Blue Steel Chain (A Trowchester Blues Novel)
This title is part of the Trowchester Blues universe.
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At sixteen, Aidan Swift was swept off his feet by a rich older man who promised to take care of him for the rest of his life. But eight years later, his sugar daddy has turned from a prince into a beast. Trapped and terrified, Aidan snatches an hour’s respite at the Trowchester Museum.
Local archaeologist James Huntley is in a failing long distance relationship with a rock star, and Aidan—nervous, bruised, and clearly in need of a champion—brings out all his white knight tendencies. When everything falls apart for Aidan, James saves him from certain death . . . and discovers a skeleton of another boy who wasn’t so lucky.
As Aidan recovers, James falls desperately in love. But though Aidan acts like an adoring boyfriend, he doesn’t seem to feel any sexual attraction at all. Meanwhile there are two angry exes on the horizon, one coming after them with the press and the other with a butcher’s knife. To be together, Aidan and James must conquer death, sex, and everyone’s preconceptions about the right way to love—even their own.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Aidan got a little lost on the top floor. He’d been drifting slowly from cabinet to cabinet, reading the handwritten labels that were giving him increasing glimpses into the world of the Bronze Age Beaker people, when he came to an empty display and then a second. He raised his head cautiously to discover he was halfway down a gallery that petered out into unused cases.
Grim February light drifted dank through all the tall windows of the museum’s third floor and lit a scene that was obviously not meant for the public’s eyes. Here, among empty display cases, plastic trays full of dirty-looking broken pots and rusted blobs of green metal lay scattered on the floor.
Someone was moving among them, hunched like a bear over berries, muttering to himself as he gazed down.
Aidan froze, ducking his head between his shoulders. Oh God, he wasn’t supposed to be here, was he? Muffling his breath, he eased back behind the last full case and concentrated on breathing silent and slow. The man hadn’t noticed him come in. If he was careful and quiet he might not be noticed leaving.
“Oh, where did I put them . . .?”
The stranger half rose from his crouch, peering at the ground all around him. Aidan stood very still and his ear tightened, anticipating a smack. He rubbed it as he told himself not to be so stupid. He was in a public museum; he had done nothing wrong. The man would stand up and see him, and if he was angry he would still only dare shout, which would not be so bad.
Except Aidan didn’t want to be shouted at. He had come here to get away from all that, to be left in peace, to be left alone . . .
The man was now kneeling in front of a crate full of paper towels, unwrapping something small. If Aidan leaned forward just an inch, he could look down on the man’s bent head. Caramel-coloured hair that stood up by itself in spikes—Aidan might have thought the man dressed it that way had he not been wearing those clothes. No one who went to the trouble of spiking their hair with product would then come out of the house wearing pale-tan corduroy trousers and a Christmas jumper underneath a blue corduroy jacket.
He was a smallish man, Aidan saw with some relief. Not short, but slender—the figure of someone who didn’t eat much but who also did very little exercise. Wire-framed glasses were hooked into his collar. There was a smudge of ink on the knuckle of his right index finger and a matching one on his ear. Even as Aidan watched he lifted both hands and pushed his fingers into his hair, dragging that knuckle over his cheekbone and the top of his ear, explaining the smudge.
Aidan smiled and felt himself uncurl a little inside. He didn’t come out of hiding, but his breath came easier and his shoulders unclenched. The psychosomatic stinging of his ear gave way to one last rub and disappeared.
Sitting back on his heels, Christmas Jumper Man drew an index card out of his top pocket, patting himself all over before he came up with a leaky pen. A rootle around the trays brought up a clipboard, on which he positioned the card. He uncapped his pen and looked up into the distance outside the windows, perhaps towards Wednesday Keep, perhaps ten thousand years into the past.
The new angle brought his face into Aidan’s view, and Aidan liked it. It was a gentle face with a puzzled, intellectual look and something boyish about the smoothness of its angles. Objectively handsome, the colour of his eyes and hair were harmonious with each other. Aidan would have liked to sculpt it, probably in wood to do justice to the impression that there was life going on under the surface of it.
His fingers clenched and ached, and he cut that thought off. He had been given so much, it was only right that he give up a great deal in return. And after all, his art . . . well, it was a bit pretentious claiming it was art at all. Piers was right—his hobbies just got in the way.
Christmas Jumper Man had wrestled inspiration out of the distant hills. He took a deep breath, pressed his pen to the paper, and looked down. His eyes and his forehead crinkled as he raised his free hand to the bridge of his nose as if to push up his glasses. “What did I . . .?” he asked himself, patting his pockets down again, following it by sighing and getting up to look in the crates that surrounded him.
His back was turned. Aidan could have made a getaway. Could have at least got halfway down the gallery so when the man noticed him it would be too late for his distant anger to strike. But he was feeling brave, and he wanted to be useful, and he knew exactly how he could help.
“They’re tucked in your collar.”
Christmas Jumper Man startled and recoiled, almost losing his balance as he stepped back.
Oh . . . hell. Aidan was always doing this. Always pushing himself where he wasn’t wanted, as if to compensate for all the occasions where he wasn’t to be found where he should be. Was that wrong? Had he just done something terribly wrong?
Aidan braced himself. He had done something wrong. He had shocked the man, frightened him maybe, when he thought he was alone, and now he was looking up and seeing a looming tattooed figure, and he would strike out to try to get it away from him. Aidan hunched in anticipation, raising his hands to hover by his face.
But the stranger had pressed a theatrical hand to his throat, felt his glasses there, and was chuckling. “Oh,” he said and smiled up at Aidan sideways in a combination of rueful and embarrassed. “I knew they were there. I knew it. I put them there so I wouldn’t lose them. I just forgot that was what I’d done, and . . .”
There was a microgram or two of anger to the twist of his smile. Aidan didn’t feel it was directed at him. Still, he didn’t like it.
“I know how that is,” he said, in an effort to get the stranger to forgive himself, to drop the reproach and be happy. “So many more important things to think about.”
It wasn’t true—Piers didn’t like it when he mislaid things, so he had trained himself not to—but the reassurance seemed to work. The stranger huffed in agreement and relaxed. “Well, thank you,” he said, putting his glasses on and then immediately pushing them up to rest in his hair. He held out a hand, and Aidan shook it carefully. “I’m James. I’m the curator here. And you are . . .?”
Not sure whether I should say. Suppose Piers came in here and James accidentally revealed he had said something to Aidan? What was the likelihood of that, given that Piers only liked modern things?
“Um . . . I’m lost. I was looking at the arrowheads, and then I saw an open door and I came through. I thought this gallery was open. I’m sorry. I should go.”
“No, no, that’s my fault.” James was absentmindedly still holding on to his hand. The touch was warm and impersonal in a good way—like he had just left it there because everything was fine. But it did something profoundly strange to the marrow of Aidan’s bones and the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been touched by anyone who wasn’t Piers. His hand felt like it wasn’t his own—like it was one of those fragile pieces of pottery James had been unpacking—and the infection had spread up his arm and into his chest before it occurred to him to wonder if he should be allowing this to go on.
“I . . . uh . . .” James laughed. “I forgot where I’d put the ‘Gallery Closed’ sign. I was sure it was in the night watchman’s desk, but it wasn’t, so I . . .” He looked down at their loosely held hands and pulled away with an apologetic twist upwards of his smile. “And anyway, it’s not as though I’m doing anything top secret in here. Why shouldn’t people come in and watch?”
“But maybe,” Aidan ventured, nervous and reckless and exhilarated at the sound of his own voice, “you wanted to be left to work in peace?”
“Well, if I’d wanted that I could have locked the door.”
James’s hand returned to hover at Aidan’s elbow. Not touching, but being so close that he could feel the presence of it like a force field. He should have stepped away, but he didn’t.
“Perhaps I should show you back to the beaten track.” James inched the hand forward so it came into contact, and it was again a completely professional, gentle, businesslike touch, and again it did something deep and bizarre to Aidan’s heart. He stood quite still in the mingled grey and gold lights of the half-empty room and felt like James had dug him up from somewhere and put him on display. He wasn’t sure he liked it, but he also didn’t want it to stop.
“Yeah.” He licked his lips nervously and looked away. “I should really be getting home anyway. It’s . . .” A glance at his watch and the unsettled feeling gave way to a much more familiar anxiety. “Wow, it’s getting late. I really need to get home.”
James gave him a concerned look and then a reassuring smile. “This way, then. I’ll take you to the main stairwell. Then it’s straight down and through the double doors.”
He fell into step beside Aidan, their strides the same length. Actually, he was the same height. Aidan had just been thinking of him as small because there was something so endearingly helpless about him, so friendly and so unthreatening, as though he was apologetic about taking up any space at all. His hands were large and his wrists bony, pleasant looking. Aidan liked that too.
He should have pulled ahead, run through the doors at the end of the gallery and down the steps. He should have jogged home. He didn’t.
“This is very interesting.” James followed his averted gaze to a large curved fragment of pot on a cushion in one of the larger cases, its label written in what must be James’s handwriting. “Are you fond of the Bronze Age at all?”
Aidan was fond of the feeling of the room expanding out all around him, of galleries opening in every direction into infinity, of being able to walk down them, free and curious and unafraid. “I’m interested in everything,” he said. “I didn’t get to go to school, so—”
And his phone buzzed in his pocket. He had time for a breath and then he was falling through the floor, smack into darkness and terror.
“Shit.” His fingers hurt as he fished the phone out of his pocket, forced his thumb to open the text he’d just been sent.
Where are you?
“Oh shit.” Piers was home. Piers was home and had found him absent. Oh shit, he was an idiot. He was such a bad boyfriend, such a . . . Oh God, what the hell had he been doing? He gave James one last look—the man’s grey eyes startled and his inoffensive face creased with concern—felt he owed him an explanation but didn’t have one to give.
“I’m sorry,” he gasped, hunching over the phone as he texted back, On my way. “Bye!”
Outside the final door, the stairwell went down three flights around a marble entrance hall that echoed his panicked footsteps like a drum. As he was leaping down, taking three steps at a time, James leaned over the upper bannister and shouted, “But come back when this exhibit’s finished. I’ll give you the tour.”
Stupid, innocent man. It wasn’t his fault Aidan had lost track of the time. It wasn’t his fault Aidan had been out without permission in the first place. It was all on Aidan. Aidan was a fucking stupid wanker who ought to have learned better than this by now.
He didn’t reply, just burst through the double doors, gaining speed as he let his gait open out to a flat run. Through the cathedral grounds, over the rubble of the city wall beyond it, and then up to where Piers’s house sat isolated among stony fields.
Shit shit shit. He was such a bad person. How could he go through life like this, getting every single thing wrong? Now Piers would be upset. And after everything he did for Aidan, everything he had to put up with. Well, that was very bad.
Over the fields. Over the back garden, skirting the circular hill that took up a good third of the area of it, the one that Piers didn’t like looking at. Through the landscaped arboretum and the rock garden and the filtration pools beyond. Not thinking about anything except where to place his feet, about the burn of exertion, the hot rawness of breath in his chest.
Even though he was not thinking, he had the sense to swing around onto the encircling path and take the extra few minutes to run into the front garden, approach the house from the drive. He tried to be a good boyfriend, really he did, but he didn’t see why it should matter to Piers that Aidan knew there was a way into town through the back. For some reason, Aidan was supposed to avoid the hill at the bottom of the garden, and the path ran behind it. It would only make Piers more upset if he found out Aidan had flouted that instruction too. Why bother him with it?
Up the drive then, up perfectly smooth white flagstones like a late snowfall. Crocuses were coming up under the box hedges and in the lawn. Little explosions of gold and purple that promised summer to come. He felt them like a defiance. Hope, hope that sprang up green every single time.
The house had belonged to Piers’s parents. He’d grown up here. But you couldn’t see a trace of the old place under new concrete. As soon as he’d come into the inheritance, Piers had remodelled the house in the newest, most up-to-date architectural style. Now it was all hard angles and white blocks, with bulletproof glass walls all around the sunroom and tiny, prison-cell-like square windows everywhere else.
Sometimes when he was away from it, Aidan hated it with a passion he didn’t recognise in himself. But now, as he slowed to a jog on the drive, bent over to catch his breath—just a moment, just one more moment outside—he felt nothing. Maybe a kind of dull reluctance at the most. He took a last look at the crocuses as he was fishing out his keys, rubbed his hands together to try to make them solid again—shake off whatever it was James had done to them—and then raised his hand to the lock.
The door opened before he touched it. Piers had been standing in the hall, waiting for him. Everything inside him compressed down into the least possible space at his lover’s expression.
“Where have you been?” Piers asked, very cold, very tightly restrained, and oh, he really was angry.
“I went jogging.” Aidan tried the guileless, charming smile that sometimes worked. He gestured to his sweatpants and T-shirt and trainers, which he had worn so he could give just this excuse if it came to it.
“Just across the fields,” Aidan pointed out towards the long fall of fallow agricultural land to the west where the river ran through a park and then out into farms. “I didn’t see anyone. I meant to be back to welcome you. I really did. But I got off the footpath somewhere and I couldn’t—”
Piers was six foot four and obsessed with weight training. When he grabbed a hold of Aidan’s hair and yanked, Aidan had no choice but to follow. Bent over, with Piers’s fist in his hair, Aidan stumbled through the front hall aghast. “Piers, my shoes! My shoes are dirty. I’ll get mud on the—”
His eyes watered at the sting of Piers’s grip, his scalp throbbing and a red tearing pain clawing down like skeletal fingers along both sides of his face. But he really had run across the fields and his shoes really were thick with mud, and the carpet in the living room was as white as the drive outside, pristine. And when Piers had got over being angry about him going out, he would be furious about the footprints.
Aidan managed to toe one shoe off before he was thrown down the three steps onto the living room floor. The carpet took most of the impact, just a bruise on his shoulder that he didn’t particularly feel as he twisted up to get the other shoe off and to throw it back into the hall. There!
He tried to gather himself onto all fours, feeling like he’d won a point, but Piers kicked his pre-bruised shoulder, and the impact flipped him over turtle-like onto his back, opening his belly to the heel that stamped down on the pit of the stomach. Piers liked it when he screamed, so he made no attempt to keep silent, yelling in pain, coughing and whooping to catch his breath.
The pain was also far away. He could feel tears clogging his already labouring breath, decided they were a good idea, they might help. Piers liked it when he cried too. He should just lie there and get it over with, but for all his wisdom he couldn’t seem to help curling up, trying to protect his ribs and stomach and his face.
“You little shit.” Piers stood over him, breathing hard. He risked a look to try to gauge whether it was safe to move, found Piers looking down on him like a vengeful god. He always had been so perfect. He was so tall and so beautifully put together that you scarcely noticed his bulk, and his hair was so silver it might have been minted by the Bank of England, and his suit was so impeccable, and his shiny shoes were not even scuffed by being rammed into something as dirty as Aidan.
Aidan had once liked that, but these days he was beginning to feel some resentment towards the fact.
He thought of saying, You never said I couldn’t go out. But that would only make Piers say it, and then it would be worse because he’d have to choose whether or not to disobey a direct command. Best to say nothing. It always passed off shorter that way.
Catching him looking, Piers put a foot on his face, drove it hard into the floor. Aidan must have done a terrible job of vacuuming because there were flecks of grit in the carpet. As the bones of his skull creaked under the pressure, three tiny sharp points pressed into his cheekbone like caltrops. Was he bleeding? He must not stain this lovely white expanse—blood was so hard to get out. As soon as Piers let him up, he scrambled to get his arms under himself so he could bleed into his sleeves instead. “I’m sorry.”
“You little shit,” Piers said again. “How dare you lie to me?”
“I’m not!” Aidan managed to feel genuinely indignant, trying to believe himself so that Piers would. But Piers leaned down and got both hands underneath Aidan’s necklace, the blued-steel chain that was the first of many presents he had given him. The steel chain that fastened with a padlock to which only Piers had the key. He used the chain to pull Aidan to his feet, links digging in beneath his jaw, digging in to the soft tissue of his throat, making him gag and choke and cry harder.
“I know exactly where you were, you little cunt. Your phone has GPS.”
Oh fuck. The real part of Aidan, the part that was even more vulnerable than his belly, had already curled up tight inside, but this blow made what was left ring like a hollow bell. When Piers let him go, he crumpled to his knees. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Why had he ever thought he was safe? Why had he ever thought he deserved to get away with doing something he knew Piers—Piers who was so clever, so vigilant, always so right—didn’t want?
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Oh God, what a shit he was. What a shit he was. He crawled closer to Piers and hugged him around the ankles. Wiping his nose to be sure he wasn’t bleeding, he put his face down on Piers’s feet. “I’m sorry. I did run through town. I just . . . I just wanted to look at the shops. I didn’t . . . I didn’t talk to anyone. I promise.”
“I buy you whatever you want.”
The abject sobbing seemed to be having an effect. Aidan closed his eyes and kissed Piers’s shiny black shoes. “I know.”
“When I found you in London, you were living in a squat, and now you have a mansion. With a swimming pool and a library . . .”
“I know. Thank you.”
The blows had stopped, and Piers’s voice had lost most of his anger. Now he was telling a story that gave him satisfaction, reminding himself as well as Aidan of how perfect he really was. “You were a filthy, starving, abandoned little runaway who would probably have died come winter, and I gave you everything. Everything you could possibly want.”
“Thank you,” Aidan gasped, though he didn’t remember it being quite like that—the smell of coffee bright in his mind, feathers of frothed milk, and God he’d been lonely and heartbroken but it could have been all right. He’d had a job and a place to stay. He hadn’t wanted Piers as a sugar daddy, as some kind of ticket off the street. It could have worked out all right without Piers, if he hadn’t fallen in love.
“Not even your parents wanted you.” Piers was definitely calming now, leaning down to whisper it almost tenderly in Aidan’s ear.
But it was pointless to think that. Pointless to look back and wonder whether his parents might have . . . might have accepted him, if he’d tried to reach them again. He did wonder sometimes if Mum and Dad might have chosen their child over the gilt and guilt of the church. But it was pointless thinking that too. He sniffled into Piers’s shins as the man’s hand came down to stroke through the aching hair he had almost yanked out.
Aidan knew that touch, knew the change to the pattern of Piers’s breathing. He compressed a little further down into despair, letting go of Piers’s feet so the man could strip him out of his clothes and fondle him appreciatively.
He hated this. He always had. He hated hands on parts of his body that just weren’t meant for anyone else. Piers had both hands on his arse now, squeezing, and it wasn’t a worse feeling than being kicked in the stomach, but it was somehow harder to bear. He sighed and fidgeted away.
When he was naked, Piers led him over to the coffee table, showed him himself in its mirrored surface. “When I found you, you were a skinny, scrawny little thing. Now look at you.”
It was true. Piers had required him to remake himself in Piers’s image, moulding his body with exercise and feeding regimes, even scarring and tattooing it to Piers’s design. Aidan sometimes didn’t know who he was anymore. He certainly didn’t recognise the prizefighter with the anxious eyes he saw in the mirror.
“I own you to the bone.” Piers pulled him down by the collar, secured its padlock to the apparently decorative length of chain that hung beneath the table, leaving him bent over the table’s flat surface. Aidan braced himself as well as he could with his hands, spread his legs enticingly, hoping to get this over with as fast as possible, but he still couldn’t stop himself from flinching away from Piers’s lubed fingers.
When they’d first started to go out, and everything had been so romantic, and he’d thought he was on Olympus with the gods because Piers was so loving and so perfect, so mature and grown up, Piers had told him he would get to like this. Told him that sixteen was a little old for him to still be waiting for his sex drive to kick in, but that it was bound to start soon. But not to worry until then, because Piers could still enjoy it even if Aidan just lay there and thought about homework. So not to fret, he wasn’t letting anyone down.
It never had kicked in, and Piers’s patience had long run out. “You’re such a frigid cunt though,” he said now, slicking himself up minimally and pushing inside while Aidan gritted his teeth and remembered that he shouldn’t cry now. He was supposed to cry when he was being punished and enjoy it when he was being fucked, but he could only manage one of those two things. “You’ve got one thing to do to pay me back. Just one thing, and I’d be happy. I give you everything, and you give me nothing at all.”
After the sex, Aidan was more or less forgiven. He was allowed to go into the hall to clean his shoes and then to go upstairs to have a shower.
He stood in the hot water for a long time, mindlessly, while the flow stung his scalp and his bruises. At some point, he found that his face had crumpled up and he was crying, so he waited until the fit passed before getting out, the salt of his tears diluted under the spray.
The bathroom cabinet was well stocked. Aidan was allowed to order things online, though Piers always checked the credit card receipts and made it clear when he didn’t approve. He turned a blind eye to medical supplies, in general. After prodding at his cheek, watching the colour turn from purple to white beneath his exploring fingertip, Aidan decided nothing was broken. There were three deep bruises centred on bloody red dots that needed antiseptic cream, and the middle one was large enough to warrant a suture, so he applied it with a steady hand. Stones in the carpet fallen from Piers’s shoes. He’d have to find and remove them before next time.
That really hadn’t been so bad. Not as bad as it could have been. Perhaps not as bad as he deserved. Because really, Piers was right. He had given Aidan everything, taken him in when no one wanted him. Loved him, lusted after him. He deserved better than Aidan’s cold, reluctant responses. Aidan was always letting him down—going where he wasn’t supposed to go, lying about it, being ungrateful.
Even now, instead of thinking about how he could repay Piers, how he could make him happy again, he was really just being glad that Piers’s age was finally catching up with him, and a fuck this afternoon meant he would be left alone tonight.
It was over, at least until tomorrow.
Cheered by that thought, he dressed in the casual wear that Piers preferred—a tight tank tops that showed off his arms, and shorts—and went down to make dinner from the selection of fresh ingredients that were delivered daily by a firm so professional he’d never actually caught them doing it. His stomach hurt and his shoulder hurt and his face hurt, but the painkillers would kick in soon, and it was over.
After an evening in silence, Piers went to bed without him, which was new and worrying. Not that he wanted to sleep in the same bed as Piers and wake with the man all over him, but Piers had always wanted it. Aidan couldn’t lose his one purpose. What good would he be then?
Quietly, so as not to make Piers angry again, he followed his lover upstairs and slipped under the satin sheets, just lying there next to him, not touching, not saying anything.
“I knew you’d come,” Piers said in the dark with a sound like satisfaction. “You pretend not to want it, but you can’t stay away.” He rolled onto his side, putting his back to Aidan. He didn’t even touch him—never did these days unless it was in sex or violence.
Aidan turned away from him, wrapped his own arms around his aching middle, and pushed his face into the pillow, imagining he was being held. Just held gently by someone as they both fell asleep together. It made his eyes prickle, but he wept as quietly as he could. Piers needed his sleep.
The following day started well. Aidan was half-asleep when Piers crawled on top of him and rubbed himself off. It was easy to imagine himself as someone else—someone who liked this kind of thing. Then Piers went into work early, and the empty house sighed to see the back of him, as Aidan made breakfast for himself, feeling cheerful.
“What the fuck?”
It was later. His personal trainer had arrived at the door and was now standing with her gym bag slipping off her shoulder and her wiry hair standing up like a black halo behind her, looking at his face as if it appalled her.
“Come in.” He stepped back and let her through, disconcerted by the way she started on him the moment she was in the hall.
“What the fuck happened to your face?”
His immune system had not liked the dirt from the stones. The tiny puncture wounds were inflamed and itchy. The skin around them had swollen and the bruise had turned all kinds of shades of purple and blue. As if for symmetry, a paler bruise showed in a half moon on his other cheek, the shape of a heel. His stomach still hurt, and his shoulder was painful and stiff. But that didn’t get him out of the duty of working to be the most perfect physical specimen possible. Piers deserved the best.
“I . . . uh. I had an accident in town yesterday.” For some reason he’d thought she wouldn’t care. They didn’t usually. After passing Piers’s rigorous selection procedure, they were usually as empathic as an exercise bike. And Piers brought in a new one every month anyway, so none of them had time to grow suspicious. She’d only seen him once before. He hadn’t expected this line of questioning from her. He hadn’t prepared.
“An accident with a fist?”
“Um.” He tried the charming smile out on her, but it only made her look more worried. “Well, when I say an accident, it was more that I got into a fight.”
“Right.” She narrowed her eyes at him as he led the way down to the gym. “Well, I ain’t known you long but I gotta say you don’t seem the fighting sort.”
“I don’t need to be.” She was pushing at the boundaries of his good mood, and he hated her for that. “People see me and want to knock me down whether I fight back or not.”
“Hmm . . .” She put down her bag by the cross trainer and folded her pink-leotard-clad arms over her chest. “I bet I can take a good guess at who these people are.”
These things followed a pattern, like a werewolf’s cycle. Piers didn’t usually blow up more than once a month, which meant today Aidan was celebrating being mostly safe. He didn’t want that safe haven to be spoiled by too much thought. “I’ll just start warming up, shall I?”
“Pull up your shirt,” she said gruffly, and he flinched.
“I’m your personal trainer, yes? So you’ve got to show me you’re well enough to do a full workout today.”
“I’m fine.” He wondered how he could get her out of the house without having to phone Piers and tell him she was being nosy. Piers . . . he didn’t take well to interference. He would blame her, and he would blame Aidan. A word from Piers had wrecked many a career.
“Yeah. I thought you’d say that.” She walked closer as she spoke and lunged in to yank the bottom of his T-shirt up until it caught on his armpits. A hiss of breath through clenched teeth and she shook her head at the sight of his stomach, where the bruise was almost black. “By what definition is this fine?”
Aidan opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off with a raised hand. “No, I don’t want to hear it. I work some days in an abused women’s shelter. I have seen so many girls like this. I know all the excuses.”
Now she was just being ridiculous. He wasn’t abused! Piers just had a temper, and who could blame him? It was different between two men, anyway. More physical. But that was only because Piers knew that Aidan could take it. He knew Aidan was strong enough—strong in his body, but more importantly strong in his love. Aidan, for all his shittiness as a boyfriend, was glad to have the chance to prove his love, his gratitude, by bearing with Piers little foibles.
“It was a fight in town,” he said again, because he didn’t have to justify himself to her. “And I’m fine.”
“You should be lying down, letting that rest.”
She watched as he started his warm up on the cross trainer, and she might have had a point there, because as he began to breathe more rapidly, the pain in his belly and shoulder flowered into something monstrous. “I don’t want to lose condition,” he gasped, trying to push through it. “I don’t want to—”
“Make him angry?”
When it hurt this much, he didn’t have space for dodging her questions. He turned his face aside and ignored her.
“You know,” she circled him, going up on tiptoes to watch his heart rate on the monitor, jabbing the difficulty button to give him less resistance, “he told me I should come all different times, without telling you beforehand. And he said I should tell him if you ever weren’t in the house waiting for me.”
“He likes to know where I am,” Aidan gritted, labouring at the simple routine, annoyed with himself for being so pathetic. “He worries about me.”
“He likes to make sure you never leave the house, more like.” She stopped the machine altogether and handed him a drink. “Likes to keep you isolated and under control so you never realize what a shit he is. See, I had my doubts about him right there, and now I’m sure. You need to get out. You need to get out right now, before he does worse.”
“He’s looked after me for seven years,” Aidan insisted, bent double over his ribs, sure he should get back on the machine but not quite able to make himself do it. “I don’t have anywhere to go to. I don’t have anyone else. He takes care of me. I wouldn’t make it without him.”
“That’s just what he wants you to think.” She touched him gently on the small of the back. It wasn’t quite the epiphany that James’s touch had been, but it was nice, and he didn’t think he could bear nice at the moment. She was stirring up too much. He couldn’t deal with it all.
“I don’t want you saying these things. I’m going to tell him what you said and he’ll make you go away . . .”
She sighed with a bitter twist to her lips. “Hush now. I’m going to say one more thing and then I’m going to stop. I promise. But you—you gotta promise to think this over. You gotta promise me.”
“And then you’ll stop?”
“This is my one thing, then.” She passed him a towel, though he hadn’t broken a sweat yet. “Honey, if you stay, he’s going to get worse. And one day, he’s going to murder you. If you’ve still got any part of you that wants to live, you get out. Get out now. You hear what I’m saying?”
His legs were strangely wobbly. He sat down on the exercise machine and hugged his bruises to warm them.
“You hear me?”
What did she know? Things were different for girls. And besides, she didn’t know Piers, didn’t know that he only did these things because he cared so much, and because he kept being disappointed. Aidan would just work harder to be perfect, and it would be fine.
“Yes, I heard.”
When he looked up, he found that her smile had a touch of despair to it. It broadened when she caught him looking, and acquired an edge of determined cheer. “All right, then. And now as your personal fitness consultant, I’m going to insist you go to bed for the rest of the day and take it easy for the rest of the week. If you want help to get away, I might be able to help. But while you think about it, I’m going to come ten o’clock every day regular, and I’m going to tell him I came at random times and you were always in. That way, you get your afternoons free.”
This was better news. He summoned a smile for her in thanks. It wasn’t that he wanted to be defiant, but sometimes he needed to go out in order to be calm enough, happy enough to deal with Piers’s moods. He was doing it for Piers, really, and that’s why he couldn’t stop. He would just remember in future to come home early enough, and it would be fine.
He ushered her out and went to bed, setting the alarm for four in the afternoon so he could be up and dressed when Piers returned—give the blameless appearance of having been hard at work all day.
He thought of James as he fell asleep. James examining the bruise under his eye with the same careful delicate touch he had used for his relics. He wondered if the touch would make him feel as his handclasp had—simultaneously more fragile and more real.
He tucked the thought carefully away, a little ashamed of it. Piers wouldn’t like it, and it was important to give Piers what he wanted. And if he did, everything would be fine.
Just as Aidan had known would happen, things were good that week. On the first night, Piers returned home with chocolates and an apology. He had ordered in a restaurant dinner, and though Aidan found eating something of a trial, he was able to swallow enough of it to make Piers smile. “You are so wonderful,” Piers had said, tugging slightly on Aidan’s necklace as he sat between Piers’s knees that evening to watch a film in their private theatre. “You always forgive me. I appreciate that, I do. You’re so strong and so beautiful, even like this. Maybe especially like this.”
There had been sex of course, because that was what Aidan was for, but he had gone into it floating on painkillers and NyQuil, and had even enjoyed parts of it, in a zoned-out, fuzzy sort of way. He’d just been glad that things were all right again between them, and he had at least two weeks ahead of him in which he could breathe deeply.
By the end of week one, however, he was healed enough to be sick of the house. His trainer was as good as her word and turned up at ten each day to put him through two hours of cardio and weights. But he didn’t encourage her to talk in case she got back on the subject of abuse, and although he looked forward to seeing her every day, their careful chatter about details of his regime wasn’t really enough to satisfy his need for company.
So on Friday afternoon, he left his phone in the house and went out, just to the back garden. Just to stand on top of the funny hill and feel the sick thrill of having his feet somewhere Piers didn’t like to think about.
It was hard to say what was so objectionable about the place, particularly on a day like today with the sun shining enough to cut through the cold, the snowdrops on the south of the hill standing up tall and opening their bells to the warmth. This part of the garden was all laid to grass, bright green except around the base of the hill, where it grew several shades darker like a fairy ring. When Aidan passed over the moat of darker grass, he felt he had stepped into another world. A breeze hissed past his ears as he leaned forward to balance against the incline and half walked, half climbed up onto the top of the mound.
Mound it must be. It must be a made thing. One of those Bronze Age burial chambers James had been writing about on his cards. No natural hill would be so steep or so round, like a balloon covered in turf.
The side facing the house had crumpled slightly. Longer grasses grew there in clumps around boulders with scratched carvings on them. A spill of dark soil showed where rabbits had been burrowing. He stayed away from there, in case the dirt got on his shoes and gave him away.
From on top of the hill, he could see over the house’s flat roof and a mile down the road that led to Trowchester and thence to the railway station from which Piers took his daily commute to London. Aidan pulled his hood over his head and sat there cross-legged for a while, watching, feeling the joy that came from being able to see Piers coming from a long distance away so he would not be taken by surprise—he could get back inside before his truancy was suspected.
He sat there an hour, just watching and appreciating being surrounded by unthreatening air, breathing in the smells of cold water and growing green grass. But gradually it dawned on him that someone was calling, “Hello!” and had been doing so for some time.
Scrambling to his feet, he turned to look out beyond the garden. The outer span of the mound curved beyond the hedge of hornbeam that was struggling to root in the stony soil. Then there were fields, newly turned by the plough in furrows the colour of milk chocolate. Then the land rose again, through a ribbon of woodland up to a higher hill on which massive earthwork banks still showed. Wednesday Keep, it was called, according to the local websites he had read when they first moved in.
Halfway through the nearest field and coming closer by the second was James. He seemed at home out here, with his cords stuffed into wellies and his reindeer jumper traded for a creamy Aran sweater that looked soft to the touch and made his skin look tanned by contrast.
“I thought it was you!” he said when he got close enough, and beamed at Aidan as if his day was made. “Although I can’t say why. I normally am not that great at remembering people, especially not when they’re covered up with . . .” He waved a hand at Aidan’s hood, which was obviously not doing any good in making him invisible, so he put it down. “What can I say? You’re just memorable.”
James paused outside the hedge, casting an affectionate look of curiosity over the mound. Aidan checked his watch—three hours before Piers was due home—and then over his shoulder. The road was still clear. He probably shouldn’t. But it was sunny and he was in a good mood and could he be blamed if he didn’t actually leave the garden? If he just went down the slope and stood on the other side of the hedge from James? It wasn’t his fault, surely, if a stranger came and stood on land near Piers’s land. There wasn’t anything he could have done about that.
“Hi,” he said when they were barely a foot apart, the brittle twigs of the leafless fence thigh-high between them. “What are you doing here?”
James brushed his hands through his hair, dislodging a shower of dust and small stones. Aidan wondered what his hair felt like, given that he seemed to touch it all the time. It shouldn’t be nice, full of ink and dirt, but it would be interesting to find out. He thought it was pretty cool, actually.
“Well, I’m supervising the dig on Wednesday Keep,” James said, indicating the hill fort. “I’m here a lot. There’s a marvellous view from the walls. I was looking out and . . . um. I saw you. And I thought, ‘That’s my mysteriously polite visitor from the museum. I’ll go over and tell him that the gallery is now open, and he’s welcome to come back.’ There’s even a ‘make your own coil beaker’ activity, if you fancy a bit of pottery.” His eyes twinkled as if he knew exactly how ridiculous he was and relished it. “And who doesn’t?”
Aidan chuckled, feeling like a vice that’d been untwisted. He hadn’t even known he was under stress, but James seemed to take the pressure off regardless. “I—I enjoy sculpture,” he said, the words just coming by themselves out of the well of a thousand million things he should not have said. He didn’t enjoy sculpture anymore. It was a lie. How could he enjoy it when he knew Piers didn’t like him doing it?
“Oh, you’re artistic. I could tell.” James smiled up at him. Though he was only a foot away, down the hill, the slope was steep and he had to crane his neck.
“Really?” Something in Aidan rejoiced at that. Sometimes he caught glimpses of himself—in the mirrored table, in the glass doors at night—and saw only the muscles, the broad back and the wide shoulders, the six-pack and the biceps like rugby balls. There was a swastika scarification on his right hip and tattoos everywhere. He thought he looked like a thug. It was nothing short of amazing that James had seen through all of that to the thing that was starving in his heart.
“It’s . . .” James ducked his head with an embarrassed laugh. “It’s your eyes. You have a sensitive look. Oh dear. I shouldn’t have said that. Ignore me, I’m blathering. I don’t mean any offence.”
How could he take offence at that? On a whim, he took a couple of steps back and a short run up, and jumped over the hedge. It was ridiculous to talk with such a difference of altitude anyway. James looked startled as he came down to stand next to him. But then pleased, and Aidan . . . Aidan did love to please. So easily too. He glowed with misplaced satisfaction. “It’s okay. I’m glad you can tell. But I don’t sculpt anymore. My boyfriend doesn’t like it.”
“What business does he have disapproving of sculpture?” James exclaimed, with a snap of ferocity Aidan hadn’t expected and wasn’t sure he liked. He took a step back until his lower legs pressed against the hedge, and regarded James warily in case he was going to do anything else dangerous.
James just blinked at him, and rubbed his hands along the dirty streaks on his jacket where he’d evidently rubbed them many times before. His gaze lifted to Aidan’s face and fixed on the scab across the bridge of his nose. “Sorry. I shouldn’t criticise what I don’t understand.”
His mouth was open, and his soft, worried expression made Aidan fear for a moment that he too was going to start asking prying questions. But perhaps he read the signs that Aidan was preparing to flee, because he switched his attention to the hill and changed the subject. “So is this where you live? Do you have access to this tumulus? I would love to dig here. It’s a burial chamber, you know. I bet there’s someone really important down here. Maybe even a king, with regalia—it doesn’t look at all disturbed. You could have the next Sutton Hoo in your garden.”
Aidan melted at the man’s enthusiasm, but he also spared a fond thought for Piers. Piers was jumpy at the supernatural and afraid of ghosts. No wonder he didn’t like to look at the rabbit-desecrated tomb of a king. “We came up from London a year ago,” he said. “It’s Piers’s house. He . . .”
He didn’t like that I was starting to get to know people. He didn’t like that I had friends, or that I was spending more time on my sculpture than on him. He didn’t mind so much that he could sell it for me, but he hated that buyers had begun to wonder who I was, had begun to want to talk to me.
Aidan’s hands cramped. He shoved them into his armpits to warm them as he was transported there again—the night Piers had had enough. The crash and shatter of pottery and wheel and kiln through the windows as Piers had wrecked the little studio in their London house with a baseball bat. When Aidan had tried to get between him and the dragon sculpture he had been making for a friend, Piers had brought the club down on Aidan’s fingers, breaking three.
An accident, Piers had said, and at the time he’d believed it, though it certainly put a more effective stop to his art than trashing his studio alone could have. These days he looked back and saw it as the beginning of the punishments. The thing that started it all off. Piers had called him names before that, laughed at him, or been cold, locked him out, locked him in, and once stumbled and knocked him into the grill so he burned his arm. But that night had been the first outright violence. It had shocked him that the sculpture irritated Piers that much. He hadn’t known. But he didn’t complain about it being taken away. It wasn’t—it wasn’t worth complaining about.
“He wanted an escape from the city. Somewhere quiet and domestic. And this was where he grew up, so . . .”
“I see.” James’s smile was sympathetic and his grey eyes were far too keen. He looked as though he was about to say something insightful, but then there was a flash like lightning. Both of them turned to look, and it went off five times more. Flashguns from distant cameras. Two bulky figures were wading through the field’s muddy furrows, cameras trained on James.
James rolled his eyes. “Oh, I am sorry about this.” He gave a shamefaced laugh. “My boyfriend is Dave Debourne. Of, um, Iluvatar’s Angels? They’re a rock band.”
Aidan couldn’t imagine anyone less likely to be going out with a rock legend. It would have made him laugh had the photographers not been making him twitchy. They didn’t seem to have got close enough to have a decent picture of him yet, but he didn’t want to be here when they were. “I’d better go.”
“I know what you mean.” James shrugged apologetically as if to say, What can you do? “I’ll head them off. But do come back to the museum and show us how a real artist would make a Bronze Age beaker. I would . . .” His smile turned shy, and he dropped his gaze to the grass, a faint pinkness to the tips of his ears. “I would love to see it. Love to see you work. It would be a privilege.”
The photographers were close enough now that Aidan could hear the whirr of their shutters. He pulled his hood up and turned his back on them, trying to think of something to say.
“Well, I’d better lead these blokes away,” James said behind him, as if expecting a good-bye. But Aidan was choked up for some reason and could not force speech out. By the time he could whisper, “Thank you,” James had gone and it was too late.
Sunday and Piers’s presence filled the whole house. He sat peaceably enough at the kitchen table, reading the Sunday papers and picking at the remains of the breakfast Aidan had cooked him, while Aidan washed up and kept an eye on Piers’s coffee cup so he could replenish it before Piers was forced to ask.
He felt sure he was a terrible person. Not only had he started to wish for weekdays, but last night he had dreamed of James. The man had knocked at his bedroom window—which had been on the ground floor for some reason—waited until Aidan slid out of bed, and then tried to open the casement. It had stuck, and even in his dreams Aidan had been terrified that Piers would hear them both rattling it in its frame, would wake up and see, and stop them.
But he hadn’t, and between them he and James had raised the sash enough so Aidan could worm his head through, then an arm. He’d struggled out through it like a birth, nagged, dogged, tormented by the fear of Piers waking. But Piers hadn’t. And for one moment Aidan had had his feet down outside, and James’s hand was on his elbow, guiding him, and they had begun to walk away.
Aidan had woken to a feeling of joy and anguish so strong he couldn’t believe it came from him. It had left him unsettled and vulnerable as though he’d sloughed off several layers of skin during the night.
It hadn’t been a subtle dream. Now as he tried to enjoy the glister of cold spring light on soapsuds, the warmth of steaming plates under his fingers, he felt guilty and grimy and overaware of the silence he didn’t dare break.
Piers sipped his coffee and slipped the Sunday supplement magazine out of his paper. The sound of him turning pages was monumental in the quiet. The clock on the wall ticked as Aidan tried to rewind the spiderwebs of his numbness, his wonderful, insulating layer of resignation.
He poured himself coffee in a cacophony of splashes and clinks and clicks of milk jug on countertop. Tried to eat toast but gave up halfway through because the noise of his jaw working felt like he was selfishly sounding a bullhorn in Piers’s ear. It felt like something he couldn’t expect the man to tolerate.
He glanced at the clock. Piers usually went to the bathroom at about half nine, and then there would be an hour as he luxuriated. If Aidan was lucky, he might then go into his office and spend another two or three hours checking his stocks and shares. Aidan could eat then, when he could do it without causing trouble. When he could swallow. His throat didn’t feel bruised anymore, but it still didn’t seem to work right. It hadn’t worked right for years.
“Ugh, these people,” said Piers, turning the page of his magazine. From where he was, Aidan could see an upside-down spread of photos from some kind of music festival. Multicoloured lights shining through the silhouettes of long-haired dancers, the crisscross of girders above a stage on which someone was playing an electric violin. “Don’t they know the seventies are over? And they were shit when they were happening. Strikes, unions holding the country to ransom. Fucking empire being sold off wholesale. Shipyards and mines being closed. Nothing to celebrate. Look at them, fucking hippies. Never done a day’s work in their lives.”
Invited—maybe even ordered—to look, Aidan took a step away from the refuge of the sink so he could lean forward and try to decipher some of the headlines. He wasn’t quite sure what was so reprehensible about people enjoying themselves in whatever way they liked, but he wasn’t going to say so.
A picture taken from just below the stage caught his eye—the elongated forms of a blond guitarist in tight leather trousers leaning his naked back against the chest of what must be the lead singer so they could share a microphone. The lead singer had a mane of tawny hair and a tie-dyed T-shirt artfully ripped all over, and a look of theatrical adoration on his face.
Piers looked up and caught Aidan’s eye. He was expecting a comment. Conversation. “It’s nice that they can be so openly gay,” he ventured. “That’s an improvement on the seventies.”
It was a good response. Piers scoffed, pleased that Aidan had said something so obviously naive, that he could correct with his superior wisdom. “It’s almost exactly what happened in the seventies. People like David Bowie. Baiting the crowd with titillating hints of perversity and then going off and marrying women. Pandering to teenage girls who dream of being the ones who cure them, while the men in the audience are laughing at how ridiculous it all is.”
He turned the page, and the laugh Aidan had been going to use to cover up his scepticism got trapped in that strangled throat of his and a wave of stinging needles raised the hairs on his neck.
The first sentence of the article was in bolder type than the text. He could read it even upside down. “Upcoming supergroup Iluvatar’s Angels on tour.” Shit. He scanned the photos with a new urgency. One of these people was James’s other half. A direct line connected this article with James and thence with him. He put down the tea towel on the countertop and wrung his hands, wondering if he could justify making a break for the toilet.
But Piers was still talking to him. “They’re neighbours of ours, apparently. Or the lead singer is, at least. There’s a section here about his country retreat in the ‘little-known town’ of Trowchester. Little known! Go ahead and advertise your ignorance, why don’t you?”
Shit shit shit. Aidan backed away until his arse hit the sink. Tried not to look guilty, terrified. Tried not to look like he was trying not to look those things. Tried to look natural, damn it. Please, please, please, he thought, eyeing the knives in their block and then trying to convince himself that he had not been doing that. He was doing a shit job of controlling his breathing, could hear it going rapid and shallow and shaky.
This could get ugly very fast, but he shouldn’t panic just yet. There was no guarantee this article was connected to the photographers on Friday. Could they even take a photo one day and have it be in a glossy magazine two days later? Probably not. Anyway, the article was about James’s boyfriend, not James himself. Even if they had taken photos of Aidan, why would they use them? Why would they do it? He’d had a hood on—they couldn’t have seen his face. But the hill . . .
The page turned.
Piers would recognise the hill.
The silence crystallized around him, trapping him in place. He felt it slide from uncomfortable to deadly as if it had grown razors.
Piers breathed in. His chair creaked as he sat forward. Aidan lifted his gaze from the floor with a struggle, his throat raw inside, his nose stinging at the stench of fear that suddenly lifted off him, rank as an outhouse.
And yes. There he was, captured in the Sunday supplement, the turn of his cheek unmistakable even if Piers hadn’t known the hoodie, the trousers, the shape of Aidan carefully honed over the years. His own back garden. And James, looking up at Aidan’s averted face with a look three parts amused and one part dazzled, which Aidan hadn’t seen at the time but that would have stopped his heart if he had.
Piers pushed his chair back from the table and stood up.
“I didn’t go out of the garden.” Aidan slid inch by cautious inch along the counter, towards the door.
Piers rolled the magazine in his fist and brandished it. “Who the hell is this?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t do anything wrong.” He made a break for the door, but Piers was faster, his fist like a hammer to Aidan’s already bruised cheek. Aidan kept his head down, raised his hands to protect his face, tried to back away.
“How long have you been going behind my back, you fucking slut?”
“I didn’t! He’s an archaeologist. He wants to dig up the hill. We talked over the hedge, that’s all.”
Piers went utterly still for a moment, as if he’d turned to stone. Aidan half expected him to shatter when he moved again. “He wants to what?”
“Dig up the hill.” He took a cautious step back, turned on his heel, broke, and sprinted for the bathroom. Felt Piers fingertips brush his belt as he just missed the grab.
“You come here! You come here, you fucking little cunt!”
But he didn’t. He tore across the living room and leaped up the stairs three treads at a time. Piers cursed behind him, ran for the gym. Crashing noises from behind the gym door spurred Aidan to sprint faster. He reached the bathroom, put his shoulder to the door, and shot the bolt, defiant and terrified of his own nerve, a little exhilarated by the disobedience, and shaking, shaking with terror.
Two breaths. He clutched onto the basin, tried to stop hyperventilating. He just had to wait now. Just wait until Piers calmed down. He would calm down eventually and they could talk and he would be fine, it would all be fine . . .
Bang! The door shuddered in its frame. Aidan’s heart imploded. His throat closed and his lungs withered around it. Piers was battering at the door with something heavy, and the hollow plasterboard was bending outwards, cracks spreading from the lock. Aidan was so far gone he actually looked around for something to defend himself with, but there was nothing and he wouldn’t, he couldn’t raise a hand to Piers anyway. What had he been thinking?
Smash! and the door opened, slamming into the shower cubical, the handle shattering a star in the glass. Piers swung the fist in which he held the forty-pound dumbbell, drove it into Aidan’s sternum, making the world stop for him in a great burst of unbelievable pain, pain like a doorway to Hell.
He dropped to his hands and knees, covering the back of his neck with his hands. The weight bounced off his hip with a crack like gunfire, and agony crackled up his spine and down his legs. A moment of relief when he heard the weight roll up against the bath and stop there, before a steel rod came down across his shoulders, the pain sharp, deep, shattering.
As Piers pulled the weapon back for another blow, Aidan saw enough to recognise it as a golf club—the fist-sized lump of metal on the end of it lethal if it came down on his skull. He tried to crawl away, but there was nowhere to go. Scrabbling to the bath, he pressed his face into it, tears sliding against enamel, arms linked protectively over his head as the rod came down again over his arse, over his spine, and then over his fingers.
He screamed with abandon. Screamed with a vague idea that maybe someone would come. But there was no one. In this huge house, miles away from anywhere, who the hell could hear? Who would care if they did?
Blood made the tile floor beneath him slippery as he scrabbled to get up, get away. This was not . . . this was not . . . not right. Not like Piers. He’d be sorry. He would be sorry, Aidan knew it. His knees skidded out from under him, lubricated with gore, and he fell face-first onto the tiles even as something volcanic started in the pit of his stomach, a wordless shrieking panic that told him to get out, get out.
Because he was starting to believe that the trainer was right. He was starting to believe this was murder, that Piers wasn’t going to stop until he was dead, and he couldn’t just let . . . “Please, stop! Piers, please!”
Piers shifted his grip on the club and the next strike brought the head into play as Aidan sobbed and shrieked and choked under the brutal impacts. He was inhuman for a timeless while, and then he was nothing.
Alex shows us that love comes in all forms, physical and non-physical. . . . My heart just soared at the joy of seeing these two together.
A great book.
With this book and this series, [Alex Beecroft] has presented a gratifying and eye opening portrayal of human relationship dynamics and sexuality, combined with action packed adventure.
As always, Alex Beecroft has created a thought-provoking story and memorable characters with Blue Steel Chain and I encourage readers to check out the Trowchester Blues series.
A great read with a different take on the male / male romance genre.