by Lillian Francis

Smudge really needs to get laid, if only to stop himself wondering about the softness of Raleigh’s curls and why he keeps running away.

After his tumultuous teenage years, Smudge has settled into his quiet life in the sleepy English village of Slopy Bottom. He’s his own boss with the time and space to indulge his artistic creativity. And he has friends. He’s happy. Satisfied. Lonely. And the pool of potential soulmates is almost non-existent. His friends, Rick and Mal, flush with their own happy romance, keep trying to set him up with the most incompatible men, and he's never finding true love on Grindr. Hell, he's not even going to manage a hook up based on the kinky messages he’s been getting recently. He'll just have to slake his desire to find his own HEA in the pages of bosom-heaving romance novels.

Raleigh is the darling of Slopy Bottom’s blue rinse brigade: church organist, mobile librarian, and apparently wedded to his trademark cardigans. He seems to be the polar opposite of the artistic Smudge, whose brightly coloured mohawk and piercings should be a red flag to Raleigh. Yet he’s yearning for company too. It’s just that Raleigh has less expectation and definitely less courage to chase after it, for reasons that he keeps very close to his chest. Reasons that don’t stop him from being drawn irresistibly to Smudge.

Smudge is sure that the way Raleigh runs from him whenever he sees him is cruelly deliberate. A reflection on his bad boy looks and his disdain for Raleigh’s precious church. So why can’t he stop thinking about the softness of Raleigh’s curls and his delicate body? Then Raleigh offers an olive branch of sugar and caffeine, Smudge’s favourite combination, starting them on a road to an awkward truce. And when they are conned into working together on a community project at the local hospital, the proximity ignites a spark that can’t be ignored. But navigating the murky waters that could take their relationship beyond tentative friendship all depends on whether Raleigh can release his secret fears – and whether Smudge is the man to share and allay them.

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“No, no, no! Don’t you dare. Not again.” Smudge tightened his grip on the books in his hand and hastened his pace.

Surely, he wouldn’t? But Smudge knew the exact moment Raleigh clocked him. The way his head shifted between all points of his escape. To Smudge. The door of the mobile library bus. The pull-down steps, currently occupied by Mrs Danridge, one of the frailer members of the Slopy Bottom community. She was Smudge’s only hope that he would make it to the village green car park where the bus was parked.

With the length of the main road of Slopy Bottom stretching before him like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland or the Wizard of Oz, Smudge broke into a jog. The plastic covers of the library books slipped in his sweaty clutches and he slowed to tighten his grasp. He should have put the bloody things in a bag. The last thing he wanted was his choice of reading matter to be scattered across the tarmac of Bridge Street.


Satisfied he wasn’t going to lose his latest round of catnip reads, he raised his gaze and refocused on his target. Mrs Danridge had reached the bottom of the stairs—with a helping hand from Raleigh no doubt.

Talk of the devil. That tousled-haired alleged angel of the village looked straight at Smudge, his gaze dropping to the hand that held the books Smudge needed to return, and then leapt back up the steps.

Smudge paused long enough to take a breath and shout, “Don’t you dare leave, Raleigh Fortier.” Then he put on a new burst of speed even as the steps disappeared from view.

The engine of the old bus roared to life and by the time he’d covered the last four hundred metres, the mobile library had disappeared in a shower of gravel leaving nothing but a cloud of dust.

“Don’t expect me to pay late charges on these,” Smudge shouted after the bus. “I should report your skinny arse. You four-eyed, curly-mopped, fuckwad.” He kicked a larger stone in the direction the bus had disappeared and watched it skitter across the now empty car park.

He turned toward the sound of disapproving tsking and shrugged apologetically at Mrs Danridge. “The library was supposed to be here for another hour.” He attempted to explain his irate behaviour to the pensioner. It sounded lame.

“I’m sure Raleigh had his reasons for closing early.”

Yeah, he hates me. And the feeling is more than mutual.

He’s a good boy and a cherished and loved member of this village. I’m sure he’ll waive the charges if you explain.” She smiled, but it was tight lipped and nothing like the sunshine that she would have bestowed on Raleigh. Gauges, tats, and a purple faux hawk with green streaks would do that. Or maybe she believed the rumour that he was growing marijuana in the workshop behind his print shop. “And I don’t know who you think you plan to report him to. The mobile library is a local service and has always been run by the church. Certainly in my lifetime. I suppose you could speak to the vicar, but as Raleigh is his organist and you barely set foot in church…” She seemed to remember her Christian sentiments, but she still pursed her lips as though sucking on a lemon. “I can vouch you were here at the right time, I suppose.”

Don’t put yourself out, lady. Putting those feelings into words wouldn’t help his cause. Neither would reporting Raleigh, because, as she rightly pointed out, curly-headed organist versus multi-coloured faux-hawked atheist, the odds were stacked against him.

“I guess so.” It wasn’t just about the money, though. He’d hoped to pick up the next book in the series he’d been reading. He’d requested the book as soon as he knew the release date and it was a popular enough series that Raleigh couldn’t refuse to purchase the book for the library. Not that he’d ever turned down one of Smudge’s requests. Apparently if the people of Slopy Bottom and the surrounding villages wanted to read a book, Raleigh did his damndest to get it for them. “Thank you. I’m sure you’re right and Raleigh had his reasons.”

The words stuck in his throat but he could hardly protest that Raleigh was the spawn of the devil and that this wasn’t the first time he’d driven off and left Smudge standing in the street like a fool. Nobody would believe him. Not of Raleigh.

“I’m heading to the church to discuss the flower arrangements for Sunday’s service. I could take your books and leave them at the vicarage with a note, if you can’t get here at the weekend or on Tuesday,” Mrs Danridge offered, already working the zip open on her shopping trolley.

Tuesday. The day Raleigh did story time on the green with the preschoolers if the weather was nice. The long-range forecast predicted traditional August sunshine for the next fortnight and he’d probably be doing something with the older kids as well since the schools were breaking up this week for the summer.

“No. That’s fine. I’ll catch him Tuesday.” By the sodding neck if Raleigh tried to pull that stunt again. Except he couldn’t strangle the local librarian, not with an audience of under-fives hanging on Raleigh’s every word. “Thank you for the kind offer, though.”

Not that he’d take it up in a month of Sundays. Heaven forbid the village busybodies should get a look at his reading matter. The thought was barely formed when he felt plastic slip from his grip. He flailed for the escaping paperback, and ended up just juggling the remaining five in his hands, as the sixth landed on the ground with a thwack and a spray of dust. A swarthy Arab Prince, bare-chested and bronzed, manhandled a veiled maiden in a desert backdrop. Sins of the Seven Veils. Could have been worse. The latest in the Highland Wolfman series was still in his increasingly sweaty clutches. Well, not the latest; the latest was somewhere on that bloody bus. His cheeks burning, Smudge scooped up the book from the dirt and pivoted away from Mrs Danridge with mumbled words of farewell.

Coffee or back to the print shop? He’d told Pete, his apprentice, he’d be about an hour—he liked a leisurely flick through the titles. Even when he picked his six books, he stayed, studying the artwork on the lurid covers. The library soothed him—even with Raleigh’s presence—and he didn’t want Pete to think he’d hurried back because he didn’t trust the lad.

Across the road, the dual scents of caffeine and sweet baked goods emanated from Latte Nights and Earl E Mornings assaulting his senses and making his mouth water. Maybe Adam had made brownies.

Coffee it was then.

* * * * *

Reviews:DogEaredDaydreams on DogEaredDaydreams wrote:

"Oh my. Renaissance was nothing like I expected it to be. It was so much better than whatever expectations I had!"

"This was more of a slow burn romance, a journey of sorts as Smudge and Raleigh realized that they actually could be friends and maybe even something more, if they gave themselves half a chance and if they believed they were worthy of the other's affections."

"Without a doubt, Renaissance deserves five stars. ♥"

Stella on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words wrote:

4.5 stars
"Renaissance by Lillian Francis was a pure joy to read."
"...there is no sex scenes and it was perfect. Imo it shouldn’t have been different and I want to thank the author for the respect she showed to Raleigh with this choice."
"The writing was so engaging, it made the reading easy to follow and I particularly enjoyed it in the descriptive scenes. With her style Lillian brought me to Sloppy Bottom and its people and it was a great place."
"I feel to highly recommend Renaissance by Lillian Francis, one of the best book I read in 2017."

Dan on Love Bytes reviews wrote:

4.5 hearts.

"The story is well written and held my attention right up to the last page. I didn’t put it down once, which is a compliment."

"I highly recommend this series if you’re looking for a sweet, miscommunication, enemies to friends sort of book. It is totally outside my normal dark reads, but I’m enjoying the series. Give it a try."

"I’m hoping for a story that includes Bruce the big bear who loves bacon… but we’ll have to see what she brings us. I personally can’t wait to see what is next."

"I think I liked this one the best so far. The story is told with the same level of writing as the first two, and the various characters that we met previously, tie directly over into this one. I would definitely tell you to read the two previous installments before reading this one, since they aren’t long. I think it is important so that you know who everyone is. I love the residents of Slopy Bottom, and I’m sure you will as well."

Sue on books-laid-bare-boys wrote:

"This was what I would describe as a very sweet book, they very slowly develop in to friends, then friends who sometimes kiss but thats where it ends.
I know all books can't be wildly passionate and full of fun under the covers and I'm glad this one wasn't as it wouldn't have fitted the story.
We get to meet back up with Rick, Mal and the villagers from book 1 and they all play a part in bringing the two characters together.
This author always writes a good book and this didn't let me down.
Looking forward to book 3.
4 out of 5 stars."

About the Author

Lillian Francis is an English writer who likes to dabble in many genres but always seems to return to the here and now.
Her name may imply a grand dame in pink chiffon and lace, but Lillian is more at home in jeans, Converse, and the sort of T-shirts that often need explaining to the populous at large but will get a fist bump at Comic-Con. Lillian is a self-confessed geek who likes nothing more than settling down with a comic or a good book, except maybe writing. Given a notepad, pen, her Kindle, and an infinite supply of chocolate Hobnobs and she can lose herself for weeks. Romance was never her reading matter of choice, so it came as a great surprise to all concerned, including herself, to discover a romance was exactly what she’d written, and not the rollicking spy adventure or cosy murder mystery she always assumed she’d write. Luckily there is always room for romance no matter what plot bunny chooses to bite her, so never say never to either of those stories appearing.
Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a windswept desolate moor or in an elaborate shack on the edge of a beach somewhere, depending on her mood. And while she’d love for the heroes of her stories to either be chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons more often than not they are doing something far less erotic like running charity shops and shovelling elephant shit.
Drawn to the ocean, although not in a Reginald Perrin sort of way, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.