The door closed behind Robert. Luca stood motionless in the middle of the room, straining his ears to catch the sound of Robert’s hand sliding down the banister, the murmur of his voice saying something to Bagoas. If he listened hard enough he could almost convince himself that he heard Robert’s feet on the stairs again. He could almost make himself believe that Robert was coming back.
He will be back, Luca told himself sternly. He promised.
He promised before, a treacherous little voice whispered in his head. He swore, didn’t he, swore you’d be together forever, that he’d never let anyone take you away from him. And you believed him, like an idiot. And here you are believing him again. Idiot.
And then, soft and teasing: As if a man like him could want a thing like you.
Luca shook his head abruptly. No. Robert would be back this time. It was different now. He was a lord, a lord, and he was so tall, broad as oak, with a man’s thick arms that would wrap around Luca so tight that not even the Beast would be strong enough to tear him away.
Robert would come back. He had to.
Luca had himself so close to convinced that when the door flung open again he was sure for a brief instant that it was Robert. But no – it was Bagoas who swept inside, pink-faced and gleeful.
“The lord is speaking with our master,” Bagoas announced. “Making an offer for you, I have no doubt. You had him eating out of your hand, Luca! He was mooning over you like a lovestruck schoolboy. Have you any idea what this might mean for us? The grandson of the king’s advisor on our books! Not even Bridda — ” He stopped, narrowed his eyes. “Have you been crying?”
“Dust,” said Luca quickly. “Dust is all.”
Bagoas pursed his lips, disbelieving. “Did you have to use the ring?”
Luca shook his head. “No. My lord was gentle with me.” He thought of Robert’s hands cupping his face, Robert’s lips brushing his throat. “My lord was kind,” he whispered, almost to himself.
“Hm.” Bagoas arched an incredulous eyebrow. “I see you enjoyed his company.”
Luca felt himself flush. “I – I am pleased to bring honor to the House,” he said, dropping his gaze. “My only thought is to serve my master.”
“Of course,” said Bagoas. Still, the shade of doubt lingered in the furrow of his brow. When he spoke, his voice had cooled considerably. “And of course this will ensure your advancement. Congratulations, Luca.”
For a moment Luca couldn’t think what he meant. Then the previous night’s conversation came rushing back to him.
“Of course,” he echoed stupidly. “I – I suppose I’ll have Asher dust, then.” The comment was so inane he felt himself flush again. He’d be turning permanently fuschia at this rate, and then Robbie — Robert, he reminded himself — wouldn’t want to kiss him at all.
Bagoas was still frowning. “Luca,” he began. Then he cut himself off with a curt movement of his hand. “Your shift begins in twenty minutes. Try not to let the men smudge your maquillage this time. Those bruises are unsightly.”
“Yes, Bogoas,” said Luca, scarcely listening. He was too busy thinking about Robert kissing him again.
Luca was still thinking about Robert as he prepared for his shift. He went through the motions of reapplying maquillage, wincing to see the bloom of purple under his eye. Absently, he selected a belt of hammered brass dics in case one of his afternoon patrons would order him to dance. He drank a carafe of cold tea without tasting it. When he oiled himself there was only the ghost of pain.
None of it felt real somehow. In his mind he was still in High Parlor, holding Robert’s hands in his own.
Luca was jolted back to reality by the arrival of his first appointment. Sir Percy sidled through the door, smoothing down his brush of moustache with two fingers. Sir Percy was a brisk middle-aged man with thinning hair and features so bland it was difficult for Luca to remember them even after years of serving him. The smell of the salted herring canned in his factories clung to his suit and hands. He liked to fuck Luca from behind and always came too soon.
All this Luca noted with the detachment of a clerk reviewing his figures. He summoned a smile to his lips and purred the man’s name.
The fucking was abrupt and uninspired, as always. After Sir Percy sidled out the door, this time wearing a smirk of satisfaction, Luca rolled off the bed and trotted to the wash-basin hidden behind a screen. He cleaned the semen from his arse and applied lavender water to hide the smell of herring.
What was Robert doing now, he wondered? Lunching with his highborn friends? Luca remembered the dandyboy from last night, the one who’d had his head in Robert’s lap. Rich, he’d been. And handsome...
Luca banished the thought with a firm shake of his head. Of course Robert had lovers. He was a noble. He was brilliant. He had clever hands and hair like autumn and a smile that was sweet and wicked all at once, and when he laughed it seemed to fill every corner of the room, and when he was serious his eyes went as wise and vivid as a god’s. Men were probably tripping each other to earn his favor. Besides, Luca was a slave. He could never be Robert’s beloved. He could only be Robert’s whore.
But remembering the way Robert had kissed him, Luca thought that being Robert’s whore would be enough.
The next patron was a muscular, craggy-faced man who bounded into the room like a terrier. Captain Sprottle, vice-head of the Watch. Luca jumped into his arms, giggling, and squealed when Sprottle bore him down on the bed. Sprottle grinned, showing rows of broken teeth.
“Let’s play, gorgeous,” he said.
Sprottle’s “play” involved at least twelve different positions and a deep energetic thrusting that left Luca faint with pain. He didn’t use the ring, afraid Sprottle would notice. The fucking stretched out for what felt like hours, Sprottle stopping frequently to rearrange Luca or to take gulps of water from the flask he had brought with him. Still, Luca forced his aching body to respond, grinding back on the man’s cock and making moans and sighs of feigned pleasure. When it was over Sprottle gave him a hearty kiss and went bounding out of the room again.
Luca allowed himself a few moments of rest on the soft bed before forcing himself up and back to the wash-basin. There was an oatcake on the counter. Lunch. He divided the cake into thirds, saving one part for Asher and one to sacrifice on Ganymene’s altar. The last he ate himself. His stomach had stopped growling years ago, but the emptiness still echoed, even after the oatcake.
Luca forced his mind away from hunger. It wasn’t difficult. He’d had a lifetime of practice.
When the door opened and the next patron hobbled in Luca didn’t have to fake his smile. It was Lord Fulke, more ancient with every appointment.
“I swear you grow lovelier each time I see you,” said Lord Fulke, his voice as dry and aged as the pages of an old book. He stooped, wincing, and kissed Luca’s hand.
“How is your back today, my lord?” Luca asked.
“All the better for your asking,” said Lord Fulke. “I do seem to have developed a troublesome ache just here.” He gestured to the place, smiling almost apologetically. “Perhaps you could—?”
“Of course, my lord.”
Luca helped Lord Fulke out of his robes and vest. He could see the ache immediately, hitching up Lord Fulke’s shoulder-blade at an uncomfortable angle. Luca grimaced in sympathy. He rubbed his hands to warm them and began. Carefully he soothed the ache from Lord Fulke’s side, kneading knotted muscles until the lord sighed in pleasure.
The one sort of pleasure quickly gave way to another, as it always did. Lord Fulke turned over. His flaccid penis lay curled like a snail. Luca began with his hands, patiently coaxing Lord Fulke to hardness before taking him into his mouth. Lord Fulke sighed again, stroking Luca’s hair. Luca couldn’t help leaning into the touch.
Halfway through the blowjob Lord Fulke softened. Luca licked and sucked desperately, panic blooming in his chest as the prick in his mouth refused to respond. He almost sobbed in frustration when Lord Fulke pushed him gently away.
“Please, my lord, forgive me, please, let me try again, I beg you, let me serve —”
Lord Fulke waved his hand. “Now, my dear!” he said, voice mild and rich with humor. “You are the most beautiful boy in Lyonesse, but you’re not a miracle worker.”
Luca laughed weakly. “I - I would work miracles for you, my lord.”
Lord Fulke chuckled. He pulled Luca up so that they lay together, Luca’s head resting on Lord Fulke’s chest.
“You would make me a young man again, with a cock like a battering ram?” Lord Fulke asked. “Well, perhaps I’d thank you for it.”
He ran his hand over Luca’s shoulders, down his back, over his arse and thighs. Luca parted his legs obediently, but Lord Fulke only kissed his forehead and rested his hand on Luca’s hip.
“Have I told you that my eldest daughter is engaged?” Lord Fulke raised his bushy eyebrows in an expression of mock horror.
Luca giggled. “Congratulations, my lord.”
“Samell,” Lord Fulke corrected, as he always did.
The man’s first name still felt forbidden. “Congratulations, Samell,” Luca said, then cringed instinctively, expecting a blow he knew wouldn’t come.
“Yes, well...he’s a good boy, this beau of hers,” said Lord Fulke reflectively. “From a good family. They’ll be happy, I think. Happier than my wife and I, in any case.” He sighed, brows knitting. “Not that it would be difficult.”
Lord Fulke broke off. There was a long silence. Luca tried frantically to decide whether it would be a bad idea to grab Lord Fulke’s prick again. It always boded ill when a patron went brooding during an appointment, and Luca was always the one who suffered for it.
Fortunately Lord Fulke merely shrugged and said, “But enough. I wouldn’t want to see your beautiful face spoiled by a yawn.” He laid a light kiss on Luca’s forehead. “Here, take a look in my vest pocket and see what you find.”
Luca scrambled across the bed and took up the vest. He drew a pair of earrings from the pocket: delicate laurel leaves wrought in gold.
I’ll never be allowed to keep them, he thought.
Still, he summoned what he hoped was an expression of deepest gratitude. “My lord – Samell – thank you, sir.”
“For Bacchanal, you know,” said Lord Fulke, sitting up in bed. “Here, let’s see them on you.”
Luca removed the cheap dangling earrings he wore and replaced them with the laurel leaves. He lifted his hair from his shoulders and turned his head from side to side so Lord Fulke could see.
Lord Fulke nodded in satisfaction. “You honor the god with your beauty, my dear.”
He took Luca’s wrists and pulled him in, so that Luca straddled his lap. Luca let his hair fall. The ends brushed Lord Fulke’s thighs, his crotch; he shivered. Luca slid his palms over Lord Fulke’s chest, across the loose skin over his ribs, and caught Lord Fulke’s earlobe between his teeth. He felt the man stir beneath him.
“It seems you can work miracles after all,” Lord Fulke said, raising his eyebrows.
Luca smiled. He went on smiling as he dropped to his knees between Lord Fulke’s legs. When Lord Fulke closed his eyes, Luca's expression wiped blank. He licked his lips, opened his mouth, and sucked the lord’s prick inside.
Lord Fulke came within moments, making choked noises and petting Luca’s hair. Luca swallowed dutifully and waited, hands folded behind his back, until Lord Fulke tapped his shoulder. He rose to see Lord Fulke’s face creased and beaming, alight with a look Luca would never be bold enough to call gratitude.
“My sweet, good boy,” Lord Fulke murmured, embracing him. “My dear pretty one.”
Abruptly Luca thought of Robert. Sweetheart, Robert had called him. Perfect. And the way Robert had looked at him, a half-smile crinkling the corner of his mouth. As if Luca wasn’t just a whore still bruised and filthy from his last customer. As if he was something precious.
The earrings suddenly felt as heavy as lead.
“I am pleased to serve you, sir,” Luca said mechanically. “Thank you for using me.”
Though he had said them a thousand times, the words had never before tasted as bitter.