Welcome to our first week of celebrations for
Today's post is about the Puddledown Mysteries, with excerpts, plus a list of Kate's favorite things, and a chance to win one of her books!
First up, The Dead Past
The year is 1948, the war is over and the evacuees have gone home, although rationing continues. For Hugo Wainwright, who escaped conscription and never had to fight for his country, very little has changed. He lives a quiet life away from the big cities, knowing his desires for other men will lead to disaster if he ever acts on them.
Tommy Granger spent his service on the battlefields of France. He experienced it all: the bloody horrors of war, and the chaos of Dunkirk. Finding employment as groundskeeper in the woods on the outskirts of Puddledown, he lives in solitude, trying to forget all the terrible things he’s seen.
When Hugo stumbles over a body not far from Tommy’s cabin, both men’s lives change forever. There’s a killer in the woods, and the townsfolk are sure Tommy is the culprit. Can Hugo unmask the murderer and prove the innocence of the man he’s falling for, or are the deadly consequences of Tommy’s past about to catch up to him and separate the two men forever?
The more Hugo learnt about Tommy, the more he found to like about the man. He was surprisingly loquacious for somebody who had chosen to live alone, and Hugo wondered anew what had driven Tommy to such a measure, for he felt certain it was not a path he’d have chosen lightly. Not that Tommy didn’t understand the work he’d been employed to do. He was a creature of nature, at ease in the woods he called his home, and as he spoke of his plans for the spring and summer months, Hugo watched him come alive, his dark eyes shining as he focused on a vision of a better future.
“Yes, I like it here,” Tommy concluded, settling more comfortably against the thickly-padded cushions Aunt Rose had made for the sofa, a gift to Hugo’s mama a year or two before the war.
It was how Hugo measured time—how they all did, these days. Before the war and after, between this war and the last, the halcyon days prior to the First. Odd, that his harmless, unassuming life should be measured by conflict, but there it was. Even Time had fallen victim to the muddy battlefields of France.
“Good,” Hugo said, tipping his empty glass and debating another tot of whisky before bed. He was pleasantly squiffy, the alcohol and the warm fire conspiring to make him drowsy, the deep shadows and flickering amber light cast off by the flames relaxing him until he slumped in his chair, his limbs loose and heavy. “I like having you here,” he mumbled, closing his eyes and beginning to snooze. Tommy lit a match. Hugo heard it strike against the box and catch, filling the air with sweet, pungent smoke when it was extinguished. Cloying tendrils of cigarette smoke drifted over Hugo’s face, caressing his cheek, and he made a contented sound as he moved against the rough pads of Tommy’s warm, calloused fingers. But Tommy was sitting on the sofa... wasn’t he?
“I swore I wouldn’t do this again,” Tommy said softly, his sweet, alcohol-laced breath ghosting over Hugo’s face. “You’re different, ain’t you, Hugo? Tell me you’re different.”
Hugo frowned, aware something was amiss but unwilling to open his eyes and fully investigate. “Different,” he repeated sleepily, focusing on the last word he’d caught. Different... different to what?
Tommy’s hot breath came closer, rushing over Hugo in small gusts as he breathed hard. Hugo heard him swallow, registered he was nervous, and opened his eyes to look straight into Tommy’s black and infinite gaze, before Tommy’s eyelids swept shut and he kissed Hugo gently on the lips.
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Second in the series, The Coward's Way
Two months after the discovery of a murderer in their midst, life for the inhabitants of Puddledown has settled back to normal for everybody except Hugo Wainwright. Having accepted his feelings for groundskeeper Tommy Granger, for Hugo, everything has changed.
Hugo wants nothing more than to make his friend happy, but the voices in his head won't let him. If he can't bring himself to tell Tommy he's having nightmares about the evening the killer came for him, how can he possibly explain the panic he feels every time Tommy tries to take their fledgling relationship further?
When the local Viscount's daughter goes missing after a ball from which Hugo and Tommy were the only guests to leave early, suspicion falls firmly on them. But the police inspector isn't the only one keeping a close eye on the cabin in the woods, and as the net closes, Hugo has a decision to make. Will he be brave, or will he take the coward's way out?
Hugo contented himself with appraising Tommy’s appearance. He was used to seeing his friend in corduroys and wax jacket, his hair jutting out from under his flat cap. Now Tommy was dressed in a black suit similar to Hugo’s own, the cuffs and collar of his shirt a little too stiff, and several shades whiter than the shirt itself. The jacket hugged Tommy’s shoulders and emphasised his slim waist, usually hidden under loose layers of work clothes. His trousers were snug over his hips, the tails of the coat jutting over the contours of his backside, making Hugo’s mouth go dry. Tommy had shaved, his chin free of whiskers and looking baby-soft, and Hugo longed to touch it, to kiss him and feel for himself how different the sensation was without the familiar rasp of stubble. Only Tommy’s hair was its usual, untamed self, although he appeared to have made some effort with water and Brylcreem to bend it to his will.
Hugo smiled, inordinately pleased when he saw the heat in his friend’s eyes as Tommy appraised him in return. He found himself standing a little straighter, sucked in his stomach and hoped Tommy liked what he saw. He’d never been conscious of his appearance before—knew he wasn’t the most dashing man in the town—but he found himself wishing he was, for Tommy’s sake. What would a man like Tommy want with a creature like Hugo? His sandy hair was nondescript. His face was plain, his nose too long, and a lifetime of working behind a desk had left him pale and pasty, with stringy limbs and a small belly no amount of walking seemed to reduce. I look like an accountant, Hugo realised dolefully. And yet, the way Tommy looked at him, Hugo felt like the handsomest man in the room.
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And third in the series, The Poison Pen
All of Puddledown is excitedly preparing for the upcoming wedding of Helena Fairfax, the Viscount’s daughter, to Walter Evans, a farmer’s son. The unlikely love match is the talk of the town, but Hugo Wainwright and Tommy Granger are dealing with a distraction closer to home. Tommy’s family have announced their intention to visit.
Hugo wants nothing more than to impress his friend’s sister and mother, but Tommy’s brother-in-law, the Rev. Daniel Stone, makes it clear from the moment he arrives he has no time for Tommy. Hugo never considered himself a violent man, but Daniel’s constant dismissal of Tommy brings all his protective instincts to the surface.
Then the letters start arriving.
The community is torn apart as malicious notes are pushed through doors all over Puddledown, and when Hugo receives one, Tommy starts to panic. The police have no suspects, so it’s up to Hugo to expose the culprit before the wedding is ruined and Tommy’s family leave, perhaps never to return. Can he solve the mystery, or will the veiled threats of an anonymous stranger drive Hugo and Tommy apart forever?
At suppertime, Hugo declared he was going to make pancakes. Somewhat dubiously, Tommy took a seat at the kitchen table to watch the events unfurl. Hugo found a heavy skillet in the cupboard beside the sink and placed it atop the small stove to heat while he cracked eggs and used a fork to whisk them in a pan with flour, butter, and milk.
“Ain’t you supposed to put salt in there?” Tommy asked, peering at the mix: a congealed combination of lumps and creamy bubbles. “Do you want to do this?” Hugo asked.
Tommy made a show of buttoning his lips, and opted to light a cigarette and watch the completion of the batter in silence.
When Hugo was satisfied the majority of the lumps had been stirred out, he turned his attention to the skillet, holding his hand just above the surface in an attempt to gauge its temperature. His mama had always insisted it needed to be piping hot, otherwise the pancakes would turn out soggy. He added a touch of dripping, which melted rapidly, sizzling and spitting as he swirled it around the base of the skillet. Offering up a prayer to any gods, pagan or Christian, which could help him impress his friend, he introduced the batter to the skillet, twisting the handle to evenly coat the base with a thin layer.
“That don’t look half bad,” Tommy conceded, leaving the safety of the table to stand by Hugo’s shoulder and watch.
“I said I could do it,” Hugo said, feeling inordinately proud of himself as he watched the batter bubble, the edges lifting cleanly from the skillet when he ran a knife around them.
“You ain’t flipped it, yet.”
“You think I can’t do it!”
“I never said that,” Tommy protested.
“You implied it.”
Tommy grinned. “Well do it an’ prove me wrong.”
Hugo shook the pan, pleased to see the pancake slide easily along the bottom. Theoretically, tossing the pancake was a simple matter of flicking his wrist, somersaulting it into the air and catching it neatly back in the skillet. In practice, however, he’d never quite mastered the trick, and the skillet was heavier than the frying pan his mama had used.
“Hurry up,” Tommy teased. “You’re going to burn it.”
“You do it, if you’re so clever!”
“I’ll rescue you from most things, Hugo Wainwright, but this is a mess you got yourself into.”
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Kate's Favorite Things:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… No, kidding! Honestly this is a difficult list for me, because I don’t do favourites in anything. My natural state is ambivalent.
Food: I could happily eat sushi every day and never get tired of it, and a friend and I have made it our life’s mission to eat a curry from every Indian restaurant in the north-west. EastZEast in Liverpool is highly recommended!
Drink: For alcohol, it has to be a mojito. On a holiday with friends we discovered this fabulous cocktail bar off the beaten track in Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote. The place was tiny, and the barman was a genius. We spent every night of the holiday curled up on squishy chairs with one of the bar’s owners, drinking an endless stream of cocktails and listening to the waves crash on the shore. It was wonderful.
Music: I listen to pretty much everything except opera, although even there I have exceptions. Certain songs have more meaning because they remind me of different times in my life. “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics and “All of Me” by John Legend stand out.
Film: I’m a sucker for the Bond films, particularly the Craig and Connery ones. I think I know every line of dialogue from “Interview With a Vampire,” and I can watch Disney and Pixar films endlessly. I couldn’t pick a single favourite.
Book: So many books, so little time! The Charioteer by Mary Renault will always be a desert island choice; Queers by AJ Rose, for reasons; all the Bond books, The Chronicles of Narnia, Liza Picard’s histories, and of course any number of m/m titles.
Place: My family owns a croft in the Scottish Highlands, and it would have to be there. I took it as a personal affront when they rebuilt the old single-track road down Glen Docherty and ruined the view towards Loch Maree.
More about Kate:
Kate Aaron lives in Cheshire, England with two dogs, a parrot, and a bearded dragon named Elvis.
She has the best of friends, the worst of enemies, and a mischievous muse with a passion for storytelling that doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction.
She holds a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature, and an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and is an outspoken advocate for equal rights. When not hitting the campaign trail or doting slavishly on Elvis, she does what she does best – writes about men in love.
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Thanks for celebrating with us. Join us again next week for more of Kate's books, five little known facts, and another chance to win.
Until then, happy reading!