Benedict, Lord Tentrees of Northcliff, stood at the balcony’s rail and peered down at the colorful spectacle of the servants’ ball. Technically, he had no business being there. The ball season for the nobility had already ended earlier in the evening. These final hours were intended to benefit those who served the palace denizens so faithfully throughout the year. This was a grand gesture of thanks for their hard work and loyalty. Woe be it to anyone who didn’t give a servant these few hours to enjoy themselves with food, drink and merriment. The royal family had long made it clear that this was by decree. There would be some aching heads and sleepy eyes come the harsh light of the morning, but for now, the people twirling around the dance floor and taking liberties with each other in corners had no care in the world—or so it seemed to him. Not that his gaze landed on anyone for long, because he was there to find one person in particular.
It wasn’t difficult for him to spot his quarry. Even among the bright garments of the attendants, Kexen of the Outer Vale stood out. He was clothed in the colors of fall—deep red, bright orange and sparkling yellow. His daringly short doublet sported gathered sleeves that cascaded in folds down his slender arms while provocatively highlighting what lay behind the crotch of his almost obscenely snug trousers. His knee-high brown leather boots gave his legs an even longer look, while his elaborately braided hair swung with his every graceful turn. Kexen was not a tall man, but that was all to the good. The boy would fit perfectly with Ben’s own height. The vision of gathering him in his arms was captivating. His cock hardened at the thought of it, enjoying the spark of pleasure. With his demanding profession, there wasn’t much opportunity to slake his needs. Hopefully, that situation was about to change.
There was no reason to tarry any longer, so, stepping away from his vantage point, he headed toward the staircase that would send him into the midst of the revelers. He had intended to be as inconspicuous as possible, understanding that this was not his domain, that he was an interloper who might cause some alarm among the servants. His good intentions notwithstanding, the severity of his all-black clothing served to make him stand out among the festive outfits of those around him. There was a certain amount of startlement by those who saw and recognized his station, if not his identity, leading to smiles morphing into more respectful expressions. Some nodding of heads occurred, as well, in deference to his rank. Ben tried to convey that he was no threat to them, that he had no demands, not even any expectations—not from these people, in any event. Kexen was a different story altogether. If all went to plan, Ben would seduce the boy while judging up close whether they would make a good match.
Ben caught sight of Kexen on the dance floor again. He was being whirled around in the beefy arms of a footman. Ben settled against the wall to stay unobtrusive as he waited with less patience than he would have expected from himself for the musicians to end their song. The moment the last of the notes were played, he launched into the crowd. Now he appreciated being shown respect as the partying servants cleared a way for him, making his journey that much quicker. He caught up with Kexen and his partner just as they were stepping out onto one of the balconies. The night was brisk but, in contrast to the heat of the ballroom, very refreshing—not that the cold air served to dampen his ardor. Seeing Kexen up close only increased his desire for the boy.
Kexen’s face was lit with joviality as he gazed up at the footman, laughing at something the man had said. There was a coy look to the boy’s expression, as well. Ben was surprised at the spurt of jealousy he felt at the sight. He reminded himself that Kexen was not his and might never be so unless he proved to be worthy. Charging forth as if he were an enraged lover was hardly going to serve that purpose. Being a diplomat, he knew how to bank his emotions and measure his words and actions. By the time he reached the couple, he hoped he appeared friendly and casual.
Kexen was the first to spot him. His jubilance dimmed somewhat, although he looked more curious than apprehensive. He nodded his head. “My lord, is there something you wish?”
You. In my bed. Ben didn’t voice this desire out loud, of course. Instead, he said, “I would love a dance, if you would honor me.” Ben had the pleasure of seeing surprise flash across the boy’s face. He was delighted that the obviously confident young man could still be caught off guard.
Kexen reached to twist one finger around the chain of a small ruby pendant and dropped his gaze. “I am honored, my lord. But your pardon, this is the servants’ ball. It is not fit for a nobleman.” Just as Ben was appreciating the subtlety of the rebuke, Kexen looked up at him from under his lashes.
Cheeky boy, you’re interested. Ben stepped closer. “And a fine event it is. Please forgive the intrusion, but I have been anticipating the opportunity to meet you, Kexen of the Outer Vale. This seemed the best occasion to do so.”
Now Kexen showed open welcome, his lips curling in a beckoning smile. “Oh. You flatter me, my lord.”
The footman proved that his brains weren’t as big as his muscles. When the man opened his mouth as if to object, Ben stepped deftly between him and Kexen and stared the footman down. “If you don’t mind?”
They were matched in height, and while Ben wasn’t quite as broad, he could hold his own in a brawl as well as at the negotiation table—not that either skill was required in this event. He didn’t hesitate to convey his social position in his gaze to encourage the footman to find someone else to dally with. The man was confident but not entirely stupid, apparently. With a curt nod, he strode away.
Pleased with the outcome, Ben turned to Kexen and held out his hand. “They are playing a waltz…my favorite.”
Kexen managed to convey shyness, something his reputation belied. Ben didn’t mind the pretext. The boy’s ability to navigate the complex waters of a court was one of the things that Ben coveted him for. He hadn’t been worried about a refusal, but when Kexen put his hand in his own, the jolt of excitement Ben felt was a surprise. He prided himself on being cool and measured in his actions. Something about the feel of this boy, however, made him want to drag him off into a corner and do a different kind of dance—one that involved his cock sliding past those slightly tinted and lovely lips. The way Kexen closed the distance between them, wrapping his arm around Ben’s neck, told him that the boy had similar ideas. Such a temptation, but Ben schooled himself to be patient, because this night was not a one-time seduction. It was hopefully the beginning of a short courtship.
Ben took his dance partner by the waist and pulled him in close, letting Kexen feel the measure of his arousal. “Let us stay out here. I wouldn’t want my presence to impede the others’ enjoyment. I will endeavor to keep you warm.” So saying, he began to slowly lead the boy in circles.
Kexen tilted his head to look him in the eye. “You are succeeding admirably, my lord.”
“I’m gratified to hear it. I’m Benedict, by the way.”
“I know who you are, Lord Tentrees. I must confess to being surprised that you know who I am.”
Ben whirled them into the far recesses of the balcony, taking them away from everyone else. “You shouldn’t be. Who at the palace hasn’t heard of the valiant groomer of the Duchess of Vostguard? You helped to save Prince Soren from an ambush at grave risk to your own safety.”
Kexen dropped his gaze and shrugged. “Oh, that. It was all the Duchess’ doing. I merely went along to serve him, as is my duty.”
Ben knew false modesty when he heard it, and this was decidedly not that. Kexen truly believed his actions weren’t worthy of special mention. Ben’s estimation of him increased. There was more to this boy than beauty and even bravery. Most people in his position would brag to anyone and everyone about such exploits, not caring if their words betrayed the secrets of those whom they served. Kexen’s humbleness and discretion were excellent traits in diplomatic circles. There was no doubt in Ben’s mind that he had made the right choice, even if it were really the only one afforded him.
“You don’t do yourself justice. I’ve attended a few meetings in the presence of the king. I assure you he feels quite differently.”
Kexen blushed despite the cold air swirling around them. “The royal family is very kind, my lord.”
“My friends call me Ben.”
“I am surely not that upon such a short acquaintance.”
“I should like you to be.” He let his passion show in his eyes. “Should we continue our dance somewhere more private inside?” He actually held his breath waiting for the reply. In theory, he could have his way whether Kexen wanted him or not. King Auden didn’t tolerate the abuse of servants, but pressure could be brought to bear quietly against even the most secure servants with little retribution, if one was careful about it. But that wasn’t how he intended this venture to go. An eager Kexen would be a far better prize than a reluctant and begrudging one.
Kexen rested his cheek on Ben’s shoulder. “I would like that very much.”
Ben wasted no time, ending their dance before tugging Kexen by the hand back into the ballroom. He skirted the crowd to leave through the nearest exit and led the boy to the first quiet alcove he could find. The palace had so many discreet places for assignations that he was inclined to believe it was by deliberate design. Part of him disliked being so public. He would have preferred to take Kexen back to his own apartment, but, despite his recent promotion in the diplomatic corps, he still didn’t have a room in the palace. Taking the time to dress for outside and head to his place in the city didn’t appeal to him. Plus, he didn’t want to burden Kexen with two trips—there and back—on such a cold and late night.
The moment they were out of the sight of prying eyes, he pulled the boy into a kiss. He’d intended to take it slowly, to do nothing that might alarm even an experienced person such as Kexen. One touch of their lips, however, had him devouring the boy’s mouth instead. His much-valued control snapped with a speed that alarmed him. Or, rather, it would have, if feasting on Kexen were not as delectable as it was. Within seconds, he was sitting on a tufted settee with Kexen straddling his lap. Their respective erections mashed against each other as much as their clothing allowed. Ben wanted nothing more than to strip those barriers away. He had to wrestle with himself to gain control over his passion.
Breaking the kiss, he peppered Kexen’s jaw with quick pecks. “We must slow down, my dear, or I won’t last much longer.”
Kexen giggled in a sweet voice. “Who says I want you to…Ben?”
Hearing his name spoken in a voice thick with need nearly sent him over the edge. He closed his eyes and nuzzled the side of the boy’s neck, breathing in the sharp scent of bergamot mixed with the more musky smell of his arousal. As Ben worried that his mind was becoming cloudy, Kexen slipped from his grasp and was kneeling between his legs before Ben knew what was happening.
“Let me make you happy.” That was all the boy said before undoing the laces of Ben’s trousers, freeing his cock.
What rational thought that was left in his mind fled in the next instance when Kexen swallowed him whole right down nearly to the root. It was an impressive feat based on his prior experience. No one had ever taken the entirety of his rather large dick, and few had been able to manage as much as Kexen was now. The intensity of being mostly encased in such tight, wet heat nearly undid him. Then Kexen worked his throat muscles to massage the top half of Ben’s shaft. That was all it took for him to double over from his orgasm, pressing his lips tight to keep from shouting his pleasure.
Kexen kept lavishing attention on Ben’s dick until it popped out of his mouth. The boy beamed up at him as Ben caught his breath. “Do you feel better now, my lord?”
By way of an answer, Ben hauled him back up to his lap with a swiftness that made Kexen gasp. “Not nearly enough. I want more.” He kissed the boy again, tasting his own bitterness. Far from being disgusted, he loved it, because it was a mingling of them both. He wanted to reciprocate the giving of such pleasure. But when he reached between them to cup Kexen’s erection, he found that the boy had already come from the cocksucking alone. Knowing that he’d had such a potent effect on him puffed up his chest. He wondered if he could do it again and found himself eager to try. There was plenty of time left in the night, and based on the way Kexen melted into his arms, he seemed just as eager for more.
This was proof that he’d been right all along. Kexen of the Outer Vale was the perfect bride for him.
* * * *
“Ow!” The Duchess of Vostguard put his hand to his head as he frowned at Kexen through his reflection in the mirror. “What has my hair done to offend you this morning?”
Mortified, Kexen hurried to make amends. “I beg your pardon, Your Grace. I’m all sixes and sevens today.”
“So I have observed.” The duchess grinned. “I suppose the servants’ ball went to the wee hours. I’m not surprised you’re tired. Thank the gods the season is over. I don’t think I could stand another night of feasting and dancing. Such a waste,” he added with a shake of his head. Being a Marsher by birth, the man was still not used to the excesses of the Moorcondian palace.
Kexen resumed brushing his head, more careful in dealing with the snarls. He’d been woolgathering, reliving the exquisite and all-too-short time he’d shared with Lord Tentrees and hoping it hadn’t been a gentle form of dismissal when the man had sent him off to bed with promises of them seeing each other again. The mere thought of kissing the nobleman and more sent Kexen’s body into a state of painful arousal. He’d been careful to wear loose trousers and a long tunic, both to ease his aching cock and to hide his undiminished happiness. The duchess didn’t need a hard shaft poking the back of his head.
Kexen made idle chit-chat to take his mind off the previous night’s pleasures. “All will be relatively quiet for a while now until the snow comes. Then it will be time for the winter festival. It goes on in various ways until spring. There’s so much fun to be had.” Satisfied with the silky fall of his duchess’s hair, he began to plait it in the simple style his master preferred.
The duchess grinned. “I am looking forward to that, actually. Occasionally we get a light frost in the Marshlands, but I’ve never truly experienced snow.”
Kexen smiled at the man’s reflection. “I think you will love the sporting events, and there are sleigh rides and ice skating, hot chocolate by the barrelful and flavored treats made out of shaved ice. I’m sure the prince is looking forward to introducing you to all of it.”
“I expect you’re right. Soren says he loves experiencing everything through my eyes. It makes it fresh for him.”
Kexen scrutinized his work and, satisfied, stood back to let the duchess rise to be dressed. “You and the prince can still ride, too. Moorcondian steeds are used to prancing through the snow.”
“So I’ve heard. It’s sounds very exciting.” The duchess stood still as Kexen removed his robe and began to dress him for the day. While it was obvious to him that the duchess was still not comfortable with being pampered in such a way, they’d developed a good rhythm in handling it. “That reminds me, Kexen. The prince has had a delivery of horses for you to choose from.”
This news was not unexpected, and while he was excited at the prospect of gaining a new mount, he was also becoming embarrassed at the gifts being showered on him by the royal couple. “Oh, Your Grace, you’ll spoil me. It’s truly not necessary.” Kexen turned the man so that he could see his reflection in the long mirror. The duchess’s mode of dress was quite simple, being a long kirtle with matching trousers. There would be less fun to be had in choosing his outfits now that the ball season was over, although they’d barely started planning out the winter wardrobe. That was something exciting to look forward to.
The duchess turned this way and that before saying, “We’re going to have to disagree on that point, Kexen. There aren’t enough gifts in the world for me to show how much I value what you’ve done for me and my husband. Soren feels the same way.” He turned to grin at him directly. “You’re just going to have to get used to being spoiled.”
Kexen returned the look and sighed dramatically. “I suppose I’ll manage.” When the duchess stood scrutinizing him, he asked, “What is it, Your Grace?”
“I don’t know exactly. You seem particularly…satisfied this morning. And your mind has been elsewhere. I suppose you dallied with an especially appealing man at the ball?”
Kexen’s cheeks heated with embarrassment. It wasn’t like him to be so when the issue of men arose. And because he’d developed something of a friendship with the duchess and trusted him entirely, he readily confessed that it was true. “I did, as it happens. A nobleman,” he added in a low voice as if it were a great secret.
The duchess raised his eyebrows. “What was a nobleman doing at the servants’ ball?”
“Looking for me, or so he said.” The fact that such a dashing man as Benedict had sought him out especially was astounding to him and made him want to preen with pride.
“Who was it?”
“Lord Tentrees…the diplomat,” he added.
The duchess pursed his lips. “I know of him. We’ve been introduced, at least, and I believe I’ve heard that he’s doing quite well in service to the king. He’s very handsome, too, is he not?”
Kexen grinned broadly. “Yes, he is. And he’s not some soft nobleman. I could feel the strength of his muscles as I held on to him.” He didn’t add that the man had been blessed with a long, thick cock. The duchess wasn’t comfortable with such frank talk.
“Hmm-m. I suppose there’s no harm in it, so long as you had a good time. Be careful, though. I don’t like the idea of these noblemen taking advantage of you, Kexen.”
“Be at ease about that, Your Grace. Lord Tentrees was every bit a gentleman, and I probably won’t even see him again.” That last thought made him sad. Funny, that. He wasn’t one to pine after any one man. There was something different about Benedict, however. Ben. He had said they were friends. Kexen could only hope that would prove to be true.