Deacon, Viscount Carlisle, was aware of the slums and gin-lanes of London. Just as he was aware of the underground traffic that furnished the brothels and bath houses with human innocents. He was also aware that the so-called justice system would hang the accused without much of an attempt at a defense, unless the unfortunate had deep pockets to pay for it.
He just hadn’t expected to be directly involved in any of it.
It started with a plea for help and ended with forbidden love, the love between a Viscount and a stable-boy. An impossible love and a guarantee of the hangman’s noose.
Will Deacon fight for Tom? Will he risk the death sentence and take that fight from the stately halls of his English mansion to the horrors of Newgate Prison and the slums of London?
Or will he realize that if he doesn’t, death will be a welcome end to the loneliness of the sentence he is already living?
Author Guest Post:
I joked with Denise that this book was so incredibly hard to write because nearly every paragraph took research. I guess we both thought it would be a good idea to prove it!
The Innocent Auction is set in London, 1810. It’s the era of Regency Romance – that some very well-known romance writers excel at – all the way back to Jane Austen and her famous Pride and Prejudice.
I wanted to be a little different.
Homosexuality in 1810 was a hanging offence. To be honest though, most offences in 1810 were hanging offences. In the main there were three types of punishment – death, deportation, or fines. Prison was not the long-term affair that it is today. Prison was merely a holding area. One of the worst types of imprisonment was the “prison hulks.” Old rotting ships in the Thames harbor. Prisoners would be held here until the next ship deporting them to the Americas or the Indies would sail. At night there were no guards. They simply locked the doors. The survival rate wasn’t high.
To give you an idea of the justice system then – there wasn’t much. Liberty was often bought. There was nothing resembling a modern police force. Prosecutions were usually done by the victim. In my book the charge of sodomy is brought by the supposed victim’s father, who has other reasons for his accusation.
Crime and punishment were high drama in 1810. Public executions were one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and were still carried out until 1868. England’s severe punishment system for major and minor crimes was known then as “The Bloody code.” Crowds to watch a hanging could be up to seven thousand people.
Most people buy calendars at Christmas. Animals, famous people, football teams even. One of the most infamous prisons at that time was Newgate. Newgate calendars were popular sellers – filled with engraved pictures of prisoners, executions, and trial scenes.
An alternative punishment was “Standing at Pillory.” The pillory was a devise made of wood or metal with holes securing the head and hands of the prisoner. The punishment was humiliation. Crowds would pelt the prisoner with everything you could think of. Rotten food was probably one of the most pleasant things. Sometimes the crowd would get too violent and the prisoner would end up maimed, or dead.
And often the ride in an open cart to the pillory was even worse than when the prisoner got there. In the 18th and 19th century, the population of England was so extremely hostile to anyone engaging in homosexual relations, the prisoners were lucky to survive the journey, and many didn’t.
To give you another example of the justice system – or lack of it – in 1810 a male brothel was raided by the Bow Street Runners, the pre-cursor of the police service. Around twenty-seven men were imprisoned, and the resulting sentence of pillory caused all the shops to close that were on the route as the crowds were so large.
The saddest footnote to this, and incomprehensible to our modern-day justice system, was that a sixteen year old boy was arrested two weeks later as a result of the publicity from the raid. He was not present when the brothel was raided, but he was still hung on hearsay and supposed confession for his involvement.
There were many other things that needed research. For example – how long would it take to drive a horse and carriage thirty miles? Did you know that tin baths were lined with soft linen as tin wasn’t pleasant to lie against? Servants hauled buckets of water to and fro, as there was no running water or indoor plumbing.
I’ll be totally honest and admit to cheating a little with the language, and not just the fact that I dialed the accents back a little. In regency England boys didn’t refer to each other by their first names. Their own mothers wouldn’t even call the eldest son and heir by their first names!
I also refer to the pox. Syphilis at that time was rife. Prostitutes were even named on lists that gentleman referred to. “Harris’s list of Covent Garden Ladies.” And “Man of Pleasure’s Kalendar.” (actual spelling)
There were no condoms, and definitely no handy tubes of lube. I had to be careful with my cursing, and learn how people spoke to each other, ate and dressed.
To end my research…the word “fuck” dates back to the fifteenth century. It used to mean “an attack or strike,” and not necessarily a pleasurable one. Funnily enough one of the first authors to use it in the fifteenth century was a man named Richard Head. I wonder if his nickname was Dick?
I started reading Regency Romance when I was a teenager. I would get in trouble for staying up too late reading, or for taking two hours to wash the dishes because I would read my book (with rubber bands on each page) while I was doing said dishes. My grandmother had boxes of them, and I would just read them all. So, to say I love reading that period would be an understatement. I also hold it dearly to my heart, because it founded my love for reading romance novels, and the ever present HEA.
What a ride this book was! Deacon, such a man of honor, could not leave a young boy behind when he could see the suffering. Then having him sent to one of his properties, only to find him later and immediately feel a connection to him. That young boy, Tom, grew to be a man who had eyes only for Deacon, from the time he saw him. It was sweet and loving.
These two didn’t have an easy road, during a time when “buggering” was an offense punishable by hanging. But at the same time, they could not leave each other, despite thinking it was a better option for the other. Beau, meanwhile, broke my heart. What a sad story he brought on himself, and Deacon never felt anything but love and devotion for his blood brother, and would have done anything to be there for him, and truly did. I cannot imagine how challenging it must have been for gay men at that time in the world. At this point and time, it isn’t easy, but 200 years ago, it was such a heinous crime, you could be drawn through town, have rocks and garbage thrown at you, and it would be considered entertainment.
I will say, I could not figure out how these two men would be able to find their way into a life where they could be together, live together and love one another. And not only did Ms. Sue do that, she surprised me in how she got that to happen, without it seeming completely out of the blue. One hallmark of Regency Romance has always been, you must marry for money or convenience, and in the end, that came in to play, although from a different angle than I was expecting.
The research done on this book was incredible. Just as Ms. Sue indicates in her post above, every sentence needed research. I was in awe, having read so many, for so many years, of all the little things that came into play. Everything from a climbing kid, to the information on who was playing at the Theatre Royal was part of just every day conversation with these characters, and yet it lent realism to the story.
I truly enjoyed this story so much, angst and all, and would love to see Ms. Sue write another one. And the epilogue, well worth waiting for.
4.5 pieces of eye candy for me.
Deacon opened the door to his room and gaped in astonishment. A tin bath was set in the middle of the room. Steam rose from the water within and the sides were lined with fresh linen. There was a tray with all manner of breads, cheeses and meat laid out, as well as a bottle of Deacon’s brandy and a glass. Tom was just emptying another pitcher of hot water into the bath.
“Tom,” Deacon said delightedly.
“M’lord. I thought as you had no valet.”
Deacon smiled, a huge wide grin that lifted the darkness that had seemed to settle in his insides since they had come from Newgate. Then he paused. The guilt which had assailed him all day came back with vengeance, and he pictured Beau on that thin mattress.
“Don’t, sir.” Tom took a step towards him. “There is nothing you can do for Master Beau tonight, and you have done far more than most. I’m not naysaying its importance, just perhaps asking you let it go for a few hours?”
Deacon gazed at Tom steadily, then turned, took a pace back to the door, and turned the key very deliberately. He turned back and started unbuttoning his waistcoat. “On one condition.”
Tom’s eyebrows raised.
“You don’t call me sir…or m’lord…or your lordship. Not tonight.”
Tom took two steps until he was stood flush with Deacon’s body. “Let me.” Deacon’s hands fell from his buttons and he inhaled slowly, letting his head fall forward onto Tom’s chest. Tonight, Tom could do anything he wanted.
Tom slid Deacon’s jacket from his arms and tossed it onto the chair. He finished unbuttoning the waistcoat, which then joined the jacket. Tom unraveled his cravat slowly, Deacon unable to contain a moan as his fingers touched his neck.
Tom gave the low order. “Lift.”
Deacon obeyed immediately, the repeated memory tugging at both their smiles.
Once Deacon was shirtless, he thought Tom would unfasten his trousers, but he hissed in shock when Tom bent his head and fastened his lips around one of his nipples.
“Oh, God.” Deacon breathed, his eyes slamming shut as the glorious sensation of Tom’s teeth on his skin razed a fire in him that sped unchecked to his groin. Deacon sucked in air as Tom’s lips continued south, but Deacon’s hands caught him. “Get in the bath with me.”
Tom’s eyes caught the same flames that were burning in Deacon, and they both rushed to undress. Deacon stepped in the bath and sighed contentedly. The water was good and hot, and he settled with his back firmly to the edge. Tom hesitated “Come here,” Deacon instructed. “Sit in front of me.” Deacon caught Tom by the hips as he stepped in, then twisted him so he settled down in between his legs. Tom stiffened a little, but Deacon wrapped his arms around him and brought him snugly against his chest. Deacon groaned as Tom moved and settled against him, aware that Tom must have been able to feel the evidence of his arousal.
Deacon grabbed Tom’s cock, and his voice cut off on a squeak.
“I’m sorry,” Tom gasped out as Deacon’s hand gentled. “I don’t know what to call you.”
“And you cannot call me Deacon?”
Tom groaned as Deacon rubbed his length firmly and circled his thumb around the tip. “I am frightened I will forget.”
Deacon licked the skin on Tom’s neck, a very sensitive patch from the way he moaned once more.
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that, but do whatever makes you feel comfortable. Sir if you like, just not m’lord for pity’s sake.”
Tom turned to lick the edge of Deacon’s jaw line. “Yes…sir.”
This time, Deacon groaned. “Every time you say that, I will be imagining you in this bath.”
“And every time I say it, I will be imagining your lips on my cock.”
Deacon’s cock throbbed at the visual, unable to respond further when Tom lifted his arm and settled his hand on Deacon’s face to pull him around for a kiss that silenced them both. His cock was rubbing hard in Tom’s crease and Deacon still had his hand in Tom’s groin, feeling the weight of Tom’s ballocks nestle in his fingers. Deacon stretched his head a little further and met Tom’s mouth. Tom made a little noise in the back of his throat at the contact, and Deacon felt himself grow even harder. He wanted nothing more than to thrust himself into that hot, tight hole. Deacon broke off a little, realizing he needed slicking up to do that. He wouldn’t hurt either of them.
Leaning Tom back, he sluiced water over his chest. He reached for the soap and the cloth, rubbing it up and over Tom’s nipples and making him quiver in delight; his nipples peaking, red, delicious. Deacon lowered the cloth onto Tom’s groin, and the lad thrust himself helplessly into Deacon’s hands. “S-sir,” he begged.
Deacon was as hard as Tom, and it nearly killed him to withdraw his hand. But not now. Tonight was going to be about lazy loving. About clean sheets and lots of time. His stomach rumbled; he was suddenly hungry. “Stand up,” he said gently, steadying Tom as he tried to rise.
“You’re bad for my balance, sir.” Deacon’s arse clenched at the word sir. Tom had been bad for his balance since the minute he had come home to Rawdenscliffe.
Tom stepped out and wiped a towel over his arms and chest, casually scrubbing his legs.
“No,” ordered Deacon, as the lad’s hand strayed to his groin. “I’ll dry that.”
Tom’s pupils distended and his face flushed. He picked up the other towel, letting his own drop heedlessly to the floor. “Sir?” He opened the towel wide for Deacon to step into as he got out of the bath. “Let me,” Tom whispered, then dried Deacon so thoroughly that every inch of his skin was thrumming in anticipation by the time he was done.
“Are you hungry?” Tom asked, going to toss the towel before Deacon took it off him.
“Not for food,” growled Deacon. He proceeded to gently dry Tom’s cock and ballocks until the lad was swaying where he stood.
Deacon raised Tom’s chin with his finger and stared into the heavy-lidded eyes. “You’re beautiful.” And he swallowed the moan as he kissed Tom’s swollen lips. He bent, swinging Tom into his arms.
Two steps barely and he was at the bed, gently laying Tom down. “Move up,” Deacon said. Tom shuffled a little so Deacon could lie beside him. “Tom, I have to ask…”
“Not with a man, sir,” Tom answered hurriedly, and Deacon nodded.
“Then we will go slow.” Deacon bent and nuzzled his neck, and he arched his head back to make more room.
“I- I’m not sure I can last for ‘slow,’ sir,” Tom stammered while Deacon sucked at his collarbone, working up a mark that would be hidden by his collar, whilst his fingers found Tom’s leaking cock fully pushed out from his foreskin.
“Then let me do this.” Deacon bent his head and quickly sucked Tom’s cock into his mouth.
“Oh, oh, my God, sir. I cannot—” Tom writhed and Deacon felt the man’s cock pulse in his mouth. His fingers strayed to the skin under it, then further until they touched Tom’s puckered hole. Deacon dragged his nail along the skin and Tom arched into Deacon’s mouth, filling it with the bitter taste of Tom’s seed. Deacon was a little stunned for a few seconds, then a pleasing sense of satisfaction when Tom’s inarticulate noises chased the bitterness away. He eagerly cleaned his cock with his tongue until Tom finally hissed, and he let go.
Tom groaned and Deacon moved higher to watch him as he lay, sated. Deacon traced Tom’s kiss-swollen lips with his finger, and his heavy lidded eyes fluttered open, a barely there smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “Sir…”
Deacon smiled. The satisfaction and pleasure imbued into three letters spoke volumes.
Deacon sat up a little, and Tom was immediately contrite. “Sir, I…you haven’t.”
“We have all night.” Deacon leaned over, pressing another kiss on Tom’s lips. He responded eagerly, and Deacon hummed in pleasure. Tom was good for his ego. He reached over for the brandy putting it between them on the bed as Tom sat up. “You only brought one glass.”
Tom blushed. Of course, thought Deacon, he would have. Tom would not have wished to assume. “It matters not, we can share.”
Tom smiled, pouring some of the brandy into a glass and passing it to Deacon. Deacon took a sip and swallowed, but made no attempt to take the glass. Tom took a sip and coughed a little. “Wow, sir.”
Deacon smirked. “There are still some Parisien jewels accepted in London.”