All the Honorable St. John Ashford ever wanted was his father’s love, but if he can’t have that, he’ll settle for being noticed. In an effort to do that, St. John sets his sights on Andrew Dorincourt, a man for whom the Viscount has nothing but disdain. Surely this will draw his father’s attention? Unfortunately, while Andrew seems willing to date him, he appears entirely disinterested in anything else. St. John knows it’s just a matter of time before all his plans going up in smoke, especially when Andrew becomes attracted to an exotic young man he rescued from Malossini’s House of Oddities.
Robin Dorincourt is something of a playboy who enjoys nothing so much as flitting from one boyfriend to another. He doesn’t poach, though, and when he finds himself attracted to St. John Ashford, he does what he can to keep a healthy distance between them, using taunts and teasing. It’s difficult, until he realizes his brother is in love with someone else. Robin’s path toward St. John is clear, and he makes his move.
But is his path as clear as he imagines? St. John might be as attracted to Robin as Robin is to him, but he’ll be damned if he allows himself to be passed from one brother to the other as if he’s nothing more than a poor second choice. Now it remains is for Robin to persuade St. John he’s no one’s second choice.
I had visited the House of Oddities a number of times before, finding its contents intriguing -- at least not the living ones, which disturbed me -- and I could not resist showing off my knowledge of the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles to Earth and the Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, not that anyone seemed very impressed.
To my great relief, there were no animals on exhibit. I’d hurried out the sole time the snake boy had been on view -- such a sad display. The snake didn’t appear healthy, and the snake boy looked lethargic. I’d called in a complaint to the RSPCA but had been told all the animals at the House of Oddities had permits and began to brush me off.
“I am the Honourable St John Ashford,” I informed them in a tone that would have done Father proud.
They’d simply said, “Who?” and when I repeated myself, took down the information and hung up. Perhaps they had done something, considering none of the animals were on display.
Now, while we waited for Arianne and Priscilla to emerge from the ladies’ loo, Robert, for a change, did not snipe at me relentlessly and frown at my prissy responses to his teasing. Instead he ignored me, an action so similar to my father’s I wondered why this felt worse.
Andrew frowned when Priscilla returned but his little sister did not. Tension seemed to vibrate off him, and abruptly a scream shattered the quiet of the lobby.
A cry for help seemed to come from below stairs, and Andrew and his brothers pelted out of the lobby. I exchanged glances with Priscilla. The last thing I wanted to do was take those stairs to the cellar.
Priscilla studied me thoughtfully, then shrugged. “They’re my family.” She left me standing there, but I in spite of my fears, I couldn’t remain there, and reluctantly followed down to what proved to be a nightmare of a cellar room.
None of the Dorincourts, least of all Andrew, who was supposed to be my boyfriend -- or Robert, whose boyfriend I would have preferred to be -- had any idea of the aversion I had to below ground rooms or what it cost me to descend those steps into the dim, musty cellar.
Thomas kept Priscilla behind him, a hand on her arm.
I stood behind Robert and peeked around him.
Robert glanced at me, and his eyes widened. He squeezed my shoulder and murmured, “Good man.”
I could have laughed, although it wouldn’t have been out of amusement. He thought I was being brave, and I wished with all my heart that was the truth of the matter, but the simple fact was I was terrified out of my wits. I couldn’t understand it, but I attributed it to my brother frightening me in the cellar of Haynsworth House years before, when I hadn’t been more than five or six, which made my reaction now all the more shameful. Surely I should have outgrown that fear by now?
To the side, Arianne was sprawled on the floor like a ragdoll. Growls came from ... Andrew? I shook my head. No, it couldn’t be -- it must be a sort of ringing in my ears. Andrew crouched above a naked man. I stared, stunned, as my blasé boyfriend wrapped his hands around the man’s throat and squeezed. I swallowed a whimper and found myself gripping Robert’s sleeve and shivering.
Abruptly, there was a flurry of movement, and Andrew was tossed off the naked man to land against a wall with a sickening thud. I’d never seen anything like him -- long-ish black hair with strange highlights, odd-coloured skin ... no testicles? I realized it must be the snake boy. I swallowed, then swallowed again, afraid I might vomit.
The snake boy rose and rose. My mouth went dry as I took in the naked body that had to stand almost seven feet tall. He hadn’t seemed that tall in the tank that had contained him the only time I’d seen him, but my God, he was thin. I could count each vertebrae and rib, as well as a small protuberance just above the crevice that separated his buttocks.
The snake boy approached a man I didn’t recognize -- an unsavoury character if ever I’d seen one -- and the snake boy drew back his hand. What good is punching this man going to do? I demanded wildly of myself.
But it must have done something, because the man screamed, high-pitched and desperate, and blood blossomed on his shirt.