Release date: November 14th
Released From MLRPress
An Edwardian Christmas For All!
I’m Selina Kray, a first-time author whose new book, Like Stars, is out now from MLR Press and all fine eBook vendors. A huge thank you to N.J. for hosting me today!
My historical M/M romance, Like Stars, is set in the Edwardian era, so for a Christmas dinner scene, I had to do a bit of research. It was a time when the commercialization of Christmas really took hold, where the businesses that had been founded during the industrial revolution learned to monetize the holidays. Prince Albert and Charles Dickens’ enthusiasm for the holiday helped popularize it. Toys and decorations flooded the market like never before, but, curiously, the season’s biggest mascot had not yet found universal acclaim:
“Father Christmas had been a figure in English history since medieval times. He represents the Christmas spirit of goodwill, but he did not bring gifts. He came from Odin and wore a blue-hooded cloak and white beard, and had an evergreen wreath around his head. St Nicholas, the Christian saint, visited Dutch children on Christmas Eve and left toys and candy in their straw-filled clogs. If the children were bad a birch rod would be left instead of sweets. By Edwardian times, Father Christmas and St. Nicholas had merged together, and Father Christmas was pictured in a red suit and brought gifts to good children who hung up their stockings on Christmas Eve.” [Source Link]
For the upper classes, Christmas was yet another chance to flaunt their wealth, with lavish decorations, opulent gifts, and of course a feast fit for the King—if he happened to pop round for a visit. The usual nuts, fruits, cookies, and minced pies were prepared for nibbling, while Christmas dinner itself could sometimes be a 14-course affair, which might include oyster soup; vegetables in aspic; duck liver terrine; and a roast bird stuffed with apples, chestnuts, and pork. The piece de resistance was a flaming plum pudding, though some also served a Buche de Noel. With lots of fruitcake. In England, as everywhere, you can never have too many desserts.
The Edwardians were also known for playing games at Christmas, some family-friendly, some decidedly… not. One of the most famous is Snapdragon. Some brandy is poured into a large bowl, sprinkled with raisins, then set aflame. The aim of the game is to pick out the raisins without, say, lighting your cuff on fire. Nothing says Christmas like a second-degree burn!
In Like Stars, the Christmas festivities prove even more hazardous to one character’s well-being. A few months earlier, Nathaniel Thredgold returned to Ravensworth Hall to reclaim his place as heir to the estate and family fortune. Only problem is, he was supposed to have died in the war eight years earlier. Some members of his family believe his story, and some think he’s an imposter. His youngest brother Frederick falls squarely in the latter camp, and he decides Christmas dinner is the perfect place to prove Nathaniel a fraud once and for all. Even Nathaniel’s long-lost lover, Wesley Douglas, isn’t certain it’s really him. There’s only one sure way to prove his identity—reveal their boyhood affair—but that way leads to the gallows.
No matter how you’re celebrating this holiday season, I wish you a very merry one, indeed!
What if your true love walked back into your life five years after his death?
Nathaniel Thredgold has finally returned from the war. Or has he? His lover, Wesley Douglas, isn’t sure. Wesley must put aside his engagement, his disbelief, and his anger to give his professional opinion. The truth about their relationship isn’t an option. But is this stranger really the Ravensworth heir and Wesley’s long-lost love? When your heart’s at stake, there’s no room for doubt.
Set in the Edwardian era, Like Stars is a tale of mysterious identities, scandalous family secrets, and lovers in a dangerous time.
Dr. Wesley Douglas' entire world unraveled and re-spun itself the instant he saw the hooded man looming in the doorway of the Raven's Claw Inn. It was not his custom to stare so openly, but neither was he accustomed to seeing a ghost with the face of his long-dead lover under the midday sun. Haggard as the grim reaper himself, his face half-concealed by the drape of his long black hood, this specter from his past stole down the side alley that led to the main road. The sight was so unexpected, so breath-stealing, that Wesley nearly plowed into an overhanging sign as he turned to follow him.
He shut his eyes for a second, indulging in a violent and hopefully unseen shiver. Cursing under his breath at his susceptibility, he steered his horse around the man, then veered into an about-face confrontation. Rallying his senses, Wesley looked again, staring flagrantly at the man's few discernible features, scrutinizing every visible curve and slope of his visage for confirmation of the dour-clothed stranger's identity. When a lone, dark eye flickered into view, Wesley's heart leapt in his chest.
His shock was such that he dropped his horse's reins. Bracer reared, his flailing hoofs threatening the sheep that clotted the street like blow-off tufts from a cotton field. If Wesley had not been suffering some form of spook-induced paralysis, he might have flown off his horse and chased the scoundrel down. He might have gripped him by his collar and spat in his face. He might have struck at him with little more than his long-kindling agony and a riding crop. As it was, he could only gawk at what must be a ghost.
If it were a commonplace occurrence to encounter Nathaniel Thredgold's ghost whilst traversing the small, shadowy lane between the dressmaker's and the inn, Wesley might have patronized the area more frequently. As it was, the herd of ornery sheep stationed themselves, with airs of glowering intimidation, before the butcher's shop, thus blocking all traffic, equine and otherwise, on the high street. This was not an uncommon occurrence in the picturesque yet somnambulant village of Haversham, a close-knit and somewhat cloistered community in the wilds of Derbyshire. Nestled a touch too snugly between two towering hills, village life flowed at the same pace as the current of the tranquil river that arced around it to the east.
With shaking hands, Wesley gripped Bracer's reins and heeled into his flanks, urging the horse to vault over several clusters of sheep, who baaed indignantly. Soon, he was galloping down the country roads at such velocity that wind blew through his hair, even on a stagnant midsummer day. It was only once they jumped the stone fence into the courtyard of his cottage home that he dared draw breath, dared let his shock overtake him, dared wonder what manner of mischief now stalked the path to Ravensworth Hall.
By the time he shucked his boots and crept through the side door, Wesley was a good way to composing himself. The unseasonable humidity, never welcome to one of his fair complexion, had made him so woozy that he had fallen victim to fanciful imaginings of the most pedantic and fruitless sort. What, after all, had he truly seen of the man? A veiled visage? A lurching step? A sallow cheek, its edges darkened by the drape of his hood? No scientist of merit could form a concrete notion, let alone a hypothesis, based on such scant evidence. Servant to logic and rational thought that he was, he could only conclude that, once again, his damnable emotions had colluded to deceive him, to make real what he very well knew could not be.
A dry, strangled cough from the parlor broke his reverie; he took a moment to further scold himself, then sought out the patient he had ordered home some three hours ago. Beatrice, alas, was exactly where he had left her, bundled up to her red, flaky nose on the divan, a bowl of steaming, cheese cloth-covered water cradled on her lap. With a sigh, Wesley dropped his saddle bag, then moved into her line of vision. Bea met his stern look with a defiant one, which would have been almost comical, given her puffy pallor, if his ride home had been without incident. With a huff of annoyance, he plucked a recently used thermometer from the side table and studied the mercury line. Dissatisfied, he gave it a violent shake, then plunged it back under her tongue before she could protest.
"I pray you've cancelled the remainder of my appointments?" Bea nodded, scowling. "Very well. Another hour's rest, and then I must insist upon escorting you home."
When she opened her mouth to protest, the thermometer fell out, rescued from a fiery bath by the cheese cloth. "I mean to spend the night on the ward, Wesley."
"You will not. Your mother and aunt are far more capable, not to mention eager to coddle you."
"More capable than a medical doctor?"
"At coddling, yes." He snatched up the thermometer and stuck it back in her mouth. "I might remind you that a doctor's office is supposed to be free of sickness, that we take a care not to infect further illness on our patients."
Unimpressed, Bea spat the thermometer out again.
"As I might remind you that Mother and Auntie would gladly concede the right to coddle me if it meant you showed sign of the devotion you oft proclaim, but, to their minds, regularly fail to demonstrate."
Wesley swallowed a grunt of irritation, then collapsed onto the far end of the divan, narrowly avoiding her toes. He considered this a moment, then glared in her direction. "Do I truly, or is this a ploy to evade their questions, nagging or otherwise?"
Bea frowned. "It is a ploy. But only because they have been so relentlessly inquisitive of late. You promised them a wedding."
"And I mean to deliver one. You know very well it has only been a year since I repaid the last of my father's debts. If we are to live comfortably, then the lavish wedding they expect will have to wait a while longer. A state of affairs that is not helped by your languishing in the patients' ward when ill."
Beatrice sighed, which brought on another hacking fit. Wesley sprang to his feet, fetching the cup of tea that cooled on the side table. A few sips calmed her throat. He rubbed soothing circles into her back; she straightened to accommodate him. He wished he could offer her his shoulder. It was of great comfort to him that they did care for each other, even if their impending marriage was one of the utmost convenience.
"It is just such a trial to endure them, even when well," she griped. "If I had known they meant to drape me from head to foot in ribbons and lace, then I would have agreed to flee to the continent and elope."
"You must allow them their fun, if only in the name of preserving the illusion of our romance. Though I can imagine the effort it requires when feeling poorly. Still, we cannot take advantage of their laxity in chaperoning us. That, too, discourages local nobles from calling on my services."
"Aye," Beatrice acknowledged, though she looked the more miserable for it.
His aggravation having fled with the rise of his sympathy, Wesley found himself more amenable than before to compromise.
"I shall fetch them here," he concluded, with a pet to her blanketed head, "so long as you swear to confine yourself to this parlor and the guest quarters for the better part of a week. That, I trust, will give us both ample opportunity to demonstrate our boundless affections, and I will bear some of the endless questions in your stead. Does that suit you?"
"Infinitely well," Beatrice smiled, her relief and exhaustion plain. She reached for a clean handkerchief then, using it as a barrier against infection, and clasped his hand.
Once again, Wesley found himself grateful for the friendship between them, one that not only permitted their strange, face-saving partnership, but was also of immense comfort to him in times of doubt and strife. Sensing her fatigue, he tucked her into the divan, then set about boiling more tea. Though he craved a moment's introspection, a private examination of the day's events would have to wait on meddling law-mothers and flu-waylaid fiancees.
Selina Kray is the nom de plume of an author and English editor. Professionally, she has covered all the artsy-fartsy bases, having worked in a book store, at a cinema, in children’s television and in television distribution, up to her latest incarnation as a subtitle editor and grammar nerd (though she may have always been a grammar nerd). A self-proclaimed geek and pop culture junkie who sometimes manages to pry herself away from the review sites and gossip blogs to write fiction of her own, she is a voracious consumer of art with both a capital and a lowercase “A”.
Having long ago realized that she was the Salieri to the lit world’s Mozarts, she has embraced her love of erotica with intricate plots, complex characters, and lots of heart. Whether she has achieved this goal is for you, gentle readers, to decide. At present, she is hard at work on future novels at home in Montreal, Quebec, with her wee corgi serving as both foot-warmer and in-house critic.
Find Selina Here