An Excerpt of Alexis Hall’s Husband Material
With four queer romances slated for 2022, is it any wonder POPSUGAR called Alexis Hall “overachiever of the year”?! We’re happy to share that chaos demon has returned once again! No, we’re not talking about Hall himself, but his most iconic fictional hot mess: Luc O’Donnell, who stole readers’ hearts in the bestselling “Boyfriend Material.” Luc and Oliver return in “Husband Material” (on sale Aug. 2, 2022, from Sourcebooks Casablanca). An ode to classic rom-com movies of the ’90s, such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Pretty Woman,” “Husband Material” is rom-com redux, as only Hall can do!
In “Boyfriend Material,” Luc and Oliver met, pretended to fall in love, fell in love for real, dealt with heartbreak and disappointment and family and friends . . . and somehow figured out a way to make it work. Now it seems like everyone around them is getting married, and Luc’s feeling the social pressure to propose. But it’ll take more than four weddings, a funeral, and a bowl full of special curry to get these two from “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “I do.”
We’re excited to offer you an exclusive sneak preview of one of this summer’s hottest romances, from the leading man of the genre, one that will undoubtedly remind you of a glittering big-screen moment shared between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time!
Oliver arrived home just as the smoke alarm went off.
“Smells delicious,” he yelled from the hall, before heading into the front room, grabbing a sheaf of documents he’d been working on, and waving them frantically under the smoke alarm.
“Thanks. It’s supposed to be a pie.”
“And what’s it actually going to be?”
“Honestly?” I came through from the kitchen, yoinked the papers gently out of his hand, and took over waving duty. “Probably a takeaway?”
The beeping stopped, and Oliver recovered his documents before giving me a belated honey-I’m-home kiss on the cheek. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
It was never fine. But over the course of our relationship I’d watched Oliver gamely chomp his way through roasted squash that was practically mulch, spinach soup that was practically jam, and more watery stews than I could keep track of.
In the end I served up a kind of vegetable soup with bits of either-burned-or-raw crust floating in it like incredibly shit dumplings. Oliver seasoned his liberally and tucked in.
“Are you okay?” he asked once he’d managed to swallow a particularly tricky lump of chard. “This is fine, but from the mess” — he indicated the carnage that still filled the kitchen — “it seems like you were more than normally distracted.”
I took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be awkward. I wasn’t going to let this be awkward. “It’s Miles.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realise seeing him shook you up that much.”
“No, I mean, it’s Miles again. Like he came to see me.”
Between his training as a professional barrister, a lifetime of nodding and smiling for his judgmental parents, and two years of pretending to like my cooking, Oliver had one hell of a poker face, but I thought I saw a flattering hint of jealousy creep into his eyes. “When?”
“Today. At work.”
Oliver frowned. “That seems inappropriate.”
“Yeah Miles has never been big on appropriate.” To be fair, neither had I.
“What did he want?”
“He wanted to say I made a terrible mistake, run away with me and I said of course I will big boy. I’m packing my bags this evening.”
Oliver put down his fork and gave me a stern look. “Lucien.”
“He wanted to invite me to his wedding.”
“Ah.” For a moment he was quiet. “Do you want to go?”
I was a bit surprised he’d even asked. “Of course not. It would be fucking weird.”
“Well then.” He reached across the table and took my hand. I thought it was meant to be affectionate, but he probably also wanted an excuse to stop eating the pie. “That seems to be a problem with a very simple solution.”
“It’s just . . .” Well fuck. He’d done that thing where he was all supportive of my choices to make me confront the fact that I wasn’t actually sure about them. “I keep wondering if it might be good for me maybe?”
His thumb traced gently across my knuckles like we had all the time in the world and nothing mattered more than this conversation, right now. “Good in what way?”
“I dunno. Sort of . . . closure-ey? Like it might help to be able to stand up and say hey, you totally destroyed me that one time, but I’m fine now, so I wish you well. Also I’d really like to show up at his wedding with my gorgeous successful boyfriend and rub it in his stupid smug beardy face.”
Oliver laughed. “Should I feel flattered by that, or exploited?”
“Oh we’re too special for a bit of exploitation now are we?”
“Depends on the situation.”
It was nice to be able to have this, just sitting with Oliver being very slightly flirty, even while I was having a mini-crisis. But that didn’t make the mini-crisis go away. “I keep going in circles,” I told him. “One moment I’ll be all why are you even considering this, fuck him and then I’ll be like but isn’t that just giving him more power over you, then I’ll be back to or maybe that’s just what he wants you to think and — gah.”
“You’re a complicated man, Lucien O’Donnell.”
“Thanks, I try.” I sighed. “I guess the whole let-us-reconcile-even-though-I-shafted-you thing is bringing up a lot of stuff and I’m not sure where I want to . . . well . . . put the stuff it brings up.”
Oliver gave me a reassuring nod. “That makes sense. But for what it’s worth I don’t believe this is as much like your dad as you might be thinking.”
That’s exactly what I was thinking. Even if I hadn’t put it into quite those words. “Isn’t it, though? Aren’t I just setting myself up to go through life with people shitting on me and then saying hey, remember that time I shat on you, it’d be great for me if you could put it all behind you and say we’re cool now?”
“I think, or rather I hope” — he gave me earnest eyes over the remains of his bowl of non-pie—”that the difference is you’re not invested in Miles. He’s not trying to be a part of your life, he’s only asking you to come to his wedding. And he’s probably asking for selfish reasons; I don’t doubt that it’s about making him and his new husband feel better rather than making you feel better. But he’s not asking you to commit to anything.”
“They’ll probably expect a gift.”
Oliver smiled. “Then get them a toast rack, and put a note in it asking when he’s going to pay back the fifty thousand pounds he owes you.”
I enjoyed seeing Oliver’s mean side. It didn’t come out very often, but when it did it was usually on point. “I might do that. If I go. Should I go?”
“You know I can’t make that decision for you.”
“Why not? It would be super convenient. You could just say sorry Lucien, I’m wildly jealous and I refuse to let you go to Miles’s wedding.”
“Sorry Lucien,” repeated Oliver obligingly. “I’m wildly jealous, and I refuse to let you go to Miles’s wedding.”
“Oh that’s rubbish.” I gave him my best sulky face. “You clearly don’t mean it.”
Oliver cast me a look of mock contrition. “I know, I’m a terrible boyfriend and I don’t know why you put up with me.”
“You must have a preference, though?” I wheedled.
For a moment Oliver thought about it. He was never a man to give a hasty answer to an important question. “Well, I’d be lying if I said that attending the wedding of a total stranger was my idea of a fabulous night out. And you don’t owe Miles anything so neither he, nor JoJo, should really be a factor here.”
“I feel like you’re about to drop a massive but on me.”
“I was heading that way but now I feel you’ve cut my but off at the pass.”
This was a very serious conversation about very serious things and Oliver was taking time out of his evening to boyfriend at me, but there was no way I was letting that go without comment. “Oliver, I would never cut your but off.”
“Lucien” — his eyes had gone all soft while his mouth was trying really hard to be severe — “you’re making it very hard for me to finish my sentence.”
“Sorry. Sorry.” I paused. “But me.”
“But,” said Oliver carefully, “just because Miles is behaving selfishly, that doesn’t mean that going to his wedding wouldn’t be good for you. If going along and drawing a line under the past would make you feel better, you shouldn’t not do it just because it might make him feel better too. Does that make sense?”
It did. Kind of. “But what if knowing it’ll make him feel better makes me feel worse?”
“Then maybe you need to revisit the does he have power over you question.”
Oh. Right. My shoulders drooped. I was supposed to be . . . not like this anymore. “Why do people keep having power over me?”
“Well one of them was your father, so power is rather a given. And the other is someone you were in love with who betrayed you.”
“So I have to go to the wedding to prove —”
I had no idea where I was going with that, but thankfully Oliver interrupted me. “You don’t have to do anything to prove anything. To anyone. Not Miles, not me, and not even yourself.”
That’s what he thought. He wasn’t me.
“In any case,” he went on, “you have time. You can think about it. And if you want to go, of course I’ll be with you. And if you don’t I’ll . . . still be with you. And we’ll do something much more interesting than watching your ex-boyfriend and somebody you’ve met once throw a massive, expensive party in celebration of a relationship that doesn’t mean anything to you.”
I blinked. “Wow. That’s a cynical take on marriage even for me, and my dad was a junkie arsehole who walked out on my mum before I could talk.”
“I’m not opposed to marriage in general.” Oliver gave a tight little smile. “I’m just not the sort of person who can get invested in the trappings if I’m not invested in the couple.”
I didn’t think I was either, really. I’d only agreed to help organise Bridge’s wedding because she was my best friend and I was pretty sure she’d do all of the important bits of planning herself. Of course part of it was just that for most of my life it hadn’t looked like marriage was a thing I’d ever be able to do. And in some ways it was nice to think if I was growing up today I’d be able to be one of those kids spending his days planning his fantasy wedding to the man of his dreams. But in other ways, it felt kind of like I’d missed out. “That makes sense. And just to be clear, I’m not invested in Miles at all. Like not at all. Not even a little tiny bit.”
There was a firmness in that good that felt more definite than his I’ll-support-you-no-matter-what demeanour implied. “Oliver,” I said, because I wanted this on record, “you are actually just a smidgeon jealous, aren’t you?”
The response was far too quick to be convincing. I grinned triumphantly. “You are. Oh my God, you are. That’s amazing because it means you like me so much you don’t want anyone else to have me. Or possibly really insulting because it suggests I’m so damaged I’ll go back to a guy who sold me out and is marrying someone else.”
“Well, obviously I like you, Lucien,” muttered Oliver. “In general. Not necessarily right now. And I know it’s irrational. While I have a long history of people leaving me, it’s always been for quite banal reasons, not because they decided to run off with their ex at his own wedding.”
Once-upon-a-time, this would have been a teasing opportunity and I’d have said something like I promise when I leave you it’ll be over something trivial. But Oliver had been dumped a lot, and even though he’d know it was a joke, it would be a joke that hurt. “I promise I’m not going to leave you. Not over Miles. Not over your going vegan. Not even over that time you got really upset at me for leaving my socks in the living room.”
That perked him right up. His eyes got a steely glint. “There is a place,” he said, “for socks.”
And it probably said something weird about my brain or our relationship that Oliver chiding me about my socks was kind of a turn on. “I’m sorry.” I made a futile attempt to sound contrite. “I’m just a filthy sock harlot.”
“Lucien, are you attempting to turn my irritation at your failure to pick up after yourself into some kind of sex game?”
I shot him a hopeful look. “Is it working?”
“Well, you have made a terrible mess of the kitchen.”
“I know. I deserve to be punished.”
“You’ve already been punished,” Oliver pointed out. “You had to eat that dreadful pie.”
“That is very much not the kind of punishment I had in mind.”
Standing, Oliver neatly cleared the bowls from the table. “I don’t think framing sex with me as a punishment is quite the compliment you think it is.”
“Well, I don’t think come and do me because you like me so much has quite the right flirtatious edge?”
“But Lucien” — Oliver’s voice had gone very low and very soft — “I do like you. I like you very, very much.”
Okay, maybe that was working. Except even after two years of relationshipping and self-care and emotional development it still scared me how vulnerable sex could make me feel. Which meant it was way easier to say “spank me Daddy,” which we both knew I didn’t mean than “hold me I love you,” which I definitely did. And I was just trying to find a way to articulate this — see above, re: emotional development — when Oliver came back, un-bowled, and took me firmly by the wrist.
“What are you —” I started, as I found myself manoeuvred onto the table.
“I’m showing you how much I like you.”
Argh. Help. My feelings. I made a valiant attempt not to melt everywhere. “I’ll feel really bad if we damage this table.”
“Really?” he asked. “I won’t care in the slightest.”
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