The moment he had rung the doorbell, Lysander hesitated, biting his lip. Seldom had he met another Costello brother – and not simply because Rion had ordered him to keep out of their way. Not once had he stepped into the famous Mansion. When he and Rion had met beyond The College, Rion having completed his education, it had always been under Apollo’s heavy eye, whether bedroom or…boardroom.
But it had been foolish to invite young Phillip along, war or not. No battle-plans warranted mixing work and pleasure…no more than they already had.
He dug his feet into the ground and swallowed down the spittle.
“Helloa. Who goes there?” The voice from behind Lysander warmed. It wore none of the constraint and cruelty Lysander had anticipated.
He turned; he had met the man coming up the driveway before. The Captain travelling up the driveway.
“Lysander Y Archer, sir.”
Captain Stuart Costello smiled, even as he gave Lysander the once over with his eyes. “Ah, Yakinos, is that it? Rion must have mentioned your name a couple of times. Excuse me for not remembering your face. As is the life away from high society.”
Lysander nodded. The Captain was a rational person. “How is your wife?”
“Have you rung?”
“She is well, thank you. I expect your parents are the same as they have ever been.”
“Indeed.” Lysander wondered at his surprise of the remark. Costellos managed exemption from blame.
They stood for a moment, silent. Stuart stamped his feet against the crisp summer, but his question germinated quickly:
“You are here –”
“To see Rion.”
“Ah, indeed.” The Captain nodded. “As am I. And my Father. I bear a request for battle, actually.” How fancy. “I assume you are staying the night.”
“Excuse me?” Lysander asked sharply.
Thank goodness the Captain did not bat an eyelid. He must have been well used to insubordination by now. “With Rion. I expect you have much work to be done. It is typical: you will pass more time than necessary discussing the matter at hand, and you will find yourself too tired to walk back.”
Lysander restrained his sigh of relief. “That is what I hope for, yes.”
“Indeed,” Stuart continued, “Lieutenant Colonel Sandringham has a new date for the next march.”
At that name, Lysander threw away his interest in Captain Costello for the mirage stripping in the name of Sandringham. Smooth white paint lined the walls of the memory – white as innocence, though not that of Lysander or Sandringham; white as the innocence of snowfall, covering covertly stolen tracks. White milk as smooth as the curves of his gentle buttocks. Possessing no rough hands or barked commands, Sandringham was the better man, indeed!
“You are a good fighter, so I have heard,” Stuart was saying.
Lysander shrugged. He had been reaching for the bell-pull again, but the chance of chatting about battle proved too fascinating. “I fenced for much of my childhood. I do what I can, and I can do my best.”
A white-gloved butler opened the door, his greeting lost to its creaks. Captain Costello gestured for Lysander to take the path first. “No, Sandringham left a good word for you. Gentle and appropriate. Two words. Well, you understand me. There will be a place for you in the next march – with Rion – if you will accept.”
Lysander beamed, despite his still-born fury at Captain Costello’s brother. The chance of a lifetime had less medals and papers than he had expected. But maybe Lysander was that fine rule of exception. He threw out his chest. Thank Apollo. At least his studies would go to no waste.
And the little voice of sex and bribery would be ignored.
“I will! I do! Thank you, Captain, for an opportunity!”
They marched through the halls, the Captain’s arms swinging back and forth. Doors plastered his periphery, but this house of darkwood and earthenware hardly imitated the modern edges of his own Archer lodgings – with the exception of a chandelier dangling down the arching ceiling.
Stopping on the edge of one doorway – beyond which a gnawing space and a strict set table lingered – Captain Costello turned and nodded at Lysander.
“Yakinos. Your health.”
“And yours, sir.”
“You will want to see Rion first, I presume? Go to his study. I shall pass my message on through Father. Worry not for my intentions, soldier.”
Lysander nodded. The Captain dissolved into the wallpaper in an eye’s blink, but Lysander had closed his; the world itself fed through the haze of thick lashes and dimming oil-lamps.
Why had Captain Costello assumed that he knew Rion’s residence? Casting eyes about the silk-woven scope, however, he spotted minute telltale signs. A jacket swung from the stairwell, dogtooth print across its elegant body. Andrew Costello’s certainly. A little further up the stairs, a loose leaf of a dossier had been misplaced. It had lodged itself between wall and ornamentals.
Lysander ascended. With these observations, he was wasting time, and his anger would not wait for its explosions. With the Captain, Lysander had held himself in; alone, he was pushed to the limited, fabric heart a false case or not.
Nearing the top, Lysander’s shoe crunched down on a nick-nack. He lifted it. A finely-crafted button, not torn away and not worn, but with its threads still in place. It reminded him of the shirt young Phillip had worn when they had met. Nice man. Lysander smiled, but he flicked away the lose article.
Lysander’s eyes darted to the second corridor, which did not convince him of Costello love. Every door gleamed with ‘official’ polish and the wall stretched beside them was immaculate. Business as usual for the brood.
Indeed, Lysander brooded differently as he strolled. The doors bore plagues edged with bronze-gold rims. The first read ‘A. Costello’; the next, a little dusty, said ‘B. Costello’. The fourth door of the open-branched corridor, however, proudly declared ‘R. Costello’. Was that sign more polished than the others?
Lysander edged towards the room. He squinted his face towards the ajar crack of the doorway. The sounds of a scratching quill trilled out. Rion had his shiny, dark head down, busy with the items of service he should not been doing when Lysander offered a better pastime.
Rion had no idea he existed. Heart pumping blood through his ears at audible speed, Lysander quite forgot the scorned anger. Breathing through his mouth, he began to unbutton his shirt, one circular door at a precious time.
Now or never. Like always. Their role would not burn away when they themselves had turned love to crushed ash.
Clearing his throat, Lysander shoved open the door.
Already he razed his shirt, tearing button from seated place in his burning fury. Nothing would temper the savagery through both his heart and his trousers.