Sunday, September 6, 2015

Don't Kiss the Vicar by Charlie Cochrane

Vicar Dan Miller is firmly in the closet in his new parish. Could the inhabitants of a sedate Hampshire village ever accept a gay priest? Trickier than that, how can he hide his attraction for one of his flock, Steve Dexter?

Encouraged by his ex-partner to seize the day, Dan determines to tell Steve how he feels, only to discover that Steve’s been getting poison pen letters and suspicion falls on his fellow parishioners. When compassion leads to passion, they have to conceal their budding relationship, but the arrival of more letters sends Dan scuttling back into the closet.

Can they run the letter writer to ground? More importantly, can they patch up their romance and will Steve ever get to kiss the vicar again?

A great story of a quaint little English village that may not be as friendly as it seems on the surface.  I know that some people would say that the story could have been a little better had there been more of Dan and Steve's relationship but for me not all stories require every little minute detail.  I loved the fact that it isn't religion that comes into play in regards to the couple's conflicts, yes it's the bases of the poison pen letters but not what has been in Dan and Steve's way, that is all them.  Harry adds some well timed humor and I have to say that I found the friendship between Dan and his ex refreshing.  Another great example of Miss Cochrane's English village storytelling.


Ding. Dong. Ding. Dong.

Regular, soothing rhythm of the bell, making Wednesday morning sound like Sunday.

Ding. Dong.

Just another few chimes, and Dan would call it a day. If nobody turned up for the midweek communion, that was their loss; he would say the service anyway, empty pews or full. When they had recruited him, the PCC members had said they’d wanted a breath of fresh air, a bit of new blood to invigorate their parish, so why did they get so upset when he tried anything new?

Ding dong dell. Vicar pulls the bell. Who put him there? The bloody PCC.

Who’ll get him out? The bishop, if he’s lucky.

“Am I too late, Reverend Miller?” The cultured tones of Margaret Fowler sounded from the aisle. If somebody wanted the stereotype of an English matron for their sitcom or television mystery, Margaret would have been perfect. Twinset, pearls, shampoo and set, and the sort of voice that could reduce you to a quivering heap if you’d got on the wrong side of her.

“Punctual as usual, Margaret.” Dan nodded, then brought the bell to rest. “Looks like it’s just we two.”

“Oh, no, no. Sylvia and Harry are in the churchyard. They should be here at any moment. Quite a gathering for your little...experiment.”

“Book of Common Prayer’s been going three hundred odd years. I’d hardly call the thing experimental.” Dan smiled—a not too forced and almost sincere smile, the sort he’d had to perfect these last six months—and looped the bell rope up on its hook. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to get things ready.”

The vestry. His bolt hole. The previous incumbent hadn’t let anyone else in unless by invitation and when the door was closed, it indicated that nobody should even bother to knock, unless the church was burning down, and maybe not even then. It was one of the few traditions Dan had kept, no matter how much it stuck in his craw. He could get away from them in here.

As he robed up, he could hear his fellow “experimenters” whispering together, probably unaware how clearly their voices carried into the vestry via the back of where the organ was, maybe a conscious design feature from a Victorian architect with a sense of mischief.

They weren’t sure where to sit. Three in the pews would look silly, especially if they took up their usual spaces toward the back, but—the volume of the voices edged up—what if they sat in the choir stalls and found out they’d made a mistake?

Dan took his time getting ready, feeling a guilty pleasure at their discomfort.

“We’ll look a load of Larrys down here in the pews” boomed a deep, attractive voice. “I’m going up into the choir. Come and join me.”

“What if the vicar doesn’t want us there?” Sylvia Day, as usual, sounded worried. The whole Day family wore a constant air of troubles bravely borne, although Dan had never got to the bottom of what the troubles actually were. He’d come to the conclusion there weren’t any, and they were the sort of people who just enjoyed being miserable.

“If Dan doesn’t like us in the choir, then he’ll have to lump it. The silly sod should have given us some instructions.”

Steve Dexter.

What the fairy cakes was he doing here, midweek, alternating between charming and outraging the parish matrons? Wouldn’t the world of conveyancing come shuddering to a halt if he wasn’t in the office closing contracts and overcharging his clients? More to the point, how was Dan going to concentrate with him in the choir stalls? Sunday morning he’d normally got time and space to prepare himself.

“Steven! Language.” Margaret was evidently outraged, although Dan was sure he’d heard old Harry Woodeson sniggering. He may have been church warden, but the old man knew a lot worse words than “sod” and often used them while he was tending the parish’s war graves, especially if he dropped a spade on his foot.

“Sorry, Mrs. Fowler,” Steve said, in a voice which was anything but contrite. “Come on, you sit next to me.”

Dan took a deep breath and a final glance in the mirror. Robes fine, face less so. His insomnia had been bad this week, and he looked—to put it in the sort of fine Anglo-Saxon terms Harry might use—fucking awful. Not the way to impress any of the congregation, even though he didn’t expect Steve to be impressed.

As he left the vestry, bowed before the altar, and intoned the words, “Let us pray”, he felt the peculiar change come over him whenever he performed this particular liturgy. Something about the Prayer Book always made him act in a much graver manner than normal, controlling and sublimating the fun-loving side he couldn’t restrain at family services. Maybe it was the timeless prose. Solemn words, beautiful words, representing centuries of tradition and worship, a tangible connection with the past and the generations who had worshipped at St. Thomas’s these last two hundred years.

St. Thomas’s.

What on earth was he doing here? Not in the big, “meaning of life” sense—he had that pretty clear in his mind—but why this parish, now? No time to think about that with the commandments to read and the collect for the Queen to say, but his mind was bound to come back to it later. In the meantime he tried to feel and act like he belonged here, in the furtherance of which he made sure he didn’t catch anybody’s eye, least of all Steve’s.

When he dared risk a look at his small congregation at the end of the epistle, he almost lost his place in the order of service. What was going on? Harry appeared serious but content. No surprise there, but Sylvia seemed almost happy, eyes closed and a faint, unprecedented, smile on her lips. Margaret looked as if she actually approved of the proceedings, rather than finding them a torture to be suffered with a stiff upper lip, like when they sang an ancient hymn to a modern tune.

But those expressions, miraculous as they were, weren’t the thing to trip a vicar up just as he was whizzing down the liturgy line triumphantly toward Luke’s gospel. Steve was looking straight at him and smiling, dark eyes flashing under hair which was surely never that unruly in the solicitors’ office, and teeth flashing like the pearls on the chalice Margaret’s grandfather had donated in nineteen hundred and frozen to death.

Oh, God, make haste to help me.

He carried on with the service, more serious than ever, trying hard not to think of those eyes. He didn’t think of them during the short sermon, nor during the comfortable words, and he definitely didn’t think of them as he administered the bread and wine. Nope, he didn’t think of Steve at all, like he didn’t think of him more than twenty seven times a day.

The blessing had barely been spoken when Harry was out of the pew, grabbing Dan’s hand to pump it up and down repeatedly. “Smashing service, Vicar. Will you be doing it again?”

“I’d thought perhaps fortnightly to start with,” Dan replied, a bit bemused at the positive looks and comments surrounding him. Harry, yes—he was always a bright spot on Dan’s day—but the others weren’t acting at all as they usually did. Maybe he’d wake up in a moment and find this had all been a glorious dream, especially the bit concerning Steve’s smile. He often dreamed about Steve.

“I’ll make sure I don’t miss it. Vicar?”

“Sorry, I was miles away.” He wasn’t saying where. “I appreciate your support, Harry. As always.”

“Your experiment seems to have been a success,” Margaret said, with only a fleeting touch of begrudgment, if that was the right word and Dan hadn’t made it up just to describe her usual attitude.

“Thank you,” he said, just about meaning it. “And thank you for coming, Sylvia,” he added, turning to shake hands with Mrs. Day.

“It was lovely, Mr. Miller. Just lovely. I wish we could have that every day.”

Dan felt a cold sliver of perception followed by guilt creep up his spine. He could suddenly read this woman as he’d never read her before. She was a bit bored, a bit lonely, a bit at a loose end and volunteering for the many jobs at church was a salvation in more ways than one. Why on earth hadn’t he realised that previously? He might have been less abrupt with her. He couldn’t remember being as feckless as this in his old parish, but he’d been just a curate there. Now, he was the boss man, and maybe he’d been promoted beyond his competency. No bishop’s mitre on the horizon, then.

He tried to produce a reply for Sylvia that sounded neither anodyne nor patronising. “I know. But if it was like this all the time, it wouldn’t feel so special, would it? If that makes any sense.”

“It does to me. And not this side of heaven, anyway,” Harry chipped in.

Dan caught the sharp intake of Margaret’s breath, her standard look of disapproval at anyone not in holy orders giving an opinion on matters spiritual. Well, let her sneer. Dan had rarely met anyone with such an everyday view on faith as Harry, it being as natural to him as tending his garden, and transubstantiation as ordinary a topic of his conversation as the best manure for growing your roses.

“Too right,” Dan said to the churchwarden, with an encouraging wink.

Still, he had to admit Margaret’s look of distaste hadn’t been quite as marked as usual. She hadn’t accompanied it with a “tut,” and she still looked almost happy.

What had produced the change in them all? It had to be the weather, that mild late spring working its magic with the sunshine through the branches hitting the stained glass and sending jewels dancing down the aisle. The bees buzzing lazily through the graveyard and the rooks in the trees. It couldn’t be him. It had been a long time since anybody was enchanted by Dan Miller, in his clerical robes or out of them. Unless...

Unless they’d been impressed with the sombre air he’d had while officiating. Eight o’clock communion brought out the same instincts in him and produced the same response in his congregation. Funny how the superannuated attendees at that service and the schoolchildren and harassed parents at the family one seemed to appreciate him most. It was the morning and evening prayer lot who clearly found him a pain in the hassock.

“That was all right, I think.”

Dan was jolted out of his thoughts by Steve’s voice. Blimey, they’d be thinking he was losing his marbles if he kept going off like that.

“Thank you,” he replied, bewildered. Maybe this was all a dream, if Steve was saying something nice to him. Yep, he’d wake up in a minute to a six thirty alarm bell, the weather would be tipping it down, and nobody would turn up for communion. Might as well make the most of it, dream or reality. He held out his hand. “Thanks for coming.”

“I had to come.” Steve shook the hand quickly, then dropped it as though it might be electrified. “Couldn’t miss the chance of seeing you come a cropper.” Only temporarily being nice, then.

“And are you annoyed that I didn’t?” Dan couldn’t help wondering yet again why the guy seemed to dislike him so much. Had he worked out that the vicar fancied the pants off him, despite all of Dan’s efforts to hide the fact? And did it disgust him?

“Not annoyed. Surprised, maybe.” Steve stepped back, the expression on his face unreadable. “Got to go. Things to see, people to do.”

“You need to get yourself some more original lines,” Harry said to his back, as the bloke legged it down the aisle toward the door.

“Old ones are the best,” Steve replied, without turning round.

“Since when did St. Thomas’s become a platform for stand-up comedians?” Margaret asked. The spell had been broken and the status quo resumed.

Dan didn’t encourage his congregation to linger. Lunch was calling—soup and a roll to be eaten on his own, as lunch was eaten most days—and he had to finish all his post-service duties first.

“I’ll help you, Dan,” Harry said, collecting up the service books and putting things to rights.

Once the pair of them had the church to themselves, Harry being the only one apart from the vicar allowed to come and go in the vestry at will, the old man stopped in mid-tidy, put his head to one side and said, “Don’t let Margaret get to you. She’d try the patience of Job himself.”

“She certainly wouldn’t be one of his comforters.” Dan hung up his vestments. “I appreciate the thought. I sometimes think she’s got it in for me.”

“She’s got it in for everybody. If Our Lord turned up, she’d give Him an earful for being a long-haired leftie. And it isn’t just you,” Harry continued, weighing a hymnbook in his hands. “The previous vicar used to raise her ire because he was too fuddy-duddy, she said. Nobody could ever win with her. So don’t bother trying, that’s my advice. Be all things to all men, and you’ll be nothing to nobody.”

Dan resisted saying, I wish I could be something to somebody. It would sound whiny, and he knew it was fundamentally untrue, as the families at least seemed to think the world of him. Anyway, it would touch too closely on the lack of a Mrs. Vicar waiting in the vicarage to share the tin of soup. Margaret would have a fit if she knew the truth behindthat situation.

“I always thought she liked Reverend Hedges,” Dan said, edging toward the door and hoping Harry would take the hint. “She praises him to high heaven.”

“She didn’t to his face.” Harry, who’d clearly understood the need to leave, put his book away and stepped through the door so the vicar could lock it and keep St. Thomas’s valuables—and his bolt hole—safe. “Always moaning about him or his family and how they were no fit example to the parish. At least you don’t have to put up with the last bit.”

“No.” Quite. Harry hadn’t seemed to imply anything by the comment, but Dan felt unsettled.

“I suspect what’s at the bottom of it is her not liking her husband,” the church warden continued, blithely. “Can’t show it to his face, so she takes it out on everyone else.”

“Maybe you should have my job, Harry. You seem to understand people a lot better than I do.”

The old man cackled. “I wouldn’t have your job for all the bitter at The Anchor. You don’t need to understand them, though. Just show ’em loving kindness. I’d be too inclined to boot them all up the backside.”

“And you don’t think I feel the same?” Dan said, thanking God he didn’t have to put on any pretences with Harry.

“Ah, but you restrain it beautifully. I’d never manage that.” Harry tipped his head to one side again, weighing the vicar up, then tipping his head in the direction of the altar. “You need to believe in yourself as well as Him. Can’t love your neighbour if you don’t love yourself.”

And, with that devastatingly accurate comment, he grinned and tootled down the aisle, leaving Dan to lock up and face a lunch he suddenly didn’t feel like eating.

Lunch wasn’t so bad, eaten to an accompaniment of Coldplay and the Telegraph crossword. Dan had always wanted to have the exclusive pleasure of completing that challenge, resenting having to share it with Jimmy, while Jimmy had still been on the scene. Funny how it didn’t seem such a treat now, without him chipping in with some of the answers.

He should ring Jimmy, see how the bloke was doing. Ask about Stuart. Mean it when he said he hoped Stuart was well. Not actually want to say, “I hope he’s either fallen down a ditch or done a runner.” Vicars were supposed to be above such feelings, or at least putting such feelings into action.

He wouldn’t ring Jimmy just because he was feeling down and needed a friendly ear to pour his woes into. Jimmy had put up with that enough when they’d been together, and he didn’t deserve it now they’d been apart for what, two years?

As long as that? Dan had to sit back, count the Christmases off. Yeah, two years, since the “lodger” left the curate’s house, back at St. Stephen’s.

Had the St. Stephen’s equivalents of Margaret ever realised that the rent Jimmy paid wasn’t monetary but affectionate? If they had, it didn’t seem to have caused them a problem. Still, he and Jimmy had been discreet. They’d even parted as friends, terribly grown-up and sensible about things. Jimmy was still being terribly grown up and sensible about it, offering Dan advice, encouraging him to find somebody else and not end up a crotchety old bachelor priest with hair growing out of his nose.

Jimmy was right, of course. Jimmy was usually right. Dan was a better bloke—a better vicar, a better Christian—when he had somebody at his side. Yeah, he was supposed to find all the succour he needed in prayer alone, in the relationship with his Father, but a man shouldn’t be alone. He needed a helper fit for him, to provide for his earthly needs as well as his spiritual. Dan had been a bloody great curate when he had Jimmy watching his back, even if that support had been a secret from most of the parishioners. The vicar himself had known, but he was gay as well, if firmly in the closet. At least in the closet when he wasn’t on holiday abroad, where he was rumoured to be outrageous. Their parish had been on the outskirts of Brighton. How stereotypical.

Dan would ring Jimmy after lunch, before the bloke went to the theatre, ask him what he was supposed to do about his feelings for Steve, rather than put the issue off for the umpteenth time. And until then...what? Dan looked at the dirty soup bowl, the crossword with three impenetrable clues left unsolved, and the diary that was so full and yet so devoid of personal appointments.

Maybe he should start composing his Sunday sermon. And maybe he should base it on the book of Job.


“Dan! Good timing. I’m off out in ten minutes.” Jimmy sounded chipper down the phone, as always. “How are you?”

“Not so bad. Got everything bar three down today.” If that was being economical with the truth, Dan didn’t care. Some part of him still felt the pressing need to impress his ex-boyfriend.

“Hey, good going. I was three short.”

Probably the same three as Dan, who’d forgotten to mention the other two empty slots on his crossword grid.

“How’s your love life?” Jimmy continued.

“Nonexistent. How’s yours?

“Not much better.”

“Oh, sorry. Want to talk about it?” Dan tried not to sound too delighted at the news. Things not going well with the fragrant Stuart?

“Yeah, maybe. But not at this precise moment. Some of us have work to go to.”

“Maybe we could meet up sometime?” If they could ever get diaries to align. It had always been difficult, Jimmy’s Sunday off being Dan’s busiest part of the week. “Tomorrow lunch any good for you?”

“It might be. Need to check. I’ll text you later.” With anybody else that could have been a fob off, but if Jimmy said he’d text, then he’d do it.

“Look forward to it. Take care of yourself, will you?” The depth of feeling Dan heard in his own voice shocked him. Did he sound as needy to Jimmy?

“Will do, Danny boy. Always looked out for number one.”

Dan stared at the phone for minutes after putting it down. Nonexistent love life? Did that mean Stuart had legged it or Jimmy had got tired of him or what? And did it mean Jimmy was on the market again? If it did...if it did, he’d have to think about the situation long and hard. The first couple of months after Stuart had swaggered along and broken up their happy home, Dan had hoped he’d sling his hook and Jimmy would come rebounding back to him, but he’d done a lot of recovering since then. If Jimmy was in the market for a reunion—and that was a really big “if”—was that the right way forward for either of them?

Sounds from outside his study window distracted him. An elderly couple had pulled up in their car, probably to tend the grave of their son, who’d died pitifully young. Oblivious to their sorrow, birds were flirting with each other in the laurel hedge. All around him, life was going on as normal, the usual mixture of happiness and sadness, so why should he get a better deal of it than anyone else? It hadn’t worked out with Jimmy in Sussex, so why should it work out with him in Hampshire? Dan wasn’t even sure he loved Jimmy any more. Not in the heart breaking, mind numbing, trouser disturbing way he’d done when they’d first met.

He looked at his half-written sermon, decided he’d got no chance of finishing it just yet, and headed for the door. Fresh air. Long walk. Bit of a think. Bit of a pray. That’s what he needed.


What he didn’t need was Steve Dexter with his distinctive light blue blazer and the equally distinctive gait, walking along the path toward him, even if he was still hundreds of yards off. What the hell was he doing up in the woods, anyway? Dan always came here with his mum’s dog, when she was off on her cruise and he was doing the pet sitting duties, but he’d never seen Steve on the Forestry Commission site, or else he might have avoided the place. Lead us not into temptation.

Sometimes he’d encounter parishioners here, but the neutrality of the ground, and the dogs oiling the conversational and social wheels, helped. It was fun showing off Max, letting them see what a well trained and well-groomed dog he was—the equivalent of a canine supermodel, always elegant looking, even when he was smothered in mud. A bit like Jimmy, really, although Dan wasn’t sure that the parish would have taken him as much to their hearts as they had the dog.

And why was he thinking about Max or Jimmy while a crisis loomed? He should dive off the path now, while he could get away, if challenged, with saying he’d not noticed, avoiding being blatantly rude. The less time he spent talking to Steve, the less time he’d have to make sure he didn’t stare at the bloke’s eminently kissable lips.

“Vicar!” The shout, the almost friendly wave meant the decision to veer off was taken too late.

“Steve!” A cordial wave back as the distance between them narrowed. “Didn’t think you frequented this place.”

“Is that why you come here, then? To get away from the parishioners you like least?”

Dan tried to find an answer, but somehow the connection between his brain and mouth had become severed. Helpless, he could feel the flush rushing up his neck, and could see—without looking at the bloke—that Steve was less than amused. What the hell else was he going to think other than that he’d hit the nail on the head, and Dan was too dumb to cover the fact up?

“Rex!” A high pitched, agitated female voice broke the awkward moment, as did a huge Great Dane, about the size of a rhinoceros, which came haring out of the woods, onto the path and straight into Steve’s leg.

“Shit!” Steve staggered, arms flailing in a futile effort to keep himself upright. Dan’s attempt to reach out and catch him before he hit the stony path was equally ineffective, but at least he could keep the nasty, snarling brute at bay with the aid of the stick he habitually took when he walked. Jimmy had said it gave him gravitas; now it provided the ideal weapon.

“You should keep that thing under control,” he said, as the woman came up and made a lunge for the Great Dane. “What if it had gone for a child?”

“He’s just nervous,” she said, flustered. “Here, Rex. Here, boy.” The dog stood off. “He’s a rescue dog. Doesn’t like men.”

“Then take him somewhere he won’t have to see them. Are you all right?” Dan tried to focus his anger into something useful, rummaging in his pocket for a clean hankie. “You need something on that hand.”

“I’m fine,” Steve said, trying to hide the bleeding while keeping a nervous eye on the dog. “Can somebody not take that bloody thing away?”

“There’s no need for that sort of language,” the woman said, at last managing to get a lead onto the dog’s collar.

“I think there’s every need for it. And worse,” Dan said. “You’d better take him off if you don’t want the air turning blue.”

“Well, really! Come on boy.” She hauled the dog away at last.

“Right. Show me that hand.”

“I’m fine.” Steve got to his feet, brushing the dirt off his trousers and managing to get blood on them.

“That hand’s a mess.” Dan grabbed it, none too gently, which made Steve wince, but it served him right for faffing. “This cut’s full of crap. You need to have it cleaned out and a Steri-Strip put on. Might even need a stitch or two.”

“I’ve had worse,” Steve said, trying to free his paw.

Yes, you have. There’s that intriguing scar on the back of your hand and the one above your left eyebrow. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. Don’t think I don’t imagine tasting them.

Dan became aware of the strange look he was getting and ploughed on. “So have I. Come on, the vicarage is closer than your house. We can dress this there.”

“Oh, for fu...goodness sake. I can sort it out myself. I’m not a child.” Steve tugged his hand away, clearly avoiding Dan’s gaze.

“Will you not let somebody help you? Must you always be so bloody stubborn?”

Oh fuck. He’d ruined things again. Why did every conversation with Steve have to end up in a dispute, whether it concerned the finer points of theology or PCC procedures or whatever the hell the subject was?

Steve looked at Dan as though he was about to explode or let loose a volley of expletives, but when he eventually spoke, the tones were both measured and chilling.

“I’m grateful for your concern, but I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself, thank you.” He gave back the handkerchief, obviously avoiding any hand contact. Did the guy hate Dan so much that he couldn’t even bear to touch him?

I could lay him out now.

One dirty great punch in the right place, he’d be out for the count and while Steve wouldn’t feel any better, Dan would. He held his breath, counted to ten, clenching and unclenching his fists. “Fine, do what you fucking well like. I couldn’t care less.”

Dan was certain he’d never sworn quite so strongly in front of one of his congregation, but if Steve was shocked at the unexpected language, then the vicar didn’t stay to see it. He even resisted the Lot’s wife type of temptation to turn and watch the bloke’s reaction, though he was sure he could feel his eyes boring into his back. Storming back to the vicarage on autopilot, he couldn’t have said who or what he saw on the way. The potential outcome of the incident didn’t hit him until the spire of St. Thomas’s came into view.

How long would it take for his outburst to be all over the parish? How much pleasure would Steve and Margaret and all the rest of the naysayers take in this latest bit of evidence of their vicar’s feet of clay?

Well, Dan was human. What a surprise. If they’d wanted a saint, they should have said so and he wouldn’t have taken the job. “Forgive us our sins,” right? Not forgive them. And they should be grateful. What was a bit of effing and blinding and losing your rag compared to touching up choirboys in the vestry? Maybe the PCC would have preferred a vicar like that, with a show wife and a holier-than-thou image, preaching hellfire and damnation from the pulpit while he scanned the Sunday school for his next victim.

He bustled into the vicarage, thought about writing the sermon, ignored it, thought about the gin bottle, ignored that, thought about ringing Jimmy, damn nearly succumbed to that temptation then remembered he’d already bothered the bloke today and was likely to put him off their lunch date. Instead, he closed his study curtains, sat down, put his head in his hands and sighed.

Dear God, it’s me, Dan. Up to my neck in it again. Sorry. Should do better. Can’t help it.

He sat in silence, listening to his own breath and the distant cries of children playing.

I know I should just grow a pair and get on with life. I know I should turn the other cheek and all the rest of it, but I don’t find it easy anymore.

It had been a lot easier when he’d had Jimmy as wingman. In that last parish, he’d got a lot closer to living the life as defined by Christ’s teachings than before or since.

I know I shouldn’t ask, but is there any chance of finding me somebody else to keep me on the straight and narrow? I seem to work better when I’m part of a pair. I know there are more important things to get to grips with, like children who’ll go to bed tonight hungry, but...

The sudden, insistent ringing of the phone broke his intercessions.

Normally Dan would have ignored it if he was at prayer. Using the 1471 service or responding to an answerphone message was always possible so nobody would go completely unanswered, especially if the need was urgent.

But this time, with a whispered, “Sorry, got to go,” he reached over and picked up the handset.

“Vicarage. Hallo?”

“Vicar.” Steve’s well-modulated, surprisingly calm tones came down the line. “Sorry to bother you.”

“That’s fine.” Dan waited, not inclined to make this easy in any way.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry. For being such a clown about my hand.”

“Oh. Right. Yes.” Tongue-getting-tied time again. He hadn’t expected quite such a gracious apology.

“You were right. The hand’s a bloody mess.”

“You should have it seen to. And tell them if your jabs aren’t up to date.” Tetanus. Dan had seen somebody die of it in his gap year.

“Will do, matron.”

“Less of your cheek.” Was he being flirted with? No, he couldn’t be that lucky. “Do you need somebody to run you down to casualty?”

“It’s not dropping off! I’ve rung the surgery, and they reckon I just need to see the nurse. I can drive down there myself. But thanks for the offer,” Steve added belatedly, although not, it appeared, begrudgingly. “Anyway, if I do die of blood loss en route, at least I’ve squared my conscience beforehand. I was a pillock, and I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“You were, and I do.” Dan toyed with offering to cook the bloke dinner, or at least get some fish and chips in, but decided that was a step too far. Steve was volatile and—so the doubting voices in Dan’s head kept hissing—was probably apologising for theological reasons rather than romantic ones. Life didn’t pan out like a gay romance e-book, not least because neither he nor Steve resembled the oiled, chiselled, six-pack bearing guys who always seemed to feature in them.

“Hello? Are you still there?”

“Sorry.” This habit of day dreaming was getting worse. “The line went a bit odd. I was trying to tell you to let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“You’ve got enough on your plate rather than worrying about me. Although...”

“Yes?” If that sounded too enthusiastic, too desperate, it was too late to take the word back.

“I was wondering whether you should report that bloody dog. Rescue or not, it’s a danger.”

“You could be right.” Dan tried not to sound too disappointed. “I’ll have a word with the local community officer. He’ll know who to contact.”

“You do that. Right, got to dash. Wish me luck with the nurse.”

“Break a leg!”

“I damn nearly did. Don’t wish anything worse on me.”

“Daft beggar. Take care.”

Dan put the phone down and absent-mindedly fished out the relevant contact number, consciously not thinking of Steve. Again. He’d report the dog, although that would probably be a vain exercise, he’d finish his sermon, which now didn’t seem such a daunting task, then he’d have a soak in the bath and gird up his loins in preparation for doing battle with the Standing Committee that evening. And he wouldn’t fantasies about anything to do with Steve Dexter’s loins.

Author Bio:
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.



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