Charlie’s newsflash – opposites attract!

Hi all!

We all love a story where opposites attract. Jonty and Orlando in the Cambridge Fellows series would be a prime example. There are loads of tales tackling this really popular trope, a number of which you can find showcased at the Opposites attract event. Proud to be there along with some of my best writing chums.

Lots of love from Northumbria, where we’re stopping off for a while as part of what Mr C and I are calling our land cruise. 


Charlie’s latest newsletter

Greetings, all. Hoping this finds you well and full of the joys of…well…almost autumn, really.
Author copies for The Case of the Grey Assassin arrived today (there’s a pleasure that never grows old). It’s in ebook as well, of course.

Toby Bowe and Alasdair Hamilton make the perfect partnership onscreen and off. While hiding their relationship tests their acting skills to the utmost, a shared penchant for amateur detection challenges their intellect in a way that making films never can.
When a practical joker appears to be targeting Landseer Studios, they’re the obvious men to investigate the affair but life turns tricky when they also get asked to help a film critic who’s receiving threatening letters. Suddenly they’re involved with the hunt for a serial killer and the case begins to cut too close to home for comfort…


The first set of edits have gone back for Lock, Stock and Peril, the next in the Lindenshaw Series. Release date, cover art, etc when I have it finalised. Suffice to say that Campbell does feature – he’s definitely the readers’ favourite.
I do have a release date for the next Cambridge Fellows mystery novella, Lessons in Keeping a Dangerous Promise. Monday 6th December will see that let loose although the pre-order link isn’t yet live. That’s a job on my rather long list. I’ll also – as always – have a free story to offer you this December and this one’s set in the age of sail.
I’m delighted to say that the Children in Read auction opens tomorrow. I’ll be offering a print copy of Old Sins as the Lindenshaw book I offered last year went well. And it’s all for an excellent cause.
In case Old Sins passed you by…

Detective Chief Inspector Robin Bright and his partner, deputy headteacher Adam Matthews, have just consigned their summer holiday to the photo album. It’s time to get back to the daily grind, and the biggest problem they’re expecting to face: their wedding plans. Then fate strikes—literally—with a bang.
Someone letting loose shots on the common, a murder designed to look like a suicide, and the return of a teacher who made Robin’s childhood hell all conspire to turn this into one of his trickiest cases yet.
Especially when somebody might be targeting their Newfoundland, Campbell. Robin is used to his and Adam’s lives being in danger, but this takes the—dog—biscuit.

“Are you awake?” a bleary voice sounded at Adam’s side.
“No. I’m fast asleep.”
“Pillock.” Robin turned, laying his right arm over Adam’s stomach. “Am I dreaming it or did you volunteer to cook breakfast today?”
“Yes. It’s my turn.” Which was why Adam had been lying in bed thinking, putting off the inevitable. “Although I can’t do so unless you let go of me.”
“Shame.” Robin kissed Adam’s shoulder. “I need to clone you so you can be cooking breakfast and romping about here with me at the same time.”
“If I were a woman, I’d accuse you of being a sexist pig. As it is, I’ll call you a lazy sod.” Adam threw off Robin’s arm, rolled him over, and slapped his backside. “Don’t lie here too long or I’ll give all your bacon to Campbell.”
“I’d fight him for it.”
They both got out of bed, Adam heading to the bathroom for a quick relieving visit before his partner got in there. On a work day, Robin showered and shaved speedily, but on occasions like this when he had the opportunity to take his leisure, he enjoyed lingering over his ablutions. And why not? He worked hard, so he should have the chance to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. As long as he didn’t linger too much and risk being presented with an incinerated sausage.
When Adam got down to the kitchen, Campbell greeted him with a rub against his legs, followed by a dash for the kitchen door. Lie-ins were great for the workers in the household, but not helpful for canine bladders. Opening that door took precedence over everything else first thing in the morning. Once that was done, Adam could get the kettle on, fish out the bacon—always best done while Campbell was otherwise occupied—put on some music, and potter about the kitchen content in the knowledge that the two creatures he loved best were happy. And long might that state of affairs continue.
Over breakfast, talk turned—inevitably—to their imminent return to work, although Robin insisted that shouldn’t be discussed for at least another twenty-four hours. He’d even banned them from watching crime shows over the holiday period, so as not to remind him of what awaited at Abbotston station.
Adam changed the subject to their regular discussion topic. “Am I allowed to mention work in the context of moving house to somewhere slightly more convenient for commuting?”
Given that both of them had relocated to new jobs since they started living together, the comfortable little cottage in Lindenshaw—that had once belonged to Adam’s grandparents, as had the infant Campbell—wasn’t quite as well located as it had been.
“Campbell says you can mention that all you want.” Robin grinned. “He wants a bigger garden to lumber about in. And he keeps reminding me we can afford it, maintenance and all.”
“That dog should get a job as an estate agent.” Or maybe a registrar. There was also the small matter of a civil partnership to sort out, which they’d decided on earlier in the year but not got any further in terms of planning.
“Mum was asking again,” Robin said when he’d finished the last bit of bacon.
Great minds were clearly thinking alike again. “Asking about what?”
Robin gently tapped Adam’s arm with the back of his hand. “Don’t pretend you don’t know. Have we set a date? Will she need her passport? Should she buy a winter hat or a spring one?”
“What did you tell her?”
“That what with the demands of school life and the unpredictable villains of Abbotston, it wasn’t easy to fix a weekend.”
All of which was true, but wouldn’t have mollified Mrs. Bright one bit. “And what did she say in response?”
Robin shrugged. “That she understood the predicament we were in, which I suspect was a lie because she then pointed out that other policemen and teachers manage to tie the knot.”

Guest author – Anne Barwell with her re-release of, Comes a Horseman

Anne Barwell and I have known each other since Noah was a boy, so it’s always a pleasure to host her, especially as she always writes an interesting blog post. Today’s is no exception:

Thanks for hosting me today as part of my re-release of Comes a Horseman, the 3rd and final book in my WWII Echoes Rising series.

I prefer to read and write flawed characters, rather than protagonists who are always right, and antagonists who are two-dimensional virtual moustache whirlers.  They’re more interesting, and I like a bit of emotional angst in my stories.

Good people make mistakes, and especially during war, find themselves in a position where they need to follow a course of action they wouldn’t usually.  In Echoes Rising the team have so far been focused on getting Kristopher and the information he carries to the Allies.  But now, they’re having doubts about this being the best course of action, and whether their mission should succeed.  Add in the complication of friendship, found family, and the romantic attachments that have grown between two couples in their team. What sacrifices will someone make in order to ensure the person they love survives? A person who in usual circumstances wouldn’t kill anyone reacts differently when someone they love is threatened.

Or do they? War is harsh, and survival comes with a cost. 

On the flip side, Standartenführer Holm is very sure that he is doing the right thing in hunting the men who have eluded him for months. In his mind, he is the hero of this story, and he justifies all of his actions with that narrative firmly in place.  Kristopher is a traitor to his country, and the men with him the enemy, so should be dealt with accordingly.  And then there’s the issue of one of those men being the son of the man who killed Holm’s father…

His second in command, Reiniger, is a little less complicated.  Although he too, believes in what he is doing, he enjoys his job perhaps a bit too much.  In Shadowboxing, Kristopher and Michel made a fool of him, and in Winter Duet, the team cost him an eye.  He’s out for revenge and determined to achieve it.

Rounding out this group of people is Margarete Huber. She’s an interesting character to write, and very layered. Her motivations are very much her own, and even Holm prefers to have nothing to do with her.  She’s a woman who spins her own webs in order to trap her prey, and likes to be in control.  She didn’t expect Kristopher to defect, and it annoys her that she didn’t see it coming.  Holm might be a strategist but she takes planning and manipulation to a whole new level.

With Comes a Horseman being the final book in the series these characters—from both sides—will finally meet again face to face with one final encounter. Who do you think will win and at what cost?

Comes a Horseman 400x600

What if those who stand by you are the ones who betray you?

France, 1944
Sometimes the most desperate struggles take place far from the battlefield, and what happens in secret can change the course of history.

Victory is close at hand, but freedom remains frustratingly just beyond the grasp of German physicist Dr Kristopher Lehrer, Resistance fighter Michel, and the remaining members of the team sent by the Allies—Captain Matt Bryant, Sergeant Ken Lowe, and Dr Zhou Liang—as they fight to keep the atomic plans from the Nazis. The team reaches France and connects with members of Michel’s French Resistance cell in Normandy. Allied troops are poised to liberate France, and rescue is supposedly at hand. However, Kristopher is no longer sure the information he carries in his memory is safe with either side.

When Standartenführer Holm and his men finally catch up with their prey, the team is left with few options. With a traitor in their midst, who can they trust? Kristopher must become something he is not in order to save the man he loves. Death is biding his time, and sacrifices must be made for any of them to have the futures they want.

Author’s note: This is the second edition of Comes a Horseman. The first edition was released by another publishing house.  This story has been re-edited, and uses UK spelling to reflect its setting.

Release day – The Case of the Grey Assassin!

Tah-dah! The Case of the Grey Assassin, the latest Alasdair and Toby adventure, is now live in both ebook and paperback.

Toby Bowe and Alasdair Hamilton make the perfect partnership onscreen and off. While hiding their relationship tests their acting skills to the utmost, a shared penchant for amateur detection challenges their intellect in a way that making films never can.
When a practical joker appears to be targeting Landseer Studios, they’re the obvious men to investigate the affair but life turns tricky when they also get asked to help a film critic who’s receiving threatening letters. Suddenly they’re involved with the hunt for a serial killer and the case begins to cut too close to home for comfort…

Charlie’s latest newsletter

Back from Turkdean where the molehills did yield something small and tesserae like but alas, it wasn’t on close inspection.  Chedworth roman villa was amazing, though, as was the gin and tea place in Cheltenham. Happy Cochranes all round.
I promised I’d share the links to the Bold Strokes Bookathon panels once they were posted, so here they are. You can hear me and several of my BSB pals chatting about romance in all its forms – I thought we did a really good job at tackling some thought provoking questions, like what riles us most in romance books.
Then if you want to hear me reading a smidge from Awfully Glad then pop over to the author readings panel. I did my best speaking voice and toned down any cockney!
Awfully Glad is set in and after WWI, as is Promises Made Under Fire, which features in the latest bookfunnel jamboree, which focuses on Historical Fiction. I know many of you love that genre and I’d recommend making a note of any titles that take your eye as, once the event has ended, the page will be taken down and I can’t always access the master list (although I’m always happy to try for you).

Talking of wartime, don’t forget to read my freebie: ‘Ewe’s Stockings’ was joint runner up in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Elizabeth Goudge award. You can read it all here at my blog – and yes, it’s strictly gay fiction, despite the first line.

Today it’s from Promises Made Under Fire 
Promises Made Under Fire is one of the books I have available in audio version as well as ebook.
France, 1915
Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.
When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…

“Is it that bad?” Foden’s voice sounded over my shoulder.
“Do you mean the tea or the day? You’ll find out soon enough about the first and maybe sooner than we want about the second.”
“The perennial ray of sunshine.” He laughed. Only Frank Foden could find something to laugh about on mornings like these, when the damp towel of mist swaddled us.
“Try as I might, I can’t quite summon up the enthusiasm to be a music-hall turn at this unearthly hour.” I tried another mouthful of tea but even that didn’t seem to be hitting the spot.
“If you’re going to be all doom and gloom, can you hide the fact for a while? The colonel’s coming today. He’ll want to see ‘everything jolly.'” The impersonation of Colonel Johnson’s haughty, and slightly ridiculous, tones was uncanny. Trust Foden to hit the voice, spot on, even though his normal, chirpy London accent was nothing like Johnson’s cut-glass drawl.
“Oh, he’ll see it. So long as he doesn’t arrive before I’ve had breakfast.”
Foden slapped my back. “That’s the ticket. Don’t shatter the old man’s illusions.” He smiled, that smile potentially the only bright spot in a cold grey day. In a cold grey life. Frank kept me going, even on days when the casualty count or the cold or the wet made nothing seem worth living for anymore.
“How the hell can you always be so cheerful?”
“Because the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. Why make things more miserable when there’s a joke to crack?”



Ewe’s Stockings – runner up in the Elizabeth Goudge award!

In a mad moment, I entered this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Elizabeth Goudge award. You had to write a story of no more than 2000 words, based on a prompt: in this case “The woman who sat in the corner of the railway carriage with her eyes shut was attracting a good deal of attention.”
My story, “Ewe’s Stockings”, came equal second!
Here it is…

Ewe’s stockings

The woman who sat in the corner of the railway carriage with her eyes shut was attracting a good deal of attention. And envy.

The attention had been coming from the well-dressed man of business in the opposite corner, who’d earlier looked like he couldn’t resist appreciating the olive tweed coat and skirt Harriet wore, the well-shod feet, the elegantly curved legs on display. The envy was strictly confined to the two women who occupied the two seats facing him.

“How did she get those stockings?” One hissed. “Pre-war quality.”

Her friend whispered, “Courtesy of our friends from the land of the free, I’d guess. Ashchurch is awash with them.”

The woman in the corner, eyes still closed, suppressed a grin. No, the stockings hadn’t been a present for services rendered, although admittedly they’d not been obtained through the usual channels. Part of the uniform. Part of the disguise. Let them be admired as much as the legs they sheathed.

The door from the corridor opened. “There you are, Harriet. Oh, sorry, did I wake you?”

The owner of the cool, deep voice was worth opening one’s eyes for. He might not have been expected to gain the admiration of the businessman—except in the matter of his immaculate suit—but he’d no doubt raise the female envy levels. Clive’s flashing dark eyes and cut-glass cheekbones couldn’t fail to impress. He raised his hat gallantly to the other occupants of the compartment, then took the seat next to Harriet’s.

“I wasn’t asleep. Just resting my eyes. What have you been up to, Clive?”

“Going up and down the blithering corridor, looking for you.” He twirled his hat in his hands in an adorably carefree way, hiding formidable brains behind the Bertie Wooster-esque facade.

“You were supposed to be getting on at Cleeve and we stopped there ages ago. Is the corridor that long?” Harriet gave him a grin.

“No, but Arthur Fanshawe’s long-winded. I’d no sooner stepped onto the train than I happened across him and he wouldn’t let me escape without a full briefing on the doings of his family, unto the least of his brethren. The good Lord preserve us from old schoolmates.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Did I tell you about running into Millie Morstead in Cheltenham?” Harriet launched into a tale of an encounter with a girl from school whose most notable feature at the age of ten had been consistently loose knicker elastic. If the other occupants of the carriage were listening in, all to the good.

Part of the disguise.

Once they’d arrived at Gloucester station, Clive took Harriet’s arm as they stood on the platform, the pair dawdling while the other passengers dispersed. A quick peck on the cheek and a word in the ear, in tones quite unlike the silly-ass ones he’d used earlier.

“Carter was devouring you with his eyes all the way here. Please be extra careful.”

“I will. And I noticed the attention. When Hazlerigg chose me for the job he certainly knew Carter’s preferred type.” Harriet squeezed Clive’s hand. “As a last resort, I’ve a flick knife in my handbag. I hope I don’t have to use it.”

“I’ll be nearby. I know you don’t need my protection but there’s safety in numbers.”

“I do appreciate it.” A final peck on the cheek before the operation launched into the next stage. “When this bloody war is over, Clive, we’ll find that cottage in the Cotswolds we’ve talked about. I’ll raise sheep and you can write your book.”

“It’s a deal. So make sure you damn well survive to make that dream a reality.”




As Carter strode off to his meeting, he couldn’t stop thinking about that well-dressed young woman in the corner of the carriage. He hadn’t been taken in by all the chat about old school pals, seeing through the disguise soon enough. But then they were birds of a feather, he and Harriet. Not that he believed Harriet was any more real a name than Carter, but a man could hardly use his family surname, Wagner, given the situation. Nobody at present would have dealings with the manager of an English agricultural supplies company who appeared to be Germanic, and Carter came close enough to Wagner in meaning.

Manufactured English name and background, manufactured English war record, although the limp he bore was genuine. Obtained on the western front, just not for the side who’d won. Now he was serving his homeland again, using eyes, ears, radio and codebook, rather than rifle and bayonet. A dangerous deployment—possibly a fatal one if he were discovered—fraught with danger on all sides including elements that left him open to blackmail. As perilous as the trenches had been.

Pausing at the kerb as a lorry came past, Carter remembered those legs, that face, the seductive little smile Harriet had favoured him with while Clive was concentrating on fiddling with his hat. Did Clive know about the subterfuge—being himself part of the disguise—or was he simply an English public school educated halfwit who would never question what he was told by someone he regarded as a nice girl? Someone with whom he was clearly smitten, given the way he’d been looking at Harriet and the way they’d been cuddling on the platform.

The young man had walked haltingly, one foot turned in perhaps as a result of a club foot or an injury received very early in this war, when Germany had chased the feckless British troops back across the channel. Like Carter’s limp, it appeared to be the real thing.

What were those two doing now?  Probably nothing more daring than walking by the river holding hands, rather than making the most of a soft bed in a local hotel, Carter was certain of that. He was almost as certain of the fact that he’d be seeing Harriet’s seductive smile again.

Birds of a feather.




Harriet entered the club, noting that Clive was already there, standing at the bar. He flashed an encouraging smile before taking his drink to a table in a booth, a seat where he wouldn’t be seen but could remain close at hand.

Not usually the done thing for a woman to visit a club on her own, unless she was in a certain profession, but this could hardly be described as a typical establishment. Ordering a drink, finding a comfortable seat, checking lipstick and stocking seams: all to be done before Carter arrived for the early evening drink he always took when he had business in Gloucester. The barman—put into the role when Hazlerigg started on Carter’s trail—would ensure nobody would get in the way of a smooth operation.

It wasn’t normally Harriet’s role to take part in field work, being more effectively employed using that notable intelligence for analysis.

However, like the club itself, this wasn’t the usual type of procedure. There’d be no entrapment, no sordid encounter in a hotel interrupted by one of the higher-ranking officers, perhaps Hazlerigg himself, with a view to coercing the target.

Would you want your wife to see these photographs? Would you like your masters to know you sleep with British agents?

Harriet understood that was how these things went, with the object of turning the German agent to work for the British as well or to wring him dry of information.

No photographs this time. Nor was the intention today merely to distract and delay Carter while a surreptitious raid was, even now, taking place on his home and office. Clive had said the officers conducting that part of the plan would be a joy to behold, leaving not a trace of their activities behind. Yet even those skilled operatives lacked the basic skills required to divest a man of something he carried on his person all the time and without him realising he’d been divested of it.

In reality, there had been no smart girls’ school for Harriet, just an East End slum upbringing, with a violent father and a mother always kept short of sufficient money to look after her brood. You had to learn quickly to survive, which often meant being on the wrong side of the law. Going on the game or acquiring the ability to pick a pocket. Harriet had chosen the latter.

Harriet had confessed the details of those formative years to Clive, over a bottle or two of wine from his father’s cellar. How a teacher had spotted the intelligence, had helped steer a path through education towards respectability and eventually into working for the intelligence services. Clive had told their boss, Hazlerigg, who’d been delighted to find his team contained such a potentially valuable talent and thrilled when the chance came to employ it.

The man they were up against was no fool. Carter would never let himself be taken unawares, falling for the bedroom trick and letting his clothes be rifled while he slept or was otherwise occupied. According to the barman—and to the other operatives who’d been keeping an eye on Carter—he never let his jacket out of his sight or his grip. And in one of the inner pockets lay Hazlerigg’s equivalent of the holy grail.

“Good evening, Mr Carter.” The barman’s greeting put Harriet on alert. Time to appear to be doing nothing more suspicious than listening to the pianist.

“Are you following me?”

Harriet glanced up at Carter’s voice. “I’m sorry?”

“We were in the same train compartment today.”

“Oh, yes.” Harriet gave him a smile as tempting as the one used earlier. “I’ve been here ages, so you must be following me.”

Carter took a seat. “Not quite. Although I guessed you might fetch up here.”

“How very perceptive of you. I had no idea this club existed until a friend recommended it to me.”


“Clive? Oh, you must have seen him on the train. No,” Harriet chuckled. “Not his kind of place at all.”

“I can imagine. Shall we find somewhere quieter?” Carter nodded towards the booths.

“Why not?”

Once settled, and with the piano tinkling seductively in the background, Harriet edged closer. Hopefully this would be straightforward: a couple of drinks and a bit of a grope in the booth should provide opportunity enough, although if that didn’t work, there was the possibility that a fumble in the alley might be needed to access Carter’s pocket.

Soon, his hand was making its way along Harriet’s thigh and quickly after that the mission was accomplished. Whatever the barman had put in Carter’s drink to loosen his inhibitions had worked a treat, swiftly befuddling him and allowing Harriet a dip of the fingers and then an easy escape, virtue pretty well intact.

“What you lifted is hot stuff,” Clive said as they headed for Hazlerigg’s car. He’d had a brief flick through it before they left the club for the dark streets. “Add it to whatever the raid turns up and Carter will have no choice but turning to serve the right side or facing the noose. Unless he cheats us and the hangman before that, of course.”

“Ah. Take a look at this.” Harriet’s hand opened to reveal its deadly contents. “I snaffled his cyanide capsule while I was at it.”

“Harry, you’re an absolute marvel. I don’t care what Hazlerigg says, you deserve a kiss.”

Once the reward had been dispensed, Harriet’s voice dropped two octaves and a social class. “How can women wear these shoes? My feet are in agony.”

“Not as much agony as Carter’s going to be in when he sobers up and realises what’s happened.”

“He’s only got himself to blame. When you see through one lot of camouflage and find a kindred spirit, you should remember your new pal might be wearing another disguise, as well.” Harry chuckled. “Your ram in ewe’s stockings could also be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”







Charlie’s Latest newsletter

Hi all. Am feeling much better now (thanks for the good wishes) and ready to knock six kinds of brick dust out of the rest of the year. We’ve Battle Prom’ed and are getting ready for a week in Turkdean, where I shall be inspecting every molehill for bits of mosaic because it’s that kind of area…
Interview and competition: am baring my soul (and thank goodness that’s all I’m baring, because wrinkles, you know) over at RJ Scott’s blog. I’m talking about the inspiration behind the Lindenshaw books and sharing important facts like whether I’m a dog or cat girl. You can be in with a chance of winning a copy of one of my self-published ebooks (winner’s choice) by commenting at the site.

July in Christmas is live. So many good books, several of which are on offer. So many good authors, including several I’m privileged to call good pals. Just look at this line-up: Jay Northcote, Annabelle Jacobs, Garrett Leigh, RJ Scott, V.L. Locey, Roan Parrish, Becca Seymour, Ana Ashley, Jodi Payne, BA Tortuga, Clare London, Eli Easton, Jackie North, Louisa Masters, N.R. Walker, DJ Jamison, Anyta Sunday, Charlie Cochrane, Victoria Sue, Leta Blake, Christina Lee, Avery Cockburn, Nic Starr, Posy Roberts, K. Evan Coles, Jamie Lynn Miller, Beth Laycock, L.C. Chase, Talia Carmichael, Emma Jaye, Lillian Francis, Charley Descoteaux, Anne Barwell, BL Maxwell, Mel Gough, Emily Calirel, Crystal Lacy, Jaclyn Quinn, Lily Morton, Keira Andrews & Brigham Vaughn.
Just a little bit of advice following on from the last Bookfunnel event, the main pages do tend to disappear pretty quickly once the event is over, so please make sure you screen cap or note down any books you may want to come back to. I don’t have a master list for this one.
My featured “July in Christmas” book is Wild Bells, which was my first self-published  effort and which garnered one of my favourite ever reviews from The Novel Approach. “Charlie Cochrane’s historical fiction is the chicken soup for my soul.” Makes a girl proud.
The Shade on a Fine Day:
Curate William Church may set the hearts of the parish’s young ladies aflame, but he doesn’t want their affection or presents, no matter how much they want to give them to him. He has his sights set elsewhere, for a love he’s not allowed to indulge. One night, eight for dinner at the Canon’s table means the potential arrival of a ghost. But what message will the spirit bring and which of the young men around the table is it for?

The Angel in the Window:
Two officers, one ship, one common enemy.
Alexander Porterfield may be one of the rising stars of the British navy, but his relationship with his first lieutenant, Tom Anderson, makes him vulnerable. To blackmail, to anxieties about exposure—and to losing Tom, either in battle or to another ship. When danger comes more from the English than the French, where should a man turn?
“The bells, listen to the bells, Alexander!” Tom Anderson’s eyes shone with reflected starlight and snow as he and his captain made their way back from the church to the Anderson family home.
The midnight service had been enchanting, the Andersons full of goodwill to all men, even a sombre heathen like Alexander Porterfield. Although he couldn’t really be sombre when he had his first lieutenant at his side, like now.
He looks just like the dark-haired angel in the stained glass window. Beautiful and pure.
An especially wicked grin from Tom broke the illusion, recalling to mind all the occasions when his behaviour—their behaviour—would have made the most broad-minded of angels blush.
“I still don’t know how you can believe in God.”
“Oh, that old chestnut again.” Tom waved away the comment with a flick of his hand.
Alexander snorted. “It’s an old chestnut because you never give me an answer I can accept.”
“Maybe that’s because you don’t want to accept it.” Tom smiled. “Try this one. Perhaps I believe because God sent me my very own angel to deliver me from prison.”
Alexander reserved his answer. There’d been no stone walls, nor iron bars, just a cage of Tom’s own self doubts. Releasing him from those had been a pleasure.
“I think the last thing I resemble is an angel, but I’m glad you believe I was sent especially for your own service.” Alexander immediately regretted using the words, the lascivious grin on Tom’s face conjuring up thoughts of beds and hammocks they had known. And used. “So how do you reconcile our particular relationship with what you are taught in church? Is not what we do against God’s laws?”
The bells of the church slowly ceased their peals as they continued the long walk back to the big house.
“Captain Porterfield!” Tom punched Alexander’s arm. “You have the nerve to ask that, when you stand as bold as brass every Sunday and read the Articles of War to the ship’s company. How you can recite number twenty-nine without flinching is beyond my understanding.”
Alexander returned the punch. “And how can you have the audacity to criticise me when you’ve performed that office in my stead when I was sick of a fever?  I’ve been told you orated in such a harsh manner it made me look like a simpering maiden. Anyway, I was talking about God’s laws, not man’s.”
It was Tom’s turn to snort. “We break God’s commandments all the time at sea. Do you not remember that ‘thou shalt not murder’? And yet we kill our enemies because we believe it is right to protect our country. The matter of killing is between me, my conscience and God himself, as is the matter of us.” He stopped, dark eyes twinkling below a fringe of unruly curls. “I’m sorry for sermonising. Take my arm and walk with me on this perfect night—do not spoil it with talk.”