New Release: My Prince by Anna Martin

my prince

Buylinks: Dreamspinner | Amazon | All Romance

Blurb: After growing up in a rough part of town, George Maguire worked his way out of Manchester and to a career as a design engineer. Alexander van Amsberg, an architecture student at the University of Edinburgh, wasn’t the sort of guy he normally had explosive, hotel-room one-night-stands with. Alex was charming, classy, and, as George later learns, Prince of the Netherlands.

Fate brings them together again, and Alex makes sure to get his sexy stranger’s phone number this time. Despite all the reasons why they shouldn’t work, something clicks, and Alex thinks that this time, he might have found the right guy. But Alex’s aristocratic ex stirs up trouble in the press for George and his humble family, and Alex realizes he has to get real about having a boyfriend from the wrong side of town.

While George acknowledges his modest upbringing, he doesn’t let anyone insult his family. Life’s no fairy tale, and regardless of his royal title, Alex might destroy his one chance for happily ever after.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

THE CLUB was nothing special.

In any major city around the world, there would be gay clubs like this: lights flashing, people dancing, men doing tequila shots—wearing eyeshadow, wearing leather, wearing… very little, George thought, as a kid walked past in a jockstrap and nothing else.

He shook his head, knocked back the Jack and Coke, and edged onto the dance floor to dance some more.

It wasn’t a bad club, not really. Just nothing special.

George had started going to the clubs back home in Manchester when he was fifteen, back in the day when bouncers didn’t check IDs at the door, and bar staff didn’t check them either. So if you knew someone who was legitimately old enough to buy your drinks, then you could get away with having “forgotten” your driver’s license and still have a good night out.

Those days were long over; now twenty-eight, he swore he got asked for ID more these days than he ever did at fifteen. He only came out to these types of clubs for one reason. And that reason was eluding him tonight.

While he danced, grinding up on a different guy every other song, his eyes roamed the club, looking for a hookup. He hadn’t had sex in about six weeks, not that he was keeping count, but that was a long time for him, and he was ready to get laid. Some kids stood over by the bar—well, he called them kids, but they were likely the same age as him—drinking champagne from the bottle, looking… rich. George purposefully looked away.

Fuck that.

He found some tall, slim guy with dark, dark hair to dance with, and the guy was hot. George snogged him for a while, until it became painfully clear this kid had no idea what he was doing when it came to kissing. George wasn’t about to let a mouth like that anywhere near his cock.

He moved away, giving the kid a wink to let him down gently, and went back to the bar.

The music was loud, and he was sweaty, slightly sticky, and feeling like he should maybe go back to the other club where his friends were and give up on the idea of getting his dick sucked tonight. Maybe next weekend.

And wasn’t that always the way? As soon as you give up on the idea of dick sucking, the opportunity presents itself.

“Hey,” the guy said.

George looked closer. It was one of the kids who had been drinking Moët from the bottle earlier.

“Buy you a drink?” he offered.

George gave him an even look. “Sure.”

“What’s your name?”

Because he could, and because he knew what happened when he did, George paused before answering and tucked his tongue in his cheek, shooting the guy a cocky look.

“George. You?”

“Alex. Nice to meet you, George.”

George wasn’t sure what sort of signal Alex had given to the bartender, but now another bottle of expensive champagne appeared on the shiny black bar, along with two slim glasses.

“I’m more of a beer kinda guy…,” he said slowly, and Alex grinned.

“Live a little.”

The cork had been freshly popped, and fizzy smoke drifted from the top of the perfectly chilled bottle. Alex abandoned the glasses, grabbed the neck of the bottle, and wrapped his fingers around George’s wrist to lead him back onto the dance floor. Alex tipped the bottle up and drank straight from it, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and passed the champagne over to George, who copied his movement.

“That’s not a Scottish accent,” Alex said, tapping George lightly on the nose. He took back the bottle, wrapped one arm around George’s waist, and started to rock their bodies together.

“Neither is yours,” George said. When no more information came from Alex, he said, “Manchester,” and left it at that.

Alex cocked his head to one side. “By way of London.”

“What does that mean?”

“Doesn’t matter. You wanna get out of here?”

“You don’t beat around the bush, do you?” George paused again. “Sure.”

“We can’t go back to my place. I have family staying.”

“I have eleven housemates.”

“Seriously?”

“No, but it feels like it sometimes.”

“Okay, hang on. Take this.” Alex thrust the bottle into George’s hand. “Stay here. Or, even better, meet me at the door in ten minutes.”

George laughed, once, hard, not quite believing this guy. They hadn’t even kissed. That was a strange thought. They hadn’t even kissed.

Alex slinked off into the mess of people, his phone already to his ear. George took another swig of the champagne, passed it to one of the fit young things in a jockstrap, squeezed his bare ass for good measure, then headed to the men’s to take a leak.

George hurried through the entrance hall of the club, where the biting Edinburgh wind swept in, and he shivered. Alex was there, waiting like he said he’d be, with George’s coat over his arm.

“How did you—” George started, but Alex cut him off with a shake of his head.

“Come on.”

A black cab was waiting, and Alex held the door, letting George slide in first. He’d apparently told the driver where to go, because the cab immediately pulled away from the side of the road and made its way from Canongate onto North Bridge.

“Where are we going?” George asked.

Alex squeezed his knee.

Maybe three minutes later, the cab stopped.

“Here all right?” the driver asked, his voice a thick Scottish drawl.

“Fine, thanks,” Alex called and slipped a twenty through the gap.

For a six pound fare.

“Come on,” Alex said again and took hold of George’s hand. They were right on North Bridge now, the wind whipping in off the North Sea, and George hadn’t even had time to put on his coat.

“The Scotsman?” he asked as Alex tugged him up the steps of the famous hotel. “I was expecting the Premier Inn down the road, mate.”

Alex flashed a row of straight, white, perfect teeth, and it was this, more than anything else, that sucker punched George right in the gut.

This guy was rich. Really rich.

Despite the late hour, there was a doorman waiting to usher them inside the cozy reception area. The receptionist, in her pristine black-and-gold shirt, came out from behind the desk and handed Alex a key.

“Enjoy your stay, sir,” she said, and Alex nodded his thanks.

Instead of taking the lift, Alex led George up the wide staircase, then another, then stopped outside one of the doors on the second floor and let them inside.

The suite was elegant, sprawling—wood paneling on the walls, thick red carpet, a small area to one side with delicately upholstered armchairs and a table with a vase of wide white roses.

“Who are you?” George asked.

Alex smiled. “You wanna fuck me or not?”

George laughed. “I wanna fuck you,” he confirmed, dumping his coat over the back of one of the armchairs and undoing the top button of his shirt. He could put aside his prejudices toward the social elite for one night, especially when the social elite looked so fucking hot.

“Good.”

ALEX STEPPED up close into George’s personal space and laid his hands on his firm, muscled chest. George was his type of guy—everything from his strong chest, thick arms, toned back; his “fuck you” attitude; the way his hair was buzzed almost completely off, just a light fuzz over his scalp that was shorter even than the stubble on his jaw. The Timberland boots, scruffy jeans, the nice shirt that his mum had probably bought for him.

Oh, yeah.

Alex was going to have fun with this one.

George was maybe an inch or two shorter than Alex, meaning Alex had to angle his jaw just so for the first, almost aggressive bump of lips on lips. It wasn’t a kiss. Nor was the next, definitely aggressive nip to the bottom lip that Alex received, just to remind him, if he needed reminding, who was in control.

It wasn’t him.

He was fine with that.

George pressed his hands to Alex’s chest and walked him slowly back until his thighs bumped against the edge of the bed.

Then they kissed, and oh boy, it was worth waiting for.

George wrapped his hand around the back of Alex’s neck and brought their heads together, bumping noses (was that on purpose?), and his tongue was suddenly in Alex’s mouth, hot and slick and good; George was good at this, and Alex reached down to undo the buckle on George’s jeans.

They edged back onto the bed together, laughing softly and trying to maintain that lip-to-lip contact. Mostly failing.

George had gray eyes.

The light in the room was dim and romantic, like he’d asked for. His family stayed at the Scotsman fairly regularly, so his call asking for a suite last-minute wasn’t all that unusual. He’d never used this place for a hookup before—he wasn’t usually afraid to take them back to his place—and it had taken some scrambling on someone’s part to get the room ready in less than twenty minutes.

Eh. He’d pay them well for it.

The low lighting was good on George, much better than the random, flashing colored lights in the club, and he’d looked good under those too. His body was all angles and curves, cheekbones and jaw, bicep and ass, and Alex was prepared to bet he had cut hipbones too, the ones that made a delicious V arrowing down to his cock.

“Top or bottom?” George growled.

“Yes.”

“I don’t bottom.”

“Oh, I’m happy to, honey.”

For a moment it looked like George was struggling to keep a straight face, and then he buried his face in Alex’s shoulder and laughed.

“Good,” he mumbled, then started to lick and suck up and down Alex’s neck.

From there it was shirts off, and holy defined pecs, Batman and little button nipples and kicking off socks and shoes.

“Nice tattoo,” Alex said, skimming his fingertips over the dragon that crested over George’s shoulder, the beast snarling out from his chest.

“Thanks.”

Alex wasn’t expecting Mr. I Don’t Bottom to pay too much attention to his dick, so when George’s hand stole inside his Calvins and very carefully cupped the whole package, then squeezed, the noise he made was part surprise, part desperate arousal.

His toes curled, and he arched off the bed, asking for more with his body rather than words.

“Horny little fucker, aren’t you,” George said, squeezing again, then letting his fingers tuck under Alex’s balls and press farther back. He frowned and paused, two fingers hovering before going any further. “You’re alright with a bit of banter, yeah?”

Alex licked his bottom lip and felt a smile creeping over his face. “Yeah. I don’t mind.”

“Good.”

George leaned down and delicately took Alex’s nipple between his teeth, tugging gently as his fingers continued their slow dance around Alex’s hole.

“Oh God. Oh fuck. There’s lube in the nightstand.”

“How the fuck do you know that?”

“I told them to put it there.”

“Handy, that.”

Alex could hear the sarcasm but no malice as George leaned over and yanked open the drawer to find condoms, lube, tissues, wet wipes, and a “for her pleasure” cock ring, then dumped them all on the top of the nightstand.

By then, Alex couldn’t contain his giggles, and he pulled his boxer briefs the rest of the way off, throwing them onto the floor with the rest of his clothes. He palmed his cock, one arm tossed lazily up over his head, as George rifled farther back in the drawer.

“What are you looking for now?”

“I dunno. I’m intrigued. Poppers? A massive dildo? The door to Narnia?”

“That’s in the wardrobe.”

“There’s no poppers,” George decided, grabbing the lube and fumbling with the wrapper to get it undone.

“I don’t need them.”

“Eh.” George shrugged. “I don’t mind a hit every now and then.”

His eyes flicked to Alex, almost casually, and then he did an amusing double take.

“Hmm?” Alex asked.

“You’re really fucking fit.”

“Thank you. You’re not bad yourself.”

George snorted and returned his attention to the bottle of lube.

“Here,” Alex said, as he let go of his cock and reached out to take it from him. “Get a condom.” George made a face. “You’re gonna need a condom,” Alex added with a laugh.

“Alright, alright. Keep your knickers on.”

George still had his socks on. Clean, smart black ones, so Alex wasn’t going to tell him to take them off. He had big hands too, Alex noticed as George fumbled—again—with the condom wrapper, then rolled it down his cock.

His big, thick, veiny cock.

Hoo, mama.

“Here,” Alex said, reaching for George’s cock with his fingers loaded up with lube. He took his time smearing the slippery stuff over the latex, feeling the whole package start to warm, then throb under his fingers. George’s eyes flickered closed.

He wiped what was left over his hole, then surreptitiously cleaned his hand with the bedcover.

“You want—” George started, and Alex cut him off with a shake of his head.

“I’m good.” He spread his legs a little wider.

George shifted on the bed, then lay down on top of Alex, lining their bodies up perfectly. He nipped Alex’s jaw, then kissed him, letting his cock settle in the crease of Alex’s ass and humping slowly as their tongues slid together.

“You ready?” George asked as Alex gasped into his mouth.

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

George leaned down and grabbed his dick, angling it so it was pressed just against Alex’s hole. The slippery lube made finding purchase difficult, and they both laughed breathlessly for a few moments until George got it right, finally, and the first inch or so of his dick popped inside.

“Oh fuck,” Alex gasped, and his whole body arched off the bed.

His hands were settled in that place where George’s shoulders met his neck, and he felt his entire body contract: fingers, toes, abs, spine, everything curling in toward George’s body. After a second, maybe more, George pushed the rest of the way in.

“Is that it?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.”

The sounds of his own heartbeat and breathing were loud in Alex’s ears as they moved together, shifting so his legs were pulled back, held in place by George’s elbows and hands planted on the bed.

He has really nice forearms, Alex thought, his mind finding the weirdest thing to concentrate on at the most inopportune moment.

George’s fucking was deep and slow. He pressed his forehead to Alex’s and wrapped his arm around the back of Alex’s neck, holding them close together for more slow, demanding kisses.

It was good. Really good. Really sexy, hot—the feel of a man inside him, the smell and taste of him, the way he grunted hard and kissed soft and knew how to angle up to grind against Alex’s prostate.

This man was good at sex, knew what he was doing with another person’s body. It was give and take, and George was giving better than Alex had had in a really long time. It wasn’t until he felt it—the really good—that he realized what he’d been missing.

George made a soft noise in the back of his throat and said, “Alex,” and Alex reached for his own cock, tugging on it in time with George’s thrusts.

“This okay?” George asked, his voice lusty and raw, his hips still rocking insistently into Alex’s body.

“Yeah. Fuck, yeah.”

George swept his tongue into Alex’s mouth again, and it was all so bone-meltingly amazing Alex was forced to slow himself down, to not rush toward his inevitable orgasm, because he didn’t want it to end just yet.

And they stayed like that, fucking unhurried and easy, kissing long and hard, their bodies in quiet, undulating movement together. Alex felt his hips start to ache with the stress of holding the position for so long, and George let go of his legs one at a time so Alex could stretch them all the way out.

“Do you need to me to stop?” George asked.

“Oh please, fuck no,” Alex said and bit down on George’s plump lower lip. “Don’t you fucking dare.”

George laughed. “Okay. I think I’m gonna come soon.”

“Yeah?”

He made another one of those soft noises, and Alex felt his belly zing in response. “Yeah. You need me to get you there?”

“You’re doing that just fine already.” George pressed his face to Alex’s neck again and kissed it. He was trying to hide another one of those smiles, but Alex could feel it anyway.

“Hard and fast,” he instructed breathlessly. “Just fuck me hard and fast, and I’ll be right there with you, I promise.”

“I can do that,” George said.

Alex closed his eyes and let himself be taken away. His body wasn’t his own, not for the next few minutes as his hand moved on his cock in time with George’s cock inside him. They exchanged kisses, loose and sloppy now, as George demanded Alex’s body and Alex gave it to him, prepared to give it all up in exchange for—

George let out a string of expletives and a low, rumbling growl, and Alex knew he had about ten seconds to get himself there before it would all be over.

It didn’t take ten seconds.

More like five.

His wrist was wet with come, and George was breathing hard, his exhalations damp on Alex’s shoulder.

“Holy shit.”

George laughed, a low chuckle. “Mm.”

“Pull out, baby.”

Baby? Where the hell had that come from?

George grumbled but did as he was told, his fingers gripping the base of the condom as he rolled off the bed and padded off to the bathroom.

Nice ass, Alex thought, stretching out on the bed and feeling the responding twitch in his own. That was one hell of a hookup fuck.

“Holy shit, have you seen this bathroom?” George asked. The toilet flushed, and he stuck his head out around the door. “It’s bigger than my whole fucking house.”

Alex smiled. “Pretty, huh?”

“Yeah. All for a room where you go to take a dump.”

“Classy,” Alex said, his voice catching on a yawn.

“Where’s me boxers?”

“Oh, fuck that,” Alex said. He slid off the bed and went to the bathroom himself to clean up. “Just stay.”

“Alex….”

“Look, I’m not about to get down on one knee. Or even ask for your number. But it’s nearly three in the morning. You live… where do you live?”

“Leith.”

“Oh fucking hell. Miles away. And I’m tired. And you’re pretty.”

When he turned off the bathroom light and pulled the door shut, George was under the covers.

“You piece of shit,” Alex said affectionately. “That’s my side of the bed.”

“No odds to me,” George said and shifted over.

He was naked under there, and Alex didn’t mind a bit. George threw back the duvet to let him in, and Alex reached over to turn off the lights.

George didn’t try to snuggle. Alex respected that, curled up on his side, facing away from George, and fell into a deeply contented sleep.

NEW RELEASE: DEVIL’S FOOD AT DUSK BY ANNA MARTIN AND MJ O’SHEA

Blurb:

Joe Fitzgerald hates New Orleans, but he’s stuck there until he convinces one stubborn local family to sell Lumière, the crumbling French Quarter restaurant they’ve owned for generations. The place is a wreck, and it’s hemorrhaging money. Joe figures he’s their best chance for survival.

Remy Babineaux despises Pineapple Joe’s and everything the chain stands for. He refuses to let Lumière become some tacky corporate tourist trap. Theme drinks and plastic beads in his restaurant? Yeah, right. Over his dead, rotting corpse. The last thing Remy wants is a meeting with the restaurant chain’s representative, but his father agreed to at least listen to the proposal. There’s nothing Remy can do about it.

Remy figures an anonymous hookup is exactly what he needs to decompress. When he ends up across the table from his fling the next morning, real sparks fly. Joe refuses to give up his prime location; Remy refuses to give up his legacy. It’s war, and they’re both determined to win at any cost. Neither of them counted on falling in love.

Available now at DreamspinnerAmazon.com, .co.uk and ARe

NEW RELEASE: SIGNS BY ANNA MARTIN

Blurb:

After spending most of his life in special schools, Caleb Stone now faces public high school in his senior year, a prospect that both excites him and threatens to overwhelm his social anxiety. As a deaf teenager, he’s closed himself off to the world. He speaks a shorthand with his parents and even finds it hard to use American Sign Language with people in his local deaf community. But Caleb finds comfort in his love of photography. Everything he can’t express in real life, he posts on his Tumblr.

Struggling to reconcile his resentment for his father’s cruelty with the grief of losing a parent, Luc Le Bautillier scrolls through Tumblr searching for someone who might understand his goth look and effeminate nature. When Luc reblogs a photo by Caleb, sparking a conversation, they both find it easier to make friends online than in person.

Luc and Caleb confront their fears about the opinions of the outside world to meet in New York City. Despite Caleb’s increasing confidence, his parents worry he’s not ready for the trials ahead. But communication comes in many forms—when you learn the signs.

Excerpt: (From Dreamspinner Website)

WE LIVE in an age of communication. This generation—my generation—has no recollection of a time when someone wasn’t immediately contactable, whether it’s by phone or text or e-mail, or Twitter or Facebook.

My grandparents still think nothing of visiting unannounced, and fumble with arthritic fingers on increasingly small mobile devices. My parents ask me what’s the point in Twitter when text messages exist, why Instagram, they don’t get Snapchat… what’s Tumblr, why is it spelled wrong?

In this world of availability, how does a person who’s unable to communicate with the outside world find their place in it?

My name is Caleb. I’m deaf.

This is my blog.

Luc skimmed over the introduction while frowning. He’d been led to this place by a photograph that had raised the hairs on his arms and sent a shiver down his spine. Having never reacted to art that way before, he was drawn to find out more about the photographer. This… this… outpouring of information was a surprise, and he wasn’t sure how to interpret his own goosefleshed reaction.

The blog was fresh faced and new, only a few months old. Luc was proud of the fact that he’d been a Tumblr user for years, since the early inception of the site. He had thousands of posts and thousands of followers. That was important in exactly one place only. No one in the real world cared.

The blog’s owner—Caleb—had done some work fiddling with the look of things, changing the color and layout and fitting it so it worked as a simple background for his images. There were a few text posts too, in the style of a traditional blog. Luc skipped over those for now and idly clicked the “follow” button. He wanted to know if Caleb would post any more of his pictures.

Back on the main page Luc found the photograph that had led him, in a roundabout way, to the “about me” page and clicked the Reblog button.

Check this guy out, he wrote under the image. Awesome photographer.

Then he sent it out to his followers.

There were a few people out there who he was in fairly regular communication with. New York was the home of Tumblr, and the micro-blogging site seemed to fit with a particular slice of the city’s quirky, arty aesthetic. Luc had been one of those fortunate kids who had grown up surrounded by art in its various forms. His mother had thought nothing of dragging him along to a ballet or to the MoMA when he was younger. His sister was more likely to take him to a poetry jam in the village, but that was Ilse for you.

Luc leaned back, stretching out on his bed, and glanced at the clock on his nightstand. It was a little after eleven—he should have been asleep ages ago if he had any chance of getting eight straight. He’d gotten into a huge argument with his school’s vice principal a few weeks previously about how the school day was unfairly prejudiced in favor of students who had better concentration in the mornings.

Luc was a night owl. His concentration peaked between six and ten in the evening, meaning his homework was near perfect most of the time. And he could happily work or hang out with people online until late in the evening. It was mornings he had a problem with.

After the argument with the man (who accepted that Luc had a point, but he simply could not sleep during his geography class, no matter how dull it was), he’d promised to at least try and go to sleep before midnight, and he had tried. Really, he’d tried. But insomnia had stalked him now for months, and dreamless sleep was always just out of reach.

He opened his Twitter account and sent out a message in 140 characters (or less).

Sometimes when the devil has gone he sends demons back in his place.

With some reluctance Luc reached for his bottle of prescribed pills and dry swallowed one of the little things that were supposed to help him fall quickly into a deep sleep. The type of sleep where you didn’t dream. They took a while to kick in, so he went through his nighttime routine, then crawled back in between the sheets.

Turned the lamp off.

A few minutes later he tapped it once, to make the light come on to its dimmest setting. Then he tried to sleep.

“LUC! GET the fuck up!”

He was up. He just wasn’t dressed. Or out of bed.

Luc rolled over, checked the clock, groaned, and rolled out of the other side of his small bed, to the side with his clothes. Since he was the youngest he had the smallest bedroom, one which had barely enough room for a bed, let alone a proper closet. He had tried, once, to put all of his clothes away in the drawers, and they just didn’t fit. Not even when he folded up everything he owned extra neatly and stacked it all in even piles. Luc’s friend Jay affectionately referred to the mess in the room as Luc’s “floor-drobe.”

It was fairly easy to find what he wanted. Over the past year or two he’d collected eight identical pairs of Gap’s black skinny jeans, all in the same size and style. They were just long enough to tuck into his black Chucks, and he wore one of a collection of band T-shirts over the top.

Since he’d showered the night before, all he had to do was brush and style his inky black hair in a swoop over his forehead and sketch a tiny amount of black kohl over his eyelids, carefully lining them.

Luc kept his bag packed by his bedroom door so he just needed to grab it and leave the house, and there—less than fifteen minutes and he was on his way down the stairs and out the door.

“I have breakfast ready for you,” his sister called as he passed the kitchen.

“No, thanks,” he mumbled and grabbed his leather jacket from the peg. Luc shrugged it on, slung the backpack over his shoulder, and let the door slam behind him.

As soon as he was outside, he grabbed his packet of tobacco and rolled a cigarette with deft fingers, then lit it with hands that would tremble until the first hit of nicotine. He exhaled heavily and started toward the subway.

The kids online were usually impressed that he lived in New York City, but now that he’d lived here for a few months, he was convinced it was nowhere near as cool as people thought. The morning rush hour was insane. There was never enough room on the subway, so he usually ended up smushed into some businessman’s armpit during his journey. That was what happened when you were short and good at making yourself invisible.

While many other teenagers were desperate to escape to New York City, Luc had decided when he graduated he was going to go to Seattle, the indie music capital of the United States.

His high school, Millennium High, was in the middle of Manhattan, which meant he had to catch one of the busiest trains in history to get there every day. He had gotten pretty good at daydreaming while listening to the music on his prized iPhone at full blast. He definitely could concentrate on two things at once. Or maybe one canceled the other out; he wasn’t sure.

Luc was intrigued by the blogger he’d been online stalking the night before—the photographer. The revelation that the guy was deaf made him feel weird. He definitely didn’t want to feel sorry for the guy. He’d been on the receiving end of a stranger’s sympathy before, and it sucked.

With death metal blaring into his ears at a volume designed to make them bleed, Luc’s thoughts turned to just how precious his hearing actually was. Feeling guilty for a reason he couldn’t name, he turned the volume down a few notches.

Luc reached the school early enough to go to the cafeteria and pick up an apple before his first class. Not that he’d admit it, but he was hungry. Sometimes when the subway was particularly busy, it took him longer to get to school and there wasn’t time to get anything to eat. Then he spent the whole of his first two classes with a gnawing pain in his stomach until he had a chance to go and get something.

The skinny emo goth look took work.

Luc’s butt hit the seat in his homeroom class at the same time the bell blasted through the corridors. The seat to his right was empty, not because Jay was late to school but because his friend had a habit of hanging out somewhere—anywhere—for a few minutes to make sure he was never on time. It was a rebellion thing.

Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, when Ms. Ware was halfway through her roll call, he sauntered in, flicked a finger at her in a mock salute, and sat down.

“Mr. Shaw, please see me at the end.”

“Sure thing, Ms. Ware,” Jay said with his usual cocky swagger, kicking his feet up on his desk and leaning back on the legs of his chair. When he was in this sort of mood, he rarely lasted in school until lunch period.

Although he was probably Luc’s best guy friend, Jay could be a total dick sometimes. He liked annoying their teachers, he liked rebelling, he liked being kicked out of school. The worst thing was, his grades were consistently in the top quarter of their class. He was stupidly intelligent and could be at the top of all his classes… if he ever bothered to show up.

Luc was never sure if the black nail polish and eyeliner were part of a phase or if Jay was really into the scene in the same way Luc was. There was always the chance Jay would get bored, change his mind, wash it all off, and join a different clique. Luc liked to tell himself Jay would never do that to him, but sometimes he wasn’t so sure. Jay was a bit of a loose cannon.

“What classes do you have today?” Jay asked, only barely bothering to lower his voice.

“English, geography, social studies, PE, math,” Luc recited.

“Ditch after lunch with me.”

“Fuck that,” Luc said. “I’m not ditching PE. I’m already on a written warning, and if Ilse finds out I skipped, she’ll kill me.”

Jay snorted. “Fine.”

“Don’t be a douchebag. I’ll ditch last period tomorrow.”

When Jay rolled his eyes, Luc wasn’t sure if this was in agreement or derision. He guessed only time would tell.

The bell rang, and they both rolled out of their chairs, throwing half-empty backpacks over their shoulders and loping toward the door.

“Mr. Shaw….” Ms. Ware called in a softly singsong voice.

Jay rolled his eyes, then winked at Luc.

“Yes, ma’am?” he said, turning back.

Luc hesitated by the door, wanting to watch.

“You were late this morning,” she said.

“Only by a few moments, ma’am,” Jay said solemnly. “You see, I was taking a dump. And it took longer than I expected.”

Luc snorted with amusement. Their teacher sighed.

“Please don’t let it happen again.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Luc thought it was lucky their English class was on the same hallway, or they’d have been late for that too, which was ironic whatever way you looked at it. As a student who was consistently at the middle of the academic range—he never failed, but he rarely got an “A” in anything—Luc knew he couldn’t really afford to cut classes all the time like Jay did.

Despite the pill from the night before, by midmorning he was flagging. This was the hardest part of the day. Usually when he woke up there was enough energy stored to get him out of bed, onto the subway, and to his first period. After that….

His doctor had suggested a few “tricks” to keep him going, even when it felt like nothing was working. Such as splashing ice-cold water on his face (Ha! The guy had clearly never tried doing that with eyeliner on) or running it over the pulse point on his wrist. Jumping up and down and shaking his arms to get the blood flowing.

They were all temporary measures. He preferred massive amounts of caffeine, either from coffee or the disgustingly sugary energy drinks the school sold in vending machines.

By lunchtime all he wanted was a fucking nap. Jay had already gone, unsurprisingly, but he had been considerate enough to send Luc a text to let him know.

There were a few goth kids he could sit with to eat his lunch. He wasn’t really into the goth scene, not in the same way they were, but he fit in with them a lot better than he did with most of the other kids at school.

He nodded to Ellery as he sat down with a sandwich and an energy drink.

“Tired?” she asked.

“Mhmm.”

Ellery knew everything; their parents moved in the same social circles. She’d always been nice to him, even before, and now she seemed to take it as a personal responsibility to keep her eye on Luc and make sure he was okay in school. She noticed when he was tired. Which was nearly always.

Luc had always thought that, were he straight, Ellery would be the sort of girl he’d want to date. She was a little on the plump side and had awesome boobs. Even as a gay guy he could appreciate them. They liked the same bands, sometimes went to gigs together. And she helped dye his hair black, as long as he returned the favor with whatever color she was sporting that month. Most recently they’d experimented with the “dip dye” look from London—black on top, purple at the ends. For a first attempt it had turned out pretty good.

He ate his sandwich in silence, vaguely tuning in to the conversations around him. It seemed like someone was planning to get tickets for a band passing through on tour. Luc didn’t speak up. Because of his friendship with Ellery there would always be an offer to go along to things like that, and he would normally decide last minute if he would be there or not. His presence didn’t make any difference to these people. Not to say they didn’t care—they were his friends—but whether or not he turned up didn’t change the fact that they would go and have a good time without him.

Luc just about managed to pay attention during his math class, mostly staring at Cameron Barker’s cute butt instead of concentrating on Pythagoras, but PE was a total write-off. He’d turned up, though, so he was relatively safe from his sister’s wrath.

The house was usually empty when he got home. His mother was rarely there when he got in from school, even though he wasn’t really sure where she went every day. She was the sort of woman who didn’t welcome prying questions, even if they did come from a place of concern. Frances Le Bautillier was old money in New York and spent most of her time drinking dry martinis at the bar at the Four Seasons. It was probably for the best that he didn’t know the details.

Luc wandered through to the kitchen and made himself a snack—peanuts, cheese, and apple slices. He didn’t stay slim by working out, after all. He took the snack up to his room and fired up his laptop. There were a few messages waiting for him on his Tumblr account, and he opened the mailbox, hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with faceless online abuse today. Being gay and looking the way he did made Luc a target for people who could hide behind a mask of anonymity. He really wasn’t in the mood for it.

Luc was immediately drawn to a note from Caleb-the-photographer.

I feel the need to thank you for re-blogging my picture. It suddenly gained hundreds of notes.

Luc smiled and typed a reply.

No problem. Although it already had a lot when I saw it first. You really are very talented.

He sat back and reached for a cube of cheese, feeling strangely lighter. And hungry.

Available now at Dreamspinner, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and ARe

 

COMING SOON: SIGNS BY ANNA MARTIN

Blurb:

After spending most of his life in special schools, Caleb Stone now faces public high school in his senior year, a prospect that both excites him and threatens to overwhelm his social anxiety. As a deaf teenager, he’s closed himself off to the world. He speaks a shorthand with his parents and even finds it hard to use American Sign Language with people in his local deaf community. But Caleb finds comfort in his love of photography. Everything he can’t express in real life, he posts on his Tumblr.
Struggling to reconcile his resentment for his father’s cruelty with the grief of losing a parent, Luc Le Bautillier scrolls through Tumblr searching for someone who might understand his goth look and effeminate nature. When Luc reblogs a photo by Caleb, sparking a conversation, they both find it easier to make friends online than in person.
Luc and Caleb confront their fears about the opinions of the outside world to meet in New York City. Despite Caleb’s increasing confidence, his parents worry he’s not ready for the trials ahead. But communication comes in many forms—when you learn the signs.

Book of the Day: Jurassic Heart by Anna Martin

Jurassic Heart

Blurb

When paleontologist Nick Eisenberg learns that someone thinks they have found velociraptor bones in Alberta, his curiosity overrides his desire to stay in London. After all, he’s one of the world’s leading experts on prehistoric predators and has always wanted to look for the velociraptor’s North American cousins. There’s only one problem: eco-conservationist Hunter Joseph. While Nick supervises the dig, Hunter rallies support from the locals to oppose the way the team is destroying the landscape in their search for dinosaur bones.
Nick and Hunter just cannot get along. Hunter is self-righteous and pouty. Nick is narrow-minded and geeky. But they have to figure out how to work on the same site without killing each other, especially since someone else out there seems determined to cause Nick more problems than he could have ever imagined.

Excerpt:

“SO, ERIC White thinks he’s found a Velociraptor skeleton in Alberta.”

I leaned back in my chair with the phone cradled between my ear and shoulder and propped my boots up on the desk, appreciating the heavy thunk as they set down and the cloud of dust they emitted—dust that would have been invisible were it not for the late-May sunlight streaming in through the window.

“Eric wouldn’t know his arse from his elbow.”

“Arse? You’ve been in London for too long, kid.” Sam’s accent, on the other hand, was broad New Jersey. I was silently amused at this.

“Call Mim.”

“Miriam is eight months pregnant and can’t bend over to put her socks on, let alone bend over a dig,” Sam said.

Shit. I should have known that. “She’s got a few weeks left, just send her up there. Quick peek, nope, it’s a Triceratops, send her home again.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Nick. You need to go.”

“I don’t need to do anything,” I said, keeping my voice airy and disinterested. Fucking with Sam was one of my favorite activities. “I quite like London, you know. I might stay here.” When he snarled, I laughed. “I have ends to tie up,” I warned him. “I can’t pack my bags and leave tomorrow.”

“But you’ll go?”

“What’s the pay?”

“Standard consultant rate. I can get you five hundred a day.”

“All right,” I said. Really, both of us knew this would be the outcome of the conversation right from the start. “I’ll go.”

“Good,” Sam said. “I’ve booked your flight and e-mailed you the details. You leave from Heathrow on Saturday. Don’t miss it.”

“Damn it, Sam,” I yelled down the phone, but Sam’s response was the steady beep of the dial tone.

I tucked my feet back under the desk as I unlocked the computer and logged on to my e-mail account. Sure enough, Sam had sent through the details of the flight a few minutes before he called me. Cocky motherfucker.

I picked up the phone and dialed Mim’s number, vaguely checking the clocks in my office that showed different time zones—London, New York, Vancouver, Mongolia. Mim was on West Coast time, and I expected she’d be awake.

“So, are you going?” she said as she answered. “You do know it’s six in the morning here.”

“Yes and yes,” I said, leaning back in my chair once more.

She let out a delighted laugh. “I knew it. Charlie,” she called to her partner. “You owe me five bucks.”

“I don’t want to go,” I said, trying to keep myself from whining. “I like London. And I hate Eric White.”

“Eric’s an idiot,” she agreed. “And I seriously doubt it’s a raptor. But Sam will get you good rates, and it’s close to home, so you can go and see your mom.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, all her points being those I’d used when talking myself into taking the gig. “How’s the baby?” I asked, hoping to get brownie points for remembering.

“He’s fine,” she said. “Big as hell now, but fine.”

“And you’re really too fat to fly up and check out a couple of measly not-Velociraptor bones?”

“Fuck off,” she said with a smile in her voice.

“Double your money it’s not even a carnivore,” I said, and she laughed again.

“I’ll take that bet. Safe flight, Nick.”

I said good-bye and hung up, then carefully cast my eye around the tiny office that had been my home for the past seven months. I’d been reduced to doing desk work after I’d fractured my ankle in a skiing accident. Even though Sam—my sort-of agent, occasional employer, and good friend—had been pushing me to write a book, I’d found a little job with measly pay working at the Natural History Museum in London, consulting on an exhibition they were putting together.

That job had officially ended four weeks ago, but I was still in London for lack of anything better to do. They’d let me keep my office because no one else needed it, meaning I was still doing work, although not for money. I was sleeping on a friend’s couch in Kensington because I didn’t have anywhere else to stay, so Sam’s call had come at exactly the right time. Not that I’d tell Sam that. He’d only let it go to his head.

After leaving my office, I headed out of the private gallery and through to the public balcony, down the flights of stairs that led to the main exhibition hall of the museum. The pale tiles and huge vaulted ceilings in the museum had always reminded me of the interior of Hogwarts. It was a silly fantasy, and I’d never voiced it to any of my colleagues for fear that they’d think less of me.

I quickly jogged down the steps, offering the statue of Darwin a quick salute, as had become my habit, and went past the huge skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus. He was probably the museum’s most famous resident, despite being a replica, not an original skeleton.

I was looking for the project manager who was in charge of the carnivore exhibition. I’d taken it upon myself to dispel some of the biggest myths surrounding Velociraptors—there were a lot of them—and we’d put together something I was sure was interesting, informative, and exciting. I had wanted to stay for the launch, the big day when we’d open the exhibition to the public, but Canada was calling and deep down, I knew I needed to go. More than that, I wanted to.

WHEN MY flight landed in Alberta, I took a deep breath and felt like I was finally home. Not that I really had any physical space I could call home; I’d grown up just outside Vancouver, had done my undergrad degree at UCLA, and had pretty much traveled nonstop since completing my master’s. My parents had moved to Vancouver Island when I moved out—my mom had family there, and my dad was happy to go with her. After traveling so much, I’d learned how not to get sentimentally attached to places or possessions, although that was sometimes easier said than done.

I quickly worked my way through baggage claim, collected my one backpack, and went straight out to pick up a car. All my stuff was being shipped from London to my parents’ house so I could pick it up in a few weeks, or whenever I had a chance. I wanted to get to the dig.

Unfortunately, the park was out in the middle of nowhere, with no airports close to the site for me to catch a connecting flight there. I knew that the drive would take a few hours, and by the time I arrived, two things would have happened: the dig would be closed up for the night, and jet lag was going to hit me. Hard.

I’d worked in the area a few times before, mostly on educational digs, so I knew where to find a motel and crash for a few hours before driving over to the dig the next morning. On the drive, I had time to think.

Like I’d said to Mim, I was convinced whatever Eric had dug up wasn’t a raptor. He was an amateur paleontologist who had been on a few university digs and had convinced himself he could do as well as the professionals. It was insulting. His way of working mostly involved hiring undergrads to do all the grunt work. Then he brought in specialists to make the identifications, which he wrote up for scientific journals.

There were better ways of getting recognition in the academic paleontological community—doing the work himself would have been a good place to start. Rumor had it he’d been kicked out of a doctorate program for stealing other people’s research, and that had been his modus operandi ever since: lying, cheating, cutting corners to try to get the academic acknowledgement he felt entitled to. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in a few years, but Eric was hard to forget.

Someone had once made the unflattering observation that we looked similar—in bad light, if you squinted. He, like me, was slim and of medium height with dark-brown hair. But where I wore mine swept back from my face in a deliberately casual style, Eric’s hung down around his face, greasy and unkempt. His eyes were blue too, and the combination—dark hair, blue eyes—was enough to earn him the nickname “Prince Eric” (after the character in The Little Mermaid), but it was a cruel joke. This Eric was no fairy-tale prince. He had a reputation for being a creep.

For me, the hipster trend had come along at exactly the right time. I’d spent my teenage years and early twenties being an unintentional geek; then suddenly I was allowed to be one and it was socially acceptable. These days I wore my horn-rimmed glasses with pride and didn’t care quite so much about being weird and skinny. I liked to think I was putting distance between the old Nick and the new Nick. These days, I was confident in my knowledge and intelligence and let that part of me lead the way.

Eric had found a few vaguely interesting things over the years. I had met him at a fundraiser once where he’d cornered me and demanded I tell him where he could dig up big predators in the US. I’d told him to start in Manhattan and could still remember his scowl. I’d made vague noises about Montana and New Mexico and had excused myself to the bar. No one had mentioned him for a while, and I’d hoped he’d dropped off the radar, but no, he’d moved farther north and decided to concentrate his efforts in Alberta.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. The bigger university crews had found plenty of species in Dinosaur Park, a site about 120 kilometers north and east of the current dig site. There had been enough finds there that, when pressed in a magazine interview, I’d said it was the spot where someone was most likely to find a raptor skeleton. That this was what Eric was looking for in this location stung. But Eric was a dick. And getting me to come to verify the bones was a nasty little poke at me, proving he’d gotten there first.

I’d do what I could to make my mark on this dig, even if it was only as a consultant, but it all depended on what Eric would let me take credit for. Not a lot, I expected.

The little town on the edge of the dig site was home to only a few thousand people, but there were two motels. I headed to the motel on the far end of town on purpose, not in the mood to run into any colleagues before I’d had chance to sleep until my body clock caught up with me.

The motel was small but clean, and I parked out back and locked the rental before walking around to the front desk. It already felt colder here than it was in London, but England was basking in a freakishly warm summer, and I’d become used to walking to work in T-shirts and cutoff shorts.

“Welcome to Deacon,” a middle-aged woman said as I dumped my bag on the floor.

“Thanks,” I said. “Could I get a double? Just for tonight. But I might end up staying.”

She tapped at her computer, gave me a room card, and talked me through breakfast times, wake-up calls, and emergency escape routes. I nodded through her speech, not really listening. When she finally finished, thankfully not expecting me to engage in conversation, I took myself off to the staircase she’d pointed out to the left of the elevator.

I hated taking the elevator. And it seemed really lazy to use it to go up one floor.

After finding the room, I let myself in and cast a quick glance around, taking in my surroundings, before going to the window and pulling the heavy drapes closed. I just managed to toe off my boots, strip off my jeans, and pull the comforter over myself before falling heavily into sleep.

WHEN I arrived at the dig the next morning (feeling ridiculously refreshed), I was met by an undergrad rather than Eric White himself. Which was typical—Eric wasn’t going to drag himself out of bed at eight in the morning to meet me, despite him being the one who insisted I come halfway around the world to look at the find.

The guy who greeted me with coffee was a sweetheart: tall and rangy and unfolding himself like a grasshopper from where he’d been sitting, leaning against the side of a car and studying his notes.

Brad showed me through the campsite to where they’d set up a mobile lab. It was on the small side and modestly stocked, but I recognized the quality of the work they were putting together. Pictures and maps were tacked to the walls, along with aerial photographs and topographical charts. It looked like someone had put a lot of effort into making it a useful learning space.

“Right, what have you got here?”

He pushed an envelope across the desk, and I sighed. Of course Eric wouldn’t have actual bones for me to look at. He’d make me check the photos first. Dick. I sipped my coffee Brad had made for me and pulled out the sheaf of photographs, then laid them carefully on the desk side by side. Brad watched me intently, and I worked to keep my face impassive.

It was only a partial find, which wouldn’t necessarily stop me from making an identification. From what I could tell from the first wide-shot photograph, it looked like part of the animal’s spine, pelvis, tail, and most of one leg had been recovered. The foot was distorted, and the ankle joint was clearly damaged.

These types of partial finds were much more common than complete skeletons. More often than not, when I was called in to identify something, it was because the head was missing. Identifying animals from skulls and teeth was easy. Trying to guess what it was from its backside was harder.

“Where did you find the bones?” I asked.

“Area D5,” Brad said, pointing to a wall map that had the grid references marked on it. “I’ve been working D4 and D5, and E4 and E5.”

“And who made the identification?”

“Mr. White,” Brad said, sounding hesitant for the first time.

I suppressed a smile. “Okay.”

“He called Mr. Hetherington,” Brad continued, referring to Sam, “asking him to write a press release. Mr. Hetherington said he wouldn’t announce it to the academic community or the press until a consultant had confirmed the find.” He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “I guess that’s why you’re here, Dr. Eisenberg.”

“Nick,” I corrected absently and brought a photograph closer to my face, lifting my glasses to bring it into sharper focus. “Who took the photographs?”

“I did.”

“And who actually found the bones? Because I’m sure as shit Eric didn’t.”

Brad mumbled something, and I glared at him until he relented. “I did, sir.”

“Nick,” I said again, slightly firmer. “Do you think this is a Velociraptor, Brad?”

“No, si—no, Nick,” he said. “I don’t.”

I beamed at him. “Where do you go to school?”

“UCLA.” His face told me I didn’t need to tell him I’d studied there too—he already knew. It was always nice to meet a fan.

“What year?”

“My first.”

“And a first-year undergrad can tell what this is, or more specifically, what it isn’t. So why the hell can’t Eric White?”

Brad coughed.

“Exactly,” I confirmed, my tone grim. I was about to sweep all the photographs back into the envelope, climb into my car, drive the three hours back to Calgary, and fly straight on out to London to go to the opening of my exhibition, when something caught my eye.

I picked up the photograph and took it to the window, letting the natural light show me what I’d possibly missed under the fluorescent.

“Where are the fossils being kept?” I asked Brad as he washed out my coffee mug.

“In storage,” he said. “There’s a veterinary office in town. We’re using some of their space.”

“A veterinary office,” I repeated, trying hard not to growl the words. I rolled my eyes instead. “Okay. Can I see them?”

“You’d have to clear that with Mr. White.”

“I bet I would,” I said. “Brad, what type of animal do you think this was?”

He blanched at the direct question and then straightened. “I think it was likely an Ornithopod, sir,” he said. I let the salutation go this time.

I nodded. “I think you’re right. If I was a betting man I’d say it was an Othnielosaurus.”

Brad smiled. “Me too.”

“What can you tell me about these marks?” I could have told him what they were, but I sensed a learning opportunity. And heck, the kid reminded me of myself when I was his age. I wanted to give him a chance.

He crossed the room and leaned in to look at the area I was interested in. He smelled clean, like soap, and bitter from the coffee. It was nice.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think it’s because they’re so old.”

“Okay,” I said, and pointed to the bones again. “See the direction they’re going in? Like grooves. And these marks here.”

Brad frowned at the picture for a few moments. Then his eyes widened. “Are they bite marks?” he asked.

I nodded, pleased he’d caught on. “Yes. I think they are.”

“Wow,” he breathed.

“It’s not massively uncommon,” I said, “and it doesn’t detract from the value of the find. But bite marks can mean three things.” I ticked the points off on my fingers. “Either this animal was attacked by another of its kind in a battle for food or sex or territory, or it was killed and eaten by a predator, or it died of natural causes and was eaten by another animal.”

“Okay,” Brad said, nodding. I guessed this wasn’t new information to him.

“Which one do you think applies here?”

He looked at me blankly.

“It’s an Ornithopod,” I said. “An herbivore. As a broad generalization, herbivores fight less than carnivores, especially with each other. This doesn’t look like the sort of damage another Othnielosaurus would be able to inflict, so we’ll cross that option off.”

Brad nodded.

“This is where it gets tricky,” I admitted. “Especially without a complete skeleton. But from what I know about scavengers, they normally do more damage to the bones than this. Scavengers have teeth that can gnaw on the bones to get all the tasty sinew and tendons off, and these bones are generally well preserved. I don’t think the damage was inflicted postmortem.

“Which leaves one option.”

“It was attacked and eaten by a predator.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What sort of predator?”

I raised my eyebrows. I could go through another long reasoning process to get to my conclusion, or I could just tell him. “This sort of damage,” I said, “is characteristic of a raptor attack.”

Book of the Day: Cricket by Anna Martin

Cricket

Dreamspinner

Amazon.co.uk

Blurb:

New York native Henry Richardson needs a change. His boyfriend just dumped him, and his business has fallen victim to the economy. But is jumping on a plane after a surprise phone call taking things too far?

The promise of a new opportunity drags Henry away from the city to a tiny village in the English countryside and an enormous manor house his great-grandmother wants to bequeath him. As an experienced wedding planner, he sees the potential in renovating the dilapidated building and using it for events. All he needs is to find some local businesses to provide the essentials.

That’s how Henry meets Ryan Burgess, the shy but hardworking owner of an organic farm. The spark between them sizzles slowly while work on the house continues, but Ryan is deeply in the closet and unwilling to take the last step. They finally find something that clicks in cricket, something that Henry, a former amateur baseball player, is surprisingly good at. For him, cricket helps bridge the gap between England and New York—but unless Ryan can find something to span the divide between his sexuality and his fear, their relationship doesn’t stand a chance.

Excerpt:

ANNABELL RICHARDSON was a rich old lady with a wicked sense of humor. She celebrated her ninety-first birthday in the house she’d lived in since childhood, the same house that had stood proudly through two world wars and the quiet, gentle death of her family.

Nell, as she was known in the village, played bingo on Mondays, did her washing on Tuesdays, scrubbed her step (on ninety-one-year-old hands and knees) on Wednesdays, took lunch with the vicar on Thursdays, and went to the pub for a gin on Fridays. It was a routine as well-worn as the lines in her face.

Nell swore like a sailor and liked to read dirty books that she found in the local Oxfam charity shop. She hadn’t missed an episode of Coronation Street in thirty-eight years. She got ideas from television programs that her solicitor strongly advised her against implementing.

Nell Richardson rarely did as she was told.

One

THE rain lashed down on the streets of Manhattan as Henry Richardson rushed for the subway. The message that had been left for him, summoning him to his lawyer’s office in the middle of the day, had been more than a little ominous. Despite all his instincts telling him to hide his face, he’d braved the weather and headed out.

Henry slicked his dark hair back as he looked up at the building, double-checking he had the right address. The offices of Dawson, Swan and Co. were small but suitably modern, and being a small, modern business, they had been happy to correspond with Henry mostly by e-mail. Inside, there was a young woman working reception who wore her blouse with too many buttons undone but smiled prettily at him as he gave his name.

“Go on through, Mr. Richardson.”

Gareth Swan—the beast of a man who spent more working hours out to lunch than he did in the office—invited him in like an old family friend. Gareth and Henry’s father had season tickets to the Yankees just two rows apart and had a long-standing arrangement for a beer together after every winning game. A Bronx native, Swan had built his own career and was proud of the fact he’d put himself through college, waiting tables to pay his tuition fees. Now a barrel-chested man of sixty-five, he was graying at the temples and rarely took cases any longer.

Henry’s case had been a special exception, at the request of his father.

“Come in, Henry. Sit down,” Gareth said, welcoming him with a warm handshake and carefully not staring too closely at Henry’s face. “Glad you found us okay. How’s your mother?”

“Distraught,” Henry said and tried to disguise the fact that rainwater was actually seeping through his jeans to his underwear. “Lou Lou died.”

His mother’s pet poodle had finally kicked the bucket, and, according to his father, she had been in mourning ever since. The house was full of lilies, and she was wearing nothing but black.

“Oh dear,” Gareth said with a hearty chuckle. “She always was attached to that dog.”

Henry managed a wan smile and leaned forward in his seat. “Please tell me they haven’t found anything else. I thought it was all being wrapped up.”

“It is,” Gareth said. “There’s nothing to worry about, Henry. The settlements are being finalized. Then we can be done with the whole messy business. I’ve actually been approached on another matter entirely. Normally, I dismiss these things right away, but considering the circumstances….”

“Tell me,” Henry said, not even bothering to hide his desperation.

“It’s not bad news.”

“Thank God for that.” He relaxed a tiny bit.

“Henry, have you ever heard of Cheddar?”

“The cheese?”

“No, the place.”

“No. Is it in Wisconsin?”

Gareth chuckled again. “No. Somerset.”

“Somerset… New England?”

“Ha! Wrong again. Somerset, original England.”

Henry sat back in his chair, utterly confused. “No, Gareth, I’ve never heard of Cheddar. Or Somerset.”

With great relish, and with the swagger of a man who knew something, Gareth leaned forward on his desk. “Well, Henry, you might want to familiarize yourself.”

LESS than a week later, Henry woke with a start as a woman—a flight attendant—placed her hand on his arm and asked him to buckle up for landing.

Groggily, he snapped the belt over his lap and pulled the thin blanket more tightly around his shoulders. He’d always hated flying, always found himself too cold, and his skin dried out horribly, especially with longer flights.

This was the last leg of his journey, from Amsterdam to Bristol, and he’d caught only a few hours’ sleep over the past twenty or so hours. His body and his head had no idea what the time was, and his split lip was throbbing where he’d bitten down on it while sleeping. This was the last of his injuries to heal, probably because he kept chewing on it by accident.

In the frequent moments when Henry wondered what the fuck he was doing, he carefully told himself the facts over and over in his mind, those, at least, being comforting to him.

Nell Richardson, his father’s grandmother, was dying.

But she was taking her time about it.

With spiraling private healthcare costs, she had reached the stage where her move to a nursing home was imminent, and her greatest fear was that her beloved family home would be sold to help pay the bills.

That was, unless she could pass the house on to a relative—any relative—in her will. Henry still wasn’t sure why she’d chosen him over one of his cousins, but Gareth was convinced that Mrs. Richardson wanted him to go first, before she considered passing the house on to anyone else.

Not that Henry was complaining. With the past few months he’d had, getting out of New York, even if it was just for a visit, was a tempting prospect.

When, through Gareth, Henry sent word that he was willing to go and meet the old lady, he was shocked at the speed of the response. His flights and travel visas were secured with surprising alacrity, making him wonder what was so important that he needed to be in England within a week.

For this trip, he’d packed relatively light, which for him meant two suitcases and his carry-on bag. He had no idea how long it was going to take, and, other than the fabled rain, he didn’t know what the weather was like during the British springtime.

It was early evening when he dragged himself and his luggage out of the airport terminal into a steady, misty rain. A short, squat man held a sign with his name on it, and Henry followed him out to a vehicle that was emblazoned with the cab firm’s logo: STDs. Underneath, in a smaller font, the full name of the firm—Somerset Taxi Drivers—didn’t really counter the first impression.

“You from New York?” the driver asked as they pulled out of the airport.

“Yeah,” Henry said, failing to keep the weariness from his voice.

“Long trip. Long trip.”

As they made the journey south, Henry tried to keep awake, to watch the changing scenery as they moved through the rolling countryside, but his eyes were drooping. It only took thirty minutes before they were pulling up in front of a small building with bright flowers hanging from baskets either side of the door.

“This is it.”

“Thanks,” Henry said, digging in his pocket for his wallet.

“It’s all paid for,” the driver assured him. “Mrs. Richardson said to put it on her tab.”

Henry nodded, grateful, and dragged his suitcases up the path. The small bed-and-breakfast-style hotel was clearly a converted house, the reception desk placed somewhat awkwardly half under the stairs, sticking out into the hallway.

Behind it sat a middle-aged woman with a paperback, reading so intently she didn’t immediately notice the door closing as Henry pushed it behind him.

“Oh!” she said as she looked up. “I’m so sorry. It’s too easy to get engrossed, don’t you think?”

Henry smiled wryly. “Sure.”

“You must be Mr. Richardson. I’m Judith. This is my place.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“I’ll just get you checked in….” She spun on her chair to tap at a laptop, then reached behind her to a wall and pulled a key from a hook. Not a key card, an old fashioned skeleton key. Henry groaned to himself.

“I’ve put you in room five,” she continued, “it’s at the front of the building, but it’s actually the quietest room we have here.”

Judith hopped over the desk with an agility that belied what Henry estimated was her fifty years. She wore jeans that were splashed with bleach stains and a pink polo shirt, her light hair tucked behind ears that were decorated with small diamond earrings.

“Come on. I’ll show you upstairs.”

The hotel was warm and clean, and Henry decided that it had probably been renovated about ten years ago. The décor was just slightly outdated. Still, it was a fairly nice place to set up camp in while he was here.

Judith chattered enough that he didn’t feel compelled to join in the conversation except for the occasional, vague words of agreement. She showed him the room—a double—with its adjoining bath.

“I’ll let you crash,” she said. “You seem tired.”

“Thanks.”

When she left, Henry kicked off his boots and collapsed, fully dressed, on the bed.

AS SHE’D promised, among all the idle chatter the night before, Judith allowed Henry to sleep in for as long as he wanted. Despite that, he woke fairly early—the sun was seeping in through the flimsy curtains. The clock on the wall told him it was approaching 10:30 a.m., but his watch and his body clock were convinced it was more like five thirty.

Once sitting up in bed, Henry could appreciate how exhausted he must have been when arriving. He ran his fingers through his hair, combing it back from his face, stretched, yawned, and headed for the shower.

It sucked.

It took him at least half an hour to get clean, to run a razor over his jaw and scrub his teeth. He dressed in jeans and a light-blue shirt, rolled up the cuffs of both several times, and gelled his hair so it flopped artfully back from his forehead in a halfhearted attempt at a quiff.

When his stomach clenched, he felt suddenly sick. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten a meal—the bag of chips he’d managed at the airport in Amsterdam didn’t count. Deciding there would be a diner or something close by, he grabbed his wallet with its strange foreign bills inside, the key to his room, and his phone and headed down the stairs.

Judith was at her desk again. “We’re happy to do you a breakfast if you want it,” she said with a warm smile.

“That—” Henry croaked, then cleared his throat. “That would be good,” he said. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Go and find a table. There are newspapers on the bar if you want one. Oh, and I’ll give Miss Gupta a call for you.”

Henry wasn’t sure exactly who Miss Gupta was or why the British referred to young or unmarried women as Miss rather than Ms., but he could smell coffee coming from the dining room, and to his nose, it seemed to be freshly brewed. He wasn’t going to hang around and ask questions. Those could come later.

The coffee was served to him by a teenage girl wearing a slightly stained white shirt and very short black skirt. She looked no more than about fourteen, not that he was particularly good at guessing the ages of teenagers, but it would put her at about the right age to be the daughter of the proprietress, so he didn’t question it.

“Do you want a fry-up?” she demanded of him.

“Do I want a what?”

Fourteen rolled her eyes at him. Her heavily-lined-with-black-eyeliner eyes. “A fried breakfast?”

Henry’s stomach lurched at the thought. “No, thanks. Do you do waffles and bacon?”

No response but a what-the-fuck expression that was as good as a “no.”

“Toast will be fine,” he said warily.

There was a sign on the wall, next to the long mahogany bar, which declared that “Breakfast is served from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. daily,” which probably explained Fourteen’s surly attitude. She was working overtime.

When she returned with his toast and topped off his coffee, he dug his wallet out and sorted through the different colored notes, then selected a green five and handed it to her.

She frowned at him.

“It’s a tip,” he said slowly, wondering if she was possibly a bit slow. “Thanks for staying open for me.”

“Whatever,” she muttered, tucking the five into her bra. Jesus, she was wearing a bra.

“Leave the pot,” he said as she turned to go again. “It’s fine. I’m nearly done anyway.”

Fourteen left the pot on a pile of table mats, rolled her eyes again, and left.

Henry licked his finger and turned the page in his newspaper.

A few minutes later, the sharp clicks of women’s heels on polished wood announced his next interrupter’s arrival.

“Oh, thank fuck,” a warm voice said from behind him. “I could murder for a coffee right now.”

“Help yourself,” Henry said, not meaning it but saying it to be polite. When the woman slid into the chair opposite him, something clicked in his head. “Are you… Shenal Gupta?”

“You say it like ‘Chanel’,” she offered, correcting his pronunciation while pouring herself a cup of coffee. “My parents have a weird sense of humor. I’m their fifth child.”

Henry stared at her blankly.

“Like, Chanel Number 5? The perfume?”

“You’re my lawyer?”

“No,” Shenal corrected him. “I’m Nell Richardson’s lawyer.”

Carefully, with the impression that he was being judged, Henry folded his newspaper and took off his glasses. He only needed them for reading anyway.

Shenal was nothing like what he’d expected when Gareth had mentioned that Nell’s solicitor would meet with him when he arrived in England. Although he’d read the name Shenal Gupta before—he must have; it was familiar in the back of his mind—to his shame, he’d assumed the solicitor would be a man.

The woman sitting before him gave off an air of calm and coolness and a certain amount of challenge, waiting to see if Henry was going to judge her for being a woman, or an Indian woman, or an Indian woman who wore a sari while working.

Her dark hair was pulled back in a shiny braid, and gold jewelry decorated her throat and ears. There was a tiny gold hoop in her nose. She wore light makeup but a rich lipstick, and when she lifted the coffee cup to her lips, he noticed that her fingernails were painted a dark-red color.

When he declined to comment on her gender or race, Shenal raised an eyebrow, then smiled.

“Nell wants to meet with you later,” she said, “after lunch. Two o’clock. Sharp. Before then, we can go and see the house if you like, but there’s no rush, really.”

“Sure,” he said, slightly overwhelmed. He touched his fingers to his lips absently, knowing that the cut at the corner of his mouth had nearly completely healed. It wasn’t obvious anymore, and any other visible physical injuries had healed. Thank God.

Shenal had a car waiting outside, a bright silver Mini, which turned out to be the perfect size for nipping around the little streets and narrow country lanes.

“I know you only got here last night,” Shenal said as she drove out deeper into the countryside, “so sorry to spring this on you. But Nell wants to meet you as soon as possible, and I thought it would be best if you went into that meeting as well prepared as you could be.”

“That’s fine,” Henry said. “I’m only a little jet-lagged.”

Jet-lagged wasn’t the biggest of his problems, though. Being totally dumbfounded was. When he’d arrived, he didn’t have the inclination to look out of the window and take in the scenery. Now, he could barely tear his eyes away from it.

Just like Dorothy, he was a long, long way from home.

He barely noticed that she had stopped the car outside a pair of tall iron gates.

“So, this is it,” Shenal said. “Stretton House.”

It helped Henry when he disassociated the thought that this could possibly be his with his rational impressions of the house. Because it was more than a house. It was more like a country manor… a mansion.

Just inside the gates was a small cottage, which quickly gave way to a long drive lined with old, old trees. The house itself was visible from the gate, although it was immediately obvious that it was in a state of disrepair.

When Shenal stopped the car again, Henry got out and turned one full circle on the gravel. Then he looked back to her.

“Okay, so what’s the catch?”

“What do you mean?”

“Where the fuck is Candid Camera or Punk’d or whatever?”

Shenal gave a little bark of laughter. “No, I promise you Ashton Kutcher is not hiding in the bushes. At least, I hope he’s not. Do you want to see inside?”

“Sure,” Henry said, aware of how high-pitched his voice had become. Nerves. He was going to attribute that to nerves. “Sure, okay, whatever.”

After rifling through her purse, Shenal pulled out a bunch of keys and unlocked the double front door. As she threw the old, creaking doors wide, Henry felt his heart stutter in his chest.

The house was huge; he’d already established that. But it was beautiful as well.

Inside, the entrance hall was tiled in terracotta and black squares, stretching away farther into the house. Straight ahead was a huge, sweeping staircase that reminded him of the Cinderella story his mother used to read to him at night. It was wide at the bottom and the top and narrower in the middle, the banisters on either side still far enough apart that Henry was sure he could stand with his arms outstretched and his fingers wouldn’t reach both sides.

There was a door on either side of the hallway, but both were closed, and it seemed that to get to the back of the house it was necessary to walk around the staircase.

“Nell Richardson lived here?” Henry exclaimed as soon as he found his voice again. “On her own?”

“God, no,” Shenal said. “She lived in the little gatekeeper’s cottage we passed on the way in. It’s a two-up two-down place. No one’s lived here for at least forty, maybe fifty years. It was turned into a hospital in the Second World War, where they looked after injured soldiers. There’s a military base not far from here. Nell’s father, I believe, lived in the house after the war, but when he died she moved out.”

“Wow,” Henry said.

“For the past ten years, at least, she’s had interest from developers who want to turn it into flats. Apartments,” she corrected, for Henry’s benefit. “But she won’t have anyone dividing up the house, which was why she got English Heritage involved.”

“Those are the people who can decide if it’s of historic importance, right?”

“Yeah,” Shenal said, looking pleased. “You’ve done your research.”

“Not really. My father’s lawyer told me.”

“Well, it’s a long process,” Shenal continued and walked deeper into the house. For lack of anything better to do, Henry followed her. “At the moment, Nell’s being taken care of in a private care home, and it’s expensive. She was worried about some hotshot developer coming in and offering to cover all her bills, and not being able to refuse the money. That’s why there’s trustees involved.”

“What is the problem, then?” he asked.

She gave him a sad smile. “Time. For everything, really. She doesn’t have much longer to live, and she knows it, and this place needs serious work or it’s going to become completely irreparable. Her father was a clever man, and he made sure that his investments were in land and property, which he saw as more stable than stocks and shares.”

“Sounds like a clever man to me.”

“He was,” Shenal agreed, leading him back through to the main hall. “There are works of art in this place that I’m sure would make money if Nell sent them to auction, but she won’t. This is all she has. It’s her own heritage, and she doesn’t want it chopped up and sold off.”

Henry sat down on the bottom step of the staircase, deciding that he didn’t care about dust, and put his face in his hands. He felt, rather than watched, Shenal sit down next to him.

“I know this must be a bit overwhelming,” she said, gently laying a hand on his shoulder.

“A bit?” he said with a laugh, then steeled himself and looked up. “Okay. What’s the deal here, then?”

“Nell wants to sign the house and all its contents and land, over to you as her heir. The conditions are that you won’t sell the house, or modify the structure of it, or build on the land until after she’s passed away. Of course, she’d prefer it if you didn’t do that at all, but she appreciates that once she’s dead she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter.”

“Is this about passing the house on to family? Or just getting back at ‘the man’?”

She chuckled lightly. “I think it’s mostly about her love for this place. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that seeing it sold off or renovated into flats would break her heart.”

“Shenal, you should probably know that I’m gay.”

He waited for her reaction. After a moment, she pressed her lips together and turned away.

“What?” he demanded.

“I sort of figured that out for myself,” she said, and he could hear the slight tone of laughter on her voice.

“Oh.”

“I don’t think Nell will mind, if you want to tell her, but it’s up to you, of course.”

“I’m just not in a position to offer her lots of children who can inherit the house from me.”

“I can tell you now, as Nell’s lawyer, that she is not going to legally tie you into something that will insist that you pass the house down to your own children and your children’s children and so on. All she wants is the right to keep her house in her old age so that she can come back here if she ever wants to. She’s not incapable of getting around. She’s just old, Henry, and sick.”

He sighed and looked up. It was something of a mistake. The ceiling, way, way above him, was painted with cherubic images. Like everything else in the house, it was awe-inspiring. Henry hadn’t quite managed to get his head around everything yet. Everything that Shenal was saying felt like all his hopes and all his fears combined. The possibility of starting his life again was hovering, right in front of his nose, and all he had to do was reach out and grab it.

“Do you want to go meet her?” Shenal asked. “Nell?”

Henry took a deep breath, considering. “Yeah.”