Love Lane Books is proud to be the publisher for Meredith Russell's short story William's Heart.

The Book

William's Heart by Meredith Russell (LLMR001)

Jude is confident, happy, and views his world through the lens of a camera.

Brody is a writer, haunted and searching for inspiration in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Jude, Brody finds something his heart longed for—strength, acceptance, and the love and warmth of a man.

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Chapter 1

“Nana, come and see!” The young child tugged at the sleeve of her grandmother's coat and shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. She waved toward the river, excited to see two large swans standing at the water's edge. One of the swans stood to its full height and spread its wings out wide. The elegant bird let out a throaty noise as it flapped its wings, causing a plume of soft, white feathers to fall away and float to the ground.

Jude Jennings pointed his Nikon camera at the girl and digitally captured the moment. The young girl was wide-eyed in awe of the oversized birds, and he admired her innocent fascination. Briefly, he dipped the camera and smiled. The world was a magical place when viewed through the eyes of a child.

Looking through the viewer, he slowly adjusted the focus and zoomed in so her face filled the shot. He guessed she was maybe three or four years old as she was out in the middle of a school day. Short blonde curls hung from beneath her pink sunhat and framed her face. Her blue eyes were bright as she laughed excitedly. She was a sweet little thing.

Taking the shot, Jude lowered his camera and looked down at the screen. He took a moment to examine the half-dozen images of the swans, the girl, and her grandmother. The mid-April sunshine provided unique lighting and the warmth of the day radiated from the people within the pictures. April was a strange month for weather and lighting. It was unpredictable at best. In a single month the UK had seen snow, rain, and sunshine. He looked around the park he was sitting in. Today was a brilliant, almost summer-like day, and the weather had brought out an eclectic mix of people.

Both locals and visitors filled the large open space adjacent to the River Avon. Scanning the river bank, he tried to guess a little about his subjects. On the grass, lying on two huge blankets was a group of five scantily-dressed teenagers. He figured, like him, they were from the college. Two of the girls in the group were making notes from an oversized textbook, a third was trying to angle an electronic tablet to read in the sunlight, and the two guys they were with seemed far more interested in getting themselves a tan.

There were teenagers in school uniforms playing football, an elderly couple walking hand-in-hand through the park, each seasoned line on their faces creasing as they stopped and smiled at each other before sharing a kiss.

Jude then spotted a solitary man on a park bench staring out across the water. Against the backdrop of greenery and the reflective surface of the water, the image was stunning. Jude raised his camera and zoomed in, watching the man and grabbing a few shots.

There was a quiet stillness about the way he was just sitting there, staring across the water with clear, green eyes. He was stunning. An open journal lay across his lap. A pen was in his hand, though he didn't seem to be writing anything. He seemed lost, deep in thought, and surrounded by an air of sadness that made Jude's heart ache for him. What was the guy looking at?

Moving the camera, he focused on the building on the opposite side of the river—the theatre. Jude stared at the theatre thoughtfully. He saw no beauty in the orange brick and metal building. Slowly, he turned to gaze at the man sitting on the bench. He tried to imagine what it was the guy saw that he couldn't. People were inspired by different things, and Jude was most inspired by the people who filled his world. There was so much colour and so many different characters and emotions. He marvelled how a single still image could convey so much. Sometimes it was overwhelming.

Adjusting the focus, he snapped a series of images, the last of which left him flustered and hurriedly looking away, as inquisitive, green eyes stared directly down the lens. Did the guy see him? Embarrassed, Jude desperately tried to find something, anything, to look at instead.

At the start of his course his tutor had issued a sheet on the legal stuff about taking photos in public places. So long as he wasn't getting in people's faces, harassing them, peering in bedroom windows, or using images for dodgy stuff, then they were all fair game. He started flicking through the sheets of paper and jotters he carried with him. The sheet was somewhere in one of his bags, he was sure of it.

Just as quickly as he began his search, he stopped, suddenly aware of the shadow that had fallen over him. Someone was behind him. Shit. Hesitantly, with his hand still inside the first of his bags, he looked over his shoulder at a pair of black trainers, protruding from frayed, wide-legged dark jeans. Damn.

Grabbing his things, he quickly scrambled to his feet. “Hi,” Jude managed as he juggled his belongings in his arms.

Finding a balance, he clutched his bags and camera to his chest and looked apologetically at the guy. “I go to the college.” His pathetic attempt at an explanation was met with a raised eyebrow.

“I mean I'm a student. I take photos.” He was messing this up.

Clearing his throat, he awkwardly stuck out his hand from beneath his things. “My name is Jude Jennings and I'm a photography student.” There, that was better. “I'm sorry if you felt like I was…” What was the word? “invading your privacy. You see, it's a public place and it means I can take photos here. Of the people, too. Like the students over there or that little girl.” He pointed from the half-dressed students to the blonde girl who, at that particular moment, had lifted up her pretty, pink floral dress and was flashing her knickers. Perfect. “But not in a bad way.” He was rambling. “No. I'm not a pervert or anything.” He waved a hand in the air, before giving up.

He realised the guy's expression had changed from curious to completely amazed. He must sound like a complete prat.

“Please don't hit me,” he added.

To Jude's surprise the guy started laughing, and it was a full-on, proper laugh. Jude searched the park for the best exit should this guy turn out to be a complete nut-job. Jude eyed the guy curiously. He was maybe six-foot, blond hair, green eyes, a little older than Jude himself, maybe late-twenties, kind of perfect if someone happened to like that kind of thing. Jude shifted his weight. He did like that kind of thing. He liked his men tall and pretty. He flinched as the guy roughly took his hand.

“The name's Brody. Brody Phillips,” the guy said, and Jude felt his heart leap in his chest as he heard the guy's American accent and the dirty edge it gave his words.

“Jude,” Jude said for a second time as Brody released his hand.

Brody offered to take one of the two bags Jude was struggling to keep hold of.

“Thanks.” He let Brody take the bag, though kept his eye firmly on both until he decided Brody wasn't about to run off. “So…” He offered a small smile as he held tightly to his camera. Was the guy going to try and make him delete the photos? He realised Brody was staring at him, waiting for him to continue. What was he supposed to say?

“So, you were taking photographs?” Brody asked. “Of people here?”

Jude nodded. “Yeah.”

“Is it a project of some kind? You said you were a student?”

“Not a project as such.” Brody quirked an eyebrow at Jude's answer. Maybe he should have just said yes. “I'm hoping they could be. I haven't decided yet. It's kind of a practice run.” This was his second and final year on the course. He wanted his final project to be something special. He wanted to stand out.

“Can I see?” There it was. He was going to want Jude to delete them.

Jude hesitated. “I don't usually show people my stuff.” It wasn't a lie. Apart from his tutors and his partner on the course, nobody had seen his work.

“Oh.” Brody looked disappointed. “Okay.”

Jude chewed on his lip as he tussled with the idea of letting the guy see his photos. His work was a rather personal thing. He considered the man standing in front of him. He didn't know him and somehow that made it okay. “Okay.” He figured there was a first time for everything. “No. I mean, yeah, sure, you can look.”

That kind of felt good. He knelt back down on the grass and lowered his bag to the ground. Dropping back on his ass, he crossed his legs and waited for Brody to join him. “Now these are just the raw images. They still need some work and editing,” he insisted as Brody sat down beside him.

“Like photoshopping different heads on bodies and things?” Brody asked with a laugh.

Jude found himself smiling. “Something like that. Mainly cropping and colouring.” Brody nodded. Was he really interested?

“So”—Jude leaned forward—”these are today's shots.” He started scrolling through the photos of the people who had passed through the park. His hand shook slightly as he held onto the camera. Shifting his weight, he looked at each image with Brody and reminded himself of what he'd seen that had drawn him to each of the people in the pictures—the concentrating student, the innocent child and the wisdom of her grandmother, the victorious goal scorer, a timeless love, and the man lost to his thoughts.

He lingered on the final shot of Brody. “You take a good picture.” He glanced at Brody and saw the same poignant look haunting his features. “Sorry. I can delete it if you want.” Though he hoped he wouldn't have to.

Shaking his head, Brody leaned back to rest on his elbows and stretched out his legs. He closed his eyes and lifted his face up toward the warmth of the sun. “They're really good,” he said. His words were draped in the rich accent, and Jude was fascinated. “It's obvious you have a passion for it.”

“I hope to take it further. Maybe a degree course at the university. I should really have applied by now, but it's the money. Tuition fees, accommodation, and all that.” He would hardly call himself a mature student, but at twenty-three that's what he was.

After leaving school with a single A-Level in business studies, he'd taken a gap year that he had managed to make last three. Sure, he had gotten some life experience, would even say he had found himself, but it was time to follow his dreams. He wanted to be a professional photographer, not just someone who loved taking photos. He wanted to be able to reach out and touch people and make them see the beauty in the world around them.

Jude sighed inwardly. Thank God he wasn't saying all that out loud. He watched as Brody stretched out across the grass. His flattering white T-shirt clung to his body, showing all the defining dips and peaks of his muscular torso. With his eyes closed, and the sunlight on his face, Brody looked magnificent, almost peaceful in contrast to the sorrowful expression from before.

Jude raised his camera and took a couple of shots. Brody didn't seem to be aware of him. Tilting his head, he continued to observe the guy. Had Brody fallen asleep? He looked Brody up and down, catching sight of the journal beneath his hand. He wondered what was inside.

“So, what brings you to sunny Stratford?” Jude decided to break the silence, plus he was curious to discover if Brody was a local or a tourist. He would guess tourist from the undiluted accent, but he could be wrong.

Breathing in deeply, Brody opened his eyes and looked across at Jude sitting beside him. He pursed his lips thoughtfully, before answering with, “I'm on kind of an extended vacation.” The way his eyes shone as he spoke suggested there was maybe more to the story.

“Why here?”

Brody turned away and looked out across the water just as he had earlier. “I guess I'm here looking for something.” Jude's gaze fell on the theatre with Brody's. “Though I'm not sure what.”

Pressing his mouth in a thin line, Jude examined the orange brick building. The theatre didn't move him. All he saw was brick and cement. “And you think you can find it here?” He returned his attention to Brody and was greeted with a short nod.

“I do.” Brody checked his watch. “Say, do you have to be anywhere right now?”

Jude rolled his eyes upward and stared thoughtfully at the small wisp of a cloud that had dared to enter the otherwise clear, blue sky. His diary was beyond empty. He shook his head. Brody was charming and Jude quite fancied the idea of spending more time with him. “No. Why?”

“Would you like to get something to eat?”

Eat? Sure, he could eat. Time had gotten away from him as it always did when he found himself absorbed in his subjects' lives and emotions. He met Brody's eyes with a smile, asking, “What did you have in mind?”