NEW RELEASE & GIVEAWAY: TO STAND CLOSE by FAITH ASHLIN

One of my favourite authors and my friend, Faith Ashlin, has a new book out today and you could win a copy here. Enter the draw by telling us your favourite indulgence, your guilty pleasure. The draw closes Tuesday 31st March 6pm GMT.

How to totally indulge yourself when writing

I, like many others, have periods when writing is so blooming hard that I will do anything to get out of it. Yes, I can make myself sit at the keyboard but there’s always Google to look up that 90’s band that I heard on the radio. Or a recipe for lamb tagine even though I don’t have a tagine and no one in the family likes lamb.

Yes, of course, I have to look them up right now and, no, of course it won’t wait.

If I turn off the internet and make everyone in the house promise to shoot me if I turn it back on – although, when I’m writing, there’s always a word that needs replacing using an on-line thesaurus – there are other distractions.

It’s amazing what you can get out of the keyboard when you poke round each letter with a cocktail stick. I’ve done it. Too many times to count. When writers block hits I have the cleanest keyboard in England.

So how to make myself write?

I wrote a list of things I love. Okay, so it was another diversion that delayed me actually writing but, for once, it helped.

Part of the list.

  1. Beautiful young men
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Beautiful young men falling in love
  4. Closed, secretive, hidden worlds
  5. Beautiful young men falling in love and having wild sex
  6. Books
  7. Beautiful young men falling in love, having wild sex and being noble

That’s not a bad list. All I had to do was think of a story that involved all those things and it would be easy-peasy to write.

Gymnastics should have been easy to include. I *adore* gymnastics; the movement, the grace and, if it’s done well, the style and artistry. I’m equally passionate about both men’s and women’s gymnastics but at the moment there is no one – and never has been – like Kōhei Uchimura. Incredibly difficulty done with incredible style. A true artist.

But there’s a problem. Adorable as he is with his floppy mop of hair and his hairy underarms he’s not my idea of a beautiful young man who could fall in love and have wild sex.

So how to get gymnastics in the story? No problem: make one of the beautiful young men a gymnastics coach! Sorted.

As for the rest of the list most were also easy.  Set the story behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy – I was thinking somewhere like North Korea only more secretive – and I could have all sorts of fun. Different circumstances: different rules that I could change and mould to my heart – and plot’s – content. Make one of the beautiful young men collect books and all I had to include was falling in love and wild sex.

I really, really, REALLY like writing about beautiful men falling in love and sex. Oh yes, I love writing about sex as well.

I had to be careful about one thing though. I know a lot about gymnastics and coaching so I had to make sure I didn’t overload the story with technical detail that only I’d appreciate. But, apart from that, the words flowed when I sat down to write. Mostly. I still have an extraordinarily clean keyboard but, hey, that has to be a good thing, right!

This story became my new book, ‘To Stand Close’ which is out on March 27th.

Faith’s bio:

When Faith was clearing out her attic many years ago, she found a book she’d written as a ten-year-old. On rereading it she realised that it was the love story of two boys. Over the years her fascination with the image of beautiful young men, coiled together as they fell head over heels in love, became a passion for her.

Since that first innocent book—written in purple sparkly pen—she has written many stories, set in varied worlds, but always with two men finding their way to happiness.

Still nothing much has changed because now she can be found in a daydream, wandering around the supermarket, or sitting in a meeting at work still dreaming up stories.

To Stand Close

To stand close

Can love grow and survive for two men on opposite sides of the deepest of chasms—slavery?

In this world, one country has cut itself off and is closed and mysterious to everyone else. What’s the secret it’s hiding? Magic? Monsters? No, just the cruel reality of slavery. But inside its borders life goes on as normal, and it competes with the rest of the world at sport just like everyone else, just to prove that it’s the best.

Nicky accepts that and is happy in his own small, simple life as a gymnastics coach. He accepts it because he’s never known anything else, but he stays as far away from the brutality of slavery as he can, until he’s given a present he doesn’t want and isn’t allowed to refuse.

As for love? Well, he loves his sport. Isn’t that enough?

Excerpt

With her face creased in concentration, the young gymnast landed well from the mid-air somersaults, her feet making solid contact with the mat. But rather than creating an elaborate show of her stability, she immediately arched backward, stretching her spine into a perfect curve. Her arm came up above her head, elbow soft, hand following the movement, as she looked backward along the line, making sure every finger was in the right place, delicate and gentle.

The extra gesture followed perfectly with the music, a quiet, haunting piece of heartbreaking intensity with only a single clear voice laid over the melody. She followed the sound with her hand, her arm, her whole body, faced creased with the feeling of the music, till the very last note.

Then she was still. Perfectly, completely still, caught in the moment and the magic. For a long second she kept the position, fixed in time, then the spell was broken as she turned toward her coach, a sixteen-year-old girl once more. “Nicky?” she asked, her attention fixed on his face. “Was it good enough?”

Nicky took a slow breath as he pulled himself up from where he sat, just outside the floor area. “How did it feel to you?”

“It felt…” Adeline caught her lip between her teeth, uncertainty seeming to creep over her like a plague as she dipped her head, suddenly aware of everyone else in the gym.

“No.” He stopped her. “Doesn’t matter how anyone else reacts. How did it feel to you?”

Her focus was back on him again, as though he were the only important thing in the world. The only thing. “Like I’d become part of the music. L—like I could feel it in my tummy, like I was in it. It felt… I felt…” She stopped, shaking her head.

“Beautiful,” he said quietly. “You looked beautiful. You were beautiful. Beautiful—that’s the word you want. You and the music were beautiful.”

She stared at him, her heart and soul in her eyes, all being offered to him, then she broke into a huge grin. “And the triple twist somersault?”

“Over cooked and off line.” He shrugged, grinning back. “But we can sort that out later. It doesn’t matter—you caught the essence, the soul of it. Who cares about a bit of a wobble when you’re that graceful?”

“The judges will, you idiot.” She laughed, running toward him. “That would be at least a point two deduction.”

“And another point two off your score for not being straight.” He slung an arm over her shoulder, leading her across the hall. “But I’d give you an extra couple of marks for taking my breath away.”

“Idiot,” she repeated, smiling and leaning into him for a moment. Her hand went up toward his face, hovering for a moment near the birthmark covering his cheek on one side. She gave it the briefest of touches with one fingertip, then she ran away as he pushed her gently.

“Okay, everyone, warm down then home. I, for one, need some sleep.”

There was a chorus of cheeky replies and a few harmless insults before the group of girls got together on the floor area to go through their ritual warm down. Nicky started clearing up—a water bottle here, a track suit top there, putting mats back in their proper place—as he listened to them.

They were still laughing and giggling together—amazing after a three-hour, strenuous work out. Comments about their haircuts mixed in with gossip from favorite TV shows and the latest pop star as they took care of muscles that had been worked hard. Nicky stopped and watched them, a collection of hand guards held against his chest. They were damned good girls. Not just at gymnastics—that went without saying. But a collection of diverse personalities that had one thing in common—they were all good people. Some were loud and confident, others softly spoken or wary, but they would all grow up to be decent adults.

He had chosen the group well. Not just great gymnasts—not even always the best he had seen, there had been other, better, gymnasts he had turned down—but great gymnasts with better characters who he could work with. Who he could help become the best in the world. He smiled at them fondly.

“What are you staring at, old man?” Martha stood, hands on hips, and pulled a face at him, sticking out her tongue.

“A stick insect with red hair?”

“A stick insect?” She narrowed her eyes. “If I’m such a stick insect, why did you have that soppy expression your face? You looked a sausage short of a barbeque.”

He barked out a laugh at the absurdity of her comparison and knew that the soppy expression was back again. “Because I’m proud of you,” he said seriously. “I’m proud of all of you.”

Martha stopped for a moment, her face showing her pride in the compliment, then she was off again, running toward the showers. “I told you he’s gone soft in the head,” she shouted over her shoulder to the others. “It’s because he doesn’t spend enough time having fun.”

“If I have gone soft, it’s because I spend too much time with you guys.” He threw a hand guard half-heartedly after her, knowing he’d have to pick it up himself, and shook his head. He was proud of them, each and every one. “And why are you all in such a rush to get out of here?”

“Because”—Martha popped her head back round the changing room door—“as we did so well in the last competition, our mums have given us money to go late night shopping. We’re buying something other than leotards and track suits for once, something glamorous. High heels and skirts with spangles on them.” She grinned again, flashing her teeth. “Unlike you, we know how to have fun.”

“So, go, have fun.” He waved them away. “Just don’t be late for training in the morning.” He picked up the hand guard and looked round the gym. All ready for the next day. He collected his things and reached for the light switch, muttering to himself, “I do know how to have fun, if I remember right.”

Outside in the corridor he held the main door open for the last of his girls as they headed off, still talking a mile a minute. But before he could lock up, one of the girls’ mothers stopped him, her foot in the door, her hand pressed against his chest.

Mrs. Bygroves. She’d always made him want to take a step away. Too pushy, too knowing, too self-assured. “Nicky.” She purred his name. “We wanted to have a quick word with you.”

“We?”

“Myself and the other mothers.” She indicated the group of women behind her, already starting to move toward the door. “We won’t keep you long. We just wanted to give you something to say a proper thank you for all you’ve done for our girls, especially after the amazing results at the last competition.”

“You don’t have to give me anything.” He hesitated, already not liking the feel of this. “I do it for the pleasure of working with them, and they’ve already said thank you.”

“Nonsense.” She pushed past him, confidently making her way to the office. “I know the authorities don’t recognize your work as they should and I’ll wager they never say thank you.”

“It doesn’t matter.” He trailed after the women. What else could he do?

“But you’re the best women’s gymnastics coach in the country. You should be working with the elite national squad, not stuck out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“But I’m building a better squad than the national elite one.” He allowed himself a satisfied smile. Yeah, his girls were damned good.

 

COMING SOON: TO STAND CLOSE BY FAITH ASHLIN

Blurb:

Can love grow and survive for two men on opposite sides of the deepest of chasms—slavery?

In this world, one country has cut itself off and is closed and mysterious to everyone else. What’s the secret it’s hiding? Magic? Monsters? No, just the cruel reality of slavery. But inside its borders life goes on as normal, and it competes with the rest of the world at sport just like everyone else, just to prove that it’s the best.

Nicky accepts that and is happy in his own small, simple life as a gymnastics coach. He accepts it because he’s never known anything else, but he stays as far away from the brutality of slavery as he can, until he’s given a present he doesn’t want and isn’t allowed to refuse.

As for love? Well, he loves his sport. Isn’t that enough?

Faith Ashlin: Holidaying in Britain and Giveaway

Faith Ashlin is one of my best friends. I’ve known her longer than publishing, longer than fanfiction. She is the reason I (Sue) am here, and I’m ecstatic to get her on the blog, especially promoting her new book, Knights and Butterscotch. Leave a comment here to win a copy of her new book. The giveaway will close 9am GMT, Wednesday, 25th September. GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED!

knightsandbutterscotch_newman

Picture the scene: I was up in my elderly parent’s loft, looking for a suitcase among the spiders and Christmas decorations when I found a box of old photos. Without thinking I sat down in the dust and started to look through them. Well, you have to, don’t you?

They were all from our family holidays. There was I at 13, with a hideous haircut (I was aiming for trendy but ended up with a mullet) and tombstone teeth too big for my face, playing Swingball next to a caravan. Suddenly all the memories came flooding back. The caravan was in Kent and belonged to my aunt. We’d often go there and I’d lust – in my awkward and gawky way – after the boy, two caravans along. It was dilapidated and old, on a site with no facilities, and the toilet block was the other side of the field. There was one tiny shop that sold bread, milk and my favourite Fab lollies. But, somehow, those holidays felt magical. I’m sure the summers were warmer and lasted longer, even the sea was bluer.

We always went on holiday at least once a year and the whole family came along: aunts, uncles, cousins and grand parents. We never went abroad, we didn’t have the money, and we stayed in some really scabby holiday camps and caravans, but why go anywhere else when Britain was perfect?

Now I’d started on the photos I couldn’t stop. Further down was a picture of me at six dressed in my mum’s cardigan after I fell in a pond. Mum was cooking sausages on a tiny primus stove and we were all waving to the camera. We looked like a bunch of down and outs, but the sun was shining and it was beautiful. I think it was then that I fell in love with the British countryside in all its variations. That’s the great thing about Britain, there’s so much variety. The high cliffs at Dover, the splendour of the Yorkshire Moors, sandy beaches, stony ones, Snake Pass in the Peak District, the rolling hills of the South Downs.

Another photo showed an older me, burying my dad in the sand, somewhere in Devon. Okay, so we had our coats on in June, but it was a gorgeous beach with sand that went on for what seemed like miles.

Next came a photo of a very sulky teenage me. Oh I must have been murder to live with; I was far too cool to walk the cliff path in Dorset with the family! But even now, I can remember the view was stunning and the air clean, with a tang of the sea.

It got me thinking about holidays with my own children. We’ve often been abroad but there’s something special about the ones in Britain. We’ve visited steam trains, mines, theme parks, caves and castles. Yes, it rains a lot but that’s part of the fun. Don’t we all pack umbrellas and welly boots, as well sun cream and swimsuits for a holiday here?

We’ve eaten our soggy sandwiches in the car as the rain poured down the windows, walked over the moors when it was so cold my youngest said his head was going to fall off. But we’ve also spent hours in the sunshine, having fun with an old blow up boat on rivers I’ve forgotten the name of, sweltering as we plodded up a Welsh mountain or playing our version of non-stop cricket until it got too dark to see. That’s the UK for you and you have to love it.

Our holidays abroad were more glamorous and sophisticated and I thoroughly enjoyed them. But there’s something wonderful about exploring the UK. I’ve loved it all. Even in the rain.

Even the time I was asleep on the beach in Charmouth and my eldest (aged about six at the time) tried to show me the fossil he’d found embedded in a large stone by dropping it on my head. Yes, the trip to A&E was unexpected, but we found a really great shop selling crab lines on the way back!

Now my children are older they don’t come away with us as often. I’m hoping they will again when they have children of their own. But, in the meantime, I have more time to read and write about beautiful men falling in love. That can’t be a bad thing!

Knights and Butterscotch

A story of modern-day knights, paint-splattered artists and a lightning bolt of attraction that hits hard enough to make a knight think he’s going crazy. And then things get complicated.

The year is now, the place is somewhere like here but the feeling is very different. Matti Elkin is a modern-day knight and, while he may not have a horse or a suit of shining armour, he’s brave and true, has a sense of duty and honour a mile wide and a passionate belief in his king.

There’s a war on and the knights are fighting hard, but while on R&R Matti is hit hard with an overwhelming attraction for Jamie, a tall, handsome painter.

Jamie makes his head spin and his cock harden, and has him acting in ways that make him question his own sanity. But when the war takes an appalling turn, they are both thrown into a world of confusion that has them questioning everything they thought they knew.

Buy Link

http://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=2320

 

Excerpt

Matti pushed his hair back off his face and blew out a long slow breath. Enough—he’d had enough socialising for now. There was only so much wholesome happiness a man like him could take and he’d had his fill for the time being.

It was pretty damned awesome to see Maxim so happy he glowed as he looked at his bride-to-be. To see her looking back, eyes filled with promise for the future, filled with love and possibility. Matti just hoped—no, prayed—that they could have all they deserved. That events would turn out in the right way for them and that the future…but that was for another time. Now was for the simple love between two people. One that burned bright and would be fulfilled tomorrow at their wedding.

A wedding. It was an interesting thought at a time like this. But right now he’d had enough of small talk and playing nice. After the wedding, and its formal reception, his group would gather to celebrate in their own way. That would be more Matti’s thing, one where he could really relax.

Now he needed cool air and a glass of something very cold because it was damned hot in the banqueting suite. He stepped up to the bar and asked the bartender for water and ice, smiling when it was handed over quickly. Air, and the relief from being polite, were next on his agenda. He pushed his way between the groups of chatting people and made for the glass doors out onto the big balcony overlooking the city.

The noise stopped as soon as he closed the heavy door behind him and the respite was palpable. Space and peace, cool air on his face, they all drew him forward. Then there were the shimmering lights below. All those people living, loving, dying. They called out something to him that he couldn’t understand and wasn’t sure he was ready to hear. Or maybe it was all only in his head.

He was being daft again and there was nothing else for it but to laugh at himself. The world below didn’t need him, wasn’t asking anything of him. It didn’t even know he was there.

He rested both forearms on the ledge of the curved, stone balcony edge and looked down. Max was getting married. That was enough to make anyone smile. The amazing Isobel had finally decided it was time and they were making it formal and permanent. It kind of put everything in perspective.

“Anything interesting going on out there?” a voice asked from the darkness at his side.

“Oh.” Matti turned but couldn’t see the man’s face. “I didn’t know there was anyone out here.”

“Doesn’t matter. I just thought, as you were studying it so intently, there had to be something going on in the big wide world.”

“Nothing as far as I know. I only came out for a bit of peace and to look at the pretty lights.”

“Then I should let you have your peace.” The man took a step forward and Matti saw him properly for the first time. “I’ll go.”

“No,” Matti said, louder and with more feeling than he’d expected, intended. “I don’t want you to go.” Now that was just a plain stupid thing to say to a complete stranger. “I only… I…” He stopped, knowing how foolish he sounded, feeling his cheeks flare and the skin on his face tighten.

“Are you all right?” the man asked.

Matti took a step away as the stranger came closer, and now they were both in the light.

Tall, was Matti’s first thought. Very tall with wide shoulders and thick hair and the most startled look on his face Matti had seen outside a comic book. No, not startled. Shocked and a little dazed. “I think maybe I should be asking you if you’re okay,” he said. He wasn’t quite sure how he managed to get the words out in the right order, his mind was whizzing so fast. Tall and right-looking and something else he had no intention of thinking about.

He might not be thinking about it but his blood was pulsing under his skin—he’d swear he could feel it.

“I…” It was the man’s turn to stammer, but he didn’t take his eyes from Matti’s. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. A big truck. One that’s going very fast and landed right on my head.”

“Trucks don’t hit you on the head, they smack into you. Falling aeroplanes or meteors hit you on the head.”

“And you’d know this because?” The man smiled and Matti wasn’t sure if he was going to be sick for all the wrong reasons.

“’Cause a meteor just smacked me on the head?” Matti couldn’t look away or breathe properly. Yeah, breathing properly—deep and slow—that was a good idea. It might stop him talking stupid crap to a perfect stranger for a start. “That bitch hurt and now I feel like I have my skin on inside out.”

“I…” The man put out a hand, not quite touching Matti but looking like he wanted to. “This is…”

“Yeah, it is,” Matti agreed, knowing just what he meant.

“Is this weird?” the man asked, his face scrunching up like something was hurting but in a good way.

“Weirdest thing I’ve ever known.” There really wasn’t anywhere else Matti wanted to look, anyone else he wanted to look at. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to stop the crazy talk.

The man took a deep breath, holding it as he stared at Matti. Then he gave a curt nod, and held his hand out properly. “Jamie. I’m Jamie or my name’s Jamie or something.”

“You think your name’s Jamie?”

“No, pretty sure it’s Jamie. I’m Jamie, who are you?”

“Matti. My name’s Matti and…” He grasped Jamie’s hand and lost the ability to speak. Jamie’s hand sat so perfectly in his, it seemed to mould itself to his palm, skin flushing and fusing and tingling as their hands settled together. And when did he think such crap? He guessed it was better than saying it out loud.

He looked up, his breathing still not working right, and Jamie didn’t look much better than he felt. Jamie’s pupils had dilated to ridiculous proportions, his face was flushed and there was a sheen of sweat across his forehead. He was trying to say something but he didn’t seem to be having any more success at forming a coherent sentence than Matti.

“I…you…” Jamie said, clutching Matti’s hand tighter.

“Yeah,” Matti agreed again, nodding furiously, although he knew it made no sense.

For the longest moment they stood like that, at the edge of the balcony, palms pressed tight in what looked like a handshake that had become frozen in time, with the rest of the world forgotten. They were so still they could have been a photograph, a moment captured forever.

 

Who is Faith?

When Faith was clearing out her attic many years ago, she found a book she’d written as a ten-year-old. On rereading it she realised that it was the love story of two boys. Over the years her fascination with the image of beautiful young men, coiled together as they fell head over heels in love, became a passion for her.

Since that first innocent book—written in purple sparkly pen—she has written many stories, set in varied worlds, but always with two men finding their way to happiness.

Still nothing much has changed because now she can be found in a daydream, wandering around the supermarket, or sitting in a meeting at work still dreaming up stories.

Blog

http://faithashlin.blogspot.co.uk/

Books by Faith

http://www.facebook.com/BooksByFaithAshlin

Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/faith.ashlin

Blog

http://faith-ashlin.livejournal.com/

Twitter

https://twitter.com/Ashlin_Faith

Email

faith.ashlin@gmail.com

New Releases

 

Knights in Butterscotch

Knights in Butterscotch

A story of modern-day knights, paint-splattered artists and a lightning bolt of attraction that hits hard enough to make a knight think he’s going crazy. And then things get complicated.

The year is now, the place is somewhere like here but the feeling is very different. Matti Elkin is a modern-day knight and, while he may not have a horse or a suit of shining armour, he’s brave and true, has a sense of duty and honour a mile wide and a passionate belief in his king.

There’s a war on and the knights are fighting hard, but while on R&R Matti is hit hard with an overwhelming attraction for Jamie, a tall, handsome painter.

Jamie makes his head spin and his cock harden, and has him acting in ways that make him question his own sanity. But when the war takes an appalling turn, they are both thrown into a world of confusion that has them questioning everything they thought they knew.

Excerpt

Matti pushed his hair back off his face and blew out a long slow breath. Enough—he’d had enough socialising for now. There was only so much wholesome happiness a man like him could take and he’d had his fill for the time being.

It was pretty damned awesome to see Maxim so happy he glowed as he looked at his bride-to-be. To see her looking back, eyes filled with promise for the future, filled with love and possibility. Matti just hoped—no, prayed—that they could have all they deserved. That events would turn out in the right way for them and that the future…but that was for another time. Now was for the simple love between two people. One that burned bright and would be fulfilled tomorrow at their wedding.

A wedding. It was an interesting thought at a time like this. But right now he’d had enough of small talk and playing nice. After the wedding, and its formal reception, his group would gather to celebrate in their own way. That would be more Matti’s thing, one where he could really relax.

Now he needed cool air and a glass of something very cold because it was damned hot in the banqueting suite. He stepped up to the bar and asked the bartender for water and ice, smiling when it was handed over quickly. Air, and the relief from being polite, were next on his agenda. He pushed his way between the groups of chatting people and made for the glass doors out onto the big balcony overlooking the city.

The noise stopped as soon as he closed the heavy door behind him and the respite was palpable. Space and peace, cool air on his face, they all drew him forward. Then there were the shimmering lights below. All those people living, loving, dying. They called out something to him that he couldn’t understand and wasn’t sure he was ready to hear. Or maybe it was all only in his head.

He was being daft again and there was nothing else for it but to laugh at himself. The world below didn’t need him, wasn’t asking anything of him. It didn’t even know he was there.

He rested both forearms on the ledge of the curved, stone balcony edge and looked down. Max was getting married. That was enough to make anyone smile. The amazing Isobel had finally decided it was time and they were making it formal and permanent. It kind of put everything in perspective.

“Anything interesting going on out there?” a voice asked from the darkness at his side.

“Oh.” Matti turned but couldn’t see the man’s face. “I didn’t know there was anyone out here.”

“Doesn’t matter. I just thought, as you were studying it so intently, there had to be something going on in the big wide world.”

“Nothing as far as I know. I only came out for a bit of peace and to look at the pretty lights.”

“Then I should let you have your peace.” The man took a step forward and Matti saw him properly for the first time. “I’ll go.”

“No,” Matti said, louder and with more feeling than he’d expected, intended. “I don’t want you to go.” Now that was just a plain stupid thing to say to a complete stranger. “I only… I…” He stopped, knowing how foolish he sounded, feeling his cheeks flare and the skin on his face tighten.

“Are you all right?” the man asked.

Matti took a step away as the stranger came closer, and now they were both in the light.

Tall, was Matti’s first thought. Very tall with wide shoulders and thick hair and the most startled look on his face Matti had seen outside a comic book. No, not startled. Shocked and a little dazed. “I think maybe I should be asking you if you’re okay,” he said. He wasn’t quite sure how he managed to get the words out in the right order, his mind was whizzing so fast. Tall and right-looking and something else he had no intention of thinking about.

He might not be thinking about it but his blood was pulsing under his skin—he’d swear he could feel it.

“I…” It was the man’s turn to stammer, but he didn’t take his eyes from Matti’s. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. A big truck. One that’s going very fast and landed right on my head.”

“Trucks don’t hit you on the head, they smack into you. Falling aeroplanes or meteors hit you on the head.”

“And you’d know this because?” The man smiled and Matti wasn’t sure if he was going to be sick for all the wrong reasons.

“’Cause a meteor just smacked me on the head?” Matti couldn’t look away or breathe properly. Yeah, breathing properly—deep and slow—that was a good idea. It might stop him talking stupid crap to a perfect stranger for a start. “That bitch hurt and now I feel like I have my skin on inside out.”

“I…” The man put out a hand, not quite touching Matti but looking like he wanted to. “This is…”

“Yeah, it is,” Matti agreed, knowing just what he meant.

“Is this weird?” the man asked, his face scrunching up like something was hurting but in a good way.

“Weirdest thing I’ve ever known.” There really wasn’t anywhere else Matti wanted to look, anyone else he wanted to look at. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to stop the crazy talk.

The man took a deep breath, holding it as he stared at Matti. Then he gave a curt nod, and held his hand out properly. “Jamie. I’m Jamie or my name’s Jamie or something.”

“You think your name’s Jamie?”

“No, pretty sure it’s Jamie. I’m Jamie, who are you?”

“Matti. My name’s Matti and…” He grasped Jamie’s hand and lost the ability to speak. Jamie’s hand sat so perfectly in his, it seemed to mould itself to his palm, skin flushing and fusing and tingling as their hands settled together. And when did he think such crap? He guessed it was better than saying it out loud.

He looked up, his breathing still not working right, and Jamie didn’t look much better than he felt. Jamie’s pupils had dilated to ridiculous proportions, his face was flushed and there was a sheen of sweat across his forehead. He was trying to say something but he didn’t seem to be having any more success at forming a coherent sentence than Matti.

“I…you…” Jamie said, clutching Matti’s hand tighter.

“Yeah,” Matti agreed again, nodding furiously, although he knew it made no sense.

For the longest moment they stood like that, at the edge of the balcony, palms pressed tight in what looked like a handshake that had become frozen in time, with the rest of the world forgotten. They were so still they could have been a photograph, a moment captured forever.