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HUNTED BY DEVILS

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TWENTY TWO

Griffin sat at the breakfast table in his kitchen above the workshop, resignedly sifting through the stack of papers Goring had sent him. "This isn't even the tip of the iceberg," he complained. "Most of the stuff has gone straight to my lawyers."

Licking strawberry jam from his fingers, Kilroy made soothing noises. "It won't take you long to sort out."

Griffin snorted. "In case you've forgotten, it's taken weeks to get this far. This Trust I'm setting up is turning into a royal pain in the ass. Between meetings for that and my trips to Hong Kong and Paris..."

"That'll teach you to be altruistic," teased Kilroy.

"Realistic, more like."

"Are you sure you want to give most of it away?"

"I knew it, you only wanted a sugar daddy," mourned Griffin.

"That's right. Speaking of which, could you lend me twenty pounds before I go out? I forgot to go to the bank and it's about time we paid the paper bill."

"The world of high finance in which you live," sighed Griffin. "I paid the papers yesterday and my wallet's in bedroom. Help yourself." Muttering darkly to himself, he continued to work his way through the stack of papers in front of him. "You needn't think you're going to get away with doing nothing. Here!" He tossed a catalogue towards Kilroy. "See what you think of those."

"We could do with some pictures for the house."

"I don't think you'll want any of those. There's nothing older than the beginning of the century - and no 'pretty' landscapes."

"There's nothing wrong with my taste," defended Kilroy automatically.

"No, there isn't," agreed Griffin.

Kilroy shot him a suspicious glance. "What do you want?" he asked warily, before he returned Griffin's grin. "You'll have to wait till I get my strength back after last night. It's a big catalogue."

"It's a big collection. And too much responsibility for me to think of keeping it. It'll be far less trouble to give them to a gallery to worry about. Do you think the Tate would take them?"

That query woke Kilroy up fully. "We're not talking any old tat here, are we?"

"I wish you would speak the kind of English I was taught," complained Griffin mildly. "There's a Klee, a Pollock, Mondrian, a couple of Bacons, three Freuds, I think - I like those incidently - and - "

"Mondrian. Is he the bloke who went in for black and white with the odd primary splash?"

"That's the one."

"Give them to the Tate," said Kilroy with decision. Riffling through the catalogue, a range of expressions crossed his face. "'Strewth, imagine waking up to that one."

"Probably Francis Bacon," said Griffin through a mouthful of toast and marmalade.

"Blimey, there are prices given underneath. Two point four million dollars for that! It's daylight robbery," exclaimed Kilroy in outrage as he pointed to another illustration. "Look at it."

Leaning across the table to study the upside-down image, Griffin's forehead wrinkled. "I don't remember that one. I could live without it," he conceded. "Shit!" he added in disgust, as the cuff of his white knitted jacket dragged over the butter dish. "You don't mind fluff with your butter, do you? I never used to have these mishaps till I took up with you."

"All part of life's rich pageant. What are all these worth?" asked Kilroy, dropping the catalogue back on the table.

"I've no idea," said Griffin, getting up to make more toast. "About twelve or thirteen million, I suppose. I haven't got a clue about current prices."

"Stop pissing about," said Kilroy severely. "I'll have some more toast while you're there."

"It's already in the toaster. As for the collection, my father bought most of the pictures years ago - before the prices went crazy. He loved them, could talk about them for hours. More time wasted while I sort out where the collection should go. It doesn't deserve to be broken up, so it needs somewhere prepared to do them justice. I want a guarantee of total anonymity from whoever they go to. Anyone who knew my father well knew this collection. I wouldn't want the wrong people adding two and two together and getting the right answer."

"Christ, no. I hadn't thought of that. You'd better keep it quiet from Goring, too."

Griffin ran his hand back through his unbound and uncombed hair. "It's all right for you. I know how much time gets wasted setting these things up. Sod it. And I've got a stack of things I want to get on with."

"Life's hell for the rich," mocked Kilroy affectionately. "Though I hadn't realised how much work would be involved. You've been cloistered with what's-his-name for days."

"You didn't think about it at all," Griffin scoffed. "And some of that toast is mine. Reminds me, I must have a word with Marcus about some refinements to the observatory. It's a pity there's so much light pollution this far south. It ruins the viewing."

"More changes," Kilroy groaned, before he brightened. "It'll screw up your deadline for completing work on the house. You've only got four months left. You'll never make it," he crowed.

"You've been sneaking round there badgering the builders again," recognised Griffin, a resigned note in his voice.

"Me?" Oozing virtue from every pore, Kilroy looked wounded.

"I knew it! I just knew you wouldn't be able to hold out. It was while I was in Paris, I suppose?"

Kilroy gave a guilty nod. "I didn't mean to."

"I bet," snorted Griffin. "Well, now you've had a good look round at what they're doing, what do you think?"

Glimpsing the imperfectly concealed flicker of concern, Kilroy forbore to tease. "That it's going to be fantastic," he said honestly. He sighed when Griffin relaxed. "Look, I'm not totally stuck in the nineteenth century. The house certainly needed some work, I just didn't expect it to be virtually taken apart and rebuilt. I was a bit surprised by some of the refinements I saw on the plans too: the gymnasium, indoor pool and sauna to name but three."

"You needn't use them," said Griffin blandly. "Don't panic, the pool won't bear any resemblance to the public baths."

"That was my last thought. Though while we're on the subject, am I right in thinking there's going to be a floor missing?"

Griffin's expression of angelic vacuity was answer enough.

"I suppose you thought I wouldn't notice," mused Kilroy with gloom, aware that he wouldn't have but for a chance remark from the site foreman.

"Hope sprang eternal. I didn't think we needed all those extra rooms, given how many we'll have anyway. And there were problems with the foundations."

Kilroy's head rose. "What sort of problems?"

"There weren't any," admitted Griffin in the tone of one making a clean breast of things.

There was a small silence.

"I was right all along. They are taking the house apart and rebuilding it."

"They've done that part," offered Griffin.

Kilroy's mouth quivered before a grin escaped him. "You're impossible. And mad. This must be costing you a fortune - and not a small one either. You've got an army working on the place - evenings and weekends as well, which means paying double time."

"Eat your toast," commanded Griffin irritably.

"All right. I won't even say you shouldn't have. But there's no way it's going to be finished by the middle of October. I can see that tattoo now."

"Dream on. Work's ahead of schedule. I'll meet your deadline," said Griffin, with a confidence he was far from feeling after his discussion with the site foreman the previous week. Licking butter from his fingers, he caught sight of the time. "Damn! I meant to make an early start," he exclaimed, getting to his feet.

"But it's the weekend," protested Kilroy.

"Some of us don't work a five-day week. Besides, I've been stuck in town until today and I'll have to come up with you next week for at least two days. I want to make the most of what time I do have. You can come and watch, if the novelty hasn't worn off."

"You know it hasn't. But spring is springing, the birds are tweeting and it's too nice a day to be stuck indoors. It's been a while since you've had much exercise. You don't want to get middle-age spread."

Griffin cast an involuntary look down at himself before giving his grinning companion a cold look. "You wait," he promised.

"Come for a run," wheedled Kilroy. "Or we could hire a couple of hacks. You can put in a few hours at the workshop tonight - there's a match on the box I want to watch."

"Thanks."

"James?"

"Switch off the charm," said Griffin wearily, having made the mistake of looking into coaxing blue eyes. "You know I'm hooked."

"Or I could take us away from it all. Fly us up to Scotland," said Kilroy, as if the idea had only just occurred to him.

Undeceived, Griffin sat down again. "So you could. And I suppose if we were to turn up at the airfield, we might find that a plane just happens to be tanked up and waiting for us - complete with the appropriate flight plan."

"It might be," conceded Kilroy with caution. "You know I need to build up my flying hours if I'm going to get my licence. You can fly us back," he added generously.

"You're all heart. It sounds great," Griffin admitted, conceding defeat with a good grace. "What time's the plane booked for?"

"Nine o'clock," admitted Kilroy, just before he groaned. "Suckered again."

"No, that happened to me when I took up with a devious sod like you. We'd better get a move on then. I'll drive," Griffin added firmly.

oOo

What was supposed to be a peaceful weekend over the second May Bank holiday was disrupted early on Saturday evening, when Kilroy received an urgent call regarding a kidnapping in Spain.

"Political?" asked Griffin as he topped up Kilroy's wallet from his own, while Kilroy checked his emergency bag, which was prepared for times like these.

"I hope not," said Kilroy in heartfelt tones. He packed his inside pocket to make sure he had his passport. "It sounds a right balls up. This could take a while."

"Then don't talk to any strange men, particularly not Basque separatists. I like your body the way it is. More or less."

Inured to such insults, Kilroy just grinned as Griffin escorted him to the car.

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you to the airport?" Griffin checked.

"Positive. I'm collecting Tony on the way to Heathrow. Sorry about buggering up the weekend."

"Liar," said Griffin amiably. "I take it you've shelved any thoughts of selling your interest in the agency?"

Kilroy's look of surprise spoke volumes. "I'd forgotten about that," he admitted sheepishly.

"Good." Griffin gave him a swift, hard kiss, straightened and stepped back to wave him on his way.

oOo

"Kevin," murmured Griffin, as he strolled into the younger man's office, which looked as if a bomb had hit it, paper covering every surface. "Can you spare me a minute?"

"If I must. What do you want this time?"

"Is that any way to speak to a client?" Griffin chided, making himself comfortable on a chair on the other side of the heaped desk.

"No. I repeat, what do you want?"

"To give you some money."

"That'll be a novelty around here." There was a telling grimness to Kevin's voice, although he had yet to look up from whatever he was reading.

"I thought it might be. I need help to pay a bill and I refuse to deal with Paul Douglas. Kit isn't here."

"Funny that," said Kevin, giving Griffin his full attention.

"You might give me some credit."

"After the way you dropped me in it with Kit last time? Dream on. Right, what's this about? I'm up to my eyes."

"Then I'll keep it brief. The Langlois assignment, I think it was called. I'm here to pay the bill."

"Don't even mention that horror story. It was one of Kit's projects - the biggest loss-maker in the agency's history - and all Kit will say is that is was a personal job. You should have heard the shit hit the fan when some of the partners found out about the costs involved. There were no files, no records, no nothing to explain the level of man hours. Kit being Kit, he'll be paying this one off for the next thirty years. Shit! Forget I told you that," said Kevin, the moment his mouth and brain reconnected.

"It's forgotten."

"If you can shed any light about the case Paul will probably genuflect as you pass. Hang on, how do you know about it?"

"Kit. He was working on my account," said Griffin, flirting with the truth. "I'm here to pay the bill. It should never have been left for so long, of course. Also, my bill for the cost of bodyguarding me after the kidnap."

"No way," said Kevin instantly. "That's on the house. We look after our own." He turned a page and scribbled a note on the margin.

"I'm not your responsibility," pointed out Griffin.

"You are for those purposes. We'd do the same for anyone whose wife went through what you did," added Kevin without thinking.

"Wife?" echoed Griffin, keeping his face straight.

"Oh shit," groaned Kevin, his face scarlet. "You know what I mean."

"No, what did you mean?" said Griffin blandly.

Consternation gave way to chagrin when Kevin looked up again. "You rotten bugger. You've been winding me up."

"And it's been pathetically easy so far. Stop gobbling. It's my fault for interrupting when you're so busy. All I want is for you to tell me the sum involved so I can write a cheque and go and have lunch. I presume there's no point asking you to join me?"

"None," sighed Kevin. "And I'm starving. Hang on. It should only take a couple of minutes to get the info you need. It's strange Kit didn't mention that you'd be settling up."

Griffin shrugged. "He probably forgot in the rush to get off."

"No-one forgets a bill that size," said Kevin with conviction. "If Kit was working for you, tell me when the job started," he challenged.

"September," said Griffin promptly, unable to remember exactly when he had arrived in England.

"Oh. Well, yes," said Kevin weakly. "Sorry. But I thought you might be trying to find a way of bailing Kit out without him knowing."

Griffin gave him a look of dislike. "I knew I should have seen Paul," he sighed. "I am. Does the agency have other loss-makers?"

Kevin snorted. "Does a dog have fleas?" His eyes widened. "No way. Kit will go spare."

"Not if one of the partners can show they went on a debt-collecting spree. Miracles do happen."

"Not of this size. You can't do this behind Kit's back - and you know it." Undeterred by the warning blazing from Griffin's eyes, Kevin stared him down. "Don't you?"

"Oh, for - ! Buggeration, yes, of course I do," said Griffin, goaded. "But someone's got to do something. How bad is the cash flow?"

"Terrible," said Kevin frankly. "The recession's biting, bill's are taking months to be paid and Kit's fighting not to make people redundant. The business rate in this area is crippling and the rent's just gone up by thirty three per cent."

"It's even worse than I thought." Griffin rubbed his nose. "Oh, well, back to the drawing-board. I wouldn't have spoken to anyone else here about this."

"I'm flattered. I think."

"You can be."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Here, have some coffee, it shouldn't be too stewed. Oh, there isn't any. Sorry. While your offer's tempting, it won't do. I'm just grateful it was me you came to."

In the act of helping himself to one of Kevin's cigarettes, Griffin paused. "Paul?"

"Who else. While Kit's got a lot of friends, Paul's been.... It'll sort itself out. Given how little that's useful Paul ever does around the place his power base is founded on quicksand. Now, push off so I can get back to work. This fraud case is driving me nuts."

Griffin paused at the door. "I'm considered a dab hand at spotting certain...irregularities. Do you need a hand?"

"Does a stallion need a prick? Of course, what we really need is another financial wizard like Steve. But he can only handle so much and he hasn't got time to help train anyone else. He was wasted on the Fraud Squad." Kevin gave Griffin a speculative look. "Someone with your kind of experience in the business world, in fact. We have too many accountants and not enough ex-businessmen."

"Relax. I'm ahead of you," Griffin assured him as he strolled back into the room. "Though there's no way I'm prepared to take on a full-time job. The odd fraud is another matter," he added, as he took off his jacket and motioned for Kevin to make room for him.

"You still have to sell the idea to Kit," Kevin warned him.

"Now that miracle I can achieve," said Griffin with conviction. "Right, order some sandwiches and fresh coffee before you give me the background..."

oOo

In the three weeks which followed, Kilroy found the time for several calls to Griffin.

"You OK?" he asked, after a ten minute summary of his own doings since they had last spoken to one another. "Only you sound a bit pensive. I know Kevin conned you into helping out with that fraud case. It didn't get too much for you, did it?"

"Give me a break," scoffed Griffin. "In fact I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much. It was as elegant a fraud as I've ever come across. A real work of art."

"You enjoyed it! Well, each to their own." Kilroy's tone was so eloquent that Griffin was willing to swear he knew the expression Kit was wearing. "Steve's always pushing for some expert help. You wouldn't consider doing a bit of work for the agency in those kind of complex cases, would you? When I spoke to Steve the other morning he sounded ready to adopt you if necessary."

"It isn't. Besides, I couldn't stand living with his six kids. But I wouldn't mind helping out again. You can't be lucky enough to get many cases of that kind of complexity."

"I'd love to see you as a partner for the agency," said Kilroy unguardedly.

"A partnership isn't necessary," dismissed Griffin instantly, unable to believe his luck. Seven minutes later he allowed Kilroy to persuade him otherwise and had promised to approach Paul Douglas the following day.

"I knew you'd see sense eventually," said Kilroy, oozing satisfaction that he had got his own way.

"I'd like to see you say that while you were within arm's reach," retorted Griffin, busy with mental calculations.

"I wish. There's no sign of this breaking. You still sound a bit preoccupied. Whitehaven hasn't fallen down, has it?"

"I love the way you assume that would be my first concern. Stop panicking. The last time I looked it was fine. No, it's nothing like that. It's just that I've finally admitted how much I'm missing you," said Griffin with gloom. "At first I thought it was because I didn't see many people at the workshop, but even in London.... It seems so...lonely," he added plaintively.

Kilroy gave an unsympathetic chuckle. "It had to happen one day. Don't take this the wrong way but I can't say I'm sorry. In fact it's great."

"Figures."

"I always told you I was irresistible."

"And now I believe you. I've been back here for two days and I haven't been able to concentrate enough to work on Tom's screen yet."

"Blimey," said Kilroy, impressed.

"That's right, laugh," said Griffin, smiling at his outstretched legs.

"I would, only I'm missing you too. The red-tape this end is driving me crazy. It's nice to have someone who matters at the other end of the phone."

"Yes, it is. Even better if they're closer, of course."

"They'll be asking us to do adverts for BT at this rate."

"What, lots of heavy breathing?"

"D'you want a dirty phone call?"

"I'd settle for you. Here, with me."

"Damn, my pager's going. Hang on." Returning after a couple of minutes, Kilroy said, "This could be the first break in the siege. I must go."

"Fingers crossed that it is. Love you," added Griffin, his breath catching when he realised what he had just said.

"Trust you to wait to say it until I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere," muttered Kilroy peevishly into the silence echoing down the telephone line.

"You might have the decency to sound surprised," complained Griffin.

"It isn't exactly news," pointed out Kilroy, his voice warm and deep. "I've known for ages, just never expected to hear you say it, that's all."

"No, well..."

"Don't worry about it."

"Oddly enough, I'm not. Now I think about it I stopped panicking about the idea months ago. Only I never did, think about it, I mean. It just happened. It isn't like me to be this slow on the uptake, I know," said Griffin, twirling the flex of the telephone wire between his fingers.

"Don't you believe it." The happiness in Kilroy's voice betrayed his true feelings. "I never thought I'd live to hear the day, you're burbling."

"I know," said Griffin ruefully. "I blame it on you."

"That sounds about right. James..."

"You can work on me when you get back home. Take care. You must go."

"I know." But Kilroy still didn't hang up.

"One of us has got to ring off first," pointed out Griffin, smiling indulgently into the middle distance.

"How about doing it on the count of three?"

"Kit... All right," said Griffin a moment later. "One, two, three." Gently replacing the receiver, he stared at it for a moment, then gave it a contented pat. Realising what he had just done, he shook his head at his sentimentality, patted it again and returned to his workshop. Ten minutes later he was hard at work on Tom Culver's screen.

oOo

 

"God, I've missed you," breathed Griffin, when his mouth was his own again. He retained a light clasp of Kilroy's flanks as he stepped back to study his love with a critical eye. "You look disgustingly pleased with yourself."

"Nothing that a few hours in your company won't take care of," Kilroy assured him. "Come back here so I can cop another feel."

"You're so lyrical," breathed Griffin, moving back into Kilroy's embrace with alacrity.

 

"I like this tan-line you've acquired." Griffin traced a portion of it with his finger-tip.

"Make the most of it. It's as much as I can tan."

"So much for my vision of you working until you dropped. You did bloody well to get her out," Griffin added, serious now.

"We did OK. Though a couple of moments gave us some grey hairs. See?"

Griffin sifted through the area in question. "It looks more like a bald spot coming to me."

Kilroy's expression was all he had hoped it would be, resulting in some active moments while Kilroy exact a suitable revenge.

"If you're not too busy I can take three or four days off," said Kilroy, as they settled comfortably on the sofa.

"I'll make sure I'm not." Kilroy's heartbeat echoing in his ear, Griffin moved slightly. "I thought you'd be stuck at the agency, catching up on paperwork for the case."

"I did that this morning. There was a partners meeting over lunch. It lasted longer than anyone expected. Paul's financial review was interesting," added Kilroy.

"That's good," said Griffin, who had been listening to Kit's voice rather than what it was saying.

"Paul certainly thought so." Kilroy ensured he gained Griffin's attention by taking him in an unorthodox hold.

"Careful with those," said Griffin, pensively watching Kilroy's hand, "I may want them later. I was going to tell you. I just didn't want to ruin your homecoming with an argument."

"There isn't going to be an argument," said Kilroy mildly, the backs of his fingers brushing Griffin's pubic hair.

"Good."

"Because I've got your cheque in my pocket."

Griffin covered the hand toying with him, then sighed. "So you'll try to increase your already hefty overdraft at the bank but you won't accept money from your lover."

"The agency is a business. I'm not a charity case. I'll earn any money I get, thank you."

Slowly untangling himself, Griffin left the sofa to pour another glass of wine before padding back to refill Kilroy's glass. "All right," he said in quiet acceptance. He left his glass untouched to go and stand by the window, through which the evening sun was streaming, bathing everything in apricot and gold.

"You must see that I can take your money." Kilroy felt obscurely guilty as he went over to stand beside Griffin.

"I'll have to, won't I," shrugged Griffin, his voice flat, his lush mouth drooping.

"Whitehaven was different. That was just you and me. Besides, you love the place almost as much as I do."

"Given a choice between you and the house, I'd pick you every time. But that isn't the issue. I should have had the guts to come right out and ask you to take the money."

"I would have preferred that," admitted Kilroy, giving Griffin's profile a sharp look. "Why didn't you?"

Griffin shrugged and toyed with the edge of the curtain. "Because I didn't want to hear you turn me down, I suppose."

Kilroy stared at the achingly straight line of his naked back with sudden comprehension. "Tell me on thing," he requested, sliding his arms around Griffin's rib cage in a loose embrace. "If I wasn't involved, would you still want to inject money into the agency?"

"Yes," said Griffin, without hesitation or elaboration.

"That's what I eventually realised." Kilroy nuzzled Griffin's ear. "I have many faults but I'm learning to admit when I've made a total prat of myself - if only to you. If I tear up your first cheque, would you write me another, about five times bigger?"

"Of course. What?" Griffin swung around so fast that Kilroy only just avoided bumping his nose.

"What brought about this change of heart?" demanded Griffin, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"My heart's got nothing to do with it. It's Paul's fault that I've been so stroppy about this. He buttonholed me the moment I got back to the office. He was so fucking smug about... Not to mention his merry quips about how I must have earned the money."

"Oh no," said Griffin with foreboding. "When's his funeral?"

"I didn't touch him," said Kilroy indignantly. "Mainly because Malcolm came in," he added, as if needing to explain his aberration.

"It's a wonder you came home at all after that." Griffin sank onto the window seat.

"It would take more than a prat like Paul to keep me away," said Kilroy, kissing him.

Griffin's expression had cleared before that reassurance. "There's an easy solution to the minor irritation of Paul Douglas. Buy him out. He couldn't even spell integrity."

A smile of pure delight crossed Kilroy's face. "Will you give me the money? It could take me a few decades to pay you back."

"Whatever it costs will be cheap at the price. I take it we'll be going to London tomorrow?"

"First thing," said Kilroy, his hand sliding up Griffin's bare forearm.

Interrupted by the ringing telephone, Griffin went to answer it. His tensing body rather than his monosyllabic replies drew Kilroy over to him.

"That was Franklin," said Griffin colourlessly. "The date of the trial of Hawker and Co. has been set down." He walked blindly into the arms waiting to receive him.

oOo

As the date set for the trial drew closer, Griffin's tension became increasingly obvious, although he did his best to disguise it. He hid his anxiety on James' behalf, rearranged his workload to ensure he could remain in London and concentrated on offering unobtrusive support.

oOo

 

The trial seemed to take for ever, the proceedings drawn out because Hawker and Castle had changed their pleas to 'Not Guilty'. In consequence there were three sets of defence lawyers trying to score points on behalf of their respective clients, who were all busy throwing the blame on one another.

With the full resources of the agency behind him, Kilroy ensured that Griffin was not tailed by the press on their journeys to and from the Old Bailey, although it was impossible to protect him from their demands completely.

It was bad enough to know that Griffin was reliving the ugly memories of the kidnap, but as Kilroy had feared, the press gave the case extensive coverage. News was in short supply, even the Royal family failing to provide any new scandal. Kidnapping was still relatively rare in Britain, the kidnapping of a child even rarer. Prevented from naming or discussing Josh, whose age protected him, the press homed in on Griffin with alacrity. Photogenic, spiky-tempered multi-millionaires were a gift from heaven. While the coverage was sympathetic and none of the quotes attributed to a silently-smouldering Griffin were too embarrassing, the pressure on him mounted.

Griffin wasn't helped by the fact the trial was having a disturbing effect on Josh, who was having nightmares again. According to a tense Charlie Cassidy he was wetting the bed and suffering from temper tantrums and fits of crying. He was obviously uncomfortable in Griffin's presence, the trail providing Josh with too graphic evidence of what Griffin had suffered after and because of his escape from the cellar.

Nine days into the trial Kevin called at Kilroy's flat late in the evening.

"It's bad news," he told Griffin baldly.

"Then tell me quickly," Griffin said, bracing himself.

"I've just heard from a journalist friend of mine that The Sun has dredged up your affair with Charlie Cassidy - from reports in the Australian press."

A muscle in Griffin's jaw twitched. "I see. And the murder of my father and the ensuing scandal?"

Kevin gave an unhappy nod.

"It was inevitable, I suppose. Well, that's that then. Thank you for coming to tell me in person," added Griffin, with the unfailing courtesy he had found to date for those guarding him.

"James, if there's anything - " began Kevin awkwardly.

"There isn't," interrupted Kilroy. "Thanks for telling us. I'll see you out."

When Kilroy returned he found Griffin in their bedroom, taking clothes from the wardrobe.

"What are you doing?" asked Kilroy.

"Packing," said Griffin in the same deadened tone.

"Why?" Kilroy projected a calm he was far from feeling. Furious on Griffin's behalf, he was also afraid what this extra pressure might do to them. Griffin's unnatural restrain frightened him because it gave no sign of cracking even when they were alone.

"I won't see you dragged into the dirt with me. You know what the tabloids are like. We've been lucky so far but it won't take them long to discover I'm living here - with you. Then it will get really ugly."

"Let it," shrugged Kilroy with genuine unconcern. "I'm not ashamed of the fact we've lovers. Besides, who's going to tell them? Charlie? Someone from the agency? Your friends?"

"It could happen." The ferocity on Griffin's face gave way to despair as he sank onto the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped. "I've just thought. I hope this doesn't set Charlie off on another vendetta. She's bound to blame me. I'll have to ring Henri and warn him to keep Josh away from the newspapers - and television news."

"Let me do that."

"No. It's my responsibility. After all, I got Charlie into this mess."

"It's not fair!" burst out Kilroy, his frustration and anger needing some outlet.

His head turning, there was a wry twist to Griffin's mouth. "Life isn't, hadn't you noticed."

By the time he put the telephone down he had aged ten years.

"Charlie wants to wear my balls on a necklace and Henri... Well, you can imagine. I'll move into Brown's for the duration for the trial." Griffin glanced at Kilroy's set face and away again, his own mouth tightening in case he betrayed himself.

"The fuck you will," growled Kilroy, before he visibly forced himself to regain control of his temper. "I know I can't be of any real use to you but there's no need for you to go through this alone. At least if I'm around you've got someone of your own you can let off steam too. Don't leave me. Please. I need you."

"You need me?" His hands shaking, Griffin framed Kilroy's face, unable to say more.

But he made no further mention of leaving then, or later, paying Kilroy the ultimate compliment of believing him.

oOo

 

"What do you want all the newspapers for?" Kilroy stared at the pile which had started to be delivered to the flat every morning. Had he been so inclined, he could have collected an impressive set of cuttings about Griffin.

"Given the speculation there's already been about my involvement in my father's business dealings, it can only be a matter of time before someone, somewhere wonders aloud if I set up the kidnap," said Griffin, finally voicing the fear which had been haunting him since the British press had homed in one him.

It was a moment before Kilroy could speak, that a possibility which he had never considered. "Then we sue the fuckers for every penny they've got. Besides, they risk being in contempt of court as well as libellous."

"They've already been libellous," Griffin pointed out in a clipped tone. He had refrained from taking legal action only because of Kit. By some miracle the press had failed to spot that they were a couple and while Griffin didn't expect their luck to hold he wanted to protect Kilroy while he could.

About to reply, Kilroy gave the ringing telephone a look of impatience before snatching up the receiver. By the time he replaced it he was smiling.

"That was Tom Culver, inviting us up to Derbyshire for the weekend to get away from it all. That's the third invitation you've had today. Your friends believe in you. What does the rest matter?" He gestured to the newspapers.

Griffin gave no sign that he had heard as he stubbed out his cigarette. "I promise you I didn't arrange to kidnap myself - or Josh," he said, staring at his tightly clenched hands, as if afraid what he might see on Kilroy's face.

Appalled, Kilroy crouched beside him, only now realising what had been worrying Griffin to the point where he was close to defeat. That he should be the cause, rather than the gruelling hours of cross-examination by three sets of counsel gutted him.

"I never believed you had. Never," he repeated fiercely. "If it hadn't been for the fact I felt so guilty about the way I tricked you I would have been clear-headed enough to throw away that tape Charlie sent me. I never apologised properly once we got back together because I didn't want to remind myself - let alone you - of how close I came to raping you. I trust you implicitely. You aren't the one who's on trial here," Kilroy reminded him huskily. He took Griffin's cold hands in his own, nuzzling the knuckles.

Griffin slowly exhaled. "No," he said, his eyes closing as heat prickled his eyelids. "Sorry. I just..." He was breathing as if he had been running and it took a few moments before he regained control enough to look at Kilroy. "Can we get out of London this weekend? Without being noticed?"

Aware that the only fresh air Griffin had been enjoying was that inhaled as he moved from the car outside the Old Bailey, Kilroy nodded. "Of course. In fact I bought you a disguise for that very purpose."

"What?"

"Here." Kilroy reached down the side of the sofa and tossed over his purchase.

Griffin stared into the bag. By the time he had examined all the contents he was smiling for the first time in two weeks.

"I'm not wearing that Groucho Marx outfit," he said at last, before he began to chuckle. "Thanks. I needed that. It was all getting a bit much for me. You too," he realised as he noticed details about Kit which had escaped him over recent weeks.

"We'll survive. Especially now you've started to talk to me again. I know you're used to going it alone but try not to close me out completely."

Griffin briefly touched Kilroy's cheek. "Old habits obviously die hard. It's the only way I can cope with these vultures. But from now on I'll be charm itself to the press."

"There's no need to go that far."

"I meant I won't actually deck the next reporter who shoves a microphone in my face. You'd think they'd have something better to do - like reporting real news." Griffin wrinkled his nose. "Who am I kidding? That would be too much like hard work. Still, there's no point getting bitter and twisted about the inevitable. You're right. The only way through this is to try and ignore them. Besides, I'm damned if I'll let them force me into hiding. Forget Derbyshire, though remind me to ring Tom. You look exhausted. Let's go home. It's time you put in some more flying hours and I'd like to check on the builders," added Griffin, in something approaching his usual manner.

"And the press? What if they track you down there?" asked Kilroy, still recovering from the discovery of how much weight James placed on his good opinion.

Griffin shrugged. "Fuck 'em," he said, in a passable imitation of Kilroy.

oOo

Nine pounds lighter than he had been at the beginning of the trial, Griffin listened impassively as the verdicts were handed down. His unforgiving gaze travelled over each of three defendants until they were taken down.

It was over.

The realisation was slow to sink in as he made his way from the courtroom, automatically making the correct responses to those who expected some comment or reaction. Only with Annie did his mask slip for a moment because he knew how much worse the trial had been for her.

"Don't worry about Annie, I'm looking after her," said John gruffly, one of Annie's hands lost in his. "I'll be taking a few more days off, if that's OK?"

"You're your own boss. Help yourself to anything you need."

John gave him a sharp, all-encompassing look. "Won't you be in your workshop?"

"I don't know. I doubt it. I'll give you a call when all this madness has died down. Take care." He gave Annie a light kiss on the cheek and headed for the side door.

Having had plenty of practice, he walked through the jostling press contingent as if they weren't there. He was beyond noticing that he was flanked by Andy and Clive, with Kilroy guarding his back as he slipped into the waiting limousine, whose darkened windows provided a modicum of privacy as they left the photographers behind.

With Kevin driving and Andy and Clive tailing them in a second car, Kilroy sat at Griffin's side as the car eased into the stream of traffic, leaving the Old Bailey behind them.

"I know it's a bit late in the day," he said quietly, "but the press have just got wind of a new story. A Cabinet Minister and a soft porn star. It's over, sweetheart."

"I wonder if Josh thinks so," said Griffin, staring at the stump of his little finger, which provided a constant reminder of what had happened. "If the trial wasn't bad enough, inevitably he heard some of the innuendo and gossip and Charlie and me. He was afraid I might be his father," he added, willing his hands to stop shaking.

"Afraid? He thinks the world of you," scoffed Kilroy, his anxiety hidden behind his bracing tone.

"That was just hero-worship based on very shaky ground. It won't be a problem any more. He adored Sam. I think I managed to reassure him about his parentage," Griffin added in the same deadened tone. Pain bled from his eyes, which looked over-large in his drawn face, sleepless nights having taken their toll.

"When did you speak to Josh?" asked Kilroy, frowning. His faith in Charlie Cassidy's mental stability less than total, he had been trying to monitor all telephone calls to the flat.

"He rang me three days ago. While you were in the shower. There was no point telling you," said Griffin, as if Kilroy had spoken. "There was nothing you could do. You've done more than enough already."

"Did you tell Charlie about it?" asked Kilroy, treading carefully.

"Of course. Henri, too."

"What did she say?"

"What you would expect. No, that isn't fair. She absolved me of all blame - which is equally unrealistic. I haven't done her any favours. But I wish Josh hadn't had to go through all this."

They sat in silence as the car crept along, pedestrians casting curious glances at the luxurious car with its darkened windows.

"Where are we going?" asked Griffin, after a while. There was little real interest in his voice.

"Home to Whitehaven. For some peace and quiet. Pneumatic drills and cement mixers excepted, of course," said Kilroy with heavy-handed humour. He ached for Griffin, knowing his very real affection for Josh. There was a limit to how much pain one man could be expected to bear; as it was James relieved the kidnap every night, spending more time awake than resting. Some of the stories in the papers had hurt him badly, for all that he had tried to shrug them off. While the laws of libel made the tabloids cautious where Griffin was concerned, they'd had a field day with Marius Melville: the law said the dead couldn't be libelled.

Griffin stared at the man who had been his lifeline for the last twenty seven days, his brittle calm beginning to splinter. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to put you through this kind of media circus. I..." His voice breaking, he couldn't go on, appalled to realised he was crying.

Kilroy wrapped his arms around him and held on tight, willing Griffin to stop believing he wasn't entitled to betray any weakness. He continued to murmur soft love words into Griffin's ear as he felt some of the terrible tension ebb away, knowing how exhausted he must be. Night after night he had woken to find the other side of the bed empty and found Griffin in the sitting-room, the air grey with cigarette smoke as he stood staring blankly out the window.

"Shit, this is all you need," muttered Griffin, when he had regained a semblance of control.

"Don't be daft," whispered Kilroy, his own voice less than steady.

Alerted, Griffin forgot to be self-conscious. Self-contempt thawed to acceptance the moment he saw Kilroy's face. He carefully nudged away a trace of moisture from beneath Kilroy's eye with his knuckle, then shook his head and gave a faint smile.

"A fine pair we make," he mocked gently. "All right?"

"I am now," said Kilroy with more certainty.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Griffin fidgeted uncomfortably.

Touched by how easily he could disconcert James, Kilroy gave him a reassuring pat. "Don't panic, I'll save the eulogy for later. I know now probably isn't the time to mention this, but I've just realised - today is the anniversary of the day we met."

It took a moment for the sense of what he was being told to sink in. "Yes? Well, look at it this way, it can only get better. It's really been a year?"

Kilroy nodded.

"Time flies when you're having fun."

Griffin eased from Kilroy's embrace and leant forward to help himself to a glass of mineral water from the bar, drinking thirstily. He held the crystal tumbler to his forehead for a moment, before replacing it in the highly polished walnut cabinet and sat back.

"A decent night's sleep and the promise that I won't feature in the papers in the foreseeable future and my personality will undergo a radical change for the better," he said. "I might even start to make more sense."

"You're doing fine. There hasn't been time to say this before, but I'm so bloody proud of you. And I'm not the only one who's been impressed by the way you handled this nightmare. You heard what the judge said." Kilroy knew now wasn't the time to tell Griffin of the public support he had been receiving, or his new status as a 'personality'.

"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Griffin, sounding irritable because he was obviously embarrassed. He blew his nose, drank some more water and lit a cigarette. He caught Kilroy's eye and sighed. "I'll kick the habit again, I promise. But not today."

"Fair enough," said Kilroy equably. He switched up the air-conditioning.

"Subtlety has never been your strong point." Griffin stubbed out his cigarette and glanced out the window, only then seeming to become aware of their slow progress.

"Our anniversary," he mused, taking hold of Kilroy's hand. "I wouldn't have given you good odds of this a year ago. Equally, I wouldn't change anything that's happened, even if I could."

Kilroy stared at him. "Why not?" he croaked, certain he must be missing something.

"Because you and I might not be sitting here wondering how to celebrate," said Griffin, as if the answer should have been obvious.

The expression on his face was impossible to resist. Kilroy didn't even try. He kissed Griffin gently, then with increasing hunger, his ravaging mouth fiercely demanding by the time Griffin drew back a little, his hands soothing rather than arousing, his love-swollen mouth remaining closed.

"Gently. It's all right. Save it for later. When we're private. We're in grave danger of corrupting a minor," he murmured, directing Kilroy's attention to the front of the limousine.

Kilroy gave the back of Kevin's head a horrified glance, having forgotten his existence and primly shot a good foot away from Griffin, who lost any appearance of sobriety.

"Sorry, Kevin," Griffin said at last. "I hope we didn't embarrass you." He watched with interest as the back of Kevin's neck turned red before Kevin abandoned his pretence of nonchalance, grinned into the driving mirror and gave him a discreet V-sign.

"I saw that," said Kilroy.

"I think it was intended for both of us," said Griffin, his mouth quirking again. He glanced outside again. "I've had enough of this snail's pace. The traffic's terrible. We're only about half a mile from court. Have you got any money on you?"

"Of course." Kilroy looked surprised.

"Then let's get out and find somewhere that's still serving lunch. I'm starving. Then we'll pick up my car and I'll drive us home. Kevin has better things to do with his weekend than try to pretend he's not listening to us."

"Too bloody right," said Kevin from the driver's seat. "Alternatively, why don't you take this and I'll walk?"

Griffin leant forward. "I might be under par but I'm not that far gone. You got into this traffic jam, you can get out of it. We'll let ourselves out. Thanks for everything you've done, I appreciate it," he added in a different tone, just before he slipped out of the stationary car.

"Happy anniversary," Kevin said to Kilroy. "He's back to himself and no mistake. It's looks like you're going to have your hands full."

"I certainly hope so," said Kilroy, without thinking.

"Mr Discretion," said Griffin, his face alive in a way it hadn't been for almost two months. "Come on, Trouble, before you put your foot any farther down your throat. Don't panic, Kevin, I'll keep him under control." Oblivious to the attention he and Kilroy were attracting from passers-by and drivers who, with nothing but pedestrians to look at, had obliviously recognised him, Griffin waved Kevin off and turned to Kilroy.

"Do you think anyone would mind if we held hands down Fleet Street?"

"There's only one way to find out," said Kilroy cheerfully, his fingers twining around Griffin's.

Hand in hand, they headed down Fleet Street.

oOo

Waking to a familiar buzzing sound which betrayed Griffin's presence downstairs in his supposedly soundproofed workshop, Kilroy stretched until his joints cracked, slumped, and smiled up at the sunlit ceiling as he heard the proof that Griffin had finally put the trial behind him. They had both spent the weeks since then catching up on neglected work, and in Griffin's case ignoring offers to appear on various chat shows on television and radio. But he had not looked at his workshop in all that time, a sure sign that all was not well.

Whistling tunelessly as he showered, shaved and dressed, delighted to see that the Indian summer showed every sign of lasting through the weekend, Kilroy made a healthy supply of bacon sandwiches and took the laden plate down to the workshop to see if Griffin was hungry.

"Hello," said Griffin, looking up with an untroubled smile. "I thought you were going to have a lie-in?"

"I thought I had. What time is it?"

"Ten-past-eight. It's probably the unseasonal sunshine that fooled you. Or did this wake you?" He switched off the power. "Those smell fantastic."

"Stop looking so worried, I made plenty," said Kilroy as they made themselves comfortable on the sofa, companionably sharing the sandwiches and coffee he had made. "It was a pleasure to hear you at work again. Have the dreams stopped?" he asked matter-of-factly.

"Seems like it. It's probably thanks to your unorthodox form of bedtime stories," said Griffin, saluting him with his mug of coffee. "What do you want to do today?"

"As the weather's so good, I thought I'd work in the garden next door. We'll need a decent-sized bonfire for the Hallowe'en party, and there's certainly plenty of material for it."

"How many are coming?" asked Griffin.

Kilroy gave an inaudible mumble.

"How many?"

"About a hundred and fifty or so."

"What?" Griffin choked on a crumb of bread. "I don't know that many people."

"You'd be surprised."

"I'll probably be appalled," said Griffin with spurious gloom.

"I'm glad Josh wants to come."

"With Charlie and Henri," Griffin reminded him.

"We'll survive," said Kilroy comfortably.

"Yes, I expect we will. "You realise the house is going to be overrun with kids if everyone turns up with their little darlings."

"Whose idea was it?" demanded Kilroy with spirit.

"It must have been yours, I'm not that soft in the head."

"Thanks a lot. Anyway, I'm going to be mucking around in the garden today. What about you?"

"I'll give you a hand," said Griffin easily.

Kilroy gave him a look of surprise. "But what about your work?" He gestured vaguely.

"It'll keep. There are more important things. That outfit suits you, you should wear olive green more often. Though there was no need to wear your best clothes on my account."

Everything he wore faded, torn, stained or all three, Kilroy gave an untroubled grin as he eyed his elegant silk and linen-clad companion, the lines of Griffin's designer cream slacks doing wondrous things for already promising material.

"I like that shirt. That shade of raspberry reminds me of a lolly I used to suck when I was a kid. You'd better change if you're coming out with me. You'll be getting more than your hands dirty," he warned.

"Get out of here. Five minutes," promised Griffin, finishing his coffee.

To Kilroy's surprise, he was as good as his word.

"Wasn't your work going well?" he enquired, as they walked next door. He gave a yelp of dismay as Griffin leapt into the attack, tickling him without mercy.

"Pax!" gasped Kilroy. "It's too hot."

"Pleasantly warm," sniffed Griffin disparagingly, but the fact he wore only jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt spoke for itself.

To Kilroy's relief, his much neglected garden showed no signs of damage by the builders.

"You must have put the fear of god into them," he said, as they struggled with a rotting tree stump.

"There was no deity involved, just me," grunted Griffin, the muscles in his shoulders and back cording, the firm, hard contours of his rump beautifully defined as he braced himself.

Distracted by the view, Kilroy tripped over a tuft of grass. He quickly picked himself up in the hope Griffin hadn't noticed his lapse.

"Teach you not to keep your mind on the job," Griffin remarked, just as Kilroy was congratulating himself on having got away with it. "Let's have that crowbar again," he added, renewing his attack on the stubbornly rooted stump.

"I should have thought of working off my frustration out here," Griffin said, two hours later as he collapsed onto the grass with a sigh of relief. "Either it's old age, or I'm out of condition. God, it's hot."

"I don't believe you just said that."

Giving him the finger, Griffin opened one of the cans of lager he'd been to collect from the fridge, spraying them both with cold liquid. "Still, at least we can see something for our efforts. Although I wish you weren't such a devotee of the purity of labour."

"You don't have to help," Kilroy pointed out mildly, eyeing him with appreciation.

Gleaming with sweat, Griffin wore only a pair of 501s and a suntan, having discarded his sweaty tee shirt over an hour ago. Streaked with dirt, moss and crumbling bark, his hair an exuberant tangle where it had become unfastened, his disreputable look was accentuated by the fact he hadn't shaved that morning. Only his watch and the diamond stud glittering in his ear lobe betrayed him.

"I don't mind a certain amount of rustic charm, it's the hard labour that's killing me," mumbled Griffin, his voice muffled because he was sucking a blister on the heel of his right hand.

"Let me see that. You've done enough. You need to look after those," Kilroy said.

"What?"

"You're a craftsman. You can't afford to injure your hands."

Realising Kilroy was serious, Griffin set a cold can of lager on the patch of bare stomach visible where Kilroy's tee shirt had ridden up. "You've been listening to Piers again, and he spouts more bullshit in five minutes than you usually manage in a month. Drink that and we'll get back to work."

"But what about your opening next month?"asked Kilroy, with a hint of worry.

"That sounds obscene," protested Griffin, laughing. "I thought I'd told you, I've cancelled it. That's why the answering machine isn't cluttered with the usual messages from Piers. He's too busy sulking."

Cancelled it! Why? I know the trial and everything put you behind, but you already had some small pieces finished and - " A grimy hand cut off whatever Kilroy had been about to say next.

"I should never have let him talk me into it in the first place. The idea was ridiculous. None of the furniture is for sale anyway, and the last thing I want is any more publicity."

Kilroy placed a hand on Griffin's shoulder, rubbing it gently. "Those fucking tabloids."

Turning his head, Griffin kissed the corner of Kilroy's mouth. "Don't go into protective mode again. I'm fine now. Or I would be if total strangers didn't write in asking for signed photos," he complained, remembering a source of grievance to him and great amusement to everyone Kilroy gleefully told about it. "But I'm not prepared to open a shop. Not yet anyway. Maybe in a few years, when I've had a chance to get together a decent collection of stuff we don't want. Could you face having the builders next door for a while?"

"I suppose so. But why? The house now boasts every mod.con I can think of and a few which never occurred to me."

"For workshops. While John and I get on fine in mine, he'll want his own eventually. And there are plenty of others who need help in getting started. I'm going to set up a co-operative. It seems I have an aptitude for teaching, and I enjoy it, so - "

"I bet Piers just loved that idea," said Kilroy dryly.

"Not noticeably, though he cheered up when I pointed out that one of my young hopefuls could earn him a fortune. Besides, there's no way I can off-load any more business commitments and they take up a good week a month. And you can stop grinning," Griffin warned him, without heat. "If you haven't learnt how I feel about people who say 'I told you so' yet..."

"Consider me duly cowed," said Kilroy lazily. "But will that leave you with enough time for your own work? Making stuff for the house has taken up most of your summer, even with John's help but you don't need to do any more."

"I do unless you want us to echo around the place - and I'm vain enough to think my stuff is best."

"Except for the odd antique," interjected Kilroy dryly.

"Give the record a rest. We've had that discussion and it was no fun the first time. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm enjoying myself." Taking a swig of lager, Griffin turned, needing to see Kilroy's face. "Thanks for keeping me sane during the trial. I don't think I would have made it without you keeping me on an even keel."

"Yes, you would," said Kilroy confidently.

"Perhaps, but I'm glad I didn't have to try," said Griffin simply, before he added plaintively: "And the sunlight clasps the earth/And the moonbeams kiss the sea:/What are all these kissings worth/If thou kiss not me?"

"All you had to do was hint," said Kilroy, before he obliged.

Griffin's mouth was cool from the lager. Some trickled from the can Kilroy still held into Griffin's lap, abruptly ending a tender moment.

Once over the first shock, Griffin subsided onto the grass with a sigh of contentment, if a damp groin. "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. This time. I'm glad you persuaded me to leave the grounds alone, even if it is going to take us years to clear out all the junk. That pram we found must have been a good fifty years old."

Kilroy batted away the odd leaf with drifted down, the heat making it difficult to remember it was almost the end of October. "I'm just glad we've finally seen the back of all the workmen."

"That's right, rub it in," said Griffin serenely.

"It's a shame you couldn't meet their deadline. And you were so close, too," cooed Kilroy, all spurious sympathy.

Griffin ignored the provocation.

"I can see the tattoo now." Kilroy tweaked the waistband of Griffin's jeans, before unfastening the top button. "As we've finally got the place to ourselves, get these off. I need to decide exactly where the tattoo should go."

Griffin's head rose. "You're in a very masterful mood."

"Please," coaxed Kilroy, sliding a finger under the denim to rub Griffin's belly with the back of his index finger. "Besides, you missed the deadline by twelve days, and a bet's a bet - to a man of honour."

"I have none," said Griffin promptly, his stomach muscles beginning to twitch as Kilroy slipped another finger under his waistband.

"Then take them off anyway."

"Give me one good reason why I should," said Griffin lazily.

"Because I'd enjoy the view, and it's warm enough for you to consider humouring me."

"That's it, is it? All right."

Rising in one smoothly coordinated movement, which gave the lie to his complaints about being unfit, Griffin slipped the buttons open, eased out of his jeans and hung them over the branch of a nearby tree before slinging his boxer shorts after them. Totally at ease, he caught back his hair, refastening it in a ponytail with a silk handkerchief as he strolled back to Kilroy. His tan a deep, glorious nut-brown, only a little paler over his groin and buttocks, the sun highlighted the auburn and grey hairs at his groin, hazing the softer nimbus of hair on chest, legs and arms.

"Satisfied?" he asked, in a tone which indicated Kilroy had better be, before he stretched out on the grass again, pillowing his face on his folded arms.

"Oh, yes," whispered Kilroy, having made the request without any expectation that it would be met.

Kneeling beside the sprawled figure, he traced the passage of muscle and sinew over Griffin's shoulders. "I wish I could tan as easily as you." His hands slid down Griffin's sides, skimming the press of ribs, until his thumbs were massaging from the sun-dusted down in the hollow of Griffin's back to the resilient flesh of the small buttocks. "Are you still awake?"

"Just about. Don't stop. I'm glad you don't. Tan much, that is. I like you the colour you are. Besides, think what a contrast we make when we're fucking," added Griffin, turning his face in Kilroy's direction.

"That's a coarse way of putting it," chided Kilroy as he nuzzled a hollowed flank. "But keep that thought. We'll save it for later - have a private house-warming party. I'd like another look around. There was too much to take in yesterday."

"Mmn. Revelling in the heat of the sun and the fingers delicately exploring his rump, Griffin farther parted his legs and gave an encouraging wriggle before he tucked his knees up under him. "Why wait? I'm yours for the taking, and I seem to have been doing all the work recently."

Kilroy's shuddering sigh rippled through both of them as he eased Griffin onto his side. "I know, and it will be my pleasure. But we'll wait until we're indoors. We don't have anything to use." Sliding a leaf free where it had become caught in Griffin's hair, he stroked the nape of his neck. "I never dreamt I'd see you naked and uncomplaining in my garden."

Griffin gave a voluptuous stretch. "Make the most of it. I don't suppose it will happen often. And certainly not this side of Christmas. I'd forgotten England occasionally gets some decent weather. It's been a good summer."

Kilroy blinked. "Leaving aside the trial, it's hardly stopped raining."

"I was thinking of us."

"Oh. Well, in that case, you have a point."

Unhurried, Kilroy's mouth travelled over him, sampling the salty flesh just for the pleasure of it, rather than as a prelude to love. Griffin's altered breathing and his own body told him when it was time to stop.

"Lucky you moved, I think I'm lying on a twig," announced Griffin, as he sat up to investigate. "Told you," he added, flicking the small offender in Kilroy's direction. His gaze settled on Kilroy's groin with obvious enjoyment. "Shall we go indoors for a well-lubricated joining of our two hearts?"

"Eh?"

"A fuck," sighed Griffin, despairing of his dense other half.

"Why didn't you say so. We may as well," added Kilroy, in the casual tone of one who had nothing better to do.

Pausing so Griffin could put back on his clothes, because the prolific nettles were too tall to risk bare flesh, Kilroy propped himself against a tree trunk to enjoy the sight of Griffin's struggles to accommodate his tumescence within his jeans. A sigh escaped him as the soft denim caressed his half-erect flesh.

"Thanks for your help," he said dryly, taking Kilroy's hand in his own.

"Think nothing of it."

"That won't be difficult."

In no hurry, they strolled back in the direction of the house, which was still out of sight, stopping to kiss as they moved from sun to shadow and back again.

"I love this place," said Griffin, flicking away an oak leaf drifting past his nose, before he looked up to watch a squirrel on the branch above them.

"I know. And you've done it proud. The house looks fantastic. Even better than I expected - during my long wait."

His arm around Kilroy's waist, a hand on his flank, Griffin gave him a weary look. "Stop gloating, it's not becoming. I haven't forgotten the terms of the bet. When are you going to insist on my doing the dirty deed?"

"There's no rush. I trust you not to leave the country - or that when you do, you'll come back. I can wait. It will give me something to look forward to," added Kilroy with glee.

Griffin gave him an indulgent look. "You're basically a rotten person, you know that."

Kilroy nodded happily and began to speculate aloud what script he would choose for the tattoo.

oOo

 

Nine days later they moved back into Whitehaven, Kilroy happily commuting to London each day. His pleasure in the house was unfeigned and constant, the comfort and understated luxury something he had yet to take for granted. The high quality of the workmanship was apparent everywhere, visible in everything from door handles and light switches to the main staircase, which was a monument to the extensive work Griffin had undertaken, the old staircase having proved too rotten to salvage.

"I still don't know how you did this," Kilroy murmured, caressing the curved banister as they went upstairs.

"Slowly, and with a lot of bad language. I was learning as I worked. I would never have managed without John and those friends of his. I'm hopeless at working from scaled plans."

"You'd never know it."

Griffin smiled and forebore to point out that if Kilroy wouldn't, there were plenty of others who would. "Some of the carving isn't bad," he allowed. "'Night."

"'Night," echoed Kilroy absently, as he went into his own suite, having recovered from his initial shock at discovering Griffin had a separate suite.

 

"I wonder what Great-Uncle Percy would make of the house now," mused Kilroy, as he wandered, without knocking, into Griffin's room forty minutes later, his hair still damp from the shower.

"I think we'd have to start hoarding newspapers to gain his full approval." Griffin emerged from his dressing-room in time to see Kilroy slide into his bed. He viewed the sight with resignation. It never seemed to dawn on Kit that his presence might not be welcome and he hadn't felt able to mention the fact during the months they had been living together.

Kilroy punched up the pillows until he was completely comfortable and happily watched Griffin drift around the room as he readied himself for self. His final act was to silence the Bach concerto playing on the CD, before he got into bed bedside Kilroy.

"Hello," said Kilroy brightly.

"In case it escaped your notice, we only parted company an hour ago." Griffin gave the window Kilroy had opened a sour look and snuggled deeper under the covers.

"I know, still... This is nice, isn't it. I love being cosy in bed while it's blowing a gale and pissing with rain outside. Though I can't break myself of the habit of worrying about the roof."

"Stuggle," Griffin advised him, switching off the lights. "Do you think you could give me more room?" he added, a short time later. "This bed's big enough for four."

Kilroy obediently shifted all of six inches. "Sorry. It's just that I like sleeping next to you."

The one drawback to life with Kilroy was his dedication to the concept of togetherness, which Griffin sometimes found stifling. He gave a resigned smile as he remembered his naivety in assuming it would get easier when they had their own bedrooms. All that happened was that Kit followed him from bed to bed, wearing the martyred expression of one humouring an eccentric.

"No," Griffin marvelled. As he had expected, his sarcasm was wasted.

"You'd miss me if I wasn't here," said Kilroy flippantly.

Arrested, Griffin turned to look at him.

"What?" said Kilroy defensively, beginning to fidget.

"You're right. I would," Griffin admitted ruefully.

"Well, that's all right then." Kilroy edged closer, presumably on the grounds Griffin wouldn't notice.

When he was sure Kilroy was asleep Griffin slid out from under the arm banding him, then from the bed. He pulled on a robe and went into Kilroy's room. Experience had taught him that Kilroy rarely woke in the night, unless worried about something.

To Griffin's intense disgust sleep came no faster now he had achieved solitary splendour. Kilroy's room had an unlived- air to it, due to the fact Kilroy only used the bathroom and dressing-room. The bed seemed far larger than the one he had abandoned. Cold. And lonely.

Ridiculous, he told himself irritably, before he began to count sheep.

Several flocks and an hour and a half later, Griffin muttered his defeat and returned to his own room. He edged closer to Kilroy's relaxed figure with a soft sigh of satisfaction.

While he had not intended to betray his wakeful state, Kilroy smiled out into the darkness, then drew the hand which had settled on his flank farther over his body.

"First tame your griffin," he murmured with sleepy contentment.

"I heard that."

"Heard what?" Kilroy made the mistake of asking.