A Gentleman of Leisure
A Stoker & Bash Christmas Vignette
May 26th, 1876
Hieronymus Bash sank into the velvet fathoms of his favorite armchair and let out a blissful sigh. With a tray of Turkish biscuits, a sin-dark coffee, and the late editions at his side, he pulled a blanket over his aching legs and turned his face into the sunlight, dreaming of distant shores. A holiday, perhaps, to Italy or Egypt. Surely, after nigh on three years of investigating the weirdest and wildest cases in London, they could afford a brief escape, to the continent or beyond. Despite his avowed dislike of anything resembling a boat, Hiero, weary but restless, longed to be anywhere but this, his beloved home.
A Fabergé egg of furniture, with its half-shell oval shape and luxurious, jewel-toned fabrics, he’d stationed the armchair in the only sunlit corner of the new wing of their apartment—or so he liked to call the series of rooms that now bisected the third floor of their two adjoined houses. Due to some civic planning mystery best left to the borough politicians to sort out, their conjoined address now read 17-23 Berkeley Square. Whether 19 and 21 Berkeley Square ever existed was a subject for future historiographic research by his biographers. Of which there would be many, Hiero had no doubt.
Nominally, 23 Berkeley Square was the public-facing headquarters of London’s most selective consulting detective, while 17 Berkeley Square was DI Timothy Stoker’s private residence, a fact known only to their solicitors. But in practice, their ever-growing household had expanded across both houses. Angus and Jie now had their own suite of rooms, the perfect fit for their little family. Minnie and Aldridge had taken over their old bedroom, while Ting’s nursery became Minnie’s sewing parlor, where the older ladies convened most nights to knit and gossip. Shahida coerced Lillian down from the attic so that Kashika might share Ting and Feng’s playroom. They’d engaged a new under-butler, Solomon, one of Han’s most faithful rabbits, now the yang to Aldridge’s yin. And Hiero had expanded his and Tim’s apartment into the other house, since it wouldn’t do for the owner of Number 17—as the family called it—not to have a bed chamber in his own home.
In one of his more clever fits of inspiration, Hiero had installed a trompe l’oeuil movable wall that, when set at the right angle, concealed the Number 23 portion of their rooms but still gave the impression of Kip asleep in his bed. He lay there now, the genuine article, collapsed onto his stomach in his shirt and trousers after a long night trolling the pubs for the villain the press had dubbed the Leicester Square Vampire, due to his tendency to… well, Hiero thought the details too dreadful to bear and had excused himself from the case. He’d bundled some sheets atop his Kip, slipped a pillow under his head, pressed a kiss into the short, sweaty, coppery tendrils at the nape of his neck, the lingering scent of smoke and dark liquor doubling Kip’s allure. As all of this failed to rouse him, Hiero retreated to his armchair to wait his exhaustion out. And his own, not insignificant fatigue as well.
As a gentleman of leisure, albeit one who’d deceived and inveigled and adored his way into a fortune, he expected his non-investigative days to consist of lazy mornings, playtime with the children, and flirty lunches with his beloved that led to afternoon ‘naps’ that stretched to teatime. But Number 17 had been left in, well, a state by the nonagenarian Lord Darly, RIP. Hiero had been the only one available, the only one capable, really, of taking on such a project, being said gentleman of leisure. The challenge of renovating and redecorating and securing an entire house, organizing controlled demolition to build three passageways between the houses, hiring new staff, and still fitting in enough ‘naps’ to nurture his relationship with his dearest Kip, had felt very close to something Hiero detested with every speck of his indelible essence. Indeed, he shuddered even to think of the words…
…having a job.
But a measure of self-employment had been his daily bread for the better part of a year; little wonder his limbs felt like molded butter, his joints stuck with jam. To say nothing of the permanent stitch between his shoulder blades, a wobbly hip, a loose tooth, and a patch of blood-specked, mottled skin on his thigh. The latter may be a love bite, he inwardly conceded, or Kip testing some vampire-related theories—Hiero had been too distracted by Kip kneeling between his legs to care. Really, it was a wonder Kip still fancied him at all, given how exertion had wilted his night-bloom grandeur. He paused a moment in his wallowing mire to concede that Kip’s love was in and of itself a miracle, and so managed to drag himself out and replenish with coffee and biscuits.
Just then, an item in the evening edition caught his eye, in that it blared from the largest headline Hiero had ever seen. A famous portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, of the Duchess Georgiana Cavendish, one of the most notorious women of the 18th century, had been stolen a mere three weeks after its sale at auction at Christie’s. Thieves climbed into the poorly guarded Agnew Gallery during the night and cut the wicked-eyed duchess right out of her frame. For a brief, selfless moment, Hiero considered whether he should offer his assistance to the yobs at the Yard, given the pedestrian nature of the execution versus the plethora of suspects at large in the city.
Notion considered, then rejected. Surely even detectives of their rudimentary skill might bribe their way into an answer? Hiero hardly needed leave his armchair to guess the culprit (given Han had informed him an American counterpart of theirs had rented a palatial suite in Piccadilly, pretending to be a banker). Instead, Hiero refolded the newspaper, downed the last of his coffee, and raised his heavy bones out of his armchair. Not without a certain measure of regret, it should be said.
Which dissipated as soon as he spread himself across the bed, face-to-mop of ginger hair with Kip, who grumbled into his pillow but turned his cheek into Hiero’s caress.
“Care for a nap, my dear?”
Kip groaned, but shifted to give Hiero better access to his neck and the exposed ‘V’ of his chest despite refusing to open his eyes. Hiero set about unbuttoning the rest of his shirt, Kip’s necktie and waistcoat having been hastily flung at the wardrobe but landed on the carpet, per usual. His coat had faired better, drooping over the back of a chair.
“It may shock you to learn, my love,” Kip mumbled, “that I am currently indulging in one.”
“And yet, despite our intimacy, I am not quite privy to the images that flicker behind your eyelids.”
“More’s the pity,” Kip drawled, a half-smile curling his lips. “You feature prominently in most of them.”
“‘Most’?” Hiero feigned protest, but paused to press a soft kiss to Kip’s wrist as he undid his cufflinks. “Tease.”
Kip hummed in response, permitting Hiero to maneuver him about as he stripped off his shirt. He shivered, but not enough to rouse himself out of his state of semi-consciousness. Bemused and deeply adoring, Hiero made quick work of his trousers, then half-tucked Kip under the covers, his taut, freckled torso feast enough for now. Hiero shed his robe as he selected from his collection of scented oils and ointments, singing sotto voce to soothe his weary Kip.
When he returned to the bed, he found Kip turned onto his front, the sinuous slip of his back like a scythe moon amidst the night sky of their indigo coverlet. Straddling his legs, Hiero poured a generous stripe down his spine, then set about massaging the oil into his skin. Kip purred, low and content, as Hiero smoothed the knots of tension from his muscles and joints. He nudged him with his thigh—a request to keep singing—but Hiero wasn’t done with his ministrations. Kip might yearn for slumber, but Hiero knew well enough he wouldn’t enjoy true rest until he’d unburdened.
“How goes the hunt?” He dug his thumb under the edge of Kip’s shoulder blade.
The answer came in a whine. “Too soon to tell.” Then, after a grunt. “Han fears we will have to bait him. Callie, as predicted, volunteered, with the expected result.”
“The pair of them. Insufferable,” Hiero tutted. “Do you require my intervention?”
“Not as yet.” Kip arched into his touch as Hiero kneaded his lower back. “Mmm. My shoulder, love, if you’d be so kind.”
Hiero planted an elbow into the familiar ache, calming Kip’s hiss with a soft hold at the base of his skull. “Were you set upon?”
“Hmm?” He chuckled. “No, Lulu. You know how she gets when she’s on a scent.”
“I do indeed.” Hiero flexed a knee into the meat of Kip’s thigh.
Kip let out a long, raspy moan, then melted further into the mattress. Hiero retreated, stroking his hands the length of Kip’s frame, up and down, up and down, until Kip canted his hips to expose the tops of his buttocks. Requiring no further invitation, Hiero shed his bedclothes and extended his body over Kip’s, letting his full weight cover his lover as Hiero sucked at the delicate nape of his neck. The sound Kip made, sensual but thoroughly relaxed, spoke to Hiero’s soul.
“You saw the item?” Kip murmured, pushing into Hiero’s embrace.
“One for the board?”
“Unlikely, but… perhaps.” Hiero grazed his teeth along the edge of Kip’s jaw, considered. “Leave it with me.”
Kip sighed, husky and slightly drowsy still, and angled into Hiero’s kiss.
“Such capable hands.”
With a slither of his tongue and a grind to his hip, Hiero took full command. They were, after all, at their leisure.
Happy Holidays to all! Have fun and stay safe, mes anges!
Here’s to better things (and a new book!) in 2022!