alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

THE WITCH’S BOY

ALEX BEECROFT

 

Blurb

 Are the sins of the fathers really visited upon the sons? And is there no way of breaking that cycle? Is evil doomed always to repeat itself, ruining everything good through its tainted seed?

These are not the questions young Oswy is asking himself when he is sold to the witch-Lord Sulien FitzGuimar. He’s too busy wondering ‘why me?!’ They are, however, the questions which plague Sulien himself. Locked in a struggle for freedom, sanity, the very survival of his soul, Sulien must daily battle not only angels and demons, but the core of evil in his own heart.

When the King’s sorcerer stages a coup, dragging ancient magic, the elves, and the royal court into his Empire-building plans, the woman he has set his sights on as a bride – timid, aspiring nun, Adela – sets out to find someone to oppose him. It’s just unfortunate that the only candidates are cowardly Oswy, Adela herself and Sulien – who, deep in his heart, just wants to surrender and join him.

When the hope of redemption is balanced against the lure of revenge, which will prove stronger, flawed good or perfect evil?

witchsboycampfire500

 


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Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

All the “S”s today :)

ShiningintheSun72LG

Blurb

Damn it, a man shouldn’t always have to be afraid…

Alec Goodchilde has everything a man could want—except the freedom to be himself. Once a year, he motors down to an exclusive yacht club on the Cornish coast and takes the summer off from the trap that is his life.

When his car breaks down, leaving him stranded on the beach, he’s transfixed by the sight of a surfer dancing on the waves. The man is summer made flesh. Freedom wrapped up in one lithe package, dripping wet from the sea.

Once a year, Darren Stokes takes a break from his life of grinding overwork and appalling relatives, financing his holiday by picking up the first rich man to show an interest. This year, though, he’s cautious—last summer’s meal ticket turned out to be more pain than pleasure.

Even though Alec is so deep in the closet he doesn’t even admit he’s gay, Darren finds himself falling hard—until their idyllic night together is shattered by the blinding light of reality…

EXCERPT

Darren took a step back, snapped out of his post-wave high.  What the…?  He’d heard some chat up lines in his time but that won points for being the most desperate.  As he rocked back, leaning on his board, Krissy gave him a little head toss of exasperation and lead the others inside.  He could hear them laughing all the way to the bar.

“Are you buying?”

Sheesh, the guy had still not sat down, was leaning forward over his table, all Hugh Grant floppy hair, starched designer shirt and pleading.  He gave a little wince as though he hadn’t expected the voice – they never did – and fell over his lolling tongue to say “oh yes.  Yes of course.  Anything.”

“Champagne?”

“If you like.”  Not a flicker of calculation in the blue slate eyes, only a kind of awe, like someone witnessing the second coming of Christ.  Darren tilted his head to one side to see if that would make the expression look more like lust.  It didn’t.

The air crackled about him with the intensity of that stare.  He bit down on the urge to look behind him.  Maybe the guy wasn’t talking to him at all?

“I’m not sure it’s the sort of place where you can get champagne though.”  The stranger dropped his eyes, gave one of those sweet, self-depreciating smiles all the rich boys must get taught at finishing school.  What the hell was a man like him doing, having to pull rough trade off the beach when surely all he had to do was crook a little finger and every strapping lad in his Eton rugby team would be on their knees in gratitude in seconds?

This is the point where you run away.  Yeah?

“No, it’s not.  I’ll have a beer.”  He didn’t trouble with ‘thanks’.  They both knew the sort of thank you acceptable in this game.

“Really?  You will?”  He watched the blush smoulder slowly from the man’s white open collar to the roots of his glossy coffee brown hair, annoyed with himself for saying yes, annoyed with the stranger for giving him another chance to say ‘no’.  C’mon now, get it out; ‘no actually I won’t…’ and walk away.  C’mon now Darren, you promised yourself.

Not a bad looking trick.  Ah, who was he fooling, the man was gorgeous, his face all well bred angles and perfect skin.  When he looked down, as he was now, the blush turned brown eyelashes to bronze.  They made soft little glinting fans over film-star cheekbones, gave him an inward, dreaming look as if he was up on a billboard, contemplating the scent of infinity (bottled by Louis Vuitton.)

“Really I will, but you’ll have to be quick.  My mind’s not made up at all.”

“Don’t go anywhere.  Please.  Please.”

As he watched the man walk away – back straighter than a fire poker, bare feet frisking across dirty red tiles – Darren grounded his board and sank onto the bench.  He pushed his fingers into the drying tangles of his hair, and as he did so, Krissy, bottled water and choc-ice in hand, slithered out from the crowd and propped a knee beside him.

“So you told him to go fuck himself, didn’t you?”

She unzipped and peeled her arms out of her wetsuit, letting the top droop like a deflated twin about her waist.  Sand and water droplets gleamed on her dark skin.  She caught him looking and cuffed him on the side of the head.  “Didn’t you?”

He pulled at the Velcro at his throat, fierce summer sunshine and shame roasting him together.  “It’s just a beer.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake!”

“Krissy, I…”  Darren rubbed a hand over the back of his neck to conceal his frown, scarcely conscious of hitching forward over the phantom throb of long healed ribs.  He was thinking of wheelchair lifts, and Gran lying broken at the bottom of the stairs; grubby hospital corridors, the old lady soldier-brave, talking away to the nurse, her skin gone blue as whey.  “I need the money.”

“Not this much.”  She placed her hand over his; a strong, capable, almost motherly hand.  “Not enough to risk another Max.”

“Yes, this much.”  At the name his body tightened up, muscles locking solid.  Pavlov’s dogs – I hear his name, I get ready to be hurt.

“I can get you a job at the office.  They’re always looking for someone to do filing, make tea.”

If he looked up he could see the stranger at the bar, nervously counting out change.  Apricot coloured afternoon sunlight drenched the man’s hair, made it look edible as treacle toffee.  The white slacks had an old fashioned charm, discretely suggesting the curve of a nice arse without going so far as to flaunt it.  Something about the posture, the poise of that carefully laundered back implied a private gym, an athletics coach or two, who made the man’s body their personal work of art.

He had a nice smile.  Diffident, almost frightened.  His teeth were crooked and a little stained.

Despair slammed into Darren like a wave, sucking him down, slamming him, limp and helpless, against the lightless rock and ooze of sea bed.  I stack shelves all year long, Krissy.  This is my month, my one month of freedom.  You don’t understand.  “I don’t want a job.”

The stranger had stopped, arrested on the way back to the table by the sight of the two of them.  Glasses and beer bottles shook in his fingers, chiming.  He looked stabbed, stabbed to the heart, and Darren knew he couldn’t get up now and leave.  It would be like kicking Bambi after his mother died.

Max hadn’t trembled, hadn’t looked at him like he was the driver of the chariot of the sun.  Max had just smiled that ‘I’m going to eat you up’ smile and beckoned.

“It’s just a drink,” he said again.  “I’m thirsty.”

“Pratt.”  Krissy shoved him hard in the head, leaving him with a roaring sensation in one ear, and opened her choc-ice.  The top fell off onto the bench beside him with a splat and lay there like the droppings of an enormous albatross.  She made a sound of disgust and stalked away, throwing a glance spiked with poison at the trick, who returned her the flinch of a smile.

“Am I interrupting?”  Jeez, the man was like a ghost, soft voiced, all in white, so little presence you forgot he was there.  Darren wondered; if you could walk round him, at the right angle would he disappear altogether?

“Krissy,” he said.  “She’s a good friend of mine.  Surfing buddy.”  And then, because his instincts had been all wrong about Max too, “I’ve a bunch of friends here.  We look out for each other.”

“That’s good.”  He sat like a schoolboy, tucking himself neatly into the bench beside his upturned leather shoes and folded blazer.  “All I seem to have is family, and they…but you don’t want to hear about all that.  I’m Alec, by the way.”

“Ryan,” said Darren, concentrating on pouring his beer.

~*~*~*~

http://store.samhainpublishing.com/shining-in-the-sun-p-5869.html

 


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

Excerpt from Blessed Isle by Alex Beecroft

BlessedIsle_500x750

1790 British Age of Sail

For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.

Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.

These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/blessed-isle

EXCERPT

It is too late now to cut a long story short, but I will endeavour not to protract it for very much longer. On Edwards’ fifth turn about the deck the powder monkey returned, bringing with him, up the companionway, a rusty-aproned surgeon, and, leaning on his arm, a man I knew. Ned Compton, coxswain’s mate in the Yarmouth, now holding in his bursten belly with a cut down pair of lady’s stays. “Oh, aye, I know Mr. Thompson, sir. Lieutenant in the Yarmouth, he was. Did hear he’d made captain of the Banshee. Congratulations to you, sir.”

“Thank you, Ned. It’s good to see you again.”

He chuckled. “Aye, main glad you must be right now.”

Things became a little more comfortable after that. They let us out. We were given hammocks to sling in the wardroom, and a change of clothes from the slop chest. Either by way of apology, or as a scheme to investigate us further, Edwards invited us to one of the most painful dinner parties I have ever attended, scrutinising my table manners, peppering us with suggestions of what we should have done to prevent the disaster to our fleet. “Also, I wonder,” he said, “what you found to occupy yourselves with, all that time alone on so blasted an isle.”

We made him some noncommittal answer but the thought lodged in my mind. As we plunged back into human society, played cards in the wardroom, stood watches for fellows who were grateful to take a few hours extra rest, the thought of what I had lost began to grow on me like a canker.

I became acutely aware of the space that separated me from Garnet. My hours of solitude, or in the company of other men, seemed grey and barren. Yet my hours with him were a torment of constant awareness and yearning. Without him in the hammock beside me, hot and restless and fidgeting in his dreams like a big dog, I could not sleep. My heart seemed to beat in a cavern within my chest, its tiny flickering unable to fill the dark. A constant squirm of anguish lodged there, like a worm in the flesh.

We breakfasted together and sat next to one another at the wardroom, and yet it felt to me as though he was dead and I was not being allowed to mourn.

Pandora worked her way slowly through the islands of this little known part of the world. The mutineers sweltered in their cage by day and shivered through the exposed nights. I found myself drawn to them, and would spend much of my free time standing by the ship’s rail as near to the cage as I could come. I knew I deserved to share their fate, and in sharing their penance I felt a little calmer.

On our last night aboard as free men, Garnet joined me by the rail. The fitful wind veered into the east. About the bow the water broke into twin curves of luminescence, and the wake stretched out behind us in a sheet of pale green light. A moon like hammered gold hung above us. Other than ourselves, only a midshipman occupied the quarterdeck, and he drowsed by the capstan. From the forecastle came a mutter of voices speaking low and tense. I had noticed a deal of whispering aboard Pandora. She was not a happy ship.

Garnet turned his head to listen, and the faint gilded light flowed across his face. Something in the line of his throat, the shadow beneath jaw and cheekbone, and the little inwards tuck his mouth made at its ends, stopped me dead. Pure beauty, almost too glorious to endure.

He looked at me, puzzled, as my mouth opened and my hands began to tremble. Such dark eyes, intimate as a man’s own fantasies. “Sir?” he asked, briefly uncertain. And then he understood. His mouth curved up, and his face lit with delight. He tugged me forward by the cuff. I swear to you I felt his touch on the material of my sleeve as though it were on my yard. I was mad—I freely admit it—mad with loss and need and regret. I think perhaps I wanted to be caught. I had tasted freedom and knew I could no longer live without it.

We made it no further than down the quarterdeck stair before he pulled me into the shadow of the great cabin, where between the ship’s boats and the arch of deck above lay a patch of shadow so dense we could not see each other, let alone be visible to others.

I hope those ladies who read this will forgive me for the comparison, but, ever had to piss? Ever had to hold it in so long it passed through pain to making you think you were going to die of internal strangulation if you did not let go? Ever have one of those dreams where you cannot find the privy, no matter how you search? You’ll sympathize with my state then. I wasn’t thinking, I’d got so used to having him when I wanted, I just couldn’t hold on any longer.

Dear God the bliss! We were all mouths and teeth and heat, and his hand’s in my hair and the other hand’s down my trousers and he’s going “I never thought… oh Harry… I never thought I’d play this game with you.” And then the doors open and the captain comes out and everything shatters into smithereens like a plate dropped on a stone floor.

Disgrace. Edwards paced up and down behind his desk, hands linked behind his back, lips pursed as though he had bitten into a lemon. Marines behind us, and our wrists tied with rope, and the cabin seemed to pulse ruby red with the force of everyone’s disgust.

I’d been afraid of it all my life, and here it was—exposure, ridicule, abomination, like being flayed and laid skinless on a nest of ants.

“My God,” Edwards turned and glared at us. “In front of my very cabin. Do you have no control at all? No self respect?”

There’s a kind of joy on Garnet’s face, and seeing it shifts everything inside my head. By gradual stages, like sailing out of a fog, the obstruction cleared, my confusion lightened, my shame thinned and lifted: I understood. Garnet needed no refuge, no hidden isle moated all around by impassable sea. Inside himself, where no one else could touch him, he had learned how to be free. How not to be ashamed. “We thought you might like to watch, sir,” he said.

Edwards’ disapproval flickered for a moment. Something intense went through it, fast as lightning. It looked to me a lot like panic. The effort of compressing his mouth back into scalpel thinness made him dab at his forehead with his handkerchief. Reaching for his logbook, he opened it, took out the sheaf of ill written notes that marked the latest page.

“I am,” he rustled through them, brought a sheet out and pressed it to his lips, “a little behind with my paperwork. I have not yet written up my log of the past fortnight.” Setting his elbows on the table, he steepled his hands, as if praying. “There is nothing in here to suggest we ever picked up two castaways from Ducie island.”

I could all but hear the creak of strain as he winched his mouth up at the ends into the straight line of a satisfied smile. “Until I have recorded that fact, you are legally missing, presumed dead.” He crumpled the sheet on which, I guess, his record of our rescue lay scrawled, looked at me with the triumph of a man dismissing inconvenient tedium. Then he threw the only evidence of our existence out of the stern windows, where it bobbed for a while like a duckling in our wake, before sinking.

“If I never record it, there is no legal proof that you were ever here. This frees me of the necessity to bring you back to England for trial. For your guilt, I have the evidence of my own eyes.” Over my shoulder he exchanged a glance with the sergeant of marines. “There can be only one appropriate punishment. You will be hanged from the yard arm until you are dead, and your bodies disposed of in the sea.”


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

alex_beecroft: A blue octopus in an armchair, reading a book (Default)

It’s been ages since I posted an excerpt of anything other than my work in progress, so I thought it might be nice to revisit the book that started it all. This is from Captain’s Surrender, first accepted for publication by Linden Bay Romance in 2007, actually published 2008 with a (frankly fairly horrible) cover and then re-released in 2010 by Samhain with one of my favourite covers ever:

CaptainsSurrender300

Blurb

Love? Might as well ask for the moon. But a man can dream…

Despite his looks and ambition, Midshipman Joshua Andrews hides urges that, in his world, make him an abomination. Living in fear of exposure, unnecessary risk is something he studiously avoids. Once he sets eyes on the elegant picture of perfection that is Peter Kenyon, though, temptation lures him like the siren call of the sea.

Soon to be promoted to captain, Peter is the darling of the Bermuda garrison, with a string of successes behind him and a suitable bride lined up to share his future. He seems completely out of Joshua’s reach.

Then the two men are forced to serve on a long voyage under a sadistic commander with a mutinous crew. As the tension aboard the vessel heats up, their unexpected friendship intensifies into a passion neither man can rein in.

Intimacy like theirs can only exist in the shadow of the gallows. Both men are determined their “youthful curiosity” must die before it brings disaster down on them. Yet neither man can root it from his heart. Warriors both, they think nothing of risking their lives for their country. In the end they must decide whether love, too, is worth dying for.

Excerpt

Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, 1779.

The bell rang out twice, unbearably sweet. The drums rolled and were silent. As a wind from the sea ruffled the hair of the assembled company, Joshua Andrews looked to one side of the gallows, his eyes unfocused. There was a thunder and rattle as the trapdoor fell open and then, just on the edge of hearing, the snap of a neck and the collective intake of almost five hundred held breaths, as the Nimrods instinctively inhaled to make sure they still could.

“I should say, ‘May God have mercy on his soul.’” Captain Walker did not choose to wait even a moment in respect, but clapped his hat back on directly and bestowed a satisfied look upon his crew. “But I know it would be futile. No mercy awaits a man like that, either in this life or the next.”

Josh tried not to react, but when Walker’s intense gray gaze swept the row of midshipmen, it seemed to pause on him, threatening as a pistol thrust in his face. He made no movement, gave no sign of the panic trying to crawl up his throat, the certainty that Walker knew, and fought down the wholly irrational urge to break and run that would be every bit as bad as a confession.

At length, the gaze passed on to terrify the boys standing gape-mouthed and shaken at Josh’s right. “Particularly not on my ship.” Hat on, the captain moved down the uncovered ranks of his ship’s company, on the alert for movement, for signs of repugnance or weakness, seeming to swim through their fear like a shark. Beside Josh, twelve-year-old Hawkes swayed, face stricken and white, and while Walker’s back was turned, Josh reached out and squeezed the child’s wrist, setting him upright with a little comforting shake that reassured them both.

Josh, twenty years old and acting lieutenant this past year, was the only oldster among the midshipmen. He found himself at times playing the part of elder brother, even father towards them. It was not a position he particularly relished. Taller than his peers by a good foot and a half, his unlucky red hair uncovered and obvious beneath the sun, and clad—ridiculously—like the other boys, he felt conspicuous enough already without the knowledge of another difference, carried like an invisible brand in the soul.

“Take a good look, lads.” Walker’s red face was jovial, his eyes in slits of flesh, gleaming with satisfaction. “Whatever your previous captains hushed up for the good of the service, you will not find the same tolerance here. No secrets on my ship. This man was coxswain’s mate. Now he’s crow bate. Heed the warning.”

He began to walk back, past the company of marines, their scarlet uniforms almost obscenely cheerful in this place of execution, past the ship’s people, past the lieutenants, and back to the midshipmen. Taking his cane from beneath his elbow, he pushed at their faces with it, angling them until, without closing their eyes, it was impossible for them not to watch Henderson’s body jerk and tremble at the end of the rope.

Josh did not wait to be manhandled, but fixed his gaze on his shipmate’s shirt-ties and hoped, prayed, that the flailing of limbs and the agonized expression on his face were the result of involuntary spasm, not the signs of a soul in torment. Fear and shame rose up in him. Shame for Henderson, from whose stockinged feet urine dripped—such a neat man in life, and now so stripped of dignity—and for himself. For this was the fate that awaited him should he ever be caught. This was an outward demonstration of the consequences of his vice, the minimum necessary to appease God, before whom he was an abomination.

At the thought his fear turned into anger. He could have done as Portsmouth’s urchins were doing on the waterfront—picking up clods of refuse from the shore and pelting Henderson’s hanging body with them, shrieking curses. Stupid! It was stupid of the man to have done anything on board, let alone be lured and entrapped by one of Walker’s informants. Surely he had known that Walker was the greatest tyrant ever to stand on a quarterdeck, spending ink and energy and vitriol to “clean up” the service. Surely Henderson had known this, and yet he had still been foolish enough to welcome the advances of a shipmate. What could have possessed him? The famine of shipboard life? A death wish? Poor bastard! Poor, stupid, pathetic bastard.

The wind freshened, and the clouds drew away from the sun. A chilly, autumnal light drenched the pale stones of the dockyard and glittered on the sea. Walker’s fellow captains of the court martial put on their hats and walked away, talking soberly, the taller bent in an uncomfortable “C” towards the shorter.

Walker tucked his cane beneath his arm once more, light sharp on his gold braid and blazing from the diamond buckles of his shoes. He opened his mouth to speak, and the sound of a carriage interrupted him, coming hell for leather down the quayside, its flamboyant driver plying his whip like a young rake.

Iron shod wheels slid to a stop in fountains of sparks. The Nimrods pretended not to notice as the footman got down and turned the gilded handle of the door. Josh allowed himself to smile as, from the corner of his eye, he saw Walker’s complaisance shatter, his brow darken at this affront to his personal piece of theater. All around Josh there was a cautious craning of necks and shifting of positions to see the newcomer, and he had to hiss out of the corner of his mouth to Midshipman Anderson to stop the boy incurring the captain’s wrath by actually stepping forward.

Josh found that if he shifted his weight just so, he could watch the unfolding of steps, the brightly polished black shoe and gentleman’s leg in a silk stocking descending. There were white breeches and now the skirts of the coat, a deep indigo no less gorgeous for being worn by every officer. There were mariner’s cuffs, shiny brass buttons displaying the fouled anchor outlined in heavy gold braid. When fully emerged, the prodigy was revealed as nothing more than another lieutenant of His Majesty’s Navy, a parcel of orders clutched to his breast.

Josh should have been disappointed. This was surely the man sent to fill the Nimrod’s vacant berth, reducing Josh from “acting lieutenant” back down to middie with the rest of them. He should be wrestling with resentment, hating the sight of the man. But for some reason he could not quite manage it.

Saluting, the stranger introduced himself. He was very tall and slender, his face all angles and bones, with clear, sea green eyes into which the illumination of the autumn sun seemed to pour. Or perhaps it was the clarity of his spirit that shone out as he smiled depreciatingly at Walker’s purple wrath.

“Captain Walker? My apologies! The axle cracked outside Kidderminster, and on the road through Weston we were waylaid by highwaymen. My watch said five to the hour as we entered the yard, so I had them crack on as fast as they could. I hope I am not late?”

Automatically, Walker checked his timepiece. His mouth thinned into a stroke of wire as he held out a mute hand for the orders. Not allowing himself to wilt beneath the glare, the young man handed them over, straightened his shoulders and stood impassively while Captain Walker checked them.

“Not late, Mr. Kenyon,” said Walker, at length, with a cold fury that made the young man’s smile fall away and his expression harden. “But you are a damned abominable coxcomb, arriving in this manner. You have missed your profession, sir—the navy does not exist as a backdrop for your theatricals. What do you mean by it?”

Around Josh a sense of thankfulness rose off the crew. The heavy gaze of officialdom had been shifted from their backs. Henderson still trembled, swaying pendulum-like on his gibbet, but the trembling of the living eased and there broke out, here and there, the reluctant smiles of those who are glad this was happening to someone else.

Josh was overwhelmed by a sensation he had never felt before. Lt. Kenyon had bowed his head to study the cobbles by Walker’s feet, and Josh found himself fascinated by the elegant curve of his neck and by the refined white hands lying in the small of his back. He was captivated, too, by Kenyon’s shoulders—narrow but lithe—and his black brows and lashes, so startling under the white wig.

Josh badly wanted to do something to encourage the man to move again, so lightly he had descended from the carriage. How would he walk? How would he hold himself if he were to dance? He looked as though he should dance. Hell—with the fine poise of him, he looked as though he should fly; unfurl a great pair of white-feathered wings like the Archangel Michael and fly.

“I meant nothing, sir, but desired be here at my appointed time. As you see, the hospital would not release Lt. Ollerton. There have been complications. And as I must be in Bermuda as soon as is humanly possible, it seemed good to all that I should take his place.” The green eyes swept up, not at all abashed, but honestly concerned. “Were you not informed?”

“God’s blood, man! Do you question me? Will I have to bring you to a proper subordination, Mr. Kenyon? I should have thought the object lesson behind me would induce you to remember your place.”

Though he had not known there was such a person all of five minutes ago, something twisted in Josh’s throat at the thought of Kenyon on the gallows. What was bitter with Henderson, beside whom he had worked for three years, would be sheer blasphemy in the case of this stranger. But why? Why would he almost rather feel the rope about his own neck? How was that possible? What… What was the matter with him? He didn’t even know the man!

Confused and a little frightened by the strength of this…whatever it was, Josh looked away, then back, and by chance, he caught Kenyon’s gaze as it swept the rows of silent men, looking for support or advice. Kenyon was older than him, certainly, his face settled into adult lines, but his eyes…oh. Oh, they were like a pool of fresh water in the desert. Josh had not known before how thirsty he was, how he yearned for that cool, for that refreshment. His mouth fell open; he took a half step forward. Kenyon smiled an uncertain, polite smile, which filled his chest with sunlight, and his lips had twitched in answer, involuntary, when Walker laughed.

It was a cynical, sudden bark of laughter, as humorous as the report of a pistol, and it shocked through Josh in much the same way. The fragile moment of joy disappeared under terror. He knows nothing! He has no proof! I was just smiling! Mother of God, what came over me? What was I thinking?

He looked back at the corpse, as if for council. Its protruding eyes seemed to mock him, as if to say, “Do you still think me so stupid now?” He breathed in shakily, appalled. Was this what Henderson had felt for the informer? This tie of the soul, this abandonment of all caution, as though nothing else existed in the world but the two of them?

Josh had been at sea since he was thirteen, had not mixed in the most refined company, and did not believe in love at first sight. More than that, he had never heard that sodomites were capable of love. Since childhood, he had heard that he was a beast, driven by perverted appetites, not a rational being whose heart could be moved by beauty or lifted by a smile. He was not worthy to love this fine young officer, not even to admire him from afar.

But—Mary and Joseph—suppose it was love! How fitting to fall in love in the shadow of the gallows. Watching Henderson finally settle into stillness on the end of his rope, he tried to resist the urge to look back at Lt. Kenyon as he might have tried to resist the urge to breathe. When he gave up, allowed himself a stealthy glance, he found that Walker was watching him, with the gleam of triumph in his eye.

The steady world fell out from beneath his feet. For such a long time he had been sure of his self-restraint, certain that whatever the captain suspected, he could prove nothing. Now Walker was watching him, with the pleasure of a fisherman who has finally discovered the right bait.

 


Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.

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