Actually the hero in Summer Devon and my latest collaboration is a smuggler and not a pirate, importing illegal goods as opposed to boarding a ship at sea. The Cornish coast of England was legendary for being a landing spot for tax-free booty from overseas, particularly during Napoleonic times but well beyond too. I wouldn’t be surprised if even today shipments were offloaded in private coves along that shoreline.
Whether a smuggler or simple fisherman, Carne is a romantic figure in former Professor Singleton’s eyes when he arrives in a small village. The professor wants to write about the history of the area and produce what would amount to an early coffee table travel book–with photographs! a marvelous new possibility in 1902.
Read on for the blurb and opening excerpt from The Professor and the Smuggler.
An explorer at heart, former university professor Phillip Singleton’s adventures have only taken place in his imagination—until recently. Exploring the Cornish coast to research a travel book, he encounters a living example of a pirate archetype. Dark-haired, black-bearded Carne Treleaven might have been hewn from the very rock his name describes, and Phillip is eager to discover more.
Carne has little patience for the awkward, dreamy professor, an outsider who must be steered away from local secrets. He agrees to serve as a guide to seaside caves where smugglers once operated only to keep Phillip away from more recent activity.
As personalities clash, secrets unfold, and riches are revealed, the two polar opposites find the point where their similarities lay. Carne’s old beliefs are shattered by his attraction to a man and he must decide if he’s willing to take a huge step outside his familiar life and into a brand new world.
Cornwall, England, 1905
Phillip Bartholomew Singleton tripped over a rock hidden in the tall grass and careened into the ring of standing stones. He threw out an arm to catch his balance and bashed it into one of the erect boulders that had been raised by men thousands of years earlier. His elbow hit quartzite, and the shock reverberated up his arm. He yelped and grabbed at the point of pain, pivoted on his left foot, and fell into another tall pale stone. More than fell. He drove his shoulder into it, and the menhir, no taller than his own gangly six-foot-four frame, rocked on its base. It began to lean.
“No. Oh no, no, no,” Phillip chanted as he grabbed at the slab with both hands, hoping to steady it, the sharp crack on his elbow forgotten. These stones were practically rooted in the earth. They’d stood for thousands of years, maybe more, set in place by an ancient people. It was impossible that a little bump could—
The standing stone slumped to the ground like a gray old man whose legs had finally failed him. There was no powerful whump when boulder hit ground, more of a soft sigh of surrender as stone reclined into grass.
Phillip stared at the felled slab, pushing a hand through his unruly mop of hair.
“No, no, no, no.” If repetition of a mantra could pray the stone back into its proper position, he’d spend the night reciting his incantation. “Dear God in Heaven, NO!”
The stone remained where it lay—where it would continue to lie for the next few thousand years until the Earth slowly covered it over and cradled it again in her bosom of soil.
Phillip plastered his palms over his mouth, holding back his horror as he too slowly sank to the ground. He’d come down from London to Cornwall to research and write about the corner of Britain he most admired, a land of crashing surf, shipwrecks, and smugglers, of dark, dangerous mines riddling the earth, and folk as hard as the very rock they hewed. This was his first day exploring the countryside steeped in sumptuous layers of history and he’d managed to destroy a small archeological marvel.
Small was the operative word, he consoled himself as he gazed around the ring of weather-worn menhir that encircled him and back to their fallen comrade. It wasn’t as if he’d knocked down Stonehenge or anything. There were many modest rings of stone like this all over the British Isles. If he viewed this incident in another light, he had simply become a part of history, leaving his own mark on the stones in the great march of time. That was rather exciting to ponder.
As he continued to sit and sneeze away pollen from the many weeds growing rampant in the clearing, Phillip removed his glasses to wipe his eyes, then rubbed his sore elbow. He should unload the photographic equipment from his vehicle parked on the road and document this moment. If he chose to use the photograph in a travelogue, he never need mention his part in reshaping the standing stones of Par Gwynear.
The sound of some large animal pushing through the trees surrounding this open space seized Phillip’s attention. Just as he’d scrambled to his feet, prepared to run from whatever predator patrolled the countryside, a black-bearded man pushed aside branches and emerged from the woods. He was nearly as tall as Phillip but much bulkier across the shoulders, with the solid build of his mining heritage. His sleeves were rolled to the elbow, baring muscular forearms covered with dark hair, and he wore no cap to hide the sheen of sunlight on his raven hair.
Piercing brown eyes skewered Phillip as the stranger demanded, “What the devil are you doin’ here?”
Phillip had begun this adventure prepared to be given the cold shoulder by the locals. This area was not known for its hospitality, and he’d expected to have to work at gaining the historical stories he craved. He’d come forearmed with excuses.
“Oh, am I trespassing? I had no idea this was private property. I thought this land was unclaimed and free for tourists to wander. I heard about Par Gwynear Circle and came to see the stones for myself and to make a photograph. I was about to head back to my vehicle to get the camera.” He gestured in the general direction of the road.
The surly man continued to glare at him, and Phillip’s skin felt more sunburned than it already was from having left his broad-brimmed hat in the auto. One thick chambray-clad arm lifted, displaying an intriguing flex of muscles in the forearm as the Cornishman pointed in quite a different direction.
“The road’s that way, and while this ain’t private property, it’s not open for anyone to go bumblin’ about. These are wild lands, Mr…?”
“Phillip Singleton, recently a professor at Cambridge, now pursuing my own research project.” Phillip walked toward the stranger through a tangle of thorny undergrowth that snagged his trousers. He reached to pull the fabric free and stabbed his fingers for his efforts. After sucking away blood, he extended his hand.
The man stared for just long enough to be rude before taking it. He gave a firm clasp and hard pump before letting go. “I’m Carne. As I said, these are rough lands, Professor Singleton, full of snakes and other teasy creatures. A fellow might get hurt and no one would find him till it was too late.”
Why did the cautioning sound rather like a threat? Phillip swallowed a flutter of fear that tickled his throat and gave Mr. Carne his most affable smile. “Yes, I can see the sense in what you say. In future, I will find myself a local guide to accompany me on my expeditions.”
One thick, dark eyebrow rose. “In future?”
“I shall be in the area for several weeks at least, but maybe as much as a month, gathering materials for a book I plan to write about your delightful area of the country. In fact,” he lowered his voice confidentially, “I hope to have it published as an illustrated volume with photographs!”
The large man, who’d loomed near enough that Phillip could smell the sweat glistening on his skin, did not appear impressed, so Phillip continued.
“Did you know the average British citizen is unlikely to travel more than a few miles from his home in an entire lifetime? There is so much of our nation that remains unexplored and unknown by the masses. Now that it is possible to include photographic reproductions in a book, I believe this will be a device by which people too poor to take holidays to far-flung places may be able to experience travel vicariously.”
The man’s dark brown eyes continued to sear Phillip like a Sunday roast. “Folks too poor for holidays ain’t likely to buy a costly book. With photographs,” he echoed mockingly.
Phillip might have been hurt if he weren’t so used to others being unable to see his vision. He’d spent most of his academic life dreaming of things his fellow university professors had no interest in, but now he’d freed himself to pursue the project most dear to his heart. A little scoffing wouldn’t deter him.
“Perhaps you’d be willing to escort me to my motorcar and help me carry my equipment here?” Phillip shaded his eyes to check the angle of the sun. “At the moment, the shadows cast by the stones will be stunning, but if I don’t make a picture soon, the light will be gone. If you don’t mind.”
Carne pressed his lips together, and his jaw flexed. The sight of that tiny ripple and the protruding bone under rough beard sent a corresponding ripple through Phillip. He suppressed the slight surge of attraction to the ruggedly handsome Cornishman. He wasn’t here for that, and even if he were, this man would likely beat him senseless if Phillip were to make any indication of interest.
At last, Carne clicked his tongue and nodded curtly. “Aye, I’ll help you get your photograph, but after this, keep away from the wilder lands.” He gazed from under knit brows at Phillip. “’Specially the coves along the seashore. The tide comes in fast, and you might get trapped. Some have drowned that way. ’Tis said their spirits still echo in the rocky chambers.”
With this dire warning and rather eerily romantic image, Carne headed back into the woods. Phillip followed close behind him—too close, as a branch snapped back to deliver a lashing blow across his face.
Phillip wiped away the sting and trudged on, quite satisfied with the initial day of his exploration. By sunset, he’d have the first photographs for his proposed book, and he’d been berated and cautioned by a local man in a quaint accent slathered like thick honey on bread, which made the experience feel even more like an adventure. He grinned in satisfaction. The real world was dirty, sweaty, painful, a little scary, and far away from the safe, quiet rooms where he’d spent far too many hours of his life tinkering with machines and daydreaming.
Now he was on location and actually following his dream. He intended to revel in every minute of this working vacation.