Also known as my beautiful mess.
I’d taken a break from NaNo for a few years, to plot and write (and complete!) the massive 1 More Chance!, a fan fiction serial based on the characters of the video game Persona 4. But I came back to NaNo in 2011 with a vengeance, fresh from my learning experiences of 1 More Chance!
The entire story of Fearless was inspired by a single line of dialogue muttered from a woman to a man sitting on a beach, and, from there, was born my most ambitious love-and-loss story to date. Readers of my regular blog will recognize (recognise) snippets of this story, but you can read the first chapter (at least as it stands at this writing) below….
1 (Only the Pretty Ones)
Women of the world be damned: Ross Finch loved the sea. Pushed by a fair September wind, she called to him, with a rolling, foaming wave, and he answered, with a glorious, glowing passion.
Spreading his fingers wide to catch her cresting foam, he cut through her barrel on his favourite Keahana longboard, soundless but for the frothing churn of the break left in his wake. She overtook him quickly, though, so he was no longer carving the path but starting to feel crowded by the press of her all around.
Somewhere close by, Neville give a hoot, of warning or exultation. Then, the wave came down, tumbling Ross and his board between curling swell and full ocean. And, if he could have done so in the deep, Ross would have laughed. Because no matter how many times he might wipe out, the sea always welcomed him for more.
He came up a few seconds behind the still-moving break, forcing saltwater from his nostrils and between his teeth.
Not far away, Neville gave another laughing whoop. Shoulder-deep in the water, he hadn’t fared any better in that last roll. But, he grinned, too, collecting his board with a swipe of his arm.
Ross glanced behind him, to where his own longboard bobbed upon the undulating surf, like a lost toy. He pulled it close by its lead, grabbing one rail just as Neville came paddling up beside.
“Fancy one more? Or, you ready to give up?”
Hauling himself onto his board, Ross snickered. “You should know me better than that,” he said, and Neville laughed again and blew away a clump of long brown hair that had fallen in front of his eyes.
The water started to rise again, and Ross angled his board to catch it, not even bothering to check if Neville would follow him. A welcoming wave roiled behind, speeding up to catch him like a pursuing lover. Then, he was up and standing and the water was all around him again, honest and clear and inviting, the finest mate he’d ever known.
It wasn’t just one more wave, of course; it was never just one more wave. So it was almost thirty minutes later, then – the pair of them dripping water from hair and noses and chins and tracking it over the increasingly rocky beach as they walked back up toward the village proper, with their boards beneath their arms – that Neville turned to Ross and asked, seemingly from nowhere:
“You going to the Harvest Fete dance tonight?”
Ross came to an abrupt halt, facing Neville with a sneer. “Why in Hell would I want to go to that shit?”
Neville stopped, too, and shrugged his shoulders, as a look of innocent curiosity crossed his face. “Just thought you might be interested?”
With a shake of his head, Ross resumed walking. “There’s nothing there to interest me.”
Neville followed again, matching stride. “Come on, Finchy. It could be fun. Everybody’s going to be there.” His mouth curled into one of his jaunty, coercive smiles. “Especially all the pretty girls.”
Ross dismissed him with an amused snort. “I’ve already had all the pretty girls in this village.”
“You never did get Jade.”
“Girls worth having,” Ross corrected, and kept walking; Neville’s particular brand of playful manners usually amused, but, right now, Ross found it annoying.
True, Jade Macallain might have been one of the few women in Harbram whom he’d been unable to charm into his frameless double bed in the loft above the surf shop…but she was a special case. While the two of them had shared a brief mutual curiosity in each other as teenagers, at the time, Ross had known little more about the opposite gender than that their blouses and skirts rounded out in fascinating ways. Jade, though, in typical coy female fashion, hadn’t been willing to enlighten him as to the precise reason for such. So, by the time Ross had matured to developing any real technique with women, they’d both moved on to other flirtations, never to cross amourous paths in that way of possibilities since.
Not that he didn’t still try, of course. Because any good craftsman needed to keep his tools primed. But he could have written a book with all the ways she’d shot him down.
“Nor Sam,” Neville added, now, and Ross fell to a halt.
Jade Macallain was one thing. Samantha Hogget, though, was a completely different matter.
“Don’t mention that name to me,” Ross said, glowering at him.
Neville sniffed, unconcerned. “I can’t believe you’re still wadded up over that. It was years ago!”
Ross kept scowling.
Two years ago or no, the memory of Sam’s manipulation still stung. Not only for her reason, which had been selfish of her and humiliating for him, but for the way she’d rubbed his nose in it, after a week of stringing him along with her teasing smiles and prickling touches.
Ross had never mentioned to anyone – not even Neville, whom he considered his best friend, despite the constant ribbing – how Sam had left him slack-jawed and staring after her, her stone-cold accusation ringing in his ears for far too long afterward:
“I just used you the same way you use every girl in this village.”
Now, Ross ducked his head, watching his feet as they crossed the slick stones at the edge of the beach. “I think I’m going to abstain from women for Advent, this year.”
“You abstain for Lent, not Advent. Besides,” Neville said, turning cajoling again with a snicker, “you’re a breeder. You know you can’t stay away from le corps d’une femme!”
Ross sniffed at the jibe…but Neville was right: no matter how troublesome they could be, women as a vice were too tempting – and too delicious – to ignore.
Striding onto the paved pier, Ross felt a grin creep to his face as he spied the wooden cart display in front of the grocer’s, and the girl currently placing apples there. “Speak of the devil,” he muttered aside to Neville, who clicked his tongue.
“You have no shame.”
Ross ignored him, swinging his board up as he approached both fruitcart and filly. “Mornin’, Beth.” He offered her a leering smile. “You look as scrumptious as those apples.”
The Crispins’ youngest daughter laughed and blushed bright red under her kerchief. “Thank you,” she said, her voice mostly squeal.
It took some effort for Ross to keep his charmer’s smile in place; hopefully, that voice would one day mature as nicely as her tits had already done. Still, he wasn’t interested in her, just the apples, so he offered her an appreciative flare of his nostrils and asked, “Think you could let us have a taste?”
Beth opened her mouth, but someone else answered:
“That’s a quid, for both of you.”
Danny stood at the door of the grocery, wiping his hands on his semi-white smock. So Ross straightened up from the younger girl, his smile still coaxing. “Come on, Danny-boy. You know we’re good for it.”
Danny looked at his sister. “Go handle the till. I’ll be right in.” He watched her round the threshold, then turned to Ross with a look of distinct disapproval.
“What?” Ross said, acting innocent. He waved his arm up and down his front. “You know I can’t carry dosh in this thing.”
Danny remained suitably stoic for one more second, before relenting with a chuckle. Plucking two apples from the display cart, he gave them a quick shine on his apron, then handed one to Neville and tossed the other to Ross. “How were the waves?” he asked, changing the subject to one more favoured between the three of them.
“Off the Richter,” Neville said, and Ross agreed with a fresh grin, as he took a chomping bite.
Danny gave a lamenting hum. “Wish I’d been out there with you. Haven’t caught anything decent since yesterday.”
“So, grab your board,” Ross said. “We’ll go out again, yeah?” He looked at Neville, who nodded.
But Danny just shrugged, as a timid smile came to his face. “I need to be here.”
Ross let out a scoffing snort. “Yeah, we run a shop, too. But, you don’t see us passing up a choice afternoon.” He gave Danny a light punch in the chest with his apple hand. “Leave this shit to Beth for an hour. Who cares?”
“I care,” Danny said.
“What in Hell’s so much more important than what’s out there?” Ross said, jerking his head back toward the beach.
Shrugging his shoulders again, Danny fairly blushed as he muttered, “I’ve got a girlfriend, now.”
Ross laughed. “Yeah, right! Who?”
“Jade,” Danny said, and Ross felt his chest nearly collapse.
Dark-haired Danny Crispin was his friend…but he was also skinny as a stick, and not terribly clever: as a Year Ten, he’d barely eked his way through his maths GCSEs. He was a passable athlete, but hardly in Ross’s league. When their crew, the Sharks – the three of them, along with Niall and Scott – would train for competition, Danny almost always came in last, whether in running, swimming, or getting his wave count. All that wasn’t even to mention, working in his family’s grocery, stocking fruit and veg all day, he likely didn’t clear fifteen thousand pounds in a good year.
And Jade had passed on Ross for that?
“I were meaning to tell you,” Danny said, as he offered Ross an apologetic smile. “But, it just, sort of, happened.” He gave a shrug, adding quickly: “But I won’t do it, if it bothers you. Mates first and all, yeah?”
At poor Danny’s timid sincerity, Ross let go a breath that was half-chuckle, half-snort.
Jade wasn’t all that. She was mouthy, for one thing, and she never seemed to appreciate what was rolling right outside the pub’s patio. Ross knew. More than once, he’d asked her to join the crew to watch the waves, but she always said she was “too busy.” Besides, Danny was all right, despite the obvious flaws. They probably deserved each other.
So, Ross pushed a smile to his face and shook his head. “Why would that bother me?”
Danny shrugged again. “Well, I know you fancied her. And, after what happened with Victoria-” he started, but Neville shut him up with a hiss and a punch in the arm.
Ross tongued the front of his mouth, poking at a sliver of apple caught around one eyetooth.
Victoria. She’d been a bit of all right: a curvy beach bunny with long black hair, who looked fantastic in a sun-bathing costume. Just another one of the flashy, fleshy summer tourist buffet, but he’d given up a few days of waves to show her the ins and outs of village life, not to mention his bed. Shame he’d never been able to remember her name. One too many misspoken Veronicas had gotten him most of a glass of Chambord in the face, and a vehement suggestion to bugger himself.
“Whatevs,” Ross said with finality, as he tossed his apple core into the husk bin beside the door.
In the sudden silence, Danny tilted his head in the direction of the grocery. “I’d best get back to work. Later?”
“Yeah,” Neville replied. “Maybe.” Giving an unenthusiastic wave of his hand, he grabbed his board and followed Ross at a trot.
They were halfway around the bend of the street before Neville caught up to him, nearly at the surf shop.
“Sorry, mate,” Neville said, gesturing over his shoulder toward the way they’d come. “I’m sorry. Danny’s a good guy, but he’s just…he’s a dullard. You know? He didn’t mean anything by it-”
“Forget about it. She’s ancient history.”
“You talking about Victoria?” Neville asked. “Or Jade?”
“Both,” Ross said, as they came to the shop.
They settled their boards against the chiselled brick wall, to do a quick rinse at the outside tap. It was then Neville asked again:
“Does that mean you’ll come out to the dance tonight?”
Ross thought a moment. What better way to rub Jade’s and Sam’s noses in his resiliency, than to show up at the local losers’ parade with his ego firmly in place?
“Yeah, sure.” He grinned then, repeating the mantra that had gotten him through more than one disappointment with the opposite gender: “Bird’s got to fly; shark’s got to swim.”
They shared a laugh, and spent the rest of the afternoon tossing puckish jokes and insults back and forth. The prankster attitude faded, though, after they closed up the shop for the day, to prepare for the evening’s celebration.
With the exception of his three wetsuits and an assortment of rash guard wear, Ross didn’t have much in his closet beyond basic casual attire, most of it tee shirts, hoodies, and khakis. But this locals-only party didn’t deserve more effort than that. So he ran his fingers through his jagged, shower-damp blond hair, checked the closeness of his shave one more time, then trundled down the stairs of the flat toward the shop below, whistling lowly between his teeth.
Standing at the counter, Neville checked his button-down shirt cuffs in patient distraction. He stood up then, straightening the legs of his trousers as he did so, an easy smile already on his face. But that quickly fell, as he looked Ross up and down.
“You’re not seriously wearing that?” Neville asked, his nose wrinkling up into his brow.
Ross shrugged his shoulders in his long-sleeved fitted tee. “You said casual.”
“Who are you, my mum?”
“Maybe you should have had her dress you,” Neville said with frowning disdain. “She likely would have done a clear sight better than…whatever you call that ensemble.”
Ross snorted. “Oh, piss off, you lairy poof.”
“I may be a poof,” Neville replied, without shame, “but at least I know how to dress for a party.” And, lifting his arms in a half-shrug, he turned back and forth on his waist, appropriately dramatic. He cocked his head to one side, challenging Ross to disagree.
Unfortunately, he could do no such thing.
Whatever his friend’s sexual proclivities – and about that Ross had never pressed for any sordid details, because they were mates, because there seemed to be a dearth of openly out homosexuals in their tiny country hamlet, but mostly because it simply didn’t affect him – Neville was an impeccable judge of both clothes and character. Even though everyone in the village knew he was gay, women still took pointed notice of him, at the pub, on the beach, even just walking down the street. Partly for his friendly and accommodating personality, of course, but Ross knew it was Neville’s looks that garnered him more than his share of female attention.
Because the world simply worked that way.
Now, snorting a low breath, Ross crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Why should I make anything more than a basic effort for this?”
Neville let go a low breath, too, but his came out sounding weary. “Because I know the way you think,” he said, and when he next drew another breath, what came out was an almost-non-stop and eerily accurate rattling-off of the inner workings of Ross’s mind:
“You’re my best friend, mate,” Neville said. “But, you are also a vain bastard bordering on narcissistic, and I know you’d like nothing better than to walk into that hall and have Jade and Sam and every other woman in attendance take one look at you and decide you are, categorically and without contention, not only the most eligible but also the most desirable heterosexual man in the room. And, after an evening of showing off just how eligibly desirable you are, when one of those women asks you to come home with her, you can then turn around and reject her with the unflappable self-assurance of a handsome rogue who has nothing better to do than break pretty girls’ hearts with his killer smile. Because no woman in her right mind would turn down the incomparable Ross Finch and not regret that decision when she goes to bed at night.” His gaze steady and piercing, he paused for a single breath, then said, “Do let me know if I’ve left anything out?”
Ross shifted his jaw to one side; damn Neville and his x-ray vision. “You are not wrong,” he said, through clenched teeth.
His friend’s smile returned, briefly, a mark of victory. But it quickly fell again, as he gestured one arm in the air. “Well, none of those women is going to give you a second glance if you’re wearing jeans and your Newcastle United shirt. You’re not Becks, mate; you can’t get away with that shit.”
Ross sniffed. “So, what are you suggesting I do wear?”
Neville didn’t take a second to consider the question. “What about that slim-cut running jacket you’ve got? The dark one, with the zip collar.”
“That one is rather tight.”
“Tight’s good,” Neville told him, and grinned. “Tighter the better, in fact. Trust me, you look hot in that.”
Ross glowered at him. “Please, tell me you haven’t been checking me out this whole time.”
“Not to bum you or anything,” Neville assured him with his usual easygoing composure. “Just making observations. Oh, and real trousers. Neutral-coloured, if you’ve got ’em, but anything not white or black’ll do.”
Ross rolled his eyes but didn’t complain further. “Anything else, Tyra?”
Neville smiled smugly again. “I’m not a miracle worker.”
It was far easier to do as Neville requested than to argue with him all evening. And, as much as Ross might not have cared to examine too closely the reasons behind any “observations” his friend made about him, when Neville said you looked hot, you indeed looked hot. So, twenty minutes later, as he stepped into the village’s festively-decorated town hall, Ross found himself in the decreed ensemble of close-cut collared jacket and tan khakis…a look of which Neville had distinctly approved, with a teasing waggle of his brows as he’d murmured, “Dishy!”
Among the throng were plenty of faces Ross knew: Scott spinning cliché dance hall hits at the sound system; Niall hovering near the refreshments table, double-fisting drinks and appetisers; even the village’s old guard making fools of themselves on the dance floor. But no one worth doing anything more than stepping out of their path or offering a passing nod or civil smile. So, Ross made his way over to a tall cocktail table pushed against one wall, to survey the floor over some weakly-spiked punch and some complimentary veg.
Neville had followed him in, but not at pace. Instead, he’d broken stride every few seconds as he’d crossed the floor of the hall, to exchange politely idle chatter with this or that villager, to laugh with a few tipsy cohorts, even to dance for a bit with a cluster of tarty young gossips.
Thus alone, Ross blew a disgusted breath into his drink, riffling the liquid inside.
Where in Hell were Danny and Jade? Or Sam and Freddie? He was almost willing to take his chances seeing Susanna tonight. Somebody whom he could impress with his imperturbability…!
After almost thirty minutes of waiting for one of his old would-be or could-have-been conquests to show, Ross was ready to tell Neville maybe it would be better for everybody if he admitted defeat for tonight and just went home. He could get a good night’s sleep and start tomorrow off right, with some clean breaks at dawn.
When he turned to say as much, though, it wasn’t Neville standing near his side, but a petite blonde girl he’d never seen before.
Even at a second’s glance, she was darling: twenty-something and quite firm, dressed in a tartan mini-skirt with solid black tights and calf-high boots that made even her shorter legs look like they went on forever. He wouldn’t have called her very buxom, but where curves mattered – legs, hips, waist, tits – she certainly had them, and in a most delightful combination. He even wondered if, when the main door to the hall opened again and the evening breeze blew in, she might give a little shiver and her nipples might perk against her deliciously sheer pullover….
With a slow, curling smile, he shifted effortlessly from his sullen mood of a second ago into confident pulling mode, drawling, “Hi.”
The girl returned a sparkling smile of her own, her blush wine lips smooth, full, and shining. He almost didn’t hear her when she said hello back to him; it had been too long since he’d kissed lips that fine, or felt them rolling over his cock.
He pulled a deep breath through his nostrils, silently willing himself to slow down. It wouldn’t do for him to pop a stiffy after just saying hello. That was strictly spotty-faced, squeaky-voiced teenager shit. Ross Finch was far more suave than that.
He offered her one hand, and a new smile designed to captivate. “I’m Ross.”
She squeezed at his fingers, her hands soft but her grip firm. Not forceful, though, as if she were grateful for the offer of his hand, and his attention.
He smiled wider. Fuck, but pulling this little bird was going to be easy!
“Amber,” she told him, as her own smile turned mellow. He liked that look of her, too: still interested but somehow gentler, now.
In an effort to look nonchalant, he relaxed his stance, leaning back on one elbow against the rise of the table. “Haven’t seen you around before. You visiting?”
She shook her head, the subtle curls in her flaxen hair shifting like the lulling waves that rolled in at low tide when there was no wind. “Just moved. From London.”
“London,” he echoed with mild interest. No naïve bumpkin, then, to be beguiled by a devilish smile and a cocksure swagger. That was fine, though; he appreciated a bit of a challenge.
“Welcome to Harbram, then,” he said, and smiled again, half-teasing but mostly charming. “I’d hazard to say it’s a far more enchanting place with you here, now.”
She blinked her eyes. They were a strange shade of almost-brown but not quite, with little green flecks scattered among the maple whole, like leaves too stubborn to vacate the branch after a frost. As she dropped her gaze and her chin toward the floor, a delightful pink blush flushed her cheeks.
“I’ll bet you say that to all the new girls,” she said as she raised her gaze to him again; he hadn’t been imagining those dappled green specks.
“Only the pretty ones,” he admitted, and shrugged his shoulders, unconcerned. She’d likely heard just as laughable lines in London, probably more.
She didn’t laugh, though, and she didn’t walk away. In fact, she took a step toward him, her arm touching the edge of the table. “You think I’m pretty.”
“I think you know the answer to that,” he said, and he lifted his chin, to offer her an appraising look from down the straight line of his nose.
Glancing over her head, he caught sight of a familiar face – Sam – standing with Freddie on the opposite side of the hall. She happened to look his way, too, and stiffened up of a second.
Ross felt his smirk jump. Turning back to Amber, he offered his best winning smile. “So,” he asked her, now. “What brings you?”
“You seemed lonely,” she said with a tilt of her chin. “Everybody else is dancing and having a good time, but you’re all the way over here by yourself. I thought you might like some company.”
This time, Ross blinked in surprise. Then, he chuckled, clearing his head with a shake. “I meant, what brings you to Harbram?”
Her eyes went wide for a second. “Oh! Well, my mum was born here. She always said it was the most lovely place she’d ever lived. After she died, I thought, why not?” And here, she gave a low and off-handed shrug of her shoulders, making her breasts bounce beneath her vest.
Ross took a moment to nod. Dead mum. Sad. But, life was for the living. And this scrumptious girl was worth a bit of living, if those pretty tits were just as pretty out of her pullover as under them.
He changed the subject with a smile. “Well, if you want someone to show you around, stop by Fearless sometime. I’d be happy to give you the grand tour.”
“Fearless?” she repeated, her brows peaking.
“The surf shop at the bottom of Anchor Street,” he told her, “by the docks. I’m always there. Or, out on the water.”
“A surf shop,” she said, as though considering. Another smile came to her lips, one more elfin and fetching than any to have come before. “And, are you?”
“Am I what?”
She dipped her chin, and, in a hushed voice he nonetheless managed to hear perfectly even through the lively music and chattering party-goers, prompted:
Ross felt his nostrils flare. Swaying up from his leaning stance, he stood up close over her. Even in her heeled boots, she barely came to his shoulder, but he liked the way she looked up at him, with her head tilted back to show off the smooth slope of her neck.
“You’ll just have to find out for yourself,” he said, in a voice pitched equally low.
He let his gaze linger on her figure for a second longer, then reached out with one hand, to stroke two fingers down her sleeve, toward her wrist. His fingertips grazed the skin of her hand. “Care to dance?”
She stepped into his space, turning her hand in his so their palms touched, and drew a long breath that made her chest puff. There was no chilling breeze – not that he could feel, anyway – but her nipples definitely strained against her top.
“I thought you’d never ask,” she said, the squeeze of her fingers once again gentle but strong around his.
She stepped back, and he was about to follow, when something like the roar of the sea in a storm nearly blew out his ears:
“What in the bloody Hell do you think you’re doing!”
Ross looked away from Amber, just as Sam barrelled toward him, her paisley skirts and ringlet curls flying as she pushed her way between a pair of dancing couples. A few steps behind her, Freddie paused to apologise to the interrupted dancers before striding along again after Sam, no doubt to offer backup if it came to blows…which Ross didn’t put past that loud-mouthed ginger skirt.
But she only gave him a shove in his chest, instead grabbing Amber by the arm and yanking her hand from his.
“Sam!” Amber cried as she tumbled away from Ross. “What are you-”
“You keep away from him,” Sam told the smaller girl, and pushed her toward Freddie. “Get her home. Now!”
“We were just talking-” Amber started to say.
“You don’t ‘just talk’ to his lot,” Freddie muttered, as he led her away.
Ross was about to retort, but in the next second, Sam was in his face, her nose scrunched up nearly into her forehead like an angry mutt’s.
“I’m warning you, Finch-”
Ross snorted. “You’re warning me?”
“I know what you are,” Sam went on, still snarling. “You lay one finger on Amber, and I will have you strung up in the town square so fast you’ll be messing your pants before you can even open your mouth!”
Glancing between Amber being led toward the door and Sam glaring daggers at him, Ross nearly heard the pieces click together in his head. He’d thought Sam jealous for seeing him with a new piece of pretty arse, but that wasn’t it at all. She specifically didn’t want him to get with Amber.
Oh, this was going to be brilliant.
Leaning back on one foot, Ross lifted his chin. “I haven’t done anything to her.” He shot Sam a leer, which wolfishness he couldn’t have hidden even if he’d wanted to do. “Yet.”
Sam thrust her finger into his face, pointing between his eyes. “You keep your distance,” she said, and, with one last snarl, she spun on her heel and pushed her way through the dance floor, where the party-goers parted for her like the Red Sea for Moses.
Neville approached in her wake. “What’s going on?”
Following Amber’s gorgeous slink as she stepped to the door, Ross felt his chuffed grin spread wide. “I am having that girl.”