New Release: Rag and Bone by KJ Charles

rag-and-boneBuylink: Samhain

It’s amazing what people throw away…

Crispin Tredarloe never meant to become a warlock. Freed from his treacherous master, he’s learning how to use his magical powers the right way. But it’s brutally hard work. Not everyone believes he’s a reformed character, and the strain is putting unbearable pressure on his secret relationship with waste-man Ned Hall.

Ned’s sick of magic. Sick of the trouble it brings, sick of its dangerous grip on Crispin and the miserable look it puts in his eyes, and sick of being afraid that a gentleman magician won’t want a street paper-seller forever—or even for much longer.

But something is stirring among London’s forgotten discards. An ancient evil is waking up and seeking its freedom. And when wild magic hits the rag-and-bottle shop where Ned lives, a panicked Crispin falls back onto bad habits. The embattled lovers must find a way to work together—or London could go up in flames.

This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.

Excerpt:

They got in hot mutton pies from the shop on Dyott Street that Ned supplied with waste. It was easier than going out to eat, and more discreet, considering everything they couldn’t talk about in public.

“So I have to see if this new teacher will be any good,” Crispin concluded his lengthy monologue. Ned had listened patiently, as he always did. “Or, if I’ll be any good, more like.”

“I don’t get it.” Ned brushed crumbs off his trousers. They were both sitting on stacks of waste, using the piles of manuscripts, letters, prospectuses, and forgotten legal documents as furniture because Ned had neither the space nor the funds for things like chairs. He had a bed, a gimcrack chest of drawers, incredible amounts of paper, and very little else, and he was the most contented man Crispin knew. “I’ve seen you do magic. We both know you can do magic.”

“I can. But…” Crispin had tried to explain this more than once. “Look, you’re a waste-man. You know how to buy waste, how much to pay, who to sell it to, how to turn a profit. Well, suppose I told you to get on the Stock Exchange and make a fortune? It’s all buying and selling, isn’t it? You know how to do that, so why couldn’t you do it with stocks and shares?” He gave Ned a hopeful look.

“I probably could,” Ned said. “If I learned the rules, and if they let my colour into the Exchange, which I wouldn’t bet on. I wasn’t born a waste-man, or even bred one. You learn things.”

Crispin sagged. Ned probably would make a marvellous stockbroker, if it came to that, because he was actually good at things. “Yes, well, I was born with my talents, or lack of them, and the way I was trained to use them isn’t allowed, and I’m no good at learning the new way. I simply can’t make my powers do what I want in the way people want me to. I mean, do you think you could ever learn to draw?”

“No,” Ned said without hesitation.

“You could take lessons. If you had dozens of lessons, I bet you’d be able to turn out a reasonable likeness, but—”

“Not like you.”

That was something Crispin could do. He’d sketched Ned half a dozen times, and himself in the mirror too, on request. Ned had that picture pinned to the wall of his tiny sleeping space. “No. I can take a pen and know how to put what I want on the paper. I can look at you and see how I’d shade your cheekbones in this light, how I’d draw your eyes.” It was the laugh that made Ned’s eyes, the little telltale crease there half the time even when he didn’t seem to be smiling. When Crispin shaded his work, seeking to make his pencil’s grey suggest the rich deep brown of Ned’s skin, he found himself drawing as though Ned’s eyes cast their own light.

Those eyes were on him, warm with amusement, and Crispin realised his fingers had adopted a writing position. He straightened his hand with a touch of self-consciousness. “But even if you tried and tried, it wouldn’t come naturally, or easily. You’d never be able to do what I can do like breathing.” Ned shrugged acknowledgement. “And now imagine you could draw beautifully if you did it a different way but you’re not allowed.”

Ned put an arm round his shoulders. His arms were glorious, thick with muscle, so Crispin had to incline his head to make room. He put up his own slim arm to take Ned’s hand.

“I hear you,” Ned said. “But you aren’t allowed. So it seems to me that you’ve got to do it how they want you to.”

“It’s not fair.” Crispin scuffed the paper dust on the floor, with his boot. “Just because a maniac used graphomancy to kill people—”

“You talking about your Mr. Marleigh, or the one who murdered a pack of peelers this winter?”

“The one this winter.”

Ned sighed. “Missing my point there, Freckles. Be honest, I don’t much like the sound of magic writing or the look of it either. I don’t want you doing stuff with your own blood, let alone someone else’s.” He tugged Crispin’s hand forward so they could both see the truncated little finger. “Don’t tell me anything that starts with chopping bits off yourself is a good idea.”

He sounded almost annoyed, and Crispin bit back an equally testy response. Ned didn’t know. He was a waste-man, he didn’t understand what it was like to have power. He didn’t even want it. Ned was a flit, possessing a tiny touch of magical talent. He was just about able to hear the sounds of the ether to which Crispin was deaf, but he had steadfastly refused any suggestion of training his meagre ability. Why would I hear more of that if I didn’t have to?

Crispin would have ki—would have done anything for the senses Ned didn’t even want.

“Well, it’s too late to change that,” he muttered, pulling his hand back. “And I’m trying.”

Ned squinted round at him. “That’s as much as anyone can ask. Look, drop it for now, eh? I know you want to get this sorted out, but it’s not the only thing in the world.”

He was well aware he’d been talking a lot about it, until the twilight had shaded to night, but the implied rebuke was still galling. “It’s the most important thing!” he retorted without thinking, and felt his stomach contract at the expression that crossed Ned’s face. “I didn’t mean— That is, it’s what I do, it’s the important bit of my day, not— Ned, I didn’t mean that.”

“Course not.” Ned let his head drop back against the wall. “You want to stay?”

“Yes,” Crispin said urgently. “I really do. I’ll stop. Oh God, I haven’t even asked about your day.”

“Same old, same old.” That proved Ned was offended: he never had a “same old” day. There was always a funny story, some observation or interaction turned into an anecdote, because Ned was interested in things, and people, and the world around him. He didn’t only think about himself.

Crispin couldn’t imagine why Ned put up with him.

He twisted to get his arms round Ned’s muscular torso. “Well, if it wasn’t a very interesting day, maybe I could make it more interesting?” he offered hopefully.

Ned let out a long breath. “Crispin…”

Oh, he couldn’t have made a mess of this as well, not this. Crispin turned properly, swinging a leg over so he was sitting on Ned’s lap, and took his face in his hands. “Please, Ned. I’m sorry. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you for days and now I’ve spoiled it. Can I start again?” He dropped kisses on Ned’s cheekbones, one side and the other. “I’d rather be here than anywhere else, and I’d rather be talking to you than anyone else, and I’d rather you were talking to me and I wasn’t talking at all because you make more sense than I do.” He moved his mouth to Ned’s jawline, over the rough slide of beard he’d grown through the winter and which Crispin had insisted he keep, down the side of his neck, and felt the paper dust slippery on his lips. “Please?”

Ned grunted, low in his throat, and his hands came up to Crispin’s ribcage, sliding over his back. Crispin wriggled closer, kissing his way up Ned’s throat and over his jaw until their lips met, and at last, for a little while, everything was all right again.

They ended up in Ned’s tiny sleeping space, which didn’t deserve the name of bedroom. It was a cubbyhole off the paper store, with a sacking curtain to keep the warmth of body heat in—Crispin still felt slightly embarrassed about the look Ned had given him back in the depths of winter when he’d complained the paper store didn’t have a fireplace—with a truckle bed barely wide enough for the two of them lying on their sides. But Ned kept it swept and aired as best he could with no window, and Mr. Voake didn’t notice comings and goings, or care if he did notice. It was a safe space for the two of them, a place where Crispin was himself. Not a practitioner, not a warlock, not a failure or a nancy or a molly or any of the other things he was outside. Just him and Ned, body to body, shivering under blankets that held the evening chill, warming each other up. Crispin couldn’t wait for summer, the hot, light evenings when they wouldn’t need covers and he could take his time looking at Ned’s compact, powerful frame, and the sloping shoulders that made his mouth go dry.

Then again, burrowing under the blankets together had its advantages. Crispin wriggled on top of Ned’s solidity, feeling his way by touch, exploring the wide chest with light hands. He hadn’t expected Ned to be hairy, somehow, the first time, had had a vague idea that men of colour were smooth-skinned, and been pleased to find himself wrong about that. He rubbed his cheek against Ned’s pelt, licking a nipple to attention, and felt Ned’s solid thighs shift under him.

“You’re all over, Freckles,” Ned whispered, a laugh in his voice, and Crispin knew he was forgiven.

“I’ll be all over you before long,” Crispin assured him, and then they were both giggling like schoolchildren at the ridiculous innuendo. Crispin took the opportunity to squirm down a bit, and Ned shifted around, and there they were, with his prick caught between Ned’s substantial thigh muscles and Ned’s pressed along Crispin’s belly, both of them rocking gently as Ned caught Crispin’s mouth with his own.

Crispin was willowy, effete, his manner screaming molly no matter how hard he tried to hide it; Ned was strong-muscled, a working man, a black man. Both of them were very used to what other men wanted of them. And it had turned out Ned was as tired of those expectations as Crispin.

NEW RELEASE: THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL BY K J CHARLES

Blurb:

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell

September 1914

Available now at Samhain PublishingAmazon.com.co.uk and ARe

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER: THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL BY KJ CHARLES

Blurb:

A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell

September 1914

Available for pre-order at Samhain now.

FREE READ: A CASE OF SPIRITS BY K J CHARLES

Blurb:

None so blind…

A Charm of Magpies, Book 2.5

As torrential rains wash away the stench of a London heat wave, another kind of wave is sweeping through the city streets. A rash of ghost sightings, followed quickly by madness—and horrifying, eye-melting blindness.

The outbreak hits close to home when Lord Crane’s manservant, Merrick, becomes the newest victim. Desperate to find the cause of the malady, Crane and his magician lover, Stephen Day, are in a race against time—to put an end to the magical assault and put to rest the painful memories resurrected by ghosts of the past.

SAMHAIN    ALL ROMANCE EBOOKS

Jackdaw by KJ Charles: City and Country

 

Jackdaw by KJ Charles: City and Country

Someone was asking the other day about themes in my work. It’s interesting to consider if you have themes (it feels just a little like studying yourself for English GCSE), and when you look at what you actually write, what you seem to be circling around without even noticing, the answers are occasionally quite surprising.

For me, a big theme seems to be the flight to the city. My first book The Magpie Lord is mostly set in a sinister isolated mansion deep in the countryside. One hero spends the book wishing he was back in London; the other spends the full trilogy wishing he was back in Shanghai. A key Think of England plot driver is the way our 1904 heroes are trapped by their remote Northumberland location, where even the landscape turns out to be deadly. My thriller Non-Stop Till Tokyo is titled for the heroine’s urgent need to get back to the skyscrapers. (“In the countryside, nobody can hear you scream.”)

You might, in fact, conclude that the countryside and I don’t get on.

Funny thing, though. My Charm of Magpies trilogy is about a magical enforcer named Stephen and his dangerous aristocratic lover, Lord Crane. In the last (entirely London-based) book, Flight of Magpies, I introduced a minor villain called Jonah. He caught my imagination while being a damn nuisance to Stephen and Crane, and my new book Jackdaw is Jonah’s story.

Jackdaw turns the Magpie books on their head, with my hero Stephen now very much the Big Bad Wolf as he tries to bring chaotic, dishonest Jonah and his unfortunate, implicated ex-lover Ben to justice. And, weirdly enough, it also flips my thing about cities. Because where everything changes for Jonah and Ben is when they escape the pull of dark, dangerous London and find themselves in a tiny fishing village in Cornwall.

I love Cornwall. If I couldn’t live in London, I’d live in Cornwall. The skies are larger, the light is clearer and—oh, just look.

Those are the clifftops.

clifftops

This is the coastline.

coastline

Here’s the sheer drops. Did I mention that Jonah is a windwalker? That he can walk on the air and dance down over the sea?

sheer drop

Here’s Polperro, a fishing village very much like (though larger than) the one where Ben and Jonah end up.

polperro-harbour-view

 

Just a bunch of houses falling down the cliffs to a harbour, a tiny community a long way from London.

 

This is where Jonah and Ben can heal. This is the place they can live. A long, long way away from the city.

The question is whether it’s far enough from Stephen…

 

_____________________________________

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together—from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?

Jackdaw big

PublisherAmazon UK:Amazon US

Blurb:

If you stop running, you fall.

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together—from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?

This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.

Excerpt:

“Thank God, water.” Jonah locked the door. “I am desperate to be clean.”

So was Ben, after days in the same clothes. He stripped without thought, using the thin towels provided to rub himself all over, until he felt the fug of long travel and fear-sweat lift from his skin. Beside him, Jonah was doing the same, so much more gracefully, his darkly furred chest glistening with damp, nipples hard in the chill air.

Ben couldn’t stop watching.

Jonah didn’t seem to notice. He ran the wet cloth under his arms, over his chest, and lower, over his muscular thighs, the nest of black curls. He was half-hard as he rinsed the cloth, wiped it over himself, rinsed it again. His skin shone with damp in the candlelight.

He wasn’t looking at Ben. If he had, if he just looked…

Ben stood, helpless, staring. Jonah’s body was as compact and muscular as ever. He looked so quick and sleek clothed, so powerful naked. Ben had wrapped his legs over those strong shoulders so often…

No. That was madness.

Ben moved to the big bed. It was a four-poster, evidently once equipped with curtains to pull round and keep the heat in. They had doubtless long rotted away. There was just a pile of quilts and blankets now, sheets warmed by a pan of coals, a bolster, and enough room for two.

Ben crawled in and lay in the bed, facing out.

Jonah blew out the candles and moved round to the other side of the bed, which dipped as he got in. The bed was very cold, except for the almost painfully hot, slightly crispy feel of the linen where the warming pan had rested. Neither of them had a nightshirt—he had a dim recollection of Jonah making some casual remark about lost bags to the landlady. Ben could feel the heat of Jonah’s body from here.

It was very dark, and very quiet.

“Ben?”

He could pretend to be asleep. God knew he was tired.

“Ben,” Jonah repeated.

“Mmm.”

Pause.

“I know it’s all gone wrong.” Jonah’s voice was very quiet. “And I know you probably still hate me—”

“I don’t hate you.” Ben stared into the dark. “I did, before. When I thought you left me because you didn’t love me, or didn’t love me enough. I hated you then, but I was wrong, and I am so sorry.” His voice shook on the words but it was time and past to say them. “What I did in that bloody place—”

“Don’t. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does.” Ben forced the words out. “I wanted to—to hurt you. Me. That’s what happened to me, that’s what this has done to me. I’ve become the kind of man who—”

“Who doesn’t do bad things, even if he wants to,” Jonah came in swift and sharp. “Have you forgotten that? You never had a reason to want to do something horrible to me before. And when you did, it was a good reason, but you didn’t do it. Look, I know we’ve done things to each other and, even if you don’t hate me…well, it’s not like it was any more.”

“No.” Because what they’d had, that golden idyll, had been a fantasy. Reality lay beside him, flawed and irresponsible and very warm.

“I just wondered,” Jonah said. “Could we pretend?”

Ben stilled. He could hear his own deepening breathing. Jonah’s tension was palpable. “Pretend?”

“Or forget. Or ignore even, but could we not be a thief and a copper, or two people who did bad things to each other? Just for tonight? Could we just be Ben and Jonah, in the dark? It wouldn’t change anything, or mean anything tomorrow. I promise I wouldn’t think that it did. But I miss you.” Jonah swallowed audibly. “I missed you when you weren’t there, and now you are here and I can’t touch you and I miss you even more.”

“I miss you too,” Ben whispered.

Jonah’s body was quivering with readiness, Ben could feel it, but he didn’t reach out, and Ben realised he was waiting. Letting Ben make the choice. Letting him decide if he wanted to be sucked back into the maelstrom that tore his existence apart, over and over.

Naturally Jonah would think this was a good idea. He lived in the moment, never looking ahead. Ben could see consequences looming on every side, and most of them were terrible.

They should split up, that was obvious. It would have been obvious days ago, if Ben had been able to think properly. His mind was clear now, and he could see it all. Jonah would never change, would never be responsible, quite blatantly intended to steal again should it become necessary. Ben couldn’t live like that, waiting for the next disaster, not after Jonah’s love had already plunged him into hell. He’d say goodbye tomorrow, and go, before they hurt each other more. It was the only sane thing to do, for both their sakes.

But if this was to be the last night…

He rolled over, under the heavy bedcovers, and reached out, and felt Jonah’s whole body twitch as his hand closed on Jonah’s shoulder.

“Ben,” Jonah whispered, and then he was in Ben’s arms, and they were kissing.

Jonah’s lips were soft, his beard unfamiliar and prickly, scratching against Ben’s own stubble. His tongue met Ben’s, sweeping round, tasting of ale and himself. His hands came up, running through Ben’s hair, sending shuddering sensation across his skin, and Ben lost himself in being kissed and held and loved.

It was utterly dark in the small room, with its shutters closing out the night. No sight of each other. No sight of the white streak marring Jonah’s hair, or the brutal ridge of scarring on Ben’s face. No evidence visible of what they’d done to each other and to themselves. It could have been five months ago, when everything was innocent, and Ben let himself believe that it was.

KJ Charles: How Authors Should Help Reviewers Write Reviews*

*They shouldn’t.

This post is on Love Bytes. It caught my eye and as KJ is one of my favourite bloggers I’ve linked it here.

Thirdly: … Okay, don’t get me wrong here, I love talking to readers. I enabled the question facility on Goodreads as soon as I could. I do frequent ‘ask me anything’ sessions in my Facebook chat group, usually while stuck on train platforms. It’s an amazing, fascinating and usually fun experience to hear how other people interact with my work. But do I want everyone who wasn’t impressed to come and tell me about it? There isn’t a no big enough.

Rainbow Awards Winner- KJ Charles

Congratulations KJ, from ukgayromance. Much deserved! 

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Magic in the blood. Danger in the streets.

A Charm of Magpies, Book 2

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

Excerpt:

On a hot summer’s night, in a small, bare clerk’s room in Limehouse, a few streets from the stench of the river and three doors down from an opium den, Lucien Vaudrey, the Earl Crane, was checking lading bills.

This was not his preferred way to spend an evening, but since his preferences hadn’t been consulted, and the work needed to be done, he was doing it.

His iron nib scratched down the paper. It was a functional, cheap pen, like the basic deal desk and the plain, sparse office. There was no evidence of wealth in the room at all, in fact, except for Crane’s suit, which had cost more than the house he was sitting in.

As Lucien Vaudrey, trader and occasional smuggler, he had made himself satisfactorily rich, and his unexpected elevation to the peerage had brought him a huge fortune along with the title. He was now one of England’s most eligible bachelors, to anyone who didn’t know or chose to disregard his reputation in China, and he was this very evening failing to attend three separate soirees at which he could have met perhaps thirty women who would be enthusiastically available for the position of the Countess Crane. On his bureau at home were several dozen more visiting cards, invitations, requests for money, requests for meetings: a thick sheaf of laissez-passer to the highest society.

He could have his pick of London’s beauties, socialise with the best people, assert his place in the top few hundred of the Upper Ten Thousand, claim the social status of which many people dreamed and for which some would sacrifice everything. He could have all that if he lifted a finger, and if someone held a gun to his head to make him do it.

Crane had spent his entire adult life in Shanghai, cheek by jowl with smugglers, prostitutes, gamblers, killers, traders, drinkers, shamans, painters, corrupt officials, slumming mandarins, poets, opium eaters and other such scum, and he loved that sweaty, vivid, intoxicated world. Polite soirees and elegant dinners with people whose achievement in life began and ended with birth held no appeal at all.

So he declined, or ignored, the invitations, because in comparison to high society, identifying where someone had shaved his shipment of Szechuan peppercorns was a much more rewarding pursuit.

Not as rewarding as the pursuit of a certain amber-eyed individual whose small, lithe, delightfully yielding body kept him awake at night, but that wasn’t an option right now because the little devil had once again vanished off to work.

Stephen’s elusiveness was a novelty for Crane, who had always found getting rid of lovers more of a challenge than picking them up, and who had never had a partner who worked harder than himself. His new level of idleness was the problem, really, since if his days were fuller he would spend less of them wondering what Stephen was up to, but to amend that by setting up a serious business would require a commitment to England that he couldn’t quite bring himself to make. Not when he had a perfectly good trading house in Shanghai, where life was easier, more comfortable, and so much more fun.

There would be no Stephen in Shanghai, of course, but then for all Crane knew to the contrary, he wasn’t in London either. He had disappeared two nights ago without a word, and would return as it suited him.

And that was quite reasonable. Stephen was a free man, and one with responsibilities that made Crane’s international business look like a casual pastime. They both had work to do, and since Crane had never tolerated lovers who expected him to put aside his business for their entertainment, he was hardly going to make those demands on Stephen’s time. It was merely irritating that the boot was so firmly on the other foot, for once; that it was Crane waiting for Stephen to turn up on his own unpredictable schedule, knowing that he would offer no more than a lopsided, provocative smile as explanation for his absence.

Thinking of his lover’s irresistible foxy grin led Crane to a moment’s consideration of more interesting uses his desk could be put to. He concluded that the damn thing would doubtless fall apart under the stresses he intended to apply as soon as he got his hands on the little so-and-so, and on that thought, at last spotted where the factor’s well-massaged figures didn’t quite work.

Not a bad effort, he reflected, and a nicely judged theft, enough to be worthwhile for the factor, and quite tolerable for Crane as part of a very competently handled bit of business. He nodded, pleased. The man would work out well.

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think-of-england

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Lie back and think of England…England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Excerpt:

The burglar moved forward in total silence, progress only indicated by the movement of the light. He was coming towards the storage-room door at the back of the library, where Curtis stood. A little closer, and he could spring on the fellow. He readied himself for action.

The light travelled up, over the desk, and stopped with a jerk on the dark lantern that Curtis had left there. He tensed, and the light swung round and beamed directly into his face.

Shocked, blinded but unhesitating, Curtis launched himself forward, left fist leading into—nothing, because the intruder wasn’t there. He heard the faintest whisper of movement, and a hand was clapped over his mouth, warm fingers pressing against his lips.

“Dear me, Mr. Curtis,” murmured a voice in his ear. “We really must stop meeting like this.”

Curtis froze, then as the smooth hand moved from his mouth, he hissed, “What the devil are you playing at?”

“I might ask you the same.” Da Silva was right behind him, body pressed close, and his free hand slid, shockingly intimate, over Curtis’s hip.

He shoved a vicious elbow back, getting a satisfying grunt from da Silva as he made contact, although not as hard as he’d have liked, but when he turned and grabbed where his opponent should have been, he found only empty space. He glared into the dark, frustrated.

“Well, well.” Da Silva’s low voice came from a few steps away. The little light flicked on again. Curtis moved towards it, intending violent retribution, and stopped short as he saw what it was illuminating. His skeleton keys, in da Silva’s hand.

“You picked my bloody pocket!”

Quiet.” The beam of light flickered off the keys, around the room and over the desk. “Don’t shout, and please don’t start a fight. Neither of us wants to be caught.”

Enragingly, that was true. “What are you doing in here?” demanded Curtis, trying to keep his voice as low as da Silva’s murmur.

“I was going to break into Sir Hubert’s storage room. And, given the skeleton keys and dark lantern, I think you had the same idea.”

Curtis opened and shut his mouth in the darkness. He managed, “Are you a thief?”

“No more than you. I suspect we may have shared interests, unlikely as that may seem.”

“It seems damned unlikely to me!”

“And this is likely?” Da Silva beamed his light at the dark lantern. “Archibald Curtis, late of His Majesty’s service, a Boy’s Own Paper reader if ever I saw one—a burglar? I don’t think so. I certainly hope not. You’re dreadful at it.”

Curtis seethed. “Whereas you’re a natural, I suppose.”

“Keep your voice down.” Da Silva’s voice was only just audible, entirely controlled.

“Give me one reason I shouldn’t raise the house,” Curtis said through his teeth.

“If you were going to, you’d have done it already. Two choices, Mr. Curtis. Do the decent thing, shout for help, and watch me spoil your plans while you spoil mine. Or…”

“Or what?”

He could hear the purr in da Silva’s voice. “Or I could open that door.”

Curtis didn’t reply, because he could think of nothing to say. Da Silva went on. “If we have common interests, we’ll find out when we’re in there. If we don’t, well, I shan’t stand in your way and I trust you won’t stand in mine. If neither of us finds what we seek, we’ll apologise to our host in thought, and pretend this never happened. But all of that depends on getting through that door. What do you say?”

It was outrageous. He ought to tell him to go to the devil. It was unthinkable that he should ally himself to this bounder.

What he said was, “Can you open it?”

“Probably. May I?” Da Silva moved to the dark lantern and flicked the slide to shed light on the door lock. He handed the flashlight to Curtis as though they were regular partners. “Take this and listen out.”

Da Silva dropped to his knees by the door, silhouetted in the light from the dark lantern. Curtis bent closer and saw he was manipulating long, slender pieces of metal.

“Are you picking that lock?” he demanded.

“Is that worse than using skeleton keys?”

“You are a thief!”

“On the contrary.” Da Silva sounded unruffled. “My father’s a locksmith. I learned his trade in my cradle. Some day I shall give you his views on the uselessness of skeleton keys. I trust you didn’t pay too much for them.”

Curtis bit back an angry response, knowing it would be bluster. Da Silva’s slim fingers moved, steady, skilful and unhurried.

The house was silent, only his own breathing audible. Feeling useless, Curtis flicked on the flashlight, admiring the strength of its beam. The newfangled things tended to be weak and unreliable, but this was an impressive piece of kit; he should like to examine it when he had a chance. He played the light over the door, checking for other locks or bolts in lieu of anything better to do, and his eyes widened as the light caught something that he hadn’t noticed before.

“Da Silva,” he hissed.

“Busy.”

Da Silva.” Curtis grabbed his shoulder, digging his fingers in. The dark head swung round, black eyes unfriendly.

“What?”

“That.” Curtis circled the light on his discovery.

What?

Da Silva was still on the floor, holding his picks in the lock, looking up at the unobtrusive metal plate on the door with no sign of understanding. Curtis knelt to bring their heads level, and felt a stab of pain and weakness in his kneecap as his leg bent. He grabbed for da Silva’s shoulder to steady himself, leaning on the kneeling man, and heard him give a very slight grunt of effort as he took Curtis’s weight.

Curtis lowered himself to the floor, hand still gripping the slender shoulder that seemed stiff with effort or tension, and whispered into da Silva’s ear, feeling the warmth of his own breath bounce off the skin so close to his mouth. “Wire running to the door. Metal plate on the frame and the door. It’s an electrical contact. If you open the door, you’ll break the circuit.”

“Meaning?”

“I think it might be an alarm.”

Da Silva’s body went rigid under Curtis’s hand. “Well,” he breathed. “How thrillingly modern. Doesn’t want us to get in there, does he?”

Curtis would have voiced a strong objection to “us”, but that was drowned in the rush of sensation along his nerves. If Sir Hubert was really hiding something… If Lafayette had been right…

If that was the case, no matter that the man was his host, and elderly. He would break his damned neck.