Thank you very much for letting me write this post for Queer Books Unbound! Reaching out to potential readers is always very exciting. Below is an exclusive excerpt from The Vicar and the Rake, my debut m/m Regency romance from Carina Press and the first book in the Society of Beasts series.
The Vicar and the Rake is the story of the intense, tender romance between Gabriel Winters, an emotionally repressed vicar, and Edward Stanhope, Duke of Caddonfell, London’s most scandalous rake who is well-known for pursuing men. Gabriel and Edward were childhood friends, with Gabriel fighting powerful sentiments for Edward until his friend abandoned him. When Edward returns to his childhood home with an enemy out for his blood, Gabriel has to face his long-buried feelings—and Edward begins to realise that the peace he’s been desperately searching for in London may have been waiting at home for him all along.
There’s also a secret society, missing diamonds and a kitten named Buttons. Quite a lot going on, all told.
This excerpt takes place shortly after Gabriel has been discovered in the grounds of Edward’s ancestral home, delirious with fever. He’s spent a lifetime fighting his overwhelming attraction to Edward, but his illness is weakening his resolve. There are some temptations not even a man of God can resist.
A life of sin had been good to Edward. The skinny, fine-boned adolescent he remembered had grown into a tall, lithely muscled man who whispered dangerous elegance from head to foot. A crackle of charisma shone in every movement of Edward’s linen-covered arms, every forceful jerk of his thighs as he paced up and down, seemingly unaware of Gabriel’s presence.
Any other man, on any other day, would inspire nothing but renewed self-control. But this was no ordinary day. No ordinary man.
Gabriel’s normally rigid mastery of his own body was impossible, racked as he was by fever. And Edward’s face, complete with sculpted cheekbones and ice-blue eyes that glittered with cynical, reckless mischief, was designed to undo the strongest of men.
God, he ached for him. Ached to do things that he couldn’t name, and couldn’t dare to imagine.
The fever burned away years of denial as he watched Edward pace and mutter. Desire flooded him, as pleasurable as the illness was painful, working in tandem to tingle and swell and stiffen him in ways that would have been unbearable in perfect health, let alone in his current condition.
If only he could touch him. It would be so easy, if only he weren’t dying. Just reach out and grip a handful of that flaxen hair by its roots, pull Edward to him, and see just how much the man had changed. See if, deep down, he was the same youth he’d known all those years ago.
But he couldn’t lift a finger.
Perhaps, then, this was hell.
Oh, Lord, he was coming over. The air filled with the scent of saddle leather and soap. Gabriel tried in vain to shift away as Edward knelt; the musk that clung to the man was stiffening the very opposite of his resolve.
Who knew that—that that could happen in the midst of a fever? He hoped against hope that some sort of blanket was covering him as Edward leaned closer, his full, insolent lips mere inches from his own.
How beautiful he was. He could think that now, as the fever burned away his shame. Beautiful, and damned.
A cool, smooth hand pressed tight against his forehead, sending delicious chills radiating through his body. Edward’s voice washed over him like winter rain, so cold it burned in all the right places.
“You can’t die, Gabriel.” So he did remember him. “You can’t. And not just because it would be damned inconvenient.” Edward’s lips curled into a wry smile, and Gabriel shivered with more than just fever. “Don’t die. Please.”
Edward, pleading. If Gabriel had any control over his own survival, that would have tipped the balance. Given the freewheeling carnival colours exploding across his vision, however, it was already too late to fight.
Darkness beckoned…but something else beckoned first.
With a superhuman burst of last-ditch strength, he brought his hand up to Edward’s neck. His fingers dove deep into the linen knot at the top of the man’s shirt, pulling him down to where he lay.
Hell, purgatory, heaven? Who knew? Maybe he was just a man on earth, freeing the part of him he’d kept caged all his life.
He took a deep, shuddering breath—and kissed Edward as if he were drowning.
As a young man, Sir Gabriel Winters left behind his status as a gentleman, turning his back on his secret desires and taking a self-imposed vow of celibacy. Now he’s a chaste, hardworking vicar, and his reputation is beyond reproach. But, try as he might, he’s never forgotten the man he once desired or the pain of being abandoned by his first love.
Edward Stanhope, the Duke of Caddonfell, is a notorious rake, delighting in scandal no matter the consequence. With a price on his head, he flees to the countryside, forced to keep his presence a secret or risk assassination. When Edward finds Gabriel on his estate, burning with fever, he cannot leave him to die, but taking him in puts them both in jeopardy.
With the help of a notorious blackmailer, a society of rich and famous gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, and a kitten named Buttons, they might just manage to save Edward’s life—but the greatest threat may be to their hearts.
Annabelle Greene writes hot, heartwarming historical romances with plenty of humor.When she isn’t crafting the perfect HEA, she’s making pasta or walking along Italy’s beautiful Adriatic coast.