As soon as Andrew was well enough to take his meals downstairs, Mama insisted on throwing a small dinner party to celebrate. Andrew had the feeling that he’d scared her quite badly, which made him feel guilty, his latest injury coming so soon after Father’s death and only a few years after Ben’s.
Andrew’s one comfort was that if anything did happen to him, she would always have Hallie and Jesse to turn to.
“Andrew, oh my goodness,” Carey said, grabbing his hands as soon as she arrived. She was followed by her parents who were apparently feeling more charitable toward Andrew now, either following his near-death experience or, more likely, because Carey was now happily engaged to someone else.
Andrew laughed, shaking his head. “I’ve had much worse,” he assured her. He patted his hip. “And at least it’s all down the same side. I would have looked a fright if I’d limped with both legs.”
Carey bit her lip, not looking any happier. “It’s just so dreadful. Highwaymen, in Hatfield.”
“Yes, terrible,” Andrew said and made a mental note to explain to her what had really happened. Highwaymen had made a good cover story, since no one wanted word of the real story to get out, but Carey deserved to know that it was no less safe than usual to travel the Great North Road.
When they took their seats at the dinner table, it felt strangely reminiscent of the last time they’d all sat here, before Andrew and Jesse had even been married. Jesse was sitting across from Andrew now, having insisted that Carey have the chair beside Andrew’s.
“Have you set a date for the service yet?” Hallie asked Carey as soon as the first course had been served.
Carey laughed, nodding. “June this year,” she said. “Marcus’s position takes him abroad often, so we wanted to marry as soon as possible, so that I could go with him. I’ve always longed to travel.”
She looked bright and happy in a way that Andrew knew he wouldn’t have been able give her. The thought didn’t make him feel anything but pleased, since they’d both fallen in love now, both had had a chance to learn how it felt, even if his was hopelessly unrequited.
A clatter turned everyone’s eyes to Jesse. He blushed, looking directly at Carey for possibly the first time this evening. “M-marry?” he asked, voice strange in a way that Andrew didn’t know how to determine.
“Yes?” Carey asked. She glanced at Andrew who shrugged. He hadn’t mentioned it to Jesse, but he’d assumed Hallie would. “I’ve been betrothed since January.”
Jesse’s face looked very strange but he didn’t ask anything else, just shook his head, almost to himself. “Please accept my best wishes,” he said hurriedly, still in that tight, flat voice. He pushed away from the table. “Excuse me, I’m sorry, I forgot that I… need to be somewhere else.”
“Jesse?” Mama called after him, sounding just as confused as Andrew felt.
“Did I say something wrong?” Carey asked, sounding distressed. She turned to Andrew. “Every time I try to be his friend, I think I ruin it somehow.”
“I can’t imagine it was anything you said,” Andrew promised her, frowning. “Mama, do you mind if I - ?”
Mama shook her head. “No, please, go and check on him. He’s been behaving very strangely since you all came home.” She laughed. “I do hope all that education hasn’t driven him mad.”
“I would love to go to Cambridge,” Hallie sighed, as Andrew left the room. “Do you think I might?”
It was a painful process for Andrew to limp around the house, searching for Jesse. The bullet had gone clean through his thigh, missing the bone, thank god, but causing a lot of painful muscle damage.
Andrew felt strangely calm about the whole thing. He’d survived worse, as he’d told Carey, and so he knew he could survive this. He did wish he’d stopped to pick up his cane, though; the stairs were an almost insurmountable obstacle.
He made it to the fourth step before he had to stop, leaning heavily on the banisters and breathing hard.
“The hell are you doing?” Joe’s voice floated down to him and then there was a clatter of running steps, Joe’s hand on his elbow, helping to steady him.
Andrew groaned, straightening up. “Making an idiot of myself, I think,” he said, mentally reminding himself to warn Joe not to be quite so familiar in public since poor old Ford would probably have had a fit if he’d overheard. “Have you seen Mr Eisenberg? I seem to have lost him.”
“Yes, he came running upstairs two minutes ago, shut himself in his bedroom.” Joe tightened his grip on Andrew’s arm, sighing. “I suppose that means you want me to help you all the way up the stairs.”
“Please,” Andrew said with his most winning – although possibly slightly strained – smile.
Joe rolled his eyes heavenward. “You’re going to kill yourself over that man one day,” he warned, nevertheless, helping Andrew onto the next step.
Andrew shook his head. “I don’t mind,” he said. “That would be a fine way to go.”
It was Joe’s turn to groan. “I hope to god I never fall in love, then,” he said, although he sounded as thought he was at least mostly joking. “If it’s that dangerous to human health.”
“Shut up and help me up the stairs,” Andrew told him cheerfully. “I miss my husband.”
Joe deposited Andrew at Jesse’s bedroom door and then walked away, still shaking his head.
Andrew smiled and knocked softly. “Jesse?” he called. “Jesse, are you well?”
There was no response for long enough that Andrew started to wonder if he’d snuck out of the window while Andrew and Joe were on the stairs.
“Jesse?” he tried again. “My leg really hurts. I’d love to be able to sit down.”
The bedroom door unlocked with a click and then Jesse’s face peered out. “Go back to the dining room,” he advised. “You can sit there for as long as you want.”
“Can’t,” Andrew said easily, “Joe had to help me up the stairs, and he’s not here anymore.”
Jesse stared at him then sighed. “All right,” he said, stepping back.
Andrew pushed the door open and then nearly jumped out of his skin when something small and furry leapt up at his knees.
“Oh my goodness,” he said, laughing as a small, grey cat slinked around his feet. “Where did you come from?”
“Cambridge,” Jesse said, sounding awkward. “She, um. She sort of adopted me when I came back after Christmas. I couldn’t just leave her there when I left.”
“No, of course not,” Andrew agreed, captivated by the way the little thing jumped up toward his hand when he reached down for her. “What’s her name?”
“Magdalene,” Jesse said, “After, um, after the college. Maggie for short.”
“Maggie,” Andrew said, sitting down into the chair Jesse offered him and smiling widely when she jumped straight onto his lap. “Hello, Maggie.”
Jesse sat down on the bed and didn’t say a word, just watched while Andrew stroked Maggie behind the ears, listening to her purr grow much louder than should have been possible from such a tiny scrap of a cat.
“Carey thinks you don’t like her,” Andrew said after the silence had stretched on long enough.
Jesse’s expression turned shifty and Andrew started to worry that maybe Jesse really didn’t like her; he’d put Jesse’s stiltedness around her down to shyness. Jesse was always especially shy around people who were trying to make friends.
“I was just, um, I was surprised. I didn’t, didn’t realise she was betrothed.”
Andrew nodded. “Well, she is.”
“Since, um, since January, she said?”
“Yes,” Andrew agreed, increasingly confused. “I didn’t find out until later.”
“Obviously,” Jesse muttered then clearly wished he hadn’t by the way he looked away.
“Jesse?” Andrew prompted. He tried to lean forward, but Maggie batted his chest lightly with her paws, apparently not appreciating her perch moving.
Jesse bit his lip. “I meant… I just meant.” He took a deep breath. “I meant that since you were declaring your undying love to her in January, that I should hope that you didn’t know she was to marry someone else.”
Andrew stared at him. “Pardon,” he managed faintly. “I’ve never pledged my undying anything to Carey.” Except possibly his friendship and that was more an unspoken understanding. “And certainly not in January.” In January, he’d realised he was in love with Jesse. That there would never be anyone else.
“I heard you,” Jesse said softly. “It’s all right. I don’t blame you. You’ve loved her much longer than you’ve been married to me.”
Now Andrew had to go to him. He picked Maggie up and deposited her on the empty chair with an apologetic pat between the ears.
Jesse watched him warily as he limped across the room to sit beside Jesse on the bed. “Should I not have said anything?” he asked, then tipped his chin up, stubbornly brave. “I think I have a right to at least mention it and so does Carey’s fiancé, if the poor bastard even knows.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Andrew told him, heart beating loud enough to feel inside his chest. “I’m not in love with Carey; I’ve never been in love with Carey. She’s my best friend and that’s the only reason I ever thought of marrying her.”
“I heard you,” Jesse repeated, “that night at the ball.”
Andrew wracked his brains, but he couldn’t remember that night too clearly. It was all overshadowed by the realisation that he loved Jesse and then by Jesse leaving. Wait.
“You heard me say something to Carey and then you left? Was that why you went back to Cambridge?” There was a tiny, desperate glimmer of hope in his heart, so fragile that it hurt.
Jesse didn’t say anything, just stared down at his knees. “I didn’t want to stand in your way,” he mumbled eventually.
Andrew put his hand on Jesse’s knee, squeezing hard. “You’ve never been in my way,” he promised. “I was a disaster of a person when you went away. I was so unhappy.”
Jesse looked up. “Why?” he asked, eyes wide with something that Andrew was scared to think might be the same sort of hope he was feeling.
“Because,” Andrew said uselessly. “Because I, I, because you made me happier than I ever wanted to be and then you went away and it, it felt like I couldn’t be happy anymore.”
He glanced up at Jesse, chewing on his lower lip. He probably shouldn’t have said that; it wasn’t fair. If he were braver, though, he would have said a lot more.
“I couldn’t breathe when I heard you tell Carey you loved her.” Jesse squared his shoulders and it occurred to Andrew that one of them was about to be brave, but it wasn’t him. “Do you remember, just before we left for the ball, I was going to ask you something?”
“Yes?” Andrew prompted, unconsciously leaning toward him. He’d thought over and over again about what that could have been.
Jesse’s cheeks were pink and he was twisting his hands together but he didn’t back down. “I was going to ask if there was a chance that… You kept being so nice to me and touching me and that night when you got really drunk with Joe? You told me that you loved me.”
Andrew stopped breathing.
Whatever Jesse saw on his face, made his voice shake as he finished, “I was going to ask if there was any chance that that was – ”
“Yes,” Andrew interrupted. His hand spasmed so tightly on Jesse’s knee that it must have been painful but Jesse didn’t even blink, just kept staring urgently at Andrew’s face. “Yes. God, Jesse, there’s every chance in the world.”
Jesse licked his bottom lip reflexively. “Oh,” he said softly.
The only thing left that Andrew wanted to do was kiss him and kiss him again and never stop kissing him, but he had to know first. “What, what about you?”
Jesse laughed soundlessly, looking down then back up again. “I’ve been in love with you since I was fifteen years old,” he admitted. “Which was a really stupid idea since you didn’t even know I existed back then.”
“God, Jesse,” Andrew sighed, hating his sixteen-year-old self for as long as it took for his brain to catch up with what that potentially meant for his current self. “Wait. Does, does that mean that you - ? That you still - ?”
Jesse nodded quickly. “Yes. Yes. I’m, um. I think I should probably kiss you now before you kill yourself trying to finish those sentences. Is that all right?”
“That’s fine,” Andrew breathed, because that was one sentence that he could definitely complete.
Jesse shifted closer, putting a hand on the side of Andrew’s face to steady him before leaning forward and kissing him gently.
It felt like a first kiss, like their first kiss should have felt if they hadn’t both been so terrified that night. Not that Andrew was any less terrified right now, but it was a much better sort of fear.
“Jesse,” he whispered helplessly, pulling Jesse closer, kissing him again.
“Shh.” Jesse stroked his hair back behind his ears and they kissed for a third time. “I missed you so much. I wanted to come home and ask if you’d be willing to have me in your bed the nights that Carey wasn’t there, but that felt too pathetic, even for someone as pathetically lovelorn as me.”
Andrew reached down and squeezed Jesse’s hands between his. “I’d like to have you in my bed every night. Can I? Can we just, do we have to have separate bedrooms; is there a law that says we must?”
Jesse laughed, shaking his head. “No, I think that’s just convention.” He smiled shyly. “And we’ve already broken a lot of those. We could break another?”
Andrew wasn’t sure what to do with all this happiness. It felt like it wanted to burst out of his fingers or make him do a jig or something. If his leg were better, he probably would have had to stand up right now to bounce around on the spot.
As it was, he did something even better: fisted his hands in Jesse’s shirt and pulled him closer for a longer, deeper kiss, slipping his tongue into Jesse’s mouth and trying to relearn every inch of his mouth.
Jesse made a soft, wanting noise in his throat and pushed against Andrew’s shoulder, encouraging him back against the bed. Andrew fell back willingly, hands sliding greedily up and down Jesse’s body, exploring his hips and his chest and his arse.
“I think you should apologise,” Jesse said thickly, leaning down to nibble on Andrew’s neck.
“I should?” Andrew asked uncertainly, lifting his hands away.
“Not for that,” Jesse said quickly, grabbing Andrew’s hands and putting them right back where they were. Andrew loved him so much. “For, um. What was I saying?”
“I have no idea,” Andrew confessed, using fingertips to explore the tempting seam down the back of Jesse’s britches while Jesse graduated from nibbling to more enthusiastic biting. “Apologising?”
“Right, yes.” Jesse’s hips rolled a little, pushing back into Andrew’s hands. “You got me so used to having regular sex and then I went back to Cambridge and there were nights when I could think of nothing but how much I missed your hands on me.”
Andrew’s already-eager erection throbbed at the thought of what Jesse might have done following those thoughts, but he found himself asking, having to ask, “You did, you didn’t find anyone else? I rather thought that you and Emma might have had an understanding?”
Jesse was silent for a second and then he started to laugh, just jerky little tremors at first that steadily escalated into breathless giggling against Andrew’s chest. Andrew smiled up at the ceiling, bemused, and wrapped his arms around Jesse’s back. Jesse was leaning a lot of his weight onto Andrew and Andrew’s various bullet wounds weren’t thrilled about that, but Andrew himself couldn’t have been happier.
“Should I take that as a no?” he asked, turning his smile into Jesse’s hair.
“No,” Jesse said firmly. “Emma is perfectly happy on her own and, anyway, kissing her would be too much like kissing Hallie. She’s been very supportive since she came to London, but not like that.” He stopped, peering up at Andrew. “Were you jealous?”
“No,” Andrew said, starting to shake his head then turning it into a nod. “Yes. Yes, horribly, hideously, painfully jealous. Poor Emma.”
“Yes,” Jesse laughed, pushing up on his hands to lean over Andrew. “Poor Emma. Poor Carey. If only you and I had ever bothered to have a conversation.”
“Where would be the fun in that?” Andrew asked, gasping when Jesse pressed closer still, the hard planes of his chest against Andrew’s, his legs moving to slot between Andrew’s.
Andrew tried to widen his legs to make room for him at the same time that Jesse brought his right left leg over. The result was a knee to Andrew’s thigh and a sudden, sharp pain that he couldn’t even try to hide.
“Fuck,” Jesse was saying when the pained buzz had faded from Andrew’s ears. Jesse was kneeling up, hand tentative and worried on Andrew’s thigh. “Is it bleeding? Did I make it bleed again?”
Andrew shook his head. He wasn’t sure, but nothing felt wet. “I think it’s all right,” he said, laying one arm over his face in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t very elegant or alluring, was it?”
“Yes, how dare you be in pain from the serious injury you’re still recovering from?” Jesse snapped. He sat up, folding his arms. “Well, we’re not having sex tonight.”
“What?” Andrew asked, reaching for him. “Why not? Jesse, you can’t do that to me. It’s been months.”
Jesse expression became firm. “Yes, thank you, keep whining, that’s doing wonders for my erection.” He rubbed his hand lightly over Andrew’s leg again. “I don’t think it’s bleeding but you should take these off so I can have a proper look. Should I call for Joe?”
“God, no,” Andrew said, because Joe put up with a lot but he didn’t need to get involved in Andrew’s sexual mishaps. He smiled winningly up at Jesse. “You could help me.”
Jesse rolled his eyes, but fondly, Andrew thought; it was a fond look of exasperation. “I can. I’m fairly confident that the act of undressing you won’t make me forget about your bullet wound again though.”
Andrew sighed. “Spoil sport.” He let Jesse help him to sit up, then together they got him out of his breeches. The bandage on his thigh was a little crumpled and uneven at the edges, but it was still a bright, white colour, no sign of any bleeding.
“Thank god,” Jesse breathed, sitting down abruptly. His hands were shaking on Andrew’s leg. “You don’t know, you weren’t conscious, but you lost so much blood. It took me hours to get to you from Cambridge, even though Mr Cumberbatch departed immediately to collect me. When I got there, Hallie and Justin and Emma, especially Emma, they were just covered in your blood. I thought, how can there possibly be any left inside you.”
Andrew squeezed Jesse’s trembling hand. “I’m fine,” he promised. “And my leg’s fine now. It doesn’t even hurt that much.”
Jesse flicked a look at him. “That’s a terrible lie,” he said, but not too sternly. He stroked his fingers along Andrew’s thigh, ruffling the dark hairs there. All this talk about nearly dying was having no effect on Andrew’s erection, which was now embarrassingly obvious against his bare stomach.
“It’s not,” Andrew argued. “I can’t feel pain when you’re here. I only feel love.”
Jesse laughed, shaking his head. “If I’d known that admitting my, our feelings was going to make you this ridiculous, I never would have.”
“Yes, you would.” Andrew lay down on his side, pulling Jesse with him. “I’m sorry if you don’t like me being ridiculous. I don’t think I can do anything but be ridiculous with you.”
He touched the end of Jesse’s nose, utterly charmed when Jesse’s nose wrinkled under his finger. Jesse looked down at Andrew’s finger, eyes crossing. “I don’t mind it too much,” he confessed softly.
“I know,” Andrew admitted in return, just as quietly. He kissed Jesse’s cheek. “Marry me?” he asked.
Jesse laughed, lovely blue eyes flicking up to meet Andrew’s. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly, “but I believe we’ve already done that.”
“Yes,” Andrew agreed, “but that wasn’t real. If I could, I would divorce you and marry you all over again. Do you think there might be a scandal if we tried to do that.”
“Yes. And also I don’t want to divorce you, not even so I can marry you again.” Jesse sounded embarrassed but honest and, in truth, Andrew didn’t want to be not-married to Jesse either, not even so they could do it properly this time.
“Well, could we do something?” Andrew asked. “Have our marriage blessed or something, and invite all our friends this time? We could have a party afterwards?”
“Oh good, a party,” Jesse said flatly, “I do so love a party,” but he hadn’t said no to the rest of it and that was the part Andrew most cared about anyway.
Andrew closed the space between them, kissing Jesse carefully. “I love you,” he said, since he was allowed to now.
“I know,” Jesse said, smiling and biting his lip simultaneously. “I, I love you too. Although, I’m not sure your guests are going to love either of us; you have completely abandoned them.”
“Oh fuck,” Andrew said, laughing. “I completely forgot about dinner. We don’t have to go back down, do we?”
He didn’t want to do anything but lie here in bed with Jesse, even if Jesse was going to insist on sticking to his No Sex Tonight policy.
“No,” Jesse said firmly. “It would just be inconvenient of us to go back to the table now. They’d all have to wait while we ate. It’d be incredibly impolite.”
Andrew laughed, running his hand along Jesse’s side, up under his shirt. “You’re a genius,” he said, “I knew there was a reason I married you.” He nudged Jesse over onto his back and kissed him again, long and slow, curling his fingers in Jesse’s hair and content to stay, just like this, forever.
“Well,” Mama said slowly, standing back and surveying the rapidly-filling ballroom with elegantly arched eyebrows. “I must say, this is a sight.”
Andrew smiled, tucking his arm though hers. “Will you dance with me once the music starts?” he asked, leaning into her side. “I would like that very much.”
Mama smiled and shook her head, but Andrew didn’t think she was saying no. “If I can pry you away from your husband for long enough,” she said with a little laugh.
Andrew smiled back and kissed her cheek. She was out of mourning now, socialising freely once more, and it was wonderful to see her smiling again. He was glad that he and Jesse had decided to delay their party until she could attend. (Well, Jesse had been willing to delay it forever, of course, but he didn’t seem too miserable now, standing by the punch bowl and chatting animatedly with Karen.)
Mama slapped Andrew lightly on the arm, obviously noticing where he was looking. “Go on then,” she said, “I know how much it hurts you to be more than three feet from Jesse for too long.”
“Mama,” Andrew protested, blushing, “That’s simply not true.” It was more than true. He didn’t mind at all. “I survived for two months in the summer while Jesse was finishing his studies, didn’t I?”
“Barely,” Mama told him archly. She smiled again, leaning forward to kiss his cheek. “I’m so happy for you,” she added, sounding a little choked. “I couldn’t have borne it if, if you’d made such a sacrifice to save our name and had then been unhappy.”
Andrew was so happy these days that it was indescribable. He squeezed her arm. “Remember to save me that dance,” he said, then moved over to join Jesse.
Karen saw him first, waving him over. She was in the family way again, but Andrew didn’t think that was well known yet, since she was barely showing. With the way that Matt was beaming and bouncing around the place they’d had no choice but to tell Andrew.
“Hello,” Andrew said, throwing an arm around Jesse’s waist and leaning forward to kiss Karen’s cheek. “What are you two talking about?”
“The theatre,” Jesse told him, putting his hand over Andrew’s where it rested on his hip, as though he couldn’t decide whether or not he was embarrassed by Andrew’s affection. “Did you know that Karen is an actress?”
“I did,” Andrew said. “Why? Are you planning to throw over academia for a life on the stage?”
Jesse rolled his eyes. “Yes, because people would pay to see me several nights a week.”
“I would,” Andrew said automatically, slightly disappointed that Jesse didn’t blush anymore, just huffed, as though he’d expected Andrew to say something like that and had already been prepared to dismiss it.
“It really is a lot of fun,” Karen told them. “I’ll be at the Theatre Royal next month, you should both come along.”
“We’d love to,” Jesse said quickly, as though afraid Karen would take back the offer. Now that they’d finally been introduced, Andrew’s friends had taken instantly to Jesse, but Jesse still seemed to suspect that they were only being friendly to him for Andrew’s sake.
It was Andrew’s current mission to persuade him otherwise.
“Good.” Karen smiled at them both. “I’ll be relying on you to keep Matt quiet. The last time he came to see me perform, he kept calling for an encore every time I spoke. Poor Arthur was so embarrassed.”
Andrew laughed. “Speaking of,” he said, nodding his head across the room to where Matt was spinning Arthur around, trying to make him dance although there was still no music playing.
Karen sighed. “Excuse me,” she said, shaking her head in resigned amusement. “I’d better stop them before they destroy your lovely home.”
Jesse watched her leave and then turned to Andrew. “They’re very happy,” he said thoughtfully.
“So are we,” Andrew reminded him, refusing to let himself add aren’t we? They’d got much better at communicating over the last few months, so he was sure he’d know if they weren’t for any reason.
“Well, obviously,” Jesse said quickly, tangling their fingers together and giving Andrew’s hand a squeeze. He leant just slightly into Andrew’s side. “Why is the music taking so long to start?”
“Why?” Andrew teased. “Are you anxious to start dancing?”
“Oh yes,” Jesse told him, “I can hardly wait.” He shook his head. “I just don’t want anyone to get bored. We’ve made them come all the way to Surrey just for us, what if they’re having a terrible time?”
Andrew wrapped his other arm around Jesse, resting their cheeks together. “Stop worrying,” he said. “No one made them come, remember? They wanted to celebrate our anniversary with us.”
Jesse smiled slightly. “I can’t believe it’s been a year. It feels so much longer.”
“Longer?” Andrew clasped a hand to his chest. “You’re supposed to say that it barely feels as though a moment has passed since you made me yours.”
“Oh, am I?” Jesse asked. “Is that the rule?”
“It’s the rule of romance,” Andrew told him firmly.
“I’ll show you romance,” Jesse said, leaning almost all the way into him before pulling back sharply, apparently only just remembering that they were in public. They spent so much of their time cocooned away in their own little world that it was hard, sometimes, to remember how to behave around other people.
“Will you really?” Andrew murmured, feeling his heart speed up. He stroked the back of Jesse’s hand before glancing around. No one was paying them any mind, too focused on the musicians who were finally ready to start. “We could probably take a few minutes? Everyone will be preoccupied by the dancing.”
“What?” Jesse asked, voice rising in pitch. “No. We can’t.” He looked so handsome, all flushed and scandalised like that, that Andrew’s half-formed, mostly joking, suggestion started to feel much more imperative.
“Come on. Ten minutes. Please?” He tugged gently on Jesse’s hand, pleased when Jesse followed him, still blushing and muttering but not actually adverse.
They went to the library because it was close and had a lock on the door and Andrew fell to his knees as soon as they were alone.
“Oh god,” Jesse gulped, leaning back against the door and closing his eyes.
Jesse’s britches were much more confusing to open than normal, but Andrew dealt with them easily enough, pulling his cock free with only slightly-clumsy fingers.
“Oh god,” Jesse repeated when Andrew leant in, nuzzling at his groin. “We don’t, we don’t have time for, for that.”
Andrew licked the top of Jesse’s thigh, the base of his erection. “There’s always time for this,” he said sternly, but Jesse was probably right. It would be terribly rude to miss the whole party because he wanted to taste every inch of Jesse’s body, wanted to check that nothing had changed since this morning.
He took Jesse into his mouth and started to suck gently, humming happily as he did so. Everyone kept telling him that this constant need to touch Jesse would quieten soon. Apparently they were still in the honeymoon stage, and reality would descend eventually.
Andrew didn’t believe it for a moment.
As far as he was concerned, they’d started their marriage with reality; the rest of it, the rest of their lives, was going to be just like this, floating around on the edge of a constant, frighteningly sincere happiness.
Jesse’s fingers stroked though Andrew’s hair, tracing the shape of his ears with careful thumbs. “That’s… that’s so… that feels so.” He head slammed back against the door and his hips rocked forward. “Fuck. Why are we having a party? I want to stay like this all night.”
Andrew hummed his agreement. He definitely had no objections to that.
“Oh, oh, fuck,” Jesse muttered so Andrew hummed again, harder this time.
Jesse’s pulled at Andrew’s hair, which Andrew loved but Jesse didn’t usually let himself do, always worried he might accidentally scalp Andrew or something.
“Andrew,” Jesse groaned, back arching and body going tense before he suddenly relaxed, legs wobbling so hard that Andrew had to help him sink to the ground even as he was still licking the last vestiges of Jesse’s taste from his lips.
“Fuck,” Jesse said again, dropping his head onto Andrew’s shoulder. “I can’t possibly dance now; you’ve turned all my bones to mush.”
“That’s really sad,” Andrew said, “I was so looking forward to dancing with you. What’s the use of a mushy husband?”
Jesse snorted against his neck. “I’ll show you,” he promised, worming his hand up under Andrew’s shirt and finding a nipple.
“Mm,” Andrew sighed, nudging his mouth lazily against haphazard parts of Jesse’s face until Jesse laughed and lifted his head, meeting Andrew’s mouth for a proper kiss.
“Andrew,” Jesse breathed against Andrew’s lips, “You need to be quiet, all right?”
“I am being – ” Andrew started, confused, before Jesse twisted his left nipple sharply and he had to clamp his teeth shut tightly so he didn’t yell out. “Oh, oh.” The left side of his chest felt like it was burning, hot and painful and so good that Andrew could barely breathe.
Sometimes Jesse would do this, would read or hear about something he wanted to try and then spring it on Andrew when he least expected it. Andrew didn’t understand why some people referred to sex as a marital duty; he’d spend all day every day just like this if he could.
“Good?” Jesse asked curiously. He waited for Andrew to nod before doing it again.
Andrew bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. “Please,” he murmured, tangling his fingers in Jesse’s hair and pulling him closer, not even knowing what he was asking for, just needing.
Jesse bit the skin behind his ear lightly, catching a thin sliver of Andrew’s skin between his teeth. The pain was sharp, but low enough that the mark wouldn’t show beneath Andrew’s fashionably high collar.
Andrew felt weak and shaken, wishing fervently that they’d waited to start this until they were somewhere where he could strip off all his clothes and ask Jesse to bite him everywhere.
“Too much?” Jesse asked, pulling back and looking concerned. His skin was a little sweaty, sex flush still high across his cheeks.
“Only, um, only because we don’t have enough time,” Andrew assured him. “It feels so, um.”
He trailed off because Jesse was looking at him intently, clearly interested.
“Feels so what?” Jesse prompted.
Andrew shook his head, closing his eyes. “I love you so much,” he said instead, overwhelmed.
“Yes,” Jesse said lightly. “You too. Now shh,” he added, reaching for the fastenings of Andrew’s britches.
“Where have you been?” Hallie demanded as soon as they snuck back into the ballroom. She took one look at Jesse’s loosened curls and Andrew’s creased shirt and widened her eyes, shaking her head. “No, no, don’t tell me. Honestly, it was bad enough in London. I never knew which rooms I could go into without traumatising myself.”
“Hallie,” Andrew protested. “You’re not supposed to talk like – ”
Hallie glared at him so he stopped talking. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that Emma’s here.”
“Oh good,” Jesse said, “She promised she’d lend me some of her husband’s books. Do you think she - ?”
“And Justin arrived with her,” Hallie finished smoothly.
Andrew snapped to attention, startled. “Really?” he asked, not sure how he felt about that. He hadn’t seen Justin since the duel, not even when he’d recovered enough to return to London for the end of the Season.
“Yes, and you’re not to be mean to him,” Hallie warned. “The poor thing got in so much trouble with Emma after our little misunderstanding. She sent him back to New York and he missed most of the Season.” She made it sound as though that were the worst possible punishment a would-be eloper could ever have experienced.
“Misunderstanding,” Jesse muttered. Jesse was much less forgiving of people who shot Andrew than Andrew was, apparently.
Andrew caught Jesse’s hand and squeezed. “We should say hello to them,” he said firmly, swinging Jesse’s arm a little when Jesse opened his mouth, presumably to argue.
“Very well,” Jesse agreed grudgingly. “But I won’t be friendly to him.”
“Of course not,” Andrew agreed cheerfully, since he knew full well that Jesse was incapable of being horrible to anyone’s face.
They found Justin skulking around the edge of the dance floor, looking unusually subdued and unlike himself.
He stood up straighter as soon as he saw them approach, hands sliding out of his pockets to twist awkwardly at his sides. Maybe being sent home to New York really had been a punishment; he certainly looked chastised.
“How do you do?” he said, clearly reaching for but missing his usual boisterous enthusiasm.
Andrew held out his hand automatically. “Timberlake,” he said, “It’s good to see you, I’m glad you came.”
Jesse made a choked noise but didn’t disagree.
Justin blinked at Andrew, glanced at Hallie, and then shook Andrew’s hand hard. “Are you quite recovered?” he asked softly, even though it was no secret that Andrew had been injured, only the circumstances surrounding it.
“Quite,” Andrew agreed. His leg still troubled him a little, but no worse than his hip always did and his doctors were confident that the leg, at least, would be fully healed before another year was out.
Justin nodded quickly, breathing out a slow sigh.
“Take some air with me?” Andrew asked, spontaneously. He’d liked what he’d known of Justin before the incident with Hallie, and Andrew was always happy to repair friendships.
“Andrew,” Jesse protested but Hallie stood on his foot. “Ow.”
Justin nodded. “That would be fine,” he agreed, falling into step beside Andrew, heading toward the gardens.
Outside, it turned out that Andrew didn’t really know what to say. What did you say to the man who had eloped with your little sister and then accidentally shot you?
“I just thought we should clear the air,” he said awkwardly. “Are you back in England for long?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Justin said slowly. He glanced out at the gardens then back again. “I have some business in New York and I think Emma would be happier if she didn’t have to see much of me for the time being.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Andrew protested. “Emma was just disappointed, I suppose but it’s not as if, I mean. You don’t plan to pursue Hallie again, do you?”
“No,” Justin said with reassuring certainty. “In fact, I.” He cleared his throat. “The business I need to attend to in New York is actually a betrothal.”
Andrew stared at him, surprised. He hadn’t thought Justin the type to settle down. “Congratulations,” he said sincerely. “Emma never said a word.”
“She doesn’t know,” Justin confessed. “It isn’t exactly set in stone yet. Britney – her name is Britney – is recently divorced with two young children. I’m having a little trouble persuading her that I’m a decent prospect. I think she’s worried about what the combination of our bad reputations might do to her children’s future.”
Andrew winced, not sure what to say. To be honest, he agreed with her, but then he also believed that love was more important than anything.
“Good luck,” he finally settled on. “I’m sure if anyone can convince her, it’ll be you. Or, I suppose, you could introduce her to Hallie? Hallie is, I’m told, incredibly persuasive.”
Justin’s eyes widened and then he laughed loudly. “Yes,” he agreed, “Yes, she certainly is. Can I take her back to New York with me?”
Andrew grinned. “For my part you can, but Jesse might object. He’s much fiercer than me, you know.”
“Oh I know,” Justin said ominously, which made Andrew curious as to exactly what Jesse had said to Justin while Andrew was lying around shot and unconscious.
Andrew slapped Justin on the shoulder. “Good luck,” he said. “You should bring her to stay once you’re married. We’d love to meet her.”
Justin smiled at him, looking surprised and hopeful. “I’ll hold you to that,” was all he said.
Andrew nodded. “All right. We should go back inside, I have to dance with my husband now.”
“May I dance with your sister?” Justin asked cheekily.
Andrew laughed, shaking his head. “If she agrees. But be warned, her card is probably full. She left behind a trail of broken hearts at the end of the London Season, you know.”
Justin saluted him. “I’ll take the risk,” he said, before walking away, presumably in search of Hallie.
Jesse was dancing with Emma when Andrew found him, but a tap on Emma’s shoulder stole him away.
“Where did he shoot you this time?” Jesse asked, sighing when Andrew refused to take the lead from him.
“On my lips,” Andrew said sadly. “It’s very tragic. You should kiss it better.”
“Really?” Jesse asked, but did lean in and kiss Andrew, very softly on the mouth. Andrew smiled, since he really hadn’t been expecting that.
“I was wondering,” Andrew said, after they’d been dancing for a little while. “How would you feel about buying a house?”
“Don’t we have one?” Jesse asked, frowning. “Unless that’s your horribly cruel way of telling me you want to live separately?”
“Never!” Andrew exclaimed. “I meant a house in London, one that’s ours rather than full of old ghosts. There could be a garden for Maggie and a whole room just for your books.” He realised he was babbling nervously and forced himself to stop.
“Yes,” Jesse said quickly, smiling up at him. “Yes, I’d like that.”
Andrew beamed at him. “I’m so pleased you married me,” he said, probably for the tenth time that day, but he didn’t care. It was always true.
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