At the end of the night, Warren was glad to climb into the back of his autocar. The twins sat across from him, taking up most of the leg room, but he didn’t care. He just slipped off his mask, let his head fall back against the soft leather of the seat, and shut his eyes. Wakefield had kept a steady run of dance partners flowing in his direction, all of whom seemed exactly the kind of woman he had expected—wealthy, pretty, bland, and superficial. He had hoped to find one with something interesting to say. If he was going to marry for appearances’ sake, he demanded at least someone who would make good company.
“Makin’ a lot of friends this evenin, Hayward,” Owen said, sprawling even further in his seat and tugging his bowtie loose as the autocar puttered away from the docks. “Not exactly good behavior for someone what needs bodyguards, eh? Can’t blame you though. That blonde one in the red was hilly as the Highlands.”
“I suppose,” Warren answered without opening his eyes.
“Not your idea, was it?” Simon asked quietly, and Warren sighed and lifted his head.
“It’s a good plan,” Simon said with a small shrug. “You’d have to be much more blatant than you are now for anyone to accuse you once you’ve got a wife.”
“What what?” Warren sat up straighter in his seat and frowned across the way at Simon. “Blatant? Accuse me of what?”
“I’m not an idiot, Hayward, nor am I deaf. What you do in your private life is your own business. We have a good arrangement here, and I think I speak for Owen as well as myself when I say that I am your man without question. If taking a wife keeps you in business and us employed, I’m not concerned in the slightest with whether or not you have romantic feelings for her.” He glanced sidelong at his brother. “But I wouldn’t recommend the blonde. She’s in too much of a hurry. Probably because she’s in a family way.”
“Hold on, now,” Owen said, leaning forward and resting his elbow on his knee. “Bit too much observatin’ goin’ on without no one tellin’ me what’s bein’ observated.” He looked up into Warren’s bemused face. “You mean to say you and the Constable, you and him’s…?” He made a quick gesture and accompanying whistle that left no doubt about the act he meant to reference.
Warren groaned and put his face in his hands. “Yes,” he admitted with a muffled voice. It actually felt a little nice to have a few people who knew, at least. There seemed to be slightly less weight on his shoulders. Here he had two men he didn’t have to hide from. He was paying them, but even so.
He jumped slightly when Owen cursed, and for a moment he feared the man wasn’t as favorable to the idea as his brother. When he looked up, Owen was lifting his hips from the seat to dig into his pocket, and he slapped a shilling into Simon’s waiting hand.
“I told you,” Simon said with the tiniest of smirks.
“I only wish I could call ‘im names without takin’ it in the jaw,” Owen said. “He packs a wollop an’as a temper to match eh?”
“I haven’t noticed,” Warren answered, not keen on continuing any line of questioning related to his relationship with Ben. It was strange to hear them talk about him like the determined policeman he no doubt was—to Warren, he was gentle and soft-spoken and named rabbits silly things, but to the Travers, he must have been a constant obstacle to their wrongdoings and a frequent source of black eyes.
“Now about that blonde,” Owen went on as he slumped back into his seat, and Warren was glad for the change in conversation. “How d’you know she’s up the duff?”
“Puffy face,” Simon explained blandly. “Kept touching her stomach, though she likely didn’t even realize it. Her dress was a bit tight, which suggests bloating. Clear signs.”
“Right,” Owen muttered, shaking his head with a chuckle. “So when’re we movin’ into this new house, boss?” he asked with a slight nod toward Warren.
“I haven’t even discussed it with Ben,” he admitted. “The—you know—Constable Cartwright.” It felt even stranger to talk about him than to hear about him, but Warren was determined not to sound like a flustered adolescent. “He isn’t going to be happy about it, but it’s for the best.” The fact that Warren had made the decision to purchase a house in Belgrave Square, keep his workshop in the cellar, move the twins in as permanent guards, and apparently get married all without consulting Ben meant that he almost certainly had an unpleasant conversation ahead of him. Regardless, he told himself that the logic was sound—he would have a cellar door into the garden for the twins to bring their unfortunates, and it would mean always having them within reach. He didn’t doubt that Owen could have extracted much more information from his intruder than Ben had.
As far as the marriage—that was for Ben, too. It might make their new home seem crowded, but it would be a home where they would be free to be themselves and live the life they pleased. They would need a reason for Ben living with him, he supposed. Perhaps he could even quit his job, though convincing him of that seemed unlikely. He was dedicated to his calling and did good work.
Cam let the twins out of the autocar with a promise that they would hear from Warren soon, and at the front door of Sir Bennett’s house, Warren hesitated with the key in his hand. He would have to have this conversation sooner or later.
Ben was waiting for him inside, though daylight was only a few hours away, lounging on the chaise with his hands folded on his stomach and his chin on his chest as he snored. Warren smiled at the sight of him, left his hat on the small table by the door, and curled up on the chaise beside him, burying his face into the rough fabric of his shirt and inhaling his familiar scent. Why shouldn’t he marry? It would only be for convenience. For appearance. It would make them safer. It would allow them to lie like this, together, unafraid.
Ben grumbled and shifted his arm so that Warren could rest his head on his shoulder, and Warren smiled at the warmth in his stomach as he felt Ben’s lips gently touch his hair. Listening to the other man’s heart, he drifted to sleep with his fingers curled against Ben’s chest.
Warren was awoken by Ben’s pained grunting, and he was unceremoniously lifted as the larger man sat up on the chaise.
“Buggar me, Warren,” he grumbled, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You couldn’ve woken me?”
“You looked comfortable,” Warren objected as he settled himself in Ben’s lap and leaned in to kiss him.
“I’ll ‘ave a crick in me neck for days,” Ben mumbled against Warren’s lips, but that was the end of his protest.
Warren bit the other man’s lower lip lightly, fully expecting the soft grunt it brought from him. “I’ve been thinking,” he said softly.
“‘Hurt yourself?” Ben smiled as Warren flicked him sharply in the chest.
“I think it may be time to kill off Sir Bennett. After what happened.”
“Is that so?” Ben was distracted, touching light kisses to the redhead’s chin, which was exactly what Warren had hoped for.
“I’ll be free from my apprenticeship, and we can sell the house,” Warren went on, trailing his lips down Ben’s jaw to his neck.
“What?” Ben stopped, reluctantly pulling away. “Why on earth would we sell the house?”
“To move somewhere safer, of course,” Warren explained, casually beginning to unbutton Ben’s shirt. “And nicer, quite frankly. This place is dreadful dull. There’s an available townhouse in Belgrave Square,” he added helpfully, slipping his hand inside the open shirt to run his fingers through Ben’s thick chest hair.
“Love, are you sure about this? You want to make yourself even higher profile, with this...with our secret in the ‘ands of some unknown somebody what clearly means you ill?”
Warren smiled, feeling the goosebumps on Ben’s skin despite his attempt to keep a straight face. “I meant to talk to you about that,” he said softly as the last of Ben’s buttons came undone. He hesitated, suspecting that no amount of distraction would prevent the backlash from his suggestion. “I think...I think I ought to marry, actually.”
Ben stopped with his hands on Warren’s thighs, halfway to giving in to whatever the other man said. “To marry,” he repeated, staring Warren in the face with a blank look. “To marry whom, precisely?”
“I...haven’t decided yet. It was Wakefield’s idea,” he added, as though that was a defense. “He said that people like us do it all the time. It would just be for show.”
“Warren, do you hear yourself? We could live three lifetimes on the money you’ve made from the golems. Let’s just go somewhere in the country; we can do whatever we like and not have to worry about all this nonsense.”
“I’m not going back to the country,” he insisted. “Not when I finally have an opportunity to make something of myself here in London. I’m somebody now, Ben.”
“Silly me,” Ben said with a small sneer, “I thought you already were somebody.”
“You don’t understand. It wouldn’t matter if we were in the country if someone found out about us. Money and power are the only things that can protect us. I want to have both of those things in abundance,” Warren said in a low voice. “And I can do it, but only if you let me.”
Ben sighed, and he reached up to gently cup Warren’s face, his thumb trailing over the other man’s lower lip. “I love you,” he said. He sat up straighter on the chaise and pulled Warren close to him until he could feel his lover’s breath on his lips, their foreheads lightly touching. “You promise me that it would only be for show. Promise me this isn’t an elaborate ruse to get rid of me. Promise me that you really believe this is for the best.”
“I know it’s for the best,” Warren assured him, touching a soft kiss to his lips. “It would only be for show. I promise. She’ll have her own bedroom, and we’ll probably only see each other when we have to make appearances together. Nothing at all will change between you and I, except that we’ll have a house that’s all our own.”
“All our own but for your wife,” Ben said, and Warren shushed him with a firm kiss.
“And the Travers,” he added in a rush, hoping to slip it by without argument, “since they’ve been such a help to me, and I can’t really expect you to keep me safe at all hours of the day. They’ve already agreed,” he finished quickly.
“You can’t be serious—” Ben’s protest was cut off by Warren’s hand slipping past the waistband of his trousers, and he grit his teeth in a failed attempt to stop the groan that came from his throat.
“Trust me, Ben,” Warren whispered softly as he bent to press a kiss to his lover’s chest, his practiced hand easily drawing quiet whimpers from the larger man.
Ben gave in when Warren’s lips touched his stomach, shutting his eyes at the soft jingle of his belt coming undone. He paused as he heard the low zip of his belt coming free from his trousers, but a familiar shudder ran through him when he felt Warren push his arms behind his back, felt the tight heat of the belt leather strapping his wrists snugly together. He fell back as Warren shoved him firmly by the chest, and he opened his eyes in time to see the redhead tugging his tie from around his neck with a slow smirk Ben knew well.
He shifted on the chaise, his breath catching in his chest as Warren leaned over him and wrapped the dark tie around his eyes, blocking out the dim light of the study. He lifted his hips to allow the other man to pull his trousers down to his knees, leaving them halfway on to prevent him from moving his legs. He felt Warren’s warm breath on the skin of his hips, and he didn’t even try to hold back his groan as the other man’s lips wrapped around him.
Warren knew precisely how to get Ben to agree, of course. He had learned long ago that the constable would give in to just about any demand if given the right kind of push, which almost always involved being turned into a whimpering mess. Not that it was a chore—Ben’s trembling skin was hot under Warren’s lightly scraping fingernails, and the strained buck of his hips was almost more than he could stand.
Before he allowed him to finish, Warren urged the larger man onto his knees in front of the chaise, and he took the liberty of unfastening his own trousers before drawing Ben’s eager mouth down to him with a tight grip in his dark hair. He let his head fall back against the chaise, keeping a steady hand on Ben’s head to ensure he kept the right pace. The other man’s soft groans made him shudder, and a satisfied smirk touched Warren’s lips as he felt Ben straining against the belt around his wrists with a pleading whimper.
“You don’t need those,” Warren purred, fingers curling in Ben’s hair. “Unless you want to ask me very nicely to be set free.”
Ben panted as he pulled away, attempting to catch his breath. “Please,” he murmured with a whine in his voice that sent a shiver straight up Warren’s spine.
“No, I think not,” Warren whispered, and he tugged Ben back down to him with a harsh intake of breath as his lover returned to his work. “Not yet,” he added kindly, drawing a small groan from the other man.
As much as Warren enjoyed watching Ben on his knees in front of him, it was difficult to keep his composure for very long. He tightened his grip on Ben’s hair in an attempt to warn him, but the other man only took him deeper and groaned against him until he had swallowed everything the redhead had to offer. As soon as Warren was able to take a breath, he rewarded Ben’s hard work by pushing him down onto his back and settling himself securely in his lover’s lap.
He did think to slip the belt free from Ben’s wrists, though it was partly with a selfish motive, so that he could feel the other man’s hands gripping his hips tightly as he lowered himself onto him with a shuddering groan. He let his weight rest on his palms on Ben’s thighs, letting his lover do more of the work until the hurried pace worked Warren’s tie off of Ben’s eyes. Warren shuddered as Ben dug his fingers into his hips, and he smiled down at the helpless look on the strapping constable’s face as his back arched and he finished deep inside the other man.
Warren slipped free of Ben’s rigid grip, melting onto the floor beside him and tracing his fingers over the angry red marks on his wrist.
“This doesn’t mean I’m happy about you having a wife,” Ben mumbled sleepily, turning his head to press a quick kiss to Warren’s temple.
“I’ll pick an ugly one,” he promised, pleased at the low chuckle that rumbled under his cheek.