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His Grey Lord (The Regency Lords)

by Stephanie Lake

An Award-Winning Gay Regency Romance: Where Love Defies Boundaries and Status.

In Wiltshire, England, amidst aristocratic grandeur, a spark ignites between Grey, a young nobleman, and Sam, a charismatic laborer. As their worlds collide, Grey grapples with societal chains and echoes of his father’s stern lessons. Yet, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to Sam’s rugged allure.

Can their love rise above these trials? Embark on a journey of passion and defiance in this gripping historical romance novella.

“Stephanie Lake gives us appealing characters, fun storylines, and crisp prose. I especially enjoy the skill she uses with her historical settings. Her stories are perfect when I need an escape from the here and now.” – Kim Fielding, Award-winning author of The Bureau series.

“Bold, sensual historical settings that immerse you in the experience and characters that bring the past startlingly to life.” – Amy Lane, award-winning author of Fish out of Water series."

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Excerpt:

Wiltshire, early summer, 1807

There were very few things Grey’s father, Lord Falkenham, taught him, but one lesson he learned at an early age: never involve yourself with those below your station. So why he could not keep his eyes and fantasies from the compact, perfect form of one tanned bricklayer was beyond imagination.

The man currently under observation resurfaced the outside of a decrepit bridge, which connected the estate to an island containing an old but still functional bathhouse. The past few weeks, he’d watched this bricklayer work circles around the others. Lifting impossible weights using leverage and intelligence instead of mere strength alone. His actions were graceful and fluid, as if he had practiced and perfected each move for years until there was nothing but beauty and efficiency. No wasted motion, no awkwardness.

Where had the beauty come from?

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Grey shifted in the saddle and raised his face to the warm sun as he listened to the man banter back and forth with the other workers. There was no noticeable accent to the bricklayer’s quiet tenor other than working-class Bath, so he must have lived nearby his entire life. Then why had Grey never stumbled upon him before? They must be of an age, for the fellow looked no older or younger than himself. Hard to believe their paths had never crossed in a tavern or on the streets in town. For he would have noticed this one. This one was a rare jewel.

Now, every time Grey went out, recently more than was his wont, he hoped for a chance encounter with the bricklayer. But he never found the man, except here, and often suspended on scaffolding over the roiling, sulfurous water.

Grey rode to the worksite every day, some days hovering for hours and talking to the foreman, when instead he should be inside preparing for his father’s upcoming and highly controversial betrothal celebration. Yet he kept coming here to watch the fellow in motion. Hell, he would watch the man being still as well if he ever stopped the perpetual dance of carrying lumber, placing bricks, glancing about, and occasionally giving Grey that sly, shy smile.

How would it feel to have that energy, that constant motion underneath him? Damn, he had to force his eyes and mind back on the construction progress, otherwise he would spend right here in front of twenty sweaty, smudged laborers, not a woman anywhere to be had for an easy excuse.

On a previous visit he told the foreman that his interest in the project stemmed from urgency. If the bridge wasn’t fixed in time, the engagement party could not be held on the beautifully landscaped island.

Perhaps the party, and by extension the wedding, would need to be postponed. And was that such a bad thing?

He was not certain, because those enticing smiles kept his mind wandering during the day and awake at night. Well, awake as long as it took until business was accomplished. And that was an embarrassingly short period, even if he were the only one aware of the fact. The memory of the bricklayer looking at him just so, his agile body moving, flexing, fully clothed was always enough. It seemed he lacked sufficient imagination to progress past even the first layer of clothing in his fantasies. Then again, there was no reason to imagine nudity when what he saw in work-worn, dust-covered clothes was exquisite.

Hair as glossy and black as a raven’s wing. Skin bronzed from so much time in the sun, except for a pale line at the collar of his shirt. When he stripped down to his undershirt, sweat dampened it to his skin, and the thin cotton clung to rippling muscles. There was absolutely nothing unpleasant about the man. Even when taking a break with the other laborers, as he was now, he leaned against the wall surrounding the mouth of the bridge as if he were one with the structure. While other men rested against the wall with an arm or a hip, his bricklayer—as he’d come to think of the object of his infatuation—leaned into the structure as if it were a long-cherished lover. Touching in as many places as possible, relaxed and at ease.

God, the saddle was becoming uncomfortable. He dismounted with a creak and groan of leather and guided the large gelding between himself and the resting crew. He needed a distraction to calm himself. He brushed Blaze’s sleek flanks, recently curried and gleaming in the bright summer sun.

The foreman took advantage of his dismounting and sauntered over for another round of inane chatter that always did nothing but give Grey a headache.

“Lord Montague, so very glad you could spare the time to view our progress.” And just like that, the arse-kissing started. His skin crawled, and he wished he could shoo the man away as easily as Blaze rid himself of flies.

* * * *

Pushing sweat-damp hair from his forehead, Sam glanced sideways and watched Lord Montague—, or the ghost as he liked to think of the young lord. He was striking; not exactly handsome, but definitely worthy of admiration. Tall as a birch, and his long silver hair, pulled back into a queue, shimmered in the light. He would be stunning at that, but the man also favored dark-gray suits, and he rode, quite expertly, a sixteen-hand, dappled-gray gelding.

Not stiff as starch like most Englishmen, but strong and straight as if his bones were forged with iron. Silver hair was unusual in itself, but on someone so young it was a rarity. What had caused the young man to turn gray? For he was young. Probably half a decade or so younger than Sam himself. Yet despite the difficulties Sam had experienced in his two and thirty years, they must be nothing compared to the ghost’s life, for the lord never smiled, not even when his capricious horse nibbled on his pristine gray coat, looking for a treat. The man was obviously amused and fond of the animal, since he gently pushed the big gelding’s head away, snagged an apple from a pocket, then patted the long, sleek neck as the horse chomped on his treat with slobbering enthusiasm.

Sam almost laughed at the scene, but years of practice kept his polite smile in place as the ghost chatted with Adams, the foreman and senior brick mason.

Sam waited for the break to finish. While staying still, it was difficult to study his surroundings and have his fill of watching the enigmatic gentleman, who acted like he owned his uncle’s estate. It was so much easier to glance about and cover the direction of his gaze when he was working and moving.

It was dangerous to be sure, but Sam had silently flirted with the lord, sending sly glances and furtive smiles since this bridge project started. Dangerous to desire a gent, and even more dangerous to attempt a seduction, but there was no help for it. His desires ran to boiling every time he sensed the man near.

The lord patted his horse and conversed with the foreman. A giant, hairy prick, that one. Sam would not trust him with the morning ale, let alone the task of building a sound bridge. Fortunately, the rest of the men on the project seemed competent and conscientious. Sam was no expert, but he had enough knowledge of how things worked to lend a strong back and hand. The bridge would be finished soon and then… And then he would have to leave. Find different work and not see his ghost again.

His ghost. Now the gent was his ghost? How the ever bloody hell had that happened? God, but he was turning soppy in his middle age. A mawkish molly-mop. That was what he was. A bloody molly-mop.

“Gon’ be a scorcher this week, I fear,” the man resting beside Sam said as he wiped his face with a handkerchief smeared with mortar dust.

“Unseasonably warm this year, that is a given.” Sam pointed at a bank of clouds off to the northeast. “Maybe that storm will move in and cool it off for a few days.”

“Mayhap, mayhap.” The grizzled, middle-aged man nodded. “’Ell, back to work, then.”

It felt good to have a brick and trowel in hand again. Sam enjoyed physical labor but really had to stretch his imagination to pretend anything in common with the men he worked and lunched with. Using the flow of tasks as a cover to watch his quarry, he noticed one thing—Lord Montague did not like what Foreman Adams had to say. There was an ever so slight twitch in the man’s left cheek. Perhaps he should intervene and save his ghost from the frustration of conversing with the sycophant who’d never lifted a board or trowel in his life.

He’d probably be reprimanded for interrupting, but then the day would be boring after the aristocrat left, anyway; might as well spend it gaining rebuke by Adams.

He mortared in his last section and wiped his fingers on a strip of cloth that was probably dirtier than his dust-coated skin. Oh well, not much he could do about his appearance, save from jumping in the lake. Straightening his shirt, he enjoyed the rush of lust that shot through him as the lord’s eyes tracked his every step. He closed the last few feet, and his ghost swallowed, his cravat trembled as his very masculine Adam’s apple jumped in that long, elegant throat. Sam had a sudden desire to run his tongue along the pale skin from cravat to just under one of those perfect ears.

He always noticed ears on a person; they were unique and hard to disguise, so one of the first things he observed about the young lord were those desirable ears. A few times he’d caught himself daydreaming about nibbling on the man’s lobes before the fantasy moved to other parts of that steely anatomy. Shaking off the lust storming through his body, he bowed before the noble and then addressed his boss, the prick. “There seems to be a problem with one spandrel. I would like your opinion before bricking in the surround.”

Foreman Adams rolled his eyes and turned to Lord Montague. “I swear, if I were not here every day, these men would probably build a shack instead of a bridge. Please excuse me, my lord.”

The whole time the buffoon complained, Sam watched the gent from under his lashes and maintained his I’m-shy-but-interested expression.

“Come on, then, Mr. Samuel Martin,” the foreman drawled out each syllable as if Sam were too stupid to understand his own name. “Let me allay your fears.”

Lord Montague cleared his throat and said, “One moment if you please, Adams. I have a question about…um, well…mortar, or lack thereof. Seems there is a problem with one of the chimneys at Longdale. Perhaps Mr. Martin could provide a hand, or rather advice on whether the whole chimney needs to be rebuilt or if a simple patch will suffice.”

Adams mumbled under his breath and left to check the structure.

Sam’s outlook for the next few days took flight like fireworks at a country fair. A hand remortaring my ghost’s chimney, indeed! His back to Adams, he let his appreciation for the proposal show in his smile.

The edges of his ghost’s lips trembled just a fraction of a second before he spoke loudly enough for the retreating foreman to hear. “I am very worried the whole thing will cave in at any moment. Would it be possible for you to come by an hour or two before dusk? If, that is, it does not take you away from your current duties.” The invitation was presented in an aristocratic drawl, with clear steel-gray eyes boring into his own.

Sam suppressed a shiver as he said in a carrying voice, “We knock off at quarter past five, my lord, it being execution day. The hanging is scheduled for six.”

The quiver at the corners of the man’s mouth almost turned into a smile this time. “You do not mind missing the execution?”

Sam had seen more death than a person should witness in three lifetimes. “Considering the dire nature of your chimney, sir, it would be unconscionable of me to delay. There could be…” He deliberately scanned the aristocrat’s long, elegant body. “Long-lasting consequences. Shall I arrive early at the manor by…” Sam looked at the mansion, a majestic three-story stone edifice surrounded by a neatly trimmed lawn, and then looked back toward the humble tent encampment erected for the bridge crew. The tents were brought from Frome, and each one housed multiple men. If he ran back to camp, washed, changed, and ran to the manor, it would be half past six and he’d be drenched in sweat once again. He glanced at the lake. Throwing his shoulders back, he said, “If you don’t mind a bit of mortar dust, sir, I can be at your door before six.”

His ghost nodded, turning his attention to the foreman, who was striding back to them and muttering.

“Nothing wrong with the spandrel, Mr. Martin. Now back to work.” He huffed as if having to check the safety of the bridge, which would carry hundreds of people to the island of inappropriately named lake, Half Mile Pond, were an imposition.

Lord Montague handled the ridiculous foreman with aplomb. “Very good to hear, and thank you for checking, Adams. Had you not taken a concern seriously, I would be quite worried about the soundness of this project.”

The foreman blanched at his apparent blunder and spent endless minutes pontificating on his bridge-building prowess and how nothing under his watch would be shoddy.

The lord turned away from the man, his lips pressed tight, yet still there remained a tremor in his jaw.

Sam could almost hear the man’s thoughts. He doth protest too much, methinks.

As unobtrusively as possible, Sam slipped back to work mortaring the bridge and planned exactly how he would bathe and freshen himself under the construction scaffolding by the water’s edge, and how he could best present himself at the mansion.

Hours later, after his ghost had gone, he chanced another look at the manor, which stood wide and proud. What must be fifteen feet tall mullioned windows spanned most of the upper floors. A regiment could billet within its spacious interior, with room to spare for the camp followers.

Sam would avoid the long, straight road leading to the house. It was always safer taking an indirect route, as it resulted in fewer eyes on your back.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

Stephanie Lake is the pen name for a husband/wife team who enjoy writing historical M/M (gay) romance with happy endings and steamy middles. We hope you read and enjoy the Second Chance series, His Midshipman, His Second Chance, and His Pirate. We’d love to hear from you, so check out our website for contact info at: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/home

Stephanie and Lake joined forces with Jules Radcliffe, another author of queer historical fiction, to produce a monthly newsletter with news and updates on what we're doing, plus competitions, and giveaways. Sign up to our newsletter for a copy of His Advocate, the short story prequel to His Captain: https://sites.google.com/site/stephanielakeauthorcom/newsletter-signup

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