After a massive anxiety attack, Sam Atkins left his high-powered job in the City and committed himself to life on the road in a small van. Six months in, he’s running out of savings and coming to the conclusion that he might have to go home to his emotionally abusive family.
Needing time to think, he takes a walk through a copse by the Cornish roadside, only to stumble upon the body of a ritualistically killed sheep. As he’s trying to work out what the symbols around the animal mean, the sheep’s owner, Jennifer, and her nephew, Ruan Gwynn, come upon him.
Ruan is a kind-hearted young man with a large supportive clan, and since he and Sam feel almost instant attraction, he doesn’t want to believe Sam is a sheep-killing cultist. In fact, the moment he lays eyes on Sam’s miserable solitary life, he wants to rescue the man. But as the killings escalate, he and Sam need to stop whoever is actually to blame before they can concentrate on saving each other.
Sourton Cross service station had a picnic site with toilets, a shower, and an outside potable water tap. Luxury. Sam Atkins stopped there under a sky as downcast as his future. He parked the van as close to the toilet block as possible and filled his water tank with a hose he was almost too numb to feel, his fingers livid white with cold where they poked out of his red-and-black fingerless gloves.
That done, he took a damp and comfortless towel into the chill ceramic loos in search of warm water and free soap. Not unexpectedly, it smelled of mould and piss and mud inside. The floor was wet with boot prints, and the tray of the shower half-silted with sand and leaves. Some large dog, perhaps, had been sluiced down there before bounding back into its owner’s warm, carpeted four-by-four.
But Sam had been on the road for nearly half a year and had come prepared. He let the water run for a while, to take the worst of the dirt down the plughole, then he took flip-flops and a large plastic bag from his pocket. Stripping, he put his clothes on the bag, stepped from his boots into the flip-flops, and got into the shower moments before the unforgiving December air took all the breath from his body.
Hot water! An unceasing flood of it, kneading his scalp and soothing his shoulders. This time last year he’d had a wet room, in a house, a room finished in marble, with a power shower of gleaming copper, the size of a hubcap. If he closed his eyes, here in this cold winter car park, the sense of decadence was the same. But with the memory came the choking sensation that he had also felt in that room, while trying to wash off panic, sleeplessness, and stress.
He opened his eyes to find a mottled brown terrier nosing at his coat, a bespectacled man at the nearest urinal watching him out of the corner of his eye.
“All right?” he challenged.
The man looked away, but Sam’s brief moment of indulgence was undone regardless. He kept the water running for the warmth of the steam as he stepped out, rubbed the clammy towel over himself, and struggled to pull back on the clothes he’d been wearing since the launderette in Hackney, over a fortnight ago.
He had no idea what kind of perversions or judgements were going through the bespectacled man’s head, but he breathed easier when the guy left, taking his mongrel dog with him. Now he could at least dry his hair and his towel under a hand drier in peace.
It felt good to be clean. These days, even that was an achievement.
Outside, the light had faded further, and it had begun to rain. He put up his hood and sprinted for the van, getting through the door and into the driver’s seat before he lost all traces of warmth. Starting her up, he moved from just outside the toilet block to just outside McDonald’s, checking his phone while he tried the three closest spaces one after another.
A glance in the driving mirror said he still looked shaggy, suspicious, so he plugged his electric shaver into the cigarette lighter. A number-one comb took the beard down to designer stubble, and a number sixteen cropped his fair hair until it was only beginning to show a curl.
There. Now, with the Barbour waterproof coat and hat left over from better days, the Aran sweater and the briefcase containing his laptop, he passed for a gentleman farmer. Someone who wouldn’t be side-eyed in the toilets by the respectability police.
Inside McDonald’s, everything glowed warm and bright—a different culture, one to which he no longer belonged. Jingly Christmas music, the smell of fat, and the rumble of people talking. Red and yellow plastic toys in a glass display cabinet. Green plastic on the chairs, sticky with spilled sauce—the details assaulted him. The inside of the windows had steamed up; the whole place was crammed with bodies breathing the same air, and Sam’s heart got stuck somewhere in his viscera, tangling them up until he thought he was going to puke.
To celebrate the release of Foxglove Copse, one lucky winner will receive a $10 Amazon gift card and an ebook of their choice from Alex’s backlist! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on September 9, 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.