A Touch of Spice by Ellie Thomas
Thank you so much, lovely Addison, for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’m Ellie, and I write MM Historical Romance novellas. It’s release week for my new story, A Touch of Spice, and I’m delighted to chat about my new release with you today.
My new story is a follow-up to last year’s Valentine’s story, The Spice of Life, set in Elizabethan London in the early 1570s. In that story, Gregory, a young serving man, comes to the aid of an apprentice spice merchant. Jehan finds himself in trouble with the law after a false accusation of stealing. During this adventure, my couple not only gets together romantically but also meets William Anstell, a young aristocrat who turns out to be the guilty party of the theft, for reasons of desperation rather than malice.
At the start of A Touch of Spice, Gregory and Jehan are an established couple, looking forward to settling down in a spice shop off Fleet Street and managing the business together. Although they have different careers and life experiences, both these young men are from a similar class. Gregory has been trained as a serving man in the house of his wealthy relatives, and Jehan has served his apprenticeship to a local spice merchant.
When reading How To Be A Tudor by Ruth Goodman, it was very interesting to learn that, unlike in later centuries, being a servant was seen as a rite of passage rather than a job for life. Tudor households regarded this instruction as a form of training for adult responsibilities. At twenty-one, Gregory has almost outgrown his role, and his aunt and uncle are fully supportive of him embarking in business with Jehan.
It’s a sensible sharing of skills since Jehan has been taught the spice trade by his former master, and Gregory is accustomed to household accounts and is unfazed by keeping the shop’s record books. Also, since it was unremarkable for men to share a property, a bedroom and a bed, there’s nothing to stop them from enjoying their business and romantic relationship.
Of course, being fiction, there has to be a bit of drama, and who better than William to provide it? Especially as he managed to cause chaos in the first story. I was able to add some contrast and colour through this character since William, another gay man, is from a different class than my couple. Although marriage was the norm, Gregory and Jehan sharing a home might not raise a Tudor eyebrow, but an aristocrat having middle-class friends might cause more consternation. Clothes and manners would immediately draw attention to this class difference.
Also, as we learned in the last story, William has to deal with different expectations and pressures when he is pushed into marriage to Agnes Spenser by his socially ambitious parents.
The Tudors had a practical and earthy approach to marriage, where a happy domestic life was central even amongst the aristocracy. So Agnes’ parents’ selling her to the highest bidder would have been quite shocking in a way it would not be a few centuries later.
William and Agnes might both be inclined to their own gender, but they prove to be a strong alliance. The difficulties they have to traverse, aided by their good friends Gregory and Jehan, contrast with the more straightforward romance of my central couple.
In the spring of 1573, twenty-one-year-old Gregory Fletcher is a happy man, set to move into the spice shop on London’s Ludgate Hill with his true love Jehan Zanini, who he spared from being condemned as a thief the year before.
But Gregory’s kind inclinations to help others in need tend to thwart the couple from fulfilling their dreams as Gregory delays living with Jehan to assist his adoptive family in a crisis.
Then William Anstell, their friend and the cause and saviour of Jehan’s previous problems, gets amorously involved with an unscrupulous tavern server and relies on Gregory and Jehan to resolve his embarrassing mess.
Can the lovers finally put aside distractions and other people’s problems to find lasting happiness?
Mistress Cecily looked up from her stitching with a smile as Gregory entered her sewing room. Gregory felt a sting of nostalgia, that increasing sensation of being caught between two worlds. The safe patterns of boyhood grated against the exciting challenges of impending adult independence as he passed the age of a serving lad, only tied to this place by family loyalty.
As a courtesy, Gregory reported the purchase of the nutmeg and delivered his lady’s remaining money. Mistress Cecily nodded her head absently without bothering to count the change.
“And how is young Master Zanini today?” Mistress Cecily inquired.
“Both he and his trade are doing well, and he sends his compliments,” Gregory replied, the courtesy causing Mistress Cecily to smile more widely.
The Master and Mistress, Gregory’s de facto parents, had been delighted when he broached the notion of entering into merchandising. Jehan’s skill and knowledge of the goods he sold were never in question but Master Crossley had previously dealt with the business side of running the shop where Jehan was apprenticed. So the newly established merchant had scant experience of running a business and little certainty in his ability to notate letters and numbers.
Here, Gregory held the advantage. Growing up in a considerable household and being involved in its daily management proved invaluable, and Master Robert had guided him through the rest, poring for hours over the business ledgers and discussing how best to invest Jehan’s store of sovereigns.
If Master Robert had gladly imparted his knowledge of bookkeeping, Mistress Cecily had immediately bestowed her patronage on the Ludgate shop. Gregory reckoned that Master Crossley would not be dismayed at losing such a prestigious customer since he owned both premises, but Mistress Cecily’s friendly support to Jehan was a boon, as well as her recommendation of his services.
A few months after Jehan started trading from the narrow shop, Gregory was set to join him, openly as a partner in the business and privately, to conduct their burgeoning love affair. In overcrowded London, it was usual for men to share a room or even a bed without inciting gossip or moral outrage. Additionally, there was a small upstairs front room in direct proportion to the shop below, ideal for keeping the shop’s records. This chamber had a decent-sized window overlooking the street, garnering enough natural daylight for scribing.
Gregory had been preparing to decamp to Ludgate permanently in the depths of winter, when Master Robert’s elderly father had fallen down from the icy front steps of the Bishopsgate house. The doctor declared that Master Edward was lucky to get away with shock and bruising and a clean break of the bone in one arm. Gregory was a particular favourite of the old gentleman and had attended him in recent years more from fondness than duty. After the accident, not only did Master Edward require more practical assistance until his limb was mended, but the shock of the injury suddenly aged and confused him. For some months, it seemed that only Gregory’s presence could restore his good humour.
Neither Master Robert nor Mistress Cecily expected Gregory to remain to tend to their kinsman, but he could not bear to leave under the circumstances. After all, he reasoned, they had unhesitatingly opened their home and hearts to an orphaned boy. It would be unthinkable to repay those long years of kindness with desertion, especially when the old master needed him.
When he tried to explain his decision to Jehan, he feared outright rejection, even the end of their dreams of forging a life together, but although Jehan’s expressive face was sombre at the disappointing tidings, his dark eyes were full of compassion. “Family comes first,” He said. “You can’t desert Master Edward now. I sympathise, and I would expect no less of you. After all, if you hadn’t stuck by me when I was in trouble, where would I be now? You’re not the kind of man to abandon loved ones to follow your own desires, and I cherish you all the more for that quality. Never fear, I can wait a while longer.”
Ellie Thomas lives by the sea. She comes from a teaching background and goes for long seaside walks where she daydreams about history. She is a voracious reader especially about anything historical. She mainly writes historical gay romance.
Ellie also writes historical erotic romance as L. E. Thomas.