Junkyard Heart (A Porthkennack novel)
Tired of the London rat race and the heartbreak that comes with it, photographer Jas Manning returns to Porthkennack, the Cornish seaside town where he spent every childhood summer on his father’s farm. Resigned to year-round rain, wind, and homemade jam, he’s sorely unprepared for the impact that artsy carpenter Kim Penrose has on his heart.
Kim’s free-loving reputation precedes him, and he’s as generous with his inked-up body as he is with his time. The sex is hot, the easy friendship even better, and Jas’s time with him building his family’s new farmhouse canteen is everything Jas was missing in his empty city life.
But Kim’s carefree existence isn’t as simple as it appears. He’s worked hard to vanquish his demons and build his dreams, but the devil on his shoulder is ruthless, and when it comes to call, their happy bubble bursts like it was never there at all. The canteen opening looms, but Kim is gone in more ways than one, and it’s down to Jas to shore up Kim’s soul and convince him that he deserves his place in Jas’s heart.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Fuck. My. Life.
Tie-dye, chickpeas, and hessian. I scowled at the wigwams and peace signs and wondered how the hell I’d ended up at a bloody hippie love-in at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
You know how.
My gaze fell on the broad shoulders of my favourite brother, and I suppressed a heavy sigh. Gaz had assumed I’d have nothing better to do than lug his junk around Porthkennack’s annual jam festival and, sadly, he’d been right.
Yeah. Fuck my life.
I picked up the bulging bag, stuffed with jars of artisan preserves, pickles, and condiments, and wove my way through the crowds of crusties. Gaz was manning a stall at the back of the food tent, which was in the next field over, and about as far from the festival’s entrance as possible.
Not impressed, Gaz. Not impressed.
Like he gave a shit. His mile-wide grin when I finally caught up with him confirmed that he didn’t much care that I’d dragged my hungover arse out of bed to be his bitch. “Over there, mate,” he said with a wink. “Then you can help me here. Nicky’s gone for breakfast.”
“Are you taking the piss?” I dumped the bag at his feet. “I’m not staying. I only brought these because Ma bribed me with a fry-up.”
Gaz rolled his eyes. “You’re such a mummy’s boy. At least stick around for a bit, show me some love.”
“What do you need my love for?” I glanced pointedly at the Free Hugs sign attached to the pork pie stall a few metres away. “There’s plenty to go round.”
Gaz looked like he wanted to call me worse, but a potential customer distracted him, and he was soon happily diverted, plying them with my stepmother’s scones, smothered in his signature rhubarb jam. Only Gaz could make WI-style jam and chutney cool. With his funky glasses and scruffy beard, he was the epitome of the trailblazing yuppie hipsters I’d moved back from London to escape. Yeah, and the rest. The image of my ex cosying up to his beautiful wife flashed into my mind. I pushed it away. Fuck that shit. It had been six months. I was over it . . . honest.
“Oi, dickhead.” Gaz nudged me. I’d missed him handing the reins to our middle brother, Nicky, and invading my personal space. “What are you up to for the rest of the day?”
“Hmm? Oh, I’ve got a job on tonight. Band gig in Bude.”
“That’s good.” Gaz seemed thoughtful, which was always dangerous. “I meant other than work, though. Seriously, Jas. You need to get out more. Eat, drink, get laid.”
“I got drunk last night, thanks very much.” I left out the part where I’d been home alone.
Gaz ribbed me a little longer before I escaped under the pretence of having a look around, though the smirk he bestowed on me—and the dead arm that came with it—left me in no doubt that he’d seen through my bullshit. Not that I cared. This was my time to not give a crap. As a child, I’d spent most of my school holidays following my dad around these stupid festivals and watching him flog the tiny onions he pickled in the derelict barn on the family farm. But I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I didn’t have the patience for this bollocks.
I wandered out of the food tent and bought a pint from the beer stand. It appeared that I was their first customer, but I didn’t care much about that either. Who cared if it was barely 11 a.m.? Not me, but despite my best attempt at disinterest, a few things caught my eye as I drifted through the farm hosting the festival: a besom broom maker, and a teenaged girl weaving a rug from rags. Behind a bee skep stall, a band, The Mocking Horses, were warming up on a small stage. I was intrigued by their collection of weird and wonderful drums—and the odd smell that lingered around them—but nothing held my attention until I came to an eco-furniture stall in a quiet-ish corner of the second field.
Nonplussed, I stared at a wardrobe that looked like it had walked out of the Laura Ashley catalogue. What the fuck was so eco-friendly about that? It took me far too long to realise it had been crafted entirely from disused warehouse pallets. Bloody hell. I circled the wardrobe, studying it from every angle, and tried to find something to feed my inner cynic. Failed. The wardrobe was imperfectly perfect, like every other piece of furniture dotted around the sun-faded grass: a bed built from stripped tree trunks; a sofa from old tractor tyres; and, my new favourite, a pool table built into the upturned hull of a vintage fishing boat.
The boat was fascinating. My hands itched for my camera, but I’d left it at home. Instead, I retrieved my iPhone from my pocket and crouched to get a decent shot of the boat, trying to capture all its magical elements. I was on my third attempt when a low chuckle startled me.
“Got a thing for rust, mate?”
I glanced up, squinting in the sunlight. The soft Cornish accent sounded old, but as the haze of the sun cleared, I found it belonged to one of the hottest blokes I’d ever seen in real life. With his dark windswept hair, scruffy jawline, and inked skin, he looked like a rock star—a skinny one, though he wore his slenderness like a dream.
“Erm . . .” I scrambled to my feet and was instantly lost in an amused set of warm green eyes. “Actually, I do like the rust. The piece would be gimmicky if they’d cleaned the boat up too much.”
“Yeah, like those mirrors you get with seashells around them.” I deleted two of my three shots, hyperaware of Hot Bloke still watching. “Or all that fake shabby chic shit you see on the high street.”
Hot Bloke laughed. “I don’t spend much time on the high street. Here, come and have a butcher’s at this.”
He gave my arm a tug that sent shock waves through me, but before I could recover, I was transfixed by a rejuvenated slab of an old wooden printing press, framed in dark-brown oak. It was mesmerising. “Damn,” I said, as much to myself as my mystery companion. “That’s beautiful.”
“Do you think so? I only finished it last night.”
“Finished it? This is your work?”
Hot Bloke shrugged and held out his hand. “Yep. All mine. Kim Penrose. Pleased to meet you.”
“Jas Manning.” I shook his hand. “Nice to meet you too.”
“Jas? As in, Jason?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, that would be ‘Jase,’ not ‘Jas,’ wouldn’t it? It’s Jasper, actually, but don’t even think about pulling a Brummie accent on me. I’ve heard all the carrot jokes in the world.”
That earned me a grin that made the sun look pale. Kim laughed too, deep and rumbling. “Not gonna lie, if you’d been a redhead instead of them ebony curls, I might’ve tried it.”
I didn’t doubt it for a second. Hot Bloke—Kim—had a mischievous gleam in his eyes that I’d seen many times from my brothers. Not that he reminded me of Gaz or Nicky.
Fuck no. I gave myself an internal shake and gazed around at the rest of the stall’s offerings, which were complete with a work-in-progress at the very back. “So this is your stuff?”
“Aye. Never done this event before, though. We’re kinda new.”
“To the area?”
“Nah, Porthkennack born and bred. You?”
I didn’t bother to quip that if I’d grown up in Porthkennack, we’d likely have already crossed paths. Since returning to the family fold, I’d fast learned that native folk didn’t take kindly to their tight-knit community being mocked, however well-meant. “I was born here, but I grew up in London with my mum. Only just moved back. My family has been doing these festivals for years, though. There’s a lot of them around, if you like that kind of thing.”
We? I forced myself not to ask the question. Gay, straight, whatever, I’d sworn off men for good. I couldn’t help giving Kim a second once-over, though, and I bit back another sigh. Whichever way he swung, he obviously wasn’t single. And anyway, I’d finished my pint, so it was time I moved on.
I said goodbye and started to turn away. Kim caught my arm. “You never said why you were here. Do you have a stall? Or are you browsing?”
“Uh, I’m helping my brother in the food tent.”
Kim’s hand on my arm was electric. “You’ll be here all day, then?”
Looks like it.
Eventually, after explaining the family business I’d spent my whole life dodging, I tore myself away from Kim and his intriguing stall and drifted back to the food tent, though not before pulling out my phone and snapping a discreet shot of Kim’s slender back, because, damn, I couldn’t help myself.
Gaz greeted me with barely concealed surprise. “Where’ve you been? Thought you’d sloped off home.”
“Moi?” I slipped seamlessly behind the bench like I did it all the time. “Just went for a pint. Where do you need me?”
Gaz eyed me with suspicion. “How many pints did you have? Twenty?”
He relented and passed me an apron. I winced. Baby blue was so not my colour, but despite my chagrin, I still got a kick out of having the family business plastered across my torso. Belly Acre Farm. Side-splitting, eh? My dad had thought so when he’d renamed his Porthkennack farm in the seventies.
Though being tied to the resulting artisan food company sometimes felt like the bane of my life, it didn’t take long to slip into my well-practiced role of master salesman. The patter came to me like breathing, and it was well into the afternoon by the time Gaz nudged me and said, “You’ve got company, kiddo.”
I looked up from the gooseberry chutney I was relabelling on Gaz’s behalf—was it really so hard to stick the labels on the right way round?—and found myself lost once again in Kim’s eyes.
“Got time for a drink?”
“Er . . .” I glanced at Gaz, who raised an amused eyebrow before he shrugged and turned away, and cleared my throat. “Sure. Let’s go.”
I escaped the stall and fell into step beside Kim. He didn’t say anything at first, and it took me a while to notice he was staring at the apron I’d forgotten to ditch. “Don’t ask,” I warned, though I knew it was pointless.
“What’s your connection to the farm? I’ve often chuckled over the name.”
“My dad and his missus own it,” I said. “And he’s to blame for the name. He smoked a lot of weed in the seventies. Still thinks it’s hilarious.”
Kim smiled. “Nothing wrong with that. My old man wouldn’t know fun if it bit him on the arse.”
Even with the warmth of the late summer sun, the way his melodic Cornish brogue curled around arse made me shiver, and I couldn’t help wondering why he’d sought me out. Couldn’t have been my dazzling knowledge of eco-friendly food production, or my jaded enthusiasm for the enigmatic seaside town I’d readopted as my home, and despite his easy grin, Kim seemed to have one of those faces that gave nothing away.
We ambled to the beer tent. Kim bought a pint from a local microbrewery for me, and a lemonade for himself.
“I’m glad you got me ale, not cider,” I said with a shudder. “I got pissed on that scrumpy shite last weekend. Never again. Still feel rough.”
Kim chuckled. “We’ve all made that mistake. My mate’s dad used to charge us a score for six pints and a pasty. Didn’t make it past three for years.”
“Did you get the pasty when you got to number six?”
“Something like that. So, you grew up in London?”
“For my sins, yeah.” I set my pint down and glanced around. The festival had picked up after lunch, and was buzzing now. “My dad slept with my mum at a swingers’ party. She had me here, then fucked off back to London, taking me with her. I spent most summers on the farm, but I’m a city boy, really.”
“Wouldn’t know it from your jam sales pitch.”
I chuckled. “My big brothers trained me well. Said I’d end up back here eventually, so I had to learn.”
“And they weren’t wrong, eh?”
I shook my head, waiting for Kim to ask what had happened to make my brothers’ shared prophecy come true, but he didn’t. Instead, he looked over my shoulder at the band getting ready for the afternoon performances. “Is that a bassoon?”
“A what?” I followed his gaze to the stage and saw what appeared to be a mini woodwind section setting up with a folk band I’d seen a hundred times at festivals just like this one. “Wouldn’t surprise me with that lot. Crusty bloody lunatics.”
Kim shrugged. “I like their vibe, but I’m more of a Chili Peppers bloke to be honest.”
That fit with the surfer hair and leather bracelets. “You’d probably like Moon-Hot Monkey Paste, then,” I said. “They’re playing in Bude tonight.”
“I know. A bunch of us blagged tickets at the last minute.”
“Really?” My heart skipped a beat. What were the chances? MHMP were the hottest band in the southwest and tickets to their shows were like gold dust. I’d been lucky to get a press pass. “I’ve wanted to shoot them live for ages.”
“Shoot them?” Kim frowned a second before his face cleared. “Ah . . . and you finally get to tonight, eh?”
Kim stared at me for a long moment before his devilish grin split his face in half and his knee nudged mine. “Then I guess I’ll see you there.”
“Then I guess I’ll see you there . . .”
I scouted the concert venue with the words reverberating in my brain. Kim had cut and run soon after he’d uttered them, but they’d stayed with me every minute since, distracting me from the task at hand. Not that setting up at the small venue required much brainpower. I’d been shooting bands here since I was sixteen and knew every nook and cranny like the back of my hand.
Still, it had been a while. I hadn’t done much live work since I’d moved back to Porthkennack, preferring the solitude of online design contracts—websites, branding, social media—all the corporate bullshit I despised. I’d landed this job by accident after a beer-fuelled pow-wow down the boozer closest to my folk’s farm, and now I was here, the long-dormant buzz of a grungy band gig seeping into my soul.
That, and the promise of seeing Kim again, but I was trying not to think about that. The fact that we were both going to be in the same place tonight was nothing more than a coincidence—one that made my spine tingle but a coincidence nonetheless. And, though the venue was small, it was also dark, with plenty of places to hide. Chances were, we probably wouldn’t even bump into each other, and that would be just fine. It wasn’t like I was really interested in him, right?
I put the painful roil in my gut down to the copious amounts of scones and jam I’d consumed throughout my afternoon at the hippie-fest.
Lights out. Showtime. The band hit the stage, and I caught the lead singer’s opening vocal in what I hoped was the first of many epic shots.
Of course, hope was a four-letter word. Shooting bands was one of my favourite ways to earn a crust, but gigs like this, dark and smoky, were a bugger to photograph. The sensible side of me knew I’d be lucky to get ten decent shots out of every hundred, but that didn’t stop the thrill in my veins that came with embracing the job I loved.
I took a few snaps of the band head-on, then changed my lens and stepped to the side, focussing on the bass player, who had a presence I wanted to capture. With her lustrous hair and milky skin, this chick was entrancing. She owned the stage, and I got a little lost in her until a change in tempo roused me. The band slid seamlessly from a stomping anthem into something gentler in cadence, and I moved on.
The band played through their set as I shot the stage from every possible angle, and then headed upstairs to the balcony to get an aerial view. On my way, I took in the crowd and the electric atmosphere. I knew the band’s drummer from the summers I’d spent in Porthkennack, and dug the EPs he’d sent me over the past few years, but I’d never seen them live, which I regretted now that I saw how awesome they were. The grungy bass and funky guitars made me almost wish I’d left my camera at home, that I was rocking out in the mosh pit with the hard-core fans, then I caught the redheaded chick in a shot that made my night, and everything was as it should be.
The gig flew by. I filled one memory card and was halfway through a second when a hand on my shoulder blasted my tunnel vision. I jumped a mile, half stumbled out of my crouch, and collided face-first with a hard, wood-scented chest.
“Shit.” And thank fuck for neck straps. I’d dropped cameras before, and there was nothing more depressing than seeing an expensive Canon smashed on the ground.
Strong hands steadied me. “Sorry, mate. Didn’t mean to scare ya.”
Kim. Of course it was. As his melodic brogue reached me, even over the pounding music, I let myself imagine that I’d recognise it anywhere.
Idiot. I got my bearings and tried to let my sensible inner voice calm me into someone remotely like the cool dude I liked to kid myself I could be. Trouble was, I wasn’t cool, never had been, and I met Kim’s twinkling gaze with a noise that was suspiciously like a giggle. Nice one, numbnuts.
Kim appeared unfazed, though he waited until I’d gathered my equilibrium, then offered me a beer. “Cheeky one on the job?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I took the bottle and downed half of it in one go. “Cheers. It’s fucking boiling up here.”
“Yeah, I thought you looked a little parched.” Kim drank from a bottle of water with a smirk that made me forget about the camera around my neck and the band tearing up the stage below. “And happy, which makes sense.”
“Aye. No offence, but I could tell the jam shit wasn’t your bag. Had you pegged for an artist . . . a designer, or a sculptor maybe, when I first saw you, but the camera fits. It suits you.”
“Suits me?” In the back of my mind, I was aware how thick I was likely coming across, but my ability to string a sentence together seemed to evaporate more with every second I stared at Kim, at his messy hair and warm eyes, at the artfully tatty T-shirt stretched across his lean chest. Dear God, he was something else.
Kim chuckled. “Trust me. I’ve been watching you dart about this place since I got here, and it’s probably the coolest shit I’ve ever seen. Last photo I took, I chopped my pa’s head off.”
I didn’t see how that made me cool, but I took the compliment. Coming from Kim, it felt more sincere than anything I’d heard in a while. “Trust me, there’ll be plenty of shots where I’ve decapitated people. Shit happens.”
Kim smiled, but said nothing as I refocussed and snapped the last few angles I’d had on my list. When I was done, I half expected him to be gone, but found him behind me again. “So this is what you do?” he asked.
“Some days.” I reclaimed my now-warm beer and took a healthy swig. “When I’m lucky.”
“What do you do the rest of the time?”
“Editing, some design work. Anything that keeps me out of trouble.”
“Trouble? You don’t look the type.”
Kim leaned closer, eyebrow raised. I absorbed the scent of fresh-cut wood, and covered the dizzying effect it had on me with a snort. “Tell that to my stepmum. Everyone always told her my brother Gaz would give her the most grief, but I smashed that shit out of the water.”
“Yeah?” I studied Kim, tried to gauge if his bright eyes and open stance were really the flirtation I wanted them to be. “What do you want to know?”
Okay. My brain failed me for a moment. Most of my anecdotes from the past involved heavy drinking and the hooliganism that inevitably followed, but I had other stories too, tales of being caught with my pants down by my elderly grandmother, furtively exploring the anatomy of the summer help from the neighbouring farm. Did Kim seriously want to hear those? The rational voice inside me said no, until Kim edged closer, his thigh touched mine, his wayward hair brushed my cheek, and the air shifted.
“I’ve been watching you all night,” he said.
“Really?” I swallowed thickly. “What did you see?”
“Enough for what?”
“Enough to know that I want to see more.”
I tightened my grip on my beer bottle. Felt the warmth of the glass seep into my palm. “Like what?”
In answer, Kim plucked the bottle from my hand and set it on a nearby ledge. “Everything.”
We pushed our way through the crowded venue. Kim’s hand was hot at the base of my spine, and I felt him behind me with every nerve in my body. It crossed my mind to make for the nearest exit, catch a cab back to my Porthkennack flat, and screw his brains out in the comfort of my bedroom, but I couldn’t wait.
I led him downstairs and backstage. Around us, the band’s road crew were hard at work, packing up equipment and untangling wires, but they paid us no heed as we slipped past them to the storage rooms below the performance area. I tried one door, then another, and another, until I found the prop room I was looking for—the only room that locked from the inside.
Kim kicked the door shut behind us. We stared at each other. Above us, the thudding bass of the show’s after-party kept tempo with the blood rushing in my ears, and then Kim moved—a blur in the dim light—and pinned me against the door, and the surrounding noise dulled to a low roar.
It had been months since I’d kissed someone. I’d had a few fucks since my life had imploded, but they’d been just that—fucks—no kissing or lingering eye contact. No connection. Nothing like the heat that sluiced through me the moment Kim’s lips touched mine.
I fell into his kiss with a crazed hunger that he matched with every clash of teeth and plundering swipe of his tongue. Lips, jaw, neck. I shoved my hand into his silk-soft hair and tugged as he bit down on my collarbone.
“Fuck.” I threw my head back.
Kim pressed himself against me, his hard, sinuous muscles digging into my bones. “I’ve been thinking about this all day.”
I couldn’t deny I’d done the same. I slid my hands under his T-shirt and roamed the smooth skin of his back. “Yeah? What else did we do in your dirty daydreams?”
Kim dropped to his knees and unbuckled my belt. “This.”
My head hit the door with a dull thud. Kim yanked my jeans down, then my boxers, and shot me an evil smirk as my dick sprang loose, giving away how much I wanted his mouth on me. “Do it,” I whispered. “Show me.”
Kim closed his lips around my cock and sucked me down deep. He moaned around me and met my gaze with a dark stare that made my knees tremble as I clenched my fists. Fuck, it felt good. I couldn’t recall the last decent blowjob I’d had, and certainly none in recent memory held a candle to what Kim was doing to me.
I groaned, glad I’d had the foresight to hustle him to a place no one but him would hear me. The last time I’d been down here had been to gather wooden farm animals for my brother Nicky’s A-level drama production. In a distant place in my mind, it felt comforting to know nothing had changed here in the decade since.
A shift in pace brought me back to the present. Kim had slowed his movements and tugged my balls, and now he pulled off with a wet slurp. “I want to fuck you.”
My heart raced. I hadn’t been with anyone for a while, but it had been even longer since I’d last bottomed. Rich—my ex—had been a totally inflexible top, and I’d been through a phase of rebellion when we’d finally split for good, fucking anyone who’d been willing. It had been cold and clinical—getting off, then getting gone. I’d sworn I’d never go back to how it had been with Rich . . . never give myself to anyone like that, body, mind, soul, whatever. But the vow escaped my conscious thought as I fumbled for my wallet. I wanted Kim. Wanted him all over me, inside me, deep and brutal. I wanted him now.
I pushed a condom and a sachet of lube into his hands. “Do it.”
“Fuck yeah.” In case he needed convincing, I turned, placed my palms flat on the door, and widened my stance. For an aching moment, nothing happened. Then I heard the zipper on Kim’s jeans and the tear of the condom wrapper, and I closed my eyes.
Kim made short work of getting me ready. It had been a while for me, but he seemed to sense that I didn’t need a gentle touch, that I craved the burn and stretch of his dick inside me.
He withdrew his fingers and pressed the blunt head of his cock against my hole. My eyes watered. He felt big, really big, and my body resisted, fought him, until he slipped past the mutinous muscle and slid home, slow and smooth, like we’d done this a thousand times over.
I panted out short, sharp breaths. Heat flooded my face and sweat trickled down my back. It hurt, but, fuck, it was good—better than good. I’d forgotten how the push and pull of a man’s cock inside me could be so consuming.
Kim pressed in until he could go no further. Then he rubbed my back and squeezed my shoulder. “Okay?”
“Yeah.” It came out as a strangled groan, but the sentiment apparently reached Kim all the same. He dug his nails into the sensitive flesh above my hip bone, and withdrew enough so he could slam back in with a jarring thrust that drove the breath from my lungs.
He growled and did it again, and again, setting a rhythm that erased all coherent thought from my mind. The dark, dusty storeroom and the noise from above faded away, and my world narrowed to the brutal dig of his cock, and his gravelly grunts and groans.
Damn, he was good at this. I almost wished that I could see him, watch his muscles bunch and constrict, absorb the snarl I imagined his full lips forming with every thrust of his hips, but there was something about getting fucked from behind, raw and rough, hands on the peeling paint of a door, or the cool concrete of an industrial wall. Something primal, and sordid, in all the right ways.
Shame it wasn’t going to last for long.
Kim leaned over me and bit my shoulder blade. I cried out, and the first stirrings of orgasm burned in my belly. I found my dick and matched Kim’s movements as my eyes rolled, and my sweaty hand slipped on the door.
I gasped. “You’re gonna make me come.”
“Shit, yeah. Do it. I’m close.”
Kim pulsed and swelled inside me. The sensation blew my mind, and my balls tightened to that painful point of thrilling agony, those dragged-out moments before coming when I was sure that I’d combust before I shot my load. “Harder.”
“Jesus.” Kim pulled on my hips and shoved my head down with his other hand, bending me in half. The change in angle led his cock to that magic bundle of nerves that made me scream. I buried my face in the crook of my elbow and came like a motherfucking train.
“Oh God, fuck.” I shuddered and spilled into my hand. It felt like it would never stop. Behind me, I was dimly aware of Kim growling out a few choice words of his own, too lost in the shot of warmth soothing me from the inside out, and the crashing rush of the hottest climax I’d had in years.
It seemed like I’d just blinked, and then Kim was easing out of me and gently coaxing me upright. He kissed the back of my neck and smoothed my sweat-damped hair out of my eyes. “All right?”
I moaned, better than all right, but incapable of intelligible speech. Kim chuckled and fumbled around. Fabric touched my hand, my back, and my legs, cleaning me up, then he spun me and pressed his forehead to mine.
“Your daydreams next time, eh?”
“Next time . . .”
Fuck’s sake. If there was one thing worse than editing reams of photos, it was editing them when my mind was elsewhere, like the weather, the lunch I’d forgotten to eat, or the crazy-hot fuck I’d had at the weekend. Next time. Yeah. Nice theory. Shame Kim and I had stumbled out of the gig venue, dazed and slightly awkward, without figuring when—or if—that would really happen. I’d been halfway home before I realised we hadn’t even exchanged numbers, an oversight that was bothering me more than I cared to admit.
Irritated, I glared at my computer screen. In my distraction I’d thrown a random textured filter over the current image I was working on, instead of reducing the background noise. I sighed and undid the action. The statuesque chick from Moon-Hot Monkey Paste was rocking the film grain, but it would probably take every trick in the book to make her look bad. The woman was beautiful.
I worked on the gig shots for most of the afternoon. The redhead caught my eye several times, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I spent most of my time scanning the crowd shots for Kim and his wild mop of dark hair. His lean shoulders and arresting smile. The venue had been dark and smoky, but Kim possessed a grin that brightened any room he walked into . . . in my head, at least. The only room I’d taken him into had been a fucking broom cupboard.
It was early evening by the time my phone pulled me out of my editing-induced coma. I glanced at the screen, saw my stepmother staring back at me, and scowled. Fucking Gaz setting her up on FaceTime. There was no escaping her now. With that in mind, I accepted the call, since it was safer than risking her showing up on my doorstep.
And obviously she asked me if I was all right. She always did, and my answer was always the same.
“Course I am.” I hauled myself off the sofa and stretched out the kinks in my spine. “Did you need me for something?”
“Dinner,” she said. “Your brothers are coming. I thought it would be nice if you joined us too.”
I rolled my eyes, glad I had my face turned away from the screen. Of course my darling brothers were home for dinner. They both lived in cottages on the bloody farm. It was only me, the perpetual black sheep, who refused to reside any further into the family bosom. “I dunno. Do you mean tonight? I’ve got a load of work still to do.”
“You can take a break, can’t you? Come on, Jasper. We haven’t seen you all week.”
I refrained from pointing out that I’d seen her for breakfast five days ago, and had spent the whole of my Saturday at that stupid crusty festival. Such logic would be lost on my wonderful stepmother. If she wanted me home for dinner, I’d be home for dinner. It was easier that way. Besides, I hadn’t looked in my fridge for days, preferring the company of my coffee machine and the bottle of Grouse I kept in my living room. Thursday night was pie night on the farm, and now I thought about it, there wasn’t much I wanted more.
Except a rematch with Kim.
“Jasper . . .”
I let my stepmum drown out the voice in my head and searched the detritus around me for some jeans. “All right, all right, I’m coming. I’ll be there in a bit, okay?”
“Seven o’clock,” she retorted. “Don’t be late, or your dad will have you out on feed duty.”