First off, thank you so much to everyone for your participation! Always great to see what you think, and it's helped us sort through our options for upcoming books. :)
Here they are below, with some exclusive excerpts of scenes they're in.
There wasn't a clear, runaway favorite, but three characters tied for first place:
1. Paolo Lancaster, the media darling goalkeeper you met in At First Touch.
“King’s right, Paddy. You gotta watch what you say. Kids out there look up to you and when they hear you say shit like that, they think it’s okay for them to say it.” Paolo rested his hand on Padraig’s shoulder. “Then those kids treat other kids like that. It’s a vicious cycle, man, and we have to figure out how to break it.”
Blinking, Ewansiha wondered where this Paolo had come from and who had switched them. Whatever Paolo’s opinions had been before this, the man had never expressed them, and he was Padraig’s best friend, so he should’ve been the one to say something earlier.
“But why would they think that?” Padraig looked puzzled. “And anyway, why shouldn’t I speak up when I think something’s wrong?”
“Because the way you do it encourages anger and hatred against people who aren’t any different from you.” Paolo took a deep breath then said, “If I told you I was gay, would it change how I play football? Would it change how you think of me, and what you thought you knew about me?”
Shocked silence reigned while Padraig’s eyes widened. Ewansiha saw him pale.
“Are you?” Padraig whispered, and only Paolo and Ewansiha heard his question.
Paolo licked his lips, then shot Ewansiha a quick glance before he smiled slightly. “Nah, but see? My question got you thinking, didn’t it, Paddy? That’s all I’m asking at the moment. Just think before you speak.”
1. Xav Müller, the homeless teenager Lukas takes in in At First Touch.
Xav gave him a stubborn look and looked back down at the form. He finished the sections they’d been told to complete and glanced up at Lukas before standing and walking by himself over to the window. After a brief wait, he handed the clipboard back to the woman then returned to Lukas’ side.
He shifted every few moments, and Lukas supposed that if they’d been sitting, his knee would have been bouncing. With his slight frame clad in somewhat baggy jeans and a hoodie, his face clean-scrubbed, he looked appallingly young to be on his own.
Well, he’s not on his own anymore, Lukas thought fiercely. He wondered what his own parents would think about him mentoring the young throw-away. He would hope that they’d be supportive—maybe he should call his mom to let her know? She didn’t completely understand Lukas’ orientation, but she still loved him. She’d likely go straight into mothering mode. He got the feeling that many of her difficulties with his being gay stemmed from knowing she would never be a grandma, since Lukas was an only child.
Once it looked like Xav would be staying long term, he’d broach the subject of a visit from her and Dad.
Lukas realised there were a lot of things piling up under the ‘if he stays’ category. “Hey, Xav, can I ask you something before they call you back?”
Xav went still and slowly nodded. “Sure. What is it?” His apprehension was evident. Lukas hoped that someday soon he’d gain more confidence.
“Are you going to stay with me? For good? When we talked about it the other day, you asked if that’s what I wanted you to do, which I do, but you never told me if that’s what you want.” Lukas watched Xav’s profile closely. “I don’t want to pressure you. I’m just tired of wondering every time I go somewhere whether you’ll be there when I get home,” he confessed honestly.
Xav met his gaze then, his eyes wide with surprise. “I…” He appeared to gather his thoughts. “Yeah. I’ll stay.”
“You want to?” Lukas stressed. “Because I want you to, but you have to want it too.”
Xav nodded, then, seeming to realise that Lukas needed to hear the words, said in a clear voice, “I want to stay with you.”
“Good.” Lukas gave Xav a quick hug.
“Xavier M,” was called out by a woman in white at the door by the check-in area.
He released Xav who took a couple of steps forward then turned back to look at Lukas. Fear surfaced briefly in his eyes. Lukas wasn’t entirely sure whether they’d let him come in with him or not, but he wouldn’t let Xav cross the room alone if he needed support. He strode quickly to catch up with Xav, whose relief was plain to see.
1. Leon, the taciturn rugby player from Blindsided who takes to the sea during the offseason.
“No. I’m just stopping by to ask you if you’d do me a favour,” Leon announced.
Shock again hit Liam. Leon had always struck him as a man who was happy within his solitary existence. There had seemed to be a wall between him and the other blokes on the team. Maybe it had to do with what Liam suspected—that Leon was gay and had learnt a hard lesson about not opening his heart to people who could destroy it with their hatred. Or maybe it really was just as simple as Leon liking to be by himself.
“Sure, mate. Anything.” He meant it too.
“I’m taking off. See, I own a boat and after the season ends, I take off to sail. I wanted you to go and check on my place while I’m gone. Just make sure things are okay.” Leon managed to pull a key out of his pocket without dislodging the kittens. “You don’t have to worry about bills or anything like that. I stop the mail service, and my bills are paid automatically.”
He caught the key Leon flicked his way. Holding it in his hand, he studied Leon for a second. “Why me? I’m new to the team, and I’m sure Teo or Gibson would do this.”
“You’re closer.” Leon paused for a second, then continued, “I trust you, Liam. I know I don’t talk much or do much with the others, but I have my reasons. I don’t share my life with people easily, yet I think you could be someone who understands why.”
So Leon was gay, and since he’d heard what Liam had said to Gibson, he’d come to his own conclusions about Liam. Well, Liam wasn’t the kind of guy to out anyone to anybody, so he wasn’t going to betray Leon’s trust. Not when it was becoming more and more obvious that Leon had secrets he wasn’t willing to share.
Nodding, Liam smiled. “I get it, mate, and I can do it for you. I’ll make sure your place is fine while you’re gone. Will you do something for me?”
“Sure, if I can.” Leon didn’t seem upset that Liam was asking something of him.
“You have a sat phone?” he checked.
“Of course.” Leon nodded.
“I would like you to call, email or text me once a day. No matter what time. It doesn’t matter. I just want to know you’re okay while you’re sailing.” Liam leant forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “I don’t know if you have someone else in your life who keeps track of you, and I don’t need to know, Leon. I like you, and I will worry while you’re gone.”
Leon stood, the cats tumbling from his lap with loud protesting meows. He held out his hand to Liam. After standing, Liam took Leon’s hand and they shook.
The rest of the choices weren't far behind in the poll and they all tied as well!
4. Neel Malhotra, Ajay's cricket teammate and best friend from A Sticky Wicket in Bollywood.
“I can’t believe Rajan Malik was at your house, man. I guess your class reunion with him went well the other night.” Neel shot a quick glance at him
“Speaking of the other night? What the hell? Were you on something?” He twisted in his seat to look at Neel.
Neel grimaced. “What are you talking about? I wasn’t on anything.”
“It seemed like it. You were acting weird like you didn’t want me to leave you or anything like that.” Ajay lifted his shoulder. “I thought it was because you didn’t want me to go see Raj.”
“What? No. I don’t care if you see him or not, though I do think you need to be careful. He’s not coming out of the closet for anyone, and all the rumours are pairing him up with his co-star. There’s just a lot of heartache coming from that guy.”
Ajay frowned, not sure what Neel was talking about. “What has that got to do with how you were acting?”
Neel took a breath. “Nothing. Anyway, you know how girls freak me out, right? So there was some girl who was coming on to me at the club, and I didn’t know how to deal with her. I thought you’d be able to help me get rid of her.”
“You know the best way to get rid of unwanted female attention, Neel?” Ajay grinned.
“Telling the world you’re gay pretty much ensures that no female will chase you ever again.” Ajay pointed to himself. “At least that’s how it worked for me.”
Neel paled, just like Ajay had thought he would. Ajay knew the very idea of coming out in public made Neel nauseous. But Ajay couldn’t help goading the other man. He might have understood why Neel and Raj hid their true selves behind the lies, but it didn’t mean he agreed with them.
“You know I can’t do that yet, Ajay. It would kill my parents.”
Ajay shrugged. “Whatever excuse gets you through the day, my friend."
4. Jan DeVries, Laurent's ex-fiance from Chasing the King of the Mountains.
With that she bid him good evening and closed the door firmly. Still amused, Laurent inserted his key into the lock, only to have the door wrenched open by Jan.
For a moment he looked as startled as Laurent was, then a more heated expression came over his face. He smirked as he tugged Laurent by the wrist into their apartment then moved in close. “Hello there. About time you got home.”
Laurent bent to one side to set his bag and briefcase on the tiled foyer floor then gave Jan the welcoming kiss he appeared to be expecting. But when he parted his lips to take it deeper, Jan pulled back. “I thought your trip had been prolonged or something. Usually you’re like clockwork getting home after your flight gets in.”
Leaving his bags for now, Laurent led the way into the living area. “It was on time, thankfully, but I had set a meeting with the network. I wanted to speak with them as soon as possible about an idea I had for a special report.” He was still humming with the success of his plan being put into motion. “So, do you remember last year when—”
Jan rolled his eyes and cut him off with a see-sawing hand gesture. “You know I don’t follow all that political stuff.” He ran the hand through his spiky hair then down his chest, and as Laurent’s eyes followed the movement, he noticed how his fiancé was dressed. The steel-grey shirt clung to his torso, and the jeans were tight to the point that Laurent wondered how he would be able to sit in them. Still, with the way Jan kept himself in shape, it was a good look on him.
“I like the shirt, is that new?” He took a step back as he looked Jan up and down with a smile. “This is a nice welcome home.”
Jan froze for a moment before he smiled back, and Laurent’s instincts finally kicked in. Jan wasn’t dressed for a cosy night in with him—he was dressed for going out. Rather than give Jan an opening to lie to him—Laurent had caught him out more than once and the subsequent confrontations were never pretty—he just pecked Jan on the cheek. “Go have fun, Jan.”
His eyes widened in surprise then narrowed suspiciously. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”
Laurent felt his eyebrows rise at that. “No. But you were on your way out, yes?” He shrugged. “You’re a grown man, as am I. I’m not worried that you made plans for tonight.”
…looking like that, after I’ve been gone for days…
Quit being a jealous fool, Desrochers. You have been gone for days, and you are all the time. Who can blame the guy for having other friends?
Jan still looked, ironically, a bit put out by Laurent’s understanding accommodation.
“I can come along if you’d like. Just let me get changed,” he offered. Laurent really didn’t want to go to a club after travelling all day, but relationships were a two-way street.
His expression softening, Jan grasped his arm and gave it a squeeze. “You’re darling to offer, but it isn’t the sort of place you prefer. I’ll just meet my friends and see you later tonight. Hmm?”
That was code for ‘don’t wait up’.
4. Sergio, the sexy, matchmaking trainer from At First Touch.
“God, I hope he doesn’t kill anyone…” Sergio was pale as a ghost in the wake of the conflict. “Or himself,” he added in a whisper.
“This was all my fault.”
They all looked at Paolo. “What?” Lukas asked incredulously. “How can you say any of this was your fault?”
“Paolo…” Sergio started to soothe.
“I should’ve deleted that picture, not made it your contact photo. What the fuck was I thinking?” Paolo looked miserable.
Lukas warred for a moment in his head then, in spite of himself, came out with, “Okay, I hate to even ask, but… What the hell was in the picture?”
Paolo widened his eyes and jerked his head at Xav then shook it.
“Oh, come on. I’m sixteen, not six. You don’t have to show it to me, but I want to know what made him freak out so bad.” Xav turned around on the couch to kneel on the cushion and rest his arms on the back while his eyes pleaded with Paolo. Lukas marvelled at the resilience of the young man. “It’ll cheer me up,” he persisted.
Sergio laughed and the mood in the room lightened considerably. “Well, let’s just say I had a close-up taken with a very nice dancer who was sporting our team colours on an interesting part of his body. And no, I wasn’t doing anything but smiling for the camera. Well… Something was kind of touching my cheek, but it was hard to get it in the frame with my face otherwise. And maybe I had my tongue… Anyway, I sent it to Paolo that night. And he evidently kept it.” This was said with a stern look at Paolo. “Did I or did I not tell you you’d better get that off your phone? With the amount of time you spend with Padraig—”
“Why didn’t you send it to me?” Lukas blurted out without thinking, though he wondered what the hell it said about him that he felt left out for not getting the cock shot.
Sergio raised an eyebrow at him in amusement. “It was from before you joined the team, hon.”
“I changed my mind, can I see it?” came from the couch.
“No,” all three men said at once.
Hope you enjoyed these looks at our secondary characters, especially if you haven’t read these books yet. Rest assured that each of these guys will eventually get their own book--even Xav, though we'll let him grow up a bit first. :) First up will be Paolo, whose story we were working on right now for book seven in the series, A Grand Prix Romance.
Thanks again for your feedback! We'll have another poll up soon. :)