I’ve been very remiss in my efforts to advance-market Preacher, Prophet, Beast, book seven in my Tyack & Frayne series, out on 20th April. This story has made deeper and more complex demands upon me and the lads than any of us could have anticipated! But not long to wait now, and the book is available to pre-order here.
For those of you who like a little advance taste, here you go…
Lee fastened the gate after their visitors, and made his way slowly back across the garden. A massive heat still had a grip on the day. The eastern sky held a distant promise of relief, some of the hot gold shading into blue, but the sun was still blazing over Bern-an-Wra tor, and he couldn’t honestly tell from this distance whether the tower had its crowning rock in place or not.
He looked away. His plans for the evening included outdoor dinner with Gid in the orchard’s shade, and later, if their kid was still up for more hijinks, a weekend breaking of the bedtime rules and a stroll and a quick skinny-dip for all three of them in the millstream pond behind the hill. Bodmin winters could be harsh. Experienced moor-dwellers knew to make the best of summer days, and when the weather gods opened a box-of-jewels June like this on the gorse-starred heath, you seized every moment.
Bucca Gwidder, Bucca Dhu. Not figure-of-speech weather gods but two distinct personalities, the Lords of the year’s light and dark halves. The word bucca – meaning spirit, as Rufus Pendower had explained to him, actually stammering nervously over his Bs, the last time they’d been alone together – had become corrupted to pooka or Puck, a mischievous sprite. Out here, the ancient forces were restored. There just wasn’t room for the trappings and twists of civilisation. No room to hide, and no mercy. All the old demons could have sway.
Gideon was on the phone in the hallway when he pushed open the door. Dead-set determined not to hear anything else he shouldn’t today, Lee slipped past him and into the kitchen. He’d volunteered to fix Gid’s favourite casserole, and that required quite a lot of pan-rattling and banging of fridge and cupboard doors before he got stuck in.
Felt good, too. Slam of the chopping board onto the counter top. Slap of beef fillet onto the board, and he diced it as if he’d had a personal grudge with the cow.
Ridiculous. Tamsyn dealt with her emotions better than this. Gideon followed him into the kitchen, and he wiped his hands on a tea towel and turned to greet him with a sane, everyday expression on his face. “Thought that lot were gonna stay around for dinner. You getting hungry?”
“Ravenous. Could eat that raw.”
“I trust you mean the beef.”
“Read it however you want, gorgeous.”
It was a good attempt at their normal repartee. On any other night, it would have driven them back into each other’s arms to take care of unfinished business. Instead Lee took a steadying hold of the counter top behind him and said, uneasily, “Do you think Flora Waite’s all right? She had Tamsie out of the cot before I could stop her, and she was kind of rubbing her face against the poor kid’s. For luck, she said, when I asked.”
“Oh, no. Did Tamsyn wake up?”
“Not really. She doesn’t seem to mind outbreaks of weirdness from her friends.”
“She wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if she did.” Gideon shifted awkwardly. He was flushed, Lee noticed, his handsome summer colour heightened from tan to fever. “I think something is amiss with Flora. We talked a bit about Dev Bowe, and she seemed stressed. Thanks for skipping balletically past me on the phone, but it was nothing you couldn’t know about – I just wanted to give Lamshear Hall a ring and check everything was all right.”
“Lamshear… Oh, right. That’s Dev’s long-term care facility.”
“Mm. Also pronounced bottomless looney bin, poor lad. I dunno – they said he was okay, but something sounded hinky. I might pop over.”
“In your capacity as a police officer? What about poor Rhys?”
“No, just as Flora’s friend. Rhys can take care of Ross Jones.” He fell silent. The helpless, anxious scrape of Lee’s question hung in the air between them. He propped his hands on his hips, looked first out of the window and then at the rug at Lee’s feet. “All right. Speak.”
Lee couldn’t, not at first. His throat was tight with pent-up fear. He waited until he thought his voice would be calm. “I’ll head Ma off at the pass for you, if you like. On Monday.”
“Er… yeah. That would be good.”
“There’s a new garden centre just opened up outside Truro. With Edwardian tearooms. Ought to be irresistible, even against the prospect of getting beaten up by fascists at a Pride parade.”
“Bloody hell, Lee. You weren’t meant to know.”
“Is that the point? This isn’t like a pub fight or a few kids kicking off at Montol. It’s violence, hatred, right here on our streets in Cornwall, and… and you, right there in the middle of it. I don’t understand – why the hell hasn’t the march just been cancelled?”
Gideon took a step towards him, dismay dawning in his eyes. Lee turned to the sink and blindly ran water into the washing-up bowl. He couldn’t let Gideon get a close-up view of him now, on the edge of stupid tears, fighting like a toddler not to crack and cry outright. It’s not that you’d have gone off and done it, although that thought freezes the marrow in my bones. You’d have done it without letting me know. And here I am, locked up like some sea-widow at home, staring off over the water, knowing the damn ship’s gone down.
Gideon’s arms closed round his waist. “It doesn’t work like that,” he said, his mouth like hot velvet against Lee’s ear. “We don’t know if it’s fascists, or some nutter acting alone, or even if anything’s going to happen at all. Oh, my God, sweetheart – don’t cry.”
“I’m not.” Lee wiped the heel of one wet hand over his eyes. “I’m fine, okay? I’m really sorry.”
“Eavesdropping. Getting in your way. Making things harder for you.”
“You don’t do any of those things.” Gideon rocked him. “Listen – I know this new work’s been tough as fuck on both of us. It’s just… very different, that’s all. I don’t go out and get into the middle of things anymore.”
“That must be killing you.”
“A bit. But I’ll get used to it. As for cancelling, we don’t have nearly enough information to justify that, although…”
He fell into a reverberant silence. Lee, who could read his body as well as his mind, and who knew the village bobby of Dark would have cancelled this march at the breath of a threat to its participants, listened to the tensions in the warm body pressed against his. “Gid, tell me what’s wrong.”
“I saw something. In the orchard.”
Lee’s spine chilled. Was this how it felt to other people, when one of his own visions fell from him unannounced? I can see something. Not a stray dog or one of their distant neighbours’ sheep on the loose – something eerie, not to be contained by earthly walls or defences. “What?”
“Not sure. It went round the front. You stay there.”
He set off at a run. It went without saying that Lee would never obey an order of that kind, and he followed on, securing the porch door behind them. God help any serious intruders, encountering Detective Sergeant Frayne in the garden! If it was Daz or any of his feckless mates, he’d rumble at them like a volcano but send them about their business with startling gentleness. Only once had Lee seen him on the edge of unleashed violence: when Elowen had decided she wanted the baby back, and Zeke and Michel had made the mistake of trying to block his response. Still he’d let Lee bear him down to his knees on the clifftop path. All that power, shuddering and restrained in his arms… “Gideon, hold up. I don’t see anyone.”
“No. Me neither, now.” He came to a halt by the gate. “Hang on – over there. Look.”
He was pointing to the thicket of gorse on the far side of the lane. Lee saw the yellow blossoms quiver, as if someone had passed briskly behind them, but then the heavy stillness of the evening returned.