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Web designer Jodi Peters is a solitary creature. Lunch twice a week with his ex-girlfriend-turned-BFF and the occasional messy venture to a dodgy gay bar is all the company he needs, right?
Then one night he stumbles across newly divorced firefighter Rupert O’Neil. Rupert is lost and lonely, but just about the sweetest bloke Jodi has ever known. Add in the heady current between them, and Jodi can’t help falling hard in love. He offers Rupert a home within the walls of his cosy Tottenham flat—a sanctuary to nurture their own brand of family—and for four blissful years, life is never sweeter.
Until a cruel twist of fate snatches it all away. A moment of distraction leaves Jodi fighting for a life he can’t remember and shatters Rupert’s heart. Jodi doesn’t know him—or want to. With little left of the man he adores, Rupert must cling to what remains of his shaky faith and pray that Jodi can learn to love him again.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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The remnants of their broken dreams lay scattered all around . . . but what remained was something beautiful.
July 24, 2014
“Don’t go.” Jodi tugged playfully on Rupert’s coat. “Come on. You had that big warehouse fire yesterday, and the gas leak. Take the rest of the week off.”
Rupert grinned and allowed Jodi to reel him in with the dark, cajoling eyes he’d been unable to resist since that damp December night four years ago. Not that Rupert often tried that hard. Jodi was an addiction he had no interest in quitting. Now, though, he needed to pull away. “I gotta go, boyo. I’m late already.”
Jodi scowled. “Late for what? Sitting around watching football with a bunch of old men?”
“I’d imagine so, until a call comes in. It’s Saturday night. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be quiet.”
“Wish it was—” Jodi’s grumble was cut off by his phone. He retrieved it from his back pocket, glanced at the screen, then tossed it onto the couch. “Sophie’s bitching. Would you believe I’m late too?”
Rupert chuckled. Jodi’s tardy timekeeping was legendary. “We’d both better go, then. You’re hitting the town, remember? Come on.”
“It’s only dinner at Sophie’s.” Jodi planted his feet stubbornly on the shiny wooden floor—kept so dust-free by his unnatural obsession with his elderly Henry hoover—still gripping Rupert’s coat. “I’m not even hungry. I just want to stay here with you.”
Rupert’s heart ached. He’d wanted to be a firefighter since he was six years old, but as much as he loved his job, he loved Jodi more. “You’re always hungry, and you know I’d stay if I could.”
“Hmm. Perhaps I can persuade you.”
Jodi dropped to his knees, taking Rupert’s tracksuit bottoms with him. He hooked his thumbs around Rupert’s underwear and dispensed with that too, then lifted Rupert’s feet out of it and tossed it away.
He pushed Rupert against the nearby living room wall and traced Rupert’s balls with his tongue. The gesture should’ve felt devilish and filthy, but Jodi’s touch was gentle and hypnotic, so much so that it was hard for Rupert to remember why he’d ever tell him no. Reluctantly, he stilled Jodi’s hands. “I’ve gotta go.”
Jodi sighed and pressed his forehead into Rupert’s thigh. It was about as close to admitting defeat as he ever got, and Rupert’s tenuous grasp on his self-control broke. He hauled Jodi to his feet. Jodi let out a grunt of surprise, but responded almost instantly, crushing their lips together and growling into Rupert’s mouth.
Rupert groaned. Jodi was smaller than him, slighter, leaner, but when it came to sex, he was all the man Rupert could take, even now—especially now—with his hands, tongue, and teeth everywhere. Blunt nails raking over his skin. They stumbled to the bedroom. Jodi pushed Rupert onto the bed, stripping his own scruffy T-shirt and tossing it over his shoulder. He straddled Rupert’s waist. “I need you.”
The gravelly confession lit Rupert on fire. He grasped Jodi’s slender hips and rolled over, pinning Jodi beneath his broader frame. “You don’t ever have to need me. I’m always here.”
Jodi’s dark gaze flashed. No, you’re not.
Rupert growled and wrestled with Jodi’s belt buckle. The silent accusation was true, but far from fair. Rupert worked long shifts, often leaving Jodi for twenty-four hours or more, but Jodi had an engrossing occupation of his own and rarely had nothing to do when Rupert was gone. Rupert fixed Jodi with a glare. I’m here when it matters.
He yanked Jodi’s skinny jeans down his legs and threw them on the floor, then reached for the lube in the bedside drawer.
Jodi claimed it with a devilish smirk and shoved him onto his back. “Like this.”
As if Rupert would argue. Jodi was a dominant lover. People often said he had an ethereal look about him, but his fragile form was a wonderful deception. Despite his long limbs and slim bones, there was nothing delicate about Jodi. He loved Rupert fiercely and demanded it back in return.
Jodi tore open a condom and rolled it onto Rupert. “I need you, Rupe.”
“You have me.” Rupert gritted his teeth, hardly able to contain himself as Jodi rubbed lube into himself, stretching and teasing. “I’m right here.”
Rupert drove up into Jodi in one slow slide. Smooth, tight heat enveloped him, and his vision blurred, obscuring Jodi’s beautiful, form. He thrust his hips, softly at first, but as Jodi pushed down, meeting Rupert’s every move, Rupert’s caution faded away. Fucking Jodi was like breathing, he didn’t need to think about it, just closed his eyes and felt, letting Jodi fall apart around him, rushing him to a heady climax that made his head spin.
He came fast and hard with a low roar, mindful of their nosy downstairs neighbours. Jodi wasn’t so considerate. He yelled out and came all over Rupert’s chest, then collapsed to one side in a sweaty heap.
Rupert chuckled and tossed the condom into the bin by the bed. “Wanna shift over? I’ve got time for a quick spoon.”
“I wanna reverse spoon.”
“Come on then.”
Jodi grunted drowsily, and they crawled under the covers, Jodi curled against Rupert’s chest. Rupert wrapped his arms around Jodi and held him tight, absorbing every twitch and breath as Jodi drifted off. Jodi wasn’t much of a sleeper—too busy with work and keeping the flat to his eccentric standards—and Rupert rarely got to hold him like this, wide-awake while Jodi’s dreams made his eyelids flutter and his tongue dance over his bottom lip.
It was entrancing, until he glanced at the clock. Damn it. Time had slipped away from him, leaving him twenty minutes to dash south to the fire station in Brixton.
Fuck. Rupert disentangled himself from Jodi, mourning the loss of his warmth. Who wanted to tramp around bloody Brixton when they could hold Jodi close and doze all night, waking up from time to time to love each other a little bit more? God, Rupert’s heart wanted so desperately to stay.
Stop it. Rupert retrieved his scattered clothes, dressed, and got ready to leave again. In his coat and shoes, he crept back into the bedroom and gazed at Jodi, still sleeping soundly. He kissed Jodi’s forehead, his cheek, his lips.
“I love you, boyo. See you in the morning. Be safe.”
* * *
Jodi awoke with a shiver. He reached for Rupert, but his heart already knew he was alone. He rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Waking up without Rupert’s comforting bulk wrapped around him was always hard, but it felt particularly depressing when it happened to be dark and cold outside. He searched for a word to suit his mood. “Bleak” . . . yeah, that would do. He preferred “desolate,” but applying it to himself made him feel like a twat.
A twat who’d fallen asleep, despite plans to be on the other side of London more than an hour ago.
Jodi forced himself out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom. He was a little sore, but he took pleasure in the pain. Without the dull ache at the base of his spine, he would have wondered if he’d dreamt his snatched encounter with Rupert.
He took a shower, then wandered, nude, through the Tottenham flat he shared with Rupert. It was a small maisonette—poky and cramped when they were both home—but in Rupert’s absence it seemed empty and cavernous. His gaze fell on a photograph of them, taken last Christmas, cuddled up on the sofa with Rupert’s daughter, Indie. Jodi absorbed the warmth of the image. Rupert had the best smile. It was infectious and lit up his whole face. With his warm hazel eyes gleaming like embers in the fire, Jodi couldn’t look away. The only thing he’d ever change was Rupert’s haircut. He hadn’t known him before he’d cut the shaggy blond mop he’d sported in his younger days, but Jodi had dreamed about what it would feel like to run his fingers through those curls.
Give me something to tug on.
Jodi’s black mood began to dissipate. He felt bad for making Rupert late, but the guilt was almost worth it for the fuck-awesome sex. Closing his eyes, he pictured it: Rupert thrusting up into him, his cheeks flushed, every muscle strained—
The phone interrupted his dirty daydreams. He retrieved it from the couch and read another cheesed-off message from Sophie—his best friend—wondering where the fuck he’d got to. Cringing, he checked the time. Oops. He should’ve rocked up in Primrose Hill hours ago.
He erased the messages and hit Rupert’s speed dial, waiting for his voice mail to kick in as he stamped into his shoes, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door. The message tone on Rupert’s voice mail beeped. Jodi jogged down the stairs and let the heavy exterior door slam shut behind him before he spoke. “Hey. So . . . I’m sorry if I made you late. I was feeling a little needy, but in my defence, that new software is driving me round the fucking bend and Henry tried to kill me this morning. Ran over my foot, bloody dick-splash. Can you believe that?” Jodi manoeuvred his way through Tottenham’s bustling streets. He reached the zebra crossing and stepped off the pavement. “Anyway, I’ll see you in the morning, yeah? Bring your helmet home. I want to fuck you while you’re wearing it. Be safe, Rupe. I love you.”
July 26, 2014
Drip, beep, drip, beep, drip, beep. Rupert counted the drops of blood as they passed through the device monitoring the pressure in Jodi’s brain. The doctors said clear fluid would mean an improvement. For two days now, there had only been blood.
A nurse appeared at Jodi’s bedside. She placed a plastic cup of grey tea beside Rupert, then sanitised her hands with the gel dispenser on the wall. “Do you need anything, love?”
Rupert shook his head. It seemed to be the only thing people said to him anymore. Didn’t they know that all he needed was for Jodi to live? To wake up, get better, and chase this nightmare away? Didn’t they know there was nothing else?
The nurse let him be and got on with Jodi’s fifteen-minute observations. Rupert watched her for a while, scrutinising her face for any sign of change, but eventually, his gaze returned to Jodi: his coal-dark hair and scruffy hipster beard. The geometric tattoo on his neck. The tiny mole on his cheek, just visible beneath the wide bandage around his skull.
Rupert shuddered. The accident had been like a perfect storm. Eyewitnesses said Jodi had stepped onto the zebra crossing, eyes down, his phone tucked under his chin. He’d never looked up, even when the stolen car had come roaring round the corner, sending other pedestrians scrambling for safety. It had hit him at fifty-four miles an hour. The impact had hurled him twenty feet and thrown him facedown in the middle of the road. Two cracked ribs. His left arm fractured in three places. Rupert closed his eyes. And his brain so badly damaged he might never wake up.
Nausea ran through Rupert. He forced himself to open his eyes, and ran his gaze over Jodi again, tracking every wire and machine, absorbing every bruise and scrape, but nothing changed. He couldn’t count the tubes jammed into Jodi’s body, wouldn’t count them, because if he did, he’d have to accept that they were the only thing keeping Jodi alive. That without them, he’d be dead.
Rupert took Jodi’s hand. A familiar warmth tickled the chill in his bones. Jodi had always made him feel warm inside, from the heady heat of their first, tentative naked encounters, to the comforting acceptance that had cloaked him the moment he’d realised Jodi loved him too.
But the warmth felt different now, marred by the sickening dread that their dream had been cut short. Rupert closed his eyes and found himself at the fire station, jogging down the front steps to come home, only to be intercepted by two police officers he knew well.
“Rupert, there’s been an accident. Get in the car. We need to take you to King’s.”
Rupert blinked. King’s College Hospital was in Camberwell, barely a stone’s throw from the station. Why the fuck would anyone need to drive him there? Besides, it had been a quiet night in South London—no major incidents, and all the crews were safely inside, or on their way home, like him. Perhaps they had come to the wrong station. “Karen—”
Karen touched his arm. “Rupert, I’m sorry, love. Jodi’s been in an RTC. He’s been airlifted to King’s. You need to come with us so we can take you to him.”
They rushed Rupert to King’s in a blur of blue lights and sirens. Minutes later, he found himself at sea in the bustling efficiency of London’s busiest trauma centre, searching desperately for any sign of Jodi. It was half an hour before a nurse told him he’d already been transferred to intensive care.
The doctor up there had been blunt. “Jodi was brought in by helimed at nine o’clock last night. He’d been hit by a car as he crossed the road outside what I believe to be your home. The impact cracked his ribs and broke his arm in three places, but the severe head injury he sustained when he hit the road is causing us the most concern . . .”
Bleeding, pressure, coma. Death. The doctor had said then—and still said now—that Jodi might not survive, but she was wrong. Jodi wouldn’t die. He couldn’t, because aside from his propensity for anarchy, Rupert wouldn’t bloody let him.
* * *
December 26, 2009
Jodi stumbled out of Tottenham’s dodgiest gay bar. He tripped over the kerb and dropped his wallet and phone straight into a murky puddle. Oops. Lurching, he retrieved them. His wallet looked salvageable—not that there was much in it after tonight—but his phone was butt-fucked. He sniggered. “Butt-fucked” was the name of the sparkly pink powder he’d been snorting all night, a legal high, apparently, though it hadn’t had a big effect on him, save his wobbly legs and a bad case of the giggles.
Still swaying, he stuffed the wallet in his pocket and considered his phone. The screen was waterlogged. He swiped it a couple of times, but nothing happened. Damn it. He’d dropped three phones in the last year, and the death of number four was probably a sign that it was time to go home.
Luckily for him, home was a five-minute walk away. He left the dodgy bar behind and drifted along the pavement, weaving between the revellers who’d come out to party on a frosty Boxing Day night. He crossed the road outside the chicken shop, in a world of his own until a commotion ahead startled him.
A fight had broken out in front of the pub the footie boys favoured. Three blokes on one. Jodi winced. Shit like that never ended well. He bypassed the commotion, looping a bus stop, letting the curses and screams wash over him. Trouble in Tottenham was nothing new, but as he left it behind with half a mind to mention it to the next pub’s security team, a shout rang out above the others and made him look round in time to see a doorman enter the fray—a tall, blond doorman who was just about the hottest bloke Jodi had ever seen.
Dressed in black, he waded into the fight and seized two men by their collars. “All right, all right. Pack it in.”
He sent the first two men flying, launching them in separate directions. The altercation seemed abruptly over, both men stayed by the doorman’s fierce glare, but the third man was less obliging—or more stupid. Either way, the doorman appeared unmoved as the remaining attacker picked up a bottle and charged him.
With good reason, it seemed. The bottle was gone before Jodi could blink, and the third man facedown on the wet pavement, the doorman’s foot on the back of his neck. “Stay there, shit-tits. The coppers are coming for you.”
Wow. Jodi’s pulse quickened as the fourth man scrambled to his feet and scarpered. The man melted into the crowd, and Jodi turned his attention back to the doorman, hoping he’d say something else in the Irish brogue that was rough enough to make Jodi shiver. Approaching sirens should’ve moved him on too, considering the state he was in, but he couldn’t look away. Bathed in the orange glow of a nearby streetlight, the doorman was enthralling. Though powerful and strong, he wasn’t as big as Jodi had first thought. Yet his strength was striking, enticing, and Jodi’s breath caught in his throat.
The police arrived and cleared the scene. Jodi took a seat in the bus stop and lit a fag, blowing smoke to the moon as he watched the doorman turn the third man into their custody and give his account of events. Jodi thought about going home when the doorman went back into the pub, but garbled signs of life from his half-drowned phone distracted him.
He was still poking at it when a shadow blocked out the light of the bus stop.
“Lost your Oyster card, mate?”
The doorman raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been sat out here for hours. Must be time to go home, eh? You need anything?”
“Um . . .” Jodi rarely found himself lost for words, but the power of speech evaded him now. Instead, he held up his phone, showing the doorman the buggered screen.
“Ah, dropped it in the bog, did ya?”
“Puddle, actually,” Jodi said. “I think it’s fucked.”
The doorman took the phone and held it up to the light. “Nah. Bury it in a bowl of rice and stick it in the airing cupboard. Be right as rain in a few days.”
“Really? Sounds like witchcraft to me.”
“Suit yourself. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question. Do you need anything? We’re all closed up here. Probably time you went home. Got far to go?”
Jodi ran his gaze over the doorman and saw that his earpiece was gone and he had a bag slung over his shoulder. “I live round the corner. Where are you going?”
“Bedsit in Harringay. It’s a heap of shit, but I need my bed, so come on, off you fuck. Get your arse home so I can rest knowing I’ve done my job for the night.”
“What are you? Some kind of social worker?” Jodi stood and absorbed the drunken buzz that washed over him. Damn. He’d forgotten how wasted he was. “I’m just sitting here, mate. Minding my own business. Didn’t ask for no help.”
He said the words with a smile, but the doorman frowned. “You’re fucking twatted. Can I walk you home?”
“Not a serial killer, are you?”
“No, I’m Rupert.”
“Rupert?” Jodi covered a treacherous, buzz-fuelled giggle with a cough. “Like the bear?”
“If you say so. Far as I know, Rupert Bear never killed anyone, so I guess it fits.”
“Bet he did. Let’s google that shit.” Jodi reclaimed his phone and peered at the frozen screen. “Balls. Forgot it was broken.”
Rupert rolled his eyes. “Come on, hooligan. Let’s get you home.”
He took Jodi’s arm and steered him out of the bus stop. Jodi allowed himself to be led, distracted from the bizarre situation by Rupert’s commanding grip on his arm. For some reason, it didn’t feel odd. Hmm. Perhaps the sparkly powder had scrambled his inhibitions. Ha. Not that he’d had many to start with. The neon body paint smeared all over his torso was testament to that.
“Where are we going?”
“Eh?” Jodi glanced up to find they’d come to a stop at a junction. He glanced both ways, then turned left. “Oh, erm, it’s this way, I think.”
“I know.” Jodi pulled his arm from Rupert and grabbed his hand. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
Rupert let Jodi drag him to the zebra crossing, but he stayed Jodi before he stepped into the road. “Oi, look both ways, mate. You gotta death wish, or something?”
A series of black cabs rumbled past. Jodi’s coat blew up in the backdraft. He shivered and instinctively moved closer to Rupert, seeking warmth. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Rupert smiled, showing Jodi a set of teeth that had clearly never seen a cigarette. “How about you tell me where to go and I’ll do the driving? You haven’t even got your laces done up.”
Jodi looked down at his scruffy, untied boots. “Yeah . . . let’s do that.” He took Rupert’s arm again and, despite an embarrassing lack of control over his own feet, navigated the remaining twenty metres to his first-floor maisonette. “This is me.”
“Nice. Figured you for one of those horrible yuppie apartment blocks.”
“Piss off. I ain’t no yuppie.”
“Fucking hipster, though, aren’t ya?”
Jodi couldn’t argue with that. His skinny jeans and obligatory beard gave him away. “Nothing wrong with hipsters.”
Rupert snorted. “If you say so. My ma warned me about city boys like you.”
“Well, no. She actually warned me about slutty city girls with loose morals, but she didn’t know any better.”
Jodi’s heart skipped a beat. “Does she know now?”
“Yeah.” Rupert’s tone turned flat and his endearing grin faded. “Think it’s safe to say I’m off her Christmas card list.”
“But it’s Boxing Day,” Jodi said. “Who did you spend Christmas with?”
Rupert slid Jodi a sideways glance. “What do you care?”
Jodi shrugged. “I guess in the same way you care enough to walk me home.”
“Unless I’m a serial killer.”
“You’re not, though, are you?”
Rupert grinned again, and the cloud that had descended on them lifted. “Not in the slightest. Just don’t want you to come to any harm. I’ll sleep easier knowing you’re safe in your bed.”
Jodi let that hang for a moment while he fished around in his pockets for his keys. Retrieving them proved simple. Finding the right key and aiming it at the lock, not so much.
Rupert took the keys from him and unlocked the door. He pushed it open and eyed the steep stairs that led to Jodi’s maisonette. “You gonna be okay getting up there, mate?”
Rupert sighed. “Come on. Let’s get you in.”
He offered Jodi his arm. Jodi took it and was once more drawn to the comforting warmth of Rupert’s larger frame as they tackled the stairs.
Jodi stumbled onto the landing. “This is me.”
“Yeah, you said that downstairs. Which door is yours?”
“The blue one. Silver key.”
Rupert unlocked Jodi’s front door and stood back. Jodi ducked under his arm. He sensed Rupert turn away, and reached for him before he knew what he was doing. “Don’t go.”
“Why? Do you need help with something?”
“No, I, er . . .” Jodi stared at his hand, wrapped around Rupert’s wrist like a limpet. “I’ve got coffee. Want some?”
It wasn’t his best chat-up line, though he’d got laid behind the weight of far worse in the past, but after a protracted pause, Rupert shrugged. “Reckon I could bang a cuppa down before I head home. Got any tea?”
Turned out Jodi hadn’t, but Rupert settled for a mug of dubious-looking decaf while Jodi brewed himself a pot of nuclear Colombian espresso. “So,” Jodi said when he’d coaxed Rupert into taking a seat on his tatty living room couch. “Do you often walk pisshead gay boys home?”
Rupert spluttered into his drink. “What? Fuck, no. Shit. Sorry. I didn’t come over to you because I thought you were gay.”
“No?” Jodi frowned. He wasn’t getting come-on vibes from Rupert, but there was no denying the bloke was gay, even without his vague admission. “Why did you, then?”
It was Rupert’s turn to stumble over his words. “Um . . . I s’pose I couldn’t stop myself. I saw you sitting out there after I put that bloke on his arse. After that, shit, I couldn’t look away.” Rupert cringed and briefly covered his face with his hands. “It didn’t cross my mind that you were gay, though, mate. I swear. I just got worried when you didn’t move on. Young lad got mugged by that bus stop a few weeks ago. Bastards left him for dead.”
Jodi’s disappointment warred with an overwhelming sense of endearment. Rupert was bloody gorgeous, and Jodi wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if his insistence on walking him home had been a ploy to get him into bed, but the fact that it wasn’t? Damn. Jodi could fall in love with a man that fucking sweet. “Did he die?”
“As good as. Think he’s still in a coma.”
“Fuck that.” Jodi shuddered. “My cousin had a diving accident when we were kids. Took them weeks to turn him off, even though the doctors said he was already dead.”
“Don’t be. I hardly remember him.”
“Stays with you, though, doesn’t it? When you lose someone?”
Jodi shrugged and picked up his coffee. Talking about death wasn’t good for his buzz. “So how often do you pick up waifs and drunks and take them home for whatever reason?”
Rupert chuckled. “Actually, you’re the first. I usually call them a cab.”
“I’m privileged, then?”
“If you say so. I’m the one getting a cuppa instead of a cold walk home.”
Jodi could think of better ways to keep warm. He shifted on the couch and let his leg brush against Rupert’s. Rupert jumped. Jodi grinned. “Jesus, you’re like a stray cat.”
Rupert looked away. “I’m not used to people—blokes, touching me. It’s a little new.”
Silence. Jodi chanced another nudge with his leg. “It’s okay. You can tell me. We’ve all been there.”
Rupert glanced up, and the sadness in his gaze broke Jodi’s heart. “Too new for me to stay here much longer. I should get going.”
“Don’t go.” Jodi sat up. Something told him that if he let Rupert slink away, he’d probably never see him again. “We don’t have to do anything. I didn’t ask you in for that, honest.”
“No? Shame, eh? I could’ve freaked out on you properly, then.”
Jodi set his coffee aside. The urge to put a comforting hand on Rupert was strong, but the very real fear that it would make things worse stopped him. “Everyone freaks out when they first touch another man. It’s a rite of passage.”
“Yeah? Did you?”
“Yup.” Jodi pictured his first disastrous dalliance with a bloke after he’d realised his bisexuality. “Ran off like a scalded cat. Was halfway down the garden with my pants round my ankles before he caught up with me.”
Rupert chuckled his deep, warming chuckle again. “Another cat metaphor? I’m sensing a theme.”
“I have a limited imagination.”
“I don’t believe that.”
It was on the tip of Jodi’s tongue to invite Rupert to find out, but Rupert leaned forward before he could speak, and put his hand on Jodi’s leg, hesitantly at first, then his grip strengthened, and it was all Jodi could do not to moan.
He settled for sucking in a shaky breath. Bloody hell. What was it about this bloke? A touch, a brush of skin, a stare that went on just a beat too long; tiny gestures that lit Jodi on fire. He stared at Rupert’s hand and then covered it with his own, entwining his fingers with Rupert’s until their hands were clasped, bound together like lovers, rather than two souls who’d met less than an hour ago.
Rupert squeezed Jodi’s hand. Jodi squeezed back and tugged gently, coaxing Rupert closer until their faces were inches apart.
Rupert’s nerves were tangible. His beautiful, gold-flecked eyes had widened, and he swallowed thickly. But it was him who leaned in first. Him who ghosted his lips over Jodi’s. Him who tentatively pushed his tongue into Jodi’s mouth and kissed him as the room began to spin.
Jodi gasped and wrapped his arms around Rupert, clutching at the dark shirt he was wearing under his unzipped doorman’s jacket. The shirt came loose from Rupert’s waistband. Jodi pushed it up until his hands found the hard, unyielding flesh of Rupert’s abdomen. He dug his nails in. Rupert groaned and bit Jodi’s lip, so Jodi did it again and again, until he suddenly found himself on the floor.
Rupert lurched up like he’d been burned. “Oh God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
“I’ll live.” Jodi walked on his knees to where Rupert stood and accepted his proffered hands. Rupert hauled him up like he was made of feathers. “Let me guess. You had an epiphany, realised my dick is probably as big as yours, and lost your shit?”
“Something like that?” Rupert winced. “I’m so sorry. I told you. I’m new at this.”
“It’s okay.” And it was. Who the hell was Jodi to judge a man flying blind in his sexuality? Accepting his own bisexuality had been a journey fraught with denial and false starts. It was only in the last year he’d truly grown into it, and it wasn’t so long ago he’d been toppling blokes off the end of the bed himself. He squeezed Rupert’s hands. “But tell me, have you ever—”
“Nope. Never put my hands on a fella . . . like this, until tonight. Oh God, I’m so sorry. You must think I’m such a twat.”
Jodi shook his head slowly. “No, not at all. I’ll tell you exactly what I think, Rupert. I think you should calm the fuck down, go home, get some sleep, then come back tomorrow so I can teach you how to make this shit awesome.”
August 26, 2014
Drip, beep, drip, beep, drip, beep. Rupert counted the drops of clear fluid as they passed through the pressure-measuring device in Jodi’s brain. That’s right, they were clear now. The blood had faded away one evening nearly two weeks ago. Rupert recalled his surge of elation like it was yesterday, remembered every minute of the twenty-four-hour vigil he’d mounted after, waiting on tenterhooks for the moment when Jodi would surely wake up. But he hadn’t woken up. Not then, and not now, a month and two days since that damn fucking speeding car had catapulted him across the streets of Tottenham.
Rupert tore his gaze from the drip and focussed on Jodi. He touched his cheek with the pad of his thumb, and smoothed the scruffy beard that, despite the nurse’s diligent efforts, was now slightly longer than he’d ever seen on Jodi before. Rupert liked it. It would suit Jodi’s brown eyes, if Rupert was lucky enough to ever see them again.
Lucky. Ha. Rupert clenched his teeth and turned his attention to Jodi’s shattered arm. It had been operated on again in recent days. The surgeons had inserted metal rods to keep the bones’ original realignment in place, but they wouldn’t know if Jodi had retained full function until he woke up.
If he woke up.
Rupert took Jodi’s good hand and squeezed, trying to remember what life had been like before the cramped ICU bay had become their home. But it was so fucking hard. Most of Jodi’s outward wounds had healed, but the ominous shadow on his brain remained, dark and deadly, and the doctors reminded Rupert every day that even if Jodi did wake up, there was every chance he wouldn’t be the Jodi that Rupert had loved—still loved so much he could barely breathe.
But he’d run out of time to grieve today. It was midday, and he was due back at work in ten minutes. He closed his eyes, still clutching Jodi’s hand. The brigade had been patient with him so far, but with Jodi’s business not earning, someone had to pay the bills—
Jodi’s hand squeezed his. Rupert jumped a mile, his heart in his throat. His eyes flew open, and he stared down at Jodi’s hand, his own suddenly red hot. It moved. But had it? It didn’t seem any different.
Don’t be a dick. You haven’t got time for imaginary drama. Rupert counted to ten, praying he’d feel that brief pressure on his palm again, but nothing happened, because it was all in his damn fucking head.
Twat. He looked down at Jodi one last time. For a moment, he dared to dream Jodi really had returned the death grip he had on his hand, but their grim reality wouldn’t quit. Jodi remained slack and lifeless, and Rupert had to go to work.
* * *
January 26, 2010
Rupert didn’t come back the next day or the day after that. In fact, it was nearly a month before his name flashed up on Jodi’s phone. The message was short, sweet, and perfectly timed. Fancy a late night cuppa?
Jodi tapped out a reply, inviting Rupert to come over whenever he was ready, then shut down his computer and drifted to the bathroom to take a much-needed shower. He’d been on a deadline for the last few days, and things like eating, sleeping, and washing had fallen by the wayside.
Dressed in trackies, hair still dripping, he emerged from the bathroom to another text. Twenty minutes. He glanced at the clock: 2 a.m. Jesus. How had that happened? Last time he’d checked, it had been nine o’clock and he’d been considering ordering pizza. Or was that yesterday? Shamefully, he had no idea.
He padded barefoot through the flat to the kitchen and opened the fridge. The contents were uninspiring, but he had enough bacon left for sarnies. Poaching about in his neglected salad drawer revealed some tired mushrooms too. He was tipping them into the sizzling bacon fat when the doorbell rang.
Jodi turned the hob down and went to the intercom. He buzzed the exterior door open, put the front door on the latch, and returned to the kitchen. Rupert’s shadow appeared in the doorway a few moments later.
“Bloody hell. Are you trying to kill me?”
Jodi laid bacon rashers on slices of thickly buttered white toast without looking up. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those gym freaks who only eats nuts and organic spinach smoothies?”
“Fuck no. That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what did you—” Jodi’s words died on his lips as he turned around to find Rupert leaning on the doorframe, dressed in softly worn tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie—a far cry from the all-black bouncer attire he’d been sporting last time—and totally fucking gorgeous. “What did you mean?”
Rupert stepped forward and touched Jodi’s damp hair. “I meant you. I’ve spent the last week or so trying to convince myself you weren’t as fit as I remembered. Then I find you like this.” Rupert shook his head. “Not cool, mate. Not cool.”
Jodi snorted. “I never claimed to be cool, but if it’s any consolation, you’re pretty fit yourself.”
Rupert flushed and looked away. The bloke was beautiful, but it was clear he wasn’t used to people—to men—telling him so. Jodi took pity on him and let it go. “Wanna bacon sarnie, then? And I bought a box of PG Tips the other day. It’s around here somewhere.”
“Sounds great. Can I help?”
“You can put the kettle on.” Jodi rummaged in the cupboards for the tea bags while Rupert filled the kettle and flicked the switch. They didn’t speak, but the silence was comfortable, familiar, like they’d muddled through such domesticity a thousand times over.
Jodi put two plates on the breakfast bar. Rupert placed two mugs beside them and folded his tall frame onto a stool.
“So tell me,” he said. “What are you doing tucked up in your PJs on a Saturday night? Thought you were a raver?”
Jodi yawned. “Not this weekend. I had to work. And in my defence, you caught me on a particularly mad one when we met.”
“Where do you work?”
“Here. I’m a web designer.”
“Nice,” Rupert said. “What does that involve? All that coding and shit?”
“Yup. That’s me. Keeps me out of trouble.”
Rupert grinned. “I don’t believe that, but it’s nice to see you sober. You were right the other way last time I saw you.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I don’t usually get that wasted. Just get a little cabin fever crazy when I’ve been stuck indoors working too much.”
Rupert picked up his sandwich. His silence told Jodi he knew exactly how hard Jodi had partied that night and that he perhaps didn’t approve. And he had a point. Jodi had given up party drugs years ago, and the week-long comedown he’d endured after his Boxing Day blowout had reminded him why.
Time for a subject change. “So how was work for you tonight? Was the club busy?”
“I wasn’t at the club. I was at my real job.”
“I’m a firefighter.”
Jodi choked on his tea. “Seriously? You’re a fireman?”
Something about the way Rupert’s gentle Irish brogue wrapped around that word made Jodi feel warm all over, but it was nothing compared to the image of Rupert decked out in full fireman’s kit. Jesus. If he hadn’t fancied the arse off Rupert before . . . “What were you doing at that wanky club, then? Moonlighting?”
“Something like that, though it’s not called moonlighting anymore. We’re allowed second jobs now. They prefer it to paying us properly.”
Jodi swallowed the last bite of his sandwich and reached for his tea. “How the hell do you find the time? Don’t you work shifts?”
“Four days on, four days off. Working at the club helps me keep my sleep cycle when I’m on nights. Besides, I need the cash.”
Rupert sighed. “Because firefighter pay is shite, especially when you have London rent to pay and an ex-wife crawling up your arse for maintenance.”
Jodi blinked. “Whoa. There’s a backstory if I ever heard one. You have kids?”
“A daughter, Indie.”
“How old is she?”
“Three. I split up with her mum last year.”
Jodi tried to picture a miniature, feminine version of Rupert. “Does she look like you?”
“See for yourself.”
Rupert retrieved his wallet from his back pocket and held up a photo of a tiny, fair-haired toddler. Jodi wasn’t much for screaming kids, but he had to admit the little girl was beautiful. “Sounds like her mum gives you grief.”
“Whenever she can,” Rupert said. “She’s never forgiven me for leaving her, which is ironic, because she never wanted me in the first place.”
“Ah, one of those.” Jodi stood and dumped their empty plates in the sink. “Let me guess: she kept you in a box and kicked you every time you tried to get out?”
“Kinda. She had a way of making me believe everything was my fault because she said so.”
Jodi touched Rupert’s arm. Hearing about his ex wasn’t easy, but it was plain to see that it wasn’t something he talked about often. That it still hurt. “My first-ever girlfriend cheated on me . . . like, not just physically, she had another boyfriend up north where her dad lived. Everyone knew, except me.”
Rupert winced. “Girlfriend? Bet that was messy.”
“Not in the way you’re probably thinking. I bounce both ways. It’s just taken me a while to figure out that’s as valid as being straight or gay. My other ex-girlfriend is my best mate. I love her to bits.”
“Then you’re lucky. Jen is a bitch. I’ve tried not to hate her, but it’s hard when she does everything she can to make my life miserable. Shit, why am I even talking about this?”
Rupert covered Jodi’s hand with his own, and, like the first time they’d been alone in Jodi’s flat like this, their fingers entwined with little conscious thought, on Jodi’s part at least. Something about Rupert made Jodi want to wrap himself around him and hold him tight until the hurt in his eyes went away.
“Do you want to come through to the living room?”
“Hmm?” Rupert’s distant gaze refocussed. “Oh, what time is it?”
“A little after three.”
“Damn. I should chip off home, then. I’m back on shift at eight.”
Disappointment flickered through Jodi. “Where do you live? I remember something about a bedsit.”
Rupert snorted. “I’m surprised you remember me at all, considering your eyes were pointing in different directions, but yeah, I’ve got a bedsit in Harringay.”
Jodi frowned. Harringay was a half hour night-bus journey, and Rupert seemed exhausted. “Kip here, if you want? Where’s your fire station?”
“Brixton, so it’s about the same whichever way you look at it. But, as much as I’d love to stay with you, couch or otherwise, my stuff is at home.”
Couch or otherwise. Jodi’s breath caught in his throat, but Rupert was already getting ready to leave.
Jodi walked him to the door. “It was really nice to see you again.”
“Yeah? Even though I chewed your ear off about my ex-wife?”
“Of course. Seriously, mate. I don’t mind. Just wish you hadn’t had to go through all that.”
Rupert smiled, and the fatigue in his face seemed to fade. “You’re the first person to give a shit in quite some time. Question is: why do you?”
Jodi shrugged. “Dunno. I just do.”
And it was true. Rupert had been on his mind a lot since they’d first met. Their second meeting had proved nothing like his dirty, late-night fantasies, but in the dim light of the hallway, it felt right. Perhaps they’d never revisit that fuck-hot kiss, perhaps they weren’t meant to, but Jodi could live with being friends—
Jodi’s back hit the door. He sucked in a breath and suddenly found himself caged in Rupert’s arms, their faces—like that night—inches apart. They stared at each other, teetering on the precipice of something explosive, until Jodi remembered the distress in Rupert’s gaze when he’d accidentally shoved Jodi to the floor.
Slow. Don’t push him. Even if I think he wants me to.
Yeah, ’cause some days even Jodi was still learning. He took Rupert’s face in his hands and kissed him, lightly at first, but then deep . . . slow and deep, like he could calm his own hammering heart with the brush of his lips against Rupert’s. Like he didn’t know better. Like he didn’t know that Rupert’s touch, however hesitant, would light him on fire.
Rupert gasped and pressed his body into Jodi’s. Jodi lifted his leg and hooked it over Rupert’s hip, grinding them together until his every nerve was ready to combust. Pull away, pull away. But he couldn’t. Backed against the door, he had nowhere to go, nowhere he wanted to go, and his good intentions edged toward the proverbial window, ready to jump.
Just one more kiss . . .
Rupert withdrew. He laid his forehead against Jodi’s and inhaled a deep, shaky breath. “Jesus Christ, you get under my skin.”
Jodi shuddered and closed his eyes, absorbing the warmth of Rupert’s body, which was still keeping him upright. “Come back soon, yeah? We can get under the duvet instead.”
[T]ruly beautiful. . . . [A] very well written and nicely put together story that I can easily highly recommend.
I loved every heart wrenching moment.
[A] wonderful book about turning a tragedy into a second chance at falling in love all over again. Another amazing read from one of my absolute favorite authors.
This novel was so well done—the characters flesh and blood, their pain palpable, and their love visceral. I highly recommend What Remains by Garrett Leigh to you—it is just fantastic!
[S]weet, funny, sad, and hot all rolled into one.