Title: The Valet
Author: S.J. Foxx
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: October 30, 2017
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Historical, 1920s, historical, jazz age, class difference, high society, england, aristocracy
After scandalising his family name, wealthy brat Hugo is kicked out of his parent’s home in NYC, and tossed into the English countryside. There, he must live with his extended family and learn what it means to be a “gentleman,” or be cut off and left without his inheritance.
Brattish, reckless, and out of control, it seems that Hugo may never learn his manners. That is, until he meets his match: a stoic, no-nonsense valet, Sebastian.
Hugo and Sebastian are swept up in a forbidden fling, and they play a game of power.
Can Sebastian get a handle on his master? Or will Hugo’s foolishness leave him penniless?
How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?
I always thought I’d do something really special, with lots of cake and champagne, or perhaps have a little party with my friends. As this moment is drawing closer, I think I might just order some Indian food and sit at home in my PJs with my favourite cider and a curry.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
I will be so excited to share my WIP when it’s a finished product. I’m working on an urban fantasy thriller that will feature werewolves and witches and a diverse range of POC. My MC is a mixed-race gay man, with English and Nigerian parents, and I’m super stoked to be representing my own race in this story.
Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
The first real novel idea I had was a YA novel set in a dystopian, fantasy version of London. I’d been writing ‘books’ since I was twelve and written so many short stories and worked on writing with other writers, doing something called ‘roleplay.
Anyway, this idea was the first solid idea that I thought I could genuinely turn into a publishable book. I was about eighteen when I got the idea and about twenty-one when I started to write it.
I really struggled to make it work and I think that’s because I was trying too hard. I wanted every sentence to be perfect, everything to sound beautiful and the first draft to be spectacular.
The idea is shelved for now but I will certainly come back to it when I’ve had a bit more experience.
It’s only when I realised that first drafts are drafts and can be very rough, that I finished my first book, ‘The Valet.’
How big of a part does music play in creating your â€œzoneâ€?
When I wrote The Valet, music was such a huge part of the creative process. One thing I absolutely love to write to, is cinematic scores. I can sometimes find lyrics distracting and so the right score can really create a wonderful atmosphere. It can be tense, light-hearted, fast paced or fun. There’s so many genres that can help you get in the mood for any scene.
Do you need to be in a specific place or room to write, or you can just sit in the middle of a cafÃ© full of people and write?
I do 80% of my writing in a coffee shop. I’m not sure why, but I feel more inclined to work in that sort of environment. I guess it’s because there’s less distractions and I’ve conditioned myself to associate being at home with being lazy, and being in a coffee shop as time to get my head down and write.
Have you ever written a character with an actor in mind?
Yes, I do this a lot for my characters. I use and actor or a model. I think a good visual reference is really important for clarity when writing physical traits of a character.
S.J. Foxx © 2017
All Rights Reserved
One: Mahogany & Silk
The day was like smudged charcoal, and the sky poured with rain that hammered against a bottle green car roaring over the hills. In the back of the automobile, Hugo Bentley slumped lower in his seat, vastly unimpressed by his welcome to England. He pulled his fedora down over his face and closed his eyes against the waterlogged scenery.
Everything in this country, so he had heard, was miserable. From the stiff upper lip and cold shoulder the British were renowned for, right down to their lifeless taste in fashion.
The young man had left behind the buzz of New York City, where jazz filled the streets and pretty girls in cocktail bars wore feathers in their hair. He’d spent his nights in smoky halls with a cigar between his lips and a deck of cards in his hands. There he’d thrived amongst glitzy lights of Times Square, with wind in his hair as he hummed down the streets in the back of a Revere.
Life had been late nights and side-splitting laughter, with the occasional bottle of moonshine to pass around his circle of young educated men.
Unfortunately, Hugo’s hedonistic existence had been discovered by his enraged parents but only after it had been discovered by the press. The twenty-year-old heir to a steel business had been found in bed with the wife of his father’s business partner. A simple tip off to the papers had led to the devastation of the Bentley family’s hard-earned good name.
Sickened by the very sight of him, his parents had sent Hugo packing. They’d shooed him to the English countryside, where he could redeem himself under the watchful gaze of his aunt and uncle, Ethel and Henry Harrington. With their help, Hugo could learn a thing or two about being a gentleman.
With the bleak green backdrop of the moors replacing the distractions of a big city, his parents had decided it was the perfect location to stop Hugo from getting himself into trouble. This was his opportunity to fix things. He either straightened up his act, or he’d be cut off. He just prayed the Harringtons weren’t too awful.
Exhausted from his week-long trip, the lull of the motor and the drifting of his thoughts sent Hugo to sleep.
When he next woke, the sky had darkened into an indigo blue and the rain had subsided into a haze that made the air thick with a sticky moisture. He pushed his fedora back onto his head and turned his heavy-lidded gaze outside. The stark silhouette of Finchley Hall loomed in the distance, behind wrought-iron gates.
It was surrounded by endless green lands and a patch of woods that stretched out as far as the next village. It was a foreboding home with ivy garlands creeping up the pristine white walls. A great marble balcony overlooked the driveway with cascading steps that led to the front door, polished and black with a silver knocker in the shape of a lion’s head.
Potted trees, groomed to precision, were lined up like guardsmen alongside the gravel path. Hugo groaned and turned away. These were the types of homes that the prissiest, insanely wealthy people owned. Aunt Ethel had married well. He was certain her husband was going to be insufferable.
The car weaved around the stunning marble fountain, the soft sigh of the falling water a sweet song that resonated in the surrounding silence. They followed the gravel path and the car began to slow, tyres crunched over the stones until they stopped outside what was to be Hugo’s home for the next year.
On the flagstone threshold, a welcoming party waited to greet him.
“Welcome to Finchley Hall, sir,” a plump silver-haired man with a jolly face said as he opened the car door. Behind him stood servants. There were valets, footmen, and maids alike, lined up shoulder to shoulder like an army platoon, straight-faced and pristine. Hugo could only assume this man was their butler. Their commander in chief.
“Thanks,” Hugo replied flatly. Removing his hat, he ruffled up his sandy-blond curls and clambered out of the car with the help of a gloved hand, then turned his chin to observe the band of servants with interest.
Their uniforms were extravagant. The men wore white bow ties and beautifully tailored black tailcoats, with gleaming brass buttons. The valets wore forest green waistcoats, and the taller footmen wore grey. The maids were attired in simple black dresses and white aprons with ruffled edges, their hair pinned back into neat, simple buns.
The Harrington family appeared at the door then. First was Aunt Ethel, a mirror image of his mother, with copper curls all swept up into an elegant bun. She was a little thing with ivory skin and soft green eyes like his own. Her thin mouth pulled taut when she looked at her nephew.
“Hugo,” she said stiffly, as if the word tasted sour. She folded her arms across her chest and wrinkled her nose.
Hugo turned to look at her and glowered. Turning the rim of his hat around in his hands, he gingerly approached the grand prison. “Ethel,” he grumbled, equally unimpressed.
“Show some courtesy, boy.” Ah, and there was Uncle Henry, barrelling through the door shortly after his wife—a robust man who enjoyed one too many sweets. He had a hardened, weather-beaten face like tanned leather. The trenches had been hard on him.
“You’ve disgraced your family and gotten yourself into a damn mess, Hugo. We’ve been kind enough to take you into our home and this is how you greet my wife?” he scoffed.
“Henry, not out here on the balcony,” Ethel snapped. “The servants are listening. What is the matter with you?”
Hugo’s fingers tightened around the rim of the hat, and he straightened his back, drawing his shoulders in against his neck. This was the man who was supposed to help him become a gentleman? Goodness.
“Apologies, Uncle, Aunt Ethel. It’s been a long trip. Tiredness has gotten the better of me,” he said and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt rather like a chastised infant.
“I won’t hear any excuses, Hugo. If we are to do this for you, you will show us the respect we deserve, or we’ll send you straight back home and you can forget about your damn future.” Uncle Henry’s big hands were turning white as they tightened around the balcony frame.
“Henry,” Ethel hissed.
“I understand. I meant no offence, honestly,” Hugo said. It was hard to try to keep his tone even, to keep the venom out of it. What a ridiculous overreaction.
His uncle looked back at him blankly, his gaze roaming across his clothes until his face wrinkled into a frown. “Funny choice of attire, no?” he grumbled, raising a brow, trying to change the subject, no doubt. Perhaps he could feel the beady eyes of his wife burning into his temple.
Hugo tugged at the sleeve of his mustard tweed travelling coat, grateful for the new direction of conversation. “Fashion is very different in New York, Uncle.”
“I’ll say!” Henry said, looking down at the hat he clutched to his chest too.
From the corner of his eye, Hugo caught the flickering expression of a servant, whose forehead creased and brows knit together, puckering up his face as though he’d bitten into a lemon. He was eyeing up his mustard tweed too.
Hugo met his gaze and the slightest hint of a smile lifted the footman’s mouth before he looked away.
His curly-haired cousin came bounding out of the door and hurried down the steps to greet him in the courtyard. She opened up her arms and wrapped them tightly around his shoulders, squeezing. Scrambling to try to reach, she pushed herself onto her tiptoes and planted a quick kiss on both of his cheeks.
“Dear Arabella.” Hugo gave her his best smile, rather cheered by the contrast in greeting. He took her by the shoulders and leaned back to get a good look at her. The only Harrington he’d previously met, she’d visited America with her maid a couple of times in the past. “Goodness, you shot up! You were the size of a bunny when we last met.”
“I’m a woman now.” She preened, giving a little twirl. Her coral dress fanned out, circling around her.
“You are not a woman until you find a suitable man willing to marry you,” huffed Aunt Ethel, shaking her head.
“I’m only sixteen, Mama! I don’t need to find a husband yet.”
Ethel only sighed. “Now, let us not dilly-dally outside, talking nonsense. Hugo has had a long trip. Edward will carry up your things, Hugo, and once you feel rested, we will introduce you formally to everybody else. For now, you only need to know Edward. He’ll be your valet for the duration of your stay, and Thompson, he’s in charge of the household staff.” Ethel gestured to the jolly-faced man who had greeted him.
Hugo’s gaze flickered back to that tall man with the mischievous smile, but it was the shorter man beside him who nodded his greeting.
Inside Finchley Hall, it smelled of polished wood and the greasy duck that was cooking away in the oven downstairs.
Chandeliers drenched in crystals hung from the wooden buttresses, and beneath them, a beautiful Persian rug filled the hallway floor space.
The grand staircase was carpeted in plush red, complemented by the wrought-iron banister, fashioned into curling roses that spiralled alongside the stairs.
Edward scurried up the stairs. He had a shock of blond hair, a button nose, and the mannerisms of a mouse. Edward showed him to his room without speaking a single word other than goodbye.
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SJ hails from a quaint, modest town in the north of England. However, for the past three years, she has been swept up in the whirlwind of London life, where people don’t make eye contact. Admittedly, she only moved here for the theatre.
A self-confessed geek; lover of the history, travelling and musicals. SJ loves to spend her weekends in museums, wandering around antique bookshops, or finding new, quirky places to explore. She feels blessed to be from a multi-cultural background, with an Irish mother and an African father.
Soppy as she is, you can be sure to find light-hearted, fluffy books from this author, with just a light sprinkle of feels.