Friday, 30 December 2016

Obligatory 2016 Round-up Post

As we limp towards the start of a new year and 2016 gurgles its last few desperate breaths (hopefully without taking any more beloved public figures with it) it is traditional to sit back and reflect on the arbitrary period of time we have just completed. To think on everything one might have accomplished this orbit of the sun; which things one wanted to do and didn't, which things were a surprise etc. You've read year-round-up posts before, you know what to expect here.

Despite my initial instinct to say that 2016 has been a complete and utter dumpster fire (and in many respects it really has been) on a personal level this year has actually been the opposite. Productive. Good, even.

That's not to say that 2016 has been an easy year for me. It's done quite a number on my mental health. Apparently getting to the end of something as huge and intense as a PhD with no clear idea what happens next can take its toll on a person. I've had to learn that it's okay to take time for myself, to reboot and recharge the old brain. And initially I thought that when looking back on 2016 it would be the post-PhD funk that dominated by memories. I was wrong.

First of all I'd like to acknowledge the fact that I finished and graduated from my PhD because holy crap that is not a small thing. It's pretty fucking impressive, if I do say so myself.

This year was also the year I self published my first novel. Like an entire novel that I wrote with my own hands is out there in the world for people to buy. Which is a thing I try not to think about too much because otherwise it blows my mind.

I also sold my very first short story to a publication, which should be going live sometime tomorrow (the 31st). This joins the dozens of stories available for free on this very blog and the ones I've self published.

I got my first freelance paychecks this year,  and when they didn't quite make ends meet I was adult enough to go looking for a seasonal job to earn extra cash. It ate into my writing time initially but I'm better at balance now, and I'm hopeful I might be able to make it permanent.

At the beginning of the year I set myself the goal of writing a quarter of a million words and I hit that sometime in October. Right now I'm at just shy of 300,000 words, which was the stretch goal I set myself. Do I feel bad for not hitting that goal? No, because that is still a metric crap tonne of words.

I also set myself the challenge of reading 50 books (of any length) which I've missed by about four books. Again I'm not mad about missing that goal because on top of those 46 books I've read easily a couple of million words of fanfiction.

And speaking of fanfiction, this has pretty much been the best year I've ever had fandom wise. More hits, more Kudos, more comments, more subscriptions. Which isn't necessarily a surprise since I've posted more words, more stories than before. My fandom performance this year makes me hopeful my approach to self publishing will pay off long term.

I didn't think I'd say this, but I'm excited to see what 2017 has in store for me.

I tend not to make resolutions because often they're about changing something about yourself you don't necessarily have much control over in order to make yourself feel less shit and I'm not about that. I believe in attainable goals that can be measured, so what are they?

1. Pet more dogs.  Not really measurable but I don't care. Dogs are great and make me happy, so I'll do more of this.

2. Keep creating an putting art out into the world. I want to write 300,000 words across all the mediums I write. I will keep posting my short stories here,  and on Medium, and keep submitting to publications. I want to aim for releasing five novels next year, digitally and in hard copy, because I want so badly to be able to hold an actual book I wrote.

3. Continue to be unrepentantly, obnoxiously, unabashedly myself. I will keep talking about my mental health, my sexuality and issues that are important to me as much as feel I can. Because pretending to be someone I'm not is too much hard work.

4. Make a dent in the book pile they lives next to my bed. There's like 25 of them just sat there. I want to read about half in the next year.

5. Survive and be happy, even if it's just to spite those who don't want.  me to. Sometimes this is the hardest thing, especially when you live with depression, but meeting the rest of my goals will be impossible without this.

I hope you all have a safe and happy 2017, and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you. Have a good one, and take care.

Friday, 11 November 2016

#whimword - console

Poetry again from me. I can neither confirm nor deny this was inspired by recent world events.

No Consolation

When the shit hits the fan it's tempting to hide,
batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.
Grief hits the heart hard, tears it apart
And makes it feel like every beat is bleeding.

But here's the thing:
This is the moment where we get back up again,
Broken and beaten but still strong
This is the part where we go on and win.

I will wear my scars with pride
But I won't let them see me weak
They don't get to see me bleed
I will not cut myself for them

This is far from over
I will not accept defeat
Don't talk to me about consolation prizes
I'm sounding the drums of war

I'm done with hiding,
Through with hurting for someone else
This is the moment, this is our time
Let them see what we're made of

I swear on every bone in my body that this isn't done
I swear on the blood in my veins they haven't won
we're on the right side of history;
Let's go raise some hell.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Novel Birthday To Me!

Well folks, today's the day. My debut novel is now available to purchase in electronic book format from (most) good retailers. Please to have some links:

Barnes and Noble

It's almost surreal to finally have this book out there. I started work on this book almost ten years ago, finishing up a complete draft in time for Christmas 2007. Spent a pretty penny printing it off at the University library too. It was the first novel I'd ever finished and I was super proud of it, because you're allowed to be proud when you accomplish something you've wanted to do since you were six years old. And then I put it aside to focus on getting a couple of degrees. But the story never left me.

Finishing it up allowed me to see where the biggest issues lay. The story stayed in my head for ten years, evolving and changing. I kept writing, kept learning about writing and stories and fed all that into what was happening. And then last year I sat down and started the version that is now available to buy. Does it have much in common with that other version? Well the characters have the same names. Believe me when I say this is so much better.

When a story has been part of you so long its tempting to keep it with you, let no one else see it as you keep polishing and shining it. But a writer doesn't make a living that way. A writer doesn't move forward that way. And at some point a story has to stand on its own merits. Is this book perfect? No. Is it the best book I could have written right now? Yes, I really believe it is. And was it ready to be released to the world, to stand or fall on its own? Yes it was.

So that's what I did.

This feels like a hell of a milestone in my writing career, probably because it is. I'm proud of this book, proud of myself for getting this far. The launch of a first novel is important, and tonight I'll take the time to step back and enjoy my success, but what's more important is what comes next. Tomorrow morning I have to get up and start writing something new (or continue writing, since I'm about 50,000 words into my third ever novel, which is exciting in its own way).

And there's still so much to do with this book. Ideally I want to have a print version available before Christmas, for all those people who are still working in analogue. Also because physical copies of books are lovely and it's gonna be so great to be able to hold that in my hands. And there's a sequel that needs writing as well.

There are other projects coming too. More novels, more stories. Keep an eye out for announcements on those. This is a hell of a day for me, a great achievement, but I really am only just getting started. There is so much more to come, I promise.

Friday, 28 October 2016

#whimword - Labyrinth

In a shocking departure from the norm, I did a poetry for this week's whimword. In news that will surprise no one, it's not very cheerful. Oh well. You win some...


My feet take me down an untrod path
that twists and turns which way and that
I cannot find my way.

No time! No time!

Is it left or right?
I cannot remember
there is nothing other than this maze I'm in.

Goblin King, Goblin King
take pity on an old sinner.
Let me out, leave me be.
Don't take my brother from me.

The Goblin King heeds not my words
My throat is raw from screaming,
the air is dusty with the dead;
no one gets out of this labyrinth alive.

The string is too short, too short
I am out of time.

Like the others, I become dust.

Friday, 21 October 2016

#whimword - Minute: The Slightly Ridiculous Adventures of Pocket Sam, Part 1

So, I may or may not have written a slightly ridiculous story about my husband waking up one morning to find himself inexplicably shrunk. And I may or may not plan on writing more because 500 words just wasn't enough... But you can't prove anything.

The Slightly Ridiculous Adventures of Pocket Sam, Part 1

Sam had never been a particularly tall person, but from the moment he woke up that morning he knew something was wrong. Perhaps it was the ocean of duvet he was wrapped in, or maybe it was because the ceiling was just a little bit too far away, but something was definitely different.

Being a little short was one thing, but being only three inches tall was definitely new.

In the absence of a better plan, he decided to go about his normal routine as best as he could. It was easier said than done.

Sam almost killed himself falling out of bed, what had been a surmountable drop now like a great yawning chasm. It was after that he decided it was probably best if he called in sick to work, though using his phone was an adventure.

When his wife got up she almost stepped on him. Until he let out a loud, and very much human, scream.

"Sam? What the fuck? What are you doing down there?" Her voice boomed loud in his ears, and Sam could tell he was going to end up with a headache.

"I don't know what happened," he shouted back up to her. "Please don't step on me."

"Oh," she said, sounding surprised. She crouched down and scooped Sam up, depositing him on her shoulder. The motion made Sam feel a little bit sick. "Is that better?" she said, quieter this time, as though she was mindful of both his tiny eardrums and the fact he was close to her mouth.

"Much," he said, snuggling into the side of her neck. It was warm and smelled familiar and was really comforting when his world seemed to have gone topsy turvy.

"Any idea how this happened?"

"Nope. I'm just hoping I'll turn back at some point. What do i do in the meantime?"

"I'll look after you," Tonks said with a smile. "You hungry? Imagine how much of a feast one slice of toast is going to be!"

Sam couldn't manage a whole toast slice in the end, but he was grateful he had someone to look after him during his... predicament. When Tonks got dressed that day she put on a shirt with a pocket so she could carry him around, keep him safe. Sam ended up in clothes meant for an action figure twice his size, but he managed.

He could use his phone at least, which meant he wasn't bored, and Tonks made him coffee in an egg cup, which was basically a bucket for Sam now. He was fed, and snuggled and generally looked after, and even if it was a bit weird being three inches tall, Tonks made it feel okay.

"Thank you," he said as he climbed back into bed that night. "You've been great today."

"I try," Tonks said, and went to sleep.

It had been nice today, but he hoped that tomorrow he was back to his normal size.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Novel Pre-Order: On the Rise by Rachel Tonks Hill

Last week I had the very great pleasure of announcing that my first novel is now available for pre-order in ebook format. I am super excited and also kind of nervous.

This is the longest thing I've ever written (word count wise it's about twice the length of my thesis) and is based on a concept that's been in my head for almost a decade. I really want people to like it. Mostly thought it's a relief that this story will finally be out there in the world instead of just existing inside my head. I've loved having it there, but I'm looking forward to being able to think about (and tell) new stories.

Like the sequel.

I currently plan on making this a trilogy but earlier this year I ended up writing a short novel when I'd only planned on a short story so you know, my plans don't always come off. We'll see how I feel when I get there.

For now, book one is a real thing that you'll be able to buy and read. In ebook only for now, but I plan on there being a hard copy at some point. That's a whole other bunch of skills for me to learn though.

In the meantime please allow me to scream at the top of my lungs: I DID IT I WROTE A WHOLE NOVEL WHOOO!

And now I have to go do it all again. Such a hard life, being a writer.

(Buy my book)

Sky Thompson has a normal life; a boyfriend, best friend, and parents she loves very much. She's happy. Until one day she finds her boyfriend in bed with another woman and her life careens out of control.

Now her parents are dead, torn apart by a creature out of a nightmare. Sky knows what it is, she saw it with her own eyes, and she won't rest until her parents' killer is dead. She wants revenge, and nothing will stand in her way.

But revenge is far from simple and the cost is higher than Sky ever dreamed it could be. Can she find the strength within herself to see this through? And will she be able to come to terms with the fact life isn't black and white, and that there is more at stake here than just revenge?

Pick up a copy of On the Rise today and find out.

Barnes and Noble
Smashwords (available 31/10/16)

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Assessing Progress

So I missed a daily story yesterday. Mostly because I was replaying one of my favourite games from when I was a teenager. But I've also been thinking about the challenge in general.

I've written fourteen stories now, mostly on consecutive days. I'm pretty pleased with that. But one thing I've noticed since I started the daily stories is that I've done basically no work on the novel I'm writing. And that's a problem.

Writing and publishing a short story every day is a great idea, and it's forced me to think and be creative every single day. But I've written a hell of a lot of short stories. I want to be working on longer projects; novelettes, novellas, novels. And apparently I can't do that if I'm writing short fiction every day.

September was StoryADay. And with my challenge I pretty much hit that for the second half of the month. And I'm happy to leave it there. Writing a story every day for a year would no doubt have done wonders for my writing, but I can't lie it's a daunting prospect. It was doing wonders for my blog hits as well but at the end of the day that's not what I want to focus on. I have novels to write and I can't do that if I'm focusing on a challenge like this.

So here's the plan: I will take a break from daily fiction so I can work on other projects. I have a novel I want to finish before November so I can start a fresh project for NaNoWriMo. Since I had fun doing the daily stories I might have another go at it in December. Short stories will be a nice palate cleanser after NaNo. In the meantime I'll shoot for posting a short story every week, which means I can go back to doing #whimwords when the fancy strikes me.

Did I fail my challenge? No. I managed a story every day for almost two weeks and racked up something like 15-20,000 words in the process. That's a success in my book. I enjoy reckless writing challenges, but I like to think I can temper that with some practicality, that I can recognise when something isn't sustainable. I could write a story every day for a year, but it would be detrimental to my other writing goals. So I'll stop, consider it a roaring success and pencil in another round of this challenge at a later date.

I hope you've enjoyed the stories that I've written as much as I've enjoyed writing them, and I look forward to seeing you for the next ridiculous writing thing I decide to do.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Short Story: Meat Puppet

John wanted meat puppets, so I wrote meat puppets.

Meat Puppet

The crystalline psuedo-skeleton slides into the flesh casing with a wet slurp.

There. It's finished.

You seal up the synthetic skin, hiding the tangled mass of electronics and bio-implants and genuine human body parts under a comforting layer of silicone. It looks just about human, though there is that element of "uncanny valley" you've heard spoken about so often. Not being human yourself it doesn't really bother you that something might not look quite human. Or looking too human.

It looks real. You power it up, the body thrumming with electricity, humming with *life*. There is a brief instinct to cackle madly into the night but somehow you resist; this is not an adaptation of Frankenstein and you are not the villain in an episode of Scooby Doo. You are a scientist who needs this instrument to complete your research.

Your fingers ghost over the controls and your creation responds to your every wish. The testing is thorough. Range of motion, endurance, durability, speech, gestures, memory banks, communication systems and video monitoring. Every single part of your animatronic person is tested to within an inch of its life. It passes every one.

As far as you can determine this thing looks and acts like a real human. But you're not the ultimate arbiter of success; to be truly successful your creation needs to fool a human being, and the only way of testing that is in the field.

You send your android, your robot, you animatronic person, human facsimile out to meet real flesh and blood people and hope that it passes muster. You've lost count of how many iterations of this flesh marionette you have built, how many meat puppets have been thrown in the trash as inadequate long before the field testing stage.

Watching through its eyes you use the remote controls to direct it to interact with a human being. Strange creatures these humans; bipedal carbon-based lifeforms that for the life of you you cannot figure out. They are bafflingly varied, and not just in the way they look, act or smell. They seem to have complex systems of interacting with one another that are fascinating. That is the reason you built this creature, this Frankenstein's monster of a thing; this being that is designed to look human but isn't. It's not quite an android, its not quite a robot; with you behind the controls at every step it is entirely its own thing. And its success hangs on this one moment, this first interaction.

You steer the thing towards a likely looking candidate. The human looks it up and down (though from your perspective watching the cameras it feel like it is looking you up and down). When the human doesn't immediately start screaming and running a flicker of elation runs through your primary nervous system. It works!

The controls for the flaps of meat along the mandible are complex and took a long time to learn how to properly manipulate. Now you can speak this creature's language at the touch of a button. You fire off the commands, holding your breath that this too will be a success.

You direct your creature to look the human in the eye and say: "hello."

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Short Story: Exhibit A

Today's story ended up being my second attempt. Started one, got a line in and then got stuck. Came back later with a different prompt and this just fell out of my brain.

Disclaimer, I am in no way a lawyer of any kind, though I am led to believe the crime mentioned is indeed a real crime.

Exhibit A

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury I submit for your consideration, exhibit A.

The defendant claims that they were not present at the Untapped Barrel on the night of July twenty second, however exhibit A, being the CCTV camera footage from the aforementioned drinking establishment, clearly indicated otherwise.

Please cast your eyes on this date and timestamped still from the the footage, which is available in its entirety for you to peruse at your leisure, which clearly shows the defendant entering the Untapped Barrel at 8.26pm on the night in question. The second frame on display, shows the defendant leaving the Untapped Barrel at 11.47pm on that same night.

Exhibit B is footage taken from this inside of the public house and is of much higher quality than that captured by the exterior cameras. This frame clearly shows the defendant, with their rather distinctive red hair, standing at the bar. In fact, the footage is of high enough quality that I can see from this frame that the defendant ordered a pint of Stella Artois which, sadly, is not the crime for which they stand accused.

The following five stills, timestamped at approximately half hour intervals, show the defendant returning to the bar to order further pints of the questionable lager.

Now, I will admit that this footage is not evidence that the defendant committed the crime for which they are accused in and of itself. It does, however, cast doubt on the veracity of the defendant's testimony. They claim that they were nowhere near the establishment in question on the night the crime was committed and yet both exhibit A and exhibit B clearly show that they were? What other parts of their testimony might also be false?

Please also consider that their choice of drink might bring the defendant's moral character and judgement into question... sorry your honour, I will refrain from this line of argument. Comment withdrawn.

Choice of alcoholic beverage aside, the defendant has been show to be untrustworthy in their testimony of the events of that night, whether by virtue of fallible memories or by deliberate misdirection. Given the amount of alcohol they were observed to have consumed that night, no matter the quality, I will grant that it is entirely possible that it is the former rather than the latter that may be the reason for their contradictory testimony.

In summary, ladies and gentlemen of the jury  submit evidence to you that the defendant was indeed present at the Untapped Barrel on the night in question, corroborating the testimony of the witnesses and in direct opposition to the defendant's own testimony. I therefore put it to you, that the defendant did indeed commit the crime for which they are accused and that they should be found guilty of wilfully and wantonly disturbing the victim and their family by pulling or ringing any door-bell or knocking at their door without a lawful excuse. I beseech you, ladies and gentleman of the jury, to finally bring justice to the most prolific public nuisance in recent memory: the Ginger Knocker.

The prosecution rests, your honour.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Short Story: Pandemic

Today's story was inspired by the prompt "plague" from Jay. I wasn't really sure where it was going when I started and it ended up a little bit Serenity and a little bit George A. Romero, with just a dash of science from my degrees. And I called it Pandemic cos I fucking love that game. Enjoy!

The virus was perfect. Unstoppable.

Professor Mills and her team had created the ultimate biological weapon, and it would mean the end of all warfare.

Designed to target proteins producing hormones associated with aggression and violence, it would suppress the function of those proteins, thereby calming any population it was released in. It did its job admirably, and with far fewer side effects than anything else that had been used. And if the virus had a tendency to target men more than women well, who was to say that was a bad thing?

But Professor Mills and her team, despite their wisdom and intelligence, hadn't reckoned with Mother Nature herself. They couldn't anticipate every possible mutation and so they hadn't tried. In the end, the mutation they got was their worst nightmare.

Their synthetic virus somehow ended up taking on characteristics of the HIV virus, possibly acquired when someone ended up infected with both viruses at the same time. Specifically, the synthetic virus acquired HIV's accelerated rate of replication and mutation. It very quickly became an entirely different monster to the one that had been designed, and since the majority of governments were dosing their populations with it, the mutated virus rapidly became widespread.

Soon almost everyone on the planet was infected with the mutated virus, or as near to that as to make no difference. That wouldn't necessarily have been a problem if the virus had maintained its original characteristics, but it hadn't.

People who were infected by this new version of the virus ended up hyper-aggressive, the virus stimulating production of the hormones it had been designed to inhibit. Violence escalated beyond any government's ability to control. The planet fell into anarchy.

And then other symptoms of the virus began to appear. Extreme thirst. Neuropathy and loss of sensation in the limbs. Muscular degeneration. Necrosis of the skin. People were wandering around unable to control their violent tendencies, unable to feel pain and with bit of their bodies literally dying and falling off.

They had literally created a zombie virus.

The only plus side as far as anyone could tell (those lucky few who suffered milder forms of the virus or whose immune systems had successfully fought it off) was that when you killed these zombies they stayed dead. And they didn't seem to crave the flesh of the living so much as they just wanted to bash your brains out, which was equally unhelpful.

Those who were left were vastly outnumbered by those affected by the virus, and they knew that humanity as they knew it was essentially over. That didn't mean they were going to go quietly into the night. Some of the younger generation, those who still had hope, fought back, mowing down the zombies wherever and when ever they encountered them. Others set up walled settlements where people could live in relative safety, watching each of their residents carefully for signs they too had succumbed. humanity staggered along, refusing to acknowledge it's own death throes.

For a while it looked like there might be a chance of recovery; people were having children, and the babies seemed to mostly be immune to the virus. (There were one or two stories of unborn babies literally fighting their way out of the uterus, but it was difficult to confirm given the general state of communication between settlements and groups. The stories persisted though.) The population expanded again, and most of the existing zombies had either been killed or had literally fallen apart, the virus having run its course. People started believing in the possibility of a future again.

And then the virus hopped species. There was nothing humanity could do to save itself.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Short Story: What I Wanted to Say

Getting this one in very close to the wire today. Mostly cos I slept all day after injuring my foot last night; bed was the only place it was comfy and when I was in bed I napped. Still, I managed it. Go me.

What I Wanted to Say

You keep trying to tell yourself she's your colleague, nothing more, but your heart won't listen. Your eyes keep on noticing the way she moves, the little curl of a smile in the corner of her mouth when she's amused by something, the tiny crease in her brows when she's concentrating.

Despite your best attempts at denial you're a mess, completely gone and a hundred percent done for. And she can never know.

It's not that you're ashamed of your feelings, quite the contrary. It's that there is no world in which you can ever be good enough for her. She is a goddess in human form. She deserves the stars.

There is nothing that you can offer her that will do her justice. Rejection would break you, and no matter what happens you still have to go on working by her side.

It's not like she lacks for company. She's a beautiful woman, funny and outgoing. You're not the only one who would give their right arm for a few seconds of her time. She dates, men and women alike with no discernible preference, and talks about her evenings out with your other colleagues.

You try to tell yourself that you have no claim on her, that she owes you nothing but you can't seem to help the surge of jealousy that rushes through you when she talks about her dates. You know it's wrong, but if your emotions did as you told them you wouldn't be in love with her in the first place.

Time passes. She continues to date, never more than two with the same person, and you keep your misery to yourself. Sometimes you think she looks at you with a question in her eyes but what she wants to ask you have no idea.

You watch for any sort of sign, however small, that your feelings are returned; that she might feel even a fraction of what's inside your heart. But there's nothing. Your heart forgets what hope feels like.

And then... you learn that you're about to lose what little you have and you break.

She's got a new job. At another company. In another city. And for some reason she seems utterly miserable about it.

Your chances are now finite. Fear is your enemy. You have to say something if you want to have any chance of happiness. And if she doesn't feel the same way? Well your concerns about having to continue working by her side no longer apply.

You have nothing to lose except the wall of misery you've built around yourself.

It's time to take a deep breath and jump.

Part of you wants to wait until her last day but you know that's just the fear talking; her last day will be be far too late. You pick the Friday after you find out she's going; if this goes ill for you then at least you'll have the weekend to lick your wounds.

You stumble over your words, your tongue feeling like it belongs to someone else, a foreign presence in your mouth. You're not entirely convinced you make sense, but somehow you managed to get enough words out; your heart belongs to her and always has, and if there's even the smallest chance she feels the same way you'll go to  the ends of the earth to be with her.

She stares at you for a long time after you finally speak what's been in your heart almost as long as you can remember. You are tempted to slink away, to lick your wounds in private but there's something in her gaze, something soft and warm that makes you think this might not be a rejection. So you wait, heart beating faster than it ever has, hoping and praying that your bravery wasn't for nothing.

Instead of saying something her lips find yours, hot and wet and impossibly soft. It's possible that your knees give way, that she is the only thing keeping you upright but your brain is too focused on the kiss to pay attention. This is everything you've ever dreamed about and more.

When she pulls away she'd breathless and there is a light in her eyes that hasn't been there for too long; you realise it's joy, the same as the feeling trying to burst out of your chest.

"I thought I had no chance," she says softly, breath ghosting across your face. "I thought I wasn't good enough."

You let out a bark of laughter before you can think about how that might be taken the wrong way. She starts to pull away, but your arms tighten around her; if you have any say in matters you're never letting go of her ever again.

"I thought I wasn't good enough for you," you whisper back. "I thought you'd never even look at me."

She chuckles then, and it's the most beautiful sound you've heard in your life. "We've both been fools haven't we?"

"Yes we have," you say, and kiss her again.

Her lips feel like home, like the realisation of a dream you've had for years but never dared believe might come true. And she kisses you like she'll die without it, like she's been waiting her whole life for your mouth on hers. Your kisses are all at once frantic and incredibly gentle. You don't have the words to describe it.

The need to get more air in your lungs is the only thing that coaxes your lips away from hers. She looks at you like you hold all the answers to life's mysteries, like you're the only thing in the world that matters and you realise she's always looked at you like that, you were just too blind to see it.

Her face falls then. "What about my new job?" she asks, and you can hear fear in her voice. "I'm moving to another city just when I've realised I belong here."

You smile and brush her hair out of her face. All the fear is gone and you feel you could take on the world if she asked it of you. "It doesn't matter," you say, and you know it's true. "We'll work something out. I'll follow you if I have to. Whatever it takes, we will be together."

She smiles and your soul lights up; she believes you. There'll be time enough to worry about the logistics later.

You kiss her again, a promise that you'll do this for the rest of your life if she'll let you. The kisses she gives you in return tell you that she will.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Short Story: The Assassin

This story was inspired by me asking my friend Jill for a story prompt months ago. She gave me "ninjas" and over time it percolated in my brain and finally ended up as this. Somehow we ended up with assassins instead of ninjas but she enjoys it anyway.

The Assassin

The assignment brief has been oddly vague. Normally there was a plethora of information about the target; appearance, family, general habits etc. This time all there was in the file was a location and an instruction to kill whoever was there.

Jane didn't like. She didn't like it one bit.

But an assignment was an assignment and she would do her duty.

So she made her way to the given location under cover of darkness, creeping from rooftop to rooftop like a shadow. She slipped into the room through the window and got the surprise of her life.

Her target was her immediate superior in the assassin order.

It wasn't unusual to be assigned another assassin as a target—it was after all how they kept their own house in order—but it was unheard of to go into an assignment like this on no intel. The feeling of unease that had been creeping up her spin intensified.

She needed more information before she did anything.

"What's going in here Bran?" she asked. "Why have I been assigned to kill you? And why didn't I know it was you beforehand?"

Bran glanced a the floor and shuffled his feet; he looked awkward, something he'd never been in all the time Jane had known him. "That's because I'm not the target Jane; you are."

Jane stood there, stunned. As her brain frantically tried to assimilate this new information she realised it made perfect sense.  And that she knew exactly why the order wanted to kill her. There would be no forgiveness from the order for what she'd done. She should have realised that earlier.

"This is about the Bergman job isn't it? The one I fucked up."

Bran nodded. "You let a target walk away, Jane. The order can't tolerate failure like that. We need to know we can rely on our operatives."

"That target was a child Bran," Jane shot back, angry now.

"That doesn't matter!" Bran yelled. "You were given a target and you failed to kill them. You're an assassin Jane, you don't get to pick and choose your morality."

Jane disagreed. Just because she killed people for a living (and the order had trained her from a young age, she knew nothing else and was well aware of how thoroughly she'd been indoctrinated) didn't mean she didn't know the difference between right and wrong. There was a line to be drawn somewhere, and she'd drawn it. No child could ever have done anything bad enough to warrant death.

"You're wrong," she said, jaw set.

Bran didn't budge an inch. "Doesn't matter. You failed an assignment, intentionally. The order cannot forgive and it cannot forget. You know how we deal with insubordinate assassins."

Apparently they were given assignments that were actually ambushes. Jane had dispatched her fair share of failed assassins in the past and had never thought twice about it. Now though, she wondered how many of them were like her; justified in the choices they'd made.

She'd never given her targets time to talk though. She wondered if Bran was on the verge of bottling it and walking away himself.

"You don't have to do it you know," she said. "You walk away from this and I disappear. The order never sees me again. No one has to know the truth."

Bran looked sad. "I can't do that, you know I can't."

"You know I won't go quietly, don't you?"

"You should," he said. "Prove your loyalty to the order one last time. Accept your fate; kneel."

Jane's legs almost buckled, years of conditioning to follow instructions given by the order acting before her conscious mind could, but she recovered. She stood firm, back straight and proud; she was in the right on this matter. If she died today it wouldn't be without a fight.

She looked Bran dead in the eye and simply said "no."

He grimaced. "So be it."

Bran was quick, but with her life on the line Jane moved quicker. She slipped a knife from her belt, blocking Bran's attack with her leather vambrace. The cold steel bit through the leather and into her skin, but she barely felt it; her veins were on fire as she drove her own knife between Bran's ribs.

He was her superior in the order, meaning he had that much more skill and experience but he was also that much older and moved just a hair slower; that was his downfall. Jane jerked the knife upwards, ending any hope he had of getting out of this alive. He choked and coughed, his body desperately fighting the inevitable.

"I'm sorry Bran," she said. "I really am."

The only reply she got was a wet gurgle as his legs gave out under him and he slumped to the floor.

Jane wiped her knife on Bran's shirt as she contemplated her next move.

It was only a matter of time before the order discovered Bran's failure. And then they would hunt her down. For believing that killing children was wrong. Her fate was sealed no matter what; the order wasn't known for forgiveness and they would send operatives after her until one succeeded. The odds weren't in her favour. One of them would kill her eventually.

Once upon a time Jane would have accepted the order's demand for her head without question. She would have knelt when Bran commanded her to and she would be the one bleeding out on the floor, not him. This new Jane knew that her only chance was take down the order itself; no order, no death warrant.

It was a long shot, and risky as hell, but the order deserved nothing less. Being an assassin was one thing; being asked to unquestioningly murder children was another, and an assassin order expecting the latter didn't deserve to continue.

There was a good chance she'd end up dead anyway, but at least she'd go down fighting for something she believed in.

Decision made, she knelt by Bran's cooling corpse to loot his weapons and vambraces, one of hers now ruined. The path ahead was clear and she would need every advantage she could get.

Before she got up Jane closed Bran's eyes and muttered a quick prayer before slipping out into the night.

While there was still breath in her body she wouldn't stop hunting down those who had once been her colleagues, her mentors, her friends. She wouldn't rest until the only family she had ever known had been brought to its knees. She would have her revenge.

The order wouldn't know what hit it.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Short Story: Salt and Freedom

Forgot to do a story yesterday, but it doesn't matter. You pick yourself and try again. It isn't failure, it's life.

Salt and Freedom

The sea smelled of salt and freedom. Grey skies heralded an oncoming storm but I paid it no mind. There were other things I needed to do on the dock that day than mind the weather.

"You want to by passage?" asked the young man by the gangway. "Where to?"

"Anywhere that's not here," I replied. "Where you headed?"

He gave me a detailed itinerary. I didn't care about any of the ports they would stop at; the destination was of no concern to me.

All I wanted was to get out of here.

"You have the coin," he said. I got the impression it wasn't a question.

"Of course." I handed over what meagre money I had; all I'd been able to scrape together when I'd fled.

My passage booked, I walked up the gangplank, a few steps away from the freedom I'd craved my whole life.

"Wait!" a voice shouted.

"Sir, sir you can't go up there," I heard the young man say. The voice that had shouted to wait didn't seem to care.

I close my eyes and paused, one foot hovering over the gunwale of of the ship.

There was a commotion and then footsteps thundered up the gangplank behind me.

"You can't go," said the voice as a hand grabbed my elbow.

"You can't stop me," I shot back, voice hoarse. I had no forgiveness left for this man or his family. I needed to be free.

"I thought you were happy."

I shook my head. "If you thought that then you never really knew me. And if there is any truth to the claim that you once loved me then you'll let me go. I don't belong here."

He looked conflicted, my desire for freedom warring against his desire to keep me free. At last something in his face relaxed, and the hand let go of my elbow.

"Will you turn me in?" I asked softly.

"No," he said as his shoulders slumped in defeat. "I should, but I do love you despite everything." He looked at me like he's trying to memorise my face, eyes sad. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you too," I returned, voice barely even a whisper.

The young man I handed my coin to is at his side then, eyes firm and hard. "Sir?" he said, "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. This area is for passengers only."

I pressed a quick kiss to his cheek; a farewell. It wasn't enough to convey all the words I still needed to say, but it was all we got. I loved him, just as he loved me, but a love that would keep me bound paled in comparison to the notion of escape.

He kept his eyes on my all the way down the gangplank.

I stashed my meagre belongings in the poor excuse for a cabin I'd been assigned and immediately sought the fresh air of the deck.

My feet found the bow of the ship as if it was instinct, and I stayed there until I heard the whistle that announced out departure.

The wind whipped my face as we picked up speed, the salt spray stinging my skin but I didn't care; I'd never felt so alive. I watched the only life I'd ever known grow smaller and smaller even as the feeling in my chest grew bigger. It took me a while to realise what it was; joy.

The air smelled of salt and the scent of ozone that warned of imminent lightening. To me it smelled like freedom, renewal. A chance for a better life.

Yes there was a storm coming, but soon it would pass and the air would clear. I would start my life again.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Short Story: Becoming Myself

In honour of Bi Visibility day this turned into more of a personal essay but I'm still counting it.

Becoming Myself
I had my first crush on a girl when I was still in Primary School, only I didn't really know that at the time. I was young enough that anything to do with boys or kissing was still counted as "icky (despite already having had a number of boyfriends in that "we're going out now and we might hold hands but nothing else" sort of way young kids do). I remember thinking she was pretty. I remember her making my stomach feel funny. I wasn't really old enough to understand what that was. I never said anything, because of course girls fancying girls is Wrong and just doesn't happen. I ended up hating her, and I'll always wonder if that was anything to do with what she was really like or whether that was my way of dealing with feelings I didn't want to understand.

As a teenager I kissed a lot of girls. I've lost count to be honest. I kissed most of my friends as a teen, even though I wasn't going out with them, because when you're fourteen and at a party that's the sort of thing you do. Getting the girls to kiss each other was a great game. It felt daring. Taboo. And of course the boys enjoyed watching, so we did it as much for performance as anything else. (Funny how the boys were always willing to watch the girls kiss but were never willing to kiss each other). I always preferred kissing the girls to the boys. It was softer, and they were generally better at it. I couldn't let on how much I enjoyed it though. But I was always willing to.

I remember my first kiss with someone who had a tongue piercing. That was fun. It was at the beach. And it was with a girl. I don't remember most of my first kisses with boys.

I kept kissing girls even when I had a boyfriend. Because he was okay with it. Because everyone knows that girls kissing girls "doesn't count". My heart didn't know that though. I think I fell in love with a girl while I had a boyfriend. Here I was supposed to be feeling squishy things about a dude and it was on of my friends that got my heart all aflutter. She was always willing to kiss, and she was good at it. She made me feel special. Even the time she threw up after spending the evening making out with me. It was oddly endearing and I jumped to take care of her, which was how I knew it was love.

And yet I still laboured under the illusion I was straight. Because I fancied boys, which is what girls are "supposed" to do. Any attraction I felt for women wasn't valid. It didn't count. I wasn't cheating if I kissed a girl (that was explicitly stated by my boyfriend) because only kisses with boys were real.

I stopped telling people I was straight about seven years ago. I realised that my attraction to women was substantial enough that the word didn't really apply to me. But I didn't really feel not-straight. I still fancied men. I fell in love with men. Whatever I felt for women wasn't real. It didn't count. That's the message I'd gotten my entire life.

I started identifying as bisexual about two years ago. I'd been doing a lot of work on coming to terms with myself, growing into me, doing the damage that mandatory schooling wreaks on most kids. And if I was sorting out my self-image issues and my self-esteem issues I might as well come to terms with my sexuality as well. And when I sat and thought about it, when I treated the feelings I'd had for women as valid too, I realised something important; I have been attracted to men and women for most of my life. And I realised there was a word to describe that and that it's okay to use it.

I am bisexual.

A lot of my friends weren't surprised to be honest. Most of them had worked it out long before I had. They knew me better than I knew myself. And they were supportive when I started using the correct terms to describe myself, which meant the world.

Because bisexuality is so often erased, both by straight people and the LGBT+ community. We're seen as greedy, as slutty, as cheaters who are inherently untrustworthy. We're told it's just a phase, that we're confused and we'll decide which gender we're really attracted to at some point. We're defined by who our current partner is instead of who we're attracted to. We're erased by both communities, each of them trying to lump us in with the other. When bisexual characters are on tv or in movies they're not called bisexuals, they're "people who don't like labels." I internalised these messages for so long, but no more.

Coming to terms with what it means to be queer, and bisexual in particular, has almost been harder than actually admitting to myself that I am bisexual. I forget that, because of who I am attracted to, technically I am part of a minority. I sometimes forget I am bisexual; somehow in my brain, being attracted to men and women and Being Bisexual are two different things and sometimes it's hard to reconcile the two.

It's also been hard reconciling my identity with other parts of my life. There are places where I've felt that I can be myself, unrepentantly, and places where I feel like I have to hide myself. Because people didn't know that about me, because I wasn't sure how they'd react. It's tiring. Listening to people be openly homophobic because they think you're like them and you're not. Feeling like you're essentially two people depending on where you are and who you're with. It's exhausting. I haven't been doing it that long and I'm tired. People who work out who they are much younger, who have to hide so much longer; I have no idea how you do it but you are strong and you are brave and I am so proud of you.

I'm not going to hide any more, keep bits of me under wraps like it's a shameful secret, because it's not. I am not ashamed of who I am, and no one has the right to make me feel ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed of. And if they people who claim to love me think there is something shameful about who I am then they don't love me half as much as they claim to.

Traditionally stories have beginnings, conflict, endings but there is no ending to this story. This isn't fiction, it's my life, and it's going to carry on. I've not gotten to the ending yet. I am on a continual journey of becoming myself, of learning what that really means. I don't know who I'll be in five, ten year's time, but I'm looking forward to finding out. Maybe I'll have made giant leaps forward, maybe the steps will only be small. It doesn't matter. As long as I keep on trying to be myself, the best person I can be, the only person I can be. That's what's important.

Today, I was brave. I took a big step. Tomorrow; who knows? I can't wait to find out.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Short Story: Chris

This story was inspired in no small part by the fact the final chapter of one of my favourite fics was posted this morning (you can read hit me double hard here). And I'm not gonna lie, this one kicked my ass. Both in terms of the length (my longest story yet on this challenge) but also in what I was trying to achieve.

Have you ever attempted to write slow burn romance in a short story? Well I have. As of today.

Hope it comes across well and that you enjoy it.


The first time I saw her I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
Not in that typical movie star type way where everyone looks like they were made from variation on the same mold. Chris didn’t look like a movie star, but she was no less breathtaking. Tall, muscled, broad. Short dark hair and eyes dark enough to be black. Her skin was almost as dark as her eyes and her cheekbones could probably cut glass.
To say that I was overwhelmed was an understatement. Being anywhere within a five foot radius of Chris had a detrimental effect on my my cognitive abilities.
It was a miracle I didn’t end up drooling on my shoes the first time we were introduced.

Despite my complete inability to words around her, Chris and I somehow ended up friends. When I wasn’t focused on just how stunning she was and let myself relax, she was actually pretty good company. The easy back and forth was comforting, light teasing barely masking affection. Chris was funny, and interested in similar things to me and protective of her friends in a way I probably shouldn’t have found hot. What she saw in me I didn’t know, but I was glad she did.
I tried to put aside my crush, to tell myself a friendship with Chris was a beautiful thing in and of itself and I shouldn’t put it at risk because I wanted things I couldn’t have.
As you might expect, my heart didn’t listen.

I first realised I’d fallen in love with her when she punched a man for me.
We were in our usual corner in the pub, talking about nonsense over coffee, like we’d done a hundred times. I’d gotten up to order us refills and was waiting at the bar when a gentlemen became… aggressively amorous with me.
Chris was on her feet in a flash.
“Didn’t you hear? My friend said no.”
The drunk leered and accused us of being dykes (how could he know I desperately wanted us to be together even if it was hopeless?) and Chris punched him.
As he lay on the floor clutching his nose she said: “It would be an honour to be Tash’s girlfriend but just because I’m not doesn’t mean she’s interested in you.”
My heart almost stopped when she said that.
We had to find a new pub to drink in after work, but it was a hundred percent worth it. Later, when we found out she’d broken the creep’s nose, I decided I never wanted to marry anyone but her.

I’d just about gotten used to the idea of being in love with my best friend when Chris dropped a bombshell on me. A new project at work meant she’d be working abroad for six months.
I almost passed out I hyperventilated so hard.
Six months without drinks after work? Without seeing her beautiful face, feeling the solid warmth of her sat next to me, enjoying her quiet humour? I didn’t know how I would cope. I felt sick.
“Hey,” she said, looking me in the eye. “Just because I’m not gonna be here doesn’t mean we won’t talk. The time difference is only a couple of hours. I’ll still annoy you with my text messages at all hours of the day.”
I nodded, desperately trying to get the white noise in my brain under control. Chris was right, of course she was, but the next six months looked bleak anyway. I was happy for her; that she’d been put in charge of this project was a great sign for her career, but I couldn’t deny I would miss her.

Texts and emails and the odd Skype call were all I had of Chris for the next six months. It was wonderful to hear from her every single time, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted her here with me, but I wasn’t selfish enough to tell her that. This was a good move for her, and I was determined to be a good friend.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. It just made mine ache.
The six months crept by all too slowly.

The day she told me her employers were extending her contract I swear I almost stopped breathing. I wanted to scream and stamp my feet at how unfair it was. How was I supposed to make it another three months without her at my side? Another three months without coffee, without the presence of someone willing to punch a man to defend my honour.
I swallowed my heartbreak, told her I would miss her but that I was happy for her, and resigned myself to another few Chrisless months.
She looked almost as miserable about the idea as I felt.

I met Chris at the airport the day she got back. She was stood in the arrivals lounge surrounded by suitcases, a bag on her back that she dropped the moment our eyes met.
How I resisted running to her and flinging my arms around her I would never know. Chris didn’t seem to be able to resist as easily and the embrace we shared was desperate. I wrapped my arms around her and held her close, inhaling the smell of her. I knew it was just her shampoo and deodorant but to me she smelled like home.
“I missed you so much,” she said quietly when we pulled apart, her eyes roving my face as though memorising it.
“I missed you too,” I said. “Every day.”
“Never again,” she murmured, almost too low for me to hear. “I’m never leaving you ever again.”
I tried not to think about what she meant by that.
To distract my brain from thinking anything foolish, I picked up a couple of suitcases and led her out of the airport. There was so much for us to catch up on.

A group of our mutual friends threw a welcome back party for Chris. I assumed she’d want to spend her time catching up with everyone but the whole night she never strayed from my side. It was nice actually, having the comforting warmth of her at my elbow again.
It only got awkward when one of her friends (who I hadn’t seen since well before she went away) commented that it must have been hard on us doing things long distance.
There was a beat before I quietly explained that we weren’t together and the bloke in question sputtered his apologies before finding somewhere else to be. I couldn’t meet Chris’s eyes. I hoped she couldn’t hear the desperate hammering of my heart against my ribcage.
We were spared any further awkwardness by the arrival of the friend that had introduced us in the first place.

We settled back into our routine of meeting up for coffee after work. Chris’s company were pleased with her and kept offering her more responsibility. They wanted her to go abroad again to work on more projects but she’d turned them down.
“Why?” I asked. It wasn’t that I wanted her to go away again, quite the opposite, but I didn’t understand why she would turn something down when it would be so beneficial to her career.
“I wasn’t happy when I was away,” she said, not meeting my eye. “You weren’t there.”
I held my breath.
“The other night at the party, when Rob asked us about being long distance…” she said, fingers playing with the handle of her mug.
“Yes?” I said, hoping against hope that the conversation was going in the direction I thought it was, that after all this time…
“Never mind,” she said quietly.
We finished our drinks and went our separate ways.

An awkwardness that had never been there before crept into our friendship. We still met up at the pub regularly but the conversation had become stilted, long drawn out pauses where there had been none before.
Honestly, things had been easier when we were in different countries.
I thought back to the night of the party, to the conversation we’d almost had afterwards, and my heart sank.
She’d figured me out, she must have, my feelings written all over my face. I could have kicked myself. Of course I would go and ruin one of the most fulfilling friendships I’d ever had because I couldn’t get my foolish heart to behave.
My fears were confirmed when Chris cancelled our regular meet up the next day; she’d never cancelled on me before. I went home and wallowed in a tub of ice cream, wondering what the hell I was going to do.

A week went by without any word from Chris. I was almost frantic with worry. This was unprecedented in our friendship. Even when we were thousands of miles apart we never went more than a couple of days without at least a text.
The doorbell rang. When I answered it was Chris, wild-eyed and frantic.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, suddenly no longer concerned for myself. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, pacing backwards and forwards in my living room. “No, wait. Everything’s wrong.”
I braced myself for the anger, for the understanding. The gentle let-down, the quiet death of my heart.
“Tash…” Chris breathed. She was so close. When had she gotten so close?
I swallowed. “Chris,” I said. My heart felt like a jackhammer.
No matter what happened, this was her dance; she had to take the lead.
“The other night, when I was talking about the party…” she said. I hardly dared breathe for fear she’d interrupt herself again. She licked her lips. “What I was trying to say– I wanted… You know everyone thinks we’ve been dating since the beginning?” she finally managed.
I shook my head. “No,” I managed to choke out. “I didn’t.”
“Well they do. I don’t know, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I was too obvious about my feelings.”
My brain skittered to a halt. “About your what?”
Chris looked at me with such sadness and heartache in her eyes. I knew the look well; I saw it in my own eyes every time I looked in the mirror.
“It was just a silly crush at first. I mean, you’re stunning, how could I not be attracted to you? But then as we spent time together I realised… You’re kind and you listen and you put up with my ridiculous jokes and… I couldn’t help falling for you in the end. I love you Tash.”
Her face was a mask of anguish. She really didn’t know if her feelings were returned or not. Apparently I’d been better at hiding my own emotions than I’d thought
My heart couldn’t decide whether it wanted to plummet to somewhere between my knees or soar above my head. A bubble of hysterical laughter threatened to burst from my throat but I pushed it down. Laughing right now would not give the right impression.
“Hey,” I sad gently, reaching out to take her hands in mine. They were shaking. “How long have you known?”
“Since that bloke tried to grope you in the pub. I’d never punched anybody before but the thought of him touching you when you didn’t want it… I was just so angry.”
I couldn’t help myself then, I laughed.
Chris looked hurt. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” I said, and I felt a grin take over my face. “It’s just… I realised I’d fallen in love with you at that moment too.”
Her eyebrows shot upwards. “Really?”
I nodded. “I thought I’d given myself away when he made that comment about us being dykes.”
“I thought I’d given myself away with what I said afterwards,” Chris said, her mouth creeping up into a smile again. “Does this mean I get to kiss you now?” she said.
So she did.

After that things went back to normal, only better. We still hung out talking about nothing in particular, only now there were kisses to go along with our coffee. There were proper dates too, and all the other things you do when you’re in love with someone.
I was giddy with happiness.
Most of our friends were surprised to find out that we really hadn’t been dating the whole time. Apparently our feelings were obvious to everyone except each other.
Mt friendship with Chris was a beautiful thing. Being in love with her was even better.
Even if she did still have a detrimental effect on my cognitive abilities on occasion.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Short Story: Return

Didn't feel much like writing today, but I got my story done. Eventually.

Sometimes all you can do is show up. Even if you don't feel like it.



His voice was quiet, tentative. Familiar.

I looked up from the cupcakes I was decorating and my gaze met a pair of blue eyes I knew so well.

“I came back,” he said. “Took me a while to find you, but you named this place what you always said you would so…” he trailed off with a shrug.

Words wouldn’t come to me. He looked good, in his scruffy t shirt and jeans. His hair was longer than I remembered, and there was a soft growth of beard on his chin.

My heart ached, but I remembered the hurt in my chest the day he’d walked away. For good, I’d thought.

“I can see that,” I said, and I tried to keep my voice level. Tried to keep the blame and anger inside. He flinched and I assumed I wasn’t doing a very good job.

“I’m sorr–” he said, before I interrupted him,

“Save it,” I said, and this time I sounded tired. I was too goddamn old to be dealing with his dramatic bullshit. God knows I still loved him, and probably always would, but a heart can only take so many hurts before it stops trying. I was long past that point with James. “What do you want?” I said, my words short and sharp and unforgiving.

“I wanted to apologise,” he said. “But since you don’t seem to want me to…”

I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look at those soulful baby blues any more. He’d always been able to get what he wanted just by fluttering his pretty eyelashes at me. The man was far too good looking for his own good, and I could feel the resolve I’d built myself over the last two years slip away.

“You hurt me,” I said, and I couldn’t keep my emotions under control. They spilled out into my voice, choking up in my throat. The corners of my eyes burned and I knew I was a few heartbeats away from tears. “You left.”

“David,” he whispered, taking a step closer to the counter. I wiped at my traitorous eyes and stepped back, not ready for him to be so close.

“I’m covered in flour,” I protested, though it sounded like a flimsy excuse even to me.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I fucked up David. I never should have left you.” He sounded utterly wretched and my stomach twisted.

“But you did,” I pointed out. “You left me and I moved on.”
“I haven’t,” he said, and he sounded so thoroughly miserable my heart ached. “I thought… I thought I wanted adventure, to see the world, but I was wrong. All I want is you.”

I felt my resolve crumbling. How many nights had I cried over this man that had broken my heart? How many times had I told myself I wouldn’t take him back no matter what? I should have known better.

I loved him. No amount of hurt could change that.

Something about my body language must have changed, must have tipped him off because he looked at me through his fringe, looking young and mischievous. He bit his lip, and I probably shouldn’t have found it as adorable as I did. “Can we start over?”

I should say no. I knew that. But for all I’d tried to pretend otherwise, the last two years had been miserable without him. Sure I’d moved cities and started my own business but success had been hollow without him beside me.

It wasn’t that I needed to be with someone in order to be happy. It was just that, when you love someone, you don’t feel right when you’re not with them.

I imagined Sunday mornings in my bakery, both of us covered in flour and grinning wildly at each other. I imagined him in an apron, tongue sticking out a little bit as he put the finishing touches to a customer’s cake. I imagined sitting in the cafĂ© watching the rain together, hands wrapped around hot mugs of tea.

That sounded so much better than a future spent alone.

I felt a grin steal over my face. “I think we can work something out,” I said.

He smiled and I felt breathless and giddy. Alive, like I hadn’t quite managed since he’d left. “Yeah? Cool.” James looked as giddy as I felt.

“If you’re staying, you can make yourself useful,” I said, aiming for stern but coming out more lovestruck and ridiculous. I nodded at the peg with the spare aprons. “These cupcakes all need icing before tonight.”

He scurried to grab an apron—a ridiculous pink one that said “kiss the chef”—and came round the counter. “I think I just about remember how to ice cupcakes,” he said. “You need anything special doing with them.”

I shook my head and handed him a piping bag, our fingers brushing as he took it from me. We shared a small, silly grin and I couldn’t resist; I leaned over and did exactly what his apron told me to.

“Welcome home,” I whispered against his mouth. “Welcome home.”

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.