Rite of Summer
by Tess Bowery
There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.
Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.
Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.
But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing...
Joshua lowered himself into the armchair in his room, and loosened his cravat with a peevish snap.
“That bad, was it?” Sophie asked from the chair opposite, her legs curled under her. She closed the book in her hands, tucking it into her lap. It said something that he wasn’t the least bit surprised by her presence, though by all rights he should have been appropriately scandalized. He could always tell her to leave, as though that would do any good. The girl was like a cat; she went where she pleased and did what she liked, and woe betide anyone but her employer who tried to force her otherwise.
“I had no idea,” Joshua said, checking first to be sure the door was most securely closed, “that her ladyship had such strong opinions about the idea of gas lighting.”
“Ooh, yes, did she get on about that again?” Sophie replied with a pleased grin. “’Those gas lines will be a blight on the city,’” she imitated bitingly. “’They’re an invitation to treachery and a first stage toward a new Gunpowder Plot,’ to hear her go on. And did you know,” she asked rhetorically, the light of mischief in her eyes, “that they’re sinful as well? Apparently Our Lord and Savior would prefer candlelight.”
“Lord save us from the march of progress,” Joshua sighed, and rubbed his forehead. Exhaustion nipped around the edges of his eyes, his shoulders aching. “You were quite right, by the way.” He glanced up at Sophie, not too tired to add to her amusement. “Lady Chalcroft’s got her eye set on Coventry for her eldest. The two of them would set on her rivals like a pair of wild dogs if they thought it would get her a hand-span closer to a coronet.”
Talking with Tess Bowery!
What is your writing environment?
I always want to answer this question with some wonderful scene, like: ‘sitting on my deck on the lake, watching the sun rise over the Canadian Shield, while a cup of tea slowly steams away at my elbow.’ Unfortunately, the only true thing about that is the tea. I do drink a lot of tea. My partner is British, and the kettle goes on the stove at the smallest provocation. (Bad day? Have a cuppa. Getting a cold? Have a cuppa. Axe stuck in your head, got laid off and the house is on fire? Sit down, have a cuppa, you’ll feel better.)
I do most of my writing at home. I tend to split between curling up with my laptop on one corner of my couch, or heading upstairs to the corner of the bedroom that I stole for my office. The desktop computer up there has limited internet and no email program on it, so it’s my distraction-free zone for those mind-wandering days. Our living room does have a large picture window that looks out over the back garden, with trees that arch overhead. I love sitting there on summer afternoons, when the sun shines through the leaves. It feels like I’m hanging out and writing filthy smut in Lothlorien.
Who is your perfect hero/heroine and why?
I don’t think such a creature exists, and that’s the paradox. My favorite heroes and heroines are the imperfect ones! There’s a wonderful sense of escapism in stories about people who have their acts together and the confidence to go for what they want. Maybe it’s a failing in my own self-esteem, but I have a hard time seeing anything of myself in there. I’m in my thirties and I’m still waiting for someone to pass on the adult-ing manual that I seem to have misplaced!
For me, the most interesting heroes and heroines, the ones who make me root for them with all of my heart and all my soul, are the ones who are a little dented and dinged by life. They’re self-centered or distracted, they’ve got skeletons in their closets or serious emotional constipation to work out…
And they do. They work at it and chip away at their walls, and make stupid mistakes, but they never give up trying. Because that other person? They’re probably going to be worth it.
So to quote Lilo and Stitch, I like my heroes “broken, but still good. Ya. Still good.”
What authors have caught your interest lately and why?
Oh man; I’ve been reading so many different things lately that it’s hard to choose. There’s a debut author-- Lillian Marek -- who just had her first historical romance out, and I absolutely adore her style. She’s got a wonderful hand with humor, and her sense of her time period is fantastic. I’m waiting eagerly for the sequel.
Sara Humphreys is great fun as well. I’ve read her paranormal series, and it’s got a great sense of humor to go along with the romance. They’re not comedies, but they are highly entertaining. I have to pick up some of her other books at some point and see if they’re at a similar level.
I love reading books where the research has been done well, but isn’t obvious. There’s a tendency to want to do a big information dump of your world-building right off the top, sort of a ‘see how well I researched and planned this.’ Hugely popular mainstream authors are just as guilty as the rest of us, as far as that goes. What I love seeing are the books where the research comes out subtly, in touches that bring the place and time to vivid life around you. It takes skill and confidence in your chosen period to do that. Marek’s not perfect, but she’s definitely someone to watch.
What type of book have you always wanted to write?
I’m having a great time with romance right now, but there are some specific genre conventions that tie you down to certain things: happily ever after endings, love story at the core, of course. I’m a huge fan of historical with or without romances in them, and I have a handful of stories there that I’m longing to tell.
There is one partial manuscript in my works-in-progress file that I’ve shelved for the moment, but want to get back to. It’s a political historical, set in the 13th century in the remnants of the Lombard League – the area that’s now northern Italy. There are some love stories in it, but it’s not a classic romance. It’s more of a knights in armor, clashing armies, and warrior clergy sort of thing. I’m always a fan of medieval warfare.
Top 3 things on your bucket list?
- We geocache in our spare time; that’s a hobby that involves using a GPS to locate hidden objects and logbooks in various places around the world. There’s a geocache in Texas that I have to get to before I kick off. It’s the Necropolis of Britannia Manor cache, built by a video game designer. He put together a multiple-stage game involving clues to decode, a cemetery, some bushwhacking, a mausoleum with a secret entrance, and animatronic zombies along the way. It’s supposed to take a few hours to work your way through, and I’m seriously considering planning a vacation to Austin just so we can do this run.
(There’s actually a geocache on the International Space Station, but that’s one we’re definitely not going to be able to log in this lifetime.)
- Number two is a pilgrimage. I took an art history class during my undergrad, and we had to buy this massive, weighty textbook. One of the illustrations in this tome, full-color and all, was a map of the old pilgrimage roads that cris-crossed Europe in the middle ages and renaissance. Each of these roads was dotted with shrines and small churches, filled with art and relics, stained glass, and history.
One day, I want to do a pilgrimage walk – not for religious reasons; I’m not Christian – but to have the chance to walk the roads that these believers walked so long ago, to see the remaining churches and shrines as they would have been seen on the original approach. I want to taste the air, touch the church walls, feel the dirt under my feet, and make those histories feel real.
- Along with that, one of the major things on my list is a trip to Israel. There’s that love of history again! But also for the archaeology (and the party towns like Tel Aviv). I read a fantastic book called The Source when I was a teen, which jumped back and forth in time between an archaeological team working on a tel – a multiple-layered dig site – and the people who had lived there throughout the various eras of human occupation. Canada’s a young country in some ways; maybe that feeds my fascination with the ancient.
How did you get the idea for this particular novel?
I was doing some research for my Masters degree a few years back, and I stumbled across a book that completely changed my interests and shattered all of my Heyer-and-Austen fueled notions of Georgian England. It was called Mother Clap’s Molly House, written by British historian Dr. Rictor Norton, and it laid out, in very intimate detail, the lives, loves, habits and deaths of the gay community in Georgian London.
(I say ‘gay’ rather than ‘LBGT’ because he only really covers the male side of things. The crime for which men were prosecuted was buggery (sodomy), and women generally didn’t find themselves accused of that.)
So I devoured this book and realized that there was so much more to the era than I had ever really considered before. I had to put it aside for a little while, in order to finish my degree, but once I had a little more time, I started to dig into the 18th and 19th century LBGT communities in England in earnest. There’s this whole set of subcultures that existed just below the official radar, and we get these tantalizing hints of what was accepted (or not) in court records, diaries, and sometimes even love letters back and forth between couples. It’s an incredible puzzle to put together.
Stephen and Evander were born from those musings and character sketches; Joshua came along a little bit later.
And there I go, off on a tangent again!
But seriously; Mother Clap’s led me to read about events like the Vere Street raids and the various arrests, and that got me thinking about what it does to your mindset about love and relationships when you live under that kind of sword of Damocles. I’m incredibly lucky to live in a country where equal marriage has been enshrined by law for more than a decade, and orientation is a protected category, but there are so many in the LBGTQ community who are still living with persecution and violence on a daily basis. Maybe it’s foolish to think that a single romance novel with a happy ending can be of any use, but I like to think that anything that can shine hope makes a small positive difference to the universe.
That was awfully long-winded. The short version of the answer is ‘a combination of inspiration from Dr. Norton’s research, and a deep appreciation for beautiful artistic men.’
What is your favorite scene in your new release?
There are a couple that I’m very fond of, but I think my absolute favorite is early on, when my heroes first meet. Stephen and Joshua run into each other in a portrait gallery in the country house they’re both staying in as guests. Joshua has been in lust with Stephen from afar for quite some time, but Stephen doesn’t know him at all.
There’s a lot of tension in that first encounter as they try and figure each other out, as it was terribly dangerous to reveal your sexuality to the wrong person. They talk a little, and maybe flirt a little, and it sets up the whole tone for their early relationship. I think I wrote about four different drafts of that scene until it finally just clicked, because it is such a pivotal moment for both men.
(Can I get away with giving an excerpt here? I’ll do it anyway.)
A handful of portraits in a newer fashion looked like more recent additions. The paintings themselves fit the mold of the others—delicate brushwork, the sitter looking off to the side or down in modesty or up to glory, depending on nature, sex and inclination. All but one. The palette was still muted, but the straightforward pose and the natural life in the expression of the sitter stopped Stephen in his tracks.
The man in the portrait was not classically handsome. His mouth was too full and his hair too red for that, his jawline perhaps a little too soft. But his eyes crinkled at the corners with secret mirth, as though sharing a very private and personal joke with the viewer, and those lush and generous lips curled up at one corner. He sat in a smock and his shirtsleeves, a palette on the table behind him. His head tilted very slightly to the side, like he was listening to some secret, lively song. His eyes caught and held Stephen, gray as storm clouds over the cliffs, a hint of blue that was the clear sky breaking through, and a knowing look that struck some chord deep within that Stephen could not immediately name.
Well, he wanted a great many things. But never before had a portrait been responsible for a curl of longing or desire twisting its way up from the center of his being, some vague and wistful sense of thwarted desire focused on that arresting stare.
I wonder if he would look at me that way in life.
I wonder who he is.
A faint scuff of feet behind him was all that gave Stephen warning before someone spoke, and he managed neither to whip around in surprise, nor jump like a child caught where he shouldn’t be.
“He’s not a particularly good-looking fellow to deserve such lengthy scrutiny.”
The voice was an unfamiliar one, a warm, rich tenor that verged on a deeper range, a faint Northern accent coloring the tone.
“I suppose not,” Stephen replied, pausing to allow his heart to slow before he introduced himself, “if you value men solely based on looks. But there is more life in his expression than in all the other portraits put together. Either the sitter was a man of uncommon vivacity or the painter was exceptionally fond of him.”
He turned and looked at the man standing behind him.
His hair was shorter now, and he was dressed for dinner, his cravat impeccably tied and tucked into a cream waistcoat. The man from the portrait stepped into the gallery, framed by a shaft of light that fell across the floor from the hall. His eyes had not been exaggerated. They had been perhaps underplayed, and that gray-blue gaze regarded Stephen with a peculiar intensity. He was a little taller than Stephen, his frame of very pleasing proportions, and had a controlled energy to his walk that suggested strength lying beneath the layers of wool and linen.
“Or he was his own painter,” the newcomer said, his lip quirking up in that selfsame knowing smile, “and both irredeemably prone to vanity and in desperate need of an honest friend to check him in his fancy.”
“I should say otherwise,” Stephen replied, the compliment easy to make. “It appears to be the very copy of life.” Careful! It was all well and good to flatter and tease when flirting with the ladies, but this man was still a stranger. “Stephen Ashbrook, at your service.”
The other man hesitated, but only for a moment, and bowed in return. “Joshua Beaufort. A pleasure, sir.” Something about the light in the room suggested an edge of color rising to Beaufort’s cheeks, a faint flush that vanished a moment later. “Though, I should confess, your name was already known to me. I saw you play last summer, at a chamber concert at Vauxhall.”
That thrill of recognition would never become tiresome! Still, modesty demanded a different sort of reply. “Then I should have given you another name so that you would not have made the connection,” he joked, beating back the urge to let his tongue tie itself in knots. “I promise that I have made some effort to improve since then.”
Beaufort. His eyes kept playing over Stephen’s face, his shoulders, his hands—the scrutiny made it difficult to focus on the conversation. He smiled, and his eyes were warm. “If your playing has improved, sir, then I hesitate to ask if you have brought your instrument. I don’t think my nerves could take a performance better than that.”
“You flatter me.”
There was a hint of something in Beaufort’s expression, beyond that careful smile. The way he held himself, carefully poised and controlled, his gaze lingering perhaps a breath too long on Stephen’s mouth when he spoke, a gleam on his lower lip when he moistened it.
What are you working on now and when can we expect it to be available?
I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Rite of Summer, with the working title She Whom I Love. It follows Sophie, a minor character from Rite of Summer, and delves into her life, her secrets, and her romantic entanglements.
The romance here is a triad, two women and a man, so it’s a very different sort of feeling than Rite of Summer. (Down with love triangles, and up with threesomes!) Hopefully it’ll be just as much fun to read as it was to write. I don’t have a contract for She yet, but I’ll put the word out once I know something concrete.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I garden in the spring and summer; we grow a lot of our own vegetables, and I have a couple of berry patches that give us enough fruit for jams. I picked up a pile of mason jars and things a few years ago and I’ve been playing with canning recipes. Having a good recipe for green tomato salsa is vitally important with our short growing season.
Quilting is another hobby I picked up a few years back; I’m working on a queen size quilt as a wedding present for my brother and his fiancée right now. I sound like an old grandmother, but I think I’m just a bit of a homebody at heart. I love adventures and travel, as long as I can come back to my quilt-and-homemade-jam-filled hobbit hole at the end.
What else? I do a lot of work with dance companies as part of my day job, and I go to shows whenever possible. I’m not a dancer myself, but I’m madly in love with just about all aspects of the art. There’s something magical about the way simple movement and music can transport the soul.
What is one interesting fact about you that readers don’t know?
I’m a huge fan of body art and body modification. I don’t have any tattoos but I do have fifteen piercings, three of them below the neck.
Come by www.tessbowery.com on June 2nd, 7 pm Eastern Time, to join me in the chatroom for the release party! I’ll have giveaways and prizes as well as interviews and a social hour. I look forward to seeing everyone!
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Tess has been a fan of historical fiction since learning the Greek and Roman myths at her mother's knee. Now let loose on a computer, she's spinning her own tales of romance and passion in a slightly more modern setting. Her work in the performing arts has led to a passion for the theatre and dance in all its forms, and been the inspiration for her current books. Tess lives on the east coast, with her partner of fifteen years and two cats who should have been named 'Writer's Block' and 'Get Off the Keyboard, Dammit.'
Tess can be found reblogging over on tessbowery.tumblr.com, twittering at @TessBowery, and talking about writing in general and her books specifically over at www.tessbowery.com.
Rite of Summer on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23766005-rite-of-summer
Tess will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Follow the tour HERE