Bump in the Night
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Turn off the lights . . . and turn on your darkest fantasies.
Demon pacts. Ghostly possessions. Monsters lurking in the depths. The things that go bump in the night frighten us, but they also intrigue us. Fascinate us. Even turn us on.
Join us as fan favorites Ally Blue and Kari Gregg bring over-amorous aquatic beasts to life with their mythic twists on the Siren and the monster in the lake. Erotic horror pros Heidi Belleau, Sam Schooler, and Brien Michaels show us just how sexy scary can be with a pair of demon deals destined to curl your toes and set your heart thrashing. And literary masters Laylah Hunter and Peter Hansen weave haunting worlds where ghosts and dead lovers can touch our hearts (and other, naughtier places too . . .) and teach us lessons from beyond the grave.
By turns exciting, evocative, and exquisitely explicit, the stories in Bump in the Night are sure to scratch your sexy paranormal itch. Explore your wildest fantasies with us in this collection of dark erotic tales.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Resurrection Man, by Laylah Hunter
Blue twilight has settled over the cramped streets of Sternberg, deepening shadows at the edges of the tradesmen’s district. Josef leads his rented pony down an alley, watching nervously for any sign that someone might notice his passage. The bundle slung across the pony’s back would cause far too many questions should it fall and spill its contents on the cobblestones.
The door he seeks is halfway down the alley, recessed in the grimy wall, where a weak lantern spills its light against the plaster. Josef knocks on the weathered wood: two sharp raps, a pause, then two more. He wills himself to stay calm. He has done this before—but never for stakes this high.
The door opens with not so much as a whisper. Any man who seeks this entry does not wish his passage remarked. “Good evening, sir,” murmurs Geier, the old mortician. “May I help you?”
“I bring lavender, cut this spring.”
Geier smiles, slow and crooked, and opens the door wider. “You’d best come in, sir.”
Josef tethers the pony to the hitching ring in the wall, lifts down the heavy bundle from its back, and carries it carefully inside. Geier shuts and bolts the door behind him, then turns away to stir the tiny fire in the hearth as Josef sets his parcel down on the long table against one wall. This first part of the exchange is a waiting game, and Josef knows how crucial it is that he not seem impatient.
“Well?” Geier says eventually.
“You know why I’m here.” The passphrase makes it clear enough what his unsavory business is.
“Remind me,” Geier says. “I grow forgetful in my old age.”
He’s never the one to admit to this business first. He doesn’t have to when he’s the one holding the high cards. Josef nods. “I’m looking for a body.”
“Ah.” Geier’s smile stretches thin over his aging flesh. “I do have a few of those on hand.”
Josef grits his teeth. “A specific body.”
Geier folds his hands together in front of himself, bony and grasping, vulture talons. “That’s more difficult,” he says. “Say more.”
“You know exactly who—” Josef grimaces, then smooths his expression with an effort. “Tell me you still have the body of Adel St. Claire.”
“Expensive, Herr Leitner.” Geier shakes his head. “His family will be coming for him, you know. They’ll not be pleased if I have to tell them I burned the body before they could take him home for a proper funeral.”
“I’m prepared to compensate you for the trouble.” He and Adel had planned for this, once it started to look inevitable that consumption would claim Adel’s life. Josef has no worldly influence, no family or title, no gold to back up his claim—but Adel had all those things. He brought Josef coins, chains of gold filigree, and polished gems; Josef’s purse is heavy with them now.
Geier looks skeptical. “Your word’s always been good, Herr Leitner, but this is no small favor you’re asking of me.”
Josef reaches for his purse. “I know.” He draws out a gold necklace, the metal heavy and cool in his fingers, and places it on the table. Geier says nothing. Josef adds an emerald, loosed from its setting, brilliantly faceted. “The unpleasantness would pass much more quickly than you could spend these.”
“You’ve never been as charming as your friend,” Geier says, shaking his head. “No love for the bargaining process.”
“I’m not here to play a game.” Josef struggles to keep the anger out of his voice. “Is it enough?”
Geier still only watches him, unmoved. “What if it isn’t?”
Josef clenches his fists and takes a few calming breaths. He adds a short stack of coins to the bounty he’s offering. “Now?”
“What if no price were enough?” Geier asks. “Giving you hanged men for your unsavory dabbling is bad enough, and nobody comes looking for them once they wind up here.”
“Is this a rhetorical question?” Josef demands. He digs his nails into his palms so that the sting of pain might help him focus. “I will have him, Herr Geier. I must. Are you hoping to make me beg?” The wrapped body he brought with him is too damaged to be of any use, but there are mundane means for him to force his suit. The poker by the fire is heavy enough to cleave a man’s skull, and old men’s bones are brittle.
After another silent moment, Geier’s face crumples into a wry smile. He makes a shooing motion with one hand as if he could brush the tension away. “I won’t test your pride so,” he says. “Leave the substitute and what payment you’ve offered. This way.”
Mating Season, by Kari Gregg
“Still no job?” Keith passed the basketball across the court behind my building.
He’d been hounding me for a pick-up game for weeks, anything to get me out of my apartment and into the sun. So when he’d knocked on my door with a ball balanced on his hip, I’d relented. “The interview last week sounded promising,” I said. I curved my fingers along the textured orange surface as I lined up another warm-up shot. When it bounced off the rim, I wasn’t surprised. Over the past two months, my game—and my life—had gone to shit.
Keith scrambled to rebound and then paused to squint at me. “You know,” he said, “I still need an assistant for the lab at home.”
I scowled. “Didn’t you hire someone?”
“He didn’t want to get his hands dirty. Too much bitching and moaning.” Keith grimaced. “You’re good with animals, though. I’ve never even seen you flinch at handling snakes. You’d be perfect.”
I doubted that. When Keith’s family had moved to town when we were kids, we’d become thick as thieves, but where Keith was a brainy veterinarian with delusions of scientific grandeur, my aspirations were more mundane. A job making a livable wage. A wife and maybe a few kids someday. A job. A house down the road from my parents.
Cleaning cages sounded like a lower level of hell, but I’d done worse for a paycheck.
“It’s only for a month, a private research project, very hush-hush.” Keith dribbled the ball. “But if I win the grants I’m expecting, this could stretch indefinitely.”
I wrinkled my nose. I was almost desperate enough to take him up on the offer, except . . . “You still live on the lake?”
Keith snorted. “Since the second grade. Right next to the lab you helped me build last year, remember?”
Sure, I’d built the addition onto his house. “In the summer.”
As usual, Keith ignored my misgivings. “C’mon, man. Working for me, you’d be away from town gossip about Trisha and your boss.” He winced. “I mean ex-boss. Has she returned the engagement ring yet, at least?” He finally lobbed a shot from the three-point line. Nothing but net.
Still, Keith had stood by me when other friends had faded. “No,” I said. “She hasn’t returned the ring.”
“I bet you’re still making payments on that marquis solitaire Trisha had to have, and I know you blew your savings on deposits for the dream wedding her family couldn’t afford.” Keith frowned. “You have to stop hiding from this. Let me help you.”
“I’m okay for money for a little longer,” I lied because I couldn’t take more of Keith’s pity. Or the embarrassment. “Besides, Dad said I could go back to work at the store if I needed to.”
“Camden’s only grocery? You’d be center stage for the rumor mill and I’d never pry you out of your apartment again.” He loped across the court for the basketball. “This isn’t healthy, Danny. If you don’t want to work for me, fine, I’ll accept that. But I think you should go away for a while. Take a break from the gossip and stress.” Keith took his next shot.
Hard not to hate the guy.
Keith scrambled for the ball.
“I’m not broke enough to take a job at Dad’s store.” Or handouts from friends. “But that doesn’t mean I have money for a vacation.”
Lazily bouncing the basketball on the cracked asphalt, Keith arched an eyebrow. “You don’t need money to hike the lake. Plenty of spots to camp for free.”
When he lifted the ball to chest level and passed, I caught it with steady hands. My stomach jiggled, though. “Pitch a tent near the lake? In October?” I shook my head.
“You still believe the old stories, don’t you?” Keith snickered. “I’ve lived near the lake for twenty years. Don’t you think I would’ve noticed something weird if there were genuinely anything to see?”
I forced out a brittle laugh. Pretending I wasn’t uncomfortable, I shot the ball again, satisfaction swelling my chest when the ball sank through the net. “Nobody camps this late in the season, anyway. It’s too cold at night.”
Keith gaped at me, leaving the ball to bounce toward the fence. “You do still believe the monster stories!”
I didn’t. Mostly. Tall tales about the creature in the lake and its regular appearance every autumn had been around for generations, told and retold like campfire ghost stories. Funny how some of those stories had a kernel of truth, though. “I just don’t want to freeze my balls off.” I jogged to the fence to grab the basketball, then dribbled to center court, focusing on the sagging basket attached to the backboard instead of meeting my friend’s incredulous stare.
“Bullshit. You climb tree stands to wait for deer every hunting season.” I’d bagged a buck every year since puberty, a point of tension between Keith and me since I didn’t eat the meat. “You’re a seasoned camper and it’s supposed to be warm this week, too.” When I didn’t answer, Keith chuckled evilly. “I can’t believe you’re going to let an old wives’ tale keep you from a relaxing week taking in the fall colors. No Trisha. No cell phones or internet. Just you and the woods.” He heaved an exaggerated sigh.
The wild urge to organize my gear and hit the closest trail tripped my pulse. Fresh air. The crackle of crisp leaves under my feet. Scurrying animals in the undergrowth. A shiver of dread worked up my spine at the legends warning locals to stay away from the lake once trees began shedding leaves for winter. But after months of hiding in my apartment to avoid the scandal of my fiancée leaving me for my boss and said boss firing me soon thereafter, I craved the freedom of the outdoors. “I’ll think about it,” I finally said, but in my head, I was already stuffing supplies into my backpack.
Flesh and Song, by Ally Blue
Noah Rose leaned on the railing of his sloop and gazed out across the stretch of gently rolling turquoise swells to the tiny, horseshoe-shaped island. Beyond the blue-green bay and brilliant white beaches, a thick green forest rose to a bare, rocky gray peak in the middle.
It looked like a postcard. Noah had sailed all over the Caribbean, but he’d never seen anyplace so stunning. The complete lack of human occupation made it even more so.
Shading his eyes with his hand, he squinted against the morning glare on the water and tried to make out the details of the dark figure moving from the greenery and onto the beach. It looked like a person, but he couldn’t be sure. He was still too far away.
Fetching the binoculars from the cockpit only took a moment. He raised them to his eyes. Adjusted them. Found the unexpected figure, and let out a breathy oh.
He hadn’t expected people. He especially hadn’t expected a naked man.
He’d expected to find La Terre de la Belle Mort, though. He’d never doubted that he’d reach his goal. Stumbling on the island by accident rather than because of all his long and careful planning, however, galled him. Not least because all the men who’d refused to help him on his quest—out of fear, skepticism, or simply because they didn’t want to spend months at sea with a man they wanted to own but couldn’t—had insisted that those who deliberately sought the island would not find it. Noah, in turn, had insisted that bit of the legend was simply exaggeration.
He clung to that idea, even now. Even though he’d sailed every square mile of the triangle between Haiti, Aruba, and the Grenadines in the ten years since he’d left Miami for South America, and he’d never encountered this island before. More importantly, neither had anyone else that he knew of.
Of course, it was a very tiny island, and easy to miss. Hell, he hadn’t even known it was there until the sun had risen this morning after the squall that had brought him here.
He laughed as he stirred up a mug of instant coffee in the galley. He’d cursed the freak storm as it’d tossed his beloved Ligia like a child’s toy and kept him cold, hungry, and exhausted while he’d used every ounce of his physical and mental strength to prevent the premature demise of both himself and his beloved sloop. All he’d thought of for the last day and a half was survival. Waking up after a much-deserved post-storm sleep to find that in last night’s cloudy, moonless darkness he’d anchored offshore from the place he’d been seeking for the last eight months came as a bit of a shock.
Not that it mattered, really. However it had happened, here he was, facing the island the old men swore would give you your heart’s most secret desire. For a price.
Not that Noah believed in ridiculous old legends, of course. But whispered stories plus a place no one knew how to find usually meant something worth having at the other end—money, an archeological find, a new place to explore. If nothing else, he’d have the adventure. Sometimes, the joy lay in the journey itself.
# # #
Back on deck, a quick inspection of the water between Ligia and the island told Noah that an offshore reef was guarding the lovely little bay. The waves rolled over the coral without breaking, but that didn’t necessarily mean he could sail across it without tearing open his keel. The depth over a reef could be difficult to judge in a calm like this.
In the end, he elected to ease his lady closer to the reef—though not close enough to cause her damage if she should drift—drop anchor, and take the dinghy to shore. A knapsack full of food, water, and other essentials went with him, having been packed and ready for weeks.
“Good-bye, sweetheart,” he said, leaning over the dinghy’s side to stroke the luscious curve of Ligia’s hull. “I’ll be back soon.”
His answer came in the creak of wood and the solid snap of the breeze in Ligia’s furled sails. He smiled. She’d wait for him, patiently, like she’d done since she’d first become his on his seventeenth birthday.
Getting a firm grip on the oars, he began the long pull to shore. Navigating over the reef made him glad he’d anchored Ligia in the deeper water. His little rowboat barely made it, in spite of its shallow draft.
Once he’d gotten clear of the reef, he stopped rowing and glanced over his left shoulder, then his right. Palms swayed at the back of a beach so white it glowed in the sun. He couldn’t see the man he’d spotted through his binoculars.
Not that it mattered. Noah hadn’t come here for sex. He could get that anytime he wanted back home in Costa Rica where he ran his high-end surf holiday business, or on any of the islands where he stopped on his frequent sailing trips. The mysterious stranger might be gorgeous, but right now Noah was frankly relieved not to have a human complication to deal with. He had enough on his plate.
When the dinghy’s keel ran aground, Noah jumped out and dragged the wooden boat more firmly onto the beach. The waves hadn’t been large beyond the reef. Here, they’d diminished to tiny, transparent ripples. Still, Noah preferred to play it safe. Just because the island resembled a poet’s vision didn’t mean he wanted to get stranded here. All he wanted was . . .
That was the question, wasn’t it? He’d told himself he wanted the adventure, and whatever profit he could gain, but the truth was he didn’t know what he wanted. Couldn’t define the cause of the vague ache inside him that grew stronger year by year, and had no clue how to ease it, regardless of how much money he made, how many new horizons he explored or how many men he fucked. Thus his quest for this place. Hoping to fill the vacuum inside him with sensation. Experience. New things.
Even the island’s name—Land of Beautiful Death, as they’d called it in Haiti, where he’d first learned of it—had intrigued him. It had never occurred to him to be afraid. What did he have to fear?
With his transportation secured, Noah shouldered his knapsack and turned to survey his surroundings. Beyond the beach and the initial scattering of palms, the ridge he’d seen from Ligia’s deck rose in an unbroken emerald slope on all sides. Leaves rustled, and birds called to one another deep in the forest. The breeze carried a sharp, wild smell like damp earth and flowering vines.
Noah dug his toes into the fine, cool sand. The island felt undiscovered. Untamed. The explorer in him itched to plunge directly into the green gloom beneath the trees and search out its secrets. The treasures hiding in the virgin forest must be spectacular indeed, to warrant the legends that had grown up around this place.
First, however, he needed to secure his campsite. If he got into trouble and didn’t return until close to—or after—dark, he wanted his tent set up and a fire pit ready to go.
Hoisting his pack more firmly onto his back, he strode up the beach and into the shade beneath the palms.
Out From Under, by Brien Michaels
Jason’s head rolling across the floor stopped me in my tracks. It couldn’t be real. I shut my eyes against the tears, prayed silently that when I opened them again, Jason would be standing in front of me.
No such luck.
My stomach lurched.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Fromunder asked.
I stared, horror-struck, at my lover’s headless corpse. Blood still dribbled from the severed neck. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. The icy cold eating at my flesh barely registered as the coppery stench mingled with the cellar’s natural odor of mildew. I retched, but nothing came up.
Fromunder’s words rang in my skull.
“You promised me. You swore that as long as—”
“—you did what I told you, I’d spare him. Trying to desert me is not doing as I say.” The demon glared at me. “I brought you into my home.” I could practically see him gesture around the room. Something leafy sprouted from the walls, though I wasn’t sure if it was some remnant of Fromunder’s true form, or if something else—something even more evil—had taken root in this place. “And this is how you repay me?”
“Then why not punish me? He did nothing,” I whispered, revulsion rising like bile inside me. “He was yours.”
Fromunder laughed, a harsh, dead sound. Red eyes gleamed from the darkness. I pictured the green, leafy face those eyes sat in.
“You are mine. The only reason he lived as long as he did was because you had a soft spot for him.” A vine-like tentacle slithered out of the distance, urged Jason’s head in my direction. Gore painted the side of his face. What magic was this? Already the blood had started to congeal. A crimson, jelly-like mask covered the left side. And fuck if he hadn’t started to decay already, the stink so pungent I had to cover my mouth and nose.
The sight of Jason’s lifeless eyes nearly brought me to my knees.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I sobbed. The threat of Jason’s execution had been the only thing keeping me obedient for the last year. What did I have left to tie me to this monster? “I can’t keep doing this.”
“We had an agreement. If you still want my protection, you will do as I say.”
There was no doubt Fromunder was the only thing standing between me and a group of dangerous men who thought I’d seen too much. But was life really worth keeping if this was the price? “People are asking questions! Too many men have gone missing. The police are already investigating. They’ll start to connect the dots sooner or later, and they’ll trace it all back to me.” Sure, it was the demon keeping all those men inside his true form, feeding on their sperm, but would the police ever see that? Of course not. Fromunder would vanish, and I’d be left to take the fall.
“Their investigations don’t matter. Neither of us will be discovered. Not as long as I still walk this world or any other.”
I struggled to draw breath as horrible scenarios danced their way through my brain. What if the police did discover the truth? That I’d found those men and lured them back here for Fromunder to have his way with. I could picture it already. They’d track me down. Break down the door and, suddenly, that fucking demon wouldn’t be anywhere around. They’d haul me in and I’d spend the rest of my life getting raped by men twice my size. At least with the demon, I had some modicum of control. I could top from the bottom, as the saying went.
And even if I did go to jail, Fromunder would likely follow me there. I knew he’d placed some kind of trace on me. Prison would be like heaven for him. A fucking all-you-can-eat buffet.
I forced myself to calm my breathing. Wondered if I could make it to the door before Fromunder killed me as well. Death would be a welcome alternative to the hell I was stuck in.
“I wouldn’t let you die. That would be too easy.”
I chewed my tongue to keep from screaming. For fuck’s sake, even my thoughts weren’t safe now?
Another tentacle. This one snaked its way up my leg, massaged the inside of my thigh. I hated that he forbade me to wear clothes when I was in the house. I suppose it made it easier for him to do things like this, but that didn’t make it any less humiliating. “Besides, you’re too much fun. I can turn you on in the blink of an eye.” A soft chuckle. “But what I would do instead of kill you is string up your dead lover’s body and make you watch as I dismembered it.”
I closed my eyes, tried my best to fight the image of the demon’s words. It sounded almost like the threat he’d made to keep me trapped in his power when I’d tried to leave the first time.
I’ll kill him, Brant. I’ll string him up and make you watch as I suck him dry.
I shook the memory away. Tried to think of some way out of his hold. But it was hard to think of anything with that silky smooth tendril creeping up my leg, teasing the head of my cock. I didn’t want to be turned on, but the demon’s curse amplified every feeling, made me need that caress so badly I ached.
“And then I’d resurrect every single person you’ve ever loved. And the ones who are still alive? I’ll tell them the truth about your so-called death. Bring them here to meet you. Then I’d absorb them. Bring them back good as new and show them to you every day until they’re nothing more than bags of bones.”
Sleeping With Ghosts, by Peter Hansen
The man’s portrait was hastily drawn, scratched in sharp charcoal on a page from a book of devotionals. When Yordan traced the line of a cheekbone, his fingertip came away black. “This isn’t much to go on. If he’s so much as started wearing his beard differently—”
“Our agent put his life at risk to bring us this portrait.” The Father Superior reached for the page and set it on his desk, pinning it down with a lead paperweight. Afraid I’m going to smudge it further, thought Yordan, although he kept his face neutral. “She Who Turns the Page has spoken. This is the man.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t the man. I’m only saying I wish we had a better picture.”
The Father Superior quirked a thin brow. “What, you want him to stand still for half an hour while I take a tintype?”
“It would help.” Yordan leaned over the desk, studying the portrait again. The man was young, he thought. Younger, at any rate, than anyone else he’d taken. Thin as a blade, lips like a slash, beard cut close along his jaw. Even in rough charcoal, there was a keenness to his eyes that sent a thrill of anticipation down Yordan’s spine. “How long do we have?”
“The mother’s already been confined to her bed. If the birth is typical, less than a month. If the child comes early—and you know they always come early when we haven’t cut them a soul yet—”
“No need to trot out the lurid details. You could just tell me that time is of the essence and have done with it. You don’t have to paint me a picture.”
“Have you ever sat at a woman’s bedside while she delivers a soulless child, Brother Yordan?”
Yordan pushed the paperweight aside and picked up the page, folding it neatly into quarters and tucking it into his breast pocket alongside his coiled garrote. “No, but I’ve seen her carried out afterward. They had to make three trips to get all the pieces.”
The Father Superior’s smile was a length of razor wire. “Time is of the essence, then. Cut this man’s soul away. Don’t make me paint you a picture.”
# # #
Yordan presented his identification papers at the ticket counter, where the station mistress gave him a cautious once-over through the protective glass and said, “Brother Yordan Korvechi. You don’t look like a priest.”
“What’s a priest supposed to look like?” He pushed his papers under the glass again, but she kept her hands folded in her lap.
“I was raised in the church of She Who Winds the Thread,” she answered, tilting her head as though it had been a serious question. “The brothers all wore robes with gold braid, even out of the church. They always smelled like incense, even when you passed them on the street. That’s a proper priest.”
“Well, that’s the Threadmen,” snapped Yordan. “I’m a Bookman, and we’re too damn busy for incense.”
“Oh.” Her hands had started trembling; he could tell, even though she hid them under the counter. “She Who Turns the Page. Going to go turn someone’s page, are you?”
He had a knife up each sleeve and a slim pistol in his coat lining, a garrote in his breast pocket just aching to be unwound. From the way her gaze kept slipping toward the station guards, she had to know it. “Ticket, please. And I’ll have my papers back.”
“Just making conversation,” she muttered, but she returned his papers to him and handed him a ticket, and he reckoned that was better than conversation.
He boarded the train less than an hour later, shutting himself in his compartment and closing the three iron latches on the door. The leather seats were still new enough to squeak against his coat, and the maps in the pouch by the window were up to date. He spread one over his lap while he waited for the all-aboard.
The target had a summer home along Lake Liakra with a carriage house, a chapel, and a vineyard that had produced a decent bottle of red twenty-five years ago. He no doubt had a private hunting reserve in the forest, where he and his friends stalked the kind of beasts who looked on men with half-starved eyes and bared their broken teeth. The summer home meant money; the chapel meant old money; Lake Liakra meant his family preferred the silver bullet to the silver spoon.
Strictly speaking, She Who Turns the Page could call on her priests to cut any man’s soul away. But she seldom called for them to take anyone rich, anyone powerful—and least of all, anyone young.
Even with the charcoal sketch safely pressed between the pages of his prayer book, Yordan couldn’t entirely believe how young the man was.
They wouldn’t send me if they weren’t sure, Yordan told himself, while the conductor shepherded passengers aboard and the priests of He Who Loves Cold Iron readied their long knives at every coupling between the cars.
The train would pass through the forest on its way to Lake Liakra, and in that tangle of close-knit boughs, the iron rails were as much a palisade as a pathway.
Blasphemer, Sinner, Saint, by Heidi Belleau and Sam Schooler
Tobias knew something was amiss by the look on Nora’s face when she arrived with his afternoon tea. She didn’t say anything, not at first, but there was a stitch between her eyebrows, and she lingered by his desk once she’d set down the tray instead of bustling onto her next task as she usually did. The rift in her usual diligence was difficult to miss, and Tobias thumbed at the edge of his desk and watched her steadily, waiting for her to reveal whatever was bothering her.
She was silent, so he invited her with a wave of one hand. “Nora? Is there something you’d like to say?”
The girl bobbed a half-curtsey, eyes wide. “Mr. Sinnet, sir. It’s only . . . There’s been a gentleman lurking by the door of the house all day. And he may have been here yesterday, too. Awful odd thing, isn’t it, for a man to be lingering so long? And outside a house for boys, no less?”
Tobias couldn’t help but agree; any man of age who would loiter in a haven for children, especially in the slums of Whitechapel, was rarely of a mind to do right. “Has anyone spoken to him?” he asked, easing his chair back so he could stand.
“No, sir, no one has.” Nora stepped out of his way with a polite bow of her head, her hands folded over her skirts. They were slightly rumpled there, as though she’d been worrying them between her fingers.
“Well then.” He smiled at her to soothe her frayed nerves. “I’ll have to correct that, won’t I?”
She offered him a smile in return, her face smoothing over with relief. “I suppose you will, sir.”
“Return to your duties,” Tobias said as he passed, his voice not unkind. “I’ll see to this.” No, that wasn’t enough. He paused, looking back at her. “And Nora? Thank you.”
Her smile widened and she curtseyed again, the curls of her hair falling over her shoulders. She was pleasantly flushed when she straightened. “Of course, sir.”
Tobias crossed the narrow hall to the staircase that led down to the rest of the house. His small study and the master bedroom were on the uppermost floor, the boys’ rooms on the second, and on the main floor, the rest of the living area, including the dining room with its three long tables where he and the boys ate their daily meals.
Apart from the dining room was the large drawing room, whose windows showed no man lingering. But Nora was a sensible girl, and if she claimed there was a man outside, there was one. Tobias drew his cloak from its hook and unlatched the front door to slip out into the crisp November air. He closed the door firmly behind him and surveyed the walk.
He saw no one unusual: only a handful of street sellers calling their wares, and Whitechapel’s usual derelicts.
Ah—but there, leaning against the façade of the house, a lean young man in a battered coat, hunched in on himself to ward off the chill. He stirred when he noticed Tobias, his head lifting, and his gaunt face broke out in a smile.
Tobias wished he didn’t recognise him, but he did. He didn’t smile back.
He must have mouthed the name, or said it without meaning to, because David peeled away from the house and made towards him like he had been invited. Tobias recoiled, and very nearly made a run for his door, but his damnable tendency towards charity pulled him up short.
“David,” he said stiffly. Not a remotely respectable greeting, but David wasn’t a respectable man.
“You remember me.” David’s face glowed. Or was that colour in his cheeks from the cold? Whatever the cause, there was a ruddy quality to them, and his voice was as warm as his expression.
Tobias drew back from him. “What are you doing here?” he asked without preamble. Because he didn’t dare say, “How could I forget you?”
David’s expressive face fell. He looked ashamed, biting his full bottom lip. “Hate to come begging, but I need your help. Can I come inside? It’s bloody freezing.” He rubbed his long, slim hands together in demonstration. No gloves.
“Absolutely not. You know you’re barred.”
“I’m not looking to put on the uniform, Tobias. I’m not a boy anymore.” His eyelids lowered, shading his brown eyes. “Neither are you, it seems.”
Tobias’s stomach twisted uncomfortably at David’s blatant sexuality. It had been some time since he’d been victim to it. “Doesn’t matter. You’re still barred, and you put me and my work here at risk by lurking around. What if someone recognises you? What if they start to say I’m selling something other than shoeshines out of this house?”
David’s already flushed face coloured further. “I didn’t think—”
“No. You never think, do you? Never have. And that’s why I’m in the house, and you’re on the street.” David always inspired this reaction in Tobias. This . . . this visceral need to tear into him when he found a soft spot. And, unfortunately for David, his soft spots were many. Many, and woefully obvious.
“Tobias.” David wasn’t quite pleading, but his voice held a measure of appeasement. “I only want to talk.”
“Well, I can’t be seen talking to you or your ilk. And even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I have nothing to say to you, David. You betrayed this house. You betrayed my father.”
You betrayed me.
David’s eyes shone. “We’ll go somewhere else. Where people wouldn’t know you. Where they wouldn’t talk.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Fine!” David ducked his head, his heave of breath visible as it materialised in the cold. “Fine,” he repeated, calmer. “Don’t.”
Tobias thought maybe that would be the last of it, but then David reached into one pocket of his filthy coat and produced a worn pub token.
“Here, then. Meet me here. Tonight.”
“I won’t,” Tobias insisted. But David grabbed him by the wrist and pried his hand open, then folded his fingers around the token. David’s hands were cool and soft, as soft as Tobias remembered them, as if they hadn’t aged a day.
Tobias wondered how his hands must feel to David.
And then he snarled, “Get away. And don’t let me catch you back here, or you’ll be sorry.”
David’s weak grip broke, and he stepped away, towards the street. Tobias turned his back to him. Let him say whatever he wanted—Tobias didn’t have to listen.
Once he was inside the house, he shut the door hard and quickly latched it up. Double-checked that it was secure.
Only then did he open his hand and stare down at the token he still held clutched there. He should have thrown it down into the gutters. If he had, it would be gone by now, and the temptation with it.
It was a dull bronze, the lettering eroded by the touch of hundreds of hands. GOOD FOR ONE DRINK, it said around the edges of the front. In the center was the pub name: the Red Cock. On the back was an address at the far end of Clark Street.
Tobias’s lip curled. Of course no one would talk, not at a place like that.
He hung his cloak back in its place and stuffed the token in his pocket before Nora or Georgia could see him carrying around such a thing.
To be frequenting a place of that repute . . . it proved that David was the same as he had been in their younger years. Nothing had changed.
No, that wasn’t quite true. Tobias had changed. He’d grown into an upstanding, respectable man. He’d made something of himself. He’d inherited his father’s work and continued it in good faith. His home and his conscience were both clean.
He wasn’t the impressionable, temptable boy he’d once been—the boy David clearly still remembered him as. Perhaps the boy David still wanted him to be.
That was why he most certainly wasn’t going to be meeting David at the Red Cock.
This is one of the strongest and most provocative anthologies I’ve read.
Bump in the Night . . . [C]ombines six different stories with a really nice range, each distinct from one another but at the same time all working well together.
This is a must read book.
Bump in the Night is an excellent collection of short stories that really play with conventions and bring real-life issues to the surface.
Well written stories.