Ashton Laytham came to Fayerweather, his uncle’s estate, as an orphan at the age of seven. Family and servants alike perceived Ashton as an unlovable child and shunned him; as an adult, the occasional illicit rendezvous aside, Ashton remains aloof and alone. When his uncle dies, the estate is bankrupt and Ashton must make good on his uncle’s gaming debts.
With the family talisman stolen and the suspects fled, Ashton faces certain ruin until the arrival of Geo Stephenson, who holds all of Sir Laytham’s IOUs. Geo proposes a solution. Ashton will accommodate him in his bed, thereby paying off the debt. Attracted to Geo in spite of himself and desperate for any human kindness, Ashton agrees… never expecting to lose his heart to a man who claims he will never give his.
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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Class Differences, Enemies to Lovers
Word Count: 80200
Setting: Great Britain
Languages Available: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
A strange groom presented himself at the kitchen door, and I was sent for. “Yes?”
“You be Mr Laytham? I've a message for you.” He handed me the slip of paper.
I unfolded it and read the words with widening eyes. It seemed that during an unprecedented run of luck at a faro's den, Uncle Eustace had won a prime bit of horseflesh.
However, the message went on to state, since the animal was under his weight, he was passing the colt on to me. The action surprised me, and I wondered what was truly wrong with the horse; Uncle Eustace was not usually so generous.
“Where is the colt?” I asked the groom.
“Right outside t'door, sir.” He stamped his feet and blew on his hands.
“Cook, see he has something to warm him.”
“Thankee, sir. I could do with sommat.”
“You may as well stay the night. After you've eaten, I'll have one of the grooms show you where you can put up your horse.”READ MORE
“Already acting lord of the manor, Awful?”
I scowled at Robert Hood, who seemed to have appeared from nowhere, and opened my mouth to inform him that when I indeed became the 7th baronet, my first act would be to evict him from my home, but John was standing there, as well as William and Arabella, because of course they were always together, and I bit back the words.
“Haven't you anything better to do than annoy me, Robert?”
“No.” He grinned. “Cook, my own heart's delight, would you mind providing us with tea? We're famished!”
John looked at him as if his beloved brother had uttered deathless prose, and I hunched a shoulder and stalked out of the kitchen and into the December afternoon.
The colt standing there was small, not much above fifteen hands high, ivory-colored, with a long, thick, mane and tail, and with unusual blue eyes. Uncle had written that his previous owner had named him for them – Blue Boy. “Of course you're to change the name at once. Something not as fanciful. Arthur, perhaps, or William after our gracious king.”
The large, liquid eyes observed me, curious and intelligent. No, I would not change his name.
“Come along, Blue Boy.” The weather was chill, but not unseasonably so, and I thought I would take him for a turn in the paddock behind the main stable. “Let's see how you move under a saddle.”
I finished putting the colt through his paces and walked him to the stable. Once there, I dismounted, giving his neck a pat.
The air in the stable was warm from the numerous animals, and redolent of horse and hay.
“Blue Boy is a handsome animal, Master Ash.” Jem, the young groom, removed Blue Boy's tack and set about rubbing him down.
“He is that, Jemmy, and a sweet-goer as well.” I wondered if I dared grow too fond of the horse, lest Uncle Eustace withdraw the gift, an act he had been wont to do when he felt that with one more turn of the cards or toss of the dice he would see the end of a losing streak. He saw nothing wrong with wagering away a gift he had bestowed upon someone.
I sighed and patted Blue Boy a final time. “The most wonderful birthday gift Uncle has ever given me.” Truthfully, the only gift he had ever given me.
Jem gave me a sideways glance. “It's your birthday then, Master Ash?”
“Yes.” It was John's as well, but for once I'd got the better gift.
“I've a gift I'd be liking to give you, sir.” The corner of his mouth tilted in a grin.
“That's very kind of you, Jemmy, but not necessary…”
“I think it is, sir. You've been very good to me and my Mum.” He looked around to make sure we were alone, then took my hand and led me to an unoccupied box stall. “Close the door, if you please, sir. Mr Ruston is away for the afternoon, and the boys are in their quarters, warming up after exercising the horses, so we should have time enough if we're quick about it. Here's something that will make it easy for both of us.” He handed me a jar of some sweet-smelling lotion, and his fingers became busy with the buttons of his breeches.
“Jemmy! Where had you this?”
“It's some of Mum's store, what she makes for Lady Laytham. She has plenty, and I thought…” He looked uncertain. “Do you not want me then, sir?”
I thought briefly of John. He would never look on me thus, nor offer me his body. “Yes, Jemmy, I want you, and thanks.”
A happy smile flooded his face. He stripped his breeches down enough to bare his arse. “Then have at me, sir!”
I took care with him – my prefect at Eton had taught me well, and among certain of the boys there I was known as a generous lover. Aside from that, I saw no reason to treat Jemmy with less than care because he worked as a groom in my uncle's stable.
Once I felt he was prepared enough, when his hips rocked backward, taking my fingers deeper into his fundament, I coated my prick with the ointment and slid in, finding his back passage hot and clinging.
Jemmy gasped, and I ceased my movements. “Have I hurt you, Jemmy? Have you not done this before?”
“Aye, a time or two, although none so large as you, sir!”
“Sweet words, Jemmy.”
“True words, sir.”
“Do not call me sir when I'm buggering you, Jem.” I nipped the side of his neck.
“No, sir.” I could hear the grin in his voice, and I pinched his arse.
We could not take too long about this, for we could be walked in upon at any moment, so I sped up my movements.
He bucked like an unbroken steed under me, panting and moaning, and I was breathless, fast approaching the brink of climaxing, when sure enough, someone wandered into the stable.
“Jem Stableboy, I want my horse saddled!” It was John Hood, of all people.
I froze, my prick deep in Jemmy's arse, my hand firmly around his own weeping erection.
“Please, Master Ash! Please don't stop!” the boy begged in a hoarse whisper.
“Of course I won't stop, Jemmy, pet,” I assured him, “but hush. Perhaps he will leave!”
“Oh ho! What's all the noise about then? Sounds to me like someone is having a right time!” John poked his head into the box stall. “Oh, my god! Ashton!”
His eyes were enormous, fastened on the empurpled head of my prick, which I had withdrawn from the heated passage that gloved it like velvet. My shaft glistened with the lotion I had used. I thrust it back into the young groom, and he whimpered in satisfaction as I stroked across his sweet spot. All the while I stared at the burgeoning arousal in John's trousers.
John could not seem to tear his fascinated gaze from the sight Jemmy and I made. “Care to join us, John?”
He was torn. The Hoods were always so honourable, so noble, so pure of heart. And I…I was Awful Ashton: dishonorable, ignoble, impure. John looked torn, as if he wanted to bolt from the stable, but more than that, as if he did, indeed, want to join us. Perhaps he had got a taste for a prick in his arse at Harrow.
His face grown flushed, his hand was in his trousers, rubbing himself furiously.
“Ahhh!” Jemmy cried out softly, filling my hand with his seed. Two more hard, swift thrusts, and I spent as well.
Never looking away from the middle Hood brother, I brought my hand to my mouth and delicately licked at my palm.
John trembled and moaned and bit his lip, and a dark stain appeared on the front of his trousers. With a horrified groan, he stumbled from the stable.
What had I expected, that he truly would want to join us, or better still, pull me away from my playmate and demand that I keep myself for him?
“Well,” I murmured, “I hope he manages to get to his chamber before anyone sees him.”
“Will he tell on us, Master Ash?” Jemmy sounded nervous. It could cost him his position, and any future positions, if he were turned off without a reference.
“No. You need not be concerned. Master John might not have a care for me, but he is too honorable. He would not put a servant in that position.” I dropped another kiss on the young groom's neck and carefully pulled free. “Let's get cleaned up, shall we, Jemmy?”
“Aye, Master Ash.”
He gasped when I turned him, dropped to my knees, and carefully licked him clean.
“Master Ash, this is not right!”
“Hush, Jemmy.” It was more right than he knew. In this little way, I felt as if I were getting some of my own back from John, who would never think to give me a birthday gift like this, who would never think to give me a gift of any kind.
This was the first book of mine that Dreamspinner published, and as it turned out, it was on the day I retired as chief photo tech of my local Walgreens. The title comes from Robert Burns's A Grace Before Dinner:
O THOU who kindly dost provide For every creature's want! We bless Thee, God of Nature wide, For all Thy goodness lent: And if it please Thee, Heavenly Guide, May never worse be sent; But, whether granted, or denied, Lord, bless us with content. Amen
In case it's not obvious, Content is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable.