The first scene of the novel. We meet Grae and his actor-colleagues Ben and Chris while they’re filming a TV show called The Justice of Godbolt.
Ben Clyde was playing the feudal lord Godbolt with quiet gravitas and a nobility that felt astonishingly natural. Graeme was Cassius, Godbolt’s loyal yet restlessly intelligent younger brother. Chris Willoughby was the contrary villager, Jackin.
“He’s woefully miscast,” Grae said one day to Ben, as the two of them waited through yet another change in lighting. They were sitting huddled into their modern-day coats, hands tucked deep into pockets. The medieval hall they were using on location hadn’t been designed with filming in mind, and if it had ever had clever underfloor heating, that had been out of whack for centuries. “He was just too ridiculously handsome to resist.”
“He certainly has charisma,” Ben agreed, giving Grae a warm glance and rueful smile. “The peasants, in this case, are not revolting.”
“He’s here to woo the audience,” Grae continued. “There aren’t many who’ll be swooning over either of us!” Grae watched as Chris effortlessly chatted up the grip, who was really experienced enough a crew member to know better than to sleep with the cast. Surely few would ever resist Chris’s roguishly dark good looks, though. A silence belatedly drew Grae’s attention back to Ben. “Not that you’re not worth swooning over,” Grae offered in a sincere tone.
Under Ben’s calm exterior, there was the merest hint of hurt, though he said with equal honesty, “Oh, I have no illusions.”
“It’s just the role. You don’t get to do your smoulder. I know for a fact that your smoulder would bring anyone to their knees.”
“Why, did it work on you?” Ben asked with deceptive lightness.
“I didn’t notice.”
“No one’s immune.” Grae considered his co-star yet again. Ben had a good figure – not that it was evident just then, under all the layers of clothing, but he had a tall easy bearing that served him well for this role. He had much the same brown hair and hazel eyes as Grae did, though perhaps with hair slightly lighter and eyes rather greener. In any case, it made their casting as brothers perfect to the point of uncanniness. While Ben’s face was no better than pleasant – though certainly better than his own – Grae knew from seeing his other work that Ben could turn on the sex appeal like nobody’s business. Beyond that, the man himself was unutterably charming, modest and surprisingly kind-hearted. All of which in itself would have been enough to tempt Grae to break his strict rules about never dallying with one’s co-stars. A quiet affair with Ben Clyde might have been perfectly manageable, if only Ben’s generous heart wouldn’t eventually have been bruised by Grae’s own restlessness. And it was useless to even think about it, of course, because Ben was straight. Grae, who’d known he liked men from almost his first conscious thought, let out a sigh.
Chris, meanwhile, was the most thoroughly bisexual – or maybe even omnisexual person Grae had ever met. He was a complete tart, and cheerfully so. Honestly so. Few could resist, because it wasn’t just his looks but his exuberance. Who wouldn’t want a bit of that exuberance in their lives? There was even a part of Grae that wasn’t resisting at all, so perhaps it was just as well that Grae had laid down the law early on; so firmly that Chris had obviously decided Grae wasn’t even worth a moment’s thought, let alone regret. That worked out well enough, because it had given them the room to become good friends despite being complete opposites in so many ways. They shared a devotion to the craft of acting, but otherwise Grae was serious while Chris was devil-may-care. Grae was all about the preparation, while Chris was forever winging it. Grae found himself decidedly wistful over Chris Willoughby at this point, but luckily there were only two more weeks of filming before they were done and they could part ways with dignity intact.
“You are rather beautiful, though,” said Ben.
This remark was so unexpected, and offered so tentatively, that a distracted Grae barely even registered it at first. When he did, however, he turned to look at Ben.
The man was horribly self-conscious. “I might have got the smoulder down pat – needs must. But you’re actually rather beautiful, Graeme.”
“I am not,” Grae retorted in surprise.
A wry smile greeted this. “It’s one of your many graces that you don’t realise it. So maybe I shouldn’t try to convince you.”
“You’d have a hard task of it, anyway!”
“And perhaps it’s better for your acting that you don’t.” When Ben saw a rather rocked Grae thinking about that, he went on to explain, “It might hold you back from throwing yourself into a role.”
“Well,” Grae replied. “I hope I’d always do what the role required.”
Ben smiled at him now without any reservations. “I’m sure you would,” he softly agreed. There was a fondness in Ben’s look that reminded Grae he’d made more than one good friend during this production.
“There’s no room for vanity in this business,” Grae continued, perhaps somewhat sententiously.
Ben laughed under his breath. “No, absolutely not,” he agreed.
For some reason, Grae felt as if he were being teased. Not that he minded very much. Whatever Ben did was gentle and friendly. But it seemed in that moment that Ben might be particularly gentle and friendly when it came to Grae. After a brief silence in which Grae wondered how best to respond, he was saved by the director, Alison Keese, striding in their direction.
“We’re finally ready, if you are,” she announced.
“We’re ready,” Grae answered for both of them, springing up from his chair and shedding his coat as if escaping.
Ben’s fond laugh sounded warm in his ears as Grae went to stand on his mark.
- The Threefold Decorative Knot image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons, with thanks to AnonMoos, and coloured by me!