Saturday, January 27, 2018

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Cambridge Fellows Mysteries by Charlie Cochrane Part 1


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If the men of St. Bride’s College knew what Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith got up to behind closed doors, the scandal would rock early-20th-century Cambridge to its core. But the truth is, when they’re not busy teaching literature and mathematics, the most daring thing about them isn’t their love for each other—it’s their hobby of amateur sleuthing.

Because wherever Jonty and Orlando go, trouble seems to find them. Sunny, genial Jonty and prickly, taciturn Orlando may seem like opposites. But their balance serves them well as they sift through clues to crimes, and sort through their own emotions to grow closer. But at the end of the day, they always find the truth . . . and their way home together.

********

Be sure and check the author's website for a complete chronological list of novels, novellas, free short stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries Universe.

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Lessons in Love #1
Summary:
Cambridge, 1905.

It’s the turn of the century, Queen Victoria’s reign is over, it’s time for a new beginning. In Cambridge, Jonty Stewart takes up a teaching post, acting as a catalyst for change within the archaic institution. But he also has a catalytic effect on Orlando Coppersmith.

Orlando is a brilliant, introverted mathematician with very little experience of life outside the college walls. He strikes up an alliance with the outgoing Jonty, and soon finds himself having feelings he’s never experienced before. Before long their friendship blossoms into more than either man had hoped and they enter into a clandestine relationship.

Yet their romance is complicated when a series of murders is discovered within St. Brides. And all of the victims have one thing in common: a penchant for men. A fact that only puts Orlando and Jonty in greater danger, when they are enlisted to act as the eyes and ears for the police…

Lessons in Desire #2
Summary:
Cambridge, 1906.

With the recent series of college murders behind him, Cambridge Fellow Jonty Stewart is in desperate need of a break.

A holiday on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey seems ideal, if only he can persuade Orlando Coppersmith to leave the security of the college and come with him. Orlando is a quiet man who prefers academic life to venturing out into the world. Within the confines of their rooms at the university, it’s easy to hide the fact that he and Jonty are far more than friends.

But the desire to spend more time alone with the man he loves is an impossible lure to resist. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, the two young men are once more drawn into the investigation.

The race to catch the killer gets complicated by the victim’s son, Ainslie, a man who seems to find Orlando too attractive to resist.

Can Stewart and Coppersmith keep Ainslie at bay, keep their affair clandestine, and solve the crime?

Lessons in Discovery #3
Summary:
Cambridge, 1906.

On the very day Jonty Stewart proposes that he and Orlando Coppersmith move in together, Fate trips them up. Rather, it trips Orlando, sending him down a flight of stairs and leaving him with an injury that erases his memory. Instead of taking the next step in their relationship, they’re back to square one. It’s bad enough that Orlando doesn’t remember being intimate with Jonty—he doesn’t remember Jonty at all.

Back inside the introverted, sexually innocent shell he inhabited before he met Jonty, Orlando is faced with two puzzles. Not only does he need to recover the lost pieces of his past, he’s also been tasked by the Master to solve a four-hundred-year-old murder before the end of term. The college’s reputation is riding on it.

Crushed that his lover doesn’t remember him, Jonty puts aside his grief to help decode old documents for clues to the murder. But a greater mystery remains—one involving the human heart.

To solve it, Orlando must hear the truth about himself—even if it means he may not fall in love with Jonty the second time around…


Lessons in Love #1
Re-Read Review June 2016:
I loved this even more the second time around. Knowing Jonty & Orlando better as I currently do because Cambridge Fellows is among my favorite series list, I have upgraded from 4-1/2 to 5 Stars. Just brilliant story all around.

Original Review Summer 2014:
I was blown away by this story that before I finished it I went and ordered the remaining entries in this series. I will admit that it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the flow of the author's writing style and keep straight in my head. Going back and forth between using their first names and their surnames, depending on the setting the characters are in had me a little confused at first but I quickly got the style meshing with my thinking and then everything just was amazing. That is the reason I am giving this book a 4-1/2 bookmark instead of 5. The mystery is interesting and got my detective skills percolating. I can honestly say I don't know who I love more, Jonty and his wit or Orlando and his innocence? They both have captured my heart and can't wait to read more.

Lessons in Desire #2
Re-Read Reveiw June 2016:
Loved it even more the second time around. It was so great seeing the duo on vacation and watching Orlando be a little more free and open without completely straying from his usual careful self.

Original Review August 2014:
This entry finds our two young lovers on vacation. Jonty is his usual vivacious self, Orlando at first is also his usual cautious, sometimes overly cautious, self but he begins to grow more confident as their vacation goes on. Their love is also growing and with it, they also find themselves at a few crossroads, only some of which concern the murder mystery they find at their vacation abode. Once again we find our young sleuths in the middle of everything. Can't wait to read further entries in this wonderful m/m historical/mystery/romance series.

Lessons in Discovery #3
Re-Read Review July 2016:
My heart still broke for Jonty and Orlando when Orlando took his fall, even knowing the hows and whys it still tore at me. I love this series even more the second time around.

Original Review from August 2014:
After reading the first chapter in this entry, my heart was breaking for both Jonty and Orlando. For Orlando, because he was missing the past year of his life, for Jonty, because he didn't know if his lover would ever be his again. My heart pounded throughout the story wondering just how that part of the tale would work itself out. As for the mystery put before the pair, I knew they would be able to come to the truth of the historic debate but when solving a centuries old caper would proof ever be able to be definitive? You'll just have to read to find out. Now I'm off to read book 4: Lessons in Power.

Overall Series
Original Review July 2015:
As for the overall series, Cambridge Fellows is a great historical mystery with humor, romance, and characters that mesh together perfectly, even when they seem more enemy than friend.  I came across this series last summer when I was searching for historical fiction and even though there were 10 books to the series, I decided to give it a try.  Well, less than 30 days later I had finished all 10.  I will say that the publishers label them as standalones and I guess as far as the mysteries go, yes they do qualify as standalones but because of the growing relationships amongst the different characters, and not just Jonty and Orlando, I highly recommend reading them in order of the chronological timeline, follow this link to the author's website for said chronological timeline.

RATING: 


Lessons in Love #1
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, November 1905 
“That is my chair, sir.”

The voice was deep, sharp, and shattered Jonty’s concentration. He looked up to see a stern-looking young man towering over him. Well, not necessarily that young, he must be nearly my age, but he has such a lean, youthful look about him, you might think he’s just an undergraduate. Jonty swiftly took in a pair of chocolate brown eyes—eyes that lurked below curly black hair that seemed to want to cover them—a handsome face, and a very bony frame.

He rose. “I do apologise, sir. I’ve only arrived at St. Bride’s today and I haven’t been appraised of all the customs and habits. I hope that you’ll forgive me.” He produced what he hoped was a winning smile and bowed.

The other man harrumphed and nodded in return. “There are a number of traditions we cling to here, Mr…”

“Stewart, Dr. Stewart. The college authorities saw fit to forget the indiscretions of my undergraduate years here and have appointed me to a fellowship in English. The Kildare Fellowship.” Jonty grinned again, not surprised he didn’t get one in return. His mother always vowed he’d been born to wear a smile, while this man appeared as if he’d never smiled in his life.

“Well, Stewart, we are great ones for resisting change, and the particular chair a man inhabits after High Table is regarded as sacrosanct.” The severe-looking man pointed to the empty seat next to him. “This place never seems to be occupied. Perhaps you might like to use it?”

Jonty could guess why that chair was never used but decided he’d take the risk. “How long have you been at St. Bride’s? I can’t place you from my earlier time here.” He would have remembered if he’d met him before, of course. He’d noticed this man at High Table, not just for his striking good looks but for his apparent unease with joining in the conversation around him—except for one occasion when he seemed to be extremely animated and the words “differential calculus” could be heard across the table. Bet he’s a mathematician. They’re all as mad as hatters.

“I’ve been here six years, Dr. Stewart, ever since I took my degree. I have the honour to be working under Professor Moore, teaching mathematics.” For the first time the stranger looked fully into his companion’s face. “I suppose you’ll be with Professor Goodridge?”

“Oh, no, not clever enough by half to be with the fellows who delve into Anglo-Saxon. The Bard of Avon is my concern.” Jonty saw the puzzled expression on the other man’s face and grinned. “Shakespeare, I mean. As a man of logic and higher reasoning you’ll please forgive the whimsy of a mere playgoer.”

The other man looked closely at him again, obviously suspicious that he was being made game of, then seemed to decide that the remarks were kindly meant. He almost smiled. “Even a pupil of Euclid can recognise the value of Shakespeare’s works. Indeed, I was named after one of his characters.”

Jonty couldn’t have been more stunned—the man’s hard-faced exterior didn’t suggest a romantic name. “Hamlet, Jacques—which is it?”

“Orlando. I was christened Orlando.”

Jonty waited to see if a surname would follow, decided that it wouldn’t, so spoke himself. “You’re very lucky. My parents saw fit to name me Jonathan—the only thing in my life that I’ve not forgiven them for. I’m Jonty to all those who want to use the name.”

The mention of parents had caused a small cloud to pass over Orlando’s face and he began staring at his feet. Jonty pressed on, unable to stop gabbling in the face of such studied non-communication. “Are there any other customs I must seek not to break?”

The question never got answered, as the Jove-like figure of Dr. Peters, the Master of St. Bride’s, approached. “I beg you not to get up, gentlemen. I was coming to introduce you to each other, our numerical genius not having been here before dinner when Dr. Stewart met the rest of the fellows—but I see that you’ve already made Dr. Coppersmith’s acquaintance.”

Coppersmith—no wonder he was so unwilling to tell me. His parents certainly gave him an unlucky combination of names, perhaps that’s why he always looks so cross. “Dr. Coppersmith has been instructing me in the college ways, in case I make some dreadful error of etiquette.”

Jonty inclined his head to express his gratitude; his mathematical colleague looked sterner than ever.

“I’m honoured to be able to share some of our little ways with Dr. Stewart and hope he’ll profit from being back at our college. I wish you good night, gentlemen, I have a lecture to deliver in the morning and must take my rest.” Dr. Coppersmith rose, bowed his head and departed, leaving the other two men speechless.

Later, as Jonty strolled back to his rooms, he chuckled to himself. I’d give a five-pound note to be at that mathematics lecture tomorrow and I bet most of the students would give five pounds to miss it. But for all that his new colleague seemed—on the surface at least—to be a pompous prig, his stern face and deep voice stayed in Jonty’s mind until he fell asleep.

*****

St. Bride’s wasn’t one of the most notable Cambridge colleges, lacking the grandeur of St. John’s or Trinity. It formed a little backwater where life had changed very little over the last four hundred years, but small adjustments were made from time to time. The chair next to Coppersmith’s soon became associated with Stewart. They now sat together almost every evening after High Table, chatting over coffee or port.

The dons who’d known Coppersmith since his arrival at the college were astounded. He was notorious for being a solitary fellow, never one to indulge in college chat or even in most of the discussion in the Senior Common Room. Unless it was about maths, of course, when he would contribute freely and with amazing perception, before clamming up if the subject strayed a little.

And yet there he was, evening after evening as November passed into December, talking away to Dr. Stewart, and sometimes even smiling. What they talked about, none of the other dons would’ve hazarded a guess, nor understood why they’d struck up such an unlikely alliance.

If they’d have asked Stewart, he’d have told them he’d come back to his old college hoping to make a fresh start and acquire new friends in the process. He’d have wondered along with them about the fact that he and Coppersmith had hit it off immediately, after their first meeting, putting it down to them realising the few things they had in common were more interesting than the things in which they differed.

He wouldn’t have told them that he found Orlando Coppersmith very attractive or that being with the man was a constant pleasure. Only in his thoughts would he compare their meeting to that of Rosalind and her Orlando, an instant magnetism drawing him to the other man. He wasn’t stupid enough to confess such a thing. Even if the traditions of this college, within this university, made it possible to remain an old bachelor surrounded by other old bachelors and have no one raise an eyebrow, there were still dangers. Public disgrace, prosecution. He would risk them both if he formed, again, an alliance with another man within the walls of St. Bride’s. For the moment he would have to savour the budding friendship with this strange young mathematician and hope against hope the attraction might prove to be mutual.

Anyone asking Coppersmith the same question, about why he’d suddenly found himself an acquaintance, wouldn’t have received any sort of an answer. Not just because he kept his feelings to himself, but because he couldn’t say at this point why he felt so differently about Stewart than he felt about all the other dons. About anyone else he’d ever met. He couldn’t tell why he should want to spend time with the man, when he’d been solitary all his life. The university part of his mind might have said it was the classic case of opposites attracting, the properties of poles of magnets or particles of different charge. The personal part wouldn’t have commented as it had no idea what was going on.

*****

“You didn’t take your degree here, Coppersmith. Which seat of learning did you grace with your incredible skills?”

“I was at Oxford, Stewart—Gabriel College.” Orlando settled into his usual seat in the Senior Common Room, more comfortable than he’d been at any point since he came to Cambridge. More comfortable than he’d been since he was a child. For the first time in his life, it seemed like he’d made a friend and the experience was all a bit startling.

“If I had known the university would stoop so low as to take someone from the other place, I would never have agreed to return.”

Stewart grinned—he seemed to spend half his life grinning, or smiling, or smirking, and that unsettled Orlando, too, although he couldn’t work out why just yet. He wondered whether there was some fixed amount of cheerfulness allowed in the universe, and if his companion’s excess compensated for his own apparent lack of it.

He’d become quietly accustomed to the happy presence in the adjacent chair, even though such a thing would have horrified him only four weeks ago. He’d never wanted to share his thoughts with anyone else—unless they were to do with numbers—and now he was gossiping away like one of the college cleaning ladies. He cast a furtive glance at his companion, who was struggling with a pair of nutcrackers and a wayward walnut.

Stewart’s unruly blond hair was all over the place, his blue eyes showed unusual depths of concentration and his tongue was poking out a bit, as it often did when he tackled a difficult task. Orlando had never appreciated that Stewart possessed a handsome face and the realisation was a great shock to him. He could define the most obscure bits of calculus, look at a problem and solve it almost instantly, but he’d never really understood what people meant when they mentioned beauty.

Not until now, when it was sitting right next to him.

“Got the little bugger in the end!” Stewart beamed in triumph, offering his friend half of his newly released treasure. No one had ever used the word bugger in the Senior Common Room before, no one was ever likely to again, but somehow the more colourful aspects of Stewart’s speech were tolerated in a way which would be unlikely with anyone else.

They often talked about sport—discovering that they’d each won a rugby blue but hadn’t managed to play against the other, being picked in different years. Orlando had been a wing three-quarter, naturally, given his wiry physique—lacking in grace but fast. He’d scored twice in the Varsity Match, despite finishing on the losing side.

“I suppose you were in the front row?” Orlando drew his conclusions from Stewart’s muscular frame.

“Excuse me! Do my ears look as if they have spent time in a scrum?”

They didn’t. Orlando thought they were rather shapely ears and that was a shock to him, too. To be sitting in the SCR of his college and musing about how attractive the man sitting next to him seemed was beyond his imaginings. Making a friend had been enough of a surprise—this sensation staggered him, whatever it signified.

“I was scrum half, and a very wily one was how The Times described me. Shame we lost that year, like you the next—your selectors seemed to have imported an entire troop of gorillas to play in your pack. One of them broke my finger.” Stewart held up the joint in question and smirked. “I broke his nose.” He began to laugh, his bright blue eyes crinkling up with the sheer joy of being alive and in the company of someone he liked.

Orlando began to laugh, too—for the first time in what seemed ages. When they stopped, out of breath and in disgrace with the rest of the fellows, he knew that their friendship had been cemented.

 *****

Orlando was supposed to be marking papers from his students, work attempted when they’d been at home for the vac, having their stomachs stuffed with chestnuts and goose enough to addle their brains. But he was more interested in watching, through his window, the progress of a golden head across the court.

That’s my friend Dr. Stewart. He walks along the river with me and listens to all my latest theories, even if he doesn’t understand a word of them.

Back in November, Orlando had no one in his life he could ever call friend. Then, into his world of gown-black and stone-grey, half-tones and half a life, had come this vision of blue and gold, like a ray of spring sunshine against a cloudless sky.

My friend Dr. Stewart. We go to chapel together and he’s never bothered that I sing all the hymns and responses out of tune.

Orlando thought it strange, if other people were anything to go by, that he’d reached the age of twenty-eight without finding anybody he wanted to be close to. His life had been bound by the university, the college and mathematics, all of them important and serious. And now he’d found that most frivolous of things—someone to share his thoughts and ideas with—although in reality Stewart had come along and found him, stealing his chair in the process.

It made Orlando feel more alive than he’d ever felt and more than a little frightened. He’d not been able to get the man out of his head the ten days Stewart had spent celebrating Christmas and New Year with his family, and he was still there, butting into Orlando’s thoughts when he should be working. He wasn’t sure it was right to be so obsessed, but didn’t know what he could do about it. Even a nice bit of Euclid couldn’t obscure the memory of a pair of piercing blue eyes.

My friend Dr. Stewart. He comes along and says, “We’ve been invited to drinks, Dr. Coppersmith, so get your best bib and tucker ready.”

We. Suddenly Orlando had a social life, whether he wanted one or not, and it was as part of a pairing. Somehow all the things he’d always dreaded—making small talk, being sociable—had become possible, so long as he had his colleague with him to jolly him along. Unexpectedly, life had a distinctly more enjoyable flavour.

Orlando turned his attention back to the papers on his desk, only to find that he’d written My friend Dr. Stewart on the topmost one and now had to scratch it out furiously before anyone noticed.

 *****

“Will you come and take a cup of coffee or a glass of port in my rooms, Stewart?”

It was evening and the Senior Common Room had been overrun by strangers. There were women visiting, patronesses of the college to be sure, but still female and therefore to be treated with caution by most of the fellows. Especially by Coppersmith, who, though he was now brave enough to talk to almost any woman, even one from Girton, was still unhappy in their company.

Jonty almost choked on his answer. He’d been waiting nearly two months for an invitation to his colleague’s set of rooms. All he’d managed so far was to poke his little nose around the door before being whisked away—and now it had come like a bolt out of the blue. The bright potential of 1906, a new year and a new term, seemed to have made Coppersmith bold.

“I think we’d better. Don’t look just now, but there are two skirted bottoms occupying our chairs.” Jonty sniggered.

Coppersmith looked horrified, as though he’d have to have the things fumigated before they could sit there again. “Come on, then, before we’re forced into conversation.” A sudden disconcerting thought must have occurred to him. “Unless you want to stay, of course?”

One of the ladies was quite young and Coppersmith had earlier asked Jonty whether she would be described as pretty. Perhaps, he had suggested, Stewart would like to talk to her, he always seemed to have no problem chatting with females and they always flocked around him.

Jonty took his time before answering. “No, I’d be more than content with a glass of some pleasant brew and a little peace and quiet.”

In Orlando’s set they found a whole bottle of a really good port—most welcome, as both of them had been extremely sober at table due to the unnerving presence of the petticoat brigade. Jonty settled into one of Coppersmith’s worn but comfortable armchairs and enjoyed the glow from the fire. While his friend poured the port, Jonty drank in his surroundings.

The room contained the usual Bride’s mix of the academic, the sporting and the personal—very little of the last compared to the first. It was what his mother would have described as “being part of a house, dear, not a home”, and it gave away very little about its owner. He found that disappointing, as his family had plied him with questions about the mysterious Dr. Coppersmith all over the Christmas break and he’d not been really able to answer them adequately.

“He’s my friend, Mama, and I enjoy his company very much,” had been as far as it had gone, even under his mother’s third degree. Although if he were being honest, Coppersmith meant a lot more to him than just being a colleague. Jonty’s opinion of his friend had gradually changed from pompous ass to treasured companion, and he realised he was beginning to harbour more than just platonic thoughts about the man.

Being in his rooms now, simply watching him wrestling with a Brazil nut and the crackers, was a true pleasure. The fire’s glow highlighted Coppersmith’s dark hair and a halo of light gave him the appearance of one of the more studious angels. Jonty felt his heart beating faster as he savoured the sight.

“Much nicer here than in with those women, eh, Dr. Stewart?”

“It is indeed, Dr. Coppersmith. Deal us a hand of whist and we’ll make an evening of it.” Jonty watched his friend poke around in a drawer for a deck, admiring the fact that even his rummaging was a neat and ordered process.

Coppersmith truly was both the strangest and loveliest of creatures.

 *****

“Why don’t you call me ‘Jonty’? I think, Dr. Coppersmith, we’re friends enough now to lose some of the formality.” Stewart had just lost his third consecutive game of cards, the clock’s hands were nearing half past ten and the evening had been enjoyable for them both.

Orlando considered—it was as if he had to find the second differential of “Jonathan” before he could answer. “I think that I could call you Jonty here in my rooms, but I don’t think it would be appropriate anywhere else.” He was embarrassed enough about all the occasions he’d doodled My friend Dr. Stewart on things; it would be awful if he were caught writing My friend Jonty. “I suspect I’m far too set in my ways.”

“That would be absolutely fine—if I may call you Orlando, in return?”

It was the strangest thing, but Orlando felt decidedly peculiar when his friend said “Orlando”—the first time Stewart had ever used the name. The first time Jonty had used it.

This was turning out to be an evening of firsts. The first time he’d had another one of the fellows of St. Bride’s in his set other than on college business. The first use of his Christian name. The first time he’d had this peculiar fluttering in his stomach that he couldn’t put a cause to. “It would be an honour so to be addressed.”

Jonty—it would be Jonty and Orlando from now on, at least within these rooms—smiled in the face of such affectation, rather than breaking into his usual laughter. Orlando knew his own weaknesses better than anyone, and now Jonty was recognising them. It was true he became pompous when he felt some deep emotion and Jonty must have picked it up. Perhaps the man found this trait rather touching.

Whatever he was thinking, Jonty rose and moved to the mantelpiece, picking up a gilt-framed photograph, the only one in the room with no obvious university link. “May I, Orlando? Is this your mother and father?” Jonty was watching his face out of the corner of his eye and must have seen the discomfort there.

Orlando nodded. He didn’t really want to speak as he was sure his voice would tremble and he had no idea why that should be. It wasn’t just at the mention of his parents—every time he looked at Jonty, the fluttering got worse.

“It’s extraordinary how much you resemble your mother. Do you see very much of them?” Jonty held the picture at arm’s length and compared it to the man across the room.

There was a long pause. “They’re both dead—my mother didn’t survive to see me take my degree.” Orlando studied his hands, deliberately looking anywhere but at his friend, or the photograph.

Jonty’s voice shook with remorse. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I can’t imagine what life would be like without one’s parents in the background—it makes me sad to think that yours didn’t see the success you’ve made of yourself.”

Orlando looked blankly around his room to see if he could see any signs of the success to which his friend referred—there wasn’t any obvious evidence. “I have some more pictures of them,” he said after an awkward pause, “if you’d like to see them.”

“But of course I would.”

Jonty sat down again while Orlando rummaged in another drawer and produced a small photograph album. He brought it over, sitting on the floor next to Jonty’s feet and placing the book on his lap, accidentally brushing his hand against the man’s leg in the process. Just the barest touch, no more than a hairsbreadth of contact, but it had sparked like static between them.

Orlando froze, his heart racing at the effect the touch had made on him. This feeling was unlike anything he’d ever known before and he still couldn’t put a name or meaning to it. He gingerly placed his hand next to Jonty’s on the velvet cover of the album—their eyes met and held, dark staring into light, until they could look no more.

“Orlando,” Jonty whispered, raising his hand until it was almost touching the other man’s face. “I…”

There was a loud and persistent rapping at the door and Orlando became aware of three things. Firstly that his heart was pounding so strongly he wasn’t sure any ribcage could contain it. Secondly that Jonty was muttering, “Damn it. Damn it and blast it,” over and over. Thirdly that someone might just be trying to gain their attention.

He rose and stumbled to the door.

“Dr. Coppersmith, sir.” It was Summerbee, red-faced and out of breath from running up from the porters’ lodge. “It’s young Lord Morcar. I thought I would come straight to you, seeing as he is one of your pupils.”

“And what is it about Lord Morcar that can’t wait until morning?”

“He’s dead, sir. His friends found him not five minutes since—we’ve sent for the doctor, but I thought you should…” Summerbee tailed off, unsure of himself.

“Has the Master been informed?”

A frightened look on the porter’s face showed he was hoping the hard-nosed Dr. Coppersmith would take that particular burden from him.

He would not. “You must do it immediately. I’ll go to his lordship’s room—which is it?”

“The Old Court, J7, sir.” Summerbee touched his bowler and departed, no doubt full of dread at the prospect of knocking at the hallowed door of the Master’s lodge.

Orlando turned and saw Jonty watching him. He wondered whether his friend would be astounded at the command that he’d shown with the porter, how a shy, socially uncomfortable man had transformed into a figure of authority and action. Orlando had astounded himself, although he felt proud at his newfound courage. Even if he was disappointed at the interruption. “Will you come with me?”

Jonty didn’t hesitate. “Of course, if you want me to.”

“It’s not a matter of wanting. I’m going to need you there, I think.” All the flutterings in Orlando’s stomach had faded now, driven off by the thought of a dead man, but he still wanted Jonty beside him.

As they made their way over to the Old Court, they regretted their lack of prudence in terms of overcoats. The harsh East Anglian wind—straight from Siberia, the locals said—carried snow with it, and they felt chilled to the bones.

A crowd of undergraduates had gathered at the bottom of the staircase, being kept from the room itself only by the burly form of Lee, another of the porters. Orlando tried to make his way through them, but they took no notice of him; they were excited and afraid, and some of them were beginning to show signs of hysteria.

This time Jonty took control. He was popular among the undergraduates, being the most open and approachable of all the fellows at St. Bride’s. Although he was merciless in pulling apart any essay he felt was poorly written or ill-researched, he did it with such kindness and good humour that none of them took umbrage, and they all tried harder the next time.

“Gentlemen!” Jonty’s tones split the night and brought all the chattering to a halt. “Thank you. It does no one any good, you staying out here freezing to…” He was about to say “death” but thought better of it. “Freezing to the ground. I would suggest that unless you have something useful to say about this to either the doctor or the Master, you return to your own rooms.”

The gathering broke up, aided by the threat of Jove’s imminent arrival and the especial efforts of one young man who Jonty suspected had a bit of a crush on his English tutor and who was, no doubt, determined to see his idol obeyed.

Orlando was able to get up the stairs at last and into the room, leaving Jonty with Lee to await Dr. Peters. He was gone what felt an inordinate length of time, making Jonty bold enough to venture up. He found his friend standing rigidly over the half-dressed body of a lad of about twenty—a slim, angular young man, pale in life and milk white now. The room was freezing, the window being open wide. Jonty reached over to shut it.

“Don’t touch anything.” Orlando’s voice was as icy as the glittering windowpanes. “Look at this, Dr. Stewart.” He pointed to the young lad’s throat, ashen but mottled with ugly contusions. “I believe Lord Morcar has been strangled.”

Jonty shivered. It had certainly been a night full of revelations, and this had been perhaps one surprise too many.

Lessons in Desire #2
Chapter One
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, June 1906 
“A holiday will do us both the world of good.” Jonty was sitting in his chair in the Senior Common Room of St. Bride’s College discussing the long vacation and plans he had for it. These, naturally, involved Orlando, who in the past had usually holidayed by visiting other seats of learning, with the occasional dutiful visit to his grandmother in Kent interspersed among the academic outings.

Orlando had no concept of just going off to some place of leisure and relaxing, frittering the time away on walks or sightseeing or bathing. His eyes widened as his friend recounted the sort of things he’d got up to in the past—the Riviera, visiting archaeological sites, cruising in the Mediterranean. This seemed to be yet another alien world the sophisticated Jonty was introducing to his naΓ―ve friend. When he suggested they should go somewhere together, Orlando was appalled.

“Consider it, Dr. Coppersmith, the world is our oyster. Now, before you begin to quibble about the costs, I would remind you my grandmother left her favourite grandson extremely well off, so money is no object. Name where you would like to go and we’ll organise it. Shall it be Monte Carlo or the rose red city of Petra?” A glorious smile lit Jonty’s face as he made the suggestion, brightening the Stygian gloom which usually infested the room.

“Must we go anywhere, Dr. Stewart?” Orlando was quite content here in his own college among the places and things he knew well. No further unrest had come to St. Bride’s since the murders of the previous winter, allowing his love affair with Jonty to blossom as beautifully as the magnolia trees gracing the Fellows’ Garden. In his eyes, life was perfect here and now, so why should he go off searching for anything else?

Jonty narrowed his eyes. “Of course we must. I have no intention of spending my long vac festering here. If you won’t go with me, I’ll go alone.” He sniffed. “Though I have gone alone on holiday too often in the past. I was hoping so much that you would see fit to coming with me, so we could share the excitement. Think of the novelty, the exotic food, the flora and fauna that East Anglia can only dream of. Strange languages. Mysterious sights.”

It was the novelty Orlando couldn’t stop thinking of, or so he told his friend. He’d encountered quite a lot of new things these last few months, particularly when he and Jonty were first acquainted. Now he was hoping for a period of relative calm before the new academic year ensued. The minute he looked into Jonty’s eyes, he knew he was beaten—the man was desperate for this break, the chance of a trip with his lover at his side. Who was Orlando to deny him it?

They eventually reached a compromise—three weeks’ leave, travelling no further than the Channel Islands. Jonty would find them some nice establishment on Jersey and book tickets for the ferry from Southampton. It would be adventurous, although not too much so; the food would be English (with perhaps a little native cuisine included) and there would be no language barrier. Orlando was particularly pleased about that, as modern languages were not his forte—moreover, as he admitted, the thought of being around exotic foreign ladies terrified him.

For the next week Jonty beavered away with the Red Guide, simultaneously picking his mother’s brains about hotels, the Honourable Mrs. Stewart being a great source of information about many things, until finally settling for the Beaulieu at St. Aubin.

“It boasts Three acres of terraced gardens with lawns, Private Tennis Courts, Fishing, and Bathing from the Hotel,” he gleefully explained to Orlando, waving the brochure about. “There are private bathrooms, so you won’t risk ladies walking in on you should you forget to shoot the bolt. The additional cost for that will only be sixpence per night, so you won’t be risking bankrupting me. Convenient for the train, too.”

“It sounds delightful, Jonty,” Orlando said, with liar written plain on his face. “You should book it.”

“Already done. They alleged they were fully booked, August being high season, until they found themselves up against Mama. She spoke to the manager, the owners, probably to King Edward himself—she’s wangled us the best two-bedroom suite in the house. I never really appreciated how wonderful it is to have quite such a formidable mother until now…”

 *****

“Do you still want ‘Jerusalem’ sung at your funeral, Dr. Coppersmith?” Jonty began to gently rub his friend’s back as the poor man clung to the ship’s rail, green to the gills as though desperately trying to fathom out whether he would feel better if he were sick again or not.

“I no longer care, Dr. Stewart. I think I would prefer to die with the minimum of fuss, plus the maximum of expediency. I have enjoyed these last ten months, though I’m greatly afraid I won’t survive the journey.” Orlando finished his speech with dignity, then sped off to the toilet again.

Jonty looked out at the sea and tried not to think of what would be going on in the gentlemen’s conveniences. He felt a more than a bit guilty about bringing Orlando on this trip, but how was he to have any idea that his lover would suffer quite so much from seasickness? Orlando hadn’t even known it himself, having been on nothing more adventurous than the paddle steamer out of Ramsgate.

There were at least two hours of the voyage left before they could feel decent, solid ground under their feet again, then there was the awful prospect of having to do the journey all over again, back to Southampton, in a fortnight’s time.

The nightmare of the crossing eventually ended, all the passengers reaching terra firma with much thanks. Orlando swore, afterwards, he’d felt tempted to kneel down and kiss the solid earth beneath his feet at the quay. Plenty of carriages were waiting for custom, so they were soon riding around the wide bay to St. Aubin, able at last to admire the innocuous-looking waters which had managed to wreak such havoc on a delicate digestive tract.

Orlando was recovered enough to smile when he saw their hotel. It was everything the rather overblown brochure had promised and more besides. Their bags were whisked away with just the right amount of efficient deference, the reception clerk was welcoming without being unctuous. Even the suite, once Orlando was entirely convinced it was quite normal for friends of the same sex to take sets of rooms together, was pronounced to be above reproach.

They hadn’t long begun to unpack before Jonty suggested it was time to find a small sherry or some such before dinner. He assured his friend it would be the right medicine to enable him to recover his appetite enough to tackle at least some of the delights that they’d spied on the hotel menu.

Orlando was rather affronted, wanting everything to have found its proper place in the suite before they ventured out, but Jonty insisted, so he struck his colours. Orlando changed into his dinner jacket, newly purchased on his lover’s orders, as the old one looked more suited to the stalls at the music hall. Properly attired, they went down to the bar.

 *****

The dining room was full, mainly married couples of various ages, from the bashful newlyweds who sat in the corner blushing at every remark made to them to the elderly couple—all wrinkles and bright smiles—who sat at a table directly opposite the two Cambridge fellows. This couple, the Tattersalls, had taken a great shine to the two young men as they’d chatted with them over pre-dinner drinks, insisting they reminded them of their sons at a similar age. They seemed won over by Jonty’s smile, his obvious good breeding, and Orlando’s gravity and beautiful manners.

There were some families at dinner—two had brought their grownup daughters with them. Both girls were plain and seemed rather smitten with the two young men, if blushes or girlish sighs were anything to go by. The only other unmarried couple present was a man perhaps three or four years older than Jonty, accompanied by what could only have been his father, given the strong family resemblance. The younger was a handsome chap whose dark curly hair framed deep blue eyes.

Not that the two fellows of St. Bride’s had eyes for anyone else, but one couldn’t help noticing these things. They also couldn’t help noticing the palpable tension between the two men, shown in their strained politeness and inability to maintain eye contact with each other.

After dinner Jonty and Orlando made up a four for bridge in the sun lounge with the Tattersalls. They proved excellent company, the lady in particular having an impish sense of humour. She chatted away to Jonty, the pair of them giggling like two schoolchildren, despite her being old enough, just, to be his grandmother.

The father and son formed their own bridge four with another married couple, although they were obviously not having half the enjoyment that Orlando and his friend were. Jonty was fascinated, keeping a surreptitious eye on them all evening.

When they got back to their room, Jonty had clearly decided it was character analysis time, despite the fact that Orlando was struggling to arrange, into some sort of acceptable order, the mass of items his friend had strewn everywhere in an attempt to unpack. “That young man’s not happy to be here, Orlando. I think his father has made him come, while he’d rather be at home with his sweetheart, not entertaining a surly old curmudgeon.”

“I hope you don’t feel like you’ve been dragged along to entertain a surly young curmudgeon.” Orlando grinned. “Anyway, it’s nothing to do with us.” He picked up the tie he’d worn for the journey, finding somewhere to put it carefully away.

“Aren’t you even a little bit curious? This is such an opportunity to meet new people, the sort of folk we might never meet at college. Like that delightful old couple—she certainly had the measure even of you at cards, Dr. Coppersmith.” Jonty yawned, stretching like a great ginger cat. “This is going to be such a delightful holiday. The hotel is perfect, the food is excellent, I have great hopes for the company and you look less green than you did this morning. Such a lovely colour in your cheeks now.” He drew his hand down his lover’s face, across his lips. It was the first time they’d touched with any degree of intimacy since they’d left St. Bride’s. The caress made Orlando shudder afresh, as if they were touching for the first time. “We may have two bedrooms, but do we really need to use them both? It’d be easy enough to slip across before the early morning tea arrives, if we set your alarm clock.”

Orlando looked up, determined to refuse. He was still feeling skittish about staying in a suite of rooms with his lover. Sharing a bed was beyond any imagining although, ironically, the item in question was a glorious double bed such as he’d dreamed, on many an occasion, of sleeping in with Jonty. “I’m not sure I feel sufficiently recovered from the journey to want to do anything except sleep.” He studied his hands, the shirt he was trying to hang up, anything but his lover.

“That would be fine. I’m as happy to simply slumber next to you as anything else. There are plenty of other days for romance—we could just be fond friends tonight, or pretend to be that old couple we played cards with. Still very much in love yet beyond the thralls of passion.” Jonty gently touched his friend’s hand.

Orlando felt as if a spider was crawling down the back of his neck, and his discomfiture must have been plain. “What if we slept apart, just for tonight?”

They had reached the crux of why he’d been so keen not to come on holiday. He was frightened of taking their relationship outside the college walls, displaying it to the world. Within the ivy-clad, male-dominated locality of St. Bride’s, it had been easy to maintain a friendship which was more than close without raising a suspicious eyebrow. He’d spent little time with Jonty out of Cambridge, apart from a visit or two to London, where they’d stayed in the relatively safe environs of the Stewart family home. To be with the man in a strange place was to put himself at risk of making a demonstration of his affection by an unguarded look or touch.

Any footman could walk through the streets of town in his bowler-hatted Sunday best, hand in hand with a parlour maid. A pair of dons could never be allowed such freedom; not in Cambridge and certainly not on Jersey. If they ever were mad enough to be tempted, all they had to do was remember the law—two years of hard labour and public disgrace would be no holiday.

Jonty slammed down the toothbrush he’d been unpacking. “Oh, go and sleep in the bath if you want to! I haven’t the heart to put up with this nonsense. I’m going to sleep in my own bed, in my own soft pyjamas, with my own book. If you change your mind and decide to join me, make sure you knock, because I might just have found other company.” He spun on his heels, entering his bedroom with a slam of the door which caused the windows to shake.

Orlando contemplated opening the door again to give his friend a piece of his mind, but didn’t want to end up in a full-blown row in a public building. He also contemplated going in and giving Jonty the most comprehensive kissing he’d ever received. He decided against that, as it was probably exactly what the little swine wanted, so must be avoided at all costs. Even at the cost of a miserable night alone.

Eventually, after tidying everything to his own immaculate standards, he trudged his weary way into his bedroom and readied himself for sleep.

At two o’clock in the morning the heavens opened, torrential rain driving against the windowpanes while thunder pealed as loud as cannon fire. Orlando leapt out of bed without a second thought, making his way through their little sitting room into Jonty’s bedroom. He didn’t knock, knowing by now that any threats from his friend about finding company were all bluster, to find him standing by the window, shivering.

“Come on, Jonty—you’ll get cold, you know.” Orlando put his arms around the man’s shoulders, which felt icy through his silken pyjama jacket. Jonty both hated thunderstorms and was fascinated by them. Orlando had often found him looking out of the window of his room at St. Bride’s while the lightning rent the sky, making the college’s very foundations seem to shake. He could go into an almost dreamlike state, distracted and seemingly unaware of his surroundings, having to be coaxed back gently into the real world. Orlando wondered whether some of the awful things which had happened to Jonty at school had taken place during storms, although he’d never been brave enough to ask.

Orlando took his lover to bed, tenderly soothing him back to sleep, holding tight as each new clap of thunder brought a shuddering through Jonty’s frame. Eventually the storm passed eastwards and they could both fall asleep, Jonty as content as a child in his mother’s arms. Orlando felt masterful, protective and very much in love. If anyone walked in, he had a legitimate medical excuse to be present. Or so he assured himself.

 *****

Thanks to Orlando’s innate body clock, the chambermaid delivering the early morning tea found the two men in their own separate beds, above reproach.

Jonty soon brought his cup into the other room and snuggled under the sheet, the night having been too muggy to need blankets. “Will you wear that tie today, the one I bought you at Easter? The ladies would be very impressed.”

Only a snort came in reply. “Most of the ladies I meet seem impressed at anything.”

“Do you meet very many ladies? Seems you’re living a double life, then, because I never see you talking to them.”

Orlando thumped Jonty around the back of the head with his pillow. “Imbecile. Well, I’m going to take advantage of the ‘private bathroom at sixpence a night extra’ to prepare myself for the day. You can shave at the basin while I’m in the tub.”

Tea shot out of Jonty’s nose, making him splutter in an undignified manner. The thought of Orlando issuing an invitation to be viewed in the bath—such a thing hadn’t happened since the afternoon the man had got drunk at St. Thomas’s college, not even when they’d shared a bathroom while staying at the Stewart family home. It seemed marvellously out of character.

“I’ll certainly take up the offer or we’ll never see breakfast. I can smell the bacon already, although that might just be an olfactory illusion. Breakfast, then church—I saw you wince, but we are going—then off to the beach.” Jonty squeezed his lover’s thigh. “I saw you wince when I mentioned beach as well, so you’ll just have to apply your stiff upper lip.”

 *****

Jonty sat down on a rock to get on with removing his shoes and socks.

“What are you doing?”

“Going paddling, Orlando.” The holiday air had affected them both, so using Christian names now seemed acceptable, even outside their suite. Jonty suddenly looked up at the awkward figure which towered over him. “Oh, Orlando. You’d never been in the Bishop’s Cope, you’d never been punting—please, please don’t tell me that you have never paddled.”

“I have actually paddled on a number of occasions, when I was taken to see my grandmother in Kent.” Orlando attempted to look a man at once dignified and completely au fait with the delights of the seaside.

Jonty assumed a sly look. “When exactly was the last time you indulged in this wild activity?”

Orlando mumbled, “When I was seven.”

Jonty giggled. “Then you had better ruddy well get your socks off and your trouser bottoms rolled up, because you’re coming with me.”

Orlando felt distinctly miffed. He contemplated refusing to do any such thing, but decided to obey orders, stuffing his socks into the toes of his shoes, then tying the laces together in imitation of his lover. The reason for this strange procedure became obvious when Jonty slung his shoes around his neck, leaving his hands free to continue picking up stones for skimming or shells for stuffing in his pockets.

As he watched Jonty turning over rocks to search for tiny crustaceans which he then let run over his palms, it struck Orlando more than ever that at heart his friend was just an overgrown boy. An enormous crab got rooted out, a good three inches across the carapace, which Jonty expertly picked up to wave at his friend.

“What a whopper—look!” He passed the creature over, grinning as Orlando inevitably grabbed it the wrong way, earning a sharp nip on his fingers.

He flung the offending animal away, shaking his sore hand and cursing like a sailor.

“Such language!” Jonty hooted with laughter. “Look, take him across the back, so all your fingers are out of his reach.” He demonstrated the technique, then made his friend do the same.

Orlando took up the vicious creature, more gingerly than if it had been a bomb, breaking into a smile of delight when the method worked. “He’s a beauty. Not big enough for tea, though.” Laughing, he placed the crab down among the rocks, returning to follow his friend.

The tide was ebbing, revealing rock pools full of shrimps which Jonty caught in his hand, then let spring out of his grasp with a giggle. Orlando soon learned that game too, proving much more adept at catching the little invertebrates and the darting fishes than his lover. It was like being a child again, except there hadn’t been that much room for play in his childhood, so there was time to be caught up. Yet again, he could experience a freedom with Jonty that he’d never known before they met.

Jonty picked up a huge ormer shell, holding it to the light so that they could both admire the mother-of-pearl glittering in the sunlight.

“Beautiful. Eh?”

“Indeed.” Although Orlando didn’t mean the shell so much as the man holding it.

Tired, eventually, of annoying the occupants of the rock pools, they walked along the waterline, the warm sea just lapping over their feet. The occasional wave came in with slightly more force, making them jump out of the way, splashing and laughing.

It took a whole mile of wandering for Jonty to begin to make mischief, starting to splash just a little too deliberately in a particular direction. Orlando didn’t notice at first, blaming the splatters on his trousers on the swell. When he did realise what was going on, he handled the situation admirably, deciding that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. While he would have loved to dunk Jonty head to foot, there and then, more pleasure was to be had by quietly removing himself from flying water range before making his plans.

Seaweed wasn’t the most pleasant thing to handle straight from the sea. Jonty usually found it disagreeable on the feet when he had to wade through it, but it was truly disgusting when someone forcibly stuffed it down the back of his trousers. Orlando had executed his vengeance.

“You swine!”

“You’re no longer dealing with some naΓ―ve young man who’s spent all his days in a haze of academia. I’m learning, so you’d better watch your step.” Orlando looked smug, strikingly handsome in his triumph.

Jonty fished down his pants to extract the offending piece of algae. He flung it at his friend, missed by a mile, then laughed. “I’ve only ever wanted you to be my equal, Orlando. I’m looking forward enormously to the day when you tease me both mercilessly and with aplomb.” He reached out his hand to take his lover’s, remembered they were in public, shrugged in apology and walked on.

They strolled the length of the beach till Jonty’s pockets were so full of shells he’d begun to rattle. Drying off their feet on their handkerchiefs proved largely ineffective, as did hopping madly about so that the clean, dry foot couldn’t be infected with sand before it made its way into its sock. Sand always found its way into every available crevice and was bound to begin to creep into their shoes, regardless, before they were halfway off the beach. The long walk back to CorbiΓ¨re station would be uncomfortable, although it wouldn’t spoil the delights of the previous hours.

Jonty felt the glow which always came with having enlightened his friend, introducing some new pleasure—innocent or not—into the man’s life. Orlando had shown a spark of delight in having effectively taken a rare revenge and Jonty wondered whether he was plotting other ways of getting one over on him. This holiday is showing every sign of being more than enjoyable.

On the station platform they saw the young man from the hotel looking much happier without his usual companion. He acknowledged them with a tilt of the head, which was all the encouragement Jonty needed to effect an introduction. “I believe you’re staying at the Beaulieu, as we are? My name is Stewart. This is my friend Coppersmith.” Jonty waved his hand to indicate Orlando, who had yet to venture any closer.

“They call me Ainslie, sir. Matthew Ainslie. I’m delighted to meet you.” The man held out his hand, producing an engaging smile in the process.

“Have you been on Jersey long, Mr. Ainslie?”

“Matthew, I insist you call me Matthew.” He smiled again. “I…we arrived three days ago. My father and I always come to one of the Channel Islands once a year—he feels the air agrees with him.”

“I hope it will agree with us, too. It’s our first time here and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised so far. I dare say we’ll be picking your brains about the best places to visit.”

“Your friend over there is enjoying himself, too?” Ainslie indicated Orlando, who looked nothing like a man enjoying himself.

A man trying to win the most surly face competition, perhaps. “I believe he is, although he doesn’t often show it. He enjoyed playing bridge last night with the Tattersalls. Such a delightful couple.”

Ainslie smiled. “They beat us soundly on Friday night. I wouldn’t like to meet Mrs. Tattersall in a rubber if high stakes were in order, although she could charm the birds out of the trees.” His face suddenly changed. “Please excuse me. I can see my father—he’ll want me to attend him.” A smile and the man was gone, leaving Jonty’s interest more piqued than ever.

 *****

After another excellent dinner, the fours for bridge were different from Saturday evening. The Ainslies played against Mrs. Tattersall, who was paired with Orlando, Jonty and Mr. Tattersall having opted to observe the fun. The Tattersall-Coppersmith pair trounced the opposition, even when they were obviously not trying, which made it ten times worse. The elder Ainslie’s temper was beginning to fray as rubber after rubber went down, until he snapped at his son, on whom no blame could be fairly laid. Matthew was a far more competent player than his father.

For Jonty the fascination lay not with the play (that was a foregone conclusion) but in what the eyes around the table were doing. Orlando watched Ainslie’s hands in fascination as he skidded the cards over the table. This man was a talented shuffler and dealer, the sort who would be interesting to see playing alongside a competent partner. While Orlando watched Ainslie’s hands, the man watched his. Orlando had long, delicate fingers, fingers with which Jonty was intimately acquainted, which he found both beautiful and capable of causing havoc in the bedroom. Ainslie followed the graceful movements his partner’s digits made as they picked up and sorted his hand, caressing the backs of the cards.

Jonty observed the way that Ainslie was watching. He would not forget it.

Lessons in Discovery #3
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, November 1906 
Champagne. A dressed Cromer crab. Strawberries.

How Jonty Stewart could have got hold of strawberries on the fifteenth of November only the angels could say, but there they were on the table along with a jug of cream and a bowl of sugar to indisputably prove their existence. Orlando Coppersmith reached across to take one of the little ruby-like fruits but a sharp slap to his hand stopped him.

“No pudding until firsts are done with, you know that.” Jonty grinned like a schoolboy and heaped crab upon their plates.

“Why all this opulence? I’ve not seen such a lunch in ages.” The bright noontime sun slanted in through the latticed windows of Jonty’s study, the mellow gold stone of St. Bride’s college shining with a warm lustre.

“Do you really not know, or are you teasing me again, in revenge for all the times I’ve teased you?” The blank look on Orlando’s face seemed to show that he really had no recognition of the significance of the date. “It’s exactly a year to the day that I came back to St. Bride’s and so underhandedly stole your chair in the Senior Common Room. Don’t you remember?”

Orlando smiled. “The day is forever etched into my memory. That afternoon was the last time I enjoyed any peace and quiet, for one thing.” A crab claw came flying through the air but he swerved neatly to avoid it. “This champagne is truly extraordinary.”

“Mother sent it, she always has champagne on her wedding anniversaries.” Jonty admired the sunlight-kissed bubbles then took a deep draught. “Do you know, the man who invented this compared it to tasting stars. He was absolutely right.”

Orlando looked at his glass with a degree of suspicion. “Just why did your mother send us champagne?”

“For our anniversary, of course. Do I need to spell it out to you like I spell out As You Like It to my dunderheads of students? She wanted us to have something special today, as she and Papa do.”

The answer didn’t mollify Orlando. He knew that Helena Stewart was aware of exactly what went on between him and her son, but this gift seemed a touch too blatant. He drank it nonetheless, enjoying the food, which he guessed Jonty’s mama had also had a hand in providing.

“Seems appropriate, really—” Jonty had finished his seafood and was ready for more chatter, “—as I often feel like we are a married couple in all but name. Oh, I say, let me slap your back.”

The food and drink had conspired to attempt an attack on Orlando’s lungs and he began to choke. A whack from Jonty’s strong hand dislodged the offending items, enabling him to take several breaths, and another glass of bubbly, to recover. “You feel like we’re married?”

“Of course I do, don’t you?”

“I’ve never thought of it. Still, I guess that marriage of any kind has never really entered my head.” Orlando frowned, having to mull over that common thing, a revolutionary thought from Jonty.

“Consider this. We spend as much time as we can together, we often share a bed, we take holidays with each other, we are absolutely faithful—well I am, I have my suspicions about you and that chap from the college next door—so many things that any respectable married couple would do. It’s only the matter of getting children that makes us different and neither of us have the anatomical requirement to oblige on that score.”

“And we can’t take the vows, Jonty, the marriage vows. No respectability for us.” Orlando knew it galled his lover, not being able to walk hand in hand together along the river, never to be able to dance together or show any untoward display of affection. Perhaps one day the world would be a more understanding place, but not now.

“Bit of a shame, if you think about it, because we live by them. ‘For better or worse, cleaving only to one another’ and all that. Think we might do a rather better job of it than some of my father’s friends.” Jonty sighed, refilled their glasses and ushered his guest from the table to the deep armchairs before the fireplace. “Such a shame that I can’t show everyone how much you mean to me.”

Orlando’s chest swelled with pride. He knew exactly how much they loved each other, and couldn’t help but bask in the glow every time Jonty said something like this. He reached for Jonty’s hand. “You mean the world to me, too.”

Jonty looked at him as if he was making absolutely sure of what he was about to say, which wasn’t a usual Stewart trait. “The university is modernising. These are new times. We don’t need to live in college anymore, you know. We could take a nice property up on the Madingley Road and set up house together. As long as we had a housekeeper who wouldn’t be too fussy about how many beds had been slept in. Miss Peters could probably find us a suitable one.”

“A house?” Dining out of college had been shock enough, going on holiday a jolt to the system, but to live outside of St. Bride’s, that was unheard of. “And why Miss Peters? You don’t think that she suspects about us?” Ariadne Peters was the sister of the Master of St. Bride’s, and the only woman apart from the nurse permitted to live in the college’s hallowed grounds.

“I think it quite likely that she does, she being possibly the most perceptive person in St. Bride’s. In any case, she’d be far too discreet to say anything as this college has seen enough scandal. Nonetheless think on the idea of a house. I don’t propose it idly.”

“I will think on it, but you must let me recover from my surprise at the suggestion before I can make a rational decision.”

Jonty nodded and they refilled their bowls with the last of the fruit. When there wasn’t even the merest hint of the existence of a strawberry left, Orlando wiped his hands with great precision then reached into his pocket. He drew out a small red box, which he handed to his friend. “Thought you might like this, as a memento of the last year.”

“So you did remember, you cunning old fox.” Jonty opened the lid and immediately shut it. “I can’t accept this, it must have cost you a small fortune. Take it back, get the money and put it in your savings.” He flushed red and couldn’t even look his lover in the eye.

“I will not take it back and you will accept it. You were the one who spoke of marriage, so perhaps this is an appropriate gift.” Orlando opened the box himself, taking out an exquisite signet ring—Welsh gold, of an amazing hue—that had been made specially to his order, great subterfuge and a piece of string having been used to gauge the size of Jonty’s little finger as he slept. “Please put it on for me.” He admired the golden circlet as it twinkled in the late-autumn light. Jonty could walk around Cambridge wearing his ring and it would always be symbolic of their union.

Jonty slid the band over his finger, pronounced amazement at the accuracy of fit, and grinned. “I’m ashamed to say I have no equivalent gift for you.”

“No need, strawberries in November are priceless. And you’ve given me the best year of my life.”

“Truly? Even including murder most foul, an unwanted suitor and our lives endangered?”

“Absolutely. Never been so happy.”

“And is that you talking or the champagne?” Jonty put his head to one side, like a bird.

“Oh, definitely me. The drink would make me say much naughtier things.”

Jonty smiled, indulgence lighting his face. “Let’s take a walk up to the lock and enjoy this unseasonably mild weather.” Through the latticed window the piercing blue of the sky, found only in England in spring and autumn, mirrored Jonty’s eyes. “Then we can come back here and read the sonnets together. Even number eighteen.”

Jonty liked the early sonnets, although Orlando had been terribly shocked to find out that the intended recipient had been a man. When he’d discovered number twenty-nine it had brought tears to his eyes, speaking to him so clearly of his own situation—the death of his father, the years of brooding and then the arrival of Jonty.

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate…

Orlando always read it every time he felt low, which was less and less often, now.

 *****

It was such a fine afternoon, they ventured far beyond the lock to a stretch of river where a few rowing eights were practicing, their red-faced coaches cycling along the towpath, scattering ducks and little old ladies as they went.

“Did you ever attempt rowing, Dr. Coppersmith?” They’d been content to use Christian names when they were in public on holiday, but back in their own city they’d gone back to their usual formality.

“I did, with no great success. Every time I took to a boat I seemed to have acquired an extra pair of knees and all four of the bony things kept trying to smack me in the ear.”

Orlando laughed and Jonty laughed with him. Orlando’s attitudes had changed beyond all recognition this past year. Before Jonty had come and stolen his chair, he’d been sullen, unsmiling, someone who viewed intercourse as akin to the preparation of Egyptian mummies—he knew the procedures existed, but the mechanisms were a puzzle and the process itself of no interest. Neither love nor easy laughter would have been possible before Jonty came along. Anything was possible now, even intimacy. Now they made love for all sorts of reasons, not just for gratification but in friendship, for consolation, because they were happy or because they were sad.

Jonty smiled indulgently as they walked along, even while he was sniggering just a little at the sight of a seven-foot oarsman suffering a tongue-lashing from a cox who was all of four foot eleven. He could see this idyllic life stretching long into the future, God willing, with his true love by his side and a bank balance full of his grandmother’s money to support them in whatever they decided to do. To buy a little house, with an apple tree in the garden and a flowering cherry outside the bedroom window, that would be ideal. Some of the furniture held in store for him up in London or down in Sussex could grace it, although it might seem rather grand for a little villa up the Madingley Road. If Orlando would ever agree to their buying one.

The two men tired of watching the rowing, turned and began to amble back to the college, a slight anticipation starting to bubble up in Jonty’s stomach. There was every chance that he could get Orlando into a bed this afternoon, and that would be an absolute delight. Even if the mattress wasn’t visited there would still be at least a hug or two on the sofa which was always very pleasant. They’d reached a stage where the last favours were not the be-all and end-all, wonderful as they were. Jonty cast a glance across at his lover and caught him, unquestionably, in the same act of anticipation.

Orlando blushed, something that hadn’t happened for a long time. I know what you’re contemplating, Jonty mused. Great minds definitely do think alike.

Their pace quickened and by the time they reached the Bishop’s Cope they were no longer just ambling but striding along with great purpose. Their tempo was brisk by the time they passed the porters’ lodge and they positively sped up Jonty’s staircase, eager to find themselves alone and safe to express their affection.

Orlando was taking the steps two at a time, as usual, in his desire to be in the room as soon as possible. He misjudged the edge of a particularly worn stair, which had endured hundreds of years’ worth of treading and wasn’t inclined to be kind anymore, then slipped. Perhaps nine times out of ten a man might have done that and suffered no worse than bruised knees or a scraped hand. Orlando suffered the ignominies of the tenth, and went clattering halfway down the flight.

It was ironic. Orlando normally led the way, making the joke that Jonty should be behind him in case he slipped, so that there would be adequate padding to break his fall. But this day Jonty was ahead, even more eager to reach the room than his friend was. He heard the tumble, turned—dismayed—and rushed back.

“Orlando!” Their rule about names was immediately broken. This was a moment of crisis, as the minute Jonty looked down he could see that his friend wasn’t moving. “Can you hear me? Are you all right?” He reached the crumpled body, was relieved to see the chest rising and falling and to hear that the breathing sounded clear.

But there was no response, not even a moan, and blood had begun to trickle from the back of Orlando’s head.

Jonty leapt up, his heart racing and a nauseous feeling filling his stomach. He knocked at the nearest door, demanding that the occupant go to the lodge to make the porters fetch a doctor. The inhabitant of the next room was sent for Nurse Hatfield. He returned to keep an eye on Orlando, making sure that he was comfortable and not about to do anything dramatic like swallow his tongue. It was all he could do, apart from worry himself sick.

 *****

Nurse Cecily Hatfield steamed up the stairs like a great ocean liner, cleaving a path through the knot of ghoulish students who’d formed to observe the scene and who’d ignored Jonty’s instructions to “bugger off”. They didn’t dare ignore the nurse’s rather more politely worded invitation to do the same.

“Don’t know why they do it,” she complained, kneeling down and efficiently checking Orlando over for breaks or bleeding. “Nothing interesting in another person’s distress, is there? Well, there are no bones broken as I far as I can see and I think—” she gingerly felt around Orlando’s head, “—the skull’s intact too. Bit of bleeding, but his breathing’s nice and steady. Not been sick, has he?”

Jonty shook his head, afraid to speak in case his voice betrayed him. He was petrified that the words No, he’s just lain there would actually come out as Please don’t let him die, I love him so much.

The doctor arrived promptly, the same man whom Jonty had first met over the dead body of a murdered man, years ago it seemed now. He made his own examination, confirming Nurse Hatfield’s initial diagnosis and advising that the man could be moved on a stretcher to the sick bay.

Jonty sped off to the porters’ lodge to organise the people and equipment to do this, glad to have something to do that was helpful and practical. Something which took his mind off the poor bloodied head lying on his staircase.

Time became distorted and things passed in a daze. It seemed to take forever to get Orlando onto the stretcher, then only a matter of seconds before he was being put onto a bed in the sick bay and the nurse was thrusting a piece of paper into Jonty’s hand. It was a list of things the patient might need, carefully written down,

“Because I’m not sure you’ll remember otherwise, Dr. Stewart. Not in your present state.” She’d no doubt recognised his need to be busy, filling him up with heavily sugared tea to give him the resources to do it. “I don’t want another young man falling down those stairs, this time because of fainting or delayed shock.”

While Jonty was away fetching Orlando’s nightclothes and wash bag, Orlando recovered consciousness and the extent of his injuries became clear. Or so Dr. Peters informed him as they met outside the door to the sickroom, his firm grip stopping Jonty barging straight in to greet his now-awakened friend.

“Dr. Coppersmith’s just with the doctor at present.” Peters saw Stewart’s worried look and smiled kindly. “He is in no danger, our medical friend seems quite confident about that. But there is something you should know before I let you in there. He’s lost some of his memory.”

“I don’t understand. Is this usual with a head injury?” Jonty was full of renewed concern. He’d heard Orlando go flying and seen the way his skull had struck the step; it worried him enormously.

“The doctor assures me that it is not abnormal. He may regain all that he has forgotten, eventually. He can remember the students coming back for the start of Michaelmas term…”

“Poor Orlando. He’s been hard at work on a treatise these last few weeks and now I suppose he’ll have to rethink it.” Jonty smiled tentatively.

“No, Dr. Stewart, I have expressed myself poorly. It is the Michaelmas term of last year he remembers, nothing since. I think it’s even possible that he will not recognise you.”





⌛πŸ“˜⌛#7 & 8 Will Re-Release Shortly⌛πŸ“˜⌛



  



Author Bio:
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.


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EMAIL:  cochrane.charlie2@googlemail.com



Lessons in Love #1

Lessons in Desire #2

Lessons in Discovery #3

Series

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