The Wages of Sin
Now re-released in a Kindle exclusive for the next 90 days. (After which it will also be available from Kobo and Smashwords.)
Review for The Wages of Sin from Jessewave:
If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it…. an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.
Review from Dear Author
Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.
Charles wrapped his arms around himself and chafed his biceps to get some warmth into them. Cold radiated out from the marrow of his bones, nestled in his heart like a shard of ice. But the old felted blanket around him glowed in the lantern light with blue, yellow and red stripes, speckled with dog hair. He basked in wet dog and horse smell; brass polish, leather wax, and Floyd’s orange-flower-water cologne. These things and the terror that had passed could not exist in the same world, surely?
“A cloud,” he said, in a reedy, shocked voice. “There was a cloud. A black cloud. It… it rushed at me, and….”
“Most probably the dust cloud from the landau, sir.” Sam spoke over his shoulder as he flicked the whip encouragingly above Jewel’s ears.
“Yes, that would account for it. Undoubtedly why we neither of us saw the other coming.” Floyd nodded, fished out a handkerchief and wiped his cheeks and forehead with fingers only a little less unsteady than Charles’. “You, um. You fell upon your head, sir. And, mm, if my nose doesn’t guide me wrongly, had already imbibed a fair amount of… mm, conviviality. No doubt you are also distressed about your father. I think we need look no further for the cause of a temporary, understandable, overturning of the wits.”
“That’s not how it…” Charles clutched the blanket more closely, trapped a pawprint between his knee and the seat. The dried mud flaked off and scattered to the floor, and a convulsive choke of disgust forced its way out of him at the patter of falling soil. He smeared it underfoot, looked down blankly for a moment before the words finally penetrated his understanding.
The landau swayed like a pinnace as it swept through the great curve before the marble steps of the portico. Lights now glimmered in the hall, and as they drew up George flung open the door. His candle showed a white, sickened face, its distinguished lines set in strain.
“My father?” Charles rose to his feet, holding tight to the calash of the landau as it sprayed gravel with the speed of its stop. A fist of dread tightened beneath his breastbone and the waves of shivering returned full force. “What’s wrong with…?”
George ran down the stairs. The light shone on his open shirt and bare feet as his scarlet silk banyan trailed behind him. His uncovered hair shone silver-gilt, exposed. It was the first time in years Charles had seen his brother so careless of his appearance, and his wild unconscious beauty added a new terror to the night.
Flinging down his candle, George caught Dr. Floyd as he bent to retrieve his bag and hauled him bodily out onto the grass. Floyd raised an eyebrow at the treatment, while George in turn gaped at the sight of Charles leaping down beside him.
“Oh I do have a brother then? No, say nothing, this isn’t the time. You’d best come too.”
Charles followed his brother’s impatient strides past the stone pineapples on the sweep of white stairs. Their footsteps echoed and re-echoed like vollies of rifle-fire against the chequered black and white limestone of the entrance hall. A candelabrum set on a table within lit Doric pillars and the portraits of his ancestors with a bubble of amber light around which the darkness brooded. The door up from the kitchen stood partially open. Blurs of white faces, above white shifts, showed ghostlike in the crack.
On the landing, George’s valet Sykes stood waiting with a candlestick in his hand, his cravat lopsided and his chin shadowed by an aggressive growth of black stubble. Another twist in the garrotte of fear about Charles’ throat. They were normally both of them so impeccable. “George! What’s…?”
“Just,” George flung up a hand, “be quiet.” He took the candle and whispered to Sykes. “Stand outside the door. Mrs. Latham’s rest is not to be disturbed under any circumstances. Should Elizabeth wake, you may inform her, but you will not permit her to come in.”
Down the passage, their feet silent now on the runner of blue and white carpet. Outside the windows at either end of the passage, the night pressed inwards. As they stopped outside his father’s room, George dropped a hand to the doorknob and bent that exposed, vulnerable head. “I feel I ought to warn you. It isn’t… Ah. Well. See for yourself.”
Candlelight caught the cream and gold plastered walls, glittered like the ends of pins in the tassels of the bed-curtains and the gold embroidered comforter that lay in a kicked off crumple against the claw-footed legs of the bed. The fire had been made and burned clear yellow in the grate.
Soberly, imagination finally at bay, Charles did what his soldier ancestors would have expected of him. He walked forward into the line of fire, looked down.
Ambrose Latham, Earl of Clitheroe, lay on his back in his nightgown, his limbs fettered by the sheets, his swollen face purple. His open mouth brimmed with vomit. Across his nose, lips and chin the mark of a woman’s hand stood out in livid white. His nostrils were stopped with earth.
“What is he doing here?” The clock on the mantle struck quarter past six as Elizabeth gestured with her loaded fork. No doubt, Charles thought, his head throbbing, and the side of his face stinging in counterpoint, her advanced state of pregnancy excused the fact that she was still capable of eating. He wished she would do it somewhere else.
Dragging his eyes from the drop of brown grease that trembled on the end of the bacon, he looked where she pointed. The vague sense he had had all night that there were too many presences in the house – a pair of shoes outside a normally unoccupied door, an unexpected number of plates on the sideboard for this impromptu family breakfast, coalesced into a stranger at their table.
He wore the bob wig of a clergyman and a clergyman’s black woollen coat. The jet buttons of his cuff glittered, and beneath the stark white powder of his wig, his wing-like brows were just as black. The fan of black eyelashes hiding downcast eyes, and the diffident bend of his neck, could not disguise an angular, almost Spanish beauty; bold high cheekbones and a sullen, dangerous mouth.
“He’s here as my guest.” George was once more the picture of manly perfection in a suit of emerald silk, but the stick pin in his cravat clashed with his waistcoat, and the lines of strain in his face scored deeper by the hour. Charles swallowed, looked away, conscious that for the first time, George had begun to resemble their father.
“He’s father’s enemy. Always has been.” Elizabeth’s white makeup showed cracks and streaks in a dozen places, her handsome face puffy from weeping and her eyes bloodshot. Close to her confinement and with her husband absent at the head of his regiment in Scotland, she had returned home to be coddled with all the attentiveness an expectant grandfather could bestow. And she had always been Clitheroe’s favourite.
Charles honoured her for her grief. Despised himself for being unable to echo it.
Outside the tall windows, dawn had barely begun to break. Autumnal rain lashed the panes, rolled in silver beads down each black lozenge. Within the house a melancholy procession of servants passed the door of the morning room; Geoffreys, his father’s valet, with an arm full of neatly folded sheets, Cook with jug, basin and towel, and her two daughters following, a can of hot water carried between them. He took another cup of coffee, for the hangover, and looked back.
The stranger’s head still bent over the table. He dipped his spoon, ate a mouthful of porridge and the gesture brought his face even further into shadow.
“Melodramatic nonsense!” George speared a devilled kidney and thrust it onto his plate. “Father doesn’t have any enemies.”
Elizabeth gave a harsh laugh, honey-blonde ringlets bobbing with incongruous cheer beside her jaw. “In case you haven’t noticed, brother, our father is lying dead upstairs. He must have had one enemy, don’t you think? And now we’re eating breakfast with the prime candidate? That’s taking politeness a little too far.”
The scrape of a chair. The stranger made to rise and George caught him by the wrist, pressed his arm to the table, restraining him.
At the sight of the stranger’s hand, lying as if cut off by the black cuff, the picture of his father’s dead face flashed before Charles’ inner eye. He too recoiled, struggling to his feet, running to the window, trying to escape it.
“This is not the time for unfounded, hysterical accusations. Really, Elizabeth if your condition did not excuse you I should have to accuse you of running mad. Now please keep your voice down. This is the last thing Emma needs!”
By some dint of magic, the stranger had continued his retreat, withdrawing his presence, leaving his body like an old table that sits unnoticed in the corner of a room. But Charles was tired of trying to see his face, being thwarted. “Won’t someone introduce us?”
George laughed with surprise. “Don’t be a goose! You remember Jasper. Admiral Vane’s ward. We grew up together.”
Since it was impossible to say ‘no’, Charles leaned back against the window and let the chill of the rain seep across his shoulders. “By reputation only,” he said, and watched as Jasper’s stubborn chin raised half an inch and his mouth curved in a little bitter smile. “You forget, George; my earliest memory is of waving goodbye as you left for Cambridge. I’m afraid I have no recollection of you at all, Mr Marin. Except, as I say, by anecdote.”
At last, with slow grace like the turn of a minuet, Jasper looked up. His eyes, in the broadening light, were sherry coloured – a light, clear brown almost with a tint of red. Had there been room, Charles might have stepped backwards. A jolt of something very like fear went through him. How could he have mistaken the man’s invisibility for meekness? It had been all along the quiet of a tiger lying in wait in the long grass. Elizabeth’s accusation no longer seemed so laughable.
“Then I wish we could have met again in happier circumstances.”
Two heartbeats. Charles had time to wonder if this was some new manner of the same paralysis that had come on him last night; time’s normal flow suspended. Then the morning room door swung open and Dr. Floyd came in. The scene moved and flowed once more as George rose to pull out a seat for him, and Elizabeth called for fresh coffee.