Well, here we are at the end of a very unusual year. What on earth lies in wait for us next year?
This year has been beyond turbulent on every scale. My role as an author has changed drastically, as has the world around us. The world will have to take care of itself. But I need to cope with my own problems, which I’m in the process of turning into opportunities.
I lost two valuable publishers. First Samhain, a publisher I loved working with. They had my historicals, until I moved to Kensington. Samhain was Richard and Rose’s home, together with several other series, including my venture into historical paranormals, Even Gods Fall In Love. The latter series has been republished by Entangled, and Richard and Rose will be reissued in the new year. All the others are there already, waiting for you to download and read them, except for a couple of novellas, which I’ll reissue when I can.
I lost Heroes and Heartbreakers, which I loved reading and writing for, too. It’s been a brutal year, I have to admit.
Now I hear that Loose-Id is closing in May. They published many of my contemporaries and contemporary paranormal romances. I loved writing Department 57, most of which are already republished, but I have ten other books with Loose-Id, including the Symbiotic series. I’ll put them all back out as they become available to me. Loose-Id was one of the good guys, always paying on time, great cover art and brilliant editing.
The promotion for the reissues kills me. I don’t do well with promo, and with an increasingly crowded market, I doubt that will improve. I rely on the kindness of strangers, and the reputation I’ve built up over the years. I can promise that you will not read any fake reviews for my books and what I write I do with integrity and my own efforts. Any help in spreading the word is greatly appreciated, of course, but I’m luckier than many in that I have a small core of regular readers. I can genuinely call myself a best-seller, which is really appreciated. I couldn’t get there without you! I believe I’ve built that group up by writing the best books I can, and making sure they get the best chance I can give them. I intend to continue that course. I love writing, and that part is never going to change.
New ReleaseBut in January, I have a new release with Sinless! I’m enormously proud of this, a male/male romance in the middle of a female/male series! Because so many people asked for Darius’s book, I got to write it. I love Darius, the more laid-back Shaws twin, but the man who could be hanged for his preference.
Even more conflicted is his love, Andrew Grey, a lawyer and a widower. So does he break the law every time he follows his inclinations, or does he give in to the love that will enrich his life?
Bearing in mind the fact that this is a mainstream series, this is not an erotic read. It’s primarily a story of love, not of sex. There’s one fully-realised scene in the book but I kept it on the “soft” side. I do believe that a book should get the heat level it needs rather than the one dictated by external things. It’s a novella, a small, delicate story rather than a full-on heavy one.
And I loved writing it, because it is about love and defying the odds.
There will be a bonus surprise later this month, if I can get it done.
Here’s the beginning of Sinless for you.
DescriptionIn Georgian England, love can mean ruin—even for a Shaw . . .
Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.
Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.
ExcerptDarius paced to one end of his cell and then to the other. Four steps—two one way, two in the opposite direction. A narrow bench intended to serve as a bed stood against it. His jailer had told him he was lucky. He had no doubt he was because the entrance was secured, and he was alone. Unlike everyone else in this place.
The sound of prisoners doing whatever prisoners did filtered through the thick wooden door and thick stone walls. From the evidence of his ears, that would include sexual congress, betting, and more violent amusements. Presumably, if someone killed another person, that would save the hangman a job.
The jailers would haul him up before the magistrate tomorrow. No, that would be later today. They had hinted strongly that they would help him disappear before they reached Newgate, but he had ignored them.
Day had dawned an hour ago, but Darius had no intention of sleeping, especially on that thin mattress. The thing could have moved by itself, judging by the amount of wildlife that had set up home in it. A filthy lice-infested blanket held it down.
He gave a thin grin at the greasy walls scored by generations of prisoners inscribing their names and more amusing, lewder messages. If he’d sent a note to his family’s town house, they’d have had him out of here in an instant. So why hadn’t he done so?
Maybe because he deserved to be locked up. He was, after all, a sinner. He broke one specific law every time he had the chance. But not from any wish to, merely because what he wanted to do happened to be illegal.
People called what he did a sin against nature, a sin against mankind, and a sin against morality. That put his existence in a nutshell. He was a sinner.
He told himself he didn’t care. His coat skirts swung heavily around his legs as he turned, the expensive fabric hitting the filthy walls. He didn’t care about many things these days. He’d cared about his brother and his brother’s happiness, but Val was making his own life now. He didn’t need Darius any longer.
Every day he awoke, dressed, met people, Darius had to lie. He lied about his whereabouts, his desires, his needs. Even to the people who knew who and what he was he lied, to save them more than to save himself. Would they care that the kiss he’d planted on the prim and proper lawyer last night had meant more to him than any other kiss?
Not even Val would understand that. Darius never told him. He rarely kissed anyone, not on the lips, at any rate. He’d stopped touching people as much as he could, withdrawing, wondering if celibacy was the answer to his problem.
Not after last night, it wasn’t.
Andrew Graham had lit something that Darius, for all his experience, wasn’t ready for. Andrew Graham, proper lawyer, cold as ice, with steel-gray eyes that cut through to the truth, had roused Darius. He had meant that kiss as a lesson, as a declaration and defiance. Not as passion.
When his plans evaporated, when he lost control of the situation he had organized, he’d flown up to the boughs, furiously defiant. He’d struck out at the first person he’d seen, determined on some kind of revenge, even of the pettiest kind. He’d wanted to punish Andrew Graham for interfering in his plans, of trying to intercept the man he’d been pursuing before he did. He’d wanted to strike him. Failing that, he’d kissed him.
And nature had struck right back.
Even now, that kiss filled him with the kind of passion he’d turned his back on years ago. At least, he thought he had. The embrace had taken him over, and for a moment, he’d known total happiness. Even now the memory filled him with awe. How could that have happened?
Andrew Graham had done his family a great service last year, but apart from that, he barely knew the man.
He spun and walked. No, that was a lie. Darius refused to tell himself lies, even though he spent his life living one to the rest of the world. He had noticed him then and wanted him, turning away almost automatically. Darius sought his pleasures where he could and where he knew he was relatively safe. Not in public, not in the company of others. Never in the open.
He’d watched his brother’s wedding with joy, glad his restless twin had finally found what he needed, but also with deep envy. He would never find that place, never have anyone he could acknowledge in public as his love. Not unless a miracle occurred and he found a woman.
That would never happen. He liked women but could not imagine being intimate with one.
He took another turn around the cell. The stink pervaded the space so badly he didn’t know if he’d ever rid himself of it. He should have gone home and changed before going to that place last night. Then he wouldn’t have to throw away a nearly new evening coat and waistcoat. He’d wager his valet would never get them clean. In any case, he had no desire to wear them again.
The rattle of keys heralded the arrival of the jailer. He had already eyed the buttons on Darius’s coat and assured him that each gold disc would buy him food and lodging for a week. Darius had assured him they were pinchbeck and watched his disappointment. He couldn’t see much point in telling the man they were genuine. He intended to remain here until he had straightened out his thinking—and no longer.
A sense of doom filled him. His father must have heard of his son’s latest exploit. Darius was headed for an encounter in the study. Although he was full grown, his father still took it upon himself to lecture all his children when he considered the onerous task necessary. Either a fully equipped shouting session or the worse option, a sorrowful recounting of his failures as a father.
Darius would enjoy the shouting, but his canny father would probably choose the latter. Darius would end the session feeling like the worst beggar alive.
He braced himself for the coming ordeal, and he didn’t mean a brief appearance in court. Did he have the nerve to bolt for the country without stopping at the London house first?
No, he couldn’t do that. For one thing, his father would track him down, and then he would know how disappointed his mother was in him, too.
The door opened on well-oiled hinges. Darius blinked against the shaft of light arrowing into the cell. This being an inner-room, his only light had been from the narrow, barred window set into the door. Candles, as the jailer had informed him the night before, were extra. Darius had not bothered to purchase any.
The jailer stood silhouetted against the light, his face in shadow. He wore shirtsleeves and a ragged waistcoat over baggy breeches, no doubt with capacious pockets to hold the bribes the prisoners provided him with. Without the bribes, prisoners didn’t have blankets, and they didn’t eat. Unless they could catch one of the rats that raced through the area now and then.
“You got a visitor,” the jailer said, and beckoned to someone who stepped forward, striding into the cell as if he owned it.
Raising a mocking brow, Darius bowed. “Mr. Graham, I’m honored. You favor my humble abode.”
Irritably, Graham gestured at the jailer, flicking him away. “Don’t lock the door.”
“This one won’t ’urt yer.” The jailer wiped the back of his hand over his nose in a disdainful sniff.
“He won’t try to escape, either. The stench in here is powerful. Leave us some air, pray.”
The jailer grunted, but left.
“The air coming in from the door isn’t much better.”
Graham ignored Darius’s words. “Why did you not leave last night? A word, a few guineas, and the deed is done.”
Darius decided to tell the truth. Some of it, at any rate. “This is the most peace I’ve had since I arrived in London.” Partly true, but he would not admit he preferred the busyness of his life. He could stop himself thinking too deeply that way. “I decided the stink was a small price to pay for one night without the din of society.”
Darius blinked. He’d never heard this man so laconically and obviously disbelieving. He had been respectful but decisive before. Darius liked it. He allowed himself a smile. “Indeed. Born into wealth and forced to dress in gold and diamonds. Poor me.”
“That was not my meaning.”
Darius shrugged and folded his arms over his chest. “Were you sent for me?”
“No. I came on my own account. I am on a mission.”
“Explain.” Darius was in no mood for riddles or elegant dancing around the subject.
“Sir, what were you doing in that house last night?”
Darius curled his top lip in a sneer. “Did you not know that part about me? I considered my proclivities an open secret. Perhaps not so much, if you do not know. You are a perceptive man, Mr. Graham. What do you think I was doing at Mother Fleming’s?”
For that matter, what had Graham been doing there? The thought had not occurred to him before, but it did now, in full force. “You acted for my brother as a favor. You are an important man in your field, which is not criminal law. Why were you attending that raid last night?”
Graham nodded. “I do not think you were at Mother Fleming’s for the company. Except for the young man with you.”
Darius heaved a sigh from the bottom of his soul and thought of all the curse words he wouldn’t say until he reached the privacy of his bedroom. Damn the man for noticing the boy. “What young man?”
“The one virtually clinging to your coattails.”
Darius gave the offending garment a twitch. “That is something I do not allow. Favor me with a description of the youth. Maybe then I can help you.”
A muscle twitched in Graham’s jaw. Darius only saw it because the light from the door fell over him starkly. He had moved aside, but not far enough.
“You know him well enough. Had you not dressed yourself in that veneer of aristocratic disdain, I would have believed you.”
Intrigued, Darius studied the man further. Nobody had broken through that particular defense before. He would go on the attack. He was getting too close. Darius never allowed anyone that close to him. He used the distancing tactic again, tilting his head back and staring at his quarry from under half-closed eyelids. “I believe you are jealous, Mr. Graham. Can it be that you did want me, after all?”
Graham’s eyes flashed. The fierce but fleeting spark of raw anger roused Darius. The memory of their kiss returned, roared through him, arousing parts that would be better staying dormant.
He liked that passion. He wanted more of it.
Last night he’d presumed he’d taken Graham by surprise with his kiss. After all, once a person closed his eyes, a kiss was a kiss. Except that one hadn’t been. Graham had closed his eyes but Darius hadn’t. He rarely did, always on the alert for trouble.
Now he wasn’t so sure. Had Graham responded so gloriously because of shock? People’s preferences were not as set as most supposed them. He took a step closer. Another pace would bring him into the man’s body.
Graham stood his ground, but his lips tightened.
“You did,” Darius said softly. “You truly wanted me. I felt your response. That was not feigned. It was not a mere physical reaction.”
The response came immediately. “How could I want you, as you put it? As you reminded me a moment ago, your station is well above mine.”
But he hadn’t denied it. “A cat may look at a king. Presumably a cat may kiss a king, if he has a mind to.” Darius was taunting the lawyer now, daring him to take that final step or take one back, daring him to deny his attraction.
Graham widened his stance, rocking from one foot to the other. “If I said I wanted you, would you answer my other question?”
The cleverness of the response evoked a crack of laughter from Darius. “Try it and see.”
“Not if I have no indication of your intention.”
“My intention, is it?” Darius softened his voice and lowered his volume. The crowd outside, going about their morning business at a pitch that threatened the eardrums, didn’t matter anymore. The space between them and around them became their own. “Should I prove my intention to you…again?”
He let his eyes add to the conversation. He glanced up and down the lawyer’s body, taking inventory. The man was well-shaped, a trim body which showed evidence of supple strength beneath the neat though drab clothes. Darius would enjoy removing each garment slowly, folding the fine fabric and carefully laying it down, giving himself time to appreciate what he was uncovering.
Graham didn’t look away. The indomitable character who had faced down a court full of jeering spectators and the might of Magistrate John Fielding returned to this squalid cell. He was completely masked, his expression still and unresponsive.
At least, it should have been that way, but Darius, long accustomed to assessing people and uncovering hidden secrets, saw more. The eyes, frozen in gray ice, were slightly larger than normal, and the pupils darker. Andrew Graham had responded to him last night, and he was responding now.
Darius could push his advantage, try to persuade the man into further confessions, but if he did that, he might set the lawyer against him.
So he took a pace back and forced an easy smile to his lips. “I must be tired. I should not tease you so. Did you come here merely to see me and ask your questions, or did you come to get me out?”
“I dare say you wish to see the back of this place.”
“I dare say I do.” He would not beg.
“Unfortunately, a quick visit to court is required before you leave. You could grease the jailer’s palm,” Graham suggested. “He will ensure you appear before the magistrate first. Cases are building up, and while Mr. Fielding is fast, he won’t get through them all in a day.”
Sighing, Darius drew out his purse.
As if by magic, the jailer appeared in the doorway, blocking the shaft of light. “You shouldn’t go to those places, my lord.” He advanced, hand extended. “I’ll see you right.”
Darius placed a guinea in the man’s hand. If that wasn’t enough, he’d stay here. He made his point by putting his purse back in his pocket.
The jailer glared at him but closed his fingers over the coin. “I need this cell. I have customers willin’ to pay more.”
“Let them pay, then.”
“Nobody the public will be willing to see,” Graham pointed out. “That’s what you want the single cells for, after all.”
The jailer sighed as if the weight of the world lay on his shoulders and grimaced. “Come on, then.”
Darius was not chained like most of the other prisoners. He had paid for that privilege the night before. He strode from the noxious space, other prisoners falling into line behind him. He barely noticed them. Graham walked by his side in a strangely comfortable way, as if he’d always been there.
A narrow passage, stinking as much as the jail, led to the courtroom. A blinding light at the end of the dark space appeared like the gates of heaven, although Darius doubted such a place existed in this part of London. He had never found it here, at any rate.
Bracing himself, he stepped out and headed straight for the box where his brother had stood a few months ago. Now came his real test.
Here, at Bow Street Magistrate’s Court, justice was truly blind. At least the magistrate was. Today the man himself sat behind the substantial bench, his eyes dramatically bound with a black velvet ribbon.
Graham kept pace with Darius and took his place by his side. Darius assumed Graham didn’t want to lose sight of him, since nobody in their right mind brought a lawyer to a hearing like this.
“Your name, sir,” the clerk said. He stood by the magistrate’s side, occasionally muttering to his master.
Darius considered giving a false name but decided against it. Nobody had yet asked him for his name. The court was all but empty, it being too early for many journalists and muckrakers to concern themselves. The courts had stolen quite a march on them, holding the hearings so early. Did they want to keep the raid on Mother Fleming’s quiet, or had they received orders from a different authority? John Fielding was as incorruptible as a magistrate could be, but he would not be above influencing from a higher power.
Darius’s heart sank. Had his family come to hear of his latest exploit? The interview with his father came heart-sinkingly closer. The Marquess of Strenshall had the heartrending sigh down to a fine art.
“Darius Shaw,” he said, deciding not to embellish his name further.
“Is your father the Marquess of Strenshall?” the clerk inquired sweetly.
“He is.” Damnation.
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