By Honor Betrayed
Carina Press, November 7, 2011, $2.99 (digital)
Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.
All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover. Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks...
If you’re looking for an introduction to Alex Beecroft’s work, as I was, By Honor Betrayed might be a good starting place. At 25,000 words, it’s just long enough to get a feel for Beecroft’s storytelling style, and a bit of a teaser for longer works by the same author, best known for False Colors and Captain’s Surrender, historical romances with male/male pairings. Like them, By Honor Betrayed takes place in the 18th century and features characters who serve in the Royal Navy.
By Honor Betrayed deals with a legally forbidden love between men. If caught having sex, both men could be executed. In addition, Conrad is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and Tom is a common sailor and carpenter. Their different social classes complicate their relationship and add to the plot tensions. Even in such a short story, Beecroft does a good job of realistically presenting the various issues blocking Conrad and Tom’s relationship, most of it through Conrad’s point of view, though Tom’s views are shown as well.
Tom has been Conrad’s servant since they were both young, and they’ve become friends over long years in the close quarters of various ships. When the story opens, their physical attraction for each other is reaching the boiling point; also, Conrad’s affection for Tom has been revealed by Conrad’s behavior when, in battle, he fears Tom is dead.
This potentiality between them could be managed, surely, whereas any venture into the actual would be a disaster ruinous to them both….Over the course of a decade they had been sounding one another out, talking around the central fact until its shape could be guessed by the absence of everything else, like a bubble of air beneath the water.
… An officer, rejected, could make a mere able seaman’s life unbearable. Asking, suggesting, letting him know that Conrad had a desire, could act like force upon a good servant, making him feel pressed to satisfy it.
…The magnitude of Conrad’s anguish caught him by surprise. How could virtue feel like this? How could it feel like death to follow the commands of a God who had promised him the fullness of life, a cup running over? How could it feel worse than the prospect of damnation?
I particularly liked the religious conflict Conrad felt about feeling physical desire for another man. This was amplified through the opinions of Valiant’s righteous Captain Fortescue, showing Conrad in conflict with hierarchy more so, perhaps, than Tom.
You speak to him like an equal. You seek him out in preference to those of your own kind.
What I enjoyed most about this story, however, was all the nautical detail! For instance, what happens in a cabin when there’s rough water.
…the wind heeled the masts almost into the sea. His cabin threw itself sideways, wall becoming floor. His cot clattered against the hull, and a torrent of seawater washed across the upper deck and flooded like heavy rain through the gaps between the planks above his head…[Tom]…held tight to the rail of the cot, and he was currently at forty-five degrees to the horizontal…
… Lantern light ran like a merry-go-round around the white-painted wooden walls of Conrad’s cabin, gilding the falling water. Outside, the wind in the rigging shrieked and whooped, and if the Wild Hunt had passed in the riot beyond the firmly closed gunport, they could not have made the gale bay louder.
Unexpected twists and turns in both the plot and in the relationship kept my interest from beginning to end, and though I would have liked a bit more about Tom, by the end of the story I was satisfied with their happy ending, and curious about what would happen to them in their new life.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three erotic novels and numerous short stories. Her latest novel is The Duke and The Pirate Queen from Harlequin Spice. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.