Exclusive Excerpt: In The Game (Virginia Kelly Mystery Book 1) by Nikki Baker


When I got back to my room, the message light was flashing on my phone. The desk said I was supposed to meet a friend at noon in front of the columns at Quincy Market. That was all there was to the message and I figured it had to be from Mary Tally.

I tried again to call Bev but she was out. I left another message on her machine and then I looked at my watch. It said eleven o’clock. I decided to walk it.

Quincy Market is on Congress Street. The man at the desk told me I couldn’t miss it. He was right. Quincy Market looks like Boston’s answer to Pier 39 or Ghiradelli Square. It is a low-rise watertower if you use Chicago as a point of reference, with jugglers and puppet shows and guys with long hair playing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” on their guitars for spare change.

It is wall-to-wall people at noon on Saturday and I could understand why someone who didn’t want to be found might agree to meet there; it was a perfect place to get lost in a crowd. I had no idea how she would find me but I leaned on a gray concrete column and waited. A guy with a life-sized hand puppet, “Pirate Jack,” shouted friendly witticisms at people in the crowd. It was a pretty good puppet show and I didn’t mind the wait.

At exactly noon, someone tapped me on the shoulder. She wore a black leather mini with a zipper up the front, a lace camisole and a biker jacket. She had that honey-brown hair a la Tina Turner that seems to be enjoying a resurgence on black women. It was tied up in a cloth band. I thought that this was not the outfit I would pick if I were incognito, but then I noticed at least five other women around in roughly the same costume.

“You Beverly Johnson?” she said.

“Yeah.” I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do yet. “Are you Mary Tally?” I asked.

She put her hand on her hip. “Maybe,” she said. “Let’s walk, okay?”

“All right,” I said.

We walked. Mary Tally had a walk that could stop traffic on the turnpike.

“How old are you?” I said. She looked fifteen.

She smiled. “Old enough. Twenty-three. How old are you?”

 “I’m twenty-seven,” I said.

“You don’t look it.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sure. So what have you got for me?”

“Are you Mary Tally?” I asked her again.

“Yeah,” she said. “What have you got?”

“How can I be sure?” I asked. “Show me something to prove it.”

She hesitated for a minute then pulled a wallet from the pocket of her jacket. She took a driver’s license out and handed it to me. There was a picture of her in a Boston University sweatshirt and a headband. The name on the license was Mary E. Tally. I handed it back to her and she put it in her wallet. “Satisfied?” she asked.

I nodded. “Yeah.” I was satisfied. “Did you go to BU?”

“I dropped out,” she said. “So what you got for me?”

I took an envelope from my purse. It was a prop; there was nothing in it.

Mary Tally reached for it.

“Not here,” I said. “Someplace more private.”

She shrugged and pointed to a restaurant off the square. “Let’s eat then. You pay.”

We got a table upstairs. It wasn’t the best one they had and I didn’t know if it was because we were two women or two blacks, but I wasn’t in the mood to make waves. Mary had demanded the smoking section before I could stop her. When we sat down she lit up with a lot of attitude. Mary smoked menthols. She offered me one.

“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t smoke.”

“Good for you,” she said. “I’m trying to quit. I got asthma.”

The restaurant was nearly empty and the waitress paid us a lot of attention. She looked like a poster child for the Seven Sisters. Mary ordered dessert and a decaf espresso. I had lunch, a hamburger and some beer.

Mary sat across from me with one leg tucked up under the other and her cigarette tucked in the corner of her mouth like the tough girl I didn’t really take her for. Her cigarette bobbed up and down as she moved her lips.

“Now, what have you got for me?” she asked again.

I handed her the envelope. She was noticeably pissed when there was nothing in it.

“What the fuck is this?” she said.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. I’m not Beverly Johnson, but I’m a friend.” It must have sounded lame.

Mary Tally may have looked like she’d been born yesterday, but she wasn’t. “What exactly do you want?” she said. I could see she was checking out her exit strategies.

“I want to find out who killed Kelsey,” I told Mary. “Seems to me, the way you loved her, you’d want to find that out too.”

Mary Tally relaxed. Something I had said struck her really funny. She put her cigarette down and threw her head back so she could laugh better. She laughed from her chest which was round and firm. I would have found the laugh engaging if she hadn’t been laughing at me. “Whoever you are, you’re misinformed, but clearly you’re harmless and you’re surely not the police.” She took a drink of her coffee and grimaced. “I don’t know whether to set you straight or let you stay this stupid.”

“Why don’t you set me straight.” Mary was starting to piss me off.

“All right,” she said. She had sized me up from my Cole Haan loafers to my college signet ring. She had a chip on her shoulder for people like me and she wanted to make sure I knew she was at least as smart as I was, even if she didn’t have a diploma. “What do you want to know?”

I had about a million questions and they started with why Kelsey was so broke if she was embezzling all that cash and ended with who had killed Kelsey. In between, I wanted to know about her partners and where Bev came in.

Mary ordered another espresso. “Kelsey taught me how to drink these,” she remarked in a way that made me think that Kelsey might not have been so bad. “Let me tell you a story.”

She put out her cigarette and took her time.


When businesswoman Virginia Kelly meets her old college chum Bev Johnson for drinks late one night, Bev confides that her lover, Kelsey, is seeing another woman. Ginny had picked up that gossip months ago, but she is shocked when the next morning’s papers report that Kelsey was found murdered behind the very bar where Ginny and Bev had met. Worried that her friend could be implicated, Ginny decides to track down Kelsey’s killer and contacts a lawyer, Susan Coogan. Susan takes an immediate, intense liking to Ginny, complicating Ginny’s relationship with her live-in lover. Meanwhile Ginny’s inquiries heat up when she learns the Feds suspected Kelsey of embezzling from her employer.

Nikki Baker is the first African-American author in the lesbian mystery genre and her protagonist, Virginia Kelly is the first African-American lesbian detective in the genre. Interwoven into the narrative are observations on the intersectionality of being a woman, an African-American, and a lesbian in a “man’s” world of finance and life in general.

First published to acclaim in 1991, this new edition features a 2020 foreword by the author.

Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R88E1C4ORTKMF/


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Excerpt: Boystown 13: Fade Out (Boystown Mysteries) by Marshall Thornton


Bert Harker bought me a sofa. Four years ago.

It was covered in a knobby, beige, fire-retardant fabric that on close inspection resembled spun plastic. The design was boxy and bland, not meant to be the focal point in anyone’s living room. It was designed to disappear under an Erté print or behind a lacquered Oriental coffee table or at very least melt away next to an expensive entertainment center.

That was the designer’s plan, but in my apartments the sofa had always been the main attraction. There was no competition from the director’s chairs or the industrial shelves that held my electronics or my dinged-up metal desk or the tiny dining table in front of my window. As far as furniture went, the sofa was the star.

I hadn’t liked it at first. Hadn’t wanted it. But I’d slowly become accustomed to it. I’d recovered from broken bones and beatings on it, I’d fucked on it, I’d grieved on it; my lover, Harker, spent time dying on it, and so did my friend Ross.

The arms had turned from beige to gray; the cushions were now stained with red wine, coffee, soup, Hawaiian Punch and in one spot blood—I have no idea from which wound or for that matter even whose blood it was. There were at least three cigarette burns and one actual tear. Most of the time, to keep from having to buy another sofa, I covered it with an old afghan.

Really, it was time to let it go, to drag it out of the building and leave it in an alley for someone to pick it up and find a new life for it. It’s time with me was done, but somehow I wasn’t ready to admit that. So it sat in my living room, dirty, dilapidated and a little smelly.

I was sitting on it when the police showed up and began banging on my door. It was early on the last day of July. My lover Joseph had left me a day or two before. My friend Ross was dying in a hospital nearby. Even though I had no idea why the police were there, it made perfect sense that they would be out in the hallway threatening to break the door down.

Without deciding to, I got up off the sofa and answered the door. A detective I didn’t know stood there with a couple of uniforms. He said, “Nick Nowak, I’m arresting you for the first-degree murder of Rita Lindquist.”

“Really? That’s interesting.”

“Interesting? You think it’s interesting?

I shrugged. I did find it interesting that Rita was dead, that someone had gotten the upper hand on her. I mean, she’d never struck me as the victim type. The detective was a bit younger than me and either Italian or Mexican, I couldn’t tell. He recited my Miranda rights to me and asked if I understood them.

I shook my head and said, “No.

“Don’t be a smart ass.” He pushed past me saying, “We have to search the apartment.” The uniforms followed him inside.

It crossed my mind to ask to see a search warrant, but I didn’t. Technically, they could look around to make sure I didn’t have any weapons or evidence I might destroy. I did have a Sig Sauer and a Baby Browning. I said a mental fond farewell to each. One of the uniforms grabbed me by the wrists and cuffed my hands behind my back.

Disconnected. I felt disconnected from the things that were happening. It was as though I were watching myself on TV, as though I’d just tuned in and this was all part of some show I didn’t know the name of and was just as clueless about the plot.

“Which district are you from?” I asked the detective.

“Town Hall.”

“Where’s Hamish?”

Hamish Gardner was the detective I knew there. The guy I’d dealt with from time to time. I didn’t like him much and he certainly didn’t like me. Still, at a moment like this his unfriendly face would have been appreciated.

“Detective Gardner is at your office. Where the body was found.”

“Rita’s body was found at my office?” That didn’t make sense. None of this made sense, of course, but Rita’s body being found at my office made the least sense of all.

The detective didn’t answer my question just gave me a look that said I should know the answer to that.

“And who are you?” I asked.

“Detective Tim Burke.” His name sounded a lot like timber, which I’d bet was his nickname all through grade school. I looked into his eyes. Reading my mind, he said, “You make a crack about my name and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

“Nice to meet you, Detective Burke.”

To the uniform holding onto my arm, he said, “Take him downstairs, put him in the back of a squad.”

I was led out of my apartment and down the hallway to the elevator. A couple of neighbors were standing in their doorways watching what was happening. I had no idea there were so many people at home on a weekday morning. Glad I could entertain them.

At the elevator, the uniform pressed the down button. I glanced at his chest. His nametag said PATTON. He wasn’t that tall, had sandy brown hair and a pronounced underbite. At another point in my life I’d have been trying to figure out how to get him to suck me off in the elevator, murder charge or no murder charge.

“What the fuck are you looking at?” he demanded. Apparently, I’d been staring.


The elevator door opened and he shoved me inside. I slumped against the back wall and made a half-assed attempt to figure out what was going on. Rita Lindquist. Dead. Okay. So who killed her? And why did the police think it was me? Wait, that part was easy. She was killed in my office. That’s what Timber had said, right? So all I needed to do was figure out who wanted Rita dead and who’d think killing her in my office was a great idea. At the intersection of those two ideas would be the killer.

Unfortunately, no one came to mind. There were definitely people in the world who’d want to kill Rita. I could easily name a few of them. But I couldn’t think of anyone who would also want to do it in my office.

We reached the first floor. As we left the elevator, I asked, “How?”


“How was Rita killed?”

“Cute. Really cute.”

“I think I have a right to know.”

“You already know. So cut the shit.”

At Two Towers, the buildings were joined by a glassed-in walkway. Halfway down were doors that opened onto the circular drive. The office was in the south building, and as Patton and I got close to the front door the manager of my building—a tall, awkward girl named Clementine—rushed over, saying, “Nick what’s happening? Where are they taking you?”

“None of you your business, ma’am,” Patton said.

“Nick, do you need me to call someone for you? A lawyer?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, right before Patton pushed me out the front door.


Moments later, I was crushed into the back of a blue-and-white. The doors locked instantly, and did not have the luxury of inside handles. Patton walked away—to argue with Clementine, I think—leaving me sliding around on the vinyl seat with my hands uncomfortably cuffed behind me.

 Well, this was a pretty picture. Me in the back of a squad. Lights unnecessarily flashing. Every few minutes someone would come out of the building: An old woman walking a tiny little dog; a young banker heading down to the Loop; a scrawny old queen I’ve seen at the bars. They all stared at me and then quickly looked away.

Half of me was trying to figure out how to get more information. If I knew what happened to Rita it would be easier to make them understand I didn’t kill her. And the other half, well, that half didn’t give a shit. Lock me up, throw away the key. Fine by me.

Ten minutes later, Patton came back and got into the car. I couldn’t resist saying, “Home, James.” Like he was chauffeuring me. That went over like a lead balloon.

We drove down the Inner Drive to Addison, then turned west. Town Hall station was on the corner of Addison and Clark. An old two-story brick building that I’d been to many times, though never like this.

Patton pulled around the back, got out, and hustled me into the station though a rear entrance. He took the cuffs off and handed me over to a middle-aged man who was civilian support. He’d been sitting at an old wooden desk devoting all his attention to smoking a cigarette. He was quite good at it, and I could tell it annoyed him to be interrupted.

Reluctantly, he got out a fingerprint card and asked me a bunch of questions with about as much emotion as the default message on an answering machine.


“Nick Nowak.”


“Sure.” It said Mikolaj on my birth certificate but same difference.

“Middle name?”


The guy looked up at me.



I rattled it off. “3220 Lake Shore Drive apartment 1008, Chicago, 60657.”



“Employer’s address?”

“3257 Clark, Chicago, 60657.”

“North Clark?”



I was tempted to say, “Very,” but gave him my social security number instead.

“Date of birth?”

April 25, 1948.

“Place of birth?”



“You’re not my type.”

He gave me another look and then put an M in that box. For good measure he put a C in the box for race. Caucasian.


“Six foot three.”


“One ninety. After a big meal.”

He must have been getting tired of me because he gave me another glance and filled in the boxes for hair and eyes with two B’s[3] . My eyes are actually hazel, but I decided not to quibble.

That was all he needed. With a nod he let me know I should sit at the chair next to his desk and he got out an ink pad. He moved his chair over close to mine and then took my right hand. One by one, he rolled my fingers on the ink pad and then on the card.

He was close to me. Closer than I liked. He smelled of stale cigarette smoke, sweat and drugstore aftershave. I can’t say I was enjoying the intimacy of being arrested. It took an excruciatingly long time to finish rolling my fingers on the card. When he was finally done, he made me sign the card, then handed me a tissue so I could rub the ink around on my fingertips.

Then he got up and led me over to a little setup where they took mug shots. It was a lot like the DMV, except not as much fun. I just stood there and let it happen. I didn’t know what kind of face to make. I mean, should I smile, frown, look sad? I didn’t have a ‘you’ve been falsely accused of murder’ face and I couldn’t guess what it would look like anyway.

After we were done with the photo, the guy—who didn’t have a nametag and hadn’t bothered to introduce himself—led me back to his desk. He took out a big plastic bag and a receipt book. He handed me the bag.

“Shoelaces, belt, keys, wallet, anything else in your pockets. Anything else not in your pockets. I’m going to write down everything and give you a receipt to sign. Don’t try to keep anything. If they find it later on you’ll probably never see it again. This is your chance to protect your valuables. I suggest you take it.”

I began giving him my stuff. The laces to my Reeboks, I wasn’t wearing a belt, my keys, my wallet which was crammed full with a lot of stuff—none of it money—a wad of cash from my pocket, some change, my beeper, receipts I was going to expense to the job I’d finished the week before.

“Forty-three dollars, fifty-four cents,” Mr. Smiley said after he counted my money. I’m going to turn the beeper off so it doesn’t lose its charge.”

That seemed considerate until I remembered that they could probably search it and would need it to be nice and charged for that. When I was done handing him things, he held out the receipt and said, “Read it. If you agree, sign at the bottom then rip off the pink copy and put it in the bag.”

I looked it over. It seemed okay. I signed. Meanwhile, Smiley had picked up his phone and dialed an internal number.

“The package is ready.”

It was hardly a secret that I was the package and I don’t think I was being called that so I wouldn’t know what was going on. He was deliberately telling me I wasn’t human. That I was just a thing to be passed around the station. My humanity had been checked at the door.

Patton came back and led me out of that area and up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Now I was in familiar territory. There were two interview rooms in the back of the floor. I’d been in each of them at least once.

Windowless. A metal table. A couple of metal chairs. Patton pushed me in and said, “Make yourself comfortable.” As though that were even a possibility.


The Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mystery series comes to a close with Boystown 13: Fade Out. When a box containing a woman’s corpse shows up at his doorstep, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself accused of murder. The police are convinced it’s Rita Lindquist—a woman who once shot Nick. Their case is thin, but they and the state’s attorney are determined to prosecute him. Recent events have left Nick emotionally gutted and he’s not even sure he wants to fight back. But when he’s mysteriously bailed out of jail, he can’t help by try to solve the mysteries in front of him. Who posted his bond? Why is the state’s attorney trying to railroad him? And what’s the real identity of the girl in the box?

More about award-winning author, Marshall Thornton:

Marshall Thornton writes two popular mystery series, the Boystown Mysteries and the Pinx Video Mysteries. He has won the Lambda Award for Gay Mystery twice, once for each series. His romantic comedy, Femme was also a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Masc, the sequel to Femme. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.

Sign-up for his newsletter at marshallthorntonauthor.com

Exclusive Excerpt: Drama Faerie, the 9th Nicky and Noah mystery by Joe Cosentino


Just like Demetrius rejecting Helena. Though I admit I prefer Shakespeare’s similes.

“Ray, please, give me another chance. I know I’m not hot like you, but I can be loyal.”

“How many times do I have to say it? You and I will never happen, dude.” He pushed Enoch away and headed offstage.

Having witnessed the encounter from upstage, Braedon Walsh hurried to his best friend’s side. The hunky little blond threw his Hermia wig on the stage floor and placed a comforting arm around Enoch. “Are you all right?”

Enoch laughed bitterly. “Obviously not, according to Ray.”

“Don’t listen to him.”

“Why not? Ray holds the opinion of the majority.” Tears streamed down Enoch’s face. “Why did I think it could be any different?”

“Enoch, don’t let Ray, or anyone, measure your self-worth.”

“Easy for you to say. Everyone loves your self-worth, remember?”

“Enoch, why can’t you see all you have going for you?”

Ray appeared at Braedon’s other side. “Braedon, what are you doing after rehearsal?”

“Getting a quick bite to eat and then going over my scenes.”

“Let’s do it together.”

Braedon waffled. “I don’t think—”

“I’m really confused about this last scene. Won’t you help me, man?”

Braedon looked up at Ray. “Well, I guess I can—”

Enoch’s face turned the color of Braedon’s peach dress. “Are you two kidding me right now? You’re going to hook up together—with me standing right here watching?”

Ray groaned. “Nobody asked you to stand here and watch.”

“Enoch, I want our show to be a success. I think I can help Ray with—”

Ray grabbed Braedon’s arm. “Come on, let’s go.”

Enoch pushed Braedon away. “Go ahead, Braedon. No more pity party for me. I release you from your duty as my best friend.” He choked out, “And I hope you two are happy together.” Enoch stormed offstage.

“Enoch!” Braedon started to go after him.

Ray held him back. “Let him go. He needs a reality check, big time.”

“How could you treat him like that?”

“No matter what I do, I can’t get the guy off my back.”


Braedon’s green eyes bore into Ray. “You don’t know Enoch like I do. He’s been my best friend since we were kids. The guy is really sensitive.”

“The guy’s oblivious. I told him over and over again that I’m not interested.” Ray scratched at his washboard abs. “How can I get him to understand I don’t want a relationship with him? What am I doing wrong?”

Braedon’s shoulders dropped. “I guess this isn’t your fault, Ray.”

“I agree. And it’s not your fault either. People like who they like.” He smiled. “And I happen to like you.”

Braedon returned the smile. “That’s really sweet.”

“Totally.” Ray wrapped his arms around Braedon. “And we’d be really sweet together.”

“I’m flattered, but I don’t want a relationship. And I have to talk to Enoch. He looked so desperate and despondent. I need to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

After Braedon headed offstage, Ray said to himself, “What’s stupid is you not jumping at the chance to hook up with me tonight, dude.” Then Ray went backstage.

Before Braedon could fully exit the stage, Elliot Hinton and his understudy, Graduate Assistant Yates Aldrich, both appeared in Lysander’s chocolate-colored tunic, tights, and high boots. They surrounded Braedon, causing him to resemble peach filling inside a chocolate bar.

Elliot towered over Braedon. “Don’t tell anyone, but I smuggled some beer from the dorm. Meet me outside?” He winked at Braedon. “Or after I’m a star, you’ll regret missing the opportunity.”

The graduate assistant’s sapphire eyes sparkled in the stage lighting. “Braedon, I picked up some sandwiches from the deli in town—turkey and veggies with pesto mayonnaise. I know this sounds corny, but the veggies reminded me of back home on the farm. It made me feel warm all over, and I thought of you. Let’s head to the Tiring House and share some lunch.”

Braedon replied, “Thanks, guys, but I’m really worried about Enoch.”

Yates replied, “It’s nice of you to be concerned about your friend. But I’m older than you. I’ve had more years of schooling. And believe me, you can’t spend your whole life feeling sorry for a dish rag.”

“Enoch’s not a dish rag. He’s my best friend!”

“You need to make some more mature friends.” Yates grinned.

Elliot winked at Braedon. “And I’m the guy to show you how to do it.”

“I appreciate the offers, guys. But I can’t.” Braedon brushed past them, calling out, “Enoch!” And he was gone backstage.

Elliot and Yates shrugged and followed.

A few minutes later, the student stage manager called everyone back from break. All the actors and understudies sat on the benches in the groundling section—except for the five Mechanicals who took their places behind the center entrance, waiting to come on stage. After five tries to get the lighting change, the stage manager finally succeeded and gave the cue to begin.

Outside his house, Peter Quince commences rehearsal for the play he wrote to be performed at Duke Theseus’s and Queen Hippolyta’s wedding.

At the sound of their characters’ names, Martin and Ruben applauded wildly from their box seat.

Quince’s play is entitled, “The Wedding of Pyramus and Thisby.” Joining Quince to rehearse the scene, among others, are Bottom playing Pyramus the groom, and Flute cast as Thisby the bride. After their rough rehearsal, they all execute a flashy jazz dance, lifting Bottom in the air singing, “We All Need a Good Bottom.” Mid-lift, Bottom comes crashing to the floor—onto his bottom.


Ruben cried out from the box, “If he’s injured, we’ll be sued.”

Martin screeched, “I refuse to be penniless when I reach old age.”

Ruben glared at him. “You reached old age before pennies were invented!”

Graduate Assistant of Movement, Yates Aldrich, raced up the stairs onto the stage. He kneeled next to Assistant Professor of Music Dante Bravo—our Bottom. Yates’s sapphire eyes displayed fear and concern. “Dante, are you hurt?”

Dante stood on flabby, and shaky legs. “No harm done.”

Everyone applauded, and appropriately shouted, “Bravo!” Dante milked the attention by bending over for a deep bow, which landed him on the stage floor bottom down once again. He smiled. “Now if I could just get a handle on the play.”

Braedon Walsh, our much-desired Hermia, hurried up the stairs. The compact student helped the bear of a professor back onto his flat feet and off stage.

Behind me, Detective Jose Manuello bragged in my ear, “During my understudy rehearsal as Bottom, I understood every word of the play, and I was as light as a feather on my feet—including during the lift.”

I glanced back at Manuello’s full tunic. “I hope the other actors are insured for hernia surgery.”

“Very funny, Nicky.”

“I’m glad you appreciate my fine wit, Manuello.”

“I appreciate it like I appreciate my enlarged prostate.”

I gasped. “Manuello, must you throw your prostate in my face?”

“My prostate isn’t anywhere near your face.”

“And let’s keep it that way, Manuello!”

Suddenly, I heard a piercing scream followed by, “Demetrius!”

Glancing around the theatre house, I noticed Ray Zhang had never come back after the break.

“Don’t move, Nicky.”

Ignoring Manuello’s orders as usual, I sprung up the stage steps, ran across the stage and through the right doorway, following the sound of the scream. I arrived in the Hut to find our prop person, Sharon Delwab, pointing to the lifeless body of Ray Zhang. Our Demetrius was face up on the floor with the point of a foil penetrating his chest. Foiled!

DRAMA FAERIE (the 9th Nicky and Noah mystery)

a comedy/mystery/romance novel by JOE COSENTINO

Discount pre-order sale until Feb. 1 only!






It’s summer at Treemeadow College’s new Globe Theatre, where theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is directing a musical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream co-starring his spouse, theatre professor Noah Oliver, their son Taavi, and their best friend and department head, Martin Anderson. With an all-male, skimpily dressed cast and a love potion gone wild, romance is in the starry night air. When hunky students and faculty in the production drop faster than their tunics and tights, Nicky and Noah will need to use their drama skills to figure out who is taking swordplay to the extreme before Nicky and Noah end up foiled in the forest. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining ninth novel in this delightful series. Take your seats. The curtain is going up on star-crossed young lovers, a faerie queen, an ass who is a great Bottom, and murder!

Praise for the Nicky and Noah mysteries:

“Joe Cosentino has a unique and fabulous gift. His writing is flawless, and his use of farce, along with his convoluted plot-lines, will have you guessing until the very last page, which makes his books a joy to read. His books are worth their weight in gold, and if you haven’t discovered them yet you are in for a rare treat.” Divine Magazine

“a combination of Laurel and Hardy mixed with Hitchcock and Murder She Wrote…

Loaded with puns and one-liners…Right to the end, you are kept guessing, and the conclusion still has a surprise in store for you.” “the best modern Sherlock and Watson in books today…I highly recommend this book and the entire series, it’s a pure pleasure, full of fun and love, written with talent and brio…fabulous…brilliant” Optimumm Book Reviews

“adventure, mystery, and romance with every page….Funny, clever, and sweet….I can’t find anything not to love about this series….This read had me laughing and falling in love….Nicky and Noah are my favorite gay couple.” Urban Book Reviews

“For fans of Joe Cosentino’s hilarious mysteries, this is another vintage story with more cheeky asides and sub plots right left and centre….The story is fast paced, funny and sassy. The writing is very witty with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour….Highly recommended.” Boy Meets Boy Reviews

“Every entry of the Nicky and Noah mystery series is rife with intrigue, calamity, and hilarity…Cosentino keeps us guessing – and laughing – until the end, as well as leaving us breathlessly anticipating the next Nicky and Noah thriller.” Edge Media Network

“A laugh and a murder, done in the style we have all come to love….This had me from the first paragraph….Another wonderful story with characters you know and love!” Crystals Many Reviewers

“These two are so entertaining….Their tactics in finding clues and the crazy funny interactions between characters keeps the pages turning. For most of the book if I wasn’t laughing I was grinning.” Jo and Isa Love Books

“Superb fun from start to finish, for me this series gets stronger with every book and that’s saying something because the benchmark was set so very high with book 1.” Three Books Over the Rainbow

“The Nicky and Noah Mysteries series are perfect for fans of the Cozy Mystery sub-genre. They mix tongue-in-cheek humor, over-the-top characters, a wee bit of political commentary, and suspense into a sweet little mystery solved by Nicky and Noah, theatre professors for whom all the world’s a stage.” Prism Book Alliance

“This is one hilarious series with a heart and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend them all, and please read them in the order they were written for full blown laugh out loud reading pleasure!” Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

More About Author Joe Cosentino:

Joe Cosentino was voted Favorite LGBT Mystery, Humorous, and Contemporary Author of the Year by the readers of Divine Magazine for Drama Queen. He also wrote the other novels in the Nicky and Noah mystery series: Drama Muscle, Drama Cruise, Drama Luau, Drama Detective, Drama Fraternity, Drama Castle, Drama Dance, Drama Faerie; the Dreamspinner Press novellas: In My Heart/An Infatuation & A Shooting Star, the Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories: A Home for the Holidays/The Perfect Gift/The First Noel, The Naked Prince and Other Tales from Fairyland with Holiday Tales from Fairyland; the Cozzi Cove series: Cozzi Cove: Bouncing Back, Cozzi Cove: Moving Forward, Cozzi Cove: Stepping Out, Cozzi Cove: New Beginnings, Cozzi Cove: Happy Endings (NineStar Press);andthe Jana Lane mysteries: Paper Doll, Porcelain Doll, Satin Doll, China Doll, Rag Doll (The Wild Rose Press). He has appeared in principal acting roles in film, television, and theatre, opposite stars such as Bruce Willis, Rosie O’Donnell, Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and Jason Robards. Joe is currently Chair of the Department/Professor at a college in upstate New York, and he is happily married. Joe’s books have received numerous Favorite Book of the Month Awards and Rainbow Award Honorable Mentions.

Web site: http://www.JoeCosentino.weebly.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoeCosentinoauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeCosen

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4071647.Joe_Cosentino

Amazon: Author.to/JoeCosentino

Exclusive Excerpt: Police Brutality (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 2) by Gregory Ashe





10:07 AM

HAZARD BROKE DOWN ANOTHER BOX and carried it to the landing, where he had a growing pile. Moving into the office for his private investigation agency had actually been a fairly straightforward affair. Once Hazard had learned that Somers had rented the place without asking him, and once Hazard had learned that Somers would dump his dumb ass if he didn’t really get serious about opening the agency, everything had been pretty clear.

Divorce, not dump, a little voice in his brain reminded. Somers had said divorce, not dump. And then Somers had said the M word. The fucking M word.

Right now, the suite of rooms above an empty storefront on Market Street didn’t look like much, but it did look better. Some of Hazard’s efforts were paying off. The large, front room, where Somers kept talking about hiring an assistant and having him handle the administrative side of things, currently sported several tubular chairs, a fern that slumped against the cracked front window, and a painting that Somers had hung, crookedly, of the Grand Rivere. Hazard’s office held his desk, a beautifully crafted piece that Somers had stolen, literally, from his parents, and a pair of chairs. Over the last few weeks, Hazard had been moving various professional books—both ones that he had owned as a police officer and, now, ones that he had acquired as part of his new career—from home to office. Hence, the cardboard box.

Hazard crossed the room, adjusted the painting so that it was level, and went to his private office. He powered up the laptop Somers had picked out, dropped into the chair Somers had wanted him to have, and navigated the advertising website where Somers had dropped an obscene amount of money and told Hazard, when the fight about how much to spend had escalated, something to the effect of: It’s already fucking spent, so you can either use it or not.

Studying the website, Hazard tried to figure out how to use the money that Somers had spent on him. The money Hazard hadn’t earned. The money Hazard didn’t deserve. The money that might be a very poor investment, judging by how well Hazard had done with his last client, who had been abducted and tortured and almost killed. Hazard had seen Mitchell Martin in the Savers just a few weeks before, from a distance, for an instant before Hazard ran away—ran and hid. The young man was still on crutches, and he looked like he’d been partially rubbed out with an eraser.

Flyers. People still looked at flyers, right? The internet hadn’t completely obliterated flyers, had it? Hazard’s fingers hovered over the keyboard. He sat there for maybe five minutes. Thinking.

Then he closed the browser tab. Maybe he’d better start with a business card first. That would make sense, right? The business cards he had, the ones he’d bought before he was even really sure he wanted to do this, just said, Emery Hazard, Private Investigator. So Hazard looked at linen cards. Then he looked at squishy cards that turned into sponges when you put them in water. Then he went cheap, the bare bones.

And after maybe fifteen minutes, he closed the tab.

Maybe a website first. Maybe that was most important.

But the problem, the real problem, was that Hazard needed a name for the business. And a logo. He was fairly sure that he needed a logo. Something that would communicate, visually, what his business was going to stand for.

So, he told himself, quit being such a pansy about the whole thing. Quit dancing around it. Quit rearranging the three pieces of furniture, quit watering the fern, quit phoning the landlord about the cracked glass, quit playing with your dick and get down to business.

Ok. A name.

That was easy. Hazard opened a blank document, fingers flying across the keyboard. He considered what he’d written, revised. A little shorter. A little punchier. Perfect. Now he just needed a logo. He pulled up a stock images site and browsed for twenty seconds before he found exactly what he wanted. After buying the image, he pasted it onto the document. There. He was grinning, aware of the flush in his face, the ridiculously exaggerated sense of satisfaction at having accomplished even this much. But at least he had something to show Somers tonight, a mock-up for the flyers and business card and website and, fuck, LLC filing.

His printer hummed and chugged just as a knock came at the office door.

Hazard reached for his gun, the Ruger Blackhawk chambered for .45 Colt, six-cylinder, resting in the top, right-hand drawer.


For a moment, Hazard was still reacting, his hand wrapping around the Blackhawk’s checkered rubber grip, his whole world narrowing down to the need to run or shoot or both. Then, by inches, he clawed his way back to control. It had been like this for him—he couldn’t think about it more than that, couldn’t face it head-on yet—since July, when he had walked into the ruined hallways of the Haverford to face Mikey Grames.

He was getting better, he told himself.

Pulse stuttering in his neck, he hid his hand, still holding the gun, in the drawer. He worked moisture into his mouth. “Yeah?”

The doorknob turned; the door opened slowly. Walter Hoffmeister poked his head into the room like he was doing some kind of shtick.

“For fuck’s sake,” Hazard said, releasing the Blackhawk and shutting the drawer with his elbow. “Come in.”

The thing about Hoffmeister, Hazard decided as the man took a seat, was that there was nothing to love. Hoffmeister was an asshole. The whole universe was one big fire hydrant for Hoffmeister to piss on. He was tall, thin, and sallow; he looked like a foam cup yellowing in the sun.

“Aren’t you supposed to have some sort of secretary?” he asked, jerking his thumb at the empty front room.

“What do you want?”

“Kind of fucking stupid for you to be back here, hiding in a closet, with that big room empty out there.”

Hazard leaned back; the chair creaked under his weight.

Hoffmeister crossed his legs, ankle bouncing on his knee. “Place is a fucking dump.”

Hazard’s fingertips curled around the leather armrests.

“You see the front window is cracked?” Hoffmeister whistled. “You’re going to pay a fucking fortune this winter. And next summer? Jesus, you’ll have mosquitos in here the size of poodles.”

For a moment, Hazard visualized a Mack truck, a runaway, coming down Market Street with its brake lines cut. And Hazard and Hoffmeister, both of them, standing there on the curb. And Hazard’s hand on Hoffmeister’s shoulder. Like they were buddies.

And hey, it was an infinite universe. Anything could happen.

“Let’s go outside and get some fresh air,” Hazard said.

“Nah, this stretch of Market smells like fish, you know? Jesus Christ. Did you pick this place? What a fucking mess. How much are you paying? Jesus Christ, if you tell me you’re paying more than, I don’t know, a hundred and fifty bucks a month, you’re getting hosed.”

“A hundred and fifty bucks a month won’t rent you a storage unit.”

“Oh man,” Hoffmeister said, laughing, stretching out now that he’d pissed on everything, hands behind his head. But his ankle was still bouncing on top of his knee. “Oh man, you are getting dicked up the ass. I knew it. But I guess you kind of like that, right?”

“What do you want?”

Instead of answering, Hoffmeister leaned forward, brushing something invisible off the desk. He ran his thumb all the way to the end of the wood. Then, twisting back and forth, he slouched in his seat.

“You ever feel fucked?” Hoffmeister said, the words bursting out. “You ever feel like the whole universe is just out to get you? I mean, you’ve got to understand, right? You were a cop. And now you’re in this shithole. You know what I mean?”

“I know you’re really fucking lousy at asking for help.”

For the first time since coming into the office—maybe for the first time since Hazard had met him—Hoffmeister smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am. How much do you charge?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m not just saying that. I don’t know, I really don’t. I’m fucked, ok? You heard that psycho bitch at the tree lighting yesterday, right?”

“The one who said, ‘Officer Hoffmeister must die’? Yeah, I heard her.”

“It’s bullshit. It’s fucking ridiculous. I shouldn’t have to wear a target on my back because some rainbow-sprinkles snowflake is upset that I did my job.”

“You know that woman?”

“Fuck no.”

“But you know what she’s upset about.”

“They’re all pissing their panties about the same thing, Hazard. The same fucking thing: I did my job.”

“This is all wrapped up with the lawsuit, is that it? Assault and battery—is that what it is?”

“Fucking bullshit.” Waving a hand, Hoffmeister added, “Union rep says it’s just a dustup. You know, everybody’s hot under the collar about police. My job, you know what it is? Keeping order. Keeping this town safe. And now I do my job, and what happens? My ass gets slapped with fucking criminal charges.”

“I heard that Ozark Volunteer guy, the one pressing charges, I heard he got hurt pretty bad.”

“Jesus, I knocked him to the ground. That’s it. And he was in the middle of felony assault, for whatever the fuck it’s worth.”

“It’s all just a dustup.”

“Sure, but shit, you know how it goes. This drags on and on, and I’m at a desk like an asshole. And then, when this finally clears, that son of a bitch is going to come after me for money.”

“Do you have money?”

“Fuck no, but that won’t stop him. Just hiring a lawyer is going to cost me a fortune.”

“So hiring me probably isn’t a good idea.”

“Money’s no good to me if I’m dead, dumbfuck. That’s why I’m here.” He leaned forward and drilled a finger into the desk. “Me. Alive. That’s how I want to stay.”

“You think that woman at the tree lighting is really a threat?”

Hoffmeister contracted, slouching in the seat again, chewing a thumbnail. He stared past Hazard, fixated on something Hazard couldn’t see.

“What?” Hazard said. “What happened?”

“Fuck it. This was a stupid fucking idea.”

“No, sit down. Instead of giving me the opening lines from your defense, tell me what’s going on.”

“Why? So you and Somers can have a laugh tonight? Fuck off.”

“You’re here because, for some reason, you don’t think you can take this to the police. Is that right?”

Hoffmeister didn’t answer.

“Fifty dollars an hour. A thousand-dollar retainer. I itemize expenses, and I send a report at the end of every week.”

“You can keep me alive?”

“Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll tell you what I think I can do. Then you can decide if you want to hire me.”

Still chewing a nail, Hoffmeister seemed to consider this. Then he shrugged. “I’m fucked, man. Universe has me fucked.”

“Let’s see if we can un-fuck your life.”

“You ever worked for someone? Jesus, I don’t want to be your first. Probably end up in the funny pages, one big fucking punch line.”

Hazard thought of Mitchell Martin, crutching through the Savers.

“You weren’t worried about that when you walked in here,” was all he said.

Tearing his nail from between his teeth, Hoffmeister blew out a breath. “Screw it,” he said, and then he started to talk.


For the first time in a long while, Emery Hazard’s life is good. His new business as a private detective is taking off. Things are good at home. He loves his boyfriend, John-Henry Somerset; he loves their daughter. He might even love the new friends they’ve found. There’s only one problem: Somers has been talking about marriage.

When a former colleague, Walter Hoffmeister, comes to Hazard and hires him to look into a series of anonymous death threats, Hazard eagerly jumps on the distraction. Hoffmeister might be a jerk, but he’s a paying jerk, and Hazard isn’t convinced the threats are serious.

Until, that is, Hoffmeister is almost gunned down on Hazard’s doorstep. As Hazard investigates more deeply, he learns that more than one person in Wahredua has a reason to wish Hoffmeister dead. His search takes him to the Ozark Volunteers, reincarnated as the Bright Lights movement, but it also leads him into a sanctuary of radical Christianity. Meanwhile, an antifa activist has arrived in town, calling for Hoffmeister’s death and threatening total war with the Bright Lights.

As Hazard continues to look for answers, he becomes a target too—and not just because he’s helping Hoffmeister. The Keeper of Bees is still at large, and the killer hasn’t lost interest in Emery Hazard. Not yet. Not, Hazard begins to suspect, until the Keeper has taken everything Hazard holds dear.

About the Author

Learn more about Gregory Ashe and forthcoming works at www.gregoryashe.com.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Deserted to Death: A Jamie Brodie Mystery (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 19) by Meg Perry


We were up early, intending to beat the worst heat of the day. While Pete made breakfast, I went through the garage to get the newspaper and found it in its usual spot at the end of the driveway, encased in a plastic wrapper. I lowered the garage door behind me and joined the others on the patio, upturning the wrapper to allow the newspaper to slide onto the table beside Pete. As I did, a separate scrap of paper fluttered to the tile under my feet.

It appeared to be a lined sheet of notebook paper, folded into quarters. I bent down to pick it up, and Kevin scrambled to his feet. “Don’t touch it.”

I froze, halfway down, and craned my neck to look up at Kevin. “Why?”

“Because it shouldn’t be there. Where’s the nearest box of tissues?”

Pete said, “Guest bathroom.”

Kevin disappeared into the house. I straightened up but didn’t move. Pete, Kristen and I stared at the sheet of paper like it might explode. I said, “He’s just being abnormally cautious, right?”

Pete said, “Sure.” 

Kristen said, “It’s probably just a note from your carrier.”

Kevin returned with the box and pulled two tissues out. He draped them over his fingers and picked up the paper, laid it on the table and carefully unfolded it.

The message was handwritten in capital letters with a red Sharpie.




Kristen sucked in a breath. I said, “Fuck.”

Pete moved beside Kevin, where he could study the note from the proper angle. Kevin asked him, “Thoughts?”

Pete’s tone was analytical. Detached. “Misspellings indicate lack of education. Use of the word queer indicates someone that’s too old or too out of the mainstream to realize that it’s not considered an insult anymore.”

Kevin said, “Do you know who’s friendly in the Alamogordo PD?”

Pete said, “Not yet. But Steve would.”

“Call him.”

Pete went inside to call Steve. Kristen said, “This is outrageous.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Dr. Cotton was right.”

Kevin said, “What?”

I told him and Kristen what my doctor had said. Pete stepped back onto the patio as I said, “Then he said, ‘be careful.’”

Kevin grunted. “Good advice, apparently.”

Pete said, “Steve’s calling a friend of his who’s a detective with APD. They’ll be here in about twenty minutes.”

Kristen said, “I’d better get dressed.” She went inside.

It was closer to a half hour later when Steve parked at the foot of our driveway, accompanied by a man in a separate car whom I’d never seen before. I opened the front door to them. Steve said, “This is Tobias Rice. Tobias, this is my brother-in-law, Jamie Brodie.”

Tobias Rice was about my size, a shaved-bald African-American man wearing an APD polo shirt, jeans, and a shoulder holster, and carrying what I figured was an evidence case. I shook his hand. “Thanks for coming.”

“Glad to help.” His voice was low but powerful. “Where is this note?”

“Right through here.” I led him into the house and to the patio.

Tobias greeted the others, then snapped on a pair of latex gloves and lifted the sheet of paper, examining it from all angles. “Tell me how you found this?”

I told him. He asked, “And this was when?”

“About 45 minutes ago.”

He thought out loud. “Newspapers are delivered around 5:00-5:30. You find it an hour or so later…”

Pete said, “Easy for someone to go unseen in the dark.”

“Yup.” Tobias nodded at Ammo. “The dog didn’t hear anything?”

I said, “The house was built to be soundproof.”

He unlatched his case and extracted a fingerprinting kit. Several minutes later, he had a full set of clear prints. “I’ll run these through IAFIS, see what pops. Anything else unpleasant happens, you call me direct.” He recited his number, which both Pete and I entered into our phones.

Pete saw Tobias out, then returned. Steve said, “Tobias is the only black cop in Otero County. His wife teaches math at the high school. They live down the street from me.”

I said, “I didn’t know that APD had any detectives. Why didn’t he come when we discovered the body?”

“He doesn’t have any training in homicide investigation. I think APD prefers to let the state police handle those cases. But he has plenty of experience in evidence collection.” Steve punched Pete lightly in the shoulder. “I’m late to work. See ya.”

Pete followed Steve outside. I turned to Kevin who was standing at the edge of the patio, his arms crossed, frowning at me. Behind him, Kristen was pacing. I said, “What the fuck?

Kevin said, “This is unacceptable.”

“I’m open to suggestions. But there’s nothing we can do about it, is there? Other than calling the cops?”


Kristen was still pacing. “Maybe Jeff and Colin shouldn’t visit.”

Jeff and his eldest, my nephew Colin, were scheduled to visit next week, arriving the day after Kevin and Kristen left. I said, “Then the terrorists win.”

“True. But what if the attacks escalate?”

Pete came through the back door as she spoke. “They won’t.”

Kevin said, “You don’t know that.”

“No, but I can predict it. Whoever these people are, they’ve done the worst they can think of.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Kevin waved his hand in the general direction of town. “This county is loaded with right-wing Second Amendment fans. You can’t say that someone isn’t out there planning a drive-by.”

Pete scoffed. “Seriously? This is a small town. Nobody’s going to try anything like that.”

“You think shit like that doesn’t happen in a small town? You grew up in a small town. You know how unpleasant the local yokels can be.”

I’d inched my way to stand beside Kristen, and we watched as Kevin and Pete argued. It was a new experience for me. Finally Pete said, “You’re overreacting.”

Kevin wasn’t done. “And you’re sticking your head in the sand. Don’t be naïve. Did you think this rural county would be gay-friendly? Would happily live and let live? Would give you a pass because you’re Steve’s brother? What do you think?”

Pete was attempting patience, but I could tell he was gritting his teeth. “I. Think. That. It. Will. Be. Fine.”

Kevin stared at Pete for a minute, and I realized something that I never had before. I’d thought them equal in terms of intimidation factor, but I’d been wrong.

In a contest of wills, Kevin would always win.

Kevin lowered his voice. “You and Jamie can take care of yourselves. But I am not going to allow Jeff and Colin to walk into the middle of a dangerous situation.”

“That should be Jeff’s decision.”

“It will be, as soon as I explain it to him.” Kevin strode into the house, closing the patio door firmly behind him.

Pete said, to no one in particular, “He’s overreacting.”

I said, “I’m not convinced of that.”

He shifted his gaze to me. “You, too?”

“Pete. We’ve been threatened. Sure, it might not happen again, but I agree with Kev. I’m not willing to risk Colin to that chance.”

Kristen looked back and forth between us. I waited. Finally Pete blew out a deep breath. “I’m going for a walk.”

Kristen said, “I need a drink.”

I said, “Me, too.”

When we went into the house, Kevin was in the family room, pacing just as Kristen had, while he talked to Jeff. Kristen and I got bottles of Coke from the fridge and cracked them open. I was taking a long drink when Kevin came into the kitchen, holding out his phone. “He wants to talk to you.”

I took the phone and said, “Hey.”

Jeff said, “Is Kev overreacting?”

“Pete thinks so. I don’t necessarily agree.”

He sighed. “Colin was super excited about coming to Alamogordo again.”

“I know. It’s your decision.”

“I’ll talk to Val tonight. We’ll let you know.”


“And for God’s sake, be careful.”

“I will. Don’t tell Dad about any of this.”

“God, no.”

I said goodbye and handed the phone back to Kevin. “He and Val will discuss and decide.”

Kevin said softly, “I’m not overreacting.”

“I know.” I set my bottle on the counter and rubbed my face. “This whole adventure was originally my idea, you know.”

Kristen asked, “How so?”

“When we inherited the money and I first thought of building a second home, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal at the federal level yet. But it was already recognized here in New Mexico.” I counted on my fingers. “My criteria were no earthquakes, no wildfire, and that our marriage would be valid. And Steve was here, and all the elements necessary for solar and geothermal living. It seemed perfect.”

Kristen said, “Eventually, it’ll be all right. I think. But it’ll be easier if you rapidly establish yourselves as Those Who Must Not Be Fucked With.”

Kevin snorted. “You’ll enjoy that.”

I clinked my bottle against his. “Hell, yeah.”


Jamie Brodie is feeling unsettled. His boss has asked him to take an unpaid furlough for the summer; his husband, Pete Ferguson, is obsessed with genealogy research and has papered the walls of their townhouse with family trees; and his father-in-law, Jack, is experiencing odd side effects from a new medication.
Pete wants to head straight for their second home in New Mexico at the beginning of Jamie’s furlough. Jamie has misgivings, but agrees. On their first morning in Alamogordo, Jamie discovers a dead teenager in the street across from their house. The findings in the victim’s autopsy report are deeply disturbing, and the victim’s identification leads Jamie to a jarring discovery.
Several days later, someone leaves a note inside Jamie and Pete’s morning newspaper. NO QUEERS IN ALAMOGORDO.
As the anonymous homophobic attacks continue, Jamie’s determination to stand his ground solidifies. But someone out there is equally determined to push Jamie and Pete out of town, and is willing to take extreme measures to achieve his goal.

More About Author, Meg Perry

Learn more about author Meg Perry and her Jamie Brodie Mystery series via her website:

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From Meg’s website:

“I’ve been writing the Jamie Brodie Mysteries since June 2012. Hard to believe! Jamie is (like me) an academic librarian. Not like me, he’s a gay man, a Rhodes Scholar, a rugby player, a son, brother, uncle…and boyfriend (eventually, husband). Jamie’s boyfriend (eventual husband) is psychology professor Pete Ferguson, and they share a townhouse in Santa Monica, CA.”

The Rational Faculty (Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords Book 1) by Gregory Ashe





8:37 AM

HAZARD HAD SLEPT POORLY, and around two he left the bedroom. For a while, he walked the house, counting paces. This many steps from the hall closet to the bathroom. This many steps from the thermostat to the front door. This many steps from the utility room to the window where he watched a fox cross the backyard. The house got smaller and smaller, and after a while, he found himself on a couch, staring up into the dark.

The thing was.

The thing was that it was so easy to imagine: Somers with his sleeves rolled up, smiling, nodding, taking statements, studying a crime scene, moving through a place of violent death with grace and beauty. Somers seeing things that others didn’t see. Somers moving steadily toward justice for an unjust death.

More. Somers, everything about Somers. Somers interacting with people—even the simple, nonverbal things, the way Somers would roll his shoulder or shake his head, and somehow it would be enough to get Foley and Moraes laughing, like it had been the best joke in the universe—in that peculiar way Somers had of being utterly perfect without seeming to realize it.

Hazard let himself play the whole thing out. He ran it backward and forward like an old VHS tape. He let himself split off into what ifs: Somers picking up coffee and donuts because it was the only way to get Norman and Gross to do their job; Somers showing one of the new recruits how to keep people away from a crime scene, politely but firmly. Wilder: Somers chasing a suspect across rooftops; Somers in a shootout.

He played as many scenarios as he could until it hurt so much that he couldn’t breathe. He had to close his eyes.

Then, upstairs, his alarm buzzed. It was a new day.

He packed up all the broken pieces, swept that spot inside himself clean, and went to turn off the alarm. Then he went back to the kitchen, counting the steps automatically, and threw himself into the morning.

A little past eight-thirty, Hazard was sitting at the table, coffee in one hand, his phone in the other. He was reading the news when the garage door went up, and the familiar rumble of the Mustang’s engine rolled into the garage.

Somers looked wrecked when he stepped inside. Hair mussed worse than usual, red eyes, fatigue visible in the lines of his face. He stopped just inside the kitchen. He smiled.


“Look what the cat dragged in.”

“God, what a night.”

Hazard stood, set down phone and coffee, and walked toward his boyfriend.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Fine.” Hazard bent, kissed Somers, and unbuckled his waistband.

“Ree, I’m wiped. I’m not really—”

Hazard laughed as he undid Somers’s zipper an inch.

“Not that I mind the interest,” Somers said, his hand coming up to run over Hazard’s cheek. “It’s been a while since we . . . you know.”

Still laughing, Hazard slid his hands around Somers and unbuckled the waistband holster. He removed it and set it on the kitchen counter.

“Oh,” Somers said.

Hazard pushed him into a seat at the table. “I’m glad you didn’t mind the interest.”

“Ok, I just thought . . .”

“I know what you thought.”

“Well, when a guy starts taking off your pants the minute you get through the door, you’re bound to think something’s up.”

“Something is up,” Hazard said, navigating to the oven. “Breakfast.”


“You’ve been up all night. You’ve been up over twenty-four hours, in fact. You need to eat something. And you need to sleep.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Try doing things in order, John.” Hazard pulled out a plate that had been warming in the oven. He poured juice and coffee.

“I can do that,” Somers said.

“Don’t you dare.” Hazard carried everything over to the table.

“I can do that too.”

“Uh uh.”

Somers stared at the plate.

“Goat cheese omelet with bacon and shallots,” Hazard said. “Grits. And asparagus.”

“I thought it was a little green spear.”

Hazard smiled and went back to his seat.

They sat there together in silence. Somers picked at the food, taking a few bites, but mostly just staring at the plate. He moved a piece of asparagus all the way to one side. Then he moved it back. The tines of his fork rang out against the ceramic. Then the asparagus had to go all the way over again. Hazard watched all of it out of the corner of his eye. The world-traveling asparagus.

“Ree, maybe we should talk about this stuff.”

“Sure. I want to hear about the case.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

Hazard set his phone down. He looked at Somers. And he said, “Please, John. I’m not asking you to give me protected information. I just . . . I just want to hear about it. Whatever you can tell me.”

Somers actually dropped his fork. “You think I wouldn’t tell you?”

“I’m a civilian. Information about ongoing investigations—”

“Jesus Christ, Ree. You’re my boyfriend. You’re the smartest person I know. You’re the best detective I know. If you’re willing to listen, Jesus, you’re going to have to tell me to shut up.”

“I’ve gotten pretty good at that.”

With a real smile on his face, Somers began to talk. And eat. Whatever his objection to the meal, it was forgotten as he launched into an account of the case. A few times, Hazard tried to stop him, but Somers waved the warnings aside and kept talking.

And inside, Hazard felt something coming to life. Like he’d been walking in the dark, and now lights were coming on. He listened to Somers’s description of the crime scene. He listened to the paraphrased interviews. And then, to his own surprise, Hazard found himself asking questions. Did he say this? Did she say that?

It was almost like the old days.

“So,” Somers said as he scraped a fork across his empty plate. “What do you think?”

Hazard grabbed his coffee and took a drink. He shrugged. “Nothing on the security cameras?”

“Not yet. No sign of this guy. He walks out of the apartment and, as far as we can tell, disappears. Cravens is going to have people keep looking at the footage, but . . .” Somers waved a hand dismissively. “So, who else was in on it?”

Hazard shrugged again.

“Come on,” Somers said. “Right now, I like that girl Cynthia for it. She’s got a weird thing for professors; I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabbri had a thing with her, cut it off, and she went crazy.”

“That’s a good theory.” Hazard raised his coffee again.

“Oh no,” Somers said, catching the mug and pulling it back down. “Now you.”

“Come on, I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore.”

“Three months and you’re out of practice?”



“John, I—”

“Bullshit.” Somers had a crazy grin. “Tell me.”

“I think it’s strange that the adjunct—what was his name?”

“Carl. Don’t pretend like you don’t remember.”

“I think it’s strange his story doesn’t match up in so many ways. And he’s right: cui bono? Who benefits?”

“So you think it’s Carl.

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s good. That’s really good to know.”

“John, I’m just saying—” Hazard stopped. “This is not a representation of my ability to make a final, conclusive deduction—”

“Like the time you were convinced you knew how The Sixth Sense was going to end.”

“Shyamalan cheated,” Hazard growled, getting to his feet.

“And I think,” Somers said, sprawling back in his seat, studying Hazard from under hooded eyes, “that it was Cynthia Outzen who killed Fabbri because she was a jilted lover.” Then Somers stood. He took the mug of coffee, gently easing Hazard’s fingers away from the ceramic, and set it on the table. Then he brought Hazard’s hands down to his waistband. “Now. I believe I was having some ideas about you when I got home.”

Hazard had one of those tiny Emery Hazard smiles. He bent and kissed Somers once, and then he pulled his hands away. “You need to go to bed.”

“Sure. Come with.”

Laughing, Hazard extricated himself, collected his coffee, and started stacking Somers’s plate and utensils. “I’ve got stuff to do, John. And you’re exhausted.”

“Not too exhausted to fool around with my hot, hulking boyfriend.” Somers was behind Hazard now, sliding his arms around Hazard’s waist, kissing Hazard’s shoulder and arms through the thin cotton of Hazard’s t-shirt. “Come on. It’s been a while.”

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It feels like forever.”

Hazard was very careful. He had to be so careful these days, careful about almost everything. He set down the stack of dishes. He took Somers by the wrists—gently, carefully—and he turned around, stepping out of the embrace.

It took him a moment too long to know what to say. Confusion, then pain sparked in Somers’s face and disappeared.

“I’ve got to—” Hazard began.

“Yeah,” Somers said.

“I thought I might take a swing at the utility sink today.”

“I’m going to do it, Ree. I promise. Tonight. Or tomorrow if the case stays hot.”

Hazard brought Somers’s hands up. He kissed his palms.

“Ree, you don’t ever have to—I mean, you can just tell me.”

Hazard bent and kissed him. Then he released Somers’s hands, turned him toward the stairs, and gave him a push.

“Go get some sleep.”

But Somers slowed and turned back. He didn’t say anything. He just watched Hazard.

Hazard made himself stand there as long as he could; then he turned and picked up the dishes and made his way to the sink.

“Don’t forget,” Somers said, his voice so normal that Hazard wanted to punch out the window over the sink, “we’ve got dinner with the sheriff tonight.”

“I’ll call and cancel. You’re going to be busy working—”

“No, it’ll be fine. I’ve got to eat dinner sometime, and we’ve been trying to set it up for ages.”

“He’ll understand, John. We’ll do it another time.”

“No,” Somers said sharply. Then, back in that painfully normal voice, “No. Dinner, tonight, with the sheriff.”

“Ok.” Hazard ran the hot water and said, “Get to bed.”

Somers left; it was like he vanished, turned to smoke. No creaking floorboards. No protesting stairs. That part of Hazard’s brain, where the lights had come on, was doing calculations. Somers was an easy sleeper; he’d be totally out in the next five minutes, and he could sleep in a trainyard.

No, Hazard told himself.

He did the dishes.

That part of his brain, though, kept working. It was a fifteen-minute drive from their house to Wroxall. It was fifteen minutes to anywhere in Wahredua.


He wiped down the counters.

Somers was already asleep; Hazard’s internal timer assured him of that. Fifteen minutes to get to Wroxall. Fifteen minutes to get back. How long would Somers sleep? Hazard checked the clock on the stove. Almost nine-thirty. Four hours? Five? Hazard guessed four, and he threw himself a safety net: three hours. He’d have to be back in three hours. Minus half an hour for travel. That left two and a half hours to look at the crime scene himself, to do a preliminary canvass, and to get back.


Hazard got the mop and bucket. He got the jug of Fabuloso. He started the hot water again, measured out the cleaner, and poured it in. As the suds built, he told himself he wasn’t a detective anymore. He wasn’t even a private detective, although Somers had been after him for months now, ever since their last trip to St. Louis, to open his own agency. He was just a guy. And he had no reason to get involved.

He came back to reality just as the bubbles crested and spilled down the side of the bucket. Swearing, Hazard turned off the hot water. The smell of Fabuloso filled the kitchen; it stuck to his hands when he wiped them on his shirt.

He wasn’t going anywhere. He was going to mop the floor—like the good little houseboy you are, a nasty voice said inside him. He was going to mop the floor. He was going to clean up the front flower beds. He was going to overseed a part of the lawn in back that was patchy. He was feeling better, so much better, as he listed out his routine. Yes. He was going to clean the baseboards. They hadn’t done that since moving in, and Somers liked a clean house. Hazard felt great.

None of which explained why he found himself creeping upstairs, careful to avoid the warped boards and the creaky risers. At the top, he paused, listened. Their bedroom door was open, and he could hear Somers’s even breathing. Hazard turned toward the front of the house. He went into the office. He shut the door, and he didn’t dare turn on the light. He felt like he was burgling his own house.

They shared a desk, and as Hazard opened the bottom drawer, he still wasn’t sure why he had chosen this as his hiding place. It seemed like a terribly stupid place, where Somers was likely to look if he needed the stapler or a rubber band. Hazard shifted office supplies until he found the small bundle. He pulled it out of the drawer. He unfolded the protective paper.

Five hundred business cards lay like a bad deal in poker.

Emery Hazard. Private Investigator.

No phone number. No email. He didn’t have an office or a name for the agency. Ordering the cards had been stupid. Sheer stupidity, prompted by one stupid conversation in St. Louis after that asshole North McKinney had crawled under Hazard’s skin again.

Hazard skimmed twenty off the top and stuck them in his pocket. Then he rewrapped the cards, returned them to the drawer, and covered them with Post-Its, a tape dispenser, a box of Bic pens.

He was out of the house, driving toward Wroxall, before he realized he had forgotten to mop the floors.

About the Author

Learn more about Gregory Ashe and forthcoming works at www.gregoryashe.com.

Author, Gregory Ashe

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