Here you can find the prologue and first chapter from The Moon Also Rises, the second in my Sun, Moon & Stars series and the full-length sequel to Five Sunsets. If you've read Five Sunsets, you may also better recognise this story as JAKE'S BOOK! Yes, our grumpy gay gets his very own Happy Ever After! And what a sexy, swoony, steamy HEA it is. Read on to see how the story starts, and here's where you can order your own copy (ebook or paperback) and here's where you can add it to your Goodreads shelves.
THE MOON ALSO RISES
Fifteen Years Ago
New Year’s Eve, Sydney, Australia
Somebody’s bollocks should get pickled for this.
Like, seriously. It’s a shambles. The sound is off, the lighting is giving me a headache, and don't even get me started on the potential health and safety implications of the over-crowding situation we have thanks to a photobooth far too close to the main entrance to the dancefloor. But what do I know? I'm just a lowly under-employed assistant manager of a hotel restaurant gate-crashing the New Year’s Eve dance event in the hotel's top floor nightclub because he shamefully didn’t get a better offer. The only thing making up for the evidently poor organisation are the views of the harbour from up here. And the music. I crane my neck to try and get a better look at the DJ, because whoever it is, they're kicking out some stonking tunes.
"Yeah, it's banging," Steveo shouts back. Oh, did I say that out loud?
"Want another drink?" He asks me while his mouth is close to my ear.
"Sure," I say and knock back the last beer in my bottle. Before I can ask him to get me a white wine spritzer instead of another beer that will make me bloat even more than that first one did, he's off, heading to the bar. I find my eyes naturally fall to his backside. It's still just as pert as I remember from last night. And still just as married to a woman.
"When will you learn?" I ask myself out loud, turning my head back to face the front stage. The crowd is as busy and as much of a fire hazard as it was a moment ago and again, the poor lighting set-up means that all I can see of the stage are flashes of light so I still can’t see who’s DJing. I probably should have read the set list in advance, but it was a rash decision to come, mostly prompted by Steveo's late announcement that he would be in Sydney for a few days, thanks to his wife getting a last-minute deal on a girls’ holiday in Bali. The greatest surprise of all had come when he announced he wanted to go out rather than watch the fireworks from my apartment. Steveo hardly ever wants to be seen out in public with me. However, ‘public,’ is sort of stretching where we are now considering it’s a dark nightclub overpopulated with people at least ten years his junior. Kind of like I am.
"Seriously, Jake," I mutter to myself again. "When will you stop being someone's bit on the side?"
I should never have called him when he left his phone number on the back of his receipt that evening he dined in the restaurant a few months ago. But it seemed so… romantic? That just goes to show how low the bar is when it comes to me and romance.
Regardless, I should have done what I always promise myself I'm going to do; wait and meet a nice man who doesn't hide me away. A man who is proud of who he is, and proud of who I am. I mean, I would like to be proud of who I am too, but I know better than to ask for too much.
I sigh and try to think of Steveo’s redeeming features, besides the one in his trousers. We do have fun, I think to myself as I watch him walk back balancing four drinks. Wait. Four drinks?
"Got us a little shot to keep our beers company," he shouts at me as he spills drops of all four drinks on my shoes. Shoes I polished for half an hour this afternoon, like the idiot I am for thinking he'd notice. That someone would notice.
"Great. Thanks," I say with gritted teeth as I take my drinks.
Steveo nods at me to down the shot and begrudgingly, I do, wincing as the vodka burns my throat and churns my stomach. I’ve barely rearranged my facial features back into something normal when Steveo nudges my arm with his surprisingly pointy and hard elbow.
"Come on, let’s dance!" He yells.
I’m not entirely sure why I agree, but I do. I let him take me to the dancefloor and for the first few tracks we dance like awkward straight white men, our drinks being thrust out into the air in various directions, more often off the beat than on it. But after ten minutes, Steveo spins me around and lines up his chest against my back. His arms don't circle around me but I feel the warmth of his body, and the outline of one particular part of his anatomy, push up against my backside. I lean back against it, and him.
The music has an air of Seventies disco to it and I sway my hips to the rhythm. It’s the kind of song I feel I should know and it’s easy to close my eyes and feel the music pump through my body, my veins, my mind as I start to forget all the many problems with Steveo. Maybe tonight will turn out alright. Maybe tonight will mark the beginning of a better, brighter year.
Encouraged, I turn around and slide my thighs around Steveo’s leg, interlocking our groins closer together. He straightens up a little, pulls back and I watch him glance around the dancefloor. I ignore how that elongates my spine and makes my jaw clench. I need to help him forget. If he just dances with me like this a little more, rocks that beautiful big cock into me a little, and maybe, brings his arm around my waist and...
"What are you doing?" I hear him shout in my ear just before he pushes me away, a hand on my chest.
I step back, a little dazed and very confused. Except I'm not. Not at all. I know exactly what’s going on. And I’ve had enough of being treated like this.
Pushing my own hand against Steveo’s chest and moving him back, I turn and storm off the dancefloor.
"Jake! Wait up!" I hear him call out, even over the music and noise from other revellers, people who probably aren't with someone who's ashamed of dancing with them.
I pick up my pace and the music changes to match this, leaving that soulful swinging disco beat behind for a hard thump of an EDM rhythm, my least favourite kind of music. Good. I'm ready to go home now.
I pause briefly when I realise we haven’t even seen the new year in yet, and I glance at my watch. Thirty minutes to go.
Rolling my eyes at nobody, I start walking again when I realise how pissing perfect it will be that I see the new year in while walking home completely alone. How bloody brilliant it will be that the world-famous fireworks will paint the sky hundreds of different colours as I am slipping into my PJs. How fucking fantastic it will be that when I call my sister to wish her a happy new year, she will only just be starting to get ready for her own celebrations.
Jesus. When did my life become such a tragedy?
But before I dive head first into this wallowing, I need a piss.
Not wanting to risk seeing Steveo in the nightclub toilets, I dig in my wallet for my staff pass and head to the personnel-only doors near the stage that leads to the backstage rooms and the facilities back there. I keep my head down as I walk past people rushing around back there, some of them drunk, others anything but - all clipboards and headsets and stressed shouting - and I go to the gents’ toilets.
Inside, I quickly relieve myself at a urinal and then wash my hands and splash my face with cold water before taking a good look at my reflection.
I don’t hate what I see – I have a nicely put-together face and a jawline many should be jealous of – but I don’t love what I see either. My chestnut eyes reveal the sadness and dejection I feel, my dark blond hair is no longer holding the same shape I spent far too long putting it in earlier, and my cheeks look a little hollow, no doubt because I didn’t eat a decent meal all day in order to fit in the Armani jeans I stupidly bought a size too small in the sale.
"Jesus, Forester. You're too good for this," I say to myself.
"Yeah, you are," a voice says and then I hear a toilet flush. I hear the click of a lock opening on the nearest cubicle and a striking man walks out. He’s tall – roughly the same height as my five feet eleven - and he's wearing black trousers and a black woollen turtleneck, which I find mind-boggling considering it’s been 30 degrees for the last few days. He must be crew and here with one of the DJs on some whistle-stop tour.
"Sorry," I say to him via the mirror as he comes to wash his hands. "I talk to myself too much."
He gives me a side smile before bending down to wash his hands, like really washing his hands with soap and water and lots of scrubbing. Maybe he's actually hotel staff. I should keep my eye out for him, I think as I take in his light brown skin, dark hair, and sexy stubble.
"Most people don't talk to themselves enough," he says with a smile that has my eyes glued on him. That’s when I see the colour of his eyes, a grey so light and ethereal it’s practically silver. I have to blink to remember to speak but still I can’t find words worthy of a witty reply, which is not like me at all.
"Ha," I say eventually and quite pathetically. "Maybe."
He starts to rinse off the soap's bubbles. "Well, whatever it is, or whoever they are, I hope they don't ruin your night," he says and that's when I realise he's from England, like me. There's even the soft lull of a West Midlands accent.
"Oh, it's too late for that," I say.
"The night is yet young," he steps around me to reach for paper towels. "And so are you."
He looks up and down my body then, a very open assessment. His lack of subtlety prompts me to be just as direct.
"Are you accosting me?" I ask, putting a hand on my hip.
"God, no," he says with a grin that would suggest otherwise, or maybe that's the godawful shot I just did blurring my vision and interpretation of curious looks.
"Don't sound so horrified!" I put my other hand on my other hip. He scrunches the paper towel into a ball and we both watch as he throws it towards the bin and it lands.
"I'm not horrified, but let's just say I’m probably not the answer to your problems," he folds his arms across his chest. A nicely solid chest, I believe.
"You're from the UK," I say, deliberately changing the subject away from my problems. I'm quite good at that.
"Birmingham," he says. "You?"
"Surrey, originally," I say. "Now a citizen of the world."
"Yeah, me too, I guess," he says, and I have to look away from those eyes again.
I hear a buzzing, and I move to put my hand on my phone in my pocket but there’s no vibration. Of course Steveo isn't even trying to contact me.
The man in front of me is looking at the screen of an expensive-looking Smartphone by the time I look back at him.
"That's my cue to leave," he says. "Got a plane to catch, unfortunately." As he looks at the phone's screen I see him cringe, very noticeably.
"Whatever it is, or whoever they are, I hope they don't ruin your night," I repeat his words to him, nodding at his phone.
He looks up. "The night is yet young for that," he says with that mirthful smile again. "Goodbye, handsome stranger."
"Ha!" I can't help my laugh. "Goodbye, man who is very inappropriately dressed for an Australian summer."
"You're not wrong," he says as he pulls at the neck of his jumper. "And hey?"
"Nice shoes," he says with a lingering look at my feet, and then he's gone.
PART ONE – NEW MOON
“Don't worry if you're making waves just by being yourself. The Moon does it all the time.” - Scott Stabile
Present Day, London
“You do this for me and I will pay for Dolly’s grooming for a whole year,” I say into the phone.
“A year? You can’t afford that,” Derek immediately counters.
I shrug. “What are credit cards for?”
“You’re that desperate?”
“I am that desperate,” I groan into the phone.
Lionel’s wedding has come out of nowhere, and when I say nowhere, I mean I have successfully ignored the invitation for their whirlwind wedding for the last three months but now the date is just five weeks away and I am still dateless. Did I do that because I didn’t actually expect them to get married? Possibly, and apparently stupidly, yes.
“Why do you need a date so badly?” Derek asks and I swear I can hear the soft scratch of a nail file doing its thing in the background.
“Because…” I begin even though I really don’t want to dig up this sorry story again. “Because he’s the one that got away.”
“Oh Jakey, you’re breaking my heart,” Derek says and I really can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or genuine. It’s a fine line with most of my social circle, myself included. Because it serves me better, I choose to interpret his tone as one of real concern.
“So you’ll come?” As I shift in my chair with excitement, I notice my assistant Sharon walking into my office, carrying a laptop. She’s talking to a man who follows her in. A man who is carrying a bundle of envelopes and other post, including my Homes & Garden, Lonely Planet and BBC Travel magazines. He must be the new post guy.
“God, no. I can’t pretend to be your boyfriend. That’s way too weird.” Derek snaps me back to our conversation. I put a finger up to Sharon to show her I’m busy talking.
“Derek, you literally blew me once a week for a year when we were at uni!”
Derek sighs loudly. “I also studied geography and used Superdrug hair gel. Mistakes were made, Jake. Mistakes were made.”
“What do I have to do?” I’d like to say Derek’s the first person I’ve begged but he’s not. In fact, he’s the fourth friend I’ve asked to do this favour for me and it looks like he’s going to be the fourth to turn me down. I am running out of both time and friends.
“Nothing will convince me, Jake. I have plans that weekend and I’m not changing them.”
“I hardly think watching Eurovision finals with your chihuahua-Pomeranian mix dog constitutes plans,” I say but then adjust my tone. "Listen, I'll give you the afternoon to think about it. I'm tied up running through our upcoming schedule with our newbie events manager who will no doubt be as bossy, boring, and buttoned up as the last one.”
“Oh, yes. What was her name again?”
“Tasha. I forgot you met her at our Christmas do when you came with me last year. See you did that for me, Dezza. Why won't you step up again and-”
Sharon clears her throat, making a noise that isn't dissimilar from a flushing plane toilet.
“Yes, Sharon?” I pull my phone away from my ear slightly and then see the postman is trying to catch my eye and opening his mouth to say something, but I save him the trouble. “Oh, thank you for the post. Pop it down over there on the table if you don't mind.”
He opens his mouth to respond but seems to change his mind as he turns and places the pile down. I take in his appearance and realise while his clothes are all black, they do seem to fit his slim physique well, and while his shaved head is a little predictable and unimaginative, it does suit his chiselled dark features. “I have to say, you're very smartly dressed for the post room staff,” I comment.
“Thank you, I-” He begins but I don’t hear what he says next because Derek is threatening to hang up on me.
"Jake, I've got to go. You've gone from begging me to do you a solid to ignoring me completely which is not good for my mental health..."
"Your mental health?" I declare, gripping the phone close to my ear again. "I'm the one feeling dejected. I have a good mind to send you and all my lousy friends an invoice for the emotional damage all this rejection is going to cause. I see some very poor decision making on my horizon, especially in relation to my credit card, or worse, my Grindr settings-"
I'm unable to finish my sentence because my phone is snatched out of my hand and away from my ear.
"Sharon!" I exclaim. "Give me that back!"
Sharon's voice booms like only Sharon's voice can, a perfect match for her solid physique and short jet-black hair with its gravity defying spikes. "Jake, I'd like to introduce you to Rami Kazimi. Our new Head of Events."
She nods at the postman as she says that which means... he's not the postman at all.
"Oh," I say, eyes widening. I’m about to apologise but then I see the time on the clock behind his head. "But you're two hours early for our meeting."
"Yes, well, funny story," he begins, smiling in a way that is nervous and jolly and I have time for neither.
As if detecting this, Sharon jumps in. "Rami's going to be working from your office today, and tomorrow too."
"What?" My jaw drops.
"Maybe next week as well," she adds quickly as she scratches at the back of her pixie-cut. I swear I see her lips curl with glee as she watches for my reaction, her dark eyes sparkling a little.
"Here? Why isn't he getting Tasha's old office?"
"No can do. Tony nabbed that before her stiletto heel marks had been buffered out of the marble floor. Rami was supposed to be moving into his old office," Sharon says.
"Oh, God, the dungeon." I say before I can stop myself, glancing at Rami whose smile looks like it could be slipping. Shame, it's quite a nice smile full of bright white teeth and framed with dusty pink lips that don't seem to thin out even when stretched into his awkward smile.
Sharon flashes an unconvincing grin up at Rami as she stretches her short, round body to put my phone on my desk.
"It's not really a dungeon, but it does indeed need better internet apparently, and there's not even a working phoneline connection down there so maintenance are going to address all the above as soon as is humanly possible. But it will be fine you working here for the foreseeable, won't it Jake?"
Uh oh. She's using that voice with me.
“Can't he share your office?" I try one more time.
"I don't have an office, I have a corridor." Sharon’s thunderous look tells me exactly what she thinks about that.
"But I literally just got my own private office for the first time in well, ever. Do you know how long I've waited and how hard I’ve worked to get to a place where I can just fart in peace?"
"You think I don't hear some of those rippers? Now, quit your moaning. It won't be for long. Just as soon as maintenance can drill some big holes and poke pipes down channels or something."
"Now I know I'm really angry because I don't even want to play with the blatant innuendo you just served me on a silver platter!" I cross my arms like the cranky toddler I apparently am.
"Should I go?” Rami points to the door. “I could always work in reception. In fact, maybe that would be better..."
Sharon holds up her hand to him. "No, Rami. Jake is mid-way through his gay flap so just five more minutes and it will all be over."
"Gay flap? How very dare you, Sharon? I'll report you to HR for homophobia." I point my finger at her.
"Homophobia? I'm a gold-card-carrying lesbian, and you know it, you nimcompoop," Sharon says with a dismissive eye roll. "You play Words with Friends with my wife, for crying out loud."
"Ugh," I grunt but reach for my phone in the next breath. "That reminds me, it's my turn. And actually, what is Daniel doing the last weekend in May? He'd make a lovely looking date for this blasted wedding."
"There's no way you’re taking my son anywhere. Poor boy is still recovering from when you came over and plucked his eyebrows last week," Sharon mutters. "Besides, he's twenty-three, hardly an appropriate age for your date."
"Tell that to my sister," I mumble referring to Jenna's partner Marty who is many years her junior. "Anyway, he should be thanking me. Those brows added real definition to his face, which has sadly acquired your substandard bone structure."
Sharon points a stubby finger at me. "You may be turning forty this year, Jake Forester, but you're not too old to go over my knee and-"
Rami coughs again, much louder this time. His smile has completely vanished too. "I think I'm going to go and get a coffee, or something. Anything that will take me somewhere else-"
"You stay right here. Look there's already a desk for you-" Sharon grabs hold of his arm and practically hurls him towards my table.
"That's my meeting table for important meetings with important people!" I stand up.
"No, it's not. It's where you store all the paperwork you should have shredded or filed already and where you have your lunch reading Mail Online and eating cheese and pickle sandwiches. And you can do that at your desk."
I gasp with a hand on my chest. "And get grated cheese in the cracks of my keyboard? You savage, Sharon."
"Me a savage? I'm not the one giving our new colleague the worst possible welcome."
I close my eyes then and when I open them, I make sure I have a smile on my face. I turn to Rami.
"Yes, my apologies. I shouldn't have made… assumptions. Of course, you can work in here, for however long you need to."
It literally pains me to say such nice things. Am I really becoming this grumpy in my middle age?
"Apology accepted, Jake," he says with a returning smile so warm some of its heat reaches me, loosening a little of the tension in my shoulders. It’s as we share eye contact that I notice the colour of his eyes, a light, bright grey that seems to sparkle in the artificial lighting. God, how lucky do some people get having eyes that unusual, that captivating? No wonder he doesn’t seem to feel the need to make much of an effort with sparkling conversation. He doesn’t need to.
"Well, that's very decent of you.” Sharon gives me a very self-satisfied look. “Let’s make you some space over here."
She reaches over and grabs the post and all the other stacks of paperwork. She scoops it all up and then strides over to my desk. There she dumps all the papers on what little space remains.
"You bitch," I say, pulling harder on my pout so I don't show even a hint of a grin.
"Dateless desperado," she says back before she walks to the door. Her tone becomes sunnier as she turns to the man who will now be sharing my office. "Good luck, Rami!"
Sharon is gone before Rami replies, and he swallows whatever words he was mumbling. I move to sit back at my desk, sighing again when I see the mess of papers covering it
"Sharon seems... interesting," Rami ventures as he goes to the table and pulls out a chair.
"Sharon is a ruthless and insensitive battle-axe, but she's the best personal assistant I've ever had, and I love her dearly," I say finding all those words suddenly exhausting. I can't believe I now have to summon the energy for small talk with this stranger. While he's certainly easy on the eye, he's already gone some way to show me he has the personality of a cucumber so I can't even enjoy a little banter.
"That makes complete sense," he mumbles as he sits down and opens up his laptop. My top lip curls in a sneer when I notice it's a newer model than mine, and with a screen two inches bigger. The bastard.
"Who did you have to blow to get that?" I demand.
He practically gets whiplash from looking up at me so quickly. "Pardon?"
"Fancy laptop," I waggle my finger at the device. "How did you get the job anyway? I don't remember you coming in for an interview. I sat in on some of them." I know I would remember seeing those eyes recently.
Rami takes a moment to think on his answer, lips closed flat. "I didn't exactly go through the usual recruitment process," he says, and I wait for more information but he closes his mouth again and turns back to the laptop.
"Are you friends with Bill, or Simeon?" I ask, referring to the two owners of the company we work for, Status Hotels & Venues. When I see his shoulders rise, I know my answer even though he doesn't speak.
"It's both, isn't it?" I ask and again his silence and tense upper body are confirmation.
Shit. If he's friends with them then not only do I have zero opportunity for banter but I also have to be on my best behaviour. In fact, I probably need to do more than that to undo the damage of the mistaken identity and the admittedly ridiculous gay-or-otherwise flap I just had.
Resisting the urge to groan and hang my head in my hands - because knowing my luck, this man has eyes in the back of his head as well as a much better laptop than me - I instead move the papers Sharon dumped on my desk to the floor and get back to work. And by work, I mean continuing to go through my contact list to find a suitable date for Lionel's wedding.
Read what Rami's first impressions of Jake are and the rest of the story in The Moon Also Rises.
Frances M. Thompson
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