Historian Gavin Lowden is in Northumberland on Christmas Eve for two reasons: to find evidence of a romantic bond between Arthur and Lancelot, and to finally tell his partner Piers that he loves him. Piers has promised to come clean with his conservative family and join Gavin for their first holiday as a couple, but at the last minute, he bails. Devastated, Gavin heads out onto the moors alone, just as snow begins to fall...
Gavin stumbles into an underground chamber, where strange happenings cause him to question what is real and what is fantasy. He's found by two mysterious men who offer him a bed for the night—and awaken him to nuances of erotic pleasure he didn't know existed. Pleasure he hopes to share with Piers.
When Piers learns that Gavin has gone missing, he is desperate to find him. He knows now breaking up was a terrible mistake, and he's ready to take the next step in their relationship—if it's not already too late.
In this extract, Gavin and rescue worker Arthur have narrowly escaped death in an underground rockfall...
“I think we’re quite near the surface. Stay calm.”
Backed up against a pile of scree, I stared at him. He was practising what he preached, I’d give him that. He’d settled on a rock as comfortably as if it had been a footstool in his living room and was checking his mobile and radio for a signal. I forced my dust-caked, bone-dry tongue to action. “Anything?”
“Not just now. Signal always sucks around here anyway. What network are you on?”
I couldn’t remember. The only network I could think of was the pulsating web of blood vessels behind my eyes. It was academic anyway. “I left my phone behind.”
“Right. Yeah, that’s always best when you head off into the wilderness.” He pushed stiffly up from his rock. “Let’s have a look at that cut. You’re bleeding again.” I stood still—not much choice in the matter; I was paralysed in the spot I had reached when the snarling, clattering curtain of rock had finished its fall—while he examined me. “How’s your shoulder?”
“Absolutely the least of every bloody problem I could possibly have. Arthur. We’re trapped.”
He glanced around the tiny chamber. The ceiling was just shy of his head. A stretch of the arms would take in all its walls. It wasn’t a cave. It was a pocket, a bubble, a hole Armageddon had briefly forgotten to fill in its haste. “I told you, call me Art,” he said mildly. “I know you’re scared. I know you want to pitch a great big fit on me, but try not to. Lance will find us.”
He brushed some of the rock dust out of my hair. He gave my upper arms a squeeze which somehow made my legs fold, and he sat me down. I listened to my own hyperventilation until shame struck me and I got hold of enough breath to speak. “How… How will he find us? How?”
“Oh, all kinds of tricks. Sniffer dogs, and there’s a body-heat detector back at HQ. Don’t think we’ll need them, though. Lance will come for me.”
“How do you know?”
“He always does.”
I looked up into his eyes. There was more than one kind of blind, beautiful, unswerving faith, wasn’t there? I wondered why it had been left out of my own nature. I thought about Piers on our short trip to Chartres cathedral, where I’d accompanied him to humour him and to see the fabulous architecture. The statues and carvings hadn’t moved him, but I’d turned round and caught him at the centre of the labyrinth, his face raised to the light falling through the rose window. I wished I’d known, at our last meeting, that I would never see him again. A rough sob escaped me before I could help it, and I clamped a hand to my mouth.
Art sat down beside me. “Here, let’s try and keep you warm,” he said, and put an arm around my shoulders. “So, tell me. What were you doing in a cave in Hallow Hill tonight anyway?”
“Hallow… You call it that too?”
“Of course. Come on. It’s Christmas Eve, in case you hadn’t noticed. What’s the story—fight with a girlfriend?” I didn’t answer, and I turned my head away a little when he leaned to look questioningly into my face. “Oh, no. Boyfriend. Piers.”
It was a ploy of distraction and I knew it. I wondered how many other poor terrified bastards had handed him their life story while they waited to be saved. “How did you know his name?”
“You were telling me some wild story about King Arthur and a horn. I’ve heard that one before, actually, around here. Nobody ever dares blow it. But you reckoned Piers would. Nice lad, is he?” I nodded. It seemed the barest acknowledgement I could make. “Been going out a long time?”
“Three years. Until tonight. He dumped me.”
“Oh.” His arm around me tightened. He was very strong. He had seized me as the rockfall started, run with me and practically thrown me far enough upslope to find this safe niche. This tomb. “That’s tough. Want to tell me what happened?”
I didn’t. I thought not, anyway: my story would sound pitiful. Still, it was a good alternative to the fit he had mentioned, and he was dead right—that was just biding its time. If I allowed myself full realisation of where we were, what had happened, how likely I was ever was to breathe free moonlit air again… “He was coming to join me for Christmas,” I abruptly began. “I booked him into my hotel. Then at the last minute he phoned me and said he couldn’t make it.”
“Did he say why?”
“Oh, it freaked him out, I suppose. We’ve never had a holiday together, and he’d have had to tell his family about us. They’re Catholics. So is he.”
“So why put him through it?”
For a second I was genuinely distracted. I hadn’t expected automatic sympathy, but… “What do you mean?”
“Well—did he want to come? Whose idea was it?”
“Mine. I…I thought it was about time.”
“Is that how you put it to him?”
No, of course not. I wanted to protest; to defend myself. Why, I didn’t know. I respected Art, and was properly grateful that he’d risked his life for me, but I’d only just met him. I didn’t have to fear his judgment, did I? I wished I couldn’t perceive the tiny change in the pressure of his arm around my shoulders—the difference between an embrace and a good medic’s duty of keeping me warm.
“Because if you’d said that to me, I’d have heard it as a make-or-break. An ultimatum.”
“No! I didn’t say that. I just invited him.” Come on, lover, was what I had said. Now or never. But that had been a joke… “For God’s sake!” I exploded, flinching away. “It’s been three years. He needs to grow up and get over it. It’s the twenty-first century, not 1950s rural Ireland.”
“Devout, is he?”
“Totally. That’s the problem.”
“And yet somehow for the past three years he’s been having an affair with you. Systematically violating his principles for you. Is he a hypocrite?”
“No!” The word had stung me like a whip. I could have punched Art for using it, even rhetorically. “Not Piers. He’s solid gold.”
“Yeah, I’d agree. He was making tough decisions every day, just to be with you. You sure he’s the one who needs to grow up?”