The gilded cage of propriety where Nathan grew up as a member of the Deilian aristocracy became a true prison when, at fifteen, his homosexuality came to light and created a terrible scandal. His parents see only one way to preserve their reputation amongst the other noble families: fit Nathan with a chastity belt to increase his value to a potential partner and marry him off as soon as possible.
The recipient of that prize is Lord Rother Marsh Delaga III. After a hasty wedding, Rother whisks Nathan away to the strange and seductive land of Marisol, where Nathan will begin a new life, free to explore the pleasures of the marriage bed, though his life is still not his own.
But Rother’s Delaga House is a place of secrets, dangers, and depravity Nathan can scarcely comprehend. Where friends are few and peril waits around every corner, Nathan must employ all the manipulation he learned from high society, along with his talent for clockwork. Most of all, Nathan must adapt, compromise to survive, and cast off the preconceptions of his homeland.
Because only he can orchestrate his freedom, and it’ll come at a cost.
“Who told you?” My mother, Lady Margaritte Valencus, huffed in disgust—or at least as much disgust as her practiced expression allowed. Perched on the settee’s edge, she sat tall with her poised back never touching the tufted, embroidered upholstery. A woman of her standing could be expected to do no less.
“Not the person who should have.”
Her lips pursed into a tiny, painted frown. “So in other words, your brothers are the culprits. Sometimes I think they delight in tormenting you, Nathan. I swear they’re like a pair of gossiping old women at times.”
My chest pinched at the news. “So it’s true.”
She paused for a moment and sighed. Having been through this herself, she must have understood my concern. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
I knew this day would eventually come, but the proof brought me to a morose silence. Amongst the elaborately decorated furniture of my mother’s salon, on the end table next to her rested a handcrafted hourglass. The elegant glass bulbs were suspended between a framework of brass and gears. All the fine sand had emptied to the bottom, marking the time left to choose my own future. I wanted to invert it, to start my chances over once again.
Mother turned to the small canvas atop the nearby easel and began dabbing a slender paintbrush to the surface. It was an affectation. The bristles were void of paint, and in my twenty years, I’d never seen her finish a single painting. The possibility of staining her sable and gold brocade gown was unthinkable. Women of Deilian lords were expected to fill their days with arts and crafts, while providing the proper trophy for their husbands.
I played along with her fiction, giving myself time to absorb my own reality. Finding the brass dial embedded in the wall along the ebony wainscoting, I gave it a slow turn. The tension of hidden cogs thrummed under my fingertips and the gaslights grew brighter, illuminating the sanguine, patterned fabric lining the walls, giving her more light to pretend to work with. In the late spring afternoon it wasn’t necessary, yet I did so out of polite habit.
“Thank you, Nathan.”
I leaned against the mantel, fingering the edge of my waistcoat. The layers were snug and tailored, the fine wool properly adorned with buttons of fine metal, befitting a young man of my status. In another hour or two, I would be expected to change into formal dining dress to eat. There were clothing standards for every aspect of our lives. Only certain hobbies were permissible, and employment outside of family investments was unacceptable for the nobility.
With little to spend my time on, I’d grown restless and found hobbies my parents frowned upon. However, if I gave them little trouble, they were content to allow me my eccentricities. How odd they must have found my love of clockwork mechanisms. The precision. The order. Given the expectations my parents laid at my feet, one might think I’d be more attuned to my future requirements. The prospect of a marriage held the hallmarks of opportunity and disaster all at once.
“Do you know who he is?”
“A business associate of your father’s. Lord Rother Marsh Delaga III from Marisol.”
“So far away?” I didn’t want to whine—I was accused of it often enough—but this house and land were all I knew. For all my complaints, I wasn’t prepared to abandon it and my family.
Mother gave me a dismissive shake of her head. “Marisol is an airship ride away. Not far at all.”
“Do you know when?”
“Lord Rother will be coming in two weeks to meet you and hopefully accept your father’s offer. I’ve made an appointment with the clothier. We want you to make a good first impression.”
Well, as if that didn’t make me feel like a commodity. “At least I’ll get to meet him first before I’m shipped off.”
Mother slapped her dry brush onto the end table in her displeasure. “Don’t be droll, Nathan. You know perfectly well how things are done.” “And what if I don’t like him? Will Father force me to go through with it?”
“Most likely. This is an important union for our family.” “He can’t do that.”
She paused for a moment for effect. “Of course he can. Under Deilian law, until you are married or turn twenty-five, your father has final say.”
Pacing in a circle, I waved my hands in the air. “Wonder of wonders…. All hail the land of Deilia.”
Her delicate snarl was sharp and potent. “Stop that. Given your… orientation, there have been pitifully few options in this area to find a suitable mate for you. You don’t remember because you were an infant, but since the plague struck, Deilia has been focused on repopulating. The Monarch demanded it. And because you are unlikely to bear children—”
I stopped and glared at her. “That’s not my fault.” Layers of ire deepened my anger. I hated when she spoke to me like a vacuous noble who’d never been taught a smidgeon of Deilian history. The mention of the Monarch in this context only made it worse. As if I could forget the day I met him and my fall from grace began.
Mother pulled a brooch from her collar. With a touch of her thumb, it spun itself out, expanding into an exquisite fan with translucent blades. Another affectation. I’d been scolded enough over the years to know she didn’t require fresh air to have an uncomfortable conversation. “No, it isn’t your fault, but it’s the situation you’ve been saddled with. It is our duty to follow the plan laid out for us.”
While spending years more focused on visual arts, J. Alan Veerkamp never let go of his innate passion for storytelling, wanting to write and draw comic books when he grew up. Once he discovered M/M fiction, a whole new world opened filled with possibilities. Why couldn’t you have fantastic and dynamic sexy tales with an M/M cast? He started reading the online tales of authors like Night Tempest, Rob Colton, and Alicia Nordwell, which only fueled his need to create. Eventually he found GayAuthors.org, and with a little coercive nudge, started sharing his tales with an unexpected level of positive response. The experience and support gave him the courage to cross his fingers and aim for the world of M/M publishing.
Born and raised in Michigan, J. Alan continues to type away, wishing it was practical to use a noisy old-fashioned keyboard that clacks with each strike, if only to annoy his loving partner and spoiled miniature dachshund.