Thank you Nell for having me as your guest today! I’m Ellie Thomas, and I write Historical Gay Romance. In this blog, I’m chatting about The Thrill of the Chase, my January release for JMS Books.
Perhaps because I write of times gone by, I tend to base my stories in familiar places. This helps me get my facts (and street names) correct! As I went to school in the beautiful Regency town of Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire’s famous Cotswolds, it seemed an ideal story setting. I was only waiting for the right characters to come to mind for a light-hearted Regency romance.
When shy country gentleman Adrian Lethbridge popped into my head, he seemed the perfect foil for dashing Captain Ransome and the comedy of manners that ensued in their romantic miscommunications. The spa resort of Cheltenham seemed a perfect backdrop for their story. So as the characters and their relationship developed, my research began in earnest.
I had already decided to set my story in 1813, not realising the town was relatively undeveloped at this point. I was interested to discover that the iconic Regency terraces only began to spring up in the 1820s after the end of the Napoleonic wars. This building boom transformed Cheltenham into a fashionable destination to rival nearby Bath. As Nell will know from kindly hosting my previous guest blogs, I can’t resist a book or three to help my knowledge of an era and area!
I managed to source a local history book, Cheltenham Before The Spa by Alex Craven and Beth Hartland, part of the Victoria History of Gloucestershire series. This beautifully illustrated volume took me back to when popular Regency districts such as Montpelier and Pittville were green fields. Before poring through this book, I hadn’t known that up until the early 19th century, the entire town huddled along the lengthy High Street with the open River Chelt flowing through the centre. A lovely quote from 1834 completes the picture of a sleepy settlement. ‘There is an individual who remembers the violets growing, and the horses grazing in the High Street.’ Despite already being a popular destination, this is a far cry from the grandeur of fashionable Cheltenham following the building spree!
Rather than have my couple inhabiting elegantly paved streets with tall stuccoed buildings, I could imagine Adrian and Guy walking down the leafy Well Walk to Bayshill Spa or stepping back from the High Street to the quiet churchyard of St. Mary’s to steal a kiss. This information helped me picture a greener, smaller and older Cheltenham that felt like the perfect setting for my couple.
I was also lucky enough to stumble across a website called Cheltonia. This fantastic project by longtime Cheltenham resident and graphic designer, Rebsie Fairholm, is not only a superb resource but a personal mission. I found the range of images and facts so fascinating that I had to drag myself back onto the relevant History of the Spa page. Over the years, Rebsie has put together an eclectic selection of architectural photos, ranging from gracious villas, old street signs, delicate wrought-iron balconies and even grates and coal holes!
Both the website and the book helped create vivid images as I imagined Adrian and Guy’s first meeting at an assembly; their instant attraction, followed by miscommunication before reaching a romantic understanding. I could see their emerging love story taking place in the bustling, overcrowded country town that was yet to evolve into the Cheltenham we know today.
Adrian Lethbridge temporarily exchanges his quiet country home in leafy Dorset for fashionable Regency Cheltenham to support his aunt as she introduces her three daughters into polite society. As he is fond of his younger cousins, Adrian is happy to escort them and even bestow advice on fashion and manners as they attract new friends and admirers. But the last thing he expects is to make a match of his own.
When he meets handsome Captain Guy Ransome at an evening assembly, he is overwhelmed by his unexpected feelings and can’t believe that they might be reciprocated. However, Guy seems more interested in the thrill of passing pleasure than a meeting of hearts and minds.
In the heat of the chase, Guy impatiently regards Adrian’s hesitance as time-wasting game playing, not realising that his tried and tested seduction techniques send shy Adrian fleeing in the opposite direction. Can these contrasting characters reach a romantic compromise? And will the hunter discover his heart has been caught after all?
As his aunt was engaged in conversation and his other two cousins were still dancing, Adrian took the opportunity to quench his thirst before he was hailed again as a default dance partner. There no servers hovering nearby, so he was working his way towards the refreshment table through the knots of bystanders when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
He turned to see the elegant gentleman holding another glass of champagne and wearing that worldly-wise expression that made his heart thump and his stomach turn over simultaneously.
“It’s freshly poured,” the gentleman said helpfully, “As you were, er, commandeered at short notice, I finished the remainder for you before it grew flat. I thought you might require another.”
“Thank you,” Adrian said, taking the glass and several much-needed sips.
The gentleman continued to peruse him with that mocking expression. “You seem to be very popular with the ladies,” he said ironically, as though reading Adrian’s most secret desires.
Don’t blush, don’t blush, Adrian ordered his rebellious complexion in vain.
“Those young ladies are my cousins,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster.
“Charming, I’m sure,” the gentleman uttered politely.
“They are sometimes,” Adrian said and then instantly felt disloyal.
The man looked at him as though guessing his thoughts, and his smile deepened.
“As we are on drinking terms already, may I ask your name?” The gentleman said smoothly, causing Adrian to curse his gauche lack of manners.
“Yes, of course. It’s Lethbridge. Adrian Lethbridge of Dorset.”
Before he could ask in return, the pert waiter appeared before them with a full tray. Adrian squeezed his empty vessel into a space and took another, sensing that the gentleman had already reached an understanding with the fleeting object of his desire, given the discreetly flirtatious attention the attendant was affording him.
With a final coy glance, loitering for as long as he dared, the server progressed to the next group of thirsty dancers, allowing the gentleman to survey his behind with deliberate appreciation. The man glanced back towards Adrian. Correctly interpreting Adrian’s awareness of that telling glimpse, he smiled, his eyes gleaming with sudden heat.
Utterly unperturbed, the gentleman said, “It’s always agreeable to have one’s late evening’s entertainment lined up. You can join us if you are so inclined? It’s always more fun to share.”
Adrian gaped at this outrageous suggestion in disbelief and was engulfed with torrid emotion. Despite the correct assumption about his tastes, he knew for his safety he should immediately deny any interest. After all, it was dangerous to be different, and any sensible man, especially one drawn to other men should be icily indignant at such presumption from a stranger.
But rather than being consumed with disgust or rage, Adrian’s main emotion was envy of the gentleman’s ease in his skin and his preferences, together with the overt sexual experience that he wore as casually as his perfectly-fitted clothes.
Allied with that was a disturbing spike of jealousy, images of what might happen between the waiter and the gentleman ripping through his mind, paralysing all coherent thought. This was the first time he had reacted so strongly to any man, let alone a new acquaintance and in a public ballroom. Adrian was aroused, horrified, mortified, and completely out of his depth.
He could not utter a word, his mouth gaping open like a trout. His distress and confusion were so apparent that the gentleman’s knowing grin began to transform into a frown.
He felt a gentle hand on his elbow and gladly looked towards the interruption. Never had he been so glad to see his cousin Julia.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said with a curtsey towards the gentleman, unaware of any tension between the two men. “Adrian, could I trouble you for another dance? Mama says we must leave soon.”
“Of course, Julia,” Adrian said, trying to keep the relief out of his voice. Avoiding meeting those treacherous stormy eyes that would no doubt find his unnerved response vastly entertaining, he gave a brief bow and walked away, feeling like he had escaped a terrifying fate. As he passed, Adrian half-made out the purring words, “Farewell, little rabbit. I will see you anon.”
Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.
Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.