Author Interview with Sara Dobie Bauer!

Friends,

Today I’m welcoming romance author Sara Dobie Bauer to talk about the first book in her new paranormal romance series, Escaping Exile. I’ve had a chance to read the book, and I can tell you, it introduces two smouldering characters in Andrew, the man in exile of the title, and Edmund, who shipwrecks on the same small, cannibal-infested island. But the larger world of Victorian era New Orleans provides a backdrop and a promise for future instalments. But Sara herself is here to tell you more…

SK: What inspired you to write Escaping Exile?

SDB: Oh, my gosh, I wish I knew! I’m sure it grew from some smutty fantasy of mine: gay vampire meets shipwrecked sailor … and so it goes. I very rarely know where stories come from. Often, I’m inspired my music or my many muses, which include Benedict Cumberbatch, Timothee Chalamet, and Cillian Murphy. I love beaches, too, so maybe I was on a beach and thought, “Hmm, this looks like a good place for sex and cannibals.” Who knows?

SK: Your protagonist Andrew fits very nicely into the beguiling anti-hero mold. You strike an expert balance in terms of his misdeeds and the softer side of his character. What challenges did you face writing him? Did you worry he might turn some people off?

SDB: Andrew wasn’t challenging to write once I figured him out. Sure, on the surface he’s a bloodthirsty, murdering monster, but I opted for the “save the cat” method: presenting a decisive moment when the protagonist does something nice. Despite his deviant history, Andrew saves Edmund. Over the course of Escaping Exile, he protects Edmund and eventually falls in love with him. Andrew overcomes his past to become a hero—not to everyone but to the man he loves.

That said, there is one flashback scene involving an innocent young prostitute in New Orleans that worried me a little. I mean, Andrew is bad… but I believe he earns his redemption and eventual hero status. It’s up to the reader to decide!

SK: What’s your vampire origin story? What was the thing that sparked your fascination with them?

SDB: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I read it in sixth grade—which, looking back, was maybe a bit early and also revved up my teenage sexuality to critical mass. Despite Louis being the protagonist, I fell in love with bad boy Lestat: a lifelong pattern that I am certain has annoyed my parents to no end. In my defense, I married one of the good guys… as far as you know. (Wink.)

SK: Escaping Exile is the first book in a series. Can you give us a sneak peek of future instalments? Will they follow Andrew and Edward or other characters?

SDB: The love story of Andrew and Edmund is the focal point of the entire trilogy, as they both have a lot of developing and changing to do. They are not exactly morally upstanding men. They both doubt themselves and carry a lot of darkness in their pasts and presents. Together, they hope to make a bright future, but they have to first survive Victorian New Orleans and eventually London, while conquering some serious monsters—literal and metaphorical.

SK: As a fun final question, I always ask authors to pick which of their characters, from any of their works, they would have a one-night stand with, a long-term relationship with, and HEA with. What are your choices?

SDB: That is so damn difficult in Escaping Exile. Okay, lemme try…
One-night stand: Michelle
Long-term relationship: Andrew
HEA: Edmund (I’m very partial to my shipwrecked sailor.)

ABOUT ESCAPING EXILE:
Andrew is a vampire from New Orleans, exiled to a tropical island in the 1800s as punishment for his human bloodlust. During a storm, a ship crashes off shore. After rescuing a sailor from the cannibals native to the land, Andrew becomes fascinated with his brilliant, beautiful new companion, Edmund.

Edmund is a British naturalist who has sailed the world seeking new species. Intrigued by creatures that might kill him, immortal Andrew is this scientist’s dream-but so is making his way back home. Edmund will fight to survive, even while wrapped in the arms of a monster.

As light touches and laughter turn to something much more passionate, the cannibals creep ever closer to Edmund. Can the ancient vampire keep his human alive long enough to escape exile and explore their newfound love, or will Andrew’s bloodlust seal his own doom?

BUY LINKS:
https://amzn.to/2LAMPWi
https://ninestarpress.com/product/escaping-exile/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40958274-escaping-exile

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, she lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series, among other sexy things. Learn more at http://SaraDobieBauer.com.

SARA DOBIE BAUER SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSaraDobieBauer/
https://twitter.com/saradobie
https://www.instagram.com/saradobiebauer/
https://saradobiebauer.tumblr.com/

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In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook: Limoncello

Welcome, paisans, to the final installment of the In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook series. There’s a reason the word “lemon” is in the title of my M/M contemporary romance, and that’s because the one thing you cannot escape when you visit the Amalfi Coast are the lemon groves. There are lemons, lemons everywhere, from the orchards to the food to the patterns on everything from ceramic plates, linens, clothes, and other decorations. Most hotel rooms with greet you with a bowl of lemons on the counter. And, of course, the first thing most restaurants will offer you as a digestivo after your meal is a shot of limoncello.

But beware! That ambrosia-like elixir is potent, and too many shots might inspire a wild night of dancing in the streets, as my protagonist Seb discovers, much to his embarrassment the morning after. But nothing says summer or Italy like a limoncello cocktail, so here are a few recipes sure to brighten up any party you throw in this, the fairest of seasons.

Homemade Limoncello

Limoncello is ridiculously easy to make at home. Your local lemons might not be the fist-sized ones you get in Italy, but this recipe from Vincenzo’s nonna packs the same punch. If this doesn’t work for you, there are hundreds of others online to choose from.

 

Limoncello Crema

If you want a less intense and creamier version of limoncello, especially good for making ice creams and sauces, consider making crema di limoncello instead. This also makes an excellent holiday gift. Here’s Joe with his version of the recipe.

 

Limoncello Cocktails

Limoncello3

Once you’ve made your limoncello and you’ve sampled it au naturel, it’s time to spritz it up. Limoncello pairs exceptionally well with bubbly or berry liqueurs, or something dry, like gin. Here are a few recipes to sample at your next Italian feast.

Raspberry Limoncello with Prosecco

Lemon Drop Martini with Limoncello

Limoncello Collins

Limoncello Fizz

I hope you’ve enjoyed these In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook posts as much as I have, and that you’re inspired to try your hand at some cuisine from the breathtaking Amalfi Coast! And if you can’t afford a trip, my M/M contemporary romance In Wild Lemon Groves will take you right there.

Arrivederci!

In Wild Lemon Groves is available in ebook and print formats:

Universal Buy Link

 

 

 

 

In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook: Secondi

In Italian restaurant, the main course is often divided in two. We covered Primi, the main pasta course, in my last cookbook post. Now we come to Secondi, better known as the meat course, i.e. the one a lot of people skip because they are already too full from the appetizers and pasta. But you really shouldn’t, since the simple but flavorful cooking techniques (baking, grilling) and the ripeness of the ingredients used on the Amalfi Coast is worth savoring.

Most of the big meals in my M/M contemporary romance, In Wild Lemon Groves, are inspired by dishes that I actually ate while in Amalfi, Italy. One such memorable evening is directly reproduced in the book. I’ll set the scene…

Two bottles of vino rosso and three sumptuous courses later, the laughter continued. Ceri had led them through a maze of back alleys to a picturesque square, with a small gated chapel at one end and a wood-faced trattoria at the other. Tables sprouted like toadstools in the center, corralled on three sides by ivy-woven trellises. Garlands of fairy lights competed with the glinting stars and the fat harvest moon above. Seb wouldn’t have been surprised if the waiter had twirled a wand and poofed their dinner into existence.

            He stifled a belch, scanned the detritus with a scavenger’s eye. The last spoonful of the lemon soufflé beckoned him like the arms of a new lover; even sated, he still craved more. From the luscious caprese salad to the fluffy paccheri stuffed with black truffles and burrata with seafood sauce to the grilled lamb with balsamic reduction, pillowy potatoes, and garlicky rapini, their orgy of food had ridden him hard and put him away wet.

Grilled Lamb with Balsamic Reduction

Roasted Lamb Chops on balsamic Sauce

Three marvelous ladies who I met on the trip brought me to the exact location described above, a hidden square behind a chapel with one amazing trattoria. We feasted on the most gorgeous lamb I’ve ever eaten, one of the three Secondi recipes I urge you to make for yourself to enjoy a taste of Italy. You can find a version of it here.

Baccala alla Napoletana

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I was familiar with baccala (cod) because my sister’s in-laws always serve it at Christmas. But their version is fried in a batter, calimari-style, which is the one I included in the book. Since writing In Wild Lemon Groves, I’ve discovered that the Amalfi version is a bit more like a seafood stew, and I think this enhances the fish beautifully. You can find an authentic recipe here.

Salt-Baked Fish

salt baked fish

One of the major feasts in In Wild Lemon Groves is when Andrea invites Seb and his three lady friends to his mother’s house for traditional Sunday night dinner. The showcase dish of that meal is a salt-crusted, baked sea bass–although you can use this application for many other kinds of fish. It’s quite the showstopper, and Andrea is rewarded with a romantic dance under the starlight and a tryst in the lemon groves. You can find a basic recipe here.

Next week, the final installment of the In Wild Lemon Groves Cookbook showcases Amalfi’s biggest food export, limoncello!

In Wild Lemon Groves is available in ebook and print formats:

Universal Buy Link

In Wild Lemon Groves, Out Today! Blog Tour Schedule and Giveaway!!

In Wild Lemon Groves is out today!

Follow the blog tour and win! I’m giving away: one signed copy of In Wild Lemon Groves; one signed copy of Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, my M/M Victorian mystery romance; *and* a $25 USD gift certificate (or equivalent in your currency) to the vendor of your choice!

Three chances to win, an official excerpt of the book, five blog posts from me… won’t you join in the fun? Here’s the schedule. Links will be attached as the posts go live.

Feb 8th – The Novel Approach – Bella Italia

Feb 10th – Gay Book Reviews – When Real Life Turns Fictional

Feb 12th – M/M Good Book Reviews – Learning Haiku

Feb 14th – My Fiction Nook – Cinema Paradiso

Feb 16th – Love Bytes – Supporting Characters Always Have a Ball

And watch out for reviews at Hearts on Fire, Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words, Mirrigold, and Gay Book Reviews!

Blurb:

A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear. 

Sébastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth-anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.

Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.

Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will wine-soaked Amalfi nights and long walks through lemon groves work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?

Buy links:

Amazon ebook and print

Kobo

B&N

Books2Read Universal Buy Link

Libraries! The book is available on OverDrive and in print through Ingram and Create Space!

Bon voyage!

Selina

 

In Wild Lemon Groves, Now Available for Pre-Order

In Wild Lemon Groves HIGRES_FINAL

Greetings, friends!

Very excited to announce the imminent release of my new contemporary M/M romance set in Amalfi, Italy, In Wild Lemon Groves! For Valentine’s Day, why not escape the winter blahs for your very own Italian vacation! (In book form, alas.)

IWLG will be released on February 8th, with more details about the blog tour to come. The eBook version is now available for pre-order from the following vendors (beneath the blurb). Print will be released on the 8th! I can’t wait for you to fall in amore with Seb and Andrea…

Blurb:

A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear. 

Sébastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth-anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.

Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.

Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will wine-soaked Amalfi nights and long walks through lemon groves work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?

Buy links:

Amazon

Kobo

B&N

Also available on the Tolino, which I cannot link to as a Canadian. 😉

Apple iBooks (coming soon!)

10 Great Things That Happened in 2017

I decided to change things up this year from my usual Best Of lists. 2017 was a challenging year for almost everyone and won’t go down in the history books as anybody’s favorite. But some wonderful things happened to me this year, in the midst of all the tumultuous world events and existential despair. So along with my usual roundup of pop culture I loved, I’ve added in a few personal anecdotes and observations on the state of the world. So, in no particular order, here are my 10 Great Things That Happened in 2017.

I Found an Amazing Team of Collaborators

One of the things that kept me from self-publishing for so long was my desire to not be in it alone. My biggest takeaway from having my first novel published by an indie was the need for some talented collaborators as committed to making the book a success as I was. Also, as someone with a full-time job who doesn’t have a partner, I am the only admiral of my fleet. I was daunted by the thought of adding such a time-consuming side hustle to my already heavy workload. Which is why I am so grateful for Nancy-Anne Davies, Lady Tiferet, Rachel Maybury from Signal Boost Productions, Liv Rancourt, Karen Wellsbury, Francesca Borzi, Day’s Lee, and Judie Troyansky, and all the reviewers who helped me get the word out. Love you all!

I Read Some Exceptional Books… 

…but there wasn’t a ton of time for reading. See above for reasons why. I especially didn’t feel able to do a Best of Books list this year because my reading consumption was less than half of last year. I only had time for my faves and discovered very few new authors. This will hopefully change in 2018, #NewYearsResolution. But here are five faves my reading list.

Seven Summer Nights, Harper Fox

Spectred Isle, KJ Charles

Hexslayer, Jordan L. Hawk

Eagle’s Shadow, Aleks Voinov and Jordan Taylor

Ruin of a Rake, Cat Sebastian

Women Found Their Voices

Feminist rhetoric was everywhere this year, from the Women’s March back in January to the Silence Breakers this past fall. More people are speaking about women’s rights, and more men are aware of the incredible disparity between the genders than ever before. It’s been both emotionally crushing and exhilarating to live in such times. But this particular abscess needed to burst before it could be cleansed. There might be a lot more puss to come, but that’s the only way to heal.

I Finally Read Book 5 in the Adrien English Mystery Series

I figured since the apocalypse was nigh, it was about time to finish it before I no longer had the chance. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.

Those Committed to Change in the Romance Community

I love the romance community, especially my little niche of friends and followers. I don’t mean to go all Pollyanna on you, but the scandals always amaze me because 99% of the people I’ve met have been lovely. But those scandals can’t be ignored, and there is a huge need for change and inclusivity in terms of the acquisition and promotion of POC and LGBTQ+ authors. But there are so many authors, agents, readers, booksellers, and editors out there getting the word out and making the right choices when it comes to their own work. We absolutely need to do better. But I’m grateful for those giving it their all and for everything they’ve taught me. It’s rare you can say that something you participated in has improved you as a person.

I Watched Some Incredible Movies

Every year for the past few, I hear a lot of griping about how movies were “so bad this year”. All I can say to this is, you might want to do some research before going out to the movies because this year produced some gems I will treasure for the rest of my life. Here’s a list of my faves. And, seriously, hit me up on Twitter if you’re looking for something better to watch. Always happy to help. 😉

Get Out

Free Fire

Logan

Wonder Woman

The Beguiled

The Big Sick

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Atomic Blonde

Blade Runner 2049

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Thor: Ragnarok

Lady Bird

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Shape of Water

The Last Jedi

(I haven’t seen Call Me By Your Name yet, but there’s no way it doesn’t go on this list.)

This Four-Legged Wonder Survived Another Year With Me

#OfficialBlogMascot

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People Stepped Up, Fought Back, Resisted

Allow me to annoy you with a glass-half-full description of the year. Because we can’t lose focus of the good in the world and in people. Then we would truly be lost. I write in a genre that’s about the underdog getting the win. One that teaches you can’t lose hope. And while it’s easy to feel that we are in the darkest timeline, at least people are awake to reality. Organizations have mobilized. The Resistance is in motion and people are fighting back. In prosperous times, it’s easy for some of us (i.e. the white and the privileged) to forget. To shrug off the ills of the world. If we do that now, if we ever let ourselves do it again, then we are truly the villains of this narrative. Don’t be a villain. Wake up. Educate yourself. Give back. Progress.

TV Was My Coping Mechanism

Part of the reason I couldn’t commit to an official Best Of is that when it comes to TV, there’s just so much good. No end of good. Netflix is a one-stop shop of amazingness and creativity, and it only produces maybe two of my favorite shows. I’m someone who watches everything, and even I couldn’t keep up. It’s an embarrassment of riches. It took me an hour to whittle this list down. But here are a few of my fave seasons of TV of the year.

Legion

Fargo

Big Little Lies

Game of Thrones

The Handmaid’s Tale

Alias Grace

Broadchurch

Master of None

Insecure

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Riverdale

Howard’s End

Glow

Mindhunter

Crisis on Earth X – CW superhero crossover special

You Might Have Noticed I Self-Published a Book

There’s been enough said on this blog and elsewhere about Stoker & Bash, but its reception was without a doubt the highlight of my year. And that wouldn’t have happened without all of you. So thank you from the bottom of my heart, for reading, for playing along, for making my dream come true. This little hobby of mine is an oasis from all the ills of the world. Thank you for welcoming me into this heartening community. It means everything to me.

Have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve no matter how you’re celebrating, and wishing you all the love, happiness, and success for 2018!

Selina

 

 

Stoker & Bash Christmas Short: The Case of the Missing Christmas Cheer

Stoker & Bash

The Case of the Missing Christmas Cheer

by Selina Kray

December 24th, 1873

DI Tim Stoker leaned against a lamppost, coughing his lungs out. A dense pillow of fog had smothered the city for weeks. Not even the first breath of winter’s chill had thinned it, or the torrents of icy rain that flooded the city. There on the Strand, near the river, the night was so thick that the gas lamps’ aura didn’t reach the ground. Pedestrians fumbled their way forward through a blanket of grey mist, aiming for the next floating orb of light.

His boots waterlogged and his overcoat soaked through, Tim lurched into an alcove to collect himself before sprinting the last half block to the Gaiety. A few measured inhalations—and half his windpipe hacked into his handkerchief—and his chest settled. He’d spent all day outside the back entrance to the Spanish embassy on the lookout for the private secretary to the Duke of Wellington. His lordship suspected the formerly trusted Mr. Tolliver of selling some family portraits to the ambassador’s wife, an ungrateful cousin. An umbrella being too conspicuous, Tim was forced to do without. Thus his moist and congested state.

He wiped a line of condensation off one of the windows in a vain attempt at catching his reflection. After shaking the rain off the brim of his hat, he combed his hair into something tamer than unruly spikes, fingers rigid from cold. He thought again about returning to the meager warmth and poky comforts of his flat or, better yet, slumping in a nearby corner to sleep off his exhaustion. But he had missed every performance of Three Ghosts A-Haunting, the Gaiety’s take on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which Hiero played both Marley-Bone Jacobs and the Ghost of Father Christmas’s Knickers.

Tonight was his final chance, but his omnibus had been delayed by the fog, and he’d missed the first two acts. If Tim hurried—and every inch of his body ached not to—he’d catch the last act and perhaps dry off enough to venture backstage afterward, where the fainting couch in Hiero’s dressing room might get put to its actual use. Because the thought of rushing out into the foggy, frigid damp gave Tim a turn.

Hunching up his collar, he legged it to the Gaiety’s door, only to find it locked. He tried a second one. A third. Biting his tongue to keep from howling in despair, he then noticed a billboard advertising the afternoon show, which had been sold out. Tim punched a fist into the door, hissed as pain exploded across his knuckles. Another coughing fit seized him, and he fell against it, wanting nothing more than to crawl into a ball on the stoop. Instead he hobbled around to the stage door.

Which opened at his touch. Tim stumbled in, shook himself off. The backstage area was fully lit. Perhaps someone lingered? Certainly Mr. Marcus, the manager, would recognize him, as would a few of the stagehands. Tim crept through the serpentine corridors, too shy to call out but hoping to encounter a sympathetic soul. The farther he ventured into the theater, the stronger the savory scent of a roast grew. His stomach urged him past the artisans’ quarters—all empty—and around the bend to the dressing rooms.

He caught the distant hum of conversation and the strum of music. Tim wondered if he’d interrupted some sort of private celebration. He considered retreating to Hiero’s dressing room for the night—he could make quick work of the lock—so as not to disturb them but thought it better to make his presence known. Tucking his hands into his armpits in the hope of restoring his circulation, he pressed on.

A drunken pair he recognized from the troupe skipped into view at the far end of the corridor. And into each other’s arms against the far wall. Before too many layers of clothing could be shed, Tim cleared his throat.

“Oi, it’s Mr. Kipling!” Bertie shouted, shoving his would-be lover off. “Best of the season to you, sir!”

Hiero had introduced him by his middle name to the Gaiety staff so as to avoid anyone identifying him as a detective. Not that Hiero tended to use Tim’s given name much at all.

“He’s been waiting for you.” Giselle, a dancer, slathered the words with innuendo. “Keeps looking at the door.”

“Then he might have left it unlocked.” Tim tried for a playful tone but only sounded grumpy. Possibly something to do with his chattering teeth and soggy boots. “Have I missed the play?”

“Oh, aye. But don’t worry,” Giselle reassured him, “the night’s still young. Plenty of drama left to be lived.”

“Marcus is trying it on with Nell,” Bertie said in a whisper more bullhorn than stage. “Though he’s just broken with Kitty.”

“And his wife’s here looking scammered.” She tittered. “Nell’s been stringing Irving along for ages—price of doing work, that—while juggling some foreign count and a marchioness…”

“But they ain’t here tonight!” Both cackled.

Tim chuckled, buoyed by their high spirits. “And where, pray tell, can I find Mr. Beastly?”

“Where else?” Giselle grinned, gesturing toward where they came. “Center stage.”

After thanking them, Tim wove his way into the wings. Or what would have been the wings, had the usual tiered curtains not been replaced with a backdrop that blocked out the entire side of the stage. A few more revelers exiting toward the back end made quick work of the obstacle. Tim traced back their steps until he came to a small tinsel archway hung between the back and side drops. He glanced inside to make sure he wasn’t interrupting a performance…

And caught his breath. Not from another fit of coughing, but the sight before him.

A table as magnificent as the one at Buckingham Palace dominated the stage, laden with a Christmas feast to rival the royals’. Roast goose, a hock of ham, a rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding, oysters, potatoes, peas, and mince pies, just for a start, with at least five sauces, had Tim wiping the drool from his mouth. A bushel of children almost hid the smaller sweets table at the back, where Tim spotted trifle, Nesselrode pudding, and Lumps of Delight, as well as a near-empty bowl of Roman punch.

The set had been decorated in the manner of a stately home, with candelabra at every corner and a huge, candle-laden chandelier above. An impromptu band hung off the front of the stage, playing Christmas carols on their tin flutes, drums, and fiddles. Every member of the company—other than those already overtaken by amorousness—had a full plate and a group to chat with and had come in full costume. The lively crowd, which Tim guessed included a few family members, spilled out into the audience, everyone twinkle-eyed and smiling.

Tim coughed into his sleeve, his throat suddenly tight.

He spotted Han first in a jade-green brocade coat, arm-wrestling with Angus, who flew his clan colors in a tartan kilt. Little bun-headed Ting cheered them on, a Christmas fairy in gauzy wings. Jie and Minnie snickered into their punch as part of a circle of dancers, while Callie, in a fancier version of her Archie togs, raced some boys up the center aisle. Aldridge, in a powdery barrister’s wig and regal blue robes, played harmonica with the band. And Hiero, the master of ceremonies himself, in a floor-length coat of military red with two flanks of buttons and a gold top hat, held court at the head of the table, half listening as Lady Odile de Volanges moaned over yet another soured love affair.

Tim took a few hesitant steps forward. A glance of his starburst eyes was all Tim got before Hiero leapt to his feet, marching over to greet him to his own eccentric beat.

“You came!” Hiero grabbed the hand Kip reached out to him, spun him into close quarters. “Only the first of the evening’s many eruptions, I hope.”

“I think you mean disruptions,” Kip murmured, taking a step back so as not to dampen his clothes.

“Of course not.” Hiero tisked. “It’s as if you’ve never known me at all.”

“Oh, I’m well aware of your tongue’s… deviousness.”

“Care for further demonstration?”

“Not here,” Tim admonished, curling his fingers into Hiero’s lapels to warm them and keep him at a respectable distance. “Though a brandy would do nicely.”

It was only then Hiero seemed to notice the state of him.

“Goodness! Did they dredge you out of a swamp?”

“Something of the like.” Tim’s stomach snarled like a starving wolf. “Some of that roast might go a long ways toward drying me off—”

“Nonsense. You have no costume.”

“Don’t I make a fetching half-drowned, half-frozen, half-suffocated detective?”

“Forgive me, dear Kip, but that’s rather uninspired.” Hiero sighed, but his black eyes glittered with promise. “I’ll just have to sweep you off—”

“By the Fates, Horace,” Lady Odile blessedly intervened, twining Tim’s arm so tight against her it almost cradled her bosom, “can’t you see the lad’s in desperate shape. Come along, Mr. Kipling, I’ll make you a plate.”

Two heaping helpings and a brandy heated by candle flame later, Tim began to feel more like a prince than a toad. Not that Hiero’s attentions had wavered during this inner transformation. A press of fingertips to his wrist, a knock of foot, a nudge of knee, a smirk so arrow pointed it shot straight to Tim’s funny bone. Lady Odile took great relish in once again recounting the lonely tale of William, her suitor-not-to-be, to which Hiero provided such color commentary that Tim snorted cranberry sauce up his nose. All the while the crackle of Hiero’s regard fuzzed the right edge of his vision, growing in force and intensity until Tim’s skin tingled from its sear.

When Lady Odile called for a slice of the Nesselrode pudding, it was Tim who shushed her.

“Later,” he promised, patting her hand. “I could do with a change of clothes.”

Hiero sprang out of his seat before Lady Odile could answer.

“Allow me to escort you.” He wove a possessive arm around Tim’s middle, steering him toward the backstage. “Man of inconvenient appetites.”

“Myself, or Lady Odile?”

“Both. Neither.” Hiero backed away a step. “You’re very wet.”

“Said the bishop to the nun.”

Hiero threw his head back and laughed. “And in better spirits. Good. Now we just need to pretty you up…”

They’d slipped through a door at the far side of the stage and down a rickety staircase to the bowels of the theater.

“Oh, is that why you’ve lured me down here?”

Something in Tim thrilled at being led blind through the dark to an undisclosed—and intimate—location. Away from the revels and with some senses blocked, Hiero’s natural musk, of smoke, strong coffee, and a touch of sweat, tempted him closer.

The flick of the gaslights murdered the illusion.

The green, sickly cast and the underground gloom muted the vibrant colors of the costumes. Tim wondered how the actors looked so sharp if this was where they had their fittings. Beside a pair of sewing machines and a wall of mirrors, a maze of costume racks stretched on to infinity—or perhaps just the end of the room, obscured by furs and felts and feathers in every style and from every era. Tim recognized Hiero’s phallic horns and red cape from a recent production of Faust, or Who the Devil Wouldn’t? His performance as Misanthrophiles had inspired a great deal of sinning and swearing in Tim, though he hadn’t gone so far as to sign over his soul. As of yet.

No sooner had the door shut than Hiero pinned him against a wall, clammy clothes and squishy boots be damned. His kiss scorched Tim down to the tips of his toes, sensuous and mustached in perfect measure. Hiero was rarely forceful, but the height and size of him thrilled Tim, licking tongues of sensation wherever they touched. He wanted to crawl into his skin, wrap himself in Hiero’s velvet pelt.

But just as suddenly, his heat and heft was gone.

“Strip!” Hiero commanded, then disappeared into the racks.

“I thought that fell under your purview.”

“Patience!”

With a chuckle, Tim shed a few layers, relieved to discover the damp hadn’t seeped all the way to his skin. Not that being dry saved him from the chill. By the time Hiero emerged with a dusty quilt, shivers wracked his body. He moaned when Hiero wrapped the quilt around him.

“Don’t get too cozy.” He stepped back, scrutinizing Tim with a master’s eye.

“Oh, forget all that. Any old sack will do. Come here.”

Hiero deftly evaded his grabby hands. “Costume first, whilst my mind is clear.”

Tim laughed. “We haven’t got an eternity. They’ll find us here weeks from now, sword pricked and savage. Rut-meo and Fool-liet.”

Hiero raised a pointed brow. “Have you ever thought of writing for the theater?”

“I prefer to fuck in them.”

“Testy.” A scapegrace smile. “Just how I like you. Oh, hell.”

He lunged at Tim, scooping him up and setting him on a fat-cushioned ottoman pushed against a prop throne. Hiero yanked the quilt from under them to serve as a cover, cocooning in their body heat. The oddity of their surroundings—or perhaps the night in general—gave Tim a fit of the giggles. Hiero silenced them with another breath-stealing kiss. Tim surrendered himself to his tender, passionate care, the softness of his lips and the grind of his hips, the brand of his teeth on his taught chest, the bliss found in the depths of his throat.

Tim lay there afterward, crushed by Hiero’s slinky but solid frame, his spirits floating up to the ceiling. He felt golden; he felt adored. More, he felt grateful, for this man and his ministrations, for this little oasis from the sleet and the smog and the drone of city life. He could be at his lodging house, warm and dry but alone. Instead he played couch to a slumbering giant who’d fed him and loved him and would later revel with him till the wee hours.

“Thank you,” Tim whispered into the dark waves of his hair.

“Whatever for?”

“For being you. For welcoming me into your world.”

“That’s a rather generous description of recent events.”

“Your magnanimity is starting to rub off on me.”

“Rub off? Intriguing. Tell me more…”

***

Tim blew one of the holly leaves from his crown out of his eyes before settling in beside Hiero on the divan. The entire company had oohed and ahhed at their entrance—with a few catcalls thrown in for good measure. Hiero had exchanged his ringmaster getup for a dark wizard/Father Time-esque ensemble, while Tim—his so-called masterpiece—had been forced into a Puck costume. He had bartered the green hose for Robin Hood’s cape and trousers, but at the price of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s holly crown. He even let Hiero paint his eyes. Though he would never admit it if pressed, he didn’t hate the overall effect. It made him see something different in himself, and he strode back into the gathering with new confidence.

By the time they returned, the table had been moved to the back and the chairs set up as a small audience to one side. Mr. Marcus’s office had been raided for a divan and a few wingback chairs, on which Hiero and family were given pride of place since they’d provided all the food and drink, a fact that made Tim’s stomach do a little flip but came as no surprise. Beastly or Bash or whichever birth name remained undiscovered, the Hieronymus whose presence at his side warmed Tim to the core was a man of the people. And on this night, Tim was proud to be counted among his nearest and dearest.

After bowls of pudding and tots of hot buttered rum were distributed, the performances commenced. A few of the children enacted a little skit, folk and festive songs were sung, and a couple of stagehands braved the criticism of their actor peers by reading a poem or reciting a monologue. Callie shocked them all with a mellifluous rendition of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, which had all the ladies nodding along to the rhythm. Lady Odile played opera diva with an aria from Handel’s Messiah. And then Tim found the spot beside him empty as Hiero rose for his turn.

Tim had heard his tongue-twisty librettos and pompous villain solos from the burlesques the Gaiety put on, comedic or melodramatic tunes that suited his undeniable panache. But as the fiddler strummed out the first strains of Silent Night, Tim realized he had never really heard Hiero sing.

His voice, rich and smooth as the rum in Tim’s cup, with just a hint of rasp for spice, made the stage, the hall, the entire theater tipsy with contentment. Tim curled his legs up and listened, transported out of himself to a hush winter landscape by that sonorous voice. A spark, not unlike the birth of a star, glimmered deep in his heart.

Their gazes met, locked. Tim felt the blush stain his cheeks but gave in to the cosmic thrall of Hiero’s eyes.

A song, a look, a Christmas gift for him alone.

Fin

 

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a very happy New Year! Much love from Hiero, Tim, Callie, Han… and me!

Selina