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.
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?
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….”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
Where to find L.M. Brown
Website – http://lmbrownauthor.wordpress.com/
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