We’ve teamed up with author L.H. Cosway to celebrate the release of her new Romantic Comedy with a sneak peek, and a chance to win a signed paperback copy. Sidequest for Love is a slow burn opposites-attract, friends to lovers romance, and a standalone spin-off novel from the Running on Air series.
“What?! It can’t just end there,” Afric exclaimed.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She threw her hands up into the air. “I mean, after all that longing, I thought they’d at least give us a decent sex scene. I feel like writing a strongly worded letter to the BBC.”
“Their period dramas aren’t exactly known for having graphic sex,” I pointed out, mildly amused. Afric and I had just finished watching the final episode of North and South, and she wasn’t impressed with the ending.
“True, but I still think it’s ridiculous that all we get is a kiss. I feel short-changed. My flatmate, Sarita, and I binge-watched Bridgerton at Christmas, and I’m telling ya, they didn’t pull any punches. Neil, your glasses would’ve fogged up at the absolute raunchiness.”
I smiled in bemusement. “Well, sadly for you, this isn’t Bridgerton.”
“You can say that again!”
“You’re surprisingly worked up about this. It might’ve been just a kiss, but don’t you think it was still a very romantic one?” I asked.
“Well, sure, it was romantic, though personally, I’ve never been big into kissing.”
I furrowed my brow. “Seriously?”
Afric shrugged. “It just doesn’t float my boat.”
I was perplexed. “But … when you’re with someone, what do you do? Just … avoid their mouth?”
“Pretty much. I mean, if push comes to shove, I’ll endure a kiss, but my preference is not to do it at all.”
“That is so bizarre,” I said, shaking my head at her. And her lips were far too pretty not to be kissed. I pushed away the errant thought, no idea where it had come from.
“It really isn’t. Some people don’t like chocolate cake. I don’t like kissing.”
“So, you’ll let a man put his penis in you, but you won’t let him kiss you?” I blurted, then instantly regretted it when I saw the mischievous glint in her eye.
“Say ‘put his penis in you’ again,” she encouraged. “That was rather sensual.”
I felt warmth heat my cheeks. “I’m being serious. Why don’t you like kissing?” I was unexpectedly bothered by her preference, and some part of me needed to get to the bottom of it.
“I don’t get why you’re so shocked. It really isn’t a big deal.”
I was stumped as to the reason, too. But I simply couldn’t abide by her not liking kissing. It was one of life’s true pleasures, especially when you found someone you shared a connection with. The first kiss had the potential to be mind-blowing.
“What about when you’re in a relationship? Do you like kissing then?” I went on.
“I don’t do relationships. Not anymore.”
“You don’t? But what about Dev?”
“Dev was the last straw. I’m sick of being broken up with all the time. It’s obvious I’m just not suited to being in a couple.”
“Just because you were dumped doesn’t mean you should completely write-off relationships,” I countered. I was no stranger to being dumped myself.
“Right, but what if every single relationship you’d ever been in ended with your partner breaking things off, never the other way around? Whether it’s the fact that I game for a living, or I talk too much, or I don’t dress sexy enough, men get tired of me after a while and decide to move on. I’m not the sort of person people want to deal with long-term, and I honestly can’t blame them. I can be a lot sometimes. Don’t deny it because I know you thought the same thing about me when we first met. Anyway, now I just find someone to satisfy my sexual needs when the urge arises instead of getting into relationships. It’s a whole lot easier.”
I stared at her face on the screen, then blinked. “Afric, that’s—”
“Kinda mercenary, I know, but it suits me.”
“That’s not what I was going to say. I was going to say that if the men you’re with don’t stick around, then that’s on them, not you. It doesn’t mean you’ll never find someone who wants to spend forever with you. It just means you need to keep looking.”
“But looking is so time-consuming,” she complained.
“Everything worthwhile in life is time-consuming.”
“Well, I’d much rather spend my time at home playing computer games than going out on bad first dates and suffering through boring, stilted or awkward conversations.”
“Okay, you have a point about first dates. I’m not a fan of them either.” I wanted to quiz her further on her dislike of kissing, but I didn’t want to come across obsessed. And sure, random hookups could fulfil a sexual need, but what about her emotional needs? One of the biggest reasons people entered into couples was for the emotional connection and companionship. And I knew she was lying when she said she wasn’t suited to being in a couple. Obviously, it was something she longed for deep down. She wouldn’t have expressed her desire for someone to look at her how Mr Thornton looked at Margaret Hale if she didn’t. She simply wasn’t admitting it to herself.
“I bet you’re adorable on first dates,” Afric said, distracting me from my train of thought. “Do you show up in a shirt and tie, brandishing a bunch of flowers?”
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to make a good impression,” I said defensively because that was exactly how I showed up to first dates.
“I wasn’t being critical. I love how smart you always look. You’re so …” she trailed off, pausing as she thought about it. “Clean.”
I shot her an incredulous look through the screen. “Clean?”
“Yes. It’s a compliment. You never look scruffy.” She gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I, on the other hand, am always scruffy. And my room is always a mess. I bet your bedroom is neat as a pin.”
It was, but I didn’t admit it. “You’re not scruffy. You’re just a little chaotic. But I like chaos. I like getting the chance to turn it into order.”
“Oh, you don’t have to tell me. I swear you almost jizzed in your pants the first time you saw my haphazard pile of bank statements,” she said, cackling.
My shoulders stiffened. “I did not … almost do what you just said I almost did. I merely enjoy organisation. It’s not a crime.”
“Never said it was, Neilio. Never said it was.”
“Please don’t start calling me Neilio.”
“Too late. I’m already taken with it,” she replied with her usual cheeky grin. “Anyway, it’s late here, so I better log off. I was thinking of watching the first episode of Sanditon tomorrow? Care to join?”
“Okay, but you can’t complain if there isn’t any softcore porn involved,” I said, and Afric gave another cackle.
“I’ll make no promises, Neilio. There’s a good chance I’ll complain, and you’ll just have to sit back and endure it.” With that, she ended the call before I could tell her to quit calling me Neilio again.
I slid my laptop onto the nightstand and lay back, unable to stop thinking about the fact that Afric didn’t like to kiss. I wondered if it was a phobia or a germs thing. She had mentioned that she liked how clean I always was. Then I considered that it could be due to a bad experience and my jaw clenched instinctively. Had someone forced themselves on her? Had she gone through something awful and was now forever traumatised by the experience? For some reason, I really wanted to get to the bottom of her strange aversion.
Turning over, I clicked off the lamp and closed my eyes. Afric’s pretty lips and cute smile filled my mind as I drifted off to sleep.