I am very pleased to announced that Best Erotic Romance of the Year, edited by Kristina Wright and published by Cleis Press, is out and available for you to buy and gush at. It’s an anthology full of sensual, romantic, funny and awesome treats. Authors include Alchemi xii‘s Tamsin Flowers, shiny new stars Jade A. Waters and Malin James, legends like Annabeth Leong, Sommer Marsden and Emerald…
and little old me, actually!
My story, Mates, is my take on one of my favourite tropes: the best friends who may or may not have a bit more going on between them. At the start, Sam and Lara, inseperable since their university years, are both bemoaning their lack of luck in the love department. Sam has the inspired/batshit crazy idea of spending Valentine’s Day together, which triggers all kinds of things, really.
Here’s a little excerpt for you to enjoy.
Sam and I had been inseparable for nearly ten years now. We met when I was 21, freshly dumped by an absolute tosspot. In a fit of heartbroken pique, I went to a bar to get absolutely blind drunk and fuck the first thing in sight. The first thing in sight just happened to be Sam Moran. He had a side job as a barman and as I stumbled up to him, cheeks stained with running mascara, he looked concerned. Or possibly terrified.
“I need the strongest booze you’ve got.” I said, trying to come over bold as brass but ending up a bit south of vexed kitten.
Sam sized me up. “Are you sure it’s booze you want?”
“Well, I’ve just been dumped by the love of my life, and I’m in a shitty dive bar in Brixton at one in the morning, looking like the lost member of KISS. So, yeah, booze me up.”
“Right. I’ll see what I can do for you.”
He rumbled around on the shelves and produced a bottle of something I’d never even seen before. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly down with the alcohol back then, so it could have just been vodka. But for whatever reason, I was trying to sound a bit harder than I felt.
“Is this the strongest you’ve got?” I said, my voice a wobbly mess between cold and hard and ‘please give me a hug’.
“Well, I don’t know, ma’am.” he drawled, his voice a thick honeyed layer of Western gunslinger. I’m just a humble temp trying to keep up my equally humble student wages.”
“Fuck off, Cowboy Slim.”
“Actually, it’s Sam. And for what it’s worth, any guy who makes you feel this shit is not even fit to put a pinkie on your quiver, let alone be the love of your life.”
“A pinkie on my quiver? What kind of a euphemism is that?”
“Archery. A quiver is what you keep your arrows in. Ah, never mind. You get my point, right?”
My determination to get off my tits on alcohol wavered and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. He was possibly the most awkward person I’d ever met, but there was something about him that made me feel… well, okay about myself.
“Now, that’s a bloody good laugh. Dirty as fuck.” Sam said, as he poured me a Coke.
“As am I.” I said, before I could hold myself back. I covered my mouth in embarrassment. “Oops. Lara. That’s my name.”
“Nice to meet you, Oops Lara.”
I didn’t end up on top of him that night. But if you think about it, it was only natural that we became inseparable. We talked about everything that night, from our hatred for queuing and our shared love of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Soon, we were holding hands, giggling over private jokes and cuddling up. And if you think about that, it was only natural that people started asking questions. But we were mates, honestly. Platonic best mates…
And now we were spending Valentine’s Day together. Thinking about it, it was a mystery as to why we hadn’t before. Plenty were the times when both of us were single, alone and bored off our skulls on that day.
Valentine’s was everywhere. Even as I sat down for lunch in our favourite café, all I saw was couples. Coupling all over the place, walking down Oxford Street, hand in hand, arm in arm, occasionally stealing loving glances from each other.
There were hundreds of other people about, of course, but my eyes kept being drawn to couples. And the occasional solo flyer, loaded with bags.
The tall, bespectacled ginger bloke carrying the H. Samuels bag… he would be proposing tonight. Maybe over a dinner at the place they first met. Girl with the blonde hair coming out of the sex shop across the road… maybe a nice corset and a pair of frilly knickers… or a whip and some handcuffs.
I sighed, that weird feeling settling in my chest again. This time, I was sure it was butterflies – partly nerves, mostly a deep longing to hear Sam’s voice, telling me silly stuff. Telling me he… I don’t know. I got out my phone and called him.
“Lara?” he answered, sounding surprised. “ Are you sneaking in calls during work hours again, you cheeky mare?”
“That was once, and it was to my mum! Anyway… I just wanted to see if you’d planned anything massive for our celebrations tomorrow. You know, so I can adequately prepare and primp.”
He chuckled, a bit nervously. “Don’t worry. It’s just going to be at my flat. The two of us, some curry and Die Hard on Netflix or something. Nothing surprising. No primping required.”
My heart sank deep into my pumps. “Oh, right.”
“You sound almost disappointed, Laz.”
“Oh no. Die Hard and a curry. Wonderful. Proper mates stuff. I say, what’s all that noise in the background? Are you not at work?”
“I’m just out getting something for a colleague’s leaving do. You know, flowers, something special, and that.”
“Right. Something special. Sounds top tip.”
“I’ve got to go. Bloody queue isn’t moving. Remember, my flat, tomorrow at eight.”
“Tomorrow at mate… ehm, eight! Right, bye!”
As I quickly ended the call, I suddenly felt less keen on my sandwich and more so on mauling a tub of ice cream. I should have been okay with the idea. No surprises, no sudden romantic confessions. Film and curry.
Just mates. Nothing more.
“Happy Cupid Day!”
Betsy sashayed into my office, and deposited a big heart-shaped box on my desk. “It’s the fancy stuff.”
“Aw, you lifesaver! I’m having a bitch of a day so far. Thank you. Sit down. Have a cuppa with me. Or, you know, five.”
“Thank god. I could use a break.” she said, pulling up a chair and delving into the chocolates. “So, how are the preparations for Definitely Platonic Valentine’s Evening going? Is Boots out of condoms yet?”
“We’re not going to shag! And, don’t ask. Really. It’s quite bad.”
“What’s Brothario got planned for you, then?”
“One, that’s a terrible, terrible word. And two… well, nothing special. Genuinely nothing special.”
“Define nothing special?”
“A night of curries and Netflix. That’s it.”
Betsy blinked. “That’s… that’s really it?”
“Yes. For Valentine’s Day, we’re eating Tandoori and watching Die Hard. Like he said, just something between mates.”
Betsy raised an eyebrow. She looked like she was mulling over the idea, making faces and noises as she went along. It started to irritate me.
“What? What are you thinking?”
“Well, he’s obviously lying his face off, because he fancies you and tonight’s the night he’s going to tell you.”
I snorted. “Right. And you know this how?”
“Oh, come on Lara! Think it through. Think it through very thoroughly, and don’t give me that spiel about men and women and being just friends. This is not that sort of situation.”
“This is also not a Richard Curtis film!”
“Why must you be so cynical? Open your heart, and let Valentine’s Day magic blah blah blah! Oh, I must say, I do pick out some quality chocolate.”
Betsy punctuated the sentence with another bite from a truffle. “I mean, if I can get a date on Valentine’s, surely that’s proof that magic happens on days like this.”
I raised my eyebrows. “It’s not the guy from HR, is it?”
“Christ, no. He’s… actually, he’s also a friend of mine. He’s been living abroad and now he’s back in town and wants to take me out.”
“Good stuff. Are you going to buy him chocolate as well?”
“If it gets me into his pants, I’ll fucking buy him a chocolate fountain. Seriously, Lara. Even if you don’t want to see what’s obviously there, Sam might… no, will surprise you. Mark my wise words.”
“Consider them marked.” I said, grabbing for another chocolate but then realizing we’d eaten them all. Betsy and I looked at each other in dismay. “Well… it’s a better lunch than the chicken soup in the cafeteria today.” I eventually said, sighing. Curry and Netflix was actually starting to sound like a sensible idea, God help me.