J Tanner was a valued member of National Security 3, an obscure branch of MI5, an expert in undercover work, excellent at many languages, and in love with his superior, James Trevalyan and his voice of crushed velvet. For years he hid his love, certain James could not, would not return it. And yet, once his latest dangerous mission as a dense associate to the evil Callisto Malossini, one of the chief principals of the London underworld, was done and he was back in the safety of NS3, he found himself helping James unravel the mystery of his sister Pamela's disappearance and even going after James when he vanished to the States and spending a wild night of passion with him.
Then James vanished again. Would he come back? If so, would Tanner let himself believe that his James really cared after so many years of certainty that no man ever would care for him?
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Publisher: JMS Books, LLC
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 46-65
Tropes: Badass Hero, Class Differences, Friends to Lovers, Hurt / Comfort
Word Count: 88296
Setting: Great Britain, USA, Brazil, Germany
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
I puttered around in my tiny kitchen, slicing celery and onions and tossing them into the pot along with chunks of beef. I wasn’t the best cook, but I’d never poisoned myself, so I couldn’t complain.
I was home on leave for the next few weeks—I’d been with NS3 for five years now—and p’rhaps I’d call Sally, the young woman—a redhead, of course—I went out with on and off. P’rhaps she’d care to join me. She was pretty and fun, and I’d be thirty-one in a few months; it was time I started thinking of settling down.
I dried off my hands and was about to reach for the phone when it rang, causing me to start. No one knew I was home. I picked up the receiver. “Hello?” I said cautiously.
“Tanner, it’s Trevalyan.”
Ah. This was one of those periodic phone calls. “Yes, sir.” I relished his smooth tenor.
“I have your next assignment. I... er... thought we could discuss it over dinner.”READ MORE
“I’d love to, sir.” The hell with the pot of stew on the hob. It would keep, and I’d have it for dinner tomorrow. “Where shall I meet you?”
“I know of it.” The last thing I expected was for him to suggest meeting for dinner at one of the poshest restaurants in London. I’d never choose it on my own, even if I wanted to impress a date. Having researched it when I’d first learned the Trevalyan family frequently dined there, I knew it was exclusive, which translated to expensive. Not that it was important. I had a stash I kept hidden in my little flat for a rainy day, and I’d enjoy spending it on Mr Trevalyan. “When?”
“In about an hour?”
“Sounds perfect. I’ll see you then.” I hung up before I did something idiotic, like whoop over the phone, “I’ve got a date with James Trevalyan!”
Because in all actuality, it was nothing of the sort.
My palms were damp and my mouth dry as I entered Paradise Lost. If I was going there for a job, I’d be able to pull it off with no trouble, but—
What was I thinking? Of course this was related to the job. James—Mr Trevalyan had said so.
I looked down at my trench coat. It was decent enough, but the last thing I’d wanted was to embarrass my boss. The clothes I chose to wear under it were the dressiest I owned—black suit, a brown linen shirt I’d been told made my eyes look like dark chocolate, and a burgundy tie with grey stripes.
When the young woman asked to take my coat, I smiled and handed it to her. She gave me a sultry smile in return before she held out the chit, making me reach for it so she could stroke my palm. Then she winked and turned to hang up my coat.
The host approached me. “Table for one, sir?”
“Actually, for two. I’m expecting someone. I’d like that table in the corner, please.” I gestured toward the one I wanted.
“Of course. It’s early enough in the day. If you’ll follow me?” There were very few patrons in the restaurant.
He led me around the empty tables to the one I’d learned James’s family preferred when they dined at Paradise Lost.
He pulled out a chair. “If you’ll have a seat, sir?”
“I’ll send your waiter to you.” He left before I could tell him I didn’t want anything—that I’d wait until James arrived.
The waiter bustled up to me. “Good afternoon, sir. My name is Dietrich.” He glanced at my suit, didn’t curl his lip although I could see he wanted to, and handed me a menu. “May I get you something to drink?”
“Just water, please. I’m waiting for someone,” I said again.
“Ah. A young lady?”
He sniffed. “I’ll return with your water in a moment.”
Did he think I was meeting a working girl here? Before I could correct him, he’d already walked away. I was going to get thrown out of here before James arrived.
I looked around. This was a very posh place. The tables were covered with white tablecloths and set with white plates that had a decoration around the rim, cutlery with a crest on the handles, and vases containing ferns and flowers.
Dietrich brought my water. “Would you care for some hors d’oeuvres?” His tone was chilly. Did he think I was going to contaminate the restaurant?
“Nothing else just now.” I kept my voice cool, even though I was tempted to land one in his ugly mug.
“Very good, sir. I’ll check on you in a little while.” Yeah, he’d check to make sure I hadn’t stuffed any of the cutlery in my pocket.
I took a sip of water and put the glass down. Why did Mr Trevalyan want to see me after all this time? He’d said it was because of a job, but had I done something to throw a spanner in the works in my previous mission? I ran a hand through my hair, then smoothed my palm back over it so I’d look presentable.
I picked up the glass again, took another sip, then set it down, traced the design etched in its side, rolled it between my palms.
“I apologise for keeping you waiting.” Mr Trevalyan strode up to the table. He wore a suit similar to mine only in that they were both black. While mine was off the peg, it was obvious his had been bespoke.
“Not at all, sir.” I rose to shake his hand, making sure my smile was professional.
He nodded and set down the folder he carried. Just as he pulled out his chair, Dietrich approached, carrying a tray.
“Good afternoon, Mr Trevalyan! It’s so good to see you again!” Yeah, James’s arrival had put him in a grand mood.
“Thank you, Dietrich. It’s always a pleasure to dine here.”
The waiter beamed. “Your usual.” He placed a glass of white wine before Mr Trevalyan, then turned to me. “Sir?”
“No, this water is fine for me.” I knew how I reacted to anything stronger than beer, and the last thing I wanted to do was get sloshed and drool all over my boss.
“Very good. Would you care to order now, sir?”
There were no prices on the menu, which meant if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it. Not that it mattered: I had plenty of money in my wallet.
“I’ll have steak, rare,” I told Dietrich. I ordered beef whenever I had the opportunity. I remembered back when I lived with the Old Bat, who’d taken Mum in when she was expecting me and brought me up after Mum passed four years later. Even after 1954, when all food rationing ended, our meals still mainly consisted of mealy potatoes and mushy carrots, with the occasional portion of mince or offal—to this day I couldn’t face liver, heart, or kidney, even paired with steak in a pie. Meals went along with a lecture of how children were starving just across the Channel. Well, I hadn’t known about that, but I had known I was starving on this side of the Channel.
Lobster and Dungeness crab were also on the menu, but Mr Trevalyan selected steak as well, which rather surprised me.
After Dietrich had jotted down our order, Mr Trevalyan said, “And bring us a selection of Pierre’s hors d’oeuvres to start, if you will?”
Dietrich left to take care of that, and Mr Trevalyan said, “Before we get into what you’ll be doing for the next five years, there’s something I need to discuss with you.”
“I haven’t gone and blotted my copybook, have I, sir?”
“Not in the least.”
“That’s all right, then.”
He ran his fingers up and down the stem of his wine glass. Was he aware how suggestive that appeared? “I see I’m listed in your files as next-of-kin.”
I gnawed my lower lip. “Oh. Found that out, did you, sir?” Had I really expected him not to discover that?
“You needn’t think Miss Travis said anything about it. She was quite close-mouthed regarding the entire affair.”
“She’s a good woman, when she isn’t intimidating the hell out of the staff.”
James chuckled. “You do have that right. She’s a real gem for all of that.”
“She is.” I was startled when he frowned.
“She’s not a redhead.”
“Uh… no, sir. Should she have been?”
He shook his head. “Never mind. Would you mind explaining?”
So I did. I didn’t want to come across sounding like a whiney twit, but he had the right to know. I told him how I wanted to have one person I respected and who meant something to me—although I didn’t use those exact words—at my funeral.
As for the Old Bat who'd brought me up, she’d made it clear she wanted nothing more to do with me once I turned fifteen. She'd handed me a small suitcase she'd packed and told me to get out of her house. I’d been more than happy never to see her again.
James frowned at me. “Are you planning on dying sometime soon?”
“No, sir, of course not.” I just preferred to have a handle on things. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not in the least.” He tugged on his lower lip. “You’ve really no family?”
“Oh, I imagine I’ve got a father around somewhere if he hasn’t pegged out already, but he never played a part in my life, so I’d just as soon the—” I’d probably shock my boss if he realised I had no use for the man who’d impregnated my teenaged mum and then left her to face the consequences on her own. “I’d just as soon he wasn’t in at my death either.”
“You… I do hope you don’t mind, sir.”
“Quite the contrary. If it comes to it, I shall be honoured to stand at your graveside.”
“Just one thing.”
“I don’t particularly enjoy funerals.” For a moment he looked sad, but then his expression smoothed out. “Don’t die anytime soon.”
“No, sir.” If this hadn’t been such a sombre discussion, I’d have giggled like a girl. I did permit myself a chuckle.
“Now, as to your next assignment.” He went on to explain.
For the next few years, I would be portraying Gino Marrone, who was related to Callisto Malossini through his sister’s husband’s cousin—Gino was the dim-witted son.
“Will that be enough to get me in, sir?”
“I’d say yes. Malossini is devoted to his sister, and she’s over the moon about her husband. She’ll do anything for him.”
“If you say so.”
This one was going to be even more long term than any of my others.
He went on explaining what I’d need to do, then concluded with, “Just make sure you watch your arse. Malossini is borderline psychotic, and there’s nothing he likes better than taking out his sadistic predilections on someone he perceives as weaker.”
“Are you saying you don’t think I may be up to the job?” I scowled at him.
“No. I’m saying he may take one look at your pretty face and decide to try some of his nasty tricks on you.” He looked concerned.
“My pretty….” I laughed so hard I nearly choked on one of the starters the waiter had brought to the table, along with another glass of wine for Mr Trevalyan. “In that case he’ll learn how very wrong he is. This pretty phiz of mine has caused many and many to underestimate me, sir.”
“Very well. Just remember I don’t like funerals.”
“I’ll remember, sir.”
What a nice man he was. And how I wished he’d like me in the same way I liked him.
This is the companion piece to Greater Love Hath No Man.