If you read queer romance at all, there’s an excellent chance you’re already acquainted with Alexis Hall, whose Arden St. Ives series is coming to an end on September 3rd! And yes, we’ve got an exclusive excerpt from that very book, How to Belong with a Billionaire, so read on!
If you love someone, set them free…
I thought I’d be okay when Caspian Hart left. He was a brilliant, beautiful billionaire with a past he couldn’t escape. And I was . . . just me: an ordinary man lost in his own life. It would never have lasted. It should never have happened. Not outside a fairytale. And I am okay. I’ve got my job, my family, my friends, and everything Caspian taught me. Except it turns out he’s going to marry his ex-boyfriend. A man who doesn’t understand him. A man who almost broke him. And I’ve finally realized it’s not enough for me to be happy. I need Caspian to be happy too. Problem is, I’ve already done all I can to help him. I’ve followed his rules and broken his rules and learned his secrets. And he still won’t believe I can love him. So now it’s his turn. His turn to fight, and trust, and hope. It’s time for Caspian Hart to choose me.
I’d read somewhere that The Last Jedi was the longest Star Wars movie that had ever been released. Honestly, I wished it had been longer. A lot longer. But, eventually, Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren had faced off on the blood-colored soil of Crait and the credits had done their thing, and Caspian and I were alone again in the silence.
I still remembered what he’d said to me after The Force Awakens. “I wish my father could have seen that. But I’m so glad I got to watch it with you.” I think that was the moment I realised I’d fallen in love with him. How could I not have—with such a ridiculous, complicated, tender-hearted man?
“So,” I asked, hoping once again to share his Star Wars wonder, “how did you find it?”
He turned to me, frowning, his eyes dark. “I don’t think I cared for it very much.”
“What?” My mouth dropped open and hung there, gormlessly. I just hadn’t seen that coming. “Why? And if you say it had too many women in it or whatever I swear to God I’ll—”
“Of course I don’t care that there were women in it. What do you take me for?”
“I … I don’t know. It’s something people on the internet aren’t happy about.”
One of his eyebrows flicked impatiently upwards. “Star Wars is an adventure story about good and evil. I fail to see how the number of female characters is a pertinent metric against which to judge its success in that regard.”
“Then what didn’t you like about it? I mean, the pacing was a bit choppy but it seemed pretty adventure story-ey to me?”
“I didn’t like that they turned Luke Skywalker into a failure and a coward.”
I blinked at the passion in his voice. “I … don’t think he was any of those things, was he?”
“He spent three films trying to overthrow the Empire and rebuild the Jedi order. When we meet him here he is living alone in a cave having accomplished neither.”
“Caspian—” I gave him a somewhat bewildered look “—are you, like, cross with Luke Skywalker because he didn’t change the entire galaxy by himself?”
“If that was his original intent he should not have stopped until he achieved it.”
“You do realise,” I pointed out, “that you’re holding an imaginary space wizard to an impossible standard?”
He shrugged. “I just didn’t enjoy seeing a character we have been led to admire reduced to a broken ruin, his honour and heroism twisted into fear and selfishness.”
Oh. Oh. “I didn’t see it that way at all. I guess, for me, heroism isn’t about being perfect or untested. It’s about knowing what it is to fail and suffer and make mistakes, and still doing the right thing when it counts.”
“But—” Caspian’s foot was twitching “—he’d wasted so much time. And let down so many people.”
I pushed back the duvet and crawled out of it, kneeling next to him on the sofa instead, wanting him—for once—to hear me. “I think what Luke believed about himself, and what his friends believed about him, were very different things. He was living in a cave, as you put it, because he couldn’t forgive himself. Not because he’d done something unforgiveable.”
Caspian turned and, in my need to reach him, maybe I’d misjudged the distance because we were suddenly close. Very close. Close enough to feel his breath against my face when he spoke. “I know I’ve said this before but I wish I could see the world as you do.”
I lost myself in the paler fractals in his eyes. The faint tug and cling of his upper and lower lip between the words they shaped. The soft curls at his temples.
“You don’t have to,” I told him. “Just let me show you.”
One of his hands came up to cup my face, the edge of my jaw slipping into the soft cradle of his palm as if it belonged there. My eyes closed involuntarily—I wanted to look, dammit—surrendering me to the long-missed pleasure of his touch.
“Arden,” he murmured. “My Arden.”
Alexis Hall is a pile of threadbare hats and used teacups given a semblance of life by forbidden sorcery. He sometimes writes books.