Morgan Capell’s life is falling apart by small degrees—his father’s dead, his boyfriend dumped him, and his mother’s in the grip of dementia. His state of mind isn’t helped by his all-too-real recurring nightmare of the wreck of the Troilus, a two-hundred-year-old ship he’s been dreaming about since his teenage years.
Morgan turned the letter in his hands. Pointless bloody exercise, really; whichever way up it was, the thing would read the same.
“It isn’t you, Morgan, it’s me.”
Trust James to have ended things with a cliché. Maybe he’d typed Dear John letters into Google, cut and pasted what he’d found, changed the name John for the name Morgan and copied out the resulting text longhand.
“It’s been great, all of it, but people change. We’ve grown, and not in the same direction.”
The James he’d spent so long with wouldn’t have been able to create such eloquent prose, not without his secretary taking his rough notes to make them into something impressive, as she’d done for him in the past. Please God she hadn’t been allowed anywhere near this.
A simple, I’m bored with you so I’m buggering off, would have been more in James’s line. Or, You’re no longer the spring chicken who caught my eye. I couldn’t be seen going out with a bloke about to hit thirty. Not good for the image.
Morgan had always suspected James kept half an eye on whether there was anything better about. Like a pet cat, seemingly devoted to its owner, but ready to push off and relocate if he found a better household. Morgan’s family had once had a moggy like that; he hadn’t thought he’d end up with a boyfriend who’d show the same proclivities.
“I won’t insult you by asking if we can remain friends, although I hope someday we can be civil enough to share a pint. For old times’ sake.”
So that he could tell Morgan about his latest bloke? Like he used to talk about Jonny and say he’d only been a practice run for the real thing? Morgan slapped the letter on the table. He wasn’t ready to be civil. Especially after three years of James hinting that the real thing might be him. That had been a load of crap, hadn’t it? Like all the other crap James had been spouting these last few months. Why had it taken Morgan so long to realise he’d been strung along?
It wasn’t like he hadn’t been expecting the letter, or something like it, but those cold, hard words still hurt like a kick in the guts. All right, it was better than being dumped by text message—or over Facebook, that treacherous change in status from in a relationship to single—but only just. Why couldn’t the bastard have had the guts to drive down to Cornwall and tell him face-to-face?
Because, truth be told, James was a coward, a man who’d do anything to avoid a scene or put off a confrontation. Getting somebody else to travel down and deliver the bad news would have suited his style, if he could have got away with it.
Morgan screwed the letter up, flung it into the dustbin, and resolved never to think of James Price again. Or at least not for the next ten minutes.
That was all the time it took to make a decent, mud-strong mug of tea and take it out to the garden. If he could survive the next ten minutes without thinking of James the bastard, then he could survive another ten and then another. Like giving up smoking, one cigarette at a time. What he needed was distraction, either general or particular. At least his garden still brought him the happiness that had been sorely absent from his life the last year. He sat on his favourite wooden bench, took a deep breath and half closed his eyes.
Late April was turning out lovely, an early burst of summer in full swing, and the garden of Cadoc, his house, formed the sort of sun trap which became almost unbearable on a hot August day but which proved perfect when spring or autumn turned kind. Morgan listened to the bees, watched the trees and the flowers, and tried not to think of all the times in the past he’d sat here with James.
Count your blessings right now before you go mad.
Blessing one, living in London, the thick air and continual noise, was behind him. Blessing two, working from home and being able to nip out here for the perfect way of clearing his mind, letting his stress dissolve away into the calm sea air.
Only, at the moment, Morgan would have been pleased to be head down in a noisy office, with sights and sounds and externally imposed deadlines to take his mind off that bloody letter and the fact that his life seemed to be falling apart piece by piece. He swatted at a late-flowering tulip with his foot, cursing it for sticking its handsome head up and mocking him with its joie de vivre.
Sod tulips, sod the sunshine and sod James Price.
Morgan swigged back his tea. Right. Life was going to go on, irrespective of how many flowers he kicked the heads off, and if he sat down and thought about things objectively, it might go on a lot more enjoyably without James. In the long run. One day he’d look back at this event as being constructive, despite it hurting like stink now.
Why not count the points in favour of a clean break? Surely there had to be some?
James was a control freak—if things weren’t going as he wanted them to, then they were wrong. His sense of humour had changed, so he only seemed to enjoy jokes at other people’s expense. Morgan had always managed to ignore the roving eye, pretending it was nothing different to admiring the delicacies on the Waitrose cake counter. It didn’t mean you were going to indulge, did it? Except that James had quite possibly been sampling every cake in the box on the sly. It would have been typical of the bastard, and he’d have covered his tracks in the process.
We never did have any realistic future, did we?
Morgan blew out his cheeks—wasn’t this process supposed to be making him feel better? The voice in his head was right, though. Even if they’d got as far as tying the knot, James might have managed to find a dozen ways to slip through it. And that wasn’t what Morgan had wanted, no matter how he’d tried to persuade himself that he’d be the one to make a difference, the Mr. Right who’d keep James on the straight and narrow.
Reason said that he should be pleased to have got the letter, to be shot of James and shot of uncertainty all at once. But all his objective reasoning couldn’t logic away such a ball of pain in his stomach.
The sudden, insistent bleating of the telephone started Morgan out of his remembrances of times past, pleasant and obnoxious. It would be a client, probably, wanting a quote over the phone for a particularly intricate design contract. That would be a good distraction. Not that he was short of work—there was plenty to tide him over—but some kind of project to really stretch his brains would keep his mind off painful things.
“Cadoc Design. Hello?” Morgan’s practiced tones managed to sound both welcoming and businesslike, or so he’d been informed when it had been a friend rather than a client at the other end of the line.
“Oh, sorry. Think I’ve got the wrong number.”
“Not to worry, it’s—” Morgan didn’t have the chance to finish, the abrupt tones of the dialling code signalling that the phone at the other end had been put down. Wrong number? He couldn’t remember the last one of those he’d had, not since the time he’d been plagued with calls to his mobile by someone who’d been convinced he was a pizza delivery service. Not worth ringing 1471 if it was a genuine mistake. He’d got as far as the kitchen, looking to wrest another mug of tea out of the pot, when the phone went again, and he turned on his heels to answer it again.
“Cadoc Design. Hello?” He felt less friendly this time.
“Sorry, it’s me again.” That was obvious from the same dithering voice. “I definitely haven’t misdialled, so either I’ve been given the wrong number in the first place or you’re Morgan Capell.”
“You haven’t and I am.” He’d ditched the polite edge completely. Who could be ringing him out of the blue and what did he want if he wasn’t a customer? If the idiot was trying to sell Morgan his wares, all he’d get was an earful of abuse; cold calls were the bane of everyone’s life, and on a day like today, he had no patience left.
“Right. Sorry to be so useless. I’m dreadful on the phone.”
He could say that again. At least whoever this was came across too awkwardly to be a salesman—no suggestion of smooth talking, and too long a pause in the conversation. Morgan took a deep breath. “I have no idea who you are, but I assume there’s something you want to talk about that isn’t to do with web design?”
“Yes. The wreck of the Troilus.”
“Oh.” Morgan felt his tongue tie itself in knots, as it always did when that particular ship got mentioned. What did this guy want to know about her? And how could he both have got Morgan’s number and known Morgan would have a tale to tell?
“I suppose you want to know how I got hold of you?” The voice on the phone sounded more apologetic than ever. Telepathic, with it.
“That might be a good place to start.”
“Your friend James gave me it.”
“Oh.” Double oh with fucking knobs on. So, not only had James the bastard left him high and dry, he was giving people Morgan’s number at random so they could ring about matters intensely personal? How many years would Morgan get for wringing his ex-boyfriend’s neck, and would they be worth it? “What did he tell you?”
“Only that the ship went down near where you live. I’m trying to research the history of her midshipmen, the ones who got transferred elsewhere before she sank and the unlucky ones who went on the rocks with her.” The voice was gaining in confidence, clearly on a pet subject. “Sorry, I should have introduced myself. Dominic. Dominic Watson.”
Morgan wasn’t sure what to say next, as the introduction the other way had already been done and without his consent. “What is it you want to know? I can’t tell you anything about the ship’s officers.” The prickles of unease that had appeared on Morgan’s neck wouldn’t go away. The Troilus. He hadn’t thought of her in weeks.
“I wasn’t expecting that you could.” Dominic sounded as if he was used to being unlucky. “My request’s a bit different. James said that you’ve got several of the ship’s timbers in your house?”
“Yes, that’s right. The locals made the most of what they could find washed up—there was enough to put some roof timbers in here.” Impressive ones, too. You could still see the stepping of the mast in one place, but Morgan wasn’t going to mention that at the moment. Wouldn’t do to get this Dominic bloke too excited and have him threatening to get straight in the car, camera in hand. There were other reasons, as well, why Morgan didn’t want to raise the issue of this particular ship and not even James had been aware of all of them.
“Wow.” Dominic seemed really impressed, nonetheless. “I tried to find some pictures on the internet, but all I get is the old engraving of the wreck and a diagram of the ship’s lines. Nothing about your house.”
“That would be right. I’ve never posted any pictures of the beams, and my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of anything like that.” They’d been highly protective of their little bit of history, when Dad had still been alive and Mum had been compos mentis enough to care. They’d have hated to end up as part of the tourist trail. “It’s a private property. I don’t give guided tours.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so rude.” That last remark had been a step too far; the thought of his mother when she’d been well had brought the old anger to the surface. Dear God, it had been over a year since she went into the nursing home—was he never going to get used to it? “I just want to be sure you’re doing a proper study and not indulging in a Hornblower fandom fest.”
“Mr. Capell, I can assure you that I’m involved in family research.” Dominic’s voice sounded cold and suddenly very clipped. “Our history is connected to that ship, and there have been too many half-truths told that I’d like to put straight.”
Morgan swallowed hard, guilt making him inclined to generosity. “My apologies. Look, I think we’ve got off on the wrong foot here. Your call caught me unawares. I’m not used to people wanting to come and gawp at the cottage.”
“No, you don’t need to apologise. I shouldn’t have barged in like that. James told me that it wasn’t a well-known thing about the beams and that the family were rather protective of their architectural inheritance.” Dominic sighed. “Maybe he didn’t realise how serious I am about the subject.”
“He was probably showing off.” That was James to a tee. Morgan wondered whether Dominic was gay and any (or all) of young, handsome, and available. It would explain why the rat had suddenly decided to start revealing Cadoc’s secrets. “Write me a letter, Mr. Watson.”
“If you’re serious, write me a letter. Explain exactly what you’re researching and what you’d hope to gain by coming to see the timbers.” Morgan felt empowered, as though this would somehow help get revenge on James for his blabbing. “I can’t stop you coming down here and visiting the wreck site—anyone can take the path to Gull Point to get a view of the Devil’s Anvil—but if you want to get in here, you’ll have to persuade me.”
“You’re on.” Dominic chuckled, maybe at the geography lesson, because anyone could find out about the cliff path by consulting a decent local map, especially somebody so avid. “Can you give me your full address?”
“No. That can be your first job. You’ve got my name and phone number and anything else James handed over. Get on the internet and find out the rest. If that defeats you, then you’re no bloody use as a researcher.” Morgan grinned.
“Actually, he didn’t give me anything else. Name of your house, road, nothing.” Dominic didn’t sound too perturbed. “But I’ll take up the challenge. That letter will be with you by the end of the week. Thanks.”
“No problem—” The click at the end of the line cut off Morgan midsentence. He considered the empty mug in his hand—he’d never got that top up—and shook his head. What the hell had all that been about? And what was he going to do if a letter actually came?
* * * * * * *
A letter arrived two days later, an elegant white envelope clattering through the letterbox alongside a charity catalogue, a bill, and an advert from the bank.
Mr. M Capell
The postcode wasn’t quite right, but it was close enough, although the postmark was so smudged it could have come from Outer Mongolia. Probably a circular, although it was unusual to get a handwritten one, and who the hell was writing to him with what appeared to be a genuine fountain pen?
James had always complained about Morgan’s habit of leaving the most interesting letters until last and making a song and dance about trying to work out who had sent them. He’d have ripped the thing open and put everyone out of their misery.
You bloody idiot. How could Morgan be so dumb? This had to be from . . . what was his name? Derek? Dominic? Dominic.
The memory stopped him in his tracks, all inclination to open the thing suddenly gone. Morgan had never supposed the bloke was going to follow up his interest in the wreck of the Troilus. He debated screwing up the whole lot, letter and envelope and all, sticking it in the bin, and forgetting about it, but that wasn’t really an option anymore, was it? He’d asked Dominic to do the research and since Dominic had come up with the goods, then he had to do his part of the bargain and at least give him a chance.
He looked at the address again, wondering how easy it had been to find him. Maybe Dominic had bypassed the research stage and gone straight to James? Morgan hoped that wasn’t the case; the sooner he could get any vestige of that miserable bastard out of his life, the better. Probably the fact he’d answered that original phone call with the name of his business had made the challenge too easy.
He bit the bullet, took out the letter, and read.
Dear Mr. Capell,
I’m assuming my search for an address has led me to the right place, although you never can be sure with the internet. If it hasn’t, and some kind soul hasn’t realised my mistake and passed this on, I suppose you’ll never know.
Despite the sick feeling in his stomach, Morgan grinned. Dominic seemed to have fallen straight out of a BBC sitcom, with his self-deprecation, apologetic tone, and unusual turn of phrase. Morgan put the letter down and poured a coffee; if this was a torture to be endured, then it should be as comfortable a torture as possible.
I studied history at Durham and now, for my sins, I’ve converted to accountancy. A sensible career choice for someone who wants to have plenty of resources, not the least of them time, to pursue his hobby. By which I mean nautical research, specifically related to my family. I’m not certain how to convince you of my authenticity on that point, as I’ve yet to have anything published, although I enclose a copy (of a copy!) of part of Troilus’s muster from 1793, the year before she sank. This is the nearest to “papers” I can produce.
This time Morgan laughed aloud. Surely Dominic wasn’t this formal in person? Rather than the ripped bloke he’d visualised James trying to impress, he now pictured a bespectacled, bookish guy in clothes that had gone out of fashion ten years previously, waving his hands about as he spoke.
I hope that you’ll treat my request seriously. I don’t want to come and gawp at your house, like a photographer for the tabloids. My intention would simply be to take photos of the beams. (Do they have any carpenters’ marks like the ones at Chesapeake Mill? In that case I’d like to take the equivalent of a brass rubbing, if that’s convenient.)
However unpleasant this might prove, Morgan felt duty bound to invite Dominic over. Had his mum still been well enough to advise him, she’d have insisted there were no reasonable grounds for refusal. He resumed reading.
I’ll be investigating the Porthkennack area, obviously; I believe there are some sailors’ graves in a local churchyard. It seems the locals did better than the inhabitants of the Scilly Isles did by Cloudesley Shovell. Still, I suppose the Cornish have always been on the respectable side.
Morgan snorted with laughter. Respectable? Dominic must have had his tongue stuffed well and truly in his cheek. Why not indulge him? Why not have a “be kind to a nerd day”?
“You never used to be so cruel.” His mother’s remembered voice resounded in his mind with one of the last things she’d said to him before she’d moved into the home. “Not before you took up with James.”
And she’d been right, although he’d not admitted that until now; he used to be a better man than this. He returned to the letter with a kinder eye. I’d like to take pictures of the surrounding area; if you have any specialised knowledge of the local wrecks, or could refer me to anyone who does, I’d be extremely grateful. There is a family connection to all this, as I said, but I’d rather explain that face-to-face.
Now, have I passed your test? If the answer is yes, please write to me at the address given above. If not, I shall still visit the area, but I promise not to come and make a nuisance of myself.
Morgan had to read the letter again, for amusement. Even if Dominic hadn’t satisfied him with his obviously genuine enthusiasm for his subject, the communication in itself would have won him over. It was like slipping into a time warp and finding yourself getting a letter from somebody straight out of P.G. Wodehouse. Mind you, that’s what James used to say about me. He probably meant it as a compliment at first, but the appeal soon died.
Maybe Dominic would appreciate that part of Morgan’s character; it was as good a reason as any for meeting him.
What if it means thinking about the Troilus again? You should put yourself first. You know what the thought of that wreck does to you.
Unease crept up his spine like an icy hand as he reread the letter, Dominic’s enthusiasm for the wreck shining through, but Morgan couldn’t spend his entire life avoiding the subject. If it wasn’t Dominic, it would be someone else talking about Troilus; Morgan had to deal with it. He got nightmares about the ship going down, that was all.
All? Since the first time he’d had the dream as a teenager, it had come back with startling regularity, like an old film that’s never off the television. To talk to Dominic about the shipwreck was to risk the dream returning when he’d kept it at bay for so long, but he had no choice now; the gauntlet he’d thrown down had been picked up again pretty speedily. He’d invite him down for the first May bank holiday weekend, as that would at least give them both a few days to prepare. He couldn’t believe he’d be lucky enough to find that Dominic would already have plans and they’d have to push the date back further.
Dominic not having provided a phone number, Morgan posted a reply the next day, afraid that if he delayed too long, he’d be tempted to rip the bloody letter up and simply hope that Dominic and his research went away. Ingrained values wouldn’t let him be so gung-ho—his mother would have killed him for such rudeness, back in the days when things like proper manners still mattered to her. He had to reply and expect a prompt response, given that Dominic, despite his slightly odd and old-fashioned style, seemed pretty determined.
For all Morgan’s perceptiveness about Dominic’s resolve, the swiftness of the bloke’s reply hitting the front door mat at Cadoc still surprised him. There had to have been an unprecedented juxtaposition of vans and trains and postmen to have turned the correspondence around so quickly.
Morgan didn’t dilly-dally about opening the envelope this time, nor did he need a crystal ball to predict that the answer would be a resounding Yes, please.
He’d been right about having to face things sooner rather than later. No matter how much he tried to slip out of Troilus’s grasp, she seemed determined to pin him down.Chapter Two
The first Saturday in May brought a mellowing of the weather. May Day weekend had obviously decided to put on a show, with sunshine predicted as far as the BBC’s weather forecasters dared to go and, for once, it appeared they’d got it right. Morgan had spent a few hours in the garden on Friday evening, tidying up the last of the spring flowers in the semi-wild border and encouraging the early bedding to get itself established.
Saturday morning, Morgan decided to tidy the house. He might only be having Dominic as his guest once, but Mum would have insisted Dominic see Cadoc at its best. The beams got a thorough going over with a feather duster, surprising some of the spiders which had taken up residence, and the whole place—never really that dirty or untidy—shone like a new pin. It was good to have something, or somebody, to spruce the house up for; it had been too long since Morgan had done any entertaining.
When Morgan had his music on loud, the doorbell tended to be drowned out, so he’d resisted any temptation to have the hi-fi on this morning. He’d given Dominic clear directions to the house, Cadoc being tucked away at the end of a little Cornish lane, parts of which appeared to be almost impassable to the untrained eye. The scan of the map which he’d tucked in the envelope would prove more reliable to Dominic than anything he could download from Google.
He couldn’t help feeling sorry for the bloke. Poor, fanatical thing, getting excited over half a dozen lumps of wood.
You’re doing it again.
Catching himself thinking as James might have thought sparked off a bout of guilt which, in turn, produced a resolution to make his guest a pot of really good coffee. He’d also planned a lunch of soup, sandwiches, and a plate of Waitrose biscuits, from when he’d stocked up.
Late morning, the doorbell went off with its horribly insistent tone. Morgan smoothed his hair and put on a smile—the best smile he could manage on a day when he’d woken at five o’clock in the morning and not managed to get back to sleep. The fact his waking had interrupted an erotic dream involving James hadn’t made things any easier.
He was bloody glad he’d made some effort on his appearance when he glimpsed the vision of hotness through the hall window. This had to be a lost surfer boy or someone who’d come to the coast to find himself a job as a lifeguard and got hopelessly off track. It couldn’t be Dominic, because blokes like this didn’t usually knock on the door of Cadoc for any legitimate reason.
Morgan hesitated, hand on the doorknob. If real life was like a gay romance book, this would be Dominic and they’d bond over a discussion of James, one full of shared hatred for the bloke. The next minute they’d be taking a romantic walk on the beach, and maybe tonight they’d drag each other up the stairs and . . .
The doorbell rang again, and Morgan realised he was still standing fantasising. He opened the door in a rush just as “surfer boy who might be Dominic” had turned to go back down the path.
“Sorry I took so long,” Morgan said, as brightly as he could manage.
“I thought there was nobody in.” Surfer Boy smiled, which reignited memories of last night’s dream. Morgan squirmed. “There’s a guy here to see you, only he’s gone off to take some pictures, and he asked me to come over and say he’d arrived.” Surfer Boy waved airily at a bright-red hire car, parked next to the gate.
“Are you a friend of his?” Surely this couldn’t be Dominic’s boyfriend, although his twin brother would be a good outcome.
“No. We met on the plane, and when he heard where I was heading, he said he’d give me a lift so I didn’t have to wait for a bus. My girlfriend lives up on the main road.” Surfer Boy grinned, looking stupidly handsome, more so for being unavailable. “Stroke of luck on my part. Eh?”
“It worked out well.” Morgan sighed as he scanned the line of the hedge. “Has your chauffeur gone walkabout?”
“Probably. He seems a bit of a fanatic; he’s got a bee in his bonnet about ships or timbers or whatever. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. I bet he’s seen an interesting piece of wood and gone to take a sample or whatever.” Surfer Boy—straight, unavailable surfer boy—smiled again, then adjusted his backpack. “Right. Unless I want a dose of earache, I’d better be on my way. Bye.” He turned on his heels and walked off down the path towards the gate, duty done.
“Bye,” Morgan answered, watching him go and wondering why life was never like gay romance books.
There was still no sign of the elusive Dominic. Maybe he’d fallen down a rabbit hole or over the cliff? Morgan stood on the doorstep contemplating this for a good minute before he twigged it was a real, and not very amusing, possibility. People did go arse over tip at the end of the lane, unless they realised in time that they needed to slow down and make a sharp left to carry on along the coastal path, which had been meandering inland. And if the terrain was slippery with mud or they went too far arse over tip, then they’d end up right by the cliff edge, if not over it.
Morgan didn’t quite break into a run, but he made it through his garden, out of the gate, and into the road at a lick. He didn’t want to seem to be in a panic, especially if he ran into his guest a short stretch down the lane; there was a limit to how much of a plonker even he was prepared to appear. There was no sight of the bloke anywhere this side of the cliff path, and no sound of him either. Morgan picked up his pace, although he didn’t call out. It wasn’t simply a case of saving face—if Dominic, or anyone else come to that, was too near the edge, the shock of a sudden noise could be enough to make them start.
He’d reached the end of the lane, where the hedges stopped and the path turned through its sharp angle, when he saw a lanky figure, camera in hand but not to eye, peering out over the sea. If this was Dominic, at least he had the sense not to position himself right at the edge, especially as he looked like a hefty gust of wind might well blow him off his feet. Quite a contrast to the surfer boy he’d sent to pass on his message.
“Dominic Watson?” Morgan waved, then came closer, appraising his guest with every step, and trying to hide his disappointment.
“That’s me. You must be Morgan.” Dominic held out his hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t come directly to the house. I wanted to see the place.”
“No problem. I got your message.” Morgan resisted all temptation to say and I approve of your choice of messenger. He knew nothing about Dominic apart from the enthusiasm for ships. It could be the bloke was rabidly homophobic, his meeting with James notwithstanding—the rat sometimes talked to straight blokes, and not just about business, especially if he thought he had a chance of temporarily converting them.
“That would be Tim. Note I didn’t add ‘nice but dim,’ although I admit I thought it.” Dominic grinned. “I met him on the plane from Gatwick. Lovely lad, but hardly the sharpest pencil in the box. I’m glad he managed to find the right house.”
“I’ll take your word for his mental faculties.” He wouldn’t mention his appearance. Morgan smiled, staring out towards the Devil’s Anvil, although he didn’t mention the rocks, either. Nor the wreck. The Anvil wore its harmless face now, barely other than a gentle hog’s back of stone breaking the waves. Come low tide, the needles of rock—widow-makers, each one of them—wouldn’t be quite so inviting. No wonder they’d stationed the local lifeboat nearby. “We’ve laid on lovely weather for you, anyway. It was thick with fog yesterday. It said on the radio that they’d had to shut the airport.”
“So I heard. I’ve been keeping an eye on the website, was worried sick I wouldn’t be able to get here. Even thought about tackling the A303 and driving down with all the world and his wife and kids.” Dominic grimaced. “Glad I didn’t have to. Nobody wants to risk getting stuck in a twenty-mile tailback over Salisbury Plain. Still, that would be better than if you lived on Jersey and they shut the airport. Then I’d have to take a boat.”
“You’re not a good sailor?”
“You can say that again. I feel sick on the Thames.” Dominic’s grimace turned to a grin. “Come to think of it, I feel sick on the boating lake at the park.”
Morgan studied him, sideways on. Now he’d got the image of Tim out of his mind and overcome his initial disappointment, it was clear he’d done Dominic a disservice. He must have been the right side of thirty, and wasn’t a bad-looking bloke, in a “tenth Doctor Who” sort of way. Built for speed rather than comfort, all angular edges. It wouldn’t be too much of a burden to entertain him for an hour or two. “So what makes you so keen on ships if you can’t bear travelling on them?”
Dominic gestured vaguely out to sea. “Haven’t you read any of the Hornblower stories? He was sick at Spithead but it didn’t stop him becoming an admiral.”
“I have read them. Some, anyway. And seeing as you don’t seem to be in the navy, then you’ve not really answered my question.”
“Guilty as charged.” Dominic made a naval salute. “I have to get my nautical thrills secondhand. I’ve always been fascinated with the Age of Sail, from the day my parents took me to see Victory. I fell in love with her.”
They both gazed out over the sea again, where a pleasure boat had rounded the tip of the headland, speeding off in search of dolphins or puffins or some other wildlife to observe; despite its smooth, elegant contours, it couldn’t compare to a ship of the line. Perhaps in Dominic’s mind’s eye he’d a vision of masts and sails and running out the great guns.
“I soon discovered I’d never be able to handle anything more maritime than a sand yacht, so I had to immerse myself in the history. The real-life stories.” He turned back, eyes ablaze with enthusiasm. “Occasionally I hope I’ll wake up one morning and find myself transported off somewhere through space and time.”
Morgan took a deep breath. “Sounds like Doctor Who and his TARDIS,” he replied, wishing he could be brave enough to say, you wouldn’t want that in reality, believe me.
“A TARDIS would be fine so long as I could opt out of meeting the Daleks. They scare me stiff. And I don’t want to discover other worlds. There’s enough here to keep me happy.”
“I suppose landing up in the middies’ mess on the Victory would feel like being on Mars.” Morgan grinned. Dominic was exactly what he’d expected: priceless. “And if you did fetch up there, wouldn’t you be plastering it with the contents of your stomach?”
“Probably. But in my imagination I don’t have seasickness— that’s the beauty of daydreams. Right.” Dominic rubbed his hands together. “Would it be rude of me to ask if I can come and see those roof beams while the light’s still as good as this?”
“Not rude at all. Isn’t that exactly what you came here for?” Morgan pointed towards the house. “Come on. I’ve got a bite of lunch ready for us.”
“It gets better and better.” Dominic slipped into step alongside Morgan. “I’ve not had anything since an early breakfast. Too excited. What my mother used to call butterflies in the stomach.”
“I hope they’ve fluttered off enough for you to get your chops around some soup and sandwiches. There’s coffee going too.” Tim the surfer boy might have been offered a slab of chocolate cake. Among other things, if he’d been inclined and this had been that bloody romance book.
“There’s always room for soup and sandwiches. Is it homemade? The soup, I mean?” Dominic smiled. He had a pleasant, lopsided smile that transformed his everyday type of face into something downright handsome. If Morgan could think of enough things to keep the bloke smiling, then the next few hours could be enjoyable.
“I’m afraid it isn’t. Waitrose fresh packed, so at least it’s not from a tin.” Morgan opened the gate to his garden. “I did make the sandwiches myself. Here, come and see this. It’s supposed to be from the wreck—part of the ballast.” Funny how he’d almost forgotten about the ballast stone, although he passed by it almost every day. It was part of the wallpaper for him now, too familiar for special notice.
They positioned themselves either side of a large boulder that might once have been a bit of carved Bath stone or similar material.
“Blimey. Where was it found?” Dominic walked around the stone, then knelt down to explore it, tracing his fingers along each line and crevice.
“On the beach, about a week after the ship was lost, or so the family story goes, after an even fiercer storm than the one which took her down. It was found by my no-idea-how-many-greats-grandfather.” Morgan nodded. “You can take pictures of it, if you want, but I can’t vouch one hundred percent for its provenance. For all I know it was simply a case of my grandmother making up things to entertain us. She told a cracking story.”
“‘Us’?” Dominic had his camera out and was taking a stream of snaps, from every angle, in full sunlight and in the meagre shade of his own figure.
“My brother Eddie and I, when we were boys.”
“Does he still live here?”
“Good God, no. Porthkennack’s far too small and provincial for him. He’s in the City, making a mint.” Morgan shuddered—the prickling resentment he felt over Eddie must be coming over good and strong.
“He’s mad, then.” Dominic stood up, putting away his camera and scanning the view. “I’d give my eyeteeth to live here; big improvement on Surrey. Would have done since I was a child and arsed around with a net in the rock pools. We came and stayed along this coast every year.”
“Is that where your particular interest in Troilus comes from? Running across the story of the ship when on holiday?” Things were starting to make sense. Morgan could imagine this strange young man as a strange little boy, poking about in the tourist shops, finding one of the many slim, self-published books aimed at the visiting trade. Sitting in his deckchair reading, fascinated, about the wrecks Cornwall had seen. The thought of a serious young Dominic poring through texts in the local library was oddly endearing.
“In a way. I can’t deny it’s important she’s connected to a place I’ve always loved.” Dominic sighed. “I didn’t know about the ship when I holidayed here, though. I wish I had—I could have found out further information about her. But when I started to research the wreck, facts about this particular ship rang a bell. I played on that beach down in the cove.” He grinned. “It was always a treat—my parents said it was our special place.”
“Lots of people stumble across that beach and think it’s their own.”
“I can imagine. Like stumbling across a piece of paradise. We always had it to ourselves, though.”
“That’s the benefit of a steep path. It stops all but the hardiest tourists. Come on, you need to see the beams.” They headed through the garden.
“I love these old houses.” Dominic looked up with clear envy at the gabled windows. “Have you always lived here?”
“Pretty well all my life except when I was at university and just after. Intend to stay here too.” Despite the sunshine, Morgan felt suddenly cold. That was what his mother had always hoped, that she’d live to a ripe old age in the house she’d come to as a bride; nowhere in the plan had there been room for seeing out her days in a nursing home. He quickened his pace, until they reached the front door.
“Then you’re a lucky man.” Dominic hovered, despite Morgan having opened the door and waved him inside. “Shoes off?”
“Do you want me to take my shoes off? So many people these days don’t want their carpets trodden on.”
“Blimey, no.” Morgan ran his hands through his hair. “Really? How bloody rude.”
“That’s what I think. Okay if it’s part of your culture, but I hate it when possessions take precedence over people.” Still, Dominic carefully wiped his shoes on the doormat. He glanced around the hallway. “It’s exactly how I imagined it would be from the outside. We used to rent a house similar to this when we were on holiday. There were half a dozen of us by the time Aunty Mary dragged her brood along, so we needed all the space we could get.”
There was probably a story to be told about that, given the exasperation in Dominic’s voice at the mention of Aunty Mary, but they wouldn’t go there now. Maybe if Dominic was staying in the area for a few days, they could meet up over a pint and talk about old times. And was that the lingering influence of Tim the surfer boy, getting Morgan’s hormones going?
Welcome to Porthkennack, a charming Cornish seaside town with a long and sometimes sinister history. Legend says King Arthur’s Black Knight built the fort on the headland here, and it’s a certainty that the town was founded on the proceeds of smuggling, piracy on the high seas, and the deliberate wrecking of cargo ships on the rocky shore. Nowadays it draws in the tourists with sunshine and surfing, but locals know that the ghosts of its Gothic past are never far below the surface.
This collaborative story world is brought to you by five award-winning, best-selling British LGBTQ romance authors: Alex Beecroft, Joanna Chambers, Charlie Cochrane, Garrett Leigh, and JL Merrow. Follow Porthkennack and its inhabitants through the centuries and through the full rainbow spectrum with historical and contemporary stand-alone titles.
As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR and Cheyenne.
Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series of Edwardian romantic mysteries was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet for readers/writers of GLBT fiction. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.