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About the book:
Max Bergmann is Europe’s hottest drum and bass DJ. From the outside, his life is a whirl of glamorous vodka-fueled parties and casual hook-ups, whilst inside he craves the one thing he can’t have – his Greek childhood friend, Georgios Manolas.
Following a disastrous PR stunt and one drunken hook-up too many, Max realises the time has come to reassess his life choices. Returning to his childhood home on the Greek island of Aegina, if he wants any chance of having Georgios permanently in his life, he has to delve into the mystery of the longstanding hatred of the Bergmann’s by Georgios’s family.
Georgios is a chef and has spent his whole life on the tiny Greek island of Aegina. He has held the family restaurant together since he left school, with very little reward, and dreams of one day running a restaurant of his own on the island. Yet if he acknowledges his feelings for Max, he runs the risk of losing not just his traditional Greek family but also his livelihood.
As Max slowly uncovers the secrets of the past, he is left wondering whether a little Greek girl’s heart-breaking wartime diary could not only hold the key to his family’s history, but could it also unlock his and Georgios’s future together?
The Last of the Moussakas is a light-hearted, warm romance about two men’s quest for the truth about the past and unlocking a path to a future together.
GEORGIOS, AEGINA TOWN, GREECE. SIX WEEKS LATER
“I’d heard you were back,” I say neutrally, eyeing the lean, blond man slouched at one of the outside tables. His pale-blue shirt is rumpled and half undone, although he has clearly tried to rebutton it at some point and failed to align the buttons correctly. In one hand, he nurses a bottle of Fix lager and in the other a thin roll-up from which he takes a long drag before attempting to focus his blue gaze on me. I fold my arms across my apron.
“And if Papa Marcos sees you, he’ll tell you to get on your way; you’re not welcome here after what happened last time.”
Papa Marcos is actually my uncle, not my father, but that’s what everyone has called him for as long as I can remember. And this is his restaurant.
“Christ, that was ages ago, Georgios,” slurs the young man, shaking his head in mild protest. A wave of that thick yellow hair falls over his face with the movement, and he lazily pushes it aside before taking another swig from the bottle. He misjudges the precise location of his mouth and some of the amber liquid dribbles down his chin unnoticed. Ash from his cigarette falls unimpeded onto his jeans.
“Well, Papa Marcos has the memory of an elephant, and frankly, I don’t blame him if he tells you to bugger off. You’re lucky you’re even allowed back on the island, to be honest.”
The blond man regards me for a long second, his heavy-lidded gaze momentarily focussed. I feel a familiar lurch in my stomach, somewhere between pleasure and pain, and deliberately push it aside. Not tonight and not like this. Not ever again, in fact, I tell myself. I can’t continue tormenting myself like this, I just can’t. Picking up a tray, I gather empties from the table next to the man, aware of those blue eyes blearily following my every move as I cross to and fro around the outside restaurant area, clearing up the debris from departed diners.
We’ve reached midsummer, and the night has been as busy as any so far this season. I’ve cooked for eight hours non-stop, catering for well over a hundred covers. Day trippers and weekenders from the mainland pack into Aegina, joined by a smattering of rich yachting types and locals enjoying a hot Saturday night. It’s after one in the morning; the last table of guests has finally paid up and left. The town still buzzes with families and groups of friends at the neighbouring bars. Having wiped down the last of the outside tables, I disappear back inside.
After another half hour I’m done in the kitchen. Papa Marcos has long gone, as have the rest of the kitchen staff, leaving me to cash up and lock up. I’m the only person he trusts to do this reliably, not that he gives me any credit for it. I get paid just as little as everyone else, despite doing the bulk of the prep work, cooking, and having to manage a disparate bunch of occasional chefs, porters, pot washers and waiters. I can be sure as hell my lazy cousin and my brother won’t go the extra mile. I try to spend the time thinking happy thoughts about Agnes, my girlfriend of a couple of months. She’s nice, really nice, and pretty too. Shame I hardly have time to see her.
I extinguish the outside lights and, in the gloom, almost miss the body now sprawled across the table in the far corner, the empty green beer bottle dangling loosely from one elegant tanned hand. I detect gentle snoring as I approach and watch for a few moments as the man sleeps on, head cradled on his arm, his fair lashes resting on his cheeks, shoulder-length golden curls fanning around his face. A snail trail of saliva dribbles across his sleeve. And yet, despite his dishevelled and drunken state, I know without a shadow of doubt that Maximillian Bergmann is the most beautiful man I have ever seen.
“Max,” I begin, nudging him gently. Too gently, it would seem, as the snoring rhythm remains unaltered. “Maxi!” I shout a little louder, gripping his upper arm and shaking him with more force. “It’s home time, Maxi!”
Max gradually stirs and looks around hazily until his bloodshot eyes alight on my familiar face. He smiles tipsily. “Always here to save me, my Georgie boy.”
I ignore him; I’m tired and hot, my feet are aching, and I’m desperate for my bed. I can’t recall the last time I was allowed a day off. “Right, come on Max, just stand up. I’m not messing about. You need to go home.”
The harsher tone of voice and the tug on his arm bring Max to a more alert state, and he lurches to his feet, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
“And I’m not a boy!” I add, pulling Max along with me. “I’m twenty-five, Max. Almost a year older than you!”
Max pushes me away. “I need a piss.”
He steps back from the table and turns towards the beach. “Has anyone ever told you how cute you are when you’re cross, Georgios Manolas?” he mumbles over his shoulder.
He weaves his way through the tables and steps down off the restaurant decking, onto the narrow strip of pebbly sand which makes up the town beach. After only a couple of paces, Max reaches the water’s edge, swaying slightly as his fountain of pee arcs into the shallow foam at his feet.
“And you wonder why the good folk around here don’t like you very much,” I mutter under my breath and glance around to check we are still alone.
Max buttons himself up then totters back to where I’m waiting for him. He smiles his perfect easy white smile at me as if he hasn’t a care in the world. He probably doesn’t, I think uncharitably and check my watch. Possibly too late for taxis, and one look at Max makes it unlikely any drivers will agree to have him so inebriated in the back of their cabs anyway, particularly if they recognise him from previous trips. And even though the sensible half of my brain tells me to let Max find his own way home, the other half warns me that I won’t sleep easily knowing he’ll end up crashing somewhere on the beach for the night.
“Come on then, Max,” I sigh wearily. “I’ll give you a lift. The scooter’s parked over here.”
My Vespa has seen better days, having belonged not only to Dion, my older brother, but also to my older cousin Nico before him. Neither of them treated it with the care it deserves. Yet, although it may resemble a rust bucket, the 150cc engine is solidly reliable, even with the extra weight of a second adult. As Max clambers behind me, I warn him to hold on tight. “And don’t fall asleep! Stay awake! I haven’t got a helmet for you!”
Max’s arms obediently snake around my waist, and my oldest friend nestles the warmth of his body into me, resting his head comfortably against my back. We have shared scooter rides many, many times over the years, and as I head up away from the main street and along the coast road, it seems that Max snuggles in even closer. There had been a time when I lived for moments like this, alone with Max’s lean torso warm along the length of my back, but not now. I’m not going to let futile dreams of what could be with Max fill my head again, even if my heart demands that I push my foot to the pedal and just keep on going. I fail miserably to conjure up a mental image of my new girlfriend Agnes’s pretty face.
Aegina is not a big island, only about fifteen kilometres across and ten kilometres north to south, so it doesn’t take very long on the empty roads to get to Max’s parents’ place, cloistered in the hills above Kypseli village. Once we leave the coast road and wind our way up the narrow lanes, we encounter not a single soul.
His parents’ house is a newish villa but built in traditional old Greek style. With lush bougainvillea creeping up the walls, the two-storey elegant limestone sprawl contrasts sharply with the plainer, shabbier village dwellings on either side. Situated in an enviable spot; the views from the terraces stretch all the way to mainland Piraeus, with olive and lemon groves dropping away from the main house and providing acres of much-needed shade in the heat of the day. His parents had demolished the previous villa several years earlier and built this even grander place in its stead. At the time, my mum and I couldn’t see why they had bothered, it’s not as if they frequently visit the place. In fact, Max and his shifting collection of hangers-on are the only regular visitors these days. We negotiate the security gates, and as we head up the long private drive, I can see all the lights in all the rooms blazing, the empty swimming pool lit up like an airstrip for small aircraft. I shake my head; my dad would have said they’ve got more money than sense.
I kill the engine, and with my foot resting on the ground for balance, I wait for Max to move. He doesn’t budge an inch, his arms remain firmly wrapped around me, his front pressed cosily into my back. I wonder if he’s fallen asleep after all.
“Hey, Maxi, time to let go.”
“What if I don’t want to let go?”
His drowsy words are muffled against my neck. His fingertips find their way into the gap between the buttons on my shirt, and I can’t help an involuntary hitch in my breath nor ignore Max’s murmur of contentment as his smooth palm caresses the skin of my flat belly. “You like that, don’t you, Georgie boy?” he croons throatily into my ear.
That sweet accent, mostly Greek, but betraying a hint of foreignness at intense moments like this. I let my head drop back, losing myself in the sensation of the leisurely circular massaging of my belly and the feel of that hot breath and soft lips grazing my ear. God, it would be so easy to say yes, to climb off the scooter and allow Max to lead me by the hand into the house.
Pushing his hand away, I force myself to stay firm. “Stop it, Max,” I plead, closing my eyes. “Come on; please get off the bike. I’ve got work again in the morning, and I’m knackered. Just get off now. Please.”
The warm press of body against mine vanishes. The seat rises slightly as Max’s weight lifts, and I look up, sensing him standing next to me. “I do love you, Georgie boy, you know that, don’t you?”
I turn away from him, fiddling with the wing mirror. “Whatever. Go to bed and sleep it off.”
I head back to our little house hidden amongst the backstreets of Aegina town. A dwelling ideally suited to a family of four, ours accommodates an extended family of eight. Privacy and solitude are rare commodities, and the gulf between my modest home and the one I’ve just ridden away from feels as vast as the Saronic sea, the stretch of water separating Aegina from the mainland.
The whine of my scooter engine sets off a cacophony of local dogs, ours included. I give him a cursory pat as I pass him chained up in his usual spot under the eaves at the side of the house. God knows what all these territorial dogs, so beloved of us islanders, are actually guarding; none of us has anything of value worth stealing, but perhaps we just like to know who might be dropping in on us anyway.
The house is quiet, and I efficiently remove the sweat and grime of my working day under a dribble of a lukewarm shower before creeping into my room. I share the tiny space with Dion, and in the half-light, I can make out his lumpy body under the covers, flat on his back, dead to the world. His ugly snores are such a familiar soundtrack to my nights that they hardly register. I undress silently and slip into the narrow bed, separated from his by only a foot, and close my eyes.
Sleep eludes me as I knew it would; it is always the same whenever Max Bergmann strolls back into my life without warning. In between his visits, I can sometimes manage to forget about him for days at a time, and then just when I’m back on track, he turns up out of the blue, shaking me to the core, flipping my ordered existence upside down. I have a bloody girlfriend now, for God’s sake!
Giving up on sleep, I flick on my phone and indulge in a guilty pleasure: tracking his movements online via his company’s Instagram page. His last gig was headlining a drum and bass festival in Berlin, and before that, he’d done a stint at a big club in Manchester. Globetrotting—well, Europe-trotting as usual. And what had I done while Max had been lapping up the adoration of thousands of fans? Cooking approximately a gazillion moussakas and preparing my entire family’s body weight in tzatziki.
Truthfully, I had been expecting Max to appear again sooner or later. He rarely leaves it longer than a couple of months between visits to the island. He’s half Greek, after all, and spent much of his childhood here. His roots are on this island, and that drags him back, but his presence always unsettles me now. So different from when we were kids, when I counted down the days on the calendar until his boarding school holidays with growing excitement, knowing he would be back with me, and I’d have weeks and weeks with him all to myself. But lately, his presence feels like an open sore I can’t resist picking.
There is a familiar pull as my mind helplessly replays the feel of him riding pillion on the bike, pressed up against me, his soft palm flat against my belly, those maddening stroking circles, his breath and his low seductive voice warm against my throat. What if I don’t want to let go? My hand has strayed to my dick, achingly aroused against the well-worn duvet, and I’m working myself, imagining those circles moving lower and lower until it is Max’s hand on me, Max who is stroking me, Max who is loving me. My own fist is a poor substitute, but my balls tighten nonetheless, and I roll over onto my stomach as I start to come, rubbing myself hard against the friction of the sweaty sheet, stifling my frustrated groans against the pillow.
See, though Max grew up on Aegina, he was educated in England, per his kind and wealthy step-father, and his mother hardly ever visits Aegina anymore, having lived a traumatic life of her own. Max’s blonde and fair, with bright blue eyes like he German father he never knew, as he’d died two months before Max was born. His mom was a teen girl who’d gotten pregnant by his teen father while on holiday in Aegina. Her folks disowned their pregnant daughter, and the Bergmanns likely paid her a ton of money to just go back home. The Greek kids of Aegina, including Georgios, all know the horrible history of Max’s great-grandfather because it was part of the required reading in grade school. Max is now an adult, jet-setting around to DJ the hottest clubs around Europe. He’s used to amazing, swanky hotels, and keeps a posh flat in London. When he is on Aegina, Max lives in his mother’s expansive, gated villa, while three generations of Manolas’s crowd into a dilapidated stone home–everyone sharing a room. Max has never really considered his privilege, but he’s reminded of it when he comes back from a bender that was scary enough to send him a rehab. Max wants to pursue a relationship with Georgios, but he’s held back by the mystery of the historical rift between their families.
Georgios may love Max, but he can’t build a life with him. He’s been running his uncle’s restaurant for ten years now, and is sure the old man will leave him the property, soon. Papa Marcos hates Max, however, and wouldn’t be pleased to have a gay nephew either. That said, Max is pretty sure Papa Marcos has not real plans to give Georgios anything more than a hard time. Aegina’s economy is flailing, and they don’t get the tourists year-round like Santorini or Crete. Georgios points out the disparity between their lives, and Max sees an opportunity. If his great-grandfather’s family could wreak 80 years of unintended havoc, surely he can use his power and connections to right some of those wrongs.
This is such a powerful story, with an intimate and chilling backstory of greed, lust and destruction sowed in the winds of WWII, and repeated over and over by generations of unwitting “takers” as Georgios and his family see them. People who come to the islands and take and take without understanding the repercussions of their actions. The casual brutality was revealed through the lens of a young girl’s diary, a counterpoint to the present day situation that Max and Georgios experience, with Max’s excesses and Georgios’ poverty. At the heart of the story is love: love denied, love stolen, love abused and love redeemed. Both Max and Georgios are good men, but Max had a lot of perspective to gain, for such an otherwise educated and worldly man. He’s stunned, shocked and appalled by his forebears. But, more importantly, he’s determined to leave a lasting mark on Aegina that will wash away the stains of the past. I loved his ideas, and his creativity in seeking not only redemption with Georgios and the Manolas family, but the larger Aegina community. It’s sweet and compassionate, and all that hard-working and stubborn Georgios deserves. The happily ever after is so beautiful, with so much happiness that it’s hard to imagine such dark fortunes had ever been a part of their experiences. I loved the setting. I loved the friends-to-lover progression. I loved the culture-clash and the backstory that really set up the conflict in stark and unflinching terms. Creative and thoughtful, with a bit of steam as Max and Georgios embark on a life together.
When she is not overseeing her small menagerie, she enjoys writing contemporary romantic fiction. And when she is not doing either of those things, she works as an anaesthesiologist.