It’s Christmas, and all antique dealer Sebastian Snow wants is for his business to make money and to save his floundering relationship with closeted CSU detective, Neil Millett. When Snow’s Antique Emporium is broken into and a heart is found under the floorboards, Sebastian can’t let the mystery rest.
He soon finds himself caught up in murder investigations that echo the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. To make matters worse, Sebastian’s sleuthing is causing his relationship with Neil to crumble, while at the same time he’s falling hard for the lead detective on the case, Calvin Winter. Sebastian and Calvin must work together to unravel the mystery behind the killings, despite the mounting danger and sexual tension, before Sebastian becomes the next victim.
In the end, Sebastian only wants to get out of this mess alive and live happily ever after with Calvin.
Winter turned his gaze on me, and I stared back up at him. Of all the serious issues I could have been focusing on, I was instead obsessing over his curious-looking eyes again. And those freckles. God, he even had them down his neck, disappearing under the collar of his shirt. I started to consider just how extensive that freckle trail was—
“Get those clothes off.” He pointed expectantly at the woman who appeared at my side again to collect the damning evidence.
“Winter,” Lancaster called as she stepped into the store again with a man who had to be the city medical examiner.
Winter gave me one last glare before leaving.
I learned the evidence woman’s name was Martha Stewart—no relation, she added—and she had no sense of privacy.
“Honey, if you think I’m trying to sneak a peek, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” she said, carefully putting my jacket into a collection bag and labeling the front.
“No? Why’s that?” I asked, trying my best to ignore the fact I was now naked from the waist up in a cold room, with half a dozen cops nearby and a coroner shoving a liver thermometer into the body of my former boss.
“You aren’t my type,” she indicated while putting away my T-shirt next.
“I bet you say that to keep all the boys from blushing.”
“I got a wife, sweetie,” Martha said casually. “Pants. Come on. I’ve got a lot to do here.”
I had never unbuttoned so quickly for anyone, but she was about to start tapping her foot. “You’re not my type either, Martha.”
“Oh, I can tell,” she said, chuckling to herself.
“What does that mean?”
“It means you sure aren’t checking out my goods when you’ve got a ginger to ogle.”
Instead of vehemently denying the fact that I found Detective Winter even remotely attractive, I asked, “So his hair’s red?”
She stared curiously.
“I can’t see color,” I clarified.
“Oh. Yeah, it’s red. Well, more orange, like that fiery color. You know.”
“I don’t know, but I’ll take your word for it,” I replied. I glanced back toward Mike. The coroner was crouched beside him, talking to Winter, who did a real good job at looking like a sexy, imposing badass you’d see in a TV drama. And I had to pause while undressing because I was now painfully aware that I had an erection.
Of all places, times, and people to be aroused by.
“Hey,” Martha said, snapping her gloved fingers.
“Can I put my new shirt on?” I asked, stalling.
She sighed heavily and picked up her camera. “Hold on. I need to photograph.”
“Whoa, what, all of me?”
“I’ve never met such a prude,” she mumbled. “Hold your hands out, palms down.” Martha took several photos of my hands at different angles, as well as my chest, where a small smudge of blood had ended up. Upon finishing, I was allowed to put on my new shirt, which had given my body enough time to stand down from saluting.
I quickly finished stripping, having to pause for another photo before Martha deemed me finished, and she waited expectantly as I made myself proper. “Pleasure to meet you, Martha,” I said, unsure what else I was supposed to tell a woman after I stripped and posed for her. Would “thank you” have been better?
She hummed absently in response while putting her camera aside and gathering up the bags. “Want a word of advice?”
I paused, one arm through the sleeve of a jacket that was more suited to cool autumn weather than the shitstorm outside. “Sure?”
“Don’t go giving Winter a hard time, or he’ll book your ass faster than you can say heartless.”
What did that mean? “Uh….”
“He’s seen it all,” she said in a tone of warning. “And has patience for none of it.” Martha left me alone after that.
I pushed my sunglasses back up and crossed my arms over my chest. I was suddenly freezing, but it wasn’t a chill that shook me to the bone. Fear, that’s what it was.
Let’s take a step back, look at this objectively. Neil had taught me a lot about crimes and evidence, and I needed to use that to my advantage. I had zero interest in becoming a suspect—or worse, being arrested by Detective Winter.
Rigor mortis starts to set in around two hours after death, and the human body can decrease in temperature at an average rate of one point five degrees per hour. I needed to factor in, however, that the shop door had been open for who knows how long, which could affect the temperature reading on the body. If rigor was setting in, I could suspect poor Mike had been dead since….
I turned to squint at the wall clock behind me.
The officer who had been watching me the entire time asked, “Got somewhere to be?”
“I can’t read the time.”
He glanced at the wall. “Just after twelve.”
All right. I had been there close to an hour, which means it had been around eleven when I found Mike. So at a minimum, he was killed around eight that morning. I had alibis. Pop, the one employee at Little Earth—hell, I’d even drag Neil into this if it meant my head.
When I looked up from counting points off my fingers, Winter was standing in front of me, a strange expression on his face. Amused? Indulgent? Curious? It was hard to tell.
“Hi,” I said.
“I’ve got some more questions.”
Lancaster was giving orders in the background to have space made as a gurney was brought in and Mike’s body was placed on it. So long, Mike….
“Where were you at seven this morning?” Winter asked.
Ah-ha! “Mike has only been dead a few hours?”
“Answer the question.”
I knew it. Rigor mortis started with the face—the eyes, jaw, down the neck. His entire body wasn’t affected yet, which meant he had to have been attacked when I was around other people. Given, also, how much snow had piled up in the doorway, it roughly corresponded with what the news had been saying about the city’s expected precipitation per hour.
“Seven? I was home.”
“Thinking about getting out of bed.”
“Do you live alone, Mr. Snow?”
I felt the muscle in my throat jump. If I said yes, I would be lying to a cop, which was never good. If I said no, Winter would want the contact information of the second individual.
Would Neil mind?
Of course, but given the circumstances, would he be willing to out himself to a fellow detective, who he believed was a homophobe, if it meant the safety of his boyfriend?
It concerned me greatly that I didn’t have an answer to that question.
Retired homicide detective Linda Sikorsky and her wife Kirsten McClellan head to Maine for a long weekend of rest, relaxation and rewrites as Kirsten finishes drafting her first novel. Bad weather alters their plans, forcing them to stop for the night at the Cliff’s Edge, a motel known for secrecy and indiscretion. Something murderous goes bump in the night, sending the women on a search for justice when a young reporter’s body is found dumped and violated on a back road. A road Linda must now go down, no matter where it takes her, or what it reveals.
Exclusive Excerpt: Part I
CAYLEY DREES was nervous. She hadn’t heard from her confidential source for two days and she was supposed to meet him tonight. The timing could not be worse. A storm had made land the past six hours, covering Maine in thickening sheets of rain. She’d not had far to drive, just from Wathingham, where she lived and worked, to the outskirts of Lonesome Pointe, but the driving had been slow and treacherous. Drivers, including herself, had pulled off the highway at intervals to let the rain slow enough for them to see again. Visibility for parts of the 90 minute trip (now closing in on two and a half hours with weather delays) was approximately zero. She was relieved and curious to finally see the fading billboard announcing the Cliff’s Edge Motel just two miles up the road. At the rate she was going it would be a long two miles, but she was comforted to know her destination was in sight.
At twenty-three Cayley was already among those young achievers who made names for themselves on “30 Under 30” lists and nods to up-and-comers that appeared annually, praising the next generation’s best and brightest. She was going places, and like others of her type, she was the first to declare it. A natural journalist, Cayley had ignored the probability of an internship at the Boston Globe or the Philadelphia Inquirer, choosing instead to learn her reporting chops at little Wathingham, Maine’s, All Pointes Bulletin. But she had her reasons: she was a small pond girl at heart, and she intended to be the biggest fish in it. Had she gone with the Globe or the Enquirer she would be covering news that mattered to much of the world, but she would be the fourth journalist down on the left, in a cubicle listening to a hundred other journalists talk to sources and crank out stories with bylines nobody noticed. The ladder they climbed was steeper, and much more crowded. This way she could move back to Wathingham where her family lived and be a star. It would take time to reach the top, but not as much time. The All Pointes had a staff of only seven, including the part-time receptionist. It was a fiefdom she could find herself running in just a few years.
She wasn’t happy being assigned the obits, but it was part of the game she had to play. Everyone had to start somewhere, and it was the kind of assignment a new reporter was expected to do. The paper’s publisher and editor, a no-nonsense woman named Lucille Proctor, had taken a liking to Cayley when she’d known her casually as a high school student in town and Cayley’s journalism class had spent the day shadowing All Pointes reporters. Lucille accepted her internship application the day after it arrived. She could have said yes that same afternoon, but why seem too eager? Few young people as talented and determined as Cayley ever returned, and certainly showed no interest in internships at the All Pointes when they could cover celebrity drug overdoses for the L.A. Times, where it also happened to be warm most of the year.
Cayley had been reporting on dead people for almost a year now. She covered other things, too: local festivals, some interviews, and an occasional movie review for which she was reimbursed the cost of one ticket, a soda and a small popcorn. It was the opposite of glamorous. There was a time during the summer when Cayley questioned her decision to return to Wathingham. She’d posted a dozen death notices, contacted a few next of kin when something they’d submitted was questionably written or, in one case, to determine if the deceased was truly dead, since she swore she’d seen the man in the pharmacy the day before.
And then it happened: the call from her source. He sounded nervous—in fact, he sounded nervous every time she subsequently spoke to him, as if someone might hear them. They never emailed. He insisted all emails were read by the government, or at least by the employers of everyone sending them. He wanted nothing in writing, he said, he just wanted her to know what happened. But first, about that obituary you ran for Russell Drover …
“Russell Drover?” she’d said, trying to remember which one it was and when it was published. She had been sitting at her desk rewriting copy when the call came in, the last of the day to be transferred by Rudy, the part-time office guy. (Rudy was sweet, distracted and more interested in finding a girlfriend than furthering his career, which was why he was a part-time receptionist at twenty-six.)
“The old guy who owned the Cliff’s Edge outside of Lonesome Pointe,” the voice said, sounding as if he’d cupped his hand over the phone.
“The Cliff’s Edge …”
“Are you a reporter or a parrot?”
She’d almost hung up on him then. She’d been pranked a few times, always by kids who thought annoying strangers on the phone was hysterical. But something in his tone, his nervousness, made her take a deep breath and refrain from snapping.
“I’m a reporter, Mr …?”
“Never mind that,” he’d said. “I just called to tell you that you got it wrong.”
“Wrong?” she’d said, immediately regretting repeating him again.
She was sitting up now. She’d taken a pencil from an All Pointes coffee cup she used for them and poised it over a thin white reporter’s notebook. Something told her this was different, this had substance.
“He didn’t shoot himself like they said.”
“We didn’t say that either, Sir. Suicide never reads well in an obituary.”
“You think I’m playing with you, is that what you think?”
His sharpness startled her. She sensed she had to be careful if she wanted him to keep talking.
“Are you telling me he was killed by someone else?” she asked, still not recalling the obituary in question but certain it had said nothing about suicide. Families preferred to say “a sudden illness.” It didn’t matter now. She was being offered something she knew was bigger than the obituary beat, something people would talk about.
“He was murdered, yes,” the man said. This time his tone was flat, almost sad.
She waited a moment, letting him breathe while she decided how best to proceed. “Is there more, Sir? Is there something you’d like to tell me, like … who you believe killed Mr. Drover?”
“Oh, I know who killed him.”
Cayley felt the chill through the phone. Yes, she thought, yes, I’m sure you do know, but will you tell me? Pretty please? Or will this be difficult …
“And I know why,” he said. “It was because of what happened.”
“Yeah, what happened.”
Very carefully now: “When?”
“A long time ago.”
Excerpt Part II
LINDA SIKORSKY wasn’t looking forward to the drive to Maine but she would not tell Kirsten. It would take at least six hours, much of that in a storm the weather service had been warning about for the past week. She’d thought of suggesting they postpone the trip, but she knew the price for it would be days of sulking by Kirsten, delivered with a large side order of disappointment. Her wife had been planning this trip for two months, convinced it would be just what she needed to finish her first mystery, whose central character was transparently modeled after Linda. “The Rox Harmony Mysteries” had become Kirsten McClellan’s obsession. Linda was so relieved Kirsten had found a calling in retirement, even if writing was an avocation Linda thought put food on very few tables, that she withheld her reservations about a fictional lesbian detective based on her. Nor did she speak to Kirsten of the ego deflation that surely lay ahead in mixed reviews, unpredictable book sales and that small matter of finding a publisher. None of these things were worth causing Kirsten to fret more than she normally did. For Linda, just driving to Maine in terrible weather, after an unexpected delay caused by her mother’s emergency in Philadelphia, provided stress enough.
The women lived in a small house in Kingwood Township, New Jersey, that Linda had inherited from her Aunt Celeste. Her mother’s only sibling, Celeste had died on the back porch the spring before last, watering the flowers she’d kept for years in plastic beds hung from a wrought-iron railing surrounding the small space. There was just enough room on the porch for a table and four chairs. Linda had spent many Sunday mornings having coffee with her aunt after driving from New Hope, Pennsylvania, across the river into Jersey. She usually visited her mother the day before, making those weekends a sort of twofer: visit Mom one day, Aunt Celeste the next, and promise to be back in two weeks, three tops if something came up to delay her.
That “something” was sometimes homicide. Linda was then on the New Hope Police Force as its only female detective. She’d put in nearly twenty years, the last six in homicide, when Celeste died and left her the perfect place to retire: five acres of wooded land, a mile’s drive on 651 from the Delaware River. Timing, as Linda knew, was everything. She’d met Kirsten McClellan that January, inherited the house in September, and married Kirsten the following March. Now they were living very rural lives and slowly but surely adjusting to them.
Excerpt Part 3
On their way to a B & B in Maine, Linda and Kirsten are forced by the storm to stop at the Cliff’s Edge Motel.
LENNY SAW the car pull in. It was 7:30 p.m. now, dark and drenched outside as far as the eye could see, which was not far given the driving rain that had brought traffic to a standstill. The storm did not have a name but it was strong enough to be called something besides a Nor’easter. It deserved more respect than that. While it wasn’t an Irene or even a Sandy, it was a nasty one and it packed a punch. That’s why the Cliff’s Edge was almost full. Lenny had worked the front desk for the past six years and had only turned on the “No Vacancy” sign three or four times. This just wasn’t a place people looked for or added to their travel websites’ favorites list. It was exactly what he saw tonight: a place folks ended up because they had to. Just like the two women who came in as he watched from his stool—wet, unhappy and stamping their feet as if the water were snow they wanted off them.
“Evening,” Lenny said. “You ladies get stuck in the storm? Everybody else did.”
“Yes, we did,” Linda said. She regretted not bringing their rain ponchos, or at least a couple trash bags to put over themselves. Her jacket was soaked just getting from the car into the lobby, if it could be called that. It looked more like the front room in a house that should have been torn down decades ago.
“Well, you ladies are lucky tonight, let me tell you. I got one room left.”
Kirsten hung back. She was still stewing over not driving on to Cape Haven. She’d been relieved to get a cell phone signal in this weather, knowing it was hit and miss. It wasn’t great but it was good enough for her to tell the desk clerk they had to stop two hours short of Serenity House and they’d be there first thing tomorrow. The clerk curtly told her she would have to charge them for the night. Kirsten said go ahead, then filed it away for her Yelp review. She had no problem being charged, but she didn’t care for being spoken to as if she’d inconvenienced someone with nothing else to do.
Linda looked at the skinny man behind the counter. She hoped he would not call them “ladies” again. She disliked the term and found it patronizing. Coming from someone who looked like his other job was pumping gas at the only station for twenty miles made it seem smug and deliberate.
“We’ll take it,” Kirsten said, stepping up next to Linda. She’d sensed her wife’s hesitation, as if they had any choice but to check into the Cliff’s Edge and get the hell out at sunrise. She just wanted to get into a room, settle in and fire up her laptop for some revisions on Bermuda Shots.
The clerk reached under the counter and brought up a key attached to a diamond-shaped piece of plastic with the number 7 on it.
“Last room at the Cliff’s Edge,” he said. “Lucky, lucky.”
Linda had the distinct feeling their luck had run out, being forced into a rundown motel in the middle of somewhere.
“What town is this?” Linda asked, unsure they were even in a town.
“If it had a name,” Lenny said, “It’d be Unincorporated. Nearest town is Lonesome Pointe, about three miles from here. That be cash or charge?”
Linda was surprised: she’d never stayed in a motel that took cash.
She pulled her wallet from her purse, slipped out a corporate AmEx and handed it to him.
“I’m Linda Sikorsky,” she said. “And this is Kirsten, my … ”
“Friend,” said Lenny, winking at her.
Linda cursed herself and hoped Kirsten hadn’t noticed the exchange. She glanced to the side and saw her furiously trying to get an internet connection on her phone. Good, the conversation had been ignored. She hated it that she was still uncomfortable referring to Kirsten as her wife. It had taken her months to get used to partner, and spouse was just too … animal-husbandry. She had to get past this. What difference did it make that some creepy desk clerk might disapprove of lesbians?
“Something like that,” Linda replied, knowing Lenny had pegged them as a couple.
“Is there WiFi in the room?” Kirsten asked, frustrated at being cut off from the virtual world. The phone call to Serenity House was the last connection she’d had.
Lenny spoke patiently and slowly, as if to an uncomprehending child. “No,” he said. “We don’t have no internet connection here. This ain’t Portland. But we got TVs you can watch. Not sure what kind of picture you’ll get in this rain …”
“So it’s not cable?”
Lenny did not respond, believing he’d made his point well enough. If the Cliff’s Edge did not have an internet connection, why in the world would they have cable for the few people who stayed here? Mostly they came from surrounding towns to have sex with their secretaries or someone else’s husband. Nobody had time for HBO.
“No,” Linda said, answering for him. “I don’t imagine it is. Let’s just get our stuff from the car and settle in. It’s going to be a long night. Isn’t that right …?”
“Lenny,” he said, handing her the credit card receipt to sign. “
“Does Lenny have a last name?” Linda asked.
Lenny felt the hair on his arms rise. The woman was not smiling, and there was an intensity in her eyes he didn’t like. That’s how predators looked at their prey. He knew, he was one. He’d looked at countless teenage girls and a few of the boys that way, usually before he got them high on something and screwed them. And he’d looked at old man Drover that way just before he’d put a hole in his chest. The girl reporter, too. But she was still in the queue. He suddenly didn’t like putting these women next to the room Cayley Drees was in, but he didn’t have any choice. It was the last room, after all. He’d be extra careful when he slipped into #6 sometime after midnight.
“You can just call me Lenny,” he said. He was glad he’d talked Russell out of making him wear a name tag. What did the old fool think he was, a bellboy?
“Lenny it is,” said Linda, handing him the signed receipt and taking the key.
“You ladies have a good night. And if you need anything, come on down.”
“I can’t call you from the room?” Kirsten asked as they were about to head back to the car.
“Phone works sometimes, but there’s no intercom or nothing,” Lenny said.
“Of course not,” Kirsten replied. “Why would there be?”
Linda pulled the door open and held it for Kirsten. Rain flew into the lobby in the moment it took them to leave. Walking back into it was like walking into a powerful showerhead aimed directly at their faces. They got the last room, and they’d taken the last parking space, which meant they had to grab their belongings—none of which Kirsten was willing to leave in the car at this fine establishment—and hurry down the long motel front to room #7. Hopefully nothing would be damaged by the rain.
Lenny watched the door close. It was a lie they didn’t have internet access. They just didn’t have it for anyone but him, in the back apartment where Russell Drover had lived and where Lenny enjoyed his new life alone. Linda Sikorsky. He hadn’t asked for her driver’s license so he didn’t know where she lived, but he could get the state off her license plate. He planned to see if he could find out anything about her online. There was something chilling in the way her manner had changed while they were at the desk, as if she, too, had sensed something about him. Two snakes who’d come upon each other in the tall grass. He had the unsettling feeling one of them would be eating the other. He hoped not; he did not want to draw attention to himself or, by extension, his employer. He wanted to take care of the reporter, see the women off in the morning when they turned in the key, and wait for it all to blow over. There was a fat paycheck and an extended stay in Puerto Vallarta on the other side.
If running from a hit man wasn’t scary enough, ATF agent Thayne Wolfe, has a new challenge in his life and this one may be even more dangerous than the last. He has to figure out how to work with his reckless new partner, a handsome former Marine who seems to have a death wish.
Jarrett Evans never stays in one place very long and being chained to a desk doing paperwork is not his idea of entertainment. His lover and new partner at the ATF seems to find ways to throw a monkey wrench into all his fun, especially when Thayne wants to curtail his need to jump off ten story buildings.
When their boss sends them to San Diego to investigate a fireworks accident, he figures Jarrett can’t hurt anyone playing with sparkers, not even himself. The fact is, danger, intrigue and Jarrett’s dubious past seem to follow the men wherever they go.
From a Marine base at the Mexican border to an explosion in LA’s Chinatown, they aren’t prepared for a seriously pissed off militia, a smoking hot ex-lover, and more guys who want them dead.
The sparks will fly in and out of the bedroom in Flash and Bang.
“We need to get the hell out of here! Airstrike!” Thayne screamed as Adael jumped up and followed them, covering their retreat with a hail of gunfire from the automatic he held with his good hand. Thayne dragged Jarrett toward the double doors as he heard the roar of flames, a smattering of gunfire, and the sounds of dying men all around them. He tried to look Jarrett over for bleeding wounds but could only see what now appeared to be a bullet graze across Jarrett’s temple. Jesus! If that’s all there is…
Adael rushed in front of them gunning down anyone in their path as Thayne dragged his partner, running backward. He was never so grateful for anyone in his life. Thayne’s lungs were filling with smoke as they got closer to the entrance to the barn and he heard a great crash as part of the roof caved in, sending up a wall of sparks at the back of the barn. The truck with its container had been abandoned by those who’d wanted the shipment and those who’d brought it and virtually everyone else had escaped the barn or was dead.
The second they got to the double door of the barn, Thayne heard the roar of airplane engines. Out of nowhere, two more men wearing FBI vests ran up to them and grabbed Jarrett, relieving Thayne of his burden.
“Move!” One of them screamed. “Sixty seconds!” Thayne began to run, followed by Adael and the two men carrying Jarrett. They had just gotten to the tree line five hundred feet off when there was the unmistakable scream of a missile and he knew the F-18 had fired. They barely had time to duck when the entire barn and its contents went up in a massive fireball. Flames shot straight up into the sky and out at them. Thayne rolled on top of Jarrett, covering his unconscious partner with his body as the heat from the explosion reached them. He held his breath waiting for the lick of flames and the certain death he expected but after four or five heartbeats, it hadn’t come. He waited for a few seconds before raising his head to look at what was left of the barn.
“Motherfucker!” Adael said from beside him.
Thayne glanced over to him and then turned his face to look back down at Jarrett. His eyes were open as he blinked up at him. Thayne breathed a sigh of relief as Jarrett revived.
“Preach it, sistah,” Jarrett said, weakly.
“Motherfucker!” Adael repeated.
Thayne dropped his face and pressed it to the side of Jarrett’s cheek. He began to laugh.
New fathers investigate the death of a young family.
When a sailboat carrying four bodies washes up on the Leeward Coast of O’ahu, openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka, on loan to the FBI, must discover what sent this young family and their deadly cargo on a dangerous trans-Pacific voyage. Leaving behind his partner and their infant twins, Kimo must work with his police cohort Ray Donne to unravel the forces that led this family to their deaths. From Hawaii’s sunny beaches to a chillly island in Japan to the Pacific Northwest, Kimo and Ray step far out of their comfort zones to confront an evil much greater than any they’ve investigated before.
This is the start of chapter 1
A blue and white sailboat with three sails rested on its side against a rocky shoreline, a gaping hole in the port bow. The sparse grass along the shore had been blocked off by yards of yellow hazard tape, and a rough surf smashed against the hull. In the distance I could see a surfer cresting the top of an early morning wave.
“Turn up the TV volume,” I said to my partner, Mike. We were watching Wake Up, Honolulu!, the morning news program on KVOL, the scrappy independent TV station in Honolulu where my brother Lui worked. It had become our habit now that we were empty-nesters, with our foster son Dakota a sophomore at the University of Hawai’i and living on campus. The twins we had fathered four years before lived with their moms, a lesbian couple who were our close friends, and came to visit us on alternate weekends, or whenever their moms needed a break.
Mike raised the volume in time for us to hear the perky female anchor say, “A jogger on the Leeward Coast made a gruesome discovery just after dawn this morning. Police are already on the scene but have declined comment.”
She turned to face the camera. “And now, let’s take a look at the newest baby otter at the Honolulu Zoo!”
“You can lower the volume now,” I said.
“I’m at your service, master,” Mike said with a grin. Mike was half-Italian and half Korean, while my parents had passed down Caucasian, Japanese and Hawaiian strains. We both had skin that tanned easily, dark hair and facial features that identified us as mixed race, though he was a few inches taller than I was.
Cathy and Sandra, the mothers of our twins, had worked out a scheme which we went along with. Mike’s and my sperm were mixed with Cathy’s eggs, and the resulting embryos had been implanted into Sandra’s womb. That way all four of us were participants in their birth. The twins looked like a mix of all of us—just as we’d hoped.
While Mike finished getting dressed I made sure that our golden retriever, Roby, had water and toys to play with while we were at work. Before we walked out, we stopped at the front door for a goodbye kiss—another of our newer rituals.
Mike was a fire investigator with the Honolulu Fire Department, evaluating any suspicious blazes and teaching his colleagues about new techniques in arson evaluation. My job was no less dangerous than his—after years as a street patrolman and then homicide detective with the Honolulu Police Department, I’d gone on assignment to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
We’d both made a pact years before never to leave each other angry, not knowing what the day could bring. And with Dakota out of the house, we’d indulged in the kind of hot, deep kisses that sealed our desire for each other. Mike grabbed my ass and leaned down, pressing his lips against mine in a clash that grew hotter as we pressed together.
My dick popped up and strained against my pants, and I panted with desire. “I don’t have to be at work on time this morning,” I said, arching my head back so Mike could nip at my neck. “How about you?”
He began unbuttoning the white dress shirt I had begun to wear when I joined the FBI. Mike was wearing a polo shirt with the HFD logo on the breast, so it was easy to pull the tails out of his slacks and stick my hands underneath, sliding through his silky chest hairs.
He unbuckled my belt and unhooked my pants, and they fell to the floor. My dick popped out of the slit in my tropical-print boxers and he wrapped his hand around it as we exchanged hot, sinful kisses.
My cell phone began to ring as I undid his pants and shoved them to the tile floor. “Let it go,” Mike growled into my neck, and I wasn’t sure if he meant to ignore the call or release his dick from his briefs, but I did both.
We kept kissing as we jerked each other in hard, fast strokes. My heart raced and my orgasm rose, suffusing my body with an energy so strong I thought I must be glowing. Then I came, spurting into his hand, and he followed a moment later.
Our bodies sagged together, and I reached out for the front door to steady myself. “Still got it, babe,” Mike said.
My phone beeped to announce a new voice mail, but I ignored it. Mike and I were a tangle of pants around our ankles and sticky come on our hands, and it took a few minutes to extricate ourselves and clean up. Then we kissed goodbye again—this time just a quick peck on the cheek—and I walked out to my Jeep.
It was a gorgeous day in the islands, just a few clouds striating the blue sky, a light breeze dancing in the palm fronds. As I got onto the highway, a broad-winged bird soared high above the highway, and I wished I could be that free—if I didn’t have to go to work, I’d have been out on the surf beyond that wrecked sailboat.
Kimo and his detective partner Ray Donne head out to the scene.
By then the downpour had turned into a sheeting rain, and we were almost on top of the emergency vehicles before we saw their flashing lights. Ray pulled to a stop along the verge behind the ME’s van.
We sat in the car waiting for the monsoon to pass. A pickup towing a sailboat crept past us, wipers flapping, and then suddenly the rain slowed to a drizzle and a rainbow appeared ahead of us. They’re such a common phenomenon in the islands that the University of Hawai’i named their sports teams the Rainbows. Once the rainbow became a gay symbol, the administration tacked “Warriors” on to the end of the male teams. Then they figured out that made them sound like a bunch of radical gay activists, and they allowed each team to choose its own nickname. The result was a mishmash of Rainbows, Warriors, and Rainbow Warriors.
As Ray and I approached the yellow hazard tape around the sailboat in the light rain, someone in a bulky Hazmat suit climbed awkwardly off the bow, looking like a giant lime-green marshmallow man with a gas mask and bright yellow shoes. Even in that getup, I recognized the man I’d been sharing my life with for almost ten years.
Mike stepped onto a polyethylene walkway, stretched out his arms, and let the rain wash over him. The shower dissipated and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. A guy in a firefighter’s uniform stepped up to him, staying outside the yellow tape, and ran a long-handled scanner up and down the hazmat suit.
Mike was stepping out of the suit when I reached him. We tried to stay professional when we were working—no sweetheart, or honey, and that was difficult because I was worried about what he might have been exposed to on that boat.
I struggled to stay cool. “Hey. You find anything interesting in there?” I asked.
“Four dead bodies.” Mike looked grim. “Two of them little babies. They look like Addie and Owen did at that age.”
I could see why he looked shaken. The birth of our twins had rocked our worlds, bringing home the joy and the terror of parenting, and everything that happened to kids reminded us of how fragile those two little lives were.
The dual forces of good and evil take center stage in this, the fourth installment in the Jimmy McSwain Files, one that finds the tortured, sexy detective battling an unforeseen enemy: happiness. Yet murder will soon rear its desperate chill, hurtling Jimmy into the highest society and the lowest of lives.
Winter is nearly upon Manhattan, the holidays right around the corner. Jimmy is hired to escort the infamous tabloid favorite Serena Carson to a charity benefit, intent on guarding her from an abusive ex. Yet the job takes a brutal turn as Henderson Carlyle, the privileged, spoiled lothario, is found sliced to death outside of Serena’s brownstone. The cops warn Jimmy away from the case, including his former lover, Captain Francis X. Frisano. Jimmy has his hands full anyway, as his visiting cousin Kellan was found beaten by one-time family friend, Mickey Dean, a Hell’s Kitchen thug with a dark past and even darker threat. As the snow falls and answers remain buried, Jimmy finds himself thrown into the midst of two conflicting cases, one of which will expose a dormant clue to the long-unsolved murder of his NYPD cop, Joseph McSwain. Complicating matters is a new man in Jimmy’s life, who promises Jimmy security and safety, neither word easy for him to accept. When fate sends Jimmy’s world into turmoil, he realizes there’s a devil at work in a season usually owned by angels.
Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT
Clues had been few and far between lately for his first and still cold case, leaving him, on some nights, staring at a file that failed to provide him with any answers, much less any needed solace. Motivation can come from unexpected places, though, stirring a fierce desire to once and for all solve the mystery. On this starlit November night, he’d been downstairs at Paddy’s Pub, the intimate bar owned by his uncle, his mother’s brother. Paddy’s was quiet tonight, closed for the holiday, so the only people inside were family, celebrating the annual feast that was Thanksgiving. It was only after the pumpkin pie—never his favorite—had been brought to the table that he slipped out the side door and made his way upstairs to the second-floor studio apartment that doubled as his office.
Grabbing a Yuengling from the small fridge he kept inside the apartment, he twisted the cap and took a grateful sip before setting down the bottle on the floor. Fortified, he then went to the closet and slid open the door to reveal the black metal filing cabinet he stored inside. Opening the drawer was always dramatic in his mind, almost like Batman unveiling the special access batpoles to the cave carved deep under Wayne Manor. This was his not-so-secret place, a go-to haunt where he went to fight a strange concoction of sorrow and —hope—where his soul was fueled, where he was reminded of what he’d lost and what one day he would solve. He withdrew a thick file bulging with yellowed newspaper articles, aging photographs, and other notes from a case that only seemed to grow more complicated with each passing year.
Next March, it would be fifteen years since the shooting, half his life in which he’d lived with his father dead.
Joseph McSwain had been a career NYPD officer, shot down while off duty during an innocent deli run to grab some morning bagels. He’d taken his only son with him, the son who later held him, watched as his father bled out while not even hearing his own screams, the look in his father’s eyes forever ingrained: Why? Why indeed, he thought even today, because whoever had pulled that trigger and for whatever reason still remained a cruel mystery. In the past year, he’d redoubled his efforts to solve a crime the cops had long given up on, and while he thought he’d inched closer, this past fall had seen one pertinent clue dry up like a raindrop on a humid summer’s day, gone before it had solidified.
Downstairs, he could hear the joyous celebration continue. This day was Uncle Paddy’s favorite holiday, and as such he preferred to host. He closed the pub, covered the pool table with a plank of wood, then allowed his mother, Hester, to decorate and set the makeshift table. His two grown sons arrived, some years with a girlfriend, most not, because Paddy liked to keep things small, “just family,” as he was wont to say. This year just Kellan and Taren were here, along with Grandma Hester, who came down from upstate Peach Lake, and of course Paddy’s sister, Maggie, was there, along with her brood, daughters Mallory, who had brought her steady beau, Taylor, a pregnant Meaghan, and lastly the man who had now deserted the party, her son, Jimmy.
Jimmy settled down on the floor, sipping at his beer while flipping open the file. A photo of his father in his dress blues stared back at him, as it always did. His face was lit with a smile, his bristly handlebar mustache highlighting his handsome face. Jimmy saw himself in the man’s features, the shape of his mouth and the slight hook of his nose. Where they differed was in the eyes. Joseph’s were open, inviting. Jimmy had stared in the mirror often enough to know his eyes were darker, shaded with regret. He carried that look with him often, which some found enticing, while others saw only distance.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Dad,” Jimmy said to the open space.
There was no answer. There never was. Joseph McSwain was as silent as ever.
Jimmy flipped another page, where he came upon his own notes about a recent twist in the case that had left him cold. A killer had been released from prison, only to kill again. After he was gunned down by the NYPD, an unknown sister had surfaced with new facts then one day retracted them and disappeared into a black hole provided by the authorities. Jimmy was told by the police it had all been fabrication, that the Assan case shared no link to the long-ago shooting death of their brother, Joseph McSwain. Skeptical of the story but with no place to turn, Jimmy had filed his own report and then pushed the Forever Haunt into the recesses of the dark closet, not to mention those regions of his mind that awoke only at night. Only after a visit from Captain Francis X. Frisano last month had a new fear sprung up inside Jimmy, one that suggested he’d been manipulated by results of the Assan case. A fresh clue existed somewhere. It had to. Jimmy would find it. A phrase the stuck out during the last case: Blue Death.
“I’ll find the truth, Dad.”
A gentle knock stirred him. He looked up to find his mother standing in the doorframe of his apartment. Maggie was sixty-seven and still beautiful, with knowing eyes and a mop of gray hair. Her knees sometimes grew creaky, which might have come from a lifetime of climbing five flights of stairs to her home or up the grand staircases of the Calloway Theatre. Here it was only two. Still, she rarely visited his office, knowing this was his sanctuary. Another superhero image flashed in his mind, Superman hiding inside the cold walls of the Fortress of Solitude, but Jimmy possessed no superpowers, and even if he did, the knowing presence of Maggie McSwain was his Kryptonite. Whatever resolve of hiding up here dissipated with her arrival.
“Jimmy, it’s Thanksgiving, a day of rest, of family.”
“I know. I was doing great, until I wasn’t.”
“Do you always sit on the floor, or has the weight of the world on your shoulders pushed you down that far?”
He tried to smile. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
“The Martinos just arrived,” she said, “Including Rocky. They brought a pecan pie. I know you prefer that over pumpkin.”
Rocky Martino was the father of Meaghan’s baby, due this coming February. They were not a couple, since Rocky had only been pretending to date her—one drunken night a notable exception, hiding his true sexuality from very traditional parents, both now considered extended family and thus partaking of the holiday dessert. All of their families went back years, growing up in Hell’s Kitchen. Gentrification had pushed out some of the old-timers, that or death had, but these three clans—the Byrnes, McSwains, Martinos—still considered 10th Avenue their home, their turf, along with a host of other families who never referred to the neighborhood as Clinton and who refused to sell out to the high-rise, low-life developers.
“I’ll be down soon.”
“You could have brought a guest, too, Jimmy, so you wouldn’t feel so…”
“I’m not alone, Ma. I got you.”
“A thirty-year-old man, relying on his mother.”
“I could be eighty, and I’d still rely on you.”
“Hate to think how old that would make me,” she said.
“You’re timeless, Ma.”
She came over to him and tousled his brown hair like he was still ten years old, a half-smile upon her face. She didn’t need to say more. Sometimes words minimized earnest gestures. Maggie turned around and went back downstairs, leaving Jimmy to himself, his heart lifted. For just a brief moment, both of his parents had been inside his world, one ghostly, the other an ever-present angel. He closed the thick file but not before staring intently at his father’s image again.
“One day, Dad, one day you’ll rest.”
Joseph McSwain was still smiling. At least one of them could.
The file put away, the beer drained, Jimmy McSwain left his office, dousing the light, and with it, the safety he always found inside. Darkness stared back at him, threatening to claim him. Clues were not going to be found among these silent walls but outside, floating in the blowing wind, white noise amidst the honking of horns, waiting for that perfect moment to drift down to the earth like snowflakes. Jimmy promised he would catch them, on his tongue and in his heart, and in doing so, he would catch a killer.