During the autumn of 1765 in London, Joshua Jones, a young working man of colour and aspiring artist, is grafting hard at his studies while earning his keep as a waiter in an exclusive St. James’ gambling club managed by his uncle.
The only cloud on Joshua’s horizon is the progress of his love affair with Frank Bartlett, an older man and unofficial diplomat who met and seduced Joshua the year before.
After an idyllic summer in Italy together, reality bites when they return to London, and Frank plunges into dealing with the disastrous political fallout from the proposed Stamp Act. Joshua understands his lover’s preoccupation but worries he is being pushed aside as Frank becomes so involved in diplomatic wrangling that he risks injuring his health.
During tough times, Joshua is determined to stick with Frank. But will Frank take notice? And how can Joshua convince his true love that he is there for the long haul?
As he left the table, his conversation concluded, Frank caught Joshua’s eye and gave him a nod as if to ask him to follow. With a glance around the room, checking that no guest needed his immediate attention, Joshua followed Frank into the service corridor.
Despite Frank’s pleasant expression, Joshua thought he resembled a death’s head in the murky lamplight.
“I don’t want to delay you,” he said, a worrying rasp in his voice. “But I wanted to tell you that I have to liaise with a select party of influential merchants this evening, then I must report to Burke after that, so God knows what time I’ll be free. So you needn’t bother coming to my rooms tonight.”
“Why not?” Joshua asked, reasonably enough. “I can simply go to bed and sleep.”
Frank looked uneasy at being contradicted.
“Well,” he said with an attempted smile that did not reach his tired grey eyes. “I’ll be out all night, and you’ll probably sleep more soundly in your own bed. It seems pointless to inconvenience you further, as there can be no sport in this for you.”
“Sport?” Joshua echoed. But in his haste to finish the discussion and move on to an urgent conference, Frank did not heed the warning edge in Joshua’s voice.
“It can’t be very entertaining for you to wait around for me endlessly,” Frank clarified.
Joshua looked steadily at Frank, his doubts and anxieties crystallising in a surge of anger.
“Sport? Entertainment? Do you assume they are my sole reasons for choosing to be with you?”
Frank’s diplomatic poise deserted him, and he looked taken aback. “Well, no, of course not,” he said, adopting a more conciliatory tone. “But it’s unfair of me to expect so much from you this past while, when I can give so little in return.”
Although these arguments had crossed Joshua’s mind as this dreary month had dragged on, it was like a slap in the face to hear Frank voice such reservations.
He raised his chin, his eyes meeting Frank’s in a blaze of indignation. “How timely to learn that after eighteen months or more, you regard me as so superficial,” he said coldly.
Frank was speechless, as if the brief discourse he had planned had unexpectedly veered into disastrous territory. Under normal circumstances, with Frank looking so worn and ill, Joshua might have compromised. But abruptly, he felt that the limit of his patience, stretched thin over the past weeks, had finally snapped.
He looked at Frank as he gathered himself to smooth over the sudden gaping impasse. “You know that’s far from true,” Frank began. “It occurred to me that our current situation was unsatisfactory and that you deserve far more consideration than I can lend you presently. I’m only trying to let you off lightly.”
“I wait for you in your rooms night after night by choice. I don’t need your damned consideration, thank you kindly. As for letting me off lightly? I’m not some giddy fly-by-night whore who will flit to the next man if you can’t spare me your attention. How dare you!” With a final furious glare, Joshua turned on his heel and stalked down the corridor towards the public rooms.
“Joshua!” Frank called after him, but Joshua paid no heed, even when Frank attempted to call his name again, and his voice cracked, prompting that awful tearing cough.