Just Kiss Her: First Chapter Preview!

I hope you’re excited about my upcoming release, Just Kiss Her. This book is an age-gap, fake-dating summer romance, filled to the brim with sun, sea, sand and spice, all washed down with a shot of tequila. It’s available to buy direct on May 23rd (then out on Kindle & Kindle Unlimited on June 6th), but if you’d like to read the first chapter to get you in the mood, read on…

Just Kiss Her: Chapter One

They had a deal, and he’d broken it. But when had Noah ever played by the rules? He’d told Brooke to meet him for a birthday drink. When she arrived, eight of her friends were waiting with eager faces and filled glasses.

“Make a wish!” Noah held a frosted pink cupcake in front of her face, one that held more tiny candles than the surface area should allow. Basically, a fire hazard. But it still made Brooke smile. She wasn’t sure how she was going to share this cupcake, though. Maybe she should just scoff it, and to hell with everyone else?

That’s what Claudia would do.

Brooke’s hopeful gaze darted through the crowd, peering through the smiling faces who’d made the effort to be in this Soho gay bar for her 29th birthday. One year until the big one.

But Claudia wasn’t there. Just like always.

Disappointment clutched her.

Just once in her life, she’d like to be caught off-guard. It wasn’t going to happen tonight.

Instead, Brooke leaned forward, blew out her miniature candles, and gave the room a perfectly styled grin as her friends clapped. For one moment, on this sofa at the back of this sticky-floored bar, she was being put first, and she was loved.

To hell with Claudia.

“Thank you so much everyone!” She ran a hand through her shoulder-length hair. “Celebrating my birthday means a lot to me, and it’s extra-special having you all here.”

Noah swiped his inky-black boy-band fringe from his face. His dad was of Italian descent, and Noah was a walking block of Italian gold. “Do you like the teeny-tiny candles?”

He knew she would. Brooke loved anything miniature. Model villages were a particular weakness of hers, thanks to her gran taking her throughout her childhood. “I love them!”

Her other best mate Allie put an arm around her, and gave Brooke a kiss on the cheek. “You said you didn’t want a birthday cake. You said nothing about a single cupcake.” She glanced at Noah, then at Brooke. “Are you having a good time? We so want you to have a good time.”

They both gave her earnest stares. She knew what they were thinking: Is this enough to make up for her?

Brooke took the cupcake and put it on the table, Allie clearing a space. “I’m having the best time.” She’d contemplated celebrating at home, but she was glad she was here. “Thanks for making it special. Even on a Tuesday in the pouring rain.”

“You deserve it all, whatever the weather.”

“And if you play your cards right, I’ll even get you up for a duet later.” Noah nodded toward the small stage at the other end of the bar where a woman was setting up for karaoke.

“Not on your life,” Brooke countered, as Noah knew she would.

“Not even ‘I Kissed A Girl’?”

“Chance would be a fine thing.”

***

Brooke leaned against the outside wall of the bar, and lit up her fifth Marlboro Light of the evening. Everyone else had dispersed around London, but Noah was still here, along with Allie and her girlfriend, Gwyneth. When Brooke looked inside, they were snogging by the window. They’d only been going out three months, hence snogging and shagging were central to their lives. Other key elements included white-chocolate protein yoghurts (nutritionally excellent), Argentinian malbec (life necessity), and Allie’s ragdoll cat, Winnie (cuteness personified).

“Good to see you’re doing well on that promise to give up smoking for your birthday.” Noah lifted his glass of pinot grigio to his lips with a grin.

Brooke gave him the middle finger. “You cannot be nasty to me. It’s still my birthday for the next,” she dug her phone from her pocket, “55 minutes. Deal with it, Fuckface.” She didn’t often call Noah by his other name, but sometimes, he earned it. “Besides, birthdays do this to me.”

He studied her for a moment, went to say something, then stopped. He knew what birthdays meant to her, and why they were so sticky.

But she’d enjoyed this one. She hadn’t simply endured it. That was a real step up.

“I’ve got an extra birthday present for you, too. A surprise.”

Brooke perked up. Noah had her attention. “Are you finally buying an island somewhere hot with your trust-fund windfall?” He actually had a trust fund. She never thought she’d be friends with someone who did.

“Not quite. But I do have a proposition for you.”

Brooke took another drag of her cigarette. “Sounds intriguing.”

Noah gave an uncertain smile. “Megan is getting married. In Mexico. In a month.”

She searched her mental address book for a Megan, but drew a blank. She had not fucked a Megan. She’d remember. It sounded like a posh name.

“One of my half-sisters,” Noah filled in. “The youngest one.”

“Right.” Noah had three half-sisters from his dad. But he didn’t have much to do with that side of his family. Brooke had never met any of them. Or Noah’s mum, come to that. He liked to keep his life compartmentalised, so friends and family never met. Mainly because he was queer, and wasn’t out to his family yet.

“It’s a destination wedding, and my dad has splashed the cash. He’s paying for everyone to go to an all-inclusive, five-star resort, all expenses paid. Including business-class flights.”

“Does that mean you get champagne when you get on the plane?” Brooke had seen it in the movies, and she’d kill to make it a reality. She’d only flown twice before, both times to Spain. Her upbringing hadn’t included flights to anywhere. It was far removed from Noah’s, who went to Disneyland when he was two, and had tried edamame beans by the turn of his first birthday.

“More than one glass if you smile at them nicely.”

“That would be incredible.”

On the street, a car flew by at speed, its bass shaking the road long after it was out of sight.

“The thing is, I found out last week that everyone gets a plus one. Nobody thought to tell my mum and I.”

“Your mum’s going?”

He nodded. “Dad thought it would be a nice gesture. She’s bringing her best mate, Rhian.” He looked directly at Brooke. “And I want to bring my best friend.”

“You’re taking your bathroom mirror?”

Noah threw her a mock-scowl. “It was busy, so I decided on you.”

Excitement bubbled within. Dammit, she could really do with a holiday. Especially a free one. It sounded too good to be true.

“Plus, you were only telling me the other week that you needed a break. Here’s one on a plate. A super-relaxing one at that.”

Brooke waited for the catch.

“With one proviso.”

There it was. What had Claudia drummed into her? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

“I want you to pretend to be my girlfriend.” Just as Noah said that, a woman inside burst into a rendition of Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’. He had the good grace to blush.

“Or,” Brooke replied, swiping her hand through the air between them, “you could realise it’s the 21st century, and that coming out to your family would save you a world of heartache and lies.”

They’d had this conversation a million times, but Noah’s answer was always the same. He wasn’t close to his dad, and his dad was old-school and hardly knew anything about him. He got on with his mum and he’d told her he was bi. In Noah’s book, that was good enough. If he told her he was gay, she wouldn’t want to lie to his dad, so it was easier to keep them both in the dark. He’d come out to them both at his own pace, eventually.

She wished this was easier for him. Most of her friends were already out to their parents, but Brooke knew you couldn’t push it.

When she’d told Claudia she was a lesbian, she’d simply nodded. Brooke had repeated it, to make sure it’d registered. “Yes, I heard,” was Claudia’s response. “It’s not that much of a surprise.” Brooke would have liked a bit more reassurance that Claudia loved her whatever. But that went for every stage of her life, not just when she came out.  

“I know all of that,” he replied. “And I knew you’d give me the spiel about coming out to my dad, and telling my mum I’m gay, not bi. You’ll be pleased to know that I plan to on this trip, after the wedding is done.”

She widened her eyes. She hadn’t expected that. “Okay.”

“But I can’t do it right away. I need my dad to see me as his equal. The way to do that? Turn up with a gorgeous woman on my arm.” He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “That’s you.”

Brooke’s insides warmed. Yes, Noah might be 100 per cent gay, and she might be a full-blown lesbian, but who didn’t love to be called gorgeous?

“Not taking into account the many holes in your plan – it’s pretty leaky, let’s be clear – you think we can pull this off? Look at us.” She placed her hand beneath her chin, fingers splayed. “We’re pretty fucking queer last time I checked.”

He shrugged. “I play straight every day at work in client meetings. You’ve got long hair. We can both pass.” He gave her his best, perfectly curved smile. His dimple popped in his left cheek. Then he cracked his knuckles, a truly unappealing habit. Brooke would never date someone who did that.

“Not all lesbians have crew cuts anymore.”

“They do as far as my dad’s concerned.” He sighed. “I’m not asking you to cook my dinners or bear my children. I’m asking you to pretend to like me for a whole 11 days.” He put a hand to his chest. “I’m your joint best friend, remember? Plus, all of those days will be in the Mexican sunshine, attended to by five-star staff, with cocktails on tap. It’ll be a cool, relaxing breeze.” He leaned in and took her hand. “Plus, I pinky-gay-promise that I’ll wear boxers and a T-shirt in bed at all times.”

He tilted his head, and as he smiled, she marvelled afresh at his smooth skin. Then again, he was only 26. Three years Brooke’s junior. Plus, he didn’t smoke. Neither did she, normally. Terrible for the skin, as Claudia always told her. Which is why Claudia had done it for over three decades.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She fished it out. It wasn’t Claudia. She put it away and took another drag on her cigarette.

Across the road, drizzle swirled in the peach glare of willowy street lamps. Yes, the circumstance surrounding Noah’s offer didn’t thrill her, but could she afford to say no? Eleven days in the sun. Eleven days not in her office, doing a job that was a leech on her soul. However, pretending to be Noah’s girlfriend for that length of time was a tall order.

“What happens when you hook up with someone at the resort?”

Noah’s mouth dropped open and he shook his head. “I would never be unfaithful to you,” he said, his voice soft. “You’re my everything.” He managed to keep a straight face the whole time he spoke. Then he burst out laughing.

She narrowed her eyes, and punched him in the biceps.

He reeled, letting out a tiny shriek.

She ignored it. “I’m serious! If this whole ploy is to fool your dad because you’re too scared to tell him you’re gay, what happens when you inevitably sleep with three waiters, all of whom arrive at our table just as your dad comes over to ask how long until we’re engaged?” Brooke had been out on enough nights with Noah. She knew the drill.

However, this time, Noah’s dark, brooding features gathered on his face like an incoming storm. That was new. In the three years she’d known him, she’d never come across it.

“I honestly won’t do that.” He gave her a look that said he meant business. “I know my track record isn’t great, but this trip is about family, too. My mum’s coming, it’s my sister’s wedding, and I want to spend time with my dad. Having you beside me as moral support would really help. Hopefully, once he sees what a swell person I am, that’ll give me the courage to finally come out to him. But I need you there.” His haunted, serious look deepened. “With you as my girlfriend, Dad might finally see me as a whole, proper person.”

“Even though it’s not exactly the best way to come out to your dad?” She really couldn’t stress this enough. “Hey Dad, I’ve got a girlfriend! By the way, not really, I’m actually gay!”

Noah pursed his lips. “I get that. But you don’t know my dad. He needs to see I’m just like him. Then I can tell him. If I tell him I’m gay right away, he’ll view me differently from the start.” Noah held up a hand. “I’ve heard him talk about queers before. Not much of it was complimentary.”

Brooke grabbed his wine. She’d already finished hers. She took a prudent sip.

“I promise I’ll put you first.”

“Don’t say that flippantly.” Claudia never had. It still stung, no matter how old she was. “You know what that means to me.”

But Noah didn’t flinch. “I do. That’s why I said it. You have my word.”

She wanted to believe him. “You know your dad better than me. I’ve never met either of your parents.” But now, she’d get to know them as Noah’s girlfriend? She hadn’t been any man’s girlfriend since she was 17. It was going to be very weird. She was used to her significant others having no stubble and tits for days.

“Although if I agree, I’m more worried about your mum. Hasn’t she hated every one of your boyfriends she’s met? Won’t it stand to reason she’ll hate me, too?”

He gave her a shy smile. “She wants the best for her only son.”

“You told me she was a dragon.”

Noah rolled his shoulders. “A friendly dragon. She breathes fire, but she could also star in a Disney movie. A dragon with a heart.”

“But she could also kill me with one breath.”

“Essentially, yes.”

This ‘free’ holiday came with more strings than a tampon factory. “If I do this, we have to put rules in place.”

“Of course.” Noah’s blue eyes sparkled as he sensed victory. He picked up his wine and pulled back his shoulders. “Like what?”

On stage inside, two drag queens cranked out a raucous version of an Oasis track. 

“No cracking your knuckles for one,” Brooke told him. “You know I hate that. Also, no using all the bathroom products or hogging the mirror.” She held up a finger. “And don’t say you wouldn’t because we both know it’s true.”

Noah kept his mouth firmly shut.

“I could really do with a holiday, so you promise I can relax when I’m not pretending to be your girlfriend? Read a book by the ocean?”

“I’ll set up your lounger and waft you with branches every five minutes.”

“Plus, we need two beds. These resorts often do that, right? One massive bed, or two queens? I like to spread out.”

“Two beds. No problem.” He licked his lips. “Plus, you know I don’t snore. We’ve shared a bed loads of times.”

There was that. “But the biggest one of all: no bringing boys back to the room. If you want some action, go to their place.”

“That seems fair.” He held her gaze. He wasn’t messing around like he normally did. That said a lot. “But I meant what I said. This is a family trip, not a normal holiday. I’m taking you as my fake girlfriend. I don’t plan on sleeping around.” He paused. “What do you say?”

“Will you drink tequila with me?”

He hated it.

She loved it.

This was the acid test.

“Of course.”

She stared at him. “It means this much to you?” She already knew the answer.

He gulped. “It would mean the absolute world. You’d be doing me a huge favour I can never fully repay you for. You can throw it in my face for years to come.”

“You should have led with that. When’s the wedding?”

“May 1st. We’ll fly a week before.”

“Bank holiday weekend?”

Noah nodded.

“Allie and I were thinking of going for a day trip to Brighton.” But Allie could also go with Gwyneth.

Noah glanced towards the window. “Allie will understand. If she ever comes up for air. Plus, doesn’t Mexico trump Brighton?”

He had a point.

Brooke twisted her face, then blew out a long breath. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” 

He grinned, then pulled her into a crushing hug. “I promise, you won’t.”

“So long as I can get the time off,” she continued as she let him go. “I’ll check with my boss, but he does owe me for all the hours of unpaid overtime I’ve put in. One last thing: if I have to kiss you, it’s a peck on the lips and no more. Are we clear?”

“Crystal.” Noah picked up her hand and kissed it. “Thank you. I can’t wait for you to meet my mum, too. I think you’ll get on brilliantly.”

Just Kiss Her is out on May 23rd in ebook to buy direct. It will be released on Kindle & Kindle Unlimited and in paperback on June 6th. If you’d like to order a signed paperback copy, email me: mail@clarelydon.co.uk

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