By Margaret Price
“I really don’t think this is a good idea,” Klaus said for what seemed the hundredth time. He was perfectly content having his relationship with the Earl remain as it was, known only to their respective teams. His men had taken the announcement surprisingly well, Klaus had thought. They were intelligence, for crying out loud. They must’ve suspected something, and the announcement only served to validate what they already knew.
The reactions of Eroica’s men were mixed to say the least. James had a minor breakdown, Bonham had gone into hiding for a short time, and various others had kept out of the Major’s way until they were certain he would not shoot them on sight.
Now Eroica was insisting that their respective families should be told. Not a problem with the Earl. His family had known what he was for decades. Klaus’s father, on the other hand, would not be pleased, to say the very least. He wanted to put off telling the old man for as long as possible, say…forever.
“It’s just a formality,” Dorian replied with a sigh. He was standing in front of a full length mirror, preening himself. In fact, he had been doing this for nearly half an hour, which signaled to Klaus that he was just as uncomfortable with the idea of facing his mother and three sisters as the officer was. Perhaps even more so. “I have to designate which of my nephews will be the next Earl of Gloria, so they have to at least be civil to me until I do that.”
Klaus gave a derisive snort and silently thanked God that he had no siblings. Then a thought struck him when he realized he had no idea how many heirs the Earl actually had, so he asked.
Dorian turned, an enormous grin on his face. “Officially, four. Unofficially, five.”
“My mother disowned me because I wanted to be a thief and a pervert like my father,” Dorian said as he crossed the room. “She couldn’t take the idea of a scandal.” He giggled as he dropped into Klaus’s lap and started to play with his hair. “Then my sister Brenda—” His voice dropped to a whisper and he leaned close to Klaus’s ear as if there were others in the room who might hear. “—got herself in trouble.” He threw his head back and gave a delighted laugh as he recalled the upheaval this caused in the family. “To my mother’s further irritation, Brenda’s son is the eldest. A bastard, the rightful heir!”
Klaus’s eyes widened. “Scheiße!” In his country, titles no longer meant anything. This was not the case in Britain.
“Talk about scandal!” Dorian said as he continued to giggle. “Mother all but disowned poor Brenda. She did marry well in the end, but I’ve still been helping raise the boy.”
Klaus’s eyebrows went up. “You?”
“Oh! Not in the paternal sense! Can you imagine me changing diapers? Ugh, no, thank you.” Dorian shuddered at the thought. “I mean financially.”
“And your stingy bug doesn’t object?”
“That is one area in which he is not allowed to voice an opinion.”
Klaus did not even attempt to hide his amazement. Then he thought about what the day was going to bring, and frowned. Dorian could not help grinning at the dark look on his lover’s face and he threw his arms around his neck, kissing him passionately on the mouth.
Klaus had to struggle to break the embrace. “Dorian, we don’t have time for that! Your mother and sisters will be here—” He broke off when the sound of a car pulling up the drive came through the open window. “Now.”
* * *
Dorian waited until Bonham came to get them before going to the drawing room. His mother was as cool and aloof as ever. He was surprised to see only two of his three sisters present.
“Where’s Brenda?” Dorian asked as he entered the room, knowing this would irritate his mother. He was not disappointed when he received a cold glare from her. She seemed surprised that he did not flinch as he had done when he was much younger. You have nothing on the Major, Mother. He can melt iron with his glare.
“You know perfectly well why your sister isn’t here,” Lady Gloria replied coolly.
“No, I don’t, actually. I asked everyone here today,” Dorian said caustically.
Before his mother could think of a suitable come back, the woman in question was shown in by Bonham. Dorian noticed that she seemed extremely uncomfortable being there with their mother present and he gave her his most enchanting smile.
“Brenda, you look absolutely stunning today,” Dorian said happily as he gave his sister an enormous hug, going on to irritate his mother further by planting a quick peck on her cheek. “I’m so pleased that you came.”
There was a loud harrumph from Lady Gloria in response to this. “Well, we’re here, Dorian,” she said stiffly. “Where’s this…man you want us to meet?”
Dorian’s eyes flickered at the way she had pointedly stressed “man” in her statement. His mother was obviously expecting one of his usual fluffy pretty boys. Boy, are you in for a surprise. He looked up at Bonham, who was waiting patiently at the door. “Bonham, please tell—”
“No need,” Klaus said as he stepped through the door, looking every inch his imposing self in a three-piece suit and tie. He took in the assembled Gloria women and was struck at how much they resembled one another. Dorian obviously favored his mother’s side of the family, although the woman who was undoubtedly his mother had harder lines around her eyes and seemed to have an expression that was set in stone. He could not help thinking that this woman and his father would get on splendidly.
Dorian’s face lit up the way it always did when he saw the love of his life. He held out a hand as Klaus drew nearer. “Mother, this is the man I wanted you to meet. Major Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach. Klaus, my mother, the dowager Lady Gloria.”
Klaus noticed the angry look Dorian received at the title of “dowager.” It was obvious from her expression that he was not what she was expecting. He also noticed that she did not extend her hand. He gave a slight bow in response. “Lady Gloria.”
“Major,” Lady Gloria repeated with a distinct edge of distaste. She turned to her son with raised eyebrows. “A military man. And German. I’m not surprised. You and Brenda…”
“Klaus is with NATO intelligence, Mother,” Dorian cut in before his mother could make any disparaging remarks about the Major’s homeland and start a war right there in the drawing room. Then he turned, introducing his sisters to the Major.
Klaus greeted each of the women politely, taking particular note of how uncomfortable both Dorian and Brenda seemed under their mother’s disapproving gaze. After a few minutes, the announcement for lunch came and the group moved to the dining room.
During lunch, Klaus was not surprised at how easily Dorian manipulated his mother into talking about the current society gossip. She had taken the seat at the head of the table, her daughters on one side of the table, Dorian and Klaus opposite. Two of the Earl’s sisters freely joined in as their mother prattled on, while Brenda only spoke when asked anything directly. Klaus found his eyes drawn to her again and again. She reminded him very strongly of someone he had encountered a very long time ago, before he transferred to NATO.
“Two days in Hamburg! What are you gonna do on leave, Klaus?” someone had asked as the bus full of soldiers came to a stop.
“He’ll go to the museum and look at the machines!” another called, causing the group to laugh.
Klaus responded with a snort. “I’m gonna see if you’re right about them having the best beer in Germany.”
“You need to come to the beer festival for that!”
Klaus gave the man beside him a knowing look. “You are probably gonna look for the nearest brothel.”
“I told you he always has the best ideas!” the man replied with a laugh.
The soldiers piled off the bus and headed straight for the nearest bar, practically taking the place over. A two-day pass went quickly, and there wasn’t a moment to lose. Eventually, Klaus found himself at a table against the wall, sipping his beer and watching as his comrades got drunk and started to make fools of themselves.
When a group of inebriated locals started accosting a woman who seemed much too young, and much too inexperienced, to be in such an establishment, the equally inebriated soldiers took exception to the unchivalrous behavior. A brawl ensued. Klaus managed to extract the woman from the midst of the fray and found himself standing on the sidewalk with her.
“You shouldn’t be in a place like this,” he said calmly. He took in her tight fitting top and very short skirt, adding, “Especially dressed like that.”
“Look, soldier boy,” she replied. “I can take care of myself.”
Before Klaus could reply, the brawl spilled out into the street, and he instinctively pulled the woman aside to keep her from being flattened. They ended up pressed against the wall as the fight moved past. She was still clinging to him even after the danger had past and he turned to ask if she were alright. He saw her looking up at him in the way that women did when they had other things on their minds. Things that his friends were always bragging about. Things that he tried not to think about too often.
Somehow, he ended up in her hotel room. In her bed, doing the things he did not want to put words to. She was not like the women who had been foisted on him for as long as he could remember. She was foreign, which was even better, because she knew nothing of his lineage, nor did she care. He never told her his name, nor did he ask hers. She didn’t seem to care that he was inexperienced. In fact, at one point, she apologized to him for her own ineptitude. None of it seemed to matter to Klaus. She was just one of the very small number of women he had slept with as he struggled to determine where sex fit into his life. As time went by, he decided that the answer was nowhere, and he pushed the whole idea aside.
Then Eroica entered his life and caused the conflicting emotions to resurface all over again.
“Tell me, Brenda, have you ever been to Hamburg?” Klaus asked conversationally.
To his astonishment, the conversation stopped. Lady Gloria made a small strangled noise, dropping her fork noisily onto her plate and turning an accusing glare in Dorian’s direction. Klaus observed this in some bewilderment, along with the shocked expression on everyone’s faces. This was just one of the many reasons he hated social gatherings. His first instinct was to demand to know what the hell everyone was staring at? Instead, he said calmly, “I seem to have said the wrong thing.”
Dorian recovered first. “Klaus is from Germany, Mother,” he reminded mildly. “It was a perfectly innocent question.” Then he turned to Klaus with an apologetic expression on his face. “Brenda’s um, …encounter was in Hamburg.”
“What Dorian is trying to say is that’s where I got knocked up,” Brenda injected.
“Brenda!” Lady Gloria gasped.
“Oh, really, Mother,” Brenda sighed. “I’m sure Klaus has heard far worse things.”
Dorian’s eyes flickered and he exchanged a knowing look with the Major. Heard! He’s said far worse things.
Klaus sighed heavily and put a hand to his head. This was not going well at all and he wondered for the thousandth time how he had allowed himself to be talked into it.
“This isn’t the time or place to be discussing this,” Lady Gloria went on.
“Perhaps Klaus can track down you mysterious stranger,” one of Dorian’s other sisters chimed in in a very sarcastic tone.
“Elizabeth, you’re not helping,” Lady Gloria snapped.
“Well, he’s intelligence, isn’t he?” Elizabeth countered. Then she turned to Brenda, her taunting tone unchanged. “Just give him all the facts. How hard can it be to find what soldiers were on leave in Hamburg on one particular night? There must be records of that sort of thing. Aren’t Germans supposed to be fastidious record keepers?”
Klaus looked up sharply, his eyes growing wide. “Soldiers on leave?” he repeated.
Dorian’s eyes narrowed when he saw the appalled look on the Major’s face.
“When was this? The date?” Klaus asked sharply.
“See! I told you he could help,” Elizabeth said triumphantly.
Brenda gave Dorian a sideways glance, receiving a nod in reply. She drew a deep breath and gave the date of her encounter, seeing a very odd look come to the German’s face.
“The man,” Klaus said in a remarkably quiet voice. “Did he pull you out of a brawl in a bar?”
Brenda’s mouth dropped open. “How on earth could you know that?” she asked in a small voice. “I’ve never told…” Then she caught her breath as recognition registered on her face. A hand went to her mouth, her eyes growing wide. “Oh my God!”
“Klaus…?” Dorian said in a small voice. “Please, don’t tell me…”
Klaus turned his gaze in the disbelieving Dorian’s direction and nodded. “This will either kill my father, or make him delirious.”
* * *
Once the shock had worn off, Lady Gloria had insisted on having a paternity test performed, despite the fact that the more information Klaus and Brenda exchanged, the more obvious it became that he was the mysterious soldier she had encountered more than twenty years earlier.
Dorian wasn’t sure what to think. Klaus had told him of his handful of liaisons with women when he was struggling with his sexual identity. They were all just random encounters, nothing serious. Nothing permanent. Well, not until now. When the test results came back, they only verified what everyone already knew.
“Christ, Klaus,” Dorian said as he sat looking down at the paper. “Do you know what this means?”
“I believe I am keenly aware of what it means,” Klaus replied blandly. “Your nephew is my illegitimate son.”
Dorian looked up. “No, it means that you are the father of the next Earl of Gloria.”
“Scheiße!” Klaus closed his eyes and took a long drag from his cigarette. If this had happened before he and the Earl became lovers, he felt certain he would’ve killed himself. “It also means that there’s an heir to the Schloss.” He gave Dorian a piercing look. “Will the boy want it?”
“His name is Christopher, Klaus. You should probably get used to calling him that.”
Klaus put a hand to his head and closed his eyes again. “When is he supposed to arrive?”
Dorian glanced at a clock. “Within the hour, I expect. Brenda’s picking him up at the station.”
Klaus looked up sharply. “She did tell him what this is all about, I hope.”
“Yes, yes.” Dorian waved a hand in the air. “You needn't worry about Chris. He’s my favorite nephew.” He gave Klaus a sideways glance. “Now I know why.”
“Bloody pervert,” Klaus growled in mock disapproval. “Your own nephew…”
Dorian laughed. “Well, he does favor you in some ways, now that I actually think about it.”
Klaus’s eyes narrowed. “How?”
“His hair, for a start. He’s dark. Stands out like a sore thumb amongst all the blond Glorias.”
Klaus merely grunted in reply and continued to puff away on his cigarette.
“And he’s very serious. Singularly logical.” Dorian gave his lover a small smile. “Oh, and he’s straight.”
Klaus looked up, his eyes narrowing. “Are you mocking me, Dorian?”
“Not at all, my darling Major.” Dorian grinned unabashedly. “Chris has had his current girlfriend for nearly two years. She’s a lovely girl. Very open minded about his ridiculously eccentric and very gay Uncle.”
The smile on Dorian’s face widened. He crossed to the brooding German and dropped into his lap, wrapping his arms around his neck. “Have I told you today how much I love you, Klaus?” he said before he planted a kiss on his cheek.
Klaus reached up, absently stroking the Earl’s long blond curls, the brooding expression on his face unchanged. Within a year, he had admitted to himself that resisting the Earl’s advances was futile, allowed himself to be seduced, announced to his men that he and Eroica were lovers, met the Earl’s family, and suddenly learned he had a twenty year old son, whom he would be meeting for the first time within an hour. And he had yet to tell his father about any this!
The next thing Klaus knew, Brenda arrived and was being shown into the parlor along with a tall, dark young man who studied him with an intensity to rival his own. Klaus took particular note of the fact that the boy—no, that Christopher had eyes the color of his. His short dark hair had a slight curl to it, like his mother’s, but the dark green eyes were definitely his.
“Christopher,” Brenda said, breaking the silence, “Klaus Heinz von dem Eberbach.” She cleared her throat before adding, “Your father.”
Klaus watched the young man’s reaction, seeing his eyes flicker. Like himself, he gave nothing away and he found himself thinking how his own father would approve.
“Sir,” Christopher said coolly, “what am I to call you?”
“My men call me sir. Your Uncle calls me Klaus. I know I can’t handle father.” Klaus drew a deep breath. Major is out of the question. “I think we’ll both be more comfortable with Klaus.”
The young man nodded. “Klaus, then.”
Klaus held out a hand. “Christopher, it’s an honor to meet you.”
Christopher stood staring down at the outstretched hand, as if uncertain whether he should take it. Across the room, Dorian was dying inside. At times, his nephew could be just as unpredictable as Klaus, and the more he thought about it, the more he could not believe he had never noticed the similarities. Come on, Chris, remember your manners at least.
To Dorian’s immense relief, the young man shook Klaus’s hand. One hurdle down, he thought as Bonham came to announce lunch was served. Now how many hundred others were there to go?
When Chris learned that Klaus and the Major from NATO, whom he had heard about practically all his life, were one and the same, his manner changed entirely. His expression went from suspicious to awe. He asked if it would be alright to address Klaus as Major, much to the German’s surprise. Then the two discovered a mutual love of all things mechanical and got into an animated conversation about whether certain innovations were a good or bad thing.
Dorian exchanged a long-suffering look with his sister, who rolled her eyes. He leaned over, saying quietly, “And to think, I was actually worried.”
* * *
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, that’s right. Cliché #8 – Hero’s unknown adult child suddenly appears out of nowhere.