Next morning, he crept into Lord Rose’s bedchamber to stir the fire and warm the room. That done, he returned to the dressing room to make sure everything was prepared. Was the clothing suitable? Owen had approved, but would the lord like what Tyler had picked? He was spending the day at the hall, so nothing fancy or formal was needed. Tyler had selected comfortable linen slacks and a loose poet’s blouse. He had seen all three lords wear such on days when it was only family and staff in the hall. Would that be too casual? Pulling in a fortifying breath, he returned to the shaded bedchamber. The drapes shrouded the bed, keeping the morning light from disturbing its sleeping occupant. Tyler quietly opened the window’s curtains wide. Late-winter sunshine spilled in, and he took a moment to enjoy the warmth on his face before turning to…
He stopped. Lord Rose sat on the edge of bed watching him, framed by the drapery and the darkened cave of the bed behind him. He’d moved without Tyler hearing him. Glorious hair gleamed mostly caramel in the morning light, very loose curls tumbling about broad, bare shoulders. The wide neck of the nightshirt had fallen down one shoulder, revealing taut skin over defined muscles. Those green eyes were not bleary from sleep, and Tyler suspected the lord had been awake for some time.
“My lord.” Tyler’s voice cracked as he bowed his head. “I didn’t realize you were awake. Am I late?” He patted his pocket for the watch but knew he couldn’t be. The sun had risen only a short while ago.
“No.” The voice that was already low was deeper. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” He sounded vaguely accusing.
“I’m sorry. Should I fetch some tea or a tincture?”
“No.” Yawning, the lord raised his arms above his head for a stretch. Tyler couldn’t help but marvel at the man’s leonine grace. “I’ll be fine.”
As Lord Rose stood and stretched, Tyler focused his attention on fastening the bed draperies to the posts. “I believe you mentioned that you’d be staying in today. Will you be going downstairs for breakfast, or should I bring up a tray?”
He startled and only just managed to bite back a yelp when Lord Rose’s fingers brushed his shoulder.
The earl smiled. “Good morning.”
Tyler blinked, then returned the smile. “Good morning, my lord.”
Green eyes searched his face a moment, and then Lord Rose raised his hand to cover a yawn as he turned for the bathroom. “No need for a tray. I’ll go down to breakfast.”
“Yes. My lord.” Tyler’s voice was only a bit breathy. Forgetting, he glanced after Lord Rose and was caught by the sight of long, muscular legs and perversely perfect feet. Trembling, he retreated to the dressing room, trying to ignore the stirring at his groin.
* * * *
Head under the spray, Johnnie groaned. Seeing Tyler this morning after another restless night of erotic dreams about him had put Johnnie out of sorts. Then seeing the man framed by the sunlit window had sealed his fate. He wanted Tyler with every fiber of his being. He needed to make an approach, see if Tyler was even interested, before he went mad.
Quickly, he took care of the erection he sported, then washed. He toweled dry as he re-entered his bedroom and crossed to the dressing room, not bothering to cover himself. He watched Tyler carefully avoid looking at him, which was a feat given he appropriately held out each article of clothing in turn as Johnnie dressed. A pretty flush colored his pale skin from neck to ears, with two ruddy spots on his cheeks. Johnnie reasoned that a grown man who’d once been married couldn’t be a complete innocent, so he decided the blush meant Tyler was not indifferent to him. That made him smile and let him relax.
“Tell me about yourself,” he said once he’d pulled on his shirt. The poet’s blouse was exactly what he would have chosen, and he wondered if Owen had picked it out.
“There’s not much to tell.”
“Tell me anyway.” He sat on the vanity stool to pull on his stockings.
“I’m twenty-seven years old.” Putting his back to Johnnie, Tyler bent slightly over the clothes horse, unknowing supplying Johnnie with an excellent glance at a fine bottom. “I lived in Doncaster and worked at the Weiss Hotel for nearly eleven years. I have a sister and a beautiful niece.” He was smiling as he turned, but it dimmed for his following words. “My parents are deceased.”
Johnnie stood. “Recently?”
Tyler held out Johnnie’s trousers but kept those beautiful eyes averted. “My mother has been gone for many years, but we only lost my father this past year.”
Melancholy filled Johnnie’s chest. “We have that in common.” He shook out the trousers before stepping into them.
“You were married,” he prompted as Tyler knelt to retrieve the nightshirt he’d dropped to the floor.
“She isn’t with you?” He was prying. He knew she had passed on, but he wanted to hear the words from Tyler. He tucked in his shirt, watching Tyler hang the nightshirt on a peg.
“She passed away. Years ago.” The words were said with only a touch of sadness, an old wound that had healed. Such a study in contradictions, Tyler was. At times he seemed so very innocent, yet he’d led a full enough life. How did he manage that wide-eyed enthusiasm, given the sorrow he must have endured?
He fastened the last button at his waist, then sat again. “I’m sorry.”
With Johnnie’s soft-soled boots in hand, Tyler knelt at his feet. “We were childhood sweethearts, better friends than anything.” He held one boot as Johnnie slipped his foot into it. “She worked at the hotel as well, and we grew up together.” He paused, a slight frown marring his brow as he snugged the laces up Johnnie’s calf. “The sickness took her very quickly.”
Johnnie couldn’t stand it. He made so bold as to reach out to touch Tyler’s cheek, which startled him into looking up. Johnnie smiled. “It’s good to be friends with the one who shares your life.”
Dark gold eyelashes lowered. “Yes.” He tied the boot, then reached for the other, effectively removing Johnnie’s fingers. Johnnie let him, resisting the urge to run them through that bright hair. “At least we never had children.” Tyler made quick work of the other boot. “It nearly destroyed my sister when her husband passed away. If she didn’t have Victoria to care for, I’m not sure she’d have survived.”
Johnnie felt for the family he didn’t know. “Did she love him very much?”
When Tyler picked up a comb, Johnnie took the cue to spin toward the mirror. He tried not to purr when Tyler drew fingers through his hair before applying the comb.
“She’s better now in a new environment.” Tyler stayed intent on his task, perhaps unaware of the pleasure his touch gave Johnnie. “She’s almost happy again.”
Johnnie watched him in the mirror. “And you?”
“Me?” Startled, Tyler met Johnnie’s gaze in their reflection.
“Are you happy?”
“Oh.” Eyes dropped back to his task. “I’m all right. Samantha died many years ago.”
“There’s been no one since?” Was it awful that he wished not?
“No. I was very busy at the hotel.”
Johnnie watched him in the mirror, wondering at Tyler’s marital relationship. “I’m staying in today, as I’ve said. But I’d like you to go into town to pick up a few things.”
“Certainly, my lord.”
“I’ll make a up a list, and we’ll see if Owen can go with you.”
“That’s not necessary, my lord.”
“Things will go more smoothly if he’s there to provide an introduction. I want you to try the tailors again today”—they’d stopped by yesterday, but the shop had been closed—“so he’ll have your measurements as well. I’ll be taking a trip to Doncaster next week, and you’ll accompany me.”
He noted Tyler’s slight hesitation but only because he was paying attention. “Very good, my lord.”
Johnnie sighed. “Tyler, what have I asked you about my lord
His heart skipped at seeing the shy smile Tyler tried to hide. “Yes…” The hesitation was entirely too palpable.
Johnnie chuckled. “That’s all right. I’ll wear you down.”
* * * *
Tyler wasn’t sure why he’d opened up to Lord Rose as he had, but he’d been surprised by the lord’s interest in his life. Few noblemen were that interested in the personal lives of their staff, even their valets. He knew this because he’d witnessed some aristocrats during his time at the hotel. Some were similar to Lord Rose—attentive and genial—but of the rest, the best were indifferent, and the worst were plain cruel. He was very glad that Lord Rose didn’t fall into the latter category.
He and Owen were fortunate to ride the motorcar into town. George, the chauffeur, had a pickup at the station and offered the ride. Tyler was glad, as he was sore from so much riding the previous day.
“How did you fare with Lord Flower?” George asked once they were on the road.
Owen, in the backseat, chuckled. The steam engine of this auto was decidedly quieter than any Tyler had ridden in before.
Tyler smiled. “Well, I think.” He’d had brief occasions to speak to George when he was a footman and had enjoyed his storytelling over staff dinners. He seemed an affable sort. “I don’t think he’s had cause to complain.”
“He’s fine,” Owen piped in from behind. “I think he charmed Lord Johnnie from the start.”
“No.” Owen scoffed. “He’s putty in your hands.”
George arched a brow. “Oy, now, is it like that?” His brogue was pronounced and pleasant.
“Are ye interested in serving in Lord Flower’s bed?”
“George!” Owen snapped.
Tyler gaped at him. “No. It’s not like that.”
George glanced at him, then at Owen in the backseat. “Come now. Could ye not know the flower’s into lads?”
“I’m…aware,” Tyler admitted, fixing his gaze on the road.
“You are?” Owen asked. He sounded surprised.
Owen sat forward between the seats. “Are
“No. I’m. Not. Like. That.”
“No shame in it,” said George, his tone light. “If he gave me the eye, I’d tumble him.” He chuckled. “From what I hear, it’s not a tupping to be passing up.”
Tyler felt his cheeks heat.
“Didn’t you have invitations at the hotel where you were?” Owen asked.
“Yes.” Tyler fiddled with the light scarf that tied his collar. “I’ve been propositioned. But I’ve never…”
Owen whistled, sitting back. “I don’t understand how you’ve avoided it.”
Curiosity made Tyler glance at him. “Why is that?”
Owen grinned. “You’re far
too attractive for men—or women—to leave you be.”
These people! From nobility to servants, they said such shocking things. No one at the hotel had ever been so pointed. Then again, life in the hotel had existed on the extremes of public and clandestine. He’d helped to arrange many a tryst, had kept a number of secrets for both the middle and noble classes. Any invitation he’d personally received had been easy to rebuff when he could produce a suitable and more discreet alternative.
“That’s a compliment,” Owen assured him when he couldn’t formulate a reply. “And be assured that all four of the flowers have noticed you.”
Tyler frowned. “You don’t think… That’s not why I was hired?” His veins ran cold at the very idea.
Owen sobered. “Don’t fret it. I’m sure your looks didn’t hurt, but Mr. Faith would not have hired you on those alone.”
“For certain,” said George. “Cor, Owen, you remember that bloke that hired on a few years back?” He glanced at Tyler, mirth in his eyes. “Quite a looker that one but not a brain in his head. Why, he…”
George embarked on an entertaining story, but Tyler only listened with half an ear. He thought of Lord Rose, of how he was treated, of the stroking fingers to his jaw just this morning. Was the earl attracted to him? If so, what was he to do about it?