“And everywhere I go, there's always something to remind me, of another place in time, where love that travelled far had found me.” ~ Svein Berge, Torbjorn Brundtland, Erlend Otre Oeye
What could be more enticing than a passionate, forbidden romance between men? The answer, at least for me, is a passionate, forbidden historical romance between men. These delightful short stories typify the charm which, in my opinion, can only be found in historicals. For me, the ambiance of taking place in an earlier era enhances the sensuality and intensity in the way a contemporary story just can't match. Venturing into a same-sex love affair took even more determination in the past; men had to be especially serious to risk life and limb in order to be with the man they loved and, as you will see, the men in these short stories rise admirably to the challenge. This anthology provides a strong argument for convincing readers to take a chance on historical romance. The stories within it are excellent and well-written, told in lyrical language, with a very special insight into the subject. I highly recommend them to all fans of historicals and wish to issue a challenge to those who doubt that men loving men combined with history can't be as satisfying, if not more so, than those set in the present. Many thanks to Tamara Allen, Joanne Chambers, K.J. Charles, Kaje Harper, Jordan L. Hawk, Aleksandr Voinov, and Alex Beecroft for sharing their talent and their passion for men loving other men, in another place in time.
Office Romance by Tamara Allen
“If you want to know someone's character, look at the friends he keeps.” ~ Chinese Proverb
Efficiency Expert is a title which immediately strikes fear in the hearts of workers everywhere. When in 'Office Romance’ by Tamera Allen this dreaded person appears at Foster's workplace, the entire office seems to be holding their collective breaths. Particularly Foster Wetherly, who was one of the last employees hired and fears he will be the first one to be released. The other most recently hired person is Casey Gladwin who, after observing his behavior in the office, Foster decides is a wastrel and flirt; certainly not worthy of keeping the job Foster so desperately needs. Foster is rebuilding his life after almost dying from the flu while serving in the armed forces. This situation places Foster in a somber mood. Foster can't imagine how Casey manages to get his work done when he seems to take his employment so lightly, flitting about the room making conversation with the other workers. Foster is determined to do whatever is necessary to prove he's the better employee and, hopefully, keep his position. As time goes by, Foster builds up a healthy resentment and dislike for Casey, who, despite Foster's obvious distain for him, remains friendly and helpful. In an act of desperation, Foster sabotages Casey's work then has a change of heart. He starts feeling bad about what he did and wants to apologize. Foster finds out where Casey lives and pays him a visit. As Foster connects with Casey's world, he begins to understand that, even though Casey is struggling with difficulties, just as Foster is, he has a more positive attitude. Instead of being an old curmudgeon about it, like Foster, Casey is also trying to do what he can to help others, even with the little he has to share. As he gets glimpses of the real Casey, Foster's feelings toward him begin to change. The men find they have a lot in common and realize they were never truly enemies at all.
A common theme in Tamera's historical romance is even in adversity, one can rise above it and help others do so as well. Casey didn't have much to give financially, but he still manages to give others hope with his positive attitude, reminding them that, regardless of how bad things are, there's still a chance for them to improve. Thanks, Tamara, for an enlightening, heart-felt glimpse into the WWII aftermath.
Introducing Mr. Winterbourne by Joanne Chambers
“We often fall in love with the most unexpected person at the most unexpected time and do unexpected things.” ~ unknown
Lysander Winterbourne, in ‘Introducing Winterbourne’ by Joanne Chambers, shudders to think about what his father wants from him, but like the dutiful youngest son of the earl that he is, Lysander goes to the meeting his father requested. His sister is getting married soon and Adam Freeman, her fiance's eldest brother, and more importantly, the one who holds the purse strings in the family, is coming for a visit. Lysander's father asks him to take Adam on a tour of the estate while he is there. Lysander balks at the idea because Adam's disgruntled reputation is well known. Lysander finally agrees thinking that it can't be too bad if it's only for a few days. Adam isn't looking forward to the visit either. He has a bad opinion of the Winterbourne family in general since, as part of his brother's marriage contract, Adam agrees to pay off the earl's outstanding debts, many of which are frivolous. When Adam meets Lysander, he's first struck with the man's beauty and wonders if there's something beyond that pretty face. As the tour goes on, Adam begins to see that Lysander is not the spoiled, shallow brat Adam is expecting, but is a motivated, well educated young man who wants nothing more than to be useful, but is not in a position where he is taken seriously enough to be given the opportunity. Lysander's opinion of Adam changes as well, when he realizes that he isn't the snob people think him to be, that the distain he feels toward others, especially the rich, is actually because he cares about the common people who are treated so poorly by the privileged. This attitude and the discovery of their mutual inclinations eventually bring them together in a relationship, but their future is uncertain until Adam comes up with a brilliant idea that just might solve their problems.
Lysander and Adam learn a lesson in things not always being as they seem. They spend a lot of time disliking each other needlessly before they begin to realize who each other truly are. Fortunately for them, this understanding leads to a better life for both. Thanks, Joanne, for this passionate story of two men coming together in a positive and loving way.
The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ Charles
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” ~ Proverbs 16:18
When Lord Gabriel (Ash) Ashleigh, of 'The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh' by KJ Charles, wakes up, he can scarcely believe what he's done. The night before, he bet everything he owned at the gaming table and as a result, has lost every bit of it. His despair is immeasurable as he thinks about his family's reputation and wonders what he will do now. He contemplates running away to another country or committing suicide, but since he's only twenty-six years old, despite his emotional and physical misery, he decides he's not ready to die quite yet. His father isn't going to help him so he goes to his elder brother who is outraged that, of all people, he lost the family property to Francis Weber who, for good reason, holds a grudge and won't show any mercy to an Ashleigh. When Ash receives a note beckoning him to Weber's home, he does not know what to expect, but is certain that whatever it is, has to be bad. Regardless, Ash does his best to look presentable and goes to meet his fate. As expected, Weber is cold, reminding him of his debt and chastising him for being so extravagant and reckless especially when his skill level is so poor. Ash's heart aches under Weber's scrutiny and, if possible, he feels even worse than before. In an act of fairness, Weber asks Ash to play a game of cards in order to win back his money and property. Predictably, Ash looses each hand they play and since he has nothing but his clothes to wager, piece by piece he loses those too. Stripped of his pride and confounded at the bizarre turn of events, Ash has nothing at all to offer but himself, but there's more to Weber than he knows. His total admission of defeat is met with surprising and very sexy results as Ash learns that sometimes you have to lose to win.
In this cautionary tale, Ash displays what not to do when gambling, but also reveals an unexpected reaction from someone who is thought of as an enemy. Told in her usual straightforward way, KJ describes a very carnal solution for settling a gambling debt, which is intense and satisfying. Thanks, KJ, for making my pulse race and my heart beat faster.
Unfair in Love and War by Kaje Harper
“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.” ~ Jimmy Carter
War does horrible things not only to the ones who are fighting, but to everyone, especially those who are taught to hate their enemy. This dehumanizing tactic may be deemed necessary in battle in order to kill other men when we are taught that it's a sin. But it does mankind a huge injustice—by causing us to make broad generalizations of groups of people, it destroys the hope of unity afterward. Even when the peace treaties are signed, the negative sentiment is there and it makes the healing even more difficult than it needs to be. In 'Unfair in Love and War” by Kaje Harper, Warren Burch moves back home to help his mother and encounters prejudice that makes him both sad and angry. His neighbor, Stefan Koeler, is the target of bullying and destruction of property, all because he looks German. Warren is quite curious about Stefan and questions his mother. She tells him that he moved there with his aunt who since then has died and they are from Norway. His mom also tells Warren that Stefan is basically a recluse, shunned by the townspeople because of his appearance. Warren becomes even more determined to learn about the mysterious young man. He strikes up a friendship with him and they find they have a lot in common, in particular, their attraction to other men. Surprisingly, his mother recognizes that both men are happy and gives them her blessing. All she wants for her son is to have someone loving with whom to share his life. The path to love is not smooth for Warren and Stefan. Before they can get together permanently, there are many other hurdles to jump, including a huge secret Stefan is keeping, one that could alienate them permanently.
This story is about two men who are negatively influenced by wartime propaganda, being judged not by who they are, but by what they are perceived to be. They rise above it by learning what's really important in life and love. Thanks, Kaje, for reminding us that war is never a good thing and making peace afterward is made even more difficult by the unfortunate need to dehumanize the enemy.
Carousel by Jordan L. Hawk
“And the seasons, they go round and round, And the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on the carousel of time.” Joni Mitchel
'Carousel' by Jordan L. Hawk is a delightfully spooky story of mystery, magic, and suspense. Usually a carousel is associated with happy occasions, bright times filled with light and laughter, but when Whyborne and Griffin are asked to help find a missing boy, Reggie, the instrument of merriment becomes something dark and sinister instead. While interviewing the family, Reggie's younger brother gives them disturbing information about dreams Reggie has been having about the carousel. Reggie has told his brother that it calls and says it calls to him all the time. The parents confirm that Reggie is obsessed about the ride and talks about it continuously. His brother describes Reggie's departure that night, telling them about seeing a bright light which is seemingly beckoning Reggie to follow it. Armed with this information, Griffin and Whyborne set off to investigate. Jordan uses the carousel as it is in wintertime as another character, making the device seem even more foreboding. As always, Whyborne and Griffin watch each other’s backs, as they cautiously consider their surroundings. Their investigation soon reveals that there is black magic at work. They find the boy, but his situation is desperate and they fear Reggie may be at the point of no return. The forces of evil that have captured the boy are determined to keep him and put up a frightening, phantasmagoric fight. Whyborne and Griffin are willing to sacrifice themselves for the other without a second thought. They refuse to be defeated by some otherworldly automatons or anything of this world either, for that matter.
In my humble opinion, any story which includes Whyborne and Griffin is enjoyable and well worth reading. Jordan has created such a unique, passionate duo with these two that not becoming emotionally involved simply isn't possible. I've enjoyed every adventure they become embroiled in, including this one. Full of danger and foreboding, this tale kept me on the edge of my seat wondering how Whyborne and Griffin were going to get out of their latest seemingly impossible situation. Thanks, Jordan, for another delightful and scary slice of the lives of these two unique and sexy as hell men.
Deliverance by Aleksandr Voinov
"And think not that you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course." ~ Khalil Gibran
When someone vows to love someone forever, they are bound by those words until they are released either by mutual agreement or death of one or the other or both parties. William Raven of 'Deliverance' made such a promise to his lover, Guy de Metz, but when the rumors and pressures of being Guy's lover get to be too much, William runs as far and fast as he can, trying to escape his sins. He eventually joins the Knights of Templar, holy men who defend Christians against the infidels during the Crusades. To become part of this elite group, they make a vow of chastity and, before giving their love to Christ, they are required to declare that no one else has a claim on their hearts. Years later, out in the middle of nowhere, William’s former lover unexpectedly shows up. Guy is older, stronger, and much more determined that the young man William left behind. He's also very angry with William. Needless to say, William is also furious because Guy, the man he sinned with, is in his life again after he has tried so hard to put those transgressions behind him. There's a great deal of conflict between them and they try to avoid each other, seeing Guy stirs up feelings William thought he left behind, causing him even more problems. William starts to remember how it felt to be with Guy and his resolve is weakening, but Guy is not going to let him get away this time without William disavowing his love for him. If he does, Guy will release him; William has a huge decision to make. Does he lie to Guy, tell him that he doesn't love him when he still does and continue on his chosen path to salvation? Or does William find salvation in his love for Guy?
I read a shorter version of this story a few years ago and enjoyed it, but this new, enhanced version has made it even more enjoyable. Aleksandr has fleshed out the characters some by giving more personal history which vastly improved my understanding of the dilemma William and Guy find themselves in, making their experiences more personal. I found it much easier to identify with the characters and wanted even more for them to find a solution. Thanks, Aleksandr, for introducing me to these two proud men and their devotion to each other.