As it is the second of January and I missed yesterday’s book of the day, today you get an extra book. I can’t deny I was hooked by the chest… er, cover.
Enlightenment, Book 2
David Lauriston couldn’t be less interested in King George IV’s first visit to Edinburgh. But with Faculty of Advocates members required to put on a minimal show of patriotism, David makes an appointment with his tailor for a new set of clothes—only to run into a man he hasn’t seen for two long years.
Lord Murdo Balfour.
Much has changed since their bitter parting, except their stormy attraction. And when Murdo suggests they enjoy each other’s company during his stay, David finds himself agreeing. After all, it’s only a temporary tryst.
Amidst the pomp and ceremony of the King’s visit, Murdo’s seduction is more powerful than David ever imagined possible. But when other figures from David’s past show up, he is drawn into a chain of events beyond his control. Where his determination to help a friend will break his body, threaten his career, and put at risk the fragile tenderness he’s found in Murdo’s arms.
Balfour stared at David for a long moment. Was he remembering their last conversation again? When Balfour had confirmed his intention to eventually marry, while continuing to enjoy male lovers at his whim.
“I intend to wed at some stage, yes,” Balfour said finally.
An entirely predictable statement, that. David felt suddenly flat.
Why was he sitting here? Why had he agreed to come here with Balfour in the first place? He should’ve declined the man’s invitation and gone home to tackle the work sitting on his desk.
Throwing back the rest of his whisky, he set his cup down on the table, very quietly and precisely, then glanced up and smiled pleasantly. “Well,” he said. “It was good to see you, Balfour, but I really must be going. I’ve a lot of work to do this evening.”
He scraped his chair back, moving to rise. Before he could do so, Balfour leaned forward and laid his hand on David’s forearm.
“Wait a moment,” he said. A faint frown drew his brows together. Those brows were dark against his pale skin; his eyes were too, black as ink. It was a wild, dramatic combination, the pale skin, the dark eyes. This close, David recalled, pointlessly, what it felt like to look into those eyes when they glittered with desire. Memory flooded him; his cock throbbed.
David jerked back, pulling his arm from Balfour’s grip even as he subsided back into his chair, ruining his pretence at cheerful unconcern. “I can’t stay,” he muttered. “I have things to do. Work.”
“I just—I need to tell you something,” Balfour persisted. “Though you may know already, I suppose.”
“What is it?”
“Your friend is in town,” Balfour said. “Euan MacLennan.”
David didn’t bother to hide his astonishment. “Euan?” he said at last. “Are you quite sure?”
Balfour regarded him calmly for a long moment. “You didn’t know.” It was a statement rather than a question, and his still, quiet face gave nothing away of what he made of the conclusion he’d reached.
“No. I haven’t seen him for a long time. Not since the night we spoke of earlier.”
On hearing that confirmation, something in Balfour seemed to relax, a faint tension in his shoulders easing. He leaned back in his chair again. “Have you any idea why he might be here? Has he written to you?”
David didn’t reply straightaway. A vague sense of unease settled over him. At last he said, carefully, “As I said, I’ve not seen him—not for two years. Nor have I heard from him in that time.”
He watched Balfour’s reaction more carefully this time, but the man never gave much away, and he didn’t now.
“That’s good to hear.” Balfour seemed to consider for a moment before adding, “You don’t want to be associated with him.”
David frowned. “Why would you say that?”
Balfour looked up at the ceiling, regarding its murky gloom for several seconds before he looked back at David. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but amongst the visitors to Edinburgh, there are a number of men—some of them Peel’s official men, some less official—who’ve been tasked with keeping an eye on certain unsavoury characters.”
Peel. Balfour meant Sir Robert Peel, David realised. The Home Secretary.
“Unsavoury characters? Euan’s an ‘unsavoury character’?”
“In Peel’s eyes, yes. He’s on a list I’ve seen.”
“A list,” David said slowly. “What kind of list?”
“A list of men Peel wants to keep his beady eye on during the King’s visit. MacLennan’s a known radical. I don’t know what he’s been doing precisely these last two years, but I gather there’s a file on him in Peel’s office. There are others on the list too, all kinds of potential troublemakers—anyone who might be a threat to the King and who’s known to have travelled north.”
“Why were you shown this list?” David asked, suspicion pricking at him.
Balfour shrugged. “My father’s a minister of government. I am his representative on this visit. As such, I’ve been made privy to certain information.”
“And why,” David continued, watching Balfour carefully, “are you telling me about it?”
Balfour didn’t answer straightaway. He picked up his cup and drank from it. Set it down again and sighed. Looked out the window.
Then, with his gaze still averted, he said quietly, “If you’re seen with MacLennan, it might affect you. Guilt by association. A suspicious rumour about your political leanings, and you may find your career suffers. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you. I wanted to…warn you.”
There was something melancholy about Balfour as he spoke, something sad about the slightly distant look he wore as he stared out the window. Then he turned back and gave a quick quirk of a smile. Bright and unconvincing. “And now I’ve been indiscreet enough. Please don’t mention what I’ve told you to anyone else, will you?”
David shook his head slowly. “No. No, I won’t. Though frankly, I doubt Euan will seek me out, given how we parted.”
Euan had been furious at David for depriving him of his chance of revenge.
There was a brief silence when they looked at each other, really looked. For the first time, David saw, not the amused and elegant exquisite that was Lord Murdo Balfour, but another man. A man with secret desires and perhaps secret griefs too.
Balfour was the first to look away. “I’ll let you go, then,” he said lightly. “Let you get back to your work. I know how important it is to you, and you must have a great deal to do if you’re contemplating spending the evening on it.”
If there was a trace of sarcasm in there, David chose to ignore it. He stood, and Balfour rose from his chair too, readying himself to bid David farewell.
God, but this was civilised. At their last meeting, two long years ago, they’d exchanged a barrage of harsh words. A kiss that left blood in David’s mouth.
I came to regret the way we parted…
A slow smile tugged at Balfour’s lips as they stood there, facing one another. The smile was so unexpected, it tripped David up for a moment.
“It was good to see you,” Balfour said softly, the tone of his deep voice uncharacteristically sincere, no trace of his usual mockery.
David nodded. Swallowed. “And you,” he said at last. He offered his hand, and, after a moment, Balfour took it. The man’s grip was warm and steady, and it grounded something in David.
“I would…like to see you again,” Balfour said then, his voice low.
David didn’t know what to say. He searched Balfour’s face and saw he was serious. “I don’t know—” he began. He recalled too easily the long, melancholy winter that had followed their last parting.
“You don’t need to give me an answer,” Balfour replied. “You know where my house is. Come anytime. I’ll be in town for the next month at least. I’ll instruct my servants to admit you, even if I am not there.”
He released David’s hand. Their arms fell to their respective sides, and they were separate again.
“I’ll think about it,” David said, after a pause.
He suspected he’d do little else.
He nodded at Balfour once; then he turned and walked out the tavern.
The door closed behind him. He lingered for a moment to turn his coat collar up against the drizzling rain before he began the short stroll to his rooms in the Lawnmarket.
As he paced up the street, he heard Balfour’s words in his mind again.
“I would like to see you again.”
I would like to see you again.
They were such commonplace words.
Such commonplace words to make him feel so utterly hollowed out.