adam lambert looking dubious

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

Sparrowhawk and Beeswax

written for the So Hot Out The Bed Valentine Challenge
with thanks to Nopseud for the beta

Small clothes. Shirts for a week, with two spares, just in case. Neckcloths. Stockings. Riding dress, shooting clothes, morning dress. Evening clothes… Adam's hands lingered over the beautiful white waistcoat embroidered with silver. It had never yet been worn, but then, here in the country there was hardly an occasion for such a fabulous waistcoat, whereas at Lord Carding's seat… He laid it out carefully, but added plain white and black waistcoats anyway. Shaving brushes, hairbrush, tooth powder, handkerchiefs, gloves…

It took an age to pack everything neatly, and he was going to be faced with hours of ironing when they arrived, but it was done. So long as he had not forgotten anything.

Gazing around the room with a frown, Adam could not notice anything that would need to go to Wilverley except the few personal items which would be needed this evening and tomorrow morning. Ah, yes. He removed the hairbrush and shaving items and placed them back on the dressing shelf. So, a week at Wilverley. Shooting, certainly—Adam did not see the point of shooting, it would be far more efficient and less noisy if the gamekeeper simply dispatched the birds when they were wanted for the table as though they were ordinary fowl. Shooting them did no more than add pellets to the meat, and give the dogs something to do. Such a waste of time. But although the party had not been described as a shooting party, at this time of year sport would be a popular part of the week's activities, at least for the gentlemen. Ah, yes, the shot belt.

He was nodding to himself with satisfaction when the door opened behind him.

"Adams, what—ah, of course. Packing for the expedition."

"Yes, sir."

"I suppose you've packed that dratted waistcoat with the silver brocade," Mr Allen continued in a reproachful tone. "You may as well take it out. Lord Carding has a reputation as a bit of an old-fashioned sort when it comes to evening dress. I won't be wearing it."

"But, sir, you never have worn it," Adam said, almost beseeching. Really, it was by far the handsomest of his master's waistcoats, and deserved to be seen.

"I should never have let you talk me into buying such a thing," Mr Allen told him. "It isn't at all in my style, and well you know it."

"You looked very fine, when you tried it on," Adam reminded him. "You have the figure to carry it off."

"That's as may be, but I don't have the desire. Take it out."

Adam did as he was told, but he drooped like a kicked puppy as he delved through the trunk. Behind him, his master sighed.

"All right, I'll wear it this evening. Just for you."

Adam was about to remonstrate that it was a shocking waste of a fabulous garment to let it shine out in a mere family setting on an evening of no particular significance, but he caught himself in time. If Mr Allen wore the waistcoat, perhaps his mother would praise it, perhaps his brother would make some envious remark, which could lead to the waistcoat making another appearance for a more appropriate event.

He laid it out alongside the evening garments kept ready for this evening.

Adam was nervous about the stay at Lord Carding's country seat. There must be so many possible ways in which things could go wrong, and he did not know what they were.

He'd cheated his way into the position of valet, that was the trouble. A carefully judged letter of recommendation in his own name and a fortuitously timed arrival, and he had the job. Mr Christopher Allen, elder son of a prosperous country squire, was not blessed with the ambition to make a figure in the world of fashion, and indeed was not greatly interested in his clothes, provided they were comfortable, and this was just as well, since it had taken Adam longer than he had anticipated to learn to keep his master's wardrobe in proper order.

Adam had found it a lot more difficult than he had expected to fit in with the life of a servant. Always to rise before his master, always to be ready for the unexpected, and his leisure time parcelled out in small pieces, an hour or two here and there while Mr Allen was out or at dinner, but always curtailed by the need to be ready for his master's summons to help him change, except for the one day a month which he had to himself. And then there was the ironing! Cleaning boots was one thing, but the ironing…

Neither had he entirely reckoned with the difficulties of working for such a master as Mr Allen. Mr Allen, who had the sweetest smile in the world, whose eyes gleamed with fun, whose deep voice was always full of humour. Mr Allen, who followed Beau Brummel's strictures on cleanliness and took regular baths. Adam was required to attend him, to pour hot water down his back, to enwrap him in a large drying-cloth when he was done. Adam was required to think very carefully about mud, pustules and disembowelled things in order not to notice his master's lovely body, compact and muscular and perfect. In addition, consideration of the disaster that would result if Mr Allen—Christopher—ever noticed how… interested Adam was in his bathing, was something of a deterrent. But it was, Adam reflected, hard.

Still, life at Conway Park was quiet and he had picked up most of the skills he needed without alienating the other household servants. Who were, in fact, helpful and kind to him, by and large, although Cheam, the butler, had been extremely suspicious of Adam's natural friendliness at first, particularly when it was applied to the housemaids. Adam had never really thought about servants before, he'd just taken them for granted and never noticed that they were people just like himself, or understood how hard they had to work.

Still, it wasn't a bad life, all things considered.

Wilverley, though, that would be another matter. He could be caught out at any time.

Sitting in the curricle with his master (Mr and Mrs Allen and their personal attendants had taken the travelling carriage, but the young master preferred to drive himself), Adam hoped he would be able to keep up correct appearances. Herring would help. Valet to the senior Mr Allen, Herring was a comfortable, middle-aged man, nowhere near as austere as Lord Carding's own valet would undoubtedly be, and he'd been kind enough to show Adam many of the tricks a valet needed. But still. He could be caught out.


His master turned wide, alarmed brown eyes to Adam. "This place is terrifying! It must be four times the size of Conway Park. I shall be forever getting lost."

Me, too, Adam thought. He was going to trot up and down the stairs several times—once his master was changed and ready to join the company—and get the geography of this magnificent house into his head. No valet worth his salt would wander around helplessly in search of his master's room when the bell had been rung.

He checked Mr Allen's neckcloth, twitched a fold fastidiously back to perfection, plucked an imaginary speck of fluff from the shoulder of his fine dark blue coat, and sent him off in as confident a mood as could be achieved in the son of a country squire at his first aristocratic house party. Mrs Allen, Adam gathered, was a distant connection of Lady Carding, and they had kept up a correspondence, hence the very flattering invitation.

So Adam went to the sleeping quarters assigned to himself, a tiny room three floors higher, and to be shared with Herring. Who snored. The family's guests could be assured of their own bed chambers, but no such courtesy was necessary for the servants, he found. At home—at Conway Park—he had his own room, but here he was one of a throng, and as the valet to nobody-in-particular, rather further down the hierarchy than he was used to being.

Dutifully, he several times found his way to Mr Allen's room, to the main staircase, and by the servants' stair as far as the kitchen, until he was confident he would not get completely lost when next he was summoned. This house was indeed enormous.

He'd need to press Mr Allen's shirts and neckcloths again, since nothing could survive packing without a little damage. And he might as well, he supposed, discover how the laundry was arranged here at Wilverley, so he made his way downstairs bearing the discarded neckcloth from the journey in the hopes of finding a friendly maid. A couple of footmen passed him with slight acknowledgments, but he had no chance to make enquiries of them, and a few moments later paused in the empty corridor wondering irresolutely what to do.

"I don't think much of him, not much at all," came a female voice from a side room (which Adam would later discover was the Housekeeper's personal domain). "Not what I call a valet. There's something funny about him, you mark my words."

"I saw him wandering about the house where he'd no business being, Mrs Morecambe," came a grave voice which Adam thought was probably Biddenham, the intimidating butler. "Wandering about, when his master's bell had been ten minutes ringing."

Oh, no! Adam thought, horrified. Not only had he given himself away, he'd managed to ignore Mr Allen's summons. But the voices continued.

"You should have seen him with the flat-iron, Mr Biddenham. He looked at it as though he didn't know one end from t'other. And that shirt, Mr Biddenham, that shirt when he'd ironed it was a disgrace. Mr Brett would have slit his own throat sooner than take a shirt so creased for his lordship to wear. Not a proper valet at all, not to my mind, he isn't."

Wait, Adam thought. That couldn't be him. They couldn't be talking of him. He hadn't done any ironing yet.

"We mustn't be too harsh, Mrs Morecambe. He may be new to his calling. After all, every valet must begin somewhere. And it would appear that Sir William Dunstan is not as exacting a master as one could wish."

"Well, that's true enough. Very easy in his ways, is Sir William. I believe he was invited for the shooting."

"It is my understanding that his lordship has some negotiations in hand with Sir William."

"Oh, well then," the housekeeper finished with a dismissive sniff.

Adam moved swiftly along the corridor, and soon located a housemaid. He was unnerved by what he'd overheard. It went to prove what he had suspected—that it was going to be more difficult to convince the servants here that he belonged among them. He would have to be extremely careful, and very charming indeed.

At least he knew how to handle an iron.

As the assembled servants sat down to dinner that evening (in strict order of precedence, of course), Adam tried to work out which of the other valets was the one who knew less about valeting than he himself did. He could not tell. Everyone's clothing was neat and dull, just as his own was. At home, Mr Allen did not object to Adam wearing a more dashing waistcoat, but he had thought it imprudent to bring such garments here. Best to blend in, which he was doing quite successfully so far.

The valet seated opposite Adam introduced himself as Smart, ("Couldn't find a better profession, really, now could I?") and began to quiz Adam on Mr Allen's suitability as a master for a valet with ambitions. Adam had to admit, somewhat ruefully, that although his master was admirably qualified by his face and figure to cut a dash in the world of fashion, he had no ambition to do so.

"Dear me! You'll be looking for a better position, then, perhaps when Mr Allen goes to London for a season?"

"If he does…" Adam said, wistfully, then caught himself up. He had no desire to visit the capital under any circumstances. Besides, he was very conscious of Kimpton, Mrs Allen's maid, on his left, and Herring just beyond her. "I think Mr Allen is very happy with life as a country gentleman. Provided he can find himself a wife from among his acquaintance, I doubt he will consider it necessary to go up to Town."

"And are you content with a country life, Mr Adams?" the maid on his left inquired.

"It suits me very well," he said, firmly.

"Oh. Do you perhaps have family locally? Do your relations also work for the Allen family?"

"Er, no," Adam said. "My family are in Shropshire." He remembered the frozen horror he'd felt when the staff at Conway Park had asked these very questions. He'd been quite unable to think, and had blurted out what seemed at the time to be very foolish answers. But it had probably been just as well he'd used something of the truth, since one of the kitchen maids had relatives in Shropshire and had recognised the name of the village he'd claimed as background. It had given his story a little extra authenticity.

"Are they also in service?"

"Oh. My younger brother works for a Mr Mitchell. A very quiet, old-fashioned family."

A young man seated a little way along the table turned his head sharply at this information, and gave Adam a brief, assessing look. But he seemed to make nothing of it, and turned back to his neighbour. The maid who had been interrogating Adam looked disappointed. "Isn't there any grand families in Shropshire?" she asked.

"Now, Martha. We can't expect everybody to have the opportunities you have," said the housekeeper, rather sharply. "There's aristocracy in every county, but not so many as all that, and there's plenty of respectable families needing servants."

"There's Lord Berrington has a place in Shropshire," mused the stately Biddenham. "And, let me think, Viscount Telford, and Sir Robert Kynnersley, and of course the Earl of Albaston."

"Ah, the Earl of Albaston. Such a sad business. I suppose the only young men connected with the best families were already supplied with personal servants when you were seeking employment," Mr Smart said. "And of course one needs to have the right connections. But you should be looking to move on." Smart began to talk of his own ambitions, Mr Frodesley's employ being apparently a mere stepping stone in his projected career. He was a very pompous fellow, and from the waxen expression in the butler's eyes, not impressing the senior servants much, but Adam was grateful to him for turning the conversation.

Adam seemed to have passed muster. Relieved, he applied himself to the very good dinner, and let the conversation flow around him.

Adam was feeling much more confident the following morning. After seeing his master out to spend a couple of hours shooting, he went down to the servants' hall with Mr Allen's riding boots and his cloths and polish.

There were three other valets in the small room set aside for such purposes, all busily applying polish and elbow grease. He was a little disappointed that Herring was not among them. It would be comforting to talk to someone familiar. Smart, the pompous fellow from dinner, was finished first and took himself off, then another of the valets, a quiet man with greying hair who was, Adam thought, the personal attendant to Lord Carding himself, nodded to them both and bore his selection of footwear away. That left only a young man with fair-brown hair and a slightly regrettable waistcoat, labouring ineffectually at a pair of boots which had clearly seen better days, or else been neglected rather shamefully.

Adam admired the boot in his own hands, which now gleamed with a perfect gloss. He set it down, careful not to besmirch the immaculate surface with fingerprints, and picked up the other.

"You seem to have the knack for this," the young man remarked. He had very striking eyes, Adam noticed, pale greenish grey or possibly hazel, outlined with a dark ring around the iris. His narrow face was nothing out of the ordinary, his figure neat and unremarkable, but those eyes would be hard to forget.

"You have to work the polish into the leather," he replied with a quick smile. "What kind of preparation do you use?" He nodded towards the small pot next to the other man. "I'm Adams, by the way, I work for Mr Allen, the younger Mr Allen, of Conway Park."

"I'm Hawkes. It's just boot polish, what else is there?"

"That may be your problem," Adam said. "I only use the very best beeswax." And a tiny pinch of the indigo concoction he used to dye his hair, but he wasn't going to mention that. A valet needed some secrets, after all. "It's mixed with a little oil, so it's easy to work. If you bought an ordinary polish it was likely made with slumgum instead of good wax."

"And I thought the mystique about shiny boots was just so much nonsense put about by valets in general to inflate their own sense of importance."

Adam was taken aback, not just by the words but by the faintly antagonistic tone. "Every profession has its secrets," he said.

"Secrets. Yes, indeed." Those extraordinary eyes were looking at him now in a quite unsettling way. "Wouldn't do to tell people your secrets, would it?"

"You can try a little of my polish, if you like." Adam held the pot towards the other man, hoping to disarm him.

"Polish?" Hawkes dropped the boot he was holding and was across the room in a second. Mere inches from Adam, he looked up into Adam's eyes. "Is that what we call it now?" And he was just the right height, the same height as Christopher, the same slim build, and his fierce attitude was knocking at some hidden spots in the depths of Adam's mind. Like a little falcon, Adam thought, a sparrowhawk. Yes.

He must not betray himself. It would shame Mr Allen as well as himself. "I don't—I—what?" he managed.

"I think you do, though. I think you do." Hawkes stepped back. "I think you will." He sat down, picked up a boot and began polishing again, with apparently no further interest in Adam.

Thoroughly unsettled, Adam finished Mr Allen's riding boots and fled.

He hid in his employer's room, rearranging the wardrobe and re-tidying the dressing table until Mr Allen walked in, flushed and smiling with pride at having acquitted himself so well that Lord Carding himself had complimented him on his shooting.

"I'll wear riding dress, Adams, it's a fine day and there was talk of exploring the grounds this afternoon. Are you finding your way about all right? There must be a lot of bustle here, with so many visitors to be looked after."

Christopher Allen was a thoroughly nice young man, Adam thought, not for the first time. He would never launch an attack on a person, out of the blue…

There was leisure for a little gossip with the Wilverley servants during the afternoon, while the ladies and gentlemen entertained one another. Adam was soon on friendly terms with several of the junior members of the staff, and had been invited to take the air in the kitchen garden if he wanted to refresh himself with a little sunshine. He donned a broad-brimmed hat before venturing outside, for the autumn day was bright and warm and he had no desire to break out in a profusion of freckles.

The kitchen gardens were extensive, and so neat and orderly they might have been mistaken for a formal garden. Adam waved to the lone gardener toiling over one of the beds, and strolled along with great interest. There was also a handsome pinery, from which Mrs Morecambe had explained that they obtained the very finest grapes and pineapples in the country. Even the small wooden huts which housed garden tools and suchlike were plainly kept in good order.

As he began to walk back towards the house, Adam spotted a familiar figure at the far extreme of the kitchen garden. It was Hawkes, talking to—no, Adam couldn't tell who he was talking to. He stifled an unexpected twinge of annoyance. Hawkes had every right to take the air, as he was doing himself. Only he was there, and now Adam had to think about him, which he'd been trying very hard not to do, trying very hard not to think about what he'd meant and whether he was serious and what Adam could do with him if they ever again had a moment alone together.

If only he hadn't been so surprised. If only he'd had an inkling beforehand, he could have responded better, he could have done… something. Because Adam knew what Hawkes had meant, and knew he had been serious, because nobody who didn't mean it would ever, ever make such advances. It was far too dangerous. And Adam did like bold, fierce young men who held their heads up and looked him right in the eye. At least, he knew he did not like the vapid little flowers who'd been presented to him in that house in London, with their painted faces and drooping limbs. He wanted spice, not langour. Strength. Somebody he couldn't overpower without a struggle.

Adam splashed his face in the cold water of the kitchen pump before putting on a kettle to heat for his employer's ablutions.

"Oh, Adams!" Mr Allen's face was ablaze with the biggest grin Adam had ever seen. He was adorable. "There's this girl!" He collapsed back onto the bed and lay there, grinning at the ceiling. "Her grandfather's an Irish peer, and this is the first time she's been to England, they spent last night in Liverpool and she said the noise of the city was quite terrifying, and her smile, Adams, her smile, and she—oh, I can't tell you!" He sat up. "I wonder if she'll be my dinner partner? And Miss Saltash, no, Miss Elizabeth Saltash, it was the younger sister, said they wanted to get up a little dancing this evening, if someone will play. Oh, I must be clean and fresh for dinner. Is it possible to arrange a bath?"

"It is very difficult to arrange a bath," Adam said, loftily, "but I have contrived it."

"What an excellent fellow you are," Mr Allen said.

Several hours later, Mr Allen was even more incandescent, and babbled ceaselessly about the adorable Miss O'Connell until he was undressed, nightshirted and in bed.

There was an ache in Adam's heart as he closed the door, a soft, gentle ache of regret for lost dreams rather than lost possibilities, but still, an ache. But he smiled to himself as he mounted the stairs to the servants' quarters, because it was sweet to see Christopher so excitedly and completely in love.

As he made for his room, Hawkes emerged from another doorway.

They stared at one another in silence.

Then Adam had Hawkes pressed against the wall, off-balance with Adam's thigh between his legs. "Well?" he said, very quietly. Hawkes said nothing, just glared at him from those extraordinary eyes, defying him, challenging him. So. Adam threaded one hand through Hawkes' pale brown hair, twisted a grip, and brought his face up to kiss. Kissed him hard, thrusting his tongue into the other man's mouth, demanding that he open up for more. Hawkes did open up, and pushed back, biting at Adam's lips, pulling his hips closer, rutting against him.

The sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs made them break apart, breathless. Hawkes looked up at Adam with a tiny smirk of satisfaction, then broke for his room, and Adam hurried along to his own sleeping quarters.

Herring was already in bed, his light snores a very welcome sound. Adam got himself silently to bed, and lay there with his hand to his cock, thinking of a fierce sparrowhawk of a boy with beautiful eyes until he clenched his teeth on the bedcover and spilled into his hand, then slept.


The day's routine seemed so dull now that Adam had something more exciting to think about. Would he be alone with Sparrowhawk again? Could they—what could they do together? He was quite lost in thought as he attended to the press ing of shirt and neckcloth, and was lucky not to singe the fine lawn. Then Hawkes was not present when Adam polished those riding boots, and he looked at the glossy leather with a dissatisfaction that caused Mr Brett, his lordship's valet, to give him an approbatory nod. Adam did not at all mind being approved of by such a senior member of the household, but he could not feel he deserved it.

Mr Allen was in a high state of excitement as he changed out of his shooting gear and assured Adam that he might consider himself free all afternoon. Off to keep company with Miss O'Connell, Adam could tell—he had discovered her name from the gossip in the servants' hall that morning; Kimpton, Mrs Allen's personal servant, and two of the very superior ladies' maids attached to the Wilverley household, had been discussing the attachment as a most suitable one. Adam had not yet caught a glimpse of the young lady in question, but, he supposed, if Mr Allen were to marry her he would soon see plenty of her.

Sometimes he looked at his future, growing middle-aged and old in the service of a country squire, and longed to escape. But he had nowhere else to go, and there were worse fates.

The autumn sunshine continued. Adam appreciated it, really, but decided to make for a shady path, and obtained information that genteel persons staying at Wilverley were wont to make use of the paths on the western side of the grounds, leaving the wooded area beyond the kitchen garden mostly untrodden. He dawdled through the kitchen garden, therefore, until he noticed the slender figure he had been waiting for, a little way behind him, at which point Adam set out for the trees at a purposeful pace.

He was not disappointed. A crackle of twigs told him Hawkes had followed. A tilted chin, a defiant look, and Adam had him backed against a broad elm tree for a repeat of yesterday's kiss, only today there was nobody to interrupt them. The noisy twigs and crisp fallen leaves would give them plenty of warning of any approach.

They kissed feverishly, both intent on seizing every drop of pleasure from this moment. Adam stroked Hawkes' neck and jaw, drew him close, closer, gripped his waist then his hips and pressed him closer still, sparks of pleasure shooting through him at the contact of their hard cocks through their breeches, and the confident exploration of Hawkes' hand against Adam's buttocks. As though an order had been spoken they pulled apart, then, and began to tear at the fastenings of one another's breeches so that they stood there, exposed and erect, and each grasped the other's hot shaft as their mouths met again and they battled for release.

Hawkes surrendered first, a moan into Adam's mouth and silky wetness all over his hand, and Adam groaned as Hawkes pulled free of his grip and sank down, sank to his knees and slid his clever mouth onto Adam's aching cock. Adam had only enough awareness left to keep his slicked hand free of his own clothes and Hawkes' hair; with his left hand he petted this beautiful, incredible boy and murmured incoherent praise until all too quickly he spent himself into that sweet mouth. Hawkes coughed in surprise, but was licking his lips as he stood.

Adam stared. "Dear heaven, I want you again," he said involuntarily.

"Then you've greater powers of recovery than any man I ever knew," Hawkes retorted, but with a grin that transformed his features from ordinary to adorable in an instant. "I can't—indeed, I'm not sure I can walk as far as the house."

"Then let's sit here for a while." Adam wiped his sticky hand on the grass as best he could. Next time he would follow Hawkes' example. He did up his breeches and sat, pleased to have worn his dark green coat. Grass stains would not be too hard to deal with.

"I was expecting," Hawkes said as he put himself to rights, "to find a thicket of black hair, but instead there's a burning bush. A most interesting surprise."

Adam blushed, another redhead's curse. "Nobody wants to hire a red-headed valet," he said, answering the implicit question. It wasn't the whole truth but it wasn't a lie, either. "And I think black suits me."

"It does," said Hawkes."You look—well. Very well."

"But I don't understand how you knew that I, that this was what I wanted."

"I hoped. I gambled."

"The consequences, though, if you had been wrong."

Hawkes shrugged. "I enjoy taking risks."

Adam smiled, and opened his mouth to compliment his little sparrowhawk's bravery, but was ambushed by a mighty yawn which cracked his jaw. "Ow!"

"That's the trouble with being a domestic servant," Hawkes said. "Never enough sleep."

"I did think about taking a nap this afternoon," Adam admitted, "but…"

"Quite." There was that smile again. "And there's no privacy either, for—I mean, if it were to rain, we couldn't."

"Then," Adam said with determination, "we shall have to take our chances when we can."

"Yes." Hawkes looked down at the tuft of grass he was tugging. "We only have few days."

It was a cold, sad thought. This heat, this incredible passion, and in seven days from now it would be extinguished, probably for ever. There seemed little likelihood that Sir William Dunstan would visit Conway Park, or that Mr Allen would have occasion to visit Sir William. He would never see those beautiful eyes again.

Adam shivered. "Then, while we can," he said, and pulled Hawkes to him.

"No shooting tomorrow," Mr Allen said as Adam helped him slide out of his form-fitting evening coat. "There's to be an expedition to visit the caves at Cheddar. So long as it doesn't rain." He frowned in worry. "Do you think it will rain?"

"I spoke to one of the gardeners today," Adam said. "He said the weather will hold for at least two more days, possibly to the end of our stay."

"I wonder if he's right."

"He said he'd been working here, man and boy, for fifty years," Adam said. "I expect he knows the signs."

Mr Allen—Christopher—grinned at him joyfully. "I'll want my best riding dress," he said. "I'm taking the curricle."

"And will you be driving Miss O'Connell?"

An enormous smile was the only answer.

There were, Adam saw with dismay, distinct grass stains on the tails of his green coat. He bore it swiftly downstairs to see what might be done. Herring, heavy eyed, was already preparing for bed, and promised to leave the candle burning.

Most of the household had retired to bed, but it seemed that a handful of the senior gentlemen had only just folded their cards and taken their money from the table. Adam deferred most politely to all the valets, even to Sir William Dunstan's man, who shot him a very pointed look as he went past. Soon they were gone, leaving him to work on the stains in solitude until the door opened and Hawkes slipped back into the room. Adam gave him no chance to speak, but pounced at once and had his shirt and breeches open in no time. As they kissed, Adam's hands mapped Hawkes' skin, slid over the tiny taut points of his nipples and the plane of his stomach and down the sweet hollows at his hips.

Adam dropped to his knees, careful on the stone floor, and took Sparrowhawk's cock eagerly into his mouth. He sucked hungrily, not daring to take his time and enjoy this to the full, someone might still be about, so he worked Hawkes ruthlessly with his mouth. It was messy, it was wicked, it filled him almost to choking and it was glorious. This, this was what he'd been waiting for, the hard heat of it, the silken texture on his tongue, the taste of salt. Stifled groans and a helpless, fluttering caress on his hair, and he looked up to see that Hawkes had his own hand clamped across his mouth to hold in the sounds he could not help but make.

The fingers in Adam's hair tightened, the cock spasmed in his mouth, and there was a gush of hot, briny fluid. He swallowed, and again, and licked his boy clean.

Adam's own cock was swollen against his breeches. Could they—dared they—yes, for Hawkes slid down in front of him. Adam kissed him, gave him his own taste on Adam's tongue. Held him tight, as though he might die of pleasure from no more than kisses, but his Sparrowhawk struggled free and began to unfasten Adam's clothes. Adam brought his legs round, spread them wide and gave himself up to Hawkes' wonderful mouth again. It did not take long.

"Tomorrow," he whispered into Hawkes' hair, "is your master off to the caves with everyone else?"

"He is," Hawkes murmured. "Convenient, that."

"Perhaps we'll find a bed," Adam said.

They staggered up the many, painfully many flights of stairs and parted with a last, silent caress. Adam undressed with hardly a thought for neatness, fell into his narrow bed, blew out the candle and was asleep at once.


Refreshed and most eager to get on with this new day, Adam bounded out of bed and was dressed before he even noticed that Mr Herring, who usually contrived to be ready before him no matter how quickly Adam tried to prepare himself, was still in bed.

There was a low groan.

Adam looked at Herring in consternation. The older valet looked grey and pinched, and as he struggled to sit up, brought his hand quickly to his mouth as though he was about to—Adam seized the nearest basin and thrust it onto Herring's lap just in time.

How nice.

But the poor fellow really did look dreadful. "Mr Herring, I think you had better lie down again."

Herring lapsed back into his pillow. "I must get up," he said, feebly. "Mr Allen will be needing me."

"Is it one of your headaches?" Adam remembered Mrs Poulter, the cook at Conway Park, discussing what might be done for poor Mr Herring when he had one of his heads. "I'm sure Mr Allen will excuse you. I can take care of him, at least for this morning. Perhaps you will be better by the time everyone is home again and dressing for dinner."

"I—I should—oh, dear," Herring said. "I don't think I can… please, tell Mr Allen…."

"Of course. Now, don't worry. I can manage," Adam said. He had better get a move on, with two gentlemen to dress today.

Of course, both the Allen gentlemen were true gentlemen, who understood that when a servant was ill it was not by laziness, design or malice. Still, they were used to being taken care of, so Adam had to hurry up and down those stairs very fast indeed to get the shaving water up to their rooms. At this time of day all the servants in the house were on the bustle, so there was no chance of a spare lad to help him fetch and carry. He laid out his own master's clothes first as it could be done swiftly, then hastened to familiarise himself with the elder Mr Allen's wardrobe and to lay out an appropriate selection. The dark plum coat and the buff waistcoat with dark red trim, he thought. Naturally, Herring kept everything in excellent order and there was nothing unexpected to be coped with. But he drew a great sigh of relief when both his masters trotted happily down to breakfast. He'd need to be there as they left with their hats, gloves, driving coats…

Meanwhile, perhaps he should see if Herring might like a cup of tea?

Adam's high hopes for the day were not to come to pass. Herring asked only to be left in peace in a darkened room, but what with Mrs Morecambe's advice on the care of headaches—which somehow involved Adam in carrying possets and pastilles and cups of broth up to their room—and the extra tasks he now had to undertake to ensure that both Mr Allens were kept in good order, he had very little free time until well after noon.

He managed to persuade one of the kitchen maids to find him some bread and cheese, and escaped with this into the kitchen garden, hoping to find Hawkes. After twenty minutes of wandering and idle conversation with such persons as he encountered, he was about to give up hope when he spotted Hawkes emerging from the kitchen door. He was carrying something, which, when Adam caught up with him, turned out to be letters, which he proposed to take to the post office in Great Wilver, some four and a half miles away.

"I don't think the gentlefolk will be back within three hours, so there's plenty of time to make the walk," Hawkes said.

"May I come with you? I yearn for exercise that does not involve stairs," Adam said.

"How is the invalid?" Hawkes asked as they set off. "Any better?"

"He is asleep, and I'm sure that is the best thing for him." Poor Herring, he did look ill. "So, the post office. Letters for your family?"

"No." Hawkes was silent for a moment. "I don't think I am cut out for life as a valet, even to such an easy-going master as mine. I must apply for other positions. And I—I have no family."


"My mother died when I was small, and none of my siblings survived. As for my father," Hawkes drew in a breath, "my father was steward to the—on an estate in Yorkshire. He had me tutored, I can read and write a fair hand and I know how to keep accounts. It was his hope that I should succeed him as steward, but a few years ago he fell ill and was unable to work for several months. By the time he was recovered enough to return, the under-steward had been given the job and my father had nothing."

"Nothing? Then—what did he do? What did you do?"

"He had a little saved, not much, after paying for my education, and he was given the use of a small cottage on the estate while he lived. Not a comfortable home, but it was a roof over our heads. Sometimes we had work as beaters, or in the fields, occasionally some other task would come his way. It was not easy, and I think it killed him to be unable to work. He died three years ago."

"I am so sorry." Adam was horrified. He had never considered what might happen to an employee who could not work and had no family but a young son to care for him. No wonder Hawkes was strong—he'd had to be.

"I dare say we were lucky to be given the cottage," Hawkes continued, bitterly. "But it was only for my father's lifetime. On the day of his funeral I had to have the place cleared. Everything went to auction. Not that there was much…"

"And—and since then, you have been working for Sir William?"

"Oh, no, I've been here and there. Labouring, clerking, and then for a while I was under-steward for a nice little place in Gloucestershire."

"And you hope to find a similar position?" Adam guessed.

"Yes. It's what I'm best suited to. And being a valet is so confoundedly dull! I beg your pardon, I dare say not dull for everyone, but it's not for me. There's so much more variety in the life of a steward. And so much less ironing."

Ah, the ironing. "But such positions are hard to obtain."

"Any position is hard to obtain when one has no connections. I was never employed as a professional man by the Yorkshire family, you see, so there was nobody there who cared to recommend me."

Adam remembered how he had obtained his place with Mr Allen, and felt a great deal of sympathy.

"Although I hope my present employer will be pleased with my service," Hawkes said, and smiled ruefully. "Anyway, I shall post my letters and say my prayers."

"If I hear of anything," Adam said, rather helplessly, "I can… I suppose I can write to you at Sir William's home in, er?"

"Gloucester," Hawkes supplied. "I doubt I shall be there very much longer."

"You could write to me," Adam suggested tentatively, "to let me know if you obtain another position."

"Adam, no. We have a week." Hawkes sighed. "Let's not pretend it could be more than that."

Hawkes took his letters to the post office while Adam discovered a quiet corner in The Bull and ordered ale for them both. They talked about nothing very much for a few minutes, then set out to walk back to Wilverley. Less than half a mile along the road, they stood aside at the sound of approaching wheels, but the carter paused and offered to take them up, if they didn't mind sitting behind. The two of them scrambled onto the back of the cart, whose load, Adam was pleased to discover, was something inoffensive in burlap sacking, and they sat, legs dangling over the road, and were carried all the way to Wilverley.

Adam let the back of his hand brush over Hawkes' hand. "This isn't quite the day I had planned," he murmured.

"Nor I. I would have put off my letters until tomorrow, but you were busy with your invalid, and they did need to be written."

"I'd been hoping…" Adam checked, but the carter was whistling tunelessly (how it grated!) and not paying them any attention. Still, he lowered his voice even further. "I wanted—I want to fuck you. I want my cock inside you."

"Yes," Hawkes said. "Dear God, yes. I want—but I don't know when we can—or where…"

Adam grasped his hand firmly. "Somehow. We will find a time and place, somehow. Perhaps before our gentlemen return from their trip."

"Perhaps. Only, Stearns—Sir Thomas Billinghurst's man, he shares my sleeping quarters—is most likely asleep in our room. He likes to sleep for an hour or two every afternoon. And you have an invalid in yours."

They stared at one another in frustration.

"I think we'd better talk of something else," Hawkes said, with a grin. "Otherwise we'll find ourselves rutting on top of these sacks, and I daresay that would be most uncomfortable. Not to mention how it'd startle the driver."

The carriages had not yet returned when the carter unloaded his passengers in the stable-yard, so they went to explore the pinery and spent several very satisfactory minutes kissing under the cover afforded by its trailing vines. But, work must be done, and Adam was already feeling a little guilty about leaving Herring unattended for so long, so they separately returned to the house.

Herring was still asleep. Adam made no attempt to wake him, simply went straight to his charges' rooms to lay out evening dress for tonight. There'd be baths wanted, and he would have to fight for his share of the hot water.

"I suppose you didn't bring that silver brocaded waistcoat after all?" Mr Christopher Allen asked him, somewhat apologetically. "No, no, of course you didn't. Never mind." Adam stared at him in disbelief, and his employer grinned. "It seems that pleasing Lord Carding is no longer my first priority," Mr Allen admitted. Adam laughed, shook his head, helped him dress in his plain white waistcoat and black coat, and sent him off to the drawing room while he hurried along to the senior Mr Allen's room to repeat the process.

Mrs Morecambe had cajoled the irascible French chef who ruled the kitchen into permitting her to make gruel. When Adam took it upstairs, Herring was awake, sitting up, and looking much less grey. He took the unappetising bowl with quiet thanks, inquired closely as to how Adam had coped with attending to both masters, and seemed satisfied. At least, he did not argue when Adam told him firmly that he should not attempt to get up to undress his master, Adam would see to everything.

As a result, of course, Adam had two sets of cave-splashed footwear to clean and polish. He was not sure there would be time to deal with them in the morning, if Herring was not properly better, so they must be polished tonight, and since Mr Allen retired early to bed, and his own master's bell rang as soon as he had returned downstairs and picked up his polishing cloth, it was not until very late that he managed to take up the task.

He discovered Smart, Hawkes and another valet whose name he could not remember, industriously polishing footwear. Smart was, as usual, recounting some anecdote about—oh, Adam didn't care. He sat, spread his apron across his knees and picked up the first boot to brush off any remaining dirt. He reached for the pot of beeswax polish, dipped two fingers in and warmed the blob of wax between his palms until it was—oh! Oh.


He spread the polish and began working it into the boot. Thinking about working the beeswax, coating his fingers with it, sliding into Sparrowhawk, slick and tight. His eyes flickered up to meet Hawkes' glance, and he gave a tiny smile, caressing the leather with his two fingers, stroking the polish along it. He saw the flicker of tension in the muscles' of Hawkes' fine-boned face, and knew his thought had been shared.

The unknown valet stood, said, "Goodnight, gentlemen," and left the room. Now there was only Smart, talking about Bath now. Who cared about Bath? Bath was an old-fashioned place, fit for the elderly and the dull. If Smart's employer was anything like his valet, he belonged there, for he was certainly dull. Adam continued to minister to his master's boots, working the wax deep into the leather, but all the while thinking of fucking Hawkes. Of stripping him naked, stroking that slender, muscled body, his thighs, his arms, the pale curves of his arse. Of pressing him down into a mattress or a pile of leaves, spreading his legs wide. Of slipping a finger gently inside him, playing with the tight ring of his entrance, making him shift and swear and plead, so that Adam could work two fingers inside and stretch him carefully, get him ready and eager for Adam's cock.

He was going to do everything in his power to please Hawkes. Kiss every inch of his skin. Lick his lovely cock and stroke his balls. Tease and caress him until he begged to be fucked, then take care of him, slide in slowly, let him feel every inch. Adam imagined Hawkes' face, his expressions—surprise, probably, and pleasure, and ecstasy; how his beautiful eyes would look, wide with excitement and surrender.

Both pairs of boots were waxed, and still that wretched man was talking about taking the waters. Adam could only be thankful for the apron, and the boot in his lap. He reached for the cloth and began to buff. Was it a mistake to make occasional corroborative noises? Perhaps it only encouraged the tiresome fellow to keep talking—but Adam hated to be rude, and Smart had no idea he was so very much in the way. Oh, had he finished at last?

"I will be sure to remember it, should Sir William ever visit Bath," Hawkes said, politely but in a voice that did not encourage further reminiscence.

Smart fussed over his boots for a moment longer, declared, "Now, that is a shine, if I say so myself," and bid them both goodnight.

The instant the door closed, Adam ripped off his apron and was across the room. "I thought he'd never be done with his wittering," he said, and pulled Hawkes to him. "God, I want you so much."

"Yes, yes," Hawkes said between kisses, "now, please, fuck me now." He dragged his hands down from Adam's shoulders and undid his own breeches, wriggled them down to his thighs. "Thinking about this, want you, please, please." His wicked hands were at Adam's groin, outlining Adam's cock in a proud line against his clothes, then he pulled it free of Adam's breeches and bowed to lick an eager stripe up the swollen length, and Adam was about to spend, this was too much. He thrust Hawkes away and grabbed the pot of beeswax from the bench beside his seat. Carelessly lavish, he anointed his cock and spread more onto his fingers.

Hawkes was facing away from him now, braced against the wall with his legs spread and his perfect arse tilted and ready beneath his shirt-tail. Adam traced around his hole and pushed a finger inside, and his Sparrowhawk rocked back onto him; two fingers, and Hawkes whined and told him he was ready, he wanted Adam's cock, he wanted all of it, wanted it now.

He was so tight, so hot. "Breathe, Sparrowhawk," Adam muttered into his ear, and there was a little gust of surprise and an almost-laugh, and he was in deep, deeper, inching slowly back and thrusting forward, and Hawkes pushing back at him, eager for more. Adam's head fitted over Hawkes' shoulder and the young man arched his neck away so that Adam could bite and suck, leave his mark under the ruin of white shirt and cravat. Adam's fist closed around Hawkes' cock and he worked it ruthlessly in time with his own desperate rhythm and felt Hawkes surrender, rocking and moaning as he gave up everything to Adam, and Adam groaned and spent himself in an irresistible rush that left him breathless.

Beneath the heavy curve of Adam's body, Hawkes seemed to be shaking. His arms against the wall were taking most of Adam's weight as well as his own, and Adam shifted back a shade guiltily, only to discover that his lover was laughing.


"Oh, hush," said Adam, blushing.

"I like it," Hawkes said, and grinned over his shoulder, "but it did come as a surprise."

Stickily, awkwardly, Adam withdrew and cast about for a clean cloth—something—but there was nothing out of place in this orderly household and he had to resort to his handkerchief. He used it, tossed it to Hawkes, and tucked himself back into order. "Well, damn, I still have to finish these boots," he said, surprised. One of the four was still dull with polish. He donned his apron with a fastidious and rueful frown and sat down.

Hawkes also sat, and winced, and sent a mouthed 'Ow!' at Adam, who mouthed back 'Sorry' and received a mocking look in reply. No, he could not sit here polishing a boot while there was a pretty mouth to be kissed, so he pulled Hawkes up and into his arms and they embraced for several minutes.

"I should go," Hawkes said, and pushed Adam back onto his wooden chair. "And you should finish your task, or you'll still be polishing when the maid comes to light the morning fires." He dropped a cheeky kiss onto Adam's nose, was caught and held for a longer one, then took himself away.

It took Adam longer to get to sleep that night. His mind was full of Hawkes, and the imminence of the end.


All Adam wanted to do was drag his Sparrowhawk into a bedroom, a quiet corner, even a broom cupboard, and fuck him again or do any of those other delicious things he couldn't keep out of his mind. But there was never a chance. All morning there seemed to be people everywhere, carrying the morning's bag of game birds to the kitchen, running about with laundry, trotting up and down the stairs with toast and chocolate, or ewers and basins. Yesterday's expedition to the caves seemed to have altered the household's routine in some inexplicable way.

Whatever the reason, he barely even saw Hawkes, let alone found the opportunity to snatch a few minutes with him.

Eventually calm was restored, Mr Allen's person and wardrobe were in order, and Adam broke out into the fresh air, heedless of the chill. Weather would change tomorrow, the elderly gardener tending the late-blooming perennial border informed him. He doubted Mr Allen would go shooting in the morning if it rained, so that would be an easier start to the day. He spotted Hawkes in the company of one of the maids, and eyed them narrowly until the young woman veered off in the direction of the kitchen garden. Relieved, Adam made for the trees.

At the far end of the house, on the Great Lawn, some of the party were setting up targets to practise archery. From what Adam could discern, the young ladies were keen to display their prowess. Let them, he thought, so long as they keep out of the wood.

The ladies and gentlemen did keep out of the wood. Not so every servant the household possessed, for they all seemed to have been taken with the urge to wander among the trees. No sooner did Adam and Hawkes find a quiet grove, a shady grotto, a bower of leaves, than a gaggle of maids would come giggling to disturb them, or a gardener with a barrow full of tools would set up next to them, or a couple of the senior valets would decide this was the very spot in which to eat their bread and cheese and set the world to rights.

"I think the Fates are against us," Hawkes murmured after the third interruption.

"And the house itself is probably quite empty," Adam said morosely as they trod back towards it. He dreamed of taking Hawkes to bed on a fat mattress of goose feathers where they could enjoy one another in comfort and without interruption. But it was not to be. Even his own limp, straw-filled mattress was unavailable; Herring, though better, had promised to rest while he could.

"There's a door onto the roof," Hawkes said. "We might meet after our gentlemen have gone to bed."

So they did, and crept up onto the roof between gables, and Adam brought out his little pot of beeswax again and they rocked together, intimately joined, then lay wrapped in a blanket under the diamond splendour of the autumn night. At last they made their way back to their separate beds, and Adam slept dreamlessly until Herring's reproving cough woke him the next morning.


"I'm sorry to have to tell you the fine weather has broken," Adam replied to Mr Allen's query. "It looks as though it may rain all day." His employer looked irritated at this betrayal by the elements, but after all, he might just as easily pursue his courtship indoors as out. For Adam and Hawkes, finding a secluded spot in the house would be well-nigh impossible, and he went downstairs to his ironing and laundering of neckcloths in an unsettled frame of mind. He was so very conscious of the time passing, each stolen hour precious but so few remaining. Two more days and he would never see Hawkes again, and he had to push the thought away every time it entered his mind, because it was becoming unbearable.

To Adam's great surprise, he was summoned to Mr Allen's room as he put the iron back on the stove for the last time. He had expected to have several hours to himself, once the regular wardrobe tasks had been completed. Mr Allen was at the dressing table, writing. Adam hurried to put the linens away.

"Er. Adams." Mr Allen looked oddly embarrassed. Adam searched his conscience but could not find that he had left anything undone that a proper valet ought to have done. Unless—his stomach lurched most horribly. Unless he and Hawkes had been observed. In which case—

"I want you to take a letter into Great Wilver," his employer explained. "Um. Ordinarily I would have sent my groom, but this letter requires a certain discretion, and you know how garrulous John Sutton is. Uh, so, I'm very sorry about the rain, but if you could contrive to slip out of the house without being noticed…?"

"Of course," Adam responded, as though there were any choice in the matter. His master handed over a folded and sealed sheet.

"There'll be a Mr Wilson at The Bull expecting this letter. There may be a reply…." Adam tried to conceal his astonishment at these havey-cavey proceedings, and plainly did not do a very good job of it, for Mr Allen gave him an uncertain smile. "Nothing to worry about, really. Nothing at all."

"I shall be discreet, sir," Adam assured him, took the letter and slipped it inside his waistcoat.

"Thank you," Mr Allen said.

Now what on earth was his master doing conducting a clandestine correspondence with some shady fellow in an inn? And why could he not have done it yesterday when the sun was shining, Adam wondered, irritably. Not that the rain was so very bad, merely a light drizzle that dripped off the brim of his hat and felted his heavy overcoat. Adam was much more conscious of the time passing, over an hour to walk to Great Wilver and then again back to the house, more than two hours wasted. Only two more days and he would never see Hawkes again, and he had to stop thinking about that, because he truly did not know how he would be able to endure it. Something, someone, he'd never thought to find, and soon to be lost for ever.

He put on his best speed and arrived slightly breathless and distinctly damp, but the letter, when he felt under his various layers, was still dry. He inquired for Mr Wilson in the tap room, and was ushered to a small private parlor where someone in a brown tailcoat was warming his hands at the fire.

The door closed behind him, and the man turned round. "My dear boy," he said, and opened his arms.

Adam's feet took him straight into that wide embrace, and he was held firmly and hugged, and how much he had missed this! His eyes blurred as he stood back to stare. "Papa? What—I don't—how did you come to be here?"

"I received a letter yesterday morning telling me you were hiding at Wilverley in the guise of a valet. Arrived here from Oxford early this morning and sent my groom over with a note for your Mr Allen first thing, asking him to dispatch you at once. Really, Adam, if I weren't so relieved to see you I would put you across my knee!"

Adam rather thought he had the advantage of his papa in height and weight, but decided it was not the moment to say so. Besides, he wasn't sure he could command his voice.

"Come home, Adam. Please."

"But I—I'm still—Papa, you had my letter. You know what I am."

"Yes, and we are still in a puzzle to discover why you would expect us to heap curses on your head and throw you out of the house."

"But my—my deviancy," he blurted. "I could not—I thought it was for the best. If it were to be discovered—and you understand, don't you, that I shall never marry? I won't provide an heir, really, it will be better for everyone if I stay away, and Neil—"

"If you don't marry, you don't—although there have been others in your situation who have married, and sired children, so you need not think it impossible."

Still reeling at his father's easy acceptance, Adam decided that particular argument could wait for another day. "How in heaven's name did you know I was at Wilverley?"

"I've had agents looking for you since you vanished. One of them discovered you in Mr Allen's employ, and wrote to inform me. I thought the best thing would be to simply spirit you away, with not a soul any the wiser."

"Spirit me away! I can't leave Mr Allen in the lurch," Adam said. "He has been very kind to me."

"Mr Allen would find it extremely uncomfortable to be valeted by the heir to an earldom, believe me," Lord Albaston said, dryly.

"Heir to an—that makes no sense!"

"I had to write to him in my own person. I thought perhaps plain Mr Wilson importuning him out of the blue would be less convincing. I asked for his discretion. I hope he can be discreet?"

"Yes, yes, of course, but—the heir to an earldom?"

"Did you not know? I thought you of all people would be au fait with the news."

"We, er, Conway Park, the Allens, they—"

"Don't take much interest in the doings of the nobility. Can't say that I blame them. But if you had been reading the society notices and the military gazette you would have seen that your obnoxious cousin Major Lambert was killed in Spain back in the spring, that Lady Arabella Melsted gave birth to a still-born son in June and died two days later, and that Melsted himself was killed in the stupidest way some six weeks ago. Driving his curricle like a maniac, of course, turned the thing over and broke his neck. Albaston suffered a seizure, possibly as a result of learning of his heir's death, possibly not. I'm told it was his heart, though I didn't think he had one. At any event, the direct line was extinguished, all within seven months, and the title came to me, along with the guardianship of Melsted's daughters."

"I had no idea of any of this." He'd known his father stood in the line of succession to the earldom, his grandfather having been the second of Albaston's younger brothers, but although Uncle Edward, like Lord Melsted, had produced only daughters before his death, Albaston himself had had two sons, his heir was married and a father already, there had been no expectation of it ever coming to this.

"You, Adam Mitchell Lambert, or Melsted, as I suppose I must now call you, have been causing plenty of grief on your own account," his father said, sternly. "Running off into oblivion and leaving your mother to worry herself into a shadow!"


"There's no running away from this, Melsted. You are my eldest son. You are the heir. That won't change. If you disappear again, it just leaves the problem until after my death, at which time I can assure you Neil will be in no mood to scour the whole country for you to prove that you are dead before he can take on the inheritance. And frankly, given what happened to the previous Earl's sons I prefer to have both of you safe where I can find you."

Adam had not thought of it like that. Then again, he had not known his father was now an Earl. He felt quite dizzy.

"So, as I said, I plan to spirit you away. Adams the valet will just disappear. Pity we're not nearer the coast, they might have assumed you'd been pressed. Never mind. One humble valet doesn't make much of a story, and I'm sure Mr Allen will manage without your services for a few days. Do tell me, what extravagances of fashion did you persuade him to commit?"

"None at all!" Adam said indignantly. "I mean, I tried to—he—he has very decided ideas of his own," he said. His father was laughing at him. Adam grinned. He had missed Papa's teasing.

"I'm glad to hear he did not allow you to run rough-shod over him," said Lord Albaston. "Now, then. I have a hired post-chaise which will take us to The King's Head at Oxford, and by the time we stroll along to the Black Swan, Adams the valet will have gone for ever, and it'll be Albaston and his son and heir Lord Melsted who get back into their own travelling carriage tomorrow morning. I think you'll like Chetwynd House now that it's home and not a duty visit. Your mother has been having a marvellous time planning the redecorations, but I'm sure she'll appreciate your advice."

I didn't even say goodbye, Adam thought to himself as the chaise rumbled towards Oxford. He'll never know that I—he'll never know.


Six weeks later, Adam's life was transformed beyond anything he'd ever dreamed. He had all the comforts of rank and fortune, a wardrobe that made him preen with delight, an efficient and pleasingly cynical valet of his own, and an allowance that so far he had not managed to exceed. A life of pleasure, with no ironing and no polishing and no need to rise early unless he wished to do so. It was true that he, along with his father and brother, was required to spend several hours a week learning the business of being a landed lord. The previous Lord Albaston had never expected his nephew to inherit the title, and had taken little notice of that branch of the family, but the new Earl was determined to understand his duties and responsibilities and to ensure that both his sons understood them, too.

Mr Kettering, the land steward, had been in charge of the extensive Albaston estate for almost thirty years. He was, in Adam's opinion, very old fashioned, to the detriment of much of the work done by the tenantry. Even Adam, who had no interest in farming, had heard of the new methods advocated by such luminaries as Mr Coke of Norfolk, and although he did not know what these methods were, he felt that Kettering's instant disparagement of 'modern ways' was at best short-sighted. What Kettering needed was an enthusiastic, intelligent assistant, a young man who could take on more of the account-keeping (Kettering's eyes could still see a hawk in the trees a hundred yards away, but it was quite painful to watch him squinting at a hand-written page) and the walking inspections (Kettering's limbs were stiffening with rheumatism).

Adam had someone in mind. Adam had the perfect candidate.

But he could not find him.

He wrote to Hawkes, care of Sir William Dunstan, and the letter had been returned with a note that Mr Hawkes was no longer in Sir William's employ.

Bewailing this lack of success, he discovered that his father had had obtained Hawkes' name from an agency in Birmingham. That Hawkes—Hawkes!—had been the one to write and reveal Adam's presence at Wilverley. He was indignant for a moment—why had Hawkes never told him? Professional confidence, he supposed, and it did not matter now, what mattered was tracking his Sparrowhawk down.

Adam decided to go in person to the agency. Borrowing his father's persona as 'Mr Wilson' he met with a frosty reception: Hawkes had apparently disappeared, leaving them with no exact account of the days he had spent on his assignment, and they were happy to wash their hands of him. They did offer to provide the services of another agent who might find Mr Hawkes, and Adam considered whether this might be his best course of action, since he was having no success on his own. He decided to consult his father first, and accordingly went home, where Lord Albaston was somewhat taken aback to find that Adam wished to find Hawkes not merely to reward him but to employ him, and took more persuading than Adam had bargained for to consent to Adam's scheme.

At his father's dubious suggestion that Hawkes might have returned to home territory, Adam researched estates in Yorkshire and made inquiries at two or three of these, but without success.

He was actually trying to compose a letter to the Birmingham agency, and pondering whether there was any information, any scrap which might facilitate their search, when Norwell brought in the post and presented him with a letter.

It was from Christopher Allen, who wrote tentatively at first, unsure quite what mode of address was proper towards a man who had once helped him bathe and now bore a courtesy title as the heir to an earldom. Adam grinned, appreciating the dilemma and delighted to have such a communication. The purpose of the letter, it appeared, was that Mr Allen wrote to ask if it would not be too presumptuous to invited Lord Melsted to attend the wedding of Christopher Allen and Miss Katherine O'Connell, which was to take place in the new year. Adam would be charmed to attend. He had liked Christopher very much as an employer, and had a feeling they could be good friends.

Then he stared, and re-read that wholly unexpected sentence. I must be the worst man in the world to train a new valet, Christopher wrote, but Hawkes lacks your particular interest in the details of a gentleman's apparel, which at once makes him a more appropriate valet for my employ than ever you were, and one far less likely to be disappointed in his master's lack of fashionable flair.

Conway Park. Hawkes was at Conway Park. A hundred miles from Chetwynd House, to be sure, but he was found.

At this time of year the days were very short. That was why it was not until noon two days later that Adam's travelling carriage arrived at Conway Park.


He kept a perfectly straight face as he handed his card to Cheam, who lost all butleresque calm in the face of this earth-shattering arrival, but ushered him politely into the library, where Christopher Allen joined him a few minutes later and shook his hand most heartily. Adam grinned at him, thanked him for his letter and congratulated him on his forthcoming marriage, which inevitably led to an encomium on Miss Katy O'Connell that he listened to with amusement.

He accepted refreshment, and told Christopher—somehow they were on first name terms, and Christopher shouted with laughter on discovering that he had in effect always been on first name terms with Adam—about his new life, the strangeness of it all, how sometimes he was quite giddy with the change in his circumstances. And sometimes it all felt perfectly natural.

It seemed only right to offer an apology for his deception, explaining—since he could not possibly reveal the truth—that he had quarrelled with his family and been so foolish as to think they would not forgive him. "My father said you would be embarrassed to be waited upon by someone of my station, but you were a very kind master. A great deal easier on your own valet than I am on mine, I dare say."

"I see you can afford the best tailors now," Christopher said, slyly.

Adam made a face at him, and patted his elegant dark blue superfine coat with a certain smugness. He did enjoy dressing well and had no problem admitting as much.

What he did have to say, however, was… "I've come to steal your valet."

"You want Hawkes? I—well, of course, if—but surely you have a fine, fancy valet already, one who knows all about neckcloths and how to get a stained riding coat clean?"

"I don't need him as my valet but I… I owe him a great debt. Without him, I'd, uh, I would still be in your service," Adam said. It sounded unfortunate, but it made Christopher laugh again. "How in heaven's name did he come to be your valet?"

Christopher looked at him in surprise. "He approached me. Well, he came to attend me that evening when it was time to dress for dinner. Herring arrived ten minutes later on the same errand and was very much surprised, I can tell you! Of course I had to pretend to be surprised myself when he informed me you were gone. Hawkes said he would be leaving Sir William's service after the stay at Wilverley, and would be available at once if I wished to hire him. Sir William seemed happy enough with the arrangement, and it made sense, so Hawkes came home with me. But I dare say I can manage without a valet for a little while—no, better yet, I shall promote Thomas. I think he coveted your job when he attended to me on your days off, and I very much doubt that he will turn out to be masquerading as a servant for purposes of his own!" He grinned at Adam's rueful look. "Oh, don't look like that! I can't decide whether to be delighted by the romance of it all or horrified by the impropriety! What the devil are we going to tell the servants here?"

"I think," Adam said, "we should tell them nothing at all. They can all make up their own stories. With any luck the whole thing will be so absurdly exaggerated that by the time it spreads to anyone who knows me, they'll think it a take-in." He might even have thought of a workable explanation by then.

Christopher laughed, and shook his head, and since he could offer no plausible alternative, in the end threw up his hands and agreed. "Adam, will you stay the night? My parents are visiting friends today, but will be home by seven."

"I'm sorry, I can't stay this time. I left my man Eames and all my clothes at The Crown at Chippenham, and he expects me back tonight," Adam explained. "I wish this might have been a longer visit. But I shall see you at your wedding, and I promise to visit you and the new Mrs Allen in the spring, if you'll have me. And you will bring your wife to Town for the Season, of course."

Christopher disclaimed, and Adam exclaimed, and they compromised on the promise of a visit in the spring, at any rate. Then Christopher rang the bell and told Cheam to send Hawkes to the library. "I'll leave you to conduct your business in private."

"Hello, Hawkes."

"Lord Melsted." His face was perfectly impassive.

"Are you well?"

"Very well, thank you. Your lordship."

Adam gazed at him helplessly. Where to start? What was he to say? "I want to—to thank you for contacting my father." Now he looked surprised, just for an instant. "Tell me, how did you manage to discover me?"

"I followed servants' gossip."

"Please, go on."

"I looked for someone out-of-place, tracked any rumours I could find. Mr Allen's valet was one of the possible candidates, but it was not until the opportunity came up to work for Sir William Dunstan during the visit to Wilverley that I was able to find out whether you were the person I was seeking. His own valet was temporarily unavailable, having broken his arm."

"How did you know that I was the man you were asked to find?"

"Partly your name. Partly your reference to a brother working for a Mr Mitchell. Then you offered to lend me your own polish. It was out of place, when all the other valets were in competition with one another. Partly your—your red hair." He was very careful not to meet Adam's eyes.

"I don't believe you sucked my cock so that you could find out whether I was a redhead," Adam said, conversationally. "Can we please talk to one another? We shared—we had something I haven't found before. Or since. I miss it. I miss you."

"There's nothing to be done about it," Hawkes said. "We were lucky to meet at all. Had we both been what we seemed, we would have been separated by distance and likely never met again. Now, we're separated by distance and by rank."

"As to distance," Adam said, "that can be overcome. I came here to offer you a place as under-steward on my father's estate. It's not a sinecure. We need someone young and capable to work with our steward for a few years, then to take his place. And I promise you, no servant of my father will ever be cast off without a pension. I thought of you because—because I think you'd be a good steward. I trust you."

"How can you possibly trust me?"

"I—I—" Adam floundered. He hadn't even thought about it. He just… trusted. "You won't lie to me."

"I already have. I knew who you were. I even called you Adam once, you didn't notice. I told you I was trying to find a job, when I had in my hand the letter to Lord Albaston. I told him where to find you. How can you possibly trust me?"

"Then you were loyal to your employer, which is just what we need. And as it turns out, I wanted to be found." Adam stepped towards him. "I want you to accept the position. Please. I want—we can—I have been hoping so very much—"

"I don't see how I can work for you and be your—your—"

"My lover? Then what would you have us do? Would you work for someone else so that we never have an opportunity to be together? If you work on the Albaston estate at least we're not separated by distance. Hawkes, if I could give you a title of your own, if I could marry you, make you my equal, I would, but that isn't possible. And you wouldn't be working for me, but for my father. We can find a way, I know we can."

"And what happens to me when you find a pretty young lover with a title of his own, someone you can seat at your dinner table without the servants talking?"

"What happens to me," Adam countered, "when I'm old and fat and you find a handsome young groom to romp with?"

"This is foolishness! This—men like us, we can't have what you're talking about. Rank, distance, it's not even those things, though God knows they have their effect. You know it, surely you know it."

"I know we have the chance to break the rules. I know the future Earl of Albaston can do a lot more than plain Mr Lambert or Adams the valet ever could. And I know I love you."

Hawkes turned away.

"Sparrowhawk, please!"

Something like a sob came from Hawkes. "Is it… possible? I never thought… is it possible?"

Adam caught him from behind, held his shoulders and pressed his cheek against Hawkes' ear. "We can try, Sparrowhawk. We can try." He brought his hand up to Hawkes' cheek, and Hawkes kissed it, and when he turned his face to Adam his beautiful eyes were brimming with tears. "Come with me?"

Hawkes nodded. "Yes. Yes."

A brisk and cheerful farewell, and they were in Albaston's travelling carriage and heading back to Chippenham. It did not take many minutes for Hawkes to look mischievous and present Adam with a small, very familiar pot of best beeswax.

"I stole it," he said. "They asked me to pack your things together, and I wanted it."

"I do hope you haven't been using it to polish your boots," Adam said, enchanted.

"Not my boots, no."

It took almost no time at all for Adam to have him stripped and straddling Adam's lap under the travelling blanket. Adam would never think of a coach's rattling motion in quite the same way again.

And that night, at the inn, a mattress stuffed with goose feathers, and no-one to disturb them till morning.


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