Julie Bozza has been so kind to write a short story exclusively for Sinfully Sexy to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Continuing the Butterfly Hunter Series we would like to give you a short interlude before the third book in the series is released.
MOBI and PDF downloads available at bottom of post.
So without further adieu here is Like Leaves to a Tree….
Dave has made the most perfect plans for his first Valentine’s Day with Nicholas … but of course that’s when Sod’s Law kicks in, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
With gratitude to the friend who edited, to Manifold Press who believed, and of course to the wonderful folk at Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews who kindly supported.
With apologies to dear Keats, from whom I borrowed the title (adapting the idea behind it).
And with thanks to trigga on iStockPhoto.com for the cover image.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Like Leaves to a Tree (Butterfly Hunter, #2.5)
This wasn’t at all how Dave Goring Taylor had intended to be spending the first Valentine’s Day he’d shared with his husband. The plan was to fly up to Cairns, hire a ‘prestige’ car, stay at the Angsana Hotel & Resort in Palm Cove for a few nights, and take Nicholas to visit the Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda which apparently featured the largest aviary in Australia …
It was a great plan, even if Dave did say so himself. But of course on such a momentous occasion Sod’s Law was working in overdrive, and so here they were stranded by the weather in the airport at Mackay.
“You can tell me you told me so, if you like,” Nicholas offered with a half–smile that betrayed a hint of anxiety.
Dave guffawed. “If I learned one thing from Denise about relationships, it’s to never say ‘I told you so’.”
“No doubt that’s very wise.”
They lapsed into silence again. The two of them were sitting on the cold hard floor of the arrivals lounge, with their backs propped against a wall, along with what must be a few hundred other travellers occupying whatever seats and space were available, in various states of disgruntlement. At least Dave and Nicholas had managed to maintain their cheerfulness despite the day’s disappointments.
Nicholas glanced at his watch. “We’d have been landing by now.”
“Landing or –” He couldn’t say ‘crashing’. It didn’t even bear thinking about. “Or not landing …”
Nicholas actually let out a laugh. “Well, one way or another, we’d have made it to Cairns by now –”
“Maybe,” Dave replied shortly. “But we might not have been in any fit state to go flitting about with your butterflies.”
“I’m sorry.” Nicholas turned a little towards him, and reached to discreetly brush his knuckles against the back of Dave’s hand where it rested on his thigh. “I’ll listen to you next time, I promise.”
“Sure you will …”
“You were right –”
“The second thing I learned from Denise was to say ‘You were right’ as often as possible. So, full marks on that one.”
Nicholas jostled him with an elbow, and pointedly continued, “We should have stayed at home, like you said. I just couldn’t bear to give up on our plans! Your plans,” he corrected himself, “which were absolutely perfect. I was sure it would all work out.”
“I know. Don’t worry about it.” Dave sighed. Nicholas’s optimism had been particularly contagious that morning – and, to be fair, while Dave had read up about the storms currently wreaking havoc in Cairns, the forecast had been for the worst of the conditions to remain out at sea, and to improve by the fifteenth. And after all, he reflected, even Qantas – infamous for their safety record – had thought it worthwhile for their plane to take off from Brisbane. But something unforeseen had happened with the clash of another weather system – Dave still wasn’t sure he understood the full story of this damned imperfect storm, despite keeping an eye on the news channel playing on the TV monitors – and their pilot had decided to land in Mackay rather than risk proceeding any further. Unfortunately – or fortunately, rather – their pilot wasn’t the only one, and by the time they were on the ground, it was announced that Cairns airport was in the process of closing to all but emergencies.
Group by group, the various airline staff were trying to make alternate arrangements for the stranded travellers, but who knew what options would be available by the time they made it to Dave and Nicholas …
“Okay,” said Dave, “the first thing they’re going to ask us – when it’s finally our turn – is what our plans are. So what do we want to do? I’m guessing we’ll have to stay here in Mackay overnight, but then what?”
“Are the storms still going to pass? I mean, they said it would all calm down again sometime tomorrow, didn’t they?”
“Yes. And from what I can tell,” Dave continued, nodding towards the TV monitors, “things will still improve. Maybe not as quickly as they’d thought, is all.”
“Will everything up there be wrecked, though?”
Dave tilted his head to one side in a quibble. “We’d better wait and see. I don’t think it’s going to turn out to be a huge disaster – it’s not like a cyclone or anything – so they’ll probably make us welcome. It’s better to go, and help the local economy, you know? Rather than avoid the place, thinking to save them the trouble.”
Nicholas took a breath, and visibly tried to contain his eagerness. “Can we keep going, then? I know we’ll have missed The Day Itself, but we can still have a nice few days together, can’t we?”
“Sure. Absolutely.” Dave nodded, and couldn’t help but smile in response to Nicholas’s grin.
“And there are the butterflies …” Nicholas couldn’t help but add. “They were planning to release the Papilio ulysses into the aviary. It’s not as beautiful as ours, but still …”
“Of course. We’ll have to see about flights, though. We’re about halfway there, more or less, but it’s still a long way, whichever direction we head. If there are flights to Cairns tomorrow, we’ll go, yeah? But if there’s only flights to Brisbane, then maybe we’d better go home.”
Nicholas was caught between disappointment and hope. “We couldn’t hire a car and drive?”
“Long way,” Dave repeated, “especially if the weather’s rough. Maybe not as far as driving from Lizard Point to John O’Groats, but nearly.”
“Oh. All right.” Nicholas settled beside him again, his brightness somewhat dimmed.
“Hey, we’ve still got Mackay,” said Dave. “Nothing wrong with Mackay, is there, except it’s not exactly where we wanted to be today.”
And that earned him a loving look and a sweet smile – so really, Dave figured, things weren’t so bad after all.
Two hours later, a minibus dropped them and another six people off at the A1 Park ‘n’ Rest Motel on the Bruce Highway on the outskirts of town. The two of them stood there in the car park for a moment as the others trudged over to Reception, taking in the sight of a relatively orderly building that appeared cheap if perhaps not overly cheerful. “Not exactly what I had in mind for tonight,” Dave muttered.
“Hey,” said Nicholas, “as long as there’s a bed …” And he grinned cheekily and winked when Dave turned to consider him.
Dave chuckled almost despite himself, and they headed off after the other travellers, none of whom seemed to have retained their patience during what was admittedly a rather tiresome experience. They all crowded into Reception, where a rather large and lugubrious man waited with an old–fashioned bookings register open before him.
The first four travellers were dealt with slowly yet straightforwardly enough, before heading wearily off to their assigned rooms. Then the women ahead of Dave and Nicholas stepped forward, and were offered the last double – “If you don’t mind sharing.”
The two women looked at each other and shrugged as if resigned to a less than ideal situation. “No, fine, we can share,” one of them said, stepping forward to take up the pen ready to sign.
“It’s not like we haven’t before,” the other added with a sigh.
Dave glanced at Nicholas – though he hardly needed the encouragement – and stepped forward himself. “The last double?” he queried. “What does that leave us?”
The motel manager stared at him for a moment. “A twin.”
“Well, look,” said Dave. “It sounds like these ladies don’t want to share – and frankly, we do –” A sudden silent tension vibrated through the room. “What with it being Valentine’s Day and all,” Dave finished lamely, trying like hell not to betray his embarrassment.
This being ‘out’ business was still a bit too new for Dave, and the manager’s reaction both helped and hindered. The man sneered in distaste, which provoked Dave into blushing hard. On the other hand, it also steeled his resolve.
The two women were a lot more supportive. “Oh, they should definitely have the double,” one said, while the other chipped in with, “That’s so sweet!”
In a heavy silence the manager switched keys and wrote down a different room number for the women. They signed, and headed off with a cheery wish: “Have fun, you guys!”
“I’m sure we will!” Nicholas happily replied. “Thank you!”
Which left Dave to step up and sign where the manager pointed. Without a further word exchanged he was handed the keys, and that was that. He and Nicholas headed out – and Dave didn’t look back, though he saw from the corner of his eye that Nicholas offered the manager a swish of his hips and a rather camp wave.
The room was clean and had everything they needed, and yet the whole enterprise had been spoiled for Dave. Nicholas put down his bag and sat on the bed, wriggling his hips with rather more serious intent before patting the bedcover beside him in invitation. But all Dave could think about was that someone at that very moment was imagining them exactly thus, and thinking of them with disdain. He knew it shouldn’t matter. But it did.
“I can’t,” Dave rasped, pacing restlessly away and then back again.
“Oh, don’t let that idiot spoil the mood …”
“I know I shouldn’t –” Dave ground to a halt.
After a moment, Nicholas brightly offered, “Maybe I can help get you interested …” and he leant down to rummage in his bag for a moment, before sitting up again with a gift–wrapped box in his hands.
Which only made it all worse. “Oh fuuuck,” Dave groaned. He turned to stare at his own bag, mentally reviewing its contents, but he already knew. Damn it. “Fuck, Nicholas – I left your present back home.”
“Never mind,” Nicholas immediately responded – though his tone betrayed the fact that he himself did mind, a little bit. “That just gives us something more to look forward to.”
“I’m usually – you know. I’m usually so organised about trips and stuff.”
“You are,” Nicholas agreed. “And you would have been with this, if it had been a matter of life and death.”
Which it wasn’t, of course, but if Dave had learned a third thing from Denise, it was that sometimes the little things should be allowed to matter very much indeed. “Our first Valentine’s Day. I wanted it to be perfect.”
“It’s fine, David. It’ll be fine.” Nicholas was beginning to sound a bit impatient with him. “Come here, and open your present, all right?”
“All right,” he agreed. And with an unwelcome feeling of grudgingness he sat down beside Nicholas – not quite close enough to touch – and took the present he was offered onto his lap, and started drawing out the bow.
He took his time, and yet it was still too soon and he was still too unsettled when he finally lifted out the contents … which were all in a pale gold silk. Something sank heavily within him. There was a top, sort of like the slip he’d worn for Nicholas on their wedding night, with skinny shoulder straps. There was a feminine version of boxer shorts, with the legs kind of flaring out so they’d flounce or drape or whatever. And there were silken cords with tassels, that were probably intended for tying curtains rather than wrists. But, still. Dave got the idea. Especially when he lifted the shorts and saw that the crotch seam was split all the way from here to there, and he’d be able to wear them for the entire performance, no matter what Nicholas wanted to do with him.
Dave sighed. “I can’t. I’m sorry, Nicholas. I just can’t. Not now.”
Nicholas echoed the sigh, and sat back to consider him for long horrible moments. “Is it because of that idiot at the desk?”
“Look, I know I’m the one being an idiot here –”
“No, you’re not. David – I know this kind of thing …” Nicholas whispered a fingertip across the silk … “makes you feel vulnerable. So I’m never going to force you, all right?”
Dave was blushing ferociously by now. He managed to nod in acknowledgement. The problem wasn’t that he didn’t trust Nicholas.
“I guess I imagined us being safely tucked away in our suite at the Angsana tonight,” Nicholas continued. “Nothing but luxury and comfort and beautiful things. I’m sure they’d have been a lot more welcoming, too!”
“They were,” Dave managed in a strangled kind of voice. “When I called them – I explained – And anyway, now we’ve both changed our names – They were really cool about it.”
“And so they should be,” Nicholas tartly replied. He sighed again, and let a hand caress the silk that Dave still held in his hands. “Do you like the colour … ?” he asked wistfully. “I chose it because it’s like your skin. You’re darker where you’re tanned, and paler where you’re not, but you always looked as precious as gold to me …”
Nicholas leaned in a little closer, and Dave couldn’t help but echo the move, so they met in the middle somewhere, temple resting against temple, and they communed there for a while.
“Well,” Nicholas eventually concluded, sitting up again. “Let’s put all that away, and save it for another time. I think I saw a spot of bushland further along the road. Shall we go for a walk?”
Dave nodded gratefully, and stood, and they began regathering themselves even as Nicholas continued nattering away.
“It’s not quite how I imagined us working up an appetite before dinner, but I promise you I shall be perfectly happy …”
Dave defiantly held Nicholas’s hand as they strolled across the motel’s car park and headed along the broad strip of crabgrass that bordered the road. It was just as well they’d worn their coats, as the wind had picked up, there was a real chill to it now, and dark grey clouds were looming in the east. “Looks like we’ll be catching the edge of the storm here,” Dave remarked.
“Never mind,” said Nicholas quite contentedly. “It’s an adventure.”
Dave clutched his hand tighter for a moment, and Nicholas returned the gesture, and then they walked on, at peace with each other.
Luckily the bushland wasn’t fenced off, so they each crossed the drainage ditch with a long stride, and then wandered through between the trees. Despite a lack of undergrowth, within moments the human world quieted and receded – and a few paces later Dave was already feeling miles away from anything but the compacted brown dirt under their feet and the eucalyptus trees towering overhead with their sharp heady scent. The wind blustering in off the sea brought the tang of salt with it, and the soughing of the leaves far above them, but they were protected from the worst of the buffeting.
Soon they could have been anywhere at all; they could have been completely alone, surrounded by the bush which Dave knew could be deadly but in those moments felt like a cocoon. Maybe Nicholas sensed that, too, for after a while he stopped, and he turned to Dave, and then slowly – giving Dave plenty of time to pull away if that’s what he wanted – slowly Nicholas drew Dave into his arms, and leant in close to kiss him, easily, gently, just a beautiful kiss, so loving …
Dave gave himself over to it, relaxed into the kiss, the embrace … and that heavy unhappy thing inside him at last just melted away as if it had never been. Nicholas had the power to do that, to make all things whole and well again, if only Dave would remember to let him … And yet it was Nicholas who broke the kiss to murmur with his lips still brushing against Dave’s, “You make everything hale and healthy, David, I think you could mend the entire world if you put your mind to it.” At which Dave huffed a laugh, and they pressed kisses to each other’s mouths, cheeks, noses, chins, caressed skin against skin, rolled forehead against forehead, and held each other near, until –
A large cold raindrop crashed onto the top of Dave’s head, and when he startled back a little –
Another fat raindrop landed on his cheekbone –
He saw Nicholas startle and shiver, too, and then grimace …
Dave laughed, even as he heard the bulk of the rain approaching, rustling through the trees. “I thought kissing in the rain was meant to be romantic!”
Nicholas shook his head with a grin, and then had to lift his voice to be heard. “Any Englishman could tell you it’s vastly overrated.”
And then they turned as one, and were running back through the bush towards the road, still hand in hand, laughing as the rain pelted after them, leaping across the ditch already a small torrent of water. It didn’t matter how fast they ran, of course, the rain caught up and swept over them – and they were drenched even before they reached the car park again. Dave was still laughing on the inside though, under his panting breath, and he was sure that Nicholas was, too.
At last they made it to their motel room, and Dave’s cold fingers fumbled with the key – but then they burst through, and were inside, sheltered and protected. Nicholas seemed to have entirely forgotten his usual clumsiness as he turned to bolt the door, and then turned further to reach hands to the buttons of Dave’s coat. “Have to get you out of those wet clothes,” he murmured, his brow knotted with serious intent.
“Yes. You, too.” And they were undressing each other, fingers stumbling, feet occasionally in the wrong place at the wrong time – but nothing could stop them, not now – and soon they were clambering together into the bed, hauling the covers up over themselves for the sake of warmth, and even though Nicholas’s skin was a bit chilly, Dave could feel that he was brimming with heat on the inside, and he was moving over onto Dave with unshakeable purpose. They moved together then, they shifted together and against each other, knowing each other so well, the dry friction of it only inciting them to more, their arms and their mouths consuming, and their legs restlessly rubbing, as if Dave and Nicholas had to touch every possible bit of skin that they could, they had to touch and touch in as many places as they could, and it would never ever be quite enough.
It became clear to Dave then. It became so very clear to him that there they were, the two of them naked together in body and soul, and what more could they ever need? Fancy hotels and presents and silk playthings were all very nice, but this was what really mattered. When they were together like this then the love came easily, naturally, like leaves to a tree.
“Like leaves to a tree,” Dave murmured, and Nicholas seemed to understand, for he replied, “Yes, my darling,” and then they plunged into a pleasure so intense there were no more words wanted and none to be had.
“Best Valentine’s Day ever,” Nicholas concluded, a long while later as they lay curled together there in the warmth.
Dave kissed him for that.
PDF and MOBI downloads available here…..
1) Butterfly Hunter
2) Of Dreams and Ceremonies
About The Author
I was born in England, and lived most of my life in Australia before returning to the UK a few years ago; my dual nationality means that I am often a bit too cheeky, but will always apologise for it.
I have been writing fiction for almost thirty years, mostly for the enjoyment of myself and my friends, but writing is my love and my vocation so of course that’s where my dreams and ambitions are.
In the meantime, technical writing helps to pay the mortgage, while I also have fun with web design, photography, reading, watching movies and television, knitting, and imbibing espresso.
Contact The Author
A Word from Julie on Future Publications
Details of the third (and final) volume of the Butterfly Hunter trilogy are:
Working title: The Thousand Smiles of Nicholas Goring
Likely publication date: 1 November 2014
Publisher: Manifold Press
Draft blurb: Dave and Nicholas have been married for seven years now, and are happily settled together. But as an Australian prime minister once observed, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” An unexpected threat to their beloved waterhole forces Dave to decide how best to assert his unofficial custodianship of this Dreamtime site. A lengthy visit from Nicholas’s nephew Robin doesn’t help matters, as he brings his own surprises. And then there is always the matter of Nicholas’s health hanging over their heads …
And my next novel due out is as follows:
Title: A Threefold Cord
Likely publication date: 1 May 2014
Publisher: Manifold Press
Draft blurb: Grae Edwards and his co–stars Chris Willoughby and Ben Clyde work together well. Maybe they even have a chemistry. Certainly they are friends and perhaps they could be more … After the beautiful tart Chris has the temerity to turn him down, Grae settles into a comfortable loving relationship with the more chivalrous Ben. But the idea of Chris never quite goes away – and when Chris finally suggests the three of them spend a night together, Grae glimpses a solution he hardly dares hope for.
We will be gifting one lucky reader a Kindle eBook of your choice from Julie’s back catalogue, just leave a comment and enter the Rafflecopter below.