“Blasted upstarts!” A wrinkled old hand clenched into a tight fist and slammed against the table. “They dare threaten me! If I had my way, I’d hunt them down myself.”
Watching his new client shake with barely contained outrage, Henry stood with his hands clasped behind his back, his proud military bearing evident even in the simple civilian clothing of black slacks and blue dress shirt. From the hard line of his jaw to the clean shaved planes of his face everything about him was clean-cut and simple. His eyes, a deep brown you could lose yourself in, were focused steadily on the speaker, an elderly man in his late sixties who sported a plethora of whiskers that would have made Darwin jealous.
Henry was standing before Max Bricksford, the Max Bricksford, head of the paper pulp empire. Age had withered the paper magnate, but his icy gaze and hot temper were both still perfectly intact. A lesser man might have trembled before him but Henry had done things and seen things in the course of his military career that meant he rarely trembled anymore, and certainly not before an elderly gentleman wearing a quilted smoking jacket.
Taking Henry’s silence as license to elaborate, Max Bricksford continued the impassioned tirade that was doubling as a briefing. “You understand these people cannot be allowed to make these threats. The police do nothing. They say there is no credible threat, whatever that newfangled phrase means. That’s why I employed you.” The old man’s face contorted into a mask of malevolence. “I expect you to do something,” he said, growling the words in a gravelly old baritone.
“I understand Mr Bricksford,” Henry agreed patiently, allowing old Bricksford his display of temper. He did understand, he understood what it was to be helpless in the face of a potential threat. Regardless of Max Bricksford’s impressive social stature and great wealth underneath it all he was just an old man frightened by sinister notes that had been delivered with increasing regularity.
“In my day I’d have hunted them down and hung them,” Max snarled, giving free reign to his darkest thoughts. “I’d have them drawn and quartered on the West lawn.” He gazed out the window to the perfectly manicured expanse of grass in question. “We have draught horses somewhere I think,” he said, suddenly sounding as if he were speaking to himself and no-one else as he slipped into absent minded machinations of the most terrible kind.
Whilst Max Bricksford wondered whether draught horses would be enough to quarter a man, Henry turned his attention to the other participant at the meeting. At the back of the room a well dressed young man in a royal blue suit leaned back against a filing cabinet, his legs crossed one over the other in a way that portrayed an almost feminine sensibility. He had not yet spoken, there had been no time for formal introductions amidst Max Bricksford’s ranting, but his wide, sensual mouth drew Henry’s eye. It happened to be spread in a soft, cocky smile and the glint in the young man’s light blue eyes held a strong notion of something entirely inappropriate. Henry nodded slightly his direction, acknowledging him silently. The young man did not nod back, but his smile did grow broader, as if the quiet greeting had amused him.
Turning back from the window, Bricksford managed set aside his equestrian concerns just in time to catch the glances passing between the two men. “Oh yes,” he harrumphed, gesturing impatiently in the general direction of the man in the blue suit. “This is my son, Caine. His welfare is of the utmost importance to me. If anything were to happen to him, the consequences would be… serious.” He let the threat hang in the air in a rare moment of near subtlety.
Henry nodded, indulging the old man in his barely veiled threats and took the opportunity to look Caine over more boldly. The son looked a great deal like his father had done in his heyday. Both men shared the same startling gaze, eyes a color so light it put Henry in mind of a Husky. There were some differences though, where Bricksford was stiff and unyielding even in his twilight years, Caine was somehow softer, almost sensual. The burgeoning grin on the young man’s full lips was fast becoming an outright leer as he returned the inspection, apparently liking what he saw.
Not many picked Henry as gay, but every now and then, he came across someone who saw him for what he was almost immediately. He was fairly certain young Caine Bricksford had his number. It made him slightly uncomfortable to have been uncovered so easily in a professional setting. With a significant effort, Henry tore his eyes away from Caine and looked at Max Bricksford once more. He got the message. Anything happened to Caine and his ass was grass. Fair enough. “I think we understand one another, Mr Bricksford.”
Caine hovered throughout the rest of the briefing, though Henry got the impression that he wasn’t there because he had any real interest in his own personal safety. He kept trying to distract Henry with little flirtatious motions including pouting of the lips and fluttering of the eyelashes that would have looked ridiculous on a Las Vegas show girl. Henry did his best to ignore Bricksford’s son and concentrate on the mission at hand, but that only made Caine more insistent. “Will you be providing personal protection?” He chimed in at one point, putting deliberate emphasis on the personal part of the sentence with a waggle of his brows.
“I hope so,” the older Bricksford said, missing the innuendo completely. He clearly had no idea what his son was up to, or he was willfully ignoring it.
Henry nodded, it was best to nod, even if you were about to say no. “I can only be in one place at one time, of course. If you want personal protection for individual family members, I can assemble a team.”
Caine pouted at Henry over his father’s shoulder. “I think your personal expertise is necessary,” he said with an attempt at an earnest tone that might have fooled a less observant man. “We have received some terrible threats, you know, absolutely terrible.”
“I’ll assess those too,” Henry said, smoothly taking the opportunity to change the subject. “Do you still have them?”
The elder Bricksford slid a thick folder of documents across the table. “They come in the form of letters mostly. Letters made from newspaper clippings. Like something out of a movie.”
Henry opened the folder and leafed through it. The letters were all very similar in nature, the individual letters themselves clipped from magazines and roughly glued onto plain photocopy paper. There were a few smudges of color on the sides of the paper here and there, but nothing so clear as to be what Henry would have called a strong clue. The text in the notes was mildly threatening, but vague, and had a certain note of educated elegance to it.
Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Call no man happy till he is dead.
Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
They were poetic, but hardly the work of a stalker. There was no sign of an intense fixation on either Bricksford or his son. Henry was not surprised that the police had failed to act, after all his hysterics all Bricksford had by way of evidence was a pile of poor poetry, hardly anything startling in the age of terrorism. Still, it was Henry’s job to take the old man seriously when others would not.
“Do you have the envelopes they came in?” He hoped the mystery might be solved with something as simple as a postmark.
“No envelopes. Hand delivered,” Bricksford coughed.
“By who?” Once again it was an obvious question, but the obvious questions had to be asked.
“We don’t know,” Caine interjected before his father could respond. “They’re always delivered in the dead of night. Pushed under the gate or into a bush by someone who never shows their face.” He grinned cheerfully as if he hadn’t heard what he’d just said.
Henry nodded, keeping his thoughts to himself. It was too early to be drawing conclusions, but already something wasn’t adding up about this story. The old man was clearly shaken, but the son was too busy thinking with his little head to understand the sort of danger he could be in. Young men all thought they were bulletproof until the first close call taught them otherwise. It looked like he was in for the long haul, or at least until he could catch whoever was behind the letters. “Well, as discussed I’ll take up residence immediately and begin setting up increased layers of security. Don’t you worry, Mr Bricksford, I’ll get to the bottom of this,” he said reassuringly.
“Damn right you will,” Bricksford tried to sound gruff but Henry could see the relief written on the old man’s face. “Caine will show you to your rooms,” the old man dismissed them both with an imperious wave.
With a broad smile, Caine pushed off the wall and made a sweeping motion with his forearm towards the door. “This way, if you please.” He appeared to be a well spoken and polite young man, but the signs of potential trouble were already there with that one. It was Henry’s job to see trouble coming, and when he looked at Caine, he saw it barreling towards him like a ten tonne truck.
He had requested to be housed on the ground floor, as close as possible to the main point of entry and he was pleased to see that his request had been honored. “This used to be the drawing room,” Caine explained, opening double doors to a very large and well appointed bedroom that sat just off the foyer. “Father had everything moved at your request.”
“Thank you,” Henry nodded politely. He looked around the room, ignoring the fine furnishings and focusing instead on the potential for danger. The bed faced the doors directly, which he didn’t like for numerous reasons, but the windows did face out directly onto the front of the house, which would give him the ability to see those who approached a long time before they spotted him. He was aware of Caine standing in the hall, watching him intently as he inspected his new quarters. “This will do very nicely,” he said, nodding to Caine with gentle dismissal.
It didn’t work. Caine smiled and took a step into the room and started chatting away. “Most of the bedrooms are upstairs. Mine is upstairs, in the South Wing. Second door on your left. I have most of the wing to myself. Good for… privacy.” His eyes sparkled with the particular brand of almost innocent mischievous lechery that only a young and attractive man can get away with.
Henry sighed inwardly. It wasn’t that he didn’t find Caine attractive. The young man was well built, obviously whip smart and undeniably charming, but the circumstances of his engagement with the Bricksford household did not lend themselves to physical entanglements. “Well, I need to get settled in here, so…” he let his voice trail off, hoping Caine would take the hint.
The hint bounced off Caine, deflected by deliberate obliviousness. “Oh yeah? What are you going to do you think? Should we get some security dogs? We used to have some white German Shepherds, they were crazy. They pulled the maid off the line and bit the washing. Or maybe they bit the maid and pulled the washing off the line, I can never remember,” he grinned with foppish charm.
“I don’t tend to use dogs.” Henry’s replies became shorter as his patience waned. Caine’s silliness was not washing with him in the slightest.
“Oh yeah totally, I hear you. Too unpredictable, right? You look like the sort of man who likes to be in control.” Yet again, Caine slipped into smooth innuendo.
Henry had to hand it to the young man, he was a master of conversation. When one gambit didn’t work, he went for another without the slightest sense of shame and this time, he’d managed to say something right. A small smile tugged at the corners of Henry’s mouth as he realized Caine had it in one. He did like to be in control, he was a top through and through. “You could say that,” he admitted.
“I knew it.” Caine’s smile held a new glimmer of hope and Henry felt instantly guilty. God, he’d only been there five minutes and he was already leading the boy on.
He composed his features and nodded again. When in doubt, nod. “If you’ll excuse me, Mr Bricksford, I really need to get started,” he said with a solid finality that ended their conversation beyond the shadow of a doubt.
“Of course,” Caine said. “But please, call me Caine.”
“Caine,” Henry nodded. “Nice to have met you.”
“Likewise,” Caine agreed heartily. Henry watched as Caine turned and departed, telling himself that he was making sure Caine was really gone, not watching the younger man’s taut behind quite visible in the pants that pulled tight around his rear.
He watched until Caine disappeared into the distant reaches of the first floor. It wasn’t until he was finally gone that Henry was able to clear his mind and concentrate on the task at hand. He’d been given a desk to work at and as he’d requested, scale diagrams of the Bricksford estate were already waiting, rolled up quite neatly and secured with foppish red ribbon. He snapped the ribbon off and spread the diagrams out, pouring over them with a frown of concentration. There was a lot of surveillance to set up. The estate appeared to have been based on the concept of a British manor and there were extensive grounds that stretched out all around the large house and included a lake and an equestrian center. The spaciousness of the location was a good thing. It meant that anyone wanting to get close to the house had to travel a fair way to get to it. Most of the land was clear, aside from an area of forest that approached the rear of the north wing closer than Henry liked. He would have to have some of it cleared back away from the house to provide an open line of sight at all times.
Having gotten a general sense for the place, Henry made his way outside. He walked past the semi-circular crystal white pebble drive that graced the front of the house and down the long extension that lead to the front gate almost a mile away. He was sure that the journey would eventually become tiresome, but on that first time it was a pleasant walk across gently rolling lawns dotted with topiary sculptures. He wondered how much it had cost to have a bush painstakingly trimmed into the shape of a rampant stallion. Probably a pretty penny. Still, what else were you supposed to spend your money on when you already owned half of the Amazon rainforest?
The front gate was set into the eight foot wall, an imposing structure with pillars of brick and stone thicker around than a man. The gates themselves were wrought iron, a nod to old style that was something of a security issue. Even with the imposing foot long spikes at the top the fence was not all that difficult to climb.
There was no letter box in which to leave letters, it appeared that many of them had been either pushed through the gate, or on some more daring occasions, stuffed into the topiary structures. That meant that whoever was leaving the notes was more than capable of coming and going as they pleased. That was not surprising given the fact that the existing security was pitiful. Bricksford appeared to have been relying only on the remoteness of his home’s location to keep him safe. There was one security camera standing sentinel over the front gate, but Henry could see immediately that it had been pushed aside by a practiced hand so that its field of vision no longer entirely covered the wide drive.
He was puzzling over that piece of evidence when crunching footsteps on the drive behind him heralded a visitor. “Hello!” Caine said merrily. “How is it going?”
Fairly well,” Henry smiled, getting momentarily caught up in the younger man’s enthusiasm. “This is a well laid out place. It won’t be too difficult to secure.”
Caine grinned. “Not with snipers in the upper windows huh?”
A chuckle escaped Henry. “We’ll abstain from snipers for the moment I think.”
“You’re the boss,” Caine shrugged with a cute lop-sided grin that instantly endeared him to Henry. The overt sexual overtones had been a little too much, but this more genuine side he was showing was quite charming in a completely unintentional way.
Henry tried to shake off the increasingly carnal thoughts that were crowding his brain as he smiled into Caine’s bright blue eyes. Even if Caine weren’t his client’s son, he was too young for him. Henry liked to think he had moved past raw attraction as a motivator. He wasn’t looking for yet another lay, he was looking for something substantial. That was hardly going to happen with Caine. Best to keep it businesslike. Changing the subject, he started questioning Caine more directly about the goings on. “Have you seen anything going on out here? Anything suspicious?”
Caine shrugged “Not really.”
Henry nodded, watching Caine carefully. “You’re often out here late at night though, aren’t you?”
The smiled faded from Caine’s face a little. “What do you mean?”
He fixed Caine with a piercing look. “You go out late, come home later.” Henry made it a statement, not a question. Caine stared at him as if he were a mind reader, but it was a simple enough deduction. It didn’t take a genius to work out that a young man probably spent a lot of nights out. “You have any idea what happened to the camera?” He watched Caine carefully and saw the slight flush on his cheeks as the young man looked away and shrugged with what was supposed to be nonchalance.
“No clue,” Caine lied. Henry knew it was a falsehood the moment the words left Caine’s lips. The boy had made a mistake in spending so much time chattering away. Henry knew what it looked like when he was telling the truth and now he could tell immediately when he was lying.
“Hm,” Henry noted grimly, not at all pleased at being deliberately mislead.
“A complete mystery,” Caine turned back, the wide mischievous grin set on his face once more. Henry had no intention of letting him get away with the untruth, but there was more to be discoverer ere a stern lecture being delivered.
“Is your father aware of your evenings out?”
Caine shoved his hands into his pockets and fixed Henry with an almost aggressive look reminiscent of his father. “He is not, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.”
“Why is that?” Henry’s question came from a place of genuine curiosity. Caine was young, but not so young he couldn’t have reasonably had his own place. “Why not simply live in a home of your own choosing?”
“I have a flat in the city,” Caine explained. “But I like it out here and father likes the company. He’s just old fashioned about things like dating.”
They were veering off track and getting dangerously close to personal affairs, but Henry couldn’t help himself. “He doesn’t approve of his son finding a mate?”
“He doesn’t approve of his son finding a man,” Caine said with surprising honesty.
Unnecessary confirmation of Caine’s sexuality aside, Henry’s suspicion was growing. Caine was prepared to admit that he was gay and that his father was a homophobe, but he was holding out about what had happened with the camera. Curiouser and curiouser. “So you sneak out and sneak back in again,” he said, looking for an admission.
“Yeah, that’s not going to be a problem, is it?”
“It might be,” Henry said. “If there is a credible threat here, leaving in the middle of the night and returning in the early morning could be dangerous. You can’t be protected if you’re miles away in a club.”
“You could come out with me.” The suggestive lilt was back in Caine’s voice. The young man was so easily distracted with carnal thoughts it almost wasn’t fair to him to continue the line of questioning.
“I do not think your father would be pleased to discover I was gadding off to gay clubs with his son,” Henry smiled.
“But you would if it weren’t for work?” Caine grinned broadly. “I knew it!”
Henry smirked, letting Caine have his little triumph. “What did you think you knew?”
A slight blush appeared on Caine’s porcelain cheeks as he put the name to the thing that had been between them from the very beginning. “That you’re gay.”
“Yes.” Henry had no intention of denying it. He’d lived in denial of his desires for long enough. “I am gay.”
“And you’re single.” It was Caine’s turn to play Sherlock.
“Am I now?”
The young man looked pointedly at Henry’s rough hands. “I don’t see a ring on your finger.”
“That’s what I’d call insufficient information, young man,” Henry’s voice rumbled in a low authoritarian manner. “Perhaps I don’t like rings. Perhaps I lost my ring.”
Caine looked down at the shingle as he blushed and grinned. “Well I still think you are.”
Henry smiled, catching Caine’s eye with a warm gaze as his tone became more friendly. “Did you move the camera so your father wouldn’t know when you left at night?”
The sudden shift of topics caught Caine off guard. “Yeah,” he admitted before remembering that he had denied all knowledge of the camera. “I mean, maybe.”
There was a lull in the conversation as Henry made a show of sizing Caine up, letting his gaze travel over the young man from head to toe. Caine shifted from foot to foot, looking thoroughly guilty and uncomfortable. When Henry spoke again, it was with determined authority. “I want us to get along, don’t you, Caine?”
“Yeah?” Caine said warily, an upward inflexion at the end of the word.
“Here’s a hint for you then.” He locked eyes with the young man. “Don’t ever lie to me again.”
A slight pout crept over Caine’s features. “I wasn’t lying,” he lied. “I forgot.”
Henry sighed heavily. “I just told you not to lie to me.”
“How can you possibly know?” Caine’s voice rose in what was almost a wail of despair.
The older man smirked. “Its in every move you make, every word you speak. You can’t fool me, kid. Don’t try.”
“Father was right,” Caine said, recovering from being chastised by merit of being impressed. “You are good.”
“I am,” Henry smiled. “At a great many things. So don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes like you do your father’s. I don’t appreciate it.”
The lecture he was giving Caine wasn’t the usual speech he gave clients. Then again, most of his clients were older people of means and power. They weren’t oversexed, spoiled young men who lied to him and hid the truth. Henry was now more certain than ever that Caine was the key to finding out what was going on at the Bricksford home.
“So can I, uh, tag along and see what you’re doing?” Caine’s eyes grew wide and puppy-dog-like as he tried to brush off the lecture he’d just received. He was completely incorrigible and entirely unrepentant. A less self possessed young man with a sense of shame might have apologized for his lie, but Caine was going to try to charm his way out of it. Henry had no patience for that kind of carry on. He’d come across spoiled young men before and they’d always gotten a short, sharp shock when they crossed him. Caine was going to be no exception.
“No.” Henry made the refusal quite sternly.
“No?” Caine’s lower lip trembled, and for a brief moment, Henry thought he might actually burst into tears. It did not earn the young man any sympathy.
“You’re familiar with the word?”
“Of course.” Caine forced a smile. “Just not applied to me, that’s all.”
“You’re spoiled,” Henry declared with a curl of his lip.
“So what if I am spoiled? What’s it to you?” Caine was quickly sliding into privileged petulance, something Henry had absolutely no time for. He turned away without another word. He couldn’t stand around giving Caine lessons in basic humility all day. There was work to be done
“Hey, where are you going?” Caine’s surprise at being left was palpable.
“Work.” The word fell heavily from Henry’s lips with a finality designed to be off-putting.
There was a long silence, then a much more genuine sentiment floated to Henry from somewhere behind his back. “Well, er, see you around.”
The almost fragile attempt at a friendly parting tugged at Henry’s conscience. Maybe he was being too hard on Caine. Maybe he was letting his prejudices get in the way. “Yeah,” he said, turning halfway back. “See you later.”
Caine’s answering smile was so broad Henry worried he might split his face in two.
Caine Bricksford is the son of a multi-billionaire, a spoiled young man with more money than sense. When strict ex-marine turned private security specialist Henry is contracted to provide security for the family, Caine takes a shine to him immediately and embarks on a wildly inappropriate campaign of seduction.
In spite of Caine’s tiresome antics and frequent misbehavior Henry becomes fond of the young man and decides to take him in hand. The heir to the Bricksford fortune soon discovers he is in for some very sound spankings from a man who believes there can be no love without discipline.