Before I head off on my hols…

A little more of Marty for you. Pre-order buy links are here – release date 16th October. Take care, everyone, and I’ll see you when I get back!


“Oh, my God. A Whindale hellebore!”

Dev squinted across the hotel car park. “Nah. I’m pretty sure that’s a Chrysler.”

“No, you idiot. A plant, in the verge of the woodland there. Very pale green face, like a miniature daffodil.”

“Oh, yeah, I see it.” Devlin glanced at Marty’s shoes. “Those are suede. You’d better not get them wet. I’ll go grab it for you.”

Marty stopped him bodily. “Whoa! No, leave it alone. It’s protected, like a whole other bunch of wildflowers I’ll be happy to tell you about. In fact, don’t even mention to anyone that you’ve seen it. They’re very uncommon.”

He was still holding Dev’s shoulders. For all their tussles and collisions of the other night, this contact felt weirdly intimate, out in the open with the other guests coming and going around them. Dev scanned Marty’s face, an unreadable expression gathering on his own. “Something’s very uncommon,” he said, and leaned in.

The ride in the Merc had gone to Marty’s head a little. Dev drove with the windows down on a summer night, and his warm mouth tasted of lime pollen. A fragrance of leather from the Merc’s upholstery still clung to him. Caught up in this sensory overload, Marty closed his eyes. Shivers of pleasure ran down his spine. Others began to congregate below his belt, and he broke away reluctantly. “Better stop.”

“Yeah. We’re a bit early, though. Come with me into the woods.”

“Are you kidding? There are people I know here. Parents.”

“But it’s okay to kiss me in the car park?”

“That’s just an equality thing.” Marty smiled up at him. “They get to kiss their traditional dates in the open, I get to kiss you.”

“Great. I’d hate to think that snogging me was anything more than a political gesture.”

Marty drew him in again. Couldn’t let him think that such sweet kisses, heady with promise, were a gesture of any kind. “All right,” he said after a minute. “But it’ll have to be very deep in the woods, okay?”

“Deep as you like. I – ”

“Nosedive! Hoi!”

Devlin jumped. Marty was still holding him, and felt the jolt pass through him, harder and more painful than could be explained by the sudden appearance of Jared Clark. Jared was magnificent as ever, and – Marty wondered if he ever did anything on his own – flanked by two other Javelin flyboys. He’d clearly used up his natural quota of manners and good behaviour in the church, and hit the hotel bar like a truck in order to make up for it. Marty had pushed Devlin’s patience on the subject of high-flying warriors, though, and tried to give civility a shot. “Hello, Jared. Congratulations on your wedding. Devlin’s been kind enough to bring me as his guest tonight, and…”

He might as well have been one of the fenceposts for all the notice Jared took of him. His attention was burningly fixed on Dev. “You don’t let the grass grow under your feet, do you?”

Dev leaned a casual arm on Marty’s shoulder. “I beg your pardon?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I really don’t, you know. Care to give me a clue?”

“This is a nice way to find my best man, isn’t it – fondling the florist in the car park. Saw your name on the tag on the displays in the hotel, Marty. Very nice, dear. Very pretty.”

“Jared,” Dev said uncomfortably. “Do shut up.”

Marty shook his head. “It’s okay. Let him carry on. Last time I cared about anything guys like him said, I was – ”

“Stuck in your shagged-out car at the airfield. Did Dev get your engines running? He’s bloody good at that.”

Dev stepped between them. He put one fist gently into the knot of Jared’s tie, clamped the other around his chin. “You’re being a bitch, Jar-head,” he informed him quietly. “And this really isn’t the time.”

Jared shoved him back. It was only a flat-handed blow to the chest, but there was sincere power behind it, and Dev stumbled back. Marty caught and propped him. “I should go, Dev. I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“Bollocks. Why should you go?”

“Well, it’s his party, isn’t it? I’m not about to stick around here and…”

“Jared bloody Clark!”

Jared whipped around. So did Dev and the flyboys. Marty now recognised the one voice in the world that could make all these unruly lads snap to attention, although it was ludicrous that Flight Lieutenant Amy should have had to stride across a car park to knock heads together twice in the space of a week. Marty resisted the urge to hide his face. He was mortified, but Amy tonight wasn’t a sight he would have wanted to miss. She was resplendent in a full-on meringue frock, a frothy veil drifting out behind her. He wondered if she’d noticed that someone had perched her uniform cap on top. “Don’t you dare,” she began, voice cutting clear through the summer night. “Don’t you dare start off our married life by assaulting our wedding guests. Do you hear me?”

Jared spread his hands. He said, in an exact echo from that previous encounter, “Amy, for godsakes…”

“That’s Mrs Amy Clark to you, and don’t you ever forget it.” She sailed past Marty and planted herself firmly between Jared and Dev. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Nothing. I just… Dev’s turned up with this guy, and…”

“And what? There’s enough cake and fizz to sink an aircraft carrier through there. Dev could’ve turned up with a football team, and still not…” She paused for breath, focussing on Marty. “Oh, it’s our friend from the air show. Martin Bell, isn’t it – year-three teacher at Otterbeck primary?” She flashed him a shameless grin. “I had you looked into, I’m afraid. Just in case you decided to sue us after all.”

Marty couldn’t help but return her smile. “Not that time.”

“Not this time either, I hope. You’re very welcome here, despite whatever my drunk new husband’s been saying.” She fixed her formidable attention on Jared. “What have you been saying? Look how miserable and embarrassed everybody looks!”

Marty took a step back. Dev too was still watching his comrade. If Marty was off everyone’s radar for a minute, maybe he should quietly bow out. He’d have a long walk home, but he could catch the nine o’clock bus into the village and spend the night with his mum and dad. The cramped, familiar living room looked good to him just now, as well as the thought of an uncomplicated welcome. Dev’s attractions only went so far in the face of abuse from his mates, and anyway Marty was beginning to feel he’d got something terribly wrong…

Dev seized his arm before he could turn away. “Marty. Please don’t.”

“Sorry. I’m not sure this was a good idea.”

“Look, Clarkie’s had a few. And he’s always a knobhead. Don’t bail on me, Marty – I really don’t want to be alone in this mob tonight.”

Marty couldn’t resist that look. Straight into his eyes, hazel lights shining. “All right.” He gave him a little push. “Go on and shake his hand, then. Amy’s waiting.”

“Amy’s probably holding his sodding hand out for him under her veil. But okay.” He stepped up to Jared, who was now glaring fiercely at the ground, and accepted his clasp. “I’ll give you a pass this time, sunbeam. Keep a civil tongue in it from now on.”

Amy watched over this reconciliation, smiling serenely. “That’s better. Go on, the pair of you – get the band to stop playing that lugubrious electro-pop and get something going we can dance to. Marty, you can escort me.”

She looked less in need of escort than one of her own fighter jets, but he offered her his arm. “Do you know what you’ve done to me?” she asked as they set off towards the brightly lit gardens, giving him a friendly squeeze. “I saw your name on those fantastic floral displays in the hotel. Now I’m gonna have to get married all over again, just so you can do my flowers.”

“It’ll be my pleasure.” He glanced up, but Jared and Dev were out of earshot, tussling like puppies on the path ahead. “Amy, I feel as if I’m missing something here. Dev told me he and Jared weren’t involved, but…”

“But Jared’s melting down like a heartbroken teenager because Dev’s got a new date?”

“Something like that, yes. I understand the whole brotherhood-of-the-skies thing, but this looks like more.” Marty stopped himself, frowning. “Sorry. I should be talking to Dev about this, not you. Obviously whatever it was is over.”

“Because Jared’s married to me?” She gave a shrug, tugged her breeze-blown veil out of Marty’s face. “In a way it’ll never be over. Listen. As well as being a beautiful pain in the arse, Dev is something called Jav One. That means he’s in charge of all the display flights. He choreographs ’em, times them out, flies his plane at the head of one half of the team.”

“I thought you were flight leader.”

She made a face that didn’t match the little silken roses round her brow. “That’s my military rank. When we leave our toy planes in the hangar and deploy in the Typhoons, that’s when I take over. I’m happy to be a good little missus for the displays. I fly at Jared’s wing, and he’s Jav Two.”

“He leads the other half of the team.”

“You got it. And the trouble is, for years now he and Dev have been so damn good, it’s been almost impossible to pick out which of them should have the top spot. So they’re rivals, and that leads to a lot of pissing matches and leg-humping. You know, like chimps screwing each other to establish the pecking order.”

Marty gave an involuntary snort of laughter. She was an unlikely bride, and the last person in the world he ought to get on with, but if asked, he could safely offer the cliché that Jared was a lucky man. A deserving one, he hoped. “And the screwing – is it literal, or…”

“No, no. Sure, you can be gay in the RAF, but you might wanna come back in another twenty years’ time or so if you want to walk the walk, if you see what I mean.”

“You mean it’s okay in theory.”

“Exactly. So they’ve got all that going on. And there’s a ridiculous amount of kudos attached to that Jav One spot. Dev wouldn’t step down unless he was shot down, and Jared won’t ever stop gunning for him. Meanwhile, they’re like a couple of bulls charging at one another across the sky. That’s how their roles pan out, essentially – each one flies his half of the team at the other, pretty much head-on. That’s how our display routines work.”

“It sounds insane.”

“But it makes a hell of a spectacle. And as well as all their bullshit, you’ve got to imagine how much trust it takes. That can look an awful lot like love.”


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