Eric Grantham looked up from his work at the opening of the study door.
“Pardon the interruption, sir,” his senior footman said, “there is a carriage approaching the house. Were you expecting any visitors?”
Eric closed his books with the speed of a schoolboy at the end of term. “Likely one of our neighbours in a borrowed coach if you don’t recognise it, Tom,” he replied, pulling on his coat and straightening his attire. “Blast the driveway for being so short. I’d prefer not to look quite so out of date when greeting guests but it would be ruder to make them wait while I change. Ask the kitchen to rustle up some tea and cakes in the parlour, and make sure the other footmen are close by.”
Tom left to carry out his instructions and Eric grimaced at his reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece. Expecting no company other than his estate ledgers he’d dressed that morning in his most comfortable set of clothing which, with its loose fit and flat collar, looked like he’d borrowed the suit from a wardrobe of his grandfather’s youth. He hoped his visitor was someone local as any of his friends from town might be shocked enough to faint at his appearance – they knew him only as a man of the utmost and up-to-date fashion.
Hiding his thoughts behind a mask of civility he strolled out to meet his guest at the door – another indulgence of countrified manners which would shock his London friends – and stepped out of the house just as his visitor descended his carriage.
“Grantham!” his friend replied with cheer that changed to shock as he took in Eric’s appearance. “Good God, man, your neck!”
Eric’s hands flew to his throat and an embarrassing, wordless, sound escaped his mouth.
Townall’s cheeks blushed rosy pink as he ran up the steps, a self-deprecating smile swiftly replacing his previous expressions. “Please forgive me, Grantham,” he said, holding out his hands before Eric, “that was unconscionably rude of me, and if you wish me to depart immediately and never darken your doorway again I shall do so without a moment’s hesitation.”
Eric smiled back – it was hard to resist responding in kind to Townall’s obvious affection – and clasped hands with his friend, drawing him into a brief embrace. “Don’t you dare do such a thing, Townall. My staff will be incensed if you don’t stay for tea at least. Although if my appearance hasn’t scandalised you too greatly, I hope you’ll stay a few days at least?”
“It would be a pleasure to do so,” Townall assured him, squeezing his fingers briefly before letting go. Eric smiled again and left his footmen with instructions of where to convey Townall’s trunks and cases before leading his guest indoors. His heart beat double-time with concern over the thoughts Townall’s polite words might be hiding, and he felt like kicking himself for not dashing off to change into something even approaching respectable dress. Of all the people to catch him in a moment of deshabille! Townall was the friend he most respected and wanted to always look his best with. He only hoped that his home made up for his own appearance.
Alfred Townall picked at the crumbs on his plate. The treats laid out for them in the parlour had been delicious, and the house itself exuded a calm elegance which was so familiar and entirely Grantham that Alfred could almost forget they were far from anywhere he knew.
“I must apologise again for my outburst earlier,” Alfred said. “I fear I was rather caught unawares, having never really considered the existence of your neck before today.”
“Never having…” Grantham tailed off somewhere between confusion and amusement, “How on earth did you think my head was attached to my shoulders?”
“In truth, I avoid thinking about such things in relation to my friends.”
The silence which greeted this statement had abandoned all amusement, leaving only puzzlement and confusion.
Gathering his courage, Alfred forged ahead. “I saw you in Crowthorne’s a few nights before you left town. May I assume therefore that you have a passing familiarity with the less socially acceptable bonds of attraction which exist between certain and diverse members of the population?”
A glance towards Grantham caught his slight nod.
“I have a particular weakness for necks,” Alfred confessed, “and whilst I have previously avoided contemplating its very existence, I can now say with certainty that yours is a very delectable example and it is purely good manners and long standing friendship which prevents me from lavishing it with the kisses it deserves.”
“Don’t let that stand in your way,” Grantham replied.
Alfred looked up, meeting his friend’s eyes for the first time since starting this apology.
Grantham grinned, placing his tea things safely out of the way on a side table and spreading his arms in invitation. “I’ve been avoiding thinking about your arse and thighs for five years, Townall. Get over here.”
Alfred had never abandoned a cup of tea quicker in his life.
Kink of the Week is a blogging meme run by the ever-fabulous Molly Moore. I’ve often been inspired by the prompts before but never actually got anything to a finished state, so yay? If things go to plan (though I hate saying such things as I know how often my plans get derailed) this will be the first of several short stories written from the KOTW prompts, based around Crowthorne’s, a gentleman’s club in Regency London…