The only surviving son of a poor American farmer, Leander Mayfield is shocked to learn that he is in fact the new Earl of Dearborne. Barely recovered from one of the many illnesses that have plagued him all his life, he sets sail for England and a new life.
Tired and bored with all the wealth and finery that constantly surrounds him, Julien Sutcliffe, the Earl of Blackstone, is constantly on the lookout for something to lift his ennui. Then he meets the young American Earl, whose naiveté he finds refreshing and new.
Drawn to each other, it actually begins to seem as though they might be able to enjoy a happy life in each other’s company, but something -- or someone -- is determined to separate them permanently.
Julien moved closer and lowered his voice. "You've heard no other rumors about me, then?"
"Oh." Dearborne looked startled, but to Julien's surprise, he didn't move away. "No ... I mean, yes, I've heard other rumors."
"And they don't concern you?" Julien moved closer still so that the slightly shorter man would have to raise his head to look him in the eye.
Dearborne did so, swallowing hard. "No."
"You obviously didn't understand their meaning."
Once again, anger flashed across Dearborne's features. "If you think me so innocent, then you should not be trying to intimidate me in this manner."
There was enough truth in the accusation to sting Julien's conscience. "I am merely showing you what happens when you venture places you know nothing about."
"I know something about it."
Julien hid his surprise behind a mocking smile, which only seemed to irritate Dearborne further.
"I know that you ... that you ..."
"If you can't even say it, there's no reason to continue this discussion." By all rights, he should stop this conversation immediately, Julien knew. But now something far more intense than his curiosity kept him from ending it.
"Prefer men," Dearborne finally managed, and despite the garden's shadows, Julien got the impression that the fair skin was now flushed with color. "And I've ... I've ..."
"You've what?" Julien's voice was barely more than a whisper. Suddenly it seemed that he must have somehow known all along.
"I've been with -- that is, I haven't ...Well, we were only boys --"
"Fifteen. We didn't -- it was only a kiss, and I don't think we even knew what ..." Dearborne's words trailed off and he looked down.
Julien put his hand under Dearborne's chin and tilted his face back up. He only intended to ask more about this kiss, but couldn't stop himself from capturing the younger man's mouth with his own.
Dearborne made the smallest sound of surprise before his hands came up to clutch Julien's shoulders as he leaned into the kiss. He readily parted his lips at Julien's urging and tentatively met Julien's questing tongue. Julien slid his fingers through the silky black hair to pull Dearborne even closer, but froze when a high-pitched giggle broke through his lustful haze.
Tearing his mouth away, Julien looked around, but they were still alone in their sheltered corner. The giggle sounded again, and Julien realized with relief that it was coming from another part of the garden. He could hardly believe that he'd allowed himself to get carried away in such a manner somewhere that anyone could have happened upon them.
Julien stared at Dearborne, who was breathing hard, and was barely able to keep from pulling him close again. "Forgive me, Dearborne. I ..." What? There was no excuse he could give. "Forgive me." He turned to leave, but was stopped by a hand gripping his arm.
"Forgive you for what?"
"For risking your name in such a manner. I, of all people, should know better. We'd best go back inside -- separately." He freed his arm.
"It was worth the risk." Dearborne's low voice followed him, but Dearborne did not.