A DUCKLING’S BIRTHDAY by Clare London ©
“What do you mean, you don’t celebrate your birthday?”
Greg stared back at Perry’s amazement—no, his outright horror—and fought the urge to laugh. Or maybe cry. “Perry, didn’t I say what a drama queen you are? It’s no problem. I’ve just never bothered, at least not since I was a kid.” And when things were better in my life, he avoided saying. Before his parents lost interest in him, before his teenage growth spurt ambushed him with gangly limbs, spots, and horrible clumsiness. Before his brothers stopped being allies and started picking on him…
“Oh. Oh, Greg.”
Hell’s teeth. Greg still hadn’t learned to keep his emotions hidden from his expression. Now Perry looked almost tearful.
“I’m fine,” he said hastily. Not that he didn’t secretly like Perry’s cute, bright, lively eyes all wide and concentrated on him, Greg Ventura, a man who hadn’t received a lot of adoration in his life until now. But really, this was all too bloody embarrassing. Another year gone? What was the point of celebrating that? “Perfectly fine.”
“Yes, of course you are.” Now Perry had that gentle but faintly patronising tone he’d used on Rory, when the dog caught a rare chill. Greg wondered idly sometimes if Perry saw both of them as needing the same kind of organising, motivation, and care—
Ah. But no. He got very special, extra, loving care from Perry, didn’t he? He got Perry’s gaze on him in the dark hours in bed together, his tongue in Greg’s mouth and his hand on Greg’s cock, full of mischief and lust, and that thing Perry did with his fingertips that sparked right against the tip of Greg’s dick so he groaned really, really loudly…
“Now you’ve got that look on your face,” Perry said reprovingly. He had this way of twisting his body as he passed Greg in the croft’s kitchen—which was a snug fit for two grown men at the best of times, let alone when Perry was trying a new fruit cake recipe, and Greg was trying to distract him with sex—so that he stayed tantalisingly out of Greg’s reach.
“You know you want it,” Greg rumbled. Perry liked his rumbling.
“Maybe I do,” Perry replied tartly, his cheeks definitely pink, and surely that was from that very rumbling. If Greg could just pin Perry against the sink—
“But first I want to know what you’d like for your birthday.”
“For God’s sake!”
“There’s less than a week to arrange it. Did you want a party? I could talk to the pub about reserving a few tables, or Bridie could arrange something at the Sea Bird restaurant…”
“No party!” Greg cried in alarm.
“… or we’ll celebrate here…”
“Much better.” Greg was trying to ease his racing heart beat.
“… with cake…”
“Mmm.” Greg thought that sounded an excellent idea, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a trial to celebrate his birthday after all—
“And your present!”
Greg’s heart sank. “I don’t need anything. I don’t want anything.” No fuss, no bother. No useless gifts, just… just… “You,” he said bluntly.
Perry blinked. “Pardon?”
Greg slid a crafty arm around Perry’s waist while the opportunity was there. “I just want you, my daft man. Maybe one of your cakes as well. Maybe a bottle of good wine, not that lethal stuff Lisa’s been brewing in her and Bridie’s airing cupboard. Some fresh potatoes and greens, and a portion of scallops, covered in that marvellous sauce you make with wine and tarragon.”
“No gold jewellery?” Perry seemed to relax into Greg’s grip, and the pink on his cheeks was even more rosy. “New clothes? Designer boots? Electronic gadgets?”
“Nay,” Greg breathed into his ear. Perry’s scent was unique, even more so with the hint of spice and syrup he’d put in the cake. Greg was hard already and he had a more than sneaking suspicion Perry was too, from the way he kept tugging his “Buff Butler” apron over his lap area. “Well, unless…”
Perry tensed. “Yes?”
“What sort of electronic gadgets were you thinking of, exactly?”
“You pervert!” Perry thumped him on the arm, but he seemed highly pleased Greg fit this description. “That’s easily arranged then.”
Their kisses were sloppy, familiar, delicious. And definitely getting hotter. Perry was happy enough to pause in Greg’s arms now they’d sorted it all out. Or Greg had thought he was, until the wriggling started again and Perry pulled away.
“I’ll be with you in a minute, there are things I have to finish first.”
“The cake can wait,” Greg growled.
“No, the plans for your birthday!” Perry was bent over, searching the back of a kitchen drawer for a pen and paper. Greg was confused: Perry often liked to be “surprised” in this position, but a newly-acquired sensitivity warned him this may not be the right time…
“Alasdair has a fabulous crop of potatoes this year,” Perry said brightly, turning back around. There was still a bulge under his apron. But Greg had a ghastly feeling he’d have to go through this whole birthday thing before he could get him—them—past that.
“I can ask him for some when I drop in tomorrow,” Perry continued. “You know I’ve been visiting him every few days, since he got another attack of gout?”
“Yes, I know you have been.”
Perry must have caught the edge to Greg’s voice because he looked up sharply. “Have I done something wrong?”
“You let Rory off the lead around Alasdair’s place, I believe.”
“Yes, most afternoons while you’re fishing. Rory always seems eager for an extra run. And wasn’t he one of Alasdair’s dogs in the first place? He seems very at home there.” Perry frowned, confused. “Rory’s a very well-behaved dog. At the end of my visit, he comes straight back to me when I call.”
“Yes, but after having made his own visit.”
Perry stared blankly.
Greg was starting to enjoy this. “He’s very at home there, Perry, because Alasdair has a new bitch.”
“A new—? I’m sorry?”
Did Perry think Greg was talking about one of Alasdair’s human relatives? Greg couldn’t hold back a snort of laughter. “A dog, Perry. A female dog. Oh, your face! You’re still such a city boy.”
“I…” Perry seemed temporarily speechless. That was rare, too.
“And now she’s pregnant.” Greg leaned back against the table, arms crossed, a glower on his face.
“She’s…? You mean, Rory…? Oh heavens. But it’s not my fault!”
“I don’t know about that.” Greg struggled to keep his face stern. “He may not be ready for fatherhood. It may cause him untold stress. And you led him straight into temptation.”
“It won’t! Will it? And I never did!”
“Like you lead me,” Greg murmured, drawing Perry back against him. “Like you have since the day you arrived on my doorstep, sopping wet and dressed like the London boy you are.”
“Were,” Perry murmured back with spirit. “Not so citified nowadays, am I?” He gripped Greg with muscled arms, much improved since his early days of living on the land, and spun them both around so Greg’s back was to the kitchen door. Greg would have to stumble backwards up to the bedroom if he wanted satisfaction.
Like he cared about clumsiness, nowadays.
Just as they eased out of the room, headed for the stairs, laughing and kissing, and gasping with frustration, Perry paused.
“Greg? Rory’s puppies…”
God. Now what?
“Do you think they’ll be born in time for my birthday?” Perry asked, with an acquisitive gleam in his eye.
A copy of Romancing the Ugly Duckling in the e-format of your choice
Is this the makeover of a lifetime?
Ambitious fashionista Perry Goodwood lands the project of his dreams—track down a celebrity family’s missing brother in the Scottish Highlands and bring him back to London for a TV reality show. But first he must transform the rugged loner into a glamorous sophisticate.
Greg Ventura has no use for high fashion. He lives on the isolated island of North Uist to escape the reminder that he’s nowhere near as handsome as his gorgeous brothers and avoid the painful childhood memories of being bullied.
Greg wants nothing to do with city life, and Perry’s never been outside London. When Perry is stranded on North Uist, this conflict seems insurmountable. But Greg is captivated by the vivacious Perry, and Perry by both the island and his host. However, Perry’s one heartfelt wish remains: that ugly duckling Greg fulfill his potential as a swan.
After the meal, they settled in the living room again. Greg poured himself a glass of what he introduced as his homemade wine, but Perry politely declined a glass for himself. He couldn’t recall any decent wine he’d ever drunk being that particular shade of purple. He was definitely making a mental shopping list for when he could find somewhere civilized, and gin and tonic would come several steps above couscous on that.
Greg picked up a book and started reading. Perry waited a while—after deciding against asking what they could watch on the miniscule TV in the corner of the living room, with obvious dust settling on the controls—then coughed to get Greg’s attention. “Where do you need me tomorrow?”
Greg peered at him over the book. “What are you talking about?”
“Working together, remember? Um. What exactly do you do, apart from painting?”
Greg’s look was possibly sly, but that could have been due to the waning light outside the cottage.
“Sometimes I work in the Sea Bird restaurant.”
Perry thought he remembered seeing a sign to that place on his journey here in Dougie’s car. The building itself had been very small, more like a tea room, with a single light on in the front porch, and it didn’t look very open for business. But he’d go with the flow. “Are you a chef?”
Greg laughed. He seemed more relaxed tonight. “No, I think you’ve realized my cooking skills aren’t the best. And it’s not really big enough for a chef and full kitchen staff. I mean, it wouldn’t meet your London standards.”
“That has nothing to do with anything.”
“My London… standards, experience, whatever you want to call it. I’m in Uist now, and I want to know what you do here.”
Greg was looking at him oddly. Was he, Perry, coming across as too bossy? God, this man was impossible to gauge properly.
“It’s more of a large dining room where friends can hang out.” Greg still sounded reasonably relaxed. “It’s owned by a couple of elderly sisters who are marvelous cooks, and we sometimes hire it out for a celebration. We’re not big on dinner parties here, you can imagine. I help out with serving when it’s busy. But mainly I provide the fish dishes, especially scallops.”
“You’re a fisherman?”
Greg nodded slowly, his gaze still on Perry. “Yes, you could say that. I’m a diver. I dive for scallops.”
“Can’t you just… I don’t know.” Buy them in a shop? “Don’t they have official suppliers?”
Greg frowned. “Hand-collected scallops are better. The sweeter ones are chosen, and the dish is more precious. Haven’t you ever tasted the difference?”
It pained Perry to admit weakness, but he did. “I’ve never had scallops in my life.”
Greg’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you lived in the center of the sophisticated city?”
“We can’t all afford posh restaurants,” Perry snapped back, then blushed at—yet again—having to admit shortcoming.
“Oh.” Greg blinked. “Well, you’ll see them in the raw when you come out in the boat tomorrow with me.”
“When I…? Tomorrow…? Boat?”
Greg smiled slowly. “Yes. The weather should be fine, so I’m driving west past Lochmaddy to one of my favorite coastal seawater lochs. I’ll pack some provisions so we can eat lunch there. You can help carry the equipment, then collect the scallops into boxes and keep watch for me.”
“We… I….” Perry was struggling for words. Worse, Greg seemed to realize it and find it highly amusing. “I’ve never been in one.”
“Boat. I’ve never been in a boat. Well, until the ferry two days ago.”
Greg nodded, also slowly. “That’s fine. You can stay here if you want.”
“No!” Perry’s cry was instinctive. Did this brute of a bloke think he, Perry, was a lightweight? “I will not! We made a deal.”
“Okay. Well, I hope Bridie brought a selection of decent waterproofs as well as your day clothes, because you’ll need them.”
“You said the weather should be fine….”
“Just in case,” Greg said ominously. He concentrated back on his book.
Perry sat silently for a long moment. In fact, everything was silent, inside the cottage and out, apart from the occasional call from a bird, and Greg turning a page. Perry wasn’t used to such quiet. Nor was he used to living in close quarters with a man who barely tolerated him, and actually wanted him to get lost. There was a small pile of paperbacks on the table beside Greg’s armchair, and Perry picked one up. He also wasn’t used to reading anthologies of horror stories, his preference being for romantic comedies and the occasional biography—but he supposed there was always a first time. Opening it to the first chapter, he bit back a sigh. At least he’d won this stage of the battle with Greg Ventura, and he had more time to convince him about the TV project.
But thinking about the trip out onto a likely freezing Scottish loch tomorrow, he wasn’t sure whether the price would be too much to pay.
Clare London took her pen name from the city where she lives, loves, and writes. A lone, brave female in a frenetic, testosterone-fuelled family home, she juggles her writing with her other day job as an accountant.
She’s written in many genres and across many settings, with award-winning novels and short stories published both online and in print. She says she likes variety in her writing while friends say she’s just fickle, but as long as both theories spawn good fiction, she’s happy. Most of her work features male/male romance and drama with a healthy serving of physical passion, as she enjoys both reading and writing about strong, sympathetic, and sexy characters.
Clare currently has several novels sulking at that tricky chapter three stage and plenty of other projects in mind… she just has to find out where she left them in that frenetic, testosterone-fuelled family home.
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