A/N: Another chapter so soon? Yes - I have been off work sick (but not ill enough to stop me from typing) so have had time to write more. Thank you for all your reviews so far! Honestly, they are really appreciated. I hope you are enjoying this new pairing. Well, I know they're not a pairing yet, but it's pretty blatant that they will be! ;)
Oh, and I am picturing a specific actor for Harry, but I won't name him as he's a Marmite kinda guy! And if you don't like him it might put you off the story!
"He couldn't keep his eyes off you!"
Jimmy's words rang through Thomas' head, like a mantra that kept repeating itself over and over again. At the time Jimmy had said it, it had earned him a sharp clip round the head; Thomas had not believed it, thinking Jimmy was winding him up.
But he did seem to change his mind about me being his valet, when he found out I wasn't Bates, Thomas thought as he ascended the stairs to Harry's room. The dressing gong had been rung, and he was making his way up to dress Harry for dinner.
Not that I'm interested, of course, he followed his previous thought with. He's a brash American; not really my type! Although...what exactly is my type? A manipulating duke? A blind soldier? A straight footman?! Reflecting on his failed romances was depressing. He reached Harry's room and knocked on the door, feeling a tad down in the mouth.
"Come in!" Boomed Harry, as Thomas opened the door. "Oh, it's you...er..."
"Barrow, sir," Thomas helpfully interjected. "I've come to dress you for the evening." He stood still, waiting for the American to acknowledge this fact. Thomas knew from experience that it was best not to start tugging at a stranger's clothes without their prior consent.
"Barrow! Yes, of course!" Harry eyed Thomas carefully, as if sizing him up. "So was it you who unpacked my case and laid my clothes out for me?"
"Yes, sir. That is my duty as your valet," replied Thomas, worrying that Harry would somehow be annoyed at having his things touched. Someone not used to having a valet might be precious about their belongings.
"You English!" Harry laughed, displaying a perfect set of teeth. He walked over to the middle of the room and held his arms out. "Your strange customs astound me. But, as I'm here, I might as well give it a go!"
Thomas thought it strange that someone would consider being dressed by a valet giving it a go, but he obliged willingly. "Very well then sir."
Thomas bent down to untie Harry's shoelaces; something he had done many times for Lord Grantham without a second thought, but found odd to be doing today. Harry watched his actions curiously, and Thomas found himself blushing under the constant stare of his new master.
"Fascinating!" Harry exclaimed, as Thomas removed his shoes. Harry's heightened interest in Thomas' duties was starting to grate on him; had he never been dressed by a valet before? As if to read his mind, Harry responded.
"I'm sorry, Barrow. It's just – I've never been dressed before. It's a brand spanking new experience for me!" At the word spanking, he winked at Thomas, who looked at the floor, mortified. As much as he felt embarrassed at the choice of words from his master, his mind begun to conjure up illicit images of being strewn across Harry's lap...
"So, do you take my trousers off or do I?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.
Thomas was sure his face was on fire. Is he flirting with me? "That's for you to do, sir. I just deal with shoes, ties, waistcoats and jackets." He was sure he registered a slight look of disappointment in Harry's face, but the American quickly smiled and started to remove his trousers.
Thomas turned away to protect Harry's modesty, gathering up the trousers needed for the evening and handing them to Harry, keeping his eyes to the wall.
Harry kept his gaze on Thomas whilst he pulled up his trousers and fastened them. "I'm decent!" He said, looking around for the next item. "Is it the shirt now?"
"Yes, sir, it is," said Thomas, picking up his crisp, white shirt. He tried not to watch as Harry removed the shirt he was wearing, revealing an extremely toned upper body and strong arms. Harry caught him sneaking a look and smiled to himself. Thomas handed Harry his shirt and he fastened it, waiting for Thomas to instruct him further.
"The tie, now, sir," said Thomas, picking up the tie he had selected and looping it over Harry's head. Undoubtedly one of the most intimate duties of a valet, Thomas began to work on fastening the tie, his face inches from Harry's. He tried to keep his focus on the task at hand, but found himself glancing up at Harry's face, taking in the American's features in all their glory.
Harry's skin was unbelievably smooth; his face looked as though it had never seen the sun, but Harry was not pale, no. His cheeks resonated a lovely golden-pinkish hue, and his chin was strong and square. His eyes were wide and the colour of the sky, framed with long dark eyelashes, just like Her Ladyship's, thought Thomas. His plump lips were rose-red, and Thomas had an almost uncontrollable urge to press his own on them, before coming to his senses.
What are you thinking?! You don't even like this man, let alone feel attracted to him! Did you learn nothing from the Duke?
Thomas blinked the thoughts away, but couldn't ignore the warm feeling spreading through his groin. Harry smiled at him, almost too knowingly, and Thomas stepped away from his master, the tie deftly fastened in place. Grabbing the waistcoat, he gestured for Harry to hold his arms out, and slid it onto him, fastening the buttons on the front quickly; not wanting to spend too long in such close proximity to those lips again.
Harry, sensing Thomas' discomfort, tried to start a conversation to ease the tension in the air. "So...what do you guys do for fun around here? Are there any boating lakes, or racing tracks, or nightclubs?"
Thomas looked at Harry incredulously. "I don't think I'm the right person to ask about leisurely pursuits, sir. I only get one day off a month, and I usually spend that catching up on all the things I haven't had time to do during the month. Lady Rose might be a better companion for that sort of thing."
"Lady Rose? Is that the kid? The one with the curly blonde hair?" Asked Harry, holding his arms out for Thomas to put on his jacket.
Thomas found it amusing that the lady who Harry appeared to fawn over on meeting was being referred to as 'the kid'.
"Yes, sir. She is a proper nightclub regular, or so Lady Edith would have the family believe." The conversation allowed Thomas to relax as he put on Harry's jacket and fastened it. "Not that Yorkshire is the place for nightclubs. You'd need to go to London for that sort of thing."
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Hmm. She's a bit young for me. Normally I prefer them old enough to wipe their own nose!"
Thomas did not have a response to this, other than to dust down Harry's jacket as he looked at himself in the mirror. Looking at Harry's reflection, he could see that Harry wasn't looking at himself; he was looking at Thomas, as the two of them stood there, side-by-side.
"And what about you, Barrow? Do you have a lady in your life? One of the maids, perhaps?" Harry inquired, studying Thomas' face to gauge his reaction to this question.
Thomas tried to hide his shock at the thought of having a relationship with a woman, let alone a maid. "No, sir, I don't. Haven't met the right person yet." And probably never will in this job, he thought.
Harry narrowed his eyes at Thomas' careful use of the word 'person', and not 'woman'. "Me neither, Barrow. But there's hope for us yet, I'm sure. Am I ready?"
Thomas stepped back and viewed Harry, standing there dressed for dinner. "You're ready. I trust you know how to find the drawing room?"
"Yes, thank you Barrow," said Harry, smiling at Thomas. "Oh, and Barrow?" He said as Thomas headed to the door.
"I'm glad I decided to use your services as a valet. It has been very informative, thank you."
Thomas left the room, a little confused by Harry's final statement. How exactly had it been 'informative'? Either way, he was glad to be out of the room. Harry's presence was intoxicating, and although he didn't much like the American when he arrived, there was something about him that he was inexplicably drawn to.
Carson had told Thomas he wasn't needed at dinner, which he welcomed with relief. It gave him a couple of hours away from Harry, to gather his thoughts, and most importantly, smoke – something he always did to help him think. Tonight, however, nothing in his thoughts made any sense.
How can a man I don't even LIKE make me feel so, I don't know, flustered? Thomas Barrow does not DO flustered. Not any more. Not since Jimmy. And DEFINITELY not by a ridiculously over-the-top American. What was he playing at, making suggestive remarks, and dare I say it, flirting, with me? Or are all American men like that? Maybe it's just his way of being friendly. Or is he trying to catch me out?
Thomas felt a slight panic rising in his chest.
Maybe Her Ladyship told him about me, and they're plotting to get rid of me! Maybe they've realised they don't need an under-butler, and this is all part of a plan to darken my name again! It wouldn't be too difficult, would it?
I've got to be careful, keep my distance. Ignore his flirtatious comments and piercing stares. That shouldn't be too difficult for a professional like me.
Feeling a bit better, Thomas threw down his cigarette and stamped on it with vigour.
But...why does he have to be so damn attractive?
Thomas groaned, closing his eyes. How was he going to manage a whole month of valeting Harry Levinson?
In the dining room, dinner was in full swing. Jimmy, as first footman, was taking round the fish; Alfred following with the sauce, something he clearly resented. Harry was talking animatedly about his latest yacht race, which he had won, of course; Rose was hanging off his every word, her tinkling laugh irritating Mary immensely.
"And then, at the last moment, I sped past him in his teeny tiny boat, and beat the lot of them by a hundred yards at least!" Harry punched the air triumphantly, much to the Dowager Countess' disgust. She had thought that no-one would be as brash as Martha Levinson; clearly, for the first time she could remember in a long while, she was wrong.
"Oh, well done Uncle Harry!" Exclaimed Rose, clapping like an intoxicated seal. Jimmy stifled a grin at the charade in front of him as he bent down to serve Rose the fish. If anyone knew what artificial flirting looked like, it was Jimmy. He had managed to fool Ivy, and even Thomas – although he hadn't meant to, in that instance. There was no way on Earth that Harry Levinson was interested in Lady Rose in the slightest. Alfred and he exited the room, making their way down to the kitchen to collect the next course. Robert took advantage of their absence to talk to Harry.
"So, Harry – how are you getting on with Barrow as your valet? I hope he is up to standard!" Robert asked politely, wondering how Harry received having someone to dress him.
"Yes, he most definitely is, Robert!" Said Harry, taking a swig of his wine. "He certainly knows his stuff!"
"Well, one would hope so. He did act as my valet for several months whilst my man was...away..." Robert didn't want to announce that his valet had been imprisoned for murder, wrongly or not.
"I feel flattered that you should entrust him to me, in that case! He's very good at his job!" Said Harry.
Robert scratched his chin. "Yes, he is indeed good at his job. Although...it always did feel a little odd to be dressed by...oh, I don't know what the correct term is these days..." He lowered his voice. "...someone who bats for the other team, to put it in cricket terms!"
"Oh!" Responded Harry, setting down his glass. "I see!"
Robert surveyed Harry apologetically. "Sorry, Harry – it's not going to be a problem, is it? Barrow's preferences? If you like, I can offer you one of our footmen to be your valet. It makes no difference to me!"
"Not at all, Robert! I don't think it should be a problem, although I am a little startled, of course. Are you sure? About Barrow, I mean?" Harry wondered how Robert had come by this information. He couldn't imagine Thomas blurting it out in front of his employers.
"Well, I suppose we've always known, really. Sometimes you just get that gut feeling about a man."
"Ah, so you don't know it for sure? It's just a feeling?" Harry was surprised that Robert appeared to make a habit of guessing his servants' sexual preferences.
"Well...yes and no. We always had an idea, but last year...we had a bit of an incident...let's just say our thoughts were confirmed for us. But Barrow was a good footman, and is an excellent under-butler. Who are we to refuse him a job on the basis of something he cannot choose?" Robert said in hushed tones. Although several of the family members knew about the incident, he didn't want to refresh the episode in their minds. His mother didn't know, of course.
"Robert, I think that's very tolerant of you. Such acceptance is admirable for someone in your position. Don't worry about Barrow attending to me – I AM an American, after all. I've seen a lot of things that would make your hair curl!" Harry smiled, patting Robert on the back to show how much he respected his host.
Robert returned the smile awkwardly, glancing at the spot on his shoulder where Harry was clapping his hand. Harry, seeing Robert's obvious discomfort at the contact, continued hastily.
"And after all, if Barrow is of that persuasion, it leaves more of the gorgeous ladies for us hot-blooded men, doesn't it?" He laughed, earning him a look of disdain from his brother-in-law.
So, I was right about Barrow after all, Harry thought triumphantly. I knew it!
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Next one will be up within the next couple of days!