Gideon had promised Lee a beautiful spring. A spring that would roll a carpet of green moss and turf right up to the door, if Lee would come with him and survive a Bodmin winter in his flat on the edge of the moor. This first day of February had risen in a tender blaze of gold, the cutthroat Atlantic wind easing at last, swinging round to bring scents of warming earth from the south. Gideon could keep his promise sooner than he’d thought. Bodmin had rolled out her carpet, and the doors – the beautiful French ones that led from their bedroom onto the old stone terrace – were open wide.

“Birds,” Lee said unexpectedly. He was comfortably settled on the window seat, thighs wrapped round Gideon’s, arms around his neck. He was stark naked, and should have been chilly in the breeze – the morning wasn’t that warm – but a diagnostic touch to his spine told Gideon he was fine, radiating heat like the wood-burning stove they’d just had installed in the front room. “What birds am I seeing?”

 

Too early for the curlews. Gideon had driven under a dappling flight of lapwing on his way back home. Lee’s back was to the window, though, his eyes closed against Gideon’s cheek. And Gideon had learned not to take his questions at face value. “The feathered kind? Or the sort that flap around that cavernous skull of yours?”

Lee chuckled, the sound and the brush of his breath raising fine hairs on Gideon’s nape. “The skull sort. Seagulls, actually. But little silver ones, like a kid would draw.”

 

Gideon got it straight away. This was an easy one. Over the last month he’d helped Lee with two cases, staying in the background, listening to him, helping him lift off the masks from his monsters and beasts. This was less urgent. Let Lee figure it out for himself. “No idea what you mean,” he said innocently, hoisting him against his body. “Hey, you put up more wallpaper. Top marks for effort, but you do know the pattern’s upside down, right?”

“Only took me four strips to work it out. Wallpaper’s your job, mate – I just hold the ladder. Now, these birds...”

They were staring him right in the face. Gideon shook with repressed laughter. He’d just walked into the house five minutes before, found Lee in the bedroom, pulling off his paste-daubed T-shirt and jeans, and he’d seized his opportunity. “Sorry to have jumped on you without even taking my clothes off. Still, it’s more than a bit sexy, isn’t it – you bollock naked, and me still in all my kit?”

“Mm. I love your kit – even your scratchy dress jacket.”

 

“What about this jumper? How do you feel about that?”

 

“Lovely. Prefer what’s under it, though... What are you laughing about?”

 

“You. Missing the obvious.”

 

Lee pushed back just far enough to look him over. “Something about the jumper,” he said, closing his hands on Gideon’s shoulders. “Oh, hang about. Is this a new one? Didn’t you just have your collar number on your epaulettes here?” He took a handful of the wool, examining it. “What’s with these little silver V shapes?”

 

“Birds, maybe. Or my sergeant’s stripes.”

 

“What?” Lee shoved him to arm’s length. “Gideon bloody Frayne... Did you get promoted?”

 

“Yes. But it’s not a big deal, so close that gorgeous mouth before you catch a fly. I took the exams last year – one batch in March, and I did the OSPRE in September, just before I met you.”

 

“You did an osprey? Christ, no wonder they gave you these birds.”

 

“Objective Structured Performance Related Examination.” Gideon wiped an imaginary bead of sweat off his brow at having got that out straight for once. “They’re phasing it out, but lucky me – I still got to do it. Five roleplays with an actor. My Truro boss is a right bastard, too – he gave me a streaker.”

 

“Oh, my God. What did you do?”

 

“Why, I concealed his manhood with my headgear in the traditional fashion, led him off and told him where to seek counselling.”

 

Lee exploded into laughter. “And was that the right answer?”

 

“One of ’em, I suppose. Anyway, I passed.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me, Gid?”

 

“Well, like I say, all this happened before you came along. And it doesn’t work like you might suppose – you’re not technically promoted even once you’ve passed. You have to wait for vacancies, for a sergeant to be made an inspector. There’s no ceremony or anything. No secret policemen’s ball.”

 

“I should damn well think not. I’d have wanted to lead you out for the first dance.” Lee gave the silver birds a last admiring pat, took hold of the hem of the sweater and lifted it over Gideon’s head. “So what happens now?”

 

“You take my shirt off too, I hope.”

 

“No, you moron.” Lee began unbuttoning anyway, careful with his new-made sergeant’s crisp cotton. “With your promotion. Do you have to abandon the village?”

 

“No, I’ll still be putting in shifts here. A bit more admin, a bit more time behind a desk in Truro, and I’ll have a couple of officers under me for training. Honest, there won’t be much difference. I wouldn’t have gone for the exams at all, only the top brass don’t like you just sitting festering at constable’s rank forever.”

 

“Well, congratulations.” The shirt was neatly undone. Lee pushed it back, gave an appreciative onceover to the powerful chest and shoulders he’d exposed. “And as someone who’s been... under you on several occasions now, I can guarantee you’ll be great. I’m so bloody proud of you.”

 

Gideon shivered in pleasure. He really hadn’t cared about the examination process while he’d been going through it – hadn’t cared about much on his own account at all. But that had been before fate had swept Lee Tyack into his life. Now a promotion might be worth something. “Thank you. There’s a pay bump that goes with it, too. So I was thinking, if you didn’t want to go through with your latest TV gig, you don’t have to.”

 

“Wow, Sergeant Rockefeller.” Lee brushed a smiling kiss over Gideon’s mouth and set about unfastening his belt.

 

“You mean you can afford to keep me and replace all the wallpaper I’ve destroyed?”

 

“Yeah, I reckon. Seriously. Your last job was rough for you – why don’t you have a break, or go work down at the marina for a while?”

 

“This project’s different. I got back too late last night to tell you about it, but Anna has it all worked out. Allegedly haunted sites in West Cornwall – not houses but standing stones, ancient circles, things like that. And not the well-known ones. Real off-piste stuff that nobody’s studied before.”

 

“Sounds good. Better than bodies tumbling out of a wall at you, anyway.”

 

“Yeah. That Island thing was rough on Jack and Anna too. I really ditched out on them, and then they missed all the exciting bits. I can make it up to them now – got a brilliant place for them to start at, out near Drift. A fogou.”

 

“A what?”

 

“Fogou.”

 

“I thought you were enjoying yourself.” Gideon waited until Lee had stopped laughing. “Is that how it’s pronounced? It’s terrible for a Cornishman not to know, but Pastor Frayne wasn’t keen on all your hippie pagan nonsense. I don’t think I ever heard it said.”

 

“Well, like that. Drop the first O, more or less, and throw the stress on the last syllable. F’gou.”

 

“Oh, okay. And what does it do, this f’gou?”

 

“Nobody knows, not really. They’re tunnels in the earth. A lot of old Cornish farmsteads have them, and...” He paused, and lifted a flushed face to Gideon. “And do you mind if I tell you about them at some other time?”

 

“Got something else on your mind, have you?”

 

“We have to get a cushion for this window seat. My arse is going numb.”

 

“And what do you want me to do about that?” Gideon waited, listening to Lee’s quickened breath. He loved to hear him state his desires, to use the words Pastor Frayne had forbidden or denied, creating a kind of cold storage in his son’s mind where they remained frozen, potent, ready to melt. “Tell me, sweetheart. Please.”

Excerpt

(Rufus has finally arrived, on a very delayed train. Drusilla - now Lady Birch, of course - has brought them a festive gift, in the form of a huge stag's skull.)

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never had this.”

“What, my love?”

Archie swallowed hard. His heart was thudding in astonishment that Rufus would risk the endearment, here on the path where the yellow roses had closed over their heads in the summer, and the green leaves provided such sheltering shade. There was no concealment now, only thorns. His fingers on one hand were laced tight through Rufus’s. He had to wait before he could answer, and his words came through gritted teeth. “Waiting for someone. Long enough to wonder if they were alive or dead.”

“Oh, God.” Rufus turned to face him. He lifted his face, and Archie wouldn’t kiss him, not out here, but somehow their brows were resting together. Giles had discreetly vanished, all the noisy new arrivals briefly quenched. If the house itself had a power of protection, channelled through his transformed spirit and the watchful souls of Drusilla and Maria Nettles, they would be safe. “I’m so sorry. The railways seem to like to keep their most urgent work for the busiest time of the year, and...”

“And what?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“No, not nothing.” Archie picked up and followed the glimmering threads of unease, his keys to the labyrinth of his lover’s mind. “Why else are you late?”

 

“Oh, Archie. Someone jumped in front of the train. One of the reporters who... who went into Belsen and took all the photographs, the guard said it was. Another one.”

 

Archie closed his grip tighter. He said, for want of a wiser or more consoling word, “Fuck.”

 

“Sorry. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

 

Archie gave him a gentle shake. “Why on earth not?”

 

“Because I’ve come home for Christmas. And there’s nothing festive about...”

 

“A body on the railway line. For such awful reasons.” Quickly Archie checked around. He’d learned that one glance wasn’t enough, that observers could congregate without a breath or shoe-scrape of warning. He hated his vigilance, but he’d pay the price a thousand times over if it meant he could lay a hand on his lover’s face, give him that comfort right now when he needed it, not half an hour later when – knowing Rufus – he’d have found a way to choke the trouble down. “I’m so glad you did tell me. We’re being called post-war England, you know. I read it in the Times.”

Rufus pushed his cheek against Archie’s palm. He’d closed his eyes, and the relief of the loving touch at the right moment had softened the lines of pain on his brow. “So everything’s over, is it? Shall I break out my demob suit?”

“Oh, did you finally get one of those?”

 

“Yes. I shouldn’t have, really, because they more or less shipped me home in a bucket, and I never did get to trade in my uniform for civvies at one of the centres. Still, they issued me one, and sent it care of the museum because they didn’t have my address down here. It’s rather dapper, I have to say – pinstripes, with a little waistcoat to match. I should have brought it with me. It’s just that...”

 

“It’s just that for you, it won’t ever be over. Not for you, not for the Jews, not for anyone who saw what happened in the camps. Not for me either, and that’s the good part, dear Rufus – we don’t have to hide from each other. We never have to pretend that everything’s all right.”

 

Rufus let go of an unsteady breath. Then he looked up, and gave Archie a smile of such brilliance that for a moment summer returned, and the scent of golden roses. “But the strange thing is that... knowing you feel that way, everything is all right for me, somehow. Come along, Squire Archie. You’d better introduce me to your house-load of Christmas guests.”

 

“I didn’t invite any of them, you know. They just descended. And you mustn’t call me squire, love!”

 

“I suppose you shouldn’t call me love, out here in the open, if it comes to that. Ah, if you could have seen yourself, though – standing on the doorstep surveying your domain, and all the birds flocking to you for shelter!”

 

“For Mrs Nettles’ mince pies, is more like it. Very well, then – come on in, if I’m not to be allowed half an hour with you in the bike shed first.” He took hold of Rufus’s wrist, drew his arm through his own. “We’re allowed this much, aren’t we?”

 

“Yes. We’re allowed this much.”

 

Together they made their way into the house. Archie’s whole attention had focussed on the link between them, where human warmth had made its way through tweed and cotton and was sending up bright signals to his heart. He barely noticed the new shadow falling across the hallway: stopped with a jolt when Rufus did, clamping one hand tight to his arm. “Good Lord, Archie. What’s that?”

 

Archie followed his gaze. The huge stag’s skull had been hoisted over the archway that led to the kitchen, and expertly lashed into place there, tinsel and all. “Ah. Drusilla brought us that as a kind of Christmas gift, although she doesn’t hold with new-fangled modern festivals. He’s for Yuletide, I gather. I’ve no idea how he’s ended up there so quickly – although, having said that, the house is full of able-bodied young men at the moment.”

 

“Oh, really? Who have you got? Captain Meredith must count for one.”

 

“Several, if being an adoring husband qualifies him. Billy Prescott is around here somewhere, come to show off his constable’s uniform. And then of course there’s...” Their eyes met, and they both finished out the thought in rich amusement. “There’s Giles.”

 

Stifled giggles exploded from the living room. Archie’s reflexes weren’t fast enough to pull his arm out of Rufus’s grip, and damned if he would anyway: we can have this much, Rufus had said, and Archie was ready to defend their small permissions and privileges to the death. Straight-faced and steady, he turned to the source of the noise. “Ah,” he said, as urbanely as he could manage. “Rufus, I haven’t yet had the chance to introduce you to...”

Oh, hell. He couldn’t remember their names. Worse, he couldn’t think how to define them, these glittering, silk-clad apparitions. And that was ridiculous, because if they’d been men he’d have simply said that they were Giles’s friends. Distress began to shadow the younger woman’s face, and Giles, as if receiving a silent summons, shot out of the kitchen. He edged past Archie and Rufus, smiling, and went to put an arm around her waist. “My fiancée,” he said firmly, making her beam in pleasure and relief. “And this is her sister, Greta. Ladies, this is Dr Denby, the famous archaeologist I told you about.”

“Oh,” said Loretta, “I’ve read about you in the papers, Dr Denby. Ever so interesting. Such an honour to meet you.”

 

Rufus would always have trouble with women, Archie wryly reflected. Despite his wholly restored reputation and growing fame, he brought a shy charm to introductions which inevitably bowled them over. He had let go of Archie and was stepping forward now, hand outstretched. “I’ve made your acquaintance too, in a way,” he said, and Loretta took his hand and looked as though she’d have liked to kiss it. “Yours too, Miss Lombardi. Archie and I saw you in a film, the last time we were in London. Highly...” He paused, and no-one but Archie would have detected his brief struggle for a word. “Most diverting. It’s my great pleasure to meet you both too.”

Trust Rufus to remember the womens’ faces, to pick out the one link between them. Over time, Archie had learned how close he’d come to losing him to Alice Winborne, who even in her grief had come down like a weary dove in response to his diffident kindness. Greta’s mouth had fallen open. She said, in what might have been meant as a whisper but carried clearly across the room,”Oh, my God, Lorrie. I know what you said, but I can’t possibly choose!”

 

Loretta went scarlet. She grabbed her sister’s arm. “That was a joke,” she hissed. “A joke between us, and a private one, you fool!”

Archie and Rufus watched in bewilderment as she dragged Greta to the door, then out into the hallway. Their voices faded off in a series of yelps and snarls. Giles, left behind and blushing vividly too, turned to face them. “I’m very sorry, gentlemen,” he said. He really was the pink of post-war English perfection, Archie thought, with his handsome, open face and immaculately cut motoring gear. Again over time, the memories of his emergence from the pit beneath the church had begun to seem like a dream. “I’m very fond of Greta, but the truth is that she’s travelling with us because Lorrie is so keen to help her find a husband, and... well, when I told them about the two of you, they had their little joke about which of you Greta would prefer.”

 

“Oh,” was all Archie could think of to say, and was relieved when Rufus added a slightly more articulate, “Good grief.”

 

“I know,” Giles agreed, nodding fervently. “I’d be angry with her, only I do remember how it was when... well, when I was like her. A man in his thirties has the world at his feet, if he’s talented and hardworking, which she is, in her way. An actress that age has to look around her. Most of them jump out of the business to get married, you see.”

 

Archie rubbed his brow. “And... she thought to land here?”

 

“Not seriously. It’s my fault really. I talked to them so much about you both – how kind you were, and how good. One of you a country squire, and the other getting so well known for making all those discoveries... I suppose they’ve come to think of you as what they call a catch.”

 

But I’ve already been caught. Archie didn’t know why he didn’t just say it. He hadn’t dreamed the transformation in the pit, the turning castle where his lungs had been healed by Rufus’s kiss and Gillian had turned into Giles. He was certain that Giles knew. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, keeping a tremor of laughter out of his tone, trying to imagine either himself or Rufus pairing off with such a bird of cinematic paradise. “You and your Lombardis stay here for Christmas. And perhaps you can find a way of telling Greta that, lovely though she is, she’ll find better opportunities...”

 

“Archie, look.”

 

He swung round. For a minute or so he’d been aware that Rufus’s attention had detached itself from the discussion of Greta’s hopes and dreams. Archie was used to these shifts. They happened more and more often, as Rufus healed and regained the gifts that had put him in the archaeological spotlight before his terrible war. He was standing with his hands in his pockets now, to all appearances just a quiet man at the end of a long journey, but his eyes were shining. With one hand he indicated first the great stag’s skull, just visible through the doorway to the hall, and then the painting over the fireplace – George Mount, the vast hilltop labyrinth he had discovered, now visited by historians, folklorists and historians from all over the world. He caught and held Archie’s gaze, smiling. “Look.”

 

Archie couldn’t look anywhere else. After a moment, Giles said, quietly, “Thank you, then, Squire Thorne. Dr Denby. I’ll go and help the ladies unpack.”

 

He strode away. Archie allowed himself a moment to wonder at his powerful movements, the air of sheer masculinity that had brought his polar opposites, the flickering, glittering moths, to flutter around his flame. Then he focused on Rufus. “You’ve discovered something.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it strange? I could do this before the war, but only occasionally. Then when it all got knocked out of me, and I came to Droyton and...” His voice shook slightly. “And you put it back, you must have added something extra. Because now it happens all the time.”

 

Archie held himself stiffly back. Rufus’s gift for landscape archaeology, for picking out a site without so much as sinking a trench or turning a trowel-ful of soil, had flown them both off to all the round Earth’s imagined corners. Then he saw that Giles had carefully, lovingly closed the door behind him, and he crossed the lily-patterned carpet in four big steps and pulled him into his arms. “Rufus. Dear fellow. Thank God you’re home.”