Roger Millbourne has a wonderful life -- a doting adoptive father, all the novels he can read, and two rakish best friends, Duke Vincent Pennsbury and Roger’s cousin-by-adoption, Marquess Edward Chesburn. Roger has more-than-friendly feelings for Edward, it’s true, but up until now he has managed to keep them to himself and be satisfied with the friendship they have.
Vincent, however, spurred by troubles in his own recent marriage, has other ideas, and confronts Roger with the possibility that Edward might reciprocate his feelings. Suddenly Roger can no longer live in contentment, with his feelings hidden.
Does Edward love him back? Can Roger be brave enough to find out? And if he does, will Edward be brave enough to accept his love?
Roger’s wonderings kept him occupied through the whole of the afternoon and evening, and he only managed to shake them off with difficulty the next morning. He’d dreamed, a low, hot dream that lingered; clearly his preoccupation had gone on long enough, and it was time to put it aside, as he had so many times before.
He even managed it, for four whole days -- until the next time he saw Edward again. It was not a personal visit, but a party; a dinner gathering given by someone or other higher in society, which Roger had only netted an invitation to on the strength of his relationship with Edward. He wouldn’t have gone, but Edward had asked him specifically, and Roger had never had the heart to refuse him anything.
Edward was busy socializing -- the demands on a marquess’ time at an event like this were numerous and, Roger knew from Edward’s complaining on former occasions, quite taxing -- and it took Roger less than half an hour to determine that he had been asked to come solely so Edward would have a friendly face to look to in between conversations with people he liked less, but was duty-bound to talk to. Every time Edward moved from conversation to conversation, he sought Roger out, to throw a face at him or roll his eyes, and waited for Roger to laugh or smile before moving on.
Warmth filled Roger’s chest when he realized, and a sort of buzzing took over the back of his mind. Damn Vincent -- his assumptions about Edward’s feelings for Roger wouldn’t leave him alone. He and Edward were friends, and cousins by law; it made perfect sense that Edward would find comfort in his presence, and seek him out.
But, the devilish voice in the back of his head that now sounded an awful lot like Vincent purred, what if it meant more? What if Vincent was correct, and Edward sought Roger out because he loved him?
It was impossible, Roger told himself savagely, mustering up another smile for Edward as he passed between a countess and a baronet. Unthinkable. Edward loved Roger as a friend, as family, but as a lover? It could not be. It was not.
Roger watched with a roaring in his ears as a man -- a young man he did not know, with a handsome face and the sort of elegant smile he had only ever dreamed of -- put a casually intimate hand on Edward’s arm, and Edward all but snatched his limb away, throwing Roger a panicked look.
Something, some shell of doubt and self-protection that had encircled Roger’s heart until now, cracked open, leaving the organ bare and beating faster in his chest than it ever had before.