by Hacy Morris
“It’s considered tacky for a father to whore his son out, George,” Julian observed, watching the spread of begged, stolen, borrowed clothing on the bed.
His stepfather gave him an impatient look. “We’ve discussed this before,” he said. “The trial will be in two weeks, and unless you’d like to see your mother and your stepbrothers-”
“Not to mention you,” Julian muttered.
“-destroyed by those trumped-up charges, we have to appeal to a higher authority, and-”
“And writing a letter of appeal ain’t going to cut it,” Julian finished for him. “Right. I got it the first time.” He narrowed his eyes at the other man, letting his outward resentment show and hoping that it hid the ball of apprehension in his gut.
If George sensed his discomfort, he didn’t say anything, and only stood up, going over to the bed–the only article of furniture in the room that didn’t look decrepit or broken–and looking down at the various items on it. Julian had insisted on having his own apartment ever since he’d left the hospital, and between school and his part-time jobs, it was difficult to afford anything better. He refused help from George as a matter of principle.
“Where did you get all that, anyway?” Julian asked.
“Here and there,” George said. He began sorting through them, selecting items that looked fairly new and separating them from the main pile.
Perhaps it was due to his amnesia from the car accident, but Julian felt that he was actually getting along better with his stepfather than with his mother. Two years of memories, all gone, but before that he could remember a simmering anger at this man, who had married his mother, and loud arguments between them that usually resulted in him running away from home to stay with friends.
Julian told the demons in his mind to get lost, and settled down to help with the clothes.
After all, while it was George who had first broached the plan, Julian was the one who had decided on its specifics. If they had to do this, he reasoned, there was no reason not to appeal as high up the chain of command as possible. George was the one who took care of the rest of the arrangements, and though his angry resentment kept flaring up despite his best efforts, Julian knew this was their only chance.
He had never liked his stepfather, but he had to admit that he owed George. And there was his mother as well… he shook his head and concentrated on the task, letting the softness of the garments he was fingering distract him. There was a lot to sort through, and Julian found a picture building in his mind, of what was right for this. The white shirt would look right, worn under that dark red coat…
Maybe he should have taken that folk costume course as his summer elective, instead of doing this. “What time?” he remembered to ask.
George glanced at him. “In three hours’ time.”
Sooner than he expected. Julian straightened, and squared his shoulders. “Right,” he said. He snatched up the pile of clothes he had gathered, and stood. The floor felt warm–from the summer heat, no doubt; no, it was his feet that were cold. He was cold all over, actually. He registered the feeling, filing it away as one more thing to get over.
Shadows moved beneath the dimly lit room as George stood as well, to stand beside him. He was watching Julian. “We don’t have to do this,”George said. He sounded tired, as though he could think of nothing else to say.
Hypocrisy! Julian could feel his glare become glacial. “Yes, we do. I’m counting on you to take care of Mother and the twins; you can’t do that if you’re executed for murder.”
His stepfather raised an eyebrow at him. “You are my son as well, Julian. I’m supposed to take care of you too.”
There was a pause as Julian fought against the urge to throw two possible, equally valid responses in his face: ‘I’m not your son!’ and ‘I can take care of myself!’ He settled on a disgusted snort, before shouldering past George to get to the bathroom.
The plain white shirt went on first. Fine and silky, it was thin enough to see through, and snug enough that Julian’s nipples were highlighted when it was buttoned. If it were any other occasion, Julian would have been put off by that fact, but he knew that every detail counted.
The fashion of the day called for long tights, from ankle to waist, that left in no doubts one’s family assets, but the idea of being so exposed made Julian decide on the traditional divided skirt instead. Hardly anyone wore them now, especially in the cities: they were old-fashioned, and most men, when asked to wear them, complained about them being heavy and shapeless, but they would grab attention now. White again, with a stylized design of vines embroidered on it in deep red.
On went the leather belt with its strings of pierced coins, and would produce a tinkling sound when he walked. Soft boots encased his feet. George helped him with the long coat, which was of a rich burgundy red.
“Ready?” George asked, watching him through narrowed eyes. He glanced at the clock, and Julian followed his eyes.
It was seven o’ clock.
Julian held himself tightly, not even glancing at the mirror in the corner of the room. “Let’s go,” he said.
The journey to the Governor’s Residence was completed in a private car whose use George had secured as a favour from an old friend. Obtaining the invitation had been far more difficult; George had sold yet more jewellery for the bribes, he knew. There had been once when the mere name of George Sarinen would open doors in the city, but they had fallen on hard times now. Though his nervousness grew as they got nearer and nearer, Julian hoped that this last-ditch effort would work. If only George had not stumbled upon Arthur Merrifield’s secret!
It had not taken long for the first of the bogus charges to be filed, and the accusations had only grown more outrageous as the days went on. George had been forced to resign from his position as president of his company. They were now subsisting on his savings, but that was not all. The Merrifields had fingers into every department of the government, and they were intent on destroying George. The charge of murder was the final straw.
Julian had decided that only Evandor Caldwell, the newly-appointed governor of the province (and currently the youngest of the lot, by far), could counter their influence. Seduction, he had agreed with George, was the most direct way of approaching the man. After all, a lover–or even just a night-time indiscretion–had no need to go through bodyguards and red tape.
The Governor’s Residence was ablaze with lights, and shone like a beacon. Even the surrounding sky was reddened from the brightness, as though the sun had yet to depart. Already, cars were lined up on the driveway, creeping through security checks set up at the gate and further in, Julian could see a glittering stream of guests making their way inside. More than a few were dressed almost as exaggeratedly as he was.
They got through the security checks without any problem. Julian breathed a sigh of relief despite himself. He had not taken his stepfather’s surname after his mother’s remarriage, and none but the closest of George’s associates even knew that he had a stepson, but there was still the fear that he would be associated somehow with an accused murderer. The game would be up if that were so. But it seemed he had nothing to fear for the moment. The uniformed guard raised his eyebrows at Julian’s dress, but he did not do anything as gauche as wink, laugh or make any sort of gesture that would betray that he knew what he was sure Julian was after.
The fact that Caldwell enjoyed male company was an open secret. Almost everyone seemed to conspire to ignore this, partly out of discretion, but also because of the story that inevitably followed whenever anyone mentioned the name of Evandor Caldwell.
Julian heard the story again as he made his way through the main hall. George had called in yet another favour, for one of his old acquaintances to introduce Julian to Caldwell directly, as the son of a friend. The rest would be up to Julian.
“He looks more handsome than ever…” A matronly-looking woman, wearing something pink, sighed to her friend.
“…there’s a look of melancholy in his eyes, don’t you think?”
“Oh, my heart just breaks for him…”
Another sigh. “I’m sure he’s still grieving.”
Oh, yes. Caldwell had had a sorrowful past, one that every lady in the country sighed over. Betrothed to a young, beautiful heiress by their families, he had romanced her from a distance–as necessitated by his official responsibilities, which took him far from her–and his displays of love and affection were still the talk of the town, even now.
“I heard that he once sent her a black pearl necklace from the North Sea and each pearl was the size of your thumb!”
“It was for her eighteenth birthday, wasn’t it?”
“No, it was part of the betrothal gifts. There was this musical box, set with emeralds this big…”
“My cousin was once at a party at the Merrifields, and they showed off this magnificent crystal sculpture of a phoenix, specially commissioned for her…”
Julian rolled his eyes despite his nervousness, even as he made his way to the main hall, where George had told him the new Governor would be. If George were here, he would be one of the prominent business leaders that were eager to get Caldwell’s ear. They expected to ingratiate themselves to the new Governor. The previous Governor had been in the pocket of the Merrifields, but despite the old ties between the Caldwells and the Merrifields (all these old families stuck together) Julian was hoping that the new Governor could be more impartial. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his coat, and grew paranoid that he would leave sweaty stains on it.
He paused by a pillar, trying to look as though he was at home in here. A waiter passed with a tray, and Julian snatched a glass of wine, desperate to have something to do with his hands.
“He once invited a troupe of ballet dancers to perform for her every night for a week! Can you imagine the expense?”
“It was just so horrible that she died before they could be married. I heard that he didn’t speak for weeks after he woke from that coma.”
“Really? They said that he didn’t believe the news at first, and raged for days at his family.”
“… he threw out everything about her: her photographs, her letters…”
“But he just can’t forget her, can he? It’s been so long already. How terrible for him.”
There. Julian thought he could see him now, at the far end. As he expected, Caldwell was surrounded by a large group of people, serious associates and sycophants alike. It was too far away to see Caldwell clearly, but Julian thought he could make out every detail on the man’s face, based on the pictures in numerous newspaper reports about him. It was a handsome face, true, but there was something about the expression in the man’s eyes that drew Julian’s attention. Not sadness, Julian sensed, but a look that said he had lost something, or someone, very important, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“I heard that he stays up late every night. He must be thinking of her.”
Julian had found himself remembering the report in that morning’s newspaper, which had (tastelessly) rehashed the past about the new Governor. There was a photograph that was taken soon after Caldwell was released from hospital three years ago, with his face pale and and his expression broken somehow.
“She died trying to save him… oh, it was true love!”
“Did they ever catch the kidnappers?”
“It was all hushed up…”
Yes, very sad. Julian tried to stop thinking of the high tragedy that was Caldwell’s life, and told himself to concentrate on the task ahead. He always thought it was just like high society to ignore the fact that the whole time he had been courting his fiancée, Caldwell had gone around with a lover by his side. Someone younger, it was rumoured, though no one ever saw his face. Caldwell had kept his little lover well-hidden for two whole years.
Come to think of it, the little lover had disappeared after news of the botched kidnapping broke. There had been dark speculations that he had been involved in the kidnapping, but not even the police had managed to find him.
A few others, resentful of Caldwell’s popularity, had pointed to his relationship with this mysterious male as a sign that he was only playing a game with the Merrifields. But that was not romantic, or luxurious, enough for society. For the most part, the public sympathised with Caldwell, and gorged itself on tales of fantastic extravagances given by Caldwell to his fiancée.
“Didn’t he once send her a jewelled chandelier, one that had been in his family for generations that was rumoured to be worth a king’s ransom? I heard that-”
The rest of the sentence disappeared as Julian stepped away from the little group of gossiping women. He recognised Ian Brown, his stepfather’s friend and the one who had agreed to introduce him, and made his way across the hall towards him.
A burst of laughter in Caldwell’s direction made him glance over, and his heart gave a nervous leap at the sight of the man he was supposed to seduce. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, Julian thought irrationally, staring without intending to. He was good-looking, as advertised, and Julian hadn’t had sex for three years.
Still staring, Julian stumbled on air, and bumped against someone. He gave a yelp, before falling. His glass shattered on the floor, and all conversation hushed. He looked up, ready to protest or apologise, and words died on his lips.
Arthur Merrifield, the man who had almost been Caldwell’s father-in-law. The man whose secret George had uncovered unwittingly, and the man who-
His pulse was starting to thunder in his ears. Julian stared at Merrifield. There was a cold knot of fear that was tightening in his stomach. The old man stood looking down at him, his eyes narrowed.
Maybe he doesn’t remember, the thought came to Julian out of nowhere. Maybe he doesn’t recognize… Julian swallowed, his mind in a whirl. He was sure he had never met Merrifield in his life. Only photographs in the financial pages. He did not know this person… did he?
“Julian! It’s really you?”
Someone was still calling him. Someone much closer now. The questioning tone finally broke through Julian’s befuddlement. He managed to break away from Merrifield’s glare, and found himself staring at Evandor Caldwell. “W-what?” he croaked.
Caldwell’s eyes were wide, and pure disbelief filled his face. “It’s you, right? You’re Julian.” He had both hand on Julian’s shoulders, as though terrified that someone would pull them apart.
“Er… yes, but-” Julian glanced around rapidly, finding the faces of the guests all focused on them. And Merrifield was still staring at him. Something about that expression made Julian panic, and his seldom-used reflexes came to the rescue. “I mean, yes,” he said, trying to keep the confused edge from his tone. “Yes, I’m Julian,” he attempted a smile.
Caldwell shocked him by pulling him into his arms. “I missed you so much,” he whispered into Julian’s ears.
“Huh?” Julian had assumed that this was a matter of mistaken identity, or maybe a joke on Caldwell’s part, but it didn’t sound like that. There was something else going on.
“Come with me,” Caldwell said, and before Julian could agree or disagree, he had pulled Julian to his feet, his hand firmly grasped around Julian’s wrist.
“Wait-” Julian started to say, and stopped.
He had come here to seduce Caldwell, right? Why should he protest when things were (for reasons unknown) proceeding so well? Even if Caldwell appeared to be totally mad.
A few of the other guests murmured protests that they had been in the middle of a discussion.
Caldwell paused, and Julian noticed that his gaze was focused directly at Merrifield. In fact, Caldwell looked almost triumphant. “I’m sorry to leave so abruptly,” he said, more to Merrifield than to the guests. His grip tightened on Julian. “Julian and I have a personal matter to discuss.”
A madman, Julian concluded.
Then he could say nothing more, for Caldwell was pulling him along, out of the hall, and into a guarded hallway, and up some stairs that Julian was sure led to his private quarters.
He was right. Julian barely had time to take in the size of the apartment–was that a jewelled chandelier in one of the rooms?–when Caldwell hustled him into a bedroom and closed the door.
Sitting on the bed, Julian grimaced when he heard the door being locked. He didn’t think Caldwell was going to get violent, but… then he was being kissed. Julian gasped in surprise, and found Caldwell’s tongue in his mouth.
The rush of heat that spread through him at that shocked Julian. He couldn’t recall being aroused so easily before… before… the thought left his mind as he began to return the kiss, slipping his own tongue into Caldwell’s mouth, moaning as though he would never be able to get enough. He was pulling at Caldwell’s clothes, pulling off the tie, unbuttoning his trousers and slipping his hands inside to run his hands over bare skin.
Caldwell was doing the same to him. He had also inserted a leg between Julian’s and was humping him through the layers.
Unfortunately, reason asserted itself before they could get all their clothes off. Julian took a deep breath, and finally managed to push the other man off the bed.
Caldwell landed on the carpeted floor.
Julian swallowed. Belated, profound embarrassment made him pull his clothes straight, and he rubbed his lips. “Not that I’m protesting,” he said after a moment, “but I think you mistook me for someone else.” That was the best explanation he could think of.
The look in Caldwell’s eyes stabbed him.
“What?” Julian demanded, not knowing what else to say. Confusion filled him. There was something else going on, and he was going to get to the bottom of it, seduction or not.
“You are my Julian. We were together for two years, until that… three years ago.”
Three years ago. Julian frowned. “You mean the kidnapping?” he asked. Maybe their newest Governor was knocked on the head during that time.
Anger made it look as though the man’s eyes were blazing. “That was no kidnapping!” Caldwell said.
Julian frowned. “Excuse me?”
“That was no kidnapping,” Caldwell said, getting to his feet. He started towards the bed, and Julian scrambled backwards. Caldwell froze, and sat down in a nearby chair. “Merrifield knew that I was sick of pretending to woo his daughter,” he started.
“I met you when you were in your first year of university, do you remember?” Caldwell said. “You had run away from home, and enrolled in Ascot under a false name. You never did tell me your real name,” he added. “We were together, and I started to look for a way to break off the betrothal. There were too many alliances and agreements between our families for me to just reject her out of the blue.”
“Uh-huh.” Julian thought this called for some kind of response. He had decided that if he was going to argue with a madman, he needed to hear the whole story first. On the other hand, it was interesting to know that Caldwell never really intended to marry his heiress after all.
Caldwell continued, “But Merrifield realized what I was planning, and they decided to attack you instead. Don’t you remember? They abducted you, and threatened me with your life.”
“So it was a kidnapping,” Julian pointed out helpfully. “Just not of you.”
Caldwell’s glare intensified.
Julian squirmed, and made a waving motion. “And what happened?” he asked.
“I tried to negotiate with him, but Cynthia was furious with you.”
“Me? What did I do?” Julian blurted in reflex, and coughed apologetically when Caldwell narrowed his eyes. “Sorry.” Cynthia… Julian realized that very few people ever mentioned her name. It was always ‘the Merrifield heiress’ or ‘Evandor Caldwell’s dead fiancée’.
Who had given her life to save him, ran the second half of the media tag. “Then she didn’t really sacrifice her life for you?” Julian asked, curious.
“Of course not,” Caldwell snapped. “That was the story Merrifield made up after their plan went to pieces.” He looked directly at Julian. “Cynthia always intended to have you killed.”
A pair of hate-filled eyes drifted into Julian’s mind, and he slapped a hand to his forehead immediately, but it didn’t stop the pain.
Caldwell gasped in alarm as Julian began to press both hands against the sides of his head. “Julian?”
Julian held up a hand to stop him from coming any nearer. Whenever he tried to recall what happened after he ran away from home five years ago, his head would start to throb, and finally, Julian had decided not to force it.
Best to let forgotten things remain forgotten, he had thought, but he had been wondering what he carried around in his head. It was a car accident that had caused to lie in hospital, unconscious for weeks. “I-I have amnesia,” Julian said.
“Three years ago,” Julian whispered despite himself, “my mother and stepfather found me in a hospital.”
Caldwell blinked, and understanding filled his eyes. “Julian…”
“They had been looking for me ever since I ran away from home,” Julian said. “I don’t remember what happened what happened in the two years I was away.”
“Then…” He was sitting beside Julian now.
Julian glared at him. “This means, I don’t believe what you’ve said. I’m not the secret lover of Evandor Caldwell. I can’t be. I wouldn’t have stood for it. I’m no one’s dirty little secret.”
“You’re not!” Caldwell grabbed him by the shoulders. “You weren’t. At least… I was working on letting us go public. You are the Julian I love. When we kissed… didn’t you feel it? We know each other,” Caldwell said. “Our mouths, our hands, our bodies…”
“That was just lust,” Julian said, though he couldn’t help a shiver.
“Really? Then let’s try it again.”
Julian opened his mouth to protest, and once again Caldwell’s tongue slid in. Heat exploded around them again. He made a sound of disbelief in his throat, but Caldwell simply held him even more tightly. They clung to each other, rolling back onto the bed.
Looking up into Caldwell’s face, Julian panted as both sensation and déjà vu overtook him. The fingers that rubbed warmth onto his stomach, and teased the skin on his sternum–they were sensations that he was certain he ought to know. He gave a loud gasp as Caldwell pulled the shirt off him, and sucked his nipples, one by one. He couldn’t quite recall having someone do that to him with such tenderness before, yet he didn’t feel in the least surprised; instead, as he wrapped both arms and legs around the other man, there was only the bone-deep certainty that he had been waiting for this for a long time.
That he had been waiting for this to happen again.
It was the ‘again’ that made Julian pause. He didn’t stop Caldwell, but simply lay back when Caldwell somehow unfastened ties of the divided skirt one-handed–he seemed utterly familiar with that–and pulled it down over his hips.
“You were wearing something similar the first time I met you,” Caldwell said, now with his lips to Julian’s throat so that the words seemed to vibrate through both their bodies. “Just now, even before I saw your face, I saw this, and I knew it was you.”
Julian could barely understand him, and only groaned in relief as his skin was bared. “Touch me,” he ordered, pushing close.
“I remember this impatience,” Caldwell said, and then he knelt up, still positioned between Julian, before starting to unbutton his shirt.
“I’ll do it,” Julian growled, and tackled him. This time, the surge of déjà vu did not distract him–he was too busy trying to undo the buttons one by one, while thrusting wildly against Caldwell.
But there was the distinct memory of undoing another row of tiny pearl buttons, on another shirt, on another bed–on the same person. Julian growled deep in his throat and finally succeeded in pulling the garment off (if ripping off a couple of buttons in the process). He had to see if the skin beneath was the same as what his phantom memory told him.
He turned his attentions to Caldwell’s pants–a zipper, despite the danger when one was sporting an erection, proved to be much easier to undo–and did not stop until Caldwell was naked before him.
That was when Caldwell laughed, though it sounded like a moan, and kissed him all over again. Julian barely registered the fingers probing inside him, because the persistent voice in his mind was busy congratulating itself. I was right. It’s him.
And when Caldwell entered him, the voice disappeared, but Julian was too busy to care.
Julian woke up clutching his head. It felt as though someone had removed it, put it through a juicer, and planted the remains back on his neck.
“Julian, are you all right?”
He wondered who was asking such a stupid question before a memory of the earlier events flashed through his mind. He whimpered again at a renewed burst of pain, but not before his body remembered. “No, I am not all right. My head’s killing me,” he said matter-of-factly.
“You were moaning in your sleep, and not the right ones, either,” Caldwell said. “I’ll get the lights…” There was a click, and light flooded the bedroom.
Julian promptly tried to crawl under the sheets. “The light!” he protested.
Another click, and it was blissfully dark again.
It was probably still night–or morning. Julian rolled back onto his back and pressed both palms to the sides of his head. “Guess what, Evan,” he said.
“What, Julian- You called me ‘Evan’!” Caldwell… no, it should be Evan.
“I don’t have amnesia anymore.”
“You remember us?” Judging from Evan’s tone, one would have thought his most desperate wish had come true. “Everything?”
“Yes.” Julian was remembering what had really happened in that abandoned office building the Merrifields had used for his prison. The stupid, melodramatic scene of accusations and counter-arguments that had resulted in Cynthia Merrifield’s accidental death. He had taken opportunity of everyone’s shock to struggle free of his restraints, and when his lover had stumbled down a flight of stair, he had run, certain that Evan was dead and that the pistol-wielding Arthur Merrifield was only a step away.
And he had run right into the path of a speeding car.
“I tried looking for you,” Evan said. “But after I got out of hospital, Merrifield had already destroyed all evidence that you existed. He was the one who gave the police the story of the kidnapping. I thought he had you killed, too.”
Julian groped for, and found his arm in the dark. He gave it a squeeze.
“Julian,” Evan said. He was serious now. “Now that you’re back, Arthur Merrifield will be after you. He thinks that you’re the reason everything went pear-shaped that day.” An arm snaked itself around Julian’s torso, and then Evan was holding him as though he was going to disappear any moment.
“It’s all right,” Julian said. His head was still killing him, but one thing was very clear.
“It’s all right,” Julian repeated. He had feared that his stepfather’s evidence about Arthur Merrifield accepting bribes would be dismissed, but not now. In fact, he could almost visualize the charges against George popping like balloons. “I have a plan.”