Today I am so pleased to welcome Neil S. Plakcy to Joyfully Jay. Neil has come to talk to us about his latest release, The Lock-Keeper’s Heart. He has also brought along books to give away. Please join me in giving his a big welcome!
Race in Historical MM Romance
I have been very impressed with the way that K.J. Charles has incorporated people of color into her MM historical romances. The protagonist of An Unseen Attraction, Clem Talleyfer, is a half-Indian by-blow of a lord and an Indian amah. Martin St. Vincent of Wanted, A Gentleman is a wealthy Black man brought to England as a slave and freed there.
When I began writing The Lock-Keeper’s Heart, I wanted to incorporate at least one person of color in the story. Slaves in the southern states were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and I knew that many were moving north. I found a really interesting article online that placed the first African-American church in my small hometown in 1817.
The character of Solomon Smith, a hoggee, or bargeman, on the canal, arose first in a supporting role, but gradually his dignity and his physicality emerged, and I wanted to give him a larger role.
One of my two protagonists is a Prussian immigrant who signs a labor contract upon arrival in the United States, agreeing to give part of his wages for a year to the German man who introduced him to his employer. I thought of that as a successor to the indentured servitude under which many men and women came to the United States, and at one point in the book I compared that to Solomon’s enslavement.
My beta reader was quick to complain that there really was no comparison. Lenert signed his contract freely, while Solomon had been born into slavery on a plantation. She was very worried about my ability, as a white man, to accurately portray Solomon’s life, and for a while I considered changing the character’s back story, to make him white.
I think it’s important to provide diversity in books. I am a white, cisgender gay man, but I can certainly write about women—I have in dozens of books. I’ve also written about contemporary Black characters in my Miami-based Love on series of romances.
And so I apologize to any readers who are offended by anything I’ve written about Solomon, but I believe the effort outweighs any errors. I have done my best not to objectify him – nothing about size of his penis, for example. I hope that he arises from the page as a full human being, with a background that influences who he is, and by the end of the book, a better future than his past.
By the time evening fell, both Isaac and Lenert were soaked to the skin. With the wind gusting outside, Isaac knew that any bargeman would have tied up in a sheltered lay-by, and he and Lenert could stay safely inside. He shivered in his wet clothes. As a child, he often caught summer colds, and hated the inactivity that came with one. He and Lenert would get sick if they weren’t careful.
Isaac had a pile of logs beside the chimney that he hadn’t touched since the last chilly days of April, as well as some light brush for kindling. “Can you lay a fire in the grate?” he asked Lenert. “My mother says you have to bathe after getting soaked in the rain, to keep you from getting sick. We will have a bath, on her advice.”
Isaac knew that his mother and father missed him, even though he was only an hour or so away by train from Philadelphia. They wrote him religiously, composing a letter every Sunday after Meeting, and he replied as often as he could.
The truth was, there was little to say in a letter. When he lived alone, the barges came and went, he prepared his meals, read, and slept. His parents weren’t interested in the pieces of news he received from barge masters, like which lock was slow to open or which loading company was short of men.
Then Lenert arrived, and while Isaac had mentioned him and his broken leg, he had not said anything about their intimacy, though he did mention the help Lenert gave him as he healed, and the way Lenert had quickly picked up English.
Isaac looked at Lenert. The Prussian had said little about his family. “Do you keep in touch with your mother and father, your sisters?”
Lenert shrugged. “They are alive when I leave farm.”
There was something about the way that Lenert spoke that told Isaac the topic was not open for discussion. What could have caused him to be estranged from his parents? Did they even know he was in the United States?
While Lenert set the fire, Isaac braved the gusting rain to head out behind the outhouse, where he kept a big copper tub collecting rainwater in case of drought. The tub was half as long as Isaac himself, nearly three feet, and full to the brim with fresh rainwater. Isaac had some time before rigged up a pulley system he could use to drag the tub into the house, and he strained to tug it up to the back door.
When Lenert saw what he was doing, he applied his strength as well, and they dragged the tub into the house and placed it beside the fire. Isaac ladled water from the tub into several pots, which he put on the stovetop. He also hung one on a metal spit above the fire.
When he was finished, he pulled off his sopping shirt and wrung it out in the basin, then hung it near the fireplace. “You should do the same,” he said to Lenert, as he attempted to swallow the desire he had to see his naked chest.
Isaac poured a kettle of steaming water into the tub, then put another up to boil. The question in his mind bubbled up to the surface. “Do you write to your parents? Let them know you are all right?”
“They do not wish to hear.” He began to unbutton his shorts. “We must take off all wet clothes.”
Isaac turned his head to avoid reacting to Lenert’s nakedness. The tub was long and deep enough that Isaac could sit in the water, with his legs pulled up, and use a ladle and a cloth to clean himself. He hurried to strip his pants and drawers, and then got into the tub, even though the water was still chilly. At least the cold water had the expected effect on his cock, causing it to shrivel.
Isaac had closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he saw Lenert standing over him, fully naked and holding a bucket of hot water, his generous jack at half-mast. “Move back, please,” Lenert said, and when Isaac pulled his legs up close Lenert dumped the pot of hot water.
Isaac could not help a sigh of pleasure at the warmth of the water. Then he noticed Lenert watching him, and his rod began to stiffen. He quickly pulled his legs up to hide it from view.
Damn. He had forgotten the soap. “Could you bring the soap, please,” he asked, his throat tight – from the water, or from desire. He didn’t know which.
Lenert walked to the counter, and droplets of sweat on his back and ass shimmered in the low firelight. As he returned, his cock wagged from side to side.
He handed the soap to Isaac, and fire erupted from his fingertips as his hands touched Lenert’s in a surge of emotion. He could tell from the way Lenert backed his hand away quickly that he felt it too.
Lenert brought one of the wooden kitchen chairs over and placed it beside the tub. Isaac had no choice but to relax his legs as far as he could and begin to wash himself, to hide the stiffness in his prick. They were already close to a master-servant relationship, the way Lenert had delivered the soap, and waited by the tub with a towel for Isaac. He didn’t want Lenert to feel he had to do anything more.
“We have tub like this on our farm,” Lenert said, smiling. “Always my father bathe first, then my sisters, together. Then me, and my mother last.”
Isaac’s cock was already painfully hard and imagining Lenert naked in the tub did nothing to help. The Prussian’s gaze was unnerving, as if he was touching Isaac in all the places the soap and rag did. “You want I wash your back?” Lenert asked.
Isaac knew he ought to refuse the offer. He didn’t want Lenert to be obligated to do anything. But he was weak, and so he said, “Yes, please.”
Lenert’s touch was gentle, rubbing the cloth along Isaac’s shoulders, and yet every bit of Isaac’s skin seemed to breathe and glow with an inner warmth. The cloth was rough but the soap smooth, and the combination of the two permeated deep into his body. He pulled inward, letting the pleasure fill him.
The skin was the largest organ in the body, Isaac recalled from the natural science class he had taken in his first year at the University, where it was part of the program that included Latin, Greek, ethics, oratory, logic, history and mathematics. But he had never thought of it as a living thing, one that could create such sensations in his body.
Isaac bent forward so Lenert could move down. In that class he had been required to learn the major bones of the body, and then identify them on a chart as part of his examination. To force his jack down, he closed his eyes as Lenert gently washed his spinal column, thoracic vertebrae, and scapula.
It didn’t work. With every touch, his cock quivered with delight. It seemed impossibly hard, like a wooden branch that had sprung from his body. The gentle wave of the bath water every time Isaac moved pushed past his stiffness, exciting the nerves that stood out in relief.
“Stand, please,” Lenert said.
“Oh no, I’m fine.” Isaac was mortified to raise up out of the water, his cock bobbing in front of him.
“Please,” Lenert said, tugging on Isaac’s shoulders, and there was something in the plaintive tone of his voice that Isaac couldn’t resist. He stood, water cascading down, feeling exposed and vulnerable as his cock bounced against his belly. Then it stood out, an extension of his being that existed only to give him pleasure, and he shivered with delight.
Lenert soaped the rag again, squeezed it out, and began to gently massage Isaac’s lower back. The latissimus dorsi, the external abdominal obliques. The air in the cottage was cool, and the sensations of warm water and cool air combined to make him conscious of every square inch of his flesh. Isaac closed his eyes, relishing the touch, until Lenert moved the rag down to the top of Isaac’s buttocks, and his eyes snapped open in surprise.
Lenert said nothing, just continued to carefully wash Isaac’s butt. The gentle touch of Lenert’s fingers tickled and teased along top of his cheeks, smoothing the curve from his erect back to their roundness.
Isaac was so hard and ready to spend that he worried he would do so from the feel of Lenert’s hand back there, without ever touching his jack. Was that even possible? That a man could stimulate his body so much that it sought release without a single caress?
The movement of Lenert’s index finger down the crease between Isaac’s buttocks was as unexpected as it was delightful, and he shivered with pleasure. He felt completely out of control, at the mercy of whatever Lenert chose to do.
“We make you very clean,” Lenert said. “When I was little boy, my mother tell me I must wash these parts very carefully.” He worked for a moment, the warm water and the soap relaxing Isaac’s muscles and opening his hole. As Lenert spread the cheeks wide, the cool air rushed in and Isaac flexed the muscles back there.
Lenert rinsed the rag and then wiped the area clean with additional water, and Isaac was relieved that he had not embarrassed himself any further by spending into the bath.
Then he was startled by the feel of Lenert’s tongue at his hole. “Oh, my,” he said with a gulp. Stephen had used a single finger back there, but never his tongue.
“Is all right?” Lenert asked.
Isaac wanted to tell him to stop, that he didn’t have to do this, but once again he was weak, and all he could manage to say was “Very.”
“Yes, all clean,” Lenert said after he stepped away, and the tingling sensations began to subside. “But front must be clean as well.”
He tugged on Isaac’s waist until he turned around. Isaac’s face was flushed, his body glowed, and his peter was stiff and straining. Lenert dipped the rag into the water again and began to wash Isaac in a way that no one ever had, caressing his cock and balls, rubbing against the area behind them that led to his hole.
He was so excited that tears began leaking from his eyes. And then Lenert was stroking his jack harder and harder with the rag, and pleasure raced through his body. He closed his eyes and saw stars, he clenched his teeth and held his breath, until Isaac could hold back no longer, and with a cry and a shudder he spent into the cloth.
His bones felt like they were made of aspic and could barely hold him up. “Yes, all clean now.” Lenert rinsed the rag once more. “One last thing. Must wash your hair.”
“I can do that,” Isaac said.
“No, no. You stay.”
As Isaac stood there in the knee-deep water, shivering in his nakedness, Lenert took the pot from the fire and poured some hot water into a bowl, which he mixed with cold. Then he said, “Close eyes, please.”
Isaac did, and Lenert stepped into the tub, the water sloshing around their knees. He was as close as they were in bed when they slept. He was as naked as Isaac, and an erotic thrill surged through Isaac’s body.
Lenert poured some of the water over Isaac’s head, letting it cascade through Isaac’s locks to his scalp, then trickle down his back. The Prussian was a few inches taller than Isaac, so the angle was right for Lenert to massage some soap into Isaac’s blond hair, then rinse it out.
Lenert’s fingers were so gentle, teasing out knots, massaging his scalp. Isaac shivered again from the sheer pleasure of it.
Then Lenert leaned away, grabbing the towel from where he had hung it on the back of the wooden chair. He began to dry Isaac’s body one part at a time, first his arms and his back and then his chest, moving lower to his half-hard cock.
“You should bathe yourself,” Isaac said. “I will heat more water.”
“I don’t need,” Lenert said.
Isaac smiled. “The bath will not be for you, but for me.”
Can two broken men heal each other?
In the aftermath of a failed love, Isaac Evans drops out of college and flees Philadelphia for a lock-keeper’s job on the Delaware Canal in rural Pennsylvania, where he pursues a life of Thoreau-driven solitude.
Prussian immigrant Lenert Tessmer trudges along the canal towpath in good and bad weather, hobbled by his dialect which prevents him from connecting with others. Then Lenert breaks his leg, and Isaac’s Quaker beliefs force him to offer a place where Lenert can recover.
Slowly, these two broken men find solace and healing in each other. But with railroads replacing the canal and narrow-minded outsiders who threaten their country idyll, Isaac and Lenert will have to face their deepest fears to develop a love that will endure.
Fans of MM historical romance will appreciate a fascinating time period, filled with unique details and a vibrant location, and a focus on the lives of working-class men in the 19th century who dare to love other men. This historical MM romance set in a small town in rural Pennsylvania in 1872 has a hurt/comfort theme.
Neil Plakcy is the author of over fifty gay romance, gay mystery, and cozy mystery novels. He lives with his husband and two rambunctious golden retrievers in South Florida, where he is a professor of English at Broward College.
Neil has brought a copy of to The Lock-Keeper’s Heart give away to one lucky reader and a copy of The Gentleman and the Spy to a second reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Monday, June 14th at 11:59 pm ET.
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