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“…secret rooms, pent up forbidden love, juicy sex, and an HEA, all made “Pure Folly” a delicious read.”Madame Butterfly
“…mystery, great characters, and a paranormal aspect that fulfils a reader’s wildest expectations.”Rainbow Reviews
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The prospect of a night in a haunted folly terrifies Alastair de Vere almost as much as admitting the depth of his feelings for his cousin's dashing fiancé. Love between men is utterly forbidden, but Jude captivates him in a way no woman ever has. Confessing the attraction could gain or lose him everything.
When a spirit seeking to end a century of torment takes possession of Jude, Alastair must face his deepest fears, for only by surrendering to fate can he hope to win freedom for them both.
Release date: June 21, 2015
Publisher: Incantatrix Press
Print pages: 112
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“Whose damn fool idea was this?”
Hand artfully raised and cradling a sherry glass, Alastair Romilly de Vere viewed the towering gothic structure with a mixture of reverence and distaste. There were few other buildings that inspired such a strong reaction of dislike in his being. Bricks and mortar were rarely the enemy of man, rather the folk who inhabited them were the problem, the temple being the absolute exception to that rule.
Why had he allowed himself to become embroiled in this pointless dare? He didn’t give a jot if his family, or society as a whole, thought he lacked bottom.
Could he do this? Could he go back in there? Sixteen long years had passed since he’d last ventured across the folly’s threshold. He’d been a mere boy the last time, seven years old and not a care in the world. Yet the horror he’d known still visited him.
Alexander would laugh to know it—Alexander, his elder brother, who had locked Alastair and their sister, Viola, inside the tower, then sat back and laughed at their panicked shrieks.
So long ago, and yet the events seeped seamlessly into the present. Despite the external heat from a blazing summer sun, the inside of the temple had been cool that day—its sublime arched interior filled with shadows. He hadn’t felt fear at first, just awe at the sweeping majesty of the place. Only when the heat crawled through the building, causing the hairs upon the back of his neck to rise, had he cried out in fear.
Ghosts! The temple had a full roster of ghosts, and at seven, he believed in every one of them. As an adult, he could rationalise the sudden temperature increase as the effect of sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows as the sun reached its zenith. At least he told himself that’s what had happened. Convinced himself that the sunlight, and not possession by an otherworldly presence had triggered his sister’s convulsions.
Viola—his beautiful and fragile sister had never been quite right since. Out of his depth on that day, he’d watched her flop about on the stone floor like dying fish. He’d screamed so hard that he hadn’t spoken for a week after their release.
Curiously, his presence here tonight was partially Viola’s doing. She, along with his cousin, Charlotte, had issued the dare to spend the night in the temple. He couldn’t fathom her motive any more than he could fathom his own reservations.
Eyes shielded from the low sun, Alastair leered up at the grotesque stone demons perched above. It was said that you could see across three counties from the top of each of the temple’s three spiked towers. A magnificent view he was sure, save he could barely look at the stout entryway without gagging.
Damn it! He swallowed another gulp of sack. The sweet wine failed to lend him any courage. If it weren’t for his companion, he’d tolerate the loss of face and call the whole thing off.
Alastair’s gaze swept towards the gathering shadows before the temple door where his friend stood. Jude Leveson, the perfect cipher for all that was missing in his soul.
Jude the jubilant. Jude the fair. Jude the man he couldn’t bear to be around and couldn’t stand to be apart from.
Alastair’s lip curled—there was no easy escape from this nightmare. He’d simply have to stand tall and face both demons fully armed. He turned about, seeking the decanter he’d left behind in the parlour, craving a refill. Tonight, alcohol would have to serve in place of a pistol. He didn’t trust himself with the latter, having nearly shot himself in the foot the previous week.
“Whatever’s the hold up, Alastair?” Jude leaned casually against the stout, iron-pinned door, holding a picnic hamper. He raised one knee and balanced the hamper upon it while he searched in his waistcoat pocket for the key. “It’s all codswallop, you realise, this nonsense about ghosts. There are no real ghosts. It’s just a bunch of tales told to you as children in order to keep you out of this derelict mausoleum. So a little less gloom please, and maybe we’ll make merry hell of this wager.”
With a sharp click that resembled a rifle shot, the lock released. Jude gave the ring handle a good twist and the door swung inwards on wailing hinges, dislodging a grey mantle of cobwebs. “Creepy.” He dusted away the silky strands. “I say, Alastair, this place does have beds, doesn’t it? Two blankets won’t provide much comfort, and the only scrambling about on the floor I favour is Greek wrestling.”
Beds. There were, unfortunately, beds. There wouldn’t be any wrestling.
Alastair clapped his companion across the back and ushered him into the stone folly. “That’s what the six bottles of elderberry wine are for. Any beds in here are probably riddled with damp and fleas.”
“If that’s what the wine’s for, what’s the brandy for?”
Alastair kicked the door closed. “Desperate times.” This moment being one of them.
They were in. Unease snaked through his innards as he reclaimed the key and locked the door. Bending, he slipped the hip flask from the top of his Hessian boot and attempted to soothe his nerves with a long swig before stowing it back betwixt stocking and leather. The alcohol merely excited the snake in his guts. “Shall we survey our domain?” He gestured towards the central chamber. He’d maintain a façade of calm if it killed him.
“A toast first.” Jude drew a bottle from the hamper and raised it high. “To foolish wagers, may we win them and reap the luscious rewards.” He applied his teeth to the cork, and spat it into a shadowy corner, leaving Alastair with the strange urge to fetch.
Instead, he glanced at his pocket watch. Eight o’clock. Twelve hours to go. It wasn’t as if there was anything to gain from this little endeavour beyond a little respect because he never wagered more than sixpence against a woman.
“So, the purpose of this place? Favourite trysting spot, I’m guessing,” Jude said.
Alastair shook his head. “There isn’t a purpose to it. My great grandfather simply had a fondness for oddities. There are several follies dotted about the estate.”
“I still say he entertained here.”
“I doubt it. His eccentricity encompassed his attitude to ladies in addition to architecture. He preferred to keep them at a distance. Said one had cost him his leg in Lauffeld, and he wasn’t risking the other. We should probably be grateful Charlotte suggested a night here, and not in the leg’s mausoleum. He brought it back to England and gave it its own burial.”
“It’s cold enough in here to be a mausoleum.” Jude rubbed some warmth into his arms causing the fabric of his coat to bunch around his biceps.
“How’s the wine?” Alastair asked, trying not to stare at his companion. He glanced about at their surroundings, but it was damn difficult to keep his gaze from straying back to Jude.
“Good.” Jude’s hazel-green eyes shone brightly in the gloomy half-light. As he passed the bottle to Alastair, their fingers briefly brushed, evoking a jolt of arousal in the pit of Alastair’s stomach.
I can’t do this, he thought as he swallowed. But he had to. There really wasn’t much choice. How pitiful he would seem if he fled the temple now, before it had even grown dark.
Reining in his instincts, he passed the bottle back to Jude then led the way forward, beneath a gothic archway, into the folly’s central chamber. Here, light streamed in from three high-set, stained glass windows. A balcony encircled the wall just below them, providing access to the upper floors of the three strutting towers. The mingled effect of the austere walls and the light created an illusion of majesty. Alastair recalled the first time he’d stood here peering up at the rainbow of lights and feeling awestruck. The years hadn’t dimmed the effect. He reached out and caught a handful of the whirling dust motes, which spun and flashed in the light. It was all as he remembered. Exactly as he remembered, down to the dust upon the rug and the bloodstain where his sister had fallen.
Alastair turned away from the brown smear. He couldn’t dwell on the past tonight, not if he wanted to get through this.
A huge moth-eaten tapestry depicting the fall of man encompassed the lower wall of the west tower. To its sides lay two iron-pinned doors, one of which, he knew led one to the privy, and the other to the stairs. “That way is up.” He pointed to the east tower and let Jude lead the way.
“Which way?” Jude asked as they emerged from the top of the spiral staircase onto the balcony. The tower itself continued up into spiked obscurity.
“Sinister, of course.”
They turned left.
“I’ve long had my suspicions about you, de Vere.” Jude’s voice rang with laughter. “That sort of statement isn’t doing anything to quell them.”
“What suspicions?” Alastair frowned.
Jude laughter merely subsided to a wide grin. “I think you know.” He jolted forward into the stream of light pouring through the stained glass.
Alastair rested his back against the iron railing, the unease in his guts further stirred by Jude’s words. He thought he’d been discreet, but if the other man was beginning to suspect…
Jude stood bathed in ocean-blue light, basking, his head tilted towards the sun’s slowly fading radiance. Alastair inwardly groaned. This was torture already, how was he supposed to endure a whole night of it with no means of escape?
The rich light bounced off Jude’s wild curls, streaking the dusky blond with gleaming shades of ruby and hyacinth. Jude, typically unable to keep his coat on for more than a moment outside of a formal engagement, had already shrugged it off. It swung now from his fingertip, while the maroon back of his waistcoat pulled taut across his back, emphasising his broad shoulders and the ridiculous perfection of his arse.
Twice now, Alastair had run his hands over that muscled rear, the first, as he’d helped Jude drunkenly mount his horse, the second after a hay-fight. Both incidents had left his pulse racing and his cock hard. He had yet to savour the full delight of having his palms curved to Jude’s cheeks, or of feeling him tremble with passion as he held him, although nightly, for months now, he’d promised himself both.
Such desires were merely a dream. He knew his unnatural feelings of desire for the other man weren’t reciprocated.
Fate was so damned cruel. He still remembered the thrill he’d felt when their eyes had first met across the village assembly room. Most of the evenings he’d spent there had rolled into gregarious monotony. But not that night. Jude’s arrival, eight months ago, had changed everything.
Alastair had staggered from that place like a drunkard, despite no more than a single glass of wine having passed his lips. He’d been undone by Jude’s charm, the laconic warmth of his smile, and he’d allowed the possibility of affection to take root in his belly, in his heart. From that moment onward, he’d repeatedly sinned, rubbing himself into a frenzy of desire and shame over thoughts of the other man.
They’d become friends, sharing both a love of dancing and steeple chasing.
A shame then that all Jude’s conviviality had been focused upon Charlotte. He’d openly courted her from that point forth, and all Alastair could do was stand by and watch while his heart ached.
“It must be some powerful ghost to keep you from here. It’s beautiful.” Jude remarked, turning amid the slanting light. “What is it, a headless monk, a white lady?” He joined Alastair by the railing and cast his coat over the balustrade.
Alastair shuffled to the right so they weren’t standing so close. “I’ve heard about fifty different stories.” None of which aligned with his experiences.
Jude plucked a blue silk kerchief from his waistcoat pocket, which he unfolded to reveal an eternity ring. “I had intended to propose to Charlotte tonight. This jape’s a darned nuisance. I hope none of her other suitors get wind of it and race over to claim her first.”
“I think that’s unlikely.” Was it wrong of him to wish for every man who’d ever shown the faintest spark of interest in Charlotte to show up at the de Vere estate tonight?
Tremulously, Alastair took the ring and slipped it onto the tip of his finger. It would make a curiously perfect fit around the slender digit. “I don’t believe she has any other remaining suitors.” Maybe she had once, but not anymore. Jude was all any woman would desire. His cousin’s hold was firmly set.
Nausea swelled in Alastair’s belly at the thought of the pair together. He’d have to take himself off somewhere, perhaps as far as India. He knew he couldn’t stand to be around them, knowing they were sharing a bed. Unconsciously, he rotated the golden band with his thumb, counting the embedded sapphires. Eight, one for each month of their friendship. Their blue a perfect match for his cousin’s eyes.
“Do you love her, Jude?” He had to know the truth.
Jude curled his hand over the top of Alastair’s fingers and reclaimed the ring. “Is that a prerequisite to your approval? You’re a hopeless romantic, de Vere. It’s all that gothic nonsense you read. I’ll wager you believe in love at first sight and happily ever after, too.”
His companion laughed. “Love grows, what you experience first is lust. Sticky, sensual, all-consuming lust. No wonder your mama despairs over you ever finding a bride.” He clapped Alastair upon the shoulder and squeezed.
“It’s hardly imperative that I marry. The burden of inheritance lies with Alexander.”
Alastair turned away, feeling distinctly peaky and unable to mask the emotion. He did believe in love in first sight, had done so from the very first moment he’d stared into Jude’s hazel-green eyes and felt his world shift. Perhaps that’s why the dismissal hurt so much. It wasn’t so much to do with Charlotte, as confirmation that his affection for Jude wasn’t returned. The other man clearly hadn’t experienced the same lightning strike when they first met.
“You don’t require my approval, Jude,” he huffed. “Only my uncle’s.” This was probably just as well, as he’d never be able to give his. He couldn’t pretend he wanted to see his friend wed.
Charlotte was as delightful as she was fair. And with her broad hips, would likely produce scores of hearty babes to delight the de Vere and Leveson mamas. But he wanted Jude for himself. All to himself.
“It’d be nice to think you at least wished us well.” Jude’s hand pressed against the front of Alastair’s coat.
The touch ignited sparks, and ignited a fire in his groin. Each and every contact with Jude was both unbearable agony and unparalleled bliss. His body screamed for more, even as his head told him flee, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to break free. For a few fleeting moments, he imagined instead, the feel of Jude’s arms around him, holding him. He pictured them both stretched upon the carpet below, Jude upon his back with the neck of his shirt open so that a tempting sliver of skin showed. He didn’t resist as Alastair pushed his hand inside the narrow opening and spread his fingers possessively wide, although he jerked upwards releasing a sharp gasp as the caress encroached upon one nipple.
“Alastair.” Jude’s hand remained pressed against his coat. “You do wish us well, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Alastair summoned a grin. “Of course.”
You godawful liar, he cursed himself. He probably deserved whatever doom befell them this evening.
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