There is loud music in one of the main rooms. If Lytton had had close neighbours they might have complained at the noise. Instead the gap between houses on this privileged stretch of coast is enough to allow him the space to do as he wants. As a younger man he had felt the need to give something back to the society that made his family rich and had spent little time at the estate. Without the boring Old World social conscience of his best friend at Harvard, Lytton had gradually reverted back to the standards of his family and returned to traditional habits. Well, as he always laughed, apart from fathering bastards on the staff. He’d done his bit for humanity, his research and drug patents helped people around the world, that they also ensured the money would never run out … that was just ‘win-win’ he always said.
He still visited his old alma mater, still played the philanthropist with his bursaries and libraries and science prizes. He had always kept himself well, kept himself fit and safe and he defied anyone to say that his funding of HIV/AIDS research was entirely self-centred. But mostly, mostly, he liked seeing people enjoying themselves. Richard Lytton enjoyed throwing parties, and if his moral compass was not quite the same as the majority what concern of his was that?
Seeing a pretty young thing in the coffee shop queue had taken decades off Richard Lytton and put him in mind of days long gone when he used the same place to pick up students. The attraction to the slim figure had been instant. He had left his friends and gone over to chat before even realised how much long it had been since he’d been so blatant in public. Stirring his latte and making small talk Lytton was struck by the accent that went with serious face and quiet voice, an accent that took him back to the days before he’d inherited the family estate. And then there was Struan, older, greyer and heavier and this young man was looking up at him as if he was his only friend in the world.
Introductions made and plans agreed Lytton had watched his friend escort the slim man from the coffee shop. Not entirely convinced of what he had been told, perhaps even irked a little at his god-daughter’s omission, he was determined to play the hand and see what would happen. Even as the serendipitously named object of his lust had left through the smoked glass doors Lytton could have sworn that the look he’d given him had hinted at more than just simple friendliness. Maybe it was just his imagination, maybe it was his age. But maybe, just maybe, there was something there.
And now, with the music pulsing and the drinks flowing, what to make of the pale enigma cosying up to Alyssa? Lytton had had many men and never regretted any of them. Regret was one of the things he’d always told his god-daughter was one of God’s jokes on mankind; it did nothing but cause pain and self-doubt. He’d had him in his hands, convinced himself that he wasn’t quite as straight as Struan had made out and, certainly, surely, the strange boy-man had begun to respond to him before remembering who he was with. But Alyssa had asked him to step back. He can deny his favourite girl nothing. She wants the creature for herself so Lytton determines to respect her wishes however much his subconscious torments him with images of what might have been.
Someone makes a comment. People laugh. Lytton smiles with them, but has no idea what has been said. Remembering his manners he makes his excuses to the people around him. It seems to have been a long time since he has been so fascinated with the idea of one person. That the person appears at once somehow willing but unobtainable is an unfamiliar and annoyingly enticing itch. Helping himself to too much vintage champagne he finds a quieter corner to observe the object of his unrequited desire.
And what was this slim cipher? Lytton had assumed he was a soldier but kept that thought to himself, he couldn’t imagine what sort of soldier the man could be. Instead he watched how his other guests responded to the ‘mixed humanities student’ that Alyssa was with. Barrington, the classicist, had been impressed by his unexpected and very cultured Latin. Joyce-Joyce was intrigued by his views on economics without actually learning what they were, and Nan Dyce was all a-flutter with his interest in faith. Whatever he was he drew the eye. Lytton guesses that he’s not the only one distracted with carnal thoughts. Unlike the others, though, he doesn’t have to try to imagine what is inside the obviously new clothes worn with such insouciant charm.
Alyssa suspects that something happened in the afternoon between Dave and Helena. If needs have been attended to she doesn’t really want to know. Anywhere else her concern would be the risk of discovery, but at Lytton’s the blurring of moral boundaries was par for the course and she doubted if any of the other old hands here would make a comment even if they had seen anything. Trying not to think about what may or may not have happened she only gives half her attention to the conversation her boyfriend is having with Charlie Martin about the different versions of a classic science fiction movie. In agreeing that, whatever else, the voice-over had to have been one of stupidest ideas ever she sees Dave easily charm another stranger and wonders at his uncanny knack of getting on with people – that was certainly never in the specification for him.
Being so close to him again she realises that it’s not the drink, it really is being near him which makes her feel so relaxed. This is how her father and Helena are around him all the time, this is the magic spreading to the people he is paying close attention to. Just for the accident of being male she hadn’t found him attractive to begin with but now, seeing others fall under his spell, she isn’t so certain of his effect on her. How much stronger would the effect have been if she hadn’t been the way she was? She remembered how he’d looked in the mirror and had an inkling of the impact he must have had on Uncle Richard. No wonder the old boy had pounced on the innocent.
The x-rays and endless scans had shown the inside of his body in extreme detail. The blood work and tissue samples had been more than enlightening as they were distributed to the other sites to assist research. But nothing had prepared her for him being like a real person – a real walking, talking, and thinking person, and certainly he seemed to have feelings beyond anything that was required by the project. And however accurately they could measure calcium levels in his too strong bones or the rate his taut muscles could convert glycogen to energy there was no scientific calculation for handsome. Unaccountably, she found herself smiling as she noted the glances of lust, covert or otherwise, directed to the figure beside her. She’d told him this would happen. If it was so obvious for other people then what about her?
Her drink is empty. Absently she tugs at his arm, he is her date after all, and he should be looking after her. He does not go to the bar but takes her over to one of the tall windows running down the outside wall of the room. In a reversal of the morning he stands behind her and hugs her close, bending to whisper against her ear, “Please keep smiling. I’m going to ask you something and there are people watching. Will that be ok?” Bowing lower, he nibbles at her neck, placing quick, tender kisses along the clean line of her wide jaw. He runs his hands down her arms, holds her hands tightly as his mouth returns to the same ear. “I would really like to be with you as a man tonight, to feel you, to be inside you.” He seems so very gentle with her but she realises he has asked her in public, and also arranged the pose, to control her reaction should it be negative. His knuckles lock with tension over her fingers.
As she rests her head back against his shoulder and looks up into the hypnotic dark eyes she wonders why he needed the precautions, the answer is suddenly and blindingly simple. “Yes, I think I would like that.”
If they had started out pretending, she feels no artifice as he lifts her hands to his face and begins kissing the tips of her fingers, and there is no shame in the low moan that escapes her as he licks the inside of her wrists. This time the frisson of excitement was like Helena had said it would be. Turning to kiss him full on the mouth she thinks she understands what the nurse had meant by submitting to him. After all her fears she has no thought for anyone else and certainly no thought for the morning as her body also says yes to him. The morning could be a million years away; the night is all she wants.
The party still has hours to run – no one has been caught with the wrong spouse and, so far, there have been no gin soaked tears, declarations or confessions. The majority are still aware enough to see the young couple make their move towards the door, stopping only to say goodnight to Lytton and to thank him for inviting them. Some are close enough to hear their host ask Alyssa to be gentle with her man, and there is the usual mock shocked laughter as he winks broadly and makes a deliberately crass pass at the object of her affection. It just would not have been one of Dickie’s parties without at least one straight man being propositioned, groped or kissed by the host before the end of the night. The target of the pass takes it in his stride, laughing with his girlfriend and planting a rather inappropriate goodnight kiss on Lytton before she drags him away, declaiming that she has a much better place for him to put his tongue.
Lytton finds his old friend on the patio. Struan and his lady appear to be taking in the fresh night air, enjoying a break from the noise of the party. “That’s the kids gone to bed.” Lytton suddenly feels his age as he takes a seat with them, he doesn’t notice the way Helena’s hand tightens on Struan’s. “I asked Sweet Pea to be gentle with him but I think I might have had that the wrong way around. That boy of hers kisses like something that should be banned.”