The Courtship of Julian St. Albans
The Courtship of Julian St. Albans is part gay romance, part murder mystery, part urban fantasy, and a whole lot of food porn. The culture is a mix of old traditions and modern technology, in a world where magic charms and cell phones are used side by side. Society’s elite wear waistcoats and cravats while conducting an elaborate courtship ritual — one set in motion by murder.
It’s pretty cool having a book with your name on it on your bookshelf, I have to admit. I had to write all the back cover copy myself, and I drew Horace to grace the cover (he’s my favorite character, ssh, don’t tell).
There’s a sequel! The Apprenticeship of Julian St. Albans is up on Amazon, and you can click that link to see a sample of what the world looks like from Julian’s point of view.
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If it’s for a gift, please do it a few weeks in advance; I have to order copies and sign them to send to you.
The Official Description
Alexander Benedict is a misanthropic thirtysomething magical consultant, working with the Agency’s top homicide detective, and perfectly content with his life, thank you very much.
Julian St. Albans is the youthful heir to his family’s fortune and affiancéd to his beloved Cecil Mandeville, a family friend as well as Julian’s lover.
When Mandeville is murdered using magical means, Alex is brought in on the case. It’s the worst day of Julian’s life, but until they meet, it’s just another case for Alex. Neither of them have any idea how their lives are about to change.
Alex has to disentangle the magical threads until he can catch the murderer, and to do that he has to put himself right in the thick of things. His long-denied family connections get him invited to participate in Julian’s Courtship as a Suitor, where he can observe the suspects firsthand. He just has to stay alive long enough to figure out which of the competition thinks Julian is a prize worth killing for.
Want a sample chapter?
You know you do. Or you can just go buy the whole thing on Amazon, if you like. I don’t mind.
In Which We Meet Our Hero and a Corpse, and the Story Begins
Alexander Benedict was not a man who dealt easily with fools, and since he considered nearly everyone he met to be his magical and intellectual inferior, he found social interaction very trying indeed. He took a deep breath, then tried again. “What reason do you have to believe that the murder was committed through magical means?” he asked the man at the other end of the phone, an agent who’d wheedled his number from the department secretary. He vastly preferred his usual contact within the department, Agent Lapointe.
“We’re not certain how the murder was committed,” said the agent again, furthering Alex’s frustration.
“Then why do you think your superiors would be willing to sign off on my exorbitant fees?” snapped Alex, tired of this farce of politeness.
“Because of the victim. Or, well, the victim’s circumstances,” said the agent. “Lots of pressure is being put to bear, and I’ve heard that sometimes you can figure things out even if it’s not magic.”
“Fine,” said Alex shortly, cutting him off. “Fine, but I want Lapointe. None of this… None of you. I only work with her.” Murielle Lapointe took care never to waste his time with inane and irrelevant prattle.
He tried not to enjoy the affronted silence on the other end of the line too much, but it was difficult. “I will speak to my superior about you both, then,” the agent said, and hung up without bothering to say goodbye.
“Why am I here?” asked Alex, looking around the well-appointed parlour with its well-appointed corpse. The posh surroundings seemed to make most of the agents uncomfortable, but Alex had grown up among such things, and having given them up voluntarily took away their power to intimidate.
After all, no matter how much they had cost, the objets d’art in the room had done no good for the victim, one Cecil Mandeville. The body that had once contained Cecil lay sprawled in the middle of the room, the limbs at uncomfortable angles like a doll that had been tossed carelessly aside.
Lapointe chuckled. “We’re both here because Julian St. Albans was supposed to take Mr. Mandeville here for his bonded consort next week.” That was a name even Alex recognised, despite being long past the point where he followed the ebb and flow of power among the elite, and suddenly everything clicked into place.
“There had to have been magic involved, then,” he said, setting his bag down and crouching beside it, taking out the unbleached cotton gloves he wore in lieu of power-dampening latex and slipping them on. “I’ll take a look.”
“I knew you would,” said Lapointe. “Smedley’s pretty ticked that you wouldn’t work with him, you know.”
“But you’re happy to be assigned to this case,” said Alex confidently, extracting a small metal tuning fork and striking it against his palm to produce the softest of tones. “Smedley’s an idiot.”
Lapointe didn’t dignify that with a response, well accustomed by now to Alex’s ways. Once the tuning fork was struck, it was no use talking to him; he was using his ears in an entirely different way and voices became so much background noise.
In this room, the discordant hum of malevolent magic was much louder.
Alex walked carefully around the perimeter of the room, then circled closer and closer onto the source of the not-sound that set his teeth on edge, unsurprised when this also brought him closer to the body. Cecil Mandeville had been a handsome man in life, but death had given him a slack, unpleasant pallor that stole away all but a hint of those good looks. He was impeccably dressed, the clothing just as disheveled as the body wearing it but of very good quality.
The tone from the tuning fork began to break up, stuttering eerily whenever it got too close to the magical residue surrounding the body. Acting on instinct honed by years of experience, Alex opened the man’s shirt to reveal a silver amulet that looked, at first glance, like a very expensive protection charm. Alex stilled the tuning fork in his glove and his ears popped as he stood, normal sound flooding in to replace the magical.
“It was this,” said Alex, pointing, careful not to touch it, even gloved. “He’ll have received it as a gift in the past few days, from someone he trusts.”
Lapointe looked quite pleased. “The coroner will have to confirm, of course, he’s waiting outside.”
Alex took one last glance around the room. “The body’s all his. I need to see Mandeville’s rooms.”
“How did you know he’s got rooms here?” asked Smedley, crowding past Lapointe in advance of the coroner.
Lapointe stepped to one side for the gurney to pass, but declined to comment, waiting to see how Alex handled Smedley with a tiny smile lurking around the corners of her mouth.
“It’s obvious,” said Alex, not bothering to note all the details that pointed to it, from the shoes that would only be worn inside to the slight dampness of the hair that showed he’d just showered.
“Come on,” said Lapointe, leading him toward the hallway, “the butler will know where Mandeville’s rooms are. We’ll have to get the crime scene people in there, anyway.”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question,” said a very cultured voice from just outside. “Master St. Albans is sequestered in that wing of the house for mourning, and won’t open it up until the Courtship begins.” They stepped out into the hall and came face-to-face with a tall, dark-haired man dressed in the manner of imposing butlers everywhere, glaring down his long nose at everyone and everything disrupting his domain.
“He’s doing a formal Courtship?” asked Alex, finally interested. A Courtship’s precise dance of manners and intrigue had always fascinated him, though they were out of fashion except among the very highest of society. It was expensive and time-consuming to host one, not to mention the necessity of housing all the hopefuls for the latter portion. But the process itself was one that Alex had always wanted to observe, putting thirteen men to the same tasks and seeing how each differentiated himself in order to move on to the next round and do it all over again.
The butler looked unimpressed. “It is what must be done, now that Master Mandeville is no longer with us.”
“We still need to look at Mandeville’s rooms, surely you can see that?” said Lapointe. “There’s bound to be evidence of his murderer in there.”
“I’m pretty sure that the body makes this whole house a crime scene, according to the letter of the law,” said Alex slyly. “I don’t think you want us tromping around without any direction at all, do you?”
Alex could practically hear the man’s teeth grinding before he relented. “This way, sir, madam,” he said instead, leading them down a corridor with all the portraits and mirrors already covered with black mourning cloths.
“Has Mr. St. Albans recently lost another family member?” asked Alex, for once wishing he’d paid more attention to the gossip.
“His parents,” said Lapointe, when the butler ignored him. “It was a terrible accident, while they were away on holiday. That’s why his marriage to Mandeville was moved up to next week, because Julian St. Albans has declared his intention to become a consort and allow his future husband to take the family titles.”
“And now he’s got to have a Courtship, because he can’t take over himself after the formal declaration,” said Alex. “Is it certain the parents’ death was an accident?”
“Nothing is certain at this point, I’d say,” said Lapointe, though Alex could see the butler flinching at the idea of yet another blot on their reputation. Still, the St. Albans name and titles would be enough to draw the cream of society to Julian’s courtship, murder or not.
“I wonder if my brother will participate,” said Alex idly. His older brother Victor was already married as befitted his station but Henry, the younger one, was still single last he knew. His twin sisters had wed young, and of course Alex himself played at being the black sheep.
“Maybe you should give it a go,” said Lapointe, sounding amused. “You’ve got the pedigree, too.”
“Nonsense,” said Alex, though in truth it might be worth it, if he got to observe a few rounds before his inherent personality flaws got him eliminated. “The killer will be, though.” Alex could practically feel the butler’s outrage at the very idea, which amused him enough to keep talking. “Whether or not the parents were a real accident, there’s many a man in society hungry for just the sort of plum that Julian’s set before them. I’m sure there was polite outrage of some sort when his engagement to Mandeville was announced.”
“Master Mandeville has- had been Master Julian’s companion for several years,” said the butler, stopping finally in front of a pair of doors. “That is why he resided here rather than with his own family. The engagement was no surprise to anyone.”
Alex nodded for the butler to step back, digging out another tuning fork, this one a bit larger and louder, before nodding to Lapointe. She, too, was still wearing her gloves from the previous scene, so she opened the door and stood to one side.
“If that will be all?” asked the butler, just as Alex struck the tuning fork against the side of his hand.
He didn’t hear the rest of the exchange, trusting Lapointe to make sure he was undisturbed and everything was handled properly. They hadn’t once had a case thrown out for improper handling despite his own lax manners in that area, because Lapointe kept impeccable paperwork and never let him make off with evidence without first tagging it.
The first thing Alex saw was his own reflection, dim in the uncovered mirror. His face was pale as always with a mop of curly dark hair nearly falling into his eyes, and the godawful early phone call from Smedley showed itself in the dark circles beneath. He was tall and thin, wearing all black except for the gloves, because black things always matched each other and it made his mother work harder to criticise him. He never liked to make it easy for his family, a sort of pathetic revenge for making it so very difficult to be him.
The lights came up, and he blinked and turned away from his face, eyes gone dark with the hum of magic. The light spell itself was a simple one, a tinny melody easily dismissed along with the other household spells — a tea set that would fill, heat and clean itself; carpets spelled to resist staining; privacy charms on the windows to keep out prying eyes. All of these magics made a background harmony that completely obliterated everything but magic for him, so he had to walk carefully in case something outside the network of spells got in his way. He did so hate to trip over people’s unspelled coffee tables, it ruined his concentration and gave Lapointe easy ammunition for teasing later.
The parlour was entirely harmony and nearly devoid of personality as well; Alex had a feeling that very little time was spent there. The next room was a bedroom, full of fading human warmth that matched what little he could discern of Mandeville beneath the amulet. There was another presence here, too, stronger because the person who had given the room its energy was still alive, and Alex deduced that that must be what Julian St. Albans sounded like, to his magic.
He was surprised at how much he liked it.
This room had other, different spells but it was still mostly harmony, a bit of discordance from a pair of ceremonial daggers over the mantel but that was all.
Alex moved on, finding himself in an elaborate dressing room much like the one he’d had as a young man, shoes and clothes and accessories all impeccably kept and perfectly organised for Mandeville to find. Alex felt an echo of the amulet’s dissonance here, and he looked carefully through everything, noting the places that things were missing, and which seemed perpetually empty.
There was a box with four different amulets in it, one of which was far more worn and one of which was missing. “Mandeville chose a different amulet today than his usual protection charm,” mused Alex, fingers brushing over the empty spot and feeling a tingle of evil magic even through his gloves. “But why?”
“We were supposed to go horseback riding,” said a voice, startling Alex into dropping his tuning fork, though its tone had mostly died out already. Alex turned to find a truly lovely young man lurking in the doorway, red-rimmed eyes staring out of delicate, elfin features.
“You must be Julian St. Albans,” said Alex, when he got his voice back. Even in the throes of grief, the young man set Alex’s pulse to racing, from his athletic grace to the shock of freckles across his pale cheeks, and his neatly-trimmed auburn hair. Alex suddenly understood that titles and fortune weren’t the only reasons someone might wish to kill the man who was to possess the St. Albans heir.
“Cecil didn’t like horses much, but I love them, and he was going to choose a mount for himself for riding with me once we were married,” said Julian, as though Alex hadn’t spoken. “He switched amulets so that he’d have more protection in case of a fall.” Julian looked down, but his hair was too short to hide behind, and tears glistened on his cheeks. “I should’nt’ve…”
“Nonsense,” said Lapointe from somewhere in the bedroom. “You did nothing but try to share something you loved with your beloved fiancé. This is entirely the fault of the person who cursed the amulet.”
Alex picked up his tuning fork and tucked it into a pocket, then called out in an even tone, “Murielle, there’s something you should see.”
Lapointe made no comment of his use of her given name, and Alex kept his movements small and slow, feeling out of his depth in the face of Julian’s grief. He pulled a yellowed sheet of paper out of the box, one that had a crude plus sign in the middle and an explanation in each quadrant of what each amulet was designed to protect against.
The most-worn one was protection against the everyday things, coughs and colds and heartbreak, faerie mischief and minor personal injuries. The one that had been either cursed or replaced entirely was supposed to protect against major injury and temperamental animals, clearly designed for the riding set. The others protected against travel-related injury and bad investments, respectively, and while the latter had a bit of shine on it from use, the former was slightly dusty from disuse.
“You two didn’t travel much?” asked Lapointe, slipping the sheet into a clear plastic evidence bag, and then putting the case itself into a larger one, signing and sealing them carefully.
Alex stood to one side and tried not to interfere, now that his part was over. He was still sensitive from his careful perusal of this room, and the broken-edged sound of Julian’s once-joyful warmth grated on his nerves because there was nothing he could do to make it stop.
It annoyed him even more that he wanted to make it stop.
Julian was shaking his head, wiping tears from his cheeks and trying not to look quite as pathetic as he must have felt. “No, we both liked it here. A-and my parents liked to travel, so I let them go and took care of things here instead.”
“That sounds more like the real reason,” said Alex, flushing when the boy turned that sad gaze to him. “That you were doing your familial duty.” Unfortunately, Alex was incapable of stating that phrase without his own disdain for the idea showing through, and Julian flinched and looked hurt.
“I’ve always tried to be a good son, even though I don’t want the titles,” said Julian, chin lifting in defiant pride.
“I’m sure you did as well as you could by them,” said Lapointe soothingly, leading him back out into the little parlour. Alex stayed when they went, then decided to search the bathroom while he had the chance, in case there had been other nasty surprises lying in wait. He had a feeling he hadn’t discovered everything these rooms had to hide yet.
He was deep in his examination of Mandeville’s toiletries when a touch on his arm brought him back to reality. “There’s something going on here,” he said, before Lapointe could speak. “You should have the lot analysed.”
“I will, but it’s time to go, the crime scene guys are here and you know you hate them as much as they hate you,” she said, pulling bags out of her pocked with an expression of amusement. “Go on, I think young Julian’s fled in fear of encountering your insightful sarcasm by now.”
“Once he figures out that I’m a misanthropic, arrogant old queer, he’ll get over it,” said Alex, amused now that the boy was no longer here, looking tragic and lovely.
Lapointe snorted. “You’re not old, you’re barely over thirty,” she said. He noted that she didn’t bother to try to contradict any of the rest.
He knew there was a reason he liked her.
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