How did you get yourself into…owning the finest coffeehouse in Londinium?
It would be easy to be flippant and just say ‘I bought it’. Or that my life had to change after I crashed my aerofighter on the South African veldt in a little scrap that the newspaper johnnies are calling the Second Boer War. With one career as a pilot stolen from me by the accident, I had to find another. Starving on the streets in genteel poverty holds no appeal.
Or that I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do. Or that I fell into it, by another, more fortuitous accident.
All true, by the way.
But really, it was luck. The famous Lancaster luck. All we Lancasters have it, although it’s not quite the same for each of us. It’s not really luck in the sense of chance, you know. In my case, it’s something like one part nonchalance, one part good-humour, one part an innocent smile that covers a multitude of sinning, two parts an eloquence that will turn your bones to water and four parts more charm than is probably good for me. Or anyone else. Mix well, shake vigorously, and it there it is. The Lancaster luck. Gets me into more scrapes than I care to remember. But it also brought me… well, someone very special.
That would be the charm that worked for me there. He says so, anyway.
What did you really feel when you first set eyes on Daniel Meredith?
Daniel? Well now. Interesting that you should ask me that.
I met Daniel at Margrethe’s, a club for gentlemen. A club for men’s men, if you understand me. Yes, I thought you would. Just the kind of place you’d like, I imagine.
It was just before Christmas and we were both looking for a little pre-Seasonal cheer before he headed out to the country to spend the Festive Season with his family, and I faced up, glumly, to having to spend it in town with mine. Believe me, I had the worst of the bargain there.
What did I feel about him though? I was impressed. He was elegant and well turned out, intelligent and yes, charming. I was flattered by his interest, I admit it. He bought me a drink and we had dinner together. And then… well, Margrethe’s has some very well-appointed private rooms available to members for a fee. He was skilled. A man who enjoyed his pleasure. It is not gentlemanly to boast, but I think I gave him a Christmas present to remember. The memory of it certainly enlivened my rather dull celebrations at Stravaigor House a few days later.
So. I felt some admiration, desire, pleasure. More than I normally get for Christmas, at all events.
Favourite childhood memory?
A difficult question. I wasn’t my father’s favourite—that would be Peter, my elder brother. My mother died before I was a year old, so I have no memory of her at all. My abiding memories are of being odd man out, really.
But my best memory… I suspect they’re all around a dog that technically belonged to my father’s farm bailiff, but which attached itself to me like a limpet; a mongrel with shaggy hair, floppy ears and a thin rat-like tail that was an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Rowley had fleas and would eat things that even boys thought were gross. He went with me everywhere. My favourite memory of him involved the local curate, who had been hired by my father to teach me Latin. The curate’s violin, an inkwell, a boy’s pretend bayonet, and a dead mouse… oh how they all combined to make the most unholy witches brew of a row! Oh well. At least Rowley ate the mouse.
Then he was sick into Peter’s new boots. Oh, yes. Definitely my best memory. My greatest regret is that Peter wasn’t wearing them at the time.
If you could be anywhere in the world/universe right know where would it be?
Where I am, right here, in Lancaster’s Luck Coffeehouse. A happy man has no need to dream of exotic places when everything he wants is in his hands. I have work I love, and in an hour or two, when I’ve closed up shop and Hugh, my manservant, has sloped off to The Plough at the end of the street to play dominoes with the landlord and make sheep’s eyes at the landlord’s daughter, the side door will open and my lover will arrive. I’m where I belong.
Tell us one thing from your back story the reader won’t know from reading the book
I used to be a choirboy. Sang like an angel. In fact, I was a pupil at Salisbury Cathedral’s Choristers school. Pleased m’father, the old skinflint, since they took me for free until my voice went from angelic to bull-frog, with an alarming tendency to waver uncontrollably between the two. I went to Eton after that. At least there I didn’t have to sing for my supper.
These days, the only singing I do is when my lover is here. He’s very good. Makes me positively operatic, if you understand me. Yes. I thought you might. But it’s private performances only. And if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost time for curtain up.
When Captain Rafe Lancaster is invalided out of the Britannic Imperium’s Aero Corps after crashing his aerofighter during the Second Boer War, his eyesight is damaged permanently, and his career as a fighter pilot is over. Returning to Londinium in late November 1899, he’s lost the skies he loved, has no place in a society ruled by an elite oligarchy of powerful Houses, and is hard up, homeless, and in desperate need of a new direction in life.
Everything changes when he buys a coffeehouse near the Britannic Imperium Museum in Bloomsbury, the haunt of Aegyptologists. For the first time in years, Rafe is free to be himself. In a city powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston, and where powerful men use House assassins to target their rivals, Rafe must navigate dangerous politics, deal with a jealous and possessive ex-lover, learn to make the best coffee in Londinium, and fend off murder and kidnap attempts before he can find happiness with the man he loves.
(Cover by Reese Dante)
WHENEVER SOMEONE asks how my life came to take such a sharp and unexpected turn—and they do ask, because people are insatiably nosy—they get my most charming smile. I know it’s charming because I practice it every morning in my shaving mirror. It’s devastating.
It’s even better without the shaving soap.
The short answer is “I crashed one of the old Queen’s aerofighters into the African veldt, fighting the Boers.”
The timing is the most important thing. Wait a heartbeat, savor a mouthful of the best coffee in Londinium while they absorb that, and as their mouths open to ask more questions, drop in the next line.
I put a little gap between the syllables so they can’t miss it. Koffie—pause—fontein.
Some of them laugh. The clever ones, the ones who see the delicious irony when they think about how my life changed. How I changed. Not all of them do. Most people are… how shall I put this? Not the brightest lucifer in the box. It takes them a few minutes to understand before they snigger and nudge their companion with a “Koffie! Like coffee, see. One of them Boer places, likely. Coffee fountain or some such. That’s rich!”
No. Definitely not the brightest.
I saw the irony at once, though. Given my life since then, it had to be some sort of divine joke, a little prod to the ribs from the Almighty. “Wake up, Rafe Lancaster, and pay attention! Change is coming.”
It was a sign, of sorts. The first step into a new life when the old one was taken from me, sending me in the right direction—the crash at Koffiefontein, selling my mother’s jewels, reopening relations with my House, and yes, even the scarab. All of those things came into play.
Mostly it was luck. The famous Lancaster luck. They should name things after it. Ships, or aerofighters.
Or perhaps a racehorse.
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Anna Butler was a communications specialist for many years, working in UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to running an internal TV service. She now spends her time indulging her love of old-school science fiction. She lives in the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockapoo.