Spun! (A Shamwell Tales novel)

Spun! by JL Merrow
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-588-3
eBook release: 
Jul 3, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-589-0
Print release: 
Jul 3, 2017
Word count: 
83,700
Page count: 
328
Type: 
Cover by: 
Audio release: 
Nov 29, 2017

This title is part of the Shamwell Tales universe.

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With friends like these . . .

An ill-advised encounter at the office party leaves David Greenlake jobless and homeless in one heady weekend. But he quickly begs work from his ex-boss and takes a room in Shamwell with easygoing postman Rory Deamer. David doesn’t mean to flirt with the recently divorced Rory—just like he doesn’t consciously decide to breathe. After all, Rory’s far too nice for him. And far too straight.
 
Rory finds his new lodger surprisingly fun to be with, and what’s more, David is a hit with Rory’s troubled children. But while Rory’s world may have turned upside down in the last few years, there’s one thing he’s sure of: he’s straight as a die. So he can’t be falling for David . . . can he?

Their friends and family think they know all the answers, and David’s office party hookup has his own plans for romance. Rory and David need to make up their minds and take a stand for what they really want—or their love could be over before it’s even begun.

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One – The End, Part One

David leaned on the balcony, gazing out over his boss Charles’s unimaginatively landscaped garden, its edges softened by the relentless drizzle that had made a washout of the firm’s annual garden party. He sighed. If the tops of the boxwood hedges had been clipped to resemble not bizarrely deformed peacocks and unappetising Turkey Twizzlers but instead the letters e, n, n, u, and i, they’d have summed up his mood to a redundant t.

He turned to glance tipsily at the man beside him—someone he’d never seen before, so it was probably safe to go for a touch of candour. “God, this party is dull. This house is dull. Life is dull, dull, dull.” He raised his champagne flute to knock back the contents, and pouted to find he’d already done so.

“Let me,” a deliciously cultured voice purred in his ear.

David blinked at the champagne bottle now hovering over his glass, courtesy of his unknown companion. “I thought we were on the cheap stuff?”

“Not if you happen to know where Charles keeps the decent bottles.” The stand-in sommelier tapped his nose in an impressive display of coordination, and David made an effort to focus on him. “I’m Xav, by the way.”

Xav—my xaviour, David’s inner damsel gushed—was tall and lean, with artfully floppy grey hair and a pair of roguish green eyes that twinkled with promise. There was insouciance in his very stance.

Suddenly David’s insides were fizzing, and it couldn’t entirely be attributed to the bubbly. “David,” he breathed. “But you can call me Davey. So how is it you know all of Charles’s most intimate secrets?”

Xav leaned closer. “I could tell you, David . . .”

“But then you’d have to eat me?” David finished for him in hope.

“Oh, I’m planning on doing that in any event,” Xav murmured. “But in fact it’s frightfully banal. Charles is my brother-in-law.”

David barely had time to reflect what a marvellous thing it was that siblings could be so completely unalike as Xav and Charles’s wife, Traute, before Xav continued, “Now, I think that’s enough chitchat, don’t you?”

David found himself seized and kissed to within an inch of his sanity. After that, matters soon came to, well, a head, and David was on his knees, willingly sucking down Xav’s sizeable manhood.

Then the curtains, which had at some point closed behind them, were flung open. There was a shrill cry of “Xavier!” followed by a hand which clapped David’s shoulder with bruising force and yanked him away from his task.

Oops. David twisted and came face-to-face with his employer, who was visibly quivering with ire.

Charles’s complexion, never precisely dewy, was now livid puce. “You disgusting little fairy. What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at?”

David wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, but before he could speak, Xav, who’d zipped up with impressive and, dare one say it, practiced speed, was striding past him towards a tall, elegantly trousered woman who bore a marked resemblance to Charles’s wife.

“Marthe, darling, I’m so sorry. I think I may have had a little too much to drink. I don’t know how this can have happened . . .” Xav waved a graceful—and dismissive—hand in David’s direction.

Marthe’s lip curled as she looked down her stately nose at David, then softened as she turned back to Xav. “Poor darling. I’ll get you some coffee.”

David blinked at them.

Ah. Not the wife’s brother. The wife’s sister’s husband. Language, he felt rather strongly, really ought to be more precise about such things. He clambered to his feet. “Bit of a misunderstanding, there,” he started with a nervous laugh.

Charles looked like a stroke was an imminent possibility. “Get out of my house,” he said icily. “And don’t bother coming in to work on Monday. You’re fired. If I ever see you again, I’ll set the bloody dogs on you.”

David wove his unsteady way out of the room, to the accompaniment of shocked whispers, muttered censure, and Xav’s protestations of undying love to his spouse.

On the whole, he’d liked the party better when it had been dull.

 

Chapter Two – The End, Part Two

Rory took in Jenni’s folded arms and narrowed eyes. He wasn’t great on body language and all that guff, but he reckoned she might be mad at him again. “All right, love?” he asked warily.

“Let’s see, shall we? Do I have a wedding to go to tomorrow? Yes, I do. Have I got my hat sorted, and the matching handbag and shoes? Yep, all present and correct. Have I got my frock, the one what you promised on your mother’s life to pick up from the dry cleaner’s tonight, cos there won’t be time to go in tomorrow before we have to drive up to Sheffield?” She paused and tapped her foot while Rory’s stomach did its best to make for safety in Australia. “Well, have I? Cos if it’s in your pocket, all I can say is it’s shrunk in the bleedin’ wash.”

Shit. Shit, shit, shit, and . . . shit. “I’m sorry, Jen. See, Barry called me up and said he was having major stress at work and could I meet him for a pint. And I was gonna get the dress, honest I was, but, um. I just forgot. Sorry.” He tried to radiate sincere regret, but had a nasty suspicion he was just making that face his ex-wife Evie had always said looked like a constipated hamster.

Jen’s expression softened, and for a moment there, Rory thought he was going to get away with it. Then she spoke. “Oh, love. It’s not gonna work.”

“You mean picking it up tomorrow?”

“No, I mean this. You. Me. Us.”

Oh, buggering shit. “I’ll make it up to you, I swear. I’ll buy you a new dress. Like, a really posh one. And I’ll . . . do all the dishes for a month. And the cooking.” Rory wanted to cross his fingers, but that’d look well daft, so he crossed his toes instead, cos she couldn’t see them inside his shoes.

Except he’d taken his shoes off when he came in, hadn’t he?

Oops.

“What, you? Cook? That’s adding injury to insult, that is.” Jenni smiled, but it was twisted. “It’s not just the dress. It’s all the other stuff too. What about that time we was supposed to be going out for the day with my Patrick and his Mark, and you ended up blowing me off when Barry got in a paddy over his wife’s birthday present?”

“You said you didn’t mind. You said it was all right, cos it wasn’t like you’d be on your own.”

“Well, of course I said that. I didn’t want to make you feel bad about it. I mean, he is your best mate. And if it’d only been that one time . . . but it wasn’t, was it? There’s been meals out we booked and had to cancel, and all them nights I’ve ended up on the sofa on me lonesome when you promised me we’d have an evening in together. And I grant you, some of them times was cos you had your kids over unexpected, and I’d never grudge you that, but a lot of them wasn’t. Rory, love, I need a bloke I can rely on. All I can rely on you to do is to drop everything and go running as soon as Barry crooks his little finger in your direction.”

“But—”

“No. I’ve made up my mind.” She unfolded her arms and stepped forward to give Rory a hug. Her familiar clean scent, a mix of coconut body butter and hospital disinfectant, flooded his nose one last time.

Funny how it’d never made his eyes water until now.

“You’ll be fine, love,” she went on. “It’s not like when your ex left you for that bloke and everyone knew she’d been messing around on you. This is just us accepting it’s not gonna work. And you don’t need to worry I’ll be doing you down to half the village like she did, neither. I’ll tell everyone this was a mutual decision, yeah? That we realised we didn’t have as much in common as we’d thought.”

Rory nodded and forced a smile as they stepped apart. “Course. Um. What about tomorrow? You still want me to come?”

“What, as my plus one to a wedding the day after we split up? I’m not that much of a cow. No, I’ll go on my own, and you can have your Saturday watching the sport with Barry like you always wanted anyway.”

Well, there was that. Rory tried to console himself with the prospect of a lads’ day of beer and telly as he made his lonely way back to his house on Pig Lane.

It didn’t seem to be working very well.

 

Chapter Three – The Beginning

Three weeks after the Garden Party of Doom, David checked his reflection in the full-length mirror in Ryan and Samir’s bedroom. Technically, the room was supposed to be off-limits to him while he camped out on their sofa under a spare blanket and a large amount of sufferance on Samir’s part—honestly, David might have had a bit of a tendresse for Ryan back when Ryan and Samir were first getting coupled up, but that didn’t mean he had designs on him now—but he felt sure they’d have agreed, had they been here, that this was an emergency.

After all, wasn’t this about getting him out of their hair? Figuratively speaking, as both had, with encroaching baldness, embraced the fully shaven look. Their heads, seen over the back of the sofa, now resembled nothing so much as a couple of ethnically diverse hen’s eggs snuggled up for warmth.

That comment hadn’t gone down at all well. Hence, today’s mission. And the mirror.

Not too bad, even if he did say so himself. His tailored shirt clung in all the right places—not, in David’s considered opinion, that there were actually any wrong places for a little clinging to occur. It emphasised his trim waist and made him seem at least six inches taller, while its deep-purple colour set off his pale complexion and dark hair beautifully. His super-skinny black jeans added a casual note, and not incidentally clove lovingly to what had more than once been described as a pair of rather finely sculpted buttocks. Hmm. Should he add a belt? Perhaps the one with the large silver buckle that drew attention to certain other assets?

“What do you think, Gregory?” he mused aloud. “To flaunt, or not to flaunt, that is the question.”

Gregory, being a teddy bear of very little voice, said nothing.

“I think not,” David said decisively.

He frowned at Gregory, who was perched on Ryan and Samir’s bed. This was perfectly allowable; the prohibition had only been regarding David laying a finger on their specially imported Tom of Finland duvet cover. He’d therefore felt nary a qualm in placing Gregory strategically on one bulging, denim-clad crotch. When you were a teddy bear, you had to take your thrills where you could find them.

“Don’t look at me like that. There are, believe it or not, times when discretion really is the better part of valour. And I’m almost positive that turning up at the house of your ex-crush and his current boyfriend to beg a favour is one of them.” Samir’s lukewarm reception had, David felt uncomfortably sure, been merely a pale reflection of the antagonism he was likely to encounter from Patrick upon arriving at his and Mark’s rural idyll.

Gregory’s glassy-eyed stare seemed to show a certain cynicism.

“I said ex-crush, and I meant ex-crush. Ex, ex, ex. Oh, bugger it. Now you’ve made me think of Xavier. And look at you—you’re not even ready to go yet.” David retrieved Gregory from his place in 1970s gay heaven, and marched out of the bedroom, pausing at the door to check no trace of his penetration into Ryan and Samir’s inner sanctum remained.

Then he took the tiny deerstalker from its temporary home on the living room mantelpiece and fastened it securely onto Gregory’s head with the attached elastic. “There. You’re a perfect little classic Holmes. Try not to have an identity crisis.”

Now, to drive or not to drive? Hmm. Although it was a crying shame to leave Mrs. Merdle, his lovely sunset-orange MG GS—bought, with exquisite irony, mere weeks before he’d lost his job—languishing in her garage, David instinctively felt that turning up, metaphorical cap in hand, at the wheel of a brand-new car wouldn’t be the best way to get results. Public transport it was, then. Not without some difficulty, he slid his Oyster card into his back pocket.

Still, David rather liked travelling by Underground. True, it was death to any kind of grooming—particularly the Northern Line, which always left him feeling as if he’d indulged in a bit of rough trade in an abandoned coal bunker and then spritzed lightly with eau de burnt diesel—but you saw such fascinating people on the Tube. And people always seemed so interested in him, particularly whenever he took Gregory along for the ride.

Today was no exception. By the time he’d made his way across town to St. Pancras, David had starred in three strangers’ selfies, had four people compliment him on his teddy bear, and fended off a couple of queries as to where the Sherlock fan convention was taking place.

All in all, David was in a fabulous mood as he wandered through the station. St. Pancras was his favourite station too, with its high arched roof, its bright shopping arcade, and its street pianos. There was a music student—at least, he looked like a student, with his un-ironed shirt and vitamin-deprived pallor—pounding out something stolid and Russian-sounding on the piano just past Eurostar arrivals. A couple of Japanese tourists, or possibly his proud parents, were taking photos of him.

David smiled fondly and strolled on. There was a second piano farther down the main concourse, out of earshot of the first. On a whim, David set Gregory atop its scarred wooden frame and sat down to give a spirited, if slightly rusty, rendition of Danse Macabre, just to confuse people. When he glanced up at the end, quite a crowd had gathered, and the Japanese couple were now taking pictures of him.

So probably not maybe-a-music-student’s parents. Either that or family relations were about to get a tad strained.

The journey out to Bishops Langley was boringly uneventful, although David did have an interesting philosophical discussion with a four-year-old as to whether grown-ups were allowed to have teddy bears.

“I’m so sorry about that,” the mother said, fussing with her son’s collar as David rose to get off the train. “I hope he wasn’t bothering you too much.”

“Oh, no.” David beamed at the little family. “Future politician in the making.” From the over-reliance on “My daddy says” in his arguments, he’d undoubtedly be a Tory, but one couldn’t have everything.

A taxi took him the short distance from Bishops Langley to Shamwell, and before he knew it, David was knocking on Mark’s door.

The first hint that things might not all go his way today came when the door opened to reveal, not Mark, but Patrick, his current lover. Or, as Patrick himself would no doubt put it, Mark’s lover, period, but David was of the hope-springs-eternal persuasion when it came to attractive older men.

“Oh. It’s you,” Patrick said flatly.

The frosty welcome was, David felt, unfair. Patrick had been the one who’d got the guy, after all. Where was his magnanimity in victory? David beamed resolutely. “Can Mark come out to play?”

Patrick heaved a sigh. “Mark?” he yelled in the direction of the stairs.

There was the indistinct sound of Mark’s voice.

“He’ll be down in a minute. Coffee?”

“That would be lovely. The little moppet tells me you’ve moved in here now,” David added, perhaps a tiny bit pointedly, as he followed his reluctant host into the living room. Patrick might have won in love, but David was still persona tres grata in Fen’s life. He set Gregory down on the sofa and straightened his deerstalker.

“All going well?” he asked, scanning the room surreptitiously for signs of Patrick’s invading presence. Was that a new throw on the armchair? There was definitely a new games console by the television. At least Patrick hadn’t stooped to marking his territory with loved-up photos of him and Mark in blissful coupledom on the mantelpiece . . . Ah, there they were. On the bookshelf.

“Yeah. Fine.” Patrick ran a hand over his hair, throwing a glance over to the stairs. “Fen’s out with her boyfriend right now.”

“That’s a shame. That they’re out, that is. Not about the boyfriend. Ollie seems like a charming young man, from what I’ve seen. And what Fen tells me in her frequent phone calls, of course. Still, we can have a cosy little threesome.” David’s cheeks were beginning to ache from all this determined smiling. Which was rather unfair seeing as Patrick wasn’t even trying.

Patrick shook himself minutely. “I’ll go put the kettle on.”

David sighed and joined Gregory on the sofa. He steadfastly avoided looking at the bookshelf with its wanton flaunting of the fact that Mark was happier without him.

Mark’s welcome, when he finally appeared, was infinitely better than his lover’s had been. He was dressed in new-looking jeans and a shirt David wouldn’t personally have worn had the alternative been a bondage harness and leather chaps at a meeting of the Westboro Baptist Church. Apparently Patrick had failed to exert a positive influence on Mark’s clothing choices. David mourned for the lost opportunity to take the man in hand. So to speak.

“David, how are you?” Mark held out his arms to give David a much-needed hug. “I’ve been meaning to get in touch. I hear you’re, ah, job hunting?”

David reluctantly pulled back from Mark’s embrace and allowed his face to fall into tragic lines. “It’s true. Charles and I have parted ways. Some things just cannot be endured. I was deaf to his pleading—”

Mark fixed him with a stern look. “Strange that. I happened to meet up with him for drinks the other day, and he told me he’d fired you for sexual misconduct.”

“Sexual misconduct? I like that!” David puffed up his chest.

“So I’ve heard.”

“That was not what it was like at all.” David pouted, deflating. “How was I supposed to know the cock I was sucking belonged to another woman? It didn’t have a ring on it. If you ask me, I’m the victim in all this.”

“From what I’ve heard, you might have a case for unfair dismissal.” Patrick, who’d appeared behind Mark, said it as though the words were being pulled from him along with his fingernails.

But he’d said it. Touched, David beamed at him. “I knew you liked me really.”

“Yeah, don’t push it.”

“Are you interested in pursuing that?” Mark asked. “Do sit down, by the way.”

They sat, David back on the sofa with Gregory, and Mark on the armchair with Patrick’s throw. Patrick remained standing, rather pointedly, in David’s opinion.

“I should probably say at once,” Mark continued, “I feel something of a conflict of interest. While I certainly don’t condone Charles’s behaviour, I have tried to stay on friendly terms with him.”

David put on a glum expression. Not only was it rather restful after all that manic smiling at Patrick, it also reflected his current mood much more closely. “Tell me honestly, do you think it’d be worth it? I suppose a payout might be nice, but what if it all goes horribly wrong and I end up owing thousands of pounds of legal costs? Or worse, having to go back to work for Charles? No, I think I’m going to have to take this one on the fine-boned yet masculine chin. I did wonder, though . . . Fen tells me you’re starting a business?”

“Yes, that’s right. Accountancy and tax services, but with a focus on small, local businesses and charitable organisations.” Mark smiled, his eyes crinkling up rather winsomely at the corners. “Going back to my roots. You see, most local organisations are run by people without an accountancy background. You wouldn’t believe how many people working for very worthy causes that would be eligible for lottery funding or other grants, don’t apply for them. Apparently they find the paperwork too daunting. It’s not simply a matter of filling in a form, you see. The organisation has to make sure their financial statements are in order and up-to-date as well.”

David did not clap his hands together in glee, but it was a close-run thing. “That sounds like a lot of work for one man,” he said slowly. “Don’t forget, you wouldn’t want to find business eating into your time with the little moppet again.” He paused and gave Mark a significant look. “Especially now she’s started going out with boys. You never can tell what might happen if you take your eye off the balls. So you know what you need?”

“Let me guess—” Patrick said dryly.

“A paperwork fairy!” David cut him off, beaming brightly at Mark in the hopes a hitherto latent talent for hypnosis would suddenly manifest itself in his hour of need. It always seemed to work in stories. “It’d be perfect—you’d have me for all the tedious drudgery, and you’d be able to concentrate on . . . on the nontedious, un-drudgey stuff.” It was a weak finish, but David couldn’t be expected to do his best work in the face of Patrick’s unsubtle glare.

“Are you sure it would work for you?” Mark sounded doubtful. “I wouldn’t be able to pay you anything like what you were getting in London. And then there’s the travel out here to consider on top of that.”

David took a deep breath. Crunch time. “As it turns out, London isn’t actually an issue. You see, I’m a teensy bit short of somewhere to live. You know I was sharing the flat with Brian, the bisexual ballet dancer? Funny story, but he’s fallen totally, hopelessly in love with one of Charles’s daughters. The eldest one, thank God, or he’d have had to change his name to Brian the bye-bye-bollocks. He’s even planning to get down on one knee to her, and not in the fun way. And apparently the whole prospect of parental approval—remember, ballet dancer—becomes a lot remoter if he’s cohabiting avec moi.”

Mark frowned. “Wouldn’t Charles be more worried about the bisexual thing? Than the ballet dancing, I mean.”

“Please. Do you know how much the corps de ballet get paid? NHS nurses look upon them with pity. Homeless people accost them on the street and ply them with spare change and out-of-date sandwiches. Besides, give Bri-bri some credit. He’s hardly going to be waving his bisexual thing in dear old Charles’s face, no matter how fetching the colours on the flag.”

“If he’s that hard up, how’s he going to manage the rent if you go?”

David shrugged. “Meh. Trust fund. Some people have all the luck.”

Mark’s frown deepened. It didn’t enhance his appearance, making him rather resemble one of those overbred dogs with an excess-skin problem. Maybe David should suggest Botox? A teensy nip and tuck? Although possibly not at this precise moment. “Doesn’t that render the whole low-pay question moot?” Mark asked at last.

David gave Gregory a helpless look. Gregory, being literally unable to help himself, returned it. “I know you’re an accountant, but don’t you think you’re rather hung up on money?” He sighed. “In any case, the whole thing is moot as a moot hall. Whatever that is. Somewhere people gather to discuss pointless questions? He kicked me out three weeks ago, and I’ve been homeless ever since. Forced to wander the streets, begging for shelter—”

“Meaning what, exactly?” Patrick cut in, a little harshly for David’s liking.

Meaning, I’ve been camping out at a friend’s.” David sent him a hard stare. “It’s horrible.”

Patrick raised an eyebrow. “The welcome run out already?”

David suppressed a wince. Loyalty to Ryan and Samir—after all, they had helped him out in a pinch—and perhaps a smidge of embarrassed pride prevented him from letting Patrick know how close he’d come to the bone with that little riposte. “No. It’s the sofa. Far too short and entirely too lumpy.”

Patrick’s expression didn’t soften. “Have you tried checking for peas under the cushions, Princess?”

Mark coughed. “I’m sure we’d all agree it’s not an ideal situation to be in. But what do you want from us?”

David crossed mental fingers and took a deep metaphorical breath. “Well, I was thinking, what with you having more spare rooms than you can shake a feather duster at, and the little moppet et moi getting on so famously, maybe I could come and stay with you for an, ah, indeterminate period? Just until I get back on my graceful and elegantly shod feet?”

David glanced at Patrick, and his heart sank. The forecast, it seemed, was for sudden squalls followed by a sharp drop in temperature. Violent storms were not ruled out.

Mark, who’d apparently also been taking note of Patrick’s expression, turned back to David and coughed. “Ah . . .”

Time for the puppy-dog eyes. “Pleeease? They’ve told me I have to be out by the end of the month. You wouldn’t make a teddy bear homeless, would you?” David waggled Gregory at them in illustration, then had to bend down to pick up a carelessly dropped meerschaum pipe.

When he looked up again, Mark’s face was doing complex contortions reminiscent of someone with chronic constipation. “It’s just, well, given the circumstances you and Patrick met under . . .”

“But nothing was going on between us! I mean, I’d have noticed. I was right there. In front of your crotch. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Although what a mouse might have been doing in there, I hate to think.”

Patrick made a breathy noise. “So you wouldn’t only be working together, you’d be living together too?”

“But not in the biblical sense,” David stressed. “Would it help if I promise to avert my eyes every time Mark emerges from the bathroom in a skimpy towel, all hot and steamy? Or walks around in his boxers on laundry day? Or—”

“Mark, it’s your house, your decision.” Patrick turned on his heel and left the room.

Mark’s gaze tracked him helplessly. “I’m sorry, David. I don’t think it’d be a good idea. And it’d be confusing for Fen too—you know how, um, invested she got in the idea of you and me getting together a few months ago.”

David’s shoulders went all slumpy. “No, it’s fine. I wouldn’t want to be the cause of another broken home for the little moppet. Gregory and I will pack our bags and be on our way. There are plenty of hotels in London. And hostels for the homeless. And doorways, and railway bridges . . .”

“David, I’m sorry. I’d like to help, honestly I would. But don’t you have any family?”

“There’s Hen. My mother. But she lives out in darkest Kent, and I really think the commute up to Hertfordshire would be unmanageable.” David frowned, although only slightly, so as not to cause wrinkles. He sometimes felt his looks were all he had going for him these days. “You know, when I abandoned you and the little moppet to the tender mercies of your young man, I’d been picturing them as significantly more tender. Is he always this much of a grump?”

“No, God, no. You’ve just caught him on a bad day.” Mark’s smile faltered as he caught David’s searching gaze, and he went on hastily. “Patrick only found out this morning his mum’s relationship has ended, and, well, he’s a bit protective of her. Doesn’t like her to be unhappy. She said it was a mutual agreement to split, but he thinks she’s just putting on a brave face. And, you see, it was with a friend of ours, so it’s awkward all round.”

“Anyone I know?” David perked up minutely. The prospect of gossip could generally be counted upon to raise his spirits a tad, although today it was more of a micro-tad. Possibly even a pico-tad.

“I don’t think so. Rory—he’s one of the Spartans. A couple of years older than me.” Mark’s eyes widened. “Actually, there’s a thought. He lives up on Pig Lane, and I’m pretty sure he’s got a spare room. Maybe he’d be willing to have you as a lodger? I get the feeling he’d be glad of some extra money—he’s divorced, with two children.”

“Tell him how good I am with the little moppet,” David urged.

“They don’t live with him.”

“Oh. Then tell him about my stunning good looks and winning personality?”

Mark laughed. “He’s straight. Very straight.”

“A minor detail. And subject to change without notice, I’ve always found.”

“David, sex was what got you into this mess in the first place. I’d hold off on trying to seduce anyone else right now. Besides, I don’t think Patrick would be happy.”

“What wouldn’t Patrick be happy about?” said the man himself, standing in the doorway with his arms folded, the epitome of a stern, macho patriarch.

David was starting to see a glimmer of what Mark liked about him.

Mark coughed. “Oh, ah, we were talking about the possibility of David living with Rory. As a lodger,” he added a tad too quickly and with just a smidge too much emphasis.

Patrick blinked. Then he smiled what David liked to think of as an Evil Vizier smile, although it’d be equally at home on the face of a shark spying a lone swimmer who’d ventured out too far on a particularly choppy day when he also happened to be wearing swimming trunks made out of bacon. “Yeah, that’d be a solution. Why don’t you have a word with him?”

David wondered if the smile of foreboding was meant for him, or for that faithless seducer of mothers, Rory.

 

Chapter Four

Rory frowned and took another gulp of beer while he tried to get his head round it. “So this bloke you want to bung in my spare room, he’s your ex?”

They were in the Three Lions, which was a friendly, old-fashioned village pub, all warm colours and low, beamed ceilings. The sort of place you’d want to go and drink at even if it wasn’t your local, and that gave you a happy, smug feeling if it was. They had regular quiz nights and a weekly meat raffle, and if Rory came in on his own, there was nearly always someone he knew propping up the bar or watching sport on the wide-screen telly.

Mark put down his pint and shook his head emphatically, foam still clinging to his upper lip. “No, no. My ex-PA. And future business partner. Or, well, employee, really.”

“So he’s not gay, then?” Rory wondered if this bloke was divorced too, like him and Mark, and hoped if he was, he wouldn’t be the sort to go on about his ex all the time. Rory had used to go on about his ex all the time, Barry reckoned, and apparently it had got right on everyone’s tits.

Mark got a funny look in his eye. “Would it be a problem for you if he was?”

“Nah, course not.” Rory was offended Mark had asked, cos him and Mark were mates, and Mark was gay. And the same with Patrick, ’cept he kept saying he was bi, despite the fact Rory hadn’t seen him snog a girl once since he’d started going out with Mark.

“Good. Because he is.” Mark paused, as if he was gonna say something else about this gay PA bloke, but then he coughed and just said, “Same again?”

“My shout,” Rory said, cos it was, and got up to get the drinks in.

He had some time to think about it while he was standing at the bar. Not that it was all that busy in the Three Lions tonight, it being a Tuesday and there not being any footie on, but Trev, the landlord, had gone off to change a barrel and Trixie was on her own pulling pints, so he had to wait his turn.

Would it be weird living with a gay bloke? Gay blokes liked . . . musicals and stuff, didn’t they? That’d be okay. Long as he wasn’t into Les Mis. When Rory took his kids to see the stage show, he’d cried so much it’d been well embarrassing, and the film had been even worse. But yeah, he could cope with musicals on the telly every now and then. Happy ones, like Mamma Mia! or Billy Elliot.

It wasn’t like he’d ever tell Barry this, but sometimes, Rory reckoned you could watch a bit too much sport.

And there’d be the—what did they call it now?—grooming thing. Hair products in the bathroom and all that. Still, couldn’t be that different to living with a woman, could it? And Rory had liked that, when him and Evie had still been together, or the nights he’d stayed over at Jen’s. Which hadn’t been that often, seeing as Patrick had been living there most of the time they’d been going out. Bit of a passion-killer, that’d been, having a mate looking at him sideways when he’d been trying to snuggle up with his girl. It’d been nice, though, having someone who’d smelled good and had given him an excuse to watch rom-coms on the telly. Gay blokes were into that sort of film too, weren’t they?

Course, it probably wouldn’t be quite the same.

For one thing, there’d be no cuddling up on the sofa under a blanket with a bottle of plonk and a big bag of cheesy Wotsits. Rory missed that. Although he didn’t miss getting told off for getting orange fingerprints all over the blanket. Or the moaning when he wanted to watch Jonathan Creek or Star Trek instead of Strictly Come Prancing and EastEnders.

“Same again, love?” Trixie asked with a smile. She was great, Trixie was. A big, no-nonsense bleached blonde with a good set of biceps on her.

“Yeah, ta. Brock for me, and Ridgeway for me mate there.”

“Where’s your other half tonight?”

“What? Oh, you mean Barry?” Rory chuckled.

“That’s the one. Thought you and him was joined at the hip.”

“Nah, he’s on babysitting duty Tuesdays. The missus goes out to Pilates.”

Trixie gave him a look. “They his kids?”

“Well, yeah. Least, he hopes so.” Rory laughed.

“Then you can’t call it babysitting. Bet no one calls it babysitting when it’s her stuck indoors while he’s out on the piss with you.”

“S’pose not. Mind you, Evie always calls it babysitting when she wants me to have our kids for a night.”

“Yeah, but you don’t live with ’em. How are they, anyhow? Your Lucy still enjoying her football?”

Rory gave her a proud smile. “Yeah, they just started back after the summer. She got man of the match last weekend. Uh, player of the match. They won five nil, and she scored two and got the assist for another of ’em.” She hadn’t given away a single penalty or got even a yellow card, neither, which was what he reckoned their coach had really been rewarding. But there was no need to mention that.

“Bless. That it, then?” Trixie placed the pint of Ridgeway on the bar.

“Cheers, love.” Rory handed her a tenner. Easy come, easy go. Course, with this David bloke staying, he’d have a bit more coming in. Might be able to get Leo that telescope he had his little heart set on for Christmas.

Show him his old dad was still good for something and he didn’t have to ask flippin’ Lewis for all the fancy stuff.

Rory walked back to Mark, decision reached. “Right, then. When’s this bloke of yours want to move in?”

Mark’s eyebrows shot up. “Don’t you want to meet him first? Make sure you’ll get along?”

“Nah, that’s fine. He’s a mate of yours, in’t he? We’ll be golden.”

Mark didn’t say anything. Just took a long swig of beer.

* * * * * * *

Rory told Barry all about it when he came over for a beer the following evening.

Barry scratched his armpit thoughtfully, then gave his fingers a sniff. He made a face and wiped them on his trousers. “So he’s a woofter, this bloke?”

“Pretty sure you’re not s’posed to call ’em that these days.” Rory frowned, leaning back on the sofa. He liked his sofa. It was one of those L-shaped ones that was all cushions, so you could get proper comfy on it. The kids loved it, mostly cos it was great for building dens and stuff. And for having cushion fights, which they never got to do at their mum’s. Probably on account of it not being her place. It was that smarmy git Lewis’s house, wasn’t it? His place was down the posh end of the village, one of the new houses built three storeys high and packed in like sardines, and still managing to go for the best part of a million quid.

And yeah, maybe Lewis had married her, in that big, posh hotel with little Lucy all tricked up like a sugar-plum fairy as bridesmaid—she’d been so gorgeous Rory had nearly cried—but that still didn’t make it Evie’s place, did it?

Anyway, Rory’s sofa was the best. So what if it took up most of the floor space in his tiny living room? You didn’t have a living room so you could walk around in it, did you?

Barry rolled his eyes and put on a posh voice. “Oh, I am sorry. He’s a homosexual gentleman. That better?”

“Yeah.” There was still something off in Barry’s tone, but Rory didn’t want to argue with the bloke when he was just being, well, Barry. “And he’s a mate of Mark’s, so he’s gotta be all right.” Barry couldn’t argue with that, could he?

“Ain’t your Evie got something to say about it? I mean, you have the kids to stay every other weekend. Say he meets some bloke on Grindr and brings him back for the night, and they see all kinds of stuff they shouldn’t?”

Rory frowned. Okay, he hadn’t thought of that, but . . . “He’s not gonna be shagging them in front of the telly, is he? I mean, I might’ve had Jenni round when they was here, but we’d never of done nothing when the kids were around.”

“Yeah, but gay blokes are different, aren’t they? Gotta be all in your face about it.” Barry sniggered. “Better watch out he don’t get in your face.”

“Gonna be a bit hard to avoid, innit? Not like there’s a lot of extra room in here.” Rory waved at his living space, or lack of it, with a grin. He didn’t quite hit his hand on the opposite wall, but it wasn’t far off.

Barry groaned. “No, I meant, in your face. Like this, see?” He pursed his lips, blew out his cheeks and used his tongue to make one side bulge out even more.

Rory stared, wondering if he’d got something stuck in a tooth—then it clicked, and he laughed. “Nah, not gonna be none of that.”

Barry wasn’t laughing. “Bloody well hope not. Not that I grudge ’em their rights, nothing like that, but they’re taking over the world, the gays with their pink pound and their homosexual agenda. Your house is the only place I feel safe these days.”

Barry was a good mate, the best, but he didn’t half talk a load of bollocks sometimes. Rory took in his Barry’s appearance: beer gut spilling over his jeans, tragic fashion sense, food stains and all. He didn’t look anything like the blokes on that gay porn channel Rory had clicked on by mistake when he’d been trying to find out how to make a daisy chain for Leo.

“Don’t worry,” he said seriously. “I don’t reckon you’re in any danger wherever you go.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I can look after meself. But ain’t you worried he’s gonna be ogling you in your undies? Trying to convert you to the cause?”

Rory hadn’t thought about that, either, but now he had, he still couldn’t see why Barry was so flippin’ worried about it. He frowned. “Don’t you have to be born like it?” There’d been a song about it on the radio and everything.

“Don’t stop ’em trying, does it? You better watch out, mate. Establish some ground rules. No touching, no walking around starkers, and no offering to save water by having a bath together.”

Rory was starting to think Barry must get all his ideas about what lodgers were like from those pornos he watched some nights while his missus was out and the kids were in bed. There was no point arguing with him when he went off on one like this, though. “I’m more into showers, me.”

“That’s even worse, mate. Just keep a tight grip on the soap at all times.”

“You what?”

“You know. No bending over to pick it up?” Barry made a suggestive gesture with one arm.

Rory winced. “Ohhh. Nah, no worries. My shower’s tiny. You’d never fit two grown blokes in there. And anyway, aren’t gay blokes all into grooming and fitness and that?”

“So?”

Rory laughed. “I got dad bod, ain’t I? No way all this is driving some poor bloke into uncontrollable lust.”

Barry shook his head slowly. “Rather you than me, mate. Rather you than me.”

* * * * * * *

Rory thought about it afterwards, though, his feet up on the coffee table after Barry had gone home to the missus. Barry had been well insistent about this gay-agenda thing. Rory hadn’t wanted to admit he didn’t even know what that was. He got his laptop out and did a quick search. Okay, that all looked well confusing.

Then he tried spelling agenda with it ending in an a not an er. Yeah, those results made more sense. There were even example gay agendas shown. Although a lot of them seemed to involve buying milk.

Rory closed his laptop. He couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.