Governing Passions by Chris Cheek :: Review ::
Title: Governing Passions
Series: Love In A Changing Climate #2
Author: Chris Cheek
Publisher: 2FM Limited
Published: 1 June 2020
Length: 512 pges
Keywords : Romance, Closseted, Politician, Coming Out, Brexit,
“How could I trust him not to do the same thing again? Politics were his life; how would he react if all he’d worked for was threatened? The danger was that, confronted with choices over his career and his personal life, he would choose his career.”
Dan Forrester is a rising star of the government, but he has a secret that he keeps well hidden from family, friends and colleagues – he’s gay. He also deeply regrets his callousness towards the one man with whom he could have formed a meaningful relationship.
Luke Carter is now a successful environmental consultant working on a government contract. When the two meet again, it is an encounter that will change both their lives for ever.
Set against the backdrop of Brexit, Governing Passions explores what happens when political and personal lives collide. Can Dan’s career survive? More importantly, when faced with a choice between love and duty, does he want it to?
Often shocking in its exposé of life in the corridors of power, Governing Passions casts light on a period in recent history that has affected us all. It is also a tender love story that explores the cost that people still pay for being true to their sexuality
A story of second chances based around British politics and more precise the run up to Brexit.
Luke and Dan were college friends until Luke made a move on Dan, Dan ran scared and never saw Luke again.
The College incident nearly destroyed Luke, who eventually put his life back together well almost.
You can imagine the shock Luke got when he found out his consultancy company would be working with the new Environment Minister and that the Minister is none other than Dan.
There is still a strong spark of chemistry between them as soon as they are in the same room.
But they must put in a lot of work to rebuild the damage of their college days. There is a lot of soul searching between them. And of course, there are so many obstacles for them to face as individuals as well as a couple.
Neither of them is fully out. Luke must face telling his religious family and Dan must risk everything he has dreamed for since college.
Then there is the issue of Dan being a conservative MP in a constituency that is not as open minded as others.
I loved the authors weaving of the politics, backstabbing and of course the coming out love story, into a exciting and intriguing read. He has captured the political sentiment of the UK and Brexit perfectly. How soul destroying the whole Brexit issue but have been for any conservative and even the whole group of Remainers MPs must have been.
Good job Dan has his Personal secretary Jeremy to guide him in the political ocean as well as hush hush friendship that they have quickly bonded. Jeremy helps Dan to see between the trees, and his humor and quick witted inuendo’s bring smiles to your face as you read the book.
You feel hope and are urging the boys to work through each obstacle as they face them and they do one at a time, some turn out to be no big deal, others cause shock and scare them but they are determined to fight on.
I thought the realization Dan has that because of the turmoil as well as his undeniable love for Luke, his life’s ambitions have changed.
The message I take from the book is that life is too short, meet your obstacles head on, do not sit and delay in the hope that something will change. Deal with the issues and go for what you want. Do not let anyone or anything stop you seeking happiness. Also accept that your outlook for your future will change many times in your life, things that are important to you change too, especially when you find Mr Right.
Review Rating 4.5 Stars
It’s late and we’ve been drinking. It’s the last Sunday night of term, all exams finished, results keenly awaited. After visiting a couple of pubs and eating in our favourite Italian, six of us have ended up back at the flat that Annie, Jackie and Jenny share with their friend Lauren. We’ve been drinking coffee and raiding Annie’s drinks cupboard. The Spanish brandy has gone and we’ve moved on to liqueurs.
“We ought to move,” says Dan, looking at me. “If we’re going to get back to the campus without spending a fortune on a cab.”
I nod slowly, reluctant to leave my comfortable place next to Jenny. “I know, Dan. The last bus beckons.” There are six of us in the room – all friends from the university’s debating society – political animals to our fingertips, but not affiliated to one party or another. We’re either genuinely undecided or unwilling to declare yet.
Dan, Annie, Jackie, Robbie, Jenny and me. All close, and apparently three happy couples, enjoying a hedonistic few weeks at the end of term; in five cases, the end of their university careers, and in my case, waiting to see whether I can get beyond my freshman year. Judging by how little I actually knew when I sat down to do my first-year exams, it’s going to be a close-run thing.
But we aren’t actually three couples at all, in the true sense of the word. True, Dan and Annie did have a fling at the start of the academic year, but something must have happened because they’ve been much more distant during the summer term – barely friends. Jackie and Robbie are certainly very close, and they’re good together. Jenny is my girlfriend – except she doesn’t know I am using her as cover.
She is blissfully ignorant of the fact that think I’m probably gay and that the only feelings I have for anybody in the room are for Dan. The sole inaccurate word in that last sentence is “probably”. Of course I’m gay – I’ve known that since the age of thirteen but have never actually accepted it. At the start of my university career, I decided that it was only a phase and that I’d put it all behind me. I am now a nineteen-year-old adult, an undergraduate at university, not some pubescent kid in Year 10, and I’m jolly well going to behave like one. And being gay is definitely not part of that.
Except it hasn’t gone at all according to plan, and here I am in love with the man who’s become my closest friend. Instead of hanging out, doing stupid student stuff together, I am sitting here desperate to reach out and touch him, to run my hands through his soft brown hair, to kiss those pretty lips and bathe in affection from those gorgeous blue eyes…
I shake my head to clear it and smile at nobody in particular. Of course he isn’t gay. And he’s certainly not interested in me in that way. We’ve become close during the last twelve months, even though he’s in his final year and I’m in my first, so much so that he’s probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I really must try to get over this stupid crush.
We first met during the Freshers’ Fair in my first week as a student. He was president of the Debating Society. As I wandered around the stands at the fair, I immediately felt attracted to his personality as well as his looks. It absolutely didn’t matter that he struck me as one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen – though, of course, I wasn’t doing any of the gay stuff. That phase was so over. When I expressed interest in joining, he was charming, friendly and welcoming. In conversation he had this knack of focusing and making eye contact so that you felt that you were the only person in the world that he wanted to talk to at that moment. It made you feel so warm and secure. At least it did me.
Over the winter, we discovered shared tastes for music, sci-fi films (Star Wars in particular) and we loved many of the same books. We even followed the same football team, and went to a match together during the Christmas vac.
At the start of the summer term, our friendship was cemented when we worked closely together organising a series of debates during the General Election campaign that went on through May. Even though there had never been any doubt that Tony Blair would repeat his 1997 triumph, there were still plenty of things to talk about – not least the prospect of Britain joining the European single currency. Because the campaign coincided with Dan’s finals I did most of the grunt work, but we consulted about the arrangements every day. I helped him revise for a couple of his papers, too, and saw him through a couple of bad nights when the stress almost got the better of him towards the end of the exams.
The prospect of Blair being elected for a second term as PM only seemed to bother those on the far left, who regarded him as some sort of closet Tory. Not that the Tories would agree with that, of course. But they were defeated, demoralised, and hardly seemed relevant to Britain in the second year of the twenty-first century. Right?
Yeah. Anyway, here we are at eleven-thirty on a Sunday night, feeling all comfortable and friendly, knowing that this is probably one of the last times we’ll be together as a gang, if that’s what we are. Dan and I are planning a holiday at the end of term. He’s staying up for the week between before the graduation ceremony and I’m going to be here as well before I take up my summer vacation job. We’re plotting some cool hiking trips.
It seems too much of an effort to move, all for the sake of a last bus home. “You could always stay here,” Jackie says. “Lauren’s away for another night, so two of you could borrow her bed.” Lauren, the girls’ fourth flatmate, has largely stuck to her own circle of friends and now that she’s in a relationship she rarely sleeps at home.
I look up at Dan, who cocks an eyebrow. He could be flirting with me, seeking my assent to a night of unbridled passion. In your dreams, Luke.
“Thanks, Jackie. Terrific. Shame to break up the party.”
Dan nods. “Cool, Jackie. Thanks. Now who’s for another liqueur?”
It’s six in the morning. Last night we had a few more drinks and Dan and I were fairly sloshed when we fell into Lauren’s big double bed. I’d been asleep in minutes, determined that nothing whatsoever would happen between us, and virtually clinging on to the edge of the mattress to prevent myself from bumping into any part of Dan’s body. I could feel his heat under the bedclothes on that warm summer’s evening.
My resolution that nothing would happen is still at the forefront of my mind. Now, though, lying awake at six in the morning, it feels a bit different. I turn onto my other side so that I am facing him. I watch him sleep in the dim, early-morning light.
God, but he looks so beautiful. I love him so much and we get on so well. How great it would be if we could spend the rest of our lives together. I squeeze my eyes shut but cannot prevent a tear from escaping and dropping on to my pillow. I’ve never felt like this about anybody before and it’s torture not being able to do anything or say anything about it to anyone.
There’s a sudden movement. Dan snuffles a little in his sleep and turns over, facing away from me, but the movement brings his whole body closer. I can feel the heat of his skin so near that I tremble slightly. Could it be? Is there a possibility that, after all, something might happen?
Then I make the fatal mistake. I ease myself forward as if to spoon him. I am, of course, rock hard by now. Gradually I move close enough for him to know that I am there, without actually touching him. Except that my erection brushes one of his arse cheeks.
I remain where I am, tense from making sure that I don’t move, trying to enjoy the moment of closeness, absorbing Dan’s warmth through my every pore. But a moment is all it proves to be. Dan moves away, my proximity having awoken him. Abruptly, he gets out of bed and leaves the room.
Nothing is ever said. I get a short note from him to say that he’s sorry but the hiking trip is off – something has come up and he has to go home. I avoid all of our friends during the last week of term and don’t exchange another word with him before he leaves, complete with the First for which he had hoped and worked so hard. I don’t even get to congratulate him.
Fifteen Years Later, September 2017
“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your grooms for today, Joshua Ashcroft and Steve Frazer.”
Predictably, the room erupted into applause. My boss, Steve, and his much-loved partner, Josh, were at long last tying the knot – formalising a relationship that all of us at Pearson Frazer had watched grow with increasing joy and admiration.
Even though they were fourteen years apart in age, they seemed made for each other. Watching the transformation that their love had wrought in my boss had been an astonishing experience. From a grumpy, humourless bear who seemed perpetually about to erupt into volcanic rage, Steve had become a gentle, witty man. He was still committed to everything that the consultancy firm he’d co-founded with Andy Pearson and our practice manager Barbara stood for and just as passionate about the quality of our work, but he was so much less tortured and more comfortable with himself.
Now, after three years together and two years after their engagement, Steve and Josh were at last formalising their relationship into a marriage. It was a moving moment for all of us at the firm – especially those, like me, who had first welcomed Josh as a young consultant with his new doctorate, a terrific sense of humour and a pronounced tendency to blush at the slightest provocation. As you can imagine, today being his wedding day, he was spending a great deal of time being rather red in the face.
We’d all watched with growing admiration how he had handled Steve, coaxing him out of his shell and forcing him to face up to the realities of whatever had happened in his past life. None of us had known the details, of course, until that awful day when Steve had been stabbed in the pub in his home village by the person responsible for the death of his boyhood sweetheart. I, for one, would never forget the terrible moment when Barbara emerged from her office having taken an urgent call from Josh to tell us about the assault.
In that year of astonishing stories, we also learned that not only was Josh a brilliant environmental consultant, he was also an accomplished jazz and swing performer. That was the career he’d been following with increasing success ever since; indeed, the Joshua Ashcroft Trio was now one of the biggest selling jazz combos in the UK market.
Talk about a roller-coaster ride!
Now that we’d formally welcomed the happy couple, we could move on to the speeches and then the food. The speeches involved much humour, a great deal of cheering – especially from the Pearson Frazer contingent – and lots of references to music and Hollywood films. We had our suspicions confirmed that afternoon: Steve was the Scarlett O’Hara of the relationship, whilst Josh was the Rhett Butler.
Predictably, when it came to Josh’s turn to make a speech he decided to do it in song instead of words. We got his signature tunes of “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Luck be a Lady”, before surprising everybody – including Steve – with a rendition of a country song by the out-gay singer Billy Gilman. Called “I Will”, it brought the house down and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I loved the whole day but couldn’t help being reminded of my own situation in life. I had spent the last fifteen years flitting from one partner to another, mainly after a single night. My experiences over the years had taught me that getting sex and friendship muddled up into one concept called “a relationship” simply didn’t work. Sex was sex and friendship was friendship and never the twain should meet, at least as far as I was concerned. That was my philosophy and it worked most of the time; I enjoyed myself and had some great sex – even spectacular on one or two occasions. But the truth was that the great moments were increasingly far in the past. At the age of thirty-four, the task of finding suitable and willing partners when I was in the mood was getting more difficult – not to say exhausting – and frequently dispiriting.
I was determined to avoid sliding back into the pit of depression that I’d suffered after the business with Dan at the end of my first year at university; that pit took a long time to climb out of, costing me a year of my life and a bundle of heartache. But I had emerged stronger for the experience, formed a plan, and by and large stuck to it. The trouble was that sometimes it was difficult to appreciate what my plan had brought me: as much loneliness as I’d suffered during my student days. I didn’t have many friends since I tended to push them away with my standoffishness. True, I had achieved some material prosperity, particularly since joining Pearson Frazer, but what was the use of that without somebody to share it with?
I reached for the red wine, determined not to allow my bleak thoughts spoil the day, and made a dogged effort to join in the conversation with my colleagues at the table. The new lad, Matt Somerville, who had joined three months ago, was also sitting on his own. In many ways he reminded me of Josh when he’d first joined – bright and humorous but painfully shy. I spent the next hour trying to draw him out of his shell, with some success though it was hard work. Then Steve and Josh came to sit at our table, which prompted Matt to go even redder and flee in the direction of the gents.
“It’s Steve’s fault. He teases poor Matt something rotten, as a result of which the boy is even more terrified of him than we were,” Josh confessed. “You’ll have to train him better, Luke.”
I grinned at him. “I thought training Steve was your job now, young Josh.”
“I know, but there are limits, especially when I’m away. You’ll have to join the rota with Barbara and Andy. It’s called the KFUC committee – as in Keep Frazer Under Control.”
Steve had been talking to his business partner, Andy Pearson, but now turned to us and looked at Josh with a quizzical eye. “Are you fermenting rebellion amongst our staff again?”
Josh laughed. “No, no – busy engaging Luke as part of the committee to keep you under control.”
Steve huffed. “Oh, is that all? But I’m just a little woolly lamb these days – always there to do as I’m bidden.”
“What, chewing grass and growing wool?” Josh replied with an expression of mock horror. “That’s not going to keep me in any sort of style. Should I start the divorce proceedings now, Luke, do you think?”
I put up my hands in surrender, laughing at their banter. “Don’t involve me in any of this. I’m strictly neutral. But meanwhile, can I offer my congratulations to you both – and my thanks? It’s been a lovely day.”
Josh took me into a big hug and it was one of those moments that mean so much. We broke the embrace but he kept hold of my elbows and looked me in the eye. “I caught sight of you earlier looking very solemn. Are you okay?”
I smiled at him. “Yeah, fine, thanks. There are times, you know, when I miss having somebody in my life. I think today was one of them.”
Josh nodded. “I can understand that, Luke. Been there. Just keep in touch, okay. Don’t be a stranger – and I’ll see if I can set you up with a hot drummer.”
I laughed. “Why a drummer, Josh?”
“A great sense of rhythm, silly.” He laughed and winked at me. “Keep up the pace all night.”
I’ve always found September an unsettling month. I suppose that’s because, for most schoolkids, it has always been the point of change – moving up a form, changing teachers or schools, later going to college. University careers start in late September or early October, too.
The result was that, even in my mid-thirties, the onset of autumn tends to make me fidgety. If no changes happened, as seemed likely this year, it made me wonder why. I started to worry that my life was so dull that nothing interesting was ever likely to happen again. I knew that was ridiculous but it reinforced the oddness of my current mood.
Anyway, I was wrong. Things were about to change for me, and in a bigger way than I had expected.
It all started when Steve and Josh got back from their honeymoon. They’d been away for three weeks and would have stayed longer but for a big meeting with a major client that was set for the last week of the month. The Griffin House project was a government contract that Steve, together with Josh during his time with the firm, had won for us against all the odds three years earlier. Named after the building in Bristol from where it was run, the project was a partnership involving academics, civil servants and the private sector to administer a grant scheme for environmental projects. Evaluating applications, processing grants and then assessing the effectiveness of the projects had been the foundation of our current prosperity as a firm. The Griffin House project was important to us all, and there was no way that Steve would miss the engagement.
Steve got back to the office a few days before the meeting, which was scheduled for the following Monday. On the Thursday, he called us all in for intelligence gathering and a brainstorm on tactics. He asked whether any of our contacts had given us a heads-up as to what might be happening. We had a good session: everybody had heard hints that the project was regarded as a success for government and there was a desire in some quarters to renew and extend the scheme. Indeed, the whole approach we’d developed for the grant system was being touted as a template for the government’s post-Brexit rural strategy –if they ever got round to thinking about one. There were some opponents, especially in the Treasury, but that was inevitable. The expected outcome was a round-table conference to discuss the future, to which Pearson Frazer would be invited to contribute.
We started to leave the room, ribbing Steve gently about the end of his honeymoon period and facing up to reality – stroppy clients and an English winter. As I reached the door, I heard his voice calling me back. “Luke, a word, please, if I may?”
“Sure, boss. What can I do for you?”
“Two things. First there’s a message from Josh. I don’t understand it, but he assures me that you will. He said, ‘Tell Luke that I haven’t forgotten his hot drummer.’ What the fuck does that mean?”
I laughed and blushed at the same time. “Oh, it was your wedding day. Josh caught me looking a bit glum, so promised to set me up with a hot drummer. Something about keeping up a good rhythm.”
Steve roared with laughter. “Now I get it. The only thing that worries me is how does he know?”
“I did wonder the same thing but decided the question was better left unasked.”
“Hmm, I think you might be right there. Anyway, the second thing – and this is a question I do have to ask – how would you feel about stepping up to become an associate director?”
I sat there with my mouth open. That had taken me completely by surprise; I’d had no idea that they were thinking of promoting me. “I … er. Gosh, that… Terrific. I mean… Yes.” I stopped burbling and took control of myself. “That is to say, thank you, Steve. That would be brilliant! I would love to.”
He beamed across the table. “Thought you might be pleased. Barbara will sort out all the details – you know, new contracts, etcetera. We thought a salary of a hundred thou would do for now. Is that okay?”
Considering that meant a twenty-five per cent increase on my existing package, it was more than satisfactory. “Yeah, that’s more than okay, Steve. Thanks.”
“Good. We aim to please,” he said with a smile. “You’ve worked bloody hard since you joined us five years ago, Luke. We’re lucky to have you. Congratulations.” He got up and shook my hand.
Still in a state of shock, I wandered out of the room and into Barbara’s office. As I sat down, she glanced up and gave me a smile. “Good start to the week, eh?” she asked.
“Yeah, I mean – wow. I never expected that. Terrific!”
“You deserve it, Luke, sweetie. You’ve done a lot for this place and I’m so proud of you.”
Crikey, when would this “Buff-Up Luke’s Ego-Fest” end? I beamed at Barbara and thanked her.
We sorted out the details – new contract of employment, holiday standards, revised pension arrangements, and so forth. After an hour, my mind was dizzy with all the details.
Suddenly, Steve put his head round the door. “Two things. We’ve been put on a warning about Monday’s meeting. Apparently, they definitely want to hold a departmental conference – effectively a brainstorming session – on Griffin House. It’s slated for the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth of October, somewhere near Bristol. The main point of Monday’s get together is to set the agenda and plan the programme. They’re going to invite us to attend the conference and make a presentation. You okay for that, Luke? Can you keep your diary free?”
“Sure, no problem,” I replied.
“Great.” He moved to leave us.
“What was the second thing?”
“Oh, yes. We have yet another new Environment Minister.”
“Another one? But the present one’s only been in place for a couple of months.”
“I know – it’s all to do with a reshuffle after one of the Cabinet resignations, I think.”
“So who’s the new Minister?”
“Some guy called Daniel Forrester.”
Oh, bloody hell. Dan – my Dan – a Minister of the Crown.
Chris Cheek was born and brought up in South London. He has strong family ties with northern England and is a graduate of Lancaster University. He and his husband, Michael, have been together for over forty years and now live on the Sussex coast after twenty-five years in the Yorkshire Dales.
This is Chris’s fourth novel.
He writes a regular blog which can be found at www.chrischeek.me