Saturday, December 31, 2016

7th Day of Christmas Author Spotlight: Harper Fox

Author Bio:
Harper Fox is an M/M author with a mission. She’s produced six critically acclaimed novels in a year and is trying to dispel rumours that she has a clone/twin sister locked away in a study in her basement. In fact she simply continues working on what she loves best– creating worlds and stories for the huge cast of lovely gay men queuing up inside her head. She lives in rural Northumberland in northern England and does most of her writing at a pensioned-off kitchen table in her back garden, often with blanket and hot water bottle.

She lives with her SO Jane, who has somehow put up with her for a quarter of a century now, and three enigmatic cats, chief among whom is Lucy, who knows the secret of the universe but isn't letting on. When not writing, she either despairs or makes bread, specialities foccacia and her amazing seven-strand challah. If she has any other skills, she's yet to discover them.

BLOG  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  AUDIBLE  /  B&N

The Salisbury Key
Can love repair a shattered life in time to save the world?

Daniel Logan is on a lonely quest to find out what drove his lover, a wealthy, respected archaeologist, to take his own life. The answer the elusive key for which Jason was desperately searching lies somewhere on a dangerous and deadly section of Salisbury Plain.

The only way to gain access, though, is to allow an army explosives expert to help him navigate the bomb-riddled military zone. A man he met once more than three years ago, who is even more serious and enigmatic than before.

Lieutenant Rayne has better things to do than risk his life protecting a scientist on an apparent suicide mission. Like get back to Iraq and prove he will never again miss another roadside bomb. Yet as he helps Dan uncover the truth, an attraction neither man is in the mood for springs up against their will. And stirs up the nervous attention of powerfully placed people military and academic alike.

First in conflict, then in passion, Rayne and Dan are drawn together in a relationship as rocky and complicated as the ancient land they search. Where every step leads them closer to a terrible legacy written in death Warning: Contains bombs, archaeology and explicit M/M sex, not necessarily in that order."

Scrap Metal
Is there room for love in a heart full of secrets?

One year ago, before Fate took a wrecking ball to his life, Nichol was happily working on his doctorate in linguistics. Now he’s hip deep in sheep, mud and collies. His late brother and mother had been well suited to life on Seacliff Farm. Nichol? Not so much.

As lambing season progresses in the teeth of an icy north wind, the last straw is the intruder Nichol catches in the barn. He says his name is Cam, and he’s on the run from a Glasgow gang. Something about the young man’s tired resignation touches Nichol deeply, and instead of giving him the business end of a shotgun, he offers Cam a blanket and a place to stay.

Somehow, Cam quickly charms his way through Nichol’s defenses and into his heart. Even his grandfather takes to the cheeky city boy, whose hard work and good head for figures help set the farm back on its feet.

As the cold Scottish springtime melts into summer, Nichol finds himself falling in love. When tragedy strikes, Cam’s resolutely held secret is finally revealed and Nichol must face the truth. He’s given his heart away, and it’s time to pay the price.

Warning: Contains explicit M/M sex and the disruption of a quiet Scottish town by a fistfight and some tight designer jeans.

Once Upon a Haunted Moor
Tyack & Frayne #1
Gideon Frayne has spent his whole working life as a policeman in the village of Dark on Bodmin Moor. It’s not life in the fast lane, but he takes it very seriously, and his first missing-child case is eating him alive. When his own boss sends in a psychic to help with the case, he’s gutted – he’s a level-headed copper who doesn’t believe in such things, and he can’t help but think that the arrival of clairvoyant Lee Tyack is a comment on his failure to find the little girl.

But Lee is hard to hate, no matter how Gideon tries. At first Lee’s insights into the case make no sense, but he seems to have a window straight into Gideon’s heart. Son of a Methodist minister, raised in a tiny Cornish village, Gideon has hidden his sexuality for years. It’s cost him one lover, and he can’t believe it when this green-eyed newcomer stirs up old feelings and starts to exert a powerful force of attraction.

Gideon and Lee begin to work together on the case. But there are malignant forces at work in the sleepy little village of Dark, and not only human ones – Gideon is starting to wonder, against all common sense, if there might be some truth in the terrifying legend of the Bodmin Beast after all. As a misty Halloween night consumes the moor, Gideon must race against time to save not only the lost child but the man who’s begun to restore his faith in his own heart.

Original Overall Series Review September 2015:
Gideon and Lee make a pretty instant connection despite Gideon's first impression of Lee's abilities being fake.  Once he realizes that Lee is on the level they discover how well they work together, not to mention play together.  The setting descriptions leave you feeling as if you are standing right there in Bodmin Moor, the characters are a recipe of good, bad, odd, funny, and everything in between.  Each story might have a standalone mystery that the couple faces but because the evolution of their relationship, this series really should be read in order.  Another great addition to my paranormal library.

Cold Fusion
Their love is the catalyst that could save the planet…or cost their lives.

As an environmental activist for Peace Warrior, Kier Mallory never hesitated to throw himself into dangerous situations. Until his hotheadedness costs the lives of two fellow crewmembers on an anti-whaling mission.

He finds no refuge in his hometown on Scotland’s north coast, where everyone knows what this son of a broken fisherman has done. Effectively homeless, Mal returns to one of his favorite places—Spindrift, a rustic colony of artist and crafter huts.

Spindrift is dilapidated and empty, save for a lone resident. Vivian Calder, a brilliant but emotionally detached scientist who appears to have done the impossible—mastered cold fusion. A clean, free, limitless source of power.

Despite Viv’s aversion to contact, a fragile bond forms between them, seemingly one atom at a time. Until Mal, determined to redeem himself by revealing Viv’s accomplishment to the world, brings down the wrath of an oil-dependent establishment, risking not only their love, but Viv’s life.

Warning: Contains a disgraced environmentalist and an autistic genius who go from strangers to lovers-for-life in thirteen days. Don’t believe in miracles? We’ll make you.

A Midwinter Prince
A Midwinter Prince #1
Laurie Fitzroy is one of London's privileged young. The son of wealthy baronet Sir William, he has everything – the house in Mayfair, the chauffeur-driven limo, a career mapped out for him in politics once he gets his degree. 

If he ever does. Because Laurie is adrift. A brilliant untaught actor, all his talents lie in theatre, and Sir William won't tolerate the idea of a stage career for his son. Laurie is home for Christmas and some serious extra tuition, having failed one exam too many. He's bored, lonely and lost. Then, one freezing London midnight, he stops to talk to a homeless boy called Sasha, and a new world opens up to him. Sasha is a Romanian immigrant, hanging by a thread to his marginal existence on the streets. Despite their wildly different worlds, the two young men form a bond. Laurie offers Sasha shelter, and Sasha, in his turn, shows Laurie a path to adulthood and freedom. 

But Sir William is brutal and dangerous, and Sasha's mysterious Romanian past is casting lethal shadows. The battle for freedom seems a hopeless one. Friendship has turned to first love, though – too precious for Sasha and Laurie to let go. Eastern European gangsters and Sir William's wrath are just a couple of the hazards they will have to face in their fight for a future together. 

Seven Summer Nights
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.

He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.

It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.

Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.

It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun... 

The Salisbury Key
We stood together once more on top of the earthwork. A hell of a lot had changed. This time Professor Ross, head of department and senior tutor, had his arm round my waist. A whole new perspective on the world. We had worked and travelled together for so long that I knew what he was seeing, just as he would know my own thoughts now—a landscape under different light, slight differences in contour picked out by the lowering sun. Sometimes an ancient foundation, or something as ordinary but telling as fifteenth-century ridge-and-furrow ploughing, would jump into clarity.

I followed the line of the wall I had noticed before. It was clearer now, its eastern boundary thrown into sharper relief. I thought that I could even see a ghost of Jason’s stone-hut circles.

“Yes,” he said, as if I’d spoken the thought. “It’s all there. Come on. Let’s go and have a look.”

I glanced up at him in surprise. “What—from the barricade?”

“No. Up and over it.”

“You’re kidding. Won’t we get shot for trespassing?”

“Would that bother you?”

I considered. We’d done plenty of this before, when Jason’s idea of a boundary had not coincided with that of the landowner. We hadn’t tried it with the army before. But I got a dark thrill out of entering our dragons’ lairs, and Jason knew it. He held out his hand to me. I looked at his broad palm waiting for mine. At his smile—the trace of uncertainty in brown eyes turning fox-coloured in the sunset light, as if his whole happiness depended on my consent. At that moment, I would have followed him straight into hell. I smiled, reaching out. “All right.”

We made short, practised work of the barricade. Jason gave me a leg-up onto the supporting wooden cross post, and once I had my balance there I eased back enough of the wire to let him join me. Then it was his turn to hold back the wire, keeping the barbs carefully free of flesh and clothes. I leapt down on the far side, grabbed a fallen stick of gorse and wedged the gap open, reaching up to help him down. He grinned as he landed beside me, a familiar flash of complicity. Yes, everything was the same and utterly different. He did not let go of my hand. He led me, blinded by sunset light and half-hypnotised, into the forbidden zone.

We were almost within twenty yards of the stone-hut enclosure when we heard the first drone of a Land Rover. We’d been lucky so far, I supposed. Quarter of a mile to the west lay the road which led to the Fellworth military base. Jason drew me to a halt, scanning the horizon. “Damn.”

“Reckon they’ll see us?”

“Maybe not if they haven’t seen us yet. Just keep very still.”

It was a good trick, and one which had worked for us before. The instinct was to crouch, to seek cover, but a stand of trees or even open ground where nothing changed was less likely to draw attention than one where something moved, even briefly. It took a bit of nerve. I waited, not shifting a muscle. Trying to let myself become part of my background, to merge with the earth and the sky. Easier than usual today, I found, immediately beginning to drift. Jason still had hold of my hand. His thumb was circling against my palm, a strong, soothing caress. Irresistibly it made me wonder how his c**k would feel, pushing up inside me…

“So,” I said quietly, not taking my eyes off the ground, “you think dinner with the dean will be a late job tonight?”

I heard him catch his breath. “Well, Malcolm needs his beauty sleep. I’ll remind him of that if I have to. Why?”

“I’ll be in the library for a few hours, but I should be home after eleven.” I was fairly sure I would be finished with my thinking by then. I was pretty much through with it now. I wished I hadn’t halted our second exchange back at the earthwork. I was aching and half-hard again inside my jeans. Come for me, beautiful boy. “If you felt like dropping by…”

He snorted faintly. “That’s right, Daniel. I’ll drop round late at night to the paper-walled flat you share with five other postgrads. We’ll make out on the sofa while they watch TV.”

“Stop,” I choked. I clasped his hand, setting every muscle against the spasm of laughter. “All right. Bad idea.”

“Only in terms of location. I tell you what—I’ll be home after eleven, if you feel like dropping by.”

The sound of the Land Rover was gone. I tried to recall, through clouds of surprise and desire, whether it had faded into distance or stopped, then I lost concentration. I thought about Jason’s beautiful house, where he regularly invited his postgrads for friendly, shop-talking dinners. I’d passed the open door to his bedroom on my way to the bathroom upstairs. He was generous and hospitable, but I didn’t think he made the hour-before-midnight invitations lightly or often. I thought about his wide double bed. “God, Jason. I…”

White light punched across the plain. It was sudden and real as a fist. We both swung round, shielding our eyes. Beneath it, faint in the glare, I made out a pair of headlights. “Christ almighty. What’s that?”

“Our Land Rover, I think. That’s his searchlight. He must have doubled round.”

“Oh, great.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Looks like we’re busted.” His hand closed on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay. Just do as you’re told, and let me do the talking.”

I nodded. He’d taught me that surrender was the best policy when confronted with armed military, either here or abroad. I could see that it was appropriate too. Nine times out of ten we’d have been trespassing, obeying our own code as seekers after knowledge in preference to petty local law. Jason took such issues pretty seriously. In America, he’d told us, he’d been to visit an environmental campaigner called Starhawk, who had coached him in the art of passive resistance and calculated civil disobedience, everything from leaflet drops to lying in such a way that a police horse would step over rather than on you. Lifting his hands, staring boldly into the light, he took a step back in the direction we had come, and I followed him.

Perhaps we’d taken too long about it. The evening air split to the sound of a single gunshot. “F**k!” I gasped, bumping into Jason as he crashed to a halt. “Did he just…”

“Shoot at us? Yes.”

I wasn’t so sure. I thought the sound had reverberated upward, not in our direction. Jason had started moving again—fast this time, in long, ground-eating strides. I ran to catch him up, grabbing at his shirt. “Hang on. I think it was a warning shot. He fired into the air.”

“I don’t care. What place do guns have out here? Daniel, I swear—these people will consume our whole bloody planet, with their wars and their compounds and their lines in the sand, if we don’t…”

I didn’t catch the rest. He tore away from me and set off at a run towards the fence, the lights and the bullets. On the whole, I tended to agree with him. I was dead set against the military too, disgusted with a brinksmanship patriarchy that dealt with the world by rocking it back and forth across a fulcrum of destruction. And my revulsion was a kind of birthright to me, though normally I pressed that dark thought down.

But Jason was going to get himself shot. I belted after him. He could really move, for a man of his size. What the hell was he going to do? “Jason! Jason, slow down.” Running half-blind, seeing scarlet spider-veins in my own retinas from the light, I caught him up a few yards from the fence, grabbed his belt and tried to slow him up. “For God’s sake! They’re gonna fire on you.”

“Too damn right we are,” came a harsh, clipped voice from somewhere up ahead of us. “Freeze, both of you. Hands where I can see them.”

“John Marsh?” Jason demanded. He had stopped at the foot of the barricade and was staring up at the soldier perched on the top of it, his expression fierce and imperious as a profile of a Caesar on a Roman coin. “Is that you, you puppy?”

“Captain Marsh, 3rd Anglian. And I told you to… Oh. My God, it’s Professor Ross, isn’t it?”

“Too damn right it is. I knew your father. I knew you, for that matter, when you were riding about in a pushchair, not a military truck. Put that gun down.”

I squinted up into the light. To my surprise, the tough-looking soldier was doing as he was bidden, lowering an automatic rifle. Turning towards the truck I could now see was parked on the turf beyond the barbed wire, he made a gesture, and the blinding searchlight dimmed. “Stand down!” he barked to unseen comrades. “Situation under my control. Sorry, Prof,” he continued, sounding more human. “But you know the rules. This area’s been heavily mined.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“I hope not, if you took a student in with you.”

“This is a colleague. And he knows the risks.”

Pride touched me—and then I lost a breath as if punched. For a moment I couldn’t catch it again. Involuntarily I glanced back the way we’d come. It hit me that those red-and-yellow warning signs were more than boundary markers. I’d grown up, like most local kids, with their message in front of my eyes, limiting the scope of my wandering. The universal symbol for explosion, and an unfortunate stick man flying back from one. Danger from unexploded shell and mortar bombs. It was part of childhood’s wallpaper for me. I’d never taken it seriously, eventually ceased to see it.

That was it. The breath came back. Those signs were like the bogeyman, the threat was enough. Half the wire strung out around this place was for the army’s convenience, not public safety. Jason, who knew so much about this place, would know that. I didn’t know what game he was playing with Marsh, but he would have his reasons.

I straightened my spine. This is a colleague, Jason had said. Coming from a man like him, that was a stunning compliment, and I tried to look professional, like I deserved the title and was clear and calm about the risks as well. Marsh put down a hand to help hoist us back over the fence, and Jason courteously gestured me ahead. I tried not to use Marsh’s help getting up and over the wire. He’d slung his rifle back on its strap over his shoulder, but the proximity of all that death-laden hardware made my stomach heave. Once we were all down on the other side, he turned to us. “Sorry for the warning shot, Prof. Couldn’t be sure of getting your attention otherwise.”

“You could’ve shouted.”

“Would you have listened?” He shook his head, not waiting for a reply. “Here’s the situation, gentlemen. I’ve got a truckload of cadets over there, and I need to make a point to them—and maybe to you too—about peaceful arrest. No matter who’s trespassing.”

Jason shrugged. He glanced at me, his face calm again now, only wryly amused in the headlights. He held out his wrists. “Sorry, Daniel. Go ahead then, soldier.”

I sat handcuffed in the back of the jouncing truck, opposite a row of five grinning squaddies, and I wondered about my afternoon. Beside me, shoulder pressing unhidden against mine, Jason was calmly smiling back at the lads, as if all this was routine to him. Perhaps it was. He spent as much time in the field as he did in the office, and God knew how many lovers he’d laid down among the ruins.

I asked myself if I cared. Today it had been me. Tonight, unless we ended up in the holding cells at Fellworth, it would be me again. A strange euphoria began in me, starting in the pit of my stomach, blossoming outwards into the palms of my hands and down to my groin. I looked at the floor, afraid the excitement would shine from my eyes. I was pretty sure we were entertaining Marsh’s cadets enough as it was.

Jason looked calm and tidy as ever, but I’d let my hair grow over summer, and I’d already surreptitiously picked out one crushed buttercup leaf from it. That, in combination with my grass-stained cut-offs, in which I now just felt half-naked rather than cool, probably shouted less colleague than toy boy.

But if Jason was happy with it, so was I. I resisted the temptation to dip my head down to his shoulder and let the boys think what they liked. I stretched out my foot luxuriantly, tried the grip of the handcuffs as if they’d been velvet-lined and hitched to a bedpost. I’ll be home after eleven, if you feel like dropping by.

“Daniel? You all right?”

Lost in memories of the afternoon and anticipation of the night, it took me a moment to come back. Jason was looking at me in an odd mix of amusement and concern. His shoulder was rubbing against mine with the motion of the Land Rover.

“Fine,” I said, smiling up at him. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you’re in military custody. Don’t you mind?”

I snorted. Put like that, it did seem odd. But I didn’t, not at all. Suddenly I wanted to prove it to Jason. I wanted to confide in him, give him something for everything he’d given to me. “Listen,” I said. “I don’t love the bloody military. My father worked for them—not as a soldier. In the military lab at Hartcliffe Dean. He wasn’t anything special, just a technician. But he volunteered as a test subject back in the late seventies when they were working on some kind of nerve agent. Something like VX, although we never found out for sure.”

Jason stiffened away from me. After a second, he struggled round a bit to face me. “What?”

“I know. I suppose you’d say he wasn’t the brightest spark, but we were always short of cash, and they’d assured him the tests were harmless.”

“But—they weren’t?”

“No. Not at all, although no one knew until he and the other volunteers started getting ill years later. Not that anything was proven. He died when he was fifty. I was six.”

Jason stared at me. This was why I usually kept my mouth shut. Nobody ever knew what to say. And Jason seemed more affected than anyone else among the handful of people I’d told. He’d gone pale under his tan.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It was a long time ago. I only mentioned it because… Well, any rings you want to run round this lot, any battles you want fought…I’m your man.”

“Oh God, Daniel,” he said. I frowned. I hadn’t meant to freak him out. He was absolutely grey now, and suddenly looked his age. “Hartcliffe? The seventies?”

“Yes. Seriously—ancient history.” That was godawful, coming from an archaeologist, and I grimaced. “I don’t even remember.”

He stretched his cuffed hands awkwardly towards me. Just as awkwardly, I reached back, only very distantly hearing one of the squaddies break into a laugh. Jason’s fingers laced round mine. And although I hadn’t meant to distress him like this, his look sent shivers through me. I didn’t understand. We’d been so close that afternoon, and yet it was as if he was seeing me properly for the first time. As if I was real to him. He cleared his throat and said roughly, “That must have been hard on your family.”

“Briefly. They’re all gone now.” I squeezed his fingers tight. I wanted to pull us both out of these deep waters now. “I told you—I’m footloose. No ties, no worries. Don’t look so serious. I’m okay.”

Neither of us had noticed that the Land Rover had bounced to a halt. Jason sat very still. I fought the urge to blink, to try and hide from his regard. It wasn’t that I wanted to, but his intense sable stare was almost too much for me. If I was inclined to believe for one instant what I was seeing there, I’d become something to him I couldn’t yet be—something rare and of great value.

“Okay,” he echoed faintly. “Okay. Good.”

No ignoring the soldiers now. I sat up straight and offered them my best haughty look, but they only quieted when Marsh yanked open the rear door. “All right, you lot,” he said. “And you two gentlemen—out, please.”

Well, he had said something about making a point. I wondered distantly, clambering out of the back of the truck, what form it was going to take. Public execution, maybe.

Ah. Very public. The sides of the truck were canvas, and I hadn’t been able to see much out the front. After a while I’d lost my bearings. But Marsh had elected to take us back to the Stonehenge car park, where, as he probably knew perfectly well, Jason had left his Citroën DS that morning. I could see it—the sleek old French model, one of Jason’s few obvious extravagances—in the distance, conspicuous by its quiet glamour in the midst of the carnival parade of beat-up Deux Chevaux and vintage VW bugs and buses that had descended since we’d arrived at dawn. I’d forgotten. It was June the twenty-first. Summer solstice. I glanced back and saw Jason remembering too, looking out across the crowd, breaking into a broad grin as Marsh helped him, still handcuffed, down from the truck.

Mild pandemonium reigned. The car park, and all the meadows around the henge, were dotted with little groups of Wiccans, sun-worshippers, nutcases and the most passionate and genuine advocates of nature-based religion you could ever hope to meet. Campfires were on the blaze, a distinct smell of crisping veggie burgers filling the air. There was enough tie-dye fabric in enough colours to stretch a rainbow to the bloody moon, and, over by the chicken-wire fence that encircled the monument, the usual representatives of opposing Druidical orders were conducting the usual debate amongst themselves and the attendant police and military as to which of them was the real deal and therefore entitled to enter the circle and chant up the sunrise.

A few heads had turned at the arrival of the truck. The army weren’t popular guests around Stonehenge at Solstice—they got the blame for the chicken wire and the limited access—unjustly, because all that was the work of English Heritage—and I heard scattered hoots and jeers rise up as Marsh led Jason and me away from the truck. Marsh, face impassive, shook his head. “Nice welcome.”

“Well, I can’t help but question your presence too,” Jason said, scanning the crowd. He seemed to have recovered himself. “Do these people look as if they need martial law imposed on them?”

“Not at all. A giant butterfly net, I’d say. And I’d rather be home with my missus and kids, Professor Ross, but we’re here by request of the police and the site managers. Crowd control only. Now…” He paused, and reached to unfasten a set of keys from his belt. “Now, gentlemen, if you could just listen for a moment, I have to tell you that you’ve been officially escorted out of a closed military area. The army won’t be pressing charges, since you came with us peaceably, but I’m afraid you’ll find a request for payment of a fine in your post within the next few days. Look, I know where you live, Prof, but I’m going to need to take down your…” another pause, and an amused, assessing glance at me, “…your young colleague’s details.”

“I’m sure he’ll be happy to give them to you, if you’ll just take off his cuffs. Though you might as well charge his fine to the university—that’s where I’ll be charging mine.”

“I’m afraid that’s not the point, sir. We need to keep on record the details of any potential, er, troublemakers.”

I glanced up. The cuffs were chafing my wrist bones now, and I held out both hands, making sure I met Marsh’s eyes. I wasn’t sure about the nature of the trouble he thought I might be likely to cause, but I felt a mischievous impulse to let him wonder.

Then, suddenly, I lost interest. The sun was almost down, heavy bronze clouds piling high on the western horizon, but one last deep gold shaft had made its way through them, casting an unearthly glow on the henge and the eastern arc of its enclosure. Without it, I wouldn’t have noticed the solitary soldier standing guard by the fence. He was young and very pale, as if this crowd-control duty was deadly serious for him. The unexpected light had cast him in ivory. His hair was sable, nearly black, beneath his moss-green beret.

For a moment I thought I was imagining him. Plenty of ghosts here on Salisbury Plain—tiny dark men in deerskins, who vanished off into the long-barrow mounds; and ghosts of soldiers too, victims of friendly fire shootings and tank accidents. But he was real. I could see the furrow of concentration between his shapely, strongly marked brows. I couldn’t work out what it was that caught me about him, what made it hard for me to get the next breath into my lungs. He was, simply, the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on.

Guilt went through me, that I could even glance at another man after the afternoon I’d just spent. But a glance was all it was. If he fascinated me, plainly for him I didn’t exist. He was looking straight through me—through Jason, Marsh and the truck, paying none of us any attention at all.

Not so the crowd. A ripple of laughter had gone through the little groups on the outskirts at the sight of me and Jason being unloaded, holding out our hands for Marsh’s key. “Please don’t do it again, sir,” Marsh was saying. “I know you want access to the land, but there’s proper channels.” He undid Jason’s cuffs, and a few cheers and a patter of applause rose up. Like attracted like, and by the time Marsh turned to me, I realised that half the gathered crowd was watching.

I couldn’t resist. A bright bubble of elation was rising up in my chest. The evening, and the world, was wildly beautiful. Jason Ross was my lover, and my life was before me. The ancient rocks of Stonehenge, old bones of Earth, were calling people back to them—this crowd, now whooping and cheering as Marsh gestured to me to hold out my hands. I raised them so they could see. Marsh rolled his eyes but went with it, unlocking me with a wryly ceremonial gesture. Peripherally I noticed the grave young soldier shift and finally look at me. Yes.

The cuffs fell away. Grinning, I lifted both hands high, extending my fingers in peace signs. I remembered a dance move from my not-so-long-gone clubbing years, and briefly sashayed in the golden, laughter-filled light. My T-shirt rode up. I saw the young trooper’s dark gaze focus. I felt a flare of triumph, then, strangely, a sharp guilt, as if I had disturbed a priest at his prayers.

“That’s right,” Jason said, placing a gentle hand in the small of my back and propelling me off stage towards the car park. “You go ahead and antagonise the people we need to propitiate.”

“What, the clockwork soldiers? That’s rich coming from you, Indiana Jones.”

He snorted faintly. “Fair point. But you nearly started a riot back there, and, well, I don’t want us spending the night in separate cells.”

We had reached the car. I sat on the low, shark-nose bonnet of the DS, suddenly exhausted. We were still within earshot and possibly sight of the crowd around the enclosure, but I didn’t care. When he leaned over me, I reached up and into his deep, shuddering kiss.

“Listen, Daniel,” he said, when it was done. “You’ve had four lovers in your life. I’ve had…even fewer. I don’t do one-night stands. And I couldn’t bear to think of sharing you. I know that’s repressive and old-fashioned. If you think so too, and you don’t turn up tonight, I’ll understand, all right? And we’ll still be friends.” He ran his fingers through my hair, or tried to—smiled when he hit the first tangle and pulled out another crushed leaf. “Either way, beautiful boy, I’ll never forget you. And if you ever need anything…” He paused, the weird shadows flickering round him again, dimming his lights. “If you’re in trouble, or you need help…you come to me. Come to me. Okay?”

Scrap Metal
Five hours later I crawled into my bed. I’d fixed the tractor, only to clamber up into her cab, switch her on and have her jerk beneath me like a dying horse and lapse into silence again. Probably I was getting oil stains on the sheets. I couldn’t bring myself to care. I’d had to take the one remaining quad bike and make good my temporary fix on the cliff-side fence then slowly prowl the boundary Kenzie had abandoned. The dark little loch, barely more than a pond but apparently bottomless, exerted a dire fascination on the flock. The rain had turned to sleet, and I’d worked by the bike’s headlamps, hammering stakes and cutting lengths of wire, my hands turning numb.

I curled up, seeking nonexistent warmth beneath the quilt. My hot-water bottle scalded the bits of me it was touching and left the rest icy. This was where, if I wasn’t very careful, I would fall apart. I had weathered the loss of my family, the transformation of my life with a stoicism I knew was dysfunctional. I’d stood dry-eyed through the funerals. But right now I could close my eyes and weep for the loss of my cat.

It was just that she slept on my stomach in winter, keeping off the chill. She had been tiny for a full-grown queen, but her purr would resound through the room like the Calmac revving up for departure. I’d have taken her to uni with me if I could. During the holidays she followed me everywhere, a little shadow with mad golden eyes. Even Harry, whose fondness for farm cats began and ended with their mousing abilities, had bestowed on her the honour of a name—Clover, or Seamrag in Gaelic. The luck of the farm.

Well, that one had come back to bite us in the arse. She’d vanished in the night last February, one eerie day before we got the news from Spain. I recalled the old man, standing like a statue in the barnyard a fortnight later, a red-letter bill from the water board in one hand, a broken tractor drive shaft in the other. Aye, she’s gone. And taken with her the luck o’ the farm.

Gloomy old bastard. I balled up tighter, furious with him and with myself. I had maybe three hours before the grim routine of lambing season started all over again. I couldn’t waste good sleep time with useless thoughts like this. I couldn’t mourn a cat more than I did my brother, and I couldn’t…

I couldn’t go on.

It hit me with the force of revelation. What the hell was I doing, struggling to hold back the avalanche? I’d have given almost anything to help keep Harry king of his Seacliff acres. I’d ploughed my heart and soul into the struggle for a year. But the game was up. Surely selling now would be better than waiting for the bloody bailiffs.

For about thirty seconds, relief swept through me. I entertained a fantasy of Harry installed in a nice warm bungalow in Whiting Bay, playing darts with his cronies in the pub and revelling in his leisured golden years. Me, I was back in Edinburgh, cranking out my brilliant new linguistic model for my doctorate in between rounds of casual sex down in the Groat Market clubs.

The air castle fell. Harry, cut off from his ancestral soil, fell into a decline and pointed an accusing finger at me from his deathbed. I sat up, anticipatory pangs of guilt going through me. I ran my fingers into my hair. It was no good. No matter what the consequences, we were going to have to let the place go. All that remained for me to work out was how to break it to Harry. Well, I now had two and a half sleepless hours in which to do that.

The gale shook the house. It was a wild winter bitch of a night. Most likely I’d be digging sheep out of snow on my dawn shift. I caressed the patch on the quilt where Clover used to curl. A few black hairs still clung there. Grief and rage burned in my gut, bitter as the storm. Everything was gone.

Glass shattered somewhere off in the dark. I jerked my head up, listening. That was all I needed, for the wind to have broken a barn window. I’d have to get out there and patch it, or we’d lose another set of lambs to the cold.

The sound came again. Exactly the same as the first time—brief, deliberate.

Human agency, then. I threw back the quilt. Prodigal son or not, I didn’t really have to guess at the source. I knew every inch of Seacliff Farm. My nerves twitched out into the night, my body responding as if the broken glass had been my bones. Me, my mother, Harry, untold generations of us living and dying on this land… Two panes from the window at the back of the second-largest barn, enough to get a hand inside and undo the catch.

I surged out of bed. Heat blazed through me, a pure and perfect rage. God, it felt wonderful. I had a bloody burglar on my hands. He couldn’t have arrived at a worse or better time. I grabbed my dressing gown, shrugged into it over my pyjama bottoms and slammed out of the room.

In the hallway I paused for a second. Alistair’s gun cupboard was tucked into a corner of the landing. He’d always kept it conscientiously locked, and a good thing too, since his pride and joy had been a top-end hunting rifle more suitable to big game than the rabbits he’d needed to pick off around the farm. I’d never touched it. Guns, the distancing of predator from prey, had brought on half the horrors of this world. I called myself a pacifist and tried to act like one.

The cupboard was plywood. It yielded to one good kick. There was no chance of waking Harry, who slept like the dead in his bleak mausoleum of a bedroom at the far end of the house. The rifle came easy, sweetly to my hand. I couldn’t think why I hadn’t gone on an armed rampage before. Tucking it under one arm, I ran downstairs barefoot then paused for a second to push my feet into the mud-caked wellingtons I’d left by the back door.

The storm hit me the instant I left the porch, sideswiping me so hard I dropped to one knee before I could catch my balance. I got up, swearing. I was more likely to shoot my foot off with Al’s rifle than anything else. I didn’t even know if the catch was on, if it was loaded. Fighting through the wind-lashed sleet, I tried to rekindle my furies. It had felt so nice not to give a damn anymore, and already my workaday brain was trying to spoil that, to furnish me with reasons, with compassion. Who would come all the way out here to break into a barn? Suppose it was Kenzie, disgruntled after his sacking? He’d confessed to me a couple of weeks ago that he’d started using amphetamines to get him through the brutal schedule of lambing and his day job in the village. That must cost. Maybe he’d come back for our one remaining quad bike. God knew there was sod-all else to steal. Poor bastard, he’d offered me a hit of his speed, and I’d been sorely tempted…

Lightning blazed, and the outside security lamp on the farmhouse went out. Ditched into dazzled black, I hesitated then recalled that this beast of a weapon had a torch on it for night stalking. Many a time its beam had scared the life out of me, searching hungrily over the fields. I felt along its barrel till I found what I hoped was the right button.

Cold white light leapt from the sights. A thin, powerful beam, it illuminated one tunnel of sleet-filled air and made a target on the barn wall. I raised the gun until I could see the eastern window. Yes, the top two frames were gone.

Why hadn’t I brought the barn keys with me? Why, for that matter, hadn’t I stopped to put on a waterproof? My dressing gown was slicked to my skin, woollen deadweight. That made me good and pissed off once again, and I clambered into the barn the same way my intruder had done, grabbing the sill with one hand to haul myself up.

Once inside, I sat poised for a few seconds, playing the rifle’s searchlight around the blackness. “Who’s in here?”

Something rustled. I jerked the gun muzzle around, but the sound had only been the ewes Harry had put in here to foster our orphan lambs, shifting around in their straw. Their eyes with their eerie wrong-way-round pupils gave back the light of the torch, six green ovoids. Carefully I eased down from the sill.

“I know you’re in here,” I told the shadows. “I’ve had a s**t day, and if you think I wouldn’t use this gun, just come out and try me.”

Nothing. All right, that was fine by me. I was in the mood for doing it the hard way. There were only so many places a man could hide in here. The hayloft would be a good start. I laid one hand on the rung of the ladder and froze, listening. A sound from the sheep pen again, but this time… I frowned, trying to work out what the tiny rasp had been.

Like nothing so much as the sounds I made myself on the many, many occasions when Alistair and his mates had set me up for a fright. A giant rubber spider dropping off the top of a door onto my head. Or—another favourite—a string wrapped round the handle of the spooky closet door so it would swing open as I crept down the corridor. Growing up with him had been hard work. I’d been too proud to scream like a girl, and my efforts to stop myself produced a strangled gasp very like the one I’d just heard.

I stalked back to the pen. There were a couple of hay bales piled up in the corner. The lamb I’d rescued that afternoon, obviously partial to trouble, had managed to squeeze itself in behind them. Its bony little head was down, its tail flicking in frustration. It shifted, and whoever was hiding there made another sound of muffled fright.

“I see my attack sheep have cornered you,” I said, tone conversational, hefting the gun. I had used it before, hadn’t I? Al had tried to teach me how to shoot. The kickback of the stock into my shoulder had knocked me down the first time, but he’d persisted with the lesson. Why had I forgotten? I remembered now. I let my finger curl around the trigger. “Come out and show yourself.”

The bales moved. The lamb, undeterred, tried to scramble farther in.

“Christ, why the hell is it trying to…eat me?”

I stepped back. Someone was crouched behind the bales. In the harsh blue-white torchlight, I saw a skinny lad about my own age, soaked black hair plastered to his face. He was trying to thrust back the lamb, which was responding to his efforts by catching his fingers into its greedy maw. The scene would have been funny at any other time. It was threatening to crack a smile out of me now, but I resisted. My heart was pounding, adrenaline spiking coldly through my veins. I had every right to shoot an intruder.

“It’s not trying to eat you,” I said. “It’s hungry. It’s trying to suckle. Stand up.”

“I can’t. It weighs a ton.”

“Just get hold of it and move it. You won’t…” I paused. What would a hardened burglar care if he damaged the livestock? But this one was clearly worried, his hands shaking. “You won’t hurt it.”

He obeyed. Once he had freed himself and got to his feet, I took him in. He was even less suitably clad for the weather than I was, in jeans, a thin T-shirt and the kind of jacket designer knock-off merchants would flog in the Edinburgh street markets until moved on by the police. He held a rucksack, similarly flashy and cheap, clutched in one hand.

“What’s your name?”

He lifted his free hand to shield his eyes. Distantly I noted that they were an odd shade of blue, almost violet in this light, their pupils constricted. He would have been handsome if he didn’t look near starved.

His frightened face became defiant. “Sean Connery.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. My studies in linguistics had given me a keen ear for accents, and I recognised his. Not Glasgow and not Islands. Something in between, from the long, deprived, desolate stretch of villages and towns along the road from Larkhall. His trashy outfit went well with that. You couldn’t reverse the trend, could you? You could force economic migrants off the land and into the cities, but when the cities failed them, they couldn’t go back to their farms. The farms were gone. It was a one-way system, and it dumped lads like this into suburbs, concrete-poured hovels like Newhall and Borough Mills, jobless and hopeless. There but for the grace of God…

“Your real name,” I said, less harshly. “You owe me that much.”

“Cameron.” That sounded real. For a second I thought he was going to hand me a second one too, but then he blushed angrily and looked down at his wet, muddy trainers. “Just Cameron, all right?”

“All right. For now.”

“Are you going to call the police?”

It hadn’t occurred to me. For one thing, I’d left my mobile upstairs by the bed. “In good time. We fix our own problems round here.” His eyes widened, and I replayed my words. Yes, I sounded threatening. A nutcase wielding private justice with a gun. Well, if he was frightened, so much the better. “You can start by picking up your feckless bloody lamb and putting it down by that othaisg in the corner.”

“By the what?”

“The…” I shook my head to clear it of Scotch mist. I was getting really frayed if I was dropping into Gaelic. It was Harry’s native tongue, not mine. “The sheep. The ewe. Put the lamb down beside her and give her a prod to make her get up. She’s meant to be feeding it.”

I watched while he clumsily did as he was told. The ewe lurched to her feet, and the lamb got the idea and went to work, butting her udder, absurd little tail beginning a satisfied swing.

“Doesn’t that happen automatically? The feeding thing?”

“It’s an orphan. It still smells strange to her. It’s a good sign that it’s sucking now, but of course it might still die from the cold wind blasting through the windows you broke. Did that occur to you?”

“No. I didn’t know there were animals in here. I…”

“It’s a farm. You might have hazarded a guess.”

“I’ve never set foot on a farm till tonight. I’m sorry about the windows, okay?”

“That’s all right. You’re going to fix them. You see those empty sacks over there? Take those and fold them up to fit the frames. There’s tacks and a hammer in the toolbox by the door.”

“Okay.” He glanced around. I saw the nervous twitch of his Adam’s apple in his skinny throat. “Have you got any plastic? Sheeting, or a plastic bag?”

“The wind’ll tear it to shreds. Use the sacks.”

“I meant… Wrap it round the folded-up sacks. That way you insulate and waterproof it.”

I stared at him. I wasn’t practical, I knew. Born and bred among farmers, I’d learned the basics of my trade, but I’d been like a seal on the rocks—awkward, everything always an effort. Going to uni had been my ocean dive. I’d found my element. And now here I was on the rocks again, missing the obvious. “Okay. Empty that feedbag into the bin. You can tear that up. Pull the hayloft ladder over so you can reach.”

He worked well for a displaced townie, doing at least as good a job as I would have myself. He only banged his thumb with the hammer once, and he took that quietly, exhaling and briefly clenching his fist. I was glad he had his back to me and couldn’t see how I’d winced for him. That wouldn’t have gone at all with the business of holding him at gunpoint.

“Right,” I said when the windows were sealed. “That’ll do.”

“Are you going to use it, then?”

He was still poised on the ladder, his peculiar blue-violet gaze now calm. It was disconcerting to be at its focus. I said, stupidly, “What?”

“That bloody great Uzi you’ve got trained on me.”

I wanted to tell him it wasn’t mine. Nothing to do with me—that beyond the necessities of pest control, I’d never hurt a living thing in my life. I was starting to feel sick in the wake of my adrenaline surge, and very cold. “I don’t know.”

“I didn’t come here to rob you. Just to take shelter.”

“You expect me to believe that? Half a dozen farms round here have been ripped off lately.”

“What for?”

“Equipment mostly. Tools, chain saws, quad bikes if they can get ’em. Or just scrap metal. The deeper the recession bites, the more that’s worth, and…” I shivered, looking off into the dark where the broken hulks of our tractors, ploughs and harvesters lay rusting. “And that’s all I’ve got. Sheep and scrap metal. You broke into the wrong barn.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “Ah, come off it. You lot are always pleading poverty, aren’t you?”

“Us lot?”

“Farmers. Then the government gives you a great big handout and you’re tanking around in your Range Rovers again.”

“Right. You think it’s okay to rob a farmer because we’re all rich.”

“I didn’t say that. I—”

“Come down off that bloody ladder. I’ll show you how rich this one is.”

I marched him out of the barn and back across the yard. When he hesitated in the howling, wet darkness, I gave him a prod in the back with the gun and almost threw up at the savagery of my action. When he moved on, he did so with raised hands. He was thin and defenceless. If he’d knocked on my door for shelter that night, I’d have taken him in. I wouldn’t have turned away a dog. But something inside me was breaking, some rope trying to snap. I was seriously afraid I would shoot him. He found the back porch by bumping into it.

“It’s not locked,” I growled at him. “Open the door.”

It was colder inside than out. In summer that had always been such a blessing, I remembered. We’d work all day in a harvest blaze, me and Alistair, come home and step into mushroom-cool shadows, tender on sunburnt skin. It was how the old Arran farms had been built, to keep men, milk and cheese fresh and sweet in summer, and in the winter…

In the winter, if you didn’t tend their fires, they died.

“Go straight down the passage. Into the kitchen.”

The room stood stark and empty. I flicked a switch, and dusty yellow lights came on, the low-wattage bulbs Harry thought would save him money and wouldn’t let me replace.

I stood behind Cameron. I was shivering properly now. “This is where I live.”

He looked around. I followed his gaze, seeing the place myself as if I’d been a stranger. Big slate flagstones, old as the foundations. A massive oak table, supported at one end by crates. We’d called the room a kitchen but everything had happened here—meals, disciplinary actions, years of homework. My ma, a farmer’s wife at heart, although she’d only had the briefest benefit of a husband, had liked to keep her two front parlours spotless, smelling of polish and disuse. She, Harry, the farmhands, Alistair and me, we’d all piled in and out of here for everything. In the midst of all that chaos, I’d never seen how barren the place was. There was a threadbare rug, a huge cupboard Harry called a preas filled with cracked and broken china. The sink—more of a trough, ancient white ceramic—had been installed in the 1880s and not touched since. We still drew water into it from the old lead pump. Cobwebs drifted from the ceiling pan rack, stirring in the draught.

“Why is it so cold?”

“Oil went up fifty percent last year. Coal’s the same.”

“Are you all on your own here?”

“No. I’ve got…family upstairs. Brothers. If they’d found you out there, they’d have shot you where you stood.”

Cameron took a few steps farther into the room. I didn’t try to stop him. He pushed his hands into his pockets and lowered his head. Then he turned round to face me. “But you won’t.”

Something about the colour of his eyes, the tired patience in them, made it hard for me to think. “I won’t what?”

“You won’t shoot me. What’s your name?”

“Nichol. Nichol Seacliff.”

“Nichol…as in Nickelback? Er, like the group, you know—a dollar and your nickel back?”

“No.” My aim on him was trembling. The bloody rifle seemed to weigh a ton. My vision kept blurring then returning to painful, bitter clarity. “Nichol with a soft C-H, like loch, as in…” I cast around for a strong enough analogy. “As in I’ll take you out to ours and drown you if you ever mention that band in this house again.”

He smiled. It transformed him. He took two fearless steps forward, laid his hand on the snout of the rifle and gently bore it down. “Aye,” he said. “They are pretty sh**e. You’re not going to use this gun on me, Nichol Seacliff.”

“No.” I stepped back from him until I encountered the edge of the table, then I blindly swung the rifle aside and set it down. I pulled out a chair and sank into it. “I hate the f**king thing.” I buried my face in my hands.

I’d been running on three hours’ sleep a night since the lambing began. Before that I’d worked through a stinking bout of flu. And before that… I couldn’t even remember before that, the year that had whirled and crawled and racketed by since I’d got the message from the dean of my college to come and speak to him in his office, and I’d gone down whistling and pulled up short at the sight of the policeman standing by the dean’s desk. My brain was ready to shut down at the least excuse. The temporary darkness behind my hands would do. I closed my eyes and drifted.

A familiar scent reached me. There had been familiar noises too so ordinary that I’d failed to take them in. A rattle of crockery, the kettle’s rumble and click. Slowly I lifted my head and straightened. Cameron was standing in front of me, at cautious distance, holding out a steaming mug. “Nichol. Here.”

My burglar had made me a cup of tea. I accepted it on reflex. The mug was so warm, and my hands so cold, that it didn’t feel as if we belonged in the same universe. “Thanks,” I said weakly. “Er… Are you having one yourself?”

“No. I just wanted to give that to you. You looked like you were going to faint or something.”

“I’m fine. Just tired.”

“I’m sorry I broke into your barn, okay? And sorry for what I said about rich farmers. Look—if you’re okay, and you’re really not gonna shoot me or turn me in, I’ll be on my way.”

I tried a mouthful of the tea. I was surprised to find I did take sugar, at one o’clock on a freezing morning anyway. The jolt of it restarted my thinking processes. “Hang on,” I said, pushing the rifle a bit farther away from me so he’d know that wasn’t part of our dealings anymore. “If you didn’t break in to steal anything…”

“I told you. I needed shelter.”

“This farm’s three miles away from—well, anything at all, in all directions. You could’ve sheltered in the bus station at Brodick.”

He let go a soft breath. His rucksack was over his shoulder once more, one hand clenching anxiously at the strap. They were nice hands, I thought, watching him over the rim of the mug. Finely made but strong. I could see my rescued lamb’s attraction to his fingers.

“I lied to you,” he said. “I needed somewhere to hide.”

Oh, s**t. I looked him over again. There was a lively trade in crack along that western route from Glasgow. Occasionally it spilled over onto the island in the form of a runaway junkie with a pissed-off pusher on his tail. My visitor was painfully thin. There were shadows under his eyes.

“Sorry,” I said. “You chose the wrong farm for that too. A stranger stands out like a purple cow around here. You wouldn’t last five minutes.”

“Yeah. It was stupid. I’ll let myself out.”

“Hang on a second.” I pushed stiffly onto my feet. “I’m just going upstairs. Stay here.”

He was more or less my size, minus a couple of stone. In my room, I crouched by my linen chest and moved things around until I found a T-shirt and thick woollen jersey, both clean and warm but generic enough not to attract notice. A pair of grey sweatpants as well, and a blanket. That would do.

In the kitchen, he was waiting in the exact spot where I’d left him. He watched me, his face a blank of confusion, while I walked up to him and put the clothes and the blanket into his arms.

“What are you doing?”

“Go back to the barn. You’ll probably be warmer there than in this bloody freezer anyway. Get changed before you catch your death. You can keep the clothes.”


“Leave the blanket somewhere my brothers won’t see it if they’re up first,” I said. “Make sure you’re gone long before then.” He was still staring at me in astonishment. I turned him round by the shoulders. He didn’t resist as I steered him down the corridor towards the door. “And don’t come back. There’s enough trouble here without you bringing any more down on us.”

I unlocked the door and pulled it wide. The expected blast of cold wind didn’t happen. When I looked past Cameron’s shoulder, I saw that the rain had stopped. It was the first time it had let up in three days. If I wasn’t mistaken, patchy starlight was appearing between the rags of clouds. I drew a breath to point this out, though why I thought a fugitive junkie would have been interested, I had no idea.

It didn’t matter. He was gone. I hadn’t seen him slip away, and the barnyard, as far as I could see in its shadows, was empty.

A great tide of weariness took me. I stepped back inside and closed the door. The lock was awkward—I gave the keys their usual turn and a half but wasn’t sure if it had worked. I couldn’t bring myself to worry about it. I’d been worn to the bone before, but this was different. It had a heavy peace in it like honey, and I couldn’t fight it back.

I dragged myself upstairs, hanging on tight to the banister at every step. I felt warm for the first time in weeks. Probably I was in end-stage hypothermia. That possibility couldn’t shake me either. I got to my room and closed the door behind me. Yes, the skies were clearing. A pale patch of February moonlight lay across my bed. At some point I’d remembered to take my muddy boots off. That was good. That would do.

Surrendering, I crawled beneath the quilt, rolled onto my stomach and slept.

Once Upon a Haunted Moor
It was dark by the time they reached the house, and Gideon was beginning to regret his impulse of hospitality. It wasn’t that Tyack had said or done anything to annoy him on the way back – fact he’d sat silently, eyes fixed on the road ahead – but what was Gideon meant to do with him all night? He could hardly run him into Bodmin to see a film or sit cosily with him in the village’s one excuse for a restaurant. The house, when he pulled open the stiff old door, didn’t help any – simply exhaled at him its air of chilly neglect. He supposed he was ashamed: his home wasn’t fit for a visitor, and nor was he...

“What the bloody hell did this?”

Gideon stopped in the hall. Tyack was motionless in the doorway, one finger pressed to the paintwork. It had still been dark when Gideon had left that morning. Either because of that or because he hadn’t wanted to, he hadn’t seen the mark. It was a deep scratch. It ran from the lintel to within two feet of the ground. It gave Gideon the coldest, most miserable sensation he’d ever experienced, as if some vile fairy story he’d been told as a child had turned out to be true. He couldn’t bear to think about it. “Kids. Twigs. I don’t know.” He stamped off into the living room. “I’m sorry the place is so perishing cold. The stove’s awkward, and if I’m not around to – ”

“My one at home is like this. I’ll have a go at it.”

“Er... right. I’ll fix us a drink if you like. I’ll stick a pizza in the oven.”


Gideon left him crouched in front of the stove. Halfway to the kitchen he remembered that he’d never called the Truro HQ to check Tyack’s credentials, and he quietly let himself into the study and unhooked the landline phone.

When he emerged, his visitor was sitting on the granite hearth, and the room was full of dancing firelight. “Wow. What did you do?”

“Some damp moss was blocking the flue. I got it down.” Tyack looked up at him mildly. The dog had taken up position on the far side of the stove, and between them they looked like a pair of guardian deities in a Roman temple. “I’m not here to step on your toes, Gideon. The Truro police just honestly thought it might be worth a shot to send me here. I’ve had a bit of luck in cases like this before.”

There was no way Tyack could have heard his phone conversation from here, or even from outside the thick study door. Gideon wanted to snarl at him. You’ve had damn-all luck so far, haven’t you, unless you count wasting three hours of police time up a godforsaken hill... But that was a mote in his neighbour’s eye, and the beam in his own was killing him. He made his way blindly to a hearthside chair and sat down. “I’ve been screwing this up. I’m just a village copper, Mr Tyack – pub brawls and lost sheep.

“It’s Lee. And – they’ve sent CID men out here, haven’t they? Search-and-rescue specialists. They haven’t found her either.”

Gideon propped his elbows on his knees. He wanted the comfort of this thought, but he couldn’t allow it to himself. “I’ve been good at my job until now. But I’ve started buggering up ordinary things. Paperwork, letting Ross Jones get away with his marijuana crop. I’ve... panicked, I suppose. What if this never ends? What if they never find her?”

Tyack’s hand closed on his shoulder. “Sometimes they aren’t found.”
“Christ. I don’t think I could bear that.” Gideon kept his head down. For Tyack – Lee, his mind easily corrected him, just as he’d substituted Isolde for Kye – for Lee to be touching him like this, he must be kneeling close. Right at Gideon’s feet. “Why am I telling you all this?”

“People do tell me things. Shall I get those drinks?”

“Okay. They’re in the ...”

“Sideboard, second cupboard on the left. That’s not a psychic thing – you left the door open.”

“Oh, God.” Gideon tried to rub away the remembered feel of Lee’s grasp. “I hardly touch the stuff, except...”

“Except this last week or so. And that’s not a Gideon thing, is it?”

Gideon wanted to argue. Nobody but James had had any right to know what his things were, and James had declined the pleasure. But the fact was that he’d started to combat the long nights of Lorna Kemp’s absence with a tumbler or three of scotch. He watched while Lee took out a pair of shot glasses instead, and poured them a measure each. The drink looked civilised like that somehow, companionable and sufficient. Lee handed him his glass his silence and began to look around the room, as if giving Gideon time to compose himself. He stopped in front of a photograph. “These are the Methodist parents?”
“Grandparents, actually. We come from a long line. That’s my mum and dad in the picture to the left, the one with Dark Old Chapel in the background.

“This house feels like theirs, not yours.”

The photos were the room’s sole decor. Pastor Frayne hadn’t been a harsh man – he just hadn’t seen the use of earthly comforts. “It is. I had a flat in the village, but... my father got Alzheimer’s, and they’re both living in care.” Gideon knocked his scotch back. “My ma says it’s God’s will.”

“And do you think so too?”

Gideon hesitated. He was bright enough, he knew, but his circumstances hadn’t favoured independent thought. It had taken him a long, hard time to work some things out for himself, and he wasn’t finished. When he considered this, though, he found that he was certain. “No. I think it’s a miserable, pointless disease that needs to be cured.”

“So... between these godfearing parents of yours, and being part of a police force that’s two decades behind the rest of the country in its attitudes – ”

“Don’t.” Gideon cut him off sharply. “Look – for what it’s worth, you seem like a decent guy. But...”

“But you’re getting tired of having your brains picked, and you reckon it’s only fair that I tell you some stuff in return.”

Gideon repressed a smile at the irony: Lee had fished that thought up so neatly that it might as well be flapping and wet on the hearthrug. “Something like that, maybe.”

“Fair enough. What do you want to know?”

Do you have a boyfriend? Gideon clamped his mouth shut. What the hell was the matter with him? Lee had returned to sit by the fire. He’d wrapped his arms around his knees and his skin was glowing amber in the uncertain light. Clearly he spent at least as much time on the boats as in parlours reading fortunes, and Gideon had had a lonely untouched year of it, but still... “Does it always hurt?” he asked suddenly. “When you have a – a vision, or whatever you call them?”

Cold Fusion
Chapter One
The Norwegian captain was testing the edge of the storm, and so was I. The waters in the fjord were still smooth. I laid one hand on the gently rocking rail of the Sea Hawk, and I watched through binoculars as he paced the deck, gesturing to his crew. I didn’t need to be able to hear him. His concerns were the same as mine. Beyond the mist-draped cliffs where the fjord became open sea, the sky was pure Arctic fury. Uneasy sunlight still lay on both our decks.

A strange brotherhood, in the teeth of such bitter enmity. He looked ordinary. The captain of the last boat had turned out to be a paramedic, for God’s sake, taking seasonal work during the summer months of the hunt. That hadn’t done us much good in the press. At least this guy looked like a professional, and his vessel was a decent one, not a rusty fifteen-yarder barely twice the length of its prey. That was what I wanted—a hard-faced hunter, a ship three times my own size to pick on, and one last kamikaze run.

“He knows we’re here, Mallory.”

I lowered the binoculars. I didn’t turn. The warmth at my back was too delicious for that, palpable even through a fisherman’s sweater and waterproofs. “I know. I’m not hiding anymore. This is it.”

“There’s a storm coming.”

“He knows that too. Why isn’t he running for cover in the fjord?”

“He must have his eye on something. But he’s bigger than we are—he can afford to outstay his welcome.”

Now I did turn. Alan didn’t budge, forcing me nose to nose with him. He was six foot two of thickset Dorset farmer, and if the heat of him had been distracting against my spine, like this he was almost enough to make me forget my whole business out here today and drag him back down to my bunk. He’d found his sea legs quickly after joining the Hawk, in the intervals of wrapping mine around his neck. I’d been born to the water, though, and I could raise ten years of fishing off the north coast of Scotland to his landsman’s common sense. “It’s just a summer squall. We can ride it.”

“What about the RIBs?”

I squinted through the copper veils of sunlight at the two little crafts hanging ready in their cradles. They hardly qualified as rigid inflatables—more like tough dinghies with an outboard motor. But they were the best we’d been able to afford, racy and manoeuvrable. “They’ll do. You and Sarah will keep the Hawk close to them.”

“Sarah doesn’t think this is a good idea either.”

I hadn’t realised my idea had spread to the crew. Sarah was our pilot and would have to know soon enough, but so far I’d only discussed my plans with Alan. “I asked you to keep quiet about it.”

“Yeah, you did.” He shrugged and grinned down into my face, edging his hips against mine. “Since when did we keep secrets aboard this rust bucket?”

We didn’t. We shared cabins in pairs but the walls were thin, and the recent developments in my relationship with Alan were certainly public knowledge by now. I was the nominal leader for this expedition, but the Sea Hawk and the Peace Warrior network she belonged to were strictly nonhierarchical. We discussed everything.

“Look,” I said, wriggling aside before my wrecking ball of a lover could give me an erection. “I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull this off. I still don’t know, with the weather closing in like this, and there was no point in getting everyone edgy until we were in position.”

“We’re in position now.”

Damn. Every word from that clever, shapely mouth sounded sexy. He was blinding me more brightly than the sun. “All right, all right. Is Mike still in the crow’s nest?”

“Yep. Keeping a sharp eye on theirs.”

“Good. Do me a favour and get everyone else up here.”

* * * * *

I surveyed my crew. They were mine, I supposed, for the duration of this voyage anyway. I was proud of that. Command of twelve souls and a forty-year-old ex-trawler wasn’t much to boast of in the grand scheme of things, but it was more than I’d ever expected from life. This time last year I’d been gutting codfish in the hold of my dad’s fishing smack off North Kerra, getting bellowed at for working too slowly even while he bemoaned our tiny catch. He’d called me useless so often I’d started to believe it.

Well, I was useful out here. I’d made runs into the Arctic Circle with four Peace Warrior missions now, helping cause such levels of sabotage and havoc among the whaling ships that even Greenpeace had drawn back its skirts from us, making international press statements to disassociate their activities from ours. It was quite something for an environmental group to have pissed off Greenpeace.

The Hawk felt more like home to me now than Kerra village. I leaned my back against the prow rail, breathing the salt fret and blinking against the fine sharp rain now beating in on the wind. Ahead of me, the painted logo on our wheelhouse glimmered like inspiration. We’d taken the Greenpeace dove and adapted it for our own purposes. Now she was a bird of prey, wings outstretched protectively and a set of fierce talons ready to tackle business down below. This time last year I’d never have had the nerve to address a dozen hardened activists.

Now I just began. “Thanks for coming up. That’s the Halmøya over there. She’s Skatvik’s foremost whaling ship, and I reckon she’s making her last run of the summer. It’s got to be a big one, or she wouldn’t be risking hanging about here in the storm.”

Alice Maguire, our photographer and on-board journalist, shoved her hands into her pockets. “I don’t understand why the hell we are.”

My leadership was definitely nominal. Open to question from everyone, and that was a good thing. Alice was a good kid who’d followed me all the way out from North Kerra to be here. I still wanted to tell her to shut the hell up and listen. “I’ve tried to keep out of her sight until now. I don’t want this to end with us getting towed back to harbour by the Skatvik marine police. It’s too late for them to get to us now, and I’m hoping…” I paused, because this next part was bollocks, and I hadn’t learned to be much of a liar so far. “I’m hoping now the Halmøya knows we’re here, they’ll back off and go home.”

A chorus of snorts and chuckles arose from the group in front of me. Alan had joined them. His gaze was cynical and amused. “What Cap’n Mallory means is, he hopes they’ll start a harpooning run, so he can pull the stunt of a lifetime.”

I shook my head. “Not a stunt.” I’d taken my fair part in the sabotage and madness. I’d personally helped deliver a ripe whale carcase to the front garden of the Norwegian environment minister. That didn’t mean I wanted Peace Warrior to remain the bad boy of the oceans forever. “If we do this right, I guarantee us a worldwide media hit without breaking or damaging a thing. I’m pretty sure they’re waiting for a pod of minke to surface over there. If they go for it, I want Alice and Oskar to head out towards them in one of the RIBs, and—”

“And what will you be doing in the other one, Mal?”

I fought not to look away. A question from Oskar had to be taken seriously. He was our cameraman, a native Norwegian who’d worked hard and quietly to show the world what his country was doing. “It sounds dramatic, but it isn’t. It’ll just look good on film. I’m gonna take the second RIB and get between the whales and the Halmøya. If I can time it right, and you and Alice can get the right angle on it, it’ll look like their harpoon gunner’s chasing me.”

There. I’d played my card. Normally the Sea Hawk only dogged the whaling ships, tried to reach the pods ahead of them and scare the creatures off, or failing that, hung around to get footage of the gory results of a catch. To my surprise, Alice’s brow cleared. “That’s actually quite a decent idea.”

Oskar grunted. “Sounds bloody insane to me.”

“Think about it,” Alice insisted. “Huge whale ship with harpoon threatens tiny protestor. David-and-Goliath situation. Yeah, I can see it—that’ll go viral, no problem at all.”

A wave rocked the Hawk, and everyone steadied themselves. All this would be academic if the whalers lost track of the minkes’ vapour spouts in rough water.

“I know what Mal’s trying to do,” Alan said, taking a step out of the group and turning to face them. “And sure, it’s a cool scenario. But I’m not sure the RIBs will handle it in this weather. I think we should call it quits for today.”

Irritation flared in me. I guessed spending last night on top of me didn’t mean Alan was going to be on my side today. Alice had painted a brighter picture of my intentions even than I’d formed for myself. It would be a hell of a coup, and suddenly Alan’s resistance made me want it more than ever.

“You know I wouldn’t put a boat into unsafe water.” I didn’t add that I’d been out fishing the North Atlantic while he was still polishing his Montblanc at his fancy boarding school. “We’ll have it rough for about ten minutes, but then it’ll pass. Seriously, everyone, this is a great chance. Only our hardcore supporters can sit through a kill video. Everyone else turns away. We need to pull new people in with a bit of excitement and action, a heroic dash, and—”

“And you’re just the hero for the job?”

I ran a hand into my hair, forgetting about my watch cap, which promptly tried to take flight in the wind. I snatched it back hard. What the hell was wrong with Alan today? His smile was now definitely mocking.

“Not at all. But I’m the only man on this boat who can run a RIB across that whaler’s prow fast enough to do this. Unless I’ve got any other volunteers.”

“Nobody’s questioning your skills, Mal,” Oskar rumbled. “I just don’t think the Halmøya’s going to be able to see the pod for much longer in this weather, let alone—”

“Mallory! They’ve sighted!”

Everyone looked sharply up. High in the crow’s nest, Mike was waving frantically. I pushed through oilskin-clad bodies to the starboard rail. Christ, yes—the Halmøya was in motion, beginning to churn up water with her props astern. Their gunner was scrambling for his station at the harpoon—a rusty, dirty old bitch, but powerful. Long-range, armed with a grenade. That would do fine.

When had my plans become a white-hot determination to pull this off at all costs? I couldn’t spare a second to think about it. I whipped back to face my crew. “Oskar. Alice. Will you do it?”

Alice spread her hands, resplendent as always in fingerless Icelandic mitts. “Anything for you, Mal, but we need to think this through. I don’t even know where you want Oskar to shoot from.”

“There’s no time.” I glanced to the deckhands. “Guys, go lower the RIBs. All you have to do is follow me, Alice, then veer off at my signal and stay at whatever distance Oskar needs to get the footage. The closer the better, of course. So?”

“So,” Oskar echoed, shrugging, and I knew I’d won my point. I clapped Oskar on the back and dragged Alice in with my other arm for a rough hug. I’d dreamed of a day like this, when instead of watching the planet go to hell in a human-made handbasket I would be able to do something about it. I wished my dad could see me. Well, he probably would, if he could squint through the booze mists for long enough to watch a YouTube clip. Alan stepped aside to let me go, and I ran for the starboard-side RIB.

* * * * *

The salt wind hit my face, forcing my lungs open to receive it. I always forgot between times the rush and the impact of driving the RIBs. The first seconds—gunning the motor, fighting the lift of the prow and surging forward—always shook half-strangled laughter from me. North Kerra and my father could be damned at that point, chopped up in my props and left far behind.

I had the run of a lifetime ahead of me now. The Halmøya was powering westward, up to her top speed of eighteen knots. My outboard would give me nearly twice that, but a quarter-mile stretch of heaving water lay between me and the sweet spot I wanted. I hit the first wave crest, and my seat in the prow bucked up to crack me in the arse. This boat had no harness, and I wouldn’t have stopped to fasten one anyway. I shifted the outboard to make the RIB a blade to slice the water rather than a big, flat wedge. Yes, there she was, malleable and quick in my hands. I could do anything now. Behind me I caught a fractured roar, which meant Alice and Oskar were doing it too.

I had no time to look. I trusted them to stay close and follow my signal. Alice was almost as good a sailor as I was, and Oskar would be planted like a rock, his camera wedged against his shoulder. I sent the RIB tearing round in a sweeping arc that carried her clear of the Halmøya’s wake. Outraged shouting clattered in the air. I couldn’t stop a yell of excitement—if I was close enough to hear myself being sworn at in Norwegian, I was almost there. I hung on to the wheel and squeezed one more burst from the motor. I had to get ahead. Had to transform the Halmøya from a sheer grey wall beside me to a plunging, slicing presence at my stern. I was hitting a headwind, and the motor howled. That didn’t matter. The wall was retreating, falling away. I got a little distance, then more and more, and finally it was enough. I gestured wildly to Alice in the boat behind—drop back, drop back—and charged across the whaling vessel’s prow.

The squall hit. I’d been right. It was only a baby, God and the ocean having some fun. Beyond it I could see blue skies already, and I wasn’t worried about being caught in its swatting wind-and-water paws. The RIB was lurching, clearing empty air beneath her hull with every smack of the waves, but she was holding speed. At last I snatched a look behind me.

Perfect. God, perfect. I was dangerously close to the whaler, and even if she’d been inclined to haul back and give me seaway, she was too cumbersome to do it fast. Dipping and rocking barely twenty yards behind my right shoulder I could see the V of her nose tip, her harpoon and her gunner cut out in flashing black shapes against the sky. If Oskar was filming now, he was seeing what the world would see—the whaling industry stripped of all its reasons and excuses, nothing but a spring-loaded cannon harpoon bearing down on an undefended sailor.

So much for that. I’d done what I wanted. Thirty seconds was all we would need. Beyond me lay sunlit blue water.

I hadn’t looked there yet. I hadn’t dared. Minke whales didn’t breach often, but they too had enjoyed their game with God and the baby storm. I hadn’t wanted to look and see the joyous flare of leaping bodies in the sun.

I didn’t want to act out of pity or love. That was too f**king hard. It would crush me. I’d tried it that way, and all I’d done was throw up and weep for most of my first voyage with the Hawk—they’d wanted to send me home. I’d been packing my rucksack when the rage had hit, a hot wire of connection between here and now and the miserable reception I’d get from my dad when I crawled back to Kerra a failure. I’d taken that fury and let it burn. Since then I’d barely thought about the whales at all. Just the whalers and what I’d do to stop them.

Anything, anything. I slowed up a little. The Halmøya was trying to heave to, a last-ditch evasive manoeuvre that would probably drown me in her wake. I’d fulfilled my mission. The minke were moving out fast, one last gleam of a fluke catching my eye as I turned. All I had to do was get back to the Hawk with Oskar and Alice and clear us all out of here before the Norwegian captain came in search of payback. The tail end of the squall was passing over us now, battering my face with icy rain. The stretch of water dividing me from home was smooth, only pitted by the downpour’s billion dancing feet.

I wiped the rain from my eyes. It looked as though the Sea Hawk was coming towards me. Through the lowered roar of the RIB’s motor I could hear hers, her throaty trawler’s boom. She wasn’t meant to come and get me. No, no. I tried to signal to Sarah, her bright hair now visible in the wheelhouse. The Hawk had to stay where she was, ready to winch the launches back up and give us our clean getaway.

I signalled once more, and Sarah pointed. I thought she was trying to draw my attention to the other RIB, and I looked round, afraid that Oskar hadn’t got his footage and wanted me to make another run, as if I could magic the minke pod back out of the ocean, reset us all to our starting positions for an opportunity that would never come again. But when I surveyed the rainswept seascape between the whaler and the Hawk, there was no sign of the second RIB at all.

* * * * *

“Mallory. Mallory! Stop fighting. Let me get you on board.”

I wasn’t fighting. I just didn’t want the down-stretched arms in their bright waterproofs to interrupt my search. I’d driven the RIB straight back to the place where I’d signalled Alice to stop. All my seamanship had deserted me, and I’d skimmed the Halmøya’s hull by a cat’s whisker. I’d got away with it, but her bow wave had swamped me, knocking me clean out of the RIB and into the fjord’s churning water.

That was fine. If Alice and Oskar had gone down here, here was where I would find them. If they were in the water, so was I. A wave smacked me hard in the face, sending me under, out of reach of those starfish hands from the world above. I didn’t mind that either. If my crew were under the water…

No. They were both strong swimmers. If they’d capsized or had to ditch, their life jackets would have popped them to the surface like corks anyway. Mine would do the same thing any second.

If I’d taken the time to put one on. If I’d given them time.

My mouth cracked open in protest. Someone would have stopped me. Alice and Oskar would have had more brains than to obey a nutcase activist going off half-cocked because he thought he could save the planet on his own.

Och, save the planet my arse, my father said in my ear, his voice thick with Cutty Sark. The planet’ll be here long after you twats have finished buggering around with it. You only want to save yourselves.

I didn’t. The water filled my open mouth, and I breathed it. I wanted to save the minkes and orcas and sperm whales and blues. Dolphins and porpoises and every other creature at least as bright as I was, everything in these oceans that squeaked and clicked an unknown language or sang vast ultrasound symphonies across the globe. Most particularly I wanted to save my crew. Something seized my collar at the back of my neck, and I twisted round savagely, lashing out to be rid of the grip.

“Jesus f**king Christ, Mallory!”

I stared up through scarlet streaks at Alan Frost. He had me in a meaty farmer’s grip. My lungs were full of seawater, and I couldn’t speak or begin the choking reaction that would save my life. He hoisted me like a sheep out of the dipping tub. Other hands went into my armpits on either side and dragged me up and over the gunwales.

They must have recovered the RIB I’d capsized. As I slithered onto the deck, I saw in a tumbling flash the Sea Hawk, at anchor about fifty yards away. My RIB’s motor was silent, but I could hear another one in the distance. That prompted me to shove up onto my elbows and cough until I could speak. “Alice! Oskar! Where…? Where are they?”

Alan thumped me between the shoulders. “They went down.”

“No. I can hear their boat.”

“That’s the launch from the Halmøya. They’re helping us search.”

I struggled over onto my back. I grabbed Alan by the front of his expensive windcheater. “They went down? How?”

“How do you think? Little boat, big sea. No f**king life jackets. I told you not to do this, Mal.”

I couldn’t drag my eyes off him. What did I think—if I held his stone-grey gaze for long enough, his words would start to mean something different? That I could get him to tell me something else? He wasn’t holding me. I was holding myself up by my grip on him. His hands were braced to the deck, as if he disdained to touch the thing I’d become.

Someone in the background said, “Don’t be so hard on him, Alan.” The words bounced in and out of my mind like seagull cries, but his face changed.

“All right,” he said roughly, reaching down for me. “You’re hypothermic. Come here.”

“Water’s not that cold.”

“No, but you were in it for nearly ten minutes before we tracked you down. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

I resisted. I didn’t deserve shelter, and I didn’t want a f**king pity hug. I wanted to be back in the water, diving down and down to wherever my crewmates had gone. I was confusedly sure I could still find them, if only Alan would let me go. I made one last-ditch effort to jerk to the side and escape, and he seized me and fetched me a slap across the face that broke up my world into shattered-mirror stars. I stopped trying to climb overboard and instead lay down on the RIB’s rubber deck. It stank, but its black confines expanded and ran into the gaps between the fragments, and the glittering dark folded over me and ate me whole.

* * * * *

I lay in my bunk aboard the Sea Hawk. I was warm now, but everything seemed very far away, or maybe I was. I didn’t mind that Sarah was fussing over me with blankets. She was our medical officer as well as our pilot. With a tiny crew like this, most people had to double up on jobs. Oskar had been a fully trained navigator as well as our cameraman, and Alice…

Alice had just been a sweet girl from Kerra, a couple of years behind me in school, a rebel who’d made me and the Peace Warrior mission her cause. Pain struck me so hard in the chest that I wondered if the Halmøya’s gunner hadn’t hit me after all, and I tried to sit up, groaning.

Sarah pushed me back. “Lie still. You’ve got to let the blood come back to your extremities slowly.” She glanced over her shoulder. “He’ll be all right. But go easy on him, okay?”

She squeezed her way out between two burly figures in the doorway. A tang of fish, oilskins and outdoors filled the cabin as the two men entered. Someone had stripped me of all my protective layers, and I felt like a child during a doctor’s visit, cowering under the bedclothes in my underwear. I blinked away salty grit and recognised Alan, who avoided my eyes and went to lean on the far wall, folding his arms. My other visitor was the Norwegian captain. He glanced at the foot of the bunk, said gruffly, “I may?” and sat down heavily before I could reply.

You could’ve cut the silence with a flensing knife. The captain didn’t seem troubled by it. He took off his cap to reveal close-cropped grey hair. Eventually he seemed to choose a spot in midair to address. “Lars Folstad of the Halmøya. My crew have searched the area where your boat’s RIB went down. There is no sign of wreckage or survivors.” He tapped his cap off one knee. His English was heavily accented but a hell of a lot better than my Norwegian, and he was carefully weighing what he had to say next. “We have to assume lost at sea. I have radioed the Skatvik police, and because there have been deaths, I must explain to them that my men and my vessel were not liable for the sinking of your launch. Do you understand?”

I wasn’t sure which one of us he meant. I understood perfectly, but I couldn’t get my mouth open to tell him so. After a moment Alan cleared his throat and looked up—past me, through me. “Yes,” he said flatly. “We’ll tell the police the truth when they arrive. We were intending to get some anti-whaling footage for our campaign, and Kier Mallory ordered the RIBs to be launched during a storm.”

For a second I was distracted by hearing my first name. I hadn’t been entirely sure Alan knew it. Everyone called me Mallory or Mal. Then the sensation of being thrown under the bus caught up with me. “Alan, for God’s sake…”

Folstad cut me off with a small gesture. “For the record, I would say your RIBs were good enough to ride that storm. But inexperienced sailors, poor equipment… Is not my problem, however. All I must do is protect my crew and vessel. You admit liability?”

“It was Mallory’s fault. Yes.”

The trouble was, I’d started to love him. Otherwise none of this would have mattered to me—I’d have lain down under Sarah’s piled-up blankets and quietly died. It had taken me a lot to fight through my own barricades, months of friendship and a week or so of f**king, but I’d got there. I’d started to love Alan Frost. The pain and indignity of that made me sit up straight in the bunk and stay that way.

Folstad accorded me one long look, then turned again to Alan. “What will you do now?”

“After we’ve spoken to the police, we’ll take our vessel home. This mission’s over.”

“It isn’t.” My own voice surprised me. It was rough with the seawater I’d swallowed, painful as razor blades in my throat. I didn’t care anyway. This was just one last burst of miserable rebellion. “That’s not your decision to make.”

“Actually it is. I never made a big deal of it, Mal, but my family put up most of the funding for this trip. I don’t like the way it’s going—don’t like the direction the whole Peace Warrior movement’s taking, to tell you the truth. We’ve gone too far this time, or you have, anyway. It’s over.”

I hadn’t known about the money. I didn’t know much about Alan at all, now I came to think about it. I’d taken him at surface value, vaguely assumed our funding drifted in from the PW coffers. The sum of things I didn’t know began to gather round my bunk and bay at me like wolves. I drew my knees up, put my brow on them and covered my head with my arm. Alan made a sound of impatience or disgust, and I felt a jostling disturbance in the air as he left the cabin.

The weight on the mattress didn’t shift. There was another long silence, and then the Halmøya captain asked, “How old are you?”

I didn’t want to tell him. But presumably there were legal reasons why I should, boxes he had to fill on his report. “Twenty-five.”

“Hm. Boy.”

The blankets had slipped. I raised my head in alarm as he reached to jerk them back up. He was missing two fingers from his left hand. “Harpoon,” he explained shortly. “You would say I deserve. But in forty years at sea, I only kill beasts, not men.”

I had no words. I sat mute and immobile while he levered himself to his feet, jamming his cap back into place. If you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have said a harpoon through the heart was the least such a bastard deserved. I didn’t know what I believed now, but if there’d only been two boats left in the world—Alan Frost’s and his—I’d have been scrambling aboard the Halmøya.

Folstad shook his head. “I have four children, many grandchildren. I live in little town outside of Skatvik. I don’t excuse myself—I would not take other work, even if other work is there. This is how I best care for my family. You and I will never be friends, boy, but as the years turn, you maybe understand we’re not so different.”

He was gone. I listened to the clank of his footsteps receding up the metal stairs to the deck. The baying wolves closed in, and I sprang out of bed to avoid them, stood swaying for a moment then staggered out to follow him. I grabbed at the stairs and scaled them on all fours, bare feet slipping. “I’m nothing like you,” I yelled, but it came out as a whisper. I tried again, bursting out onto the deck, and this time managed a fractured shout. Folstad, Alan, Sarah and most of the rest of the crew—with two appalling gaps, screaming holes that could never be filled—turned to stare at me. “I’m nothing like you! We’re nothing alike. We never will be.”

My legs folded. To save myself from hitting the deck in my vest and boxer shorts, I whipped round to grab the rail. I stared down into the emerald-grey fjord waters, where one Icelandic-knit fingerless glove was drifting away.

A Midwinter Prince
The first really cruel night of winter: a skin-stinging bitterness of snow.

Laurence Fitzroy, nineteen years old, heir to a baronetcy and who knew how many acres of Suffolk countryside, stopped on the steps of the Lyceum, oblivious to the exiting crowd he was forcing to part around him. He fastened his pale silk scarf over the open neck of his shirt, wondering vaguely what had happened to the bow tie he’d impatiently ripped off during the performance. Laurie liked opera well enough, but first-night shows where his father’s only motivation for being there was the need to be seen in the best box in the house… He drew a deep breath of the lung-catching air, feeling himself wake up, become alive once more to the lights, the blistering cold, the living river of human souls parting to accommodate him. He was bored, restless, lonely.

Taxis were pulling up by the pavement, two abreast, almost blocking the thoroughfare. No sign of the limo. Charlie must have had one cigarette too many with Mrs. Gibson down in the kitchen before setting off. Laurie sighed. That wouldn’t please the old man one bit. He glanced up the Strand as if he might turn and walk in that direction instead, into the night.

Sir William Fitzroy stood on the pavement in the crowd, Laurie’s mother clasped to his side like a decorative, blank-faced doll. As Laurie watched, his great red face swung around and darkened still further with angry blood upon spotting his son hanging about on the opera house steps, looking as usual completely disoriented. He raised one meaty hand and made an unmistakable gesture. Here, boy. Now.

Laurie was not in the habit of rebellion, and now would be a stupid time to start. As for walking off into the night, wealthy or not, in real terms he had on him the price of a bus fare and one night in a B and B. Then, without further cash injections from the huge, grim-faced man waiting on the far side of the road, he was…well, he was that shape in the blankets over there, that fragile-looking piece of human flotsam huddled in the doorway to Lindley’s. Except, knowing him, he’d have let someone else steal his blankets. Laurie sighed and began to make his way across the road. His mother, frail little sparkling figure in the circle of Sir William’s arm, was looking for him anxiously too. What the hell was the hurry? There was still no sign of the sleek Daimler in which Sir William liked to be seen going home from events like this. Lesser mortals, Laurie couldn’t help but notice, had piled into their taxis and even their buses and underground train stations and made their escape by now.

The boy huddled in the blankets outside Lindley’s was asleep, his head tipped back against the concrete pillar of the doorway. He had close-cropped black hair and skin Laurie thought would be olive in daylight, though now he was painted by the lights of passing cars, the shifting spectrum of the window display. His face, passive and grave, had a sculpted foreign beauty Laurie had never seen before.

He was terribly still. Laurie noted how his own body heat had leached away in just the time it had taken him to cross the road, how he was pulling at his thin tuxedo jacket and starting to shiver. How long would he survive without shelter on the streets of London tonight?

He didn’t know if it was curiosity or fear that drew him closer. This boy was his own age, not dissimilar to him in looks and build. What were the real differences? What force dictated that Laurie would go home in a limo tonight and sleep between warm sheets, while this image in the transforming mirror remained here, abandoned in the bitter night to live or…

God, was he breathing? Slowly, barely aware of what he was doing, Laurie struggled through the last currents of the crowd, entered the doorway, and crouched beside him.

He was not more philanthropic or caring than the ordinary run of teenage boys. Up till now, his horizon had been so crowded with his own joys and pains that he’d spent little time looking past them. And this was far from the first down-and-out he had seen on the pavements outside theatres and opera halls while all around him denizens of another world—his world—glittered and burst and disappeared like bubbles from a glass of champagne. Those others had not touched him. Laurie had not yet been sufficiently human himself to accept properly that they were too. Something in the line of this boy’s smooth, exposed throat, the abandonment of one hand, which had fallen palm up out of the blankets and lay within inches of passing women’s spiked heels… “Hello,” Laurie said, uncertainly. “Are you all right?”

Brown eyes flicked wide. The open hand snapped shut like a clam, plunged inside the parka for a knife it either did not find or chose not to deploy, and emerged a second later, thrust out toward Laurie in a gesture of desperate warding off. “Please. I don’t have anything.”

“I…I know. I’m not going to hurt you.” Laurie sat back on his heels. He was trying to place the accent—not Hungarian, though not far off. Something Eastern European, rich and softly modulated. “I was just afraid you were dead.”

The boy gazed up at him. Then to Laurie’s surprise, the fear drained from his fine features, and they lit up with a wide, compelling grin. “Perhaps I am. I have never seen a city sky so full of stars. Perhaps you’re the angel of death.”

“That should bother you more than it seems to,” Laurie said, helplessly smiling back. But the boy’s attention was no longer on him. He was looking up over Laurie’s shoulder, up beyond the rooftops of the Strand. Instinctively Laurie glanced that way too.

The sounds of the midnight street faded around him. No, he had never seen a sky like this, either. Even on his family’s estate down in Suffolk, light pollution from nearby houses and farms had spun a web across the night. And in London—well, it never happened. You were lucky to catch a moonrise. Yet suddenly the tops of the buildings were bearing between them a river of light, a thousand-hued pinprick blaze that stole the breath from his lungs. “Beautiful,” he said, then recalled himself to reality. “That means it’s going to be bloody cold, doesn’t it?”

The boy returned his gaze to him. It was serene now, looking for some reason at Laurie as if he was the one in need of help, the one lost in the night. Laurie felt it like a kindly brush to his skin. The boy said quietly, “‘Oh, God, make small the old star-eaten blanket of the sky…’”

Laurie ran the words through his mind. He did know them, though he couldn’t be sure where from. “‘That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.’ Where did you learn that?”

Reaching into the pack wedged behind him in the doorway, the boy produced a dog-eared paperback book. Twentieth Century Poetry, Laurie read in the passing headlights, remembering now with embarrassment that he’d learned the lines for himself while stuck for an hour in a broken-down Tube train. Part of London Underground’s campaign to bring literature to the masses, a few well-loved verses on the trains’ walls between the ads for flights and cosmetic surgery, seemingly the only way to get it through his thick head.

“Look,” he said awkwardly after a moment. “I can’t make the sky into a blanket for you, but…” He reached into his pocket, pulled out the twenty-pound note his mother had given him for drinks and ice creams tonight, as if he had been ten years old. “Will that get you into a shelter tonight? I think you’ll freeze to death if you stay out here.”

The boy studied him, shadowed eyes fathomless. “What’s your name?”


“Some advice for you. Don’t start seeing us, Laurie. Once you do, you won’t be able to stop, and it will take you years to teach yourself to pretend again that you don’t.”

Laurie opened his mouth to reply. Before he could, a large hand descended from out of the night and grabbed him by the collar of his expensive tux. He scrambled upright, trying to make the effort look like his own, not wholly the result of his father’s grip on his scruff. On his way, he managed to drop the twenty into his new acquaintance’s lap. He did not see if the boy took it, was too involved in the effort of tearing away from Sir William’s iron clutch, turning his shove into a voluntary walk toward the limo now waiting by the pavement. It was the only way of dealing with the old man: to do what he told you and make it look like your own work. Laurie shot a glance back toward the boy, smiling in unquenched mischief. “Yours?”

“Sasha,” the boy returned quickly, like a secret thrown between them, so soft the word was almost lost in the whisper of traffic.

Seven Summer Nights
Rufus lay down flat and read as he'd used to do in childhood, the book poised just off the tip of his nose, his toes clenched on the footboard as if he would otherwise float off into deep space or Victorian England. The Reverend Thorne's house held him like a hammock, like a chrysalis, like a deep embrace from strong male arms. Night came down, and at some point of shimmering non-darkness from the summer skies, a careful hand lifted the open book off his face.


He woke in the trenches, his enemy near him. This time the hallucination didn't eat him whole: the awareness was left to him, dim and distant, that his body remained in a beautiful place, guarded and cared for and safe. Utter misery seized him. No matter where he went, he would end up here. No matter who he reached for in friendship and love, the shadow would fall. A bull in a labyrinth, a faceless Minotaur, groaning and snorting in the dark, a demon with the power to take a firelit room and fill it with mud, blood and horror.

Rufus tore the bedclothes back and lurched onto his knees. He would kill the bastard this time, that was all. He flattened his hands to the mattress and let loose a long, raw howl of desolation. It was too bloody grim that every beauty he found, every safety and sweetness, could be ruined and torn down to shit. He burst into racking sobs.

The bedroom door flew open. Rufus seized his chance. He couldn't see, but that didn't matter – who else would dare find him here in the firelit trench but his enemy? “Charles,” he roared, scrambling off the end of the bed and into the bullet-pocked hell of the earthworks behind Fort Vaux. “Stop, damn you! I won’t let you do it this time!”

He collided with flesh and bone. The devil of it was that he recognised Archie straight off, by scent and warmth and the well-restrained power that cushioned and held him even as it fended him off. “Rufus,” Archie gasped in his ear, but it was no use. The logic of flashback ate both of them whole.

They crashed together onto the bedroom floor. Rufus made a grab for the gun at Charles's belt, but the coward had hidden it somewhere, ready for the atrocious scene that always followed on from this fight. “Give it to me,” he grunted, rolling Charles over, and cried out as a huge strength lifted and rolled him in his turn, dumping him hard against the base of the wardrobe, whose scrolled and clawed feet Rufus couldn't account for here, unless the Minotaur had learned how to dance.

He lashed out wildly. The blow connected, sending a pang of exhilaration through him. He could taste his enemy's blood. Connections formed hotly in his mind: Charles was the enemy, the monster he'd been seeking through the mud-lined tunnels of his dreams since his return from the Front. Charles, his commanding officer. His brother-in-law, the sweet-natured boy he and Rosie had run with through childhood's meadows... “Charles, stop,” he begged, aiming another knockout blow at the once-beloved face. “Stop. Please.”

“I will if you will.”

He couldn't. Wherever he travelled, no matter how far he ran, this dream would compel him to hunt down the nearest likeness of the beast, the greatest threat. He twisted out from under the beast's weight – so warm, this beast, smelling of love, not death – and struggled onto his feet. The beast stood too. “Rufus, stop,” it commanded, and this time it stopped his fist in mid-air. “You're looking for the strongest man? You've found him. You've found him.

Rufus woke up. The mud and blood dried to thin, brittle shells on his skin and fell away. The trench burst wide open to dawn light. Archie was holding him, not Charles – Archie in rumpled dressing gown and brightly patterned pyjamas, staring down at him, such a blaze of passion and pity that Rufus would have fallen in love with him right then, if he hadn't already dropped and dived and lost that battle somewhere among the Droyton lanes. “Archie,” he whispered, lifting a shaking hand to caress the face he'd bruised. “Archie!”

“Yes. You have to stop this now.”

Rufus couldn't. He slipped a hand around his nape, pulled him down and kissed him – brief, hard, full on the mouth. Let him go immediately and stumbled back, almost thrusting him away. Easier to do that than be pushed, than to see shock gathering, rejection, distaste... But Archie only frowned. He touched his lip wonderingly, as if remembering. Then he shot out a hand and seized Rufus by the front of his nightshirt. “Come here.”


“Come here, man. For God's sake.”

Rufus stumbled back to him. Archie didn't relinquish his grip: used it to haul him up and in, at the last instant catching him tenderly with his free hand, cupping his jaw. He dipped his head. A faint sound escaped him, a muffled sob of yearning. He closed his eyes and pressed his mouth to Rufus's in return.

Clumsy, awkward. He must have got at least one punch in – pain popped like a flashbulb on Rufus's lip, delicious and wild. He kissed like a man who'd been tied hand and foot while other people fucked and danced and loved all around him, inches away, untouchable. Christ, Rufus knew how that felt. He threw his arms around him, left off trying to keep his rising erection a secret. Archie groaned and pushed back at him, knocking him off-balance. They crashed against the wardrobe. “Dear Archie. At least let me take you to bed.”

“I can't. I... Oh, yes.”

“Make sure the door's shut.”

“It is.”

“You'd better close the window. Pull the curtains too.” Rufus clutched his shoulders, hardly able to bear the answering stiffness behind the absurd pyjama trousers. Elspeth would have bought those, he was willing to bet, a pocket-money present for her borrowed father, and Archie would faithfully wear them to show her he valued her gift. “Do the windows have shutters?”

“Er... yes, but – ”

“Better close them.”

“Rufus, this is my house. We're up on the attic floor. I won't shut us away in the dark.”

“You have to. You don't understand. You could be jailed and disgraced for what you just did to me, let alone...” Rufus caught his breath. “Let alone what I'm about to do to you.”

“Only the birds will see us. The moths and the bats flying home.”

The Salisbury Key

Scrap Metal

Once Upon a Haunted Moor

Cold Fusion

A Midwinter Prince

Seven Summer Nights