With just over one week to go until Leap of Faith goes live, here’s your chance to read the first chapter before release day.
“You need to face up to things. You screwed up.”
Those words burned Charlie like an infection. Even though his ear buds drowned out the external revving from the airplane engine as it prepared for take-off, those taunting words echoed through his mind and suffocated him far more than the packed cabin of Ryanair’s Boeing 737.
Ramping the volume up on his playlist, he settled back and waited for the flight to take him home. Or away. The cabin shook, vibrating Charlie’s seat as the wheels screamed on tarmac. He had no desire to watch the ascension. It’s why he’d opted for the end seat and not the window one that he’d pre-paid for. He’d happily given that up to the toddler who’d bounced down the aisle in excitable delight and had stopped with a pout at his row on realising he didn’t have the best seat in the house. Good luck to the kid. It would only pain Charlie more to have to see Birmingham—more importantly Loughborough—disappear into the distance.
So he focused on the music in his ears as the plane lifted from the ground and tore into clouds. Goodbye England.
“Maybe they’ll forgive you for next time.” Coach Fergal’s voice wouldn’t fade even with the rock music blaring from his playlist, nor the passenger beside him crunching through peanuts and laughing at his tablet screen whilst ignoring his child’s pleas to watch the miniature world below.
“The people are like ants, Daddy!” the child said, shaking his father’s arm. “I want to fly in the clouds forever!”
Charlie squeezed his eyes shut. Poor kid. He didn’t yet know that all dreams came to a crashing end.
Hopefully not his plane with the passengers still on it.
“That’s great, Bobby. Keep watching.” The dad turned up the volume on his tablet and chuckled away to his comedy show on catch-up. Charlie thought the bloke might want to share in his kid’s excitement. But Charlie shouldn’t comment. His father had been as apathetic about his birth and life thereon. And he’d turned out okay.
On second thoughts, this journey home proved he hadn’t.
An hour later, the plane bumped down at Jersey airport. The child in the window seat was as excited about that as he had been for take-off. The father still as indifferent. Charlie kept his buds in as the plane parked up and he was the first out of his seat to drag his sports bag from the hold above.
He caught the little kid’s eye. “Good spot?”
“It was sick! Thank you!”
Charlie smiled, and gave him a wink. The kid’s gaze trailed to the chest stitching on his tracksuit jacket. Jaw dropping, he thumped his dad beside him but Charlie was long gone before the man could peer up from his screen.
The last thing he needed was that conversation.
He waited, impatiently, behind the queue of tourists lining up to vacate the cabin and start their holiday. There were a few Channel Island commuters decked out in suits on their way home from their offices—an hour flight from Jersey to England was worth the best of both worlds for some. Charlie couldn’t understand that life. How did they ever know if they were coming or going?
The doors opened, and Charlie strode out onto the metal steps, squinting up at the blaring sun that should have been dipping down into the horizon rather than beaming on him like an interrogation spotlight. It was as though it was homing in on him with a sly tut and the words of, well, well, well, look what Ryanair dragged home.
“Fuck off,” Charlie muttered under his breath.
“Excuse moi?” The elegantly thin woman in front twisted to face him, a scowl crossing her thin lips and her to-die-for cheekbones sharpening.
Realising he hadn’t cursed as under his breath as he’d thought, Charlie fiddled with his phone to switch off his music.
“Pardon.” He’d replied in French as it was clear this madame was from that side of the island. Or visiting that side. “Je ne vous parlais pas,” he said. Because it was true. He hadn’t been talking to her. He’d been talking to the sun that hadn’t burned his face as much as his faux pas had.
The woman flicked her dark plaited hair over her shoulder, then twisted back to help her toddler down the steps of the aircraft, marching court-shoe heels across tarmac. Charlie sighed. The sun tutted and offered him a welcome home in the form of sweat patches forming under his armpits on the base layer he wore beneath his team tracksuit. He’d forgotten how warm Jersey was in the height of summer. Even at nine p.m.
Without any baggage apart from his sports holdall, Charlie was able to speed through arrivals and passport control, finding himself exiting the terminal and in the taxi queue faster than any other passenger. He should have jumped on the bus and saved the limited cash he had left from his student loan, as it would have to last a while, but the thought of clambering on that shuttle, packed in with the tourists, wasn’t so appealing anymore. He’d have to keep the titbits of local islander info to himself this time.
I’m more a visitor myself these days.
The taxi cruised to the front and the driver nodded for him to get in. As Charlie went to open the back door, his fingers shook, pain searing through to his wrist and he sucked in a breath through gritted teeth. He almost kicked the alloy wheels in frustration, but the driver’s narrowed eyes prevented him from having to use even more of his loaned cash for damages. So he used his left hand instead, and shouldered the passenger door open. The driver watched him through the rear-view mirror. Seasoned cabbie. He could tell the locals from those who’d need his welcoming chauffeur service in order to secure a larger tip.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked, flicking on the air conditioning. The sudden blast of cool breeze ruffled the tufts of spiralling curls that Charlie had meant to get cut into a short back and sides ready for—
“St Helier,” he replied to cut his thoughts off instead. He no longer had to worry about hair in his eyes. He had to worry about what waited for him at the end of this journey. “Drop me at the Pomme d’Or.” Maybe he could catch up with Josh before having to face the wrath that was his mother? As much as his mum gave great hugs, she would also be exceptionally disappointed in him. And want to know his plans.
So would I.
He’d better come up with something before he dumped all his problems on his mum who already had a ton of her own. Josh might be able to help with that. If he wasn’t still chasing skirt in the form of the visiting French girls.
Slumping his chin into his hand, he watched his homeland out of the back-passenger window during the drive down Beaumont, to the seafront where the sun dipped and melted into the sea. He’d missed the sea. And the beach. It had been his place to escape to when things had got too much. But coming home was hard. And it tightened his chest ever more when the sixteenth-century fortress of Elizabeth Castle came into view, the tide high and waves sloshing around that focal point both waving and dragging him closer. A few hours ago, he couldn’t think of anywhere other than home to go to, but now he was here, the anxiety weighed heavy in his gut at having to admit to the whole waiting island as to what had caused this tail-between-the-legs moment.
His fingers cramped and he winced. At least the shaking has stopped. Ignoring the fleeting concern from the driver through the rear-view mirror, he pulled out the roll of fabric tape from his bag and strapped his fingers together. He should have seen the doc about them. Except, he no longer had access to those perks. He had to treat his own injuries how he saw fit. And it wasn’t as though he hadn’t had the shaking before. He was on his own now. He could make his own bad decisions. No university behind him. No trained professionals. No team. There was just him.
On a different path.
One he had no idea where it led.
The cab pulled up to the layby at the front of the hotel and Charlie handed over his English cash to the driver. The man returned a few Jersey notes, which made Charlie breathe out a melancholic sigh. He pocketed the money, grabbed his bag and bundled out of the taxi. Glancing up at the Pomme D’Or and its iconic grey-stone entrance, his eyes stung. But he couldn’t blame that on the sun as it had now vanished to make way for dusk and the only lights blinking were from the Yacht marina opposite. The car drove off, making way for the sounds of home to grip him harder—the trickling water from the fountain monument, the low drones of chatter and the clinking of glasses from the packed out al-fresco diners surrounding Liberation Square. Along with that unrelenting flick and whoosh of a revolving door.
Gripping his bag handles, Charlie jogged up the front steps and into the hotel’s foyer. It was relatively quiet for a summer’s evening. The bar only had a handful of customers inside and the lone receptionist was busy tapping on a tablet screen. Not exactly the grand welcome home that he’d expected when he should have been returning in three months’ time.
Won’t ever happen now.
“Hey.” He slipped his elbow on the reception counter, leaning toward the red-haired girl he didn’t recognise and attempted an authentic smile he didn’t feel. “Is Josh working tonight?”
Brown eyes regarded him, and a petulant curl of lips followed as the girl returned to acknowledge her computer screen instead. “Joshua?” she questioned in that voice that said she knew exactly who Charlie had been referring to. “Gallichan?”
“That’s right.” Charlie slid away from the desk. “Works here. Concierge?”
She glanced up, her red hair not the only fiery thing about her. “I know who he is.”
Right. She clearly did know Josh. Like all the visiting tourist girls did. Typical.
“He’s working the bar.” She raised her chin in indication of the bar opposite, gaze not leaving her screen.
She didn’t reply, so Charlie sauntered off and nipped farther into the hotel. It had been a while, but some things never changed. And the mostly glass fronted bar with black tables and stools, with the deep brown distressed leather sofas adding to the ambiance of a small but cosy hotel cocktail bar, was one of them. Especially when Charlie set eyes on the man serving the drinks.
Josh leaned forward on his elbows, laughing with a couple of customers at the end of the curved counter. Charlie gave him a moment. He was working the charm. And the American couple were transfixed on whatever tale Joshua would be regaling them with this time. So Charlie dumped his bag beside a stool, sat and listened.
“Be with you in one second, sir…” Josh threw over to him, then returned his attention back to the couple. “As I was saying, this hotel was the base for the Germans during the occupation…” His smooth, amiable voice pervaded over the counter and he glanced back to Charlie as if checking his eyes hadn’t deceived him. He then stopped, mid-sentence. Stood straighter. And did a double take.
Charlie tilted his neck and gave a wry smile that might as well have been a, ta da!
Josh’s smile lit up his boyish features. Slamming his hands on his hips, he shook his head as if in disbelief. He looked good in that uniform. Not that Charlie would ever admit that to his very heterosexual best friend. It might ruin their twenty years thick-as-thieves friendship. But those figure-hugging black trousers, translucent-thin white shirt and silken black waistcoat clung to Josh’s slender frame like a second skin. The whole ensemble made him appear more sophisticated than his bellboy outfit had. More mature. Charlie had a thing for men in uniform. Mature men in uniform. Costumes too. Because some costumes were uniform.
“Charlie Avrill,” Josh breathed out, his cheeks indenting dimples from his widening grin. “I was just telling this couple about you.” He indicated to the man and woman now studying him with anticipation and stirring straws in the cocktails that Josh had no doubt mixed to perfection. “Darlene, Cody.” Josh gestured toward Charlie. “Meet the island’s star athlete. He’ll be bringing home the gold on the horizontal bar, the rings and whatever else there is in the Olympic category of gymnastics.”
Josh’s announcement oozed a pride that Charlie couldn’t bear. Nor did he want to see the impressed gawps from the American couple. So he hung his head and stared forlornly at the gleaming wooden bar surface.
“Shouldn’t you be on your way to Rio right now?” Josh asked.
Charlie couldn’t put it off any longer and he swallowed his pride when he said, “Not this year, my friend. Not this year.” He gave a sad smile to the couple, then settled his gaze on his old friend.
Josh’s smile faded. Gone was the pride, the steadfast devotion and seeping to the surface was the rotten disappointment. He obviously didn’t know whether he should jump at Charlie and demand an explanation or to continue charming the pants off the tourists in the hope of the extra tip he’d just lost. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, he chose the former and, chucking the bar towel over his shoulder, he slipped closer to Charlie.
“What happened?” Josh asked, letting the Americans continue their vacation alone.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Is this a joke?”
Charlie laughed, albeit strangled. “Sadly not.”
Josh’s shoulders deflated and he tilted his neck. “Mate, I’m so sorry.”
“Not as much as I am.”
“Does your mum know?”
“Not yet. I needed to work my way up to that.” Charlie angled his head to the Americans. “Guess I can’t be your claim to fame and the island’s notable figure anymore.”
Catching Charlie completely unawares, and in stark contrast to his previous sympathy, Josh punched Charlie on the shoulder. He toppled back on the stool, grabbing the gleaming gold bar that ran the length of the surface to prevent his tumble to the floor.
“Don’t be daft, mate,” Josh said. “I have a ton more claims to fame to use. So, you’re back? For good?”
“Summer break. After that? Don’t know. I’m not even sure Loughborough will take me back.”
“Charlie…” Josh clucked his tongue. “What did you do?”
“Something I shouldn’t. Let’s leave that there.”
Josh heaved in a vexed breath, then seemed to shake free the disappointment and merged into the Josh Charlie had come to seek out when he said, “So I got you for the summer vacay?” He slapped the bar counter. “Could use a wingman for the darlings heading this way.”
Charlie peered out to the foyer. “I see you’re doing fine without me.” He tried to get the jealousy out of his voice. He’d long abandoned the idea that Josh might swing his way eventually.
Josh followed his line of sight. “Ah. Ivy.” He winced. “I didn’t call her after…well, y’know. Apparently, there’s a cut off. Did you know that? You’ve got, like, three days to return a text before you’re toast.”
“Three days, huh?”
Josh shrugged. “Work like that for your lot?”
By ‘your lot’, Josh had meant gay. It was his way of separating the them and us. The Charlie from Josh.
“Not really.” Charlie shrugged. “Not that I’d know.”
“Ha. I’ll bet you get enough attention with that arse.”
Charlie narrowed his eyes. “Get me a beer.”
“Aren’t you gonna check in with your mum first?”
Charlie hoped his glare was enough to tell Josh what he could do with that statement. Stick it up his not-so-pert-through-years-of-strength-and-muscle-training-arse.
“All right.” Josh pulled a glass from the rack and poured a pint of Amstel from the taps. “So what’s the plan?” he said after dumping the cool, crisp pint in front of Charlie.
Charlie licked his lips. He hadn’t had a drink in months. Wrapping his uninjured fingers around the glass, he knew right then what his immediate plan was. So he answered Josh with all heartfelt conviction when he said,
“I’m going to drink this. Then another one. Then I might move onto something stronger.”
“And after that?”
Charlie heaved in a deep breath. “Not a fucking clue.”
Sometimes all you need is a little push.
Running from his shattered gymnastics career, Charlie Avrill’s one hope for redemption is the strange and colourful world of the circus. His skills should make him a good fit for seasoned performer, Darius Lungu. But Darius won’t compromise his high stakes act for just anyone.
Still mourning the loss of his performance partner who unexpectedly abandoned the show, Darius’s heart can’t take another temporary filler. No matter how perfect Charlie might seem at first glance. But the circus is dying, and Darius owes his bosses a stellar act to sell.
Putting their differences aside to recreate the star attraction, Darius and Charlie grow closer with each rehearsal. But Charlie’s only in the ring for a one-night-only performance and the circus is due at its next stop—off the island and into Europe.
Can Charlie push aside his fears and take the leap of faith to change his entire life? And, if he does, will Darius still be there to catch him?
Leap of Faith is a standalone age-gap, enemies to lovers, mm romance where the twists and turns don’t only happen in the ring.