Protection is now available in paperback! For those who might not have taken a look, here’s the blurb and a sample:
When Gabriel MacKenna enters Wentworth Prison in 1931, he promises himself two things: never to be buggered and never to turn prison queer. Tough, smart, and ruthless in a fight, he quickly makes a name for himself inside. But Gabriel, saved from the noose by a social crusader, is serving two life sentences. And life is a very long time to endure Wentworth with no comforts but prison food, card games and cigarettes. To survive endless days without the touch of another human being…
Five years after Gabriel’s incarceration, Joey Cooper arrives at Wentworth. Every convict claims imprisonment through a miscarriage of justice, but Joey is truly blameless. Trained at Oxford as a physician, the young doctor is innocent of prison culture and too handsome for his own good. Facing eighteen years behind Wentworth’s towering gates, Joey cannot hope to survive without protection. And protection is just what Gabriel MacKenna offers. At a price…
New inmates came to Wentworth Men’s Prison on Sunday afternoons. They arrived by bus, shuffling single file down the vehicle’s steps and into the exercise yard. Gabriel MacKenna knew precisely what awaited them. First they would be marched to the infirmary, where their leg irons would be unlocked and a cursory medical exam would follow. Then the new men would be led down Wentworth’s long green and white halls to be kitted out. Jeers and laughter rang through the crisp spring air as the inmates emerged, but Gabriel didn’t join in. He stood quietly in the shadow of the watchtower, smoking a Pall Mall and taking their measure.
Gabriel loved the taste of Pall Malls. Convicts detained at His Majesty’s Pleasure in April 1936 were issued half an ounce of plain tobacco and a dozen cigarette papers each month, but Gabriel was so skilled at cards, he rarely rolled his own. Wentworth was a modern facility, host to several experimental programs and far removed from its Victorian roots. Gone were the days when prisoners were masked, referred to by number and forbidden to speak to the guards. At Wentworth, the guards were encouraged to mix with the prisoners and provide a wholesome example. Gabriel wasn’t sure if gambling with McCrory, Buckland and the other F-block guards had strengthened his moral fiber, but it kept him supplied in Pall Malls. It also kept him informed about recent developments, including the details behind new inmates. None seemed likely to challenge Gabriel’s supremacy in Wentworth.
The biggest, a bona fide village idiot named Benjamin Stile, kept his head down, shooting nervous looks at the gray stone walls and hugging himself tight. Apparently in the village he hailed from, idiots were treated gently. And perhaps Stile was innocent of the charges, like so many morons condemned by British justice. Or guilty only in a manner of speaking. Either way, Gabriel had no interest in him, because all Stiles had was bulk. To take on Gabriel, a newcomer needed more than mere size.
The last man in line moved slowly, forced to do a hop-step each time the chains pulled tight. He was trying to take it all in – not just the outer wall, erected in 1876, but the watch tower, manned by two guards, and Wentworth itself, old and new. “Old Wentworth” was the original building, four wings radiating off a central area called the Roundabout. A, B, C and D block were there, each cell exactly twelve foot by seven foot. The new prison, constructed in 1910, was a three-story building containing offices, a cafeteria and the infirmary. E, F and G blocks were smaller, but their cells were large enough to house two men.
“Cooper!” bawled Llewellyn, the guard bringing up the rear. “Keep up!”
Gabriel’s cigarette halted midway to his mouth. Cooper? Dr. Cooper, the convict McCrory had told him about?
Gabriel stepped out of the watchtower’s shadow for a better look. Cooper was no more than twenty-five, with thick ginger-brown hair and wide eyes. Of medium height, he was surprisingly well built for a professional man. The prison uniform fit snug across his broad shoulders and tight against the nip of his waist, the curve of his ass …
Within hours, the name and story came to Gabriel. Joseph Cooper was a newly qualified doctor convicted of malpractice and gross negligence. Educated at Oxford, Cooper had joined the practice of a well-respected physician in Kent. When Lady Wheaton, wife of Baron Wheaton, went into labor with her first child, Cooper had been entrusted with her care. And when the laboring woman went into distress, Cooper played the hero, attempting to save her single-handedly. He’d confessed as much in writing – his pride, his overconfidence in his own abilities, his hope to be publicly acclaimed by Lord Wheaton. But Jane Wheaton, only twenty-one, had died, and her infant son had died with her. According to rumor, Cooper had attempted an emergency Caesarian, but that, too, had been hopelessly botched. The newspapers had described the scene in loving, lurid detail: Lord Wheaton bursting in to find blood-spattered walls, his young wife slashed open and the infant dead in Cooper’s hands.
Lord Wheaton had wanted Cooper charged with double murder, leaning heavily on both the home secretary and the prime minister. But Cooper’s physician status shielded him from capital prosecution; the Crown couldn’t credibly argue he’d attacked Lady Wheaton, or harmed her through malice. Nevertheless, Cooper had received the maximum sentence for his crimes: eighteen years inside Wentworth, no possibility of parole.
Gabriel saw Joseph Cooper again that evening, in the common time between supper and “reconfinement,” as Wentworth’s progressive governor, Sanderson, preferred to say. Reconfinement replaced the old term: lockdown. The guard in charge of passing out linens greeted Cooper with passable friendliness.
“C’mon, mate, get yours while it’s fresh.”
Cooper lifted his chin, smiling back so warmly the guard blinked in surprise. “Ah. Right-o. Thanks very much.”
“Talks like a toff, don’t he?” Lonnie Parker sounded impressed. During common time he was often at Gabriel’s elbow, if not directly beneath his feet.
“Like he’s checking in at the goddamn Ritz-Carlton,” Gabriel agreed, watching Cooper collect his striped pillow and gray blanket. Cooper’s eyes were a very light blue, almost the color of the standard-issue blanket, and long-lashed. He was pale, too, a fellow Celt if Gabriel had even seen one, but pink-cheeked and vigorous, with a healthy bloom to those perfectly shaped lips.
“They say he’s a doctor. A bad one.” Lonnie loved parceling out bits of gossip he overheard while working in the infirmary, rolling bandages and scrubbing instruments. “Dr. Royal knew all about him.”
Birds of a feather, Gabriel thought darkly. He hated doctors in general and Dr. Royal in particular. Gabriel hadn’t seen the inside of the infirmary since his last mandatory physical exam, and even then, they’d had to threaten him with birching to make him comply. Corporal punishment was still very much a part of the British penal system. Not even Governor Sanderson was prepared to abolish the practice – public birching against bare buttocks for misdemeanors, an old-fashioned lashing across the back for serious misdeeds. All but the most defiant personalities took the threat seriously. Not even Gabriel would choose the birch over a mere half-hour in Dr. Royal’s domain.
“Gabe.” Lonnie pressed closer, lips brushing Gabriel’s earlobe. “Fancy visiting the library?”
Lonnie didn’t want to borrow a book. In fact, Gabriel had never seen the younger man read anything except the cafeteria’s daily menu. But the library stacks were good for quick bits of mischief, especially Fiction A-Br, which was tucked in the library’s back corner. After three months, Gabriel was already tired of Lonnie, but that glimpse of Cooper – chin lifted, smiling – had primed his pump.
“Go on. I’ll meet you.”
As Lonnie headed to the library, Gabriel hung back for a judicious interval, asking Tom Cullen to keep an eye on the library’s entrance and Bobby Vincent to lurk near the card catalog. F-block men traded such favors all the time, without complaint and never demanding details. Of course, allowing Lonnie to get him off within earshot of Tom and Bobby was mildly embarrassing, yet necessary. To be surprised by a guard, even one like Buckland, who would break up the action but never report it, would have shamed Gabriel far worse.
The stacks had that familiar old scent, a mix of decaying paper, glue and old leather Gabriel had loved since childhood. Leaning against the steel bookcase, Gabriel unbuttoned his fly, closing his eyes as Lonnie knelt before him…
Buy Protection for just $3.59 in paperback here…