Monday, January 12, 2009

The Sweet Flag excerpt by Jeanne Barrack

In The Sweet Flag by Jeanne Barrack, Brandon Keats is a paranormal investigator, specializing in Civil War phenomena. As a gay man, he's searched for years for evidence of gay paranormal activity. When he finally finds what he believes to be an example of this, he decides to confront the ghost of a homosexual Civil War soldier at the grave where he's been sighted.

Ron Tayvail has guarded the grave of Matthew Hardesty for years. When he learns of Brandon's interest in the legend of "The Vigilant Soldier", he's determined to dissuade him from any deeper investigation. He didn't realize that he'd fall in love with the fellow on first sight. And yearn to become his lover. For always.

In this excerpt,Ron uses his intimate knowledge of deMonde and Matthew to entice Brandon to become his lover for one week. Like Sheherezade, each time he offers Brandon just a little bit more of their story.

Title: The Sweet Flag
Publisher: Loose Id (May, 2008)
ISBN: 978-1-59632-1


“DeMonde and Hardesty met at a private party.”

“I knew it!”

He pinched my thigh. “Tais-toi, who is telling this? To continue, they met at a private party where deMonde was performing. It was for a select group of people from the bourgeoisie, invited back for a more intimate gathering after a sumptuous debut for the eldest daughter of a prosperous businessman who had delusions of grandeur.”

“I thought only upper class and nobility had debuts for their daugh...Shit! That hurt.”

“I told you, the man had delusions of grandeur. Besides, he was fishing for a husband for the girl. Along with the wealthiest, most prominent families, any unattached males between the ages of twenty and forty with money or a title, better yet, with money and a title, were invited back to the villa for fancy desserts, drinks, cigars, and music. The few with titles came because they owed the man money for unpaid bills and loans. The man had promised concessions to anyone who would attend the soirees. The others came to criticize everything about the event, from the food to the entertainment.

“DeMonde was to sing, offering a selection of lieder and chanson, presumably to encourage a relaxed, and perhaps romantic mood, in the guests. Unfortunately, the eldest daughter decided that deMonde was to be her quarry for the evening.” Ron took a breath. I felt him shrug. “Perhaps it was the novelty of capturing a male from a lower class and an entertainer as well. Who knows? But she followed after him until he lost her within the immaculately manicured grounds. The evening was cloudy, the grass was damp, and deMonde relied upon her lack of desire to get her shoes muddy to aid in his escape. He found his way to a charming gazebo equipped with its own miniature chandelier, the lit candles providing enough light to see that it was already occupied.

“A young man lounged carelessly on the cushioned bench, a thin cigar between his sensual lips. Smoke swirled from its tip, and the heady aroma wafted toward deMonde. DeMonde turned to go, but the young man called out to him to join him.”

I halted Ron’s story. “Hardesty.”

“Who else?” This time, he didn’t pinch me.

“The closer he came to the gazebo, the clearer the man’s feature’s became. He was so…blond, so young, perhaps five years younger than deMonde. He looked like an angel to deMonde.”

I started. To me, Ron looked like an angel. A fallen angel, true, and one with a magnificent dick. If I remembered correctly, though, angels had no sex organs.

“Are you paying attention? I thought you wanted to know how they met?”

I collected my thoughts and focused on his words. “Go on.”

He shifted until his cock was wedged in the cleft between my buttocks, nipped me on the shoulder, and growled in my ear. “If you are not attentive, I will not continue, and I will leave this bed. Comprendre?”

I nodded, the threat of his leaving finally regaining my concentration.

“To go on. Matthew offered deMonde one of the cheroots he had in his case. After brief introductions were exchanged, they fell silent, then burst simultaneously into speech, and then into sweet, shared laughter.

“Matthew said to deMonde, ‘I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your singing. I’ve never been much for this type of music, my sister, Susan, calls me a barbarian, but, when I heard your voice…’ He hesitated and deMonde encouraged him to share his thoughts.

“The American blushed, enchanting deMonde with his shyness, then took a deep breath and spoke.

“He told deMonde, ‘When I heard you sing, I thought that this was how Orpheus sounded when he tried to regain Eurydice from Hades.’

“DeMonde’s heart stopped beating, and he fell in love.”

I interrupted him again. “How can you know this much? How could you know such intimate details?”

I felt Ron’s lips form a smile against my back as he shifted to press his mouth against me. “I have deMonde’s diary…and Matthew’s.”

I pulled away from him, turning to face him. “Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not lying.”

“I am not lying.”

“Where are they? What condition are they in? How did you wind up with them? When can I read them?”

He laughed. “They are here in the house, in excellent condition, they were left in my care, and you cannot read them.”

“Why the fuck not?”

He shuttered his eyes, and his hand touched my penis and stroked it like it was his pet, like he owned it. Then his fingers gripped my cock like a vise, getting tighter and tighter. He opened his eyes, and in the darkened room, they seemed to glow. I blinked, and they were back to normal. His voice froze my blood.

“We have a deal, remember? If you were to read the diaries, what need would you have of me? You would take them and try to leave.” He ground out the next words. “And I would not let you. I would have to prevent you.” He relaxed his grip, then stroked me once more. “I don’t want to hurt you, Brandon. I swore to you I wouldn’t. Please, let me tell you their story in my own words.”

I took his hand and brought it to my mouth and kissed his palm. He understood the gesture then remarked, absentmindedly, “Your fingertips are calloused, and for one so blond, your beard is rough.”

I smiled against his skin then dropped his hand. “You don’t know everything about me. I have my own secrets. Nobody else knows, but I play bluegrass guitar. My beard always grows in coarse and darker than my hair, a family inheritance. At least that’s what my grandmother told me.”

I could see him better now that my eyes had adjusted to the dim light in the room. He nodded. “Now I know one of your secrets.”

I shook my head. “And I know none of yours.”

“You went to the cemetery to learn Hardesty’s secrets, not mine. If you will keep quiet, perhaps you will learn them.”

“Yeah, right, just keep talking!”

He laughed mockingly. “I thought you’d never ask. They spoke for several hours, lost in their own private world, but deMonde had enough sense to insist they return separately to the house. There was also an old-fashioned maze on the grounds, and they concocted a tale for Matthew that he had lost his way in it, until finally stumbling upon the exit. They each had their own carriage and, with Matthew’s calling card in deMonde’s pocket, they planned to meet at Matthew’s rented townhouse.

“First, deMonde had to get rid of a little problem of his own.”

“The bourgeois’s daughter?”

“No, his lover.” He leaned in and kissed me. “You are worse than a female.” He gripped my jaw and lightly smacked me. “The sooner I finish this bit of business, the sooner I can fuck you. Now, be quiet!”

He leveled his gaze and went on.

“Now, deMonde had not had that many lovers. He had only discovered the pleasures of being with a man a few years before. Clermont, a veteran singer in the Paris Opera, had invited him for some private coaching, and the naive youth had succumbed to the man’s seduction. To be fair to the older man, he had observed signs that deMonde’s interests lay more toward the tenors and basses in the troupe than the sopranos and contraltos. One particular up-and-coming favorite of the public, noted for his soaring tenor, seemed to have captivated deMonde’s attention. Clermont knew that this younger man, Boulanger, had male lovers and, with youth and beauty on his side, it was only a matter of time before deMonde fell prey to his blandishments. First come, first served, was Clermont’s motto, and so he introduced deMonde to the joys found cock to cock.

“By the time deMonde decided to go out on his own as a concert artist, he had already parted on good terms with the older artiste and slept with most of the other men in the troupe. DeMonde’s manager, Georges Mercier, became his lover, agreeing to a reduction of his take of the fees in exchange for access to deMonde’s bed.”

Ron grinned. “According to deMonde’s diaries, deMonde, quite an egotist, was a lover tres formidable, and Mercier was more than happy with the arrangement.” Ron sobered. “But when deMonde met Matthew, it was over for any other man. When Mercier arrived to pick up deMonde, he was told that their arrangement was finished. He’d receive the additional percentage of his fees to compensate. Mercier grew furious. He was a vulgar man, built like a bear. He cuffed deMonde with the back of his hand, cutting his cheek with his ring. He stopped the carriage in the middle of the road and threw him out, shouting at him that his career was over. He would tell the world that deMonde’s voice was gone. He threatened to tell deMonde’s sire that his son practiced lewd and unnatural sex acts.

“Unfortunately, deMonde didn’t believe him. He couldn’t, at that time of his life, comprehend the depths of vindictiveness that Mercier held. He trudged the few miles to Matthew’s home, arriving dirty, disheveled, and aching, but filled with happiness to be with Matthew. That night was heaven for the two men. Matthew had only been with one man before, his neighbor’s son back in America,a fumbling, inexperienced, selfish lover. And in deMonde’s arms, he learned what it meant to be with ”

“A formidable lover?” I taunted him.

“A real man.” He took a deep breath and continued. “They awoke the next day to reality. There appeared to be no outright rumors of deMonde’s ‘unnatural behavior,’ but without his manager’s skill in getting new venues, and with Mercier dropping hints of the unfortunate condition of deMonde’s voice, deMonde was forced to give up his apartments and move in with Matthew. That, of course, could not destroy their happiness. Then, one day, a discreetly sealed envelope arrived addressed to deMonde. When he opened it, sheet after sheet of paper fell out, each one a bill for clothes, hats, shoes, food, wine, cigars, even his barber. All overdue. DeMonde was flabbergasted.

“He gazed at Matthew and spoke in bewilderment. ‘Mon pere, he pays for all of this. He agreed to do so when he parted ways with my mother. Why is he doing this to me now?’”

“Matthew looked inside the envelope. Stuck inside was a folded card, embossed with a coat of arms. He unfolded it and handed it to deMonde. At first, deMonde couldn’t focus on the words slashed in black ink upon the heavy paper. He read them, once, twice, then carefully ripped the card in half and then again.

“Matthew took the pieces from his hands and asked in a soft voice, ‘What did he say?'"

“DeMonde couldn’t speak. He cleared his voice, shook his head, and cleared his throat again. ‘He said…he said, that it wasn’t enough that my mother was a Jewess, and her father a Negro. He had done his best to overlook that and honored his debt to support me.’ Here, deMonde’s voice broke. ‘But he could not condone his bastard son engaging in unnatural behavior. He gives me my current unpaid bills with the wish to sever all communication with me. He will not support me in my debauched lifestyle.’”

I listened to Ron relate this part of Hardesty and deMonde’s story, trying not to notice that tears had gathered in his eyes. I knew he wouldn’t want me to see how the story had affected him. Could he be related by blood to one of these men? An unknown descendent of Hardesty’s sister, perhaps? Why else the interest in the gravesite? Since deMonde’s father had disowned him, even if there were legitimate half-siblings, it seemed hardly unlikely that they would have acknowledged any connection to their father’s bastard or had an interest in Matthew’s grave. But, who knows? Perhaps some later descendents felt guilty over the way deMonde had been treated and took it upon themselves to take care of his lover’s grave.

Ron bent his head and regained control. He lifted his face and attempted to smile, but it became a grimace. He took a deep breath.

“They didn’t care. For a year, they led a carefree, quiet life with few friends, but they were happy. Clermont came to visit and often would sing duets with deMonde to Matthew’s delight. But it couldn’t last. DeMonde needed to sing like others needed to breathe and not just for Matthew. He could not be happy unless he was performing before an audience. And then...”

“And then?”

Ron smiled, completely in charge of his feelings again. “‘And then,’ mon ami, will wait for tomorrow night. Stay there. I’ll bring us something to revitalize us.”

He left the room, stark naked, and went back downstairs. I was glad for the time to assimilate everything he had told me…and how it had affected me. And Ron.

As Ron became more caught up with the story, his voice changed. His accent grew stronger, his speech patterns shifted. The diaries must be incredibly detailed if they could have such an effect on him. My hands itched to get a hold on them and see for myself. If I got the chance, I determined to look for them.

For now, I leaned back against the pillows and waited for Ron to come back upstairs.

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