It can take losing everything to realize what you had all along.
Up-and-coming London chef Marcus Vine is poised on the edge of success, but the only men courting him are investors. That leaves Marcus with some free time—which is fortunate, because his godchildren need him.
A year ago, a horrible accident killed Marcus’s best friend, Raine, leaving her children without a mother and her husband, Tom, without a partner. Consumed by grief, Tom has been going it alone, refusing help, but when Marcus sees him out with the children, it’s obvious that Tom and his two daughters need someone. His persistent caring finally wears Tom down, allowing him to accept the comfort Marcus offers. Soon Marcus is up to his elbows in homework, home-cooked meals, and after-school activities. Over time he helps them rebuild their world, until soon their lives are approaching normal.
Then the unexpected happens: Tom confesses he has romantic feelings for Marcus, and nothing can ever be the same.
Ten minutes later Marcus heard Tom’s soft footfalls on the stairs.
“You want a beer?” said Marcus, twisting around and yanking open the fridge door as Tom hit the bottom step. “Got a couple of cold ones in here.”
“Actually, another reason I came back is because—” said Tom, hesitating momentarily before going on. “Because I wanted a chat with you.”
“Oh, shit,” Marcus hissed, two bottles of Asahi in one hand, and quietly closed the fridge door shut, his face falling. “What have I done now?”
Tom appeared genuinely mystified.
“Sorry?” he said, taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“Whenever you want to chat with me, it usually means you’re either going to tell me to fuck off or back off.”
“No, I—” said Tom, his eyebrows scrunched up in confusion, before he deflated with a sigh and gently shook his head. “Is that what you think? Hell, have I really been that much of a dick? After everything you’ve done for us, for me?”
“You’re not a dick, Tom. But you can be bloody stubborn at times. Beer?”
Tom ambled over and took the proffered beer bottle, twisted the lid, and took a long draft. Afterward, visibly relaxing, he perched on the barstool. Marcus went and joined him, leaving a sizable distance between them.
“What I meant was, I don’t get to hang out with you anymore. And I know that’s what I asked for, but in all honesty, I miss it, I miss our little chats.”
“Yes, well, whose fault is that?”
“I know, I know. I already claimed the dick card, remember?”
Marcus relaxed too, then leaned forward to clink the neck of his bottle with Tom’s. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Tom, I miss our grown-up time together too.”
And it suddenly dawned on Marcus how much he really had missed just chatting to Tom. If only he could master his infatuation. Maybe now would be a good time to win some points in the friends stakes, tell Tom about Damian Stone, tell him what they had found out. But while the thoughts swirled around in his head, Tom had started talking.
“I really do like that shirt on you, Marcus. Is it cotton?”
“Egyptian cotton,” said Marcus absently.
“Looks comfortable. Mind if I…?” Tom held a hand out as if waiting for permission to touch the material.
“Sure. Knock yourself out.”
Tom reached across the distance and pinched the material beneath Marcus’s collar between his thumb and forefinger.
“This Indian tailor round the back of Edgware Road makes them for me. Has done for a couple of years. If you want, I can—”
When Marcus raised his eyes to meet Tom’s, all thoughts left him, the dark heat in that gaze blistering. A sudden memory came back, of Tom sitting on the garden rug, staring angrily at him. Except it had not been anger at all but lust. Instinctively he inhaled a deep breath as Tom fisted the shirt and pulled Marcus out of his chair toward him. Even as Tom brought their mouths together, Marcus hesitated, fully expecting him to recoil, to reevaluate in disgust what he had initiated. But the moment never came. Closemouthed lips pressed onto Marcus’s own—firm, urgent, yet still a little unsure. And then, a second later, the essence of Tom Bradford hit Marcus hard, spicy aftershave mixed with Tom’s natural body scent and heat, so masculine, intoxicating and addictive. Instinctively Marcus’s arms found their way around Tom’s neck and he stepped into the man’s body, molding himself into the embrace. When he pushed his tongue between Tom’s lips, forcing them to part, Marcus took control of the kiss, touching, stroking, exploring, snaking his own tongue around Tom’s. In response, Tom shuddered and released a deep moan, before lifting Marcus off the floor and walking him backward until he had him pinned up against the fridge door. Breathless, Marcus pulled his mouth away.
“Well. That’s one mystery solved,” whispered Tom as he lowered Marcus back to earth, his lips tickling Marcus’s ear.
“What do you mean?”
“I wondered if my attraction to you was all in my head” came Tom’s husky voice before he thrust his substantial rock-hard groin into Marcus’s own arousal.
I haven’t read Brian Lancaster’s previous book, Uninvited Guest, so I really had nothing to go on, other than the blurb and that it was in the Dreamspun Desires category romance. I really liked to story premise, a widower falling in love with his deceased wife’s best friend, who comes to his aid with regards to the care of his children. (Warning, could be small spoilers ahead)
There were a few things that I didn’t quite understand with the story. The first, which never really resolved to my satisfaction, was Tom just turning Marcus away after Raine’s death, as if Marcus wasn’t grieving as well. This might have worked better in my mind if Tom felt confusion about his feelings for Marcus, but that wasn’t the case. He had no romantic feelings towards Marcus until after Marcus came back into their life.
The other issue I had was the search into the circumstances around Raine’s death. This bothered me simply because there really wasn’t a reason to look into it. It ended up causing hurt feelings and anger, and although the resolution-including the epilogue-was well done, I just thought it might have been unnecessary at that stage.
So, those were my issues. Now, what I loved about the book. J
First, and foremost, I loved the widower and kids situation, as I said earlier, with Marcus coming in to help at a later time. There was already a bond in place between Marcus and the children. And although I felt like Tom was a bit difficult to love at first, simply because he held back so much, it was obvious that part of the reason Marcus had stayed away was because of his inappropriate feelings toward Tom from the day they met.
I also really liked that Marcus did not allow himself to be walked all over. He was a proud man, confident in his business and himself, and he was able to stick up for himself when Tom was being difficult with him. He also continued to expand his business, even with all his new responsibilities, moving forward with a life that wasn’t wrapped around Tom and his family.
Once Tom and Marcus began a relationship, I like how they conducted themselves. They kept it discreet, in response to the children, yet were respectful of each other, and their separate lives.
In the end, definitely a book worth grabbing and spending an afternoon reading. Enjoy!
BRIAN LANCASTER is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else his muse provides. Born in the sleepy South of England, the setting of many of his stories, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he shares a home with his longtime partner and two of the laziest cats on the planet.
Brian Lancaster once believed that writing gay romantic fiction would be easy and cathartic. He also believed in Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant. At least he still has fantasies about those two.
Born in the rural South of England in a town with its own clock tower and cricket pitch, he moved to Hong Kong in 1998. Life went from calm and curious to fast and furious. On the upside, the people he has since met provide inspiration for a whole new cast of characters in his stories. He also has his long-term, long-suffering partner and two cats to keep him grounded.
After winning two short story competitions in 2006 and being published in a compendium, he decided to dive into writing full- length novels. Diving proved to be easy; the challenge has been in treading water and trying to remain afloat. Cynical enough to be classed a curable romantic, he is not seeking an antidote. When not working or writing, he enjoys acting in community theater productions, composing music, hosting pub quizzes, and any socializing that involves Chardonnay. And for the record, he would like to remind all those self-righteous white wine drinkers that White Burgundy, Chablis, and Champagne are still essentially Chardonnays.