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Manchester, England 1899 From Lord and Lady Maplethorpe: You are cordially invited to attend an intimate soirée on the evening of February 24th at 8 p.m. The renowned poet Mr Robert Clavell will entertain us with a short dissertation of his recently published poem, Lannisbourne. A light supper and refreshments will be served. Robert sighed as he read the words printed in an elegant scroll on the very expensive card he held. He wished now he had never agreed to attend or read a stanza or two from his latest poem. Lannisbourne meant more to him than being listened to by a gin-swilling mob of degenerates masquerading as nobility. In his opinion, the secret life he led was a damned sight more palatable than the ghastly indulgences favoured by some of the Maplethorpe’s friends. Only yesterday, he had heard through the gossip mill that a young girl had been admitted to the local hospital suffering from a severe beating after attending a private party given by some well-heeled fops. Robert had a suspicion as to whom the gossip referred. He shuddered, hoping against hope that George Russell would not be one of the attendees at tonight's soirée. The man was a thorn in Robert's side, a self-proclaimed 'master of the verse', and one to quickly deride Robert's work at every turn in the editorials he wrote for the newspaper bequeathed to him by his late father. A discreet tap at his bedroom door pulled him from his dark thoughts. "Come in, Danvers." His manservant appeared in the doorway, a small smile on his lined face. Danvers had been his parents' manservant before their tragic accidental deaths five years earlier in a hotel fire in Venice, Italy. As their only surviving heir, Robert had inherited the townhouse on Featherstone Avenue, and he had asked Danvers to stay on in his employ. "Mr Edmonton is here, Master Robert. Shall I tell him you will be down momentarily?" "Ask him to come up please, Danvers. I'm not quite finished dressing." "Do you require assistance?" "No, no... I can manage." Robert rarely asked Danvers to assist him with his wardrobe, requiring him only to draw his nightly bath and occasionally help with a bothersome button or collar. "Very good, Master Robert. I shall send him up directly." "Thank you, Danvers." Robert breathed a sigh of relief that he had managed to garner his friend John Edmonton an invitation to tonight's gathering. John, a successful lawyer based in London was in Manchester for a weekend visit, staying at a gentleman’s club. With John there it would be bearable, and perhaps afterwards they could return here for a brandy, and... Another tap on the door, this one more robust, and John entered, his handsome face wreathed in smiles. "Robert, how dashing you look in your best bib and tucker!" Robert chuckled and opened his arms to his friend. "And you will turn every head tonight, John." "The only head I want to turn is the pretty one perched on your shoulders." John wrapped his arms around Robert and kissed him, gently at first, then as longing and need took over, with a fervour that had both men moaning into each other's mouths. "Oh, Robbie..." John groaned his pet name for Robert softly against his lips. "It’s been too long since last we enjoyed one another's company like this." Robert ran a hand over John’s thick, sandy-coloured hair, his fingers straying over the nape of John’s neck in a tender caress. "I know, my love, but it's difficult when we live so far apart." "You could move to London." John kissed Robert's neck. "What is there here for you that makes you refuse to leave?" "This is my home, John. I have friends here..."