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Authors: Ava March

Tags: #BDSM LGBT Historical

Bound Forever (10 page)

BOOK: Bound Forever
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“A more than generous price.”

He clenched his hands at his sides. “How generous, Vincent?” It should not irritate him so much. Not as if the money had gone to him. Still…

“The price matters not, Oliver,” Vincent replied, crisp and succinct, as if they discussed some business transaction.

“Yes. It does.”

Vincent held up a hand. “Please, don’t protest. While it was obvious you wanted the books, I purchased them to assist Mrs. Middleton.”

Completely altruistic reason, Oliver couldn’t help but concede. He himself had wished he had the means to offer the poor widow assistance. Yet it did not excuse Vincent for completely neglecting to mention the purchase to him, let alone ask if he wanted the books for the shop.

“My lack of funds wasn’t the only reason I limited the purchase.” Leave it to Vincent to assume money was his only impediment. “The shop could not hold all the books even if I had the means. Hell, I have so many crates stacked in the office I can barely make my way to my desk.”

“Then keep them here if you are in need of space. My attic is more than sufficient to accommodate them.”

Oliver scowled. The man had a bloody answer for everything. “Should not have to keep them in crates. They deserve to be shelved.”

Vincent arched a brow, displaying a hint of incredulous exasperation and making Oliver feel like an irrational, demanding child, grasping at anything to sustain his protests. But damnation, he wasn’t a child, and he would damn well tell Vincent where he could take his condescending attitude if he did not put a stop to it very soon.

“If that is your primary concern, then I suggest you invest in enlarging the shop.”

“I wouldn’t need to enlarge the shop if you hadn’t purchased the books without my consent.” He slammed his hands on the desk. “It’s
my
shop, Vincent. Not yours!”

Flicking his pen down, Vincent got to his feet. “Enough, Oliver.” The words snapped between them.

Enough
? A growl rumbled his throat. “Don’t you bloody condescend to me.”

Briefly closing his eyes, Vincent took a deep breath, his broad chest expanding and contracting. A clear attempt to gather his temper. “I am doing nothing of the sort,” he said with forced calm. “My apologies if it appears as such. Now please, stop your protests. The books are yours to do with as you see fit. Sell them, store them, give them away. It matters not to me. They are simply the by-product of my desire to help a widowed young woman who, for all appearances, had no one else able to offer her assistance.”

Oliver’s hands clenched at his sides again. Obviously Vincent didn’t understand the source of his anger. And in typical Vincent fashion, he felt himself justified in his actions, and that was enough for him. Discussion over.

Hell no. Not tonight. But before Oliver could press his point again, Vincent continued.

“However there is something I do need to discuss with you. Likely should discuss it later, since you are not pleased with me at the moment, but I will not have it delayed.”

Vincent picked up a neat fold of papers from his desk and speared Oliver with a stare, so pensive and solemn, so very grave, it took him aback. The ever-mounting frustration stuttered to a halt.

“Mrs. Middleton’s situation has been weighing heavily on my mind,” Vincent said, his gaze boring into Oliver’s. “It was inexcusably irresponsible of Middleton to have not made arrangements for his wife. While he certainly did not expect to meet with an accident at such a young age, accidents do happen. They are beyond our control. But by making her his wife, he made a lifetime commitment to her. If he had cared for her in the least bit, he should have chosen her security over something as frivolous as books.”

Frivolous? His livelihood was now frivolous? Oliver opened his mouth, the protest on his tongue, but Vincent held up a hand to stay him.

“They were not the man’s business. They were an indulgence. Not as irresponsible as gambling one’s fortune away—he at least left her with assets—but a selfish indulgence nonetheless.” Vincent dropped his attention to the papers in his hand. He ran a contemplative fingertip along the crease. “I have been busier than usual these past few days, but with good cause. When I returned to Town, I met with my solicitor and banker. I have revised my will.” He held out the fold of papers to Oliver. “Copies for you. Do you have a safe?”

Stunned by Vincent’s gravity and not quite certain how the man’s will related to him, Oliver shook his head and took the proffered papers.

“Then have the bank keep them for you. You should read them before you lock them up. If you have any questions, simply ask, but it is relatively straightforward. There’s an annuity for Grafton’s son once he reaches his majority, a bit for Grafton as well, and pensions for my staff, but the bulk of my estate will go to you. I have also set up an account in your name. The papers are there, as well.”

Oliver’s mind seized with shock. He flipped through the papers, found the ones from the bank. His eyes flared. “Thirty thousand pounds?” The sheer enormity of the sum left him reeling.

“You can do with it as you please. Enlarge the shop, if you so desire, or purchase an apartment in a better area of town. But I would hope you don’t spend it all in a great rush. In the event something would happen to me, I want you at the very least to have the account. I want to make certain you are provided for. I would have done nothing less for a wife, and therefore I will see to it and more for you.”

Oliver’s bruised pride reared its head, demanding to be heard. “I’m
not
your wife, Vincent.” The size of his bank account might be beyond paltry in comparison to Vincent’s, but he wasn’t some helpless woman, unable to fend for herself. Hell, if nothing else, Oliver had shoved the proof up Vincent’s no-longer-virgin arse a week ago. If the man needed a reminder, he was more than happy to bend him over the desk and oblige him.

“I’m aware of that, Oliver.” His gaze darted over Oliver’s shoulder. “And please, keep your voice down,” he admonished.

Paper crinkled harshly as his fist closed around Vincent’s will and the damn papers from the bank. He’d bloody well shout if that was what it would take to get through Vincent’s thick skull. The will was one thing, but the account?

Impotent frustration pounded through his veins, but when he next spoke, his voice was low, determined, backed by iron. “I have told you before, I don’t want your money. I don’t want new apartments, and I prefer my shop just the way it is. I don’t need you to take care of me. I’m quite capable of doing it on my own.”

“I’m aware of that as well,” Vincent replied, resolute and unbending. “But I want you to have the account.”

Oliver shook his head. “No, I refuse to accept it.”

“Please, don’t argue with me. It’s done. Just accept it. You needn’t even thank me.”

“Exactly! It’s done. You made the decision for me. Yet again.”

There was that flicker of confusion across Vincent’s brow again.

“You don’t understand, do you? Just because I submit to you in the bedchamber does not mean I submit to you outside of it. You have no right to make decisions that impact me without discussing them with me beforehand. I saw you two nights ago, and you mentioned not a word of your meetings with your solicitor or banker or the damn books.” He lifted the papers in his hand. “Yet another glaring example of the fact you don’t see me as an equal.”

There it was—the crux of the problem.

He had thought Vincent had finally abandoned his attempts to push money on him. It had been a year since he last found not-so-random coins on his dresser or stray pound notes in a coat pocket. Vincent no longer outright offered to manage Oliver’s investments or made comments about the state of his lodgings. The man had grown more subtle, making it easy for Oliver to brush the instances aside as minor annoyances that came part and parcel with a strong man like Vincent. Yet behind all those condescending arched brows and Vincent’s penchant for assumption lurked the hard truth of their relationship.

Vincent did not see him as an equal.

Tonight’s events illustrated the fact so loud and clear, Oliver could no longer turn a blind eye.

To be faced with the truth, to actually hold proof of it in his hand, hurt more than he could have imagined.

And he’d actually rendered Vincent mute and slack-jawed from confusion.
Bloody hell
. Not a good sign at all.

Oliver dragged a hand through his hair, then shook his head. “I truly wonder if you can ever understand.” He tossed the papers onto Vincent’s desk and turned on his heel. He needed to leave before he said something he would truly regret. And he needed time to think, to answer the question that now filled his head.

Knowing the truth of how his lover viewed him, could he stay with Vincent?

Chapter Eight

 

Heart heavy with pain and crushing disappointment and more than a lingering trace of frustration, Oliver reached for the brass doorknob of Vincent’s study. A large hand closed around his upper arm. The grip hard and harsh, long fingers digging into his muscles.


No
.”

The hoarse, desperate urgency stopped Oliver short. He looked over his shoulder.

All the color had drained from Vincent’s face, his eyes wide with absolute shock and horror. For a long moment, he moved not a muscle. Oliver swore even his chest had gone still.

“Vincent?”

The man’s gaze dropped to his hold on Oliver’s arm. He blinked, then released him. Vincent brought his arm slowly to his side and flexed his shaking hand. His lashes swept down. “Please don’t leave me again.”

Oliver turned from the door. “I’m not leaving you. Just leaving your house for a bit. I’m frustrated and hurt and…” That look of utter fear had not lessened one bit, so he reiterated, “I’m
not
leaving you, Vincent.” He hoped to God he had not just lied. With all his heart, he prayed it would not come to that, but he had a sinking feeling it just might. He let out a weary sigh. “You truly don’t understand why I’m upset, do you?”

“Of course I do,” Vincent grumbled. “The books. The account. You don’t like it when I help you.”

“But do you understand why?” Perhaps he could explain it a different way. “Success comes easy to you. You always earned the best marks in school. Anything you touch turns to gold or coal. You have always been well respected with a strong family name behind you. Whereas I’m…I’m the opposite of you. I had to work hard just so I wouldn’t get sent down from school. Nothing has ever come easy for me.”

“You let me help you at school. Why won’t you allow me to help you now?”

“Because I’m a man now, and I want to do things on my own. Because I need to do things on my own.”

“But you accept help from Mr. Wallace,” Vincent countered. “You’ve had the bookshop a year and never once expressed anything but appreciation for the fact he’s remained on to assist you.”

“He’s not you, Vincent. You’re the man I love. Your opinion means a great deal to me, and I need to feel you believe I’ll succeed. I can’t help but feel every time you offer assistance that it’s your way of telling me I’m failing. That I’m not capable. That you
believe
I’m not capable.”

Vincent scowled. “I have never said you were not capable.”

“You have not said it explicitly, but it’s how you make me feel.” Hell, did he want too much? Vincent loved him. Spent time with him outside of a bedchamber. Didn’t make him feel as though mere association with him was a dirty secret he needed to hide. Shouldn’t that be enough?

There had been a time when it would have been more than enough. But that time had long passed. Deep down, he knew it would eventually ruin their relationship. And damnation, after all they had been through together, he deserved Vincent’s respect. He needed the man he loved to see him as an equal, yet could he?

Above all, above the differences in their bank accounts and their status in society, Oliver truly feared the sheer fact he submitted to him in the bedchamber made it impossible for Vincent to see him as anything but someone who needed a strong, steady hand to guide him.

Oliver sagged against the door and shook his head.

“Don’t do that.”

He looked askance at Vincent looming above him.

“Don’t shake your head. It makes me worry you’re going to leave me.”

Oliver let out another weary sigh. “Do you respect me, Vincent?”

“Of course I do. I love you,” he added in barely a whisper.

He nodded. Vincent was not the type of man who could give his heart to someone he did not at least marginally respect. “But do you respect me as an equal? Because the way you treat me sometimes makes me truly doubt it.”

Suddenly aware he leaned against a door servants were apt to pass by on the other side, he pushed up and crossed the room. Vincent followed on his heels, so close his breaths practically scorched Oliver’s neck.

Stopping at the chair facing Vincent’s desk, he turned to Vincent. The man’s concerned gaze tracked his every movement, as though fearing he’d run from the room at any moment.

“How would you feel if I told you how to manage your properties?”

Vincent’s lips twisted in affront. “I don’t believe you consider yourself an expert in property management.”

“I wasn’t aware you had ever owned a bookshop.”

“But it’s a business.”

“And therefore it is something you excel at, whereas I do not? I will grant you are more astute with business matters than I am, but I don’t meddle in your affairs. I don’t prod you to buy more properties or offer an opinion beyond encouragement and support.”

“You cannot claim I am not supportive of your endeavors.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, Vincent. You are supportive. But it’s so much more than how you show your support.” He briefly closed his eyes, struggling to find the right words. “By not consulting me on matters that affect me, you are making decisions for me. I doubt it even occurred to you that maybe you should have consulted me in regard to Middleton’s books, the changes to your will, or the account. Can you see how that would make me feel like you look on me as someone who isn’t as capable as you? I don’t need your guidance, Vincent. Just because I put myself in your hands in the bedchamber does not mean I want nor need that outside of the bedchamber.”

BOOK: Bound Forever
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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