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About the author:
Tim lives in Wales, UK, and is currently writing another novel.
What inspired you to write your book?
As an ex soldier who’s experienced war, the main inspiration is the question I asked myself: if I defend the country and kill I get a medal pinned to my chest, but if I defend a girlfriend and kill I’ll very possibly find myself charged with a crime. And then the underlying theme I wanted to look at is pacifism. If a pacifist’s life or family are threatened, how quickly do they cease being a pacifist and scream for help, or do they really turn the other cheek? And then I have a young man in love and his hormones are racing, how far to I take the sex? I found writing convincing sex a real challenge and I always enjoy a challenge, thus the story evolved into drama with many facets, which is always a true reflection of life…
Here is a short sample from the book:
Actually, Gemma wasn’t home by the time Steve had finished preening. When we finally make it to the pub, I spot her immediately at the bar talking to Sue.
She has her back to me. For a girl, who, according to Steve anyway, is super-glued between the legs, she looks volcanic. She’s wearing a light blue T-shirt and jeans and is delicious, even from behind. Too delicious.
I tap her shoulder. “You’re one seriously tough person to get hold of?” I joke as she turns round.
She looks unhappy, twisting her mouth into a rosebud accusingly. “Why all the calls and texts?” she frowns.
“Because I want to speak to you and explain?” I said, my surprise at her attitude obvious.
“What’s to explain? You kill people for a living. End of.” Her eyes are full of contempt. Then she looks away from me. “I’ve just said to Sue, I have to go to the job centre and find some sort of job. I’m totally skint, but I asked Sue to tell you not to call or text me again.”
“Hold on a sec,” I implore her. “I don’t deserve this shit! I knew you’d be upset, but blowing me out like this is crazy!”
“I told you before I couldn’t go out with a soldier and you promised me you were just a clerk in an office.”
I sigh heavily. “I lied. I’m sorry ’bout that, truly I am.”
She goes to push by me. “I need to get going. Got loads to do and I need a job.”
I grab her elbow and she stares at my hand, pursing and twisting her mouth again.
“Look,” I plead, quickly releasing her arm. “I’ll take you for a meal tonight. We’ve gotta talk?”
“You and me?”
“There’s no you and me.”
Her face softens just a little and she sighs deeply. “Not dinner. I’ll have a beer with you. Just one, okay?”
“Okay,” I smile. “Not here. We won’t be left in peace. I’ll pick you up in a taxi and we’ll go to that pub you liked last time? You know? The Maenllwyd?”
“Okay. Seven o’clock?”
I lean forward to kiss her cheek and she pulls away.
“I’ll have a beer with you, but you can cut that out!”
With that she struts away.
I turn to see Steve shaking his head and grinning.
Sue’s busying herself behind the bar, but glances over her shoulder and offers the sage advice, “A girl don’t like guys to run after them like puppy dogs. You need to put your foot down with her.”
“Yeah,” Steve adds, “She got you on a leash and sat up begging, mate.”
My shoulders slump and I scratch the side of my face. “I wouldn’t mind being her pet; I’d have my nose buried in her crotch,” is my sullen reply.
Steve half-laughs. “You’re a fucking dreamer, mate.” He narrows his eyes and looks at me accusingly. “So you’re ditching me tonight for that uptight bitch?”
“I need to explain to her,” I sniff and shrug.
“You won’t get her off all that religious shit,” he insists.
“I can but try,” I said with a sad shake of my head.
“A good shag’s what she needs,” Sue giggles.
“I live in hope,” I laugh.
I didn’t pick her up at seven as planned. She text me later that afternoon and said the Maenllwyd was too far to go as she was only having one drink and suggested a workingman’s club in the Roath area. Steve and I had been to the place once before when a mate had had a birthday bash there, but I remember it being very rough and full of old men.
A workingman’s club, and this club in particular, is not somewhere I would ever have planned to take any girl, let alone Gemma, so I’d tried to get her to choose somewhere else.
“Even the decor’s fifty years out of date, Gem,” I’d protested. “I want to take you somewhere nice.”
“It’s not a date,” she’d sharply retorted. “It’s just one drink so you can explain yourself.”
I was disappointed, but had reluctantly agreed. Clinging to straws, I suppose.
Gemma had insisted I meet her inside, so I sip at a Guinness and wait in a window seat facing the bar.
And, as I’d expected, the other customers in the club’s bar are two or maybe three generations ahead of Gemma and I and a few are already worse for wear after probably drinking in one bar or another all afternoon.
There’s a betting shop next door and I watch a couple of men roll tobacco and disappear to smoke on the club’s doorstep. Both reappear a ten minutes later with gambling slips and quickly resume scanning tattered racing pages of a beer stained tabloid newspaper.
It made me curious; it’s too late in the day for horse racing so I call over to the nearest old guy, “What’s on at the races this late, mate?”
“Greyhounds,” he mutters, looking at me as if I’m an idiot.
Another guy I watch from the corner of my eye keeps glancing furtively around before refilling his glass with cider from a bottle he kept in bag under the table. It strikes me these are men who couldn’t care less anymore – I can see it in their eyes. They’re men who live in a different world to me even though we share the same space. Their world ticks along to the racing schedule and the opening hours of this workingman’s club.
Certainly not the most romantic place to take a girl, but Gemma had chosen it because I’d made a point about needing to go somewhere my face wouldn’t be known. I’d actually been referring to our local where everyone would want to talk to me and we wouldn’t get a moments peace. But this workingman’s club does fit the bill perfectly. The customers here aren’t people who strike me as being avid news watchers and I doubt any of them would be up in time to watch BBC Breakfast, therefore there’s even less chance of being recognized. So I put it down to Gemma’s idea of being thoughtful.
She arrives fifteen minutes late looking gorgeous. If she’s skint, you wouldn’t know it from the clothes she’s wearing. And for a girl considered frigid, Gemma has sure selected an outfit that pumps the blood directly into a guy’s desire valve. She’s tall and slim – the perfect figure. Her frame, whilst willowy, has suggestive curves that tempt and tease me every time I look at her. Two good handfuls of soft breasts quiver under a cream silk blouse and her blue jeans are latex-tight around hips that swivel provocatively as she walks towards me. Fair hair – her natural colour – falls long and free about her serenely lovely face and elegant, extremely kissable neck and I notice again that Gemma doesn’t wear any make-up – she doesn’t need to. Grace and style are just two words that spring to mind as she glides between the tables and both words are prefixed with the word stunning.
She’s like a beam of light, radiant in this drab, awful place and the fact she’d made an effort to look great immediately tells me one thing and I sit up, hope, like a light bulb, popping on in my mind.
As Gemma passes their table, she turns the heads of the old men who nod and wink to each other. Gemma would hate that if she’d been aware, but strangely she never appears to notice and when I’d told her how seriously awesome she is to look at the last time I’d taken her on a date, she’d looked genuinely surprised.
“No I’m not,” she’d laughed. “I know I’m very average, but it’s nice of you to offer a confidence booster. But you know what they say: beauty is only skin deep.”
“Yeah,” I’d replied with a smile and shake of my head – I even find her naivety very attractive – “But ugliness goes all the way to the bone.”
She’d punched my shoulder and reprimanded me. “That’s an awful thing to say! People can’t help the way they look. And here’s me thinking you’re actually quite nice and then you say something like that! You and Steve have always been so obsessed with looks. I thought you’d changed?”
That exchange had been during my last leave, which was over a month ago now. Since, we’d messaged back and forth often via email and text. And then today she’d stopped replying. The why is obvious, but how to get the relationship budding again is less obvious.
She slides onto the bench seat beside me and I fall in lust all over again.
She doesn’t waste time and twists her mouth accusingly – I’m actually beginning to find the way she screws her mouth into a rosebud attractive, but that’s probably because I’m seeing the expression so much.
“Well?” she sniffs.
“I’ll get you the drink first. Beer or wine?”
She thinks for a moment, tapping her lips with a finger. “A glass of Shiraz if they have Shiraz. Merlot if not.”
I buy a bottle of some nondescript Australian Shiraz and another Guinness.
Her eyes open wide when I return to the table. “I said one glass not a bottle! I’m not drinking all that!”
I shrug and pour her wine and sit beside her with my Guinness.
She takes a sip. “Very nice,” she said.
“I’m sorry, Gem. I truly am,” I open, looking at her directly.
She bites her lip thoughtfully. “So it’s true then? You’re some kind of SAS assassin?”
“We don’t call it SAS any more. But, yes, I’m a member of a specialist unit.” I meet her eyes and add, “But, Gem, I’m certainly not an assassin.”
“What do you specialize in then?” she asks softly.
“This and that.” I shrug and sigh apologetically. “I can’t talk about it. Sorry, Gem.”
“Why not? Your face is all over the news anyway?”
“They’ve plugged that leak. The news reports have ended. I suppose my picture will still be on various social media sites, but the news has stopped reporting on the personnel involved and focusing more on the British tourists rescued.”
“I was shocked when I saw it.”
“I know. I am sorry about that.”
“Would you have told me if it hadn’t been on the news?”
“No. I can’t talk about it.”
“So you can’t even tell me?”
She takes another sip of wine and sits back and protrudes her lower lip unhappily. “So all the talk about being a clerk was what? Rubbish?”
I nod and puff my cheeks. “It’s a cover story whilst I was training. Soon I’ll be telling you I’m appointed as security to the Foreign Office and under that cover you and my friends and family wouldn’t be suspicious when I start flying around the world on one mission or another.”
“So there’ll be more, umm, missions?”
“Well, our cover’s blown now, so,” I shrug, “I don’t know what’ll happen to the unit now.”
“But, like, you’ve killed people?” She asks the question bluntly, meeting my eyes directly.
I inhale deeply. The excitement I’d experienced when I’d plunged in the knife stabs hard into my conscience again. I swallow it back and blink away the memory. I know I have to be honest with her, but I also know she’s likely to jump up and storm off the moment I tell her. “I was involved in a rescue of men who were about to be beheaded,” I said, treading on each word with delicate care. “That Islamist terrorist faction would have loved to behead me and my colleagues as well.”
“So you killed them?”
“We were rescuing innocent men,” I insist, a little too forcefully. I soften my voice and smile a smile designed to placate. “It was my job to do what was necessary to ensure their rescue was successful.”
“So you killed them?” she repeats.
“Gem,” I said, hearing the pleading tone flood my voice and struggling to suppress it. “You’re not being reasonable. Would you prefer those innocent tourists were beheaded?”
“I would prefer my boyfriend wasn’t a killer,” she states flatly.
We sit quietly for a moment. I know I’m right. Someone had had to save those men and it was a job I’d been trained and paid to do, but the excitement I’d experienced keeps gnawing on my conscience – it feels so wrong to have been excited. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. “I’m not a killer, Gem,” I insist. “Someone has to go in and stop those butchers cutting peoples heads off.”
“Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’,” she said and sighs deeply.
I bite my lip. I’d responded to that line from her before when I’d first started dating her and told her I was a Welsh Guard, but that my job was a clerk in the orderly room. It had quickly turned into a major row and I want to avoid that now. I take a long swig of my Guinness.
Then she says quietly, “I told you I couldn’t be with a soldier.”
I’d anticipated the conversation would go this way earlier, and had considered comparisons I could use to better explain my profession. “What if I was a policeman and I had to go and stop a gang robbing the bank. What if the thieves were armed and I had to stop them killing the hostages?”
“You’re trying to justify killing. You can’t. There isn’t any justification.”
“Not even if an armed man is about to kill a child and I can stop it by shooting the man?”
“-I know,” I interject. “You told me already. ‘Thou salt not kill’.” I sigh heavily. “So I should stand aside and watch a child get killed because of your Jesus?”
“Following a faith is not easy. It isn’t meant to be easy.” She clears her throat. “And he’s not my Jesus. He’s the son of God.”
I inhale deeply. “We covered all this ground last time I was home on leave. I’m an atheist. I really care about you and would like us to have a future, but I can’t just believe in something I don’t.” I gaze sightlessly across the bar.
I hear Gemma sigh beside me. “I know you don’t have faith.” She sniffs and I feel her hand lightly touch my leg. “I care about you too. You know I do. I wouldn’t be sat here now if I didn’t. But I have to try and open your eyes to the truth. To save your soul – to save others lives. You can’t believe it right to kill?”
“No. I agree with you,” I said earnestly, reading her touch as an invitation and sitting forward and sliding my body an inch closer to hers. “I believe in saving innocent lives and using any force necessary.”
“And the necessary force means taking one life to save another?”
I smile and incline my head. “It means using whatever force necessary to protect and save innocent lives – the key word being innocent.”
Gemma sighs deeply. “We’ll just go in circles. The difference being, last time we had this conversation I knew you were a soldier, but thought your job was a clerk in some… What do you call that room?”
“That’s it. Orderly room.”
I put my arm around her and press myself closer so our thighs touch and a thrill ripples through me when she doesn’t resist. “I was trained to shoot a rifle just the same then.”
Gemma twists her mouth into the rosebud. “I know.”
I feel her snuggle in, even pressing her hip a little tighter against mine.
“It was just a bit of a shock waking up this morning to that.”
“I’m sorry,” I said gently and I squeeze her tightly to me and I’m afraid to breathe when I feel her head rest against my shoulder. But breathe I must and I can feel my lungs quiver as I inhale the fragrance of her hair and I can’t help myself sighing contentedly. I want the world to stop and freeze frame forever. There, then, at that moment, I feel totally immersed in love.
Gemma finally, but gently, pulls away and reaches for her glass, but settles back as she sips the blood-red fluid. I reach for my Guinness without disturbing her and we hold like that for minutes that blissfully feel like hours.
“We do need to talk, though,” she finally whispers and looks up at me with the cutest smile.
I bend my head and brush her lips with mine. “I know,” I sigh softly and look around me. The thought pops into my mind, what the fuck are we doing here! Here I am, sat with the most beautiful girl in the world in a grubby workingman’s club. The other customers are still in their own gambling world and Gemma and I have been lost in a bubble of touch and desire that borders on intimacy. Even the fragrance of her hair is out of place here. I need to take her somewhere else. Somewhere nice.
“Shall I get another bottle of wine?” I ask. “We can go and sit beside Roath Park lake? It’s a lovely evening?”
She sits up and smooth’s her hair out where it had flattened against my shoulder. “Come on then.” She looks around the room and whispers with a giggle, “It is rough here, isn’t it?”
“You can say that again,” I laugh.
Gemma clears her throat and asserts herself. “But I’m sure they’re lovely people. All God’s children.” She looks at me and winks sheepishly with just the hint of a mischievous twinkle and then snuffs the twinkle out as she inhales deeply. “This wine’s fine for me and you can get a can of something at the Off License on the corner.”
“I’ll bring this glass for you,” I said, picking up the wine bottle and the glass.
She grabs the glass from my hand and puts it back on the table. “No. You can’t just steal glasses like that! I’ll drink it from the bottle. That’s fine.”
We walk hand in hand silently. I thrill at her touch. The sensations flooding my fingertips pressing against her skin make my heart beat like a drum and I’m sure Gemma must hear it. Her silence causes me to dare believe she may feel the same – Has her heart quickened? How can it not have? The sensations I’m experiencing are overwhelming – my brain’s in some sort of haze, transfixed to our touch… Is this ecstasy or delirium…? Probably and hopefully both. But the energy flooding through my fingertips triggers waves of arousal that stir me in places that definitely need to remain secret from Gemma for a little while longer. After all, I’d only returned today after a month apart and we aren’t really an item yet – although, I remind myself, she had referred to me as her boyfriend earlier. I feel my face break into a grin at the memory.
“What you grinning like a Cheshire cat about,” she asks, squeezing my hand.
“I think I might be a believer after all because I think I might be in heaven right now,” I half-laugh, squeezing her hand back.
I buy a couple of cans of some German lager and a wine glass – or rather imitation, plastic crap – from the Off License and we sink down on a grassy spot beside the lake. Around us other lovers are curled up in embraces enjoying the warm evening sunshine. Ducks and geese waddle around and quack happily, seemingly for no other reason than to announce they’re there and they want the whole world to know it.
We kiss. The intensity of her kiss surprises me. She crushes her lips against mine and immediately probes with her tongue. I can tell she’s inexperienced and just allow her to find her own way. My head’s swimming in the knowledge we are at last embraced in a passionate kiss. Steve had been wrong. Gemma isn’t so uptight after all. We had kissed a month ago, but those kisses had been short and sweet and she’d kept her mouth closed and I’d thought then she was nervous due to inexperience.
We’d gone to the same school, but Gemma is two years younger than me, so she hadn’t been part of our group so-to-speak – our group mainly consisting of Steve, Sue and me with a few others who’d since dispersed and established new lives in colleges, universities and careers. From the little I’d heard about Gemma’s school days, the other girls in her year had teased and possibly bullied her because of her penchant for quoting scripture. Now Gemma had a reputation for being a loner and she did seem to spend the vast majority of her time at home with her mother and step-dad.
I’d first asked her out on a date after bumping into her in the street and since we’d been out on a few foursomes with Steve and Sue. And Gemma and Sue had appeared to strike up a genuine friendship, which surprised Steve and I, because Sue and Gemma are as chalk and cheese. When we’d been alone, I’d tried to talk about general stuff with Gemma, but every conversation seemed to lead to some passage in the Bible.
Growing up in a non-religious family meant I’d never really considered the questions with regard religion. Sure, we’d celebrated Christmas and Easter and had had a little religious education and some of it had covered Christianity, but in those days, Steve and I had just sniggered at the virgin birth. On one occasion I remember saying to Steve, “What’s that about then? She had to be lying!”
Steve had said, “I would too if it was a choice between getting bricks lobbed at me or telling a little porky about some nightly visit from a god-like alien desperate for a shag!”
I remember laughing and joking, “Thought you’d choose getting stoned everyday of the week!”
“Wish it was that kinda stoned! Now that would be Christian!” he’d laughed.
I’d nodded in agreement and mumbled something about people being ignorant, evil bastards in those days. Steve had leapt in at that, “Dude, they still thought the fucking world was flat!”
It’s as if Gemma is reading my thoughts and she pulls away and sits back and looks at me. I smile and open a can with a hiss and just manage to stop the froth spilling over my shirt.
“So when did you decided you’re an atheist? You said earlier you’re an atheist now?” she asks, twisting her mouth into the disapproving rosebud yet again.
“When?” I ask, struggling to recall the context and very aware I need to be careful because the last thing I want to do is upset her now.
“When you said you saw a future with me, or for us, I mean.”
“Oh yes. I said I was an atheist and saw a future for us but couldn’t just believe something just to please you, or something like.”
“So,” Gemma asks again, “when did you decide?”
I shrug. “When I was home last. We argued remember? And you told me then I was an atheist. I thought about it and you’re right. I don’t believe in god so I’m an atheist.”
“Oh,” she said and examines a fingernail before settling back on the grass. “So you do listen to me?”
“Of course I do. I love you.” The words had just slipped out of my mouth as if escaping and I quickly duck down and press my lips to hers.
Gemma kisses me back equally as feverishly. I push my groin against her thigh and that stops her dead. She doesn’t pull away; it’s as if our lips have suddenly frozen together and we hold like that, silent and still while my mind races in panic – I’ve gone too far too fast, is all I can think…
Then she lays her head back on the grass and looks up at me and strokes the side of my face with her hand.
“Do you really love me?” she asks.
“I do,” I said. “The words just popped out. I hadn’t planned to say that.”
She looks thoughtful, her eyes dipping down to something on my shirt that her fingers start to absently pick at. “How much?” she asks softly, her voice barely a whisper.
I smile, my thoughts racing. “Imagine all the love in the world and times that by ten,” I said.
She mock punches me. “Oh, be serious.”
“Okay,” I said and roll onto my back beside her and inch across a bit so we’re touching. “Imagine the power of the sun and the magnetism it has on all the planets orbiting? Well, the power of the sun doesn’t even come close to the power of my love for you.”
She exhales, huffy and indignant, but I sense she’s giggling and loving the attention. “You’re teasing me now,” she said and rolls over and tweaks my nose. Then lies back and presses the whole length of he body more tightly against me.
I’m so happy. She keeps telling me I can’t love her that much, not really, just to get me to draw another mind-boggling comparison.
Finally, we fall silent and simply lie side by side and I thrill in each rush of euphoria the movement of her breathing sends through me. Does she feel the same sensation? I’m struggling to control my breathing as arousal stampedes through my heart and my breathing become heavy – I’m almost panting. Is she sexually aroused too…? I dare not ask. If I do I know I’ll spoil the moment. But I need to make love to her here and now, only I know, the moment I attempt first base, she’ll be off faster than an Olympic sprinter. But her touch is pulsating through me and I don’t want it to end…
But end it had to. The ending began with a question.
“So, do you love me enough to come to church and pray with me?” she asks.
The moment is ruined. I know that because I only have two options – agree and go to church with her and let her think I’m going to be her next convert, or be honest and tell her the truth, and the truth remains, I don’t only not believe in god, I know there isn’t any god. Over the past month I’d done a lot of thinking and had opened my eyes and the whole notion of god seems completely ludicrous to me now – just so much nonsense. So I decide to be honest with her because lying will only make matters worse.
“It’s not that I don’t love you enough, Gem, it’s just that, well, you know…?” I left the ‘but’ hanging in the air. I hadn’t said no exactly, but I’d as good as hung the word no right beside the word but.
Gemma is silent, but I can feel her deep disappointment. For some strange reason I feel guilty for being honest. I know she’d begun to dream as I’d begun to dream. But, for Gemma anyway, this is an impasse.
“Listen,” I said softly. “I’m happy for you to be religious, can’t you be happy for me not to be religious?”
She’s still silent. Where her body had felt soft pressed against mine, in now feels hard. Her resolve is stiffening.
She starts gently, only a slight tension in her voice belying her disappointment in me. “To be a Christian is to be a pacifist – you know, turn the other cheek and all that. So how can a pacifist and a soldier ever be compatible?”
I sit up and rub my face and look to the sky for an answer, then turn back to Gemma. She’s looking at me intently; patiently awaiting my reply.
“Pacifism doesn’t work,” I begin clumsily. “Who’s going to stand up for the weak and the vulnerable? And who defends the innocent?”
She smiles – it’s a winning smile of someone who’s already rehearsed the answer. “If we are all pacifists there is no need to protect the weak and the vulnerable and there won’t be a requirement to defend the innocent.”
I huff noisily. “You’re talking about Utopia! It doesn’t exist!” I sigh deeply and then openly plead with her, “You’ll never achieve universal pacifism, and so, in the meantime anyway, the world we live in today needs soldiers.”
“We must try,” she insists. “We are taught to turn the other cheek and not hit back. A soldier’s job is to hit back. To strike the cheek. I can’t ever be with a man who feels it is right to hit back.”
“So if…” I look around and point to a couple embraced not far from us, “that guy starts beating up on that girl, you don’t want me to go to her rescue? You think it right we sit here and watch?”
“It’s for her to turn the other cheek. It’s what Jesus taught us to do. We must teach by example.”
I feel the anger welling up inside. To me she’s talking utter nonsense, but I don’t know how to convince her she’s wrong. Her opinion is set in concrete. It’s hopeless. As a couple we don’t stand a chance.
“You can’t be serious!” I blurt. “Everyone’s going on about my unit being heroes now! None of us are heroes, but-”
“-No you’re not,” Gemma cuts me short, standing up and brushing herself off.
My heart sinks. I know this is it. All my desires being nipped in the bud. So I implore her again, “But you’re making us out to be bad men and we’re not. I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with men who’ll stand up and say no to oppression and abuse.”
She leaves the bottle and glass where they lie and walks away.
“Please, Gem! Don’t do this,” I plead, suddenly conscious of heads turning our way.
One man points at me and says to his girlfriend, “Isn’t he one of the guys who…”
I don’t listen. My eyes are glued to the gorgeous backside of the most beautiful girl in the world as she walks out of my life. Yet again.