St. Tropez offers all the pleasures a growing boy could want—as well as all the danger
After the Wall Street crash and the onset of the Great Depression, Stuart Cosling wants something different than his typical American life, so he takes his sizable fortune and beautiful, young French trophy wife and moves to the undiscovered paradise of St. Tropez. Here he has the home, the vineyard, and the precocious son he has always wanted. Within a few years, his status on the island grows from that of new arrival to local celebrity.
Their son, Robbie, grows up. By his teenage years, he has become a terribly handsome man, and while on a cruise, he learns the pleasures that manhood can bring. Now Robbie is impelled to chase that feeling and try to find the love that he deserves.
Perfect Freedom has all the hallmarks of Gordon Merrick’s finest work: scenic locales, beautifully rendered characters, and outrageous emotion oozing from every page.
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About the Author
Gordon Merrick (1916–1988) was an actor, television writer, and journalist. Merrick was one of the first authors to write about gay themes for a mass audience. He wrote fourteen books, including the beloved Peter & Charlie Trilogy. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list in 1970. Merrick’s posthumously published novel The Good Life, coauthored with his partner, Charles G. Hulse, was a bestseller as well. Merrick died in Sri Lanka.
Read an Excerpt
By Gordon Merrick
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 Gordon Merrick
All rights reserved.
"They say they're going to rebuild it exactly as it was before. Good luck to them." The French officer stood amid the rubble of the ruined port. For a brief vivid moment, his memory put it back together again the way it had looked when he'd last seen it—the sagging pastel façades of the waterfront aglow in the same westering August sun, the uneven orange-tiled roofline, the crowd beginning to gather for the apéritif hour as a prelude to the licentious night, probably including a visit to his dance act. His eyes roamed over tumbled rocks and shattered masonry and settled on a squat tower at the edge of the sea. "There. You see that thing that looks like part of an old fortress? That was a nightclub. That's where I got my first big break."
"Yeah? You worked in nightclubs?"
"Just that once. I got signed for a picture and the rest is history." The Frenchman flashed his famous smile. "It seems like a lifetime ago but it was only just before the war. Only about six years ago." His smile faded as he gazed at the surrounding devastation. "The bastards. If we'd had to bomb the place to prepare for our landing, okay, but this is so senseless. The bloody Bosches did it out of pure spite. What difference does St. Tropez make to winning or losing the war? It's a wonder they didn't blow up Notre Dame."
"They probably would've if we'd given them time. Let's get going, Anthony. We're supposed to invade Cannes this evening."
"Toni. With an i. That's the way I was billed when I was dancing here. Just plain Toni. It took you Americans to turn me into Anthony Beaupré. Okay. Let's go, but I want to make one more quick detour before we get on with the war."
He drove the Jeep along the familiar road that led out to the end of the peninsula, thinking of the first time he had seen the house, hoping that what he'd heard wasn't true, beginning to feel a little hollow of dread in the pit of his stomach as he neared his destination. He had felt a tremor of dread the first time, too, with Stuart in the Rolls, half expecting the older man to make a pass at him. Stuart had already mentioned his wife and son and everybody spoke of the fabulous Coslings as a model family, but you never knew.
"I almost fell in love with a beautiful boy the last time I was here," he said.
The American uttered a snort of laughter. "You're kidding. You?"
"It would come as a shock to my various wives and assorted lady friends, but it was a very close call. If you're going to put it in one of your intelligence reports, be sure to say it was six years ago and that nothing like it has ever happened since." He slowed and turned into the narrow road that ran through vineyards and a stand of cork oaks to the sea. He passed between the stone gateposts at the entrance to the property and noticed with a thickening of dread that the gates were missing. He rounded the final curve of the drive and experienced an odd sense of disorientation and then slammed on the brakes and came to a jolting halt.
Not long ago, he had seen a friend with his head blown off; for endless seconds his mind had simply refused to accept the evidence of his eyes while he tried to find the missing part. He went through similar mental gymnastics now. He wondered if he could have taken a wrong turn although he knew that the drive led nowhere but here, to this abandoned litter of stone and tile and broken beams that looked as if a giant fist had slammed into it. Even the ground looked bruised. He could barely force himself to turn toward the terraced citrus grove where Robbie's little house had stood. Only a scar on the hillside was visible amid the foliage.
"Jesus," he murmured, again looking straight ahead of him across the scattered ruins to the steps that descended to the sheltered cove. "I can't believe it. This was the most beautiful house I've ever seen. You can't imagine what it was like. It wasn't just a house. It was a whole world. Who would dream of destroying it? The Germans, naturally. I heard a vague story this morning. It seems they found the body of one of their big shots hidden somewhere on the property. They couldn't figure out what he'd been doing here. I wonder. I have a hunch it might have been a crime of passion rather than anything to do with war." Carl and Helene. Carl and Robbie. Stuart, the avenging husband and father? Pure melodrama, but it might have happened that way. The Frenchman closed his eyes to let his imagination restore the material world to its vanished beauty. It was all there, the olive grove, the hanging gardens, the statue standing against the eternal sky. He opened his eyes to reality. "Well, that's the end of that," he said. He sat back with a sigh and heard Robbie's voice calling to him from the cove. "I wonder if Stuart knows," he mused, addressing himself, since the man at his side didn't know who he was talking about. Strange to be in St. Tropez with somebody who had never heard of the fabulous Coslings.CHAPTER 2
When Stuart came out of the station at Monte Carlo, he was almost run over by Greta Garbo. At least, Greta Garbo was sitting beside the man at the wheel of the Daimler that swerved around Stuart as he scrambled for the safety of the sidewalk. For an instant, the divine eyes met his from under a big hat. It was a good omen, he decided, simply because he was in the mood for good omens. He wanted the day to shine with a special radiance, although nothing very important was likely to happen. The impending meeting with his uncle was only a formality. The old boy wouldn't say no to a perfectly natural eagerness to snap up a real-estate bargain. A good case could probably be made for it as a sound investment, but that wasn't Stuart's line; to him it offered an escape to freedom—freedom from the confining artificiality and financial hysteria of New York. The country he had so recently left was still reeling from the blows of the great stock-market crash. Why not choose the natural life of the land, in which values were rooted in something more durable than figures on a ticker tape?
Thinking about money, he decided to splurge on a horse-drawn taxi although the long uncomfortable train trip he'd just completed had been undertaken as an economy; driving over in the Rolls at barely eight miles to the gallon had seemed an unjustified extravagance.
He climbed into the first carriage in the line in front of the station and gave the name of his uncle's hotel. It was unseasonably hot for September, the movement of the carriage was soothing; in an instant, Stuart was asleep. He was awakened by a uniformed attendant bending over him.
"You wish to descend here, sir?" Stuart pulled himself together with a start and, all arms and legs, fell out of the carriage. As he fumbled in his pocket to pay the driver, he glanced over the hotel gardens that adjoined the Casino and realized how inappropriately he was dressed. After these months in an obscure fishing village, where nobody cared what you put on, he had forgotten that on this part of the coast men wore hats and jackets and ties.
"Sir Bennett Cosling," he murmured apologetically to the attendant who was hovering beside him. He hitched up his linen trousers and tucked in his white open-necked shirt. "That is—I'm Mr. Stuart Cosling. I have an appointment with Sir Bennett." His height and the distinction of his features could always be counted on to allay the suspicions of hotel employees. The attendant turned and gestured grandly to a boy in uniform.
"A gentleman to see Sir Bennett Cosling," he said with a bow. Stuart followed the youth into the hotel garden and then, catching sight of his uncle at a table in the corner, thanked the boy and hurried forward. Sir Bennett was reading a paper, a straw boater tipped forward over his eyes, a red rose in the buttonhole of his beautifully cut beige jacket. He looked up as Stuart stopped before him and his eyes narrowed in twinkling appraisal.
"Well, my boy, France seems to agree with you. You look about twenty—not what one expects of a man of your years, you know. Somebody steal your cravat?" The older man rose and offered Stuart a warm handclasp. As the two stood together, the resemblance was startling—the same long lean frame, the same shaped head with the same thick just-off-blond hair, the same wide forehead, long nose, prominent blue eyes. The similarity of the mouths was striking, the slight fullness of the upper lip suggesting a childlike innocence. Time and custom, however, had frozen Sir Bennett's face into immobility, whereas Stuart's expression was intensely revealing. One could read clearly his sensitivity, his optimism, his stubbornness and, now, a sort of explosive satisfaction with life. Although he was thirty-two he might have been taken for a college boy. His uncle waved him to a chair.
"What'll you drink, my boy? A whisky? My own taste runs to champagne when it's as warm as this. Never been here before at this time of year. I hope you appreciate my stopping over specially for you." The older man had adjusted his hat square on his head and he sat erect, trim and elegant in his stiff collar and his beautiful suit. He signaled a waiter and they both ordered champagne. Stuart looked at his uncle and smiled.
"How do you stand it, Ben? I'd drop dead if I had to wear all those clothes."
"My dear boy, not even the fear of death would impel me to appear in public looking like you. The latest thing from the States, no doubt." Sir Bennett's eyes twinkled. "And how is Helene? She couldn't make it?"
"Too much of a trip with Robbie."
"How is the boy?"
"Growing like a weed. He's going to take after the Coslings." Stuart spoke of his son as if he had just discovered him. It was only during the last few months that Stuart had begun to recognize that the boy was a being in his own right, a wonder of his creation.
"We'll take lunch out here," Sir Bennett said to the waiter who brought the champagne. He turned back to Stuart. "Shall we settle your business before we eat?"
"There's not much to settle." Stuart leaned back with a grin. "I told you just about everything in my letter. Think of it. Somewhere between three and four hundred acres—there's some sort of confusion about the boundaries—and the whole thing for five hundred pounds, less than three thousand dollars." For an instant, it occurred to Stuart that his uncertainty about the acreage might make the whole project sound rather dubious and he hurried on to other details. He spoke with enthusiasm of how the land was situated along the sea, on a peninsula that commanded a view of the Esterels and the lower Alps; of its rich vegetation, olive groves, forests of cork oak, and dilapidated vineyards; of its abundant water and its miles of beaches, the best in the whole area.
He had no experience in making purchases of such importance, although his father, Bennett's younger brother, was probably one of the richest men in the world. He knew his father only slightly. As a young man, Barry Cosling had run off to Canada and quickly amassed a fortune. One of the first things he had done to celebrate his success was to get rid of Stuart's mother, an American.
Stuart had been brought up in Canada, in the States, on the Continent by his Cosling connections, aged maiden ladies, nondescript families in the suburbs of London or New York, widows in gloomy flats in Paris or Florence, all of whom were glad to take in Stuart for the sake of gaining the favor of his illustrious father.
Then, barely a year earlier, one of his numerous foster parents (he hardly remembered Aunt Ada) had died and left him her sole heir. The great stock-market crash occurred almost simultaneously and Stuart was obliged to watch helplessly while his dream of unexpected riches dwindled to a reality of very modest proportions. When everything had been settled, he found that what was left would provide him an income of a bit more than five thousand dollars a year, very nice as a supplement to his editor's salary in a publishing house but hardly enough to alter his life radically. Recognizing this, he found that he had developed a strong urge for radical alterations. The carefree twenties had been brought to a shattering halt, as if a curtain had been dropped on a chaotic and misbegotten play that could have no other ending. What was going to happen now?
Stuart knew that his background made him something of a misfit wherever he was. Why not make the most of it and create a life tailored to satisfy his individual needs? He wasn't quite sure what they were but he knew that New York and his job didn't weigh heavily in the balance. He discussed it with Helene all through that grim winter of '29 and into the dawning months of the thirties, and as summer approached and Robbie's school finished, he quit his job and they set sail, third class, for the unknown. It was a small reversal of the expatriate trend; everybody was hurrying home that year.
Their goal was modest—look around, see if they could find a place where they could make a good life on their limited income, take a year or two to work things out. If nothing came of it, they could always go back. The discovery of the property brought everything suddenly into focus. Stuart's capital was unencumbered but Sir Bennett had been given a controlling voice should Stuart wish to liquidate any part of it. Hence this meeting.
"It sounds jolly good," Sir Bennett said when Stuart had completed his glowing description of the place he hoped to buy. "But what are you going to do with it?"
"Live on it," Stuart said. "Settle down. Develop the land. Have a good life. I'd have asked you to take care of the money weeks ago, but the bloke who owns the place has disappeared. An old bachelor called Giraudon. He's quite batty but he's bound to come back eventually. Of course, I can't do a thing till he does."
"What does Helene think of it?"
"She's crazy about it. Think how wonderful it'll be for Robbie."
"Hmm. Still doing nothing about getting married?"
Stuart flushed and took a sip of his champagne. There was no way of making his uncle understand his and Helene's indifference to the legal forms of marriage. Their relationship had been necessarily illicit at the beginning, for her husband had been insane and she couldn't divorce him. By the time he died, Robbie had arrived and Stuart had adopted an attitude toward their irregular situation that made marriage superfluous. What had started as a youthful extramarital fling had become a completely satisfying union. What could a legal technicality change or add?
They had discussed the possibility of getting married to facilitate travel, but Helene's French passport was issued to Mrs. René de Chassart, her legal name, and it hadn't seemed worthwhile to take the time to have it changed. Although she hadn't lived in France for years and had Americanized her Christian name by dropping the accents, she was simply going home.
Stuart put his glass down carefully. "When we get settled, there'll be plenty of time to think about marriage," he said quickly.
"Well, my boy, there's no question about your having the money but I can't say I'm mad about the idea."
"Why not?" Stuart asked cheerfully.
"These are uncertain times. You can't afford to start eating into capital," the older man said.
"Sure, but good Lord, Ben, with all that land, I'll be practically self-supporting. Besides, the dollar goes a long way here, God bless it."
"What will you be doing? Something in the literary line?"
"God forbid. I'm going to be a beachcomber." Stuart laughed. He knew that his uncle regarded him as "artistic" because of his job in publishing and that the move he was contemplating would be much more acceptable to the old man if it were given a gloss of creative or intellectual justification. Stuart refused to indulge in the pretense.
"What I mean to say, old boy, is what are you going to do?" Sir Bennett asked with gentle insistence.
"You're a great one to ask that, Ben," he said.
"That's where you're wrong, my boy. I follow a very rigorous schedule. I'm in London for the season, I go to the villa on Como for the summer, I'm at Barstlow for the shooting, and I come to Monte for the winter season. Not now, heaven forbid. Dreadful sort of people here now. Don't know the place." He made a gesture with his glass.
"You're a fraud, Ben. You just try to create the illusion of having something to do."
Excerpted from Perfect Freedom by Gordon Merrick. Copyright © 1982 Gordon Merrick. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Gordon Merick writes fantastic storries that keep you on edge until the end. A young couple from New York go tp France to start a new beginning during the U.S. depression and purcchase some land on the Riviera . Their problems and struggles are immense and continue untilt W W 2. Their son finds his first gay love affair at 17 adn becomes quickly addicted to gay sex. And a handsome German giglio soons racks havic with the entire family.
This book was totally seductive and captured every detail of a young gay man experiencing and finding out what he wants and likes. This book is filled with twists and scenes that grasp your attention and lift... your intellect. If you like erotic, stimulating, and sexy gay romance then you will absolutely love "Perfect Freedom."