The Missing Ingredient by Brian Lancaster
Cover Art: Aaron Anderson
Brian Lancaster stopped by on his tour for The Missing Ingredient and brought an exclusive except. Check it out below!
Sometimes it takes losing everything to realise what you had all along.
Up-and-coming London chef Marcus is poised on the edge of success, but apart from the occasional casual encounter, the only men who seem to stick around are investors. His best friend Lorraine Bradford—Raine—and her family used to keep him grounded, but a horrible accident took her life and left Marcus’s godchildren without a mother.
But if the death throws Marcus’s life into turmoil, it’s far worse for her husband, Tom—especially since she died in a car with a strange man. Tom is consumed by grief, and he shuns the help of friends. Until almost a year later, that is, when Marcus stumbles upon Tom out with his daughters and sees how far Tom has fallen. So he steps in and, bit by bit, helps them to rebuild their world until their lives return to a semblance of normality.
Then the unexpected happens: Tom confesses he has romantic feelings for Marcus, and nothing can ever be the same.
“Marcus. We need to talk.”
When he saw Tom’s expression, his heart froze. He knew Tom well enough to know thoughts bubbled beneath the man’s surface, but he articulated nothing to allay Marcus’s fears. Now he worried that he had messed up again.
“Before you say anything,” said Marcus, hoping to preempt the cause of the conversation, his heart pounding, “I want to apologize. I should never have insisted on Katie riding that pony today. Going against Lorraine’s wishes. And it was unfair to put you in a position to force the decision.”
“I made that choice, not you. And I would do the same again. This is not about that.”
In an effort to bolster himself, Marcus folded his arms tightly. Tom’s steely expression said everything. This was not going to be an easy conversation, whatever the subject. Marcus felt a dryness in his throat.
“Is this about seeing women?”
“No. Well, yes. Partly.”
Maybe Tom could mask his expression, but the flinch of his eyes betrayed the difficulty he was having trying to articulate what he needed to say. Marcus knew he could make things easier if he wanted, but to hell with that. Why should he? Whatever the news, it was clearly not good. Without saying another word, Marcus stood his ground, glaring at Tom, arms folded even tighter, waiting for the other man to speak.
“We’re being unfair to you, Marcus. You’re doing far too much. Mum thinks we shouldn’t be relying on you so heavily. Should give you a chance to find your own life.”
“Moira said that?”
“Meaning what, exactly? You don’t want me to see you and the girls anymore?”
“No, of course not. Well, perhaps not as much.”
“And how do the girls feel about that?”
“They’ll be fine.”
“What do you mean?”
“What does your father think about his wife’s brilliant suggestion?”
“That’s beside the point. The fact is I agree with her.”
And there it was. One card shown. Tom wanted him to back away. Unable to speak for a few seconds, Marcus was unprepared for how much that declaration hurt.
“This is my life, Tom. Mine to use how I want. Helping you and my goddaughters is my choice, always has been. Even when Raine was alive.”
“And you’ve been amazing. Truly. But having a female presence in their lives, even if it’s not their mother, could only be good for the girls.”
Another slip. Another card shown.
Marcus could not stop the disappointment showing in his face. Even though he thought he had done well nurturing the girls when Tom could not be there, having the soft touch of a caring woman in their lives someday in the future might be good for them. But not so soon. Maybe Tom sensed Marcus’s feelings, because he quickly added, “I haven’t seen anyone yet. Call me old- fashioned, but I can only hold feelings for one person at a time. Unlike my teammates at the club, I can’t just turn them on and off to suit.”
“What is this about, then?”
“I’m doing this for the girls.”
“So what?” said Marcus, surprised at the force of emotions that hit him. “My job here’s done, is that it? Thanks for playing, Uncle Marcus, but we don’t need you around so much anymore?”
“No, that’s not what I mean—” said Tom, shaking his head. “Why is this so hard for me?”
“Hard for you?” said Marcus. His eyes burned now, despite attempts to hold his emotions at bay. “If you really want me to back out of your lives, you at least owe me a truthful explanation. Who wants me to back away? Is it your mother?”
“No, Marcus. The decision is wholly mine.”
“But why?” he cried before clenching his jaw and stepping into Tom’s personal space, causing the bigger man to back away a step. “I love those girls. Like they’re my own. And I thought I was helping you. Thought I was making things better, making a difference.”
“You are. You have. But—”
“All right,” said Tom, gently pushing Marcus away from him. “The problem is mine, okay?”
“Me? I don’t understand.”
“I can’t be in the same room as you, Marcus. Not without—”
Marcus felt shame creep across his face and couldn’t bear the sudden pause, wanted to fill the silence. What the hell had he done to embarrass the man? Was this about him being gay? Was this about the woman at the water park who thought they were a couple?
“Without what? Come on, Tom,” said Marcus, his voice softening to a plea. “Tell me. I thought we were getting along much better now. What did I do?”
“You didn’t do—” said Tom, expelling a heavy breath and staring at the ground. Defeated, he leaned against the doorframe, put a hand to his hairline, and pushed a handful of hair back. “For fuck’s sake. Why is this so hard?”
“You need to tell me, Tom. Tell me what I did wrong. So I can try to fix it.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. And there’s nothing to fix. You’ve just been… you. I know it sounds clichéd, but this is really about me, not you. Oh hell, how do I begin?” said Tom, his voice calming as his steady blue eyes met Marcus’s. “You’re right, we are getting along much better. But the problem is I’ve—oh shit—I’ve developed feelings for you, Marcus. Okay? Beyond brotherly affection. And it’s confusing the hell out of me. Six weeks ago you left to go traipsing around New York for almost a month. A whole bloody month. Left me trying and failing to do everything for the girls without my copilot. Without my best friend. Felt as though my arm had been amputated. And when you turned up at my mother’s house that Sunday you flew back, the moment I chanced to look up and spot you smiling that goofy bloody smile of yours…. Fuck. Something plowed right into me. Thought I’d been run over by an express train. I wanted to leap across the garden, wrap you in my arms, and kiss the life out of you. No matter who was watching. Wanted to throw you over my shoulder, haul you inside, and fuck you senseless. Until you promised never to leave again.
“That night I lay awake, disgusted at myself, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I told myself that once you were back home for a while and things got back to normal, the feelings would go away. But it’s the opposite. Like they’ve been unleashed into the wild and now I can’t haul them back. Lately they’re never far from my thoughts. And whenever I see you, they hit me hard. And I’m sick with worry that I might act on them one day and scare you off forever. And I can’t let that happen, not again. But if you could just please be a little less present in our lives—in my life—I might be able to cope better when you’re around.”
Marcus hadn’t realized his mouth was hanging open until his own startled voice sounded. “Fuck, Tom.”
Marcus knew he should say something more, but words had abandoned him. Tom, his idea of an ideal man, fancied him? Him. Wanted to kiss him? To fuck him? Maybe this could have happened in one of his rare erotic dreams, but in real life?
About the Author
BRIAN LANCASTER is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else his muse provides. Born in the sleepy South of England, the setting of many of his stories, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he shares a home with his longtime partner and two of the laziest cats on the planet.
Brian Lancaster once believed that writing gay romantic fiction would be easy and cathartic. He also believed in Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant. At least he still has fantasies about those two.
Born in the rural South of England in a town with its own clock tower and cricket pitch, he moved to Hong Kong in 1998. Life went from calm and curious to fast and furious. On the upside, the people he has since met provide inspiration for a whole new cast of characters in his stories. He also has his long-term, long-suffering partner and two cats to keep him grounded.
After winning two short story competitions in 2006 and being published in a compendium, he decided to dive into writing full- length novels. Diving proved to be easy; the challenge has been in treading water and trying to remain afloat. Cynical enough to be classed a curable romantic, he is not seeking an antidote. When not working or writing, he enjoys acting in community theater productions, composing music, hosting pub quizzes, and any socializing that involves Chardonnay. And for the record, he would like to remind all those self-righteous white wine drinkers that White Burgundy, Chablis, and Champagne are still essentially Chardonnays.