“Never love anybody who treats you like you are ordinary.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Evander, of 'The Rite of Summer' by Tess Bowery, loves Stephen when they run away from home years ago, but as time goes on, he becomes more concerned about himself and being successful than anything else, including Stephen. Stephen knows Evander has changed—he chalks up his controlling ways to Evander's desire to make a “better man” out of him. Stephen is completely under his thumb When Evander is issued an invitation to spend part of the summer at an English manor, he jumps at the chance, not even considering what Stephen may want. What Evander doesn't realize is that he may be setting himself up to lose everything, including Stephen.
Joshua is a well established painter who is also invited to the manor. Joshua finds Stephen admiring one of his paintings, a self-portrait, on the wall. They strike up a conversation and Joshua tells him that he is a fan of Stephen's violin playing. This creates a bond of mutual appreciation, making it easy to become friends. Joshua does not like the condescending way Evander treats Stephen and points it out to him. Stephen brushes it off, defending Evander, saying he doesn't mean what he says. Joshua doesn't buy it, but, because he cares about Stephen, doesn't press it either. Joshua knows this is something Stephen has to realize for himself.
Joshua and Stephen's friendship soon grows into sexual interest but, even though Stephen has told Joshua he and Evander have an open relationship, Joshua assumes Evander will never allow him to be with Stephen. He's surprised when Evander invites him to their bed. Joshua doesn't want Evander, but does want to be with Stephen, so he accepts. What happens is some very hot sex between the three of them, but not without consequences. Predictably, Evander wants to be in control. Joshua defers to him, but after a few times together, it's also clear Evander can't be in charge all the time; so he refuses to be with either of them.
At this point, Stephen is experiencing a great deal of cognitive dissonance. He's so used to being under Evander's thumb, he's not sure what he would do without him. Joshua's positive attention has given Stephen pause, wondering how much of what Evander says is true, particularly about his talent as a violinist. After discovering even more damaging news concerning Evander's trespasses, Stephen and Evander have an awful fight. Evander tells Stephen they're through. Still fearing he will lose his music without Evander; Stephen compromises, deciding they can stay together, but as business partners only. Stephen isn't ready to let Joshua go, but Joshua makes it unequivocally clear; as long as Stephen is with Evander in any way, he and Stephen can't be together. Stephen leaves with a heavy heart, but with the seeds of dissent firmly implanted. In any circumstances, Steven is not the same person.
This is a well written historical romance and a history lesson at the same time. It's clear that Tess has done her research by how accurately she portrays the temperament of the time period. Tess seamlessly combines history and love, frequently through the emotions and attitudes of the characters, especially Stephen and his struggle making it through his rite-of-passage from a codependent, groveling shadow to a independent, strong young man. Those of you who love historical romances will revel in this one, and, possibly, even those who don't normally enjoy historical romances may want to contend with the flowery language to get to the incredibly sensual physicality portrayed in the characters' encounters. I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical romance, erotic sexual encounters, suspense, sexy men, decadent behavior, and a happy ending. Thank you, Tess, for the exciting, sensual journey.