An excerpt from Lord and Master 2: Taking Work Home

Later that afternoon, Steven and Mark go round the garden with Steven's father:

Steven brushed his hand gently over the potted herbs, releasing a cloud of scent even in the cool greenhouse. "Wish I could grow ones like this."

Mr Frost patted a row of small pots of cuttings. "I'll keep doing you ones small enough for a month or two on the kitchen windowsill."

Steven picked up a pot and turned it, inspecting the small plant. "I appreciate it, Dad."

"Come round to the potting shed. I didn't quite get done this morning; you can help me do the last few of this batch."

"I'll stay here for a bit," Mark said. There wasn't a lot of room in the potting shed, and Steven might want some time alone with his father. Or vice versa. And he was happy to look at the greenhouse plants by himself for a few minutes.

"It won't take long," Mr Frost said.

It didn't, although when Mr Frost came back, he was alone. "Just remembered the wife asked for some herbs for the dinner. Steven will finish up for me." He deftly cut a few sprigs here and there, selecting them so as to prune the bushes and leave them looking nice. "Sorry about Leonard. They've known each other since they were children, and sometimes they still behave as if the last forty years never happened."

"Don't worry. I've had plenty of practice at ignoring comments like that, I'm afraid." He held out his hand for the pruning shears. "I'll clean those for you."

"Thanks, lad." Mr Frost handed him the shears and left.

Mark picked up the cloth lying handy and wiped the blades clean of sap, inspected them for any dirt, then wiped the oil rag over the surfaces to restore the protective coating. He'd just laid the shears on the tool shelf when he heard Leonard's voice, right behind him.

"Cosying up to the old man?"

Oh, dear. "Just being helpful."

"You do a lot of that, don't you? Come on. What's your game with Steven?"

He turned round to face Leonard. "It's no game, Leonard."

Leonard raised an eyebrow at him. "You're not going to tell me it's none of my business?"

"No. Because you do have an interest in Steven's business." Though no claim in his own right, any more than Mark did. "Or at least your wife and children do." Time to get to the point of this unwanted conversation. "But you don't have a veto over Steven's relationships just because you expect to have a stake in his company if anything happens to him."

"You're remarkably honest about your interest in Steven's business affairs."

"I'm remarkably used to people assuming that's my interest in Steven's business affairs. And I have to take a professional interest -- one part of my job that I hope I never have to do is dealing with the consequences if anything happens to Steven. Now if you'll excuse me…" He pushed past Leonard. "Don't forget to close the door to the greenhouse when you're done."

"I haven't finished talking to you, boy." Leonard followed him and grabbed his arm when he didn't stop walking towards the potting shed. "Do you really think you have any real influence over him?"

Leonard's grip on his arm was hard enough to hurt a little, and Mark was no longer in the mood to be diplomatic. "Yes."

"Oh, we'll see how much influence you really have, I think."

Steven came out of the potting shed, dusting potting soil from his hands and looking annoyed. "Stop manhandling my partner."

"I don't particularly want to manhandle your toyboy." Leonard didn't so much let go of his arm as push him away. "I'm sure he gets quite enough of that from you."

Steven strode over and put his arm around Mark, rubbing gently at Mark's arm where Leonard had grabbed it. "Leonard, this is supposed to be a family dinner. Drop it."

"And he's part of the family now."

"That is the general idea, yes."

"Really? Look at you, Steven! You've never managed to keep a serious boyfriend longer than a year. And now you're besotted with the secretary half your age, like any other middle-aged idiot looking for his lost youth." Leonard raked Mark with a contemptuous glance. "Sorry, your research assistant. At least you haven't dumped a wife for him, but do you really think it's you he's interested in? And even if he is, how long's it going to last? When's he going to get fed up with living with your ego and wander off? With alimony, of course."

"And that's what you're worried about, isn't it, Leonard?" Steven said, very softly. "Well, remember this. My company, my choice as to what to do with it."

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