by Morgan Cheshire
Connecticut, 1720: In an attempt to give his family financial security, school master Jem Bradley hires himself out as an indentured servant – and thus begins an odyssey which will take him to the small settlement of Kennet and a burgeoning friendship with enigmatic blacksmith Will Middleton. Trouble is never far away, however, and when Jem is accused of committing a bloody murder his future begins to look very bleak indeed…
49,000 words/226 pages
Publication 1 August 2011
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Third in Best Gay Debut Novel/Book category
Ninth in Best Gay Historical category
“…an exquisite gem of a novel which may just be my favourite book of the year.”
Review at BitterSweet Reviews 9 September 2011
” …an understated novel perfect for those who appreciate a more reserved romance.”
Review at Top2Bottom Reviews 15 September 2011
“The characters absolutely charmed me… “
Guest reviewer Sirius at Jessewave 29 October 2011
“…could have been a 100% breeches ripper [...] but the author decided to play more subdue[d] tunes… “
Review by Elisa Rolle 8 March 2012
“I was quite pleasantly surprised by Solemn Contract. The plot kept me guessing, which is always good.”
Reviewer Michael Joseph at Speak Its Name 4 July 2012
The inn at Danby, when they reached it, was no more than adequate; however, the time of year meant that they were able to get a room to themselves. Arriving in the early afternoon, Tanner had time to arrange the return of the horses to North Haven and book passage on a boat leaving the following morning. All this accomplished, he was in a very good mood at dinner.
The food was slightly better than that usually found at inns and there was no lack of liquid refreshment; both men drank more than was good for them and the liquor made Tanner daring. Bradley’s easy laughter and glowing face were more temptation than he could reasonably be expected to deal with.
“Why not?” he whispered softly to himself.
“I beg your pardon?”
Tanner realised he had spoken aloud.
“Nothing. Let’s have some more of that peach brandy.”
He picked up the bottle and proceeded to pour them both another drink. Bradley raised his glass in a silent toast to his companion and their glasses clinked together. He was acutely aware that Bradley would soon be out of his reach – not permanently, but for long enough – and there might never be another chance.
The decision made, Tanner slowed his own drinking but continued to top up Bradley’s glass. Finally, as they staggered up the stairs, singing a song about a girl whose honour was for sale, Tanner slipped his arm around Bradley’s waist apparently to steady him. They almost fell into their room, Bradley giggling helplessly, a part of his mind registering that he had drunk far too much and would no doubt pay for it in the morning.
Concealing his excitement, Tanner adjusted the lamp and banked up the fire. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow.
“Yeah.” Bradley grinned fatuously, pulled off his coat and dropped heavily onto the bed. Scratching his hands through his hair, he started to undo the linen knotted loosely at his throat.
Swiftly Tanner undressed and slipped into bed, the cold sheets sliding across his heated skin making him shiver. He lay with eyes half-closed watching Bradley, wondering what approach to make. Bradley was almost certainly drunk enough to agree to anything, but not drunk enough not to remember in the morning. Lamp and firelight shone on the smoothly muscled length of back and thighs and anticipation shuddered through Tanner, arousal hard under his hand; he lay still as Bradley climbed into bed, the warmth from his body stealing across the space between them.
Tanner waited, and before long Bradley’s deep regular breathing indicated that he was asleep. At last he raised himself on one elbow and looked into the relaxed face. The invitation of slightly parted lips was far too dangerous to accept. A carefully executed touch turned Bradley onto his back with no more than a murmur of protest. Breathlessly Tanner eased back onto the bed and waited for the few minutes it took Bradley to sink back into sleep. Then Tanner rested his hand gently on Bradley’s chest, but there was no reaction except the continued soft rise and fall of his breathing.
The young man’s skin was warm, body hair erotically soft under the palm of Tanner’s hand. Hot, illicit pleasure coursed through him, his hand gliding down over a flat stomach to explore dense curling hair. Tanner cupped his own ardent flesh as Bradley groaned deep in his throat and shifted position slightly. Scarcely able to breathe, he left his hand in position and Bradley quieted. Unlike his own pulsing hardness Bradley’s sex lay warm and soft under his hand, vulnerable and desirable.
Still more than half asleep, Bradley felt the invasion, moved closer, murmured something unintelligible. Tanner held his breath as the warm softness beneath his hand stirred and hardened. Becoming more aware, cobwebs of sleep slowly falling away, Jem responded to the stealthy advances, closing the space between them.
Flickering firelight revealed brown eyes and fearfully Tanner remained still. Bradley leaned over him, weight pushing Tanner into the mattress; unexpectedly he seemed to have taken over the situation, moving against Tanner, both of them now fully erect. The press of Bradley’s lips against his mouth was too much; Tanner’s erection pumped convulsively, spilling over both of them, and he felt the warmth of Bradley’s response – and a moment later the younger man slid back into sleep, his arm loose across Tanner’s waist.
After waiting a few moments for his heartbeat and breathing to settle down, Tanner cautiously slid away from Bradley. He held in his mind the texture and warmth of the body he had just used, and the experience made him determined to possess Bradley, to force complete submission from him rather than just an unthinking drunken response. That would take planning, if it was possible at all. Violence wasn’t the answer; no, what he needed was a lever, something he could use against Bradley, something to persuade him it would be better to co-operate.
Still considering possibilities, he fell asleep.