He blinked at his own flight of fancy, but even with his eyes cleared, the woman in this modest Cornish cottage was an orchid in a milk pail. She was as tall as he and extremely slender, her face so pale he could see the blood flush up into her cheeks, presumably because his speechlessness embarrassed her. She wore a bronze-coloured house dress, a tall turban of gold silk and earrings of gold and carnelian that were almost the same colour as her brows and eyelashes. He registered the creases around her blue eyes, the slight sag of her ivory throat, and the swollen knuckles of her work-roughened hands a moment later and was knocked again to realize she must be twice his age. A notable beauty once and still stately to the core.
Fortunately, she appeared to have been equally surprised by him. She recovered only a moment first. “Yes? Can I help you?”
Perry cleared his throat, inwardly congratulating himself that he was not a man to desire women, and fortunately his mind remained clear. “I’m looking for Tomas Quick? You’re his wife?”
She laughed. “I’m his mother, dear: Zuliy. But you’ve just missed him. The tide’s turned, the boats are floating. He’s gone this very moment to the north steps to cast off the Swift. If you run like the wind, you may catch him.”
He had followed the gesture of her right hand and was running up the street toward the tip of the promontory before he fully registered that she had not come into the sunlight, nor had she let go of the door—if he had kicked it, she could have slammed it in his face. Was that a personal modesty, or a perpetual readiness to delay the law long enough that her no-good son could slip out the back door?
Curiosity piqued, almost excited by the thought, he sprinted over the rough ground at the edge of the promontory and almost fell headlong down the stairs carved into the sheer rock. Throwing himself backwards as soon as he noticed the cliff, he tumbled—rather shaken—to his arse and had to scrabble up to hands and knees to peer over the edge, where the stair, cut into the cliffside, went down like a ladder.
Below, the sea was indeed coming in. Its waves already lapped the bottom step of the stair, so shallow as yet that the pebbles were visible moving beneath it.
A hundred feet further down the beach, however, a handsome cutter had been lying on its side, but it was already rocking itself upward as the waves lifted it. Green livery—a wide green-and-gold stripe beneath its gunwales. It wasn’t yet upright, but already two men on the windlass were winding up its stern anchor.
A boy by the wheel, with wide voluminous petticoat breeches was— But no, that was a girl, barefoot and brown armed, apparently reading a chart. The aft main and top sails, above and below the gaff, were already lowered, helping to heel the cutter upright and the jib and staysail were ballooning out to catch the wind.
She would be under way in moments, and even as Perry realized this, he saw the man he had come to interrogate, breast-deep in the water below the hull. The man seized a rope tossed down to him and swarmed up the side, throwing himself over the gunwale with a glittering spray of water. He must have been barely fifty yards ahead of Perry, before Perry balked at the stairs. Now he was as out of reach as if he had been in Antarctica.
Almost as soon as her captain was on board, the cutter was upright. Quick balanced with practiced ease on the heaving deck, and—looking back—caught Perry’s eyes to give him a contemptuous grin.
Perry’s heart, so rattled by the man’s mother, now stopped altogether. Someone had already talked. It was certain as death that Quick already knew Perry was after him, and this was his challenge.
Perry stared down the hot gaze as he would have stared down the barrel of a duelling pistol. He wished he was close enough to see better, and yet he already knew he would never forget this distant glimpse against the immensity of sea and sky: The man’s vivid face and his flame of red-gold hair. The insouciant outright fucking mockery of his smile, bright under a slew of freckles, brown as pebbled stones. These things would always be with Perry now until he could wipe that grin off with the back of his hand.
You think you can defy me? His pride exalted, almost like joy at the prospect of the fight. This was to be personal was it? Bring it on.
About Contraband Hearts
His future depends on bringing the smuggler to justice. His heart demands to join him.
Customs officer Peregrine Dean is sent by his patron to investigate rumors of corruption in the Porthkennack customs house. There he is tasked by the local magistrate to bring down the villainous Tomas Quick, a smuggler with fingers in every pie in town. Fired with zeal and ambition, and struck to the core by his first glimpse of Tomas, Perry determines to stop at nothing until he has succeeded.
Tomas Quick is an honest thief—a criminal regarded by the town as their local Robin Hood. He’s also an arrogant man who relishes the challenge posed by someone as determined and intelligent as Perry. Both of them come to enjoy their cat-and-mouse rivalry a little too much.
But the eighteenth century is a perilous time for someone like Perry: a black man in England. Two have already disappeared from the wrecks of ships. Tomas and Perry must forsake their competition and learn to trust each other if they are to rescue them, or Perry may become the third victim.
Welcome to Porthkennack, a charming Cornish seaside town with a long and sometimes sinister history. Legend says King Arthur’s Black Knight built the fort on the headland here, and it’s a certainty that the town was founded on the proceeds of smuggling, piracy on the high seas, and the deliberate wrecking of cargo ships on the rocky shore. Nowadays it draws in the tourists with sunshine and surfing, but locals know that the ghosts of its Gothic past are never far below the surface.
This collaborative story world is brought to you by five award-winning, best-selling British LGBTQ romance authors: Alex Beecroft, Joanna Chambers, Charlie Cochrane, Garrett Leigh, and JL Merrow. Follow Porthkennack and its inhabitants through the centuries and through the full rainbow spectrum with historical and contemporary stand-alone titles.
About Alex Beecroft
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.
Connect with Alex:
- Website: com
- Blog: com/blog
- Facebook: com/AlexBeecroftAuthor
- Twitter: @Alex_Beecroft
- Goodreads: com/Alex_Beecroft
To celebrate the release of Contraband Hearts, Alex is giving away a $10 Amazon gift card and an ebook from her backlist, your choice! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on May 5, 2018. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following along, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!