Today is such a grey day I'm going to promote my sunshine series, starting with The Isle of... Where?
|The Isle of... Where?|
When Liam Marshall's best friend, Alex, loses his fight with colon cancer, he
leaves Liam one final request: buy a ticket to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, and
scatter Alex's ashes off the pier. Liam is tired, worn out, and in desperate
need of a vacation, but instead of sun, sea, sand, and hot cabana boys, he gets
a rickety old train, revolting kids, and no Ewan MacGregor.
Liam would have done anything for his friend, but fulfilling Alex's final wish
means letting go of the only family Liam had left. Lost, he freezes on the pier…
until Sam Owens comes to his rescue.
Sam's family has vacationed on the Isle of Wight every year for as long as he
can remember, but he's never met anyone like Liam. Determined to make Liam's
vacation one to remember, Sam looks after him—in and out of the bedroom. He even
introduces Liam to his entire family. But as Sam helps Liam let go, he's forced
to admit that he wants Liam to hang on—not to his old life, but to Sam and what
they have together.
THE conversation had gone something like this:
Alex: "You need a vacation after being stuck inside with me for so long."
Liam: "Somewhere hot. Sandy beaches, blue sea, hot men."
Alex: "I can promise you the beaches are sandy."
Liam: "What do you mean? Alex, what are you planning? I know that look in your
eyes. I thought we were talking about a vacation."
Alex: "I'm offering you a vacation, moron."
Alex: "The Isle of Wight."
Liam: "Where the fuck is that?"
Alex: "The UK."
Liam: "It rains there and the men aren't hot."
Alex: "Ewan McGregor, man, Ewan McGregor."
Liam: "That's a low blow, even for you."
Liam's vision of a tropical vacation with cocktails and cabana boys faded away
with the tide and instead there was this, a special hell, surrounded by
screaming kids and overweight moms. Alex really knew how to give his best friend
a good time.
Liam leaned against the glass and sighed. Somewhere up there, Alex was laughing
at him. The bastard could have given him a train ticket to anywhere; the Orient
Express, for instance. The lyrics said a "Ticket to Ride," not fucking Ryde. But
no, Alex loved the Isle of Wight after a summer vacation during college and he
would not be moved. So a ticket to the ass end of nowhere it was. Maybe Alex had
secretly hated him all these years.
The Isle of Wight was obviously a popular destination for families, because from
the second Liam had gotten on the ferry to the island he hadn't been able to get
away from whining brats. Liam wasn't one of those men whose life was going to be
completed by progeny. He liked Kathy well enough, even though he'd deny it if
pushed, but she was Alex's kid, so of course Liam liked her. Children en masse
were hell on earth. Particularly the little fucker behind him.
The train eventually reached Ryde. Could any train ride be so slow? The island
was the size of a handkerchief. The majority of the crowd got off, to Liam's
relief. He was particularly pleased to be rid of the evil kid who had spent most
of the journey kicking the back of his seat. After days of riding this train
from hell, he had no patience for some bored brat. He'd glared at the monster
when the kicking had started, and then tried glaring at the mother. The woman
had stared back with sublime indifference. Liam thought about moving to the seat
behind the kid and kicking his seat to see how he liked it. He could just
imagine how that would go down. Pervert On Train Attacks Small Child! Liam's
imagination ran wild as he visualized the headlines. It might even get on
YouTube. Somebody would record it on their cell phone and upload it. Liam
shuddered as he imagined the small clip going viral. His mother would never
speak to him again. The nightmare had kept him occupied until the train
disgorged the horrid child and his equally horrid mother at Ryde Esplanade.
For the couple of minutes it took to get to Ryde Pier Head station, Liam leaned
against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. Forget the last few days
riding this God-awful train. Today was the day to fulfill Alex's request. Then
he could go home and get on with his life.
His empty life.
Mingling with the few passengers waiting for the catamaran that left from the
pier, Liam got himself a latte from the coffee shop in the terminal building,
taking it to sit outside on one of the benches. He sipped it carefully, having
learned from previous experience that the baristas made their coffee extra hot.
Liam's bottom lip was still recovering from the last time.
It was blustery outside of the protective shell of the terminal building, but
Liam appreciated the feel of the wind and sun on his face. Alex was right. He
had spent too long inside, not wanting to leave the sick man alone for any
length of time. Digging inside his backpack, Liam drew out a small rosewood
container and placed it on his lap. He stroked the box gently. The wood felt
warm to the touch, as if it contained the spirit of the man within. Alex had
wanted a small amount of his ashes to be sprinkled in the sea at Ryde after Liam
had ridden the train. It was a simple request and one Liam intended to honor.
He finished his coffee, taking his time to appreciate the rich flavor. Overhead,
seagulls wheeled in circles, looking for scraps of food. Contrary to Liam's
expectations, it wasn't raining. In fact, it hadn't rained the whole time he'd
been in England, a fact that seemed to dominate the news headlines. Seriously,
two weeks without rain and there was a drought?
It was the right time now. The sun was glinting off the water and there was a
light gust of wind that should scatter Alex's spirit far over the waves. Taking
a deep breath, Liam went to the rail, intending to open the box and send the
remains of his friend into the four winds.
It was simple. He could open the box and then he could go back to his home in
Michigan. His fingers fumbled at the clasp, unable to complete the simple task.
Liam's eyes filled with tears: frustration and anger at himself for being so
useless, grief for the loss of his friend.
The loss of Alex in his life was profound. For more than twenty years, Alex had
been the mainstay of his world; not his lover but his friend, brother, partner
in crime. Disposing of his ashes would leave Liam with nothing left of Alex. He
would lose him all over again.
The tears spilled over onto Liam's cheeks, and he dashed them away impatiently.
He fumbled at the catch of the box only to be thwarted by a large hand over the
"I wouldn't do that here if I were you."
Annoyed at being stopped when he had finally worked up the courage to open the
box, Liam looked up to glare at the man, only to be caught by the sight of
beautiful brown eyes, framed by long, dark lashes.
"Why not? Is there a law against it?" Liam snapped.
The man smiled gently. "Probably not, but if you chuck the ashes here, you'll
end up with them in your face. The wind's blowing in the wrong direction. You
need to move over to that side today."
"Oh." Liam's hostility faded in the face of such a reasonable explanation.
Feeling like a complete idiot, he looked around for another place, where he
wouldn't get a mouthful of ashes. Alex would have loved that.
"Do you want to go over there? I'll look after your bags for you," the man said
helpfully, pointing to the other side of the pier.
He had a kind face, Liam noticed. He was probably in his late twenties, although
Liam was dreadful at guessing ages, with blond, wavy hair caught back in a
ponytail. Not a stunner, but kind and gentle, with those amazing golden-brown
eyes that were very expressive. At the moment, they were completely focused on
"I promise not to nick anything," the man assured him.
Liam started to walk over to the place where he could throw the ashes and then
stopped, his feet rooted to the spot. He couldn't do it, couldn't throw Alex
away. It was too soon. Liam needed more time. He needed forever.
An arm went around Liam's shoulders, and he was led back to the bench.
"Sit down here. Do you want another drink?"
Liam nodded as he collapsed onto the seat. He didn't, but it would give him a
chance to get himself together while the man was gone. Taking some deep breaths,
he forced back the tears, sniffling and trying to swallow the lump in his
A few minutes later the man was back, handing over a latte and sitting down next
to Liam. "Here we are."
"Thank you," Liam managed. He paused to let it cool down before taking a sip but
forgot to offer the advice to his companion.
"Jesus!" The man almost spat his drink out.
Liam managed a weak smile. "Sorry," he offered. "I should have told you they
like taking out the inside of your mouth. It's good coffee, but you need to wait
The man wiped his chin. "Thanks for not warning me."
"Sorry," Liam apologized. "Thank you for the coffee… and looking after me."
"You're welcome. I'm Sam Owens, by the way." Sam held out his hand.
Liam juggled his coffee and offered his hand. "Liam. Liam Marshall." Sam's
handshake was warm and solid.
"Good to meet you, Liam."
"And thanks for the coffee."
"No worries. You can return the favor another time."
Liam gave him a steady look. "Another time?"
Sam gave him an impish look that took ten years off his age. "I can always hope.
Er, you are gay, aren't you?"
"You worried about hitting on the straight man?"
"Well, you haven't smacked me in the face yet, so that's a good sign."
"I might just be extremely tolerant," Liam pointed out.
"Dude, you're gay. We wouldn't even be having this conversation if you were
"Dude? Could you be more stereotypical? I may be from America, but I ain't a
cowboy." Liam grinned at the man.
Sam sipped his coffee, more carefully this time. "You'd look hot with a Stetson
on your head."
"I don't look hot now?"
Liam wasn't sure what had gotten into him. He'd gone from tears to flirting in
the space of a sip of coffee.
"Good enough," Sam said. "Better with a smile on your face."
The good humor ebbed away from Liam. "I don't feel much like smiling at the
"I can see that," Sam said softly. He reached out and touched the box with one
Liam resisted the urge to snatch it away.
"Who is this?" Sam asked.
"A friend," Liam snapped.
"Just a friend?" The question in his voice was plain to hear.
Liam sighed. There was nothing really to hide. "My best friend, Alex. He died
Sam looked confused. "Was he a Brit?"
"No. Just a Beatles fan."
"Ah." Sam's confused expression cleared up. "And he sent you here in the summer
holidays? Man, he must really have hated you."
"That's what I said," Liam grumbled. "He promised me a vacation with sandy
beaches and…." Liam stopped before he blurted it out.
Sam arched one eyebrow. "Sandy beaches and…?"
"The beach isn't even sandy here."
"Good deflection. Doesn't work. I can show you some sand. Now, what else did he
Liam ducked his head. "Hot men. Alex promised me hot men. Instead there are
kids, hundreds and hundreds of kids." He couldn't control the shudder.
"Ah yes, the monster on the train." Sam sounded amused.
Liam looked up. "You saw me on the train?" To his surprise, he could see color
rising in Sam's cheeks.
"I saw you on the train," Sam agreed.
A thought occurred to Liam. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Visiting my gran. She's not too well at the moment."
Liam was confused. "She lives on the pier?" To his amusement, Sam was crimson.
"She lives a few stops back."
"So why did you…? Oh! Did you stalk me?"
"`Stalk' is such a horrid word," Sam protested.
"What would you call it?" Liam asked, aware he was getting turned on by the fact
Sam had followed him.
Sam huffed. "Can't a guy check out another guy without it being stalking?"
"He can," Liam agreed, laying a hand on Sam's, "particularly if he buys his prey
a coffee and then looks after him."
Sam looked at Liam's hand on his. "So you're not freaked out?"
"What on earth for? A good-looking guy buys me coffee, looks after me when I
have a breakdown in public, and then admits he was stalking me? It happens every
"I'm so glad. I wouldn't like to think I was the only mad person in this world."
They both laughed, dissipating the last remaining vestiges of tension between
Liam shifted on the bench. Drinking two coffees in quick succession made him
aware of another need. "I need to use the bathroom. Would you look after Alex
Perhaps that was too creepy because Sam's expression changed, but then he gave
Liam a kind smile. "Of course I will." He held his hand out for the small box.
Liam found it very hard to hand the box over. Since Alex's parents had given him
the ashes, it had not been out of Liam's possession.
"He'll be fine with me," Sam assured him gently.
Swallowing hard, Liam handed it over. Sam laid the box on his knee, his fingers
curving around it.
"Go and take a leak. Leave your bag. I'll be here when you get back."
Perhaps he was being stupid, trusting a complete stranger. Liam wasn't sure. He
did trust Sam to look after Alex, though.
With one last look over his shoulder, Liam disappeared into the terminal
building, returning as quickly as he could. Sam was where he had left him, the
box still on his knee.
He looked up as Liam approached. "Better?"
"Yes, thanks. Would you like another coffee?" Liam offered.
"Not bothered. You?"
Liam shook his head. "I've had two. That's enough. I suppose I'd better do what
I came here to do."
He held out his hand to take the ashes from Sam, but the man didn't hand over
the box immediately.
"When you've done this, are you going home?" Sam asked.
Liam hesitated before answering. "I've got no real reason to stay," he said
"Alex wanted you to have a vacation."
Sam seemed to be trying to say something, but Liam wasn't too sure what it was.
"He did. I've been here several days already."
"Oh?" Sam frowned. "Have you explored the island?"
Now it was Liam's turn to blush. "I've been riding up and down the damn train
for the last week." At Sam's questioning expression, he said, "I just can't
bring myself to sprinkle the ashes. Once he goes, that's it. I've lost my friend
for good." His throat closed up and he blinked rapidly, determined not to let
the tears spill over again. One public humiliation a day was enough.
Nodding in understanding, Sam tugged on Liam's sleeve to sit down next to him.
For a few minutes, he leaned against Liam as they sat on the bench, his warmth
comforting to Liam. Sam didn't seem to be the type of person who needed to talk
all the time to fill the silence. Liam appreciated that.
"Do you have to go back home immediately?" Sam asked eventually.
Liam sighed. "No. I can work from here if anything is urgent. I'm a technical
writer. I work for myself."
"So do I," Sam said, "as an accountant. It's my busiest time of year, normally,
but as Gran has been ill, I've made sure I'm ahead of myself."
"What's the matter with her?"
"Just the flu. Mum worries as we all live so far away."
"So you don't live on the island, then?"
Sam burst out laughing. "Hell no, it'd drive me bloody mad living here. Too
small. I live near London. Mum asked me to come down and see how she was doing."
"That's kind of you," Liam said, noticing how Sam's face lit up when he laughed.
"I love my gran. She's a funny old bird, but she's always had time for me and my
"How many brothers have you got?" Liam asked curiously. He was an only child and
had always been vaguely envious of people coming from large families.
"Six." At Liam's wide-eyed stare, Sam chuckled. "Mum wanted a daughter so they
kept trying. Dad could only produce the Y chromosomes, though. After Paul, the
youngest, they gave up. He was such a shit they couldn't face the thought of any
"Are you close to your family?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, we're all close. They didn't even care that I was gay. Coming out was the
biggest anticlimax ever when I came in from school to find condoms, lube, and a
book on gay sex on my bed."
"Oh wow." Liam couldn't imagine that. His admission to his parents that he was
gay had been painful, and had only happened because of the incident with the
football captain. It was hard to ignore when he came home covered in bruises
every day. If it hadn't been for Alex spectacularly losing his temper with
Liam's dad, both Liam's parents would have politely ignored what their son was
enduring at school. Alex had dragged him home after yet another beating from the
football team and forced them to look at the bruises on his back and sides.
Liam's mom had burst into tears when she saw the dark purple and green marks
littering her son's back, but her first words weren't sympathy for her son.
"Why did you have to be so fucking stupid?" she had screamed at him.
Alex had stared at them in disgust and taken Liam back to his house. Liam hadn't
gone back home for three weeks, and then only to pick up more clothes. His
parents had refused to speak to him. Liam hadn't seen them in twenty years. He
wasn't even sure if they were still alive.
Sam chuckled. "Yeah, biggest disappointment of my life not to have a chance to
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," Liam said dryly. Although strictly
speaking, he hadn't rebelled. He hadn't even been thrown out of his home. Alex
had taken him to his home and told his parents that Liam was coming to live with
them. Mrs. Griffin had just nodded and that was that. It was easier to do what
Alex wanted. They all knew that.
"Do your parents know about you?" Sam asked.
"Sounds as if…," Sam began.
"I haven't seen them in a long time. I lived with Alex after I came out."
Sam frowned. "I thought you and he were just friends?"
"We were. Just best friends. Alex was straight. He was married for a while. He
even has a daughter."
"So you never…?"
Liam snorted. "No. Well, we made out once, but it wasn't his thing. He was the
best friend I could have had, though."
"What happened to him?"
"Colon cancer. By the time he found out, it was too late to do anything about
it. I stayed with him until the end."
Liam was surprised when Sam wrapped an arm around his shoulder and then he
realized that he was crying again. "I'm sorry." He hunted in his pockets for a
tissue only to have a paper napkin thrust into his hand. "Thanks," he muttered
before wiping his eyes and blowing his nose.
Sam didn't let go of him immediately, and worried about any hostility, Liam
looked around to see who was watching. They were alone apart from an elderly man
sitting on a bench nearby, engrossed in his newspaper.
"It's okay," Sam said quietly. "No one paid any attention to us."
Liam looked at him uncertainly.
"Well, they did, but only to ogle the two hot blokes."
Liam snorted, which turned into a sniffle, which somehow morphed into a full
coughing fit. That made the old man look up in concern.
"He's fine," Sam called out, and the man went back to his newspaper.
"Christ!" Liam gasped out, unable to stop spluttering and choking.
"All right now?" Sam asked, rubbing soothing patterns over Liam's back.
"Ask me later."
"Do you need a drink?"
"Water would be good."
Sam went off to find some water, and for the second time that day, Liam tried to
get himself back under control.
"Sip it slowly," Sam ordered as he handed over the water.
Liam did as he was told, sipping the cold water slowly. For a minute, his body
threatened to go into another coughing fit, but he took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry," he said when he was calm again. "Bet you never thought the guy on
the train would be such a basket case."
Sam nudged him with his shoulder. "No, but then I never thought the hot guy
would talk to me. Come on. I'll take you for lunch. Fish and chips on the
"What beach?" Liam muttered sourly. "And what about your gran?"
"I'll call her and say I'll be there for dinner."
Liam looked at the box still in his hand. "I ought to…."
"You will," promised Sam, "but it doesn't have to be today, does it? When you
do, I'll be there as well." He held out his hand.
Liam smiled shakily and placed his hand in Sam's. It didn't have to be today.
Alex wouldn't mind waiting one more day. Liam could ride the train again
tomorrow, and this time he wouldn't be alone.