I’m Lee Rowan, I write gay romance (mostly historical), and my apologies for this post coming in just under the wire. The nights are getting chilly already here in Ontario, the list of outdoor jobs to do is longer than it should be… and we had a dry, sunny day, so there’s now a young oak tree waving proudly in the backyard and a stack of fence sections painted.
I’d rather introduce almost anyone other than myself. Being raised in the pre-diva era, I find it much easier to wax enthusiastic about how interesting someone else is. However, as a friend pointed out, seeing as my wife and I left our native country to move to Canada so we could be legally married, that does qualify as same-sex romance, so in that sense at least, it’s ‘write what you know.’ But the domestic adventures of a mathematician and a massage therapist-turned-writer don’t provide much real excitement, except when the dog’s eaten something she shouldn’t have or the cats stage a re-enactment of ‘Ninjas Attack!’ at 2 am.
My stories are the sort of thing I enjoy reading, and to some degree come out of things I enjoy reading. I’ve always been fascinated with sailing ships, and the A&E “Hornblower” series caught my attention a few years back… then someone introduced me to Patrick O’Brian’s magnificent Aubrey-Maturin series. When something catches my interest, I tend to start reading any related material I can get my hands on, and when there’s a critical mass of information, the “what ifs” start turning into stories.
That’s where Ransom came from. It seemed likely to me that young men raised on board ships from an early age would be inclined to become attached to their friends once the hormones kicked in. (As Dave Barry put it, a teenage boy can get aroused thinking about linoleum—and when there are no women around, a fellow midshipman is a lot prettier than linoleum, especially since it hadn’t even been invented yet.) But just falling in love wasn’t easy, either—given the Articles of War and the death penalty, a young man couldn’t just say “hello, Sailor” to his messmate without risking more than a punch in the chops, especially if the other young gentleman has dueled with and killed the last fellow who made an improper advance. And the situation’s even more complicated if the smitten midshipman had been raped by that same man, Correy, and has a cargo of shame over it. This setup did give David Archer a lot to overcome, but I think that’s what appeals to many readers—he does manage to survive and triumph.
David and the man he loves, Will Marshall, are accidentally caught up when their commanding officer, Captain Smith, is kidnapped. Their abductor, a manipulative sociopath named Adrian, decides that David looks appealing and takes him out of the cell to demand sex. When David refuses, he has Will beaten, and threatens to kill him. After David capitulates, Adrian seems to change his mind and appears to choose the unknowing Will as his victim, then orders David brought to his cabin:
“…Never mind that Will had been alone, that he had no way of knowing that Correy was a bully who only attacked when he was sure of winning; Will simply stood up for himself, even though his life had been on the line.
A fatalistic calm settled over Archer as he wiped his face, put on his jacket, was muffled and escorted above. His hands felt like cold stone, his mouth so dry he might have been chewing cotton. What was it Captain Smith had said, a thousand years ago, in the waggon? “There are some circumstances that put us entirely at their mercy. And sometimes there is no mercy to be had.”
“Let him think he’s won,” Will had said. “Play for time.” I hope to God the Captain’s plan is working. I hope he really has one.
Fourteen steps from the hatch to the quarterdeck. Down three steps. And the cloak came off and one guard knocked at the door and Adrian waited within with that smug, self-satisfied smile.
No mercy to be had.
I’ll just have to manage without it.
And he does, of course, very bravely, and (since this is a romance) Will comes to realize that there’s a lot more to the friendship than he first thought. And there turned out to be more to their story than would fit in one book, which is where Winds of Change (and very soon Winds of Intrigue) come from. The boys also had a shared-dream fantasy in my otherwise het trilogy Sail Away, as well as secondary roles in one of the m/f stories, and they exchanged Christmas presents and affection in a story in Heroes Unwrapped – the one don’t-ask, don’t-tell m/m story in LBR’s 2007 holiday anthology. There’s at least one more book in their story arc, and they’re pretty persistent, so there’s no telling if they’ll show up again in the future.
I had a stroke of incredible good luck with Ransom. Linden Bay Romance wasn’t the first publisher I sent it to, but the query package arrived just as they were considering expanding into m/m stories, and having a complete manuscript right on hand must’ve helped them decide the experiment was worth a try. And I’m still amazed that Ransom won Linden Bay its first EPPIE award, in the first year that EPIC had a GLBT category.
Walking Wounded was kind of a kiss-it-make-it-better story. I’d seen so much factual and fictional misery about the wars of our time, both in the former Yugoslavia and the mess in Iraq, and I wanted to write something with a happy ending and some happy sex.
(excerpt) He slipped the briefs down Kevin’s legs, marveling at that trim, masculine body—strong shoulders, beautifully muscled limbs, strong but not overdeveloped, neither too much body hair nor too little. If he were set to design a picture of male perfection, he could not improve on what lay before him now. The beauty of it took his breath away. “Jesus, Kev,” he said. He let his fingers drift through a sprinkling of chest hair that looked like pure gold where the morning sun touched it, and tried not to notice the little scars that hadn’t been there before. “I don’t know where to start … No, maybe I do. I’ve learned a thing or two since the last time.”
“I thought you said you hadn’t —”
“I learned something that is almost better than sex. Roll over.”
“That doesn’t sound like ‘almost,’” Kevin said, but he did as John asked, plumping a pillow under his face and glancing back over his shoulder. It was, as John’s grandmother had once said in reference to something else, a picture no artist could paint.
John sighed. “I will never get tired of looking at your arse.”
“Flattery will get you somewhere, but it’s not better— oh!”
John had settled one hand on each cheek and begun to slowly rotate them, pressing lightly with his palms. “For a while,” he said, “Quite a long while, I was so dissociated I hardly realized I had a body.” He glanced around the room and located what he was looking for over on the storage chest. “Stay put.”
“That was nice, but —”
“I’m not finished.” He found the bottle of sandalwood-scented oil he’d bought ages ago, poured a little in his palms, and rubbed them together as he settled himself between Kevin’s legs. He reached up to Kev’s shoulders, spreading the oil down, pausing for a deep breath of the intoxicating combination of scents, especially the part that was clean, healthy male… the man he had never thought to see again, to lie with again… He was astonished at his own sudden lust. He had gone without for so long that his body had gone into sexual hibernation, but right this moment he only wanted to throw himself on this beautiful man and fuck them both into a stupor.
And if he touched Kev’s arse right now, he would do just that. Slow the hell down! he told himself sternly. Taking a deep breath he started at Kevin’s heels, kneading the soles of the feet with his thumbs. Kevin groaned.
“Does that hurt?”
“Are you crazy? It’s wonderful, don’t stop!”
WW is set in England because not only is it a country that participated in both those actions, it’s got legal domestic partnership. It’s my only contemporary m/m so far, and the reason I mention it here is because this is the real ‘happy ending’ for Will and Davy, too. A few readers have guessed from the hints in the story, and yes, John and Kevin are the same two souls, reunited in a world where they can be together openly.
Gentleman’s Gentleman was just sheer fun. I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes universe, with dashing gentlemen dashing (literally) around in trains and carriages, solving puzzles and foiling the baddies. Jack Darling was inspired by two things: the inimitable Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC’s Torchwood, and a fireplug. Our new home has a fire hydrant right beside the driveway, forged in 1952 by the Darling company. A fine old English name like that is too good (and to perfect for the character) to let it just go to the dogs. I think there will be other stories with Jack and Lord Robert, too—I was a huge Man from UNCLE fangirl, and the late Victorian era is perfect for cloak-and-dagger adventures and derring-do. Gents is a romanticized version of the time, of course, but I think there’s room enough for all sorts of fiction and this is definitely escapist… a few streets over from 221B Baker, in that time of fog and gaslight when a gentleman’s personal gentleman was one constant in a changing world.
Things were changing between them. Robert didn’t know what was going to happen. That was unsettling, but he didn’t mind. He could not imagine going to bed with Jack as a subservient partner. Or anyone, really—but especially not Jack. Their roles would have to be reconsidered, somehow.
They had already shifted; he suddenly found himself unable to think of the man beside him as “Darling.” Yes, that was his name, always had been, but in the privacy of Scoville’s his own mind it now sounded more like an endearment. He wondered what they would call each other when they were alone.
But they were not alone yet, so they went through the rest of the bath ritual, declining a massage but submitting to being sluiced down by the shower-room attendant. At least they had the choice of warm water or cold, and Lord Robert saw no point in subjecting himself to a case of goosebumps.
He permitted himself a quick peek at Jack’s nicely shaped backside while they were dressing. He’d seen it before—the Army left no secrets—but this was different, too. He was no longer just another soldier having a wash. Scoville wanted very badly to touch, and had to turn his mind firmly back to their mission. His mind was obstinately resistant to such discipline, and his body wasn’t doing much better. He pulled his trousers up with only seconds to spare.
Retracing their steps, they stopped at the desk for the room key and the briefcase. Scoville had his suspicions about the silver box that it contained and he felt certain Darling shared them. He hoped to hell he was wrong. He didn’t want to have to bother with any other business tonight. He wanted to sit down with Jack—better, lie down with him—and explore the future that was opening up for them. He really, most sincerely, wanted to be wrong.
Neither of them said anything on the way back to their rooms. Jack put the key in the lock, pushed the door open, and turned up the light. He froze, and turned to Scoville wordlessly, his jaw set and his eyes angry.
“Damnation.” Scoville followed Jack inside, pushing the door shut behind them.
He had not been wrong.
That was clear from the devastation that greeted them. The bed’s pristine coverlet had been ripped away, sheets and blankets knotted in a lump on the floor, the mattress pulled half off its frame. All the dresser drawers had been yanked out—not just removed, but thrown. They lay several feet from the dressers where they belonged. The little table, the nightstands, anything light enough to lift, had been overturned and flung. Chair and sofa cushions had landed at odd angles all over the place.
“The damned fool,” Darling said. “He threw a bloody tantrum.”
“That’s exactly what it looks like.” Scoville glanced around the wreckage. The door to the adjoining room was closed. “Shall we check your quarters? I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.”
“Yes, my lord.” Darling fished the briefcase key out of his breast pocket and unlocked it; he handed Scoville his pistol and took the second one himself.
“The room’s bound to be empty, you know,” Scoville said.
“I hope so, my lord.”
They moved toward the door, Scoville going left, Jack right. Interesting. In a crisis, they left the uncharted ground of what might lie ahead and slid effortlessly back into their roles of officer and noncom.
To no point, as it turned out. The intruder was long gone, but he had spent some time here; this room had been ravaged even more completely than Scoville’s. A long streak of bay rum stained the carpet and spilled onto the polished floor, a shaving mug lay in shards below the marble windowsill where it had been smashed, and their luggage was tumbled everywhere.
Jack walked over to the window and picked up a curved piece of heavy porcelain, the handle of his mug. “I got this when I joined the Army,” he said in a curious light tone. “It was advertised as nearly unbreakable.”
“We’ll find you another. And the hotel’s bound to have a barber.”
Jack let the handle fall; it hit the sill and cracked in two. “I could grow a beard.”
They were back in terra incognita. For some reason, Jack seemed truly distressed at the loss of a bit of cheap crockery. “I’d really rather you didn’t,” Scoville said. “I like your face just as it is.”
Jack shook himself slightly, and glanced around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “Shall I ring for assistance, my lord?”
“I’d just as soon ask for different quarters,” Scoville said. “But we can’t leave these rooms yet. Our visitor will be here in half an hour.”
“This room needs a mop and bucket,” Jack said. “The other doesn’t, not really. Let me ring for help, and we can get that room set to rights in fifteen minutes.”
“I didn’t think to bring a stopwatch, my lord, but yes, if we’re quick about it. Our guest needn’t see any disorder at all.”
That last sentence had an edge to it. “Good thinking.” Scoville pulled the cord for the bellboy himself. “Let’s not waste time. You and I can put the mattress back on the bed and bundle my things into this room.”
Jack grinned. “Not the exercise I’d been hoping for, my lord, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Thank God he was back to normal. And, even better, flirting. “By the way, Sergeant, do you mind if I kiss you?”
“Not at all, my lord.”
Scoville had thought it would be a difficult thing to initiate; as it turned out, the only difficulty lay in stopping. The touch and taste of lips opening under his sent a jolt through all his limbs and straight down his body; he felt like a steel splinter beside a magnet. His self-control counted for nothing. One kiss wasn’t enough. A thousand wouldn’t be enough. And damn two layers of clothing all to hell.
Hands slid down his back, squeezing his arse, and they rocked together as he surged forward. Why had he expected Jack to be shy or diffident? He was a volcano. All that pent-up heat and power—how could he have hidden it so well? Scoville’s arms went around the man as their bodies melded together—no, they couldn’t do this, not now. They’d already rung for assistance. But he simply couldn’t stop.
“Bellboy,” Jack mumbled, turning his face away so his temple rested against Scoville’s cheek. “We can’t. No time.”
Scoville drew back enough to look at him. Jack’s mouth was reddened and soft-looking; his pupils were so wide his eyes looked almost black, and he was breathing hard.
So was Scoville. Reluctantly, he released the body pressed so sweetly against his own and took a careful step back. “You’re right. Let’s get to work.”
And speaking of fun, doing this project with Erastes and Charlie was tremendous fun–Erastes’ mad websearch skilz turned up that beautiful cover photo, which our editors accepted with glee, and Charlie reminded me of a fact I’d forgotten: the “Scoville” scale is used to measure heat… in chili peppers. I can just imagine what Freud would make of that!
I post here at The Macaronis from time to time, have a Live Journal, http://lee-rowan.livejournal.com, a website: www.lee-rowan.net, and a Yahoo group that I do not give nearly the attention it deserves: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Action-Adventure-Romance .
My books can be found at http://www.lindenbayromance.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Lee+Rowan and on Amazon, and if you have any questions, complaints, or good Age of Sail book recommendations, I can be reached at email@example.com.