Thank you so much, lovely Nell, for having me as your guest again. I’m Ellie Thomas, I write MM Historical Romance, and I’m here today to chat about Coming of Age, my November release for JMS Books.
In my first book in this series, Twelve Letters, my ensemble cast was relatively footloose and fancy-free. The established relationship at the start of the story was the platonic friendship between Jo Everett and Captain Ben Harding, who are as close as brothers. Their long-term rapport is the attraction of opposites, as Jo is infinitely easygoing. Even before his life-changing injury during the Napoleonic Wars, Ben was more of an outspoken and fiery character. During Twelve Letters, it takes all of Jo’s tact and careful handling to open Ben’s mind to the possibility of falling in love with Doctor Edward Stephens rather than shooting him.
During Twelve Letters and its sequel Queer Relations, our ensemble has consolidated and romantic relationships are forged, so it’s not surprising the storylines of Coming of Age encompass family and found family.
This small group of gay men is very much a found family, protective of each other at a period when gay relationships were illegal and punished severely by law. Although they are a diverse group, they are supportive of each other and can relax and be themselves when they meet once a week in a private upper room at The Golden Lion pub in St. James’ where no one amongst them raises an eyebrow at a show of public affection.
However, families can be less understanding. Edward’s father is convinced that Ben is holding back his son’s promising career in medicine as an over-demanding exclusive patient, which puts both Edward and Ben under strain.
Surprisingly, it’s Percy (Jo’s eminently selfish ex-lover from book 1) who suffers the most family woes. Due to a spectacular family scandal, Percy underwent social disgrace in Queer Relations. In doing so, he recognised the value of his relationship with Nathan as he started to mature and consider other people for a change, especially his younger sisters.
In Coming of Age, Percy’s heartstrings are pulled as he realises his protective and caring capacity goes far beyond what he ever expected and makes a life-changing decision regarding his three sisters. Of course, being Percy there is a great deal of heel-dragging, drama and snapping, mainly at the invariably understanding Nathan. So, in this third tale, the emotional storylines develop and relationships of all kinds intensify.
After the London Season of 1815, having guided his younger sister Eustacia through her come out despite the social impact of a disastrous family scandal, Percy Havilland is at a loose end. Accustomed to being spoiled and generally admired, although still wealthy, he is shunned by most of the ton. Also, he discovers that he misses looking after his sister now she’s returned to the family estate in Sussex. Taking his frustrations out on Nathaniel Brooks, his long-suffering lover, only makes Percy more uncertain about his future.
Also, Percy’s good friend Jo Everett is having his own problems, thwarted in his dearest wish to share a home with the love of his life, Daniel Walters, a hardworking Bond Street tailor. And the final couple in the ensemble, Captain Ben Harding and Dr Edward Stephens realises the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly.
Can this society of gentlemen solve their romantic dilemmas to their satisfaction? And might Percy, with a birthday looming, surprise himself by opening up to love?
In between dances with his hostess’ daughters, Jo could not help but witness a complementary series of moves around the edge of the ballroom as the night progressed.
He had arranged to arrive with Percy, well aware that despite Percy’s formal invitation and the good graces of a favoured guest in Mrs. Dalrymple, walking into a crowded salon alone could be an isolating experience where those who wished to be disparaging would take full advantage. Jo’s presence was a welcome buffer, and it was no hardship for him to ensure a cordial start to the evening.
Naturally, the two men separated as the music commenced, with both of them engaged on the dance floor. Mrs. Southerby was not only financially generous towards the soldiers’ charity that Jo oversaw, but also showed great interest in helping in several practical ways, so Jo felt duty bound to demonstrate his gratitude by squiring her numerous female relatives for the remainder of the soirée.
Without such pressing obligations, Percy could afford to pause from dancing and bow out for a set or two. Halfway through the evening, from his position in the centre of the ballroom, Jo noticed Nathan’s entrance during one such refreshment break. Uh-oh, he thought as Nathan perceived Percy immediately, his rough-hewn features hardening into a scowl.
Percy, with his back to the door where Nathan had entered, was engaged in a lengthy conversation with the amiable Mrs. Dalrymple, his great supporter, who enjoyed nothing so much as an extensive and harmless flirtation with a gorgeous young man in a public setting. Jo was too occupied with guiding a somewhat wayward and chatty dance partner through her steps to gather the precise moment when Percy became aware that his disgruntled lover was present.
To an unpractised eye, it would seem as though Percy was entirely oblivious of Nathan for a full quarter-hour, but Jo had been at the receiving end of Percy’s games sufficiently to recognise some small but telling signs. In the old days, before Percy became involved with Nathan, Jo surmised as he twirled yet another young lady, Percy would have openly played the coquet with several of his most avid admirers to arouse jealousy or ardour in the breast of his current paramour.
Although Percy’s coterie had diminished somewhat with his family’s fall from grace, he would still be able to gather a circle of potential suitors had he so wished, but genuine attachment had modified his strategies. So Percy alternated between squiring ladies onto the dance floor before returning to exchange a few more words with his hostess or Mrs. Dalrymple. Nathan, who was not disposed to dance, and was much vaunted for his financial and business prowess, was talking in a quiet corner with other serious-minded gentlemen.
Jo could not help but notice how, apparently artlessly, Percy orbited closer, casually selecting dance partners in ever-decreasing circles to Nathan’s proximity. Once they were within touching distance, instead of confrontation or apology, there was a teasing glance, just a flash of those glorious blue eyes directed at Nathan. The next occasion warranted a delicate half-smile revealing a hint of a dimple.
Depending on the prowess of his current dance partner, Jo watched this progress with fascination as Nathan’s forbidding expression subtly softened at each circuit until Percy’s careful choreography drew them together. By the time Jo consumed a well-deserved glass of punch and discreetly mopped his brow with his handkerchief, the previously warring duo was standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Percy tilted his golden head winningly as he uttered a bon mot that made Nathan smile in genuine amusement, all annoyance forgotten.
Jo was unsure whether to be impressed or appalled at Percy’s scheming ways and his ability to manipulate the most clear-thinking and hard-headed fellow from a state of severe exasperation to pliable putty.
He wasn’t remotely surprised when shortly afterwards, Percy prettily made his excuses to his hostess, with Nathan taking his leave after a decent interval of a full five minutes. So neither of them will suffer a lonely night, Jo thought with a grin. All’s well that ends well. That is, until the next spat.
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.