I had a bit of a wake-up call recently. I know I’m a perfectionist and hard on myself. But I didn’t realise quite how much I look at the things I need to work on and don’t take any time to celebrate the successes I have until recently.
What gave me the wake-up call? A friend of mine once bought me a small bottle of expensive champagne for giving up my time and helping her with something. I say a friend. It was that long ago (probably about ten years) that she stopped talking to me about five years ago over a misunderstanding over a text message. I know. But that’s another story. Anyway, another friend said to me a while ago. “I can’t believe you haven’t drunk that champagne yet.” My answer. “I haven’t had any champagne moments.”
I thought about my answer later and had a bit of an epiphany over what I’d said and thought about all the events and milestones I’d had that would and probably should have been classed as champagne moments. I’m going to list them below in roughly chronological order. I’m sure there’s probably more that I don’t even remember but these are the most obvious.
Got a promotion to a management role in my teaching job.
Left that job. Got the first job I went for, even though it was in a Secondary school.
Got my first book accepted by a publisher.
1st book was published in December 2015.
2nd book was accepted by a publisher.
2nd book was published.
2nd book stayed in US top 100 for gay romance for months.
Learned to self-publish and self-published 3rd book when the publisher shut down.
Wrote and released 6 more books.
Had a medical diagnosis which was a hell of a lot better than what had been running through my head for months.
Had an audiobook company contact me, asking for the rights of a series. Signed Contract.
Had an Italian translator contact me, asking for the rights of the same series. Signed contract.
So yeah, no champagne moments.
Why am I writing this? On August 29th I’m releasing my 10th book. And do you know what. I’m going to drink that damn champagne- lol.
So, the sequel to A Dance too Far, A Step too Far is finished and ready for release on June 3rd. A couple of amazing things about this book. One that I actually wrote it straight after the first one without getting distracted. Two, that neither of these books were meant to be on the list of books to write in 2019. I never thought I’d get to June (well, nearly-only two days away.) not having even started what I was supposed to be writing this year.
Really, both books tell one story, only with a focus on different characters in the second. That damn stock photo that ended up being the cover for the first book has a lot to answer for, for taking me down a rabbit-hole which took 167 000 words to resolve.
There is a character in the second book who may make me write a spin-off one day, but that would be a long way down the line and is not a definite. I guess I’ll wait and see what people have to say about the second book first.
I’m in negotiation with Tantor about turning both of these books into audiobooks so watch this space.
about autism: As many as one-third
of people with autism have epilepsy (seizure disorder)
I guess as a teacher, I’ve had more experience of autism than most. I’ve taught numerous children over the years who are on the autistic spectrum. All of them very different. From the incredibly challenging year three boy, who pushed me and threatened to stab me in the eye with pencils, but still turned up in the staff room eight years later to visit and tell me all about how he hadn’t come last in a race, to the incredibly sweet year eight boy who I taught maths intervention to, where my biggest success wasn’t anything to do with numbers, but the fact that after three months he could look me in the eye and say hello when he came to lessons. One thing I can say for sure is that they were all incredibly memorable in their own way and I can’t say that for every child I’ve taught over the years.
Hmm… I thought when I found out about
writing this blog post. What’s this got to do with writing MM romance? How can
I possibly find a link? Then I had a strange memory come back to me. As a child
I had an inseparable best friend whose house I virtually lived at because her
parents were much less strict than mine. I used to take my toys around to her
house where we created some very strange games. Don’t let the balloon touch the
floor, throw as many cuddly toys at each other as you can until you collapse
from exhaustion, and silent pass messages to each other under the door
immediately come to mind (we actually used to do that for hours.) I guess I was
a weird child, and she was too – lol. I used to take my Sindy dolls around to
her house. She had Barbie. I’d also inherited an action man from my older
sister who’d somehow gotten it from a male friend of hers. My friend had also
gotten an action man from somewhere. One with blue painted on underpants and
eyes that moved with a little switch at the back of his head.
Mine wasn’t quite so exotic. Anyway, we did
what most kids do, we created a little fantasy world with lots of scenarios and
played them out. What was the memory I recalled? The fact that for all the
scenarios where Sindy (or Barbie) was dating Action man, we had an equal number
of scenarios where Action man and Action man got a bit of man on man action.
Funny, that I’d never remembered that before. So, I guess even then, my path
was set to one day writing mm romance.
As part of this blog post, I decided to recall what my most memorable childhood toys were. So here goes. In no particular order.
God, I loved this toy. It had everything:
characters, furniture, a dog, a lift that you could turn the handle to
transport a character up and down the tree, a car, and it even pressed down and
had a handle so you could store it away and nothing could fall out. The dog
even had its own little detachable dog tree kennel. I also had the slightly
less memorable park to go with it. Although the park did come with a bear,
which I seem to remember liking a bit more than the dog.
2. My little ponies
I started with the blue one (Bluebell). Is it sad that I can remember his name? And from there I ended up with about eight of them. Six adults and two babies. Yes, there were baby my little ponies. The rainbow one was my favourite, although I do think it was usurped briefly by the one that came with freaking fairy wings, which I unfortunately couldn’t find a picture of. And were there scented ones? Or is that some sort of cheese dream I had?
3. The 48k Spectrum
Every Sunday, my mum used to visit her friend for a couple of hours. My sister and I couldn’t wait because that’s when we were allowed to go through the painstakingly long process of setting up the Spectrum and actually trying to get a game to load from the tape recorder that you had to plug in just to play a very simplified (although it didn’t feel like that at the time) game. Most of the games were so difficult that you spent all your time just playing the same level over and over again in the vague hope that you might be able to advance. Although kudos to my sister, she achieved the unachievable in getting through every level of Manic Miner. And if the games weren’t enough, the manual used to come with pages and pages of coding that you could spend hours typing in, just to make the screen flash different colours. Except of course that most of the time you would have made some sort of mistake and it wouldn’t actually work. I actually found a Spectrum emulator on the internet a while back and played some of the games that I used to play. I can report that I still couldn’t get anywhere in The Hobbit. Only four things happen in that game.
1) You can’t go that way (then why give me the bloody option.) 2) You find yourself back in… (basically the place that you left a few minutes ago and will probably see about another twelve times.) 3) I do not understand that command. 4) You are attacked and eaten by trolls. Do you want to start again? Yes. Yes, I do because apparently it’s fun just going round and round without getting anywhere.
Oh, get stuffed! I just went to look for a picture of the game and instead I found this.
7 minutes! 7 bloody minutes. Some people are such show-offs.
There are lots of other childhood toys I loved but I can’t mention them all. Special mention though to Pound puppies and Pound Purries, and my track-suited Cabbage Patch doll.
My angsty book Edge of Living is currently
on sale at the moment for .99
I actually gave one of my characters in
this book a little slice of my own childhood memories with their fond
remembrance of the pop-up book Haunted house. We used to get shown this book at
the library by the librarian but we weren’t allowed to touch it. It became like
the holy grail. So much so, that I ended up buying a copy as an adult just so I
was allowed to touch it.
Here is the blurb for the book in case you
want to check it out. Please be aware that it does have trigger warnings.
Sometimes, death can feel like the only escape.
It’s been a year since Alex stopped living. He exists. He breathes. He pretends to be like everyone else. But, he doesn’t live. Burdened by memories, he dreams of the day when he can finally be free. Until that time comes, he keeps everybody at bay. It’s been easy so far. But he never factored in, meeting a man like Austin.
Hard-working mechanic Austin has always gone for men as muscular as himself. So, it’s a mystery why he’s so bewitched by the slim, quiet man with the soulful brown eyes who works in the library. The magnetic attraction is one thing, but the protective instincts are harder to fathom. Austin’s sure though, that if he can only earn Alex’s trust then the two of them could be perfect together.
A tentative relationship begins. But Alex’s secrets run deep. Far deeper than Austin could ever envisage. Time is ticking. Events are coming to a head, and love is never a magic cure. Oblivious to the extent of Alex’s pain, can Austin discover the truth? Or is he destined to be left alone, only able to piece together the fragments of his boyfriend’s history, once its already too late?
Trigger warning: Please be aware that this story deals with suicidal ideation and other dark themes. If this is a subject you find uncomfortable, then this book is not recommended. Despite this, there is a guaranteed HEA.
GIVEAWAY I would love to give away an ebook copy of the book of your choice from my backlist. To enter, simply write a comment on this post. You could tell me about some of your own fond memories of childhood toys or comment on one I’ve mentioned. Please also include your e-mail address so that I know how to contact you if you are the winner. E-mail addresses will not be used for anything else apart from contacting the winner.
I finally released A Dance too Far. I say finally, I only started writing it at the beginning of November so actually from start to finish, it was the quickest book I’ve ever written but sometimes, particularly in the editing process, it doesn’t feel like that. I also experimented with writing this book in a slightly different way. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’m a slow writer.
What did I change? I tried the sprint method that I’d heard so many people talk about where you literally just make yourself write for short periods of 25-30 mins with a short break. The idea is that you don’t edit, you don’t think I’ll just check FB to see what’s going on, you don’t even pause to research or check what a character’s surname. To my surprise, I found I could do it. Were there more mistakes? Definitely. I had two side characters that had the same name which I didn’t pick up until just before I was about to send it to beta readers. I had irritating bits typed when I came to self edit like, find out the Russian for this, find surname, but it did make me write faster.
The other much more controversial thing I did for this book was to not plot. Not a single word. Most of my previous books I’ve either started off not plotting, and then plotted the second half, or briefly plotted most of the book before I started. The least plotted book before this one was A Temporary Situation, but even then, I remember jotting something down for the last couple of chapters.
Did it work? For this book. For me. Yes. Why? I discovered something about myself. If I plot, it’s down on paper and I don’t have to think about it, so if I don’t write the next day, it’s not a big deal. I also feel like it’s done. It’s plotted. I don’t have to think about it. It makes me lazy. With no plotting, I constantly had to think about different possibilities, and when I did have an idea, I was forced to get it down on paper before I forgot it. I keep saying paper when I mean laptop, but you know what I mean. This also kept me enthusiastic about writing. Am I saying I’m the world’s best plotter. God, no. I always see myself as a character-based writer where everything comes from the characters. I’ve already had reviews say the plot is quite basic or straightforward. Would it have been better if I’d sat down and plotted it all out? I can’t honestly say it would have been. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and I’m honest enough to hold my hands up and say that intricate plots is definitely not one of my strengths.
I actually read a blog post yesterday where the plotting vs no plotting argument was brought up, which is probably why this is in my head. Some of the posts were quite vitriolic on the idea of not plotting, but I guess it all comes down to what works for that writer, for that book. I have a Christmas story that I was planning to finish and release for Christmas 2018, that my plans changed on. Did I plot it? Yes. Am I really glad now that I did? Also, yes. Because it means that when I pick that story up again with a view to releasing it in Christmas 2019, I won’t have forgotten what’s meant to happen.
Anyway, I’ve rambled enough for one day. I’ll write another post, more about the characters in A Dance too Far, rather than the writing process another day.
Where was I? Ah, that’s right, I’d talked about the two books I’d released in the first half of the year, and then realized how long the post had already become, so I’ll talk about the other three in this part.
July 9th – I released Taking Love’s Lead. This was my first purely humorous book since A Temporary Situation. In contrast to Kept in the Dark, I promo-ed this one to death and ran my first AMS ad for it, but something about it just wasn’t that popular. Maybe it was the cover? Maybe it was the blurb? Maybe it was a little too British? A little too zany? Not enough angst? I don’t know. But this was the first book that I released that I was disappointed with. It got good reviews so it wasn’t that, it just didn’t seem to make people want to pick it up and read it. Even when I release a new book and get renewed interest in my back list, it doesn’t get a lot of attention. On the positive side, I’m going to use this book as a bit of an experiment in 2019. I’m going to change the cover and possibly the blurb and see if it makes a difference. It will be a good learning curve.
October 28th I released Edge of Living. I still find it a bit strange that I felt compelled to write a book dealing with the subject matter it did. I mean…it was probably really bad marketing, given that it really doesn’t fit with the rest of my books (although neither did Refuge). I apparently suck at the forward planning and sticking to the same audience – my brain doesn’t work like that. But… this one did well, which was a huge relief after Taking Love’s lead as you start thinking that perhaps the success of other books was the fluke. Will I ever write a book this dark again? Or will it be a one-off? I’ve no idea, because you know that would take the forward planning that I’m not very good at.
November 20th – I released A Christmas Situation. While I was still struggling to write the end of Edge of Living, I realised that the Christmas story that I’d been planning to finish and release wasn’t a very happy story. I really didn’t want to release two not very happy stories in quick succession. So then I had a stupid idea. Why not revisit two characters that I hadn’t written for almost two years with only a month to write it to be sure of getting it edited in time. I wasn’t even sure I could write those characters again and have them be consistent. I should have read back through A Temporary Situation, but then I only had the month and I’m a slow writer, so confession time, I winged it. I was so relieved when I got good feedback from betas that had read the original story. So A Temporary Situation ended up with a story continuation that I’d never planned. (Damn it! The planning thing again) with another promised story to round it off. When? Shrugs. Your guess is as good as mine.
What’s coming up in 2019?
Quite possibly less books than this year because I’m going to have to teach more to pay the bills. But, I am working on trying to write faster, so you never know. Time will tell.
Here’s what I know so far. There will be a 70k (estimate) standalone story out soon-ish. Possibly early to mid February.
Rebellion will definitely get finished even if it kills me.
I have a novella series that wants to get written as a chance to use up all the ideas that I’ve had over the last couple of years but dismissed as not being long enough for a complete novel. I’m even toying with the idea of re-writing my very first unfinished and unpublished novel as one of these stories.
I’d like to think I’ll write Paul’s story, but who knows, I’ve been saying that since I released A Temporary Situation. Although, I can’t finish Tristan and Dom’s story until I have so that might just give me the kick up the bum I need.
And this is all assuming that some new idea won’t suddenly float into my head. I guess we’ll see. Maybe I’ll re-read this post before I write the end of 2019 one and probably laugh.
Hold on to your hats, this is going to be a long one.
Where to start…
I’m actually going to be a rebel and start in December 2017 because it was the beginning of that month that my publisher Loose id announced they were closing down, less than a week after I’d signed a contract with them for my 3rd book. It left me spending a whole weekend researching everything self-publishing because I literally didn’t have a clue-about anything, so if nothing else can be said for 2018, I learnt a hell of a lot: editors, proofreaders, formatting, how to use Photoshop, AMS ads, ARCs, starting a newsletter, using beta readers, and I’m sure there’s probably more things that I’ve forgotten. Am I an expert? Not even close. There’s probably a whole stack of things that I don’t even know I don’t know yet, and ones I do but just haven’t gotten around to like audio books and translations.
2018 (and the end part of 2017) was the first year where I actually gave priority to my writing, over teaching, which accounts for the fact that I published 5 books this year (4 full-length, one novella.) Not bad for someone who managed one book in 2015 and then didn’t manage another one until 2017. I’m terrible though, for looking at some authors output, and feeling I don’t measure up, but everyone’s writing speed is different, everyone’s targets and the amount of time they spend on writing is different. Should I stop doing it? Yes. Will I? Probably not.
February 12th – I released my first self-published book Kept in the Dark. I always call this book my side project, the book that kept me sane while I was writing Refuge, but that’s probably a little unfair on it. I always laugh when reviewers call it predictable because that’s exactly what it was meant to be. The inspiration came when I was reading Megan Derr’s Tournament of Losers. For anyone that has read that book, you’ll know that there’s a major detail that everyone knows apart from one of the main characters, yet I really enjoyed that book because you’re waiting for the moment when that character finally gets with the programme and knows what everyone else knows. So poor Dean became the character in the dark, not knowing what just about everyone else knew. Why was he called Dean? Dean from Supernatural due to my love of the character and Jensen Ackles. I was surprised by how well this book actually did for my first indie book.
Why did it do well?
Rent boy trope? Naked torso on the cover? Follow up readers from A Temporary Situation?
That’s the question that every author would love to be able to answer for every single book that either does or doesn’t do well. But I had no ads (because I was still clueless about them), did no promo, didn’t send it to any blogs for reviews. I look back now and think how much better it could have done if I’d had a remote clue what I was doing.
April 10th – I released Refuge, the first book which wasn’t contemporary. I still can’t recall what my inspiration for this book was. According to a reviewer (Grrr) I ripped off something called The Fifth Wave. Well, all I can say is I probably should get around to watching this at some point as I’m guessing had I ever seen it, I would have enjoyed it. Maybe someone that has, can tell me how similar it is. I mean it was also mentioned by another reviewer (in a less vicious way) so I’m guessing there must be something similar besides it being an alien invasion as that story has and will continue to be done in a hundred different ways. I was warned by more than one person before releasing this book that sci-fi books don’t sell as well, and they were right, they don’t so it was a little disappointing after how well, Kept in the Dark (the supposed side project) had done. Is this one of the reasons I haven’t written the sequel yet? Probably, yes. It’s difficult to spend time on writing a book that will make less money and therefore sacrifice time which could be spent on a contemporary that has a larger readership. Will I finish the trilogy? Definitely. Ironically, it’s my highest rated book on GR, and the one that tends to get more recommendations. It was also the only one nominated in the GR awards. It’s sequel, Rebellion currently stands at 11 000 words and has a cover all ready to go. I’d initially wanted to try and get it out for April so that there would only be a year between the two books, but that’s now not going to happen. Blame the half Russian ballet dancer who’s in my next book for taking over my brain.
I still hadn’t learnt ads at this point so I’ve never run an ad for Refuge, and I probably won’t until the sequel is ready to go.
Any other facts about Refuge that I didn’t share. Hmmmm…well, Zed’s physical description probably owes more than a nod to Keanu Reeves.
I know I said this post was going to be long, but it’s even longer than I’d envisaged so I’m going to split it into 2 parts and talk about Taking Love’s Lead, Edge of Living and A Christmas Situation tomorrow.
Hi and welcome to the Rainbow Advent Calendar event 2018. I’m really excited to be a part of it this year.
Every day from the 1st to the 24th December, two authors have/will be offering their festive stories for your reading pleasure. Hopefully you’ll find some stories from favourite authors and perhaps discover some new authors whose books you’d like to try.
If you’re not already a member of the Rainbow Advent Calendar FB group you can join here If you want to catch up with any of the stories you might have missed, you can find the master-post, listing all the stories and where to find them here
If you would rather download this story to read at your leisure, you can download as a PDF, epub or mobi at Bookfunnel with no sign up required. click here
Santa and the Elf
“Ow!” He attempted to move his head away, hoping to find some escape from the torture his sister Caroline, was currently inflicting on him. Unfortunately, all it succeeded in doing was pulling more of the adhesive glue away from his face—along with his skin—and causing more pain as a result.
Caroline scowled at him. “Stay still! I need to make sure your beard’s straight. You don’t want a wonky beard, do you?”
He grabbed onto the arms of the chair, forcing himself to sit still. “I don’t want a beard at all.”
She took a step back, narrowing her eyes as she admired her handiwork. “You can’t be Santa without a beard. And stop being such a drama queen! You agreed to fill in and it’s one day. The way you’re going on and on, you’d think it was for the whole of December.”
Scott sighed; the truth coming back to bite him in the ass. But there was a bit more to the story than that. So even though he knew it would fall on deaf ears, he still protested. “I was still getting over the breakup with Chris. I would have agreed to anything. You knew that. So some might say that you were particularly devious and underhand. Not to mention completely unsympathetic to your poor heartbroken brother.”
Caroline waved the brush she’d been using to tame his stuck-on beard in a dismissive motion.”The guy was a dweeb. You’re better off without him. Anyway”—she winked—”you might meet someone today. You’re going to be in a department store with loads of people around, rather than stuck behind a desk where you hardly see anyone. It could be the perfect opportunity.”
He stared at her, trying to gauge if she was serious. “Right. Course I will. Because Santa’s grotto in the middle of a department store is everyone’s favorite gay pick-up joint.”
She lowered the curly white wig onto his head, tilting her head from side to side as she shifted it slightly until she was happy with the positioning, before getting stuck in with the acrylic glue again. “Well, you never know. It’d be nice to have a new boyfriend in time for Christmas, right?”
Scott bit back another sigh. It would be nice. But he’d had three blind dates in the last couple of weeks and they’d all gone absolutely nowhere. It wasn’t their fault. Two out of the three had even made it clear that they’d be well up for a second date. He just hadn’t been able to muster much interest in return. Something had been missing. He knew he was being fussy, but at thirty-two, he was well past the stage of falling into bed with someone just for the sake of it. He wanted to meet someone who fascinated and intrigued him, who gave him goosebumps and butterflies, not settle for someone who was nice, but left no lasting impression.”Yeah, well. I wouldn’t hold your breath.” He changed the subject, keen to talk about something less depressing than the fact he’d be spending Christmas alone—apart from family. “Do you actually think the kids are going to be fooled by this? George is sixty-five and he’s been playing Santa for years. The kids are probably going to take one look at me, laugh their heads off, and demand to see the proper Santa.”
Caroline raised an eyebrow. “Remind me, brother dear. What do I do for a living?”
He rolled his eyes, reciting the words like they were being forced out of his mouth. “You’re a makeup artist. You create miracles with a brush and a few props.”
A smug expression appeared on her face. “Well, there you go then. I wouldn’t have asked you to fill in, if I didn’t think I could make you look convincing. By the time I’ve finished with you, no one’s going to suspect that underneath the hair, makeup, and the beard, you’re really a handsome man in his early thirties. Good job, you’ve got one of those husky voices that doesn’t give away your real age.”
He raised a stuck-on white eyebrow, still wholly unconvinced. He knew better than to argue though. She’d only take it as a personal insult to her profession.
The three people on the bed falling about laughing, told him everything he needed to know about what he looked like. He crossed his arms over his chest and did his best to pretend that he really didn’t care what they thought. The longer it took for them to get themselves back under control, the harder it became. So much for the support of friends.
Greg lifted a finger and pointed at him. “Dylan’s an angry elf.” Then he collapsed back into hysterics, which set the other two off again. Steeling himself for what he was about to see, Dylan walked over to the full-length mirror. It was worse than he’d feared. Maybe if the costume had fitted properly it wouldn’t have been too bad. But it was obvious that it hadn’t been designed for someone of his physique. As a result, it hugged his chest far too tightly. He looked like a cross between an elf strip act, and some sort of twisted Halloween parody. He stared balefully down at his feet, the bells on his shoes tinkling slightly whenever he shifted his feet. “I can’t go out in public like this. Please don’t make me!”
Louise appeared behind him in the mirror, a bright smile on her face. He returned it with a glare. She was the one that had done this to him. He’d lost a bet with her boyfriend and this was the result. She ignored his pleading, plonking a red and green hat on his head and proceeding to rub red face-paint into his cheeks to make them rosy. “You look great! Cutest elf I’ve ever seen.”
“He has low elf esteem.” A howl of laughter met Jordan’s comment, the trio still cackling away on the bed.
Dylan turned his glare in their direction. It had no effect. He didn’t even know why they were there.He certainly hadn’t told them about the bet so it had to have been Stuart. It apparently wasn’t good enough for his friend that he got to force Dylan to spend all day dressed like an idiot in public. He had to twist the knife as well and send these three bozos over as witnesses in his absence: something to do with an important meeting he couldn’t get out of. That probably accounted for the number of photos they kept taking, and the short video Greg had insisted on filming while Dylan was struggling to squeeze himself into the tights. Stuart was probably getting a minute by minute live feed. “Yeah, laugh it up, why don’t you? You wait till it’s your turn, and I’ll return the favor.”
Jordan held his hands up, fixing his face into the most serious expression he could manage after laughing for ten minutes straight. “I’m sorry, mate. I just couldn’t elf myself.”
They all cracked up again. It was the last straw. Dylan turned to Louise, determined to ignore the other three, no matter what they said or did. “You’re driving me there, right? Can we just go? I want to get this over and done with. I’ve a feeling this is going to be the longest and most embarrassing day of my life.” He stomped out of the bedroom, trying for dignity, but failing miserably when you took into account his legs being encased in red and white stripy tights and his feet jangling when he walked. Unfortunately, they weren’t loud enough to drown out the shouts that followed him.
“Dylan! Who’s your favorite singer? I bet its Elfis Presley isn’t it?”
“You don’t look well today, Dylan. Maybe you should go to the elf center. Or book yourself into an elf farm.”
Dylan slammed the front door shut behind him, cutting off any further elf puns that might have been forthcoming from his so-called friends. He fidgeted impatiently as Louise took forever to locate her keys in order to unlock the car. It left him in full view of the whole street. He stared at the ground, playing a game of, ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.’ It hadn’t worked in school, and it didn’t work now.
He jerked his head up, wincing as Mrs. Foster gave him a cheery wave from two doors down. He raised his hand, barely wiggling his fingers. He was suddenly glad for the red face paint Louise had smeared on his face. At least it should hide the fact that his cheeks were burning with mortification. “Hello, Mrs.Foster.”
“You look lovely, Dylan. Very festive. Fancy dress party, is it?”
He coughed.”Something like that.” Louise finally opened the passenger door. He gave Mrs. Foster another wave. “Sorry. Got to go.”
Fun. Right? Fun was definitely not on the agenda for today.
There was still fifteen minutes until the grotto was due to open. Scott had already been introduced to everyone, with the exception of one elf who hadn’t turned up yet. He’d been briefed on what the role required.It sounded simple enough. Sit there. Talk to kids. Ask them what they wanted for Christmas. Hand over a present which probably bore no relevance to what they’d just asked for. And repeat.
The department store hadn’t opened its doors yet so the space where the queue would start was blessedly empty. Most of the elves were sat around chatting or having a coffee.They seemed to be making the most of the peace and quiet before the mayhem kicked in. When he’d asked one of the elves whether it would be busy, she’d laughed. Loudly. He’d taken that as a bad sign.
His eyes were suddenly drawn to a ruckus over near the elevator. It looked like the missing elf had arrived. Only he appeared to be being dragged there bodily by a small blonde woman who was obviously a lot stronger than she looked. After a heated argument, the elf finally gave in, stomping toward the grotto before looking around as if he didn’t have a clue what he was supposed to do next.
Now that he was closer, Scott got his first proper look at him. The color of the costume brought out the green in his eyes, and the fact it hugged his body like a second skin left no doubt that the guy worked out. In short, he was gorgeous, and just Scott’s type. The muscular elf was going to stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to his short, thin elf compatriots.
Scott would have liked to say that it was the fact that the guy looked lost, that made him rush over there. But he’d have been lying. It was more to do with the lust already circulating through his body. Although, it wasn’t as if any of the elves appeared like they were prepared to step in anyway. They’d glanced in his direction, but seemed far more interested in finishing their coffees before the store opened. Scott plastered a charming smile on his face and headed toward the new arrival. “Hi! You look a bit lost. First day?”
The elf turned toward him with a scowl on his face. He did grumpy to perfection. It should have made him less attractive. It didn’t. It was hard to take grumpiness seriously when it was teamed with shoes with bells on and a jaunty matching hat. Scott reached out, giving the bell on the hat a little push to make it tinkle.
If looks could kill, Scott would have died on the spot from the poisonous glare thrown his way. The elf whipped his head away, making the bell tinkle even more. “Something like that. And leave the bell alone!”
Okay. So flirting by playing with the elf’s hat hadn’t gone down well. It was probably better to stick to normal introductions. Scott held his hand out.”I’m—”
“Santa. I can see that.”
“Yeah, but I’m really…”
The elf shifted impatiently. “I’ve got to go. I need to find out what I’m supposed to be doing. Nice meeting you.” Scott frowned as his new crush walked away to join the other elves. That hadn’t gone well. His gaydar had pinged in all the right places so he was pretty sure that the gorgeous elf was gay. Maybe he had a boyfriend? Well, he had a good few hours ahead of him to try and find out. The day was definitely looking up.
He tried the number for the third time, both the first two calls having gone unanswered. He swore to God that if Stuart didn’t pick up this time, he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions. Elves got fifteen minutes for their break. He’d already used five answering a call of nature. On the last ring before voicemail was about to kick in, Stuart answered. “Hey mate, how’s it going? I loved the photos and video. You look so damn cute as an elf. We should have dressed you up like this years ago.”
Dylan’s fingernails dug into the palm of his hand. “How’s it going? HOW’S IT GOING? Are you serious? Did you know about this?”
There was a long pause. “Know about what?”
He lowered his voice to a whisper, the queue of kids only a few feet away around the corner.”That Santa’s a fucking pervert!” The laugh that greeted his statement was the last thing he needed to hear. His head throbbed with the effort to keep the fury bubbling inside him from bursting out. “Stuart, I’m serious. I know I lost a bet and this was the forfeit, but I didn’t sign up for this.”
Something in his tone finally got through to his unsympathetic friend. “You’re not joking?”
Dylan clutched the phone tighter to his ear. “No. I’m not joking. I assure you, it’s a long way from funny.”
“When you say…pervert. What’s he doing exactly?”
“Flirting. Making inappropriate comments. Undressing me with his eyes. You name it. He’s doing it.”
“In front of the kids?”
Dylan sighed. “No, of course not. When it’s just the two of us.”
Stuart made a noise in his throat as if he was considering the information, Dylan had just provided.”But Bob’s a great guy. He’s always showing me pictures of his wife.”
Dylan rolled his eyes.”Well, he’s certainly not showing me pictures of her. He seems to have completely forgotten that he’s even got one. And that he’s old enough to be my grandfather.” He shuddered, unable to hold it back. “What am I supposed to do?” He closed his eyes and prayed for Stuart’s next words to be something along the lines of Dylan running and not looking back. He should have known better.
“It’s only for a few more hours. Surely, you can just ignore him. If it was up to me, I’d let you out of the bet, but it’s going to leave them short-handed, and—”
“Fine.” Dylan checked his watch. His break was almost over. If he was staying, then he needed to get back to work—pervy Santa or no pervy Santa. “But you owe me big time for this.”
Stuart sounded genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry. I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into Bob. He’s been there for years and I’ve never heard a single complaint about him before. I’ll get someone to speak to him, but it won’t be until after today’s over. I’ll buy you dinner to make up for it.”
It was the best Dylan was going to get. “It had better be one hell of an expensive dinner.”He hung up and headed back into the fray; the noise of excited kids getting louder as soon as he rounded the corner. He paused next to the elf keeping the queue from creeping too close to the grotto. “Do we swap around roles? I can take over the queue if you’re due a break.”
The elf shook his head. “No. You’re with Santa all day. We swap on a daily basis. It works better that way.” He inclined his head toward the grotto: a no expenses pared mini log cabin complete with fairy lights and fake snow. “Katrina covered your break, so if you just hang around outside until the child that’s in there comes out, then you can take over again.”
Dylan jangled his way back over to the grotto. It looked like he had no choice but to suck it up and put up with a few more hours of Bob leering at him. He took a deep breath before sticking his head through the door and signaling to Katrina so that she knew he was back. Then he stood to one side as a cute little girl with pigtails left clutching a brightly wrapped present and chattering excitedly to her mum.Despite his bad mood, he smiled. That was what it was about. He could put up with the closeted Bob for the sake of making kids happy for one day.
His new resolve lasted only as long as it took him to step back inside the grotto. When Santa gave him a long, lingering once over and declared he’d missed him, the black cloud of gloom immediately settled back over him.
The gorgeous elf was back. He’d been worried he was going to be stuck with Katrina for the rest of the day. Grumpy muscles were definitely preferable to overenthusiastic perkiness. He smiled, letting his gaze run over the lycra-clad body with bulges in all the right places. “Hey! I missed you.”
A stony gaze fastened on his. There wasn’t so much as a flicker of a smile. Scott was failing miserably at flirting. Dylan—he’d finally discovered his name—was the first guy he’d met in ages that really piqued his interest. He wanted an opportunity to get to know him better, but no matter how friendly he was, he got absolutely nothing back. He wasn’t quite ready to give up yet, though.
The store manager’s head appeared around the door. “There’s going to be a bit of a hold up.One of the kids ate too many sweets and threw up all over the floor. We’re going to hold the queue for a few minutes while we get it cleaned up so that no one walks through it, and then we’ll be full steam ahead again. Okay?”
Scott nodded to show he’d heard before turning his attention back to Dylan. Given it was only going to be the two of them for the next few minutes, this could be the perfect opportunity to get to know him better. “So, Dylan, what made you want to be an elf?”
Cool green eyes slid slowly over to him. “I don’t.” He gestured down at himself. “You think I’d choose to look like this? I lost a bet. This is my one and only day and then I’m burning the costume.”
Interesting! Actually, that explained a lot: the grumpiness; the argument with the blonde woman; the tightness of the costume. Not that he was complaining about the latter. And at least Dylan was talking now. Those four sentences were the most he’d managed to get out of him all day. “I see.” He wondered what Dylan looked like when he smiled. He bet that it would be devastating. It became his new goal. He winked and patted his knee. “Want a turn on Santa’s knee? You can tell me what you want for Christmas.”
There was no smile. There wasn’t even a look of slight amusement. If Scott was pushed to describe the expression, he probably would have to go for unadulterated disgust as the closest fit. Dylan finally ground out a “no,” his eyes drifting toward the exit. “I’m going to go and see if they need any help.” Then he disappeared through the door.
Scott was left contemplating the fact that dealing with vomit was preferable to talking to him.
* * *
Scott stepped out onto the busy street. It had been a long day, and he was tired. But he had to admit that it had definitely had its moments. There had been a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the bright smiles on children’s faces when their turn had come to visit the grotto. They’d seemed perfectly happy to accept that he was the real deal. He guessed that was the beauty of the naivete of children. They tended to accept things at face-value. Until they grew out of it anyway.
The only blot on the day had been Dylan. After Scott’s attempt at humor, they’d fallen into silence for the rest of the afternoon; the only exception being polite, stilted conversation linked to the job at hand. As soon as the shift had ended, Dylan had disappeared without so much as a backward glance.
“For Fuck’s sake!”
Scott whirled around at the expletive, surprised to find the very man he’d just been thinking about stood at the edge of the pavement, scanning the street. Just like Scott, he was still in costume. “Are you okay?”
Dylan ripped the hat off his head, throwing it vaguely in the direction of a bin close by. It teetered on the edge before falling to the ground, a dog running over and picking it up, shaking his head back and forth to make the bell ring. “She promised she’d be here to pick me up.”
Scott took a few steps toward him. “Your blonde friend?”
“Well…”His gaze settled on the bar just across the road. “We could…get a drink. It’s better than hanging about on the street waiting.”
Dylan rounded on him. “Listen, Bob. I’ve had just about enough of your shit today! How about we don’t go for a drink…and how about you stop eyeing up young men…you closet case! Go home to your wife! You remember her, right? The woman you promised to be faithful to. The woman you apparently like to show pictures of. Maybe you need to stick one of those pictures to your forehead so you remember she exists.”
Scott blinked a few times. Bob! Closet case. Wife! He suddenly caught sight of his reflection in a shop window. He stepped closer to it, peering at a face he’d never seen before. They’d been running late this morning and he hadn’t had a chance to look in the mirror before they’d left. He didn’t recognize himself. The hair and beard covered the majority of his face, but what wasn’t covered was lined with deep wrinkles. He vaguely remembered Caroline saying she was going to add a bit of makeup, but this was way beyond what he’d envisioned. He looked at least seventy. No wonder Dylan had been looking at him with such disgust all day. He’d thought he was Bob; a happily married man in his sixties, attempting to flirt with a man at least thirty years younger than he was. What a mess! “I’m not Bob.”
Dylan’s eyes narrowed. “Of course you’re not.”
“I’m not! My name’s Scott. I’m thirty-two. I filled in for Bob today.” He gestured at his face. “I didn’t realize my sister had done such a good job. I mean…I probably should have done because she’s a makeup artist and she’s constantly telling me how good she is, but I thought that was just talk.” Dylan still didn’t look convinced so Scott cast about for a way of convincing him, coming to the conclusion that drastic measures were the only answer.
He began to undo the buttons of the robe watching Dylan’s eyes widen in surprise. When the last button was unfastened, he ripped it open, the padding that had given him the appearance of extra weight, falling to the ground. He pulled his T-shirt up, revealing the six-pack that he’d worked so hard in the gym to get. Surely, that had to provide enough evidence that he wasn’t a sixty-year old man. “Look!”
Dylan’s voice when he finally responded came out strangely husky. “Oh, believe me, I am looking!” He stared for the longest time before his gaze slowly travelled back up Scott’s torso to his face. He leaned closer, peering at him intently as if he was attempting to see through the makeup to the man below.
A wolf whistle from a couple of passing shoppers suddenly reminded Scott that he was stood in the middle of a busy street, dressed as Santa, holding his T-shirt up to show his bare chest. “Shit!” He dropped it back down, just as someone else shouted, “Santa’s hot!” He ignored them and focused on Dylan.
Dylan looked lost for words but finally spoke. “I feel like I owe you an apology. I’ve been mean to you all day because I thought you were some perverted old man. If I’d let you introduce yourself when you tried, then it wouldn’t have happened.”
He looked genuinely guilty and Scott had no intention of making him feel any worse. “It’s okay. You didn’t know.”
An awkward silence settled between them until it was broken by the noise of a car horn from across the street. Dylan glanced toward it with a look of relief. “That’s Louise.She must have got stuck in traffic. I need to go before she gets a ticket.” He took a couple of steps backward, his gaze still fastened on Scott. “Listen, I need to get out of these stupid clothes, but do you…er…fancy meeting later, maybe? I mean…not because of the abs…”He smiled. Scott had been right earlier with his assumption that he’d have a great smile. Heat unfurled in his stomach and he found himself fantasizing about what Dylan’s lips would taste like. “…I just think it would be nice to, you know, meet each other properly?”
Scott had started nodding eagerly when Dylan had only been halfway through his speech. “It’s a date! Or a meeting, you know, whichever.” He affected a casual shrug, completely at odds with the butterflies in his stomach at the thought of getting to spend more time with Dylan.
They arranged a time and place for later that evening, and Scott watched as Dylan jangled his way over to the car and got in. He waved until the car was out of sight, already looking forward to the evening ahead.
He felt like a massive idiot. Okay, so Scott’s sister was a makeup artist, but surely, he should still have been able to tell the difference between a sixty-year old and a thirty-year old? He pushed the door open and entered the bar where they’d agreed to meet, standing in the doorway for a moment to scan the groups of people inside. It suddenly struck him what perfect revenge it would be on Scott’s part if he didn’t bother turning up. That would serve Dylan right for his earlier behavior. Would he do that? That tiny acorn grew into an almighty oak tree as Dylan did a second scan, drawing just as much of a blank as the first time.
Eyes met his across the room, and a dark-haired man stood up from his stool at the bar and waved. Surely not? Dylan had discounted him immediately because he was drop-dead gorgeous. There was no way that Santa could have turned into this man. But then, if it wasn’t him, why was he waving at him? He walked toward him, half-expecting the man’s gaze to lift to the person behind Dylan that he was really signaling to. But he continued to smile at Dylan. He had blue eyes. Santa had had blue eyes. He halted in front of him, asking the question tentatively. “Scott?”
The man grinned and gestured to the stool next to him. “Yep. I was worried you’d change your mind about coming.”
Dylan eased himself onto the stool, enjoying the fact that jeans and a leather jacket meant there was no more jingling. Scott was dressed in a similar fashion, but with a suit jacket rather than a leather one. “I wouldn’t have done that. I was such a dick to you today that turning up was the least I could do. I mean…it wasn’t just about you today. I was in a bad mood. The outfit was horrific and—”
Scott winked. “Are you kidding? You were the sexiest elf I’ve ever seen. Why do you think I made such a beeline for you?”
Dylan’s cheeks flamed at being called sexy. Where was the bright-red face paint when he needed it? It would be easy to dismiss Scott’s words as being just talk, but then Scott had spent most of the day trying to flirt with him so there had to be some truth in it. He ducked his head.”Thanks.” He peered at the other man from beneath his lashes. “Santa scrubs up pretty well too. I didn’t even recognize you. I’d have walked straight past, if it wasn’t for you waving at me.”
Scott laughed.”I thought you were looking at me strangely. I should have brought Santa’s beard to wave in the air. Also”—he leaned forward—”while we’re on the subject, the glue was an absolute pain to get off so if you notice any weird blobs on my face, it’s the glue. I don’t have a contagious disease.”
Dylan grinned at him, already feeling completely at ease. Maybe it was the fact they’d spent the day together, or maybe it was just fate, but there was none of that first date awkwardness. “Duly noted. No diseases. That’s good, because that is something that I tend to look for in a date.”
Scott returned the smile. “You don’t have a drink. Let me get you one and then I think we should start again, as Scott and Dylan, rather than Santa and the elf. What do you say?”
Dylan watched him as he ordered drinks for the both of them. Scott looked good. He seemed nice. He had abs to die for. Damn! He even smelt good; a whiff of his cologne drifting across when he moved. It was hard to believe that a day that had started as the worst one ever could have turned into this.
They clinked bottles and then both started speaking at the same time, before stopping abruptly and laughing. Dylan held up a hand. “Go ahead. You first.”
Scott dipped his head in acknowledgment. “Okay. My name is Scott. Which you already know. I’m thirty-two. Just. I have one younger sister, Caroline, who is far too good at makeup, and one older brother…who isn’t.” He arched an eyebrow. “Not as far as I know, anyway. I’m an employment recruitment manager, which means I sit at a desk most of the day and tell other people what to do. But I also do a bit of personal training on the side. Hmmm…what else. Single. Obviously. Last relationship ended about three months ago, which was how I got talked into playing Santa for one day while Bob went for a hospital appointment. That’s probably enough about me for now before you fall asleep.”
Dylan took the cue to offer some information about himself. He was surprised by the nerves that suddenly crept in. He wanted Scott to like him. A lot. Like future boyfriend material—like him. “Dylan. Twenty-nine. No brothers or sisters. The day job is freelance illustrator. And I already told you how I ended up as an elf. I have a lot of annoying friends who like to make stupid bets. I’ve learnt my lesson now though. No more bets.”
Scott tilted his head to the side, looking thoughtful. “But if you hadn’t made that bet, we’d never have met.”
Dylan saluted him with the bottle of beer. “Good point! Here’s to stupid bets.”
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such an enjoyable evening. Dylan was everything he looked for in a boyfriend: cute; funny; a good listener, and able to laugh at himself—unless it involved dressing as an elf. But then he’d readily admitted after a few drinks that he’d suffered a sense of humor failure on that score.The hours had flown by as they’d chatted, both of them shocked when they’d noticed how late it was.
Scott opened the door for Dylan and then followed him out on to the street, sexual tension simmering between them. At least he hoped it was mutual. If not, he was completely fucked: he’d already started considering what he could buy Dylan for Christmas.They stood facing each other for a moment, Scott staring into green eyes and finding himself breathless. This was the thing that had been missing from all his previous dates. That frisson of excitement. That moment of nervousness where you were scared that if you did the wrong thing, or said something stupid, that that person might slip between your fingers.
They seemed to move closer without either of them consciously taking a step. “I really enjoyed tonight.” Scott held his breath while he waited for the response. After all, he’d spent all day making his interest in the other man perfectly clear, but Dylan’s feelings were much more of an unknown quantity. What if he’d met up with him tonight, simply out of politeness?
Dylan smiled, looking just as shy as Scott felt. “So did I. A lot.”
Scott leaned in, Dylan meeting him halfway as their heads tilted and their lips met in what started as an exploratory kiss. But neither seemed in a rush to end it. Scott slid his hand into Dylan’s hair, tilting his head further for deeper access.Dylan let out a throaty moan which went straight to Scott’s dick, already uncomfortably swollen at the first hot, kissing action he’d had in what felt like forever. He shifted slightly, his crotch brushing another cock in an equal state of arousal to his own.
They pulled apart, both of them breathing hard. Dylan’s cheeks were almost as red as they’d been when he was an elf. Scott felt the need to apologize. “Sorry. That was meant to be a quick kiss. I got a bit carried away.”
Dylan smiled.”I’m not complaining. Although”—his hand went to his face, picking something from his chin—”you could have kept your glue to yourself. I don’t normally get free glue with every kiss.”
From the mischievous look in his eyes, it was obvious he was joking. Scott felt suddenly tongue-tied. They’d swapped numbers earlier, but they hadn’t agreed that it was as more than friends. His words came out in a rush. “I’d love a second date. Assuming that this actually was a first one. I’m not doing much for the rest of the week, or next week if that’s better for you. I’m not trying to rush you, I just—”
Elation pooled in Scott’s stomach at Dylan’s interjection. “Tomorrow works perfectly for me.”
Dylan took a few steps back, his gaze still fixed on Scott. “Good. I’m not waiting a whole week to see you again.” He spotted a cab and waved it down. They’d already established that they lived in opposite directions so it wouldn’t be practical to share. One hand on the cab door, Dylan paused to look back. He winked, his lips curling up into a smile. “Bye Santa.”
Scott raised his hand in a wave, his own smile so wide it was a wonder his face didn’t crack.”Bye sexy elf.” He watched until the cab disappeared out of sight, Christmas suddenly holding an absolute plethora of exciting possibilities that hadn’t been there this morning, all thanks to one day in Santa’s grotto.
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I did this on FB for an author interview tag so I thought I may as well post it here as well.
Favorite character from your books: Well, I would say Tristan. But Tristan doesn’t work without Dom and vice versa. I mean just imagine two perky Tristans together, or two cynical, sarcastic Dominics, so they’re going to have to come as a pair.
Top Bestseller: A Temporary Situation. Ironic really. I was still so green I did zero marketing.
Favourite book you’ve written: How are you meant to pick a favourite? My three favourites would probably be:A Temporary Situation – just because this is the book that I tend to get most comments about. A few people would probably like Tristan gift-wrapped for Christmas.Refuge – Because it’s still an unfinished story.Edge of Living – it was a huge challenge to write a book with no humour in and probably the only book where at least one of the characters isn’t quirky in some way.And of course my current WIP which has a very blunt half-Russian contemporary ballet dancer who walks around half-naked most of the time.
The longest book you’ve written: Refuge was the longest at over 90k. The shortest book you’ve written: The Christmas follow on to A Temporary Situation was just below 30k. Before this it was Kept in the dark at 55k. Most of my books end up being way longer than the 60k that I aim for.
The first book you wrote: The first book I wrote is still unfinished and probably unlikely to see the light of day. Every now and again I contemplate going back and reading it and maybe posting it on my website or something, but that would require finishing it, and there’s so many other books that need writing.
The year you first published: 2015. It’ll be three years on Dec 21st exactly since Time for a Change was published with Loose id
The hardest book to write: Refuge. The only reason Kept in the Dark exists is because it was my side project that I kept veering over to write whenever Refuge hit a stumbling block which was quite often. There were probably a number of reasons. It was the first book I wrote in third person which took some getting used to when my first three had been in first. It had flashbacks. It was much more plot driven so trying to get the balance between action and romance was tricky.Special mention goes to Edge of Living though. Those last two chapters and epilogue really didn’t want to get written.
This is way, way overdue. Sorry. But you know website problems so I had nowhere to post it.
I was intent on finally getting the next book after Refuge written. I started it, and it does stand at 11k which is 10k more than it was at the beginning of October, but then I got side-tracked by a pretty stock photo and now I’m 35k into a standalone about a half-Russian contemporary ballet dancer and a sound engineer. So I’m guessing that will be next. No idea how long it will be. I’m hoping for around 60k but I said that about Taking Love’s Lead (ended up as 75k) and Edge of Living (82k) so who knows.
I’ve just released a follow up to A Temporary Situation, A Christmas Situation which has got me itching to write the 3rd and final instalment. Unfortunately, there’s the small matter of Paul from A Temporary Situation standing in the way. He needs his story first. I might try writing that at the same time as Rebellion (follow up to Refuge) because if Rebellion is anywhere near as tricky as the first one was to write, there’s going to be times when the words are going nowhere.
The Christmas novella I was supposed to put out this Christmas remains unfinished at 12k but I’m definitely planning to finish it for next year. The problem was, it’s not the most happy and cheery book, which is all well and good. I don’t think Christmas books have to always be cheery, but coming so soon after the darkness of Edge of Living, I think it would have been a bit much, or as my mum put it, “People are going to start asking, if you’re alright?” So assuming that no dark books crawl out of my fingertips prior to Christmas next year, that’s when I’ll publish my May/December, rich/poor xmas story.
So, that’s what’s on the horizon at the moment. And for anyone waiting for the book after Refuge, I’m sorry, I’m not doing it deliberately, but I do want to get it right.