unable to think of a reason - a good or bad one - I had indeed gone with him. I had later that evening, once he had said goodnight to me and returned to his flat, sat up all night during which I not only emptied the whisky decanter, but refilled it and half emptied it - not to mention smoking all of the Sullivans I had in my rooms.

 

My rabbit was going be married and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing other than stand by his side and do my duty as his best friend and watch as he slipped away from me. Miss Gower had once more invited me to her bed, but I had refused - what would be the point be? I could get any physical satisfaction I required by myself.

 

Any hint of cordiality between Miss Upton and myself slipped away completely during the four months, until even Bunny became aware that his best friend and his fiancťe really did not like one another. Oh, we were still quite civil to one another when in company of anyone other than Miss Gower; I do not believe any of our acquaintances would have realised there was anything amiss between us. Indeed, more than one person actually commented that it was nice to see how well Miss Upton and I got on.

 

It was also hinted that, given how much time Miss Gower and I spent together (along with Bunny and Miss Upton, I hasten to add) that maybe the wedding might be a double wedding. I donít know who was more amused by the idea - Miss Gower or myself.

 

I did, however, notice that whilst Miss Gower and I were amused, neither my rabbit nor Miss Upton seemed pleased by the idea; in fact they both seemed distinctly displeased. I imagined that Miss Upton did not like the prospect because, given she and Miss Gower were such good friends, it would mean the four of us would spent time together and also that Miss Gower would suggest she and Miss Upton did things together whilst Bunny I did other things. What I couldn't work out was quite why, given he was about to marries, Bunny did not seem to like the prospect of me marrying Miss Gower - indeed he seemed to dislike it more than a little.

 

As the weeks went on, the time Bunny spent away from the Albany diminished more and more; the only time he wasn't in my rooms was when he was sleeping and sometimes not even then. He actually spent a few nights at the Albany, where he shared my bed - it was far more comfortable than the sofa and quite big enough for two people to share.

 

The only other times we were apart were the few hours Miss Upton insisted upon him spending with her. He even tended, on most days, to bring his evening clothes with him and thus bathed in my bathroom. Given the amount of time he spent at the Albany, he might as well live there - something, after I had drunk quite a lot more whisky than I usually drank, I found myself very nearly suggesting to him. However, he spending a night or two with me was not likely to be commented upon; anything more permanent would likely to be cause for speculation.

 

I clung to the moments I spent with my rabbit, the times I had him to myself, as a drowning man might cling to a life raft. There really was nothing I could do to prevent him from marrying Miss Upton - or at least that is what I believed until we received invitations to attend the house party of Lord and Lady Roderick Addington.

 

To call it a house party, was something of an understatement; it was one of 'the' events of the year and the guest list was more than a little select. I was under few illusions that I tended to be asked because Lord Roderick insisted upon there being a cricket match to be played against the local villagers. Bunny was asked because of his connection with me and also because he was a first class score keeper, one of whom even Lord Roderick approved.

 

On this occasion Miss Upton was invited no doubt because she was Bunny's fiancťe and Miss Gower had also been invited. Whether she was invited was because of her being mentioned along with my name (Lord and Lady Roderick did not have any children nor did they have siblings so they were not looking to me as a potential suitor for their daughter or nieces) or because Lady Roderick needed another lady to make up the numbers, I knew not. Nor did I particularly care; I liked Miss Gower, I was very fond of her - and if I had to spend any amount of time with a young lady, she would be the person I would choose to spend time with.

 

Most people would have expected the four of us to travel down to the Addingtons' country home together; however, to my relief, that did not happen. Miss Upton and Miss Gower went together as did Bunny and I. The wedding was due to take place in a month's time, but despite how close it was neither Bunny nor I spoke of it.

 

As well as the cricket match, which was always played on the first full day, and the usual dinners, there was an extravagant ball which was always held on the final evening and to which a considerable number of other people were always invited.

 

On the evening of the ball, I bathed and dressed and went to Bunny's room to tie his bowtie for him, as I always did. I he stood in front of me and my hands moved, as if of their own accord to tie the perfect knot, I found myself wondering who would tie it for him once he was married. Or maybe Miss Upton wasn't quite a fussy as I was, and thus Bunny's own tying of it would suffice. Even when I had tied and arranged it to my satisfaction I let my hands linger at his throat as he gazed up at me.

 

My eyes met his and I swallowed hard at the look he was giving me and I felt a faint tremble pass through my body as my hand moved from his neck to caress - because there really was no other word for it - his cheek. He made a faint noise in his throat and leant towards me just a little; suddenly aware of what I had done (as well as what I was giving consideration to doing) I cleared my throat and moved my hand to push his hair back from his forehead.

 

Bunny sighed softly. "Constance," he managed to say her Christian name now without hesitating or stammering or making it sound as if he believed it wasn't correct that he called her by it - well, at least he did most of the time. "Constance," he repeated, as I stilled my hand, which had stayed in his hair, "thinks I should have a haircut before we - You know."

 

"I'm sure she does." I winced inwardly at the tone I had used and after a moment I let my hand fall from his head and I took out my cigarette case and offered it to him.

 

He took one and allowed me to strike and hold a match to it before I lit my own and dropped the spent match in the ashtray which stood on the table in front of the window. "I wish," he paused and I turned to look at him. He was staring at me and looked more than a little saddened; for a moment I wanted nothing more than to pull him into my arms and comfort him, as I had done many times during our years at school. However, he was no longer mine; well he wouldn't be in a month's time, and as such I felt I didn't have the right to make such an intimate gesture.

 

So instead I moved nearer to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said softly, "What do you wish, my rabbit?"

 

He sighed, "I wish that you and Constance -" He broke off and bit his lip.

 

"Actually liked one another?" I asked softly but with a hint of flatness in my tone. He nodded and then I heard myself say, "Do you, Bunny? Do you really wish for that?"

 

He started and stared at me. "Yes, Raffles, of course I do. Why would I not wish for the two people I," he swallowed hard and I waited, wondering quite what he would say. To my surprise he said firmly, "Love more than any other person, to like one another?" He suddenly looked so forlorn, so terribly, terribly young that I forgot I had told myself he was no longer mine. I swiftly took his Sullivan from his hand and put it along with mine in the ashtray and then put my arms around him and held him in a far looser embrace than I used to hold him at school.

 

"I'm sorry, my dear rabbit," I said, shifting just a little as I felt his head come to rest against my shoulder (as it always used to do when I had held him in my arms during out school days). "I shall endeavour to make a far greater effort to like Miss Upton - or at least," I added, because I sincerely doubted that no matter how hard I tried I could actually like her, "be more cordial to her."

 

"Will you, Raffles? Will you really?" He lifted his head and looked up at me and I suddenly saw quite how important it was to him.

 

I took one arm from around him and once again let it go to its favourite place. "Yes, of course, I mean it, Bunny."

 

"Oh, good," he said, his head once more returning to my shoulder, "because it will make for much more pleasant evenings when you dine with us."

 

I forewent telling him that the chances that Miss Upton ever inviting me to dine at their home were as remote as the sun not rising and instead took my hand from his hair, put my arm back around him and gathered him a little closer to me.

 

"Raffles?"

 

"Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"Have you ever considered asking Miss Gower to marry you?"

 

"No. No, Bunny, I have not." And then I heard myself say, "Why, do you think I should?" His head was still against my shoulder and thus I felt his reply; he gave a half shrug and then moved his head in what could either have been an affirmative or negative way - or even both.

 

I held him for another moment or two before I forced myself to take my arms from around him and take our cigarettes from the ashtray once more. I passed one to him and put the other to my own mouth. "Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit?"

 

"Oh, nothing. Shall we go down?"

 

I took one more drag from my Sullivan before I ground it out in the ashtray and then offered him my arm and we went down to join the others.

 

As we reached almost the bottom of the stairs, I glanced down and the first people I saw were Miss Gower and Miss Upton. I was somewhat surprised to see that not only did Miss Upton look a little flushed and her eyes shone, but also that the gown she was wearing was rather more daring and revealing than any I had previously seen her wear. Indeed, given we were still on the stairs and she on the floor, for a fleeting moment I didn't quite know where to look.

 

Thus, I glanced at Bunny who, at the precise second I turned my head to look at him, saw his fiancťe. I was near enough to him to hear him gasp and to feel how still he became and how his arm tightened on mine and to see the hint of colour that touched his cheeks as he hastily looked away from her and turned to look at me in horror.

 

For some unbeknown reason I felt I should say something in her defence. I bent my head a little and put my other hand over his. "I really isn't as revealing as it might appear to be from where we are standing, Bunny, and it's considerable more demure than most of the ladies' gowns." Both statements were actually true - as Bunny would see if he looked at Miss Gower.

 

At that moment I looked back at Miss Upton and saw that she was staring at Bunny and me, or more accurately at the hand I had over Bunny's hand which was still holding my arm. To my surprise the usual ice or hardness that always appeared in her gaze whenever she looked at me, as well as the way her lips thinned were missing; in fact she actually gave me a faint smile, before turning from us to speak to Miss Gower.

 

There was something about the way she had looked at me and the way she had smiled, as well as the way she had turned around, which made me start just a little and made my mouth become just a little dry. I glanced at Bunny to see if he had noticed anything, but as I expected he was simply standing, waiting for me to move and now that Miss Upton had turned away from us, he seemed more relaxed. But something had made me if not uneasy exactly, then had made something inside me begin to twitch just a little.

 

The twitch became considerably greater when, two or so hours later after Bunny had gone to the buffet table, Miss Upton approached me. "Ah there you are, Mr. Raffles," she said, as if she had been looking for me.

 

"Indeed I am, Miss Upton. Is there something I might do for you?"

 

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Raffles, there is; I realised earlier that you and I have never danced together."

 

I stared down and her and quickly cast my mind back over the months sine we had first met and realised to my surprise that she was correct. "I do believe you are correct, Miss Upton," I said.

 

"Well," she said, putting her hand on my arm, apart from a few times when we had shaken hands, it was the first time she had ever touched me. "Let us rectify that, shall we?"

 

The twitch had now become considerably more and despite my complete lack of desire to dance with her, I was intrigued as to quite why she was inviting me to dance and just what I might learn from it. Thus I inclined my head, put my hand over her hand and said, "It will be my pleasure, Miss Upton," and I led her onto the dance floor and took her into my arms.

 

She danced very well, but then I wouldn't have expected anything else, and quite happily let me lead her, following me perfectly even when I made a slightly less than orthodox turn in order to avoid colliding with another couple. She didn't speak and neither did I, I merely led her around the floor.

 

As we danced, I caught sight of Bunny standing watching us and he was smiling; no doubt he believed I had been as good as my word and had been the one to invite Miss Upton to dance. My attention was on my rabbit when Miss Upton did something that for a fleeting second made me forget the step and also shocked me deeply. I instantly regained my composure and stared down at her. However, she was merely looking up at me in the way she had looked at me since I had taken her into my arms.

 

"Is something amiss, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I shook my head. "No, nothing is wrong, Miss Upton, do forgive me for missing the step."

 

"It is of no matter; after all we cannot be perfect all of the time, can we?" I smiled and inclined my head slightly in agreement. "And if it doesn't sound too disrespectful, you do dance somewhat better than Harry does. But please do not tell him I said so."

 

"I wouldn't dream of saying such a thing to him, Miss Upton."

 

She widened her eyes a little and I realised my tone had been somewhat icy. "Oh, dear," she said, "I do believe I have offended you, Mr. Raffles. That was not my intention, not at all."

 

I smiled. "You have not offended me, Miss Upton; please do not think you have. After all, Bunny knows he is not the best dancer."

 

"Yes, he does. I think that's one of the things I love about him the most, Mr. Raffles, his honesty." And she gave me the same smile as she had given me when we'd stood on the stairs.

 

At that moment the dance ended and I offered her my arm and led her back to where Bunny stood, still smiling happily to see us together. I accepted the glass of champagne he held out to me and stood with him and Miss Upton for a short time before excusing myself. As I walked away from them my mind went back to the incident during the dance. Maybe I had imagined it, or maybe it had been completely accidental; after all she wouldn't - She was not like Miss Gower.

 

However, even as I put my glass down and offered my hand to Miss Gower my mind was troubled and I resolved that I would simply have to dance with Miss Upton again and see if the incident was repeated.

 

Half an hour later I had my answer. I now stood with Bunny, Miss Upton and Miss Gower having excused themselves, and thought about what had happened. Once is accidental, three times (for she made the same move twice during out second dance) is not. No lady, does that to a gentleman; at least she does not unless she is knowledgeable in a way I had not believed, had not thought, Miss Upton to be - in a way Bunny most certainly was not.

 

I was just telling myself that it really wasn't anything to do with me and that I had no right to presume such a thing and certainly no right to interfere (after all Bunny must have kissed her - surely he had) when he turned and looked up at me with the same deep affection on his face and in his gaze that he always showed me. And as I looked back at him, I knew I could not simply stand by and do nothing. I knew I had to at the very least ascertain if I was correct about Miss Upton.

 

I saw her and Miss Gower return and watched a young man, whom was a complete stranger to me, ask Miss Gower to dance and saw Miss Upton go into what I believed to be the library. Before I really thought about it, I 'accidentally' caught Bunny's arm and the glass of champagne he held splashed over his sleeve and onto his hand. "Oh, my dear rabbit," I said, swiftly pulling out my handkerchief and wiping his sleeve, "do forgive my clumsiness."

 

"That's all right, Raffles," he said, "there's no harm done - and I've done far worse on more than one occasion, as we both know."

 

I smiled at him as I continued to wipe his sleeve for a moment or two longer, "There," I said, balling my handkerchief up, "I think that's the worst of it."

 

I was about to push my handkerchief back into my pocket when Bunny very obligingly said, "Here, give it to me. I have to go and wash my hands so I'll take it back to your room and fetch you a clean one."

 

"Would you, Bunny?" he nodded. "Thank you, my dear rabbit, that would be very kind of you."

 

He smiled at me, took the damp handkerchief and went off. I waited until he was out of sight before turning around quickly and striding towards the library. I slipped inside and closed the door behind me.

 

I stood for a moment or two letting my eyes adjust to what was a relative, when compared to the rest of the house, darkness, before I saw Miss Upton. I strode towards her, grabbed her hand, pulled her towards me, put my arms around her and kissed her hard. I felt her gasp slightly and then she began to kiss me back with an intensity that surprised me for a second or two, before she pulled herself away from me and raised her hand.

 

I caught it easily and held it. "Oh, no," I said, "you do not get to do that - not after you kissed me in the way you kissed me."

 

"I don't know what you mean!"

 

"Don't you?" I growled softly and before she could say anything, I once more pulled her back into my arms and put my mouth on hers and began to kiss her with a vigour I rarely employed when kissing a young lady. I felt her mouth part under mine and felt her arms, which up until now had been trying to push me away, tighten around me. As I kissed her and she kissed me back I pulled her very closely against my lower body, holding her firmly against me, as I pressed slightly against her. She made no objection, none at all, indeed she pushed herself even nearer and moved her body slightly, rubbing against me.

 

I was sickened by her, by the taste of her, by the feel of her arms around my neck and the way her body was pressed against mine. I wanted nothing more than to push her away and light a cigarette or find a drink simply to get rid of the taste of her. However, I continued to kiss her, determined to ascertain quite how knowledgeable, quite how experienced, she was.

 

Her kiss and the way she had her arms around my neck, pulling my head even nearer to her as her mouth all but devoured mine, as well as the way she was pressed against me, making it quite clear what she was trying to do, told me what I had suspected after I had danced with her. Miss Upton was not an innocent young lady, not at all - indeed she seemed to be even more knowledgeable than Miss Gower.

 

Finally, just as my body did, against my conscious will or desire, start to react to the feel of her body and I felt her moan into my mouth and try to push even nearer to her, I pulled my mouth away. I pushed her away from me and held her firmly with one hand as I wiped my other hand over my mouth.

 

"Well, well, well," I said, as she stared up at me. She was breathing hard, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes shone with clear desire, her lips were swollen and she trembled slightly with excitement. "You, Miss Upton, are not the innocent young lady I believed you to be."

 

She stared at me and then tried to pull my head towards her, but I merely caught her hand and held it. "I don't know what you mean," she declared.

 

I laughed and watched her shiver slightly - my laugh had not been a pleasant one. "Come now, Miss Upton, do not try to play games with me - I am far too experienced to be taken in by them. No lady kisses in the way you kissed me unless she has kissed many others before. Unless she knows exactly what she is doing - and you know just what you're doing, do you not?" I ran my finger down her cheek, continuing down her neck and stopping at the top of her gown.

 

She made a noise in her throat and once more tried to move nearer to me. "Please," she murmured.

 

"Please what, Miss Upton. What is it you wish from me? Do you merely wish me to kiss you again or . . ." I trailed off and let my gaze flicker up and down her body, before I put my mouth on her ear and whispered something I would never normally say to a lady, not matter how experienced they were.

 

Her gasp, as well as the shiver that went through her, was not one of disgust and anger at what I had said. She moved back a little and once more looked up at me; her eyes were dark with lust, she was once more breathing heavily and she licked her lips. "I thought Harry was your best friend."

 

"He is; Bunny is very important to me. He is more important to me than anyone else is."


"And yet you'd do . . . You'd . . . With his fiancťe? What kind of best friend does that?"

 

I shrugged and moved away from her, sitting on the edge of the desk and taking out my cigarette case. "Bunny would never know - I'm not going to tell him. Of course if you don't wish me to . . ." As I lit my cigarette, quite deliberately caressing it between my lips as she watched and swallowed hard, I never once let my gaze move away from her. "If you're wondering if I do other things as well as I kiss well . . . I'm sure Miss Gower will reassure you of that." Her flush confirmed, not that I needed it, that Miss Gower indeed had talked.

 

"Come to my room at three o'clock," she said, after swallowing hard again. "It's at the top of the small staircase leading off of the right hand corridor - it is the only room up there."

 

I stood up, took a deep drag on my cigarette before grabbing her and putting my mouth on hers again and kissing her without any hint of gentleness. Indeed I do not remember kissing anyone with the near brutality with which I kissed her - not even another man. I then flung her away from me, keeping one hand on her to ensure she didn't actually fall over and hurt herself, and with one hand in my pocket strode out of the library.

 

As I closed the door behind me, I glanced around quickly and ensured Bunny wasn't in the vicinity before I headed away from the library and returned to the ballroom where I found my rabbit looking around - I presumed he was looking for me. His first words confirmed that to be so. "There you are, Raffles," he cried, as he smiled at me and handed me a clean handkerchief.

 

"Thank you, my rabbit," I said, taking it and forcing myself not to brush his hair back for him. As he went on gazing up at me, showing me quite how much he loved me, I felt more than a little disgusted with myself for what I had done - and for what I was planning to do. However, I justified it by telling myself that Bunny was so innocent, so unknowledgeable, so believing in certain things, that it really was for his own good that I was planning on making certain he discovered the truth about the lady he planned to marry.

 

"Is something the matter, Raffles?" he suddenly asked.

 

I shook myself mentally as I shook my head physically. "Of course not, Bunny, what makes you ask?"

 

He looked a little uncertain. "It's just - Oh, I donít know, Raffles. I thought for a moment you were - angry about something and I wondered if . . ."

 

I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Ah, Bunny, you really are still so - No, my rabbit, I assure you that you have done nothing to anger me. Now, let us go and get something to eat, shall we?"

 

He beamed up at me. "Yes, Raffles," he said and with my hand still on his shoulder we went into the dining room where an excellent buffet had been laid.

 

SOME TIME LATER

 

I followed Bunny into his room and closed the door behind us and stared at him as he just smiled back at me. As we stood there, I considered telling him what I knew and telling him that Miss Upton had invited me to her room, rather than doing what I had planned. However, I wasn't certain he would believe me, would allow himself to believe me. And, it has to be said that, even I was unsure of quite what to say to him, how to begin to tell him. And yet surely it would be kinder than . . . But what if he didnít believe me? What if he refused to believe me? What then? But I had to take that change; I had to. I was no saint, I wasn't even close to being one, but even I was not that reprehensible - was I? No, I wasn't. I had to tell him; I had to find a way to tell him.

 

"Bunny?" I moved a little nearer to him and put my hands on his shoulders.

 

He beamed up at me. "Yes, Raffles?"

 

"There's something I have to tell you, my rabbit, and I'm afraid you won't like it; you won't like it at all."

 

"Oh," he said and swallowed as I stared down at him. "What is it?"

 

I stared down at him as he gazed up at me. He was so innocent, so naÔve, so trusting, so young in many ways. I tightened the grip I had on his shoulder and said softly, "You see, Bunny, I have decided that," I paused of a second or two. "That I . . . That I am going to, nay that I must, break my own rule."

 

His eyes widened and he stared in horror at me. "Raffles?" he murmured, gripping my arms. "Must we?"

 

I squeezed his shoulders a little more. "Yes, my rabbit, I am afraid we must. Well, I must. You of course do not need to -"

 

He shook his head with force. "No. No, Raffles. I have never once let you down, have I?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Bunny, of course you haven't. But -"

 

"Then I shall not do so now. What are we going to do and when?"

 

For a moment I wished it hadn't been quite so easy; that he hadn't been quite so compliant; quite so willing to follow me. "I need you to go to a particular room at," I paused for a second and quickly thought. "A quarter past three - that's exactly, my rabbit, not a minute before or after - can you do that?"

 

"Of course, Raffles." He sounded faintly hurt and I once more squeezed his shoulders. "But where do you wish me to go? And why can't we go together?"

 

"The room is at the top of the small staircase leading off of the right hand corridor; you won't be able to miss it as it is the only room up there." He was nodding, albeit he was also frowning slightly. "Don't knock or anything, Bunny, just open the door and go in - I'll be there already and . . ." I couldnít go on. "Just come, my rabbit, please."

 

"Of course I will, Raffles. But you still haven't - "I put my fingers on his lips to silence him and he just stared at me. After a moment or two he shrugged, gave me a smile and said, "I'll be there. I won't let you down."

 

"I know, Bunny. I know." And then because I couldn't help myself, I slid my arms around him and pulled him into an embrace. For a second or two he seemed surprised but then he happily moved closer to me and rested his head against my shoulder.

 

As I stood and simply held him I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to hold him like this again; if he would ever let me. I was well aware that had I misjudged Bunny, if I didn't know my rabbit quite as well as I believed I knew my rabbit, then what I was about to do would most likely end our friendship forever. But he had to know; he had a right to know.

 

At least that is what I told myself and if I told myself it enough, maybe, just maybe I would even begin to believe it.

 

THREE O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING

 

Dressed only in my dressing gown I opened, without knocking, the door to Miss Upton's bedroom went in and closed it behind me. For a moment I stood with my back to the door and just stared down at her. She was already naked and was lying on her back with her legs slightly parted.

 

As I stared at her and saw the faintest hint of evidence of what she had been doing before I went into the room, I was filled with such revulsion, such disgust, that for a moment I truly believed I would vomit. And as I swallowed hard and for a moment looked away from her I gave consideration to leaving and going to Bunny's room and telling him that I had changed my mind about stealing anything. However, even as I thought that another image flickered into my mind: Bunny and Miss Upton on their wedding night, she - And I knew I had to continue with my plan.

 

I moved away from the door, went nearer to the bed, untied my dressing gown and let it fall to the floor. Her eyes came to rest on my lower body and she made a faint noise as she held out her hand to me. Never had I desired less to get into bed with a lady, however, I made myself move even nearer and a moment later I was on the bed next to her and her hand was already moving down my body and closing around me.

 

So she didn't intend there to be any preliminaries, which actually suited me - well, it did apart from the fact that he hand, her very skilled, experienced hand, which was stroking me in a way that I normally liked to be stroked, a way that would normally have me begin to harden in seconds was having no effect on me.

 

"Maybe you had a glass or two of champagne too many, Mr. Raffles," she murmured, as she made her strokes harder and faster.

 

I shook my head. "Oh, no, Miss Upton," I said. "Just give me -" And I closed my eyes and forced myself to imagine a different body next to me, a different hand around me, stroking me so very well, and to my relief my body began to react.

 

It didnít take long, although it was somewhat longer than it normally took, until I was completely hard. She stroked me once more, before letting her hand fall away and parting her legs for me even more. I stared at her and told myself I could do this.

 

I shifted my position slightly and prepared to do what she so obviously wanted me to do, when she caught my arm. "You do know how to -"

 

"Of course I do."

 

She smiled and let go of my hand. "Good, because I -" I couldn't stand to listen to her any longer, thus with far more speed and no degree at all of gentleness, I plunged myself inside her. She cried out softly, but the cry was not one of pain but of intense pleasure.

 

As I began to move inside her, she gripped my back, put her head back and began to murmur. "Harder," she cried a moment or two later, "Harder." I obliged her.

 

As I continued to move inside her, I glanced at the clock which stood atop of her bedside table. I had to time this perfectly, thus despite wanting nothing more than to pull out from her body, get out of bed and go and bathe and wash away her scent, the feel and memory of her, I held back my release until the clock slipped from thirteen minutes past three to fourteen minutes past three. I then moved inside once more, far harder than I had done and quickly removed myself from her body where seconds later my body released onto the bed.

 

I pushed away from her and stared at her as she lay, her legs still parted staring at me. Her face was wet, her bottom lip was bleeding, which, given I had not kissed her, must have been caused by her. Her eyes were ablaze with passion and satisfaction, and a quick glance at her breasts showed me quite how hard they were, and the inside of top of her things glistened slightly. There could be no doubt, none whatsoever, of what she had been doing.

 

"Felicity spoke nothing but the truth," she managed, as she reached for me and tried to pull me back down next to her.

 

However, at the precise moment the door opened and Bunny appeared and I stood up. "Raffles, I'm - Raffles!" he cried in horror as he stared at me and then turned to look at Miss Upton who still simply lay on her back, her legs parted making no attempt to cover herself up. "Raffles?" he sounded desperately hurt and uncertain and he had begun to tremble and swallow hard several times - for a moment I feared he would be the one to vomit. "Raffles?" he whispered again, taking a step towards me.

 

I grabbed my dressing gown and pulled it on, tying it tightly around me as I stared at him. I saw his gaze flicker from me to look at Miss Upton and then race away as colour flamed his cheeks. I bent and pulled the sheet over her, shielding Bunny from having to look at her.

 

"Raffles?" he whispered again, and as we stood there I began to wonder if he was going to be able to say anything other than my name. Finally, he dragged his gaze away from me and looked at Miss Upton who was now sitting up in bed, the bed clothes pulled up and covering her body. "Constance?"

 

I turned to look at her and waited to see what she might say. "Oh, Harry!" she suddenly cried, holding out her hand as tears began to slip from her eyes. "Oh, Harry, Harry, thank goodness you're here. Harry, he . . . He . . . Oh, Harry, Mr. Raffles - He . . . He forced himself on me, Harry. Harry, he made me - Oh, Harry." And she began to sob.

 

For a moment I felt a fleeting hint of admiration for her act; I had to hand it to her she was doing it incredibly well - anyone would have believed her. Well, anyone except for Bunny, because she had misplayed her hand; she had miscalculated - and done so badly.

 

She continued to hold out her hand to him. However, rather than take it, he took a step backwards, bumping into me and jumping away so violently that were it not for the fact that I caught his arm and steadied him, he would have fallen to the floor. I held him for a moment until he became steady and then let go.

 

He was shaking his head as he stared at her, stared at the tears that fell down her cheeks, stared at the way her shoulders were shaking. "No," he said firmly. "No, Constance. No," he said for a third time, as she began to cease to sob and now looked at him a little more warily. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe you. Raffles would never do that; never!" he declared. "He simply isn't like that."

 

She swiftly wiped her eyes and I watched her carefully as she began to swiftly think and re-evaluate Bunny. "You don't believe me?"

 

Bunny swallowed and shook his head. "No. No, Constance, I do not."

 

"You would rather believe that I . . . That I permitted him to -" She fell silent as Bunny now turned to me.

 

"Why, Raffles?" he said, suddenly sounding very young, so young I was once more taken back to our school days. "How could you? Why would you?" I simply held his gaze; I knew my rabbit well enough (at least I hoped I did) to believe letting him continue to speak was the better way. "Why, Raffles?" he asked again, "Why Constance? You can have any lady you wish to have - I'm sure Miss Gower would have been more than happy to -" His cheeks, which once I had covered Miss Upton up, had become less red, became deep red again. And then he said something I never thought I'd hear him say, had never considered he would say. "Are you jealous?"

 

"Jealous?" I repeated the word without intending to.

 

He nodded slowly. "Yes."

 

"Of whom do you believe I might be jealous, Bunny?"

 

"Me of course!" he cried. "Did you want Constance for yourself? Is that it, Raffles? You wanted her but she wasn't interested in you, she wanted me. But you still had to try, didn't you? You, the great A. J. Raffles couldn't bear that someone like Constance might actually prefer me to you. Is that is, Raffles? Well," he said, not even giving me a chance to speak, "is it? Are you jealous of me?"

 

I held his gaze, shook my head and said softly, but firmly. "No, Bunny. I give you my solemn word, I promise," I added, knowing that he knew quite how important that word was to me - to both of us, trusting in him to remember that I had never broken a promise to him. "I promise, my rabbit," I said softly, as I dared to take a step towards him; I was pleased to see he did not move away. "That I am not in any way jealous of you. I do not, nor have I ever, wanted Miss Upton for myself."

 

He looked more confused then ever. "In that case why did you . . . ? Raffles, why did you do what -" he flushed even more. "What I know you did - and please don't lie to me, I did see the bed before you moved the covers. I'm not quite a naÔve as I believe you sometimes think I am. Please respect me enough to tell me why you and Constance . . ."

 

"I -"

 

However, before I could continue, it was Miss Upton who spoke. "Harry!" He turned slowly from me to look at her. "I'll tell you the truth, Harry. I am sorry, deeply sorry, truly sorry, that I lied to you and tried to make you think that Mr. Raffles, that he - Oh, Mr. Raffles," now she looked at me; I turned to her and raised an eyebrow. "Can you ever forgive me, Mr. Raffles, for what I said, for how I tried to besmirch your fine name? Please, Mr. Raffles, tell me you can forgive me for the awful lie I told Harry. Please." I said nothing.

 

It was Bunny who finally spoke, he even moved a little nearer to the bed and for a moment I thought he was going to sit down but he stopped and just stood there. "I'm sure Raffles will forgive you, Constance, as will I - if you now tell me the truth. Why did you lie? Why did you say such a thing, why did you tell such an awful lie about the most -" He bit his lip and I had no doubt what he had been about to say. Bunny may not actually think I'm perfect - indeed he knows I'm not - but nonetheless he still keeps me on the pedestal upon which he placed me when he first met; he still idolises me, is still more than a little in awe of me. "Just tell me why you lied to me."

 

"Oh, Harry, you see . . . Oh, Harry." I watched almost dispassionately as tears once more slid from her eyes. "I was ashamed. I lied because I was ashamed."

 

"Ashamed?"

 

"Yes. You see - Oh, Harry, I don't know how to - You're such a good man, Harry, such a caring man, such a lovely man, such a - You think ladies are so . . . Chaste, have no needs, no understanding of . . . But we're not, Harry. We are . . . Things have changed, Harry, and . . . I'm so sorry, it is just that - I knew you wouldn't, I know how you feel and how much - Harry, my dear, sweet Harry, you've never done anything more than kiss me and even that wasn't . . . I had a little too much champagne and Felicity was . . . I wasn't thinking clearly, I was . . . I am so very sorry, Harry, So very, very sorry. It meant -"

 

"Why Raffles?"

 

"What?" His interruption clearly startled her slightly and upset her little story.

 

"Why Raffles?"

 

She looked a little flustered. "Well, because I knew he - Harry, I could hardly just approach any man, could I? I knew Mr. Raffles was a nice man and kind and so . . . I shouldn't have done it, Harry. If I could undo it, I would. If I could take back what I did, I would. I mean that Harry, I truly mean it. I -"

 

"Is she telling the truth?" Bunny looked at me. His eyes were cold; his gaze hard and yet beneath it I thought I saw a hint of a plea.

 

I swallowed, pushed my hands into the pockets of my dressing gown and sighed softly as I shook my head. "No, Bunny," I said quietly, and to my surprise not without a degree of regret, "she is not."

 

I heard Miss Upton gasp and believed she was about to speak, but Bunny turned and stared at her, before he looked back at me. "Well, then," he said quietly, the hardness and coldness falling from his gaze. "You had better tell me the truth, had you not, Raffles?"

 

I stared at Miss Upton, and despite her lies I felt a modicum of sympathy for her and as well as that sympathy, I began to feel a deep disgust of myself for what I had done. It had seemed logical, sensible; I had done what I had done simply because I hadn't wanted Bunny to marry her and find out what kind of lady she was. My only intention had been to prevent him from being hurt, as he would have been when he had found out - but would it really have mattered? Did I have the right to do what I had done? Hadn't I hurt the person who meant more to me than anyone else far more than he would have been hurt upon discovering he would not be the first man to take his wife to bed?

 

As I looked away from Miss Upton who was watching me carefully and once more looked at Bunny, I suddenly believed I had been wrong. I was in the wrong; I didn't have, I hadn't had, the right to do what I had done. Bunny was no longer my school boy fag; he no longer needed that level of protection from me. He was my adult best friend, the man whom I had already besmirched by dragging him into my world, why had I had to hurt him even more? What had I done? What had I done? And why had I done it? Why had I really done it?

 

But done it I had and there was no way I could undo what I had done; there was no way I could put right what I had done. I had done what I had done and as I stared at my rabbit, I suddenly didn't know quite what the price I would have to pay for what I had done. How could he forgive me? I couldn't, I wouldn't, forgive someone for doing what I had done - not even someone I loved as much as I knew Bunny loved me.

 

"Bunny," I said softly.

 

"Tell me, Raffles. Tell me the truth."

 

Again I glanced at Miss Upton; at some point she had got out of bed and put her dressing gown on. "I do not think it is my place to tell you, Bunny," I said, as I looked back at him.

 

"Not your place!" I was more than a little started by the level of his voice and the anger in it - an anger that was echoed in his eyes. "Not your place? How can you stand there and say that, Raffles? You, you, Raffles, you, the man who is meant to be my best friend; you, took my fiancťe to bed and -" He swallowed, "And did what you did, and if that wasn't enough you made quite certain I would discover you - oh, it had to have been very well planned, did it not, Raffles? But then as we both know you are so good at planning."

 

I just stared at him, still more than a little taken aback by his ferocity and as I stared at his hard, cold eyes and the look on his face I felt quite certain I had lost him. He would never, could never, forgive me. I had driven him away; I had lost him and I had done what I had what I had spent two years preventing other boys from doing: hurt him. "Bunny," I said, realising as I said his name, I had no idea what I would say next.

 

He stared at me and the look on his face was replaced by one of almost confusion. He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them I saw the coldness and hardness in this stare had dissipated a little. "You felt it necessary to do that, Raffles; you wanted me to know you had done what you did. I believe that more than makes it your place, do you not? So just tell me the truth, please." His voice had become softer and was almost without a hint of intonation.

 

"Harry?" I had been so focussed on Bunny that I hadn't heard or seen Miss Upton move across the room to stand near to us. She put her hand out towards Bunny, but he backed away from her, again stumbling slightly. My movement was automatic, I didn't stop to think about it, I simply caught his arm and steadied him. I half expected him to pull away from me; however, he did not. His arm, however, did become taut under mine and the second I was certain he wasn't going to fall, I let go of him and returned my hand to my pocket.

 

As she stared at Bunny, I saw how pale Miss Upton had become and the faint tremble I detected in her seemed, for the first time, to be genuine. "You want the truth, do you, Harry?"

 

He glanced at me and his look was suddenly wary; I just held his gaze and made certain mine gave nothing away. Finally he looked back at her. "Yes," he said softly. "Yes, Constance, I do indeed want the truth."

 

"Very well. You see, Harry, Mr. Raffles is not the first gentleman with whom I have been to bed - are you, Mr. Raffles?"

 

Bunny turned to me and his look sent a flash of pain through me. Nonetheless, I steeled myself, swallowed hard and said softly, "No, Bunny. No, I'm rather afraid I am not."

 

"I see," Bunny said, looking back at Miss Upton. "Why did you lie to me, Constance?"

 

She looked a little confused. "I told you why, Harry, I -"

 

He shook his head. "No, I don't mean tonight, I meant why did you lie to me before tonight? Why did you lie to me about . . . ?"

 

I saw realisation dawn on her face. She sighed softly and said, "Actually, Harry, I did not lie to you. It wasn't a subject we discussed, but then we rarely spoke of anything other than books, the weather or what your Mr. Raffles thought about things, or what he did and how wonderfully he played cricket, did we?" Bunny didn't reply, but I did see him shift a little and for a moment lower his head. "So, how could I have lied to you?"

 

"But you let me . . . Constance, what was I supposed to have thought? You're a lady. You lied to me."

 

"Actually, Bunny," I said softly, "Miss Upton is correct; if you never spoke of the matter then she did not lie to you. I'm sorry," I added, as he glanced at me.

 

"Harry, I am sorry, truly I am. I never meant to hurt you, not like this. I do love you, I know you must find that very hard to believe, but I do love you, truly I do." To my surprise she turned her attention from Bunny and looked at me; she looked directly into my eyes and to my further surprise I realised I believed her. She did indeed love Bunny.

 

Bunny shook his head. "Then how could you . . . ? Why, Constance?"

 

She sighed. "I actually did speak the truth when I told you I had drunk too much champagne. I also told you the truth that despite what you believe about young ladies, Harry, we do have the same desires as gentlemen and - Harry, we were out of London; we were not at any risk of my parents discovering us. I thought . . . But you made it clear you didn't know what I was trying to - What I wanted. You didn't even accept my invitation to go outside and look at the stars; Harry you . . . You are too nice. Then I danced with Mr. Raffles and - Harry, it doesn't alter the fact that I love you."

 

"Would you have gone on lying to me? Gone on deceiving me?" he added, before she could once again tell him she had not lied to him. And then before she could answer him, he turned me. "Could she have gone on deceiving me, Raffles?" His cheeks were once more somewhat flushed.

 

I glanced at Miss Upton who now also stared at me and back at Bunny. "No, Bunny. No, I do not believe she could have done. It is very difficult to fake inexperience; I truly believe you would have realised the truth, if not on your wedding night then very soon afterwards."

 

"I see." I wasn't entirely certain he did.

 

"But would it have really mattered, Harry? I love you, you love me and - Oh, Harry, I could have - We still can have such a wonderful time together. I can show you things, teach you things that will make you very happy, will give you so much pleasure."

 

I could see Bunny's face and as she spoke, a look of what I could only describe as faint horror appeared, and he once more took a step away from her as he shook his head. "I . . . Constance, I -" he turned to me. "Raffles?" However, for once I was at a complete loss as to what he was asking me.

 

"Look, Harry, can we not forget what has happened tonight? Can we not simply put it down to the fact that I had far too much champagne and did something I would never - never Harry - normally do? Do you not love me enough to forgive me this? We can still marry, still be happy - and I promise you, I promise you Harry, I will make you happy. And I haven't told you this yet, I was going to keep it as a surprise for you, but I'll tell you now. Mother and Father have bought us a house."

 

"A house?"

 

"Yes. Yes, Harry, a house. And they will pay for servants - until your books start to sell well, which I know they will, I know they will, Harry. You are going to be a well known writer. So you see we don't have to worry about money - which I know you were worrying about, were you not? You were concerned as to how you might support me? I'm right, Harry, am I not?" He nodded. "Well, you won't have to worry - and before you tell me your pride won't let you accept what my parents are offering, think of it this way: I'm their only child, the money will all come to me anyway, so why should I, we, have some of it now? Well, Harry, what do you say? Can you forgive me? Can we forget what happened? Can we? Please say we can, Harry, because I love you and I know you love me. I know you do, don't you, Harry?"

 

"I . . . I . . . I . . . Yes," he finally said, although knowing him as I did, I knew it was the last thing he actually wanted to say. I was also not certain to what he was saying 'yes'. I bit my lip and waited.

 

"Oh, Harry, thank you, thank you, Harry. And I will make you happy, I promise I will. Of course," she added, now looking at me. "I'm afraid that I will never be able to invite Mr. Raffles to our home - I'm sure you'll understand, Harry. I couldn't - Not after . . ." she paused and flushed just a little. "And I'm quite certain you wouldn't want to spend time with him not after what he - What he did, would you, Harry? It's too late now and it would look incorrect, to change your best man - people would wonder. However, I'm sure we can both manage for one day, can we not, Harry? And there will be so many other people around, it won't be the same as dining with him or - After all, I'm sure we will see him at dinners and balls, and we can all be courteous to one another. But that is all - but you agree, do you not, Harry?"

 

Silence fell and I waited. I waited to hear just what Bunny would say - and for the first time ever, I found I was not at all confident as to what he would say. "You want me to stop seeing Raffles?" Bunny spoke slowly, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying.

 

Miss Upton blinked and gave him a half smile. "Of course I do, Harry. Surely you do not wish to go on seeing him. After all, yes, I admit I did - What I did, but do not forget that he was the one who made certain you found out about it, was he not? What kind of man does that to another man - especially one who is meant to be his best friend? And he was the one who . . . He didn't have to, Harry. He could have - been the gentleman you are always telling me he is. But he didn't; he - How can you still want to see him, Harry?"

 

He shook his head. "You want me to stop seeing Raffles?" he repeated.

 

Now she frowned and when she spoke again her tone was a little sharp. "Yes, Harry. Indeed, I shall insist upon it."

 

"Will you?"

 

"Yes!"

 

He glanced at me and I saw sadness flicker through his gaze; I had to force myself not to look away from him as I knew what he was going to say. I had indeed driven my beloved rabbit away; I had lost the man I loved beyond reason or rationality. I had lost him.

 

He sighed softly and looked away from me and down at the floor. "I'm sorry," I heard him say and I braced myself. He looked up, "I'm sorry, Constance. Surprising as it may seem I find I do still love you. However . . . However, I will not marry you."

 

"Harry!" How -"

 

"You can tell people whatsoever you wish. I will allow you to blame me fully. You can tell people you caught me with someone else or that I did something to upset you; hurt you. You can say whatever you wish, Constance, and I will say nothing. You can walk away from me and in the eyes of everyone be blameless."

 

"But, Harry, I thought . . . Harry, surely we can - Harry, can we not talk about this? Talk about this alone - without Mr. Raffles standing there?"

 

"I'll go if you want me to, Bunny," I said softly.

 

He shook his head. "No. No, Raffles, we'll both go. I am sorry, Constance - Miss Upton - I really am. But -"

 

"You love him," she almost spat the word as she stared at me, fury now clear in her eyes, "more than you love me. Well, Harry," she went on, without giving Bunny a chance to answer her. "Maybe you should ask yourself, or indeed ask Mr. Raffles, exactly why did he what he did and why he made quite certain you would find out about it."

 

"I know why he did it?"

 

He did?

 

"You do?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, to save me from being hurt when I learnt that you weren't as I believe you to be."

 

She stared at him. "You truly believe that is why he did it?"

 

"Of course."

 

"Then, my dear Harry, you are even more naÔve than I thought you were."

 

"I don't know what you mean. That's why you did what you did, isn't it, Raffles?" He turned to me.

 

However, before I could answer, Miss Upton spoke again. "Actually, Harry, you were quite correct early when you accused Mr. Raffles of being jealous."

 

"What? But Raffles assured me that -"

 

"He is indeed jealous, Harry. However, it is not you of whom he is jealous. He's jealous of me, Harry. You see I believe your dear, honest, perfect Mr. Raffles wants you for himself."

 

"Constance!"

 

She closed her eyes. "Just go, Harry. Both of you, please go." She sank down onto the bed and put one hand on her forehead.

 

Bunny took a step and then another one towards her and tentatively put his hand out and touched her shoulder. "Are you all right, Constance?" he asked softly.

 

She sat for a moment, her head bowed before she looked up. Tears shone in her eyes - tears that I knew were, unlike the ones she had shed earlier, genuine. "No, Harry, I am not. However, it is my fault that I am not all right." She sighed and then said flatly, "I could sue you for breach of promise, you know that, do you not, Harry?" However, her tone belied her words; she had no intention of doing thus.

 

Bunny glanced at me. "You could," I said softly. "However, do you really wish everyone to know the real reason Bunny will not marry you?"

 

She glared at me for a second or two and then just sighed. "No, of course I don't. It's all right, Harry, I won't lie any more. I shall simply tell Mother and Father that I have changed my mind; I shall assure them it is nothing you have done, it's just me. I no longer wish to marry you."

 

"You don't have to do that, Constance. I meant what I said. If you wish to -"

 

"I know you did, Harry. I know you meant it. But no - you are far too good a man to try to ruin. Far, far too good a man - it's actually reassuring to know good men still exist, is it not, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I stared at her and nodded. "Yes. Yes, Miss Upton, it is."

 

She gave me a faint smile. "You're the best person in this room, Harry," she said firmly, "just remember that."

 

"I -"

 

"She's right, Bunny," I said softly.

 

She smiled again. "I believe it is somewhat ironic, Mr. Raffles, that for once we are in full agreement."

 

I smiled back at her and nodded. "Yes, Miss Upton, it is indeed ironic. Now come along, Bunny, let us leave Miss Upton to return to bed."

 

He glanced at her and then to my surprise held out his hand to her. She hesitated for a moment before she took it. "Goodbye, Miss Upton," he said, shaking her hand. "It was nice to have known you - I do hope you will be happy."

 

"Goodbye, Mr. Manders. It was . . ." she trailed off as tears filled her eyes and she looked at me. "Look after him."

 

I put my hand on Bunny's shoulder, even though part of me wondered if he would shake it off; he didn't. "I shall," I said quietly, even as I wondered if I would have the opportunity to do so. "Come along, Bunny," I said again, "it really is time we left."

 

"Yes, Raffles," he said obediently and after looking once more at Miss Upton he let me lead him out of the room, down the staircase and along to his room.

 

I stopped and said softly, "Would you like some brandy, Bunny?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, please, Raffles."

 

"I'll fetch -"

 

"No, I'll come with you." He spoke firmly, and so I turned and with my hand still on his shoulder led him to my bedroom where I handed him my flask and waited for him to speak.

 

He took a deep swallow and then a second before handing it back to me. "I want to go home," he said.

 

"I know you do, Bunny. But we cannot go now; it wouldn't be fair, would it?"

He sighed and sat down on my bed. "No. Of course it wouldn't be."

 

I stared down at him and wished I had not . . . But I had and there was nothing I could do to undo it. "We'll leave first thing in the morning, before breakfast - if you wish to."

 

"Yes, please." He fell silent and then said quietly, "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

"May I stay here tonight?"

 

I started slightly and stared at him, but he wasn't looking at me. "Of course you may, Bunny," I said slowly, "if you really wish to."

 

Now he did look up and I saw a hint of tears in his eyes. I didn't say anything; I simply put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Thank you," he said his tone formal.

 

"You are very welcome, Bunny."

 

He smiled a little, stood up and took off his dressing gown before getting into bed and moving over to the other side - he knew on which side I slept.

 

Aware I was still naked beneath my dressing down as well as wishing to remove the physical results of my betrayal. I swiftly picked up my pyjamas and headed for the door. "Where are you going?" he asked, sitting up and looking concerned.

 

"To the bathroom, Bunny. I'll be but a minute or two. I'll be back, my rabbit," I used the, what I finally admitted was a terribly possessive, term for the first time since I had parted from him earlier. "I promise," I added. He nodded and lay back down. I hurried to the bathroom, turned on the basin taps and hastily washed myself before pulling on my pyjamas and returning to my room where Bunny lay staring at the door.

 

I saw the look of relief on his face as I closed the door behind me and locked it - I didn't expect a servant to simply come into the room, but the last thing Bunny needed that night was for someone to unwittingly wander in and find us in bed together. Or maybe - "Bunny?"

 

"Yes?"

 

"Would you rather I slept in the chair?" I asked, even though I was quite, quite certain I was not going to sleep at all.

 

He shook his head firmly and turned the covers back he had pulled up once he had got into bed. I hesitated for a moment only before going across the room, taking off my dressing gown and getting into bed next to him, settling down carefully and making quite certain I did not touch him.

 

He sighed softly as I lay down and I felt him move just a little nearer to me - not near enough to touch, but near enough so that I could feel his presence and the heat from his body. "Goodnight, my rabbit," I said.

 

"Goodnight, Raffles," he murmured.

 

I didn't turn the lamp off and he didnít ask me to. We lay fully awake side by side, not touching - but I at least was fully aware of his every breath - until dawn broke and I suggested he bathe whilst I packed for him.

 

He agreed and I parted from him at the door of the bathroom whilst I went into his room and packed his bags swiftly, leaving out a suit, underwear and his tie all of which I took to my room - as instinct told me that was to where he would return.

 

It was. I left him to dress as I took my turn in the bathroom; when I returned to my room it was to find, not really to my surprise, that my bags were packed and a suit, tie and underwear awaited me on the bed.

 

I made our apologies to Lady Roderick, explaining that Bunny was starting to feel unwell, an old injury that flared up from time to time, and there was only one thing he could take, a special prescription and as it had been quite some time since his last attack he had not thought to bring any of the powders with him. Thus, we must return to London immediately so that he could see his doctor and get another prescription made up.

 

I chose to say it was Bunny who was unwell, rather than myself, because Bunny genuinely looked unwell. He looked like a man who had spent all night awake after discovering the two people he loved had betrayed him.

 

We settled into our compartment on the train and I offered him a Sullivan. He thanked me but declined; I lit a cigarette for myself and sat with him next to me. I knew at some point we had to talk, even if I wasn't altogether certain what I would say, but I also knew it had to be Bunny who chose the time and the place. For now, for once, he was the one in control; the one in charge.

 

Suddenly I felt a weight on my shoulder and glanced sideways to see his head was on my shoulder and from the steady noise he was making he was asleep. I sat unmoving for the entire journey, just letting him sleep. I didn't even push him upright when the guard came in to check our tickets.

 

He glanced at Bunny and then at me, but said nothing nor did he seem particularly bothered - I wondered if he thought Bunny was sleeping off an evening of far too much wine and brandy. I didn't move, not just because I was quite happy to have Bunny so close to me, but also because had I pushed him upright when the guard had come into our compartment, I would merely have been saying that I thought a gentleman sleeping with his head on another gentleman's shoulder was wrong - and I didn't think that. I didn't think that at all.

 

I sat unmoving, smoking from time to time, just letting my dearest rabbit sleep until we were only a short distance from London where I gentle shook him awake. As he gazed up at me blinking in order to clear the sleep from his eyes, the look in his steady gaze made me swallow very hard indeed - I did not deserve the look he was giving me. I most certainly did not; nor did I deserve the soft smile he gave me as he sat up.

 

Due to the earliness of the morning, it was relatively early to flag down a cab to take us home. As the driver loaded out bags into the cab he asked, "Where to, guv?"

 

Before I could reply, Bunny said firmly, "The Albany."

 

When we reached the Albany, it was Bunny who alighted first and Bunny who instructed the driver to unload all of the bags. I paid him, added a generous tip, and together Bunny and I gathered up our bags and went into the Albany where Parker greeted us.

 

"Hello, Mr. Raffles, Mr. Manders. You're back earlier than I thought you'd be, sirs."

 

"Good morning, Parker," I said. "Yes, we are; we decided to leave before the trains became too crowded."

 

"I don't blame you, sir." He turned to Bunny, "It won't be long now, will it, Mr. Manders?" Bunny stared at him and frowned slightly, his confusion clear. "Until you're married, sir," Parker said, and then added, "it'll be strange not seeing you here so often, won't it, Mr. Raffles?"

 

I glanced at Bunny; it wasn't my place to tell Parker that Bunny was no longer getting married. Instead I nodded and started to say, "Well, yes, it -"

 

"I won't be getting married after all, Parker," Bunny said quietly.

 

"Won't you, sir?" Although Parker looked surprised as he stared at Bunny, there was a hint of something in his tone that I really couldn't identify. He sounded almost - well, pleased, but surely not? I was clearly projecting my own feelings onto Parker. Why would it matter to him whether Bunny married or not? It wasn't as if he gained anything from Bunny's almost constant presence at the Albany; Bunny had never insulted Parker by tipping him, so . . .

 

"No. No, Parker. I won't. My - The young lady decided . . . Well, she felt . . . She changed her mind. So you see, Parker, I will still be here as often." Bunny actually smiled at Parker.

 

"Well, Mr. Manders, I am sorry to hear that. And if you'll forgive me for saying so - and I hope you don't think I'm talking about of turn, sir - it's the young lady's loss. Ain't that so, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Parker," I said, staring directly at Bunny as I spoke. "It most certainly is."

 

Bunny swallowed and his cheeks flushed a little as he said, stammering slightly, "Thank you, Parker, it's very kind of you to say so. But I'm not -" He fell silent.

 

"I just tell it as I see it, sir. Now I won't keep you gentlemen any longer, I'm sure you've got things to do before lunch."

 

Just a conversation we really couldn't put off any longer - nothing special. Just a conversation that could end with me losing my best friend, losing the man I loved. Despite what he had said to Parker about still coming to the Albany as often as he had always been here, I wasn't certain that would be the case.

 

However, that wasn't something I could say to Parker, so I just nodded and said, "Yes, indeed, Parker. Shall we go to my rooms now, Bunny?"

 

He smiled and nodded; we bid good morning to Parker and went up to my rooms. I left my bags in the hallway along with Bunny's and we went into the sitting room. It felt slightly chilled - or that might just have been me - and empty, in a way I do not believe it had ever felt before.

 

I opened the curtains, which I always left closed when I was away, moved a couple of ornaments that stood atop of the mantelpiece an inch or two before I turned to Bunny. "Would you like a cup of coffee, Bunny?" I said, wondering if my voice sounded as strange to him as it did to me.

 

Slowly, he shook his head. "No, thank you, Raffles, not at the moment."

 

We stood in silence for what seemed like several minutes, but was a sole minute at the most, and more likely even less before I cleared my throat, it sounded unnaturally loud in the what suddenly seemed to be an unnaturally quiet room. "Well," I said, putting my hands into my pockets, "it's too early to go out to lunch so . . ."

 

"Raffles?" He said my name clearly, firmly - even slightly forcefully.

 

"My rabbit?"

 

"I know you believe we need to talk about - About what happened and maybe we do. Or rather I need to tell you two things and ask you something, well, two things actually, after which we will not speak of it again. It will be as if it never happened. Do you agree?"

 

I wasn't all together certain I did. I wasn't certain the way I had betrayed and the hurt I had caused the one person I had never wished to hurt, could be forgotten in a matter of one conversation - or, given Bunny seemed intent on being the one to talk, a monologue. "Bunny, I . . ." I fell silent as he frowned and just stared at me. "Very well, my rabbit," I said softly, "it shall be as you wish."

 

"Good. Right," he fell silent, moistened his lips, swallowed, looked me directly in the eyes and said firmly, "You did the right thing."

 

"Bunny?" Even though I had told myself I would let him speak, I was too stunned by his words to prevent my surprise from making itself heard.

 

"You did, Raffles. You were correct; I had to know. I had the right to know the young lady I was about to marry, the young lady whom I believed to be . . . I had the right to know. And you were right to ensure I did know. Thank you, Raffles."

 

I blinked; he was thanking me for - "Bunny?" I said his name softly.

 

"It would have . . . Raffles, I . . . I don't know what I would have done had I discovered what she was on our wedding night? How could I . . . ? I know you . . . But I'm not you. You did the right thing; I am not angry or upset with you, Raffles."

 

I still wasn't certain I could believe what I was hearing. "I could have told you what I knew; I could have told you she had invited me to her room. I could have told you, Bunny, I didn't have to - I didn't have to do what I did."

 

He sighed softly and took a step towards me. "Yes, Raffles, you could indeed have done that. However, the thing is, I do not think I would have believed you."

 

"Do you not, my rabbit?"

 

He shook his head. "No. I thought about it - I thought of nothing else during those few hours we both spent not sleeping, and I realised that I wouldn't have allowed myself to believe you. I'm not saying I would have accused you of lying to me, I know you would never lie to me, but I wouldn't have wanted to have believed you, thus I wouldn't have. So no, Raffles. I had to find out about her in the way I did. Thank you," he said again, and held out his hand.

 

Slowly I took it and held it quite loosely. "I believe I should be the one to thank you, my rabbit, for being so . . ."

 

He shook his head. "No, you see, Raffles . . . The thing is, I always knew it was wrong."

 

"What was wrong?"


He sighed and moved a little closer to her. "I never should have asked her to be my wife," he said softly. "I - Raffles, may I ask you something?"

 

I was momentarily thrown but quickly recovered. "Yes, of course, Bunny, you may ask me anything you wish to - you should know that by now."

 

He gave me a gentle smile. "I do."

 

"I'm glad."

 

"What I want to ask you is: do you think Constance spoke the truth when she said she loved me?"

 

I nodded. "Actually, my rabbit, I do. I truly believe that she loved you." He gave me a small smile and a half nod.

 

I waited, but he didn't seem to wish to go on. Thus, I mentally crossed my fingers and asked softly, "Why should you not have asked her to marry you, Bunny?"

 

He sighed and lowered his head, letting his hair fall around his face. "Because," he paused, and I heard him swallow as he tightened the grip he had on my hand. "Because," he repeated, "because - the thing is, Raffles," now he looked up and I saw shame cross his face. "I never really wished to do so," he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

 

I stared at him. "Bunny?"

 

He swallowed hard and let his gaze flicker away before he looked back at me. "I just thought . . . I believed it was my last chance at being able to have a normal life."

 

"You mean a life free from taking what is not ours?"

 

He stared at me, opened his mouth, closed it again, let go of my hand and suddenly turned on his heel. "I need to use your bathroom, Raffles." And with those words he hurried from the sitting room.  I stood and watched him go for a moment before shrugging and lighting a Sullivan.

 

It was only when I realised I had not only smoked the cigarette, but had also lit and half smoked a second one, when I became aware he had been gone for quite a lot longer than I would have expected him to have been gone.

 

I finished the second cigarette and decided to go and see if he was all right. I went through my dining room and into my bedroom where to my surprise I found him sitting on my bed, his hands in his lap, his head bowed.

 

He didn't look up when I went into the room, nor when I crossed to the bed, dropped to my heels in front of him and put a gentle hand on his thigh. "Are you all right, my rabbit?" I asked softly. "Do you feel unwell? Would you like me to -"

 

"Did Constance speak the truth, Raffles, when she said you were jealous of her? Do you want me for yours?" I was too stunned, too shocked, too surprised and too afeared to speak. He raised his head and stared into my eyes; his gaze was steady and closed to me in a way it had never been before. "Did she?" he said, when I simply remained silent.

 

"I - I knew I would miss your company, my rabbit. That I would miss you when you -"

 

"Were you jealous of Constance? Do you want me for yours?"

 

Did I? The answer came instantly as I recalled exactly of whom I had thought, in order to become aroused, when she had had her hand around me. However, I wasn't entirely certain Bunny really wanted to hear my answer. For a fleeting second I considered doing what he had said moments before I would never do, and lie to him.

 

However, I could not. "I believe I do, Bunny," I said formally.

 

"You believe you do?"

 

I sighed, closed my eyes for a moment and mentally crossed my fingers before opening my eyes and looking back at him. "Yes, Bunny, yes, my dear rabbit. I do. I do indeed want you for my own. But I give you my word, my word, Bunny, that was not the reason I did what I did - at least," I added with complete honesty, "I didn't do it consciously. My only thought was to prevent you from being -" I paused, and then said softly, "hurt." I waited for him to reply; waited for him to say something; waited for him to do something - such as stand up and leave my rooms for ever.

 

Instead he put one of his hands over the hand I still had on his thigh and nodded. "She also spoke the truth when she said I loved you more than I loved her."

 

"Did she?"

 

He nodded more firmly. "Yes. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here with you now, would I? I'd be with her, making the final plans for our wedding, would I not?"

 

"I imagine that would indeed be the case, Bunny."

 

He glanced away from me, once more bowing his head and letting his hair shroud his face. "The thing is, Raffles," he said softly, "I always have loved you more than I loved her - and I always knew it. Even when I asked her to be my wife, I knew I loved you more than I loved her and that I always would."

 

I didn't quite know what to say to such a declaration. Thus I swallowed and said, "I see."

 

"You see, Raffles, the last chance at a normal life, had nothing to do with the burgling - well, maybe it did a little, but that wasn't really what I meant."

 

"Was it not?"

 

"No. You see I knew how much I loved you, how deeply in love I was with you - just as I had always been and would always be. But I didn't know if you - If you loved me, liked me even, in the way I loved you. Well, actually I didn't for a moment think you did, could, would, love me even half as much as I loved you or even want me in that way. And I didn't want to go on loving you as I did and not be able to - And Miss Upton was there and she liked me and I could talk to her and she was happy to dance with me and I thought 'why not'? Maybe if I marry her I can have a normal life; maybe I'll stop loving Raffles - even though deep down I knew I never would. It was so wrong of me, Raffles, so very wrong of me. So you see, you really did do the right thing - not just for me, but for her. What would it have been liked married to a man who loved someone else, and not just anyone, but another man, more than he loved you? Maybe she wouldn't have known, but what if she had? In fact, I think she always knew."

 

"Do you?"

 

He nodded. "Yes, and that's why she didn't want me to see you. I believe she always knew and - She did love me, didn't she, Raffles?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, Bunny, she did."

 

"Shall I tell you what my first thought was when I walked into her bedroom and saw you and her and - shall I tell you, Raffles?"

 

"If you wish to, my rabbit, then do tell me."

 

"I thought 'why couldn't it have been me; why has he done that with Constance when he hasn't done it with me'? That's what I thought, Raffles. That was my first thought - my very first thought. What kind of fiancť, what kind of man, does that make me?"

 

"Bunny." I said his name softly, and put my other hand on his cheek and cupped it. "Oh, my dear, beloved little rabbit. I do love you so."

 

"And I love you, Raffles, and I'm never going to stop loving you. And I want nothing more than to - Than for you to do what it is I know you do well. But -"

 

"But?" I said, after he fell silent.

 

"But I am going to go home. I will stay and have coffee with you, but then I'm going to go home to unpack and change; we will go to lunch and then spend the afternoon doing - well something, anything, before I once again return home to bathe and change before we dine. And then, after we have dined, you may bring me back here and . . ." He trailed off, his eyes shone, his cheeks became a little red and he stared at me in such a way that he caused me to actually blush a little - something I cannot remember doing in a considerable time - as his meaning became completely clear.

 

I stared at him and as I met his gaze, as I saw just quite how deeply and intensely he did love me. I knew it would be the simplest thing in the world to persuade him to rethink what he wanted and to take him into my arms and into my bed right now.

 

However, I found I rather liked the thought of a day of anticipation, a day of - well seduction even. Thus I smiled, slowly and gently ran my finger down his cheekbone, before giving him a brief, chaste, light kiss on his lips and saying, "That sounds like an excellent idea, Bunny." Then I pushed his hair back from his forehead, stood up and offered him my hand and guided him from my bed where I took a step back, least I forget how much I was looking forward to the day, and instead pull him into my arms and -

 

We went back into the sitting room where I left Bunny smoking a cigarette as I went to make a pot of coffee. We spent a perfectly normal hour enjoying the coffee and Sullivans and exchanging news from the papers we were both glancing through. It was just like any other morning we had spent together - well, it was except for the fact that the day would end in a way no other day we had spent together had ended, and I for one could not forget that fact.

 

Finally, Bunny drained his cup of coffee, stubbed out his cigarette and stood up. "I'll go home now, Raffles - where shall we lunch?"

 

I put my own cigarette out and stood up. "The Savoy?" I suggested, and Bunny beamed at me. I accompanied him into the hall where we sorted his bags from mine and then I moved to the door. "I shall see you at one o'clock, my rabbit," I said, holding out my hand to him.

 

To my surprise, especially given what he had said an hour or so earlier, he took it and tugged on it hard until I was forced to move towards him. Once I was closer enough to him, he let go of my hand, put his hand behind me head and pulled my head down. A second later his mouth was on mine and I was being kissed and kissed hard. The kiss lasted for no more than a few seconds, before he took his mouth from mine and smiled at me as his eyes blazed.

 

And then before I could say or indeed do anything, he opened the front door and hurried out. "One o'clock, Raffles," he called, "and don't be late!"

 

I stood and watched him negotiate the stairs as I ran my finger over my lips and allowed myself to wonder quite why, if he ever kissed her as he had kissed me, Miss Upton had not regarded his kissing as being worthy of her. At least that was the impression I had got when she had said they hadn't done anything more than kiss me, and had added 'and even that wasn't' after which she had trailed off. It certainly had made me believe she had not considered Bunny's kisses enjoyable. It was true that it had been quite clear that he hadn't kissed many people or kissed a great deal; there had been more than a little naivety in his kiss. However, it had caused something that a mere kiss, and certainly one as short as that had not caused for quite a considerable number of years.

 

I shut the front door firmly, lent against it, brushed my hand once over the beginnings of my arousal before making myself stand upright and gather my bags together and take them through to my bedroom. Once there I unpacked swiftly, sorted the clothes that needed to be laundered to those that needed to be hung up, before I stripped and changed the bed and then changed my suit and made a quick telephone call to the club prior to meeting Bunny for lunch.

 

We enjoyed a lengthy luncheon before walking back to the Albany arm-in-arm. We settled down on the sofa and spent half an hour or so smoking and talking about Bunny's plans for his book - which was almost complete.

 

Suddenly to my surprise, Bunny stood up. "Let us go to the river," he said, already on his way to the door.

 

"But why, Bunny? Can we not just spend the afternoon here?"

 

He shook his head. "No, because if we donít go somewhere where there are other people we will . . . " The look in his eyes left me in no doubt as to his meaning.

 

I smiled at him and stood up. Once again I knew it would be the simplest thing in the world to persuade him to give up the idea of the river and to spend the rest of the day in my bed. Once again I allowed him to have things as he wanted them. "Very well, my rabbit," I said, following him out into the hall.

 

And that is how we spent the remainder of the afternoon and the early part of the evening before we parted, he to return to Mount Street to bathe and change, and me to return to the Albany to do the same thing. We would meet again at the club at eight o'clock to dine before we once again returned to the Albany.

 

I arrived at our club a little early as I wanted to ensure my arrangements had been put into place. I had booked one of the smaller private rooms, even though the club does not usually like to allow only two gentlemen to book a room. However, given I am a favourite of the club secretary and the waiting staff, as well as it being a quiet evening, they had been happy to allow me to book the room. I had also chosen the menu for Bunny and I, as well as ordering the champagne; I did not wish for the evening to be broken up with studying menus.

 

Bunny seemed a little surprised when I met him in the hallway and led him up to our room, however, he made no objections. He also seemed just a little shy as more than once he glanced at me and quickly glanced away as his cheeks coloured just a little. And when I put my hand on his shoulder, he started quite obviously - which given I touch him all of the time and have done since the moment we first met, told me quite a lot.

 

The first thing I did when we reached our room was to retie his bowtie for him. Bunny ties a perfectly adequate bowtie - indeed it is tied better than many of the other gentlemen - it is just that I tie it better. I quite deliberately let my fingers brush against his chin more than once, and when I had tied it to my satisfaction, I ran the tip of my finger down his cheek, before smiling down at him, offering my arm and leading him to our table - where I pulled out his chair for him.

 

Nothing was too much trouble and I anticipated his every wish as I barely let my gaze leave his face, and I touched his hand on many occasions, varying the touch each time. By the time we had eaten our first course and were awaiting our second, his cheeks were more than a little flushed and he was shifting slightly on his chair.

 

I ran my fingers over the back of his hand again and he started and made a soft noise in this throat. I knew we had a good five minutes before the waiter would arrive to serve us, thus I leant forward a little, took his hand in mine and said softly, "Of what are you thinking, my rabbit?"

 

I think the way I linked my fingers with his, the tone of my voice and the look I was giving him must have startled him considerably as he blurted out, quite unintentionally I was certain, "Being able to look at you." And his blush became even more obvious.

 

I moistened my lips, reached across the table to brush his hair from his forehead and said softly, "You mean in the way you once stood and looked at me when we were at school?"

 

He swallowed hard, shifted on his chair again, swallowed again and said, "Yes."

 

I smiled, turned his hand over and began to stroke his palm, which again caused him to make a slight noise in his throat. "You have seen me unclothed on many occasions since then, Bunny."

 

He frowned at me. "I know," he hissed, "but I can hardly stare at you whilst we are at the Turkish baths, can I?" And then he added swiftly, "Especially as I had no idea that you would permit me to look at you like that."

 

I continued to lightly caress his palm and made certain I did not show any hint of amusement at how he once again shifted on his chair. In truth, he wasn't the only one who was feeling a little uncomfortable; I was just able to hide it far better than he. "And is that all you wish to do, Bunny? Look at me?"

 

"No! Of course it isn't, Raffles, but if I allow myself to think of all the other things I want to do then -"

 

I waited for a moment or two and then asked politely, "Then?"

 

"Then we won't finish dinner before I insist upon you taking me home!" And to my surprise he pulled his hand out from under mine and both of his hands in his lap as he stared at me.

 

I smiled back at him. "Very well, my rabbit," I said, "I give you my word, I shall behave myself for the rest of the evening."

 

"Oh, I don't want you to do that, Raffles."

 

"Then what do you want, my rabbit? Bunny!" I exclaimed, as I saw his face and for only the second time in non-childhood memory, I felt my cheeks grow a little warm and his gaze left me more than a little aroused. In fact I had to change my position slightly on my chair and the smile he gave me as he watched me was more than a little triumphant.

 

I decided for both our sakes that I should discontinue, or at least lessen, my seduction of my rabbit. Thus apart from barely taking my eyes off of him and talking his hand in mine from time to time, the rest of the meal continued as though it was just a perfectly normal meal we were sharing. However, the charged atmosphere between us, not to mention the way he looked at me, made it certain that it was anything but a perfectly normal meal.

 

At Bunny's request we walked back to the Albany with his arm held firmly and protectively in mine. I had fully intended to do nothing more than say 'goodnight' to Parker. However, when we paused by his office to do that thing, I noticed he looked somewhat paler than he normally did and seemed to have some difficulty getting out of his chair.

 

With Bunny's arm still through mine, I pushed open the door of Parker's small office and went inside. "Are you all right, Parker," I said, as I watched him steady himself by leaning on his desk. "You appear to be in a degree of pain."

 

"It's nothing, sir. Just an old injury that causes me some pain and trouble from time to time, that's all. I'll be perfectly all right again soon."

 

I pulled out my cigarette case and offered it to him; he hesitated for a moment or two before taking one and thanking me. I handed the case to Bunny, struck a match and lit all three Sullivans. "Do sit down, Parker," I said firmly and waited for a moment before he slowly returned to his chair. "Are you quite certain it is nothing serious? I, well we," I nodded towards Bunny, "have a friend who is a doctor. I'd be quite happy to ring him and ask what he could suggest."

 

"Bless you, Mr. Raffles, sir. But there's no need, sir, really there isn't. It's not something I can't live with. I'll be all right again soon. There's no need to trouble yourselves or your friend."

 

I stared at him. "Well, if you are quite certain, Parker."


He nodded. "Yes, sir, I am."

 

"Very well then. But I do suggest you close the front door and lock it for the evening. Mr. Manders is spending the night with me in my rooms, and any gentleman who might still be out can use his key. And if anyone objects or gives you any trouble, you have my full permission to direct them to me."

 

"Do you think it would be all right, sir? I confess it would be nice to get to bed. But you gents . . . Well, you pay for a service and you should get it."

 

"I assure you, Parker, it will be perfectly all right." I spoke firmly as I looked at him.

 

He hesitated for a short time, before nodding and saying, "In that case, Mr. Raffles, I shall do that thing."

 

"Good man. In fact, give me your key and I shall lock up for the evening."

 

"Oh, Mr. Raffles, I - Thank you, sir," he said, handing over the key to me.

 

It took me mere seconds to close and lock the heavy front door before I returned to Parker's office. "There we are, Parker, all securely locked up. Now off you go to bed - and I meant what I said, if any of the other gentlemen object or causes you any problems, you send them to me. Do I have your word?"

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles, sir. Thank you, sir."

 

"We'll say goodnight then."

 

"Oh, sir."

 

"Yes, Parker?"

"There is one thing sir, I really shouldn't be telling you this as the gents themselves don't know, but as it's you, well, I'm quite happy to do so. You see, Mr. Raffles, the management have decided to give Mr. Burton and Mr. Jackson notice, as they feel the gentlemen aren't really - suitable tenants for the Albany, shall we say, sir?"

 

"Are they now?" I wasn't surprised to be honest. The aforementioned two men were very unpleasant men indeed, who took liberties with some of the Albany servants and were believed to be involved in serious crime - although there was no proof.

 

"Yes, sir. And the thing is . . . I do hope you won't think I'm talking out of turn, Mr. Raffles. But I was wondering if you and Mr. Manders might like to take over their rooms - given Mr. Manders won't be getting wed now, and given he'll be here just as much as he always was . . . Well, it makes sense, sir, if he lived here." I glance swiftly at Bunny who was just staring in surprise. "You don't need to decide now, sirs, as I said the management won't be telling the gents until next week. But if you're interested, just let me know and I'll get it all sorted."

 

"But surely there is some kind of waiting list for two bedroom sets of rooms?"

 

"Well, technically, there is, sir. But as you already live here and are such a good tenant - I know the management would be more than happy for you and Mr. Manders to take over the lease."

 

"Well, Parker, that certainly is interesting news. Mr. Manders and I will discuss it, although I must say I certainly cannot see any reason for us not to take the rooms, and I shall let you know. Thank you for telling us - and I assure you neither Mr. Manders nor myself will say anything to anyone."

 

"I knew you wouldn't sir. Well, I'll say goodnight to you both."

 

"Goodnight, Parker."

 

"Goodnight, Parker," Bunny echoed, and together we left Parker's office and went up the stairs to my rooms.

 

"Well, what say you, Bunny?" I said, once I had unlocked the door and ushered Bunny inside. "How would you like to share rooms with me?" I helped him off with his coat and hung it and his hat up along with mine.

 

Bunny turned to me, his eyes shone and he was smiling. "Yes, please, Raffles," he said, his tone one of delight. "I'd like that very much indeed but -" I silenced him by putting my mouth over his and kissing him until I rather suspected he had forgotten quite what he had been about to say.

 

"That's settled then," I said, and without giving him a chance to say anything else, I took his hand in mine and led him to my bedroom.

 

Once there, I closed the door, turned off the main light, leaving only the lamps that stood on tables either side of the bed, put my hands on his shoulders, and slowly and quite, quite deliberately let my gaze wander down and up him. On my second journey down his body I let my gaze came to rest just below his waist and I stared at him, and went on staring at him as to my faint surprise I saw him begin to harden slightly.

 

"Come here," I said, once more looking at his face. "Come with me and let me undress you - if you'd like me to, of course?"

 

He took my hand and let me lead him to the bed. "Oh, yes, please, Raffles!" he cried. "I'd like you to do; in fact I'm perfectly happy for you to do whatever you wish to do."

 

I raised an eyebrow and ran one of my hands over his lower body. He gasped softly and trembled just a little, as he pushed his hardening body into my hand. "Whatever I wish, eh, Bunny? Does my rabbit really mean that?"

 

"Yes, Raffles. Yes, I mean it. Please, just -" I put my mouth on his, swallowing whatever it was he was about to say as I deliberately moved my hand over his hardness, stroking it firmly, at a pace I knew would cause him to release into his drawers before too much longer.

 

He kissed me back with a passion I honestly could not remember ever experiencing before; it wasn't not just with a passion but also with a deep, intense love I had only ever felt with one other person. His kisses were naÔve, unknowing, but to my faint surprise I felt my own body start to harden at a rate it normally never did - at least not just from a mere kiss and especially from someone whose lack of experience showed as he kissed me.

 

And as we kissed, as I went on stroking him, I realised suddenly what the difference was: for the first time since I had been a school boy I was kissing, being kissed by, touching and holding someone in my arms who not only cared for me, not only loved me, but for whom I cared; whom I loved deeply. There really was quite a difference from all my other dalliances - not that I considered what I would have with Bunny was a mere dalliance, it wasn't.

 

As I expected it wasn't that long before Bunny's kiss became even more intense, his trembling increased and the way his pushed into my hand became more frantic, and I knew there were mere seconds before - "Raffles!" he cried, pulling his mouth from mine and burying his head against my shoulder. "Oh, Raffles, Raffles. I'm . . . Raffles, my drawers are -"

 

"Yes, Bunny," I said kissing the top of his head. "I know." He moved back a little and stared at me; he seemed almost a little confused. "Well," I said, kissing his nose, "you did say I might do anything I wished to do. Did you not like it?"

 

To my faint surprise he blushed a little and tried to lower his head. However, my hand by that time was in his hair, and I tightened the grip I had on the strands I had wrapped around my fingers, thus preventing him from looking away from me. "Yes," he whispered as his cheeks became even redder. "Yes, I did like it, Raffles. Actually," he added, sounding almost a little ashamed, "I enjoyed it very much."

 

"Good," I said. "And now . . ." And after kissing him with less intensity than I had previously done, I removed his clothes. I took my time, but not too much time, and with every piece of pale, smooth skin that was revealed, I paused and kissed or licked or even, with his neck, lightly grazed the skin with my teeth. By the time I had pulled his rather wet drawers down, he was hard again and his eyes were pleading with me to give him what he so clearly wanted and needed.

 

Thus, I obliged. Again it didn't take long before he was crying my name and my hand was wet and sticky from his release. I held him lightly and kept my other arm around him until he ceased to quiver; I then kissed him, wiped my hand on my handkerchief, which I then dropped onto the floor and guided him to my bed.

 

"Lie down, Bunny," I said, encouraging him to do that thing. "Lie down and I shall fulfil the wish you told me you had."

 

He smiled up at me and I began to disrobe. I undressed myself far more quickly than I had undressed him, and it was no more than a minute before I was standing completely unclothed in front of him and he was staring at me - just as he had once stared at me when we had been boys. Except then we had been boys, and whilst I had not objected in the slightest to him looking at me, his look had not had any real affect on me. It was quite different from now as I felt myself once more hardening under the look that was more than a little heavy with desire.

 

I allowed him to go on staring at me until I feared I would either release where I stood from his gaze alone, or I would put my hand on myself and - And whilst I had no problem at all to Bunny watching me, I believed such a thing might be a little too advanced for him on a first time - plus, more importantly, I rather wanted his hand on me; in fact I wanted it rather badly.

 

Thus, I joined him on the bed, put my arms around him, pulled him closely against me until my hardness brushed against his thigh and kissed him and went on kissing him until even I had to break away in order to breathe. "Touch me, Bunny," I murmured, taking his hand and guiding it down to where I so desperately wanted it. "That's it, my rabbit, close your hand around me; a little tighter, Bunny, if you donít mind. Oh, yes, that's it, that's just how I -" I confess the speed of my release, even though I had been aroused and very hard for some time, took me quite by surprise. "Oh, Bunny," I whispered as my body made his hand very wet and sticky, "oh, my dear, beloved rabbit, I do love you so."

 

He sighed with obvious please as he looked at me. "I love you too, Raffles, so very much."

 

We continued to make love for another couple of hours before I saw Bunny's eyelids were spending more time closed than open. "Go to sleep, my rabbit," I said softly, kissing him lightly before rearranging him in my arms.

 

"'Night, Raff-" Was all he managed, before he became slightly heavier in my arms and a moment later his breathing became steady.

 

"Goodnight, Bunny." I kissed his lips again before settling down and closing my own eyes.

 

It was only when I awoke in the morning that I discovered I had failed to turn the lamps out the night before. Bunny was still warm in my arms and as I stared down at the man who looked several years younger than he usually looked, I felt a wave of protectiveness towards him I had not felt since our school days.

 

I lay just gazing at him, watching him sleep, until I became aware I simply couldn't go on lying there any longer. "Bunny?" I shook him gently and he opened his eyes and blinked up at me.

 

"Hello, Raffles. Is it morning?"

 

"It is, my rabbit. Now come along let us bathe and shave and then . . ." I took my arms from around him, gave him a brief, chaste kiss before pushing back the covers, getting out of bed and holding my hand out to him.

 

"And then?" I noticed his gaze was not on my face.

 

"And then - We'll just have to see how we feel, will we not?"

 

Given how reticent Bunny is, I was rather surprised that he made no objection to my using the lavatory in front of him (indeed I believe he actually watched me, something I had never dreamt by rabbit would do) nor to using it himself whilst I was still in the bathroom, albeit filling the bath. I handed him a toothbrush, picked up my own and standing in front of the sink we both brushed out teeth. It all felt incredibly normal as if we had been doing such things, sharing bathrooms, for years.

 

We shared a bath, which led to more than a little kissing and touching. However, to his clear disappointment, I did not allow him the release he clearly desired, and I was able to quite easily prevent my own body from succumbing to his touches - which were becoming knowledgeable at a rate that surprised me.

 

Once we had dried ourselves and I had emptied the bath, I took his hand in mine, brought it to my mouth and took two of his fingers into my mouth. As I sucked them lightly he gasped and tried to push against me. However, I kept him away from me and instead took his fingers from my mouth and said softly, "What would my rabbit like to do?" He didn't answer me in words, but his gaze made what he wanted quite clear. "Again?" I teased him gently.

 

"Yes, Raffles. Again and this time you can - You know." And he flushed a little and tried to look away from me.

 

I put one hand on his shoulder and stared at him. "Are you quite certain, Bunny?" I asked, "It is very soon, don't you think?"

 

"But it's what you usually do, isnít it?"

 

I blinked at his pluck - although I was the one who had always told him he had plenty of it. "Well, yes, but that's rather different."

 

"How so?"

 

I sighed. "Because I love you, Bunny. I wish you to be in my life, be with me as my lover for - Well, my rabbit, for as long as you want to be with me."

 

"Forever?"

 

I smiled and him and lightly kissed him. "Yes, Bunny, forever would suit me very nicely - and preferably beyond that."

 

He positively glowed as he looked at me. "In that case, take me back to bed and let me prove to you how much I love you."

 

I frowned a little. "Bunny?" I said.

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"You do not need to prove anything to me, my rabbit, least of all your love for me. If you only wish me to - To do that to you because you feel you have to in order to prove your love, then I shall not do it. I do not need to do it, Bunny, no matter what you may have heard both at school and since, it isn't the most important thing - well, it is for some men, but not for me. Well at least not with you."

 

"Isn't it?"

 

I shook my head. "No."

 

"Well, all right. But I really would like you to do it, Raffles. And not because I have anything to prove, but because . . . Well, because . . . I really do want you do, Raffles," he repeated.

 

I stared at him. He has never been able to lie to me and I could see he spoke the truth. I put my arm around his shoulders, kissed his cheek and led him back to the bedroom. "Very well, my rabbit, I shall indeed do as you wish."

 

He lay down on the bed whilst I went and fetched a small bottle of oil which I put on the bedside table before gazing down at him. His legs were parted slightly, his desire for me was already clear, his look was one of love, and I knew exactly what I wanted before I gave him what he wanted.

 

I joined him on the bed, pulled him into my arms and kissed him soundly before taking my mouth from his, moving down the bed, pausing to kiss parts of his body as I did so, and taking him into my mouth. As my mouth closed around him he cried and jerked his hips; I stayed quite still and waited for him to settle back before I began to use my mouth on him in the way I knew would have him crying my name before long and would allow me to enjoy his release.

 

As he became even harder and began to leak slightly, he moved his hand and made it clear he wanted my hand to hold. I took one hand from where I had been lightly holding him down and took his hand in mine as I used my mouth somewhat more quickly until he cried my name, with a hint of desperation and concern as he tugged on my hand. I, of course, stayed where I was and seconds later felt and tasted his release in my mouth.

 

Once his body had ceased to release I carefully swallowed around him, licked him a time or two before letting him slip from my mouth. I sat up, smiled down at him, kissed his forehead and gently helped him turn over.

 

I spent a considerably longer amount of time preparing him with my oiled fingers than I had ever spent with another man. I wanted to ensure he was as relaxed and stretched as it was possible to be before I replaced my fingers with the part of me what was very hard. Once I was certain he was as relaxed and ready as he could be, I poured more oil into my hands, rubbed it over my hardness and slid inside him.

 

He cried aloud and tensed around me for some time, as I urged him to breathe, told him how much I loved him, how important he was to me, and little by little he began to relax until I could finally slip completely inside him where I slowly began to move. I knew he was crying, I could hear his muffled sobs and feel the way he was trembling slightly and I felt his tears as I moved one hand to touch his cheek.

 

I hated hurting him, but no matter what I did, no matter how much care and time I took preparing him, doing such a thing, making love to another man in such a way, would always hurt. And even though he continued to cry, far more softly now, I heard him make soft noises of pleasure. I also felt him move under me in such a way that told me he was once more hardening, and was feeling quite uncomfortable in the way it was pressing into the mattress.

 

Thus, I moved back a little and helped him move from lying flat on the bed to kneeling on it with his hands pressed down onto the bed in front of him. I then put my still oiled hand around him and once more he cried out with pleasure as I stroked him to another release seconds before my body released into his.

 

SIX MONTHS LATER

 

A lot had happened in six months: Bunny and I had indeed taken up Parker's suggestion that we take over the soon to be vacant rooms. Indeed, the management of the Albany decided rather than give Burton and Jackson notice, they would return that month's rent the two men had paid. As such the day after they were informed they would not be residing at the Albany any longer, they had left the place.

 

I arranged for the rooms to be decorated and also at Bunny's urging had electricity and a telephone installed (I let him believe he had to persuade me, when in truth I had become used to the electric light and the telephone). The men we hired to do the job were very hard workers and it was a matter of days before removal men emptied my rooms and Bunny's Mount Street flat, and installed them into our new rooms.

 

Bunny's book had been published and had been very well received - so well received that the publisher had commissioned a series of a further four books with an option of more. Anyone knowing of the other side to our lives would have been more than a little amused when they discovered that Bunny's books were about two gentlemen detectives, who spent a considerable amount of their time solving jewellery burglaries - and as such spent time in society, attending balls and house parties and the like.

 

For myself I decided that I loved my rabbit enough to allow him to have his normal life, and as such I contacted Charlie who had once told me he knew of quite a number of people, mainly his patients, who would pay someone to give private Latin tuition to their sons (and in some cases their daughters). He had reminded me it had been a subject at which I had excelled at school (the one subject I had been better at than he) and as I had always been so good with the younger boys, so patient and caring, he believed I would make an excellent tutor.

 

I had not been so sure, but given I could not think of any other honest way to earn money, I decided to give it a go - and discovered I enjoyed it, in fact I enjoyed very much indeed. However, over the last month or so I had been giving consideration to another career, shall we say. In conversation with one of my pupil's father, he had learnt that I had studied the Classics at Cambridge, a subject which many solicitors studied.

 

He had his own firm and was looking for a junior member of staff to join them and he offered me the position. It came with the guarantee for the right person (which he declared I was) to become a partner in a few years. I had not yet made a decision; I did enjoy tutoring, although I found it didn't really stretch me terribly. However, of course the hours of work were as I wished them to be and as such did not interfere with my time spent with my rabbit. Although with his writing and answering letters from people who wrote to him praising his books, we were spending less time during the day together, so maybe . . .

 

We were standing outside of the Albany discussing where we would lunch, when not only my name, but also Bunny's, was called. "Arthur! Harry!" I looked up to see Miss Gower hurrying across the road. Quite when we had become 'Arthur' and 'Harry' I wasn't all together certain - but it had been at her insistence.

 

"Hello, Felicity," I said, taking her hand and putting it to my lips. I found it quite easy and natural to call her by her Christian name; Bunny found it less so.

 

"Hello, Miss Gower," he stuttered slightly, as she took her hand from mine and took Bunny's and squeezed it.

 

I noticed a tall, young man standing across the road staring at us and recognised him as Michael Worsley - Miss Gower's fiancť. I believe almost everyone had been surprised when she had accepted his offer of marriage - indeed I think Miss Gower had been the most surprised of all. He was a terribly naÔve man; quiet, stammered a little at times, blushed more often than even Bunny did, and really did seem to have two left feet. However, Miss Gower loved him beyond, in her own words, reason, and he quite openly showed his adoration for her no matter where they were or when it happened to be. Thus, I was quite certain they would be very happy together.

 

"What is it, Felicity, that is so important you had to call out to us like that."

 

She gave me a mock glared. "I keep telling you, Arthur, things are changing. You really mustn't be so staid and set in the past."

 

I smiled at her. "I shall endeavour to remember that. Well, what is it you have to tell us? I assume that is why you are looking so excited."

 

She nodded. "Yes," she said. "I thought you," and to my surprise she glanced at Bunny, "should hear it from a friend, from me, before you heard it from anyone else. You see," she paused for a moment, glanced at me and then back at Bunny. "It concerns Constance." Bunny started just a little and turned his full attention onto Miss Gower.

 

I waited but he didn't speak and Miss Gower didn't continue. Thus, I asked softly, "What about Miss Upton?"

 

"Well, the thing is - she's engaged to be married."

 

I glanced at Bunny.

 

"Is she?"

 

"Yes. And this time I know - Oh, do forgive me, Mr. Manders," I noticed that at times, times when she wished to lessen Bunny's embarrassment at being called by his Christian name, she did return to what is considered right and proper. "I meant no offence."

 

"And none is taken, Miss Gower," Bunny said, his voice light as he actually touched her hand. "I am very glad and I do hope she will be happy."

 

She stared at him. "You really are such a good man, Mr. Manders. Most men, after being - well, after Constance changing her mind as she did - would . . ."

 

Bunny just smiled. "I really do wish her every happiness. Indeed we both do, do we not, Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny. Yes, we do."

 

"Well I really must go before Michael comes across to fetch me. You know what he can be like; he won't look where he's going properly, and will either trip up or get mown down by a cab." She smiled, reached up to kiss my cheek before kissing Bunny's cheek and then turned to go.

 

"Felicity? I called.

 

"Yes, Arthur."

"You did not tell us the name of Miss Upton's fiancťe."

 

"Oh, no, I didnít. It's Walter Miller," and with a final wave, she gathered the hem of her dress up slightly and hurried back across the road to where Worsley waited.

 

As I stood and watched her go, watched Worsley's face light up as she slipped her arm through his and watched them walk off together, I began to laugh softly.

 

"Raffles? What is so amusing?"

 

I turned and stared down at Bunny. "Well, my rabbit," I said, taking out my handkerchief and wiping my eyes. "You see Miss Upton and Miller will have at least one thing in common."

 

For a moment he just stared at me until the look I was giving him became clear. "Raffles!" he gasped. "Do you mean . . . That you . . . Raffles! Is it true?"

 

"Yes, Bunny, I'm rather afraid that it is." And I began to laugh again.

 

Suddenly he grabbed my hand and pulled me with him into the Albany, past Parker who asked if we had forgotten something, to which Bunny called 'yes', and up the two flights of stairs to our rooms. Do not forget I am considerably stronger than Bunny, and my grip is a lot fiercer than his, as such it would have been quite easy for me to have pulled back and refuse to let him drag me along with him.

 

Except for once his grip was far tighter than I had ever felt it and his strength seemed to have increased. I could have stopped him, but I actually feared I may have hurt him - thus I let him drag me up to our rooms and inside, where he pulled my hat from my head, tossed it and his onto the sideboard that stood in the hall before dragging me into the sitting room and over to the sofa where he pushed me.

 

I staggered slightly, as I hadn't been expecting the move, and fell backwards. The next moment he was on his knees by my side, his mouth was plundering mine, his teeth even grazed my lower lip and by now very experienced fingers were unbuttoning my trousers.

 

I felt my body harden quickly at the double onslaught of his kiss and his touch and was about to pull him onto the sofa with me, when he dragged his mouth from mine and with a swift move bent his head and took my arousal into his mouth.

 

Bunny actually seems to adore doing this to me and it is a rare occasion during out lovemaking when he doesnít take me into his mouth - and he has become extremely adept at it. Even after six months, I find myself a little surprised at quite how much pleasure he seems to get from the act, quite how much he enjoys it, given how terrible his first time had been. He had choked to such an extent, coughing and wheezing and breathing far faster than was right, that I had feared he would either have a stroke, a heart attack or vomit and go on vomiting until he passed out. Indeed I had sat next to him on the bed, as he struggled and, for what seemed a tremendously long time, failed to control his coughing and choking and his body, with one arm around him and the other gripping the wastepaper bin, until his choking began to diminish and finally he stopped coughing all together.

 

I had ushered him off to wash whilst I changed the bed, after assuring him repeatedly it did not matter and anyone would have done the same - there is only so much control one can have under the circumstances my poor rabbit had suffered. And as I changed the bed I had felt quite, quite certain he would never wish to do it again.

 

However, my rabbit can still surprise me and the next day he insisted upon trying again - with far, far more success, and it was from that day his intense enjoyment and pleasure began to grow. Somewhat strangely he never wanted me to do as a gentleman does and warn him before I released.

 

He had blushed tremendously as he had stammered out that actually the surprise of experiencing my release in his mouth was part of the pleasure he got from making love to me in that way. Thus despite my natural instincts to warn him, I made certain I did not - at least I did not verbally. It is very difficult to control one's hands or the noises one makes when one is being loved quite so wonderfully, and when one is so close to satisfaction - so I believe he did have some slightly warning, but not enough to completely spoil the surprise that mattered so much to him.

 

As my body released into his mouth and he tightened the grip he had on my hand - the one thing he always did whether he took me into his mouth or I took him into mine, was to hold my hand - I cried his name, and as he swallowed around me I cried it for a second time.

 

After a few seconds he gently let me slip from his mouth, sat up and gazed at me. I held out my hand to him and moments later he was next to me in my arms, my mouth was on his, and my fingers were unbuttoning his trousers and drawers and within a very short time my hand was wet and so were his drawers as his release had been so fierce.

 

We never did go out to lunch; instead we retired to our bedroom and finally at about seven o'clock we bathed, shaved, changed and arm-in-arm left the Albany and went to the club for dinner.

 


 

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