A Midwinter Prince
(Book One of Two)
This is the first book in Laurie and Sasha's story. Book 2 is The Lost Prince.
Laurence Fitzroy is trapped in a golden cage. The only son of a wealthy London baronet, he’s struggling to escape his father’s suffocating world. But Laurie is losing his fight. At nineteen years of age, bright and imaginative, he’s no match for the brutal Sir William. Laurie wants to be an actor – bad enough as far as Sir William is concerned, but, worse than that, he’s gay.
One bitter winter night, he meets a young homeless man huddled in blankets outside the opera house. The two form a bond straight away, and Laurie takes him home, wanting only to offer him food and a warm bed. But Sasha is a passionate Romani immigrant, and his beauty and sweet nature soon overwhelm Laurie’s chaste intentions, leaving him hopelessly in love.
Laurie and Sasha reach out desperately to one another from their different worlds, and against all odds begin an affair, hidden in the attics of Laurie’s sumptuous home and on the bleak moorland of a Romani encampment. For Laurie, it’s a delicious sexual awakening, and Sasha returns his affections, opening up to him a whole new world of freedom.
But Sasha has secrets, and a murky, violent past. When he vanishes, he leaves Laurie bereft and alone in a city he hardly recognises any more. Now Laurie has to stand on his own two feet and find the strength to rescue his lover – and himself.
Laurence Fitzroy, nineteen years old, heir to a baronetcy and who knew how many acres of Suffolk countryside, stopped on the steps of the Lyceum, oblivious to the exiting crowd he was forcing to part around him. He fastened his pale silk scarf over the open neck of his shirt, wondering vaguely what had happened to the bow tie he’d impatiently ripped off during the performance. Laurie liked opera well enough, but first-night shows where his father’s only motivation for being there was the need to be seen in the best box in the house… He drew a deep breath of the lung-catching air, feeling himself wake up, become alive once more to the lights, the blistering cold, the living river of human souls parting to accommodate him. He was bored, restless, lonely.
Taxis were pulling up by the pavement, two abreast, almost blocking the thoroughfare. No sign of the limo. Charlie must have had one cigarette too many with Mrs. Gibson down in the kitchen before setting off. Laurie sighed. That wouldn’t please the old man one bit. He glanced up the Strand as if he might turn and walk in that direction instead, into the night.
Sir William Fitzroy stood on the pavement in the crowd, Laurie’s mother clasped to his side like a decorative, blank-faced doll. As Laurie watched, his great red face swung around and darkened still further with angry blood upon spotting his son hanging about on the opera house steps, looking as usual completely disoriented. He raised one meaty hand and made an unmistakable gesture. Here, boy. Now.
Laurie was not in the habit of rebellion, and now would be a stupid time to start. As for walking off into the night, wealthy or not, in real terms he had on him the price of a bus fare and one night in a B and B. Then, without further cash injections from the huge, grim-faced man waiting on the far side of the road, he was…well, he was that shape in the blankets over there, that fragile-looking piece of human flotsam huddled in the doorway to Lindley’s. Except, knowing him, he’d have let someone else steal his blankets. Laurie sighed and began to make his way across the road. His mother, frail little sparkling figure in the circle of Sir William’s arm, was looking for him anxiously too. What the hell was the hurry? There was still no sign of the sleek Daimler in which Sir William liked to be seen going home from events like this. Lesser mortals, Laurie couldn’t help but notice, had piled into their taxis and even their buses and underground train stations and made their escape by now.
The boy huddled in the blankets outside Lindley’s was asleep, his head tipped back against the concrete pillar of the doorway. He had close-cropped black hair and skin Laurie thought would be olive in daylight, though now he was painted by the lights of passing cars, the shifting spectrum of the window display. His face, passive and grave, had a sculpted foreign beauty Laurie had never seen before.
He was terribly still. Laurie noted how his own body heat had leached away in just the time it had taken him to cross the road, how he was pulling at his thin tuxedo jacket and starting to shiver. How long would he survive without shelter on the streets of London tonight?
He didn’t know if it was curiosity or fear that drew him closer. This boy was his own age, not dissimilar to him in looks and build. What were the real differences? What force dictated that Laurie would go home in a limo tonight and sleep between warm sheets, while this image in the transforming mirror remained here, abandoned in the bitter night to live or…
God, was he breathing? Slowly, barely aware of what he was doing, Laurie struggled through the last currents of the crowd, entered the doorway, and crouched beside him.
He was not more philanthropic or caring than the ordinary run of teenage boys. Up till now, his horizon had been so crowded with his own joys and pains that he’d spent little time looking past them. And this was far from the first down-and-out he had seen on the pavements outside theatres and opera halls while all around him denizens of another world—his world—glittered and burst and disappeared like bubbles from a glass of champagne. Those others had not touched him. Laurie had not yet been sufficiently human himself to accept properly that they were too. Something in the line of this boy’s smooth, exposed throat, the abandonment of one hand, which had fallen palm up out of the blankets and lay within inches of passing women’s spiked heels… “Hello,” Laurie said, uncertainly. “Are you all right?”
Brown eyes flicked wide. The open hand snapped shut like a clam, plunged inside the parka for a knife it either did not find or chose not to deploy, and emerged a second later, thrust out toward Laurie in a gesture of desperate warding off. “Please. I don’t have anything.”
“I…I know. I’m not going to hurt you.” Laurie sat back on his heels. He was trying to place the accent—not Hungarian, though not far off. Something Eastern European, rich and softly modulated. “I was just afraid you were dead.”
The boy gazed up at him. Then to Laurie’s surprise, the fear drained from his fine features, and they lit up with a wide, compelling grin. “Perhaps I am. I have never seen a city sky so full of stars. Perhaps you’re the angel of death.”
“That should bother you more than it seems to,” Laurie said, helplessly smiling back. But the boy’s attention was no longer on him. He was looking up over Laurie’s shoulder, up beyond the rooftops of the Strand. Instinctively Laurie glanced that way too.
The sounds of the midnight street faded around him. No, he had never seen a sky like this, either. Even on his family’s estate down in Suffolk, light pollution from nearby houses and farms had spun a web across the night. And in London—well, it never happened. You were lucky to catch a moonrise. Yet suddenly the tops of the buildings were bearing between them a river of light, a thousand-hued pinprick blaze that stole the breath from his lungs. “Beautiful,” he said, then recalled himself to reality. “That means it’s going to be bloody cold, doesn’t it?”
The boy returned his gaze to him. It was serene now, looking for some reason at Laurie as if he was the one in need of help, the one lost in the night. Laurie felt it like a kindly brush to his skin. The boy said quietly, “Oh, God, make small the old star-eaten blanket of the sky…’”
Laurie ran the words through his mind. He did know them, though he couldn’t be sure where from. “That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie. Where did you learn that?”