Today I am so pleased to welcome Garrett Leigh to Joyfully Jay. Garrett has come to share an exclusive excerpt from her latest release, Soul To Keep (Rented Heart #2). She has also brought along a great tourwide giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Marc blinked. Jamie was right in front of him, even closer than before. His warmth seeped into Marc, and the wooziness that often came with being near Jamie made his head swim before he got a tenuous hold on himself. “Are you hungry?”
“Hungry,” Marc repeated. “My neighbour feeds Natalie when I’m at work and does a bit of shopping for me. She’s goes a bit maverick sometimes, but there’s probably something around here we can have for dinner.”
“You don’t have to feed me every time you see me.”
Marc begged to differ. Jamie’s slender bones were built to carry his slight frame, but the hollowness in his cheeks seemed more pronounced than ever, and while Marc could do nothing to chase his addiction away, a hot dinner he could manage.
A dinner of what, though, he had no idea. He opened the fridge and scrutinised the contents, trying not to overreact as Jamie came up behind him and peered over his shoulder.
“I’m not much of a cook,” Marc admitted. “I’m a chuck-it-in-a-pot-and-hope-for-the-best kinda guy.”
“Nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a huge repertoire, but my mate Marvin taught me how to make his dad’s groundnut chicken. It’s Ghanaian. Have you got any peanut butter?”
“Erm, maybe. What else do you need?”
Jamie reached around Marc and grabbed the bag of chicken pieces Mrs. Valentino had left in the fridge. “Onions, garlic . . . some chillies, if you have them?”
“I’ve definitely got chillies. They’re in the sun room.”
“Come see.” Marc straightened up and took Jamie’s arm almost absently, struck once again by how normal such intimate interactions had fast become. How easy. He towed Jamie to the neglected conservatory at the end of the hall, a bright open space that had, in effect, become a greenhouse. “My mate Nat is a bit of a Charlie Dimmock. He sent me a chilli plant for Christmas.”
Of all that Marc had shared with Jamie, apparently the fact that he had a stash of fresh chillies in amongst a collection of neglected herbs and houseplants was the most enlightening. Jamie pushed past Marc and picked up the ever-growing chilli bush—damn thing was three times the size it had been when it arrived from sunny Hereford.
“These are Scotch bonnets,” Jamie said with the widest grin he’d treated Marc to so far. “They’re just what we need. Can I take a bay leaf too?”
“One of those.” Jamie pointed to another of Nat’s attempts to make Marc’s existence less utilitarian.
“Sure. Have at it.”
Jamie squeezed his way to the dusty pot in the corner and plucked a few leaves from a small tree that looked like it needed a holiday from Marc’s indifference, and a handful of bright-orange chillies. When he came back, he had a colour in his cheeks that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived.
“I’d feed you six times a day if it meant you smiled like that,” Marc blurted.
Jamie’s grin turned shy and his slight flush deepened. “Um, thanks, but you’re not going to feed me. I’m going to feed you, if you don’t mind me using your kitchen?”
Marc wasn’t about to object to anyone rescuing him from a solitary night of tea and toast, especially if that someone was Jamie. They went back to the kitchen and unearthed the final few things Jamie needed for his chicken dinner. Then Marc leaned against the counter and watched Jamie cook, and wondered if he’d been dropped into an alternative reality of blessed domestication—a reality that felt damn good. “That smells amazing.”
The shyness returned to Jamie’s smile. “It’s nice, isn’t it? I used to make a vegan version with tofu for the canteen, but I like the chicken better. It was the first real food I ate when I came out of rehab.”
“So it’s your comfort food?”
“Maybe, but all food is like that for me, ’cause I still remember what it was like to not have any.”
“Ah, see I went the opposite way. I got so used to eating sachets of bangers and beans that I forgot how much I liked fresh food. I had to train myself not to live the rest of my life on tinned ravioli.”
“Is Army food that bad?”
“Worse, but we ate every meal with a tube of extra-hot mustard, so we didn’t taste anything anyway.”
Jamie grinned wickedly and chucked another chilli in the pot—whole, seeds and all. “I like spicy food. It gives me a buzz, a healthy one, you know?”
“I get that from the treadmill when I get round to using it.”
“I can’t picture you as a gym bunny.”
Marc chuckled. “I’m not. I have a treadmill downstairs for when I’m not feeling up to pounding the streets, and the rest of the time I use the house to keep me fit.”
Marc pushed off the counter and retreated to the kitchen doorway. He reached up to the bar he’d fixed in the doorframe and pulled himself up with one arm. “The benefits of super high doors and ceilings.”
Jamie opened his mouth. Shut it again. “Wow. You’re strong.”
“Not really. I can’t do shit with my legs.”
“But you can run?”
“Jog a bit. I’ve got a special blade that fits to my prosthesis in place of the foot. It’s weird and bouncy, but I go nuts when I don’t get out.”
“I can’t imagine you a bit nuts either. You’re so together.”
“Am I?” Marc lowered himself back to the ground and returned to loitering at Jamie’s side. “I don’t feel it some days, but my mental health is better now all the surgery is behind me.”
Jamie turned the chicken over in the pan and added the dubious tin of coconut milk Marc had dug out of the pantry. “You don’t need any more?”
“Nope. I was on the fence about the nerve graft, but it should help with the phantom limb pain, so I’m glad I had it. Anyway, enough about me—what have you been doing with yourself since I last saw you?”
“I already told you. Going to meetings and job hunting.”
“Did you have any luck? With the job hunting, I mean.”
Jamie didn’t elaborate, and he turned his back on Marc to open the oven and slide his bubbling pan inside. Marc took the hint and searched for a change of subject, but other than the crazy-good smell already coming from the stove, came up blank. “How’s your flat? Is it warm enough?”Smooth, man. Smooth.
But Jamie didn’t seem to mind. He carefully shut the AGA door and wiped his hands on a tea towel. “It’s not cold, but it’s bare. Just the furniture and me. I’ve thought about keeping the telly on all the time, but that crap drives me mad.”
“You don’t have any books?”
“A couple, but they’re self-help bullshit that my sponsor gave me before I left Cali. I only read them when I’m desperate.”
Marc couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room any longer. “Remember you can take as many as you like from upstairs. I’m sure you’d find plenty if you went through them.”
“Is that your way of asking me if I’m on my arse enough to accept your charity?”
There was no bitterness lacing Jamie’s words, but they stung all the same. “It’s not charity. You’d be doing me a favour. And if you don’t want to do it, I’ll pay someone else. How is that charity?”
“You didn’t make it up because you felt sorry for me?”
“I don’t feel sorry for you. You’re young, clever, and gorgeous, and you’ve got your whole life to look forward to. Why the fuck would I feel sorry for you?” It wasn’t much of a lie. Marc’s heart ached for all that Jamie had been through, but he’d been around the block enough to know that such things shaped a man like Jamie. He’s so much stronger than he realises.“I didn’t make it up, mate. Think what you want about yourself, but I haven’t got time for games.”
The urge to walk away festered in Marc’s gut, but Jamie stayed him with a featherlight brush of his fingers over Marc’s forearm.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I’m just rubbish at interacting with anyone who isn’t trying to fuck me. It’s like I’m conditioned to fight everyone in case they screw me over.”
Marc stared at where Jamie’s fingers had come to rest on his skin, marvelling at how sweetly they burned. “That’s pretty admirable, really—that you still want to fight.”
“Fight other people, not fight for myself. There’s nothing admirable about that.”
“Suit yourself. But whatever you think, I didn’t make that job up for you. It’s yours if you want it, someone else’s if you don’t.”
“I never said I didn’t want it.” Jamie’s hand remained on Marc’s arm.
Marc licked his lips and sucked in a shaky breath. “If you want it, take it.”
“That theory hasn’t worked out so well for me in the past.”
“You don’t live in the past.”
Jamie was silent, apparently transfixed by where they were joined as much as Marc was. Recklessness struck Marc. He took Jamie’s other hand and tugged gently until Jamie was in front of him, so close their knees touched, and Marc felt him everywhere, even in his missing leg. “You’ve got to give yourself a chance.”
The stern words he’d intended came out as barely a whisper, and Jamie didn’t blink when a tiny tear escaped his chaotic eyes and slid down his haunted face.
Marc broke Jamie’s hold on his wrist and wiped the tear away with the pad of his thumb. “Life was forced on you last year by someone who cared when you didn’t. I know you care now, and so do I—about both of us. So let’s help each other, eh? At least until you find something else?”
“I’m not going to find anything else. There’s nothing here for me.”
“You’re going to leave?” Marc’s heart struck up a cold, painful tattoo, and Jamie’s bleak expression as he shook his head did little to ease the anxiety clawing at Marc’s gut. But he couldn’t ask Jamie to stay. Jamie deserved a life, and he wasn’t going to find it holed up in Marc’s dark, gloomy house—
Jamie’s lips brushed Marc’s, stealing Marc’s breath, and then his hips dug into Marc, bony and sharp, his torso finding a perfect cradle in Marc’s arms. Startled, Marc gasped, but kissing Jamie was as easy as breathing, even though he knew it wouldn’t chase Jamie’s demons away.
Their lips met again and again. Marc’s body responded to Jamie’s every touch and stuttered breath, but he fought the urge to pull Jamie closer, to deepen their kiss to something more. Jamie was fragile, like a beautiful moth without a flame, and Marc ghosted his hands over him like he was made of threadbare silk, all the while caging him in his arms as tightly as he dared.
Jamie broke the kiss. “Oh God. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“So why did you?”
“Because you’re fucking gorgeous and I wanted to. See? I always screw it up when I do shit without thinking.”
Marc let his arms drop. He wanted to tell Jamie that he’d thought about kissing him ever since that very first time all those weeks ago, but he didn’t. He said nothing as he watched a thousand emotions pass through Jamie’s face.
He waited for Jamie to pull away, but Jamie’s only movement was to press his forehead against Marc’s chest. After a moment, Marc gave in and wrapped his arms around him again. “Don’t be sorry,” he said quietly. “Believe me, I’m not. Just don’t do anything you’re not ready for, okay? Whatever happens, you’ve got a friend in me.”
“I don’t deserve that.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Jamie pushed back on Marc’s chest and looked up with a watery scowl. “You should. My friends get hurt.”
“So do mine. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have any.”
Jamie sighed and banged his head on Marc’s breastbone. “I can’t argue with you when you say shit like that. My brain wants to, but then I think of you all blown up and in pain and I can’t stop.”
“Try. I don’t want you to think of me that way.”
Jamie said nothing for a long moment, then he sighed again and wrenched himself free of Marc’s embrace. Marc steeled himself for Jamie to leave, but he didn’t. He reached for the rice he’d found in the pantry and dumped it into a small pan, his back to Marc, his narrow shoulders hunched. “If I’m going to be here for a little while clearing out the library, you’ve got to let me cook for you. It calms me down when I’m being a dick.”
“Why don’t you do it at home, then?”
“It’s not worth it when I’m on my own.”
Marc had no argument for that. How many nights did he go to bed on an empty stomach because he simply couldn’t be arsed to fuck around in the kitchen? He tempered his relief that Jamie had seemed to have halfway accepted his job offer, and then chanced a grin, even though Jamie was apparently hell-bent on not looking at him. “All right. I was going to advertise the job at eighty quid a day, nine to five. That okay with you?”
“I’m not bothered about the money, and I’m not a nine-to-five type of guy.”
Marc chuckled. “Neither am I, but I had it in my head that some old duffer from the village would be helping me out. You can work whenever you want. I’ll give you a key.”
“Not really. I’ve told you before—anything you pinch you’d be doing me a favour.”
“What if I burn your house down?” Finally, some humour warmed Jamie’s voice.
Marc grasped his shoulders, turning him around to meet his gaze. “You’re an addict, not a lunatic, but if it helps, know this: if you burn my house down, I’ll fuck you up. Got it?”
STANDALONE second book in the LAMBDA nominated Rented Heart series.
Recovering addict Jamie Yorke has returned to England from California. With no home or family to speak of, he sticks a pin in a map and finds a small town in the Derbyshire Peak District. Matlock Bath is a quiet place—he just needs to get there, keep his head down, and stay clean. Simple, right? Until a chance meeting on the flight home alters the course of his so-called life forever.
Ex-Army medic Marc Ramsey is recovering from life-changing combat injuries while pulling nights as a trauma specialist at the local hospital. Keeping busy is a habit he can’t quit, but when Jamie—so wild and beautiful—bursts into his life, working himself into the ground isn’t as compelling as it used to be.
Marc falls hard, but chaos lurks behind Jamie’s fragile facade. He’s winning his battle against addiction, but another old foe is slowly consuming him. Both men have weathered many storms, but the path to the peace they deserve might prove the roughest ride yet.
Garrett Leigh is an award-winning British writer and book designer, currently working for Dreamspinner Press, Loose Id, Riptide Publishing, and Fox Love Press.
Garrett’s debut novel, Slide, won Best Bisexual Debut at the 2014 Rainbow Book Awards, and her polyamorous novel, Misfits was a finalist in the 2016 LAMBDA awards.
When not writing, Garrett can generally be found procrastinating on Twitter, cooking up a storm, or sitting on her behind doing as little as possible, all the while shouting at her menagerie of children and animals and attempting to tame her unruly and wonderful FOX.
Garrett is also an award winning cover artist, taking the silver medal at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards in 2016. She designs for various publishing houses and independent authors at blackjazzdesign.com, and co-owns the specialist stock site moonstockphotography.com with photographer Dan Burgess.
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