Today I am so pleased to welcome Isobel Starling to Joyfully Jay. Isobel has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, The Shooting Season. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Chapter 1 – The Missive
Monday 20th December 1897
I stepped from my carriage into the frigid, smoggy London city night, and to ward off the biting chill, pulled the fur lapels of my greatcoat closed.
Being of a somewhat reserved disposition I was content to do business at my offices during the day but did not commonly venture out in London after dark. I was not comfortable in crowds, I did not like to be touched, and the bustle of crowds caused me great anxiety. On the rare occasion I did endeavor for company I would attend my club where I could overnight should I require. But this night I had ventured into the filthy city and I was not attending my club. There was an errand I must undertake that was of such great import that I could not allow my irrational fears or misgivings to thwart me.
A young uniformed porter stepped from the shadows and doffed his cap.
“Here, boy,” I bellowed. “Take my trunk to the Caledonian Sleeper first-class baggage car”.
He nodded subserviently and received my wheeled traveling trunk from the coachman. I tossed the coachman a sixpence, far too munificent for a tip, but it was the season of goodwill and I was in a generous mood.
Hearing the warning shriek of the train whistle, I grasped the handle of my small overnight case, gripped my silver-topped cane, and then hurried into the mercifully vacant Euston Railway Station. I swiftly made my way to the ticket booth and on purchasing my first-class ticket with an additional charge for the sleeping compartment, I rushed toward platform one where the magnificent snarling steam engine stood. It was huffing and puffing like a beast on the bridle, desperate to escape its bonds and fly. I edged through the billowing clouds of smoke and steam to find an empty platform, free at this late hour, of the hubbub of people bidding adieu to their loved ones.
The porter dragged my wheeled trunk to the train and awaited assistance at the baggage car to lift it aboard.
“The first-class carriage is coupled at the front of the train sir.” The cockney porter called as I hurried past. I was most anxious to find the correct carriage, warm myself, and settle my nerves with a glass of mulled Port. The winds that whistled through the station threatened snow but the newspapers suggested we would be spared a blizzard until Christmas Day, five-days hence. I was traveling to Scotland and therefore, did not trust that forecast one bit.
At last, I found my carriage. I removed my top hat and stepped out of the cold night and aboard the luxurious ten-thirty p.m. Caledonian Sleeper train from London Euston. I would arrive, well-rested, at Glasgow Central Station at seven a.m.
My reason for making such an arduous journey during the coldest season of the year was contained in a letter that I’d folded neatly and placed in my breast pocket, not an hour before reaching the Railway Station. My errand was partly business in nature, but primarily it was to feed my obsession. I was traveling to Dunecht Hall on the Glenlair Estate near Fort William for the auction of the personal treasures of the late Lord Percival Ardmillan. The letter explained that Lord Ardmillan’s Last Will and Testament contained a clause stating that the most prized possessions from his personal collection were not to be left to his son and heir, Euan, but would be auctioned to a select group of art and antiquity collectors exactly one year from the day of his passing. Then a public estate sale would commence after Hogmanay to dispose of fripperies, such was the need to cover Lord Percival’s death duties. I would be long gone by then, snug in my London townhouse with a glass of Sherry and a wedge of stilton, marveling over my prized purchase.
I have been a collector of art and antiquities since I was a boy, a passion fueled by my beloved uncle Barnard. He was quite the adventurer and traveled to the Americas, the Far East, and Europe. Having no children of his own, he brought me back all kinds of wondrous gifts and with each he had a story to tell. I have a gold doubloon coin dated 1711 which he told me he had fished from a pirate shipwreck, an ancient Viking ring honed from twisted silver found in the belly of a fish, and a set of eight ceramic marbles from Ancient Greece covered in the strangest of symbols. As a lad of ten, more used to wooden trains, books, and board games, I understood that what my uncle gave me were priceless treasures. He fired my imagination and in turn, I lost myself in books about ancient civilizations.
Later, when I was older and attending university in Edinburgh I got word that Uncle Barnard had not returned from his latest adventure and the remains of his ship were found scuppered off the coast of Cornwall. I pledged then to continue collecting in memory of my uncle. Now, in my fiftieth year with no wife or child to bleed my coffers, I run Hannan’s Auction House in Fitzrovia, London, and in my private time, purchase treasures to feed my heart’s desire.
Lord Percival Ardmillan was quite the adventurer himself, a Military man; he traveled far and wide during his lifetime. Lord Percy was not the most pleasant of men, and he collected whatever sparkling treasures stole his attention, whether the owner wanted to part with the item or not! It is well-known that many of Lord Ardmillan’s treasures were obtained from bloodshed and I must admit, traveling to his Scottish estate did give me some trepidation. Lord Ardmillan had used his station and sword to add to his collection. I’d heard stories of how a Sultan was slain so Ardmillan could take the gold and jeweled Tiger heads that ornamented his throne. I did not know if this repulsive story was true, but I supposed I would find out!
And so, Lord Ardmillan had cut a swath through the Middle-East and India in search of glory for the Crown, and jewels to pay for his debauched life back in England. I did not think of him as a godly person, and, if I’m honest I was glad to hear of his passing because I knew there would come a time where I could purchase the item that I was going to so much effort to own.
The item I converted was spectacular and unique. I had seen it once before when I was naught but twenty. Lord Ardmillan’s son, Euan was my special friend from university and in our final year, he invited me to the Glenlair Estatefor the shooting season. I must admit, I am a useless shot, but there were other things that the tantalizing Euan Ardmillan wanted to teach me to shoot! During those heady halcyon days with Euan, I’d enjoyed my first illicit lessons in the ways of the flesh with a man.
I had long since banished thoughts of the shameful things we did from my mind, or so I told myself. I was now god-fearing and devout. I did not want to think of it, I did not want the intrusive flashes of memory—Euan, pale and lithe, bending over his father’s billiard table for me and letting me do such unspeakable, pleasurable, things to his young, willing body. I’d felt so wretchedly ashamed afterward, even though we’d both wanted and enjoyed it. That part of my nature was indecent, and fearing for my immortal soul, I took refuge in Holy Communion, prayer and denial of the pleasures of the flesh.
Some in my circle wondered why I would not take a wife, others thought of me as cold-hearted because of my anxiety of touching and being touched, but my solitary life without intimacy had given time for prayer and contemplation. I had deduced over the years that with my particular temperament it was best for me not to form attachments. It was best for me to avoid human touch, not because I didn’t like it, but because the feeling of skin upon skin elicited such a fire that I found it almost unbearable in public, therefore, I kept myself to myself and avoided crowds. My only indulgences were the hunting and studying of art and antiquities.
And here is an audio excerpt from the book as well!
A brand new historical M/M novella from award-winning author Isobel Starling.
Monday 20th December 1897. Mr. Benedict Hannan, the owner of Hannan’s Auction House in Fitzrovia, receives a letter inviting him to attend the sale of a private collection of Fine Art and antiquities belonging to the Late Lord Percival Ardmillan. Ardmillan is known to Benedict, or rather his son Euan is, and so, Benedict hurriedly travels to the West Highlands to fulfill his dream of owning a particular item from the Lord’s collection—something that he has coveted for thirty years.
In Scotland, Benedict meets the collectors who were invited to bid in the auction. He discovers that the auction of the private collection is not as straightforward as he had imagined. Forced to come to terms with his past and present desires, Benedict finds himself in the thrall of a mysterious traveler and in turn, gets more than he bargained for this Christmas!”
Available in ebook, paperback and audiobook.
Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.
Isobel is currently working on her twenty-first book.
Isobel’s books can be found in Audiobook format, and translated in German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
“As You Wish” (Shatterproof Bond#1) narrated by Gary Furlong won the Independent Audiobook Award for Romance 2018. It is the first M/M Romance audiobook to win a mainstream audiobook award. “Sweet Thing” was also nominated for the Independent Audiobook Award LGBT category in 2019.
Social media links: