A heart that wasn’t his own beat beneath his ear, and the arm around his shoulders relaxed its grip as he stirred from sleep. Memories of the previous night were slow to surface. He was oddly relieved to find the person on whom he lay in this cramped space was male, but it was only when the other man spoke that the previous evening’s events began trickling back to the forefront of his mind.
“Are you alright, my lord?”
It was Tomkins’s voice, and therefore – logically – Tomkins’s hand and arm and body and… his other hand resting on Valery’s lower back, and his whole frame prickling with a tension that suggested he’d like to make it a closer embrace but wasn’t quite sure enough to act without asking.
Valery felt he would quite like a closer embrace with Tomkins – if Tomkins were genuinely interested in such matters with himself – but perhaps later, when they were no longer – “We’re still in the car, aren’t we?” he asked, checking that his memories had fallen into the correct order.
“Yes, my lord, and in a snowdrift to boot.” Tomkins kept his voice low but Valery felt his words echo through his chest nonetheless.
“Did you manage to sleep at all?”
“As much as you, my lord. I only woke a few moments ago, and I –“ he broke off, and when he resumed the thread of amusement which had crept into his voice had vanished. “You were right about keeping warm, my lord. Thank you.”
“I expect I was very insistent?”
Tomkins’s silence was a reply in itself, and Valery started the process of shifting into a sitting position without injuring the man beneath him.
“If I was thinking as well as I hope I was last night,” he said as he finally untangled their legs, “there should be a spare pair of trousers each wrapped up in these blankets with us.”
Tomkins paused in his own process of sitting up and bent down to run his hands around the area of his lower legs. “I thought I felt buttons digging into my calf. Here we are, my lord. Can you tell which pair is yours in this light?”
“Oh they’re both mine, but you ‘re close enough to my size that they ought to do for the moment.”
“I can’t-“ Tomkins’s words died strangled in his throat as he looked at Valery with incredulity. “You can’t just loan me your own trousers, my lord! I’m your driver, they’re far too fine for the likes of me!”
“Nonsense, Tomkins. And no,” Valery pulled him firmly back as he stood to reach over the front seat towards his own bag, “I insist you wear one of these pairs. It’s only for a few hours. You may have dry clothes in your bag but these are dry and warm, so put them on.”
Tomkins sank back down on the seat and gave him an odd look. “If you insist, my lord.”
“Come in,” he said, taking a sip of the brandy he’d poured to prepare himself for an evening at his father’s country house.
Tomkins entered, a bundle in his hands that looked suspiciously like a neatly folded pair of plain navy trousers. “I wanted to thank you, my lord,” Tomkins said, his voice and bearing oddly hesitant, “for the loan and for looking after me so well.”
“It’s nothing,” Valery replied with a smile he hoped fell the right side of familiar, “and you needn’t have brought them back yourself. Soames would have dealt with them quite discreetly.”
“Mr Soames is an admirable and capable man,” Tomkins agreed with a small smile, “but I must disagree with you on the other matter, my lord. It is not nothing. Not just last night and this morning, but the kindness and generosity you have shown since I turned up so obviously unexpected on your doorstep.”
“Really, Tomkins, it’s – “
Tomkins knelt, setting the trousers on the floor beside him before placing his hands on Valery’s knees and gazing calmly into his eyes. “I assure you, Lord Valery, I have near two decades experience serving men of your class, and no one has ever extended such simple kindness as you do simply by keeping me on when you truly have no need of me.”
“Just because I don’t remember agreeing to take you on along with buying the car from Buncey doesn’t mean I’ll turn you out on the street. A man is only as good as his word, and if I agreed to it then that’s that. It’s not a hardship for me to pay your salary, though I do worry you might feel frustrated with having to find your own ways to occupy so much of your time since I rarely require use of the car.”
Tomkins smiled again, ducking his head to hide it. “And so you prove my point once more, my lord.” He paused and looked back up. “If I may speak plainly, sir?”
“I suspect Lord Barton did not mention me at all during your discussion, but made sure to ply you with enough wine and spirits that he could plausibly call your memory into question should you object after the fact of my turning up at your door. In truth, it was not the car his fiancée objected to, but myself. The competition.”
“Competition? In what – oh! You mean you and Buncey…?”
“Took pleasure in each other’s company?” A glint in Tomkins’s eye twisted his smile and made his meaning unmistakable. “Yes.”
“And he turned you off? The cad! No wonder Soames said you seemed shaken when you first arrived. Just you wait until I next see that scoundrel…”
“Please don’t, sir. I – “ his hands tightened, seemingly reflexively, on Valery’s knees. “I would prefer not, my lord. I am more than happy in your service, however light the duties. I’m sure Soames could train me to be more useful if that concerns you?”
“No.” Valery placed his hands over Tomkins’s, rubbing his thumbs over the other man’s knuckles, “I have it on good authority that you’re far from idle with your time anyway. But it seems something does trouble you, despite your claims to satisfaction.”
Tomkins gave him another soft smile. “It is only that I want what I should not, my lord.”
Valery waited, looking down at him and wondering what a man like Tomkins thought he should be denied.
Tomkins sighed and bowed his head over their joined hands. “I want you, my lord.”
“I hadn’t realised.”
Tomkins looked up again. “I didn’t intend to make it obvious.”
“Then why –”
“It feels too much like taking advantage.”
“What if I’d like you to take advantage of me?”
His eyes widened and his voice came out strangled again like it had that morning at the thought of wearing Valery’s clothes. “My lord?”
“Yes?” Valery fought to keep his own voice calm.
“My lord…” Tomkins licked his lips to moisten them, “When you’re with a man, do you kiss?”
The emphasis he placed on ‘with’ left his meaning clear. “Yes,” Valery replied, “do you?”
In answer, Tomkins stretched up and caught Valery’s lips with his own. All thoughts of the forthcoming family dinner deserted Valery’s mind.
The above story has been stuck in my mind for at least 8 years. I’ve tried any number of times to write the tale of “Peter & Lord Valery”, but always stumbled until this week’s Revelations theme of “heartbeat” gave me the opening line.
Don’t forget to click the icon above & read what everyone else has been thinking of around this theme!