Ingela Bohm is the author of the series Pax Cymrica: The True History series. Join us today to find out more about the three books in the series , and read her Guest Post. Plus there’s a Giveaway!
Michael Vaughan: a study in contradictions
If there’s one of my characters I’d like to take in my arms and comfort, it’s Michael Vaughan in the Pax Cymrica series. Already shy and unassuming, he’s also cursed with bad self-esteem, courtesy of some lovely fellow students at college. He’s an example of how the scars left behind by bullying don’t just go away. The baggage can be there to stay, even though self-help gurus would have us believe otherwise.
As the series progresses, Michael eventually learns to live with the damage done to him in the past, but the road is long and arduous, and the wounds can rip open again without warning. He expects life to be tough and people to dislike him. That makes him vulnerable and quick to interpret things to his own disadvantage – but it also makes him resilient. I’m not sure Michael would have persevered for so long with his struggling band if he hadn’t been strengthened by early setbacks. He’s used to fighting for acceptance, so when the going gets tough, he gets going. He suffers, yes, but he expects to, so he doesn’t give up.
But for all of Michael’s resilience, the fact that he can get up on a stage and sing his heart out to a crowd is nothing short of a miracle. To put himself in the public eye, open to any criticism – it’s like reliving those years of torture. To begin with, he can’t even contemplate it. Why would anyone want to watch him, or listen to him? He’s got none of the traits a front man in a rock band should have: confidence, attitude, swagger.
But he has Jamie, and Jamie is the one who sees his potential. During a magical night in the woods, when they cook sausages on an open fire and sleep in a tent together, he hears Michael sing for the first time, and it’s a revelation. Michael’s voice is out of this world. Jamie can’t get enough of it.
Of course, the reason why Jamie is a sucker for voices is that I am. A voice, for me, can really make or break a band. A really good voice can speak to your hormones – think Glenn Tilbrook in Squeeze, or Chris Thompson in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Clear, young, a tiny bit hoarse… Just thinking about it makes me blush, and Michael is blessed with that kind of voice. Angelic, mesmerizing. Sexy. Jamie doesn’t stand a chance.
How lucky for him that Michael has a high sex drive. Yep: he wants it. A lot of it. When Michael’s self-discipline fails, it fails with a vengeance. He’s an eighteen-year-old guy who’s only just discovering what turns him on, and when the dams open, there’s no closing them again. The reader gets to be a fly on the wall for much of this. Suffice it to say that if you don’t like on-page sex, steer clear of Pax.
But despite Michael’s strong attraction to Jamie, things aren’t that simple in the beginning. For a long time, both of them try to deny their attraction. Jamie even forms a band without Michael to save himself from the terrifying feelings he’s developing for him. The first book in the series, Just Playing, is a slow burn, a friends-to-lovers story that takes a long time to develop because it’s set in a time that frowned on same-sex relationships.
In the following two books, The Road Taken and Release, the relationship, while finally acknowledged, faces ever new obstacles. I’m not making it easy for either of them – because for many, it wasn’t, and still isn’t. It takes both Jamie and Michael a long time to accept and handle their love for each other. Through all of this, I feel as if Michael is the rock, the stable one.
It’s a bit of a paradox. He seems so fragile at times. But that’s how people are: walking, talking conundrums who can baffle even their closest friends. In line with this, the portrait of Michael is a contradictory one: he’s a golden-throated front man who battles with self-esteem issues. He’s a shrinking violet with an otherworldly sex drive. He’s a broken man who thrives on adversity.
But above all, he’s a sweet, fawn-eyed young man who remains loyal to the love of his life through storms that seem set on breaking them. It’s because of these storms that it takes our heroes three books to reach a state of true happiness – and not even then will I leave them alone. Michael and Jamie have two more stories to tell before they’re done, and in the next instalment, Michael’s tortured past will make itself known again – in a completely new and unexpected way.
Poor boy. If only I could hug him. But I leave that to Jamie.
(Pax Cymrica: The True History, part 1)
Michael and Jamie seem fated to make music together. But the thrill of playing soon turns into something more, something neither of the young men can handle. Unable to just stay friends, they try to avoid each other completely. But when things start moving for Jamie’s band, a decision has to be made: either this is goodbye, or they risk everything and let Michael join.
Michael followed Jamie’s movements as he picked up a guitar and started tuning it. The wooden body lay so perfectly in his lap, like a lover waiting to be teased into song. Jamie was born to have an instrument in his arms, under his hands. Was that what the girls saw in him? Did they want to lie draped like that across Jamie’s knees, open and longing for his touch? The image sent a small arrow down Michael’s stomach and it caught fire in his groin. Oh shit. When was he going to get some control over his brain? Now wasn’t the time to think of girls. That was for tonight, for when he was alone in his bed. For when he’d slide his hand down his burning body and grasp himself firmly, exorcise those sinful feelings from his blood with hard fingers…
He crossed his legs. Ice cubes. Grass. Jamie’s sullen sister. Yeah, that worked. The heat died down somewhat, became a slow, dull ache. Soon it would be gone.
The sofa rocked as Jamie threw himself down beside him. He was grinning. “Whatcha hiding there, young man?” he winked at his crotch.
Michael couldn’t stifle an embarrassed giggle. “It’s the fucking heat!”
“Oh, so you’re not overcome by thoughts of my sister?” Jamie said, nudging him in the ribs and waggling his eyebrows.
“Please!” Michael mimed a shudder. “You may have the same genes, but you got all the charm.”
“Oh, so it’s me you’re hot for?” Jamie laughed.
“Can you just shut up about it? I’m trying to beat it down with a stick here, but you’re not helping.”
“Because I’m sooo irresistible,” Jamie goofed in a silly voice. “I’m sorry, I can’t help it!”
Jamie chuckled and started unbuttoning his jeans. Michael’s eyes snagged on the unexpected sight, widened in shock. “What – what are you doing?”
“As you said, it’s the heat. Let’s take care of it. You’re not too much of a prude to jerk off, are you? Then afterwards we can play and you won’t be all over the place.”
Michael stared at him, uncertain. Was he joking? He didn’t seem to be. He was already digging in his underwear for what looked like a half-swollen cock. Christ, I can’t… not with him watching!
But Jamie wasn’t watching. He was leaning his head on the backrest, eyes closed, fingers wrapping around himself. “Come on, Mike, just do it,” he murmured. “We’ll both feel better afterwards.”
That was true – if he even managed to come with an audience. But as his mind returned to the insistent pulsing between his legs, that particular hurdle didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Even with Jamie present, his cock was still up for it. Moving slowly, hesitantly, Michael uncrossed his legs and began fumbling with the zipper. Jamie had already started stroking himself languidly, breath coming in deep and even waves. Face burning with equal parts mortification and excitement, Michael dipped a hand beneath his waistband and pulled himself out. Despite the summer sweat on his hand, it still felt strangely cool against his throbbing cock. Stealing a look at Jamie, he was startled to see his eyes open now, ogling him. Reddening deeper, Michael closed his fingers on his shaft, determined to see this through, to not be a prude. He could feel Jamie smiling. “See? No big deal?”
Michael snorted. “I don’t know… you’re packing some heat.” His skin tingled at saying something so inappropriate, but Jamie beamed at the praise.
“Not to toot my own horn, but…” He stopped, their eyes met, and then they both burst out laughing. “Oh God,” Jamie groaned and lay back again, forehead creased in concentration. “This won’t work if you’re going to be like that. Shut up for a minute, will you?”
Michael smiled and shook his head, but lay back too and tried to get back in the mood. It wasn’t difficult. The early summer seemed to be simmering through his veins like a golden drug, sparking new life into everything it touched. When he started stroking himself it felt like electricity. He closed his eyes and coaxed the image of that guitar back into his mind, lying like a sexy blonde in Jamie’s lap. Urged on by Michael’s seething imagination, the instrument transformed into an actual girl, sighing under the expert touch of the guitarist. Maybe Michael should be ashamed for his voyeuristic fantasies, but what was there to fantasize about where himself was involved? Kate? His cock seemed about to wilt at the mere thought. Better to conjure the lovely lady-moths attracted to the flame of Jamie. Imagining them – and all the things Jamie would do to them – that would certainly do the trick.
Breath speeding up in time with his strokes, he zoomed in on those enticing caresses, the way calloused fingertips trailed lightly over yearning skin. Beside him in the real world, Jamie was breathing faster too, lending a glow of truth to the dream. In Michael’s mind, phantom hands pulled at fabric, slowly undressed a faceless beauty, plucked her secrets from her smooth body like notes from a set of strings. Jamie’s fingers slipped down between parted legs and drew honey from the deepest well. Eyes coming half open, Michael saw the fuzzy outline of Jamie’s real hands work his own flesh. He was fast: he was close. Michael squeezed harder. He didn’t want to finish after Jamie. Matching his rhythm to his friend’s, he soon felt the build-up begin and bit back on a moan. Jamie’s face was flushed pink and his damp hair stuck to his temples as he gulped open-mouthed and greedy at the air, thrusting into nothing. Picturing that cock disappearing between a pair of thighs, Michael’s stomach clenched and he felt the warm fountain shoot out and sprinkle his stomach. At the sound he couldn’t censor, Jamie’s eyes flew open. He took in the wreckage, managed a trembling grin and then went into an athletic arch as his own orgasm took him. Michael stared as the droplets landed in mother-of-pearl constellations all over Jamie’s hot skin.
And then it hit him what they had done. Overcome with shame, he hurriedly tucked himself back inside his pants and zipped it all into place. When Jamie recovered, he wiped himself in silence. A few minutes passed before they could meet each other’s eyes again.
“So… think you can play now?” The flippant question was a hollow horse, carrying the real message: we’re okay, aren’t we?
So Michael flexed his fingers, pretended to test their strength. “I’ve still got a lot to give,” he deadpanned, and Jamie snorted a grateful laugh.
“Then what are you waiting for?”
Find Just Playing at:
The Road Taken
(Pax Cymrica: The True History, part 2)
Michael and Jamie have one simple rule to follow: DON’T. Don’t touch. Don’t share rooms. Don’t even look at each other. But the music is suffering: the chemistry that made the band is gone, together with their happiness. What they need now is an innocent front, something to make people think they’ve broken it off. But when they ask Sapphire for help, they may just get more than they bargained for.
Jamie had almost gone to sleep, sated and dazed with his desperate fantasies, when there was a soft knock on his door. Groaning, he fumbled for his underwear but couldn’t find it. He gathered the covers around him and padded to the door, half in a coma. Leaning against the wall, he unlocked it and cracked it open.
The sight of Michael jolted him awake. Ruffled and anxious-looking like a homeless dormouse, he stood in the corridor in his pyjamas, holding a heap of clothes and bags in his arms. When Jamie opened the door fully he could see a shirt lying a few yards away. “Mike…?”
“Can I come in?”
“Forget it.” Michael started to turn away.
“No, wait, of course you can.”
“I’ll go to Cal’s room. He won’t mind.”
Well, that was a ludicrous lie. “Fucking… get in here!” Jamie gripped Michael’s wrist, pulled him inside. He peered down the corridor, made sure that no one had seen them. Then he wrapped the covers tighter around his body and hurried to retrieve Michael’s dropped shirt. Straightening up again with the abandoned-looking thing in his hands, he threw a glance at Michael. He was half hidden by the doorpost, fumbling and fussing over his chaotic luggage, trying to look busy. Something had happened. Jamie knew it with the sudden sucking ache in his chest. Why else would he come creeping to Jamie’s room like this – the one place he shouldn’t be? Michael wasn’t one to gamble, to risk everything for something as transitory as a single night together. He hadn’t come here to get laid, but to escape.
Jamie walked back, closed the door and then just stood there, hesitating. Michael was striving to look unaffected, pretending to look for something in his bag. Jamie smoothed out the shirt and laid it on a chair. Michael’s eyes flitted up and he forced a sheepish-looking smile. “I… I can sleep on the floor if you want.”
Their eyes met. Michael’s were infinitely sad. Then they dropped momentarily, took in the small expanse of bare skin that was visible beneath the folds of Jamie’s sheet. Jamie’s breath caught in his throat. Of course Michael didn’t want to share his bed if he wasn’t dressed. It was too risky. “I’ll find something to wear,” he mumbled. Then he blushed, remembering that not only was he completely naked, he was still not cleaned up after his sordid little session earlier. He had begun to doze off with his own fluids still clinging to his skin. Now he felt the rough patches flaking beneath the covers and his eyes almost filled in shame. He really was a lost cause.
But he didn’t have time to wallow in self-pity now. Michael needed him to be normal. To be a best friend, no matter how badly he wanted to be something more. “You’re not sleeping on the floor,” he heard himself say as he rummaged around in his luggage for a pair of clean boxers. “If anything, I am.”
Michael sighed. “No. Look, you’ve got a chair, I’ll be okay.”
Jamie straightened up, boxers in hand, and stared at Michael. “What happened?” he demanded.
“Hmm?” Michael looked away.
“To make you sound like that? I mean, you haven’t minded sharing my bed before.” He caught himself too late. Seeing the red creep up Michael’s cheeks, he scrambled to retract. “I mean, not like… I mean, you know… We’re just going to sleep.” He tried for a joking tone and failed miserably. “Don’t worry, I’ll cover up.”
He was just making it worse. He knew it with every passing word. Michael was looking mortified, and as their eyes locked, a trembling silence filled the room.
“I… didn’t…” Jamie tried to break it, but his tongue seemed not to be connected to his brain anymore. Michael whirled around and made for the door, and before Jamie had time to react, he was gone.
Find The Road Taken at:
(Pax Cymrica: The True History, part 3)
Things are moving forward for Pax. At 35 miles per day, to be exact. Their new tour may be unorthodox, but they do have fans, tucked away in the backwaters of England. Besides, there are whispers about bigger gigs, maybe even another album. But there’s something wrong with Jamie. Michael doesn’t want to believe it, but on the eve of their big break, the truth threatens to destroy everything.
He bent over his bike again, but was distracted by the sound of crunching gravel. “Oh, shit,” Jamie muttered where he sat. “Incoming Samaritan.”
They exchanged weary looks. If travelling England had taught them one thing, it was that people were much too helpful. They’d been offered everything from directions to a sip of whisky in the rain, which was fine but for the tiny fact that the whole point of this tour was to do it the hard way.
A mud-spattered car slowed to a stop beside them, and Michael steeled himself. Just say no, he told himself. Just smile and say ‘thanks but no thanks’.
But the person in the car didn’t roll down the window, didn’t address them. When Michael squinted at the dappled glass, the young man inside averted his eyes. The car started rolling again, wheels turning out towards the road, only to swerve back and stop.
“What the hell?” Jamie chuckled. “Is he drunk or something?”
There was a moment of hesitation so palpable that Michael could almost hear it. Then the window was rolled down, slowly and jerkily, as if the hand that turned the handle was nervous. When it was almost all the way down, a young man with a wilting fringe peered out. He looked too young to be driving a car, but maybe it was just his big eyes and reedy thinness that peeled off the years. “You okay?” He scrunched up his face against the rain and put a hand over his eyes to shield them.
Michael stood up. “Yeah, thanks, we’re fi–” He stopped. The stranger was wearing the weirdest expression. Almost as if he was… awed. “… uh, fine.”
“I’m sorry,” the boy said, and then he let slip a giggle that sounded out of breath. “This is just… such an honour.” He looked from Michael to Jamie, his cheeks colouring, and then his eyes trailed away to where Becca was drumming her fingers against her saddle, fifty yards up the road. He blinked and frowned, as if there was something wrong with the picture.
Jamie stood up and brushed the grit from his tracksuit. Then he walked up to the car, leaned with his elbow on the roof and gave the lad inside his trademark look – the sideways grin, the one he’d always used for the camera. “You know who we are?”
The young man laughed and nodded, and then he held out his hand. But before Jamie could take it, he drew it back and wiped it on his corduroys, as if he was afraid of contaminating Jamie with his sweaty ordinariness. Sticking it out of the window again, he waited until Jamie hesitantly shook it. “I’m Adam, and yes,” he giggled, “I know who you are.” He was speaking too quickly, as if he was afraid of being interrupted.
Jamie chuckled warmly. “Well, hi there, Adam. Nice to meet you.”
Michael’s heart pulsed with ridiculous love. Jamie had been indulgent with another awkward youngster a couple of years back. If there was one thing he was phenomenal at, it was making people feel comfortable. Sometimes Michael was as awed by him as Adam seemed to be.
The boy wasn’t letting go of Jamie’s hand. Instead he pulled him closer to the car, confiding in a husky tone, “I have all three of your albums.”
“Oh, so you’re the one who bought them?” Michael grinned. The joke was wearing a bit thin, but he needed to say something to break the spell. It was enough to watch audience members throw yearning looks at Jamie every night. He didn’t need another rival.
Adam nodded eagerly and finally loosened his grip, apparently to swipe his fringe from his face. “Actually, I’ve got two copies of each,” he said. “I keep one in the plastic, the original plastic, um, wrapper, you know… They’ll be worth money one day.”
“Yeah, because right now, they’re worth fuck-all,” Becca snorted as she came walking back, pushing her bike. “What was it in that Virgin sales bin? Fifty pence?”
Adam gave her a filthy look, and seeing it, Michael prickled. Becca was a bloody handful, and he reserved the right to complain about her diva ways whenever he wanted, but he couldn’t stand it when other people didn’t appreciate her. “She’s right,” he said. “Fugue wasn’t exactly Top of the Pops material.”
“But that’s where you’re wrong,” Adam insisted, all serious and big-eyed. “People may not get you just yet, but that’s because you’re so far ahead. I get you, though. It’ll be insane, just wait and see. And when that day comes, remember me. I was a fan all along. Not like these other knuckleheads.” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the world outside his car. “I think what you’re doing is amazing.”
“Well, thanks for your support,” Michael said, demonstratively turning a foot towards the road.
“Do you want a ride?” Adam asked. “Or I could take your, I don’t know… keyboards?”
“We’ve got a minivan that transports our stuff. Cal drives it.”
Adam relaxed so visibly that Michael almost laughed. The guy had been all wound up because their drummer was missing? This really was a fan.
“Okay,” he smiled lopsidedly and started rolling up the window again. “Well, see you tonight then. It’ll be smashing!” With that, he drove away, waving until they couldn’t see him anymore.
“Aw, bless his heart,” Becca cooed.
Jamie mimed hitting her upside the head. “Without the fans, we wouldn’t even be a band.”
“Oh yes, we would,” she sniffed. “And it would be a hell of a lot more avant garde than playing in Wiltshire town halls.”
“Whatever gave you the idea that Pax is supposed to be avant garde?”
Becca laughed, a sound that sometimes made people think she was a smoker. “Your spaced out fucking hippie album from last year?”
“It’s not a hippie album,” Jamie muttered, but Becca had already jumped onto her bike and was pedalling away as if having the last word was a matter of life and death.
Michael smiled at her receding back. “It’s like having some kind of terrier with us.”
Jamie cocked his head. “A terrier who can play.”
“And mix a wicked Black Russian.”
Jamie nodded gravely. “A talent not to be discounted.”
Their eyes met in silent laughter. A moment of hesitation – and then Jamie stepped forward to plant a soft kiss on Michael’s lips. “Darling.”
Michael closed his eyes to the grey sky above them, to the glistening wet hedges. In that moment, only Jamie existed: his velveteen lips, his warm body. The faint taste of wine. Breaking off the kiss, Michael smiled against his mouth. “At least brush your teeth before we go on tonight.”
Jamie scoffed. “I’m not snogging the audience, Mike. And bad breath isn’t actually visible.”
Another car appeared on the horizon, and they quickly stepped away from each other. Jamie withdrew his arm from Michael’s waist, and they slipped back into character. The whole country might know that they were queers, but shoving it down their throats was never a good idea.
Jamie gripped his handlebars, put a foot on the pedal and pushed off. As he swung his other leg over the cross bar, the bike wobbled a little, but then he got control over it and was on his way. Michael followed him closely, shaking his head. One of these days, Jamie was going to end up in a ditch, tangled in his bike. Not that it would make him reconsider the liquid snacking. I have one silver lining in my life, he would say, and you want to take it from me?
And Michael would retort, I’ll show you silver lining.
Find Release at:
Author bio and contact
Ingela Bohm is a sucker for music and words, and whenever the two go together, she’s on board for the long haul. Every story she tries her hand at turns into a love story at some point, but that’s just her sentimental nature making itself known. She occasionally pretends to be a human being (as long as there are no dogs present), and she spends an obscene amount of time in front of really well-made TV series, trying to riddle out how the hell the bastards do it. Her current projects include part three of an ongoing book series about Shakespeare, a twisted, darker story about online courting gone haywire, and a tale of aliens and sonic miracles on a tiny Greek island.
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