Today I am so pleased to welcome J.A. Rock & Lisa Henry to Joyfully Jay. J.A. and Lisa have come to talk to us about their latest release, A Sanctuary for Soulden (The Lords of Bucknall Club #4). They have also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving them a big welcome!
Edmund Fernside was a gentleman who prided himself on being of a generally calm and unexcitable disposition—had humorism not been thoroughly debunked by Willam Harvey two centuries ago, persisting nowadays only in the ranks of the most ignorant and superstitious, Fernside would have diagnosed himself as possessing an excess of phlegm—but even his cool demeanour was severely tested when the corpse on his table sat up, addressed him, and asked for directions to the secret passage. It took longer than he liked to form words.
“H-h-h—” he stammered, holding his scalpel aloft like a tiny Excalibur.
“Yes,’ said the Not Corpse. “Quite a shock and all, I’m sure, but do buck up, my good man.”
Fernside blinked rapidly. “Who are you, and how the hell did you get in here?”
The Not Corpse grimaced. Perhaps it was supposed to be a smile. “That’s rather a long story. Perhaps I could share it with you while you escort me to the secret passage?”
Fernside stared. “How do you know there’s a secret passage?”
“That’s rather a part of the story,” the Not Corpse said. He swung his legs over the side of the table and grimaced again. “Or, well, the prologue, I suppose.”
“You’re injured.” Fernside kept hold of his scalpel, but reached for the lantern with his other hand and brought it closer. “And, good God, you’re a gentleman.”
The cut of the fellow’s clothes, not to mention the elegance of his speech, had left him in no doubt that the man was not his usual sort of patient. But on closer inspection it became clear that he was also no mere businessman or country squire. Although he wore no extravagant fripperies, his clothes were made of excellent quality materials, and were tailored to perfectly frame his figure. Even Fernside, who passed for a gentleman of the highest rank in this muddy little bend in the Thames, bought his coats off the rack.
His scalpel shook in his grasp.
Dear God. He’d almost dissected a someone. A still living someone. And, if this was indeed a someone, he undoubtedly had a battalion of relatives who were also someones, and who would not look too kindly on their family member being vivisected in a cellar in Rotherhithe.
“You—” He cleared his throat. “You are injured, sir. Please, let me see.”
It was gloomy in the cellar, but Fernside could see that the fellow was almost ghoulishly pale. He did not wait for an answer, but stepped forward and peeled the man’s coat off. The man winced and grunted when Fernside tugged the fabric over his right shoulder. And, ah, there it was: the fellow’s waistcoat and shirt were stained dark with blood.
Fernside made short work of the waistcoat, unbuttoning it and laying it on the table beside his strange patient.
“Your cravat, sir,” Fernside said.
“You hardly know me.” The fellow’s grin suggested it was an attempt at levity, but the effect was somewhat dampened as he swayed alarmingly.
“Your cravat,” Fernside repeated, injecting a stern note into his voice this time.
The fellow fumbled it with only one hand, so Fernside leaned in to assist. Once the cravat was discarded, the buttons on the man’s shirt were revealed. Fernside unfastened them, and then helped the man draw the shirt over his head. The linen was heavy with blood.
“Good Lord,” he said. “You’ve been shot.”
“It’s barely a graze.” The fellow’s breath was coming in short pants, his broad chest rising and falling quickly. “Really, lot of fuss over nothing.”
Fernside lifted the lamp. “I’m afraid it’s no graze, sir. I can see where the ball went in, but not where it has come out.”
“P’raps it realised how rude it was, and saw itself out the way it came in.”
“This is no time for levity, sir,” Fernside admonished him. “I must wake my assistant and—”
“No!” The man reached out and gripped his wrist, hard. “No, nobody must know I’m here. Patch me up, and I’ll be on my way.”
“Patch you—” Fernside had never heard anything so ridiculous. “In your current state, I doubt you’d be able to walk to the steps, let alone climb them. You’re not going anywhere, I fear.”
The fellow levelled a stare at him that put him in mind of a Gorgon.
“I am a surgeon,” Fernside began.
“I bloody well hope so, because otherwise I might wonder what sort of man keeps corpses in his cellar.”
“I am a surgeon,” Fernside attempted again, “so I am quite capable of removing the ball. Lie down, please, on your stomach, and keep your arm lifted above your head.”
He made his way toward the steps.
“Where are you going? I told you, nobody can know I’m here.”
Fernside turned and stared back at him. “I was going to fetch you some gin. You might need quite a few swigs. I also need hot water.”
“Give me your word, Fernside, that you’ll speak to no-one.”
Fernside lifted his chin, aware that he was barely intimidating at all, and certainly not in comparison with the man seated on the table. This fellow was broad across the shoulders, with muscles that a sculptor would admire, and underneath his glower and his pain-twisted mouth, Fernside had no doubt he was quite handsome. The glower wasn’t terrible either, if he were honest with himself. That, and the hank of dark hair that fell across one glittering eye, made him appear dangerous in an alluring way. Rather like Lord Byron at his most dishevelled and scandalous.
“You have me at a disadvantage, sir,” he said. “For you know my name, and I do not know yours.”
The fellow regarded him silently for a moment, and then said, “You may call me Philip, if it pleases you.”
“Philip,” Fernside repeated. “As you wish. I shall fetch the hot water and the gin, and be back as quickly as I can.”
His heart thumped as he made his way up the steps to the kitchen. Thank heavens Fitz was already in bed, because Fernside found he had no desire to disrespect his odd patient’s wish for the utmost secrecy. He did not understand it, and neither did he intend to speculate upon it—he certainly couldn’t fathom an honest reason behind it—but if had learned one thing from practising as a surgeon in Rotherhithe, it was that discretion was indeed the better part of valour. He’d stitched up cutpurses and thieves, and even the odd murderer, and never asked more questions than they were willing to answer. A man didn’t make a living in this part of the city with a reputation as a gossip.
A few minutes later, Fernside returned to the cellar with a basin tucked under his arm and a kettle of hot water in his hand, to find his mysterious guest lying flat on his stomach on the table. He did not appear to be moving, and there was a dark puddle of blood growing underneath him. Fernside tipped water into the basin, then crossed the floor to his cupboard of scalpels and cleavers and the sorts of tools that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a smithy, or a mediaeval torture chamber. Surgery was a messy business. It was a contradictory one too, requiring brute strength and a watchmaker’s precision in equal measure.
He gathered the instruments he needed, then returned to Philip’s side. He washed his hands. Philip was still breathing, he noted with some satisfaction. He took his patient’s right arm and drew it upward, so that the hand lay above the man’s head.
“Jesus! Are you trying to fucking murder me?”
“Wonderful,” Fernside murmured. “You’re not dead yet.”
Philip twisted his head and glared, but his show of anger was short-lived.
“Put your other arm up,” Fernside said. “Hold your right arm in place with your left.”
“I feel like a man bound to a stake for a whipping,” Philip said. “Or an opera dancer mid-pirouette.”
“I am not a patron of the arts myself.” Fernside brought the lamp closer and inspected the wound. “Do opera dancers perform a lot on their stomachs?”
“Depends how much you pay them.”
“This will hurt,” Fernside warned him. “If you do not wish to be discovered, you must try to stay quiet, else I’ll need to ask Fitz down here to hold you still.”
“Wasn’t there supposed to be gin?” Philip groused. “I recall a promise of gin.”
“The gin is for after,” Fernside said. He held out a rolled-up bandage. “You may want to bite on this.”
He wasn’t meant for a quiet life.
Philip Winthrop, Viscount Soulden, is a fop. An idle popinjay with nothing more on his mind than how to best knot his cravat. He definitely doesn’t spy against the French. Or arrange hasty weddings. Or occasionally commandeer the navy. And he certainly doesn’t seek out mortal danger in order to combat his pervasive ennui. It’s all just a big misunderstanding when he’s shot by a French intelligence officer during a merry riverside chase. And what a wonderful bit of quick thinking to pretend to be a corpse in order to get himself taken to the local surgeon’s autopsy cellar. The French will never find him there. If the French are even looking for him. Which they’re not. Now he just needs to locate a way out before this surgeon fellow attempts to dissect him.
He’d rather deal with the dead than the living.
Surgeon Edmund Fernside does his best to heal the living, but in truth, he’d much rather look into the gaping chest cavity of a corpse than into the startling blue eyes of a…corpse that just climbed off his autopsy table. Well then. Lord Soulden is clearly a man with some complicated secrets. But with the French in hot pursuit and a rather brutal gunshot wound, Soulden’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and Fernside discovers that he enjoys the pleasure of his company. In more ways than one.
Now, trusting each other could mean the difference between life and death.
As Soulden learns to be still for the first time in his life, Fernside wonders if perhaps it’s time to spread his wings a little. They can only hide from the outside world—and from their pasts—for so long before the secrets they’ve uncovered about each other strain the growing attraction between them. Each man must decide whether a life of comfortable lies is preferable to one full of difficult truths. And whether the sanctuary they’ve created together is something worth fighting for.
A Sanctuary for Soulden is the fourth book in The Lords of Bucknall Club series, where the Regency meets m/m romance. The Lords of Bucknall Club can be read in any order.
J.A. Rock is an author of LGBTQ romance and suspense novels, as well as an audiobook narrator under the name Jill Smith. When not writing or narrating, J.A. enjoys reading, collecting historical costumes, and failing miserably at gardening. J.A. lives in the Ohio wilds with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker.
Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.
Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.
She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.
Lisa has been published since 2012, and was a LAMBDA finalist for her quirky, awkward coming-of-age romance Adulting 101, and a Rainbow Awards finalist for 2019’s Anhaga.
J.A. and Lisa have brought an audio code for A HUSBAND FOR HARTWELL, the first book in The Lords of Bucknall Club series, to give away to two lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Sunday, January 30th at 11:59 pm ET.
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