Sunday Snippet, 2.5.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

Wren, meanwhile, rummaged through his satchel. From its depths he produced a hand-mirror and held it out to Shrike.

Shrike took it. Throughout his centuries he’d heard of mirrors in stories and songs and glimpsed them in the hands of fae and mortal gentry. Then Wren had brought his to Blackthorn—a plain thing, he’d called it when he caught Shrike staring, merely a palm-sized circle of silvered glass set in an oaken frame and handle. Shrike had watched him ply his razor with it many a morn.

But he’d never held it in his own hand until now.

His face looked rather like it had in reflections of still water and in Wren’s sketches. There were but two difference—the bulbous, velvet-covered sprouts of a pair of antlers, one on either side of his brow.

“Ah,” said Shrike.

“You don’t seem terribly surprised,” said Wren.

“It’s a bit early for the first tines to split off,” Shrike admitted. He gingerly touched the tips of the new prongs, then pulled his fingers away with a hiss of pain.

“So,” Wren said, filling Shrike’s mug again—minus the laudanum—and pouring another for himself. “Antlers.”

“Aye,” Shrike replied.

“And this has never happened to you before?”

“Never.”

“So you don’t know how long they’ll take to grow in. Or how broad they’ll be when they do.”

“No,” Shrike admitted. Then, “Do you mind them?”

Wren looked at him as though he’d just asked something absurd. “I mind the pain they’ve caused you.”

Shrike chuckled into his tea.

“But, no,” Wren added with a smile of his own. “I don’t mind them.”

Shrike supposed he ought to have surmised as much, given Wren’s reaction to the Court of Hidden Folk, but it still relieved him to hear the answer.

“Do you?” Wren asked. “Mind them, I mean.”

Shrike shrugged. “They’re coming in whether I mind them or not.”

Wren blinked. “Fair enough.”

~

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Sunday Snippet, 1.29.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

The following se’en-night passed much like the first. By the end of it, Shrike’s antlers bore twelve points, and spread far beyond the breadth of his shoulders to span over a yard—very nearly an ell.

This made passing through the cottage doorway rather more difficult than otherwise.

The first time he knocked his antlers against the door-frame it rang through his skull to his very teeth. He staggered back to clutch at the rim of the hollowed stump for support whilst he waited for the pain to recede and his vision to return. He only felt thankful Wren hadn’t witnessed his stupidity. Still, he repeated his error twice over that very morning before he learnt to turn his head aside and duck and so work his way through.

As for the pots, cobwebs, and bundles of dried herbs hanging from the hooks on the rafters—well, he gave thanks again to fortune that Wren didn’t see him tangled up in sprigs of rosemary or knocking a copper cauldron down onto his own head. Shrike spent much of the afternoon taking down the herbs and pots and stowed them elsewhere in the cottage wherever he could fit them.

For some minutes after Wren’s arrival, in the evening, Shrike hoped his idiocy might remain unknown. Until, after Wren had kissed him, he pulled away to gaze in confusion at something over Shrike’s head. Before Shrike could ask after it, Wren reached up gingerly between his antlers and plucked something out of his hair.

“Is this… parsley?” Wren asked, turning the sprig over betwixt forefinger and thumb.

“Aye,” Shrike admitted, and hurried to turn their talk toward supper.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 1.8.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

“Nell reminded me,” Shrike added as Wren gazed at the mask. “I need something to disguise my oddities from mortal eyes.”

“They’re not oddities,” Wren said without even considering the matter, the words spilling forth from his heart rather than his head.

If Shrike minded, it showed neither in his face nor his speech. “I need your help to finish it.”

“How?” Wren blurted. He’d felt desperate to alleviate Shrike’s agonies since they’d begun and equally hopeless he might ever do so in his own mortal failings.

Shrike reached out his forefinger and tapped the centre of the mask’s brow, where a smooth field devoid of veins spanned between the two antler valleys. “It requires a cunning sigil.”

Wren’s unease increased. Even after all the hours they’d spent in each other’s company, hours in which Wren thought it woefully apparent his own mortal skill couldn’t hold a candle to Shrike’s fae mastery, Shrike thought him some manner of wizard. “What ought it to look like?”

“I know not,” said Shrike. “I’ve no gift for glamour. I’m ill-accustomed to seeming anything other than what I am.”

Wren had spent more than three decades disguising his truest self from society’s judgment. Shrike could not have chosen a more experienced practitioner in the art of deceit.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 1.1.23

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

“Then, if none but friends may enter Blackthorn, why did you draw your sword when you found someone already in the cottage?”

To Wren’s surprise, Shrike appeared chastened by the question. He glanced away and hesitated, the silence broken only by the slight clink of his sword in its scabbard as his fingers played upon the pommel. When he met Wren’s gaze again, the fathomless depths of his dark eyes shone soft with reverence. In a much-abashed tone, he replied, “I have far more to lose now than ever I had before.”

To be wanted was one thing. To be cherished and defended was another. To be loved… Wren dared not think so far as that. But nevertheless his heart sang with the knowledge that Shrike considered him worthy of protection, and that the loss of Wren would pain Shrike as much as the loss of Shrike would pain Wren.

No words seemed sufficient to express even a fraction of what Wren felt. As such, he abandoned language entirely. Instead he reached out his hand to Shrike’s scarred cheek, turning his face so he might capture his mouth in a kiss.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 12.25.22

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance collection, Tales from Blackthorn Briar, a sequel to Oak King Holly King featuring hurt/comfort and many happily-ever-afters – available wherever fine books are found!

~

“They say,” Mr Hull continued in a lower tone, “that those who meet beneath the mistletoe must kiss to bring good fortune.”

Ephraim cleared his throat. “Yes—well—servants often indulge in such superstitions for their own merriment.”

“Only servants?” enquired Mr Hull. His dark gaze never broke from Ephraim’s own.

“And young persons,” Ephraim conceded.

“Might gentlemen take part in the tradition, as well?” asked Mr Hull.

Ephraim hesitated. Thoughts he didn’t wish to entertain clouded his mind. Impossible notions. Dangerous ideas. Mr Hull didn’t mean to imply anything of the sort. He merely meant to ascertain, as one newly arrived to English shores and unfamiliar with their custom, whether or not he might, as a gentleman, kiss a lady beneath the mistletoe. Ephraim told himself this even as Mr Hull’s gaze flitted to his lips again.

“They might,” Ephraim conceded. After all, Mr Hull was a handsome young gentleman, and young ladies liked to be kissed by handsome young gentlemen. Or so Ephraim had been told all his life.

Mr Hull bit his lip.

~

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Happy Winter Solstice! + Excerpt

Happy Winter Solstice! On the longest night of the year the Oak King duels the Holly King to turn the silver wheel of the seasons. You can read all about it in OAK KING HOLLY KING, a gay Victorian fae romance available now wherever fine books are found. And you can read an excerpt of Shrike and Wren’s first winter solstice together below.

~

As the two kings reached the centre mark, the Holly King turned to cast one final glance back up at the queen’s bower. The glimmer in his eyes froze before it ever reached his cheeks. He raised his two-handed longsword aloft in salute, then resheathed it, as to begin the fight fair.

Shrike did no such thing. Instead he cast his gaze over the crowd in a last desperate quest for Wren. He’d almost consigned himself to defeat when he spied him at last—a pale bespeckled face, chestnut locks tumbling in disarray over his brow, his dark eyes wide and deep with a longing that sang through Shrike’s own heart.

Shrike vowed to return to his arms. Then put him from his mind for the remainder of the duel.

The herald—an apple-cheeked, toad-mouthed courtier in exquisite wasp-lace—called for the combatants to take their places marked on either side of a ring some three ells wide burned into the ground. He held up the queen’s token between them. A scrap of emerald velvet, shimmering with sunbeams, a portent of the spring to come. Then he turned to the queen herself for the signal.

Shrike didn’t bother glancing back at her bower.

She gave her sign regardless, for the herald dropped the token and leapt backwards out of the fray as it fluttered to the ground.

The moment the merest corner touched the dead grass, the peal of metal against metal rang out through the cold air as the Holly King unsheathed his longsword.

Shrike did the same with his arming sword an instant after. He had time to do little else before the first blow fell from the Holly King’s blade and forced him to dive to the side. The blade sang as it cleaved the air by his head.

In its wake there came a sharp sting in the tip of Shrike’s ear. Something cold trickled down its length.

First blood.

The crowd roared in approval.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 12.18.22

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance collection, Tales from Blackthorn Briar, a sequel to Oak King Holly King featuring hurt/comfort and many happily-ever-afters – available wherever fine books are found!

~

Fae recovered from injury far faster than mortals.

Shrike had always known this. Yet to have proof of it before him now, in the form of his beloved enduring day after day of agony, wrested his heart in twain.

The skull-crusher bite would’ve laid Shrike up, true enough, but he would have fully recovered within a few months, if not in a fortnight or two. It staggered him to hear from the chirurgeon’s own lips that his Wren would require years to regain his strength.

And for Wren to think of Shrike’s suffering when Wren himself lay overcome with pain was more than Shrike could well bear.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 12.11.22

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance collection, Tales from Blackthorn Briar, a sequel to Oak King Holly King featuring hurt/comfort and many happily-ever-afters – available wherever fine books are found!

~

One might say, as doubtless Dr Hitchingham would, that this was all just as much as any clerk ought to do for their employer. Ephraim might have agreed with this, were it not for how, whenever they dined at the Red Lion, Mr Hull made a point to reach the table in the back room first and draw out Ephraim’s chair for him and wait for him to settle before he seated himself. This behaviour drew even Dr Hitchingham’s notice. Ephraim didn’t mind, and supposed this must be how all clerks conducted themselves in distant lands. The thrill he felt at having an admittedly extraordinarily handsome young man perform such attentive services on his behalf, he shut away in the little lock-box in his heart and did not dwell upon.

~

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Sunday Snippet, 12.4.22

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

“Well,” said Wren, forcing a casual tone over his thunderous pulse. “What do the fae think of men who lie with men?”

The ensuing pause drew out into a lengthy silence as the two men stared each other down. Then, in a single stride, Butcher was upon him. Even barefoot, he towered over Wren. Near enough to fill Wren’s lungs with his woodsmoke musk. Near enough for Wren to feel the heat of his body radiating through his woollen tunic.

And near enough for Butcher to raise his hand to Wren’s jaw and gently lift his chin.

Wren’s heart pounded in his ears. He gazed into those dark eyes, their depths glinting with warmth and curiosity like the night sky shot through with stars.

Then those eyes shut, and Butcher bent down, and Wren tilted his head to meet his kiss.

Wren hadn’t received a kiss in more years than he cared to tell, though he’d imagined many. He could never have imagined this. Butcher’s lips kindled the curious spark into a bonfire, which raged through Wren’s heart as he opened his mouth to taste him, devour him, consume him as he felt himself consumed by the overwhelming flame of his own desire. He burned with need above and below and found himself clutching Butcher’s arms with the grip of a drowning man. All too soon, however, his need for breath forced him to break away. He opened his eyes, gasping, and beheld Butcher gazing down on him with a fascination that matched his own passion.

“I think,” Butcher murmured, “a man who lies with men is the sort of man I like.”

~

Oak King Holly King is a gay Victorian fae romance, available now wherever fine books are found!

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Sunday Snippet, 11.27.22

Sunday Snippet from my gay Victorian fae romance, Oak King Holly King – available now wherever fine books are found!

~

Butcher rose from the bed with a shocking amount of grace for a man of his stature, his long limbs tangling and untangling themselves in a languid fluidity as he stretched. Wren found himself transfixed by the sight of him. Likewise transfixed by the tiny blue flame, which Butcher set down on the bed-post, where it neither fell nor burned through the wood, but continued to flicker and glow. A shuffling sound drew Wren’s attention from it, and he belatedly saw Butcher had begun to collect the scattered papers.

Wren rushed to intercept him. “That’s all right—I’ll handle it.”

Butcher paused, then handed his sheaves to Wren, who realized as he took them that Butcher had collected them in order.

“Your pardon,” Butcher said. Then, “I was curious.”

Curiosity killed the cat—but satisfaction brought it back. The childish rhyme rose unbidden to the forefront of Wren’s mind. He dropped his gaze from Butcher’s face to the top-most page in the stack, whereupon a slender and beautiful knight embraced a wild, bearded lord. The marginal illustration neatly summarized the entire manuscript. If Butcher had seen this and not been put off by it, then perhaps…? It seemed too much to hope for, and yet the existence of the fae realm had seemed just as impossible before Wren had visited it himself last night.

And wouldn’t it be nice, for once, not to have to keep secrets?

~

Oak King Holly King is a gay Victorian fae romance, available now wherever fine books are found!

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