Merry Midwinter greetings to you all!
A bunch of authors of queer historical fiction from the QUILTBAG Historicals FB group have got together to brighten this dark time with posts loosely (sometimes very loosely!) themed around the 12 days of Christmas. And there’s a truly fantastic giveaway, which you can enter here – just follow the link and sign up with your email or FB to be in with a chance.
The theme today is turtledoves, and as I’m sure everyone knows, they’re commonly considered a symbol of lovers—faithful lovers at that, as the birds are reputed to mate for life.
I was amused to discover recently that “turtledoves” is also Cockney rhyming slang for gloves, which influenced my choice of snippet for you. It’s from To Love a Traitor, my novel set in the shadow of the First World War. Here we see our two would-be turtledoves, George and Matthew, early on in their acquaintance, attempting to rescue a cat from a tree on a chilly December evening:
They came to a stop at the foot of a large sycamore tree, almost at the end of Marlbury Crescent. “He’s there—look!” Matthew pointed, and George could just make out a pair of bright green eyes in an area of black-on-black. “Oh, you silly animal! How am I going to get you out of there?”
“Maybe he’ll come down if you call him?”
“Don’t you think he’d have come down by now if he could?” Matthew’s voice was anxious.
“Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?” George said practically.
“Marmaduke! Marrrrrrmaduke! Din-dins!”
Both of them called for what seemed like hours, coaxing and wheedling and banging the tin for all they were worth, but Marmaduke merely yowled at them and refused to budge. Matthew looked around for a moment. “There’s nothing for it. George, would you give me a leg up?”
George stared at him in disbelief. “Have you lost your mind? It’s dark, and it’s icy, and in case you’ve forgotten, you’ve only got one arm. And you want to go climbing trees?”
“I can’t leave him there all night! He’ll freeze!”
“I wasn’t suggesting we leave him there. Come on, if you go down on one knee, I’ll use you as a ladder until I can reach the lower branches.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Now, come on before we all freeze.”
His face tight with worry, Matthew did as he was bid.
Jamming his hat down firmly on his head, George clambered awkwardly up, instinctively attempting the impossible feat of standing on his friend’s leg and shoulder without actually putting his full weight on the man. It was doubtless a relief to both of them when he finally managed to swing himself up into the branches of the tree.
There was already a thin layer of frost limning the branches. George’s leather gloves slipped on the bark, so he pulled them off with his teeth and let them fall, only to discover that frozen fingers were little better. Nevertheless, he climbed grimly onwards, determined to reach his goal if only to prevent Matthew trying anything ridiculous. Marmaduke yowled encouragement, while a faint “Be careful!” warmed his heart from below. His hat was an early casualty, and twigs snagged George’s hair and caught on his woollen scarf, pulling out great loops of wool and impeding his progress. Still he struggled on.
It felt like an age before he was able to look up and see Marmaduke’s eyes, not three feet away. George inched along the branch, its protuberances digging painfully into his stomach, queasily aware he was now level with the second-story windows of the nearest house. As he got within a foot of his quarry, it suddenly occurred to him he had absolutely no idea how he was going to climb down with a cat in his arms.
Marmaduke solved that problem neatly by employing George as a sort of human ladder, gratefully digging his claws into George’s flesh as he went.
* * *
Wounds of the heart are the hardest to heal
Solicitor’s clerk George Johnson has a secret goal when he moves into a London boarding house in the winter of 1920: to find out if his fellow lodger, Matthew Connaught, was the wartime traitor who cost George’s adored older brother Hugh his life.
Yet the more he gets to know his quarry, the more George loses sight of his mission—and his heart. Blessed with boyish good looks and charm in abundance, ad man Matthew is irrepressibly cheerful despite having lost an arm in the Great War—and soon makes plain his attraction to George.
Matthew’s advances become ever harder to resist, and George tries to tell himself his brother’s death was just the luck of the draw, and to forget he’s hiding secrets of his own—including who he really is.
But as George’s feelings for Matthew grow, so does his desperation to know the truth about what happened that day in Ypres. Even if it means he’ll lose the man he’s come to love.