(Village Love #1)
by Lillian Francis
Release Date: July 5, 2016
Cover Design: Garrett Leigh (Black Jazz Design)
How long can you wait on a promise?
After his first night with Mal, Rick broke the habit of a lifetime and invited the sexy radiographer to spend the weekend in the sleepy English village he called home. Rick isn’t in denial but he’s afraid to reveal his sexuality in the close-knit community that has known him since he was a babe in arms.
The sex is amazing but equally Mal loves lazy days spent in the garden at Slopy Bottom, and every precious moment he spends with Rick. For Mal the village quickly becomes an oasis of peace, far from the noise and grime of life in London, a slice of tranquillity with Rick at the heart. But Mal has defied his family and his religion to be true to himself, and there is no way can he join Rick in his self-built closet, no matter how comfortable it is...
Rick is afraid revealing the true nature of his relationship with Mal will change the way his neighbours see him. He adores these people, this village, and he can’t face the thought of losing everything over who he chooses to sleep with. When the alternative is giving up a man who has slotted perfectly into his life—a man who he might just love—it’s no choice at all. But, knowing what has to be done isn’t always as easy as putting it into practice.
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An Excerpt from Resistance
‘A smile can always be heard in your voice.’
He could almost hear his mum uttering those words of wisdom—just nine of many in her repertoire—and for a moment Rick wished that his parents still lived in the village. That he didn’t need to travel halfway around the world for a hug from the woman who’d always been there for him.
Not that she’d entertain his chiping for more than a moment before he got a bannicking. She’d always listened to his complaints, would offer advice where necessary, but stupidity would be followed by a whack upside his head or being chased off with the yard brush. He smiled at the memories the thought conjured up. No, his mum would provide no help in this situation. He’d be thirty in eighteen months, old enough to deal with his relationship woes, especially since they were problems of his own making.
Rick forced the widest smile he could manage and gripped his phone while he waited for the call to connect. Leaning on the old wooden farm gate that cut his property off from the lane beyond, Rick scratched at the short hair at the back of his head. The lane was empty; his cottage the last before the cobbles narrowed to a dusty footpath and disappeared into the lush green of the woodland.
“Mal,” Rick said the moment the call was picked up at the other end, not even giving his lover a chance to utter his standard greeting.
Too bright. Too quickly. He knew his voice would be giving him away but he couldn’t stop himself. “Look, Mal…” He glanced at the overnight bag at his feet.
Mal sighed, breaking Rick out of his contemplation. “What’s happened now?”
“Happened?” Shit! Mal didn’t sound at all surprised that he’d called. Not angry, either. Just resigned.
“Yes. What natural disaster has befallen your sleepy little village this weekend? Has the church spire collapsed and killed the verger? Or has Mr P K Pig had his roof blown off and you have to fix it post haste to protect him from predators?”
“What?” For someone who’d had the entire conversation planned in his head before he’d pressed Mal’s speed dial button, Rick was far too rapidly losing control.
“Tell him that it’s his own fault for building his house out of straw and winding up hairy men.”
“Mal, are you okay? What is this obsession with pigs? Have you succumbed to the enticing waft of bacon from the flat upstairs?”
Every time Rick woke up at Mal’s flat, the aroma of gently crisping bacon all but lured him up the stairs to 35B. Not that Mal had banned Rick from eating bacon when he visited, but bringing a pack of sliced pig into the flat of his Muslim boyfriend seemed a trifle insensitive. The neighbour in 35B was a behemoth of a man, unlikely to be satisfied by a couple of slices of bacon. More than likely he was up there every Sunday morning roasting the whole pig. He was hairy too, from the full beard and tufts of hair sprouting from the V-neck of his T-shirt that Rick had glimpsed when they’d bumped into each other in the communal hallway last weekend. More a bear than a wolf…
Had Mal been lured by the scent of bacon into the hairy arms of the biker upstairs, all because Rick kept mucking him around? Surely Mal wouldn’t— “Rick!” Mal sounded exasperated and Rick wondered how many times he’d called his name while Rick was lost in nightmares involving bears and bacon. “I asked you what your excuse was this time. Why can’t I come over to you this weekend?”
“I wasn’t phoning for that.” Rick’s gaze dropped to the bag by his feet once more, and he hoped the guilty feeling rising in his gut hadn’t transferred to his voice.
“Really?” Mal’s tone held a trace of hopefulness that made Rick’s stomach lurch. Had his constant changing of plans caused Mal to worry about Rick’s commitment to their fledgling relationship? “Because you’ve had some type of handyman emergency on both previous occasions I was supposed to come down and stay with you.”
“I still managed to see you both times,” Rick argued. But it was a weak response and he knew that spending time together wasn’t the issue Mal was highlighting.
“And I appreciate that you made the drive up here after you finished your work. But I thought we were going to try to make a go of things, not just grab a couple of hours together on a Sunday afternoon or fall into bed on a Saturday evening because you’re too tired to go out anywhere.”
“I had fun both times.” Whether they were shagging like bunnies or meeting for a late lunch and a walk in the park, Rick enjoyed Mal’s company. Something more than passion had flared brightly between them the first time they met, but Mal lived in London, over an hour’s drive from Rick’s sleepy village, and not wanting to lose touch was the only reason he’d agreed to these alternate weekends. Well, actually, it had been Rick’s idea, and yet, so far, Mal hadn’t set foot anywhere near Rick’s home.
“So did I—” The line crackled and Mal’s voice dropped out for a second or two. “Sorry, lost you for a moment there. I like you Rick, probably too much for a relationship that’s only in its sixth week, and I want more than a couple of hours here and there. I want the lazy weekends. I want to see where you live.”
“I want that too.” Rick kicked the bag at his feet. “I’ve just been really busy.”
“I know you work for yourself and you have to take the work where you can. I hope you don’t hate me for pushing you. I can help if you have to work this weekend. Or I can just sit in the spring sunshine and read a book. The sun is shining in Sloppy Bottom, isn’t it?”
Rick couldn’t help it, he laughed. “Slopy Bottom, you idiot. Wait, hate you? What have you done?”
“I was trying to pre-empt this call.” Mal sounded sheepish.
I wasn’t cancelling. The lie teetered on Rick’s tongue but he couldn’t let it fall. He didn’t want to risk Mal calling him on it.
“How?” Rick asked, although he had a feeling he knew. Those strange dips in the conversation would make sense if Mal—
“I’m already on the train.”
Of course he is. Rick’s heart picked up in a rabbity beat as the thrill of seeing Mal again warred with the familiar nervousness that always accompanied the thought of bring a guy back to the village. The nerves had always won out in the past, previous lovers not even getting as far as an invite, but Mal was different. Mal was…saying his name again.
“Rick? Are you still there? Rick, dholna—”
“Er, it’s Punjabi.”
“I kind of figured that for myself,” Rick said with a chuckle. “What does it mean?”
“It’s an endearment.”
“Sure, let’s go with that.”
Oh, right, so, not like babe then. Dholna. Rick repeated the word several times in his head, determined not to forget it.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I can see how this could be considered press-ganging you into something you’re not comfortable with. Do you want me to get off at the next stop and go home?”
“No!” God no. “No. Do you want me to get the car out? I can drive over to Hillchester and pick you up from the station?”
There was no station in Slopy Bottom. With a population hovering at around five-hundred, give or take, since the time the first track had been laid over a century ago, the tiny village hadn’t warranted the encroachment of civilization. Nor had it mourned being passed by, not until the commuter couples arrived to buy up the empty farm hands’ cottages; the wives praising the adorable quaintness of the place, while the husbands—who would happily spend an hour on the train—were bemoaning the twenty-minute drive to the station in town.
“Thanks, but I’ve arranged for a cab. I had intended to take you completely by surprise and hope you thought it was a good one.”
“It is a good one.” Rick agreed, bending to pick up his overnight bag and hoisting it over his shoulder.
“I promise I won’t do anything to out you while I’m visiting.”
“No rainbow flag T-shirts? Or skipping through the village?”
“Definitely no skipping. I can’t even run. That’s why I cycle.”
“You can’t run?”
“Have you seen Friends?”
“Who hasn’t?” Rick faltered in his stride up the garden path. “Oh my God, you’re Phoebe! You know I’ll do everything in my power to get you to run now.”
“Thanks. So glad I told you. Wanker.”
“You allowed to swear?”
“I am very ambidextrous. I’m sure I can take care of both of us at the same time.”
“Don’t I know it. But I’ll not talk about it. They’ll be no smutty talk or double entendres. No touching in public or holding hands.”
Touches that they had both bestowed without thinking, while walking through many parts of the city when he’d visited Mal. This would be harder than he’d imagined.
“Nothing until you’re ready,” Mal continued. “I promise. Looks like this is my station coming up. I’d better go.”
“Tell the cab driver to drop you at the top of the lane. There’s nowhere to turn around down near me without coming into the driveway. I’ll walk up there in a bit and wait for you. See you soon.”
Rick disconnected the call and unlocked his front door. He took the stairs two at a time and burst into his bedroom. He dropped the bag on the ottoman under the window and then quickly made the bed. Satisfied the room was reasonably tidy, Rick turned his attention back to the bag and unpacked the items he’d packed an hour earlier to take with him to Mal’s.
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