Relief flooded through Will even though the guilt in his heart still tore him apart. That’s what had been wrong with Alex since the music room? He thought he was taking advantage of Will. He pulled at his bottom lip with his teeth. It wasn’t Alex who was taking advantage, but Will. He had lied. He was responsible for a death.

Alex thumbed a tear away from Will’s cheek. “I would as soon cut off my arm as to see you cry. What is it?”

“I-I killed someone,” Will whispered, the horror and finality shaking every word.

Alex blew a small breath out. Will felt the warmth ghost his cheek. He desperately wanted to lean a little closer, to take the chill out of his words, out of his bones.

“I have killed many people,” Alex stated simply.

Will shook his head. “But that was in war. This man died because I was a coward.”

Will’s shoulders trembled, and his chest tightened.

“You are one of the bravest men I know,” Alex said defiantly. “Michael told me what you went through the first few days with me.”

Will forced whispered words past a dry throat. “You feel as I do, don’t you?”

Hesitant, daring to acknowledge something as incredible as it was frightening.

Alex tipped his head on one side. “I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but I suspect you are saying that you enjoyed our interrupted kiss and wish it hadn’t been stopped so abruptly.”

Will pressed his lips together tighter, not trusting the sob that was trying to work itself free. He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve any of it.

“Did something happen to…a friend?” Alex asked cautiously. But Will knew the word lover hovered on his lips.

“He died at Tyburn.” The words dragged themselves from Will. There his shame, laid out for all to see.

Alex frowned. “There have been no hangings at Tyburn Tree for many years,” he protested.

Will’s shoulders dipped. “He was made to stand at pillory. He didn’t survive. My–”

Will just managed to cut off the word father before it escaped. He closed his eyes again and dipped his head.

Gentle fingers raised it upright. “You were lovers?” Alex asked.

Will opened his eyes, tears trickling out of them unheeded. “Not even that, but it was my fault,” he whispered. “I didn’t fight for him.” In actual fact, his brother and father had all but imprisoned him. His brief escape to tell Beau’s cousin he was in Newgate was the only time he managed escape. He had been whisked to Leighton Manor later that day, and only found out what had happened some ten days later when he had been able to bribe a footman to get the information.

“Are you a barrister?” Alex asked quietly. Will shook his head in confusion. “Then was there anything you could have done that wouldn’t have resulted in your own death?”

“No,” admitted Will. “But…”

“Were you more than friends?” Alex asked hesitantly.

Will went to say yes but hesitated. Alex noticed immediately. “And that I think is the source of your guilt, that not only did your friend die when you did not, but that perhaps you feel ready to move on, and you don’t think you should give yourself that permission?”

“Vile. Unnatural, perverse…I have had those words rammed down my throat so often.”

Alex smiled a gentle smile. “We cannot help how we feel, Will. There is also the fact that it is hard to trust people over so vital a secret. Sometimes it is convenience that brings people together, a mutual trust and affection. Love has often little to do with it. Did your friend ever confess his love to you?”

“I—” Will stopped. Had he? Beau had shown affection, trust, but in the last few months, as he had grown ill, they had stopped touching and shared merely affection and a wish to just be in company where they didn’t have to hide. “I would have been content to spend the rest of my days with him,” Will said.

Alex tipped his head to one side as if considering Will’s words. “Content?” Alex covered Will’s hand with his own. “I never want to be content. I want a love so fierce and so strong it grips me in its jaws and forces me still until I cannot take a breath. I want heartbreak when I cannot be by his side and ecstasy in his arms. I want my heart to beat only when his does and know that when it finally stops, mine will at the very same second because one cannot last without the other.”

Alex placed a firm hand at the back of Will’s head and drew him close. “Content? You might as well kill me now.”

Will closed his eyes on a sigh that Alex swallowed as his lips closed over Will’s. Will’s head was spinning. Alex had a firm hand on the back of his head, but it was completely unnecessary. Will had sunk into Alex as if he belonged as if he was safe. For a few minutes, he let go of hurt, of worry, of anything except the kiss that demanded his body’s attention, and the lips that gave his mind permission to simply let go.