The warm fragrance of Christmas, cloves and oranges in particular, reached John’s nose on a cool night in June as he pulled the Hanoverian Landgrave Stephan von Namtzen into his bed-chamber.
“I was starting to think you had changed your mind,” he muttered against the older man’s chapped lips as he locked the door behind them.
They had both attended Governor Tryon’s ball in New Bern, unaware the other would be present as well: John as a long-time acquaintance and Stephan as a representative of the House of Hanover who would return to the Old World the next day.
With John’s posting in Jamaica, followed by the subsequent journey to the Colonies to settle his late wife’s affairs, combined with von Namtzen’s own duties to King and Country, the long-time friends had not seen each other in person in several years. While they had kept in touch through letters and sent gifts as a token of their affection, it was little substitute for meeting face to face. Particularly after that one passionate night in London in 1760…
When John had first met Stephan at one of his mother’s musicales in London, he had thought the German to be loud and uncouth. That terrible first impression had gradually shifted when von Namtzen had altruistically aided him not only in a private matter but had also seen to his health when he had been poisoned. By the time they met again in 1757, with John serving as a liaison between the English and Prussian army, the Hanoverian Captain had featured heavily in Grey’s erotic dreams.
While it was not uncommon for male acquaintances to hug and kiss, Stephan was without a doubt the most affectionate person John had ever met. At the same time, he became convinced that the Landgrave’s touches were significantly prolonged where he was concerned.
Forced by society to hide his own sexual inclinations his entire adult life, John was usually very quick at noticing them in other men. If he were to wager a guess, more than half of the gentlemen in London’s high society were at least open to the idea to lie with someone of their own sex.
And then there was Stephan.
A big, ominous question mark.
Despite his affectionate nature, John had thought him a ladies’ man for the longest time. Von Namtzen’s subsequent marriage to Princess Louisa had only corroborated his theory. After his own personal annus horribilis Grey had, however, been forced to question his existimation of Stephan. Granted, he had been bedridden and high on both opium and self-pity for most of the time, but if pressed he would be inclined to amend his assessment.
Regardless of John’s sexual attraction to Stephan, their friendship had continued unchanged nonetheless. Grey had expertly suppressed any urges that would have seen the taller man pinned against the next wall to ravish his mouth or bent over a table to fuck him. After James Fraser, he had become an expert in compartmentalising his desires for the sake of a cherished friendship.
Besides, it was not like John put much faith in love these days. Love equaled pain in his experience, and he had had enough of that to last him a lifetime.
Naturally, all of John’s resolutions were tossed out of the window when he – quite literally – stumbled upon Stephan in London in 1760 and he had not only kissed him but had also invited him to his bed.
Being the rationalist that he was, Grey had questioned the soundness of his decision later on. Von Namtzen’s faith was as resolute as Fraser’s and having your lover contemplate which priest would be more suitable for confessing his carnal sins to was hardly a sound foundation for a passionate affair let alone a lasting relationship. Not that John had bothered much with the latter ever since the Battle of Culloden. Affairs? Sure. Meaningless sexual encounters in the shadows of the night? Plenty. Proper relationships? Hardly.
Not wanting to cause Stephan any more moral conflicts, it had only seemed logical to simply ignore the elephant in the room in all future communication and pretend that that night had never happened. Letting go of something so fulfilling after he got a taste of it had not been easy, but their friendship would always take precedence over any sexual gratification.
John’s silence and affected ignorance had been the result of a week-long discussion within his own head that Stephan had not been privy to. As a result, he should not have been surprised when the German brought up their night of passion in their correspondence. Subtle, in case anyone else would read their letters, but very present in between the lines.
Consequently, John did what any sensible man in his position would do, and continued his silent pining over Fraser while cursing von Namtzen and his exquisite body whenever they made an appearance in his dreams instead.
They had naturally gravitated towards each other at Tryon’s ball and Grey may have used Stephan as an excuse to avoid overeager, unmarried women once or twice. Isobel’s death was still fresh enough to play the grieving widower-card, but that did not stop the more overzealous type from coy suggestions such as a walk in the gardens for more privacy to the blunter invitations to a lady’s bed. While John generally enjoyed the more relaxed social conventions in the Colonies he could not help but bemoan the demise of proper etiquette the long distance to London’s society had encouraged. At least where the female gender was concerned.
On second thought, the men were barely any better.
Even when Grey had thought of the Landgrave as a lout, he had struck him as handsome. With his tall and broad stature, he was exactly the kind of man John found attractive. His thick, fair hair that basically begged to run your fingers through it, those kind grey eyes that John could easily get lost in if he was not careful, as well as his strong facial features only supported his appealing looks. With the loss of his left arm, many women would, however, contest that statement. Their loss!
It was a notion that both saddened and infuriated Grey as Stephan may have lost a limb but not his character. He was one of the kindest, most altruistic, and selfless men he had ever met. Then again, the wide berth most women gave him worked in John’s favour as he found refuge at his friend’s side from wanton bachelorettes.
He had just managed to escape the unwelcome advances of the buxom Lady Geoffrey and had hurried to a nearby table with refreshments to down two glasses of brandy – no bird has ever flown with one wing after all – when the familiar smell of cloves hit his nose and warm breath ghosted over his ear.
“Wie unangemessen wäre es, wenn ich dich später in deinen Räumlichkeiten aufsuchen würde, John?“
Grey sputtered and coughed slightly, putting down his glass with more force than necessary upon hearing van Namtzen’s husky request to seek him out in his own room later that night. Granted, Stephan could simply be talking about a game of chess or cards, but when John turned around and searched those blazing, grey eyes, he was only met with want and desire for a different kind of game.
“You’re sure?” Befuddled by the alcohol he had consumed over the course of the evening as well as Stephan’s insinuation, John’s German short-circuited.
“I would have asked sooner, mein Freund—” von Namtzen muttered, his English carrying a distinct German accent that many would describe as harsh but that had always sounded melodic in Grey’s ears— “but you went off to get married and I did not want to be indiscreet. If this is too early after… I will take no offense.”
Too many questions were swirling around John’s head, but none of them were suitable to be voiced aloud when they could easily be overheard. Instead, he merely shook his head dumbfoundedly, realising moments later that Stephan could misinterpret the gesture, and switched to nodding.
A grin lit up the Landgrave’s features causing the corners of his eyes to wrinkle and for two dimples to appear on his cheeks, as he leaned down to whisper a warning into John’s ear: he had overheard Lady Geoffrey badgering one of the maids earlier about the location of Grey’s room.
“Lock your door. I’ll give it four sharp knocks.”