Authors: Tess Bowery
Tags: #Regency;ménage a trois;love triangle;musician;painter;artist
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…when they’re not flat on their backs.
Warning: Contents under pressure. Contains three men, two beds, one erotic piercing, and the hottest six weeks of summer the nineteenth century has ever seen.
Rite of Summer
To the love of my life, for making everything feel possible, and to my London Ladies, for beginning it all.
There were few things in the world as perfect as Evander’s prick.
It was neither misshapen nor too small, nor curved oddly to the side. When it rose with his arousal, jutting hard and red-tipped from the cloud of golden curls at the base, it was as magnificent a creation as the Tower of Pisa all the way over in far-distant Italy.
If Stephen were to write odes and sonnets—on pricks in general or Evander’s in particular—they would not focus on the look of it, but the feel. On the heavy weight that filled Stephen up and broke him open, in arse or mouth alike; on the heat of his skin, so soft when so much else about him was rough; on the salt-slick slide as he thrust in over Stephen’s tongue and held there, gasping.
Evander’s prick was the epitome of all things that were erotic and beautiful in the world.
Loving the man would be easier if Evander didn’t think so as well.
The thought veered too close to blasphemy. Better to focus on the task at hand.
The noise of the busy London street carried on outside the shuttered windows of their lodgings. Inside, all was quiet but for their panting breaths and the wet slide of spit and skin.
The uneven floorboards pressed ridges into his knees, his lips stretched around the prick in his mouth. The taste of Evander’s arousal mixed with the remnants of the wine they’d shared, passing the same bottle back and forth until there was nothing left but dregs.
There was little hope of a breeze on the best of days, and this sultry summer afternoon was not one of those. Evander had persisted in wandering around in only his linen shirt and drawers, the light garments clinging to his lithe frame and his blond hair sticking, damp, to the back of his neck. Accompanied by the utterly obscene way he lifted the bottle to his lips, it had made their current position inevitable.
Stephen’s fingers clenched on Evander’s thighs, dug into the solid dips and curves of his muscles, stroked across the smattering of fair hair. His own prick ached, hard and damp, his trousers too tight and harsh where they rubbed. He dropped a hand to palm himself. The pressure was the barest edge of relief, muted by the wool and linen of his clothing. He groaned aloud, the sound muffled around the thick cock in his mouth.
Evander thrust in reaction to the vibrations, his fingers clenching in the bedclothes. Gasps spilled from his lips as he arched, threw his head back and came.
“Come up here,” Evander ordered, the command softened by the drowsy satiation in his voice.
Stephen swallowed around Evander’s prick one last time before he pulled away. It fell from his lips with a wet and obscene pop, to lie, gleaming, against Evander’s muscled thigh. Stephen let Evander draw him up onto the bed and he crawled to his usual place, nipping lightly at Evander’s flank as he moved. Salt tingled on his lips, both of their bodies damp with the sweat of exertion in the midsummer heat.
Evander seized Stephen’s face in his hands and kissed him, tongue delving into Stephen’s mouth. He licked in and Stephen opened for him, passed back the taste of Evander’s own release from tongue to tongue. His prick throbbed in further urgency at the heat of it, the taste and feel of him. Evander consumed him, fire and molten steel.
Evander’s fingers slipped down inside Stephen’s fall front, wrapped around his aching prick, and words were no longer possible. They vanished from his mind as soon as he tried to focus on any particular one. He wasn’t good with them at the best of times, preferring always to let music speak for him, in the rhythm of the notes and the scrape of the bow across the strings.
Evander hummed a discontented note. His mouth closed over Stephen’s again, tasting like him, salt-sour and familiar. His oiled hand gripped and glided along the length of Stephen’s prick.
“What are you smiling about?” Evander asked, pressing firm, cool kisses along his throat.
Stephen tipped his head back and Evander ran his tongue down the length of Stephen’s throat. “I was thinking of you,” he reassured him. Life was always easier when Evander was pleased. “How much like Michelangelo’s David you are, stretched out for me in the sunlight.” Stephen paused, then, and grinned. “Except for certain things, of course, in which you far surpass the original.”
Evander soaked up the compliments, as he had embraced the sunshine before, lounging across the narrow bed. “The Greeks had a strange position on male beauty.” Evander laughed, his pride repaired.
Stephen couldn’t form coherent thoughts against the pressure of Evander’s hand on his prick, on the strength of the fingers wrapped around him. Evander pressed his thumb firmly beneath the head, dug in just a little with his nail so that the shock of pain and pleasure mingled and combined inexorably.
“Come for me, my muse,” Evander murmured in his ear. He wrapped his hand up and over the crown of Stephen’s prick, then scraped his teeth across Stephen’s swollen earlobe and bit down. The momentary pain shot down through his body like lightning, met the coiled and heavy arousal in his gut. He released, hot and sticky, into Evander’s palm, the ache in his body fading in time with the pulse of pleasure wrung from him.
Evander rolled away and rose to his feet the moment Stephen’s body stopped trembling. He crossed the room and took up a kerchief to clean himself with water from the jug on the nightstand.
Stephen stretched, reaching his fingers above his head until his shoulders popped in agreement. The mugginess of the midsummer air made his skin clammy as the sweat dried in prickling pools behind his knees and in the crooks of his elbows. It would be so much nicer to have Evander back beside him, to curl against his body and lie there, languid and warm. But such things did not please Evander’s sense of aesthetics, and so Stephen sprawled inelegantly and alone across the bed, linens damp beneath him from sweat, oil and come. The bedclothes would stick to his skin once everything began to dry. He would have to peel himself from them, the creases red across his back and lingering longer than the memories of the pleasure itself.
The pillow had ended up on the floor; reaching for it was too much effort. He would stay here, drowsy in the summer afternoon, listen to the clatter of the carts over the cobblestones and the laughter of the children running in the street below.
If they only knew what grotesque acts took place just above their heads; Stephen felt a rush of amusement mixed with trepidation at the thought. Fat Annie must certainly suspect. Their landlady was too much a woman of the world to entirely mistake the sounds that the two young men occasionally ripped from one another, or to wonder at their lack of interest in the Covent Garden girls who whistled low at men passing by along the road.
There was more muscle to Evander now than there had been when they first took these rooms. Stephen played in the inns for pennies and Evander wrote his music by the window, the better to preserve their few precious guttering candle ends. The rent, small as it was, had been too much sometimes, but Evander had always been there, his blue eyes and easy charm buying them one reprieve after another.
Those days of penury and hunger were long gone now, had ended when the Earl of Coventry had seen Stephen play.
Or, to hear both the earl and Evander say it, when the Right Honorable Earl had heard Evander Cade’s compositions as faithfully rendered by Stephen Ashbrook’s violin. He had offered Evander a patronage, instructions on the sorts of music he liked best, a stipend enough to feed and keep two in reasonable accommodations, and a hope of better things to come.
Stephen, it must always be remembered, had been included on sufferance. The patronage, the lodgings in Holburn and the income to pay for it all were Evander’s.
Stephen sighed at the thought, staring up at the wooden beams of the angled roof above him. Someday, that would change. He would find a new patron or work of his own that did not require him to flatter Coventry, as Evander did, in thanks for his generosity and connections.
He was not a fool to think himself so talented that he could get by in life without the assistance of a patron at all, mind you. But, somehow, when he had his bow in his hand and Rosamund’s living wood tucked securely beneath his chin, her neck humming with his heartbeat and his breath, their song ascending into heaven—
Somehow all the connections and society in the world ceased to matter.
was probably why Evander was poised upon the brink of true professional success, and Stephen was still something of an afterthought.
His postcoital discomfort proved too much to ignore, finally, and he peeled himself from the sheets with a groan of protest. Evander was putting a kettle to boil in the sitting room, from the sounds of it, and going through the mail that had been delivered while they were out. They had stumbled over the folded envelopes under the door earlier, too intent upon each other’s bodies to stop and deal with mundane matters.
Stephen washed, the water splashing cool over his face and sweaty throat. By the time he had found trousers and a fresh shirt, and had thrown his fouled garments aside for the laundress, Evander was sprawled full-length and half-dressed along the settee, reading his letter. A satisfied smile settled on his face, turning his golden beauty momentarily smug and dark.
The expression vanished as he sat up, the shadows changing as he moved, the twist to his features nothing more than a trick of the light. He swung his legs down and beckoned Stephen over, draping his legs across Stephen’s knees once Stephen took his usual place at the end of the faded green cushions.
Evander was humming a bawdy tavern song, and Stephen stroked his calf lightly. It was the sign of a good mood, as though their lechery before had not been enough to prove it, and the last remaining knots in Stephen’s shoulders untangled themselves.
“Something pleases you,” he ventured, arching an eyebrow at the letter. The paper was fine quality, and what he could see of the wax seal and the writing was familiar. Coventry, then, and with good news.
“You please me,” Evander countered, and he reached a hand out to toy possessively with one of the dark-brown curls that lay on Stephen’s shoulder. He kept his hair unfashionably long, true, but it was simpler to tie it back with a ribbon when he played than to worry about having it cut on a regular basis. And Evander liked it.
“My life is but to serve you,” Stephen replied dryly.
It was, as always, a joke. As always, Evander laughed.
, and he knows that you and I are inseparable—have received an invitation.” And there Evander paused with a flourish of the letter, waiting for a reaction before he carried on. He had more of the born performer in him than most actors of Stephen’s acquaintance.
An invitation—and it had to be a request to perform. That was something worthy of a little pretension! The previous year had been a lean one, the earl’s mourning for his late wife putting a temporary halt on his usual festivities. The Countess of Coventry had been considerate to the last, mind you; her early spring death ensured that her youngest daughter’s first Season would only be delayed by a year, rather than cancelled for two.
“Polite of her,”
Evander had commented when the news came. Stephen, for once, had kept his thoughts rather firmly to himself.
This summer had been much better so far. More performances meant more exposure to the wealthy families of the bon ton. And the more in demand they became, the greater the likelihood of future commissions.
The possibilities were exciting, especially given the smile on Evander’s face. It had to be something enviable. Vauxhall again, perhaps, or a grand concert at Coventry’s London home. The manor had a ballroom so large that he could host forty couples and still have room for a sideboard. The acoustics in there were a marvel, the resonance such that it would make a howling cat sound like a boys’ choir singing “Te Deum”.
“Go on,” Stephen urged, not entirely because Evander was still waiting for his reply. He ran his hand along Evander’s bare calf, his trouser leg pushed up to his knee. Unruly blond hairs stuck up in all directions. Evander hated unruly, and Stephen smoothed them down again.
“To a house party,” Evander announced smugly.
Images of Coventry’s grand ballroom crumbled to dust.
Evander did not look up from the letter, which gave Stephen a chance to rearrange his face into something that did not show his dismay. “Very exclusive, as special guests of Coventry himself. There shall be a command performance of ‘Nocturne’, and we shall be wined and dined as kings. There!”
He set aside the letter, brimming to overflow with self-satisfaction. “I told you he would like the piece, and now look. We are to be guests in the house of an earl! You would never have believed such a thing was possible when we first met, love—now look at what we have accomplished.”
A house party in the country? How could he possibly feign excitement about that? Far from the pleasures of playing for a full room or dreams of a grander stage yet, a house party meant confinement to an audience of ten or fifteen at the most. There would be interminable days filled with guns, dogs and riding about in circles, and even more excruciating nights sitting about in parlors, miming charades and losing at cards to frowsy dowagers in muslins three sizes too small.
Evander was watching him in expectation, his eyes bright.
If it were for a week, perhaps it would be tolerable. A week to press palms with the earl’s nearest and dearest and make some new connections. Then escape back to London, where the air was thicker and heavier at the end of summer, but at least the people and the streets were his own.
He bit back the sigh that threatened. “For how long?” he asked, keeping his voice as mild as he could manage.
Evander scanned the cramped black handwriting one more time. “Six weeks,” he replied, exultant. “Depending, of course, on the weather and how the company enjoys itself. We are to leave on Wednesday next; he will send a coach to fetch us.”
A full month and a half
“No,” Stephen declared, shaking his head. “That will not do.” To Evander’s startled look, he said only, “I have a prior commitment. Phillips arranged for he and I to play Lady Ailsford’s soirée a fortnight from now.”