Being in love with your best friend is hard.
Henry’s the odd man out. All his friends are settling down, and his reputation as the Hook-Up King of London seems more like a curse than a blessing these days. Especially when it keeps photojournalist Ivo, his best friend and the brilliant man he’s loved since they were fifteen, at arm’s length. But that’s where Ivo wants him, right? Putting aside his feelings, Henry decides to give up casual sex and look for the real deal. After all, he has no chance with Ivo – or does he?
Henry is everything to Ivo. Best friend, soul mate, the one person who has never let him down. The one person he is loyal to above everything and everyone. But Henry’s in a box marked best friend and that’s where Ivo’s kept him for nearly twenty years, despite steadily falling in love with the gentle man. And besides, why would Henry want to date Ivo? Burned out and injured, he’s the walking embodiment of damaged.
Distance has helped Henry and Ivo keep a lid on their attraction, but when they find themselves in the same city for a change—Ivo hurt and needing assistance, and Henry more than willing to provide it—the two best friends grow closer than ever, forcing a realization, and a decision. Risk their friendship for their hearts? Or can they have both?
From the bestselling author of Rule Breaker and Deal Maker comes a tender love story about two best friends who are perfect for each other, and always have been – if only they knew it.
This is the third book in the Mixed Messages series, but it can be read as a standalone.
All my resolutions vanish like butter on hot toast for the time being, and I rush forward. “What do you mean, if I mind? This is your home as much as it’s mine.”
I’m speaking the truth. When my father’s will was read out, we were astonished to find that he’d left Ivo and me ownership of a mews house in South Kensington. At first, I’d been touched, but I needn’t have bothered because his next words were that as we were so fond of each other, the two poofs could be together. He’d then proceeded to cut me out of everything else I was entitled to. Silas had immediately reversed this by insisting on splitting everything two ways, but it had never felt like mine. This house does.
Ivo had insisted on laughing about it, claiming that he could think of no one better than me to share a house with as we’d have no heating bills. He’d laughed about us growing old together, unaware that even then, this was my deepest wish.
“Where’s your key?” I mutter, looking at him covertly as he struggles up from his position on the step. It takes longer than it should, and my worry sharpens.
“I lost it,” he says, leaning against the wall with a weary sigh.
“Not another one. Am I in any danger of someone following you home and letting himself in and stealing Bertie?”
He shakes his head, a smile flitting over lips that are drawn tight. “Not unless he followed me from Mosul. It’s a long walk just to take a grumpy Jack Russell.”
“Bertie’s not grumpy, he’s sensitive,” I say lightly, sliding my key into the lock and looking him over surreptitiously. There’s the sound of barking and the skittering of tiny claws, and I throw the door open so that my dog can greet the person he loves best in the world. I’ll give you a clue – it’s not me. Bertie tolerates me in the same manner that the queen has at garden parties when she’s stuck with someone and is being polite. But he loves Ivo with a passion.
As if on cue he appears, his nosy little face with the bright eyes peeping round the door. There’s a second of stunned silence, and then he explodes in ecstasy. His tiny white and brown body contorting into impossible angles, he dances round Ivo as Ivo laughs breathlessly. “Easy, baby,” he croons, the deep timbre of his voice and his head’s proximity to my crotch making my cock stir.
Then time seems to stop as he stiffens and inhales deeply. Did he just sniff me? He looks up at me. “You pulled tonight then?” His voice seems to cool almost imperceptibly. “I can smell the spunk on you.”
I bless the shadows the moonlight has thrown because I actually blush. I haven’t blushed since Nan, my dad’s housekeeper, discovered my stash of porn magazines and left them out on my desk with a note saying she’d dusted them.
These thoughts fly away when Bertie jumps at Ivo, and he recoils with a muttered grunt which is unmistakably pained. “What the fuck?” I mutter, and rush to help him as he visibly struggles to stand up properly. “Ivo, you’re hurt.”
“I’m okay, babe,” he says breathlessly. “Don’t fuss.” His actions bely his words because he nestles into my arms with a soft grunt of ease and pleasure. It’s something he always does when I touch him, and I still think he’s unaware of it even after all these years. I grab him closer, but he stiffens, and his body arches away with a pained grunt. I jerk as my fingers encounter wetness.
“What the hell is this?” I mutter, and then go still when I raise my fingers into the moonlight and see the wet darkness on them. For a second, time seems to stand still before it explodes back into colour and detail around me. “You’re bleeding,” I say shrilly, and he tries to hush me.
“Ssh, for God’s sake, Hen. You’ll have Mr Singleton out here.”
“I don’t give a fuck about Mr Singleton,” I hiss, and unbelievably he laughs.
“That’s harsh, Henry. He’s dedicated his life to keeping the moral temperature of the close steady. Putting the ‘watch’ into neighbourhood watch.”
“Shut up and get inside.” I hover at his side ready to fit my shoulder under his, but he shakes his head, unable to accept help as usual.
“Never mind that,” he says. “I’ve managed to get here from Iraq. I can surely manage to get over the threshold of my own house.” He pauses. “Although if you could grab my bags, that would be good.”
I give him a mocking half bow and step back and bend to his luggage, sighing as I see his battered leather holdall. It had been his dad’s, and he insists on using it no matter how impractical it is for his brand of travelling. “Don’t forget my -”
“Laptop and camera. I know,” I say wryly, picking up the leather laptop bag. I grab the canvas camera bag too, knowing that, unlike the holdall whose contents will burst out like the contents of a cracker when he opens it, his camera bag will be pristine and ordered. It’s symptomatic of his life, I think grimly. Then I shake my head and rush to follow him inside. I’m alarmed to see speckles of blood on the tiled hall floor, and on the wall outside the kitchen, there’s a bloody handprint on the white paint. I swallow hard at the sight, and hasten into the kitchen.
This is a room that stretches across the back of the house and is called The Irony Room by Ivo. He christened it that after knowing how much money I’d spent on it when I can’t even make toast without cremating it. The units are white oak, and the walls are painted a soft brown. The floor is laid with Bordeaux limestone tiles which cost a small fortune, but the whole effect is that of warmth and light.
My eyes rush to him, and I exclaim and dump the bags by the door before hastening to his side. He’s slumped on one of the tan leather bar stools at the central breakfast bar, his head pillowed on his arms, and he’s so still and pale that for a brief second a horrible thought comes to my head. But when I near him, he rolls his head on his arm and raises it with a weary sigh.
I examine his face in the lights greedily and wince. He looks worn. His face is much thinner, and the tan he’s got from standing under so many foreign suns sits uneasily on his face which is parchment white underneath. His full mouth is drawn thin under a heavy beard, and his hair is greasy and pulled back in a straggly ponytail.
“You look like shit,” I say bluntly, and incredibly he laughs.
“Yes, that’s what getting shot does to you. Ring Glamour magazine immediately and tell them to take it off their top ten tips for a glowing complexion.”
For a second, his words seem to stand in the atmosphere and then the air comes back and I need to sit down. I slump on a chair and reach out to him. “You were shot.” My voice is thick and hoarse, and he looks worriedly at me.
“I’m okay, babe. I promise. Hey, Henry, look at me.”
I shake my head and keep my eyes closed for a second. Then I make myself open them and look at him. He’s staring at me, looking concerned with one hand raised to touch me. The red mess on it brings me back to the situation at hand. “I’m alright, for fuck’s sake,” I mutter and stand up.
“Where are you going?”
“To get the car. I’m taking you to hospital.” I grab my phone and dimly notice my hands are trembling.
“Henry, look at me,” he says insistently. I turn to him. He’s sitting straight, his gaze focused in his thin white face. “I’m alright,” he says clearly. “I was treated in a hospital.”
“In a war zone,” I mutter. “We’ll use the NHS here. It’ll be much more peaceful.”
“A war zone hospital is good for bullet wounds,” he says gently. “And if you tell me Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is quieter than the one I was in, I’m going to call you a liar.”
A smile tugs at my mouth and then I straighten. “Nevertheless, you’re going to need someone to see you and check the wound.” I twist my phone round and bring up my contacts list.
“Who are you fucking ringing at this time?”
“Silas. He’s in London for a conference.”
His laughter is rich but it dies to a pained mumble, and he grabs his side. I’m alarmed to see his hand come away wet with fresh blood. “Henry, he’s a fucking vet.”
I shrug. “We’re much the same as animals.” I pause and grin at him. “Just don’t act startled when he inserts the thermometer.”