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.
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.