Monday 9 December 2019

Rainbow Advent Calendar 2019: Once Upon a Gingerbread Reindeer

I hope you’re all enjoying the Rainbow Advent Calendar and have been busy getting all the free stories that have already gone up. With two stories becoming available most days, there will be almost 50 new reads for you between now and Christmas Day. If you haven’t joined the event yet, please make your way to the Facebook group to find the already available stories and get updates the moment each subsequent story goes live! If you prefer to steer clear of Facebook, you can bookmark THIS LINK, which will take you to the website of Alex Jane, our amazing ‘leader’, and inform you about each new story as they are posted.

Talking about new stories.....



I know it doesn’t make sense for a professional storyteller to have an aversion to social events, but I prefer my own company to spending time with others. And don’t get me started about relationships and love. I’ve learned my lesson and have no intention of putting my heart and peace of mind on the line again. If others want to travel that road, good luck to them, but I’m perfectly happy on my own, thank you very much. All of which makes my attraction to the gorgeous baker I just met all the more confusing.


As a baker, I have a passion for my craft and love seeing smiles on my customers faces when they buy my treats. If I have one regret it’s that the hours of my profession make having a social life all but impossible. However, my busy schedule doesn’t stop me from joining in a charity Christmas Party or from being intrigued by the grumpy storyteller who is also taking part. Despite his reluctance, I’m convinced there is something between us worth exploring. If only I can persuade him to stop running away.

Once Upon a Gingerbread Reindeer is a stand-alone romance, loosely connected to the Valentine’s Day Series, featuring a grumpy storyteller with commitment issues, a happy-go-lucky baker ready for love, irresistible sweet treats, a Christmas party for the homeless, and the magical power of stories.


Twenty minutes later, when I boarded the bus that would bring me to Monkstown, I was in a better mood than I’d been before Ben’s summons. I preferred my own company most of the time, something which bemused the few friends I had. I guessed they had a point. As a professional storyteller, I had no choice but to interact with others almost daily, and the astonishing fact was that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe the loud and often borderline crazy state of my days made me treasure my quiet nights and weekends so much. There was a limit to the amount of socializing I could put up with, and my job—much as I loved it—put me perilously close to that point. Now that the decision had been made, I looked forward to spending time with two good friends.

The bus came to a halt, and I checked to see where on the route we were as people alighted and boarded. I counted myself lucky that the timing of Ben’s invitation meant most of the rush hour madness had ended. When I turned away from the window, I noticed a man had taken the seat opposite me.

A very attractive man.

As soon as the thought hit me, I wanted to look away, only to find myself frozen by his open appraisal of me. For a moment, he stared straight at me, little laughter lines forming next to his light brown eyes. Then his gaze moved to take in my face, my upper body, and, finally, my jeans-clad legs. There was something intimate about his perusal of me, something that made me both excited and uncomfortable.

I allowed myself to follow his example, taking in his bald head, his wide shoulders, and the brown duffle coat he wore. His hands lay on a large white carton box on his lap, his fingers long, and… I blinked.

If there’d been any doubt whether his stare indicated interest, the rainbow-colored bracelet around his wrist removed it. The discovery made me wonder, though. Various people had told me in the past that my appearance was such that I could, if I wanted to, fly under anybody’s gaydar. Either the stranger opposite me was a very brave risk-taker, or his instincts were better than most.

He raised his hand, and like a mesmerized fool, I followed the movement until I found myself staring into his eyes, which twinkled with merriment. When the corners of my mouth inched upward as if some part of me wanted to smile back at him, I turned my head to the window and focused on the scenery.

What is wrong with me? I didn’t flirt, ever. The last time I’d gone through that rigmarole, I was still in college. These days, when I wanted to relieve some stress, I turned to my phone and the apps that had been created exactly for that purpose. Minimal interactions followed by maximum release worked just fine for me, especially since such hookups didn’t lead to complicated conversations after the act.

The streets we passed as the bus neared Monkstown were wall-to-wall Christmas. Decorations in gardens, lights in windows, and extravagantly decorated shopfronts all reminded me that only three weeks separated me from that day.

This time I didn’t try to hide my smile. I loved Christmas. Not for the same reason most other people did. It wasn’t getting together with friends and family I looked forward to, or even a lavish roast dinner. For me, the joy of Christmas stemmed from it being the easiest time of year to enjoy total isolation. My gigs would pause for ten days, and I could just adjourn to the privacy of my apartment without worrying about unexpected visitors or other engagements.

As the bus approached my destination, I got up and moved to the exit, only mildly surprised when Flirty Box Guy did the same. It was that sort of a day, where nothing happened according to plan, and the universe appeared to be laughing at me. When my admirer turned left toward a line of shops, I stared after him for a few long moments. It had been a while since anybody had managed to attract my attention, and while I wasn’t inclined to act on it or to ask myself why, I refused to deny myself the pleasure of memorizing his fine figure and imagining what he might look like without clothes. Who knew? I might even put him in one of my stories. I chuckled softly. Such a tale would be reserved for an adults-only event.


If this year’s collection doesn’t give you enough to read, you can check the stories made available in the past through the following links:

My chosen charitiy is BeLonG To, the national organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans young people aged 14 - 23 in Ireland.

If you want to check out my other Christmas stories, you can find them by clicking on the titles below. Christmas on Adelaide Road is another FREEBIE. And keep an eye out for an announcement about the final novella in the Mitch & Cian series, coming your way before the end of the year.

Thursday 5 December 2019

Santa Claus but different – Sinterklaas

As many of us are getting ready to celebrate Christmas and all its traditions, I’d like to focus on one of them in specific: Santa Claus. I’m taking a bit of a detour, however, since I won’t be talking about the jolly man from the North Pole we’re all familiar with but about his Dutch ‘cousin’, named Sinterklaas.

But first a short history lesson.

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to the third century AD and a man known as Saint Nicholas who lived in Turkey. There are many stories about his good deeds, and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6th. He was (and, in his various incarnations, probably still is) the most popular saint in Europe, especially in the Netherlands.

Which brings me neatly to Sinterklaas.

As you can see above, the Dutch version of the present-giving saint and specifically his clothes still strongly resemble those of someone high up in the church’s hierarchy. What else is different about Sinterklaas you ask? Well, for starters, children in the Netherlands get their presents on December 5th, and traditionally those would be dropped into or near shoes, which children would leave by the fireplace. Quite a few traditional Sinterklaas songs tell about leaving your shoe out and hoping for a present.

Sinterklaas is HUGE in the Netherlands. In fact, his arrival into the country—from Spain, by boat—is broadcast live on television every year. Don’t ask me why he comes from Spain or why he arrives by boat; I have absolutely no idea.

As this picture shows, Sinterklaas has helpers who go by the name of ‘Zwarte Piet’ (Black Pete). And yes, traditionally those were white people whose faces had been blackened. Why Sinterklaas’s helpers would be black isn’t entirely clear either. It’s not impossible that since the holy man (yes, that is how Sinterklaas is sometimes referred to) comes from Spain, he had Moors as helpers. It is just as likely that his helpers are black because they enter and leave houses through the chimneys when they deliver presents.

As you can imagine, these days most people frown upon that custom, and an alternative has been arrived at. Pete now only has a few soot smudges on his cheeks or isn’t blackened at all. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks it’s a good idea to change the tradition a little to get away from what is clearly an unthinking, hurtful, and discriminatory practice. As a result, the past few years have brought scenes where the arrival of Sinterklaas was spoiled by protests and counterprotests.

Another uniquely Sinterklaas thing is that in order to deliver the presents, he travels over the roofs on horseback. All children know he keeps notes on their behaviour in a big red book. In the past, kids were told that if they were very bad, Black Pete would put them in their sack and bring them back to Spain. Thankfully, that last frightening part of the tradition has been successfully abandoned for many, many years now.

But what I love and miss most about Sinterklaas is that the celebration often is about more than ‘just’ giving and receiving presents. The Dutch have expanded on the ‘normal’ exchange in two ways.

First of all, there’s something called ‘de Surprise, which literally translates as ‘the surprise’ but means a bit more. The idea is that you hide the actual present inside a creation that somehow depicts the recipient. For example, if I were to give one of you a present, I might put it inside a large book crafted out of cardboard.

The second addition to the gift would be a poem. And if the giver/poet had any talent and some time on their hands, the rhyme would describe both the recipient and the gift they were about to receive.

The following is my (very bad) attempt at an example of such a poem in English, but I think it gives you an idea.

Sinterklaas has been thinking long and hard
What to buy someone so smart.
He knows full well you’re always reading
And has no idea which book you might be needing.
He talked it over with his helper Piet
(who also has been known to read)
My smart assistant said, while laughing with glee
What those readers need is fifty stories, new and FREE.

There's a lot more I could tell you about December 5th in the Netherlands. I haven't even touched on the various sweet treats and chocolate letters. But I think this post is long enough now, so I'm leaving it here.

Whatever you are celebrating this month, I wish you a wonderful and peaceful time, hopefully including a surprise or two.

Happy Sinterklaas!

Friday 18 October 2019

Ukuleles & Scrums (Mitch & Cian #4) OUT NOW!!!!!!

Buy links: Universal | Amazon US | Amazon UK

Available to read with Kindle Unlimited

Also available as a paperback


Falling in love is easy. Building a life together takes more work.

Nine months after getting together, Mitch and Cian are studying in Dublin and sharing an apartment. For both, this is a dream come true and even boring household chores become fun when they do them side by side.

Tensions arise after Cian joins an inclusive rugby club and Mitch a ukulele orchestra. Insecurities, jealousy, and lack of relationship-experience soon lead to resentment, and each struggles to balance romance with their individual interests. After Cian and Mitch accept separate invitations to Halloween parties, hoping the other will accompany them, their doubts grow.

Will All Hallows’ Eve drive a wedge between them or could there be another miracle in the making?

Ukuleles and Scrums is the fourth novella in the Mitch & Cian series. While it could, possibly, be read as a stand-alone story, the reader will enjoy it more if they read A Miracle in the Library, Lessons in Love, and Pride of Place first.


Happy Release Day to Ukuleles & Scrums. When I wrote A Miracle in the Library last year, I thought I'd written a charming Christmas story and that would be the end of it. I had no idea it would be the start of a year-long journey. .

Little did I know Mitch and Cian had different plans. They weren't happy they only got to share a few kisses and told me that it was only fair to tell more of their story, if only because it would mean they'd get to know each other better - in all sorts of ways. 😉

So, here I am, almost a year later, bringing you the fourth installment of their journey together. And boy has it been a journey. These two have done some growing up over the past ten months, as this, not entirely safe for work, excerpt clearly shows.


“Can’t find what you’re looking for?” he asked, not trying to hide his amusement.
Cian glanced up at Mitch, inspected his surroundings, and had the grace to grimace and flush. “Sorry about that. I’ll fix it in a min.” He glared at the various items of clothing on the floor, then bent and picked something up. “Gottcha.”
“What’s that?” Mitch squinted at the item consisting more of connected bands of material than solid pieces. He thought he recognized it but didn’t want to hazard a guess and make a fool of himself.
 “A jockstrap.” Cian slung one strap over his index finger and swung the piece of underwear around.
“Jockstrap, hey?” Excitement heated Mitch’s blood. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen one of those up close and personal.”
Cian glanced at him, his gaze intense. “I’ll be right back.”
Mitch watched, bemused, as Cian hurried into the bathroom. When Cian returned, moments later, Mitch’s bemusement turned into pure, hot lust when he noticed how well the jock’s pouch encased Cian’s package. “Nice.”
Cian turned on the spot, giving Mitch his first sight of Cian’s bare arse, framed by black straps.
“Very nice.” Mitch didn’t try to hide the heat in his voice. He approached Cian, who had come full circle and faced him again. Wrapping his arms around Cian’s middle, he grabbed both cheeks with his hands and squeezed. “Is there a rule saying you can only wear this when you’re on the field?”
Cian chuckled. “I guess you’re on board with the rugby idea, then?”
Doubts and fears tried to worm their way back into Mitch’s thoughts, but he shrugged them off, concentrating on the familiar and wholly enticing feel of Cian’s naked butt. Pressing closer to his boyfriend, he smiled as the hard bulge of Cian’s erection pressed into his tummy.
“I’m never going to complain about seeing or feeling more of your arse,” he muttered, very aware of his own rock-hard cock tenting the material of his loose trousers.
“I created a monster,” Cian said before claiming Mitch’s mouth in a heated kiss. He pushed him backward until they tumbled to the bed, their lips never losing contact. Two soft thuds indicated the two bags had bounced off the bed, but Mitch barely registered the noise, too lost in Cian’s mouth and the hungry interaction between their tongues.
“You’re overdressed,” Cian murmured before hurriedly removing Mitch’s clothes. He tugged on his dick, and Mitch lost himself in Cian’s body. As white-hot need rushed through his veins, Mitch couldn’t remember why he had been concerned about Cian’s rugby team or what had triggered the thoughts in the first place.
“I want to fuck you.” He gasped the words at Cian, fully aware this was something they rarely did and that it was the first time he’d verbalized the desire.
“Let me guess,” Cian said, his voice heated. “You’d like me on my knees, with my arse in the air so you can see the straps while you ride me.”
Before Mitch could reply, Cian turned on the bed and presented himself exactly as he’d suggested. The sight took Mitch’s breath away, and for a few moments all he could do was stare at the sheer beauty and incredible hotness of Cian’s well-formed backside. When Cian reached behind him and pulled his cheeks apart, Mitch moaned softly.
“Hey!” Cian glared at Mitch over his shoulder. “This arse isn’t going to fuck itself.”
The joke, expressed in a needy tone of voice, was exactly what Mitch needed. He pulled the tube of lube from the bedside table and squeezed some onto his fingers before making short work of preparing Cian for the coming invasion.
It wasn’t long before Cian was pushing back, trying to fuck himself on Mitch’s fingers, and Mitch took it as a sign. He withdrew his hand, squeezed more lube onto it, and spread it across his cock, grateful they’d decided to forgo condoms shortly after moving in together. Since they were a couple and exclusive as well as each other’s first, they’d agreed to do without the protection.
Fighting his need, Mitch eased his way into the narrow heat. Cian seemed eager enough, but that didn’t change the fact that he rarely bottomed. When the full length of his dick was buried deep inside Cian, Mitch rested, pressing his lips to Cian’s shoulder while their bodies adjusted.
“Will you get a move on.” Cian wiggled his arse, stressing his impatience.
“Your wish…” Mitch didn’t waste any more time on words and pulled back, only to immediately slide into Cian again, relishing the hot grip the tight hole had on his straining cock. He’d forgotten how good this was.
“Fuck, yeah,” Cian groaned. “You feel so good.”
“You too,” Mitch said, struggling for breath. “So tight. This won’t take long.”
He moved faster, pushing in and out of Cian with more force. Already he could feel the telltale tingle in his balls, and he struggled to fight his impending explosion, to extend the pleasure for a few more moments. Cian enthusiastically moving with him intensified every penetration, which didn’t help at all.
When his orgasm hit, Mitch felt it in every inch of his body. Cian’s arse contracting around his erupting cock only enhanced Mitch’s climax. It wasn’t until he’d shot the last drop of cum that Mitch realized he’d completely ignored Cian’s dick and even failed to release it from its pouch.
Still seated deep inside Cian, he lifted one hand and reached for Cian’s cock, expecting to find it throbbing and hard. When his fingers connected with a wet, sticky patch of material instead, he chuckled.
Cian glanced at him again, and Mitch wasn’t sure whether the red glow on Cian’s cheeks was the result of his recent climax or embarrassment over how he’d reached it.
“That was hot,” Cian said. “We’ll have to do it again.”
Mitch couldn’t argue with that. He might not be sure how he felt about Cian joining a gay rugby team, but he had no doubts about how much he loved having a rugby-playing boyfriend.


If you're curious about the earlier titles, you can find them in the following places: 

A Miracle in the Library: Universal | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Lessons in Love: Universal | Amazon US | Amazon UK
Pride of Place: Universal | Amazon US | Amazon UK

Friday 24 May 2019

Flashback to Equality

Almost exactly four years ago, Ireland voted in favour of marriage equality during a referendum, making us the first and so far only country to introduce this right through a popular vote. As you can probably imagine, I was very invested in both the campaign leading up to the referendum and in the eventual result. I remember working in the library the day the votes were being counted and spending most of my time staring at my twitter account as the results from the various counties were announced.

Counting the votes always takes at least a day in Ireland and I was home again by the time the national result was officially announced. Although by that stage it had been clear for some time that the YES-vote had won the day, I still released a huge sigh of relief (and shed more than a few tears) when the official declaration was made.

The referendum and the months leading up to it made such an impression on me that I had to put it in a book. The result was Equality, the second book in my Dublin Virtues trilogy which was released on the first anniversary of the referendum. To this day it ranks very high on my list of favourites. 

In the following scene we are getting close to March 22nd, the day the referendum is to take place, and Lorcan and Eric have joined the Yes campaign in Lorcan’s hometown, where he’s expected to make a speech.


After over an hour of listening to all the reasons people should vote No, Eric wanted to scream. They were the same claims he heard on radio and television every day, and they didn’t get any less ridiculous just because people kept repeating them.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve now heard the arguments from those who oppose the suggestion made in the referendum. For the sake of objectivity, we decided it’s only fair to also invite someone from the Yes campaign to state their case.” The man on stage nodded at Lorcan, who appeared to stiffen more, if such a thing were possible, before getting up and slowly approaching the speaking platform. Eric’s heartbeat increased as he worried about the man he loved, and he said a silent prayer to the God he didn’t believe in, for the words to flow and the audience not to be too hostile. He held his breath as he waited for Lorcan to start.

“Thank you for allowing me to say a few words.”

Eric released the air he’d been holding as he stared at his boyfriend—if that was still true—and recognized the nervous tension on his face. Lorcan moved his head as if he wanted to memorize the faces of everybody in the hall for future reference and yet, Eric was sure he didn’t see anybody.

“I realize this isn’t a comfortable subject for most of you. Trust me, it isn’t easy for me, either. It never was.” Lorcan paused, as if he wasn’t sure how to go on, and for a moment Eric was convinced he was about to step away from the microphone and sit down again. Eric imagined he could hear Lorcan’s deep sigh before he continued. “You’re being asked to vote in favor of something you’ve always been told is wrong. Most of you are certain people like me are an abomination in the eyes of God.”

Eric saw several people nod in agreement.

“But don’t you feel that thinking along those lines amounts to accusing God of making countless mistakes? God, we’ve been told, is almighty. God is infallible. If that is true, then why are gay children being born every day? Because believe me when I say that none of us woke up one morning and decided to be gay out of spite, or out of some deep-rooted desire to be different. Far from it. When I first realized I was attracted to men, I hated myself. I didn’t want to be the odd one out. All I desired was to be the same as everybody else—to fit in. And I don’t. I can’t begin to explain how much it hurts when you’re being treated as different, less than others, just because you were born a certain way.”

Lorcan paused again and Eric braced himself, convinced someone in the audience would start heckling any moment, but silence reigned supreme. Eric didn’t think it would have been his approach, but maybe honest and vulnerable was the way to win over the crowd.

“We’re not asking for special treatment. All we want is to be treated the same way as you. This vote isn’t about whether or not you understand or approve of homosexuality. It has nothing to do with raising and adopting children. All a Yes vote would ensure is that we will be a little bit less separate from the rest of society. We just want to be equal. Nothing is going to change for you. Your marriages will still be as good or as bad as they are right now—your weddings still as lavish or as simple as you want them to be. Voting Yes won’t cost you anything and will give so very much.”

Lorcan looked up and his gaze sought Eric’s before he bowed his head and took a small step backward.

“But what about the children!” an angry voice shouted from somewhere in the back of the hall.

Eric turned to see who had spoken but was too late. When he focused on Lorcan again the man had gone through a transformation. The hesitation was gone, and no sign of shyness or awkwardness remained as Lorcan all but glared at the crowd.

“Yes! The children. Let’s talk about them. Like I said, this referendum isn’t about whether or not a gay couple should be able to adopt a child. Children are already being raised by same-sex couples and legislation to facilitate that is separate from the marriage issue. But, if you are so worried about the children and their feelings, how can you possibly stand by while people proclaim, day after day, that the only way a child should be raised is by a heterosexual couple? How do you imagine that makes children who are now growing up with gay parents, or are being brought up by single parents, feel? Do you seriously believe it’s a good idea to tell all those children they’re just not good enough? Because that’s what you’re doing. Just as you’re telling every child who is questioning their sexuality right now, and trying to come to terms with the fact that they don’t fit what society has decided is the norm, that they’re inferior. Don’t tell me you’re worried about the children if you’re prepared to hurt so many of them just to win your argument. Don’t be a hypocrite. This has nothing to do with the children and everything to do with your prejudices.”

Hesitant clapping started on Eric’s right and within moments others joined in. Eric’s heart swelled as he watched Lorcan fully relax for the first time in four days. He had no doubt Lorcan knew as well as he did that he wouldn’t have convinced everyone. But, by the sound of it, he’d managed to make at least a few people think.



Love is love. But what if the fight for equality gets in the way of building a relationship?
Lorcan Barrett has never considered himself relationship material. After his parents made it perfectly clear they’d never welcome a partner of his into their home, he learned to love his own company and now can’t imagine sharing his life with another. After a single passionate kiss with Eric Kavanagh—the night before he travels to Canada for three months—Lorcan’s no longer sure he wants to be on his own. The problem is, he has no idea what sharing his life with someone else might entail.
Eric Kavanagh grew up in a loving and supportive family and had always assumed he’d end up in a committed relationship. Sure that he’s found the one, Eric doesn’t worry about the fact that Lorcan has no experience when it comes to love and relationships. They are good together, so what could possibly go wrong?
When both men get involved in the marriage equality referendum in Ireland, it appears to bring them even closer together, until Lorcan’s insecurities get the upper hand and he shuts Eric out. Will the fight for a Yes vote cost them their relationship, or will they be able to find a balance between the love they share and the need for equality?

Monday 20 May 2019

Flashback to Strangers in the Night

Happy Monday, my friends. Are you ready for another flashback?

This one is from Strangers in the Night which is in fact the very first MM story I ever wrote as well as the only time I had a writing partner. We had so much fun figuring out how to write a story together, and fell in love with our characters during the process. I'm still sorry that Jaycee Edward, my co-writer for this book, isn't writing anymore.

If the excerpt below leaves you curious, you can find the book here: Strangers in the Night:

THE SOFA was too damn short. And too damn narrow. That’s what a man got for being a Good Samaritan: a long, sleepless night. Callum sighed and pulled the blanket closer around him as he listened to the sounds coming from the bed.
Slade had looked exhausted, tossing and turning only a few times before drifting off to sleep. The jagged scar on the young man’s thigh confirmed Callum’s suspicions. He’d seen Slade rubbing that leg and favoring it when he walked. He was certain it was a war wound. The other scars, though…. Some fading, some angry red. They littered his arms and thighs, and—what intrigued Callum the most—they were straight. Self-inflicted.
As he pondered the possible reasons behind the scars, a change in the boy’s breathing caught his attention. Low moans and murmurs, words Callum couldn’t quite make out, filled the room, growing ever louder.
Slade’s restless movements morphed into violent thrashing. A gut-wrenching scream broke from his chest, startling Callum from his musings.
Jesus. The lad was having one hell of a nightmare. He couldn’t just lie here and listen.
It was only a few steps from the sofa to the bed. Slade was completely wrapped up in the bedclothes. In the faint light from the smoldering fire, Callum could see sweat shining on the boy’s face.
Please… please… and Zach? He couldn’t make out the other words. The pain in Slade’s voice and the few words Callum could distinguish were heartbreaking. Callum sat on the edge of the bed and shook the boy’s shoulder. Slade continued to toss and tangle himself further in the covers.
He flailed as if he were frantic to reach something… or someone. Callum shook him, harder this time.
“Wake up, lad. You’re dreaming.”
“Talk to me, Zach!” Slade shouted, still fully immersed in his nightmare.
The tossing and flailing increased, bringing Slade precariously close to throwing himself off the bed. Callum grasped Slade by both shoulders and shook, hard. Slade continued to jerk. This was more than just a simple nightmare. Lying across Slade’s body, Callum grabbed his wrists, pinning them above his head, and rendered him immobile. Slade’s eyes flew open, and he instantly calmed.
“Interesting,” Callum mumbled without thinking. “You’re safe,” he said aloud to Slade, maintaining his hold on the boy’s wrists.
Slade stared into Callum’s eyes, unblinking. The boy had completely relaxed beneath him. He seemed more than content to stay as he was— pinned under Callum.
“What were you dreaming about, lad?” Callum kept his voice soft.
For the first time since he’d woken up, Slade looked away. “Can’t remember.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Callum allowed some authority to creep into his voice and was only half-surprised to see the boy instantly react to it.
“Deployment. A bomb.”
Despite the severity of the situation, Callum couldn’t suppress the thrill running through him. It took so little to make this lad react. He needed to be told what to do. Callum suspected it wasn’t the only thing the boy needed.
“Look at me, lad. Tell me what happened.”
Slade complied, bravely meeting Callum’s gaze. “We were trying to flush out insurgents.” He swallowed. “There was an explosion. My friend…. Zach….” Slade turned his head.
“Eyes on me.” The naked pain in Slade’s eyes when he obeyed cut right through Callum. The sudden impulse to pull the young man to his chest and hold him close unsettled Callum. That wasn’t what Slade needed right now. Instead, Callum sat up, lifting himself off Slade’s chest but retaining the firm hold on his wrists. He had no intention of letting go anytime soon.
“Tell me what happened,” he repeated.
A single tear slid down Slade’s cheek. “I was near the end of the line when we entered the building. I knew something was wrong.” A second tear escaped the brimming blue eyes. “I was going to warn them, tell them to go back, when….” The boy’s voice faded as his tears started to flow. “The flash, the noise, and then this unnatural quiet. Zach…. At first I couldn’t see him. And then….”
Sudden anger flashed through the tears. “You want to know what happened? He was shredded by that bomb. There was blood everywhere. I couldn’t reach him. My leg….” As quick as the anger had flared, it disappeared again. “He died before I could drag myself over to him. He died alone. He died because I was too slow… with my warning.”
“You can’t blame yourself, lad. Things like that happen in war. You know that. Everyone in combat loses someone close to them. I take it Zach was the first friend you lost?”
Slade’s eyes slid closed, but his tears continued to fall. He shook his head. “No.”
Callum cocked his head. “What is it, then? Why does his death haunt you more than any of the others?”
“He was… special.”
“Okay….” Callum drew the word out as he nodded thoughtfully. He selfishly wanted to ask what “special” meant, but this wasn’t the time. “Thank you for telling me.”
He released the boy’s wrists and wiped the tears from his face. “If I leave you alone, will you sleep?”
Callum saw something in Slade’s eyes, something that looked a lot like hope. “I don’t know.” It was barely a whisper.
It wasn’t a difficult decision. In fact, it wasn’t a decision at all. “Move over, then. Tonight, at least, you won’t be alone and you will sleep.” Callum had no idea if it was possible to make someone sleep peacefully simply by ordering them to, but for the lad’s sake, he hoped it would work.