It’s not often we get an M/M historical set in swoon-worthy 1920s Paris, but my good friend Liv Rancourt has written a romance befitting such a worthy setting. I invited her to the blog to tell you all about it. Read on!
Thanks so much, Selina, for inviting me to your blog! I really appreciate the chance to share Lost & Found with your readers!
It’s been a while since I released a new book and while my promo skills were a little rusty, I’m finding my way. Self-publishing has so many moving parts it can feel like juggling plates with one almost always ready to crash.
I’m definitely going to need a vacation after this. 😊
And given that it’s the setting of Lost & Found, the top vacation spot on my list is Paris. Writing a book about a city I’ve never visited was either very brave or a fine example of questionable judgment. I love the idea of Paris, though, so visiting in my mind was better than nothing at all.
I did a lot of reading – the history of Paris, a book about Montmartre, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast – and I scrolled through tons of old photos. (You can check out my Pinterest page here. The page is under the story’s original name, L’Ami Mysterieux.) I could have done more research – I never watched Chocolat, for example, although it’s set in France at about the same period.
Ah well. I’ll save that for the sequel.
I also made a sincere effort to resuscitate my high school French. Duolingo and Babbel were my new best friends. I had a free hand with adding French phrases to the story and though I did my very best, my Parisian beta reader made a number (!!) of corrections.
Selina, someday I’m going to take you up on your offer to help me practice – for the next book! [SK note: Je suis à votre service, chérie.]
I love Paris because the whole place was designed with an eye to beauty and romance. Practicality was and is lower on the list. One of the main reasons I haven’t ever visited is that when I go, I’m going to want to stay for six months or a year, for long enough that I feel like part of the scene. I want to get to know the city’s nooks and crannies, the places that rarely make a tourist’s itinerary.
Until then, I’ll stick with the Paris in my mind. While I haven’t started the sequel yet, I have ideas for how it should go, so I know I’ll be back.
I hope you’ll visit with me! Lost & Found is on sale for $2.99 from now until the end of GRL on 10/20/19 at all ebook retailers, and it’s also available in paperback. Check out the excerpt here, and be sure and enter my rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 gift card. Happy reading!!
Lost & Found Blurb
A dancer who cannot dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to love.
History books will call it The Great War, but for Benjamin Holm, that is a misnomer. The war is a disaster, a calamity, and it leaves Benjamin profoundly wounded, his mind and memory shattered. A year after Armistice, still struggling to regain his mental faculties, he returns to Paris in search of his closest friend, Elias.
Benjamin meets Louis Donadieu, a striking and mysterious dance master. Though Louis is a difficult man to know, he offers to help Benjamin. Together they search the cabarets, salons, and art exhibits in the newly revitalized city on the brink of les années folles (the Crazy Years). Almost despite himself, Benjamin breaches Louis’s defenses, and the two men discover an unexpected passion.
As his memory slowly returns, Benjamin will need every ounce of courage he possesses to recover Elias’s story. He and Louis will need even more than that to lay claim to the love – and the future – they deserve.
About the Author
Liv is a huge fan of paranormal romance and urban fantasy and loves history just as much, so her stories often feature vampires or magic or they’re set in the past…or all of the above. When Liv isn’t writing she takes care of tiny premature babies or teenagers, depending on whether she’s at work or at home. Her husband is a soul of patience, her kids are her pride and joy, and her dogs – Trash Panda and The Boy Genius – are endlessly entertaining.
Liv can be found on-line at all hours of the day and night at her website (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt). She also blogs monthly over at Spellbound Scribes (https://spellboundscribes.wordpress.com/). For sneak peeks and previews and other assorted freebies, go HERE to sign up for her mailing list or join the Facebook page she shares with her writing partner Irene Preston, After Hours with Liv & Irene. Fun stuff!
Below is the rafflecopter html for a $25 gift card. Giveaway ends 10/31/19.
M. Richard was wise to have sent me straightaway. By the time I strolled down the Boulevard de Magenta to Le Marais, found the street and the shop, and had an extensive fitting, I barely made it home in time to meet Louis. I was putting the finishing touch on my tie—the Windsor knot gave me trouble—when he knocked on my door.
“Bonjour, I’ll be…” All I could do was stare. Never a shabby dresser, tonight the exquisite cut of his suit made the most of his broad, lean body, and his precise hairstyle brought out the dramatic lines in his face. “One, um, one moment.”
I backed away, gesturing for him to come in. Even his cane had been replaced by an elegant black walking stick with a gold handle.
He paused a moment before responding to my request. “Double breasted? Where have you been hiding this? You look superb.”
I busied myself collecting my wallet, murmuring the name of the shop.
“In the Marais Quarter?” He spoke with a hint of amusement. “You traveled far.”
Collecting myself, I moved toward the door. “M. Richard sent me.”
He smirked. “Good thinking on his part.”
The evening was warm and clear, the memory of sunset only an aqua light in the western sky. In the half-light, I brought myself to broach the possible awkwardness between us. “I was surprised to hear from you.”
“I find myself drawn to your plight.”
I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or not. “Regardless, I do appreciate the invitation.” We smiled at each other through the twilight. “Now, should I rely on you to speak for me?”
That earned me a raised eyebrow.
Louis laughed. “My friend tells me that most of the other guests share your particular malady, so you’ll feel at home.”
At home? “Perhaps.”
His chuckle dispelled what was left of my distress, and we walked on in comfortable silence. Navigating the narrow stairs to the Métro proved a challenge for Louis, so once we were on the platform, I took the initiative. “Someday, you should let me look at that.” I waved in the direction of his leg.
“Someday, I would like you to do more than just look.”
Louis met my surprise with bland amusement, though when it became apparent I was too flustered to respond, he changed the subject. “The train won’t come for a while. Tell me more about your friend Elias. I need to know the kind of man he is, to know whom I should talk to tonight.”
“What kind of man?” Looking to the past was safer than dealing with the gentleman standing next to me, so in the concrete cave, under the harsh fluorescent lights, I told him a story. “Elias is always up to something, you know? Like…” A particular memory made me smile. “Do you ski?”
“Un peu.” He indicated a small distance with thumb and forefinger.
“Okay, so one night, he knocked on my window after I’d gone to bed. There was about three feet of snow on the ground, but the moon was out, and he wanted to ski.”
I’d dressed as quickly as possible. Outside, the air was so cold, ice crystals formed with every breath. “He followed me to the barn, where I saddled up our old gelding Rocky. Elias didn’t have skis of his own, so he grabbed mine and climbed up behind me on the horse. The moon was huge that night, and so bright we could see just fine.”
“We rode up along the ridge behind our house, four, maybe five miles until we got to the crest. Our plan was he should ski, and I’d ride down to meet him, and then we’d switch. Rocky was stable enough even for Elias to ride.”
His expression neutral, Louis nodded at me to continue. A rumble started from far off. The train must be coming.
“Well, what we didn’t figure was there was ice underneath the snow. Things had warmed up just enough to melt a little, then we’d had a hard freeze, followed by another dump of snow. Elias got himself buckled into the skis, and right as he’s about to take off, he hollers to the heavens.” And with the moon behind him, he’d looked like some forest spirit come to life. “That yell stirred things up, and the snow started sliding.”
The rumble grew, and a pinpoint of light appeared in the tunnel ahead of us. “He’d set off an avalanche.” Though miles and years away from that moment, my heart still skipped a beat. The noise of the train echoed the roar of the snow in my mind. “I thought, God, he’s done. He’ll be buried in snow, and I’ll never find him.
“I brought Rocky as close to the edge as I dared, but all I saw was snow and ice and torn-up trees. We raced down the ridge, faster than I’d ever seen that horse move, through the valley to the place where we usually met up. I figured Rocky and I would do better climbing up to find Elias rather than trying to get down from the top. And you know what?” Full of the one moment I’d never forget, I barely looked at Louis. “He skied up like nobody’s business. He’d stayed just ahead of the snow, said he’d never skied so fast in his life.” I looked toward the ceiling, blinking fast. Elias had made it, his face burned from the cold. His eyes, though. His eyes had been full of stars.
“Come.” Louis took my arm, leading me back to the present as much as onto the train. We fell silent, settling side by side on one of the wooden bench seats. When Louis spoke, the sound of his voice startled me.
“I think your friend has a very big soul.”
I kept my gaze fixed on the window, though all I could see was the gray cement wall of the tunnel. “Big soul? Yes.” And a bigger heart.
Announcing the first ever LGBTQ+ romance event in Canada! Some fellow authors and I are having a signing/meet-and-greet in October in Toronto at Glad Day Bookshop and would love to see you there! Come for the great books, stay for the tasty beverages, snacks, prizes, and great conversation with authors like RJ Scott, Keira Andrews, Vicki Locey, Noah Steele, and Kat Cassidy
Details below! Check out our event page on Facebook for all the latest info!
Very excited to see you there!
Research demonstrates that job activities that encourage independence reduce autism symptoms and increase daily living skills.
Welcome to the latest blog post on the sixth annual Autism Awareness Blog Hop, hosted by the wonderful RJ Scott. I don’t think there’s anyone in the world today who doesn’t have a friend or family member who is either on the autism spectrum or who supports someone close to them who is. My own dear mom used to run a Brownie troop for some autistic teens at our local school, and it was always a blast helping her out on free afternoons. It’s an honor to be a part of something that endeavors to reduce the stigma surrounding autism and to generate donations for this very worthy cause.
The theme this year is childhood toys, which ties in nicely with some thoughts I’ve been having lately about storytelling and superheroes. A kind of origin story for myself as a writer, I guess. Watching Captain Marvel recently, I thought of how much I wish I could have seen a film like that when I was a nascent geek. But then I remembered that I did have my own version of Captain Marvel in She-Ra, Princess of Power.
Though I started out playing with Star Wars action figures, I quickly graduated to She-Ra and her fantabulous, kick-ass friends. There was so much to love. She-Ra was both outspoken Princess Adora and a fearsome fighter with a secret badass identity. She flew around on a crystal Pegasus. She had a legion of friends with multicolored hair and cool powers — one had a peacock fan! One had butterfly wings! One had long twisty pink and lavender braids! One was cold as ice in shades of blue! (No, I don’t remember their names.)
Some kids spent their afternoons outdoors. I could always be found in my bedroom, my imagination transforming every possible surface into some alien landscape against which my girl power dramas played out. There were epic battles — not stereotypical cat fights, but those of sheildmaidens who could smoke you with a roundhouse kick — betrayals, conquests, and adventure. The kind of tales a little girl seeking her very own heroine’s journey might tell herself in the privacy of her creative space. It’s where I learned to be a writer, where I learned to be me.
The stories we tell ourselves in childhood influence the adult we will become, which is why it’s so important that families with autistic children have the support they need to make sure their kids get a good start on learning to be themselves and have every chance to be independent adults. I hope you’ll consider a small donation, either to Autism Canada or RJ’s preferred charity, Lindengate.
To read all the posts and join the hop, here’s the master list.
And this wouldn’t be any fun at all without a giveaway! What was your favorite childhood toy? What inspired you to be a writer? Comment below to win a free copy of any one of my books! (Please include your email address in the comment.)
In Wild Lemon Groves is one year old today!
And to celebrate Valentine’s Day and the anniversary of the publication of my contemporary M/M romance, In Wild Lemon Groves is on sale for two weeks, from Feb 8th to Feb 22nd. If you’re in the mood to escape the mid-winter blahs, why not take a book vacation to Amalfi, Italy, with Seb and Andrea?
Here’s the blurb:
A telltale knock on a quiet winter night is a sound no husband wants to hear.
Sébastien Osaki has spent the past three years surviving the loss of his beloved Henry. When Seb lands in Amalfi, Italy, for their would-have-been tenth-anniversary trip, he’s haunted by the memory of the man he loved. Following Henry’s notebook leads him to some breathtaking coastal views but also right back to his despair. Seb’s there to get his groove back, not let the past wrong-foot him at every turn.
Enter Andrea Sorrentino, chauffeur, part-time pet whisperer, a Bernini statue in a soccer tee and tight shorts. From the moment Andrea picks Seb up from the airport, he knows just how to soothe Seb’s case of the sulks. But Seb isn’t sure he’s ready for Mr. Right Now, let alone a potential Mr. Right, in a part of the world where all roads lead back to Henry.
Can sun, sea, and eating your weight in pasta mend a tragedy-stricken heart? Will wine-soaked Amalfi nights and long walks through lemon groves work their magic on Seb’s wounded soul? Or will he slink back into the shell of his grief once his grand Italian adventure is over?
Also wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who has bought, shared, or shouted out any of my books this past year. You have made my dreams come true. I hope you’re celebrating the holiday with someone you love, even if that person is just you.
All my love,
I recently joined the RWA despite knowing full well it wouldn’t necessarily be a place I’d be welcome. I’m a queer writer of queer stories—including romance—and seeing some forward motion in the organization made me think perhaps it was time.
Or at the very least, it was time enough to try and get involved, rather than just watch warily.
It’s hard to put into words what it’s like to watch people debate your humanity. To see spirited discussion from “both sides” of an argument where one “side” espouses that the way you love doesn’t qualify as a happy-ever-after, or reading suggestions that judges should be able to opt-out of stories about people like you because they just can’t “connect” with them? Or—this was only the other day—doing a search for “queer writers” in a forum and finding the only use of the term coming from someone who catfished everyone into
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Happy New Year! 2018 was a big year for me on many fronts, which left very little time for reading. For that reason, I won’t be doing my normal Best Of list. But 2018 was a year where I discovered a lot of new (and sometimes new-to-me) authors. I also got back to reading a bit of YA thanks to some amazing recs. And I thought, what better way to round up the year than to share the wealth? So here are five authors who need to be on your TBR list!
Shameful, is what it is, that I had never read Alyssa Cole before now. But once I did, I understood all of the so-well-deserved acclaim. From her sparkling contemporary romances to her riveting dystopian trilogy to her heart-rending and uplifting Loyal League historical series (set during the Civil War), Ms. Cole does it all and does it best. She switches flawlessly from M/F to LGBTQ romance. She’s the kind of writer where the pairing doesn’t matter, you’re really there for her. If you’re not reading her, then you are seriously missing out on a major talent.
If I had made a Best Of list, Salt Magic Skin Magic would have definitely been on it. Rarely have I read a novel so assured, so impeccable, and so all-consuming. Combining folklore with historical romance is no mean feat, but Ms. Welch weaves both strands together flawlessly. She is already an auto-buy for me, and I cannot wait to see what she writes next.
With thanks to the lovely Moog Florin for indulging our mutual love of boarding school mysteries. A tweet of hers led me to discover Truly Devious, the new series by Maureen Johnson. After devouring book 1 only to learn there was no book 2 yet, I switched to her Shades of London series and consumed the first two adventures whole. It’s rare at this time in my life for me to get so involved in a book that I throw it across the room when I’m angry about an ending, but that’s exactly how I felt by the end of The Madness Underneath (though I did not toss my Kobo–I do have some instinct for self-preservation). Needless to say, any author who can inspired that kind of obsession/emotion is one you might want to check out.
The idea of a Lady Sherlock series is delectable to me, and so as soon as I heard of A Study in Scarlet Women, I downloaded the preview. Charlotte Holmes is a character as tremendous as her namesake, and one you will want to follow on many, many adventures. That this Sherlock has a love interest out of her reach, providing tons of simmering tension and heartbreaking misunderstandings, only improves on the original. And wait till you meet Watson! I am parceling out the next two volumes because writing as vibrant and plots as twisty as Ms. Thomas’ must be savored.
Sara Dobie Bauer
The Escape trilogy (of which only the first two books are out) is that rare series that reinvents something familiar and nostalgic. My romance journey started with Lestat and Louis frolicking in Anne Rice’s Savage Garden. And in Ms. Bauer’s writing, I’ve found that world again. She brings to life the alluring velvet dark of late-1800s New Orleans, with a vampire even more sexy and vicious in her Andrew, and a tenderheart more magnetic and adventurous in her Edmund. These two blaze a path from exile to amour that you are desperate to follow. I can’t wait to see how it all ends.
Happy Holidays, my lovelies!
This year I had the huge honor of being invited to participate in the Rainbow Advent Calendar where authors new and known are contributing free holiday short stories. Two per day! An embarrassment of riches for your reading pleasure. So once you’ve done reading Stoker & Bash 2.5, please head on over to the RAC FB page for more gifts than a romance reader could ever hope to ask for (and don’t forget to pop back in once you’ve read the stories to give the authors some love). You can also access the stories on one convenient page using the Master List.
Enjoy this sweet little bonbon of a tale, featuring Hiero and Tim from my Stoker & Bash series, and I hope the season is kind to you.
August 2nd, 1874
The sight of his Kip easing himself out of the sultry waters of a midmorning bath never failed to draw Hiero’s undivided attention. He ceased the trimming and sculpting of his crown jewel—his moustache—to turn away from the mirror, toward a vision comparable to Venus on her scallop parting the waves of the Aegean. Weeks of convalescence had softened and slimmed Kip’s muscle-striped frame, which only made him look more elfin. With his wispy trails of copper hair and rosebud pallor, not to mention the horn of plenty that jutted from between his hips, Kip could have played the pan in a Dionysian rite. Hiero had certainly done his damndest to indoctrinate him in the ways of debauchery.
Over time Hiero had trained his eyes to ignore Kip’s war wounds: the angry scar that snaked around his left calf, the bramble of rosacea raised across his chest by weeks of poultices, the purple smudges that ringed his throat. Timely reminders of how close Hiero had come to losing one most dear. Perhaps one day he would see them as badges of honor, but today was not that day.
No, today he would attempt to foil one of the keenest minds in his acquaintance, that of the very man who stood, dripping and naked, before him.
As Hiero dragged his kicking and screaming mind away from thoughts of pinning Kip to the bed and drying him, pantherlike, with his tongue, Kip scrubbed a towel up his legs, giving Hiero a side view of the most pert buttocks in the land, further testing his resolve. Kip must have been in one of his deductive fugues, because only once he was wrapped in his robe, his dark-red hair finger-combed off his face but still trickling onto his collar, did he notice Hiero.
“One does, when the occasion calls for it.”
Kip no longer smothered his smiles, even when they were at Hiero’s expense. He considered this a personal victory.
“And what occasion beckons at such an ungodly hour, on such a…” He peeked around the edge of the heavy curtains that blacked out their bedroom. “Well, to be charitable, fair London day.”
“The only kind that would see me rise before noon,” Hiero declared. “An appointment with the finest lady of my acquaintance.”
Normally Hiero might have bristled at his displeasure. A vital part of maintaining the charade of his high-society persona (and securing them cases) was making calls to those who would receive him and attending lavish dinners, the price of his admission being he would entertain the hostess’ guests with tales of his mysterious escapades. Kip, perceived to be his social inferior, could not accompany him and Callie. Nor did he particularly care to, Hiero knew. The barred door, the airs, the snobbery, and the fact that Hiero sung to these vain lemmings for his supper burned Kip, not his own lack of an invitation. But needs must, and so Hiero often absented himself of an afternoon or an evening, leaving his convalescing detective to stew.
Not a healthy pastime, either for Kip’s recovery or their relationship. Hiero well remembered how stifled Kip felt earlier that year, how he’ almost lost him amidst the drudgery of the moneymaking in-between cases, the lost dogs and stolen jewels and misplaced letters. Not every case of theirs could involve man-eating lions or baby-farming cultists, but Hiero could keep Kip’s voracious mind well fed during these intervals by finding him… Well, that was the rub. Until he’d done some scheming of his own—in other words, consulted Han—and devised a challenge his intrepid amour would be unable to resist. He could, after all, lure a Kip to water, but he could not make him drink.
“Lady Weatherby again?” Kip asked with only the slightest petulance to his tone. “She’s made you her pet.”
Hiero scoffed. “I am done with collars after our last adventure, and, as you well know, you’re the only one I care to be leashed to.” Hiero drew him close and showed him just how much he appreciated being tethered to him. After a thorough kissing, he slipped the first clue into Kip’s pocket. “An idea to be thoroughly explored at a later hour. For now I must warn you not to exert yourself too much and bid you good morning.”
At Kip’s bewildered look, Hiero almost lacked the wherewithal to leave. Then Kip fished the key out of his pocket. Hiero wanted to cheer when that telltale furrow creased his brow.
“Something to occupy you whilst I’m gone.”
“Care to tell me what it opens, or shall I use it to—”
“No on both counts.” Hiero smiled his wickedest smile, dove in for another kiss, gave the most pert buttocks in all the land a fulsome squeeze, and grabbed his cape off the hook. “Come find us when you’re done, if you care to. You are very much invited to tea.”
“Tea? With whom? Where will you be?” But Kip gave soft voice to these questions, already examining the key for revealing details.
“That, my dearest of dears, is for you to discover.”
Tim paused every so often while he dressed to glance at the key on the nightstand, but no new insight sprang to mind. The mystery here was twofold: what did the key open, and why had Hiero given it to him? He made quicker work of solving the latter. Ever conscious of the threat boredom posed, Tim had been working on small assignments for the Yard: translating letters, searching through financial documents, evaluating the quality and clarity of junior officers’ reports, and the like. Nothing that would tax his still-precarious health. Also nothing that would catch Hiero’s attention since Tim deferred to these duties when Hiero was either sleeping or out. Still, the key… intrigued. As did the notion Hiero had designed a puzzle for him.
The thought infused him with a rush of warmth. In truth, the fortnight since he’d moved into Berkeley Square had been some of the best days of his life. Mornings spent taking exercise with Han, noontime debates around the dining table, afternoons of study, evening recitals, and nights spent in every kind of intimate conversation with his Hiero. Tim had hardly had time to grow accustomed to this routine, let alone take it for granted.
He reclined back on his favorite pillow, the one that smelled like Hiero’s hair oil, while he considered this peculiar gift: a heavy iron key with little embellishment. A sizeable key for a sizeable door. Perhaps a front or cellar door? Surely Hiero couldn’t expect him to try every lock in the house. But then Tim had no evidence the key’s complement lived here. Narrowing the possibilities down to “somewhere in London” got him precisely nowhere. Until.
While reexamining the loop, he noticed a slight irregularity. The join between the loop and the stem was thicker on the left side. Tim applied a bit of pressure using his pinkie finger, and… The stem sprang open like miniature jaws, spitting out a teensy scroll of paper. Tim hurried to unspool it.
I’ve been abandoned in plain sight
One of forty, favored by none
A hideaway for one long gone
Now hidden away for far too long
Once the jewel of this hallowed house
Now naught but a forgotten tomb
An abandoned room, then. But where? Tim read the riddle through five times, then again once he’d retrieved his notebook. “One long gone” doubtless referred to Admiral the Viscount Pankhurst. But surely Hiero hadn’t gone to all this trouble to give him a key to Apollo’s study. Was there another room he’ liked to use as an escape? “Hallowed house” might have pointed an amateur away from Berkeley Square, toward a place of worship, but Tim knew Hiero considered their home the holiest of holies.
Which, Tim admitted to himself, he hadn’t truly explored. Despite being a detective, he didn’t make a habit of nosing about in other people’s private quarters. That, he feared, was about to change. He hopped off the bed, laced his boots, and slung on his coat. To the hunt!
After stopping to test a few obvious doors just in case the riddle proved simpler than expected, Tim went outside to count the windows. Each of the forty rooms alluded to in the riddle, with the exception of the cold room in the cellar, had at least one window. If Tim could account for every window, he would find Apollo’s hideaway.
As he sketched out a rudimentary version of the townhouse in his notebook, Tim crossed out the windows he could identify on sight. The attic only had three rooms, and the number of windows matched this assessment. He’d looked out of the study’s two often enough to X them out. After a bit of deduction, he located their bedroom apartment on the third floor. It dismayed him to think those were the only eliminations he could make. Perhaps this little adventure served a greater purpose after all.
Tim reentered through the servant’s entrance in the back. A fog of cinnamon-scented steam engulfed him. In defiance of the season, Lillian and Shahida, guided by Minnie’s sure hand, decorated a sheet of apple tarts with leaf-shaped scraps of dough. Tim stole a scoop of applesauce from the cooling pot, shared a conspiratorial wink with Shahida, then sprinted upstairs. Three windows deliciously accounted for.
Tim had frequented the first floor often enough to hurry through it, poking his head in the drawing and dining rooms before being brought up short when he looked in the parlor. He hovered half-in, half-out of the doorway as three familiar faces turned to him. Hiero was indeed enjoying tea with a very fine lady. Two, in fact: little Ting, the daughter of Angus, their chauffeur, and Jie, their ladies’ maid, and Callie, glamorous as a Scandinavian queen in her ice-blonde wig and twinkling blue dress.
Tim understood something of an etiquette lesson was underway, what with Ting swathed in a miniature version of the latest fashion, her normally sleek black hair pinned and ringletted in a style that mirrored Callie’s. A bountiful tea service had been spread between them, dainty china cups and a swan-necked pot, filigree trays of scones, sandwiches, and petit fours. Tim felt far less envious, and a good deal more enamored, having learned how Hiero spent his time away.
“Mr. T!” Ting squealed, dropping a mangled finger sandwich to wave at him with both hands. “T for Ting, T for Tim!”
Hiero, chuckling, clicked his tongue. “Now, now, Princess Teongsang, one must wait to be introduced to a new guest by the hostess.”
“But I know Mr. Tim.”
“As do we all, but manners must be observed.”
“He’s yet to be invited in,” Callie noted in an accent so haughty Tim snorted.
“Quite correct.” Hiero beamed his dark-star eyes at Tim, a challenge glimmering in their depths. “Would you care to join us, Sir Kipling?”
“A kind offer, but no.” He met and matched Hiero’s bold look. Challenge accepted. “I’ve only stopped in to count the windows. Princess Teongsang, will you help me? How many do you see?”
“One, two… three!”
“Thank you kindly.” Tim performed a deep bow. “I bid you a pleasant afternoon.”
He climbed the stairs with an extra swing to his step, further motivated to solve the puzzle before the end of the tea party. But Tim hesitated when confronted with the uniform row of doors on the second floor. He’d recuperated from a brutal beating in one of the guest rooms the year before, but otherwise rarely ventured into what was Callie’s domain. He picked out her string of rooms at the far end but didn’t dare intrude upon them. Even in so lax a house as this, Tim wouldn’t enter a lady’s private space without permission.
He took account of the guest rooms while he pondered how to proceed, moving toward the back of the house. And unfamiliar territory. There, where the corridor hooked around to what Tim had assumed was a linen closet, he found it. A massive, ornate oak door engraved with nautical motifs. The door could not have been more Apollo if there had been a nameplate.
The key gave him some grief, but soon enough, the lock clicked open. After a hard shove and a resounding crack, he entered… and stood, gaping. Two glorious stories of empty bookshelves. A compass tiled on the floor mosaic. Gas lamps in the shape of ships with illuminated sails. Dust and cobwebs galore, but beyond, potential. And above it all, a stained-glass skylight, through which shot gauzy rays of sunlight in naval colors: yellow, silver, and every shade of blue.
Handkerchief to his mouth, Tim spun around the center of the room, taking it all in. He’d completed five revolutions before succumbing to a coughing fit. Hiero hadn’t been wrong about protecting his recovering lungs. He spared a moment to catch his breath before attempting the ladder to the upper floor, when he caught sight of Hiero looming in the doorway.
“Thrown over by the princess?”
“In favor of pie-making, yes.” Hiero sighed eloquently. “I also hadn’t foreseen how tedious it would be to send you out on a treasure hunt but not bear witness to your triumph.”
Tim smiled so wide his cheeks ached. He hopped off the ladder and moved to join Hiero.
“It’s magnificent. But why is it empty?”
“My dear Apollo never managed to fill it.” Tim didn’t miss the wistful glimmer in his eyes. “Not the most devout reader. He donated his collection of military and historical tomes to some university or other, and his collection of signed play folios—more quietly—to the Reading Room at the British Museum. We’d burned so many holes in the upholstery between my cigarettes and his pipe that they weren’t fit for scrap. And so it is, as you see, a tabula rasa.” He startled himself with a cough, reaching for his own handkerchief. “One in need of a thorough cleaning. I’ll instruct Jie to begin at once.”
But Tim couldn’t spare a thought to anyone but his Hiero. He caught his hands and pulled them around his waist, then sank against him. Tim found his lips parted and ready for a kiss that promised more than simple gratitude.
“Thank you,” Tim whispered before delving deeper… only to be barred by a determined finger.
“Tempting as you are, I fear I would be remiss in taking advantage when you have not yet completed your quest.”
“Not…?” Tim followed the finger as it pointed to a nearby bookshelf. Where stood a note addressed to him.
“Part two. On which I would care to accompany you, if you’ve no objections.”
“Of course not.”
Hiero grinned a decidedly un-innocent grin.
“Then do lead on.”
Not quite ready to relinquish his hold on Hiero, Tim twined their hands before guiding him over to the bookshelf. He reclined against his chest as he considered the note, pleased when Hiero anchored an arm around him and rested his chin on Tim’s head. In private they’d become more tactile over the months of his convalescence, ever conscious of how the public affections others were permitted would forever be denied them. After years of solitary living, Tim had already become somewhat addicted to their togetherness, to these rudimentary expressions of their care. Though theirs was the love that still had not spoken its name, their bodies were in deep and constant communication.
Tim turned the note over once, twice before unfolding it. He sniffed the envelope’s edge, detecting a sour note under the trace of Hiero’s musk.
Hiero chuckled. “You’re meant to read it, not test its vintage.”
“A shrewd investigator uses every clue available to him.”
“Including the biscuits I ate?”
“Perhaps.” Tim curled the word around his tongue as his lover might, relishing his laugh in response. Tim slid the card out and held it to the light.
Let me paint for you a scene
A fanatical crowd, a jaded host
A glass box of salt and secrets
An interloper parts the seas
Across the room, meets eyes so green
As to stop his heart, his breath, time
Enough to find a lesser key
And ’scape the lion’s maul
To end the play begun that night
Go to the place where first we met
“You mean for me to venture to Lord Blackwood’s house?” Tim turned in Hiero’s embrace that he might read his expression. “Last I’d heard it had been sold.”
“As did I.” Hiero gave nothing away except a spark of amusement in his dark eyes.
“And the contents… Ha!” Tim pressed the note to his nose, inhaled deeply. “Newsprint!”
He tugged Hiero after him as he dashed back down to the kitchens. The entire family had been conscripted in Minnie’s pie-making efforts, though they’d switched from sweet to savory. Han and Angus butchered strips of fish and venison into mince while Callie, Jie, and Ting diced the vegetables. Shahida and Lillian rolled out enough dough to fit the massive plate. Minnie enjoyed a well-deserved cup of tea by the hearth as Aldridge stoked the fire. Feng gurgled in his bassinet, oblivious. Everyone chattered and teased as they always did, with more than a few scraps surreptitiously launched across the table in an ongoing silent battle.
Tim felt a bit foolish, racing in to interrupt this quaint domestic scene. But they welcomed him and Hiero with a cheer, and Aldridge presented him with yesterday’s newspaper before he could ask. They all whispered clues until Hiero hissed at them, but Tim remembered the item well enough.
And there it was on the back page, in the coded language that spoke to believers in the occult. An auction, taking place that very afternoon, that promised “rare items and treasures unseen for decades.” No exaggeration, that. From what Tim had seen during that fateful night of the second séance, Lord Blackwood’s trove of books and tools stood unrivaled among private collectors. He must be in dire straits indeed to be selling off the lot.
The thought welled not a drop of sympathy in Tim.
He looked up from the paper to find them all staring at him, eyes bright, mouths poised to cheer, anticipating his delight. And how Tim wanted to please them, this lovely new family of his. How he wanted to throw himself in Hiero’s arms and squeeze him silly, this man who would pluck the stars from the sky for him.
Instead he folded the paper with the advert on top, then tucked it under his arm.
“Hiero, a word?”
Tim cursed himself five kinds of villain as he watched Hiero furrow his brow, or perhaps not villain enough to take further advantage of such immeasurable kindness. The family returned to their chores as they moved out to the back mews and into the stables, hands flirting with gentle touches though they dared not link.
“It’s too much.” Tim cut to the quick before Hiero could blanket him with words. “You’ve given me a home and a family. You still won’t accept any rent despite my continued protests. You arranged for Lady Odile’s far too generous reward for what was simply my duty. You’ve just given me a library! And the gifts, the thoughtful, precious gifts: the suits, my room, the nights at the theater… My dear, you need not woo me as if you were some horse-faced baron with pitiful table manners and a pea-sized cock. I am yours.”
Hiero regarded him thoughtfully for a time, then said, “I think that’s the longest speech I’ve ever heard you utter.”
Tim barked a laugh. “Possibly.”
“Definitively. You’re given to economy.”
“All the better to partner someone as verbose as you.”
“In that and so many ways.” He shined Tim a warm smile. “Let me give you this.”
Tim sighed. “I cannot in good conscience.”
“Then join me on the dark side. It’s rather more fun.” He lifted a hand when Tim made to renew his protests. “Allow me to clarify. I confess I do want to give you the world, but my motives here are not so pure. First among them is to use the information contained in Blackwood’s collection against those like him. You would serve not as owner, but as curator and researcher, for as long as our team remains in operation. The second is…” The corner of his lip curled, giving him a sinister air. “Well, revenge.”
“Revenge? Whatever for? Last I recall, he’s ruined and set to hang.”
“For threatening your life.” Hiero’s fingers caressed down the side of his face, his own more sober than Tim had ever seen it. “For nearly succeeding in ending it. For feeding that boy to his beasts and so many before him. Set to hang?” He scoffed. “A crack of the neck’s no punishment at all. But to know that your most precious possessions, the treasures you’ve collected and hoarded for decades, now belong to the men who foiled you… That you, with your keen mind and your righteous heart, are using his weapons to better the world…”
Tim crashed a kiss to his lips. They staggered, groping, devouring until Hiero slammed him against the stable wall, drawing indignant snuffles from the horses. Their passion lit, they ground against each other until a flicker blazed into flame. Tim sank to his knees to worship him, this wicked, wounded, complicated man who went to such lengths to avenge and to keep him. Lord Blackwood would never understand just what he’d wrought when he introduced them.
Afterward, as Hiero righted Tim’s shirt while continuing to kiss him boneless, Tim had a thought. Unexpected given the circumstances, but such was the mystery of his ever-working mind.
“Let me have the key.”
Hiero moved away from him with visible reluctance. “I believe that’s how this whole adventure started.”
“The Lesser Key of Solomon, I mean. You may purchase the rest, but the grimoire is mine.”
“As a trophy of sorts?”
“A memento, more like. Of the case that brought us together.”
Hiero looked at him then with fondness, with admiration, with an emotion they could not yet name aloud but which resonated in every glance, every gesture.
“As you wish, my dearest Kip.”
The Stoker & Bash series is now available in print and ebook from all major vendors!
Book 1 – The Fangs of Scavo
Book 2 – The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree