Thank you so much Nell for having me as your guest blogger today. I’m Ellie Thomas, I write MM Historical Romance and I’m dropping by today to chat about my new release for JMS Books’ Naughty or Nice Christmas call A Christmas Engagement.
When I chose Nice as my theme for this Regency-set Christmas story, I wanted that quality to embody one of my two main characters so that quality would shine through when all looked lost. Of course to engineer that, I had to cause a major crisis, so at the beginning of my story, my main characters Charles and Avery (my Mr Nice) are an established couple who have recently become estranged.
Although Charles is responsible for their separation, I didn’t want to make him undeserving of Avery’s goodness. Charles is off kilter and out of is depth due to the sudden illness and passing of his father. This loss causes for him (at least temporarily) to reject his longstanding partner.
As a man in his mid-twenties, Charles not only has full responsibility for running a working farm and estate but also the practical welfare of his mother and younger siblings to consider. So his sensation of being overwhelmed is understandable. He reasons that now he is the head of the family, he should marry to consolidate the family’s lasting security. This would be reasonable enough if not for the fact he’s gay and has been in an exclusive relationship with Avery since university.
Although this may seem drastic to modern sensibilities, in less enlightened times, some people from the LGBT community did feel forced to compromise to society’s norms and to marry women, which must have been a very sad and difficult situation for everyone concerned. So Charles’ dilemma (although self-imposed) is far from unique.
As this is a romance, I wanted it to be clear that the only person putting pressure on Charles is himself. His mother is astounded by this sudden decision, and puzzled by the fact that Charles intends to travel to the popular resort Bath immediately to select himself a bride at haste, which explains the semi-ironic story title.
When Charles arrives in Bath, complete with his mental clipboard to check list attributes of suitable ladies (although he seems fairly terrified of most of them) inevitably, fate intervenes to have Avery visit the city with his wise Great Aunt Clarissa, who has quietly supported her great-nephew’s relationship with Charles since the very start.
The story is from Charles’ point of view, but I hope Avery comes across in all his unfailing kindness, never losing his ultimate faith in Charles. Rather than being bitter or angry, he sees Charles’ uncharacteristic behaviour as lost and misguided because he understands Charles so completely. Avery’s tactic is to wait for Charles to see reason.
Even as I was writing this, I was urging Charles to come to his senses before he did something irrevocably stupid. There was always the hope that the temptation of Avery, in all his glorious niceness, would win the day, especially since he never really lost Charles’ affection for these two to win their Happy Ever After.
In 1805, Charles Denham’s comfortable life in Regency London with his long-term partner Avery Mallory is disrupted by the sudden death of his father. As the heir to a modest country estate in Gloucestershire, Charles returns home to care for his bereaved family and take up his new responsibilities.
Overwhelmed with grief, rather than leaning on Avery, Charles rejects his love and becomes fixed on the idea of taking a wife for reasons of family duty alone. With this plan in mind, during early winter, he travels the short distance to Bath only to find that Avery and his family have already arrived at the resort.
Will Charles follow through with his ill-conceived plan for a hasty betrothal by Christmas? Or will he come to his senses and resume his relationship with the nicest man in England?
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Charles paused before saying clearly and deliberately. “With Papa’s passing, it seemed expedient to start to look out for a wife.”
He heard Avery’s sharp intake of breath as Aunt Clarissa looked at him shrewdly. Her bright, old eyes, darker and sharper than Avery’s, seemed to pierce his soul. “You have come to the right place,” she remarked. “Far better to make your selection at your convenience in Bath than to be bothered with the fancy folderols of the London Season. I might be biased as I have fond memories of the place. The town will never be the same as in the heyday of Beau Nash, but it still passes muster, although I say it myself. And you should find a wide array of suitable ladies now you are resolved on matrimony.”
Charles had the sneaking suspicion that Aunt Clarissa was laughing at him and was spared further embarrassment by the timely approach of Mr. King.
“Ladies,” Mr. King uttered, addressing the group. “Might I interest you in a game of Cribbage at the Card Room tonight? The tables are filling up quickly, and I’d be glad to put your names down. From experience, these events prove very popular and can be over-subscribed.”
That popularity was confirmed by eager fluttering from the group of ladies, mercifully distracting Aunt Clarissa’s attention away from Charles.
Charles’ dearest hope was for Avery to have melted away into the surrounding throng during the conversation. Having only begun to establish himself in the confines of Bath’s society, Charles could not afford to cause gossip or general disgust by delivering a cut direct. And in truth, he flinched from being unnecessarily and publicly cruel. None of this was Avery’s doing. He must simply accept that Charles’ priorities had altered with his father’s death.
But when Charles glanced around, Avery was still standing there. He looked a trifle pale at Charles’ announcement but managed a smile as he said conversationally, “You must wonder why we are here. I’m sure you remember all those letters from my aunts pressing Aunt Clarissa for suggestions for her seventieth birthday celebrations?”
Charles nodded as he remembered their shared London rooms in Rupert Street, Avery’s face alight with laughter as he passed Aunt Clarissa’s typically scathing letter over the breakfast table for Charles’ amusement, in a gesture of everyday intimacy.
“Well, Aunt Clarissa refused to be contained by any sedate or convenient notions and decided to drag us all to Bath for the occasion, complete with a hired house on The Circus. According to her, since she’s in her dotage, she won’t get another opportunity to relive her past successes or criticise the current fashions and assembled company at the top of her voice. As you can imagine, both my aunts are thrilled.” Avery’s mobile mouth quirked with humour, and Charles was almost tempted to smile with him until Avery asked, “What does your mother think of your resolution to marry?”
Avery was still smiling, but his eyes seemed almost as shrewd and watchful as Great Aunt Clarissa’s. Charles was only glad that the necessarily loud interchange between the Master of Ceremonies and a lady of the party who was hard of hearing masked the personal turn of the conversation.
“She is delighted I’m assuming my obligations in seeking to establish our family connections.”
“Is she?” Avery sounded mildly surprised. “I’d have thought she would be far more concerned about your happiness and state of mind.”
“I am happy,” Charles retorted.
“If you say so,” Avery smiled agreeable before asking casually, “and since when have you been attracted to women?”
Charles bristled, “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything, I’d say if you seek marital accord.” Avery had the gall to look faintly amused as Charles cast around for a suitable retort, stumbling over half-remembered phrases he had recited to his mama. As Charles reeled off homilies on duty and family responsibility, Avery’s smile faded. But rather than displaying the outrage or bitterness of a repulsed lover, Avery’s expression was full of compassion, tinged with sadness.
Charles completed his speech, sounding pompous and prematurely middle-aged even to his own ears. Avery opened his mouth to impart an urgent observation before hesitating. Instead, he patted Charles on the arm, saying, “I’m sure you know best, Charles,” in a manner that implied no confidence whatsoever in his former lover’s judgement.
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.