London 1923. Arcanist Randolph Glyde first bumped into Saul Lazenby when a sacred tree inexplicably caught fire. Lazenby presents himself as an innocent bystander working for the eccentric Major Peabody. But Randolph isn’t sure he believes that…
Randolph had rather liked the way it had been in his war: casual encounters when one had the time and inclination, to which the authorities turned a blind eye because there weren’t enough occultists to waste any over petty morality; no tiresome obligations afterwards, since there were more important matters afoot and anyway half the men one fucked would be going back to wives or sweethearts. He didn’t have the strength for dodging around dark alleys any more, let alone the tedious palaver of winks and nods to ascertain shared inclinations. He’d nearly died for his country a great deal too often; if that country was as grateful as it claimed to be, it could demonstrate that by leaving him alone.
He’d been told things were changing. The new generation of gilded youth, nauseatingly referred to as Bright Young People, made a great parade of unconventional natures. “Darling, you can’t move for homosexuals!” he’d been assured of some Piccadilly club by one of his fashionable acquaintance. Good for them, he supposed. It sounded like the sort of milieu in which a handsome, jaded, upper-class predator could have made absolute hay with fresh-faced innocents to the benefit of all concerned, if only his war had ended when everyone else’s had. If he’d been like other men of his class, with nothing better to do than amuse himself; if he hadn’t been so sodding busy with ghosts.
If he wasn’t getting old. Randolph, who was thirty-five, chose not to pursue that thought.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he was thinking of this at all, except, perhaps, for those encounters the previous week with the man Lazenby. He let his mind roam over that as he headed up Farringdon Street, since idle thoughts were a useful way to free his less usual senses.
Saul Lazenby, who had looked like an ordinary bystander when the Southcott Oak had burned and Randolph had been too damned late to see what happened.
Randolph had immediately telephoned Mrs. Denton, whose family guarded the Southcott box, to be assured of its safety and ask for watchfulness. Two days later she’d telephoned back to say that a Major Peabody had requested permission to visit, and would Randolph please take a look. So he’d looked, and he’d seen: Saul Lazenby, the innocent bystander at the Southcott tree burning, innocently by-sitting in a railway carriage on his way to see the Southcott box.
It could be innocent, was the damned thing of it. Peabody had been an obvious idiot, his head full of half-baked mystical notions and theories. If Lazenby had been in Oak Hill Park by chance, it was perfectly reasonable that his unicorn-chasing employer would follow up the Southcott connection.
If. Because Randolph had not quite liked the feeling he’d had from Lazenby. There was something out of true there, something off. It might be purely personal, of course: Lazenby was of the solid respectable middle classes and without doubt interested in men, and Randolph knew, if only by observation, the fear and shame that might have been heaped on him. If you told a fellow he was wrong long and convincingly enough, he often grew wrong. Perhaps Lazenby was simply a self-loathing queer working for an idiot and no more need be said. Perhaps Randolph should track him down and cheer him up. That sensitive, sun-browned face, that lean and hungry look, the banked fires in his dark, unhappy eyes—oh, he’d bet Mr. Lazenby would repay a man’s efforts, given half a chance.
SPECTRED ISLE by KJ Charles
KJ Charles spent twenty years working as an editor before switching sides to become a full-time writer. She hasn’t regretted it yet. KJ writes mostly queer historical romance, some of it paranormal or fantasy. She lives in London with her husband, two children, and a cat of absolute night.
Blurb for Spectred Isle
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.
Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.
Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.
Publication date 3 August 2017