When a devoted prime minster has a second chance at romance, he discovers that love is love on Downing Street.
Captain Tom Southwell has swapped bullets for babies and works as a manny at one of the world’s most famous addresses. Behind the doors of Downing Street, he cooks dinner, puts the children to bed and is the prime minister’s best friend.
Alex Hart is the prime minister Great Britain’s been dreaming of. He’s dedicated, caring and has a conscience. He’s also a widower with two small children. The last thing he can let himself do is fall in love with the manny who has held his family together.
When an old flame from Tom’s past gets in touch, Tom’s first instinct is to keep him at arm’s length, but hell hath no fury like a yoga teacher scorned. As Alex fights to push a life-changing bill through Parliament, the tabloid vultures are circling. With rumors swirling about the prime minister and his gorgeous manny, every shark in Westminster senses blood.
Will Alex put love ahead of duty, or will the most important man in the country be the loneliest, too?
Tom lay sprawled on the beanbag between the two small beds—one shaped like a car, the other shaped like a boat. He’d almost sent himself to sleep with the twins’ bedtime story, but it finally seemed, from the sound of their gentle breathing, that they’d dropped off. He sat in the quiet, dimly lit room, the elephant nightlight casting its gentle glow. And in that glow, he re-read the text from Stuart.
Hey good lookin’, ya miss me? Through with Barca and heading home—you shud SEE my tan lines babe. Get ready Laaahndaaaan! x
Stuart wasn’t high on the list of people who Tom wanted to talk to. Their break-up had been acrimonious, Stuart furious at one too many dates being canceled at the last minute because Tom had to look after the twins. ‘You love that family more than you love me!’ And off Stuart had gone to Barcelona.
Except, apparently, Stuart was back.
And that list of Tom’s was rather brief.
It’d be rude not to reply, wouldn’t it?
Tom lifted his head and glanced at the children. They were both sound asleep, so Tom carefully got up from the beanbag and tapped his reply.
Hey Stuart yeah I’m still in London. Maybe I’ll see you sometime? T.
They’d been through a lot—both ex-army, both gay, although Tom’s career had taken an unusual turn when he’d decided to become a nanny. Or manny, as the press had christened him. But it worked. Captain Southwell had transformed into Tom, but he still dealt with crises before breakfast, and marshaling small children was just as challenging as directing a company in a warzone.
The reply took seconds.
Believe it manny Tom. I’ll be knocking on door of no 10 and sayin’ where’s my man 😉 xx
Tom worked on the principle that being hostile to exes wasn’t the mark of a gentleman, but, equally, dealing with someone who thought Tom was his man after all this time wasn’t a task that filled him with joy.
I thought your man’s in Barcelona? T.
And his phone rang, vibrating silently in his hand as Tom heard the flat’s front door opening and closing softly, so as not to disturb the sleeping children. The prime minister was home.
Tom stuffed the phone into his pocket. He wasn’t going to answer it—he had a family to look after.
Before Alex had reached the kitchen doorway, Tom had poured him a glass of wine. It sat there on the worktop when Alex appeared in the doorway, his hand already loosening the knot of his tie.
“All the way from the House I was thinking about diving into a huge glass of red wine.” Alex chuckled, widening his eyes at the sight of it. “And there it is!”
“You look like you could do with one!” Tom said.
“The thought of cuddling Al and Mad and a little sniff of red is what’s kept me going through the last two hours of paperwork,” Alex told him, slapping a matey hand to Tom’s shoulder and letting it linger there. “As soon as I hit the bottom of the despatch box, I made for home. I don’t suppose there happens to be any supper left over, or am I raiding the fridge again?”
Tom passed him the glass across the marble worktop. “There’s a shepherd’s pie waiting for you if you’d like it?”
“If anyone finds out about this, they’ll be tempting you away with a pay rise,” Alex teased. “I already have to tell them you’re like the anti-Mary Poppins to throw them off the scent.”
Tom checked the pie in the oven then turned it on to warm.
“I don’t have a magic carpet bag, and I’m not into chimney sweepers,” he said. “I have no intention of leaving, tempt me all they like!”
“If any chimney sweeps do come along, I want to know about it,” Alex told him. Then he raised his glass to his lips and took a grateful drink. “I can’t lose my shepherd’s pie whisperer.”
“Do you want to eat in here, or in the lounge?” Tom hoped he’d say the lounge, because if Alex put the television on in the kitchen and discovered that the last channel Tom had watched was BBC Parliament, it might be rather awkward.
It’s because the children wanted to see you when they came home from preschool. Honest.
“Lounge, sofa, general couch potato of a night?” He nodded, apparently satisfied with his own suggestion. “Did you eat with the kids?”
“Well, I tried! We had sit-down dinnertime together but Madeleine wanted to draw at the same time, so I had my hands full.” Tom dragged his hand back through his hair. “I think I got all the sweetcorn out of my hair, but I’m not sure!”
“I’m going to nip in and see them before I eat,” Alex decided. “I hate that I missed them tonight and I know they’re asleep, but it’s really for me, not them. But you know that.”
“I know.” Tom patted his arm. “They’ll know you’re there. You’ll suddenly pop up in their dreams.”
“Oh, God help them! Then you have to be off the clock, Tom, you know that. Much as I love coming home to you and your shepherd’s pie, you must be cursing my name?” He assumed a grumbling mutter to say, “Bloody Alex keeping me bloody working all bloody hours.”
“It’s not really work, though,” Tom assured him as he got a tray ready for Alex. “We’re like housemates!”
“I couldn’t ask for a better fellow to share with.” Alex laughed and brushed Tom’s shoulder as he headed for the door. “I’ll be back, Captain!”
Tom leaned against the kitchen cupboard, flicking through a recipe book. He heard Alex’s footsteps through the baby monitor and saw the night-vision version of the prime minister on the screen. Tom should have gone back to his book to give Alex his privacy, but he couldn’t resist a glance at Alex crouched beside his child’s bed. He was such a kind father and it brought a lump to Tom’s throat. Thank God Stuart hadn’t rung again and shattered their peace. He didn’t need it tonight, and Alex certainly didn’t.
Tom heard Alex’s voice, as gentle now as it had been commanding in the Chamber earlier, wishing his sleeping children sweet dreams. Then, as he always did on the rare nights that he didn’t make it home in time for supper and bedtime with the twins he adored, Alex remained in the room for a while. He settled onto the beanbag where Tom had sat just a few minutes earlier and became part of the peaceful scene, soaking up the calm in that sometimes rather busy room that his son and daughter shared. And though the two children slept on, surely they sensed that protective presence watching over them until, with a whisper of, “I love you,” Alex rose to his feet and made his careful way toward the door.
Alex was such a lonely figure sometimes, and during those moments Alex shared with his children, Tom wondered if he was thinking of his late wife.
He shouldn’t ever be lonely. Gill wouldn’t have wanted it, and Tom certainly didn’t. Alex deserved to be loved.
“I see the permanent marker has almost washed off of Alastair’s cheek,” Alex observed cheerfully as he padded back into the kitchen. He returned to the serious business of unknotting his tie and added, “You must have magical skills that I lack!”
The sound of the silk rasping against Alex’s hand very nearly sent a tremor through Tom, but he pushed it down.
You can’t think those things about your straight boss.
“We had a game at bathtime—I made them beards and mustaches out of bubbles, then rubbed them off. Al didn’t notice a thing—he was too busy laughing.”
“See, I learned the hard way that saying don’t scribble on your face is the guaranteed way to get a little monster like my son to scribble on his face.” Alex threw his tie onto the worktop. Then he unfastened his silver cufflinks and tossed them with only a little more care atop his discarded tie. Tom knew what was coming next even before Alex rolled first one immaculate sleeve to his elbow then the other, because he knew Alex’s routine as well as his own. And his arms are to die for. “He’s joining a long line of Hart boys who never did as they were told!”
Tom chuckled. “Were you naughty, then?”
You wish he still was naughty, Tom.
“I was a terror.” Alex leaned forward to peer through the glass door of the oven, his hands braced against his knees. “But I went one better—I drew on my sister’s face while she was asleep. Gave her a mustache to be proud of!”
“And having met your sister—!” Tom tried not to notice how the fabric of Alex’s suit trousers strained pleasingly across his bottom as he leaned down. He was a fine figure of a man—Tom would be an idiot not to notice. “Bet she was pleased!”
“Oh, she loved it, you can imagine how thrilled she was!” Alex stood straight again and turned to face Tom. “You don’t have to hang around if you don’t want to, you know. Honestly, I can’t imagine this is how you want to spend your off time.”
“If I worked in an office all day, I’d be chilling at home just like I’m doing now, so… It’s fine, honest.” Tom slipped the recipe book back on the shelf. He liked being part of a family, too. In some ways it made up for the lack of his own. “I should apologize for these jogging bottoms, though. I don’t think I’ve even jogged in them. But then…you wouldn’t want to see me in my pajamas, would you?”
Although I wouldn’t mind seeing Alex in his again.
“This is your home, Captain Southwell. If you have to see me bleary-eyed in my bath towel now and again, I wouldn’t complain if you wanted to wear your pajamas after a long day trying to keep my children in line!”
Alex in a bath towel. That’s a thought to ponder.
“I say pajamas, I actually sleep in—” My boxer shorts. Oh, God, he doesn’t want to know that. “Do you want to see what the twins got up to at preschool today?”
Tom was already delving into the satchels that Alastair and Madeleine carried about as proudly as the chancellor wielded his briefcase on Budget Day. Alex gave an impromptu drumroll, pounding his hands on the worktop, and asked, “Go on, show me.”
“Ta-da!” Tom produced a sheet of paper from Madeleine’s bag and handed it over. “They had to draw their families, so she’s done you in the House of Commons. She’s even got the green seats right, although she’s only given you three strands of hair.”
“But what excellent strands they are.” Alex laughed, brushing his hand back through his rather more generous head of real hair. “But who’s the terrible threesome watching from the benches? Alastair’s hair’s looking rather bluer than I remember, but she’s got Gill’s curls right, and as for you… How is it that I look like a balding headteacher and you look like a film star?”
With a deliberately camp flourish, Tom said, “Oh, just my fabulous good looks! I suppose I’m the minister of tidying up the toy box?”
“A deserved gold star for Mads.” Alex beamed proudly. He took the picture and placed it on the fridge, where it joined a gallery of his children’s artistic efforts. “At least she drew it on paper, not on her brother’s face.”
“And that’s why I suggested wipe-clean paint on the walls in this house!” Tom said. “You never know when a pen or a crayon’ll go rogue. Face, walls, clothing—if it’s a surface, it can and will be drawn on.”
“The question is will Tom’s shepherd’s pie win a gold star of its own?” Alex peered at his reflection in the silver fridge door. “And will my hair survive the last year of its first Downing Street term?”
“You’re not doing too badly. Not like some former PMs I can think of who start off with a full head of dark hair and end up with hair as white as Father Christmas.” Tom peered into the oven. “That smells good, doesn’t it? It’s bubbling like a lava flow.”
“I don’t know what we’d do without you,” Alex admitted, swirling the wine in his glass. “Honestly, Tom, I really don’t.”
Tom put on the crocodile oven gloves and brought the shepherd’s pie out of the oven. So many confused feelings swirled through him at that moment, clashing with the resolutely homely image of the pie in his hands. Because he wasn’t sure what he’d do without them either. Sometimes he had to remind himself that they weren’t his children, and when Maddy put him in her family drawings, it made it even harder.
And that was before Tom addressed the fact that Alex was gorgeous. He shouldn’t have a crush on his boss, but he did. He hadn’t to begin with—Alex was handsome, yes, but he had been Gill’s husband. And after Gill’s death, Tom had seen him as the twins’ father.
But something had changed.
One day, for no reason that Tom could identify, he’d seen Alex in a different light, and he’d realized then that he’d developed a crush on him.
Even though, in more ways than Tom could count, his crush was utterly hopeless.
“I suppose you’d eat more takeaway without me!” Tom laughed.
“That’d be the least of our worries.” Alex smiled, raising his glass to his lips. He leaned back against the worktop and closed his eyes, transformed into a picture of relaxation. Switching off was a skill, Tom had to admit, and one that Alex had done well to learn.
‘I don’t know what we’d do without you.’
As Tom dished up, he tried his best to drive away the demon on his shoulder who wanted to read far more into Alex’s words than the man must’ve meant.
He’s straight and he’s the prime minister. Dream on, Manny.