The Lost Prince

Book Two of Two

This is the second book of Laurie and Sasha's story.

Book One is A Midwinter Prince

 

Laurie and Sasha have built a bright new world together. Sasha is working for the Immigration Guidance Council, and Laurie is landing theatre roles he could once only have dreamed of. Best of all, they've spent the past two years enjoying the love they snatched from the jaws of Sasha's violent, dangerous past.

 

But Laurie has a history too. He's on edge, his talents increasing beyond his ability to deal with them. And although his father is dead, Laurie can't deny the turbulent genetic heritage the old man has bestowed on him. Only Sasha's love is keeping him anchored and sane – and Sasha is vulnerable, shaken by bad dreams about his life on the streets.

 

Then Laurie learns that Sasha's Romanian gang-lord father is on the loose in London, and his deepest fears boil to the surface. The last time Stefan's shadow fell, Sasha made a run for it, and Laurie can't bear the thought of losing him again. When Laurie lands a part in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, he abandons England for a dream of safety in the States, persuading the astonished Sasha to come with him.

 

But the dream becomes a waking nightmare for both of them beneath an alien Californian sun. Laurie must meet his demons head-on, and Sasha must confront the inner barricades that have kept him from treating Laurie as a comrade as well as a lover and a friend. The frosts of a midwinter London brought them together – will this blazing summer crack them apart, or forge enduring love from first romance?

Excerpt

Laurie sat and watched his lover stretched out on the rack of his dreams. They had started in the small hours, and Laurie, by prior agreement, had got out of bed and taken up position in a chair on the far side of the room.

 

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He pressed his fingers to his lips. That way he stood a better chance of keeping quiet when Sasha’s next low wail of anguish filled the air. Better still if he didn’t look. He tried closing his eyes, but that was no good – his imagination promptly filled the gap with worse than what was there. He turned his attention to the bedroom walls. Not much to distract him there, though. He and Sash had been so overwhelmed by the high ceiling and elegant Regency panelling that the posters and newspaper cuttings they’d cheerfully plastered over their room in their previous flat had remained in a box beneath the bed. Of course Laurie knew what a wealthy man’s bedroom might look like – and they were pretty well off now; by Sasha’s standards absolutely loaded – and he could have chosen paintings, mirrors, signs of their new standing. But that was all they would have been. Symbols, a meaningless surface layer he’d learned from –

 

“Mira kumpania! Mira kumpania... pahome, san pahome!”

 

Help them! My friends, they’re cold. Frozen. Laurie hadn’t learned much Roma but the vocab of Sasha’s nightmares was concise. By now Laurie could understand container ship, and cold, and dying. He clamped his hands to the arms of the chair. In their wide bed, one thing he and Sasha had been able to choose with unhesitating pleasure, grinning at the showroom assistant and testing the springs, Sasha struggled over onto his front to silence a howl.

 

Laurie got up. He knew the words for no, too, and please. Sasha swiped one pillow off the bed and seized the other. Lean muscles stood up in cords across his shoulders. He was naked to the waist, his velvety cap of black hair damping into spikes. Please. No. No!

 

Deliberately Laurie unclenched his fists and sat down again. He would obey his orders, even though a copper taste was filling his mouth and his stomach was shifting uneasily around his nice Thai meal, shared cold but ravenously straight out of the boxes on their kitchen table. He trusted Sasha’s doctor. Don’t disturb him, Laurence. His subconscious has to deal with it. Let him dream it out.

 

That was fine for Dr Matthews, who didn’t have to be here listening. Still, Laurie trusted her – had to, having no ideas of his own on how to deal with this. You mustn’t touch him. Definitely don’t wake him up.

 

Sasha woke himself with a raw yell. He shoved upright in the bed and twisted round, arms flailing empty air. “Laurie!”

 

Laurie leapt up so hard he knocked the chair over behind him. He shot across the room – too big, too bloody vacant – and scrambled onto the bed. He wasn’t good at languages and attempts at Roma sounded awkward on his tongue but he gave back Sasha’s oldest endearment to him, hauling the sweat-soaked body into his arms. “Ves’tacha! I’m here, I’m here.”

 

“Oh, Laurie... What the fuck...”

 

“You were dreaming again. Talk to me about it. Please.”

 

“No! I mean... I can’t. I don’t remember.”

 

That was a lie. Laurie, who knew all his sounds of truth, felt it like a cold blade pressing between them. Clutching him bruisingly tight, he let it go. The doctor had said that if Sasha would talk, put the nightmares outside of himself into words, that would be half the battle. But Laurie was starting to fear they had only just started this war. For a year they’d lived peacefully, crushed together in Laurie’s dreadful bedsit overlooking the Birchwood railway lines. Something to do with moving here had triggered the bad dreams. They’d been an occasional trouble at first, then had begun to invade Sasha’s sleep almost every night, worsening until Laurie had sidestepped their ineffectual GP and taken Sash to one of the doctors his mother had used to see. Dr Matthews had been gentle with poor disoriented Marielle, and was sensible and kind with Sasha too. Remember he’s been a refugee. You can’t change his past. Just give him a safe place now.

 

Well, Laurie had. He fought against baffled rage. What did he have to do, to look after his lover and his home? He’d worked because he adored his career but also because each new role meant a better, safer world for Sash. For Clara too, when she was with them. He sat on the bed, watching the restless wash of leaf-shadow on the bare wall. A summer wind was blowing in the city streets tonight. The sound of it blended with Sasha’s ragged breathing. He was becoming limp and heavy in Laurie’s arms, dropping back into sleep with his secrets and stories untold.

 

Laurie eased him down onto the mattress. He stretched out beside him and lay wide-eyed. Sasha even smelled different after these horrific dreams, a tang of fear overlaying the warm, contented musk that wrapped them both round after sex. They’d gone for it again after their shared meal and a bath, putting Sinbad aside in favour of a slow, sweet fuck...

 

Slow enough and deep enough, Laurie had thought, to tip Sasha over into unassailable peace. Laurie had taken his time, the desperate edge taken off him by their tussle on the stairs. He’d knelt between Sasha’s thighs and thrust into him until Sash had been lost in it, writhing, clutching the bars of the headboard. They’d stared into one another’s eyes for every stroke, and Laurie could have sworn he was looking through star-filled galactic distances to the core of Sasha’s soul.

 

But nothing was certain. He held Sash close. The wind continued to lash the shadows on the wall, and after half an hour, the nightmares started again.

Excerpt

(Rufus has finally arrived, on a very delayed train. Drusilla - now Lady Birch, of course - has brought them a festive gift, in the form of a huge stag's skull.)

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never had this.”

“What, my love?”

Archie swallowed hard. His heart was thudding in astonishment that Rufus would risk the endearment, here on the path where the yellow roses had closed over their heads in the summer, and the green leaves provided such sheltering shade. There was no concealment now, only thorns. His fingers on one hand were laced tight through Rufus’s. He had to wait before he could answer, and his words came through gritted teeth. “Waiting for someone. Long enough to wonder if they were alive or dead.”

“Oh, God.” Rufus turned to face him. He lifted his face, and Archie wouldn’t kiss him, not out here, but somehow their brows were resting together. Giles had discreetly vanished, all the noisy new arrivals briefly quenched. If the house itself had a power of protection, channelled through his transformed spirit and the watchful souls of Drusilla and Maria Nettles, they would be safe. “I’m so sorry. The railways seem to like to keep their most urgent work for the busiest time of the year, and...”

“And what?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“No, not nothing.” Archie picked up and followed the glimmering threads of unease, his keys to the labyrinth of his lover’s mind. “Why else are you late?”

 

“Oh, Archie. Someone jumped in front of the train. One of the reporters who... who went into Belsen and took all the photographs, the guard said it was. Another one.”

 

Archie closed his grip tighter. He said, for want of a wiser or more consoling word, “Fuck.”

 

“Sorry. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

 

Archie gave him a gentle shake. “Why on earth not?”

 

“Because I’ve come home for Christmas. And there’s nothing festive about...”

 

“A body on the railway line. For such awful reasons.” Quickly Archie checked around. He’d learned that one glance wasn’t enough, that observers could congregate without a breath or shoe-scrape of warning. He hated his vigilance, but he’d pay the price a thousand times over if it meant he could lay a hand on his lover’s face, give him that comfort right now when he needed it, not half an hour later when – knowing Rufus – he’d have found a way to choke the trouble down. “I’m so glad you did tell me. We’re being called post-war England, you know. I read it in the Times.”

Rufus pushed his cheek against Archie’s palm. He’d closed his eyes, and the relief of the loving touch at the right moment had softened the lines of pain on his brow. “So everything’s over, is it? Shall I break out my demob suit?”

“Oh, did you finally get one of those?”

 

“Yes. I shouldn’t have, really, because they more or less shipped me home in a bucket, and I never did get to trade in my uniform for civvies at one of the centres. Still, they issued me one, and sent it care of the museum because they didn’t have my address down here. It’s rather dapper, I have to say – pinstripes, with a little waistcoat to match. I should have brought it with me. It’s just that...”

 

“It’s just that for you, it won’t ever be over. Not for you, not for the Jews, not for anyone who saw what happened in the camps. Not for me either, and that’s the good part, dear Rufus – we don’t have to hide from each other. We never have to pretend that everything’s all right.”

 

Rufus let go of an unsteady breath. Then he looked up, and gave Archie a smile of such brilliance that for a moment summer returned, and the scent of golden roses. “But the strange thing is that... knowing you feel that way, everything is all right for me, somehow. Come along, Squire Archie. You’d better introduce me to your house-load of Christmas guests.”

 

“I didn’t invite any of them, you know. They just descended. And you mustn’t call me squire, love!”

 

“I suppose you shouldn’t call me love, out here in the open, if it comes to that. Ah, if you could have seen yourself, though – standing on the doorstep surveying your domain, and all the birds flocking to you for shelter!”

 

“For Mrs Nettles’ mince pies, is more like it. Very well, then – come on in, if I’m not to be allowed half an hour with you in the bike shed first.” He took hold of Rufus’s wrist, drew his arm through his own. “We’re allowed this much, aren’t we?”

 

“Yes. We’re allowed this much.”

 

Together they made their way into the house. Archie’s whole attention had focussed on the link between them, where human warmth had made its way through tweed and cotton and was sending up bright signals to his heart. He barely noticed the new shadow falling across the hallway: stopped with a jolt when Rufus did, clamping one hand tight to his arm. “Good Lord, Archie. What’s that?”

 

Archie followed his gaze. The huge stag’s skull had been hoisted over the archway that led to the kitchen, and expertly lashed into place there, tinsel and all. “Ah. Drusilla brought us that as a kind of Christmas gift, although she doesn’t hold with new-fangled modern festivals. He’s for Yuletide, I gather. I’ve no idea how he’s ended up there so quickly – although, having said that, the house is full of able-bodied young men at the moment.”

 

“Oh, really? Who have you got? Captain Meredith must count for one.”

 

“Several, if being an adoring husband qualifies him. Billy Prescott is around here somewhere, come to show off his constable’s uniform. And then of course there’s...” Their eyes met, and they both finished out the thought in rich amusement. “There’s Giles.”

 

Stifled giggles exploded from the living room. Archie’s reflexes weren’t fast enough to pull his arm out of Rufus’s grip, and damned if he would anyway: we can have this much, Rufus had said, and Archie was ready to defend their small permissions and privileges to the death. Straight-faced and steady, he turned to the source of the noise. “Ah,” he said, as urbanely as he could manage. “Rufus, I haven’t yet had the chance to introduce you to...”

Oh, hell. He couldn’t remember their names. Worse, he couldn’t think how to define them, these glittering, silk-clad apparitions. And that was ridiculous, because if they’d been men he’d have simply said that they were Giles’s friends. Distress began to shadow the younger woman’s face, and Giles, as if receiving a silent summons, shot out of the kitchen. He edged past Archie and Rufus, smiling, and went to put an arm around her waist. “My fiancée,” he said firmly, making her beam in pleasure and relief. “And this is her sister, Greta. Ladies, this is Dr Denby, the famous archaeologist I told you about.”

“Oh,” said Loretta, “I’ve read about you in the papers, Dr Denby. Ever so interesting. Such an honour to meet you.”

 

Rufus would always have trouble with women, Archie wryly reflected. Despite his wholly restored reputation and growing fame, he brought a shy charm to introductions which inevitably bowled them over. He had let go of Archie and was stepping forward now, hand outstretched. “I’ve made your acquaintance too, in a way,” he said, and Loretta took his hand and looked as though she’d have liked to kiss it. “Yours too, Miss Lombardi. Archie and I saw you in a film, the last time we were in London. Highly...” He paused, and no-one but Archie would have detected his brief struggle for a word. “Most diverting. It’s my great pleasure to meet you both too.”

Trust Rufus to remember the womens’ faces, to pick out the one link between them. Over time, Archie had learned how close he’d come to losing him to Alice Winborne, who even in her grief had come down like a weary dove in response to his diffident kindness. Greta’s mouth had fallen open. She said, in what might have been meant as a whisper but carried clearly across the room,”Oh, my God, Lorrie. I know what you said, but I can’t possibly choose!”

 

Loretta went scarlet. She grabbed her sister’s arm. “That was a joke,” she hissed. “A joke between us, and a private one, you fool!”

Archie and Rufus watched in bewilderment as she dragged Greta to the door, then out into the hallway. Their voices faded off in a series of yelps and snarls. Giles, left behind and blushing vividly too, turned to face them. “I’m very sorry, gentlemen,” he said. He really was the pink of post-war English perfection, Archie thought, with his handsome, open face and immaculately cut motoring gear. Again over time, the memories of his emergence from the pit beneath the church had begun to seem like a dream. “I’m very fond of Greta, but the truth is that she’s travelling with us because Lorrie is so keen to help her find a husband, and... well, when I told them about the two of you, they had their little joke about which of you Greta would prefer.”

 

“Oh,” was all Archie could think of to say, and was relieved when Rufus added a slightly more articulate, “Good grief.”

 

“I know,” Giles agreed, nodding fervently. “I’d be angry with her, only I do remember how it was when... well, when I was like her. A man in his thirties has the world at his feet, if he’s talented and hardworking, which she is, in her way. An actress that age has to look around her. Most of them jump out of the business to get married, you see.”

 

Archie rubbed his brow. “And... she thought to land here?”

 

“Not seriously. It’s my fault really. I talked to them so much about you both – how kind you were, and how good. One of you a country squire, and the other getting so well known for making all those discoveries... I suppose they’ve come to think of you as what they call a catch.”

 

But I’ve already been caught. Archie didn’t know why he didn’t just say it. He hadn’t dreamed the transformation in the pit, the turning castle where his lungs had been healed by Rufus’s kiss and Gillian had turned into Giles. He was certain that Giles knew. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, keeping a tremor of laughter out of his tone, trying to imagine either himself or Rufus pairing off with such a bird of cinematic paradise. “You and your Lombardis stay here for Christmas. And perhaps you can find a way of telling Greta that, lovely though she is, she’ll find better opportunities...”

 

“Archie, look.”

 

He swung round. For a minute or so he’d been aware that Rufus’s attention had detached itself from the discussion of Greta’s hopes and dreams. Archie was used to these shifts. They happened more and more often, as Rufus healed and regained the gifts that had put him in the archaeological spotlight before his terrible war. He was standing with his hands in his pockets now, to all appearances just a quiet man at the end of a long journey, but his eyes were shining. With one hand he indicated first the great stag’s skull, just visible through the doorway to the hall, and then the painting over the fireplace – George Mount, the vast hilltop labyrinth he had discovered, now visited by historians, folklorists and historians from all over the world. He caught and held Archie’s gaze, smiling. “Look.”

 

Archie couldn’t look anywhere else. After a moment, Giles said, quietly, “Thank you, then, Squire Thorne. Dr Denby. I’ll go and help the ladies unpack.”

 

He strode away. Archie allowed himself a moment to wonder at his powerful movements, the air of sheer masculinity that had brought his polar opposites, the flickering, glittering moths, to flutter around his flame. Then he focused on Rufus. “You’ve discovered something.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it strange? I could do this before the war, but only occasionally. Then when it all got knocked out of me, and I came to Droyton and...” His voice shook slightly. “And you put it back, you must have added something extra. Because now it happens all the time.”

 

Archie held himself stiffly back. Rufus’s gift for landscape archaeology, for picking out a site without so much as sinking a trench or turning a trowel-ful of soil, had flown them both off to all the round Earth’s imagined corners. Then he saw that Giles had carefully, lovingly closed the door behind him, and he crossed the lily-patterned carpet in four big steps and pulled him into his arms. “Rufus. Dear fellow. Thank God you’re home.”