Casually dressed in a cream-coloured Versace suit and a khaki silk shirt, Griffin selected an unoccupied table in the corner farthest from the jazz quartet. The club was no more than half full as yet, the atmosphere already as cheerful as the string of Louis Jordan numbers being played. Griffin hardly noticed. Seeking oblivion from the emptiness within himself, he drank more heavily than was his habit: the champagne failed to dispel his melancholy.
He began to think his decision to stay in London was a mistake. The city stirred too many memories of Charlie, which was odd because they had been forty thousand feet above ground when he had effected their first meeting, having arrived in Britain only so he could board the flight she was taking to Sydney. What did he know of England? He'd lost touch with friends from school and university long ago, with only youthful memories insisting this was where he wanted to be.
He must be mad to think he would ever be able to create anything again. A schoolboy talent wasn't enough. The asylums were full of men of vision Beset by self-doubt, he began to doodle idly on a coaster until the image in his mind clarified. Discovering he had allowed his last cigarette to burn away, he summoned a waiter and placed his order before sitting back to study what he had drawn.
A child of six could have done better, he decided irritably, his pen automatically moving to correct a line here and change a dimension there as the piece came to three-dimensional life in his mind's eye. He had never needed a scaled plan to work from; that much at least didn't seem to have changed. The coffee table would be a test piece, its octagonal top displaying a variety of British woods: ash, chestnut, holly, oak, cherry, sycamore, yew, laburnum - and elm, if he could get any. While laburnum was a bitch to work with, it would be a good test of his skills.
Nodding his thanks as the waiter returned with two packets of cigarettes, Griffin idly scanned the dimly lit club, in the mood to socialise now. The atmosphere was smoky, the tables packed. There were several beautiful women present, all with escorts in tow, and two very attractive men who caught his attention. As a laughing group seated themselves, Griffin's eyes widened in appreciation when he glimpsed a third man, one who had the merit of being unaccompanied.
The subject of his interest sat at the end of the bar, his face warm with amusement as the barman serving him came to the end of a joke. The man had a ravishing smile; it had yet to fade when he glanced across the tables and saw Griffin watching him. A look of interest, instantly masked, replaced the smile.
Returning it, Griffin's lips twitched before he forced himself to look elsewhere. Exquisite, he thought, remembering the beautiful profile and the man's powerful shoulders and thighs. Just what he needed. Except for the fact he was twenty years too old to attract the man's interest. Lucky barman, he mused, lanced by a sharp pang of lust as he imagined taking the beautiful stranger into his bed. Giving a faint sigh of regret that the man had already made his choice, Griffin picked up his pen again. His erection subsiding, he lost himself to the list of supplies and tools he knew he would need for his workshop.
Having hoped his obvious interest would be enough to tempt Griffin from his corner table, Kilroy felt piqued that after his initial show of interest Griffin did not glance in his direction again.
Gently turning down an offer from the barman which he had been too preoccupied to see coming, Kilroy had another drink, irritated to realise he was nervous; he'd lost the patter which had stood him in such good stead during his youth. Worse, the elegant figure sitting at a corner table, oblivious to him, bore little resemblance to the rumpled jogger of the other morning. Resigned to the necessity of making the first move, something he had optimistically hoped to avoid, he left the bar and wound his way through the crowd to where Griffin sat.
"Good evening. If you're not expecting a guest may I buy you a drink?"
Drawn from his abstraction Griffin looked up, surprise, then open pleasure on his face when he saw who stood in front of him. "I'm alone. Won't you join me for a glass of champagne?" He glanced at a waiter. Before Kilroy had seated himself another champagne glass was set down.
"How did you manage to get served so quickly?" Kilroy asked, his tone light and admiring.
"Luck," said Griffin, but there was a wry twist to his beautiful mouth.
"Am I interrupting a private celebration?" Kilroy had never seen a man who looked less festive.
"Not exactly. Griffin. James Griffin."
Taking the long-fingered hand, Kilroy enjoyed the brief, firm clasp. "Kilroy."
"Just Kilroy?" Amusement quirked Griffin's mouth.
"Christopher. Preferably Kit."
"Kit. Yes, it suits you." Lighting a cigarette after Kilroy had shaken his head when offered one, Griffin relaxed back in his chair.
"If you say so. Are you in London on business, Mr Griffin?"
"James. Perhaps. And for a holiday. Apart from fleeting business trips this is my first visit to Britain since my days at university."
Kilroy watched Griffin flick ash from his cigarette with an economy of movement which suggested he was not a man given to nervous mannerisms; equally, it could indicate an excess of control. Kilroy made up his mind to discover what lay behind it and make use of it if he could.
"No more beautiful people parading the streets?" he joked, as if trying to gauge Griffins age.
"Oh, there are still one or two of those, surely."
Their eyes met and held, conducting a totally different communication, desire sharp and bright flowing between them.
Acknowledging the contract they had just made, Kilroy saluted his host with his glass. "You're right about London, of course. I've watched it change in the nine years I've been working here."
"Where were you based before?"
"A number of places. Wherever the Army sent me." Kilroy allowed his expression to become more distant.
"You're a civilian now?"
"So they tell me." Kilroy knew it would not take Griffin long to realise there were two reasons to cut short a career in the army in your twenties; injury or disgrace. He was interested to see how Griffin would deal with the point.
"Then I wasn't so far out. You would find life dull behind a desk."
Kilroy's eyes widened with genuine surprise. "That's astute of you on such a short acquaintance."
"Oh, I'm a very astute man. The perfect judge of character." There was naked self-derision in the attractive voice, before Griffin gave an apologetic grimace. "Champagne makes me maudlin." He lit another cigarette; for someone who appeared relaxed, he smoked heavily.
"Then perhaps we should drink something else. What would you like? No, let me try and guess." Kilroy allowed himself the luxury of studying Griffin in lingering detail. Sleek and groomed Griffin might be, what the photograph had failed to capture was the innate sensuality of the man. It would be exciting to shatter that controlled grace in an orgy of sex; to make him writhe and sweat and moan with pleasure before he came. Fiercely aroused, Kilroy's voice was a husky caress when he made his choice, knowing from the dossier that it was the right one. "For you, a fine brandy."
Griffin's smile revealed a chipped front tooth; he had the knack of turning flaws into assets. "Usually, yes. But I would prefer mineral water tonight. Brandy on top of the best part of a bottle of champagne..." He shrugged. "I should prefer to do both myself, and you, justice."
Acutely conscious of Griffin's sultry-eyed appraisal while trying to concentrate on anything but the ache in his groin, Kilroy tried to catch the waiter's eye. It took him almost ten minutes to be served.
"I wouldn't think anything of it but for your success earlier. I obviously lack your knack." He felt rather than saw Griffin study him again.
"I'm sure you have other skills."
"Oh, I do. But none I can demonstrate here."
"Later, then," said Griffin, anticipation in his voice.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," said Kilroy with perfect truth, unable to believe his luck. Langlois didn't know the half of it. Griffin was ripe for the plucking, all right and he would pluck and fuck him into the middle of next week, he promised himself, fierce because it was an eerie experience to set out to seduce a man he would have tried to woo on his own account.
"I may disappoint you," Griffin pointed out, but the lazy confidence in his voice begged to differ.
The waiter's reappearance at their table caused Kilroy to restrict his reply to a grin. "What would you say was my line of work?" he asked innocuously.
"It would be easier to say what you are not." Griffin cocked his head.
There was a small pause, during which Kilroy felt as if Griffin's gaze was stripping him to the bone.
"You're accustomed to making quick assessments and you trust your judgement sufficiently to act on them, but there's a watchful quality about you which is rarely seen," said Griffin finally. "I presume that if you worked for the Intelligence Services you wouldn't be inviting me to guess. But that's what I would say."
"You're a warlock," exclaimed Kilroy, both impressed and wary, having realised he would have to be extremely careful with this man. "I'm a partner in a security agency. We specialise in investigating industrial espionage and the giving of advice on all aspects of personal security."
"I should have thought of that," said Griffin with chagrin. "Business must be booming at the moment. What does 'personal security' encompass?"
Kilroy told him, having decided it was essential to stick to the truth. If they became lovers, inevitably Griffin would learn something about his work and it wouldn't do to arouse his suspicions. Griffin was obviously no slouch at the observation stakes; the challenge to breach his defences was irresistible.
"At what stage do you become involved in kidnap cases? Surely they are a matter for the police. Although I suppose that in some countries the police will have been bribed," mused Griffin.
"If not actively involved," confirmed Kilroy. "I refuse to send staff out to Colombia any more. They aren't equipped to survive that kind of madness. That said, a number of multinational companies hire us to brief their senior management before they're sent to trouble spots."
"How do you train your staff?"
Half an hour later Kilroy realised he had been monopolising the conversation. Griffin was too good a listener, while giving away nothing. Ruffled, Kilroy mentally scored the first round to Griffin even as he admitted that Griffin's interest seemed genuine, his questions those one would expect from an intelligent man. He appeared to take for granted the rudimentary precautions Kilroy and his staff tried to drum into their clients. But then as Melville's heir he had probably been a target for kidnappers himself, which made it odd that he would consider using the threat against others. Shrugging the thought aside, Kilroy pulled a face.
"I must have bored you to death."
"No. Anyone who enjoys their work is worth listening to, but not everyone has your talent for being entertaining at the same time. It's a job which must make heavy emotional demands of you, particularly when something beyond your control goes wrong."
"Yes," said Kilroy with a telling shortness.
"I'm sorry, I didn't intend to hit a nerve." Leaning into the light, there was a trace of concern on Griffin's face.
"You couldn't know," dismissed Kilroy, reluctant to continue the conversation but aware that he must. "Earlier this week a young boy died because his father was more interested in getting publicity for his company than on keeping quiet to ensure the safety of his kidnapped son. He got his publicity when the boy was killed before the ransom could be delivered."
His tone strictly practical, Griffin made none of the commonplace protestations of horror. "Would you change any of the actions you took if you could?"
"Yes, I'd lock the self-centred bastard away so he could concentrate on his precious business and leave me to do my job. If it hadn't been for his greed and stupidity... Forget it," growled Kilroy, when his brain caught up with his tongue.
"It's a waste of time to blame yourself for the failings of others. You'll need your energy for your next case."
That's you, thought Kilroy, his mouth hardening. "Forget it happened, you mean? Is that your philosophy in life?" There was a contemptuous edge to his voice.
While Griffin's mouth thinned, his temper held. "I didn't say it was easy. I understand your anger. Crimes against children are the ugliest of all."
Kilroy gave him a puzzled glance.
"Why are you looking at me like that? Or do you tar all businessmen with the same brush?"
Aware that the exchange had ceased to be the norm for a one-night stand, Kilroy blinked and set about making up the ground he had lost. "Of course not. I'm sorry I snapped your head off. I'm not used to... You're too good a listener."
"Too good?" Griffin's eyebrows rose.
"You encourage people to confide in you where it wouldn't usually occur to them to do so. I wish more of my staff had your skill. It's invaluable."
"It's as good a self-defence as any other," shrugged Griffin in dismissal. He lit another cigarette, as if fearing what else he might say.
"I must remember that. We've established that you're a businessman. What's your specialty?" As Kilroy watched, all trace of expression left Griffin's face.
"I was a hotelier."
"And now I'm not."
Kilroy took the hint. "I don't think you mentioned where you're from." He was determined to keep the conversation steered away from himself.
"Like you, a number of places. The chain I managed has hotels across the Far East: Manila, Macao, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. I travelled between them."
"That's a lot of travelling. Didn't you get tired of it?"
Griffin gave a faint smile. "Very. Most people think travel is glamorous."
"It can be, I suppose. You didn't find it so?"
"No, but then I've been flying long distance since I was at prep. school. Despite the nature of my work I'm not a social animal, or not with people en masse. I prefer to take my pleasures less publicly. Would you care for another drink?" The unspoken alternative beckoned.
Smooth as satin sheets, thought Kilroy with approval, as he shook his head. "Are you living nearby?"
"Yes, at the Mayfair."
"That must be something of a busman's holiday. How do British hotels compare with those you managed?"
Griffin's nose wrinkled expressively before he grimaced. "No, I'm not being fair. It's just that my hotel has been invaded by a horde of hysterical children seeking their latest icon. I should have found somewhere quieter straight away but I underestimated their staying-power and lung capacity."
"Oh, is that what the screaming was about? I could hear it from my office in Albermarle Street."
"I should think it's audible in Piccadilly. The young have amazing stamina, if little discrimination."
"An appreciation of the finer things in life comes later." Entranced, Kilroy watched a wry smile warm Griffin's entire face. "May I extend some British hospitality? My flat in Dover Street is approximately five minutes from your hotel. I can offer you a drink, or anything else you might care for." He revelled in the flare of naked hunger he saw on Griffin's face before he rose to his feet.
"Anything?" murmured Griffin. Settling the bill, he wound his way through the tables and out of the club. It seemed quiet on the street, the air cool and comparatively sweet; somewhere close at hand a clock struck the half hour.
"Anything," confirmed Kilroy.
"I hope that's from anticipation. Or are you cold?" asked Kilroy, as they strolled across the road.
"A little of both," Griffin admitted with a soft chuckle. "I'd forgotten how cold British summers are. I haven't made time to buy warmer clothing yet."
Kilroy studied the understated elegance of the man at his side. "You look fine to me."
"I'm dressed for the humidity of Hong Kong, or the heat of Italy, Spain and France. Here I need at least two more layers of clothing."
"Will you be in London for a while?" Kilroy allowed a note of eagerness to enter his voice.
Hands in his trouser pockets, Griffin was studying the passage of his feet. "I'm thinking about making my home in England."
Griffin looked up, his unblinking gaze disconcertingly direct. "How can you know that?"
"Instinct," said Kilroy promptly, leading the way through a Dickensian passageway.
"Bullshit. In any other city in the world an alleyway like this would be a mugger's paradise," added Griffin. If the thought troubled him, he gave no sign of it.
"Mayfair has too many police patrolling it for that. My flat's through that red door there. I'll have to see what I can do to warm you during your stay," Kilroy added, refastening the security locks and following Griffin up the narrow staircase.
"I doubt if you'll have much problem," allowed Griffin as a hand slipped under his jacket to explore his buttocks, the touch assured and infinitely pleasurable.
"The sitting-room's to your right, the bathroom to your left," said Kilroy, giving Griffin's rump a farewell caress.
"And the bedroom? I've learnt to appreciate my creature comforts."
"A man after my own heart. It's the second door on your left. The light switch is - "
" - here, surely," said Griffin, stroking Kilroy's swollen cock through the fabric of his black trousers. "You feel wonderful, but you're wearing far too many clothes." His hands moved upwards as the light flicked on.
"What are you doing?"
"Preparing to strangle you, what else?" Dropping to the floor the tie he had just unfastened, Griffin eased Kilroy's jacket from his shoulders before slipping shirt buttons open with a deftness which told of long practice.
"What am I supposed to do?" asked Kilroy, his elbows pinned by his jacket.
Griffin palmed Kilroy's pink nipples and powerful pectoral muscles. "Enjoy it," he said huskily, bending to draw first one, then the other tiny nub erect with his teeth. He refrained from commenting on the silvery traces of long-healed scars on the muscular torso, or the betraying signs of skin grafts, simply gentling his touch over those areas.
Kilroy gave a soft groan and remembered to shrug out of his jacket. Griffin's was easily removed, but Kilroy frowned when he saw that Griffin was wearing braces. He pinged one gently, before drawing them down over Griffin's shoulders rather than wasting time fiddling with the catches at the waist. Unfastening the silk shirt, his fingertips sifted through Griffin's body hair as his own trousers sank to his ankles. Warm hands dealt with his briefs before cupping his buttocks.
"I knew you would be beautiful," said Griffin with satisfaction, as he stepped out of his unfastened trousers; the small change in his pocket jingled as it settled on the carpet.
"Silk boxer shorts? You hedonist," murmured Kilroy, virtually stroking them down until Griffin was naked. Standing in a puddle of discarded clothing, his hands roamed as he nibbled Griffin's ear lobe. "I like your aftershave." He approved of everything, from the demarcation between tanned skin and the areas which had not been on public display, to the long, elegant feet, one of which was stroking the back of his calf.
"So do I."
Making a soft sound of hunger as his urgency peaked when their naked cocks brushed, Kilroy wrapped himself around Griffin, his hands eager to learn the planes and curves of the beautiful back, even as the muscles of his buttocks bunched. They found a fast, hard-driving rhythm, creating enough friction to finish what had been building between them all evening and came seconds apart, semen cooling stickily on their bellies as they stood plastered together.
Propped against the wall, Kilroy gave a wry chuckle, his hands dangling over Griffin's shoulders as Griffin's breathing slowed against his neck. "Damn! I meant to take my time savouring you." Smiling into eyes which Griffin's tan only lightened, Kilroy noticed with pleasure that they were a true green.
"Savour me later," suggested Griffin, running his palms up and down Kilroy's flanks before he drew back a little.
"My pleasure." One hand remaining on Griffin's shoulder, Kilroy peeled off a sock which had been forgotten in the final rush to strip.
Cradling Kilroy's testicles, Griffin stroked the warm laxness with the side of his thumb, shivering as the heat of arousal dissipated.
"Your blood must be as thin as water. Get into bed before you freeze. Shall I put the heating on for you?" Kilroy felt obliged to add.
"I'm tempted to say yes just to see your look of horror. I'll survive," said Griffin, before he strolled into the bathroom.
"There's a robe on the back of the door. Coffee, brandy or both?" called Kilroy.
"Coffee, please. Black, two sugars," said Griffin through the half-open door.
Hoping Griffin would not want to wash the evidence of their lovemaking away just yet, Kilroy went into the kitchen. Listening to the comfortable burp of the percolator, he glanced up to find Griffin fastening the ties of a thick, white towelling robe while he stood propped in the doorway.
"That coffee smells good. Do you mind if I smoke?" Griffin produced cigarettes and a lighter from a pocket.
"Not enough to ask you not to. I might even be able to find you an ashtray. Are you hungry?"
"Not for food." Griffin took the saucer handed to him in lieu of an ashtray.
"That sounds promising. Feel free to have a look round. Not that there's much to see."
Nodding, Griffin wandered away. It was only when Kilroy heard the unobtrusive sounds of occupation in the sitting-room that he realised how much he had enjoyed living with someone. While it had been almost a year since Matthew had left, the relationship fading with their lust, he still wasn't reconciled to living alone. Reminding himself that this was a job, he picked up the mugs of coffee.
"Bed or here? The bed's more comfortable and the night's still young," he added.
"So it is," said Griffin. Setting down the anthology of poetry he had been glancing through, he strolled across the hall into the bedroom, already looking at home. Having made himself comfortable against the pillows, he smoked a cigarette with slow luxury, the forearm of his free hand propped on Kilroy's upraised knees.
"I've always admired optimists," Griffin remarked when his penis was cradled. But he was stirring to life even as he sipped his coffee, his hand caressing Kilroy's thigh by now.
"I like to anticipate the pleasures ahead of me," returned Kilroy with lazy well-being.
"What do you have you in mind?" Relaxed and at ease, Griffin studied Kilroy speculatively.
"The options of those who meet as strangers can be limited in the 'nineties."
Recognising the guarded warning, Kilroy nodded his agreement. "Unless they've been careful. I'm a cautious man."
Griffin raised an elegant eyebrow.
"I'm serious," said Kilroy. "I wear a condom and test every three months. My last test, a month ago, was negative. Not that it offers any guarantees."
"Except that you weren't HIV positive on the day you were tested," agreed Griffin. "We behaved irresponsibly, frotting unprotected like boys."
Sombre now, Kilroy nodded. "I know. I'm not usually that stupid. My only excuse is that it's been...a while for me. Despite appearances to the contrary I don't indulge in one-night stands. Nor do I have unprotected sex - not even frotting. I usually use two condoms."
Griffin's mouth twitched. "I wouldn't have taken you for a belt and braces man."
"Apart from a desire to live until I'm at least one hundred and ten, I have a responsibility to my sexual partners. Condoms aren't one hundred per cent reliable - and I love anal sex."
"Oh good, so do I. And I wasn't sneering at you, just the irony that so much forward planning has to take place before we can indulge in activities which I've always preferred to be spontaneous. I'm a belt and braces man myself," added Griffin wryly, inviting Kilroy to share the joke.
Instead, he was glaring into space. "I hate having this kind of conversation," he announced with unfeigned frustration.
"I've never met anyone who enjoys it, but it's become an unpleasant necessity in the last decade. I've tested since nineteen eighty-three, mostly recently last month. It was negative. I stopped finding one-night stands satisfying a long time ago."
Kilroy sat up. "Then you already have a lover." His puzzlement was well-hidden. Griffin's voice had held the ring of truth, but his statement did not match the playboy image the dossier had presented.
Griffin's expression hardened. "And if I have?"
Kilroy ignored the warning signs. "I don't poach," he said simply. "It's too much grief for all concerned."
"I have no lover," said Griffin quietly, but his expression was distant.
Cradling his mug between his hands, Kilroy stared into it. "Nor do I. It's hardly surprising given my chat-up technique. Talking safe sex has a way of taking the edge off the appetite. Would you like some more coffee?"
"Not at the moment, but I should enjoy having sex with you again," said Griffin, his manner direct.
Brightening, Kilroy set his mug down and removed the unlit cigarette from Griffin's fingers. "That can be arranged. What would you like?"
"Apart from the stamina of a seventeen-year-old? I'd prefer you to join in. And if you don't use your initiative, you're not the man I give you credit for."
"A challenge?" asked Kilroy, his eyes sparkling.
Griffin shook his head as if despairing of him but he made no attempt to fend off the hands which stripped him of the robe he wore.
Sinking back on his heels, Kilroy studied the half-erect sprawl that was Griffin. "I know this sounds ridiculous," he said at last, "but I'd forgotten how beautiful a man's body can be." He traced the curve of the arching rib cage with a fingertip, drifting down to circle the bud of the navel.
"Abstinence has some merit, if not much. For my own part, it's been worth the wait, I think."
"Think?" With mock-aggression, Kilroy leant forward to nuzzle a rose-brown nipple, the edge of his teeth making it stand proud.
The muscles of Griffin's abdomen began to twitch, his cock thickening. "I could be convinced," he allowed. Drawing Kilroy over him, his flat-palmed hands began to move in great swathes down the muscular back, noticing that Kilroy bore all his scars on his front. "You have such delicate skin," he added inconsequentially, his spread hands sliding up the inside of Kilroy's thighs to stroke the vulnerable testicles with the sides of his thumbs.
"Delicate!" All outraged machismo, Kilroy tried to keep his face straight.
"In places," said Griffin, who was now exploring the cleft of the buttocks balanced so lightly over him.
A ripple of anticipation shivered through Kilroy as the pad of Griffin's finger pressed knowingly against his beginning-to-twitch anus.
"Yes?" checked Griffin, rubbing in a circular movement.
"Oh yes," agreed Kilroy, without being certain to what he was agreeing.
"Do you...?" Griffin saw the unopened tube of KY. "Yes, you do."
"Of course." Reaching out, Kilroy retrieved and opened the blue and white box, handing the tube over before rolling on the first condom for Griffin.
Griffin rubbed the colourless gel between his fingers. "To warm it for you," he explained with a wicked grin, before he pressed the first slick digit into Kilroy's body, his eyes never leaving Kilroy's face.
His head drooping, Kilroy's cock rose as clever fingers opened him, tender as with the most fragile of prizes, before they sank deeper. Giving a soft sigh, Kilroy lightly bit Griffin's beginning-to-roughen chin as sensation streamed from his nerve-rich centre. Burgeoning pleasure more than repaid the discomfort as his body readjusted. He made a lush, incoherent sound, seconds before his softened mouth parted on a noiseless cry. Too knowledgeable by half, Griffin's clever fingers rolled across his prostate again. Turning and pressing, they submerged him in wave after wave of sensation as Griffin's other hand pulled on his cock.
"Yesss..." Like an untutored boy, Kilroy came almost immediately. It was some time before he recovered enough to care that he had left his partner behind. His embarrassment was short-lived, Griffin's face displaying an amused satisfaction untouched by mockery.
Taking Kilroy's hands in his own, Griffin shook them gently. "Don't look so tragic," he teased huskily.
"You did that on purpose," Kilroy accused, sifting through Griffin's mahogany-coloured hair; thick, springy and shining with health, it felt like silk between his fingers. Slowly he traced the contours of Griffin's face, delicately avoiding the obviously damaged cheekbone because it was too early in their relationship for such an intimacy.
"It was hardly an accident. You were looking far too smug."
"And you're strung out. No, don't move. It's time I did a little work." Sliding round, Kilroy's tongue flicked out, teasing from the base to the tip of Griffin's cock. Swirling around the straining head, he dipped his tongue to the latex-covered eye while his hand encircled the base.
Griffin bucked, muttering something staccato.
"What did you say?" All innocence, Kilroy brushed the tight-drawn testicles.
"It wasn't complimentary," gasped Griffin, his fingers clenching in the sheet. The gold stud in his ear winked in the light, sweat gleaming on his temples.
"I gathered that much. Chinese?"
"Cantonese," panted Griffin, his thigh muscles bunching as Kilroy rubbed his balls again, taking him to the edge of pain.
"Should I learn?" Kilroy mused, stilling.
"If you carry on like this, very probably. Christ!" Griffin's voice broke, his face twisting as he bucked again.
Realising he had teased for too long, Kilroy settled one arm across the narrow hips to hold Griffin down. "Time to practise your Cantonese," he said huskily, anticipating the act which he loved to perform, finding it both a power trip and a giving. Bending his head, his eyes narrowed to navy slits of concentration, he began to suck in earnest, his throat muscles rippling as he accommodated what he could of Griffin.
Griffin came fast and hard, with the silence of desperation. His expression dazed by the time he slumped, his fingers relaxed where previously they had gripped Kilroy.
"I've bruised you," he said eventually. "I'm sorry." He stroked the reddening flesh with his fingertips.
"I didn't even feel it," shrugged Kilroy. Straightening to sit beside Griffin, his thumb explored the hollows at the base of Griffin's throat. "I didn't intend to tease to the point of pain."
"You're looking smug again," noticed Griffin without rancour. His relaxed face all heavy-lidded eyes, the light turned his body hair to copper, chestnut and silver.
Taking a handful of tissues, Kilroy disposed of Griffin's protection, then his own. Seeing him shudder, he pulled the bedclothes over Griffin. "This time I know it can't be passion making you shiver."
The satisfaction in his voice caused Griffin to give a throaty chuckle as he sank under the blissful warmth of the duvet. "Unbearably smug." While he smiled, his light eyes searched Kilroy's face as if trying to memorize him.
"I made you laugh."
"Amongst other things." There was a hint of puzzlement on Griffin's face now.
"There's no great trick to the other things," dismissed Kilroy, giving a sleek stretch of physical satiation. "But to make someone, particularly you, laugh, now that's a challenge."
"Why me in particular?"
The wariness in the eyes which slid away from him hurt Kilroy, although he could not have said why. Reminding himself of his current role, he touched Griffin's right cheek. "Because for a man with such a delicious laughter crease, you're not happy."
"Not many people are," dismissed Griffin. "Do you take them all to your bed?"
"That's an ugly thing to say."
"It wasn't accidental. But I'm... You're crazy," Griffin amended, an edgy note to his voice.
"I think I must be," Kilroy conceded. "I'm not in the habit of... Never mind."
Griffin rolled onto his side, eyeing Kilroy thoughtfully. "Are you happy?" he asked unexpectedly.
"I am at the moment." Kilroy gave a slanting grin.
No more immune to that charm than when Kilroy had first unleashed it, Griffin shook his head. But he made Kilroy shudder with pleasure when he closed his teeth over the mound at the base of Kilroy's thumb before sucking on the fleshy pad.
Outside, London began to stir with pre-dawn sounds of life, intruding on the sensual web they had woven.
"It's half-past three," discovered Griffin, glancing at his wristwatch.
"Time flies when you're having fun. I'd like to do this again."
"Good," said Griffin, equally direct. "So would I. My time's my own. When are you free?"
"Tomorrow?" Some of the joy within Kilroy died when he remembered that Griffin was his target, and why.
"Fine. Is there some kind of problem? Am I encroaching on family responsibilities?"
Wondering if the man ever missed a thing, Kilroy concealed a prickle of irritation. "I have parents, four sisters, one brother and innumerable nieces and nephews. Fortunately they're spread around the British Isles. We live our own lives. And you?"
"I have no-one." Griffin's hand shook as he lit a cigarette, a shocking despair bleeding from his eyes.
Rolling onto his stomach, Kilroy pillowed his cheek on his folded arms, the expression he had glimpsed on Griffin's face telling him he had hit a nerve. "No family at all?"
"I didn't mean to pry," lied Kilroy stiffly.
"Didn't you? I'm sorry," added Griffin immediately, in a different tone. "It's just..." he took an audible breath and added quickly, "my father was murdered earlier this year and - "
"What?" Kilroy sat up. "God, I'm sorry. What a terrible thing to happen. Where?"
"Hong Kong. He was hacked to death on the orders of the head of a Triad," added Griffin colourlessly.
"Then the man responsible was caught?" probed Kilroy, unable to remember any details from the dossier Langlois had provided.
"No. While it wasn't a secret, proving who was responsible for a court of law is another matter. I have only circumstantial evidence at best."
"Did you try to get more?" Kilroy hated himself when Griffin flinched, the point obviously a raw wound.
"It's time I left." Sitting on the edge of the mattress, the set of Griffin's shoulders was achingly straight.
"Because you won't want to share your bed with a coward."
Slithering off the bed, Kilroy crouched in front of him, his hands on Griffin's thighs. Silent for a moment, he sensed that compassion would break what contempt would have hardened.
"You poor bastard," he breathed.
Griffin's eyes closed for a moment. "Don't!"
"Can I help? You sound as if you could use some. Or there's always the agency. A good two-thirds of our work is done abroad, although we haven't ever worked in Hong Kong."
There was a wry twist to Griffin's mouth. "Do you have any idea what you'd be getting into?"
"No," Kilroy admitted, resolved to do some investigating on his own account. The dossier had skated over Melville's death, as he suspected Griffin had. From the little he knew on the subject, Triad killings always had a point to them: a warning.
"That's what I thought. No, let the dead rest in peace. There's been enough blood spilled already." Shivering, Griffin unconsciously hugged himself as he got to his feet. Sidestepping Kilroy, he collected his discarded clothes.
"What about you? Are you in any danger?" asked Kilroy, padding after him. He saw the question surprise Griffin.
"Don't worry, you won't be involved."
"I wasn't thinking of that. Are you?"
Sorely tempted to pursue the matter, Kilroy let wisdom prevail. "You're more than welcome to stay the night."
"No. Thank you." The courtesy was obviously an afterthought. As if aware of how ungracious he had sounded Griffin paused at the bedroom door and gave an apologetic grimace.
"You'd prefer to brave the hordes of screaming girls rather than stay here?" mocked Kilroy, annoyed with himself for ignoring the warning signs and pushing Griffin too far.
"They'll have gone by this time of the morning. May I use your shower?"
"Of course." Pulling on a dressing-gown, Kilroy made some more coffee. He gestured to the mugs on the table when Griffin emerged from the bathroom fully dressed, his hair slicked back where he had not bothered to dry it.
"Not for me, thanks," said Griffin, but the pinched control had left his face, his voice more relaxed but cool.
"I'll ring you at the Mayfair tomorrow," said Kilroy easily, as if unaware of Griffin's withdrawal.
"No, I'll ring you." Griffin's tone was that of a man accustomed to his wishes being complied with.
His hackles rising, Kilroy tried to cover the fact with a bland smile.
Griffin's hands parted. "Sorry. I didn't intend to sound so autocratic."
"Perhaps," Griffin admitted. "Ring me whenever you want."
"Is there any point?" asked Kilroy; he sounded amused rather than aggressive.
Inhaling, Griffin slowly relaxed. "Probably not," he conceded. "But I hope that won't stop you."
Even while he could sense what Griffin was doing, Kilroy was not immune to the pull of Griffin's personality. His grin held an unfeigned warmth. "It won't," he said cheerfully. "Unless you'd like to save me the cost of a phone call and agree to have dinner with me." He found the surprise Griffin was slow to hide odd, given the man's assurance.
"Eight o'clock. I'll meet you by the reception desk at the Mayfair?"
"Don't sound too enthusiastic," teased Kilroy, leading the way down to the front door.
"I'll fight against it," Griffin promised, an answering gleam in his own eyes by this time. "Ciao." Brushing Kilroy's mouth briefly with the side of his thumb, he let himself out, walking quickly down the road.
"Arrogant bastard," breathed Kilroy. He was looking forward to their next meeting already.