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Claiming Mister Kemp
Lucas Kemp’s twin sister died last year. He’s put aside his mourning clothes, but not his heartache. If Lucas ever needed a friend, it’s now—and who should walk in his door but Lieutenant Thomas Matlock…
Lucas and Tom are more than just best friends; they’ve been in love with each other for years. In love with each other—and pretending not to know it.
But this time, Tom’s not going to ignore the attraction between them. This time, he’s going to push the issue.
He’s going to teach Lucas how to laugh again, and he’s going to take Lucas as his lover…
“Absolutely amazingly well done. This book has cemented Larkin’s place in my lineup of automatic must read authors.”
~ Sarah @ NetGalley
“I loved this voyage of discovery for these two lovely men who have nursed their secret love for one another since their youth. A compelling, heart-warming story.”
~ Wendy @ Romantic Historical Reviews
Read the full review.
“The sex scenes are sensual and well-written, conveying a real sense of the depth of the love and affection between the two men, and the emotional connection between the pair is palpable.”
~ Caz’s Reading Room
Read the full review.
October 6th, 1808
LIEUTENANT THOMAS MATLOCK trod briskly up the steps of Albany Chambers and rapped on the door to Lucas Kemp’s rooms. The moon shone cold and bright overhead and an icy breeze fingered its way between the folds of his military greatcoat.
His knock sounded loudly—and was followed by silence.
Tom knocked a second time, less hopefully, and then dug in his pocket for the key. He unlocked the door and let himself in to the entrance hall. “Lucas?”
The set of rooms was dark and silent.
He called out again, this time for Lucas’s manservant, “Smollet?” and was met with more silence.
Tom sighed, and hefted the bottle in his hand, and debated what to do. Did he want to traipse all over London looking for Lucas? He wasn’t dressed for the clubs; he still wore the clothes he’d traveled in all day. You should have stopped to shave and change, idiot.
Tom sighed again. He placed the bottle on the little table in the entrance hall, where Lucas could hardly fail to see it when he came in—then picked it up again and ventured into the sitting room, carefully picking his way past dimly seen furniture to the cold fireplace. There, he placed the bottle in the center of the mantelpiece, label facing outwards. “Happy birthday, Lu,” he said quietly.
Someone muttered behind him.
Tom jerked around.
The sitting room was dark, and beyond it was the entrance hall, and beyond that, the open door and the courtyard. The distant lamplight made the rooms as black as the inside of a tomb.
As black—but not as silent. His ears caught the sound of someone breathing.
The hair on Tom’s scalp pricked upright. “Hello?” he said cautiously, and then—because this was Lucas’s sitting room and who else but Lucas would be here?—“Lucas? Is that you?”
The muttering came again, like a man talking in his sleep.
Tom strode out to the entrance hall, found the chamberstick and tinderbox where Smollet always left them, lit the candle and returned to the sitting room. The shadows retreated to the corners, showing him the familiar furniture: tables and chairs, desk and bookcases. Lots of bookcases, because Lucas liked reading even more than he liked boxing and riding.
Two winged armchairs had long ago staked out territory on either side of the fireplace, hulking leather beasts with brass studs burnished from years of use. In the nearest one, a man slouched, eyes shut, chin sunk on his chest.
“Lucas? What the devil are you doing here in the dark?” But he could answer that question himself: Lucas was drunk. A lot drunk.
“Where’s that man of yours?” Tom demanded. “Smollet?”
Lucas’s eyelids rose heavily. He stared at Tom without recognition, blinked twice, and closed his eyes.
“Hello, Tom,” Tom said, under his breath. “Welcome back to England, Tom. Nice to see you again, Tom.” He bent and spoke close to Lucas’s ear: “Where’s Smollet, Lu?”
Lucas was usually punctilious about his appearance. No one would ever call him a peacock—he liked sober colors and plain tailoring—but he was always immaculate, almost fastidiously so. Not tonight. His guinea-gold hair stuck up in tufts, his collar-points had wilted, and he wore no neckcloth at all. Fumes wafted from him. Cognac, judging from the smell. Tom peered at Lucas more closely in the candlelight. Moisture glinted on his cheeks, glinted in his eyelashes. Lucas wasn’t just drunk; he’d been crying.
Tom had seen soldiers cry after battle. Hell, he’d cried himself, a couple of times. But a man’s tears had never had quite this effect on him before. His throat tightened and his heart seemed to clench inside his ribcage.
He cleared his throat and shook Lucas’s shoulder roughly. “Where’s that damned man of yours?”
Lucas’s eyelids flickered again.
“Smollet, Lu. Where is he?” And what the devil does he mean by leaving you here in the cold and the dark?
“Gave ’im the night off,” Lucas muttered.
Tom straightened, and sighed. “Then I guess it’s up to me to put you to bed.”
TOM CLOSED THE door to the courtyard, lit two more candles, and went into Lucas’s bedchamber, where he kindled the fire, turned back the covers, and set one candle on the bedside table. Then he returned to the sitting room and stared down at Lucas, sprawled in the armchair, disheveled and drunk. It didn’t take any feat of insight to guess why Lucas had chosen to spend his twenty-seventh birthday like this. The solitude, the alcohol, the tears were because of his dead twin sister, Julia.
Tom shook Lucas’s shoulder gently. “Come on, Lu. Time for bed.”
Lucas hunched away from his hand. “Go ’way,” he mumbled, not opening his eyes.
Tom uttered a faint laugh. This wasn’t the welcome he’d imagined. “No. I’m staying until you get into bed.”
“Want t’ be alone.”
“Tough. I’m not Smollet. You can’t tell me what to do.” He took Lucas’s arm and tried to haul him from the armchair.
Lucas pulled free. His eyes slitted open. He clumsily swung a blow.
“Easy, man,” Tom said, catching the fist.
Lucas’s eyes came fully open, his fist clenched in Tom’s hand—and then Lucas blinked, and bafflement crossed his face. His fist sagged. He peered at Tom owlishly. “Tom? That you, Tom?”
“Yes. Come on, on your feet.”
Lucas’s brow creased with confusion. “You’re in Portugal.”
“No, you cod’s head, I’m right here. On your feet.” He hauled on Lucas’s arm again, and this time Lucas didn’t try to strike him.
Lucas was six foot two and built like a prizefighter, but Tom was two inches taller, and if he was leaner than Lucas, he was almost as strong. A grunt and a mighty heave and he had Lucas on his feet.
“You’re in Portugal,” Lucas said again, swaying.
“I’m back for the inquiry into the Convention of Cintra.”
“I’ll explain it later.” When you’re not drunker than a sailor. He slung Lucas’s slack arm over his shoulder. “Come on. Bed.”
Lucas couldn’t walk a straight line. Not only that, his legs kept buckling. Tom was out of breath by the time they reached the bedroom door. “Jesus, Lu, how much cognac did you have?”
“Dunno,” Lucas said, and uttered a discreet burp.
“You’d better not shoot the cat,” Tom said, warningly.
“Not tha’ drunk,” Lucas said, leaning bonelessly against him.
“Yes, you are—and I swear to God, Lu, if you vomit on me I’m going to shove you headfirst into the nearest privy.”
Lucas huffed a faint, cognac-scented laugh, and then sighed heavily. “I missed you.”
Tom tightened his grip on him. I missed you, too. He permitted himself to rest his cheek against Lucas’s hair for a brief second, and then thought, Fuck it, and pressed his face into Lucas’s hair and inhaled deeply.
Lucas didn’t notice; he was too drunk.
Tom closed his eyes and inhaled two more breaths. Nineteen years of friendship, and this was the closest they’d ever physically been. Almost hugging.
Tom thought about the battlefield, and he thought about musket balls and death, and he thought about all the years he’d loved Lucas and been too afraid to do anything about it. He thought about opportunities missed and opportunities lost, and then he thought, This time I’m not going to be a coward. Because this time could be the last time. In fact, this time shouldn’t be happening at all. He should be buried in Portugal—but by the damnedest miracle he was still alive, and he was not going to waste this chance.
LUCAS KNEW HE was drunk, he knew Tom was inexplicably in his rooms, but his thoughts had narrowed to a funnel and there was no space in his head for anything other than not falling over. The bedchamber slowly revolved around him and the bed seemed a very long way away and when he finally reached it, it took all his effort to sit upright on the edge and not collapse in a heap.
“Boots,” Tom said, and Lucas clutched the bedcovers and managed not to fall over when Tom yanked his boots off. The bed moved up and down like a dinghy and the bedchamber rotated slowly.
After the boots, Tom peeled him out of his coat and waistcoat and hauled the shirt over his head. “Smollet . . . does a . . . better job,” Lucas said.
Tom grunted a laugh. “I’m sure he does. Lie down.”
Lucas collapsed gratefully on the bed. The mattress rose and fell beneath him and the ceiling spun overhead. He squeezed his eyes shut. I am not going to throw up.
Lucas drifted away, and while he drifted his thoughts wandered inexorably back to Julia. Julia, with her sharp eyes and exuberant laugh and the way she’d had of knowing exactly what he was thinking.
Grief welled up in him, and with it was the ever-present ache of loss and the sense that part of him had been amputated, that he was missing an arm or a leg.
Dimly, he heard Smollet moving in the bedroom. Lucas closed his ears to the sounds. All he wanted was to be alone.
“All right, let’s get these breeches off,” someone said. The voice was not Smollet’s.
Lucas blearily opened his eyes. The person standing beside the bed wasn’t his manservant. This man had a bony, aristocratic face with patrician cheekbones and a high-bridged nose. You could tell just by looking at him that he was a nobleman’s son.
Lucas stared at him in fuzzy astonishment. “Tom?”
“That’s me,” Tom said cheerfully.
“But . . . you’re in Portugal.”
“Not right now, I’m not.”
“What you doin’ here?”
“We’ve already had this conversation, Lu.”
Lucas blinked slowly. “We have?”
“You are so drunk,” Tom said, and he laughed and shook his head. “Come on, Lu. Breeches.”
But Lucas’s fingers were like bunches of sausages, thick and clumsy. Undoing his buttons was beyond him.
“Let me,” Tom said, pushing his hands aside.
Lucas desisted in his efforts. He lay on the bed, his thoughts turning as slowly as the ceiling. Tom was back in England? Tom was unbuttoning his breeches?
[Sorry, I have to cut this chapter short because the scene gets a little explicit.]