No April Fool’s joke, The Copper is finally going live on Monday after probably the longest pre-order period I’ve ever had for a novel. Read on for a blurb and a first-chapter excerpt:
Lord Avery Wickersham wakes from a night’s debauchery at a bordello to police officers pounding on the bedroom door. During the vice raid, Constable Connor Tate is ready to arrest the lord and his two male sex partners when Avery’s glib tongue earns a reprieve for his friends if not for himself.
From this grim beginning, men as opposite as summer and winter slowly work their way to an unexpected spring. Avery is ripe for a change in his aimless life, while Connor struggles between duty and desire. Overwhelming passion takes them by storm, but can a rush of lust evolve into love when their lives are so different?
While Avery attempts altruism by volunteering at a charity mission, Connor uncovers government corruption and an evil man who brings torture and death to his victims. The duo join forces to try to stop the killer, but when one of the lovers faces peril, their time may run out.
Avery woke with a foot in his face, one toe nearly probing his nose. He opened his heavy lids to regard the foot—well-formed, not smelly, toenails painted a deep magenta. He pushed the foot away and stretched, then winced as his head throbbed.
Not a bright and cheery morning this, despite pale sunlight sneaking between the drapes. He’d had too much last night; too much to drink, too much to smoke, too many flirtations and kisses to remember any of them. The lovers he’d ended the evening with lay in the large bed with him now, a tall Viking of a man with long blond hair and a full beard, and an effeminate brunet, he of the magenta toenails.
Ah yes, Avery remembered. The young man sang onstage before joining the party at Avery’s table in Madame Renault’s club. There’d been dancing, betting on a wrestling match and on… Avery cringed as he recalled measuring cock lengths at full staff. Of course the sex had been memorable with the strong, muscular Swede, or whatever he was, and the pretty singing lad with the talented mouth. Very memorable, except somehow the details were so foggy, it might as well have been a dream.
Too much, that pestering voice he didn’t care to hear whispered in his head. Too much of everything all the time. When are you going to learn?
Avery pushed locks of the Viking’s blond hair off his face and sat up to take stock. The Norseman snored contentedly with his head on the pillow and his flowing beard resting on a chiseled chest. The singer’s rouged lips were parted, a small damp spot of spittle darkening the satin sheet near the foot of the bed. How the man had ended sleeping the wrong way, Avery didn’t remember… Oh wait, yes he did, and his cock tensed at the delicious memory.
He smiled at lovely Bertrand—he recalled the singer’s name—and considered waking him by returning the favor. But, alas, Avery had an appointment with his solicitor this morning and no time to linger with last night’s companions.
He climbed out from under entangled limbs and twisted bedding, relieved himself in the chamber pot, and washed with fresh rose-scented water in the basin. The amenities in Madame Renault’s sleeping chambers above the club were worth every penny. Avery couldn’t think of a better use for his fortune than to keep Madame in business with his frequent visits. This was a second home to him, private, secure, comfortable, and catering to all his desires.
He retrieved his evening clothes from the wardrobe, where a discreet maid had placed them sometime during the night. He sniffed the linen of his shirtfront—washed and pressed, even. Such excellent service.
Avery drew on his drawers and had one foot in his trousers when raised voices and clattering footsteps on the stairs alerted him to disaster.
“Come out now, you blighters! You’re all under arrest.” A booming voice preceded pounding at a door down the corridor. More shouts followed as the police swept through the rooms where Madame’s select clientele lay sleeping off the night’s dissolution.
Avery froze like a fox flushed by hounds from its den. His haven had been breached. His heart pounded as he envisioned the ramifications of an arrest. Even more than fear, anger surged through him at this invasion of privacy. What he and his companions chose to do here should be no one’s business but their own, and he defied any man who said otherwise.
Defying was easier dreamed of than carried out when the bedroom door crashed open and a man in a uniform rushed in. The pair on the bed jumped up in alarm, the possible Norwegian cursing in his native tongue and the singer bursting into tears and begging, both of them pulling up bedcovers to shield their nudity.
The front of his trousers still open, Avery planted his feet and stared into the constable’s eyes, which were a vivid blue below the brim of his blue helmet. “What’s the trouble, Officer?”
The strong jaw beneath a day’s worth of stubble clenched so hard, Avery thought it might cut through the man’s flesh. “You’re under arrest. Hold out your hands.”
“What’s the charge, sir?” Avery asked blandly.
“You know very well.” The man began to quote the law by rote as he produced a pair of handcuffs. “Any male person who, in public or private, commits, procures or attempts to procure any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
“Do you see any one of us engaged in any sort of promiscuous act? We were merely sharing a bedchamber…” Avery glanced at his nude companions. “And all of us happen prefer to sleep without a nightshirt. Or drawers.”
The policeman beckoned the Viking to him. “You first.”
Avery wondered if the bearded giant planned on giving the policeman trouble. But he shuffled forward docilely and offered his wrists, still rumbling curses. The blue-eyed bobby snapped on a pair of cuffs.
Poor Bertrand cried so loudly, the noise was deafening. Another officer entered the room and approached the sobbing singer. “You shut yer gob, you flamin’ pouf.”
Bertrand shrieked and flailed his hands, raking the man’s cheek with his painted nails. “I won’t go back there. I won’t!”
The balding copper, who’d lost his helmet somewhere along the way, pulled back a fist and drove it into Bertrand’s face. Blood spurted from Bertrand’s nose, and he howled.
“Here now. That’s enough. Leave him alone.” Avery started toward the pair to stop the smaller man from being beaten to a pulp. But he couldn’t intercept before the constable punched Bertrand again, in the stomach this time, effectively stopping his screaming as Bertrand gasped for air.
Avery put himself between the officer and his victim, intercepting a blow, which clipped the side of his head. He hadn’t felt a punch like that since his boxing days at university. The knuckles against his ear made his head ring. He blinked away white stars and formed a fist of his own, but before he could punch the bald cop, the other officer grabbed both his arms and pulled him away. The man’s grip was like a pair of iron manacles. His body against Avery’s back was granite.
“Go on, Turnbull. I have these men under control. See if any of the others need help.” The constable’s voice rumbled near Avery’s ear. He was nearly Avery’s height, and not many men were—excluding the giant Swede, who stood a head taller than either of them.
When his angry partner appeared ready to keep punching, the one snapping cuffs on Avery’s wrists repeated, “I don’t need your help here. Go!”
The other constable glared but left to join the mayhem beyond the room. Avery glimpsed men in uniform and others in various states of undress passing by the partially open door. Chaos had entered Renaud’s, and not of the fun sort they’d all experienced last night.
After his partner left, the officer moved toward Bertrand, who’d crumpled into a naked heap on the floor. He removed his helmet and rubbed a hand through closely shorn but very thick black hair, then squatted beside Bertrand without touching him. “Calm yourself. I won’t handcuff you, but you must promise to behave while I escort you to the wagon.”
Bertrand gazed up at him over the hand covering his injured nose. “I can’t do it. I can’t go back there. Please don’t…” The rest of his words were muffled by blood and mucus.
“For God’s sake, let the man put on some clothes.” Avery felt fairly exposed himself, wearing only his unfastened trousers. He began to button him with his cuffed hands. “Allow the lad some dignity.”
He half expected the policeman to make a retort about nancies getting what they deserved. But the officer covered Bertrand’s parts with a sheet from the bed, offered him a handkerchief for his nose, then rose and searched for the singer’s and the Swede’s clothing
“They’ll be in the wardrobe. The staff here is meticulous about clothing.” Avery considered that poor Madame Renaud would likely be arrested as well. She’d be charged with pandering. And the servants? Likely they’d scattered like pigeons the moment the bulls charged inside the building.
As Bertrand sniffled and drew on the frock he’d worn for his performance last night, the Norwegian awkwardly pulled on his trousers with his cuffed hands.
Avery drew a breath and considered his dire situation. He could probably buy his way out of a jail sentence, but he couldn’t afford the scandal. Not that his name would ever be pure. Most of high society guessed his inclinations but continued to invite him to galas because Avery added sparkle and life to any gathering. Wealth and a title went a long way toward making people overlook things they didn’t want to acknowledge.
But with this arrest, Avery’s secret life would be on full display. No more hiding in the shadows. An end of invitations and shunning all around, except for among his own kind. Likely those who hadn’t missed being caught up in the raid would go to ground for a while until the scandal blew over. They’d scatter to villas in Tuscany, islands in Greece, perhaps steam across to New York for a visit. London would be void of all life, color, and companionship for a time.
Avery shook off his gloom. Here he was selfishly thinking about a dearth in his social life when some of the men arrested today, the ones without resources, could be facing long prison sentences. And poor Bertrand’s beautiful face!
Avery went to help him fasten the buttons on his gown. “Is your nose all right? Does it hurt too badly?”
“Damn my nose! I can’t go to jail again. I can’t. You don’t know how it was for me last time.” Bertrand’s eyes darted right and left. He was terrified nearly out of his mind, and that simply wouldn’t do.
Avery turned to the constable, who was helping the Viking fasten his trousers over the man’s considerable cock. The officer’s face flushed deeply as he completed his task.
“Officer… May I know your name?” Avery asked.
The man glanced up. “Tate.”
“Officer Tate, please hear me out. If you’d let the three of us slip through the cracks, as it were, I’d show you deep gratitude commensurate with such a generous act.”
“Are you offering me a bribe, sir?” Cool eyes drilled into him like diamond points. “The reputation of the force is shadowed by corruption, but I assure you, I do not accept bribes.”
“Not a bribe. Think of it as a reward for kindness. As you can see, Bertrand here will not last a night nor even an hour in jail. Please, at least let the boy go with a warning. He could hide under the bed until everyone is gone, with none of your colleagues the wiser. I’ll accompany you without complaint.”
Those eyes continued to skewer him, but Avery pressed on. “After my solicitor secures my release, I shall pay you an equal amount for helping this poor youth.”
“A bribe,” the policeman repeated.
“A gratuity,” Avery insisted and realized how often he used his hands to gesture for emphasis. He felt quite at a loss with them cuffed.
The noise in the hallway continued, but the quiet in the room grew thick and heavy as the copper seemed to be mulling over the offer.
Avery held his breath, the Swede ceased his muttering, and even Bertrand stopped whimpering.
The square-jawed officer pressed his lips tight and stared at each of them in turn, his gaze resting longest on Bertrand’s tear-streaked face and swelling nose. He pointed at the singer. “Hide until you hear everyone clear the house. The other pair must come with me. I can’t come away without arrests.”
“God bless you, sir. You’ve saved me!” Bertrand started to throw his arms impulsively around the uniform, but the copper pushed him off. The singer took the hint and quickly scrambled under the bed.
The Swede or Norwegian bobbed his shaggy head in approval. “Ja. Utmerket.”
Avery exchanged a steady look with the officer and nodded, sealing his deal with the devil.
But as he passed the man to precede him from the room, the copper grasped his arm. “You may keep your money. I told you, I don’t accept bribes.”
All right, it was saccharine and everyone’s stories wrapped up with a neat little bow, but I still enjoyed it and the entire flawed series. Even more than the stories, which often bordered on the ridiculous, I loved the setting and the costumes. That dinner party in this final episode was just gorgeous. I wanted to be there, but without having to make small talk with anyone.
In other news…today is the release day for Mike and the Spring Awakening, the third in the Victorian Holiday Hearts series. Available at all the usual booksellers.
Young Micah “Mike” Cordett’s privileged life explodes when he is caught naked with a schoolmate. Running away from disgrace, he blunders into a trap in a seamy part of London and endures months of abuse before escaping. But with the help of the Andrews family, he’s begun to climb out of his fear. Yet, when a reminder of his happier past erupts into his life in the form of Lucas Spring, Mike’s not certain he’s ready to face the remnants of the charmed life he’d once enjoyed. He’s certainly not ready for love.
Lucas Spring pined for Mike from afar when they were in school. This shadow of the confident boy he once knew shocks him, and Lucas vows to do anything he can to help restore the person he’d so admired. With patience and determination, he hopes to ease Mike’s fears and perhaps even win his love.
But when a violent figure from Mike’s past looms into his present, will the tender shoots of a new beginning be crushed?
Summer Devon and my second installment in the Victorian Holiday Hearts series is now live. If you read Simon and the Christmas Spirit, we’re sure you’ll enjoy it. Will and the Valentine Saint tells the tale of Christopher’s brother and his attempt to reinvent himself a little. It’s full of plenty of Valentine-y sweetness, including exchanged love notes and mention of, if not ingestion of, chocolates.
Will Andrews wishes to escape the crazy world of his bohemian family and create some order in his life. Hiding his eccentric theater background and presenting false letters of recommendation, he interviews for a position at a legal aid society. The last thing he expects is to fall hard for his genteel employer, Hugh St. John.
When Hugh needs a secretary, one magnetic candidate draws him. Will Andrews shares his vision for the Society and is also the most attractive man he’s ever met. But Hugh has never even kissed a man and would never throw himself at an employee.
As the pair plans a Valentine charity dinner, they grow ever closer to surrendering to Cupid’s arrow. But when Will’s false credentials and true background are revealed, can Hugh forgive his lies and omissions? Can fragile romance blossom into true love after trust is broken?