Sabre went silent as he entered the club dining room.
No one was looking at him, and the room had gone curiously silent. He knew this wasn’t him being ignored – that had a different feel to it.
The tension in the room now…
He looked around just to confirm, and sure enough – Lash was not present. There was only one reason Lash would not be present when they were due to meet for supper.
Reaching out, he snared a passing steward too stupid to stay out of arms reach, not caring as the man’s tray went crashing to the floor, its contents flying about all over.
“Where is Lash?” he demanded. “Why is everyone acting guilty?”
The steward stared at him in wide-eyed fear, struggling futilely against the hand gripping his livery. “His Grace – that is to say –”
“Spit it out,” Sabre snarled, shaking the man hard. “I will tear this room apart until I figure out who I need to kill.”
“Lords Edge and Stiletto,” the steward gasped out. “They may have mistakenly gone too far when attempting to tease his Grace about not being familiar—”
He didn’t wait for the steward to finish, but released the man with a grunt, and stalked across the room to the two men who had either been too stupid to leave before his arrival, or smart enough to know that it was better to face the music.
Bracing his hands on the table, he glared at them both. “Tell me what you did, or I will kill you.”
“He doesn’t know cards!” Edge gasped out, as though panic had gotten the better of him, and the words simply spilled out in a clumsy jumble. Beads of sweat soaked his brow. “We only meant to tease; we didn’t mean to hurt his feelings.”
Sabre just glared, and slowly rose to his full height. “If I see your faces when I return, you will not live long enough to regret it.”
He did not wait for their replies, but faint and fearful mutterings of ‘yes, Lord Sabre’ followed him out of the dining room.
Upstairs, it only took terrifying two more servants before he finally found the room Lash had procured. He stopped only to snare a third servant and inform what he would bring upstairs – or else. The servant fled, and he finally entered the room.
Lash lay in the middle of a large brown and maroon canopy bed, the curtains partly drawn, casting his bright lover into shadow. Approaching the bed, Sabre pushed the curtains back, allowing the candles and fading sunlight to warm his lover’s hair and what little skin was bare.
He was everything Sabre was not – bold and brave and daring and cheerful and caring. If he were also a little bit mad, well, Sabre could not find fault with it. He’d tried and failed. He would envy Lash all the things he was, that Sabre would never be, if he did not love the man so damned much.
So it was curious, and endearing in an odd sort of way, that the simplest of things which Sabre took for granted could make Lash feel insecure and out of place – and stupid. If there was one thing Lash could not stand, it was feeling stupid.
“What did they ask you to play?”
“They didn’t,” Lash said, voice oddly subdued, the way it always got when he was feeling this way. He turned on his side, away from Sabre. “I saw them playing, and decided to ask for once. It set all of them off laughing, though Edge and Stiletto seemed especially entertained by my ignorance.”
Sabre made a mental note to rearrange his schedule so he would be able to fight a number of duels against laughing bastards who would be taught manners the hard way.
He started to speak when there came a sharp rapping at the door. Barking an order to enter, he strode to the tray quickly deposited by a quaking servant. Ignoring the food and brandy for the moment, he took up the deck of cards also on the tray.
Cards had never been his favorite past time, he had better things to do than take money from idiots, but he knew all the games well enough thanks to fatherly insistence. Moving back to the bed, he began to shuffle the cards, the movements automatic and easy though he’d not played cards in years.
Sliding onto the bed, he sat back against the footboard and stretched his legs out. When Lash did not move, Sabre gave him a mostly gentle kick. It earned him a hard pinch, but Lash sat up, leaning against the head board.
Sabre dealt the cards, then set the remaining where they both could reach. He took his time arranging his own hand, letting Lash watch him, explaining the rules of the game he’d teach first. The easiest of the lot, and one that could be well played by only two people.
“Now,” he said, keeping his voice easy, almost bland, “the last rule is that the loser of each round must discard an article of clothing.”
Lash looked up from his cards, mouth quirking in a smirk much more suited to him. “Now, I know that’s not a regular rule.”
“House rule,” Sabre said loftily, in his best spoiled aristocrat tone.
“What house is that?” Lash asked, eyes sparkling.
“Ours,” Sabre replied. “I’ll go first.”