I'm doing a bit a throwback for this week's snippet. This is from Stevie & Mack, Barista Boys #3. Poor Mack, sweet little Stevie has completely wrong footed him!
"Are we just going to look at each other all night, or..?" Stevie's lips quirked.
"I could look at you forever."
"Or you could kiss me. Or I could kiss you. Mmm." Stevie stepped in closer. "Yeah, I could kiss you. I like that idea. I like it a lot."
Long, thin fingers entwined in Mack's hair. Stevie's palm against the back of his head, sure and firm, pulling him down, bringing Mack closer to soft lips, damp and parted.
Mack closed his eyes as their mouths met. How had he ever thought he would ever be in charge? Stevie had captured him, bound him in chains, and made him his.
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I'm back with another snippet from Connor & Ash, Barista Boys #3. Poor Ash, he's got it bad!
Connor was everything Ash had told himself he couldn't have, yet the man had got under his skin. And who was that man? Boyfriend? Lover? Whatever the label, Connor made him happy and restored his belief that there was good to be found in the world. When they were apart, it was as if the lights dimmed and the shadows advanced. Each day he found himself waiting for Connor to walk into the cafe, his eyes turning to the door every time it opened. It didn't matter that Ash may have been in Connor's bed just hours before, entangled in the crumpled sheets, or that they'd be together again that night. When they weren't together he ached to see him, be with him. Every ring of his phone, every message that dropped into his in-box, if it wasn't Connor Ash dropped in disappointment.
If you liked this snippet, why not get yourself a copy of the book? Connor & Ash is currently exclusive to Amazon, so you can read it in KU. Find it here.
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It's been a while since I submitted a snippet, but I'm here and rectifying that with a snippet from Connor & Ash, book three in the Barista Boys series. Available on Amazon, to buy or read in KU mybook.to/BaristaBoys3
A little context: Connor and Ash's relationship is all hunky-dory, at least for now, and Ash's thinking how he welcomed Connor home...
Ash opened the door to the cafe. At 6.30am he should have been tired. Instead, he was buzzing.
Connor had returned from Dublin the evening before and Ash had stayed overnight in the hotel. He'd already been stripping off before Connor had slammed the door shut. They hadn't even made it to the bedroom. Ash rubbed at the base of his spine, at the small patch of sore, chafed skin. Jude's chatter washed over him as he thought back to the previous day. He'd been hungry for Connor's return, and the man had fed him without stint, holding nothing back. Their fucking had been a frenzy, full of heat and need, consuming them both.
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ShiMMer. What can I say?
A lot, actually.
Things like: what a great day, wonderful vibe, reconnecting with hugs and kisses with old friends, and making new, had a shed load of fun, ate too much chocolate and a cup cake or two (side eyes Helen Juliet...) .
I think you get the picture.
On 1 July, at Aston Villa FC, I had the honour to meet some great people, including those I've admired from afar. Jay Aheer, for example. What a talented artist. Stunning, stunning work. I had to go up to her to say hello, and I did that with lots of people because as all who have met me know I like a bit of a chat!
I consider myself to still be a newbie in the MM world, and there's a big part of me that is amazed that anybody reads my books - seriously, no false humility going on here - so when I'm told that my books have been read and enjoyed, I have to pick my jaw up from the floor. But I was told that yesterday and it was affirming and made me feel validated as an author. So what did I do? I pushed my sugary swag onto people as a way of saying thank you. You really can't have too much Haribo. Well, you can, actually.
And I have to talk about the readers, the people who make it possible for authors to exist - if it wasn't for you coming to events like ShiMMer and buying our books, we wouldn't be writing. It really is that simple.
So, thank you, to the wonderful ShiMMerettes (I feel like bursting out into a bit of MOTOWN). Fiona Rachel Warner, Suzanne Burke and Sue Brown, and to everybody else who helped put together such a fab day. Ladies, I had a blast.
Hey, my latest contemporary mm romance will be hitting Amazon's virtual bookshelves in June. Connor & Ash is the third in the Barista Boys series but can be read as a stand alone. To whet your appetite, here's the first of chapter. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Ash stared at his reflection in the full-length mirror. The jeans were tight, enough to attract attention to what was on offer but not enough to get him thrown out before he got further than the reception desk.
The pale blue shirt moulded itself to his body, allowing a tantalising hint of what lay beneath. It had been a toss-up between that, or the navy. Yes, he’d made the right choice as the paler shirt brought out the blue of his eyes and made his light brown hair look a shade or two brighter. He ran his fingers through his hair and it flopped forward over his brow. Earlier he’d sworn, when he’d been getting ready, because he’d realised he’d run out of gel but now he was glad, the softer look making him feel less hard, less of the whore he had no option but to be for the night. He tapped at the inside pocket of his jacket. It was a ritual, assuring himself he had all the supplies he needed for what lay ahead. Yes, they were there, just as he knew they were. He pulled in a deep breath, before exhaling long and slow and took a final look at himself in the mirror. He looked good, not obvious, just good.
With his heart rate picking up, Ash readied himself to give the receptionist his biggest, most disarming smile. He needn’t have worried, because luck was on his side. A couple of foreign tourists were spreading out a large map of central London, both of them speaking fast and loud at the same time, and claiming all the receptionist’s attention. Ash slipped, unseen, into the hotel’s bar.
Ash’s eyes swept the room. It was smart, sleek and modern. Quirky artwork covered the walls, drawing his attention for a moment, and light jazz combined with the buzz of conversation from the customers. It was early, not much past 7.00pm, but the bar was busy with an eclectic mix of customers. Hipsters mixed with corporate suited business types. A group of young women who didn’t look much older than Ash’s twenty-three years laughed as they drank cocktails, and flirted with the barman.
It wasn’t the kind of place he was used to having to resort to when he needed to make some extra cash, and fast. This wasn’t The Swift or The Crown. It wasn’t Glitz or Mandate. It wasn’t any of those places he could be sure of a quick pick-up, where all it took was a whispered exchange of words before slipping out to a car, or a back street, or the toilets. In those places everybody knew what the deal was; he could do the business and be gone, with money in his pocket and shame in his soul. Here, in the smart bar, he felt exposed.
Panic rose up in him. Ash wanted to turn and run, to get out before everybody in the bar turned around and saw him for what he was, and despised him for it. All he could hear was the fast and heavy thud of his heart, and the whoosh of blood in his veins. His stomach churned. Oh God, don’t be sick, not here, not on the floor in front of everybody. . . He sucked in a deep breath. He needed to calm down, to take it easy. He was here to do what he’d done so many times before; he could do it, he could. It was no different to The Swift, The Crown. . . His heartbeat calmed, and the whoosh of blood faded. Ash unclenched his hands, balled into tight, stiff fists; his palms were slick with sweat and he wiped them on his thighs.
Ash slipped onto one of the stools lining the long bar. The one barman on duty was busy tending to the cocktail-drinking women, and Ash took another look around. He should have recced the place first, not just taken the recommendation on trust that this was not just a place to score, but to score big, but the temptation to make some extra money had been too much to resist. The bar looked too smart, too classy, too straight. Had the guy who’d told him about it got it wrong? Had he misunderstood? No. There had been nothing to misunderstand about the bar at The New Ireland . . . loaded businessmen. . . willing to pay well. . . got to be discreet. . .
The guy’s words had burrowed their way into his brain. Three times a month, four if he absolutely had to. Almost once a week. That was how many times he had to pull on his tightest jeans and T-shirt, and a fake smile, and walk into the pubs and clubs where he was assured of finding a punter. Willing to pay well, that’s what he’d been told. If he could make enough here, or somewhere like it, then perhaps three or four times a month could turn into twice or even just once a month. . . But was he discreet enough? Ash felt like he had the words rent boy branded on his brow, and a list of his services and prices pinned on his back. Would there be a whisper in his ear, asking him not to a room, but to leave the premises? Would a hand placed on his arm or on his back lead him not to the lift but to the street instead? Maybe coming here wasn’t such a good idea. Ash swung around as he prepared to flee.
“Good evening, Sir. What can I get you?”
The barman’s heavily-accented greeting broke in on Ash’s tumbling thoughts, freezing him for a second.
“Erm. . .”
“If you would like a little more time, I can come back in a moment or two.”
The barman’s smile was wide and friendly, and Ash’s panic subsided.
“No, that’s fine. Scotch and Coke, please.”
Ash resettled himself and attempted to look confident and at ease. He felt anything but. A small bowl of fancy, salted nuts appeared, along with the drink.
“Would you like me to add your bar bill to your room, Sir?”
Oh shit. “I’m not a guest. I’m meeting a friend here.”
“So you have a booking for dinner in the restaurant? Perhaps I can check to see if your friend has already been seated?”
Ash summoned up what was left of his rapidly dwindling confidence. He sat a little taller and forced himself to look the barman in the eye.
“No, we’re not eating here. We’re just meeting.”
Ash’s heart hammered so hard he thought his ribs might break. Did the barman believe him, or was he about to receive a whispered suggestion that he might like to consider meeting his friend elsewhere?
“Of course, Sir. Enjoy your drink.”
With his smile still in place, the barman turned away to serve another customer.
Ash’s hand shook as he took a sip; it was as eye-wateringly strong as the price. He needed to get lucky just to pay for his drink, let alone anything else. The alcohol, on an empty stomach, hit his system. He reached for the nuts and wolfed them down. When he was getting ready to do the business, he needed to be clear-headed.
The drink began to take the edge off Ash’s nerves. He drank slowly, doing his best to make it last as he surreptitiously scoped-out the customers. He narrowed his eyes. Maybe the recommendation had been correct. Men outnumbered women, even more so as the cocktail drinking group gathered their belongings, waved goodbye to the barman, and headed off to continue the evening elsewhere. Not all the men sat in small groups, some were alone. Would they guess what he was, and what he was there for? Did he look obvious? Was that a good thing or a bad?
A couple of seats along, a middle-aged man scrolled through his phone, before slipping it into his jacket pocket. The man scanned the bar. He met Ash’s eye, but he turned away quickly as if afraid to be caught looking. His glance slipped back to Ash, and he fiddled with his tie, the wedding ring he wore catching the bar’s soft lights.
The man was large and heavy, and completely bald. Ash willed himself to smile and keep eye contact, even though panic was rising within him and his stomach was churning. His hand tightened around the glass he held. This man isn’t Bull. He’s a punter. He’s not Bull, he’s not Bull, he’s not Bull. The man’s lips lifted in a small, nervous smile which reached his round, button eyes. The panic inside Ash ebbed. This man was nothing like Bull. Ash’s grip loosened, and his stomach quietened.
Ash’s smile broadened. It was the man’s first time, Ash just knew it. Married, and alone for the evening. Easy. Thank God, for once this was going to be easy. With any luck, he’d be back home and watching the TV with Louis and tucking into a takeaway before too long. There was only one bar stool between them, making them close enough for a bit of meaningless conversation before one or the other walked out and the other followed. Ash would give him something that’d have the guy’s heart thumping and his cock twitching as he lay in the marital bed, staring up at the ceiling as he relived everything that was missing from his life.
With a further tug on his tie, the guy opened his mouth to speak and Ash’s smile widened with silent encouragement to get him to commit to making the first move.
“Anthony? I thought it was you. No Sheena with you? Then you must join us, we’re about to go in for dinner. . .”
Shit. The woman all but dragged the guy from the stall, across the bar, through a doorway and out of sight. Ash sighed and slumped. The TV and takeaway option wasn’t looking like the dead cert it had been.
Ash continued to take small, slow sips of his drink. The prices were too high for him to buy another but there was only so long he could eke it out. He glanced around, catching eyes but no interest.
The crowd had thinned as customers left, or were escorted to their tables in the hotel’s restaurant. Ash’s stomach rumbled. What he wouldn’t give for a slap-up meal. As long as somebody else paid for it. Even working two part-time jobs, his food budget rarely extended beyond beans on toast, and it would continue to do so unless he was able to turn a trick. He looked around him again, and his heart sank. Nothing was going to happen here. Maybe the lad he’d spoken to about the hotel had just got lucky. Or maybe he did look like a tart, too obvious for anybody to want to be seen approaching him. Ash threw back the last of his drink, and his shoulders sagged as he conceded defeat. He’d head off to The Swift. It wasn’t smart and classy like the hotel and he’d probably have to find a couple of punters to make the money he needed. The thought tightened his stomach.
“Evening, Patrice. Gin and tonic, please.”
Ash glanced at the man who settled himself down next to him, but he was looking away and making small talk as the barman mixed the drink. Ash hesitated. The guy had sat next to him deliberately, avoiding the half dozen empty stools running along the long length of the bar, as well as the couple of small tables that remained free. Ash settled back. Perhaps he’d give the bar another chance.
“How was your trip, Mr. O’Brian?” the barman asked as he placed the drink on the bar.
“Good. Hard work, but good.”
“Will you be dining in the restaurant this evening?”
“No, I’ll order room service when I’m ready.”
“Very well, Sir. A brief word, if I may?”
Ash followed the exchange, his thoughts whirring. The guy had a room, and he’d deliberately sat next to him. A room, a bed. No back alley stinking of piss.
Patrice lowered his voice as he spoke. In French.
The man, Mr. O’Brian, interrupted the quick-fire delivery once or twice, but otherwise remained silent. Ash tried to get the gist of what was being said, but it was too advanced and too fast for what remained of his schoolboy French.
“Thank you,” the man said, switching back to English. “Ah, here’s David. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Patrice.”
“Good night, Sir.” The barman smiled, then nodded briefly to Ash as he disappeared through a door, his place now taken by the newcomer.
Ash licked his lips. It was to steady his nerves, but if it gave them a wet sheen, then all the better. He plastered a smile on his face as he swivelled his body towards the man.
“I’m always impressed when somebody can speak a foreign language. I never got beyond bonjour and deux bières, por favor.” Ash laughed, and prayed his deliberate language mix up was enough to get a response out of the guy. Sure, it wasn’t the best opening line but it was better than, So you’ve got a room here? How does a hundred for a fuck sound? A hundred? Maybe he should up the price, the place was expensive so anybody who could afford a room had to have money. He’d even throw in a free blow job. With the need to make up the shortfall in what he owed Bull, he was prepared to include a side just so long as the main dish was paid for in full.
The man turned, letting Ash see him properly for the first time. Ash blinked hard. Large hazel eyes looked out from a pale face topped with rich auburn hair, more red than brown. Scruff shadowed his jawline, bringing attention to the creaminess of his skin. Christ, the guy was fucking gorgeous. So what was somebody who looked like him doing picking up younger men in bars? Because that was what Mr. O’Brian was doing. Right? Sudden doubt burst in Ash’s chest. He’d been sure, so sure, but now. . .
The man looked sombre, almost melancholy, but the smile that lifted his lips was warm and genuine, and lightened his face.
“I lived in Paris for a couple of years, and the French are notorious for not giving foreigners any slack when it comes to the language. It was either learn fast, or get the next flight home. So, you didn’t understand any of it?”
Ash shook his head. “Not a word.”
Ash noted the pause, just for a heartbeat, before the guy nodded to Ash’s empty glass. Game on.
“Can I get you another?”
“Thanks. Scotch and Coke.” Oh, yes.
The guy called to the new barman, and asked for the same again for the pair of them.
“Cheers.” Ash lifted his drink and held it out to chink glasses. The guy hesitated a moment, before he lifted his first drink and tapped it against Ash’s. Anticipation spiked in Ash’s chest. The man had ordered himself another drink when he’d hardly touched the first.
Ash watched as eyes the colour of rich caramel flecked with green focused on his mouth. In response, he drew the rim of the glass across his lower lip as he kept his eyes trained on him. As if aware of the scrutiny, the guy looked up. A faint blush coloured his cheeks.
Oh yeah, he’s interested all right. But why would somebody who looked like him be looking for a pick up in a hotel bar? Ah, married, has to be. There was probably a wife and a couple of kids back in the suburbs. A quick glance showed no wedding ring, but that didn’t mean a thing.
“I’m—Freddie.” Shit, that was close.
Ash’s real name had been about to fall from his tongue. That had never happened before. The thought was a sudden chill; he’d have to be more careful in future. What he was doing, whether it was here in the bar of a funky hotel or down on his knees in a back street, was stuffed into a box called Debt and shoved out of sight of his day to day life. His day to day life? Who was he kidding? His whole life revolved around making the monthly payments.
Connor? An Irish name. If you’re going to make up a name, it’s a pretty good one. It had to be fake, who would give their real name in a situation like this? So we’re both playing the same game, Connor. Pretending to be somebody we’re not for the night. I’ll call you Connor, I’ll call you anything you want. Even Daddy. But I really, really hope you don’t want me to call you that. . .
“So, Freddie, what brings you here this evening?”
Large, soulful eyes rimmed with thick lashes focused on Ash. Beautiful. The word came out of nowhere and echoed in Ash’s head as he met Connor’s gaze, robbing him for a moment of any clear and coherent thought. A burst of laughter, from behind, jolted him from his daze and dragged him back into the present.
Ash looked down at the bar. Connor turned his glass round and around. Ash glanced up, and the flush he’d seen earlier again stained Connor’s face.
Connor grabbed his glass up and took a long draught from it.
Come on, Connor. In a smart hotel bar, sitting alone and accepting a drink from a perfect stranger, why do you think I’m here?
Connor may have been an awkward punter, and Ash an unwilling hooker, but they both knew why they were staring at each other over their drinks. How was he supposed to answer the question? If I don’t want my teeth broken and shoved down my throat, I have a debt I have to repay. If you want me to keep them so I can bite down on that lovely, creamy skin of yours, a hundred will do very nicely.
“Thought I’d call in for a drink, maybe meet somebody interesting to talk to, or. . .” The line was cheesy and Ash cringed inside, but it got the message across. His words could be taken up like a baton and he and Connor could race to the finishing line that was an expensive room upstairs, or they could be treated at face value, saving them both embarrassment and allowing them to go their own ways.
They were on a knife edge. Ash kept his gaze fixed on Connor. The man teetered on the brink of a decision. Forget the wife, forget the kids, forget the house in the suburbs. For one night, just for one night. Whether Connor wished Ash good night and turned and walked away, or passed him his room number, the power to push him one way or the other lay in his, Ash’s, hands. If they were to come to an arrangement he needed to take the lead. With a show of confidence, Ash swung around on his bar stool so he was facing Connor square on. He knocked his leg against Connor’s and kept it there. A thrill rippled through him when Connor didn’t move away.
“You’re an interesting person, but I think we could be more interesting together.” Should he be running his tongue across his lips, leaving a wet and glistening trail, or brushing his hand across his crotch or, better still, Connor’s? He’d been forced to play the role of part-time tart for the last couple of years, but still the tricks of the trade that should by now be ingrained eluded him at the crucial moment. He should be trying to seduce Connor, or whatever his real name was, throwing out all the signals that for a price he could be his for the night. He should have been doing all of those things. Instead, he stared into Connor’s eyes and Connor stared into his.
Connor looked away and picked up his drink. The warmth of his leg pressed against Ash’s disappeared. Ash’s stomach, held tight in anticipation, fell and crashed like an out of control lift. His shoulders sagged. The man had lost his nerve, the lure of a younger guy in a hotel room was a step too far.
Go back to suburbia and wonder what you’ve missed out on as you tuck the kids up in bed. . . Ash slipped off the bar stool. The Swift it was, then. There was no longer any point in staying.
“This is not something I do. Ever. I just want you to know that.”
The words rooted Ash to the spot. They had been said quietly, as if Connor had been speaking to himself. Ash glanced around him. The barman was busy mixing cocktails and chatting to a couple sitting at the end of the bar. Everybody else nearby was too intent on whoever they were with, or scrolling through their smartphones. Nobody would guess at the arrangement being tentatively agreed to.
Connor lifted his head and stared at Ash. His lips curved upwards in a lazy smile. Eyes the colour of autumn glittered with amusement, as all traces of clumsy awkwardness vanished.
“But I kind of guess you don’t, either.”
It was Ash’s turn to burn. His inept efforts to play the role of confident rent boy had been exposed. He felt stupid, his attempts at seduction laughable. But a part of him was relieved Connor had seen through the façade, that he’d not believed him to be a hard-bitten, bar-combing tart. Connor had seen him for the sham he was, exposing the real Ashton Hemsby when all Ash wanted was to keep that boy hidden, because Ash wasn’t Freddie, and he had no place here.
“If you don’t have to be anywhere else, we could spend the evening together.” Connor quirked his head to the side.
Ash cleared his throat. In a handful of words, they were back on known ground. He was for sale, and Connor was offering to buy. It had been stumbling and cringe worthy, but they’d got there in the end. How much for a fuck? was posing as let’s get to know each other better. Connor could dress up what was going to happen any way he liked, as long as he paid the agreed price he could call it what he wanted. The price, and what was on offer. Maybe it was best to leave that conversation for the bedroom.
“Fourth floor, number 410 at the end of the corridor.” Connor pulled a keycard from his pocket and handed it over. Ash looked around but nobody was taking any notice of them.
“You go up, I’ll follow.”
Ash turned the keycard over in his hand. “Before. . . We need to agree—”
“Fine. Good. Just so there’s no misunderstanding.”
“Okay.” Bloody hell. This was feeling as difficult as earlier. “I’ll, erm—”
“Room 410. Okay, fine.”
Ash walked from the bar and crossed the lobby to the lifts. If the hotel staff challenged him, he’d turn tail, walk out and take his chances in The Swift. Ash pressed the button and waited for a hand to fall to his shoulder and an enquiry as to his business in the hotel. Neither came. The lift doors opened, swish and smooth. He stepped in and began his ascent to the fourth floor.
It's been some time since I joined in with Rainbow Snippets, but today I'm here with a snippet from my latest release, Corporate Bodies.
A little context: Jake and Oliver have had dinner, now they are back at Oliver's where Jake is studying his boss' (yes, Oliver is his boss) book collection...
Oliver looked down at the book in Jake's hand. A book he'd had since he was a teenager, read over and over again throughout the years, pages turned so often they had started to fall out only to be stuck back in, the tape that reattached them now brittle and yellow.
Oliver reached for the book, his hand brushing Jake's, all his awareness and focus on the man standing just inches from him. Every draw of Jake’s breath, every pore of his skin, every strand of auburn hair, the deep, rich colour of chestnuts. And the heat of him, Oliver could feel the heat from Jake's skin, he swore he could.
Silence wrapped itself around them. Jake turned his head and Oliver stared into grey eyes turned black, the pupils blown so wide they devoured the irises, leaving only the merest hint of colour. Unnoticed, the book slipped from their hands, and fell to the floor. As their lips joined in a long, slow kiss Oliver had no idea who it was who made the first move, only glad that the move had been made.
There are so many great snippets on the Rainbow Snippets FB page, so hope over and take a look by clicking the button :-)
Finally, I’ve got there. Or almost. The third and last book in the Urban Love trilogy is set for release on 10 February 2017. This is Corporate Bodies, and it’s Jake’s story.
Here’s a taster from Chapter One. Warning: may contain traces of angst.
Jake looked at his watch, he'd been looking at it for the last hour. He checked his phone. Still no message. He called again. The person you are phoning is unable to take your call. . . . Where are you???? he thumbed in again. No answer. Jake beckoned the waiter and asked for another glass of wine.
“Are you ready to order now, Sir?”
“I'm still waiting for my friend. He's always very reliable, something important must be delaying him.” Christ Almighty, why am I explaining myself? What he'd just said, that was the biggest load of crap he'd ever uttered. Reliable? Charlie Da Costa was all sorts of things, but reliable wasn't one of them. Was that pity, amusement or contempt he saw flit across the waiter's face? They were playing a game, Jake knew it and so did the waiter. Pretending that his dinner companion had been unavoidably detained. Code for I've been stood up.
The waiter gave a weak smile and glided off, no doubt to have a laugh with his mates in the kitchen. Moments later another glass of perfectly chilled French sauvignon appeared, accompanied by a murmured ‘your wine, Sir.’
Jake’s phone bleeped, he grabbed it and his shoulders slumped. Not Charlie but Archie and Zack in a photo just posted to Facebook. Two of his oldest friends, grinning and pulling faces, holding up bottles of beer in The Bermondsey. Mid-week, it didn't look too busy. They seemed to be having a good time, a better one than he was having but that wasn't hard. His friends had descended on him earlier in the evening, determined to drag him out. Some drinks, food, maybe a club later. Jake had protested. No, can't tonight lads, got other plans. He'd kept it vague, hadn't told them what those plans were or who they were with. But Zack had badgered, wouldn't let it alone. ‘Hot date! Jake's got a hot date!’ Zack declared with glee. What he should have done, Jake knew, was smile and say nothing and let them both wonder. Instead he refused to meet Zack's eye and had muttered something about meeting an old friend. It gave the game away. He'd been rumbled.
The explosion that followed was inevitable. ‘What the fuck are you doing? You're seeing Charlie effing Da fucking Costa again, aren't you? Jesus, Jake. Why?’ Zack had paced Jake's living room, a tight ball of anger and indignation. If Zack had been a cat, he'd have been hissing, tail whipping back and forth, ears flat against his head. Even his fiancé Archie, always affable and calm, asked if Jake had had a lobotomy because he could think of no reason other than a screwed up brain for Jake to get caught up with him again. Charlie treated you like shit before, and he’ll do it again. Don’t get involved. . . He’d heard it all before, and they were right, but that had never stopped him.
Charlie’s call just a couple of days before had come out of the blue. The voice had made Jake’s heart jump and sent a bolt of heat straight to his groin. It had been a couple of months since he'd last heard from Charlie. He should have told him to piss off, he should have told him he wasn't interested in hearing from him or seeing him again. He should have cut the call and deleted Charlie's number. He should have done all those things and spent his birthday with his best and oldest friends. Instead, he arranged to meet a man who had let him down since the day they had met, and who let him down again tonight as Jake sat alone at a table for two.
“Bloody hell, that's all I need.”
A party had arrived and was being shown to its table. He turned away, hoping not to be noticed but it was too late. An attractive blonde woman waved and Jake swallowed a sigh as he was forced to wave back, to his boss. The woman said something to the others and they all turned and looked across before they took their seats. Their attention, briefly bestowed, turned back on each other. Jake watched from behind his wine glass, intrigued. He knew every single person seated at the table, except for a short, stocky man. Was he a major new client the firm was trying to bring on board?
Jake worked in new client engagement, which was a grand way of saying sales, but he'd not heard anything out of the usual on the grapevine. The restaurant wasn’t the type of venue the company used for those they were trying to impress. There was a shortlist of places, all high-end, but quieter and traditional, where the fine details of negotiations could be concluded. He knew that, because he'd had those lunch and dinner meetings himself. This restaurant didn't tick any of those boxes. Modern and minimalist, loud, not ideal for concluding deals. And with a waiting list of weeks. He was only here because Charlie had secured a table thanks to his boasted-of connections, whatever they were.
Jake continued to study the assembled company. The waiter, the same one who'd given him the look that told him he was a sad loser, was taking their drinks orders. Ella, the CEO plus the Directors of both the Legal and the Human Resources divisions. Jake's brow puckered. The company had got the big guns out. A sudden bleep, and Jake’s attention switched from the party gathered around the table to his phone. At last, Charlie had deigned to respond to his messages. Jake’s heart dropped when he saw the sender. No, I don’t want to bloody up-grade my phone, thank you very much. Where the hell was Charlie? He’d give him another fifteen minutes, maybe twenty or twenty-five. Jake looked back at the party. The Director of Legal was looking at this watch, his deep frown clearly visible and the short, stocky man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Ella had her phone pressed to her ear, her face a study in focus and concentration. Jake narrowed his eyes. The table was set for six people. Somebody was missing, and causing consternation because he or she hadn’t yet turned up. Yeah, reckon I know that feeling.
Ella’s face relaxed, and she said something as she put her phone down. The others looked around and, as one, stood to greet a man who arrived at the table to join them. Hands were shaken and wide smiles replaced frowns. Everybody took their seats and a waiter appeared and took the newcomer’s drink order. Jake's interest soared. Every one of those who was seated around the table was hard-bitten and as tough as nails, all of them key players in a company that made millions each year, but here they were all but fawning over a man who'd strolled in late.
Ella said something to the man and inclined her head and the guy looked across, his head cocked to the side. At any other time Jake would have welcomed the man's gaze coming to rest on him, but sitting alone in a restaurant surrounded by couples or groups, he felt only humiliation as if he had a huge neon sign above his head, an arrow pointing down at him, with the words STOOD UP flashing in garish fairground colours. The man smiled as he gave a small nod before he turned his attention back to Ella and the rest of the party. Jake exhaled, relieved his moment in the spotlight was over.
Between checking his phone for messages that never came, and the door each time it opened to admit a man who was never Charlie, Jake threw glances at the table. His eyes widened. Ella was flirting, he was sure of it. He turned his head away slightly, he didn’t want to make it obvious he was drinking in what was happening at the table on the other side of the restaurant. Ella had a reputation for being an icy bitch, but he put it down to the jealousy of the less competent. The woman was smart, ambitious and didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he was one of the few people she seemed to genuinely like. And yet here she was blushing, and giggling by the looks of it. If he'd not seen it with his own eyes, Jake would not have believed it.
Who is this guy melting her ice caps?
Jake picked up his phone, the perfect decoy to allow him to steal glances at the man. Mid-to-late forties, Jake reckoned, and tall and lean. In a suit clearly made for him, he was pure class. Thick, dark hair framed a classically handsome face. He could have walked off the front cover of a high-end men's style magazine, but that wasn’t the reason he attracted and held attention. He exuded confidence, even a little arrogance; he’d walked into the restaurant as if it were his right to be late, and nobody had questioned it. This was a man who knew his worth, and everybody around him acknowledged that. Jake drew in and clamped down on his lower lip as he forgot to be subtle and stared openly, all pretence of looking at his phone forgotten. Who are you? The question gnawed away in the back of Jake’s head, a feeling that he should know who the newcomer was, that he’d seen him before but couldn’t place where or when.
The man glanced up, and caught Jake's eye. Jake felt heat flood his face. He'd been caught gawping at somebody the company had wheeled out some of its most senior people for. Jake had a vision of the man leaning into Ella and asking, in lowered tones, who the idiot was who’d clearly been stood up, but the man didn't do that. Instead he smiled, lopsided and friendly, and Jake smiled back.
“Excuse me, Sir, but will you be ordering?” A different waiter this time, but as androgynous and with the same affected cool as the one from earlier. The rest went unsaid but was as clear as if shouted from the table tops. If you're not, piss off. We've got a queue stretching round the block of people who are more hip, more successful, better looking and who haven't been stood up by their on-off boyfriend. Sir.
Jake plastered the sickliest grin he could muster across his face. “No, I won't be. My friend has just sent me a text. There's been a terrible tragedy. His granny's died, and has been found half-eaten by her pet German Shepherd. Terrible and ironic, as both granny and doggy were vegetarian.” You can stick any idea of a tip right up where the sun doesn't shine.
Jake got up and threw some notes onto the table. An adolescent thrill shot through him when he saw that he topped the waiter by several inches.
Not so cool now, are you?
Jake turned away, leaving the waiter to gather up the money and clear the table that should have been for two but, in the end, had barely been for one. He glanced across to the table he’d been watching. The stranger was talking to the Director of Legal, but as if sensing Jake's scrutiny he glanced up and his lips lifted in his crooked smile. Jake gave a small, brief nod as he turned and made his way towards the exit, the tingle in the pit of his stomach telling him that the man was staring after him.
If you've seen the film Pride, you'll recognise the phrase Pits and Perverts. In short, it describes the support given by the lesbian and gay community to striking UK miners during 1984 - 1985.
I'm old enough (cough) to remember the strike. For part of that time I was at university in Wales, which had a large and important coal mining industry. An abiding memory is of my younger self sitting in a pub and watching footage of the pitched battles between the police and striking miners.
The early to mid 1980s was a strange time to come of age, to cross the line over into young adulthood. In London, where I grew up, there was a feeling that we were living during an era when anything was possible, that the world was changing. There was a certain excitement in the air. Yet, in other parts of the country, people were fighting for their very existence. The scene in Pride where tins of meat were being raffled so a family could eat? Yes, things like that happened. I have friends who lived through the strike, and what they saw, and experienced, seared their memories and their souls.
But back to the film. It's become an all-time favourite of mine, up there with Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita and Do the Right Thing (yep, a bit of an odd collection there). The bookshop that features in the film, Gay's The Word, exists. I know it does, because I was there just a couple of days back to hand over a consignment of books. Yes! I'm in a real bookshop, not just a virtual one and bouncing around in the ether. And you know what? I am very proud to have a little toe hold, tiny though it is, in this wonderful, inspirational and important place. If you're in London, whether you live or work there, or you're just passing through, do yourself a favour and go along. Have a browse and buy a book - even if it isn't one of mine!
Writers' retreat. Think a remote cabin deep in the woods; think a castle atop a windswept hill; think a lighthouse on a lonely wave-slashed rock.
Nah. Think a caravan out of season, several bottles of wine and more chocolate that you can shake a stick at. Yes, this was a writers' retreat mm style.
Just a few days ago I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with four other mm authors. Two are veterans, with healthy backlists: Clare London and Liam Livings; fellow newbie George Loveland, and yet to be published Jay Rookwood. It was great to get up close and personal with fellow scribblers, because at its heart writing is a solitary pursuit.
Liam cracked his whip, figuratively speaking. Whether he does that outside of writers' retreats, I'm not speculating nor am I asking. Chunks of time in the mornings and afternoons devoted to plotting and planning, getting that first draft down, or doing the pesky edits. Yes, we all worked damned hard. Later, fueled by wine, questions were asked and answered, plots unpicked, new plot points found, others discarded. Should my MC do that, or should they do this? What about a burning building, a car chase? And what about the sex? Too much, not enough? Sweet, or kinky? Or just plain weird? Opinions were voiced, views shared. We were a veritable writers' circle.
But it wasn't all work and no play. I mean, it never would be, would it?
Trips to the seaside! Ice cream! Clacton Pier! The amusement arcade! Chips! Yes, I have the photos to prove it!
We all worked our socks off. Words counts ranged from 7,200 (me, the sluggard of the group) to around 25,000 from Liam (super fast, I'm not jealous - much). And it was Fun, with a capital F. But it was more than that. The weekend I spent in a caravan, out of season on the Essex coast, was also a reminder that despite all the drama and controversy that besets the genre, I feel very, very privileged to be a part of it.
Sounds a bit like something you might go and see your doctor for, doesn't it? Unfortunately there is no magic pill, potion or powder to relieve this particular ailment. The only cure is to cut it out. The knife must be wielded. Or at least the pen, because I'm not talking about any physical condition, here. I'm talking about something much more serious. I'm talking the bogged-down, heavy and often dull mid-section of every author's most treasured possession, which is the Work in Progress (WIP).
So why the soggy middle? Because it is, quite literally, the mid-point of the story that has become boggy, heavy, dull (irrespective of how much action there might be). The WIP has become, well, soggy, like the middle of a badly made cake (if I can get a reference to cake in, then I will).
The excitement of the early chapters, where the stage is set and the MCs have been introduced, is long gone. Conflicts have been created, sexual tension hangs heavy in the air, hearts have been broken and love is on the line... and then the story loses its fizz, sparkle and zest, like a half-empty bottle of champagne. I hold the fates of my guys in my hands. I know where I want the story to go. I even have a pull out all the stops resolution but the soggy middle, all wet and sticky, is slowing everything down and making the journey to that HEA one hell of a drag. All authors experience this in some shape or form. If they say they don't, then I simply do not believe them. Sorry, but I don't.
I have experienced the curse of the soggy middle with Jake's story, the third and final in the Urban Love series. The plotting and planning was going great guns. I'd plotted about 75% of the story. I read the precis of each chapter, but at the mid-point thought, meh, something's not right, it's all got a bit low key... Thing is, I couldn't put my finger on what it was. All I knew was the fizz had gone. I felt stuck. My head hurt with all the thinking about it. So I stopped thinking, and that was the best thing I did as I literally cycled my way out of the soggy middle and back to dry land.
I was in my regular spin (static cycle) class and while the instructor was balling at us all to climb those mountains, hike the gears up, give it 100%, I was letting my mind wander. And that's when it came to me: what I needed to introduce, shift around and cut. It wasn't much, everything was already there in the story to lead me to what needed to be done, I just hadn't realised it.
Jake's story, and his now no longer soggy middle, will be available in the New Year and will complete the trilogy which started with Matt and Rick (Loose Connection) and then Archie and Zack (The Story of Love).
A E Ryecart
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