Kit Blackman is anti-social, insular and bad-tempered…and those are his good points. As well as an attitude problem, he’s also got a how-will-we-pay-the-rent problem when one of his housemates breaks their third of the lease. If he wants to keep a roof over his head, he’ll have to accept that Steven Kenton, a complete stranger, now shares that roof.
Yes, the new housemate’s good for helping out with the bills but he also has the knack of putting Kit on edge with a few well-chosen words and lingering looks.
Kit’s is-he-flirting-with-me uncertainty doesn’t last long: on his first night there, Steven makes his intentions more than clear. He wants Kit, and he knows the feeling’s mutual. It’s in Kit’s nature to push away any man who shows an interest in him, especially when they live together, but he can only push so many times before Steven decides he’d be better off finding somewhere else to stay the night.
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Universal Book Link for STAY THE NIGHT showing all available vendors.
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“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” I was the only one standing and the only one with the balls not to come out with some congratulatory bullshit. I wasn’t going to lie about being happy for the guy who was leaving us all in the lurch just because his girlfriend had a goldmine in her pants.
“Kit.” Gary widened his eyes and looked from me, to Ben and back again.
“What? What?” Okay, so I probably hadn’t given Ben the reaction he’d hoped for when he’d announced his intention to break his third of the lease to move in with his other half, but it was no more than he’d deserved. How the hell we were going to make the rent now I didn’t know. The whole point of having three guys living together was so we could afford a roof over our heads and beer in the fridge and now we were losing one third of the budget.
I grimaced and looked at the label on the bottle I clutched like my life depended on it. No more Miller, then. Supermarket own-brand crap from now on. Or paint stripper and aftershave if things get bad enough.
“It’s good news. Right?” Gary looked at Gemma for backup. She didn’t live here, but visited often. And thank God, he didn’t seem as pussy-whipped as Ben obviously was. In his case the boss had instructed him to announce his imminent departure on his own, claiming she ‘had to work’ or something. Meanwhile, I was left standing in the kitchen staring at two housemates, one of said housemates’ girlfriends, and a prospective life of penury living on beans on toast and supermarket beer.
“It’s good. It’s cool.”
I couldn’t share Gary’s optimistic outlook. “What’s good about losing one third of the rent?”
“Kit, for God’s sake.” Gemma had that look on her face only women could perfect. It must have been something she was born with. Ovaries, breasts and the ability to smile while disapproving with her eyes. “For Ben.”
“Oh. Oh, right.” Fuck, Blackman. She’s a human being, not the devil. Don’t you dare shudder. I took another gulp of beer to fortify myself but the way she tapped her fingernails on the kitchen table made me jittery. “Good news for Ben. Of course.” It was easier just to agree with Gemma when she glared at me like that.
“Look.” Ben eased his chair away from the table and leant back, probably much less anxious now he had Lady MacBeth’s overt support. “I realise this’ll put the pressure on you two guys, but-”
“No, no, it won’t.” Gary waved away Ben’s concerns and shrugged.
“Yes it will.”
The three sitting at the Formica table-no way was it in any fit state to be called a dining table-turned their heads to look at me in such coordinated censure I almost laughed.
Almost, but not quite.
“What?” I shrugged. “It will. We’ll be down a third of the rent each month and that’ll leave us less money for…”
Gemma lifted her eyebrows and I lowered the hand that held the beer bottle to my mouth.
“…food. And beer.” My voice got quieter. “And…stuff. Look, anyway, these are valid concerns. I hate to be the only pragmatic one here, but bills have to be paid.”
“Oh, you’ll get by,” Gemma said, her voice just a shade away from an outright snort or “Pfft”.
“How would you know? You don’t even live here.”
“I spend enough time here to-”
“Yeah, ain’t that the truth?” I muttered.
“Kit.” This time there was enough steel in Gary’s voice to make me think again.
“Sorry.” I rolled my shoulders slowly, more to shrug off the guilt from being such a bad-tempered bastard than work out any stiffness or kink. I liked Gemma, but the bottom line was, she didn’t contribute to the Blackman-Lacey-Taylor household beyond whatever favours she privately showed Gary, and even if she did give me the glad-eye, her womanly wiles wouldn’t have worked on me.
Actually, pretty soon it looked like being the Blackman–Lacey–Who-the-fuck-ever household.
Not that that was an entirely unfeasible idea…
“Hey, listen…” I murmured, turning my back and draining the bottle. First stop, the bin to bury the dead soldier. Second stop, the fridge, to get a refill before- “What the fuck?” I let the fridge door swing open and looked over my shoulder at Gary, Gemma and Ben.
“What?” Ben sat up straight. “Something wrong?”
“That was the last fucking bottle you gave me.” When I’d walked into the kitchen, he’d had it opened and ready. A peace offering before war broke out.
“There’s no fucking beer left.”
“Ah. Yeah, I…”
“You polished off the last of it?”
“Technically you did. I had the penultimate-”
“Motherfucker. You’re welcome to move out now, you beer-stealing bastard.”
“Kit. Your language is a bit…” Gary began, then swallowed nervously when I shot him a glance.
“Fruity?” I suggested, daring him to say that about the only gay guy in the room. “Not in front of the lady, am I right?”
“Her?” His laughter, though forced, went some way towards lightening the atmosphere. “Don’t make me… Anyway. You were saying…?”
“I was?” Frowning, I looked back at the fridge and kicked it shut. “Fucker. Right, yeah. If the littlest hobo over here’s moving on, we better do something about it.”
“A moving-out party?” Gemma grinned, defining the word ‘perky’. If I’d been a boobs man (as opposed to favouring pecs) I would have grabbed myself an eyeful.
“Fuck no.” I shook my head. “I’m gonna put an ad in the paper to see if we can’t find someone to replace him.”
“At least let my grave go cold, why don’t you?” Ben slapped a hand on the edge of the table, perhaps in anger. Perhaps because he was pissed off I wasn’t begging him to stay. I didn’t do that with ex-boyfriends (any more). I sure as hell wasn’t doing it with ex-housemates.
“I’m sorry, dude, but, you know, gotta be pragmatic about these things.”
“There’s that word again,” Gary muttered.
“It’s true. If Ben’s hitting the road, we need to cover our arses.” I fucking wished. It’d been so long, if I got laid again any time this millennium I’d need a flashlight and an Ordnance Survey map to find my own prostate. “I mean, look out for ourselves. Right?”
“Excuse me? Excuse me, hello? Am I invisible or something? Am I not even here?” Ben drummed his fingers rapidly on the tabletop and raised his eyebrows in a ‘go on, I’m waiting’ expression.
“Pretty soon you won’t be so I’m not sure it makes much difference.”
Gemma groaned and buried her face in her hands, resting both elbows on the table. Her ponytail bobbed or swung or whatever it was ponytails did when women shook their heads while groaning through their fingers. “You know…” Her fingertips dragged at her skin as she lifted her head again, and she looked like she was trying to pull whatever annoyed her out of her own face.
Funny. I had that effect on a lot of people.
“It’s true. Ben hasn’t gone. Yet,” she added pointedly. Giving me that look again.
“Stop glaring at me.”
“I’m not glaring.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I’m not! Am I? Am I glaring?” Gemma’s voice rose about seventeen octaves and if it got any higher, only dogs would have been able to hear her. Maybe not such a bad thing if it gave me peace and quiet.
“Yeah, you were glaring,” Gary said. “You were a bit. But…” He shrugged. “Kit was being a twatmonkey again, so…”
“Hey, fuck you, pal.” I scowled, no longer sure if this was all ‘ha ha, very funny, friends insulting friends’ or something a bit more sincere.
“Sorry. Not really your area of expertise, is it?” he threw back. “You’re an arsehole. Put it that way.”
“How am I the arsehole? He’s the one who-”
“Christopher Blackman.” Gemma made herself sound like someone’s grandmother when she called me that. Sure, it was my name, but I still didn’t like to hear it. “Ben is moving out to be with his girlfriend. Yes, he’s breaking the lease, but you will manage.”
“Yeah, by getting someone more reliable to-”
“You. Will. Manage. Have you no romance in your soul?”
Gary snorted. “Him? Romance?”
This time it was me who glared. Trouble was, I couldn’t contradict him. Romance had died off around about the same time my sex life had packed its bags and left town on the Queen Street express.
“Nah, you’d be hard pushed to find a soul, let alone any romance there,” he added and I raised my middle finger, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, or doing a pretty good impression of its sleep-deprived, crack addict cousin with homicidal tendencies.
“When were you planning on dropping us in it? I mean, moving out?” I asked, catching Gemma’s eye but ignoring the warning therein. Kind of. I’d amended my wording but the enquiry was the same.
Ben shrugged. “Within a couple of weeks.”
“Great.” I looked skyward, wondering if we could hold the damp patch on the kitchen ceiling quite literally over the landlord’s head. Give us some leeway with the rent and we won’t fake asthma, emphysema, bird flu and rickets before calling the environmental health with our ‘dying’ breaths. “That’ll leave us with six months on the lease, but we’ve got, what, a fortnight to find someone else to take over and smooth it with Simon?”
“I’ll help you out if there’s any overlap with timetables and moving days,” Ben said.
“Big of you.”
“No you won’t,” Gary put in and I swore they were ganging up on me. “It doesn’t matter.” I barely got out a decidedly unmanly squeak before he silenced me with a look. He’d been taking lessons from Gemma, the duplicitous swine. “Simon won’t mind if we move someone else in as long as the money goes into his bank account every Friday. All it takes is running off another tenancy agreement and getting the new guy to sign it, and we’re golden. It’s fine. Really.” He flicked a glance my way and my stomach sank.
It wasn’t just the financial situation bridging the gap between Ben Taylor and Unknown New Guy, but the unknown new guy himself. Gary and Ben took the piss out of me on occasion and I very, very rarely even warranted such treatment, but a new tenant meant dancing around a stranger, being polite, a way of communication that didn’t sit well with me. I was used to people shrugging off my moods and saying, “Oh, that’s just Kit. Ignore him.” I’d have to put myself out and pretend to be civilised so I didn’t scare off our new housemate, if we got one. We’d need the money, so damn it, I’d just have to be civilised for once in my miserable, lonely existence.
I’d definitely need more beer for this.
“That seems like a roundabout way of admitting I was right after all.”
“You?” Gary asked. “About what?”
“Putting an ad in the paper? Duh. Far be it from you to say yes, Kit, you were right, but-”
“You’re not getting a female housemate, I can tell you that.” Gemma shook her head. Firm, determined and resolute.
“I beg your pardon?” I began. “You don’t even live here.”
“Not for my sake, don’t worry. I’m not that controlling and possessive, am I? Tell them I’m not, Gary.”
“Yes, dear.” But he winked and I think even I risked a brief smile.
“No, I mean this house couldn’t handle two lots of PMT. It’s bad enough already with Princess Pissypants over there acting like the entire universe revolves around him.”
“I’m the only practical one round here. You lot are too damn busy mooning over Ben’s thing.”
“My thing? My thing?” Every furrow in his brow screamed confusion and ‘what the fuck are you on?’
“Yeah, your relationship.”
“It’s not a dirty word, Kit.” Gemma lowered her chin and looked up at me through downturned lashes.
“Yeah, you would say that. You and him have got a…a…thing. As well.”
“You really are a self-absorbed shit at times, Blackman, you know that?”
“I like to plan ahead. I don’t enjoy having this sort of thing sprung on me at the last minute.”
“Which is why I told you guys now, not at the last minute,” Ben put in.
“Yeah, thanks for that.”
“Oh, piss off back to your hobbit hole, Kit.” Gemma waved a dismissive hand and I bridled, even though that was exactly what I wanted to do. “We’ll deal with this.”
“I thought it was me who came up with the idea of actually doing something?” I asked. “You know, the ad? Doing something practical instead of getting all starry-eyed just ’cause Ben’s pussy-whi- er, I mean moving. Out.” I gulped. My throat suddenly parched, I’d never needed a stiff one more than I did at that moment. Double entendre intentional. “Oh, fuck it, I’m going back upstairs. I’ve got work to do.”
“Missing you already, you twisted piece of shit,” Gemma said.
“And there better be beer in that fridge by the time I come back downstairs!” I yelled, before drowning out whatever they said in reply by stomping on each stair as if I hated them as much as I did my own life.