It’s 1751, and Kit Webb is a retired highwayman—essentially a pirate who worked roadways rather than the high seas, with the same implication of both danger and dashingness—trying to run his London coffee house in peace, even though it’s making him bored out of his mind. Cat Sebastian’s latest historical romance, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, kicks off when in walks trouble itself in the form of the aristocrat Percy, Lord Holland, who needs help plotting the highway robbery of his own father. Romance, obviously, ensues. It’s a book for everybody who has a bad day at work and thinks of when Hugh Grant turns to Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility and quips: “Perhaps Margaret is right—piracy is our only option.” In this scene, Kit and Percy are scouting a potential robbery site when things get steamy.
The road hadn’t changed much in the past year, and Kit managed to get to the copse of trees he remembered without falling off his hired horse, so he was mightily pleased with himself. He would have been more pleased if he could have managed to ride the horse at a pace faster than a slow walk, and he would have been happier still if Percy hadn’t noticed, but he’d take what he could get.
“Find a tree where we can hitch the horses,” Kit said after Percy dismounted. As soon as Percy’s back was turned, Kit began the slow and awkward process of sliding off his horse. He managed to do it without falling on his arse, so he was counting that as yet another victory.
“What we want to do,” Kit said, after the horses were secured, “is find a place where we can see the road but stay hidden. Do you see that bend? That’s bloody perfect. It’s fucking gorgeous.” He grinned at Percy and found the other man looking at him with a slightly dazed expression.
“Gorgeous,” Percy echoed.
“Look at the road, not at me. Listen,” Kit said, as he heard the sounds of approaching hoofbeats. He pulled Percy behind a tree. Percy was wearing clothing that looked almost startlingly normal—no high-necked leather jerkins, no silk coats the color of hothouse flowers—so they’d have some camouflage. During the actual holdup, they’d have to do something about his hair. As it was, it caught too much light.
“Now,” Kit went on, leaning in so his mouth was close to Percy’s ear, “as the carriage rounds the bend, you can see it for a full ten seconds before they see you. That gives you time to get into the road and into position before they can draw weapons. You and whoever we hire—Tom, most likely—will stand in the road. The sniper—I have the name of an archer who does tricks at fairs—”
“An archer?” Percy repeated. “Isn’t that a bit theatrical? Why use a bow and arrow rather than a rifle?”
“Better aim. And quieter.”
“All right,” Percy said doubtfully.
“Anyway, she’ll be in the tree.”
“In the tree?” Percy repeated.
“In a tree, she can hide and also get a clear shot, and if she’s in a good position, she can see down the road in both directions and let you know if another carriage is approaching.” He could see it clearly in his mind and felt his blood sing with anticipation as the carriage approached. “One, two, three, and there. That’s where you step into the road and call out. You and Tom first take the weapons, then the valuables. Half a minute, that’s your goal.”
The carriage rattled along the road, around the bend and out of sight.
“I thought we weren’t going to be shooting at anybody,” said Percy, who was evidently still caught up on the archer.
“She’s insurance.” Percy remained silent. “I told you not to waste my time or your own if you weren’t willing to hurt people,” Kit said.
“I know, I know. I’m just . . . readjusting my principles.”
“You’re doing what, now?”
Percy bit his lip and looked like he was searching for words. Kit had never known the man to have anything less than five dozen words at the tip of his tongue. “Well, before all this started,” he began, and Kit assumed “all this” was whatever had incited him to hire Kit, “I never really thought of myself as a particularly good person or a bad person, but I assumed I had to be at least slightly good. I carried on in the way things were always done. Comme il faut, just like everybody else.” He shot Kit a wry look. “In which ‘everybody else’ is people like me, of course. This was the natural order of things, you understand. One doesn’t steal from one’s father or endanger the lives of coachmen.” He swallowed. “But what I’m doing is right, in its own way, or at least it isn’t wholly wrong. It’s doing right by the people I care about, and if I can manage to pull this off properly, I’ll prevent a good deal of harm.”
Kit watched him. He had rather assumed that Percy’s goal was revenge, which was a good enough reason, as far as Kit cared. But he found that he wasn’t terribly surprised to find that there was more to it.
“In any event,” Percy went on, “what I had thought were principles were merely manners, and they’re utterly insufficient for my present circumstances. I keep running into information that makes me have to sort of reorganize everything in my brain. You know when you get a new book, you have to slide everything on your shelf over to accommodate it?” He seemed to remember who he was talking to and huffed out a laugh. “Of course you don’t. You just jam the new book in there helter-skelter. I’ve seen the state of your shelves. Sensible people, however, attempt to maintain order.”
Kit had the dizzying sense that Percy would get on well with Rob, of all people. They shared the same flexible understanding of right and wrong. Kit had never really questioned that stealing was wrong; Rob had always thought it was perfectly fine, if done for the right reasons, but Rob was a madman.
Percy evidently took Kit’s silence for disagreement. “I see that I’ve shocked you,” he said slowly, his eyes searching Kit’s face. “Was I supposed to say that I think we’re very bad men?”
Kit laughed, some combination of amusement and relief—although relief at what, he could not quite say—bubbling up inside him. “No,” he said, and then his hand was on Percy’s jaw. “It’s just that sometimes, you actually make sense. A man’s allowed to be shocked.” The words came out stupidly tender, an impression that was probably only compounded by the thing his thumb was doing to Percy’s cheekbone. He was afraid it was a caress, that he was actually caressing Lord Holland. Lord Holland who had made an argument for the virtues of crime, Lord Holland who was Percy, who maybe thought Kit wasn’t so bad—
He wasn’t sure which of them moved first to close the gap, but that was a lie because it was definitely Kit, it was definitely, lamentably Kit who put his hand to the back of Percy’s head and held it there very carefully when he leaned closer. He moved slowly, carefully, as if giving Percy a chance to think twice.
His hand slid into Percy’s hair at the same moment their lips met. It felt familiar—not the brush of lips over lips, not the fact that he thought Percy might actually be smiling—but everything else. The way their bodies fit together. The sound of Percy’s breathing. The way he smelled like lemons and soap. The sure grasp of his hand at Kit’s hip. All the fighting had made them familiar with one another’s bodies, and God knew they were used to wanting one another, so the only thing that was different was the actual fact of their mouths touching, the pure sensation of it.
And Percy was smiling, damn him. Kit could feel it with his own lips. It was probably that smug little smile that Kit really shouldn’t like half so much, and Kit was going to tell him to stop it, he really was, and that was why he opened his mouth. He got distracted by Percy’s teeth closing around Kit’s lower lip and biting down, not particularly gently. Kit gasped, like an idiot, like someone who needed to have the mechanics of kissing and possibly the anatomy of mouths explained to him, maybe with charts.
Percy licked into Kit’s mouth, and that was when Kit realized he wasn’t in charge of this kiss, not in the slightest. And that was good, but it was also like falling out a window, so he backed Percy up against a very conveniently located tree. He kept his hand at the back of Percy’s head, so he didn’t get hurt. Percy grabbed Kit’s hat and threw it to the ground. “In the way,” he muttered against Kit’s mouth, as if Kit needed an explanation, as if Kit gave a damn about hats, or anything that wasn’t Percy’s mouth.
Their bodies were flush against one another, and Kit was simultaneously relieved and embarrassed to discover that they were both hard. He felt like he ought to be cataloging all the ways this was different from kissing a woman, but it wasn’t, really. Not in any of the ways that mattered. He thought that he might be on the verge of some kind of profound revelation when Percy slid a leg between his own, and all Kit’s thoughts evaporated, only to be replaced by the finally, finally, finally that his heart seemed to say with every thumping beat.
From THE QUEER PRINCIPLES OF KIT WEBB by Cat Sebastian, published by Avon Books. Copyright © 2021 by Cat Sebastian. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers