There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love. Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.
Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more. But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…when they’re not flat on their backs.
Stephen Ashbrook and Evander Cade are a package deal and have been since the moment they ran from their respective homes. Life in London has brought them a couple of things, the freedom to quietly be together and a much larger and more receptive audience for their music. Every composer needs a muse and according to Cade, Ashbrook has always been his. Their professional life is progressing nicely which is how the undercover couple have found themselves to be the summer guests of their most prominent patron, the Earl of Coventry. Six weeks in the country should be a wonderful respite from the London summer yet it turns into anything but.
Cade has promised Ashbrook their time in the country will not interrupt their affair which proves to be both completely true and completely false. Their lifestyle isn’t acceptable and while the sneaking around and the possibility of getting caught makes the sex even better, it also increases their risk of being caught and arrested. Adding to the risqué nature of their affair is the inclusion of a third man, Joshua Beaufort. Oh, Beaufort certainly takes the affair to all new heights but he is also an outsider, so to speak, which means he is able to more objectively analyze Cade and Ashbrook’s relationship. What Beaufort sees is completely unacceptable. Cade constantly berates and belittles Ashbrook and when Ashbrook does or says something to offend Cade, Cade throws a fit that generally involves many, may harsh and hateful words and the withholding of his affection. In short, Cade is despicable human with no regard for anyone other than himself.
As the summer progresses, Ashbrook becomes more and more despondent. Cade is constantly in a snit, Beaufort is trying desperately to get him to see the truth of his relationship with Cade, and meanwhile, back in London, a whole host of gay and presumably gay men have been arrested for buggery which only creates greater anxiety among the illicit trio. As the what should have been a blissful six weeks of summer at Coventry’s comes a close, Beaufort make one final play for Ashbrook’s affections only to be shot down. All three men, each a little more broken than before leave the country with every intention of picking up pieces of their lives and moving forward. For Cade, that means elevating his torturous treatment of Ashbrook, for Ashbrook that means finally having the spine to stand up for himself, and for Beaufort it means finally making the bold decision to leave the comfort of his cousin’s home to strike out on his own.
The Bottom Line: Who knew a summer in the country could be so hot and so scandalous all at once?? Rite of Summer is, at its core a love story that very much plays out behind closed doors. This is a period piece and true to the period, the gay lifestyle was totally unacceptable both morally and legally which automatically adds an element of tension to the read. Cade and Ashbrook are just a train wreck on every level and I disliked Cade from the very beginning. Cade is arrogant and awful and has no desire to please anyone other than himself; his actions are always selfish and his words rarely ever hold even an ounce of truth. Ashbrook is by far the quieter of the couple and only becomes truly interesting when he stands up to Cade. Of the trio, Ashbrook grows the most over the course of the read and it pleasurable to see him come into his own as a man and a musician. Beaufort is, by far my favorite of the men and his feelings for Ashbrook are true and pure; his actions are always meant to protect Ashbrook and himself from any further hurt. The only time the three men agree on anything is when they are in bed together and those scenes are very, very, very long, they are also steamy and good. But, good sex doesn’t make a relationship and by the end of the read, everyone gets exactly what he deserves!
Stephen goes exploring in the Earl’s massive house, and comes across a gallery of paintings. But someone else is there as well.
The man in the portrait was not classically handsome. His mouth was too full and his hair too red for that, his jawline perhaps a little too soft. But his eyes crinkled at the corners with secret mirth, as though sharing a very private joke with the viewer, and those lush and generous lips curled up at one corner. He sat in a smock and his shirtsleeves, a palette on the table behind him. His head tilted very slightly to the side, like he was listening to some secret, lively song. His eyes caught and held Stephen, grey as stormclouds over the cliffs, a hint of blue that was the clear sky breaking through, and a knowing look that struck some chord deep within that Stephen could not immediately name.
Well, he wanted a great many things. But never before had a portrait been responsible for a curl of longing or desire twisting its way up from the center of his being, some vague and wistful sense of thwarted desire focused on that arresting stare.
I wonder if he would look at me that way in life.
I wonder who he is.
A faint scuff of feet behind was all that gave Stephen warning before someone spoke, and he managed neither to whip around in surprise, nor jump like a child caught where he shouldn’t be. “He’s not a particularly good-looking fellow, to deserve such lengthy scrutiny.”
The voice was an unfamiliar one, a warm rich tenor that verged on a deeper range, a faint northern accent coloring the tone.
“I suppose not,” Stephen replied, pausing to allow his heart to slow before he introduced himself. “If you value men solely based on looks. But there is more life in his expression than in all the other portraits put together. Either the sitter was a man of uncommon vivacity, or the painter was exceptionally fond of him.”
He turned and looked at the man standing behind him.
His hair was shorter now, and he was dressed for dinner, his cravat impeccably tied and tucked into a cream waistcoat. The man from the portrait stepped in to the gallery, framed by a shaft of light that fell across the floor from the hall. His eyes had not been exaggerated. They had been perhaps underplayed, and that grey-blue gaze regarded Stephen with a peculiar intensity. He was a little taller than Stephen, his frame of very pleasing proportions, and had a controlled energy to his walk that suggested strength lying beneath the layers of wool and linen.
“Or he was his own painter,” the newcomer said, his lip quirking up in that selfsame knowing smile, “and both irredeemably prone to vanity and in desperate need of an honest friend to check him in his fancy.”
Tess Bowery lives near the ocean, which sounds lovely, except when it snows. An historian by training and a theater person by passion, she’s parleyed her Masters degree in English history into something that would give her former professors something of a surprise. Her love for the Regency era began as they always do, with Jane Austen, and took a sharp left turn into LBGT biographies and microhistory. Now she indulges in both of her passions, telling the stories of her community in the time periods that fire the human imagination. Her first foray into contemporary M/M fiction, High Contrast, releases in 2016. Along with writing, Tess splits her time between teaching, backstage work, LBGT activism and her family. She spends far too much money on comic books, loves superheroes and ghost stories, and still can’t figure out how to use Twitter properly.