Exclusive Excerpt from A Summer of Smoke and Sin
by TJ Nichols
This is at the party where Jericho and Nathanial dance the male waltz (which was created to celebrate the Male Marriage Act). Jericho is trying to do the right thing and Nathanial desperately wants to do the wrong thing if he can find the nerve.
Nathanial offered his arm to Jericho, and Jericho hesitated for a moment before accepting.
“We don’t have to do this if really don’t want to,” Jericho murmured.
Nathanial wasn’t sure what he wanted. People would see, and while he’d danced the gentlemen’s waltz before it had never been with anyone that he liked. He’d treated it as a joke like some of the other young men. He’d wanted to fit in and be like them, but even then he’d known that he wasn’t. He’d made sure never to dance with anyone he was attracted to, because he was terrified of them realizing. Already his palms were slick, and tension coiled around his heart, making it hard to breathe.
“They already think I am a climber like my father. I have withstood worse, but the gossip for you will be unbearable. They will assume the most sordid lies are true.”
They already were. Margaret was defending his honor, but how many would believe her? “The gossip about you will be good for business, will it not?”
“Stop dawdling. You will create more gossip by not doing it.” Margaret smiled as though she had said something lighthearted, not bitten off orders like they were naughty children.
“Stop trying to arrange my life,” Nathanial muttered.
“Well if you did a better job, I wouldn’t have to.” Her smile widened as they stepped inside.
Men were taking their places with their partner. Some were blowing kisses and being as silly as Nathanial expected. A couple of older men were taking it much more seriously. Perhaps they had an affection.
Jericho leaned closer. “Shall we play this for laughs?”
“I think that would be wise.” He didn’t want everyone to see how much he liked Jericho. Jericho was the kind of man one kept, not the kind one married; he had to remember that. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun. “How is your migraine?”
They took their places and Jericho did a ridiculous curtsey. There was no need for it; he’d danced with Bertie and two other men, the poet from the club was here and someone else Jericho knew. But this was different. They had arrived together. People had been watching them trying to determine if there was anything unseemly going on. So, they had kept a polite distance.
One of the older men took a few steps closer and gave Jericho a withering stare. “You should respect the waltz more. Men fought for this right for decades.”
Nathanial wanted to say that he knew. That he understood more than the man could ever know, but he said nothing, and the man scowled again at Jericho, then moved on to tell off another couple.
The band gave them a few warning notes and then Jericho’s hand was on his waist. Nathanial made the mistake of looking up into Jericho’s eyes. All ideas about keeping this dance light dissolved as he placed his hand on Jericho’s upper arm. The smile on Jericho’s lips softened. Then the music got properly started.
While some of the couples laughed and made fun, Nathanial couldn’t find it in himself to do anything. Nor did Jericho. They turned and control of the dance flicked to him, Jericho sliding his hand into position. Somehow they’d moved a little closer together.
Not close enough.
Maybe it was because he knew he shouldn’t want him, or maybe it was because Jericho was dangerous to his reputation, but Nathanial had never wanted any man as much. If he wanted to take chances and experiment, he could’ve visited Fleet Street where there were places to purchase sex with men. But it wasn’t sex he was after as much as the need to touch another.
This wasn’t enough.
Last time, Jericho had knocked him back because he was drunk and clouded by opium. Tonight, his head was clear, and he knew what he wanted.