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Book Review: Spectred Isle

spectred isle

Title: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K. J. Charles

Genre: Historical-fantasy, historical-romance, LGBT fiction, LGBT romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Tl;DR: Spectred Isle fantastically blends the pain and trauma of war with the hope and healing that only nature and human connection can bring while still imbuing the story with a piping mystery.


First off, I have to say that I was given an ARC of Spectred Isle in exchange for an honest review, but I still pre-ordered a copy because I love K. J. Charles’ work and want to support my favorite authors.

Spectred Isle follows the story of Saul Lazenby and Randolph Glyde as their lives intersect in a post-WWI world where magic and monsters lurk beneath the surface. Saul has been deeply scarred by his experiences in the war where he was less than honorably discharged. Facing bleak prospects, the ex-archaeologist becomes employed by a rather odd older gentleman who has him running all over creation chasing some rather wild theories about a very (maybe very) dead lord. His life is rather humdrum until he visits a sacred tree, which spontaneously bursts into flames, and spots the handsome, old money (and magic) Randolph Glyde. Randolph has secrets and scars of his own, but those roots run far deeper in England’s history, and as the mystery of the burning tree deepens, Randolph must decide if Saul, too, is a secret worth keeping.

As a heads-up, if you haven’t read The Secret Case Book of Simon Fleximal, you probably should. The book is less a sequel and more of a spiritual successor (much like the characters), so if you want to be in the know about certain characters, it would behoove you to read it. Plus, it’s just damn good.

What I loved about Spectred Isle was the balance between human connection and healing from past traumas and the British mentality of keeping a stiff upper lip. Neither Saul nor Randolph are the type to fall to pieces, but they need help moving forward from the carnage both suffered. Charles does a good job of having those traumas be very different, and both play nicely into their characterization. In the story, we also meet several other characters who have been psychologically and physically changed by the war and the occult war that was waged beneath the war waged by normal soldiers. I loved how this juxtaposed with post-war bureaucracy and the ancient magic the Glydes wield.

I think because I really love Charles’ characters, I felt like the book went too fast, especially at the end. What I really wanted was more about the green men, how they tie to Glyde’s family, and what function they really serve in England. I know it’s the first book, but I also know that K. J. Charles usually focused on a different couple each book, so I worry I will never get my answers.

If you like old Hollywood movies (think 1920s-1940s), this book has that sort of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes on the modern moors feel to it. Spectred Isle is a great start to a new historical-fantasy series, and I, for one, am dying to get my mitts on the next one. Pick Spectred Isle up here or whatever platform you buy your books. It is officially out August 3rd.

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Four

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


Chapter Four

Postmortem Examinations

The house stood dark when Immanuel arrived home. The only sounds were his grunts and strained breath as he struggled to push the creature in its glass coffin over the threshold. Kicking the door shut behind him, he straightened and wiped the hair and sweat from his forehead. For a moment, he merely listened for any sign of Adam, but all he could hear was the sound of blood rushing through his ears.

“Adam! Adam, if you’re home, I could really use your help for a minute.”

When no answer came, Immanuel sighed and pushed the veiled crate onto the carpet runner and shoved it with all of his strength. His ribs and back cried in protest while the box barely budged apart from the slosh of liquid within. It had been surprisingly easy to get Sir William to consent to letting him study it in the seclusion of his home, but it had taken several men and a cart to get it out of his office and into the backseat of a steamer cab. The driver had looked at him like he was a madman and nearly pulled away from the pavement upon seeing his cargo. It was only at the promise of a generous tip that the driver hopped out to help him. Immanuel hoped the specimen was a fake just so he wouldn’t have to take it back again; he didn’t know how many more times he could afford to pay for an expensive cab ride.

Once they hit the bare wood floor of the hallway, the coffin picked up speed and Immanuel pushed it the rest of the way to the workroom. Even though Hadley had been married months ago, remnants of her life at Baker Street remained in disarticulated automatons and boxes of spare parts stashed in the corner behind her battered work table and stool. Adam had told him to throw it all away, but having remnants of someone else’s life in the room made it feel less vacuous when he was still tentatively curating his new life. Immanuel shoved the creature all the way to the cast iron slop sink on the far wall. Leaning against the sink to catch his breath, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the cloaked specimen.

What was he going to tell Sir William? If he told him that the beast was closer to human than he cared to admit, he would be laughed out of the zoology department even with the body as evidence. Pulling the gloves from his pocket, Immanuel carefully removed the box’s fragile lid and averted his gaze from the seal-like creature’s vacant eyes. At Oxford, he had been forced to debone a walrus and a Caspian seal for the university’s museum, and even when he was in better health and shape, the corpses had been impossibly heavy. He couldn’t imagine how bad it would be now with his misshapen ribs and miserable constitution. Immanuel reached into the shallow layer of alcohol and was about to slip his arms beneath her neck and tailfin when a shadow fell across the doorway.

The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat as he stood. Adam leaned against the door with his shirt open far enough to expose the henna hair dusting the firm planes of his torso. His carefully pomaded coiffure hung askew in a wayward wave that made him look like some debouched Brontëan rogue. Immanuel would have abandoned the creature in an instant if it hadn’t been for the glazed look in his lover’s eyes and the red flush that hid his faint freckles. It was only then that he spotted the glass in his hand and the clear liquid within.

“Bringing your work home with you again?” Adam asked, his voice uncharacteristically languid as he drew closer. Leaning in with his drink clutched close to his chest, he wrinkled his nose and tapped the box with the end of his boot. “What is that thing?”

“I’m not certain yet.”

Before Adam could straighten, Immanuel snatched the glass from his hand and dashed it into the sink. The sweet, acidic tang of gin burned his nose as it splashed up.

“Hey! Why did you do that?”

Immanuel’s body shook against his will. “Because you don’t need it. How much have you had?”

“What do you care?” Adam cried as he pulled the glass from Immanuel’s hand but refused to meet his gaze.

“Adam, just tell me.”

“I don’t need your permission to have a drink. I’m bloody old enough to make my own decisions. I did so for quite some time before you got here.”

As Adam turned to leave, Immanuel whipped off his gloves and cut in front of him. He blocked the door with his body, knowing his thin form would do nothing to stop Adam if he wanted to leave. “Is this what you have been doing all day? Drinking yourself into a stupor? I thought you were going to look for employment.”

For a long moment, Adam merely stared at him. His lips nearly disappeared into a tight line as he glowered at Immanuel with an intensity he had never seen. His blue eyes flared with fury, and for an instant, Immanuel feared Adam would shove him or strike him. His hands twitched at his side, but he quickly folded his arms over his chest and rested on his heels, waiting. Immanuel stepped out of the way to let Adam storm past him. The redhead clomped up the stairs with Immanuel a step behind him. When Adam reached their bedroom, Immanuel expected him to slam the door in his face, but instead, he walked over to his desk near the window and grabbed his journal. Flipping through the pages, he turned to the last one and shoved the it at Immanuel’s face. The page had begun with a list of law offices, accounting firms, and various banks before becoming jumbled with row upon row of numbers.

“This is what I’ve been doing all day,” Adam spat, shoving the book into Immanuel’s hand. “I have been all over town speaking to anyone I thought could help me. I went to a dozen places, and you know what I found? One position. One! And it was for a clerk, a clerk. I have been an accountant for four years. I can’t be a clerk again. I can’t afford to be a clerk.”

“But at least it would be money. We wouldn’t have to—”

“No.” Grabbing the open bottle of gin from his desk, Adam poured another glass to the brim. “Let me have some semblance of pride, Immanuel. I have worked far too hard to settle for a position I had when I was seventeen, but you wouldn’t understand, would you? Uncle Elijah handed you a lovely position at the museum the moment you were out of Oxford. Well, some of us aren’t Oxford boys with connections and cushy lives.”

Adam’s mouth hung open, as his hand came to his lips. Slowly, he raised his gaze to Immanuel’s face, which had blanched apart from his reddening eyes.

“Oh, Immanuel, I didn’t mean it. I…”

“You have had enough,” Immanuel rasped, his voice tight. Without waiting for a response, he took the glass and bottle from Adam’s hands and set them down on the dresser. “You’re done.”

Blinking, Adam stared at his feet and rubbed his wrist. He winced as his nail dug into the leaking wound that had grown to the size of a coat toggle. “It used to help. Before you— before Hadley found out, it worked.” He wanted to say something. Words should have been easier, as they had been a moment before, but they never were when he needed them. “Sorry.”

Secrets stayed secret when they could be drowned, but much like Immanuel, they always managed to rise and beg for life.

***

Hunched at the window, Adam seemed so small. Usually, he was larger than life, a handsome face in a suit made to draw the eye to the beauty of the fabric and flesh beneath, but as he stood staring ahead with his blue eyes dark, it dawned on Immanuel just how young they both were. After all they had been through, it felt as if years had passed, and while they had been together less than a year, Adam had been there for the entirety of his new life. Immanuel drew closer, gently stroking Adam’s flushed cheeks until the redheaded man slowly met his gaze.

“I love you, but gin won’t helping anything,” Immanuel whispered.

“It might make me forget. I don’t know what else to do to make it easier.”

The words died in Adam’s throat. He wanted to snatch the gin and down it until the tears looming behind his lids dried. Alcohol fed the fire, and as long as he kept it stoked, it was impossible to feel anything more. That was one of the things he admired about Immanuel, he faced his problems. He wasn’t a coward, like him.

“Let me make you some tea, and we can talk about it,” Immanuel said with a faint smile as he brushed the hair from Adam’s face. “How does that sound?”

 Crossing his arms, he nodded, refusing to meet his love’s gaze

Gently kissing Adam’s forehead, Immanuel snatched the leftover glass and gin. Halfway down the hall, he ducked into the bathroom and dumped the remaining liquor down the drain. In the kitchen, after setting up the kettle on the stove, he rooted through the cabinets until he found every bottle of champagne, sherry, and cognac he could lay his hands on. One by one he emptied them into the sink, listening for the satisfying glug as the last of it swept away. He loved Adam, but he didn’t need this. If Adam wanted to drink himself to death, he would have to leave the house to do so. Sinking into one of the kitchen chairs, Immanuel’s eyes trailed down the hall to where the light from the workroom spilled into the hall in a golden pool. As the kettle whistled and his mind trailed back to the creature in the tank, Immanuel wished he could hop into the nearest steamer and drive to Greenwich or Folkesbury or even back to his office at the museum. He would go anywhere if he thought he could have some semblance of peace for a while. After everything that had happened with Lady Rose and the late Lord Hale, getting entangled with the Interceptors once again, and Sir William had running him ragged, this was the last thing he needed.

With a pit growing in his gut, he loaded a tray with biscuits and tea and mounted the steps, but when he reached their room, his frustration quickly sank to guilt. Adam sat upright in bed with his head resting against the headboard and his face lax. Leaving the tray on the nightstand, Immanuel perched on the edge of the mattress and watched Adam’s chest rise and fall in a sleepy rhythm. He planted a kiss on his gin-tainted lips, but he never stirred. Careful not to disturb him, Immanuel padded across the room and shut off the light. Lingering at the threshold, he waited a moment to see if Adam would call out to him. When he didn’t stir, Immanuel snuck downstairs.

***

Dragging the stool to the workroom sink, Immanuel stared down at the creature—the woman—lying prone before him. Even though the visions had never occurred twice, Immanuel kept his gloves on as he hesitantly reached for the scalpel in his dissection kit. No matter how many times he had participated in autopsies and dissections, it never got easier. People like Dr. Hawthorne or his mentor at Oxford, Dr. Martin, were able to separate the body from the person, but once Immanuel saw their last moments, that became nearly impossible. As he pulled the stool closer with his foot, he heard the gentle tap of cat claws.

Percy bounded in, his bone tail swishing as he surveyed the room until his eyeless sockets fell upon Immanuel. A small smile crossed the scientist’s lips as the cat rubbed his nose and back against the hem of his trousers. With a twitch of his hips, he was in Immanuel’s lap with his feet resting on the lip of the sink.

“No. Not for you, you greedy bugger,” Immanuel said, watching Percy sniff the air. Holding him to his chest, Immanuel scratched Percy’s neck and gave him a kiss on the head before putting him outside the workroom door. “Go find Adam, Percy. Go ask him for pets.”

Shutting the door, Immanuel returned to the creature. How could he pretend she wasn’t a person? Perhaps he shouldn’t. “My apologies, he doesn’t know better. You aren’t food, and you certainly didn’t deserve this.” Immanuel paused, his chest tightening at the phantom sensation of drowning. “I don’t know what you are, but you didn’t deserve the agony you suffered.”

As expected, the woman never stirred.

“Unfortunately, I need to do worse than he did. Perhaps not worse, but I don’t like doing it.”

Immanuel carefully parted the fur near the creature’s armpit, and after a moment, he found what he was looking for: a gash that went down to the muscle and bone beneath. The wound was an inch long, and as expected, there was no healing or indication that she had been given aid. Immanuel drew back, biting his lip as he stared down at the lethal blow. It had taken so little to end her life. Raising the scalpel, Immanuel murmured an oath under his breath as he did before every dissection and carefully cut from neck to tail. He winced as the reek of alcohol, fish, and the coppery stench of cadaver wafted out with each inch he cut through her thick, blubbery hide. Immanuel glanced over his shoulder at the door and hoped Adam wouldn’t come down. There was nothing he wanted to do less than clean up gin-laced vomit. Making a cut across the midline, Immanuel grabbed a handful of pins to hold back the creature’s flesh and expose the organs.

The moment he pulled back the skin, the breath hitched in his throat. Shaking his head, he counted her limbs before turning his gaze back to the thoracic cavity where two elbows rested on either side of her ribcage. Immanuel grabbed the scissors from his kit and cut along the creature’s arms until he reached her shoulders. It was as if the outer seal-like hide had grown over a set of gracile human arms. Peeling back the skin of her tail, he found a pair of human legs, folded under her as if she had been kneeling in prayer.

Immanuel’s heart pounded in his throat as he pulled off his gloves and grabbed his sketchpad from the work table. With an artist’s skill and a scientist’s eye, Immanuel sketched every detail of her form, carefully labeling each bone and ligament he could identify. Most were clearly human and instantly recognizable, but as he delved into the layers of organs, it was clear the evolution had taken a strange turn back to the sea.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove on Amazon.

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Selkie Cove: Chapter Three

SelkieCoveLH

With Selkie Cove coming out July 25th, I’ve decided to post a chapter a week until it comes out. That’s how excited I am for you to read it. I’m still copy-editing, so please pardon any typos. If you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Catch up on:


 

Chapter Three

The Curiosity

On the walk back to the museum, Immanuel replayed what had happened at Benekey’s over and over, looking for a way he could have made Adam stay. He had been looking forward to his lunch date with Adam all week, so why wouldn’t it somehow end badly? Reaching the museum’s familiar Gothic façade, Immanuel stared at the masses of people tittering within. He swallowed against the tightness working its way from his throat to his chest and ducked around the side to take the servants’ entrance in. As he climbed the back stairs up to his office, he dreaded running into another curator as much as what awaited him at home. Adam was angry, and rightly so, yet the thought of wrangling with Adam’s vile stubbornness was more than Immanuel could bear. Whatever the solution, it would have to be Adam’s idea.

At the top of the stairs, Immanuel froze with his hand on the worn door. Someone was in his office. A shadow passed behind the mottled glass, disappearing near his desk. Immanuel’s heart pounded in his temples as the urge to run overtook his muscles and set every hair on end. Drawing in a steadying breath, he tried to banish all thoughts of Lord Rose. It had been months since he was attacked and Lord Rose’s soul was sealed in a lead tomb in the bowels of Interceptor Headquarters. Lady Rose supposedly shared a similar fate, but as the shadow paced past the glass again, Immanuel caught the unmistakable shape of a corseted waist. Could she have gotten free and come after him?

Slowly ducking back into the stairway, Immanuel fumbled through his leather satchel for his vivalabe. The moment his fingers brushed its cool, brassy surface, a wave of calm passed over him. The brass ball was the size of a compass and weighed twice as much. If he took it out at night, he could hear the steady cadence of its clockwork heart, ticking in time with his own. With two clicks of a hidden button, the ball’s lid fell back to reveal an etched face lined with minute chips of colored stone. In an instant, the marbles scattered like billiard balls, leaving only three clustered together: a white, a green, and an amber. Immanuel released a tense breath, letting his head fall back against the cold stone in relief that Lady Rose’s red stone was nowhere to be seen. He stared at the amber stone and bit his lip. Why would Judith Elliott come to see him at work?

Stuffing the vivalabe back into his bag, Immanuel smoothed his heavy wool coat and pushed a wet blonde curl from his forehead. Even if Judith would ultimately discern something was amiss, he didn’t want her to read it on his face. If she wanted to know, she would have to work for it. In three long strides with his eyes cast to the floor, Immanuel reached his office and slipped inside. Judith looked up from behind his desk, her hazel eyes meeting his without hesitation. With a knowing smile, she studied his latest sigils with a gold magnifying glass hanging from a chain around her neck. No matter where he saw her, Judith Elliott was unmistakably American. Where the British embraced etiquette to the point of meekness or passive aggression, her intentions were always as straight and loud as a gunshot. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have assumed it was her office by the glint her eye and the self-assured way she stayed rooted in his seat even as he hung up his bag and coat.

“Your sigils are quite interesting, Winter. Very complex for someone who has only begun. Did you know that no two sigils are exactly the same? Every practioner leaves their mark, their own mental baggage. Did the books I lent you help at all?” Judith asked, her blonde hair glinting in the electric lamps as Immanuel switched them on.

“Somewhat,” he replied, shifting uncomfortably beside the veiled specimen. “I’ve been trying to expand my knowledge outside of life and death magic, and it’s given me plenty of ideas. Some… some I can barely read. It doesn’t seem to click no matter how hard I try.”

“Too many archaic rules?” A smile quirked across her lips as she looked from the water-stained paper to Immanuel’s downcast brows. “Don’t be sheepish. It happens more often than most of us would care to admit, especially in the beginning. Some things won’t work for you. You’ll find magic is more of an art than a science.”

“The strange thing is, the techniques… It felt like a lot didn’t apply.”

“You’re an evolutionist, so it stands to reason that magic has also evolved over the centuries with human need and understanding. It morphs with geography, time, beliefs, and of course, the practioner. What worked then, doesn’t necessarily work now, and plenty of practioners made rules to prevent novices from getting any farther than the basics. I know some of the writings are dense, but I thought they might, inspire your work rather than act as a guide. Stop by Interceptor headquarters, and I’ll have the librarians give you some texts more suited to your interests.”

Immanuel stood at the end of his desk, watching Judith study his work. “I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Elliott, but what are you doing in my office? Does the director know you’re here?”

“Sir William was more than willing to let me speak to the curator who will be handling my prized specimen,” she replied with a flourish toward the creature.

His eyes widened. “That was you?”

“Technically yes, though it really belongs to the Interceptors. We heard from our sources off the coast of an interesting specimen that was to be sent to the Royal Zoological Society. The box mysterious disappeared and ended up at the museum with special instructions to have their resident seal expert examine it.”

“Fantastic.”

Judith chuckled at Immanuel’s grimace. “Finding a scientist who has a foot in both worlds is incredibly difficult. You should be flattered that we chose you, especially when you don’t officially work for us. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork to get an exception to involve you.”

“You believe the thing is real?”

“Despite what Sir William told you, there is more in this world than what your books lead you to believe. You of all people should understand that. What we need you to do is study the specimen, analyze it, dissect it, and tell us how it died. The latter may require you to use unconventional means. Before I leave you to it, I need you to sign the paperwork promising that you will not divulge what you find to anyone outside of the Interceptors, including Sir William.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of telling him any more than I have to.” Being the laughing stock of the department was the last thing he wanted to be if the thing turned out to be genuine.

Reaching into her reticule, Judith retrieved a folded wad of paper and smoothed it across the desk. She handed the pen from Immanuel’s blotter and pointed to each place he should sign. Immanuel released a soundless sigh at the magazine-sized stack. He should have read it, but he had neither the time nor the patience on a good day. Near the bottom of the fifth page, Immanuel paused. Any party involved may be recalled to carrying out a further investigation on behalf of Her Majesty’s Interceptors if Her Majesty sees fit. As he reread the minute type, Immanuel felt the nudge of Judith’s energy caressing the edge of his mind like the invisible arm of a jellyfish. If he let her, she would slip into his mind, probing through his thoughts until she found what she sought.

“You could have asked first,” he replied, ripping his mind away from her grasp with a turn of his head. Hastily signing the last of the documents, Immanuel pushed them back to her and dropped his pen into his breast pocket. “Will that be all?”

“My apologies, Winter,” she said, her eyes traveling over his scar before lingering on his crooked frown and faraway gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend you, but you don’t seem yourself. Is everything all right or have I come at a bad time?”

“I received some bad news at lunch, but I will have my report to you about,” he paused, trying to picture the creature trapped within the glass coffin, “whatever that is, by the weekend.”

With a nod, Judith tucked the contract into her bag and slipped past him. At the door, she stopped to watch Immanuel collapse into his chair. “There’s one thing I have been meaning to ask since we last spoke. Have you given any thought to becoming an Interceptor? You never gave me an answer.”

Immanuel stared at the pages of sigils littering his desk alongside his acceptance letter into the Royal Zoological Society. His nights were spent trying to manipulate cups of tea when he should have been knee-deep in research. He had a career now, one that he was actually decent at, and yet— He frowned, averting his eyes from Judith’s. Yet he still felt out of place at the museum. Every day he feared that at any moment he would be unmasked for the imposter he was. Something was missing. At times he wondered if it was the absence of fear now that Lord and Lady Rose were gone, but there was a bigger void that research and recitation, or even Adam, couldn’t hope to fill. And that terrified him.

“I fear I still don’t have an answer for you, Miss Elliott. I haven’t ruled it out, but I don’t know if I’m ready to take that step.”

“Fair enough. If you should change your mind, you know where you and Mr. Fenice can find me.”

Immanuel licked his lips and hesitantly asked, “Your… Your offer is still open to both of us?”

“Of course. Your earnest relationship makes you stronger than the sum of your parts.” She flashed a good-natured smile even as her power nudged at his mind. “Good day, Mr. Winter, and give Mr. Fenice my regards.”

With a final nod, Judith slipped into the hall and disappeared. Immanuel melted deeper into his chair, letting his head fall over the low wooden back. As his chair lazily spun, his eyes fell upon the dirty sheet covering the crate. Peace had sounded like a wonderful thing to have, but with most of his life, peace was fleeting. It had been foolish of him to expect that Judith Elliott wouldn’t come barging back into his life after all that happened. But did peace even matter now that Adam lost his job? Equilibrium had been destroyed by the time the creature reached his office.

Tucking the sigils back into his desk drawer, Immanuel withdrew the pair of gloves he kept tucked beside his sigil journal. He slipped on the elbow-length leather gloves and stood beside the crate. Immanuel drew in a long breath, steeling himself against whatever nightmare he was about to uncover. In one swift motion, he ripped off the canvas and tossed it aside.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a human’s face. For a moment he merely stared at it, his mind unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly was the creature’s eyes. They were wide and round like the seals he had studied the past few years, yet they retained the colored rim of a human. Hers were the steely blue of tossing waves, now unnerving in their stillness. Immanuel lowered his gaze, following the curve of the creature’s body until he reached its hands. Hands. Where there should have been bow-legged fins, there were fine fingers jutting from a meaty furred palm. Backing up, Immanuel looked at her feet to find only a tail and nothing more.

Carefully opening the lid of the steel and glass box, Immanuel leaned closer until the embalming fluid bit at his eyes and left the unforgettable tang of death and alcohol on his tongue. With his nose scarcely a breath above the surface, Immanuel’s gaze probed the monster’s fur for any sign of stitches or manipulation from a charlatan. The Fiji Mermaid had been the talk of the scientific community until they realized Barnum had sewn a fish to a monkey in an attempt to dupe the public and scientists alike, but this was different. This wasn’t some poorly crafted hybrid freak, no matter what Sir William thought. Gathering his tools, Immanuel threaded tubes through the glass case, letting the preservative fluid drain into a large bucket until the creature beneath was laid bare. He locked eyes with the creature as he hesitantly squatted at its side. At any moment, he feared it would turn toward him with its sightless eyes and release some ungodly sound he only knew in nightmares. Carefully removing his gloves, Immanuel let his hand hover over the beast’s brow. He bit his lip, knowing that in a moment, he would see the last moments of a seal or a human or some strange life form in between. Drawing in a constrained breath, skin and fur met.

Water flooded every orifice, filling them with the cold salty murk of the sea as he hung weightless. His mind fought the unnatural sensation, but the body whose eyes he saw through merely twisted toward a dull hum thrumming somewhere nearby. He and the creature glided effortlessly toward the vibration. In the distance five massive  brown contraptions rose through the silt. He thought it could have been a sunken ship or the remains of some ill-fated dirigible from its steel frame and wire umbilical cords running up to the surface. As they grew closer, fear bubbled in her breast. Someone was supposed to be there. She had sworn she heard the call crying out to her beneath the waves with its hypnotic resonance. Watching the swirls of silt, a soft note wrapped around their mind. It spoke to a part of her so deep she felt it in her core and drew her closer to the forest of metal.

Immanuel felt it before they saw it: the thrust of water crashing into them followed by the sudden blossom of pain that started at their armpit and spread to every cell in their body. They thrashed, catching sight of a long pole and the faceless brown beast at the end of it, its face caked with mud and weeds. An indescribable feeling pass through their body. Something beneath the surface peeled away as pain tore through their arms and crept into every bone until their body screamed once more. In an instant, where there had been grey flippers upon the pole, now there were hands, but before Immanuel could stop them, they tore it out. Blood dribbled out, flooding their vision as a weight fell over them. Their mind reeled at the disorienting constriction of the net as their body seized with the current and they sank beneath the mass of their misshapen body. Their heart sputtered and their vision spotted. He was coming. The brown beast was coming for them, looming over them with its hooded, faceless head and hook at the ready. They drew in a breath, lungs convulsing against the alien burning of salt water. The others, she thought as the world darkened to a pinpoint of dim light.

Immanuel fell back, landing hard on his side as he gagged and wheezed. His lungs tightened as he released another dry heave despite tasting the brine of the ocean on his lips and deep in his throat. His stomach and lungs spasmed while his mind sought to save him from drowning on land. Resting his head against the cold planks of his office floor, Immanuel swallowed and fought to slow his breathing until the urge to vomit passed and all that was left was fatigue. The strength had been sapped from his body as if he had spent the entire day fighting the tide. Raising his gaze to the door, he made certain no one was coming before closing his eyes. His hands shook as he rubbed his forearms to silence the burning that had flooded his body accompanied with the deep cracks of tissue restructuring. He was fine, he reminded himself over and over until his body quieted enough that his mind could believe that what he had seen had happened to someone—something—far from himself. It had seemed so human. The thoughts felt more like his own than any cattle or chicken’s ever did.

Immanuel slowly climbed to his knees, fighting his trembling limbs as he used the desk for support. Squeezing his eyes shut, Immanuel wished Adam was there to anchor him to reality, to rub his back and make him tea to help the shakes subside, but then he heard the chatter of the curators outside his door and remembered there were hours to go before he could see Adam again. He staggered forward and knocked the lid of the glass coffin closed with the back of his hand before tossing the sheet over it to hide the creature’s lifeless features and half-human form. Sinking into his chair, Immanuel grabbed his pen and quickly scribbled out the details of the vision.

If he waited too long, there would be no proof of the beast who killed her, and Immanuel wasn’t going to let that happen.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think, and if you’re interested, you can pre-order Selkie Cove.

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Preview of Selkie Cove: Ch 1

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First off, yes, I know I have been incredibly negligent these past few months regarding this blog. I’m going to try to be better about that in the near future.

So I’m hitting that point in the novel writing/editing/marketing/creating journey where I get itchy feet about sharing things with you. Thus far, I’ve been good, but today, I must share an in-progress version of chapter one of Selkie Cove. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is the blurb:

Selkie Cove 2

Without further ado, here is the first chapter of Selkie Cove:


Chapter One

Confirmed Bachelors

 

Adam Fenice resisted the urge to turn around and check the clock ticking in the corner again for fear of drawing the attention of the other clerks and accountants. Keeping his back to them, he pulled out his pocket watch and took a quick glance. He bit down the earnest smile threatening to cross his lips. In a little over an hour, he and Immanuel would be having lunch together. No matter how often they saw each other, knowing that Immanuel waited for him sent a flutter through his breast. For weeks Immanuel had been busy running between the natural history museum and the British Museum. Between late nights, the impromptu meetings with the heads of the museums, and the nightmares and insomnia from the added stress, they had barely spent a peaceful day, or night, together. Today would be different. Immanuel said everything had been taken care of, and now things would go back to normal.

Adam scoffed at the thought. Normal. Nothing about his life was ever normal. Instead of dealing with Hadley’s toy business or his brother’s consumption, he had Immanuel’s magic to enliven his quiet life. His time spent at the office puzzling out sums and inconsistencies was a welcome relief from coming home to find Immanuel experimenting with new sigils that sent things crashing across the room or turned his tea to dingy brown ice. Between magic and Percy, their cat—if one could call him that when he was solely comprised of bones and mischief—Adam was happy to come to work and deal with facts and figures, where things that were certain no matter what happened outside.

“Fenice, can you come here a moment?” Mr. Bodkin called from his office.

Rising from his desk, Adam stretched and glanced at the clock one more time. He silently sighed, hoping this wouldn’t be an hour long conversation on Sarah Bernhardt’s latest exploit. He had promised Immanuel he would get to the museum promptly to prevent Sir William Henry Flower from commandeering him. If he played his cards right, he could distract Bodkin with a question or two and return to his work. As Adam pushed open the door to Horace Bodkin’s dim cubby of an office, he knew something was wrong. His supervisor sat with his hands folded on his blotter, his thumbs twitching in time with his beady eyes, which ran over everything but Adam’s face. Adam hesitantly sank into the chair before his desk, resisting the urge to scratch his wrist.

“Sir, is there anything—?”

“We have to let you go,” Bodkin blurted.

For a moment, Adam merely stared at him, unsure if his ears had played tricks on him, but when Bodkin’s eyes never wavered from him and his lips twitched into a regretful frown, he knew he had heard correctly. The saliva dried in his throat as he strained to speak.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but may I ask why? Have I made an error?” Adam asked, his mind flitting over the numbers he had tabulated and double-checked over the past few weeks.

“Oh, heavens, no. You’re one of my best workers.”

“Then why am I being let go?”

Mr. Bodkin released a tired breath, his sloped shoulders sighing in agreement. In the dim light with his face more pensive than he had ever seen, he seemed so much older. Adam had liked him best of all his employers. The man had given him his extra tickets to the theatre and chatted with him about novels and society page gossip, but as he tented his meaty, ringed hands and met Adam’s gaze, the fissure of rank widened into a chasm. It had been foolish to ever assume they were friends.

“You must understand, this isn’t my doing, Fenice,” Bodkin said, dropping his voice. “It was Mr. Ellis. His son is to marry soon, and he needs to secure a proper position for him.”

“I see,” he spat, his chest tight with a raw resentment he hadn’t felt since his older brother was alive. Adam’s jaw tightened as he pictured that miser Ellis’s lout of a son sitting at his desk. He eyed Bodkin. How long would it be before the boss’s son was out of his desk and in his supervisor’s chair? “And what about Penn or Weiland? They have been here less than a year. I’ve been here for four. This isn’t fair.”

“Trust me, I agree with you. You know you’re one of my favorites.” For a moment, he looked as if he might reach out and touch Adam’s arm, but upon seeing the blue fire in Adam’s eyes, he thought the better of it. “It’s just that— that— you aren’t the image Mr. Ellis wants for his business. You know, you go to the theatre, you’re an Aesthete who openly supports Wilde’s crowd, you dress flamboyantly—”

Adam glanced down at his silk paisley waistcoat as if seeing it for the first time before crossing his arms over it.

“And you’re a bachelor.”

A derisive laugh escaped his lips. “What does my marital status have to do with my work? If anything, I should have less distractions.”

Mr. Bodkin swallowed hard, his shiny black eyes darting for an answer. “Mr. Ellis likes to see people settled. A bachelor could pick up and leave at any moment, but a man with a wife and children has an anchor. You’re sharing your flat with another bachelor, aren’t you?”

Adam froze. Something lurked beneath the question, plunging his anger into something far colder. Bodkin of all people should have known the significance of Ellis’s decree. Then again, he had a ring on his finger and a brood at home.

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“I have no problems with it, but Mr. Ellis…”

“Penn shares a flat with another bookkeeper. Many young men have roommates.”

“Yes, I know, but do you perhaps have a lady friend you—?”

“No,” Adam replied, his voice sharper than he intended.

“I figured as much.” Pulling an envelope from his desk, Bodkin sighed and held it out for Adam to take. “I was able to convince him to give you an extra week’s wages for the inconvenience. I really am sorry about this, Fenice, but there was nothing I could do to change his mind.”

As he reached to take the money, Adam steadied his hand, biting back the urge to snatch it from him. It was Ellis’ fault, he reminded himself. Bodkin was merely a useless mole forced to do his bidding. A man who, like him, had kept his head down and tried not to make trouble for anyone. Only he had succeeded.

“Thank you for your generosity,” Adam murmured, his voice quavering against his will.

He didn’t try to suppress it. The rage would come out one way or another, and a little edge was much better than the venom creeping up his throat. Adam swallowed and dug his nail into his wrist as he turned, pushing in until he regained control. That was his whole life, wasn’t it? Maintaining an air of control. As he stood to leave, Bodkin’s eyes bore into his back, but before he could look away, Adam whipped around in time to see the man jump back.

A thrill of satisfaction rang through him as he slowly stuffed the envelope of money into his breast pocket. “I appreciate all you have done for me, Mr. Bodkin. I just hope Ellis can see past our shared faults when he inevitably turns his attention to promoting his son. Good day, sir.”

Without looking back, Adam marched into the office with his back rigid and his face a mask of hauteur. His heart pounded as the junior accountants and clerks raised their gazes from their papers in unison to watch him pass while the only other senior accountant kept his eyes buried in his work. Adam stared ahead as he silently walked to his desk near the window despite half a dozen pairs of eyes pressing into his back. How much had they heard? He couldn’t look at them. He didn’t want to know what they thought of his sudden fall. Pity? Scorn? Satisfaction? All he wanted was to get out as quickly as possible with some semblance of dignity.

His eyes traveled over the contents of his desk, lingering on ledgers he had been perusing for a suspected embezzlement case. The figures he had toiled over for days were meaningless now. Some other man would finish his work and take the credit for the case he had built. Adam drew in a constrained breath. Unlike the other men in the office, he had no pictures of his pretty wife or handsome children to show to clients or Mr. Ellis when they came to call. Sitting on a stack of papers closest to the window was an ammonite fossil Immanuel had given to him when they stayed at his brother-in-law’s estate in Dorset that summer. It was the only bit of his life he had allowed to bleed into his work. He could still remember the thrill of danger at having a token of Immanuel’s love in plain view. That was all he would take with him. Adam snatched the fossil, ignoring the slap of paper and the startled cries of his coworkers as the wind scattered the stack. As he slipped on his coat and top hat, he felt the weight of the ammonite in his hand and saw himself hurl it through the windowpane in his mind’s eye. Dropping it into his pocket, he kept his gaze forward, his mouth neutral, and passed down the familiar creaking steps to Lombard Street.

The bitter October cold pawed at his cheeks and tousled the edge of his pomaded henna hair as he slipped out the door. With his hand tightly around the ammonite in his pocket, Adam walked blindly and tried to keep his steps casual. His mind tallied up the rent, the cost to bring in a housekeeper, how much the washerwoman charged against Immanuel’s salary and what Adam remembered to be inscribed in his bankbook. How long would it last? He had only been out of work once during his career and money had been the least of his concerns then. Bodkin had refused his resignation and gave him time off to put his mind to rights, citing his brother’s recent passing. No one would come through for him now.

Men in dark wool coats and top hats pushed passed him on their way to banks and solicitors’ offices just like his. One man tipped his hat to Adam. Recognizing him from their business dealings only a month before, Adam gave him a nod but kept his eyes ahead. How long would it take for news of his departure to reach the other accountants or the clients he regularly worked for? He had spent his whole life avoiding becoming the subject of gossip, and now, it had been thrust upon him.

When Adam stopped moving long enough to surface from his thoughts, he stood at the iron staircase of the Metropolitan station that would take him home. Home. The word caught in Adam’s throat in a wet knot. He swallowed it down and hardened his jaw. He wouldn’t lose it. It had been his family’s home for as long as he had been alive and now it belonged to him and Immanuel. There was no way he would let someone like Ellis take that away from him, but the idea of sitting alone with his thoughts until Immanuel came home was more than he could bear. Without someone there to temper his emotions, he could only imagine the destruction he might cause, and that would be far worse than holding it in a while longer. That was simple. He had choked down the same bitter pill for nearly twenty years.

Glancing at his watch, Adam took the stairs into the labyrinth of brick and wood stretching beneath the city. The stench of urine and feculence burned his nose as he listened for the distant rumble of the electric train. He could take the train to Greenwich and vent to Hadley about what had happened. His sister would understand. She would rail against the injustice of it as only she could, but then, she would have solutions. Hadley would have half a dozen thought up in an instant, most of which would inevitably be tied to her husband, the Earl of Dorset. The thought sent a wave of nausea gurgling through Adam’s gut.

No, Immanuel was waiting for him at the museum to go out for lunch, and he couldn’t disappoint him twice in one day. Before he could change his mind, the train barreled into the station. Straightening, Adam slipped past the conductor and numbly settled in near the window. All he needed was to pretend everything was all right. If he simply didn’t acknowledge it, then perhaps he could never disappoint Immanuel with his failures. If it had worked for most of his life, surely it could work for another hour.


Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think of this excerpt, and I will update everyone as we move closer to publication.

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Chapter Five of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a month, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, and chapter four.

Chapter Five

Empty

Adam Fenice paused at the stove, listening as the grandfather clock in the hall struck six. A small grin crossed his lips. Immanuel would be home any minute, and Adam hoped to god he had a good day at work. They had only been living together eight days, but it was beginning to feel as if he had always been there. He had expected it to be harder to integrate their dissonant lives under one roof, especially when he had spent his life fighting to be seen as a separate person from George and Hadley and their businesses. With Hadley married and gone, Adam suddenly found himself alone, staring at gaps in shelves and empty rooms where she had once been. A quiet fell over the house that couldn’t be silenced. Something was missing, something he couldn’t fill alone.
When Immanuel appeared at the train station with only one trunk, Adam feared there would still be an emptiness, but soon science books appeared where ones on mechanics had once been and a sweet, soft voice singing in German chased away the morning silence. Suddenly it was as if he had always been there. No longer did his parents’ marriage bed feel too large or the house too empty for a bachelor. Hadley’s old room was stocked with Immanuel’s somber wardrobe and soon her old workroom would smell like bleaching bones and varnish. What Adam loved most was seeing two dressing gowns hanging in their room and the shallow indent in the pillow where Immanuel’s head had been.
With a groan, the front door opened. Glancing around the doorway, Adam could only catch a glimpse of Immanuel’s blonde hair and the swing of his leather satchel as he pulled it over his head. Adam turned his attention back to the stew and waited. Quiet footsteps padded into the kitchen, and within seconds, Immanuel’s hands were snaked around his stomach and his head was nestled against his shoulder. Adam drew in a long breath, inhaling the familiar soapy scent of Immanuel’s skin. His lips brushed Adam’s neck and cheek before returning to his shoulder.
“Have a good day at work?”
“Better than I expected,” Immanuel purred, giving Adam a squeeze. “I got you invited to the museum’s gala.”
“Oh really? And how did you manage that?”
“I threw your sister and brother-in-law’s names around. Once they realized we were all related and we shared a flat,” he paused as Adam turned toward him with a questioning henna brow, “they wanted to extend an invitation to the Countess’s brother, lest he feel slighted.”
“I’m sure you were put out that you had to invite me. I’m but a lowly money-counter.”
A grin spread across Immanuel’s lips as Adam wrapped his arms around his. “Well, I see you every day, so why would I want to spend an entire night with you drinking champagne and waltzing?”
Adam turned, catching Immanuel’s hands and pulling him closer until their hips were flush and their gazes met. Keeping their joined hands up, he tightened his grip around Immanuel’s back and took the first step of a sweeping waltz. Immanuel stumbled after him, half a beat behind as he was twirled backwards.
“Waltzes aren’t your strong suit anyway,” Adam replied with a toothy grin, his pencil mustache curling in agreement.
“Thankfully, I would rather not be asked to join when I can’t dance with my partner.”
Slowing to a stop, Adam turned, his blue eyes softened with thought. Immanuel’s grip tightened as he pulled him in for a kiss. Adam sighed, his eyes closing at the gentle push of Immanuel’s tongue against his lips. Arching back, he wrapped his arms around the taller man’s neck and his hand sliding into the curls of his hair. A chill washed over him at the skimming of fingertips over his spine. Immanuel’s hand dipped under his jacket and made its way toward the top of his trousers.
“We should wait until after dinner,” Adam whispered, licking his lips and resting his forehead against Immanuel’s.
Adam wanted to say more. He wanted to bang his fist on the table and cry that it wasn’t fair. That none of this was fair. At Hadley’s wedding, he and Immanuel had sat at the same table for hours, watching other couples dance with arms and eyes locked. He caught their knowing smiles when bodies brushed while he and Immanuel had to pretend they barely knew each other. Staring into his glass, he had wished he could take Immanuel by the hand and dance alongside the other couples, but as he tightened his grip on the stem of his glass, a gentle hand squeezed his arm. When he lifted his eyes, he had expected to find Immanuel giving him a reproachful look. Instead, he found Hadley staring down at him, her eyes heavy with guilt. Did she regret inviting them both to the wedding when she saw the misery etched into her brother’s features? That night when they returned to the house on Baker Street, anger had deteriorated into melancholy. Stripped of their finery, they had lain in each other’s arms until daybreak, a tangle of limbs and lips making up for lost time. Would they always be making up for those impossible moments?

***

Immanuel looked up from his empty bowl at Adam. He had been abnormally quiet during dinner. Swallowing hard, he said, “I’m working with Peregrine Nichols this week, helping out with the exhibits.”
“Who?” Adam asked, snapping back to reality as he grabbed his bowl and stacked it on top of Immanuel’s.
“Peregrine Nichols. I’m certain I told you about him. He’s the one who reminds me of an imp. He’s always smiling and prattling. If he wasn’t charming, it would be maddening. It might still be when we work together. You might like him, though. I’m sure you will meet him at the gala.”
“Why are you working with him? I thought he worked with insects or something.”
As Adam put the dishes in the sink, Immanuel took up the hissing tea kettle and poured them each a cup. “Plants, but he’s behind on his work. With the gala coming up, it’s all hands on deck, and having a hand in the preparations really isn’t a bad thing for me. It will look like I have initiative.”
“I guess so. Though, it might be better if you stayed out of it and kept to your work.”
Immanuel frowned. “I know, but I can’t stand to look at another seal or walrus. Somehow my reputation as the seal expert has followed me here. I don’t want to smell like— like rotting blubber.”
Adam froze at the way Immanuel spat the word blubber. When he looked up, Immanuel’s face remained impassive as he doctored their tea and refilled the kettle, but he knew the old wounds were still raw. It was during a visit to Oxford that he heard of Immanuel’s nickname for the first time. The name Blubber had originated from his preparation of pinniped skeleton’s for the university’s museum and the malice threading through it came from the nightmares that followed his captivity and abuse at Lord Rose’s hands. Even now he wouldn’t speak of it except in the vaguest terms, but his university roommates couldn’t forgive him for crying out for mercy in his sleep.
“Immanuel, I can do that. Just sit down and enjoy your tea.”
“I will in a minute,” he replied with a weak smile.
Immanuel looked over his shoulder and spotted a vase sitting in the center of the kitchen table overflowing with fern fronds, forget-me-notes, and periwinkle traveler’s joy. Adam had given them to him when he arrived, but now their edges were curled and turning brown while their heads dolefully flopped over the side. Immanuel set down his tea and took up the vase. As he made for the sink, he turned, expecting to find Adam behind him but found nothing. He went to take a step forward and was knocked off kilter by something hitting his chest. Heat seared through his veins, snaking through his core until it hit his heart and shot through his body one beat at a time. Swallowing hard, he leaned against the counter, busying himself with the flowers to keep Adam from seeing the fear in his eyes. This time it wasn’t death gripping his heart. It was something that wanted in. He took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes, hoping the stutter in his heart would stop.
“Immanuel? Immanuel, are you all right?”
Immanuel jerked back as water overflowed from the crystal vase and ran over his sleeves. The creeping heat abated at the water’s touch until it only lingered as a tight ball lodged near his heart. Releasing a pained breath, he swallowed hard and carried the flowers back to the table without a word. As he raised his gaze to the dying flowers, a gasp escaped his lips. Before his eyes, the flowers’ heads uncurled and the bits of brown he had seen a moment earlier eating away at the edges of the petals disappeared. Across the table, Adam absently poked at a sugar cube bobbing in his cup, unaware of his partner’s sudden urge to pitch the plants out the backdoor. Immanuel averted his gaze, but when he looked back, the blues and purples of the forget-me-nots were more vibrant than the day he arrived.
Something was wrong with him. Something was very wrong.
“I— I think I’m going to lie down for a little while.”
Adam’s arm wrapped around his shoulders, pressing Immanuel’s back into his chest. “You look flushed. Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped but caught himself. “I’m just tired.”
“Well, I will come up with you.”
Immanuel crossed his arms. “I can get up the stairs by myself. I’m not feeble anymore.”
“I think you misunderstood me.” Adam slowly raised his gaze to Immanuel’s, locking eyes as he held his arms. “I want to come up with you.”
Immanuel’s mouth formed a soundless O, and before he could think about what Adam said, they were checking the locks on the doors and covering the windows. Darting up the stairs, Immanuel slipped off his jacket and tie and tossed them into his undisturbed bedroom as he passed. He waited at the threshold of Adam’s door, watching his companion carefully close the curtains to ensure no one could see inside. It had become a nightly ritual that Adam had begun months before Immanuel moved in to avoid suspicion from their neighbors. When the room was dark, Adam took his hand and led him to the bed. His hand slid under Immanuel’s shirt and ran along the flesh of his back. Even after a week together, Immanuel still hesitated, expecting someone to be just beyond the door. It seemed too good to be true to have such freedom.
“Mr. Winter,” Adam whispered into Immanuel’s skin as he planted a trail of hot, moist kisses down his neck, “I have been waiting for this all day.”
But why? Immanuel suppressed the question that would only elicit a strange look from Adam and an equally awkward reply.
Before Immanuel could stop him, Adam’s fingers were flying over the buttons of his waistcoat and shirt. He resisted the urge to stiffen and cover his deformed chest with his arms, and instead he followed Adam’s lead. Beneath his bright dandy’s clothes, Adam was as solid and strong as Immanuel felt frail. Adam pushed Immanuel against the bedpost, catching his mouth. His pencil mustache prickled Immanuel’s lip as the redhead’s tongue plunged and grazed against his. The breath caught in Immanuel’s throat. Closing his eyes, he let his companion explore his mouth and his ever-changing body. Adam’s hands worked along his sides before sliding over the firm flesh of his buttock, eliciting a soft groan from his companion. Heat crept up Immanuel’s form, tensing every muscle in his abdomen and sending his heart out of rhythm. Immanuel blindingly unbuckled Adam’s belt and felt his fine wool trousers slip down his legs. Reaching for his own, Immanuel kicked them off and pulled Adam toward the mattress.
The bed sighed under their weight as Adam climbed on top of him. His eyes drank in Immanuel’s form while his hands rested on his ribs. Adam caressed the dents where his ribs hadn’t properly knit together. Immanuel swallowed hard at the thought of being prone and unable to hide from Adam’s mental dissection. He hoped it was too dark for Adam to see him, but his mind was silenced by a shiver rippling from his scalp to his curled toes. Immanuel raised his eyes to meet Adam’s gaze. A wordless conversation passed between them, and Adam’s lips curled into a knowing grin. Immanuel stiffened, his hips twitching, as Adam nipped at his collarbones and ran his tongue along his sternum and down the scant trail of hair leading to his flannel drawers. His fingers twisted into Adam’s henna hair as a gasp escaped his lips at the rush of air and the goosebumps rising on the tops of his thighs as his drawers were pulled away.
“I want to make you feel better,” Adam murmured, his voice husky and his breath hot against his stomach.
Immanuel closed his eyes, fisting the sheets as Adam drew him in. He needed him. He needed this. He needed to be reminded that even after all that happened, there was still love in the world. More than anything, he needed Adam to make him forget.

***

Adam stirred. Something nagged at his sleep-drunk mind, but when he finally cracked open one eye, he found the bedroom dark and the street outside the window quiet. The bed shifted beneath him, followed by another quick jolt. Turning his head, he found Immanuel still beside him with the covers drawn up to his chin and his body curled into a ball. As he watched him, Immanuel’s body trembled and a muffled squeak escaped his lips. Before he could stop himself, he released a series of soft sobs. A pale hand shot from beneath the blanket and pulled his pillow down. Hugging it close, he hid his face, reducing his cries to twitches and faint hiccups. Fear sucked the air from Adam’s lungs as he watched Immanuel, keeping his eyes nearly closed in case he turned over.
The covers slid off Immanuel’s back, revealing a cluster of shiny circular scars inscribed into his shoulder blade. Adam swallowed hard. He had never heard Immanuel’s nocturnal cries. He knew about them from Immanuel’s stories from Oxford, but as he listened to each pained sob and choked half-word, his stomach knotted. The idea that someone had used this against his partner sent rage climbing up his throat. But what could he say to make it better? Offering words of comfort wasn’t his strong suit. He didn’t even know why he was crying, so how could he help him? Maybe it would be best to close his eyes and pretend that he had never heard him.
Immanuel buried his face in the pillow as another hiccup escaped his lips. Adam resisted the urge to scratch at his wrist. Inching closer, Adam slipped his arm beneath Immanuel’s side and rested his forehead against his neck. His partner stiffened in his grasp and drew in a crackling, drowning breath. He hesitated before slowly turning over to meet Adam’s gaze. In the scant moonlight, Adam could make out Immanuel’s glossy, red eyes. Immanuel blinked to squeeze away the burning ache behind his lids, but as he opened his mouth to apologize, Adam pressed his lips to his. Immanuel’s body quavered beneath his grasp as he held him close. Heat radiated from his thin form, soaking the sheets and catching his hair in a sheen of cold sweat. As they parted, Adam caught his partner’s bichrome gaze. Silent phrases passed between them, revealing months of pain and longing. There wasn’t anything left to say.
Wrapping his arms around him, Adam pulled him closer until Immanuel’s clammy forehead rested against his collarbone. Immanuel latched onto him, concealing his face and holding onto him as if he feared he would be set adrift. There was still nothing Adam could think of to comfort him, but hands and eyes could articulate what lips could not. As he rubbed Immanuel’s back and gently hushed him, Adam watched him chew on his lip. There was something he wanted to say, something threatening to bubble out. What if he wanted to talk about Lord Rose or the terrible place where he was held captive? Adam wanted to move on. They were together now and life was good. That was what mattered.
Finally, Immanuel drew in a deep breath and met Adam’s gaze. “I— I think something’s wrong with me, Adam. I really do. Something has to be.”
Adam wiped away the moisture clinging to the dark circles under his companion’s eyes. “Why would you think that? You may have a bad eye, but like I told you months ago, spectacles might help.”
Immanuel shook his head and shut his eyes, pressing them against Adam’s chest. “No, that’s not it.”
“Are you in pain?” Adam asked, his voice tightening. “We could stop by James and Eliza’s tomorrow. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking a look at you.”
“It isn’t physical. Maybe it is, but sometimes—” The words hung in Immanuel’s throat as he inhaled Adam’s familiar lavender cologne in hopes it would steady him. “Sometimes I see things.”
Immanuel hesitated. Should he talk about the cat skeleton hidden in his drawer? That he knew the cat had once been a beloved pet and because of that, he didn’t know what to do with it. How could he explain to Adam that when he touched something dead, he saw what happened right before it died and that’s why he couldn’t handle raw meat? It was embarrassing. It was more than embarrassing; it made him question his sanity, which was already precarious at best. What would he think if Adam told him he watched a vase of plants revitalize before his very eyes? He would think he was losing his grip on reality, and perhaps he was.
“They’re just nightmares, Immanuel,” Adam whispered, pressing his lips to Immanuel’s forehead, “and nothing more.”
“Just—” A loose laugh escaped his lips. Immanuel shook his head. He had it all wrong. “They’re not…”
“I know you still think you see Lord Rose, but it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. You can’t give into it. We know he’s dead and can’t hurt you now. If you keep telling yourself that, then all of this will stop.”
It had all been said so sweetly, so innocently, and with such a gentle kiss on his brow that Immanuel didn’t dare say a word.
His eyes burned with tears as he whispered, “Right. You’re right. Good night, Adam.”
Rolling onto his side, he felt Adam’s arms wrap around his bare torso and the hot flesh of his stomach press against his back. As Adam settled into slow, steady breaths, Immanuel’s eyes trailed to the narrow space between the curtains. Moonlight streamed into the room, illuminating the pile of clothes strewn across the floor. Biting back the urge to snatch them off the rug and fold them, Immanuel stared at the winking stars. Adam didn’t mean it that way, he reminded himself. How could he know that putting his kidnapper and abuser out of his mind was hard on a good day and nearly impossible on a bad one? No amount of love or good fortune would dispel the damage Lord Rose had done. His ribs still ached on humid days from where they had been broken and the cigarette burns on his back seared anew the moment his mind lapsed into daydreams. But how could Adam know the pain the past still caused?
Immanuel drew in a wet breath and squeezed his eyes shut. Against his will, a tear bubbled out and slid down his cheek. Pressing his face into the pillow, he tried to push away the disappointment and fear pooling in his sockets. Adam had been there since the beginning. He had seen his body shattered, a hollow skeleton of its former incarnation, and he had watched him carve out a new form meant to resemble what he had lost, yet he still didn’t understand.
For months Immanuel had counted down the days until he left Oxford and could finally be able to live without a mask, yet it wasn’t to be. How could he tell Adam about the strange sensations and the visions if it meant losing the one anchor of stability he had? He sniffed and shifted until Adam’s loose grip fell away.
Even with everything he could have wanted, there was no way to forget.


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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Book Review: “The 13th Hex” by Jordan L. Hawk

13th hex jlh

Title: “The 13th Hex” (Hexworld 0.5) by Jordan L. Hawk

Genre: Paranormal/arcane fantasy

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: A great short story that introduces a new world featuring witches, familiars, hexes, and of course, Teddy Roosevelt.

The official blurb:

Romance. Magic.
Murder.

Dominic Kopecky dreamed of becoming a member of New York’s Metropolitan Witch Police—a dream dashed when he failed the test for magical aptitude. Now he spends his days drawing the hexes the MWP relies on for their investigations.

But when a murder by patent hex brings crow familiar Rook to his desk, Dominic can’t resist the chance to experience magic. And as the heat grows between Dominic and Rook, so does the danger. Because the case has been declared closed—and someone is willing to kill to keep it that way.

The 13th Hex is the prequel short story to the all-new Hexworld series. If you like shifters, magic, and romance, you’ll love Jordan L. Hawk’s world of witch policemen and the familiars they bond with.


I’m a total glutton for Jordan L. Hawk’s work, and when I saw that she was creating a new series centering around 19th century New York City, I was beyond excited. If “The 13th Hex” is any indication of the rest of the series, I’ll pre-order every single installment.

The story centers around Dominic Kopecky, a hexman working at the New York Metropolitan Witch Police. His job is a tedious one, copying, analyzing, and perfecting hexes that the police use, but Dominic is the best in the business, which brings Rook into his world. Rook is a familiar without a witch, investigating murders caused by a faulty hex. While the police have closed the case, Rook suspects there’s something more. What ensues is a very enjoyable short mystery with a hint of steam.

Jordan L. Hawk instantly makes me fall in love with her characters. Dominic is the typical quiet office worker with his nose to the grindstone. While this wasn’t the job he wanted, he does it to the best of his ability, and the brief moments of hope in Dominic’s thoughts totally endeared him to me. Rook is all sensuality and action, but what I loved about her familiars is that they have characteristics of their animal forms without shoving it down the reader’s throat. Rook’s laugh is described as cawing while Cicero, the cat familiar, has a languid air to him while reverting to cat-like disdain at the sight of water.

“The 13th Hex” is a short story, so I’ll keep the review brief. The world Hawk is setting up is steeped in history and wrapped in sigils, magical creatures, and murder mysteries. The downside to “The 13th Hex” is that it’s so short. I really wanted a longer work because I loved Rook and Dominic’s dynamic and it made the pace incredibly fast. A few thousand more words may have satisfied me more.

Overall, “The 13th Hex” is a fantastic short story to introduce a new series, and I can’t wait for Hexbreaker.

You can buy “The 13th Hex” here for $0.99.

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“An Oxford Holiday” is Out on Amazon!

Just a quick little Friday post.

An Oxford Holiday cover

My short story “An Oxford Holiday” is now out on Amazon! It is an 8,000 word short story featuring Adam and Immanuel from The Winter Garden. The story is a bit of a romance piece. I wanted to challenge myself because I don’t usually write romance-based plots, and I rarely write short stories. It is 99 cents and can be found here.

If you would like to add it to your Goodread’s to-be-read list, just click here.

Here is the blurb:

After a trying two months at Oxford dealing with miserable classmates and isolation, all Immanuel Winter wants is a peaceful weekend with Adam— two days where they could forget about the impossibilities of their future together.

But when the arrival of a radical female lawyer turns the university upside down, their holiday plans are put in jeopardy.

Will Adam and Immanuel be able to escape the horde of dons descending upon the city or will they be forced to postpone their plans and their future?

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Project Announcement: An Ingenious Mechanical Devices Short

Hi everyone,

I have decided (now that I’m about halfway in) to announce that the first short companion story for my steampunk/historical fantasy series the Ingenious Mechanical Devices will be out by the end of the summer.

What is it?

The story will be roughly 5,000 words or so and will take place after the events of The Winter Garden (IMD #2). It will be a standalone, but obviously, it would make more sense if it was read along with the other Ingenious Mechanical Devices stories. The working title is “An Oxford Holiday,” the story revolves around Adam journeying to Oxford to visit Immanuel. Unfortunately, getting a little privacy and time together is more difficult than it seems. The story will be offered for free on all platforms when it is finished (Amazon may take a few days to catch up with the other ebook platforms).

Why do this?

It may seem odd for an author to post something so short and for free, but I’m thinking of this short story as a free sample, a bonus for being a loyal reader or an incentive for new readers to give my work a try. I also know that it will take me a while to finish writing The Earl and the Artificer, so by releasing a short story, I’ll hopefully keep my readers interested between the two books. Recently, I have been reading K. J. Charles’s A Charm of Magpies series, and one of the things I love about them is that she writes short stories to go along with her books. It’s a great little teaser between stories, and I devour them just as I do her full-length novels. It’ll just be a light, fun story, but it will hopefully add a bit to the series and give a hint as to what will happen in book four when Adam and Immanuel reappear.

Additional Information

If you get the chance, please drop by my Progress and Projects page at the menu bar. Every few days I’ll be updating my word count bars as I progress. You can also check out what I’m working on and what I’ll be tackling in the future. Stay tuned for more info about my projects, and hopefully in the coming weeks, I’ll have a date for the release of “An Oxford Holiday.”


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