Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.
It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie hasn’t met anyone like Fen before.
Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.
Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.
Available from Riptide Publishing: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/pansies
Tuesday was Nora’s favourite day of the week.
Nobody liked Mondays, and she was no exception, but she thought it was unfair for the bad feeling to taint Tuesday too.
Tuesday offered all the possibilities of a new week with none of the disadvantages of being Monday.
It was also the day when Aidan O’Donaghue came.
Aidan O’Donaghue, who was not from around here, who wore a waistcoat and drove a Ford Thunderbird, and whose mouth tasted like the sky.
While she waited for him, she made up a basket of sunflowers, chrysanthemums, and glossy green aspidistra. She hummed softly to herself, muddled snatches of whatever had been playing recently on the radio. She’d never been able to hold a tune, but it didn’t stop her singing.
Not on a Tuesday, anyway.
He had come into her shop for the first time nearly a year and a half ago. It had been chance, pure chance. His mother’s birthday. Through the big front windows, she’d seen his car, a bold splash on the kerb.
She’d made him a bouquet of white roses and blue moon freesia, her fingers trembling a little among the petals. Because his eyes were all the colours, and his lashes were tipped with gold, as though some careful artist had liked him enough to try and gild him.
Nora was dreamy for days afterwards.
He came back the next week to tell her his mother had loved the flowers. Somehow they started exchanging pieces of information, as shyly as children swapping barnacle shells and coral twists, mermaids’ purses and unicorn hair.
It began with names.
Then she learned he was the regional manager for Woolworths. That his father was Irish, and had been in the Army. That his mother was French. And he spun the world for Nora in her little shop: glittering American cities with skyscrapers wreathed in cloud, stars spread as thickly as freckles across a desert night, the heather-purple highlands of Scotland and the glass-blue lakes hidden in the Welsh mountains.
She also learned that he smiled with the right side of his mouth before the left and that the dimple there was deeper than its fellow.
One day when he came to see her, she locked the door behind him and flipped the sign to Closed. She took his big hand and led him into the back room, which smelled of pollen and perfume and damp leaves and growing things.
For a long time they said nothing. Looking had somehow become a different thing now they were alone. And Nora was greedy for it, this newfound freedom to bask unchecked in blue-grey-brown-green eyes and a mouth so full of kisses. Then he reached out and began to unpin her braids, slowly combing out the corn-yellow tresses of her hair. Her mother wouldn’t let her cut it. Called it her crowning glory. Aidan O’Donaghue’s blunt fingers moved through it with unimagined tenderness. When it was all set free, he drew her to him and kissed her.
Everyone thought Nora was a good girl. A quiet girl. Even if she was a little odd sometimes, with the things she wanted and didn’t want.
But that afternoon she was neither good nor quiet.
When they were together, they talked as infinitely and endlessly as they touched each other, and she never asked, or thought to ask, for promises. She had no need of them. She was South Shields born and bred. A sand dancer. The sea was everything she knew. She would no more have thought to keep him as she would have thought to hold the waves. She simply loved him, as she loved the flowers that lived their lives in a brilliant moment, and the whispering tides that came and went with the turning of the moon.
It was strange, she thought to herself this particular Tuesday, not quite six months from the first, the way everything could change, and nothing.
Certainly not her. Or Aidan O’Donaghue. Who came into her shop, wearing the sun in his hair and carrying the world in his eyes. Who, every Tuesday until this one, had given her his body like a gift. And who had, perhaps unintentionally, given her another gift, even more precious than the first. The promise of a life, curled deep inside her, already loved and waiting to be free.
Just like always, he turned the key and flipped the sign, but she did not lead him to the back room. Instead she took his hand, as she had the first time and every time that followed, and drew it down instead to rest against her stomach.
His eyes went wide.
Then he pulled away.
She bowed her head against the pain. Expecting it had not made it easier, as she had dared to hope it might. It was a little piece of loss, amidst all her joy.
I love you, she thought fiercely, to the life beneath her fingers, I will always be with you.
Her friends and family wouldn’t understand. They would watch her and tsk, as they so often did. They would whisper she had been careless. But it wouldn’t matter, because she hadn’t been. She had loved and been loved, and from that love had come a child, who would know the sea and the sky and all the worlds between.
She turned slowly.
Aidan O’Donaghue. His eyes wet and bright like summer rain. In his hand was a piece of the thin green wire she used for her bouquets. “I’ve had enough of Tuesdays. I want to stay. Will you let me?” And as she watched, he went to one knee on the stone floor. “Will you marry me?”
She thought about it a moment. Her friends and family would like this. It would somehow make them approve of her. But what they wanted was not what Nora needed, and she already had everything she needed: her lover, her child, her shop, the wild seas, and the rough air. “No, Aidan. I won’t marry you.”
The colour fled his face. “Nora, I—”
“But you can stay with me . . . with us.” Us. “As long as you want.”
What difference did it make, really, promises given in buildings and written in books? These things that let the world believe in what you had. Why did that matter, if she believed in it? If she believed in the way he looked at her and the way he touched her. The words he’d already given her. Their child. The life they could make together.
“I do.” He coloured a little, perhaps startled by his own certainty. “I want every day.”
She nodded, breathless and giddy suddenly on the realization that he believed too, just like she did.
He laughed up at her, but he was shaking as he gently wound the piece of wire about her fourth finger. “Then this is today.”
She stretched her hand into the dusty sunlight.
“Tomorrow there will be another, and another, until your hands are full of all my days.”
And she looked at him, kneeling there, and smiled. Brighter than all the flowers in her shop.
About Alexis Hall
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
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To celebrate the release of Pansies, one lucky winner will receive their choice of 3 ebooks from Alexis Hall’s backlist. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on October 15, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.
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