Oliver closed the door and felt completely lost. He tried not to think about the young lord. The man had the brightest red hair he'd ever seen, and he had to admit - he really was way too handsome and he was very well aware of it.
What other thing Oliver knew was he couldn't allow himself such distractions and walked the big corridors in search of the housemaid. Passing by one of the windows he looked out. There was, as he'd assumed correctly, a huge garden in the back of the house.
The Irish hounds of the manor were running around and a man almost his age was talking to an older one. Oliver decided the gentry really did nothing much outside talking to other members of the upper classes over afternoon tea or walks in the garden.
He looked closer as the younger one was passing something to his companion when a voice cleared from behind him.
"Ahem, Mr. Abram."
A woman in her forties was standing behind him, hands crossed.
"I am the housekeeper, Mrs. Adelia and I'm to help you accommodate and explain the house rules."
She paused, then smiled "Although I'm sure Thomas has already made sure to advise the main ones. He wouldn't miss the opportunity."
Oliver thought he liked the woman already.
"Indeed. He was very diligent."
Two younger women in maids' uniforms passed, giggling. They looked him up and down when one of them said something, Adelia barged in.
"Hurry up and enough gossips, there's a ball coming and the Ballroom needs another airing."
"Yes, Mrs. Adelia." One of the girls said and stole a glance in Oliver's direction.
"Come on, young man. Let's take you to your room and welcome to the Fernsby Manor.
Oliver was taken to another part of the house. He was trying to take mental notes, but the place was ridiculously huge.
If he'd thought the rest of the house was rich, what he was seeing was beyond his imagination.
"Those are is Lord Callum's private chambers." They reached another tall, heavy wooden door. Oliver could be at least grateful for one thing- high ceilings didn't require him bowing his head to enter the room as it was the case in the attics he'd inhabited before.
The room was spacious with a window from ceiling to the floor and heavy curtains in red. He stepped in and again his feet sank in the soft dark burgundy carpet. The bed was covered with a heavy red and gold quilt and there was a table and chair opposite it. The fireplace was smaller and there was the most comfortable upholstered armchair Oliver could imagine, placed in front of it. Books were scattered on the floor nearby and he noted the furniture, in fact, wasn't that lavish and excessive as the one in the hallway or Tennyson 's study; the way everything else in the house was excessive, from what he'd seen so far. There was a smaller door to his right. Adelia saw him glance towards it.
"This is the dressing room, and you'll not be responsible for keeping everything in order. The maids do, but you'll be expected to attend to Lord Callum's needs. "
They exited the room and she led him down the long corridor. They reached a smaller door, which she unlocked. "Lord Callum does not keep attendants, but as the lord's valet, you'll be close enough to him for his convenience. This is where you'll be. "
His room was smaller, with a bed and a nightstand. It was still the best Oliver has ever had. The housekeeper explained the basics of the household and where to find the things he might need.
"Thank you," he said.
"If you need anything, I'll be at your disposal." She looked at him and after a pause said "Good luck, Mr. Abram. "
It was after ten in the evening when his master came back. Oliver was talking to one of the maids in the kitchen- Jenny- when lord Callum came in from the servant's entrance. They both almost jumped.
"Good evening." the lord only smiled, took his hat off, and quickly disappeared through the door leading to the rest of the house.
Oliver looked at Jenny "Why does he use this way?"
"He sometimes does. There's dinner upstairs and he probably lied to everyone he doesn't feel well and went out."
"Does he really do that?" Oliver asked and they both sat back down.
"Sometimes. " Jenny picked an apple from the bowl on the table and started peeling it. "He sometimes disappears for the whole night. "
"Where does he go?" She passed him a piece and he took it.
"No idea, but... " she leaned in closer and Oliver followed "He never touches any of us. None of them does, so he probably has a mistress. Maybe a prostitute, since...."
"Are you gossiping again?" Thomas's voice traveled. Oliver could swear he hadn't heard the man come.
Jenny quickly got up, leaving the apple on the table, and fixed her skirts. "Apologies, Sir."
"Now get back to work, the guests will head to the drawing-room soon after the diner's finished."
She picked up the peels hastily and hurried out. Thomas gave Oliver a look and said "Perhaps you should find something to do as well, the young lord is here too. "
But when Oliver went upstairs. The master's room was dark.
The next day something similar happened and Oliver was beginning to worry he might never actually do any work.
On the third evening, Callum called for Oliver.
The young lord was sitting upright in his chair, the same one Oliver had first noticed the moment he entered the room the first time. He was in a dark suit, as usual, a glass next to him on the table. The maids hadn't lied earlier when they said their master had a habit of drinking.
He closed the book he held and looked at Oliver. His eyes had a very strange spark to them, it almost made Oliver feel uncomfortable. The way Lord Tennyson's look did that very first day.
"You've called for me," Oliver said.
"I have, we are going out and you'll come with me." His master looked angry, even though his posture didn't give it off.
Callum got up and put the book on the chair carefully. He finished the drink and threw the glass in the fireplace.
The crystal shattered and Oliver tried not to flinch at the absolutely unexpected action. "Now help me get ready." The lord instructed and left the room.
They went to the dressing room where the bath had already been prepared.
Lord Callum began unbuttoning his jacket.
"Allow me, Sir." Oliver approached, but the other man pulled back. "No need."
Oliver was beginning to wonder what he was doing here at all and took an unnecessary look around.
Callum began taking his clothes off, the entire time his cold blue eyes didn't leave Oliver.
Oliver had the wildest idea the man was doing all of this on purpose- and most likely he was, just to provoke him. But Oliver had been in more difficult situations, including situations with naked men, and knew his task very well. He wasn't planning on giving up so easily and letting himself be fooled.
Oliver also knew another thing. That this was either the beginning of a dangerous game they were both going to play, or a terrible misstep; Silently, as no one could risk making the first move, or saying anything out loud. Or there wasn't any first move to be made and Oliver was entirely wrong.
Callum slowly stripped his shirt sleeves and unbuttoned his trousers. He let them drop to the floor and stepped away from the pile.
Oliver still struggled with being told what to do and that was one of those cases when he wanted to do something entirely different from what he was ordered but remained where he was.
He let his gaze travel slowly over the other man's body. Callum was slim, but his muscles were very well defined. Unlike Oliver, he had never needed to do labor outside, so his skin wasn't touched by the sun. It was so white it made his hair look even brighter and for that one second, Oliver wanted nothing else but to see the red strands spilled on his sheets.
Callum's chest was smooth, and red hairs formed a thin line under his belly button. It disappeared under the underwear his lord still had on.
Oliver noticed a few bruises marring the skin on his master's ribs. Some were purple, others had started turning yellow-ish at the edges.
"I fell from a horse." Callum said after he'd most likely followed Oliver's gaze.
"Which horse, my Lord?"
"Pardon?" Callum pinned him with his eyes and this time Oliver returned the look.
He could play this game as well. The lord hesitated, then added:
"You don't need to just stand there, have a seat. " Callum pointed at the chair against the bathtub and Oliver decided he had nothing better to do anyway but sit.
"How old are you?" The question almost caught Oliver off guard.
"I'm standing naked in front of you and you are still expected to use formal language with me." He frowned.
Something unreadable passed his beautiful face. It was there only for a second, then the lord he quickly gained back his composure and added "Yet, I'm not the best example of gentry."