Christopher Holloway lives a comfortable existence in 18th century Bristol as the son of a wealthy merchant. Until, when on a night out with some aristocratic companions, he is set upon by thieves.
His friends don’t come to his rescue, but he is led to safety by a stranger, a working-class man of colour, Edmund Lowe. Although now physically safe, Kit’s sense of danger lingers due to his growing feelings for Edmund. Their mutual attraction forces Kit to question his previous values, causing an inner crisis as Halloween draws near.
Will Kit submit to the demands of family ties and social advancement? Or can he find the courage to follow his true path and choose Edmund?
Crowding around a table near the door, his companions banged on the table, yelling for service. The loudest of them was a scion of the aristocratic Jeffery’s family, full of importance. However, Kit thought, although he brayed blusteringly for his beer, there was no real harm in him. It was his closest companion, Matthew Villiers, who had a spiteful streak.
While the server stoically brought them their drinks, to more general verbal abuse, Kit scanned the uneven corners of the room for Edmund, but to no avail. When Kit had almost abandoned hope, and his noisy cohorts were calling for yet more drink, Edmund entered the tavern with two friends.
As the waiter had disappeared into the kitchen, Kit rose from his chair and offered to find the landlord, raising a rousing cheer. Edmund turned at the commotion and caught Kit’s eye. His smile of recognition encouraged Kit’s approach.
“May I stand you a drink to thank you for your assistance the other night?” Kit asked diffidently.
Edmund grinned as there was another roar from the table. “I think your friends are more in need,” he said. “And I’d better join mine,” he added, nodding his head towards a recess.
Before Kit could walk away, his hopes blighted by such a brief encounter, Edmund asked diffidently, “Perhaps I could walk you home again later? Just to make sure you keep out of trouble.”
“I’d like that,” Kit replied, trying not to sound too eager.
Edmund smiled and went to join his fellows while Kit managed to catch the attention of the landlord to order more jugs of strong ale.
After a while, since the tavern was quiet and orderly, his easily bored companions started to talk of other diversions. One boasted of an assignation with an opera dancer from the nearby theatre, others mentioned a cockfight in a low establishment a few streets away. Having no interest in either activity, Kit thought this might be good timing to make his exit.
As the others left the tavern with a shower of coin and so much carousing that no one could miss their departure, Kit lagged behind, pausing inside the tavern door. Despite it being a quiet night, he did not want to risk loitering in the street for another encounter with the rogues who had singled him out.
His breathing was shallow, but not from fear. Tonight, he was anxious for very different reasons.
Edmund did not keep him waiting long. He greeted Kit with that warm smile and they left the inn, traversing Back Street towards the Exchange.
* * * *
Kit was tongue-tied. Any attempt at polite conversation was stifled by his nerves. In the end, it was Edmund who broke the silence.
“Looks like your grand gentlemen didn’t notice your absence again?” He said with a smile.
Kit laughed nervously. “They were too busy thinking of their own entertainment, smitten by the lure of a cockfight or the charms of the opera dancers at the Royal Theatre. Neither of those is to my taste,” he added lamely, thinking, You fool, you sound such a stuffy prude.
Edmund merely smiled as if in agreement. A few paces along, it was Kit’s turn to try to converse. “Your friends will not miss you?” He asked.
“Not at all,” Edmund reassured him. “They’ll finish their tankards and head home. Us working men have early starts,” he said with a grin that took the sting out of his words.
“I’ll be employed soon,” Kit protested, urged to distance himself from the vacuous existence of his erstwhile companions.
Edmund said easily, “All the more reason to enjoy your leisure while you can.”
Crossing Baldwin Street, they turned into a shortcut towards St. Nicholas’s Street. “What do you do for enjoyment?” Kit asked.
“I have a jar with my mates when we have a few pennies,” Edmund replied and then he stopped, and turned to look at Kit, who was achingly aware they were alone in the deserted lane. “And I also like to do this,” he smiled faintly, then he bent his head down to Kit’s who moaned at the touch of his lips.