NEW RELEASE: YOUNG AT HEART BY KAY ELLIS

Blurb:

Devon Alexander is a wealthy successful businessman. The world is his oyster. In his work life he is decisive and in control.

His private life is another matter.

There, he doesn’t know if he’s coming or going in his on-off relationship with Jesse Young, an unemployed aspiring model half his age.

Can Devon and Jesse overcome the obstacles and outside influences standing in their way? Can they leave behind their own fear and mistrust? Or will they be their own worst enemies?

Excerpt: (As on Wayward Ink website)

GRADUALLY the harsh sound of ragged breathing abated; heart rates slowed; sweat cooled on skin. Devon Alexander shifted beneath his lover, twisting his head so he could see the clock on the wall. Ten minutes to his next meeting. What would his clients think if they could see him now? The CEO of Alexander Industries—tremendously rich and powerful businessman, well-known public figure, feared and respected alike—bent over his desk, his trousers round his ankles, and a young Adonis buried balls-deep inside him. His clients knew he was gay, had no problem with it, but there was a limit to how much he could shove it in their faces.

Fucking in the office during work hours was risky at the best of times. Normally Devon was against it, but when Jesse showed up, looking all sexy and gorgeous, the temptation was too much. Once Jesse started whispering in his ear all the things he wanted to do, professional ethics went out the window. But, hey, Devon was the boss. If he couldn’t fuck in the office when he felt like it, what good was being in charge?

Reluctantly he pushed himself upward and back in an attempt to dislodge Jesse, who groaned and wrapped his arms tightly around Devon’s waist. Devon gasped in surprise, chuckling as Jesse began to harden again inside him.

“We don’t have time for this,” he said sharply, sliding out from underneath the other man with difficulty, given Jesse seemed reluctant to let him go. “I have a meeting.”

Devon pulled down his shirt and straightened his tie before bending to retrieve his underwear and trousers. Once dressed, he lifted his hands to his head, checking his hair. Vain, maybe, but he had an image to protect. All the while, he covertly watched Jesse tuck his rather impressive manhood into tight white boxer briefs and zip up the fly of his jeans. Jesse glanced up to catch Devon watching and a smug smile spread across his handsome face.

“Shit, did we even lock the door?” Devon asked suddenly, trying to remember if there had been time to turn the key in between Jesse walking into the office and them ending up sprawled half-naked across the desk. Emily, his personal assistant, was terribly efficient, but she was a shy, quiet girl and he hardly dared think what effect it would have on her if she saw Jesse in all his glory. “What if Emily had come in?”

“She wouldn’t have,” Jesse said confidently.

“Really? What makes you so sure?”

“I told her not to.”

Devon narrowed his eyes, not sure he liked the thought of Jesse giving orders to his staff. The last thing he needed was Jesse getting ideas above his station. Devon would be a laughingstock if his much-younger boyfriend started throwing his weight around like he was the one in charge. “What did you say to her exactly?”

“I told her not to come in because I was going to fuck you hard over your desk,” Jesse replied with a smirk.

“I sincerely hope that’s meant to be a joke.”

Jesse looked at him, assessing his change of mood. There was a sudden gleam in Jesse’s velvet-brown eyes and Devon smothered a sigh, knowing he was about to be lied to. Such were the consequences of taking a man twenty years his junior as a lover. Jesse was Young in name and young in nature. Fortunately for both of them, his good looks and sexual prowess generally outweighed his immaturity.

“Of course it was a joke,” Jesse said, flashing his most disarming smile, the one that made women and quite a lot of men melt whenever they saw it. “You know I wouldn’t do anything like that, Dev.”

Dev. Nobody had ever called Devon that before Jesse. In the press and business life, he was Devon Alexander. To family and friends, plain old Devon. Only Jesse got away with calling him by the abbreviated form. Privately, he quite liked it when Jesse called him Dev, although recently he had come to realise the shortened version of his name was used most when Jesse either wanted something or was trying to wheedle his way into Devon’s good books after doing something wrong.

Devon glanced at the clock again. Five minutes. His clients could arrive at any moment, meaning he didn’t have time for an argument now. Vowing to take it up with him later, he shooed Jesse out the door, wishing he didn’t look quite so much like a twenty-year-old who had just been well and truly fucked.

“Jesse, come over tonight. We’ll eat in.”

“You’re going to cook?” Jesse arched an eyebrow in disbelief.

“Not unless you want food poisoning.” Devon couldn’t help but smile at his lover’s alarmed expression. “I’ll order in. Now, get out of here before anyone sees you.”

“Why? Are you ashamed of me?” Jesse’s tone was light, making a joke of it, even though they both knew the truth.

Their relationship had been widely publicised, the press keen to make a big deal out of a forty-year-old high flyer hooking up with an unemployed twenty-year-old. Devon was often described by the media as a strikingly handsome man, as well as a wealthy one. He could have any man he wanted, yet he chose to be with Jesse, a nobody with nothing to offer except a handsome face, a good body, and a lot of expertise between the sheets. Devon’s family, friends, and colleagues had all warned against a relationship, certain Jesse was only after Devon’s money and whatever else he could get. Devon chose to ignore them all, but aware of their disapproval, he kept his time with Jesse and the rest of his life separate.

“Later,” Devon said with a subtle nod in Emily’s direction.

The girl might be quiet, but her eyes and ears worked just fine. For all Devon knew, she was the one running to the press with lurid stories about him and Jesse. Someone in the office was certainly doing so, but he had yet to find out who among his staff was prepared to stab him in the back in order to line their own pockets. When he found them, the culprit would be out of a job before they could draw breath, but until then, he had adopted a policy of trust no one.

Sauntering through the main office on his way to the lift, Jesse drew the eye of every woman in the room and one or two of the guys too. There was no denying he was the best-looking man in the building, with his tousled black hair, chocolate-brown eyes, and toned body. Most observers doubtless wondered what Jesse saw in an old man like Devon. Then they would probably answer their own question with one word: money. How many times had Devon been told Jesse was a user? Why should he work for a living when he had a sugar daddy to pay his way?

Despite the fact he should be preparing for his meeting, Devon stayed in the doorway to his office, watching Jesse until the lift doors opened and he stepped inside the car, looking back with his sexy smile and a brief wave before the doors closed. With a sigh, Devon turned away. There were so many reasons why this relationship could never work. Jesse was so young for a start. He was also unreliable, unpredictable, unemployed, and a whole list of other words beginning with un.

Available now at Wayward Ink Publishing, Amazon and ARe

COMING SOON: IN-DECISION BY SUE BROWN

In-Decision 400x600

Blurb:

Little Mowbury is a sleepy English village deep in the Cotswolds. The kind of village where you’re only a local if your lineage can be traced back to the dinosaurs. Where you can find everything in the single village shop from morning newspapers to dry-cleaning, and getting your shoes mended. And, of course, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. It’s easy to find… you can’t miss it… just ask anyone and they’ll tell you… “It’s left at the crossroads.”

Eighteen months ago Jason Havers lost the love of his life and it’s time to move on. Applying to be a chef in a sleepy country pub, a million miles away from his previous life, may well be the fresh start he needs. His new employers immediately take him under their wing and before long he finds himself with a passel of new friends and a job he loves. What he doesn’t expect is Tom, a gorgeous midwife, who stirs up feelings he’s not ready to deal with.

But when someone from his previous life turns up in Little Mowbury, will Jason be able to keep them from revealing the secret he’s been keeping from those he’s come to love?

Available for pre-order at Amazon and ARe now – release date 15 April 2015

COMING SOON: THE BRICKLAYER BY SERENA YATES

Blurb:

Mike Brown has been a bricklayer working for the same construction company since leaving high school at eighteen. While building a conservatory for a Victorian house northwest of downtown Baltimore, Mike meets Ash, the landscaper hired to restore the gardens, when Ash distractedly stumbles over some of Mike’s equipment. Mike offers to take Ash to dinner as an apology, Ash hesitantly agrees, and the two men start dating. Then Mike is pulled away from his next assignment of building fireplaces by a promotion he doesn’t want, only to be fired for incompetence two weeks later. With Ash’s support, Mike must figure out who sabotaged his work, and why, before he faces a lawsuit.

Available for pre-order now at Dreamspinner

INTERESTING BLOGS: ELI EASTON ON WALKING THE UK

Today I discovered amazing author Eli Easton is an Anglophile.

In 2009, I did a walking trip in England with a friend of mine. We did about a hundred and twenty miles on the Southwest Coast Path and half the Coast to Coast trail.

 

 

Read the tale of her visit here.

 

Eli’s bio:

 

Having been, at various times, and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, the author of metaphysical thrillers, an organic farmer and a profound sleeper, Eli is happily embarking on yet another incarnation as a m/m romance author.

As an avid reader of such, she is tinkled pink when an author manages to combine literary merit, vast stores of humor, melting hotness and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story.  She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time.  She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, three bulldogs, three cows and six chickens.  All of them (except for the husband) are female, hence explaining the naked men that have taken up residence in her latest writing.

email her at eli at elieaston.com

Eli currently publishes with Dreamspinner Press and has a few self-pubbed titles as well.

She also publishes thrillers under Jane Jensen.

NEW RELEASE: MAX AND THE PRINCE BY RJ SCOTT

Max and The Prince – Bodyguards Inc, book 3

Max and the Prince 400x600

Book 1 – Bodyguard To A Sex God

Book 2 – The Ex Factor

Bodyguard Max Connery is used to being mistaken for being younger than he is.

Being carded every time he buys a beer is usual. Even though he’s just turned twenty eight and has two tours in Afghanistan as a pilot under his belt.

When a threat is made on the life of a prince attending University in the UK, Max is the perfect choice to blend in with students and to keep Prince Lucien safe. Even if it means joining the swim team to be by his side.

But, when death visits the University, abruptly this job is a long way past keeping the prince happy and safe. Instead Max has to keep Lucien alive.

Buy Links: http://rjscottauthor.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/max-and-the-prince.html

About RJ

RJ Scott has been writing since age six, when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies. She was told to write a story and two sides of paper about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born.

As an avid reader herself, she can be found reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror. However, her first real true love will always be the world of romance where she takes cowboys, bodyguards, firemen and billionaires (to name a few) and writes dramatic and romantic stories of love and passion between these men.

With over seventy titles to her name and counting, she is the author of the award winning book, The Christmas Throwaway. She is also known for the Texas series charting the lives of Riley and Jack, and the Sanctuary series following the work of the Sanctuary Foundation and the people it protects.

Her goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.

rj@rjscott.co.uk

www.rjscott.co.uk/

https://twitter.com/Rjscott_author

www.facebook.com/author.rjscott

www.librarything.com/author/scottrj

www.tumblr.com/blog/rjscott  (some NSFW (not safe for work) photos)

www.pinterest.com/rjscottauthor/

Competition to win $15 Amazon/Are giftcard, and 2 further prizes of RJ Scott e-books – closes 11 April at 00:01 GMT (London)

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/f922301b50/?

Excerpt

“This is the most important case you’ve ever had!” The shouted words boomed into the outer office, and Max frowned at the anger and vehemence in them. Seemed the new client was giving Kyle Monroe, owner of Bodyguards Inc., one hell of a time.

Ross Jackson glanced at his watch. “I think you’d better go in,” he said, punctuating the words with a tap of his pen to his desk.

“Will Kyle want me in there yet?” Max tried to ignore his concern about this whole mess. He wasn’t the kind of person to unnecessarily stress about situations. No, Maxwell Connery was a get-things-done kind of guy and had absolute focus. But this bodyguard to a prince gig was worrying him. He didn’t know if the actual prince was beyond the door to Kyle’s office, since the raised voices belonged to Kyle and only one other. The curse words from the other man didn’t bode well, but neither did they sound like any kind of prince Max had ever visualized. Max had arrived a few minutes after the potential clients and now sat with Ross in the outer office while initial discussion was undertaken, which was par for the course, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t heard every word from the angry man inside.

And now it was Max’s turn for his part in this beauty parade. He was up on a close protection job for a prince. A real, honest-to-God royal from some country in mainland Europe. He tried to get information out of the normally verbose Ross, but he was being uncharacteristically quiet this morning. Max couldn’t believe that Ross didn’t know something about what was going on in there. After all, the PA to the owner of Bodyguards Inc. knew everything and could always be relied on to pass along something that would give Max the edge during the interview.

“Before I go in, you seriously know nothing about the client?”

“Nothing,” Ross said. “Big scary dude who’s with our client isn’t happy, though.” He inclined his head to the closed door that was doing little to muffle the shouting.

“Is it the prince who’s doing all that shouting?” No doubt Prince Whatever was a spoilt, entitled, upper-class twat who coasted through life with no worries.

Ross peered at the screen in front of him. “Nope, that is Teddy. He’s built like…” Ross waved his hands around. “He’s the royal bodyguard. And that’s all it says. Just Teddy. Looks like he wants to kill everyone.”

Teddy sounded like a weird name for the guy Ross described and the owner of the cursing, shouting voice in Kyle’s office. ‘Teddy’ brought up images of a cute guy with an adorable button nose on his endearing little face. But as Max pushed himself up to focus on the job at hand, he knew he was the last one to talk about appearances. He was twenty-eight, but he was still carded all the time.

“At least my name is kinda cool,” he muttered, more to himself than Ross.

“Sorry?”

“Nothing.”

Drawing back his shoulders, Max knocked on the door and waited for the “enter.” There was no shouting now, just a horrible cold silence. Max quickly assessed the situation in the office. He recognized Teddy the giant—broad, six eight at least, short to the scalp hair, a scar on his forehead, black suit stretched over his muscled frame, earpiece dangling on his neck, and a scowl carved into his expression. Which meant the other one was the prince. Right? Didn’t look much like a prince, though. The man was slouched in the chair with familiar white leads from earbuds plugged into an iPhone. Max couldn’t see the prince’s face, hidden as it was by the hood on a bright sapphire Cardiff University sweatshirt. Baggy jeans and scuffed Converse completed the look of couldn’t-care-less rebel. Max could hear the music the prince was playing from where he was. Not the bones of it to recognize an artist, but the high tinny beat of the music that flowed in time with the tap of the guy’s left foot.

“Maxwell Connery, Theodore Estevan.” Kyle indicated the giant. Max held out his hand to shake and was treated to a quick once-over from Teddy, or Theodore, as he was being introduced. “And this is Prince—”

“This is your man?” Teddy interrupted with something akin to horror. He stood up so violently he caused his chair to skitter back and hit the wall. “This child?” Teddy’s voice held an inflection—something Mediterranean, maybe?—though it was mostly lost in the sheer dismay in the tone.

Max didn’t drop his hand, and whether Teddy couldn’t think of another reason not to shake it or he was just being polite, Teddy grasped Max’s hand with a quick squeeze that was probably supposed to underline Teddy’s intimidating size and strength. Teddy was strong, that was undeniable, but Max didn’t flinch.

“Mr. Estevan,” Max acknowledged. Max waited for an introduction to the elusive guy under

the hood. Instead Teddy grabbed his chair and sat back down. There was evidently no rush to include the prince in any of this, not that he seemed at all bothered. Apart from the tapping of his foot and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, he didn’t move an inch.

“Max is one of my best operatives,” Kyle said, his tone the same one he used when he was calming Ross down after a missing stapler incident, low and encouraging. Like if he said something in just the right way, the situation would be diffused.

Teddy sneered at Max. “You told me this Max was a pilot, ex–Air Force. I don’t see that in this kid.”

“I am former RAF,” Max said. “Ten years, including two tours overseas.” Max refused to be insulted by the open contempt and disbelief on Teddy’s face. If it wasn’t for one crashed plane and a faulty ejection seat, he’d still be flying, and he was proud of what he’d achieved in his time in the service. People could judge him harshly on his age, but not on his accomplishments.

Teddy huffed dramatically with an angry shake of his head. “You can’t think I am handing Prince Lucien over to the care of someone as…little…as this man. What happens when someone attacks? Is he going to blow them over with a kiss?”

 

COMING SOON: UNDER GLASS BY REBECCA COHEN

Blurb:

Creating planets and guarding the stars leaves novice planet builder Kai Faewiva lonely. For members of Kai’s species who are born with an organ called a caerellon, their true love, their Sun or Moon, is identified at birth. But the novices are people who have lost their perfect love, and Kai’s Sun is long dead, killed in an accident when he was five years old. Or so everyone thought.

After recovering from another bout of the unidentified illness he has battled for years, Kai returns to work. But his quiet day at the planetarium is thrown into chaos when scans of Goka Prime, one of the planets in the Sol-Alpha2 system, picks up a life-form that shouldn’t be there. Kai’s Sun, Oliver Gyin, is alive and well, but how he got to be on Goka Prime, no one knows. Now he needs to be brought home.

Ollie has lived most of his life in the City of Harrea, never guessing he is from another planet. Surprised to find a stranger means the world to him, Ollie wrestles with his loyalties and the drive to return with Kai. To leave Goka Prime, he must give up everything and everyone he knows. But twenty years apart means Kai and Ollie face a fight to secure their destined future.

Available for pre-order at Dreamspinner

NEW RELEASE & GIVEAWAY: TO STAND CLOSE by FAITH ASHLIN

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

How to totally indulge yourself when writing

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

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

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

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

So how to make myself write?

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

Part of the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith’s bio:

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

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

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

To Stand Close

To stand close

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

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

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

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

Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A stick insect with red hair?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We?”

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

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

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

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

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

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