The Charioteer: My Favourite Book by Charlie Cochrane

Blurb:

After enduring an injury at Dunkirk during World War II, Laurie Odell is sent to a rural veterans’ hospital in England to convalesce. There he befriends the young, bright Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. As they find solace and companionship together in the idyllic surroundings of the hospital, their friendship blooms into a discreet, chaste romance. Then one day, Ralph Lanyon, a mentor from Laurie’s schoolboy days, suddenly reappears in Laurie’s life, and draws him into a tight-knit social circle of world-weary gay men. Laurie is forced to choose between the sweet ideals of innocence and the distinct pleasures of experience.

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It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that my favourite book is The Charioteer by Mary Renault. I re-read it all the way through at least once a year and dip in and out of it, reading a few pages or scenes, on an almost weekly basis. “Charlie, you’re a sad woman,” you cry, and I might have to agree with you, but it’s like listening to a favourite piece of music. You listen again and again so why not read a particularly pleasing piece of prose as many times as you still find it pleasing?

But there’s more to it than that. I admire hugely Ms Renault’s ability to say so much in so few words. She inspires my writing, challenging me to say in one or two sentences what most writers take three pages to state. (Not just in this book – The Persian Boy and The Mask of Apollo are other examples of a brilliant author in action.) Her economy of prose and description is dazzling, and her characterisation matches one of my other author heroes, Patrick O’Brian. She doesn’t need to explain endlessly about somebody: a few words and snatches of dialogue and you picture them entirely.

Those “minor” characters are fascinating. You could write another full novel just about Alex and Sandy or Ralph and Bunny. Ms Renault is almost extravagant (like O’Brian again!) in giving us wonderful players on her stage, but using them in bit parts. If I had any complain about this book it would be that I’d like to know more, for example about Alex and Ralph’s relationship.

Of course, the setting – a barely disguised Bristol – is an attraction, it being a city I know and, incidentally, the venue for UK Meet 2014. http://ukglbtfictionmeet.co.uk/ Perhaps when we’re there we could walk around the old waterfront, retracing Ralph and Laurie’s footsteps, or try to find where some of the flats were located.

I’ve recently been listening to the abridged version, read by Anton Lesser, which has been the Radio 4 book at bedtime. It’s been a bit frustrating at times, its abbreviated nature meaning that some of my favourite scenes were cut, but overall it was a revelation. How could I find so many fresh nuances in a work I thought I knew so well? But that’s like hearing Shakespeare given life by an excellent actor – you re-interpret all sorts of things.

One last thing: I’d like to know what happened next. Happy ever after for Ralph and Laurie or only happy for now? And what becomes of Andrew? I have my own theory as to where the story goes after the last page is turned but I’ll keep my powder dry on it for now. That could be a whole other blog…

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Author bio:

As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice–like managing a rugby team–she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she’s making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She’s even been known to write about gay werewolves–albeit highly respectable ones.

She was named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name but her family still regard her writing with a fond indulgence, just as she prefers.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.

Lessons for Suspicious Minds

An invitation to stay at a friend of the Stewart family’s stately home can only mean one thing for Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith — a new case for the amateur sleuths! With two apparently unrelated suicides, a double chase is on.
But things never run smoothly for the Cambridge fellows. In an era when their love dare not speak its name, the chance of discovery (and disgrace) is ever present — how do you explain yourself when a servant discovers you doing the midnight run along the corridor?
The chase stops being a game for Orlando when the case brings back memories of his father’s suicide and the search for the identity of his grandfather. And the solution presents them with one of the most difficult moral decisions they’ve had to make…

My Favourite Book by LM Brown

Lost in Another Time

For me, nothing compares to a good historical romance to firmly ensure that I know what country I am reading about.  I enjoy contemporary romances as well, but sometimes the ‘flavour’ of the countries they are set in has been removed so thoroughly it is actually hard to tell whether the setting is England, America or even somewhere else. I recall reading one story a while ago (not a gay romance) where I actually thought the country was the US until a random mention in the middle of the Eiffel Tower.

Now I am not saying all contemporaries are hard to place the location of.  Some writers bring the country they are writing about to life very well indeed. Some even manage to get those books published while still maintaining the flavour of the country after it has been through numerous rounds of editing. Kudos to those who succeed.

However, when it comes to the historical genre it is a whole different matter.  Yes, editors can and do remove the British spellings and terminology, but when you’re reading a story set during, for example, the Regency period in London, you know you are there because it spills from every page. As soon as a king or queen of England is mentioned, you know exactly when and where you are.  Or at least I do, since I am a bit of a history fanatic.

My favourite time periods are Stuart and Tudor England and I was delighted this year to discover new books set in the latter era.

The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen is the first book in a trilogy, which is followed up by Duty to the Crown. The third and final book isn’t out until next year and I can’t wait. (I am hoping for even more than three, but that’s because I am unbelievably greedy.)

Set in Tudor England and drawing heavily from Shakespeare (who is surprisingly not one of my favourite writers – I know, I’m a traitor to my English heritage!) the story of Sebastian and Anthony kept me glued to my ereader long into the night.

To tell you a little about the story, hopefully without giving too much away, Sebastian is an actor on the stage where he plays female roles.  In this time period men playing female roles were, of course, common place since women were not generally allowed on the stage, Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding.

However, Sebastian is nineteen years old and know he won’t be able to play these roles for much longer. His days in female wigs and feminine clothing are drawing to an end.  Or are they?

Sebastian unexpectedly finds himself playing the part of a female off the stage when he takes the place of his twin sister to save the reputation of his family and pay off the debts of his deceased father.

Anthony, the Earl of the title of the first book, is the man Sebastian tries to fool into thinking he is his twin sister. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Anthony is smart enough to figure out the deception before it gets very far.  He suggests Sebastian continues his role as Anthony’s ‘wife’ and thus their relationship begins.

Sebastian and Anthony are two men who fall in love in a time when relationships between two men could mean the end of their lives. Sebastian in particular is in a very vulnerable position, because unlike Anthony he doesn’t have the connections that could save his life if they were to be caught. The one rule for the rich and another for the poor is an unfortunate fact of life.

Many historical romances of the male/male variety have a tendency to gloss over the whole illegality of homosexual relations issue.  Rebecca Cohen does not.  Although she does not dwell on the danger the men are in for page after page, the fear of what would happen if Sebastian’s charade were to be discovered is ever present in the background.

And that is one of the major reasons why I love this series.  There is no way to forget what era and country and I am reading about.  Nothing in the story makes me wonder if it is in fact set in an alternate type of historical world where homosexual relationships are in fact taking place all around and everyone turns a blind eye.

With a story about two Elizabethan men who are involved in a very dangerous and potentially scandalous relationship you would think the books would be heavy on the drama and not much else, but this is not the case at all. In fact, there is a delightful amount of comedy in the stories as you read about the tangled lives of Anthony, Sebastian and their contemporaries.

As a man playing the role of a female, Sebastian doesn’t expect to get the attention of admirers, but unfortunately for him, there are those who are eager to get to know him better, both as a man and as a woman.  Yes, there is danger in others discovering his charade, but the way the dilemma is handled is actually very amusing at times as well.

Shakespearian romps hold little interest for me, but Rebecca Cohen’s Elizabethan romp had me hooked from the start.

I absolutely adore the first two books in the series and while I will be pouncing on the final book in the trilogy as soon as it is out, I will be very sad to leave the world created by Ms Cohen and hope *HINT HINT* there are many more books to come.

I thoroughly recommend immersing yourself in Elizabethan England some time in the very near future, if you aren’t already fan-girling over this series like me that is.

~~

LM Brown:

I live in England, in a quaint little village that time doesn’t seem to have touched. No, wait a minute- that’s the retirement biography. Right now I am in England in a medium sized town that no one has ever heard of, so I won’t bore you with the details. Keeping me company are numerous sexy men. I just wish that they weren’t all inside my head.

LM Brown can be found on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog.

Why late night infomercials happily cost me far too much money…

Why late night infomercials happily cost me far too much money… by S.J. Cooper

I literally stumbled across the m/m genre.

I mean literally.

You see, I have this weird habit of watching American infomercials when I can’t sleep at night, you know the ones where they try to sell you a convection oven for six easy payments of £99.99, or a set of stickers for your decoupage Christmas cards. One particular evening though, rather than commit to 36 easy payments I sat down with the laptop and set out to find me something cheap or free to read for an hour.

If I am being honest I was just clicking anywhere. Different genres such as New Adult, Paranormal, and Erotic all popped up, but somehow and I cannot for the life of me remember how, I ended up on a page full of wolf shifter books. I do remember not really thinking anything of it. I’d seen the Twilight stuff (I disliked both the films and the books) and thought it definitely wasn’t for me. Wolves? Humans? Men…? Nope… Whoa… What? Men? Together? Like together?? Hang on a minute sunshine…

Now, I love blokes, my other half is wonderfully male, my best mate is male, I get on better with blokes then I do girls, so what was the harm in downloading this one? None. However, I got half way and realised it was book 13 of god knows how many and I put it down. You see I’m a bit OCD about series books – I have to start right at the beginning otherwise I might miss something important. So off I went back to Amazon, found the first book and downloaded that. One week later I was revisiting number 13 and wondering when number 14 was out (I’m now on book 20).

One late night browsing session changed my reading habits forever. Since then I have read about SEALS, Marines, cowboys, cops, jocks and nerds, baseball players, rodeo, American footballer players, shifters, assassins, and vampires. I devoured a whole genre in one go.

Except, there was something missing. I’m British. Well, English to be precise. I live in an ex-coal mining town in the North West. We say ‘by eck’, eat chips and gravy, like heads on our pints and drink Vimto. You know – British stuff. The books I’d been reading were all set in America and yeah, I loved ‘em. Some of my favourite authors are American. I can reel off a list of authors whose work I adore and will read over and over again but for some reason I wanted to read a book where they drank tea in a morning and not black coffee.

This ‘quest’, as it were, involved another late night browsing session (I had the Insanity workout infomercial on the TV in the back ground as a token gesture) and eventually led me too Muscling Through by JL Merrow. It was my first book by a British author set in Britain and I read it in one sitting. The strong urge I had to fist pump the air and whoop loudly after was only curtailed by the fact that it was 3am. Why? Well in my eyes it was just so perfect.

The story opens with the following line; “I know it’s just fucking, Larry and me.” That is one the best opening sentences I have ever read to a book. Ever. And that’s saying something because Elmore Leonard is at the top of my favourite author list. It ticked all the boxes for all the boring BA Honours Creative Writing lessons I’d sat through. It blew me away and because of that single line a little part of me fell head over heels in love with Alan and Larry.

You see, Alan is someone I recognise. Hell, I reckon he is someone I used to see drinking every Friday night in town; he might even be someone who I threw out of a hotel I worked in once because he put a hole through a bedroom door with his foot. He spoke like I spoke, said the same things, and used incorrect grammar. He even lived somewhere I recognised (Cambridge) and had visited. The story was his and he completely owned it in every way.

To begin with the book is beautifully written. I read a lot of books and it’s almost unique in its narration.  JL Merrow’s use of an ‘almost’ childlike voice for Alan (it’s his POV) allows the characterisation to jump off the page. Al’s simple use of words and colloquial language make his descriptions of Larry and their relationship – which begins after a drunken episode in a dark alley – emotional and heart-warming. Why does the straight-laced Art Professor Larry fall for the big and brawny Alan? It doesn’t matter… he just does and you know he does – not because he says it repeatedly, but because JL Merrow’s description of their day to day life is so simple and effective and believable. The book is funny and sexy (they are at it like rabbits) but even that isn’t over the top. In the end these two guys need each other, one balances the other out. There are no explosions, guns or shifters anywhere. It’s simply a love story between two extra-ordinary guys in an ordinary world where Sainsbury’s exists.

I love this book. Some may disagree, others not. Suddenly all those voices I had in my head just fit, it made me want to write again. And this is exactly what this book means to me. Maybe I’ve not done it justice with my review here, maybe I’m hopeless at reviews – who knows, but in the end I can only describe the wonderful impact it made when I first read it.

All I need to do now, though, is have another late night browsing session, find a book that uses the phrase ‘our kid’ and have someone in it who likes hot Vimto and I’ll be well chuffed.

Muscling Through

Blurb: The bigger they come, the harder they fall… in love.

Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.

Larry’s intrigued to find there’s more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry’s class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.

Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.

Excerpt:

People always ask how me and Larry met, and Larry tells this really complicated story how he thought he was going to be mugged or raped or something, and then I came along, and everyone always laughs, but it wasn’t like that, really. See, I’d just been to the pub with Daz and Phil and a couple of other lads. We was supposed to be cheering Phil up ’cause he’d broken up with his girlfriend, Leanne, who works on the checkout at Lidl, but some of them were pissing me off going on about poofs, so I left early. I got caught short on the way home, so I stopped to have a wazz in the street. I mean, I checked to make sure there wasn’t no one there before I got my cock out. I didn’t want to shock no one.

But it took a while, ’cause I’d had a few pints, so by the time I was almost finished, this bloke had turned into the street. I could hear his footsteps, so I looked up, ’cause I didn’t want no one sneaking up on me when I had my cock out, and there he was. I mean, it was Larry, but I didn’t know that then. I just saw this really pretty guy in a posh suit. He had browny-blond hair, like straw that’s been left out in the rain—I don’t mean it was messy or nothing, it was just that mix of colours, like it couldn’t make its mind up if it wanted to be yellow or brown. And his face was kind of delicate, and he was really little. Way shorter than me. Skinny too. I like them skinny. And he was looking at my cock. So I smiled at him, ’cause he was pretty, and then I zipped up and headed his way. Which was my way home, I mean. I wasn’t planning to make a pass or nothing, ’cause I could tell he was too posh for me.

“Shit,” he said, and he started backing up like he was scared or something. “Ah, sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

I wasn’t sure what he was on about, so I smiled again. He looked like he was about to piss himself, and I didn’t like it, you know? It’s not right, people being scared like that. “You look like you’re about to piss yourself,” I told him when I got close.

“Shit,” he said again, and he sort of leaned against the wall and closed his eyes like he wasn’t feeling well, so I stopped and leaned over him.

“You should let me take you home,” I said, ’cause I was worried he might not make it on his own. “Nice-looking bloke like you, stuff could happen. You meet all sorts on these streets. I saw a bloke getting the crap beat out of him last week just a couple of streets from here.”

“You want money?” he said, and he was shaking a bit. “I’ve got money.”

I didn’t say nothing for a bit, ’cause he was confusing me, and I don’t like making a prick of myself. See, you keep your mouth shut, most times people don’t realise you don’t know what they’re on about. So I just took his arm and set off down the alley, ’cause that was the way he’d been going. He came along with me all right, but he was still shaking. “You live near here?”

“No! Er, yes—please don’t hurt me!”

I didn’t say nothing for a bit, ’cause I didn’t understand why he thought I’d do that. I thought he must have had a lot to drink.

“Your mates shouldn’t of let you go home on your own,” I told him. See, he’s just a little thing; you’d need about three of him to make one of me. “You’re such a little thing.”

“Oh God,” he said, and his voice was all thin and shaky, like the rest of him. “Look, take my wallet, please?”

So I stopped while he got his wallet out, and he had his driving licence in there, so I read his name—Lawrence Morton—and his address. “Fifteen Bewdsley Close, Cambridge. That’s that posh bit near the river,” I said to prove I’d read it. I tried to give him his wallet back, but he had his eyes shut again, so I put it in my pocket. I think he needed to get to bed. “I’m going to get you home and in bed,” I told him.

He wasn’t walking too good, so I put my arm round his skinny little waist. I could have snapped him in half. “I could snap you in half,” I said, and I smiled so he’d know it was a joke, but he still had his eyes shut.

We went down the back ways ’cause it’s quicker and I wasn’t sure how long he was going to be able to stand up. I mean, I could have carried him easy, but I thought he might have thrown up on me, and I didn’t fancy that, no matter how pretty he was. He was all pale and shaky still. “This it?” I asked when we got to number fifteen. It was a nice place—one of those terraced houses, all tall and thin with no front garden and a skylight into the basement. Pretty windows.

“Yes—please, you’ve been really kind helping me home, but I’ll be fine now,” he said, but he looked funny when he said it, so I didn’t think I ought to leave him till he was safe inside. His hands were shaking, and the key skidded on the lock, so I took it from him and opened the door.

“You didn’t ought to drink so much,” I told him as I went in. I thought I’d better make sure he had a glass of water or something, or he’d be feeling like crap in the morning. He looked funny, like he was going to run away or something, which would have been a bit weird as there I was in his house and him still standing on the doorstep. I grabbed his arm and pulled him in after me, in case he was so drunk he’d forgotten this was where he lived. “You got a kitchen?”

“Yes—this way,” he said, like he’d just woken up, and he darted through a door. I was surprised he could move so quick, him being drunk and all, so I let go of his arm and just followed him into the kitchen.

He was standing by a knife block with this big knife in one hand and a phone in the other. I thought, he’s going to have trouble trying to dial one-handed. “I’m calling the police,” he said in this funny high voice.

I didn’t get why he wanted the police, but the knife in his hand was shaking all over the shop, so I went and took it off him before he could hurt himself. Then he sort of collapsed down on the floor and said, “Please don’t hurt me” again.

“Okay,” I said, and I took the knives over to the other side of the kitchen and got the biggest mug I could find and filled it with water. I held it out to him, but he had his eyes shut again and didn’t take it. “You should drink this. Then you won’t feel so bad in the morning.”

He looked up, and his brown eyes were all wild-looking. “No drugs!”

“Good,” I said, ’cause drugs and stuff are really bad for you. I put the mug down where he could reach it and sat cross-legged on the floor so I could keep an eye on him, ’cause he was freaking me out a bit. It wasn’t very comfortable. I got big thighs.

“Please go,” he said. “Just take my money—take anything—and go.”

I didn’t get why he wanted me to take something, but he seemed really worried about it. So I looked around, and he had a bowl of fruit on the side, so I grabbed an apple, ’cause I always get hungry after I’ve been drinking. “I’ll take this, okay?” Then I left him there, but I took the knives and I hid them in the hall cupboard, just in case.

Bringing Britishness to Life by LM Brown

Being a born and bred Brit, I love reading books set in my home country.  Actually, I love reading books set anywhere, but I especially enjoy those that bring my own country to life.  Sadly, they seem to be few and far between when it comes to gay romances.  Oh, there are plenty set in the UK, that is without question, but how many of them truly bring this country to life?

I think a large part of the problem I find is that many US publishers like to snip out the Englishness from the stories so that American audiences are not overly confused by our weird and wonderful way of speaking.  To a certain extent I can understand it, especially since when the shoe is on the other foot those of us on this side of the pond have to look up US terminology when it is new to us.  But unlike our American counterparts, English writers are encouraged to zap the English out of our stories before they ever hit the shelves.

The consequences of this being done is that it is actually rather difficult to find English set stories that truly make an English reader like myself (that is the extremely picky ones) feel at home.

Historical romances set in England seem to be slightly better when it comes to bringing to life the settings, but for contemporaries I sometimes despair of finding any truly English ones. In some stories the Englishness disappears so drastically the story could be set in the USA with only the minimal of changes.

However, the book I have chosen to write this post about manages to plant you right down on this merry isle as if you are there and that is what makes it one of my favourite UK gay romance novels.

A Bar Tender Tale by Melanie Tushmore is set in Brighton, a place I have never had the opportunity to visit, but is brought to life in this story as well as if I had.  The Englishness leaps from the page with references to stores like Marks & Spencers as well as the typical British insults.  As soon as I read the first paragraph with a reference to “the selfish prick” I knew this was not going to be a story where the Englishness has been obliterated by the editors.

The pubs and bars Nathan works in are so thoroughly English I could not say if they were real places or made up as a typical local pub.

It isn’t just the places that scream English either.  The characters are typical British men – I won’t say English since the Welsh get understandably irate at being referred to in such a way and Auryn would almost certainly take offence.  From their clothing to speech they are the people you could easily imagine meeting in any British town, or more aptly, down the pub.

As you can probably tell, I absolutely adore this book and it is largely because of how it brings my country to life.  However, that isn’t to say it doesn’t have other plus points as well.  With loveable and quirky characters and lots of witty dialogue this is a wonderful feel good story and an excellent introduction to the world of UK gay romance.

A Bar Tender Tale

Twenty-two-year-old barman Nathan is always the odd one out. It’s tough to get a date when his love of loud music, tattoos, and zombie paraphernalia usually sends potential candidates running for the hills. Trying to find anyone who wants to spend time with him, let alone stay in and watch trashy horror movies, has always been a problem.

Then, on his day off, Nathan does a friend a favor by covering a shift at a pub, and in walks a handsome stranger who shares his love of horror. It could be a match made in B-movie heaven, and Nathan is determined to pursue this new acquaintance, but—zombies aside—has Nathan got the guts to go on a real date?

Excerpt:

EIGHT a.m. sharp and Nathan was wide awake. He hurried to check his phone, but there was still nothing from Danny. After disappearing last night without a word, the selfish prick hadn’t even sent a message to say he was still alive.

Nathan tried to call him now, and it went straight to voice mail.

He’d probably forgotten to charge it, Nathan thought. Idiot. Unless he’d lost the phone, or had it stolen again…. What if he’d been mugged? What if…? It was useless worrying but Nathan couldn’t help it. Forcing himself to wait for a slightly more sociable hour, at barely 9 a.m., he called Danny’s long-suffering roommate, Janine.

“Oh hi, Nath,” Janine said when she picked up. “I’m just off to class.”

“Sorry, hun,” Nathan told her, wincing at himself for being so pathetic. “I was wondering if Danny was there? He kinda… disappeared. He’s not answering his phone either.”

“Oh really?” Janine’s voice lowered, giving the impression she wasn’t surprised. “Let me check his room. I need to tell him to clean the kitchen anyway. He’s such a pig….”

“Yeah,” Nathan muttered, allowing a small smile. Danny was messy, even by Nathan’s standards.

He listened, hearing Janine knock on a door and call Danny’s name. Then a rattling of a handle and silence.

A few moments later Janine was back on the line. “Nope, he’s not here. Doesn’t look like he came back last night. Although I can’t really tell, his room’s such a mess. But I doubt he’d get up this early and go out, even for uni!”

“Oh right.” Nathan’s hopes fell. “Okay, thanks, hun. If you see him would you….”

“Yes?”

“Um, never mind. Have a good day.”

“You too, Nath. Bye!”

Yeah, Nathan thought, making a face at his phone as he ended the call. A “good day” wasn’t really on the cards by the looks of it. Today, Thursday, was his day off, and it looked as though he was going to be spending it on his own. Not how he’d planned it at all. The idea was to spend it with Danny. Nathan had barely seen his so-called boyfriend in a little over a week. It seemed like forever! Danny was a typical party-hard student, a night owl, while Nathan worked two jobs and was stuck behind a bar most evenings. Trying to get any time alone together was nearly impossible, especially when Danny spent most of his days sleeping off hangovers.

Nathan knew Danny was prone to skipping uni, so as a last-ditch attempt to spend time with him, Nathan had suggested Danny come by Tequila Mocking Bar at the end of his shift last night. He’d thought they could go back to his place; Danny would spend the night, and they’d have the whole of the next day together too. Nathan lived on his own in a little bedsit just off St. James Street, right in the heart of Kemp Town. It was so central, he loved it. He just wanted someone to share it with occasionally. He’d even tidied the place for Danny’s arrival and splashed out on choice food from Marks & Spencer’s. Except after hanging around at Tequila’s last night for less than half an hour, Danny had slipped away again.

Unbelievable.

Nathan stood in his kitchenette, gazing idly at the box of expensive butter pastries he had bought, among other things. He supposed he had two choices: he could decide that actions spoke louder than words and end this pathetic excuse for a relationship now to save himself further embarrassment… or he could eat that whole pack of pastries by himself and mull it over. Nathan started out with good intentions, but unfortunately the pastries won.

It wasn’t fair, he thought, stuffing an apple Danish in his mouth as he sulked in front of the TV. Why did Danny keep leading him on? If only he’d listened to his friends. None of them seemed to like Danny, and they’d all agreed he shouldn’t have bothered with the brash teenager. They’d all said go out with that hunky gym trainer who’d shown an interest. Except Nathan had chosen Danny; the cute and lively nineteen-year-old had been hard to resist.

Now three months on, with Danny’s erratic and often disrespectful behavior only getting worse, it felt like they were going backwards.

Nathan felt like a fool. Being with Danny made him feel ridiculous, like he was old and boring for daring to suggest they ever spend a night in. Nathan wasn’t much older than Danny, just twenty-two. However, since leaving college three years ago, he’d had the joy of discovering when you actually had to work for your money with long hours standing on your feet and dealing with the general public, going out partying after a night’s work seemed less appealing. Especiallymidweek. Nathan grimaced at the thought.

There was nothing for it. Retail therapy was called for today. Maybe a stroll along the beach afterwards. There had to be some cute guys around somewhere! But first he had to get ready. Nathan shut off the stupid daytime TV program he’d been staring at, turned on his trusty old stereo, and cranked up the volume. If the Cramps couldn’t get him in a good mood, nothing would.

One benefit of living on your own was you could play your music when you wanted and how loud you wanted. He stripped out of his T-shirt and boxers, throwing them to the floor. There was no one to nag about the mess either. But the best bit about living on your own was strutting around naked to your favorite music.

Nathan stepped into the bathroom, twisted the shower dial behind the curtain, and waited for the water to heat up. He caught his reflection in the mirror, which reminded him he still had makeup to take off. His artfully applied eyeliner that was supposed to be barely smudged was well on its way to looking more like Alice Cooper after a long, hard night. Nathan snatched a facial wipe from the overcrowded shelf of beauty products and started smearing away the black kohl and silver glitter, swaying with the music

“I say buzz, buzz, buzz…,” he sang along to Human Fly, tapping his finger to the three nodding-head figures on his shelf: a vampire, a zombie, and a werewolf.

“Dance, my little minions!” he told them as they nodded back at him. He considered one drawback of living by yourself was that you sometimes talked to inanimate objects.

In the shower, Nathan’s mind wandered. He used his black, bat-shaped sponge with the bobbly eyes to work up a lather with fresh peppermint shower gel and idly soaped himself, thinking things through. He knew that if he were being honest with himself, there was no point in chasing after Danny anymore. That realization stung, badly. It was hardly like Nathan wanted to be joined at the hip; God, he so rarely had a day off anyway! But it would be nice to share that time with someone else. He’d thought that person could be Danny, but obviously he was wrong.

When he heard the message alert on his phone, the infamous voice clip of the New York Dolls singer David Johansen proclaiming “When I say I’m in love you’d best believe I’m in love, L-U-V!”

Nathan practically launched himself out of the shower as he ran, dripping wet, into the next room.

Lucky the place was carpeted, or slipping and breaking his neck would have been a strong possibility. He managed to reach his phone safely, grasping it in soapy hands to see….

A friendly message from his sister.

How disappointing. Nathan trudged back to the shower. Who was he kidding anyway? Whatever he had with Danny, it was well and truly over. Nathan shampooed his hair roughly, taking out his aggression by removing the pomade from last night. Maybe it was time to stop dyeing his hair. Wasn’t there research to suggest that it damaged brain cells?

He’d been dyeing and cutting his own hair for years, since he was in school. His naturally brown locks had been every color of the rainbow by now. Lately he had settled on black, getting into pomade and quiffs like a ’50s greaser. Though today, as Nathan sat on his bed feeling fed up, he didn’t use any product and just combed his hair back. It kept falling into his eyes, but he wasn’t in the mood to fuss around with it.

He toweled off, not even glancing at his vast array of body lotions or cologne. A quick spray of deodorant was all he could be bothered with. He pulled on his favorite black baggy cutoffs that showed off the tattoos on his calves, his acid green Converse shoes, and a T-shirt with a drooling cartoon zombie on the front emblazoned with the words, “Must Eat Brains.”

Usually Nathan would throw on a couple of necklaces and as many weird and bizarre bracelets as he could find scattered about his bedroom, but he wasn’t in the mood. He stuffed his keys and wallet in his pockets, hooking the wallet chain onto his belt loop. He paused to grab a studded belt, mainly to keep the cutoffs from sliding off his slim hips. He knew he looked like a skaterboy gone wrong, but that was no excuse for his trousers to fall down.

A pair of sunglasses with multicolored rainbow frames were the final touch, and he was ready to face the world. Not that it really mattered, he thought, leaving his bedsit behind and shuffling out into the street on his own.

It wasn’t even 11 a.m. yet. Kemp Town was, very much like Nathan, always slow to wake up in the mornings. Most of the daytime establishments were only just unlocking their doors, flicking signs round to say “open” while the cafés and delis stuck their sandwich boards out on the pavement.

Nathan turned towards the town center and walked downhill. It was a warm day again, which was surprising for May. He’d thrown on an old army surplus shirt in lieu of a jacket, thinking he’d tough out the expected breeze, but it was too warm even for that. He took off the army shirt and looped it through his belt to hang at his hip. The sleeves of his zombie tee were already nonexistent; Nathan lopped the sleeves off almost everything he owned. He usually ran a high body temperature anyway, and working behind a bar was always hot.

Although he was the first to admit he also liked to show off the tattoos on his arms. He had designed them himself, and even the tattoo artist had been impressed with his drawings. Lots of colorful monsters and classic horror icons all squeezed together in an orgy of ink. The tattoos went hand in hand with his music tastes.

Usually, when he had to walk anywhere, Nathan would plug in his earphones and blast himself with his extensive catalogue of songs. However today, as he was up early and the town was so quiet, he didn’t feel the need. It was peaceful; the distant hum of town only faintly heard all the way up the hill. Kemp Town was like a little continental village in the summer. A world away from Brighton’s noisy center and nicknamed Camp Town for its abundance of gay bars, lesbian bars, and everything-in-between bars, not to mention the boutiques.

“Continental” was perhaps a tame word for Kemp Town. Nathan smiled as he walked past his favorite: a pet shop with a difference. A cursory glance in the window told you it was a pet store, but a longer glance saw matching dog collars and outfits for the owners as well.

Maybe he should get a dog, Nathan thought. He had instant fantasies about leisurely strolls in the park and meeting handsome, eligible men out walking their dogs. He could get a black fluffy poodle, like Elvira! If he really thought about it though, it wouldn’t be fair. He worked unsociable hours with no time for dog walking.

Perhaps a goldfish…?

He wouldn’t need a damn pet if his so-called boyfriend was ever around. Nathan scowled at the thought of Danny. This was it; this was definitely it. He was going to dump Danny if he ever saw him again… and move on.

Nathan took a left down a side street, toward the sea front. He just wanted to check one place Danny might have gone. Not that he was a stalker or anything….

Ignoring the scenic view of the seafront and Brighton Palace Pier, Nathan walked along the main road, passing row upon row of guest houses and clubs. He had taken a detour to Rainbow’s, the second bar he worked in. Rainbow’s overlooked the sea, but it was also on the main route into and out of town. The major pitfall of that was any mess left behind by Brighton’s nighttime revelers. As Nathan approached the bar, he could see one of his colleagues, Stuart, currently attempting to mop the latest mess from the front steps.

“Who left their calling card?” Nathan asked.

“All right, Nath,” Stuart greeted. “Oh, who knows, it could have been anyone walking up the road after closing. Only just spotted it now.”

“Lucky you,” Nathan said. “You weren’t working last night, were you?”

“Nah.” Stuart gave up on the cleaning and leaned on his mop. “Been on days. Why?”

“Oh. Just looking for Danny. I was going to ask if you’d seen him?”

“Ain’t seen him for a while, babe,” Stuart said. “Which is fine by me!”

“Yeah, he’s a charmer,” Nathan agreed. “He ditched me again last night.”

Stuart rolled his eyes. “Then tell him to get lost. Honestly, Nath, you could have your pick if you weren’t so fussy.”

“Excuse me, weren’t you the one saying only the other day that there was zero choice around at the moment? I believe your words were ‘There’s no one I’d want to do in here without at least two paper bags. One for me and—’”

“One for them,” Stuart finished with a smile. “Yes, I know. Well, what can I say? There may be a dry spell at the moment for fresh talent, but I’m not as fussy as you. When the going gets tough, the tough lower their standards.”

Nathan laughed. “Oh really? And who said you were tough?”

It was a tease. Stuart was well over six foot, towering over Nathan, with the gym-toned body to go with his height. He still bristled at the remark. “Look who’s talking! You can barely open a beer bottle on your own.”

“Slight exaggeration there, Stu.”

Stuart shrugged. “Anyway, I’m gonna go get a scraper or something. Unless you want to do something useful and clean this vom for me?”

“Pass!” Nathan made a face. “I’m not even working today. I just…well.”

“You’re just being pathetic looking for a nonexistent boyfriend.”

“Kick a guy when he’s down, why don’t you?”

“Sorry, Nath,” Stuart grabbed his mop. “He’s an idiot. Get rid. You wanna borrow this sick-encrusted mop to slap his face with?”

Nathan smiled again. “Sounds like a plan, Batman.”

“All right, Robin,” Stuart said. “Come by later if you want, when we’re open and clean.”

“Will do.”

Nathan left the steps of Rainbow’s, retracing his path down the same alley to get back to St. James Street. He liked Stuart—they were good friends—but after those blunt words, he was left feeling even more deflated than before.

What was he thinking? He really was being pathetic, wandering around asking if anyone had seen his boyfriend. How cringeworthy! All right, so things were definitely over. It certainly looked that way… but it didn’t stop him wanting to know where Danny was.

However, he could probably guess. Going by past experiences, it was more than likely that Danny had ended up in bed with a random stranger somewhere, drunk as a skunk or high as a kite.

Again.

Nathan ambled across St. James Street slowly, as there was virtually no traffic, and down to George Street. He was still sulking, and he knew a chocolate crepe from Bon Bon’s Café would go down a treat. Never mind that he’d already started the day with all those pastries….

He stood in the doorway of Bon Bon’s as he waited for his crepe to be made, gazing out across the street. He wasn’t used to seeing Kemp Town so quiet. On a normal day off, he would have lain in bed until at least noon, maybe watched a film while wrapped up in his duvet. But the thought of spending yet another day off by himself was a little depressing.

Nathan texted with one hand on his phone at lightning speed, checking if any of his friends were around today. It was doubtful; whenever he had time off, he could guarantee everyone else would be on opposite shifts. Pretty much all his friends, gay and straight alike, also worked in bars or pubs. Including Gary, the very-hot-yet-sadly-straight strapping Welsh man. He smiled as he thought of Gary. Yeah, it was a real shame he was straight. Still, he was the only eye candy Nathan knew that was nearby and likely to be up this early.

When his crepe was ready, he wandered out of the café, wolfing it down. He paused at the end of the street. On the corner—right next to Bon Bon’s—was a pub called The Jury’s Verdict, so named because there was a courthouse just across the road. It was a dark and dingy little old man’s pub. Nothing that would normally attract Nathan, but this was where Gary currently worked. And it was almost opening time.

Nathan peered in one of the large windows of the pub. Spotting Gary drawing up the blinds, he held up the remains of his crepe and extended his tongue, waggling it around in a tease while trying not to grin. What stopped him was the look on Gary’s face; he stared back wide-eyed, like he was panicked. Nathan noticed even through the glass that his eyes were bloodshot. Nathan frowned, pointing with his free hand towards the front door. Gary dashed off to open it, as Nathan hurried around the corner to the little stone steps.

Gary swung open the pub door looking very much the worse for wear. Either he’d been crying, which was unlikely for Gary, or he was coming down with something.

“What’s up with you, Gaz?”

Gary was still staring back at him. “I haven’t slept!”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that usually a good thing?”

“No!” Gary said, retreating back into the pub.

Concerned, Nathan followed, closing the door behind him. Gary had been in the process of getting the pub ready for opening, but Nathan could see half-finished jobs everywhere he looked.

“Come on, then; let’s hear it,” he told Gary as he hopped onto a bar stool to finish off his crepe.

“I shagged this girl,” Gary began, while Nathan grinned. “But afterwards, she would not shut up!”

Nathan had to spit out his mouthful of crepe so he could laugh.

“I’m serious!” Gary complained. “I kept saying, ‘I’ve got to go to work in the morning,’ but she kept talking! I’ve never known anything like it.”

“And why,” Nathan asked, still snickering, “did you not just leave? I assume you went to her place?”

“I didn’t want to be rude!” Gary wrung his hands through his hair. “And I do want to shag her again….”

“You’re kidding, right? Who was it?”

“Susie. Blonde hair.” Gary cupped his hands in front of his own broad chest as he said, “She’s got massive knockers. You know her?”

“Er, no. Can’t say I pay much attention to boobs, mate. Apart from you. Hah!”

Gary groaned. “I’m so tired! I maybe got an hour or two tops, and then I had to come here.”

Nathan looked around at the dark, empty pub. “Well, no offense, but why are you bothering? It’s hardly like anyone’s gonna break your door down. Just nip up to bed and catch a few extra.”

Everyone knew that Gary lived upstairs on his own. The pub was so quiet, along with most of the pub trade recently, that the area manager insisted Gary was the only live-in staff.

“I can’t,” Gary sighed. “My boss keeps doing spot checks, driving past on his way round town. If I’m not open, he’ll go mental.”

The way Gary said “mental” in his Welsh accent was so cute.

Nathan sighed to himself before offering, “Well, seeing as I’ve got nothing else to do for a couple of hours, why don’t I open up and you catch some sleep?”

Gary’s desperate eyes homed in on him, not daring to believe it was a real offer. Nathan tried not to laugh at the state of the man.

“Really?” Gary whispered.

“Yes, really,” Nathan said. “I was only gonna go into town on my own. It can wait a bit. You owe me, though!”

“Oh, thank you!” Gary was elated. “I don’t know what to say! Are you sure?”

“Yes, sure. Now get upstairs.”

“Do you think you can manage—”

Nathan got up and pushed Gary through the staff door at the end of the bar. “God, I know my way around a bar. I’m sure I’ll cope. Besides, no one’s gonna come in this early, are they? You only get, like, two customers in the evening at the best of times!”

“True.” Gary nodded, finally relenting and dragging himself upstairs. “Sometimes you get the people in suits from court over the road….”

“Yeah, no worries!” Nathan called up.

“Oh, and my friend might drop in!” Gary was saying, though Nathan could barely hear him.

“No worries,” Nathan repeated, shutting the staff door and getting to work. He was alone in the pub on a bright sunny day. Damn his good intentions.

Still, Gary was a friend. He’d been one of the first friends Nathan made when he moved to Brighton, working together behind a bar. Nathan liked Gary a lot, not only because he was a good guy, but also because when he got drunk he would take off his shirt and flex his biceps. If Gary was very drunk he would let you feel them too. Who didn’t want a friend like that?

Nathan sighed. A friend was a friend. But first things first. He unwound a wire from his pocket and hooked up his music player to the pub’s stereo. If he was gonna work here for free today, he’d be listening to his own music. He wasn’t worried about waking Gary, it was a tall building, and Gary’s bedroom wasn’t the floor directly above the pub, but the one above that. Luckily the pub’s stereo system was powerful enough to sound good even at a low volume. Nathan shuffled his music selection onto random and began to ready the pub.

He’d never worked here, but he’d worked in a lot of pubs. This set up was relatively simple. The Jury’s Verdict wasn’t much bigger than his bedsit, to be honest. It smelled a bit musty, as old pubs did. Nathan opened the windows and then the door, propping it open with the traditional sandwich board. It was then he noticed the chalk drawing in pink of a crudely drawn cock with the words, “Get hot man love here all night! Ask for Gaz!”

Smiling, Nathan got a cloth and wiped it off. No doubt one of Gary’s drunk mates had scrawled that. Grabbing up the chalk, Nathan paused as he thought about what to write. He didn’t want to get Gary in trouble, so it had to be safe. He settled for, “Open, ready, and willing! Food served.”

Then he dusted his hands and went back inside to finish setting up.

“Food served” was an exaggeration. Gary had done a deal with the Indian takeaway next door; he had a few copies of their menu, and they delivered whatever was ordered straight into the pub. The smells from there made Nathan hungry. Exotic spices, naan bread baking with cheese….

If he thought about it too much, his stomach would lead him there.

Seeing as he’d already had a whole box of pastries and a crepe all before 11 a.m., he thought he should probably skip lunch. Nathan had always been skinny, but the sad reality of being over twenty-one meant that he couldn’t eat what he wanted all the time, especially when all he wanted was naughty food.

~//~

LM Brown’s biography

L.M. Brown lives in England, in a quaint little village that time doesn’t seem to have touched. No, wait a minute—that’s the retirement biography. Right now she is in England in a medium sized town that no one has ever heard of, so she won’t bore you with the details. Keeping her company are numerous sexy men. She just wishes that they weren’t all inside her head.

L.M. Brown loves hearing from readers so don’t be shy.

Links

Where to find L.M. Brown

Website – http://lmbrownauthor.wordpress.com/

Blog – http://lmbrownauthor.blogspot.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/L.M.Brown.author

 

My Favourite UK Gay Romance Book by Lily G Blunt

The Salisbury Key by Harper Fox

 After reading this superb novel, I declared to hubs it was probably the best book I’d read … ever. I tried to give him a synopsis while avoiding the m/m storyline, only for him to say, “… like Dan Brown’s books … where one clue leads to another clue!”

No, it’s nothing like The Da Vinci Code or any of his books. Yes there are clues, archaeology, and a mystery to solve—but the sum of this book is so much more than that.

Set around Stonehenge and the Salisbury Plain, there is an elusive ‘key’ for Daniel Logan to find, but woven into the story is a heart-wrenching tale of love and devotion, and a developing relationship that leaves you wanting more—this is one of those stories you can’t stop reading yet at the same time you don’t want it to end.

I don’t wish to give any spoilers or even hints at what happens because that would ruin the impact of this story for the first-time reader. Just read it! Preferably without reading the blurb as that has spoilers too.

I’ve read several of Harper Fox’s stories—Scrap Metal being another favourite of mine. I admire Harper’s writing style; her descriptive passages conjure vivid pictures in my mind, the explicit sex scenes are beautifully written, and as this tale cleverly unfolds, the mystery and passion deepens. I don’t think I have thought ‘wow’ so many times when reading a book, and I will no doubt be reading this again very soon.

Bob Loving/Lily G Blunt

The Salisbury Key

http://store.samhainpublishing.com/the-salisbury-key-p-6264.html

Can love repair a shattered life in time to save the world?

Daniel Logan is on a lonely quest to find out what drove his lover, a wealthy, respected archaeologist, to take his own life. The answer—the elusive “key” for which Jason was desperately searching—lies somewhere on a dangerous and deadly section of Salisbury Plain.

The only way to gain access, though, is to allow an army explosives expert to help him navigate the bomb-riddled military zone. A man he met once more than three years ago, who is even more serious and enigmatic than before.

Lieutenant Rayne has better things to do than risk his life protecting a scientist on an apparent suicide mission. Like get back to Iraq and prove he will never again miss another roadside bomb. Yet as he helps Dan uncover the truth, an attraction neither man is in the mood for springs up against their will. And stirs up the nervous attention of powerfully placed people—military and academic alike.

First in conflict, then in passion, Rayne and Dan are drawn together in a relationship as rocky and complicated as the ancient land they search. Where every step leads them closer to a terrible legacy written in death…

Excerpt


We stood together once more on top of the earthwork. A hell of a lot had changed. This time Professor Ross, head of department and senior tutor, had his arm round my waist. A whole new perspective on the world. We had worked and travelled together for so long that I knew what he was seeing, just as he would know my own thoughts now—a landscape under different light, slight differences in contour picked out by the lowering sun. Sometimes an ancient foundation, or something as ordinary but telling as fifteenth-century ridge-and-furrow ploughing, would jump into clarity.

I followed the line of the wall I had noticed before. It was clearer now, its eastern boundary thrown into sharper relief. I thought that I could even see a ghost of Jason’s stone-hut circles.

“Yes,” he said, as if I’d spoken the thought. “It’s all there. Come on. Let’s go and have a look.”

I glanced up at him in surprise. “What—from the barricade?”

“No. Up and over it.”

“You’re kidding. Won’t we get shot for trespassing?”

“Would that bother you?”

I considered. We’d done plenty of this before, when Jason’s idea of a boundary had not coincided with that of the landowner. We hadn’t tried it with the army before. But I got a dark thrill out of entering our dragons’ lairs, and Jason knew it. He held out his hand to me. I looked at his broad palm waiting for mine. At his smile—the trace of uncertainty in brown eyes turning fox-coloured in the sunset light, as if his whole happiness depended on my consent. At that moment, I would have followed him straight into hell. I smiled, reaching out. “All right.”

We made short, practised work of the barricade. Jason gave me a leg-up onto the supporting wooden cross post, and once I had my balance there I eased back enough of the wire to let him join me. Then it was his turn to hold back the wire, keeping the barbs carefully free of flesh and clothes. I leapt down on the far side, grabbed a fallen stick of gorse and wedged the gap open, reaching up to help him down. He grinned as he landed beside me, a familiar flash of complicity. Yes, everything was the same and utterly different. He did not let go of my hand. He led me, blinded by sunset light and half-hypnotised, into the forbidden zone.

We were almost within twenty yards of the stone-hut enclosure when we heard the first drone of a Land Rover. We’d been lucky so far, I supposed. Quarter of a mile to the west lay the road which led to the Fellworth military base. Jason drew me to a halt, scanning the horizon. “Damn.”

“Reckon they’ll see us?”

“Maybe not if they haven’t seen us yet. Just keep very still.”

It was a good trick, and one which had worked for us before. The instinct was to crouch, to seek cover, but a stand of trees or even open ground where nothing changed was less likely to draw attention than one where something moved, even briefly. It took a bit of nerve. I waited, not shifting a muscle. Trying to let myself become part of my background, to merge with the earth and the sky. Easier than usual today, I found, immediately beginning to drift. Jason still had hold of my hand. His thumb was circling against my palm, a strong, soothing caress. Irresistibly it made me wonder how his c**k would feel, pushing up inside me…

“So,” I said quietly, not taking my eyes off the ground, “you think dinner with the dean will be a late job tonight?”

I heard him catch his breath. “Well, Malcolm needs his beauty sleep. I’ll remind him of that if I have to. Why?”

“I’ll be in the library for a few hours, but I should be home after eleven.” I was fairly sure I would be finished with my thinking by then. I was pretty much through with it now. I wished I hadn’t halted our second exchange back at the earthwork. I was aching and half-hard again inside my jeans. Come for me, beautiful boy. “If you felt like dropping by…”

He snorted faintly. “That’s right, Daniel. I’ll drop round late at night to the paper-walled flat you share with five other postgrads. We’ll make out on the sofa while they watch TV.”

“Stop,” I choked. I clasped his hand, setting every muscle against the spasm of laughter. “All right. Bad idea.”

“Only in terms of location. I tell you what—I’ll be home after eleven, if you feel like dropping by.”

The sound of the Land Rover was gone. I tried to recall, through clouds of surprise and desire, whether it had faded into distance or stopped, then I lost concentration. I thought about Jason’s beautiful house, where he regularly invited his postgrads for friendly, shop-talking dinners. I’d passed the open door to his bedroom on my way to the bathroom upstairs. He was generous and hospitable, but I didn’t think he made the hour-before-midnight invitations lightly or often. I thought about his wide double bed. “God, Jason. I…”

White light punched across the plain. It was sudden and real as a fist. We both swung round, shielding our eyes. Beneath it, faint in the glare, I made out a pair of headlights. “Christ almighty. What’s that?”

“Our Land Rover, I think. That’s his searchlight. He must have doubled round.”

“Oh, great.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Looks like we’re busted.” His hand closed on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay. Just do as you’re told, and let me do the talking.”

I nodded. He’d taught me that surrender was the best policy when confronted with armed military, either here or abroad. I could see that it was appropriate too. Nine times out of ten we’d have been trespassing, obeying our own code as seekers after knowledge in preference to petty local law. Jason took such issues pretty seriously. In America, he’d told us, he’d been to visit an environmental campaigner called Starhawk, who had coached him in the art of passive resistance and calculated civil disobedience, everything from leaflet drops to lying in such a way that a police horse would step over rather than on you. Lifting his hands, staring boldly into the light, he took a step back in the direction we had come, and I followed him.

Perhaps we’d taken too long about it. The evening air split to the sound of a single gunshot. “F**k!” I gasped, bumping into Jason as he crashed to a halt. “Did he just…”

“Shoot at us? Yes.”

I wasn’t so sure. I thought the sound had reverberated upward, not in our direction. Jason had started moving again—fast this time, in long, ground-eating strides. I ran to catch him up, grabbing at his shirt. “Hang on. I think it was a warning shot. He fired into the air.”

“I don’t care. What place do guns have out here? Daniel, I swear—these people will consume our whole bloody planet, with their wars and their compounds and their lines in the sand, if we don’t…”

I didn’t catch the rest. He tore away from me and set off at a run towards the fence, the lights and the bullets. On the whole, I tended to agree with him. I was dead set against the military too, disgusted with a brinksmanship patriarchy that dealt with the world by rocking it back and forth across a fulcrum of destruction. And my revulsion was a kind of birthright to me, though normally I pressed that dark thought down.

But Jason was going to get himself shot. I belted after him. He could really move, for a man of his size. What the hell was he going to do? “Jason! Jason, slow down.” Running half-blind, seeing scarlet spider-veins in my own retinas from the light, I caught him up a few yards from the fence, grabbed his belt and tried to slow him up. “For God’s sake! They’re gonna fire on you.”

“Too damn right we are,” came a harsh, clipped voice from somewhere up ahead of us. “Freeze, both of you. Hands where I can see them.”

“John Marsh?” Jason demanded. He had stopped at the foot of the barricade and was staring up at the soldier perched on the top of it, his expression fierce and imperious as a profile of a Caesar on a Roman coin. “Is that you, you puppy?”

“Captain Marsh, 3rd Anglian. And I told you to… Oh. My God, it’s Professor Ross, isn’t it?”

“Too damn right it is. I knew your father. I knew you, for that matter, when you were riding about in a pushchair, not a military truck. Put that gun down.”

I squinted up into the light. To my surprise, the tough-looking soldier was doing as he was bidden, lowering an automatic rifle. Turning towards the truck I could now see was parked on the turf beyond the barbed wire, he made a gesture, and the blinding searchlight dimmed. “Stand down!” he barked to unseen comrades. “Situation under my control. Sorry, Prof,” he continued, sounding more human. “But you know the rules. This area’s been heavily mined.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“I hope not, if you took a student in with you.”

“This is a colleague. And he knows the risks.”

Pride touched me—and then I lost a breath as if punched. For a moment I couldn’t catch it again. Involuntarily I glanced back the way we’d come. It hit me that those red-and-yellow warning signs were more than boundary markers. I’d grown up, like most local kids, with their message in front of my eyes, limiting the scope of my wandering. The universal symbol for explosion, and an unfortunate stick man flying back from one. Danger from unexploded shell and mortar bombs. It was part of childhood’s wallpaper for me. I’d never taken it seriously, eventually ceased to see it.

That was it. The breath came back. Those signs were like the bogeyman, the threat was enough. Half the wire strung out around this place was for the army’s convenience, not public safety. Jason, who knew so much about this place, would know that. I didn’t know what game he was playing with Marsh, but he would have his reasons.

I straightened my spine. This is a colleague, Jason had said. Coming from a man like him, that was a stunning compliment, and I tried to look professional, like I deserved the title and was clear and calm about the risks as well. Marsh put down a hand to help hoist us back over the fence, and Jason courteously gestured me ahead. I tried not to use Marsh’s help getting up and over the wire. He’d slung his rifle back on its strap over his shoulder, but the proximity of all that death-laden hardware made my stomach heave. Once we were all down on the other side, he turned to us. “Sorry for the warning shot, Prof. Couldn’t be sure of getting your attention otherwise.”

“You could’ve shouted.”

“Would you have listened?” He shook his head, not waiting for a reply. “Here’s the situation, gentlemen. I’ve got a truckload of cadets over there, and I need to make a point to them—and maybe to you too—about peaceful arrest. No matter who’s trespassing.”

Jason shrugged. He glanced at me, his face calm again now, only wryly amused in the headlights. He held out his wrists. “Sorry, Daniel. Go ahead then, soldier.”

I sat handcuffed in the back of the jouncing truck, opposite a row of five grinning squaddies, and I wondered about my afternoon. Beside me, shoulder pressing unhidden against mine, Jason was calmly smiling back at the lads, as if all this was routine to him. Perhaps it was. He spent as much time in the field as he did in the office, and God knew how many lovers he’d laid down among the ruins.

I asked myself if I cared. Today it had been me. Tonight, unless we ended up in the holding cells at Fellworth, it would be me again. A strange euphoria began in me, starting in the pit of my stomach, blossoming outwards into the palms of my hands and down to my groin. I looked at the floor, afraid the excitement would shine from my eyes. I was pretty sure we were entertaining Marsh’s cadets enough as it was.

Jason looked calm and tidy as ever, but I’d let my hair grow over summer, and I’d already surreptitiously picked out one crushed buttercup leaf from it. That, in combination with my grass-stained cut-offs, in which I now just felt half-naked rather than cool, probably shouted less colleague than toy boy.

But if Jason was happy with it, so was I. I resisted the temptation to dip my head down to his shoulder and let the boys think what they liked. I stretched out my foot luxuriantly, tried the grip of the handcuffs as if they’d been velvet-lined and hitched to a bedpost. I’ll be home after eleven, if you feel like dropping by.

“Daniel? You all right?”

Lost in memories of the afternoon and anticipation of the night, it took me a moment to come back. Jason was looking at me in an odd mix of amusement and concern. His shoulder was rubbing against mine with the motion of the Land Rover.

“Fine,” I said, smiling up at him. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you’re in military custody. Don’t you mind?”

I snorted. Put like that, it did seem odd. But I didn’t, not at all. Suddenly I wanted to prove it to Jason. I wanted to confide in him, give him something for everything he’d given to me. “Listen,” I said. “I don’t love the bloody military. My father worked for them—not as a soldier. In the military lab at Hartcliffe Dean. He wasn’t anything special, just a technician. But he volunteered as a test subject back in the late seventies when they were working on some kind of nerve agent. Something like VX, although we never found out for sure.”

Jason stiffened away from me. After a second, he struggled round a bit to face me.“What?”

“I know. I suppose you’d say he wasn’t the brightest spark, but we were always short of cash, and they’d assured him the tests were harmless.”

“But—they weren’t?”

“No. Not at all, although no one knew until he and the other volunteers started getting ill years later. Not that anything was proven. He died when he was fifty. I was six.”

Jason stared at me. This was why I usually kept my mouth shut. Nobody ever knew what to say. And Jason seemed more affected than anyone else among the handful of people I’d told. He’d gone pale under his tan.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It was a long time ago. I only mentioned it because… Well, any rings you want to run round this lot, any battles you want fought…I’m your man.”

“Oh God, Daniel,” he said. I frowned. I hadn’t meant to freak him out. He was absolutely grey now, and suddenly looked his age. “Hartcliffe? The seventies?”

“Yes. Seriously—ancient history.” That was godawful, coming from an archaeologist, and I grimaced. “I don’t even remember.”

He stretched his cuffed hands awkwardly towards me. Just as awkwardly, I reached back, only very distantly hearing one of the squaddies break into a laugh. Jason’s fingers laced round mine. And although I hadn’t meant to distress him like this, his look sent shivers through me. I didn’t understand. We’d been so close that afternoon, and yet it was as if he was seeing me properly for the first time. As if I was real to him. He cleared his throat and said roughly, “That must have been hard on your family.”

“Briefly. They’re all gone now.” I squeezed his fingers tight. I wanted to pull us both out of these deep waters now. “I told you—I’m footloose. No ties, no worries. Don’t look so serious. I’m okay.”

Neither of us had noticed that the Land Rover had bounced to a halt. Jason sat very still. I fought the urge to blink, to try and hide from his regard. It wasn’t that I wanted to, but his intense sable stare was almost too much for me. If I was inclined to believe for one instant what I was seeing there, I’d become something to him I couldn’t yet be—something rare and of great value.

“Okay,” he echoed faintly. “Okay. Good.”

No ignoring the soldiers now. I sat up straight and offered them my best haughty look, but they only quieted when Marsh yanked open the rear door. “All right, you lot,” he said. “And you two gentlemen—out, please.”

Well, he had said something about making a point. I wondered distantly, clambering out of the back of the truck, what form it was going to take. Public execution, maybe.

Ah. Very public. The sides of the truck were canvas, and I hadn’t been able to see much out the front. After a while I’d lost my bearings. But Marsh had elected to take us back to the Stonehenge car park, where, as he probably knew perfectly well, Jason had left his Citroën DS that morning. I could see it—the sleek old French model, one of Jason’s few obvious extravagances—in the distance, conspicuous by its quiet glamour in the midst of the carnival parade of beat-up Deux Chevaux and vintage VW bugs and buses that had descended since we’d arrived at dawn. I’d forgotten. It was June the twenty-first. Summer solstice. I glanced back and saw Jason remembering too, looking out across the crowd, breaking into a broad grin as Marsh helped him, still handcuffed, down from the truck.

Mild pandemonium reigned. The car park, and all the meadows around the henge, were dotted with little groups of Wiccans, sun-worshippers, nutcases and the most passionate and genuine advocates of nature-based religion you could ever hope to meet. Campfires were on the blaze, a distinct smell of crisping veggie burgers filling the air. There was enough tie-dye fabric in enough colours to stretch a rainbow to the bloody moon, and, over by the chicken-wire fence that encircled the monument, the usual representatives of opposing Druidical orders were conducting the usual debate amongst themselves and the attendant police and military as to which of them was the real deal and therefore entitled to enter the circle and chant up the sunrise.

A few heads had turned at the arrival of the truck. The army weren’t popular guests around Stonehenge at Solstice—they got the blame for the chicken wire and the limited access—unjustly, because all that was the work of English Heritage—and I heard scattered hoots and jeers rise up as Marsh led Jason and me away from the truck. Marsh, face impassive, shook his head. “Nice welcome.”

“Well, I can’t help but question your presence too,” Jason said, scanning the crowd. He seemed to have recovered himself. “Do these people look as if they need martial law imposed on them?”

“Not at all. A giant butterfly net, I’d say. And I’d rather be home with my missus and kids, Professor Ross, but we’re here by request of the police and the site managers. Crowd control only. Now…” He paused, and reached to unfasten a set of keys from his belt. “Now, gentlemen, if you could just listen for a moment, I have to tell you that you’ve been officially escorted out of a closed military area. The army won’t be pressing charges, since you came with us peaceably, but I’m afraid you’ll find a request for payment of a fine in your post within the next few days. Look, I know where you live, Prof, but I’m going to need to take down your…” another pause, and an amused, assessing glance at me, “…your young colleague’s details.”

“I’m sure he’ll be happy to give them to you, if you’ll just take off his cuffs. Though you might as well charge his fine to the university—that’s where I’ll be charging mine.”

“I’m afraid that’s not the point, sir. We need to keep on record the details of any potential, er, troublemakers.”

I glanced up. The cuffs were chafing my wrist bones now, and I held out both hands, making sure I met Marsh’s eyes. I wasn’t sure about the nature of the trouble he thought I might be likely to cause, but I felt a mischievous impulse to let him wonder.

Then, suddenly, I lost interest. The sun was almost down, heavy bronze clouds piling high on the western horizon, but one last deep gold shaft had made its way through them, casting an unearthly glow on the henge and the eastern arc of its enclosure. Without it, I wouldn’t have noticed the solitary soldier standing guard by the fence. He was young and very pale, as if this crowd-control duty was deadly serious for him. The unexpected light had cast him in ivory. His hair was sable, nearly black, beneath his moss-green beret.

For a moment I thought I was imagining him. Plenty of ghosts here on Salisbury Plain—tiny dark men in deerskins, who vanished off into the long-barrow mounds; and ghosts of soldiers too, victims of friendly fire shootings and tank accidents. But he was real. I could see the furrow of concentration between his shapely, strongly marked brows. I couldn’t work out what it was that caught me about him, what made it hard for me to get the next breath into my lungs. He was, simply, the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on.

Guilt went through me, that I could even glance at another man after the afternoon I’d just spent. But a glance was all it was. If he fascinated me, plainly for him I didn’t exist. He was looking straight through me—through Jason, Marsh and the truck, paying none of us any attention at all.

Not so the crowd. A ripple of laughter had gone through the little groups on the outskirts at the sight of me and Jason being unloaded, holding out our hands for Marsh’s key. “Please don’t do it again, sir,” Marsh was saying. “I know you want access to the land, but there’s proper channels.” He undid Jason’s cuffs, and a few cheers and a patter of applause rose up. Like attracted like, and by the time Marsh turned to me, I realised that half the gathered crowd was watching.

I couldn’t resist. A bright bubble of elation was rising up in my chest. The evening, and the world, was wildly beautiful. Jason Ross was my lover, and my life was before me. The ancient rocks of Stonehenge, old bones of Earth, were calling people back to them—this crowd, now whooping and cheering as Marsh gestured to me to hold out my hands. I raised them so they could see. Marsh rolled his eyes but went with it, unlocking me with a wryly ceremonial gesture. Peripherally I noticed the grave young soldier shift and finally look at me. Yes.

The cuffs fell away. Grinning, I lifted both hands high, extending my fingers in peace signs. I remembered a dance move from my not-so-long-gone clubbing years, and briefly sashayed in the golden, laughter-filled light. My T-shirt rode up. I saw the young trooper’s dark gaze focus. I felt a flare of triumph, then, strangely, a sharp guilt, as if I had disturbed a priest at his prayers.

“That’s right,” Jason said, placing a gentle hand in the small of my back and propelling me off stage towards the car park. “You go ahead and antagonise the people we need to propitiate.”

“What, the clockwork soldiers? That’s rich coming from you, Indiana Jones.”

He snorted faintly. “Fair point. But you nearly started a riot back there, and, well, I don’t want us spending the night in separate cells.”

We had reached the car. I sat on the low, shark-nose bonnet of the DS, suddenly exhausted. We were still within earshot and possibly sight of the crowd around the enclosure, but I didn’t care. When he leaned over me, I reached up and into his deep, shuddering kiss.

“Listen, Daniel,” he said, when it was done. “You’ve had four lovers in your life. I’ve had…even fewer. I don’t do one-night stands. And I couldn’t bear to think of sharing you. I know that’s repressive and old-fashioned. If you think so too, and you don’t turn up tonight, I’ll understand, all right? And we’ll still be friends.” He ran his fingers through my hair, or tried to—smiled when he hit the first tangle and pulled out another crushed leaf. “Either way, beautiful boy, I’ll never forget you. And if you ever need anything…” He paused, the weird shadows flickering round him again, dimming his lights. “If you’re in trouble, or you need help…you come to me. Come to me. Okay?”

~//~

Lily’s bio

Lily G. Blunt lives in sunny Northamptonshire with her husband and two twenty-something “children”. She taught primary-aged pupils for over twenty-five years before discovering the wonderful world of m/m fiction.She started writing slash fanfiction and stories in her spare time, and with the encouragement of her readers and friends, recently decided to publish some of her writing.

Internet links

• WordPress: http://lilygblunt.wordpress.com
• FB Page: http://www.facebook.com/LilyGBlunt
• FB Profile: http://www.facebook.com/lily.blunt.75
• Tumblr: http://lilygblunt.tumblr.com
• YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/BoyonBoyLoving?feature=mhee

My Favourite Gay Romance Book – Sue Brown

Many many years ago, in a galaxy far far away… stop Sue! You need caffeine! Still, my story begins twenty years ago in Gettysburg. My ex-husband and I were on a flydrive holiday in America. By the time we reached Gettysburg we were exhausted. We only had a few hours to see the sights, but were so tired that we promised ourselves fifteen minutes and a cup of tea in the hotel room before we moved again. I switched on the TV and we sat down to watch a few minutes of a film I’d never seen before. Two hours and several cups of tea later, my ex and I looked at each other. We’d sat, entranced, for the whole of the Princess Bride. A film we’d stumbled across quite by accident is still my favourite film of all time.

I stumbled across Stolen Summer by S.A. Meade by accident, but I’m really glad I did. Like many people I am bad about reading new authors, but I got given a handful of books, and this was among them. One day I picked it up for a quick skim through and a cuppa, and didn’t put it down until I’d reached The End. Then I read it again. With a nod to Princess Bride, it has romance, and fighting, and explosions and kissing, villains and heroes, and love, twu love. S.A. Meade is going to shoot me soon.

I wanted this blog to be about what Stolen Summer means to me. Really, it’s about how it makes me feel. You see, I can understand Evan and Colin’s tale. I think it was one of the first books I read that was based in England, and that was a shock. Nearly all the books I’d read thus far were set in America. This had nods at Oxford, Cardiff and London – home settings that I recognised. The banter between the two men was familiar and so were the references. Chip shops, the corner store, the attitude of the journalists. I read this story and I feel I’m at home in their world. The twist to the plot, Evan is taken hostage in Pakistan, and the emotional aftermath as he recovers, is topical even today.

If you like friends falling in love, if you like well written stories, if you like stories based in England, if you like love stories, this is for you. But this isn’t an advert for Stolen Summer. It’s the way it made me feel. At home and yet being privileged to watch a relationship develop. In my head Evan and Colin are real, and isn’t that the mark of a good book, to be invested in the characters? Twenty years on, I am still invested in Buttercup, Westley and Inigo. Now I am invested in the relationship of Evan and Colin. Do I long for a sequel? Well, yes, but it doesn’t need a sequel. It’s a perfect encapsulation of their love.

I love Stolen Summer. It is my all-time favourite gay romance story, and I’m going to tell S.A. Meade that over and over, until she chases me away with a large stick.

Sue Brown xx

Sue can be found at her website, http://www.suebrownstories.com/; her blog,http://suebrownsstories.blogspot.co.uk/; Twitter, https://twitter.com/suebrownstories; and her Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/suebrownstories.