An Unusual Courtship: First Peek!

Working on the next m/m Regency romance. So far it’s 30k of mostly adorable nonsense. It’s a fun change from A Wager of Love, which had a lot of substance in every single scene and required loads of research (and which releases Wednesday, ee!), whereas writing An Unusual Courtship has yielded a lot of unplanned interludes of pure fluff. Excerpt below.

After dinner, the four of them retired back to the drawing room, where Miss Bolton enlisted Percival’s assistance and approval with the plans that she had begun to draw up for the desired party. While the two of them discussed suitable dates and menus, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Everett set about playing chess.
The two gentlemen at the chess game provided some queries and input as to the planning, and Percival watched their game with an interested eye. Mr. Bolton scowled good-naturedly as he played, and seemed to be steadily losing, while Mr. Everett played with a dry smile on his well-formed lips, and glanced over occasionally at Percival.
Caught staring again, Percival coloured and returned his attention to Miss Bolton and the party preparation.
The game came to its inevitable end, with a victory for Mr. Everett.
“You are too much for me, Mr. Everett,” said Mr. Bolton, clutching dramatically at his heart. “The game is yours.”
“A rematch, perhaps?” said Mr. Everett. “To regain your honour.”
“There’s no use to it,” said Mr. Bolton, although his smile came as readily as ever. “You should defeat me in that one, and the next. You must have someone else to be your cat’s-paw. See if Mr. Valentine will agree to it.”
“I shall,” Mr. Everett resolved, and turned his pale blue gaze and secretive smile toward Percival. “Mr. Valentine, will you have me?”
“I suppose I must,” Percival consented, “if Miss Bolton will give me leave.”
“You may have it,” she said. “Although I do warn you that Mr. Everett is entirely ruthless at chess. You must play to restore all our honour.”
“I fear I have little hope of that,” Percival said, as he rose and took his place across from Mr. Everett at the gaming table. “I was never skilled at chess.”
“Fie,” Mr. Everett teased, “you do but protest out of humility. I’m certain you will have me quite at odds to defend my championship.”
This did not at all turn out to be the case. Percival’s protestations had been entirely accurate, while Mr. Everett played with a skill such as Percival had never before seen. It seemed to him that Mr. Everett was always at least three steps ahead of him, and whenever Mr. Everett moved a piece, it would two steps later end up providing Percival with some dire inconvenience.
Percival was sure that it did not help that he was so very distracted as he played. More than the chessboard, he noticed how a lock of dark hair strayed across Mr. Everett’s forehead, how his fine lips pursed a moment before he made each move, and how, the instant after, he would glance up at Percival with his impossible blue eyes. They were challenging and entrancing, and Percival stared back, lips slightly parted, until he remembered that he was supposed to be playing the game.
It was no surprise to him when he lost. Mr. Everett was very cordial about it, all kind smiles, and Percival almost became lost in that smile before he remembered the presence of the Boltons.
He looked over to find them engaged at their own game, playing cards with animated pleasure. The siblings both appeared to be happy, charming people by nature, and they teased each other easily as they played.
“Another?” asked Mr. Everett. His eyes were full of good-natured challenge, and Percival smiled.
“Another.”
He lost the second game as well, after which Miss Bolton suggested that the four of them play at Whist. They arranged themselves around the table with some discussion: Miss Bolton desired to be partnered with her brother, and Mr. Everett playfully objected to this on the grounds that it gave them unfair advantage. Miss Bolton insisted that any possible advantage conveyed by sibling familiarity was a perfectly just advantage, considering the necessity of reclaiming honour since Mr. Everett seemed resolved to continue trouncing them all at chess.
Mr. Everett played the rube, jestingly going on about how very puzzling the game was to him, and ended up achieving victory for himself and for Percival nonetheless, to a chorus of friendly complaints from the Boltons.
It was very late when Percival made his departure for the evening. Mr. Everett tried to insist that he would see Percival safely home, but Percival would have none of this and departed alone, finding that he smiled all the way home.

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