02 June 2011

Excerpt Thursday: Erastes

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical novelist, Erastes, as she celebrates the release of her latest novel, MERE MORTALS, available now in print and ebook from Lethe Press, Amazon and just about everywhere. Join us Sunday, when Erastes will be here to talk about the novel and give away a copy! Here's the blurb:
Author Erastes' historical romance novel, Mere Mortals, is a beautifully written, haunting story about three young men who are taken in by a mysterious benefactor to live in the lap of luxury at his English countryside estate, Bittern’s Reach.

Orphaned Crispin Thorne has been taken as ward by Philip Smallwood, a man he's never met, and is transplanted from his private school to Smallwood s house on an island on the beautiful but coldly remote, Horsey Mere in Norfolk. Upon his arrival, he finds that he's not the only young man given a fresh start. Myles Graham and Jude Middleton are there before him, and as their benefactor is away, they soon form alliances and friendships, as they speculate on why they’ve been given this new life. Who is Philip Smallwood? Why has he given them such a fabulous new life? What secrets does the house hold and what is it that the Doctor seems to know? Trust acclaimed author Erastes to tell a moving story in the field of gay historical romance.

“How long have you been Smallwood’s ward?”  
I’d expected something more personal, something impossible to answer, and the question took me by surprise. I answered him, relieved that I did not have to start my acquaintance with this man with a lie.

“I was told about it a year ago, sir.” Not for worlds would I explain the cir-cumstances of that discussion with a stranger. Just the memory—and shame—of my interview with the headmaster was enough to freeze the tongue in my mouth.

The headmaster had had his back to me, as if he couldn’t bear to look at me, and from what he’d just called me, and the expression on his face as he’d listened to my side of the story; it was clear he was revolted.

“Normally you would be sent home…in…cases like this. Archeson has al-ready been packed off and it will be up to his parents to deal with his…aberration.”

I paled. I’d met George Archeson’s father, as tall and broad and commanding as Archeson himself was slender and blond and shy—they couldn’t have been more different. I held my thumbs tightly, hoping against hope that Archeson wasn’t suffering. Wondering if we’d ever meet again, and doubting it.

“Truly, sir, you shouldn’t blame Arch.”

The headmaster rounded on me. “I do not.” The inference was clear, and I flinched under the fury of my headmaster’s gaze. “As you don’t have a home to go to, and your education is paid in full until you leave I have no alternative but to keep you, as much as I regret it.” The man returned to his desk, pulling open a drawer and removing a sheet of paper. He handled with much distaste-- as if I had written a de-scription of what Archeson and I had been doing when caught, although in truth it was little enough. “I have a letter here from Mr Smallwood, who has asked for, and has been awarded your guardianship. He wishes you to remain here for the remainder of the year.”

I felt as confused now as I had that day in the headmaster’s study. Smallwood? Who was this man? Why had he decided to become my guardian? Was it he who had paid for my education? If so, why? I had asked the headmaster these questions but the man had nothing more to tell me, or had decided not to tell me any-thing, either for reasons of his own or from sheer bloody malice.

Baynes dug a sharp elbow in my ribs. “There, lad. On your right. There’s your first sight of the Reach.” I struggled to my feet as the boat slipped quietly to-wards a wooden jetty in the distance, and gradually a house emerged from the screen of bare willows. In the year since I’d been told about a guardian I’d never met, I had imagined many houses that the man might live in: everything from a smart, four-storey townhouse in Mayfair, to a sprawling moorland farm, isolated in some bleak rolling landscape. I had not expected a huge elegant red-brick mansion with curved ornamentation to the gables. As the boat neared the jetty it became clear that behind the house the river widened considerably into a large lake, or a broad, I realised I should call them.

“Do you sail, Mr Thorne?” Baynes asked

“No, sir. That is, nothing much more than rowing. A little punting once or twice.”

“Well, you’d best learn,” Baynes said, “You can’t see it from here, but the Reach is on its own island. Boats are the horse, the carriages and carts here. You’ll find that out soon enough.” Baynes held out his hand and I shook it, gladly. “Good luck, boy.” He settled back down in his seat, leaving me no recourse but to say my farewells and to clamber ashore as gracefully as I could manage to watch the strange black boat slide away into the broad. No one waved to me from the boat, so I turned my attention to the present. My luggage was already on the jetty, such as it was, and I was about to drag it along with me when a shout sounded from the direction of the house.

“I say, leave that there, I’ll have Witheridge send someone for it later.” I turned to see a young man of a similar age to myself walking along the short path from the archway of the house. “Thorne?” The newcomer had a wide, friendly smile and as he neared the jetty he held out a hand, bare in spite of the cold, to be shaken. I did so, feeling some pleasure in at last seeing someone who seemed to be happy to see me. “Come in, you must be frozen.”