Blog Tour ~ Checkmate by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna ~ (Review, Excerpt + Guest Post)
When sword-for-hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.
As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated… or even killed.
“It is not safe,” Teodoro whispered again, closing his eyes against the hunger to reach for Christian, this time to pull him down against him and take what he knew now Christian was willing to give. It would satisfy them both for the moment, but he was under no illusion that Christian wanted more than to temporarily slake his lust. He would not risk exposing them both to the condemnation of the Inquisition for a few hours or days of pleasure.
“Why not?” Christian demanded, turning to Teodoro, eyes hot with anger as he heard himself refused, his declaration denied. “Raúl would never do anything to hurt you, and I certainly would not. I would be as badly hurt if I did. What harm is there in the pleasure we could give each other? Or am I that repulsive to you, that you would use safety as a pretext to keep me away?”
Teodoro’s eyes flew open at the bitter comment. How could Christian possibly think he was repulsed by him? Sure his expression revealed the depth of his emotions, Teodoro tried to push himself up on an elbow to meet Christian’s eyes on the same level. “St. Denys… has spies,” he rasped. “If they were to see… to condemn you… to the Inquisition….” He drew an unsteady breath at the thought of Christian in the hands of the merciless Inquisitors. “I swore to protect you,” he insisted.
“Here?” Christian challenged, pride still stinging from Teodoro’s continued rejection. “In this room? I understand the need for discretion within the public sphere. I am not an imbecile, but you see betrayal where there is none. Unless you think perhaps Esteban would betray you?”
“Never.” Teodoro rejected the suggestion out of hand. Esteban might not understand, perhaps, but he would never condemn Teodoro’s choices. “But outside these rooms… a look… a touch… could be enough. A hint is all St. Denys would need…. I will not risk you—your safety,” he corrected himself, hoping Christian would ascribe the slip to his labored breathing.
Tell us about why you chose this time period to set your story in and what unique challenges your characters face by being in a same sex relationship in this era.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
In retrospect, I’m not sure we could have chosen a more difficult setting for two men whose preference lies with their own gender. Not only was sodomy illegal at the time, as it was in most of Europe, but they had the added threat of the Spanish Inquisition to back up those laws. That’s not to imply that other countries didn’t enforce those laws, but few institutions evoke the same level of terror as the Inquisition did. (The only other time period that comes to mind is the Terror of the French Revolution.) The Inquisition had torture down to a fine art and didn’t hesitate to use it to extract the confessions it wanted. Executions were public and brutal. Everyone lived in fear of being denounced—for heresy, for sodomy, for treason—and if that happened, there was little hope for them.
The question, then, is why set a gay romance in a time when such a concern existed? To some extent the answer is because that concern existed. It adds a layer of tension and fear to the story that hopefully keeps readers turning the page. Do Christian and Teodoro stay beneath the notice of the Inquisition? And if not, how do they escape its clutches and at what cost?
The rest of the answer is that we needed a time when Spain and England weren’t actively at war with each other so that Christian wouldn’t be killed on sight and his father could be involved in negotiations, and that limited our options quite significantly. (Interestingly, did you know that the queen of Spain, the queen of England, and the king of France in 1624 were all siblings? And the king of Spain and the queen of France were siblings as well. Talk about family squabbles!)
Of course, the fact that lovers of their own sex were actively persecuted is proof that they have existed throughout history. Some camouflage was easier to carry off than others—in All for One, the second book in the All for Love series, our musketeer heroes use the not unjustified excuse that military pay is poor and housing in Paris is expensive, so they live together to share the cost of lodgings. In Checkmate, when Teodoro is hired to “rescue” Christian, it’s strongly implied that Gerrard’s post as “bodyguard” is a euphemism for a far more intimate role. Finding the means to share a life together that will be at least nominally accepted by society is a challenge all our protagonists face, and one we must solve as authors.
Not that the danger of being discovered as lovers of men is the only challenge Teodoro and Christian have to overcome. England and Spain may not be actively at war when the story begins, but as an Englishman, Christian is inherently suspect to many Spaniards. And since his father is the chief English negotiator in the peace talks with Spain, there are parties on both sides who would use him as a vulnerable pawn to sway his father’s position. As a nobleman, he seems to have little in common with a mercenary like Teodoro, who can’t be too choosy about the commissions he accepts if he’s to keep food on the table for himself and his son, Esteban. The disparity in their stations alone is reason enough for Teodoro to tell himself there’s no way they could possibly share a relationship, much less anything more permanent.
*** Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie in exchange for a fair and honest review. ***
"Love, like most of life, is one big chess game. Most people are simply too shortsighted to see it."Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar is hired to "rescue" Christian Blackwood and bring him back to his father. When he finds Christian, he discovers that it is all a plot to kidnap Christian to influence the negotiations between Christian's father and the King of Spain. As they work to uncover who is behind it all, they have to fight against hired mercenaries and the Inquisition, while Teodoro fights not to give into the feelings Christian arises in him.
Christian is a great character, and I loved seeing him mature and become a strong, resilient man as the book progressed, capable of doing whatever he needs to in order to save his loved ones. And Teo was stubborn and difficult, but still quite likable. I loved the way their relationship evolved, not too fast or too slow, but just perfect, despite the circumstances they found themselves in.
Wow, just wow! Historical romances are a particular weakness of mine, well-written, detailed, realistic historicals even more so and this one was all that and more. It was a passionate, intriguing, engaging romantic suspense that kept me riveted to my kindle. I just devoured it, falling in love with the characters as I followed their adventures. Ariel Tachna and Nicki Bennett, I just can't wait to read more in this fantastic world you both created!
Rating: 5 Stars!!!
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.
When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).