Monday, 16 December 2013

Against Reason

My new novella Against Reason will be available from Samhain Publishing on 18 February 2014.




Synopsis:

He lost his heart once. Is it too damaged for love to find it again?

In the five years since the love of his life abandoned him at the altar, Jake Morgan hasn’t left his house. The locals in this small, English town have dubbed him “Mr. Havisham”, but he’s too preoccupied wrestling his demons to care about Dickensian comparisons.

Forced to admit he’s losing the battle to keep up his large estate alone, he reluctantly places an advert for help. The striking young man who answers his call shakes him to the core.

When Darius answers the ad for the position at the mysterious mansion, the bitter, lonely master of the house tugs at his heartstrings. Setting aside his own run of bad luck, Darius batters at Jake’s emotional walls with kindness and determination that defy all attempts to drive him away.

Just as tendrils of new love begin to intertwine, though, a terrible voice from the past intrudes. And threatens to drive Jake back into the shadows where Darius can never reach him.

Buy here

Snowbound

My re-edited and re-published novella Snowbound will be available for early order on 27 December from Totally Bound.



Synopsis:

Love at first sight doesn’t just happen in the movies...
Winter in the most inhospitable of environments. Lost in a small South Dakota town during a snow storm, Hayden Berry is rescued by Deputy Sheriff Dylan Hubble after crashing his car. The attraction between the two men is instant. Dylan takes him to spend the night at his own house. One night turns into two when they are snowed in and something blossoms between them.
Something that can’t possibly happen because Hayden isn’t free to be with Dylan. But love at first sight doesn’t just happen in the movies and Hayden’s feelings for Dylan cast a shadow over the rest of his life...


Buy here

Monday, 14 October 2013

New and Old Books

I am pleased to announce that I have signed a contract with Extasy Books for my novel, Kiss Me. Here is a rough schedule of upcoming books:

October 2013 - Phoenix (writing as Poppy Summers), Untreed Reads
27 December 2013 - Snowbound (pre-order), Totally Bound
24 January 2014 - Beached Hearts (pre-order), Totally Bound
 2 February - Kiss Me, eXtasy Books
18 February - Against Reason, Samhain Publishing
Spring 2014 - I Am Fallen, Untreed Reads




Friday, 11 October 2013

First Chapter of Work in Progress

AGAINST REASON

 

CHAPTER ONE





Rain ran down the window pane. The trees on the sweeping driveway were bowed under the weight of the wind. The knock at the door came again. Jake Morgan pressed his hand to the glass and craned his head down. He had already buzzed the main gates open. He knew who his visitor was. A tall man stood sheltering under the porch, shoulders hunched against the cold, smart in a black wool jacket, hands thrust in the pockets. He was young and dark-haired but Jake couldn’t see his face. He stepped back from the window and sighed, closing his eyes. Was he going to ignore the stranger? What was the point in advertising for staff if he didn’t open the door when they came for interview?
It wasn’t easy making even this little concession to the outside world though after so long. He dug his nails into his palms, fists clenched. He could do this. He could.
He turned, exited the room and took the stairs with measured steps. Pausing at the front door, he smoothed his hair back and tugged his sweater over his narrow hips. He could see the stranger’s silhouette through the frosted glass. It gave him palpitations.
He slid the bolts back at the top and bottom. He turned the key in the lock once, then locked it again. Turned it again, locked it again. Shit, not the counting, not now. What would the guy think? Once more he opened and locked the door before he mustered all his courage and self-control and stopped at three. Trying to slow his breathing, he unlocked the door a final time and swung it open.
The wind nearly buffeted him back. The stranger lifted his face eagerly in relief. Their eyes locked and that troublesome heart of Jake’s, battered and broken and way beyond salvation gave a curious little leap as he gazed upon the man’s face. His stomach lurched too. Warmth spread down towards his groin. He stepped back, blushing, confused as to what had just happened.
The man took it as an invite. He stepped inside and pushed the door shut, his gaze never leaving Jake’s. His eyes were a curious pale gold, fringed with lush lashes, mesmerising and intense. He dripped water onto the marble floor of the hallway as they stood weighing each other up in silence, eyes locked.
The stranger cleared his throat. He was a man of around thirty-five, the same height as Jake – six two – with a lean, worked-out body. He was lightly tanned, closely-shaved and fine-featured. Everything in proportion – nose, chin, mouth. Everything perfectly symmetrical, the classification for a beautiful person. He was beautiful all right, there was no doubt about that. Jake felt like a wilting wallflower just looking upon him.
“I’m here for the interview,” the man said. He held out his hand. “Darius Harrison.”
Jake looked at it. All the touch he’d known in ten years had been handshakes. To men who’d done work on his house or his garden or delivered items of furniture. He was reluctant even to commit to that. And now this man, offering his hand with its short, neat nails and long, slim fingers, seemed like he was offering something way more intimate than Jake could handle. The touch of his skin. Jake could barely breathe. He couldn’t do it and yet, he wanted it. He wanted it so much.
Hesitantly, he extended his hand, barely covering the short distance between them. Darius Harrison grasped it. His skin was cold and wet with rain and despite this, it heated Jake’s blood to inferno proportions. He snatched his hand back and turned away, muttering, “You’re cold. Come through.”
He led Darius down the hall to the living room. A log fire blazed, the curtains firmly shut against the gloomy afternoon, lamps lit. He gestured to the stranger to take a seat near the fire under the circle of the brightest lamp – all the better to admire his beautiful face – and sat on the couch opposite him.
Darius unfastened his coat. He sat down and crossed one leg over the other and Jake glanced at his shoes. He would deny he had OCD to anyone who asked but he couldn’t explain away the little rituals he had. Shoes were important to him. They could make or break this interview. Darius Harrison wore shiny black leather brogues. They glistened with water and looked brand new. They were sturdy and well fitted. He teamed them with black socks, his smart black pants exactly the right length.
Jake sat back, satisfied. Nice shoes, beautiful face and an impressive body. There was no way he could let this man work for him. None at all. His shoulders slumped in resignation and he searched for a polite way to dismiss the candidate with haste. What had he been thinking of, inviting complete strangers into his home after so long? More to the point, why was the only applicant an attractive man instead of a homely, non-threatening woman who would mother him and make him apple pie?
He sighed and realised it had come out loud. Darius lifted a quizzical eyebrow. Jake coughed, straightened up in his chair. “Thank you for coming out on such a lousy day,” he said.
Darius inclined his head. He kept those golden eyes fixed on Jake and Jake’s bones started to melt, his body overcome with languor. He crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, hiding his groin for fear he would soon get an erection.
“You know what the job entails?” he asked.
“Not really,” Darius replied. “Your advert was a little vague.”
“General...” Jake hesitated, appalled that he had been about to say dogsbody. It was hardly what he thought someone working for him would be. He merely wanted someone to take the monotony of cleaning and cooking from him and leave him with more time to... stew. “Handyman,” he finished. “Cooking, cleaning, odd jobs.”
Darius nodded.
“How are you at plumbing and electrics?”
“Not bad. My dad taught me a lot.”
This wasn’t what Jake wanted to hear. He had hoped Darius would say he couldn’t cook or that he didn’t know how to do anything as basic as changing a plug. He had expected it to be easy enough to dismiss him. Darius didn’t look like a domestic god, but if you believed him, then he was. Curse him.
“It would be five days a week,” he said. “Nine till five or eight till four. Something like that. Possibly more flexible if I want to eat late. Maybe evenings and weekends.” He hoped the weekends would be a deal breaker. Someone as blessed as Darius had to be out most Saturday nights chasing skirt.
“Sure,” Darius said. He looked relaxed but those unsettling eyes were still searching Jake’s as though looking for the mysteries of his soul. The only mystery he would find would be a shattered man, unable to connect anymore with society.
“Do you have a driver’s license?”
“Yes.”
“I might ask you to pick up groceries. On occasion you might drive me. Those occasions will be rare. I don’t...” Jake stopped. He had no need to explain himself to this man and Darius had no right to know and yet, Jake felt like he should say something. He bit his lip, ran a hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. “Are you from these parts?”
“Yes.”
“Then you might have heard people talk about me in town.” Jake bowed his head, cheeks heating, feeling shame. People called him Mr. Havisham, a corruption of the character in Great Expectations. The woman who had been stood up on her wedding day and had left her house untouched since, haunting it still wearing her dress, endlessly broken. Jake had changed out of his wedding suit after a week but it still hung in his closet ten years later.
“None of my business,” Darius said. “I despise gossip.”
Jake lifted his gaze. Darius’s expression was carefully neutral as though he knew Jake would deplore any pity or sympathy. Jake wondered if Darius found him spineless or pitiful.
“Is the position live-in?” Darius asked.
Jake was startled. He had never considered such a thing. His palms were instantly wet, his heart pounding at the thought. “I don’t think so,” he said.
“All right,” Darius said easily.
The interview was slipping away from him. It seemed impossible to turn this man down. “I’ll need to give you a test,” he said.
Darius didn’t say anything.
“You’ll need to cook my dinner tonight.”
Darius smiled. “Sure.”
Jake was finicky. Darius wouldn’t pass the test.
“Now or shall I come back?” Darius asked.
Jake hesitated. It was unfair to send Darius back out in the rain and ask him to come back later, he knew that. But it was only two pm. Well, an early dinner wouldn’t kill him. He ate barely a bird’s portion of food a day anyway, so what did it matter? Darius would have to have the competence of a world-class chef to raise even the slightest bit of enthusiasm on Jake’s part. “You might as well start now.” He rose to his feet. “Follow me.”
Jake led Darius down the hall to the kitchen. A huge room, all gleaming marble and chrome, it saw very little action. It was far from pristine though; Jake wasn’t a big fan of housework. He looked at the grubby floor and stained sink through Darius’s eyes and was embarrassed.
Darius said nothing. He loitered by the door.
“The fridge and cupboards are full,” Jake said. “Take your pick.”
Darius moved forward. “Two courses or three?”
Jake looked at him in surprise. “Just a main course is fine. I don’t eat a lot.”
“You haven’t tasted my cooking yet.” Darius smiled for the first time. It grooved dimples around his mouth and showed neat, pearly teeth.
Jake’s stomach clenched. He tried to dodge around Darius in the doorway. A whiff of intoxicating cologne assailed his nose as he passed. Darius moved aside. He approached the granite island in the centre of the kitchen. “Is an hour all right?”
“Fine,” Jake said, already fleeing. “I’ll be just...” he gestured back to the living room and disappeared.

The sound of clattering pots and pans reached Jake’s ears even with the TV on. A sharp blade struck a wooden chopping board. Cupboards opened and closed and the cutlery drawer rattled. An enticing smell drifted down the hall and Jake’s stomach sat up and took notice, to his surprise. If Darius made something passable, Jake would have to hire him, he knew that. He was an honest man. He couldn’t lie and pretend he didn’t like the food if he did. He couldn’t pretend Darius wasn’t qualified for the job unless he wanted to give the man an additional test – fix the leaky tap upstairs or the hinge on the wardrobe door. He leaned back in his chair with eyes closed and took some slow, deep breaths. The last attractive man who had cooked for him had been Marc of course, in this house, in that kitchen. Marc had done everything with style. Cooking, handiwork, gardening, fucking. He did it all with aplomb. Especially the latter. Jake had been the most satisfied man on planet earth. And yet, clearly Jake had not been enough for Marc. He didn’t know what failing in him had caused Marc to look elsewhere. Had he been needy and clingy? Had he been too aloof? Was he bad in bed? Selfish, under-endowed, unimaginative?
When you had ten years to analyse every aspect of your own character, it soon sent you down the road to ruin. Now when Jake looked in the mirror, he saw an ugly man with a twisted, bitter face. Miss Havisham had been a cross between a waxwork and a skeleton, sickly looking and prematurely aged due to lack of sunlight. Jake imagined he saw the same.
He battled with himself as he listened to the sounds from the kitchen. Darius was here to work for him. What did it matter what he thought of Jake or whether he found him physically repulsive? Because Jake still had the slightest trace left of that proud gay man he had once been. He wanted someone as attractive as Darius to admire him. He didn’t want his pity or his distaste. He didn’t want Darius to go out to town and tell others what he had seen at the big, lonely house with the electric gates made for keeping people out. It bothered Jake what others thought about him, when so far down the road, it shouldn’t have. Dwelling on it turned his self-loathing into a vicious cycle. He sighed, hands clenching the arms of his chair. He shouldn’t have done this. Had his advert for a helper been an unconscious plea for some company, any company? When Marc had left him on his wedding day, Jake had decided he would never need anyone again. He would never become so reliant that the loss of another person devastated him. He would never again leave himself wide open to such hurt.
He stood, intent on going to the kitchen and asking Darius to leave his home immediately. At that moment, Darius appeared at the door.
“It’s ready,” he said.

Jake reluctantly followed Darius into the kitchen. One place was set at the large pine table complete with wine glass and napkin. “Sit down,” Darius said and turned to the oven, busying himself with a mitt.
Jake did as he was told. He glanced at Darius’s backside as he bent to remove a hot plate. His pants stretched nicely over two firm, round buttocks like a peach. For a moment, Jake imagined what lay between those buttocks and felt his cock swell with blood instantly. He cursed inwardly and pulled his chair closer to the table.
Darius plated up grilled salmon, new potatoes and spinach, oblivious to Jake’s gaze. He drizzled a fragrant sauce over the fish and put it down before Jake with a flourish.
“Thank you.” Jake looked at it a moment.
Darius opened the fridge door. “Wine?”
“Yes, please.” There was a half-empty bottle in the door. If there was one thing Jake always had plenty of, it was alcohol. In the weeks following Marc’s departure he had drank himself unconscious nearly every night. It had only not turned into a permanent habit by sheer force of will. He couldn’t say what force that was. Certainly not self-preservation because he had wished himself dead more than once.
Darius filled his glass. Jake picked up his cutlery. He sliced some salmon and put it in his mouth. Perfectly cooked, the sauce spicy and garlicky. He tried the spinach. Wilted just so and seasoned to perfection. The potatoes were buttery and delicious. While Darius filled the dishwasher, Jake devoured a home-cooked meal for the first time in ten years.
When he sat back and looked at his empty plate, he was shocked at himself. His stomach was satisfyingly full and the wine had gone to his head. He was ready for a lie down. But the oven was still on and another fragrance filled the air as Darius opened the door.
“Apple and plum cobbler?” he asked with a glance at the empty plate and a little smile.
“I said I didn’t want...”
“You need feeding up. You’re too thin.”
Jake bristled. A cross between a waxwork and a skeleton. Darius turned away. He started stirring custard in a pan. He dished out the steaming cobbler and topped it nearly to the rim of the dish with thick, delicious custard. Jake nearly fell upon it like a starving man. Never had he tasted anything so good in his life. He had always had a sweet tooth, at least when Marc cooked for him but rarely indulged it now. He had forgotten the joy of desserts.
“Coffee?” Darius asked and Jake nodded, mouth full. Darius worked the complicated machine without asking. He produced a lovely cup in Jake’s best china mug and added cream.
Jake finished the cobbler. He took a sip of coffee and sat back in his chair, rubbing his full belly. Darius smiled at him. A satisfied, confident smile and instead of irritating Jake, it infected him. He smiled back, tentatively, because it stretched his face in unknown ways. Darius smiled wider at that, as though Jake’s smile pleased him and Jake unaccountably blushed and dropped his gaze.
“You’re hired.”
“Really?”
Jake pushed his chair away from the table and turned away. “Really. Finish up here and show yourself out. Be back at eight tomorrow.” He hurried up the stairs before Darius could say anything further and shut himself in his bedroom. He knew he had a long evening of self-recrimination and insomnia ahead of him.

****

Darius was still smiling when he dried his hands on a towel and turned out the kitchen light. For a moment he stood at the foot of the stairs and listened. Nothing. The downstairs rooms were in darkness, the master of the house still ensconced upstairs. Darius turned away and headed for the front door. He made sure it was firmly closed behind him and stepped out into the rain with the collar of his jacket turned up.
He had read Great Expectations at school. He had half-expected Jake Morgan to look like Miss Havisham, for him to be mooning around a crumbling mansion wearing one shoe and a tatty morning suit. Instead the guy was in his late thirties, casually dressed in black sweater and jeans. Unlike Miss Havisham, he was very handsome. His black hair, alabaster skin and sapphire eyes were deeply appealing.
Darius opened his car door. He settled into his seat and fastened his belt before starting the engine. He turned the heat up high, waited for the windows to demist. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said the gossip was none of his business but he was intrigued nonetheless. How did a man that physically blessed do something as tragic as turning himself into a recluse hiding away in the wilds of Connecticut? Did he work to support this magnificent house? Still, one man’s loss was another’s gain. Jake would probably be an easy-going employer who Darius would never see. He wouldn’t want to make conversation or play games of Scrabble. And the remuneration was great. As far as Darius could see it was a perfect job. Of course he would have liked accommodation thrown in too because he was behind on his rent and hated his apartment but soon he’d be able to afford to settle his debts and move somewhere better. As long as he kept appealing to the guy’s belly with delicious food.
Darius started the engine. The look of gratitude in Jake’s eyes as he’d sat back after the meal had been almost sad. Darius felt sorry for him. He liked the way he’d made Jake smile. It had tugged a little at his heart-strings. He cruised down the drive and out of the gates. As soon as he’d gone, he saw the gates slowly closing in his rear view mirror. Was Jake watching him on camera? Had he seen Darius sitting in his car ruminating over the interview?
Darius glanced down at the bulge in his pants as he accelerated down the road. He gave a rueful smile because it had been a while.


COMING SOON

Monday, 24 June 2013

Last Drop Falls Release Date


The world is cruel and life is full of bitterness and heartbreak. We will all experience loss and longing. We will all be brought to our knees by desire. Welcome to twenty years in the life of Heathcliff Hart.








Last Drop Falls will be released on Thursday 27 June.

Friday, 21 June 2013

New Novel Coming Soon





 LAST DROP FALLS

Synopsis:

The world is cruel and life is full of bitterness and heartbreak. We will all experience loss and longing. We will all be brought to our knees by desire. Welcome to twenty years in the life of Heathcliff Hart. 

Heath has it hard from day one. Wrenched from California and sent to boarding school on the south coast of England by his parents, he soon learns quickly how to survive. His only friend is Stephen, his teacher, a man Heath will rely on more and more as he finds out that love hurts, life bruises and no one gets out alive.




Coming soon from Smashwords, Amazon and All Romance e-books.
 
 

Monday, 3 June 2013

New Novel

After a shaky start coming off hiatus earlier this year, I can confirm that the new novel will go ahead. The opening chapter was posted below.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Extract from new novel coming soon



LAST DROP FALLS


Synopsis:


The world is cruel and life is full of bitterness and heartbreak. We will all experience loss and longing. We will all be bought to our knees by desire. Welcome to twenty years in the life of Heathcliff Hart.


CHAPTER ONE


September 1992


Atop the vast, windswept wilds of Exmoor in the heart of the county of Devon stood Westcliff public boys’ boarding school. The edifice loomed over the dramatic scenery, battered by cruel gales in winter, its craggy granite surfaces eroded by sea water.
Through its hallowed portals stepped ten year old Heathcliff Hart, not conscious of all the feted alumni that had passed before him, just wondering why his parents had abandoned him to this.
Although he was too young to understand, Heath’s American parents were hanging on bitterly through the death throes of their relationship as his father had just secured a lucrative engineering position on an oil-rig in the North Sea. 
His mother didn’t work. She was icily beautiful and remote, seeking Heath’s company when it suited her and giving him to a nanny when it didn’t. It had always been that way: starved for hugs and affection. His father was faceless, absent for most of his life, a man Heath had never known and probably never would.
What had he done to warrant this? Why did they want him out of the way? Had he been naughty? Was he so unloved and unwanted?
Despite regular parcels from his mother containing books and games and other treats which Heath would cynically come to see later as bribes to assuage her own conscience, he felt rejected and unloved. He wondered if the other boys looked at him and saw a pariah, someone worthless and undeserving of love.
Southern California to England was a shock. His accent stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone around him sounded like they were reading the news on the BBC or belonged in Buckingham Palace. He struggled sometimes to understand.
His only friend was Mr. Campbell. Stephen seemed like any other grown-up to him: old. Even though his teacher was only twenty-four at the time, to Heath this seemed ancient and the man with the soft voice and the glowing smile towered above the young Hart and awed him. But he didn’t intimidate. Heath formed a bond with him instantly as soon as Stephen opened his mouth and Heath heard that glowing west coast accent here, in England of all places. He couldn’t believe his luck to find someone from home.
Stephen taught English, French and biology. He was laid back to the point of horizontal, but he was so universally liked that no one took advantage of this easy-going nature. Instead, he got more work out of his students than any other teacher at the school, the vast majority of which were stern professors who still wore gowns and slapped hands with rulers.
Stephen was tall and slender with dirty blond hair and pale blue eyes that crinkled at the corners when he smiled. He wore jeans and T-shirts. He had a black dragon tattoo on one arm that Heath stared at in lessons and made up stories of fire-breathing and rescuing damsels in distress later while lying in bed. That dragon seemed to shift on Stephen’s creamy skin, the muscle beneath undulating, giving the beast life, branding its image forever on Heath’s imagination as he became a devoted student for the next eight years.
Heath’s roommate, William, was an oddball. He collected worms and other insects in jars and kept them under his bed, speaking to them in a whisper during the night. Heath thought if he had to room with this boy until he left school, he might go insane. He lay with his back turned, listening to the whispering at night, the hair on his neck prickling, convinced his roommate was going to drop insects into his bed as he slept, or worse, try to murder him.
The other boys seemed out of reach. What did Heath have in common with upper-crust snobs from Southern England? What did they know about being shipped five thousand miles away from home and abandoned? He didn’t make an effort to speak to anyone, irrationally convinced they must all hate him on sight anyway. Even at a young age he had an idea Americans weren’t popular abroad. He made himself cold and aloof to protect his vulnerable core, a strategy that would last the rest of his life.
One day Stephen asked him to stay behind at the end of the lesson.
Heath paused in packing up his books and pencils and regarded his teacher warily as Stephen sat at the front of the class on his desk, legs swinging casually. He wore black skate shoes with flashes of red and yellow flames up the sides. Heath found the rhythmic movement of these shoes a little hypnotic and wondered if he could cajole his mother into buying him a pair so he looked as cool as his teacher.
“Whereabouts in California are you from?” Stephen asked.
“OC.”
“Me too,” Stephen said. “It’s a small world.” This confused Heath because geography had taught him that in fact the world was very big, but he said nothing.
“What part?”
“Laguna Beach.”
“Nice. I’m from Oceanside myself. What do your parents do?”
Heath explained about his father (“he looks for oil in the sea”) and confessed that he wasn’t sure at all what his mother did, which made Mr. Campbell smile for some unknown reason.
“And how do you like it here?”
Heath shrugged and averted his eyes. He was still standing uncomfortably by his desk, one hand gripping his satchel strap, ready to flee.
“Not so much, huh?” Still Heath didn’t reply. “Have you made any friends yet?”
Heath shook his head.
“Do you miss your mom?”
Heath found his lip quite suddenly trembling without warning and he fought hard not to give in to the tears flooding his eyes because he already knew well enough by age ten that big boys didn’t cry.
“How about if I tell you it gets easier?” Stephen said. “Would you believe me?”
Heath lifted his head. He nodded slowly and solemnly because he would have believed the earth was flat if Mr. Campbell said it was so.  “Are you lonely too, Mr. Campbell?”
Stephen looked taken aback. His pale eyes sparked with an odd emotion for a fleeting instant, something Heath couldn’t interpret.
“We all get lonely, Heathcliff. But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone here. I’m your friend as well as your teacher and any time you’re upset or sad, you come to me to talk about it. Okay?”
A shy smile lit Heath’s face. He nodded.
“All right,” Stephen said. “Go for your lunch.”
Heath picked up his bag and moved quickly to the door.
“And one more thing,” said his teacher behind him. “My name’s Stephen.”
Heath turned around to look at him. “And mine is Heath.”
“Got it, dude,” Stephen said with a grin.
“Okay, dude.” Heath scuttled out of the room, shocked at himself for having called Mr. Campbell dude.
At lunch, feeling brave and not so alone, he took his tray and asked Carl Stuart, a small, scrawny geek from Durham if he could sit next to him. Carl nodded and Heath soon found out that not everyone at the school was southern. Durham was in the north-east of England and Carl’s accent wasn’t posh at all. In fact, the two were soon engrossed in a lively debate over who had the silliest accent.

Heath’s mother visited in January, a couple of weeks after Heath had been home for a strained Christmas with his parents. For every second of the miserable, cold atmosphere in the house by the sea he wished he was back at Westcliff with Carl and Stephen. He guessed he couldn’t be pleased. Even his expensive presents failed to stir him. They were no substitute for love.
On her visit, his mother broke the news without preamble. She had left his father.
Heath was confused by this, as he didn’t see how you could leave a person who was away anyway on an oil-rig, but he said nothing as his mother explained to him that mommy and daddy didn’t love each other the way they used to do, but that they still loved him very much and nothing was going to change.
Heath kept his eyes on the parquet floor. If you love me so much, then why I am stuck here out of the way? But he said nothing, he only nodded at everything his mother said and allowed her to kiss and hug him in a cloud of expensive perfume and press money into his hand before she left.
Heath turned to look out of the window at the snow carpeting the vast grounds of the school. He had never seen snow before in his life. There was a time Heath would have begged his mother to go outside with him and build a snowman, but not anymore.  Now he sat and watched the other boys chasing each other with snowballs and thought it was the end of the world.
“Aren’t you going out to play?”
Heath looked up to see Stephen. He looked even more casual on a Sunday, wearing jeans with holes in the knees as though he couldn’t afford any new ones and a well-worn hooded sweatshirt with some sinister looking writing in crimson splashed across the front. Heath suspected Stephen was into heavy metal.
Heath shook his head, biting his lip furiously and staring at his shoes. He clenched the wad of notes in his hand and thought about buying some of those sneakers with flames up the sides with his mother’s bribe.
Stephen sat down on the bench next to him. “What’s happened?”
Heath tried to speak, but all that came from his throat was a sob and even though he wasn’t a clingy boy, he leaned towards Stephen hoping for some comfort, stammering out words about his mother and father before Stephen sighed and put an arm around him, gathering Heath to his chest.
With his small fist clinging onto Stephen’s hoodie and his face buried in the soft material as he wept, his teacher’s chest so much harder than his mother’s breast, Heath felt like this man would be his one and only sanctuary for the rest of his life.

Carl Stuart, who was now firmly his best friend, told him later that week that he didn’t even have a father, but that his mother was very rich and drove a sports car. He was sent more money than he knew what to do with and when the weather was better, he and Heath would go down to the village and buy milkshakes. As a token of the esteem Carl held him in, he gave Heath one of his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures to seal their friendship.
The two of them bribed the boy Carl was sharing a room with to change with Heath, offering him sweets and money and soon Heath and his best friend were ensconced together leaving William and his insects to it.
After that visit, his mother didn’t come so often. She still wrote him letters and sent him presents. Heath ached with some indefinable loss, like his parents losing each other meant they had lost him too and he wondered if he would ever see his father again.
When he went home, at Easter and during the summer holidays, she was distant and withdrawn, not the same woman he remembered, her face pale and her slender frame fragile as though the weight of her would crack her tiny ankles. She slept a lot and left Heath to his own devices, where he chose to spend many hours on the beach alone, making sandcastles, reading, skimming stones across the ocean or simply lying on the sand and day-dreaming. He was too young to realise his fantasies about imaginary friends or imaginary parents who took him places and spent time with him were aspirations of hope for the future. It would take Heath many years to realise that all he wanted from this life was to be loved.

He made more new friends - Kyle Swinton and Oliver Morrissey - and realised not all families were as dysfunctional as his own. Oliver’s parents were still very much together and even kissed each other frequently in front of him, according to Oliver, while Kyle’s were also together but apparently had blazing rows all the time, followed by hours locked in their bedroom, doing Kyle didn’t know what, but something which involved the bed squeaking loudly and his mother crying out like his father was hurting her.
Heath was a good student and he excelled at English and languages, even though he struggled with maths and knew he always would. Stephen gave him extra tuition on a Thursday night after Heath was reluctant to ask his actual maths master for it, a stern man with an intimidating manner. Oliver came too, also poor at maths and Heath looked forward to those quiet nights spent in Stephen’s front room like no other. His teacher always had soft music playing in the background, something good that Heath would go away with a copy of if he expressed an interest. There was always hot chocolate and cake. Stephen had a little book he would scribble algebra and geometry out in as the boys sat at the table with him and he would patiently go over each problem again and again until both boys understood it.
These times were the happiest for Heath. He felt a sense of belonging and he fantasised that Stephen was his father. He imagined him married to his mother and doing all those things his father should have been doing with him - taking him out, playing football with him, helping him with his homework and teaching him how to grow up into a worthwhile man. When it was time to go back to his own room, he would come back down to earth with a bump. He would be reminded that Stephen was not his father and never would be and that his own father would never be interested or concerned about him. He would lie in the dark, listening to Carl’s soft breathing in the next bed and he would stifle bitter tears of lonely desolation at the way he had been abandoned. 

 Time passed and his mother’s visits tailed away to nothing. She explained that she was a little sick but as soon as she was better she would come to see him with a special present. Soon the letters stopped and Heath became anxious. He didn’t know what to do. He was restless, confused and sad. His mother was all he had in the world and she had deserted him.