British scholar Frank Carew is in Wallachia to study the magic generator on nobleman Radu Vacarescu’s land. There, his party is attacked by bandits and his friends are killed. Pursued by a vampiric figure, he flees to Radu’s castle for help.
Unfortunately, this is precisely where the vampires came from. If allowed, they would feed unchecked and spread their undeath across the whole Earth, but Radu maintains a shaky control over them and keeps them penned in his tiny corner of the country.
As Frank recovers from his assault, Radu finds himself falling for the young man. But loving Frank and not wanting to lose him leaves Radu vulnerable to his demons’ demands. Can he bear to let them feed on the man he loves? Or must he give in to their blackmail and set them free to feast on his entire country?
Wallachia – 1742
Stebbins was the first to die.
All day, the mountains had been growing closer. After the travellers ate a hasty luncheon in their shadow—long, whistling winds blowing down the valley of the Olt, cooling the ciorbă before it could be taken off the fire—the boatmen hustled them back onto the punt as if the ground underfoot had become poisonous.
Frank had grown to loathe the boat, his posterior aching from endless hours perched on his own travelling bag. Stebbins crowded so close on one side Frank could not move his elbows. Protheroe, on the other, continually joggled him as he tested the ever-increasing vril saturation with an etherometer of brass and crism. This device had to be bolted to the gunwale and folded out over the boat’s side, and then everyone had to hold still for a good minute while he took his readings, before he could make a note in his book and fold it back in again.
Recently, Protheroe had begun to squeak in surprise and delight every time he made an observation. “We must be getting close now, lads. We’re already at a concentration twice as high as the one under Glastonbury Tor. I don’t see how it can go up much higher without buckling the nature of reality wholesale.”
Protheroe’s obvious excitement went a long way towards soothing Frank’s guilt. Neither of his friends would be out here in the Wallachian wilderness but for loyalty to him. They had turned the escape of a criminal into a respectable theurgic expedition. Though they had done their best not to grumble about discomfort, he still felt terrible if they so much as frowned, and unfortunately, there had been a great deal to frown about. Not only cold nights on cold stones, strange food and stranger customs, but also a terrible run of bizarre accidents that had approached life-threatening levels. Misfortune had dogged their heels like a hunter from the very beginning.
This morning however, had started well. Stebbins—the naturalist—was smiling as he sketched the approaching mountains, and Protheroe was all but bouncing on his seat. “We should see it today. You have to be a member of the Royal Society to be permitted to study the vril accumulator in England, so I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to see one active. I can’t wait.”
Frank grinned back at him, unwilling to dampen his enthusiasm, but the prospect of reaching their goal was not as appealing to him as it was to his friends. They would go home afterwards. He, who faced only a noose in England, would be left alone, revealed as the fugitive from justice that he was.
Confined to the boat, there was little to take his mind off it. As the linguist of the party, he had nothing to do except stare out at the slowly changing landscape and try to engage their native boatmen in conversation. Downriver, where the towns were more plentiful and the folk more welcoming to a travelling scholar, Frank had been able to refine his grasp of the Wallachian language until he’d found himself dreaming in it. In these less inhabited parts of the country, he had hoped to keep in practice by chatting with the bearers, but they had proved a tight-mouthed bunch.
One of the boatmen—Nicu, he of the extravagant moustaches, who never appeared without a dagger in his sash and a carbine over his shoulder, wicked eyed and wizened like a tree root—occasionally had muttered in the speech of the Romani, and Frank had tried endlessly to encourage him to pass some of it on, but his persistence seemed only to have driven Nicu into absolute silence.
So Frank had reclined awkwardly out of the way of Protheroe’s contraption and was trying to sleep despite the crick in his neck, when it happened. They had rounded a bend in the river between two hills. There came a crack and a flash, sharp as lightning, then Stebbins shrieked and flung himself into Frank’s lap.
“What on Earth?” Frank shoved him in the shoulder, half convinced his friend was simply bored and this was an overture to mock wrestling. But his hand slid in something warm and red. The scent of black powder on the wind was blessedly chemical in contrast with the slippery organic reek he could smell from Stebbins. As he was bending over to try to catch his friend’s shoulders, Stebbins convulsed on Frank’s knees twice, his face agonized. His mouth filled with blood and overflowed.
“Stebbins?” Frank cried, part of him wanting to recoil from the warm gout of blood now soaking into his trousers, part of him wanting to pull his friend close and protect him. Stebbins’s chest was unmoving against his own, his torn waistcoat turning crimson, beginning to drip. “William!”
Nicu’s hand landed between Frank’s shoulder blades and pushed him forward, off the seat. “Lie down. Lie in the boat. Do not get up.”
“What’s happening?” Frank laid Stebbins in as dignified a position as he could manage, checked his pulse, and refused to believe he could not find it.
A second shot slammed into the gunwale next to him, peppering him with splinters. In the bow, Apostol, one of their bearers, unslung his own rifle and fired back. At the stern, silent Mihai bent double to the boat’s pole, trying to speed past the attacker.
“Bandits, young sir.” Nicu gave a fierce and chilling grin. “The mountains are full of them. Stay down.”
Frank was not a maiden to be protected. He looked up, caught Protheroe’s matching determined expression. Oh God, let me not bring ruin on these, the best of all friends, as I have brought it on so many others. “We can help!”
“You have rifles? You can shoot?”
“Of course!” Protheroe exclaimed, dropping his notepad and pulling the long bag out from beneath the heaps of luggage. “An English gentleman is always proficient in firearms.”
Nicu gave them both a sceptical look, as if to say, And you have hidden this from us all this time because you expect us to steal them? To murder you in your sleep? It would have been troublesome if he had voiced the words, because the answer was yes, but instead he merely flinched out of the way of another bullet.
“Good. Then you will lie flat and return fire, and I will take up the second pole so that we may be through the ambush faster. Do not let them shoot me.”
Protheroe passed the first rifle to Frank, followed it up with a box of shot, a rammer and a powder horn. As Frank wriggled to get the gun loaded, Nicu joined Mihai at the stern. The boat sped up a little, though a trotting horse could still have outpaced it.
With the rifle primed, Frank propped himself on his elbows, stock pressed to his shoulder. He swarmed cautiously up until he could raise his head above the gunwale. Nothing to see but pinkish-brown rocks against a clear, blue sky, the lower ones topped with trees and shaggy about their crevasses with wind-blown plants that would have delighted Stebbins’s plant-hunting soul.
No, he was not going to think of Stebbins, going cold by his ankle.
To celebrate the release of Sons of Devils, one lucky winner will receive a $10 Riptide credit and one ebook from Alex Beecroft’s backlist! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on March 18, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
About the Author & Links:
Alex Beecroft is an English author best known for historical fiction, notably Age of Sail, featuring gay characters and romantic storylines. Her novels and shorter works include paranormal, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.
Beecroft won Linden Bay Romance’s (now Samhain Publishing) Starlight Writing Competition in 2007 with her first novel, Captain’s Surrender, making it her first published book. On the subject of writing gay romance, Beecroft has appeared in the Charleston City Paper, LA Weekly, the New Haven Advocate, the Baltimore City Paper, and The Other Paper. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK and an occasional reviewer for the blog Speak Its Name, which highlights historical gay fiction.
Alex was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800-year-old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
She is represented by Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Literary Agency.