Where the fuck are you? Gordy saw the text as she sped up Beach Boulevard, racing toward Kenwood. Stopping to reply would slow her down and she was determined to get to Dana’s on time, so she ignored it. A line of cars was waiting to pull into the main drag, which was surprising, but Gordy knew the area well enough to know she could avoid them by going down a side street. She pulled the steering wheel sharply to swing a right down a narrow one-way street. She was halfway down when she realized there was a U-Haul farther down completely obstructing the street. Who the heck moved at this time of night? And if they did what gave them the right to block the street? She watched as two people of undetermined gender struggled to pull a large mattress from the back of the truck. Shit. This could take awhile, especially if they had a whole lot more furniture to unload. Now what? She supposed she could try to back all the way up this street but it was narrow and she wasn’t great at backing up the SUV at the best of times.
She heard a ping and looked down: I’m gonna put Sammy out on the curb if you’re not here in seven minutes. She’d promised Dana she’d be back before ten and even though she didn’t think her ex would really leave their child in the street, the second text worried her. She remembered what Dana had said the last time she was late to pick up Sammy. It was the night she met Kat. “I’ll sue for full custody if you do it again.”
Ahead of her to her left she saw a dirt alley that ran between the homes. She could use it to cut over to the next street. She generally avoided these alleys at night because they were dark and could be rutted, but she had no choice. She swerved left off the street feeling the gravel of the alley crunch beneath her tires. She should have explained to Kat that she didn’t have time to listen to the man serenading them, however romantic it was. She didn’t think Dana would put Sammy out on the street and she wasn’t totally convinced her ex would really ask for full custody, but she couldn’t risk either. She decided to text, just in case. She looked down at her phone. There in ten—, her thumbs flew across the keys and just as she was about to type mins she felt a massive jolt and heard a loud bang. Moments later she heard dogs barking in the distance.
She looked up in horror as the car shot forward. Shit! What the heck had she hit? She glanced in the rearview mirror and from the light reflectors made out something that looked like a large pile, though she couldn’t tell of what. Had she hit it? Was that what caused the loud thud? If she hadn’t been looking at her lap, texting, she’d know for sure. Meanwhile her car was still moving forward and was already at the end of the alley.
She was shaking badly. She should run back and take a quick look. What if she’d damaged something on someone’s property? But it was an alley so the only stuff out there was yard debris or trash to be picked up by the city. There must have been something in that pile. She pulled out from the alley onto the street, thankful that she hadn’t blown a tire, but then, feeling guilty, she decided she had to make a quick stop. She grabbed her flashlight and ran back down the alley. She shone her flashlight, sweeping it from side to side. There was a pile of wood, stacked neatly next to some trashcans. Several logs seemed to have toppled off it. That must have been what she’d hit. Relieved, she ran back to her SUV and gunned the engine. Dana would make a song and dance about being late. Thank goodness the SUV was in her name only. If it were joint property, she could only imagine the torrent of criticism that Dana would have hurled when she saw the damage to the body and paintwork.
She was almost at Dana’s house. Once her ex had finished dressing her down she’d take Sammy home and put him to bed. Then she’d be able to relive the earlier part of the evening, remembering the way Kat’s eyes danced and how a little dimple appeared in her cheek when she smiled. In the morning she’d see what the damage was to the Hyundai and ask her cousin Rico to fix it. And from now on she absolutely wouldn’t text while driving. It was stupid and she could have gotten into serious trouble. What if she’d damaged someone’s property and they got nasty and wanted to call the cops? An even scarier thought came to mind. What if she’d hit someone and been arrested on the spot? The form she’d completed for her green card had asked her not only if she’d been convicted of a crime, but also if she’d been arrested for one. If she were arrested now, it would be catastrophic. She knew they would repeat that question verbally when she got to her fingerprinting appointment. That appointment next week was so they could do one more full background check. If she told them she’d been arrested that week, even if she were out on bail, they would turn down her request for the ten-year green card. Once they did that, it was the same as being given a deportation notice—she’d have no legal way to stay in the country. How could she have been so stupid as to risk all that?
Just the thought of deportation made her shake all over. People who’d never been through the immigration system had no idea how tenuous life as an “alien” could feel, especially now. It never even occurred to them that people like her, professionals with legal permits, felt some of the same stress and strains as those who lived in the shadows. They didn’t realize that until she was actually a citizen, she didn’t enjoy the full protections they did. But now, finally, she was getting closer to that day. The ten-year card would end much of that stress, and long before the ten years were up she’d be eligible to apply for citizenship and become just like everyone else.
For months before she got the letter requesting her presence for fingerprinting, she’d visualized herself over and again getting the card. She spent nights picturing herself walking through those wide doors into the Tampa Immigration and Naturalization office, waiting way past her appointment time (as she always did), then getting called back to an office. In her mind, the immigration official who would quiz her and Dana would be supportive and sympathetic and would smile warmly at them when they gave her the stamp of approval. Gordy tried not to remember the officer who granted the two-year card. A large military-looking women who’d made it clear she didn’t believe in same-sex marriage, she’d scowled throughout the entire interview and then snarled at Gordy in her Russian-accented English, almost spitting as she made jabbing motions in the air. “You think you citizen? You not. Don’t forget. You commit crime? You deported.”
At the time she’d shrugged it off. She wasn’t going to commit a crime, and there was no reason why an upstanding professional would be deported. She’d felt pretty secure. But lately everything had changed. Just this week a soccer coach had been deported, his only crime being a traffic violation.
She was so close to the finish line, but tonight she’d almost blown it. All she had to do was keep her nose clean for another week. And if that meant picking up her son late and getting in trouble with her ex for not texting, the price was worth it.
A hit-and-run. A terrified suspect. A woman caught between her friend and her lover Wynn Larimer (who readers met in Along Came the Rain) is putting out the trash late one night when a car smashes into her, injuring her so badly that her entire livelihood is put in jeopardy. Gabriella Luna (Gordy) is about to achieve permanent resident status in the USA when she’s accused of a felony crime. The timing couldn’t be worse—she’s terrified of being deported. The woman caught in the middle is Kat Ayalon (who readers met in Devoted.) Wynn is Kat’s best friend and Gordy is Kat’s new love interest. But when the worlds of Wynn and Gordy collide, Kat doesn’t know how she can support both women, if helping one means selling out the other.
The phone’s ringing went through Hazard’s skull like a couple of inches of good steel. One minute he was asleep. The next, awake and feeling like someone had shoved a spear through the back of his head. It went on for a long time. Then it went quiet. Later, it rang again. A fragment of memory—not for us, the flashing bronze, was that Homer?—because the noise was like the blade of a fucking spear going into his brain. And then, again, blessed silence. The pillow, he thought drowsily as he tried to sink under the headache and into the gray stillness of sleep, smelled like Nico.
For a while he was there again, inside that grayness, while a part of his brain recycled the past night. The hammering music inside the Pretty Pretty. The smell of sweat and superheated lights and Guinness. Nico pressed against him—no, Nico across the room, far off, while Hazard talked to Marcus. No, to the hot guy in the jacket and tie. No, to the bouncers. And through it all, that mixture of headache and bass line, pounding, pounding, pounding—
Pounding on the door. Hazard jerked free of the tangled bedding. Immediately, he regretted it. The headache surged back to the front of his head, and he had to steady himself against the nightstand. The clock marked a bleary eleven. Whoever was knocking was really going to town.
“Just a minute,” Hazard shouted.
Pants. And a shirt. But he had no memory of where anything had ended up last night, and he came up with a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The shorts fit. The shirt didn’t. It had to be Nico’s, but it felt like a child’s. A child’s small. Jesus, maybe an infant’s. It was choking the life out of Hazard.
And somebody was still trying to pound down the door.
Squeezed into the tiny shirt—had Nico bought it for a nephew? what the hell was it doing on the floor?—Hazard stumbled to the door and glanced through the peephole. Groaning, he turned back to the bedroom.
“I can hear you,” Somers called from the other side of the door.
Hazard kept going.
“I’ll keep knocking.”
Hazard kicked aside Nico’s empty laundry basket. His toes caught in the plastic mesh, and he swore as he ripped them free.
“I’ve got Big Biscuit.”
At the bedroom door, Hazard stopped.
Somers had gone silent. Even without seeing Somers, even with a solid door between them, Hazard knew the bastard was smug. Probably grinning. Hazard knew he should go back to bed. He should take one of those pills for his head and pull the covers over his eyes and just go back to bed, and when he woke up, he’d call Nico, and he’d figure out what he’d done wrong last night, and he’d apologize the way he’d apologized to Billy, the way he’d apologized to Alec. He’d eat the same old shit out of this shiny new bowl. That was it. He’d just get into bed and ignore Somers. He’d—
By that point, he’d already unlocked the front door.
“Took you long enough—Jesus God, what are you wearing?”
Somers, a plastic carryout bag hanging from one hand, appraised him. And it was exactly that: pure, fucking appraisal. Somers was hot. He was runway hot, swimsuit hot, blond and golden-skinned, even in the middle of winter, fuck him, and with eyes like Caribbean waters. Today, like every day, he managed to look like he’d just rolled out of bed—and like he hadn’t been alone. His button-down was rumpled, his jacket was askew, his hair had that perfect messiness that made Hazard itch to run his hands through it. And he was still standing there, still appraising Hazard like he might buy him at auction. Now there was a thought. Hazard barely suppressed a second, very different kind of groan.
“Give me the food.”
“You look like shit.”
Hazard tried to shut the door; he blamed his headache and hangover for the fact that Somers still managed to sneak inside. As Somers always did when he came to Nico’s apartment—Nico and Hazard’s apartment, Hazard amended—he made a show of considering the mess. Nico’s clothes, Nico’s books, Nico’s shoes, Nico’s latest shopping. There were about three square inches of space that weren’t covered by something that Nico owned.
Somers went straight to the table and shoved a pile of unmatched socks onto the floor. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he shoved a stack of textbooks.
“Please don’t start.”
“I know I’m messy.”
“Somers, I’ve got the worst headache, and I’m tired, and I—”
“I mean, I know I’m messy. I know that’s why you moved out. One of the reasons.”
Hazard gave up and waited for the rest of it.
“But this,” Somers gestured at the chaos—he paused, Hazard noted, when he saw a stack of some of Nico’s more provocative underwear. Hazard shoved them under one of the sofa cushions.
Somers, smirking, continued, “But this is insane. It’s like you’re living in a dorm. Or a frat. And as much as you might have enjoyed close quarters with all those rich, athletic boys, sharing showers, dropping towels, a few playful wrestling moves turn into something not quite so playful—”
“Somers, I swear to Christ.”
“—you’ve got to admit you don’t like living like this.”
“Are you done?”
“Because if you’ve got more jokes, get them out now.”
Somers spread his hands innocently.
“Any more comments about my—” He had been about to say boyfriend, but the word stuck in his throat. For once, his hesitance to acknowledge his relationship with Nico had nothing to do with how he felt about Somers. “—about my apartment?”
“It’s not yours.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not. It’s Nico’s.”
“You’re a real piece of work.”
“I mean, I get it. You’re living here now. But it’s not like that’s going to last forever.”
The last words struck home hard. Hazard dropped into a seat at the table, head in his hands.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Ree, I was just teasing. Well, mostly. I mean, this place is a mess, but I’m not trying to—come on. What’s going on?”
The pounding in Hazard’s head had gotten worse. He needed one of those pills, but he couldn’t drag himself out of the chair. Not yet. Just a minute, he just needed a minute.
“All right,” Somers said. “Your hair is all loose and wild and sexy barbarian, which means you either just finished banging one out with Nico or you haven’t showered yet. You’re wearing a shirt that’s about eighteen sizes too small, and those gym shorts—well, you’re going commando, buddy. So again: either you just nailed Nico the wall, or you’re—” Somers whistled. “You’re hungover.”
“I’m not hungover.”
“You are. You had a fight with Nico. You got plastered. You’re wrecked.”
“You don’t have to sound so goddamn happy about it.”
Neither man spoke for a moment. Then Somers touched the back of Hazard’s neck, and Hazard flinched.
“He hit you? That motherfucking piece of shit put a hand on you?”
“What? God. No.”
“You’ve got a bruise about a mile long back here. Doesn’t he have any fucking brains? Didn’t he even think about the fact that you’re still healing, that you shouldn’t even bump your head, let alone—and the little bitch hit you from behind, didn’t he? Where is he?” Somers hadn’t moved, hadn’t raised his voice, hadn’t so much as lifted his fingers from Hazard’s neck. But it was like someone else had come into the room. It put a shiver down Hazard’s back. And deep in his brain, at the surface of conscious thought, he realized he liked it. “Where is he?” Somers asked again. “That’s all you have to say, just tell me where.”
“You’re acting crazy.”
“All right. All right. You don’t say anything. You don’t have to say anything.”
“You’re out of your damn mind. Will you stop acting like this?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll find him myself.”
“John-Henry, will you sit down and listen to me?”
Somers fell back into his seat. They sat that way for a moment, neither of them speaking, both watching the other as though seeing something new. Hazard had grown up in Wahredua. He had grown up hounded, persecuted, tormented by the man who sat in front of him. He had come back to this place, to this town he hated above all else, unwillingly, and he had found himself partnered with a man he had hated for most of his life—hated and, even worse, been attracted to. And instead of the bully, instead of the thug, instead of the cocky football star, he’d found an intelligent, funny, skilled detective who had wanted to make the past right. It hadn’t hurt that Somers had grown up to be the kind of hot that, in a cartoon, would have made the mercury in a thermometer shoot up so fast the glass exploded. Somers’s hand was still on the back of Hazard’s neck. His fingers felt good there. They raised a strip of goosebumps down Hazard’s chest.
So Hazard told him.
“He’s just not that kind of guy,” Somers said with a shrug.
“What kind? And don’t say something asshole-ish. Don’t say he’s not the kind that’s mature or something like that.”
“Me? I meant he’s not the kind that likes jealousy.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“You beat up a guy for kissing your boyfriend.”
“I didn’t beat him up. You make it sound like I’m in eighth grade.”
“In eighth grade, you were so scrawny you could barely hold a pencil.” Somers smirked. “Well, I guess you were definitely strong enough to hold your pencil, if you get what I—”
“I get it.”
“I meant your dick. That’s what I meant by pencil.”
“Not everybody likes jealousy. Some people get off on it. Some don’t mind—they might appreciate it, but they aren’t looking for it. And some people don’t like it. Hate it, even.”
“I’m not jealous.”
Somers fixed him with a look.
“All right, I shouldn’t have hit that guy.”
“I definitely shouldn’t have thrown him.”
“And I should have let Nico handle it.”
“Yeah, well, you definitely shouldn’t have done that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What did you mean?”
“I’m an idiot, all right? Stuff just comes out of my mouth sometimes.”
“You meant something. You—” Before Hazard could finish, his phone buzzed. He pulled it out, and a message from Nico showed on the screen. I’m staying at Marcus’s place for a few more days. Can you tell me a time you’ll be out of the apartment so I can pick up a few things?
“What?” Somers said.
Hazard dropped the phone on the table. Picking it up, Somers read the message. His eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t say anything.
Somers put the phone back on the table.
“Don’t fucking say you’re sorry. Don’t act like you’re not thrilled. Don’t act like this isn’t what you wanted.”
It took a moment before Somers answered, and when he spoke, his voice was carefully neutral. “I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
And it sounded so pathetic, like such an absolute, flat-out lie, that Hazard was blushing as soon as it was out of his mouth, and he was grateful Somers didn’t even acknowledge the words.
“Let’s eat. You’re hungover. Your head hurts. You need food.” Somers unpacked the clamshell containers of takeout from Big Biscuit, and then he touched the back of Hazard’s neck again. “You’ve got to eat something. And you need a drink. Water, I mean. Lots of it. And those pills for your head, have you taken any today? Christ, of course you haven’t.”
Hazard knew he should get up. He could grab plates and forks. He could pour a glass of water. He could clean the rest of this shit, Nico’s shit, so there’s was actually a decent space to eat. He didn’t, though. He barely had the energy to turn the phone face-down so he didn’t have to see that damn message any longer.
Hazard swallowed the pills dry, and then a cool glass was pressed into his hand.
He drank, and when he’d finished, Somers opened the clamshells. Steam wafted off home fries, eggs over easy, and biscuits the size of dinner plates. Buttery, flakey, pillowy biscuits. Hazard waited for the smell to turn his stomach, but he was surprised that instead, he was hungry.
They ate, and as they ate and as the pills took effect, the worst of the pain—both emotional and physical—started to pass. It wasn’t gone. It wasn’t even close to gone. But it got better, and the world didn’t seem like one big turd waiting for the flush. At least, not completely. Not—
—with Somers there—
—while the biscuits lasted.
It wasn’t until Hazard had dragged the last home fry through a smear of ketchup that he noticed the third clamshell. Reaching over, he popped it open, and three delicate slices of strawberry french toast met his eyes.
“Are you shooting for three hundred?” Somers asked as Hazard speared the french toast and dragged it towards him.
“You’re not going to fit into your pants.” A smile crinkled Somers’s face, and it was so boyish, so genuine, that for a moment Hazard forgot about Nico and forgot about his cracked head and forgot, even, about the french toast dripping strawberries down his wrist. “You can barely fit into your shirt as it is.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“An idiot who made you smile.”
“I didn’t smile.”
Somers’s grin got bigger.
“All right,” the blond man finally said, shoving away the rest of his food. “We’ve got to think strategically.” Hazard barely heard him; a half-eaten biscuit was staring back at Hazard. Half. Half of one of those perfect, heavenly creations. Half just tossed aside, like Somers was going to throw it in the trash. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Somers said, knocking the styrofoam container towards Hazard. “Just eat it before you choke on your own spit.”
“They’ll have to order one of those shipping containers to bury you.”
“I’m recovering. I need to build up my strength.”
Rolling his eyes, Somers said, “Here’s what we’re going to do: you’re going to take a shower. I’m going to make some phone calls. Then we’re going to do it.”
The biscuit went sideways in Hazard’s throat, and he began to choke. When he’d managed to clear his windpipe, he said, “What?”
A rakish grin peeled back the corners of Somers’s mouth.
“You did that on purpose,” Hazard grumbled. “Going to do what?”
“Get Nico back.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. “No.”
“No. Whatever this is,” he gestured at the phone, “however it works out, it’ll be fine. I don’t need you—”
“Do you want him to break up with you?”
Hazard hesitated. Yesterday, at the Pretty Pretty, he would have said yes. But now—now things were different. Facing into the loneliness, facing into the abyss, Hazard found himself unsure. Things were good with Nico. Things had been really good. So they’d had a fight. So they’d had one little fight. All they had to do was work it out, figure where things went wrong, and things would be good again.
A little voice in his head, though, asked if that were true, then why hadn’t he answered Somers yet?
“That’s what I thought,” Somers said. “So we’ll take it from the top: flowers, a card, reservations at Moulin Vert. I bet if I ask, Cora will call him and get him to meet you there. She’s good with people, she really is. And we’ll have you dressed to the nines, and that poor boy won’t know what hit him.” Somers’s grin tightened. “You’re Emery fucking Hazard. He doesn’t have any idea how lucky he is, but we’re going to change that.”
Hazard suppressed a grimace at the mention of Cora, Somers’s estranged wife. “Look, this isn’t—”
But Hazard never finished the objection. Somers’s phone rang, and he glanced at the screen and answered it. His questions were short, sharp, and familiar.
When Somers ended the call, he shrugged and stood. “No time for a shower, I’m afraid, but you’ll probably want to change out of the shirt. It’s a little cold for that.”
Hazard ignored the jab. “What is it?”
“This isn’t one of those fake shootings, is it? This isn’t Batsy Ferrell calling because she’s upset about the gun range at Windsor?”
“No. This is the real deal. Looks like a murder.”
“Any ID on the victim?”
Somers blew out a breath. His eyes were very bright. They were bright like the sun flat on top of tropical water. But some of the color had left his face. “Oh yeah, plenty of ID. Just about everybody there ID’d him.”
Everything in Emery Hazard’s life is finally going well: his boyfriend, Nico, is crazy about him; he has a loyal partner at work; and he has successfully closed a series of difficult murders. By all accounts, he should be happy. What he can’t figure out, then, is why he’s so damn miserable.
After a fight with Nico, Hazard needs work to take his mind off his relationship. And someone in town is happy to oblige by murdering the sheriff. The job won’t be easy; the sheriff had enemies, lots of them, and narrowing down the list of suspects will be difficult. Difficult, but routine.
The arrival of a special prosecutor, however, throws the case into turmoil, and Hazard and Somers find themselves sidelined. With an agenda of his own, the prosecutor forces the case toward his favorite suspect, while Hazard and Somers scramble to find the real killer. As the people they care about are drawn into the chaos, Hazard and Somers have to fight to keep what they love–and to keep each other. To find the killer, they will have to reveal what each has kept buried for years: their feelings for each other.
And for Hazard, that’s a hell of a lot scarier than murder.
Find our more about Hazard and Somerset mystery-series by author, Gregory Ashe at his website by clicking on his image.
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The smell hit him first, a thick, cloying blend of expensive perfume and corrupt, metallic fruit.
He saw Nick, hunched against a far wall, body shaking with silent grief, eyes closed.
Then he took in the rest.
An all-white bedroom—glamorous and totally impractical, designed like something from a magazine, so that every dot of color looked shocking. A painted wooden desk stood by the window, holding a silver laptop; the signature, light-green-blue of a Tiffany box; a stack of envelopes tied with a red cord; five little, glass, medical bottles lined up, with matching purple bars on their labels. A familiar light-blue dress lay draped over the arm of a padded armchair, a tiny tangle of lacy pink underwear on top.
White walls, furniture, carpet, bedding. Everything was absurdly neat and clean, save the most demanding splash of color—the huge stain which covered the fluffy duvet like crimson dye. A palette of shades of red, in fact, as if the pool had dried gradually from the outside, into the dark and clotted center.
Catriona lay on her side on top of it, in the middle of the wide bed, facing the doorway. She was naked but utterly sexless, her skin like bleached ash against the wet, red cloth. Her beautiful, blank profile, eyes decently shut at least, rested on the purity of her pillow.
Tom saw the guilty kitchen knife lying on the blood-pool beside the upturned palm of her right hand; the mangled, meaty churn of her inner wrists. Then, the dark hole, visible through black-blood-clotted ash-blonde hair, where her ear had been. The shockingly recognizable auricle resting near her fingertips.
One of the paramedics called sharply, “Hey! You shouldn’t be in here, mate!” just as the uniformed police constable materialized behind Tom, to pull him, unresisting, back into the hallway and then, down the stairs. At the bottom, Tom slurred out his name and address, and the reason he was there. He didn’t sound like himself at all, he thought distantly, but the officer noted it all down.
Finally, she left him to perch on the pristine linen sofa in Catriona’s airy sitting room. And he found himself stupidly anxious not to crease the fabric or mark its snowy perfection.
He’d never been in this room before. In fact, he’d never been inside the house.
The door into the hallway lay wide open, allowing Tom to see the bustle of comings and goings in the hallway, as the procedures surrounding an unexpected death snapped into place. All things he’d heard recounted before, but never—actually—witnessed.
The first-response officer, out of his eyeline, was speaking to her radio. Someone—a man—shouted instructions from upstairs as one of the paramedics barreled past the open door and out of Tom’s vision, as if his urgency still had some point.
Movement, back and fore. Voices outside. Inside. Tom forced desperate focus — made himself identify what was happening. Who was who, as they passed.
First onto Tom’s little stage — a man he suspected to be the divisional pathologist, followed by a group of SOCO officers, silent and eerie in hooded white suits, ready to pick over the scene for evidence of anything that might turn out to be suspicious.
Then, less than a minute after they disappeared, two men, clearly plain-clothed police officers. They stood in front of the open sitting room doorway, pulling on those same white forensic suits and overshoes, and Tom was almost certain they’d be the advance Homicide Assessment Team, from whichever murder investigation unit happened to be on call. Tom didn’t recognize either of them—a dull, distant relief.
Part of him was riveted, because after having heard it described so often, casually and not, it felt unreal seeing everything actually happen, like a dramatic performance put on, specially for him. But as the two HAT officers moved out of Tom’s vision, another white-clad figure came in behind them, and as he passed the open sitting room door, he glanced in and caught sight of Tom.
The man stopped and blinked.
For a moment, Tom felt an audience’s shock at having been acknowledged, and he shifted self-consciously under the man’s startled stare. Then, as that stare turned to wide-eyed disbelief, Tom felt suddenly, horribly aware of how incongruous he must look. His golden tan, his glossy, pale-blond shoulder-length hair; his long body, clad in an on-trend brown suede shirt and perfectly-cut jeans; his obsessively precise grooming. A peacock, sitting at the edge of a tragedy.
It took whole seconds for Tom to understand that the man’s reaction wasn’t puzzlement; it was recognition. And finally, even under that disorientating, tightly drawn white hood, Tom recognized him in turn.
Each man stared at the other as if a monstrous apparition had manifested in front of them.
Des fucking Salt.
Through surging panic, Tom took in the man’s once-familiar, sharp features; his densely freckled skin, almost as white as the forensic hood concealing his wiry red hair. How the fuck hadn’t he recognized him? Was it just the oddness of that hood, framing Salt’s narrow face like a nun’s coif?
The relief Tom had felt just minutes before sneered at him now. Because…yes, Tom had known there was a small chance they’d be involved—of course he had—but how unlucky did he have to be?
His face felt scalding hot, his guts skittering with a kind of death-row anticipation. And, inevitably his gaze shot to the hallway behind Salt.
Because always, with DC Des Salt, came DI Will Foster.
Tom’s eyes fixed on that empty space like a mouse in front of a stoat. But nothing happened.
He snapped his attention back to Salt, but Salt had turned away and walked out of Tom’s field of vision. But he could hear hushed voices, as Salt presumably asked the uniformed PC by thr staircase what the fuck Tom was doing there.
When Salt appeared again in the doorway, his expression had fixed into professional neutrality. He extracted a notebook from inside the opening of his forensic suit, pulled down his hood and walked in the room,
“Mr. Gray,” he said. It was stupidly shocking to hear his voice. Perhaps Tom had hoped it was all a lurid dream.
Then he registered, Mr. Gray. They were going to pretend they didn’t know each other, then. Fine by him. But he couldn’t help looking compulsively again toward the open doorway before he focused again on Salt.
“I’m DS Salt with Southwark and Peckham Murder Investigation Team.”
Southwark and Peckham. That was new at least. And so was the rank. He’d made Sergeant. Salt’s Northern Irish accent sounded as strong as it ever had, but Tom unwillingly noted tiny changes in him. New, fine lines between his ginger brows. His unfortunate moustache had gone, as had that shy, awkward niceness he’d exuded once, so out of place on a policeman.
“Don’t be alarmed, sir,” Salt went on blandly. “This is all routine procedure in a case like this.”
Of course it was. With all that blood.
Tom involuntarily squeezed closed his eyes, and the image was starkly there, like a high-res photograph dropping in behind his lids. He thought he would never stop seeing it.
His eyes sprang open.
That was what mattered. What lay upstairs. Not some soap opera from his past.
Sick with himself, he forced his attention back to Salt.
“I know,” he said.
Salt raised an eyebrow. “You told the officer that you’re here because Mr. Haining—Mr. Dominic Haining—requested you come to support him. When he found the body of his wife. Catriona Haining.”
Tom nodded, then said, “Yes.” Aloud, as if he were being recorded.
“And, what’s your relationship to Mr. and Mrs. Haining?” There was no one here to witness any recognition between them, but still, Salt’s tone remained that of a stranger.
“I—Mr…and Mrs. Haining own one of the modeling agencies I work with. Echo…it’s called.”
“This is Mrs. Haining’s home. Mr. Haining no longer lives here, is that correct?”
Tom tightened his jaw. “Yes.”
“You must be a…close friend as well as a client?” Salt began to write in his notebook. “For Mr. Haining to have called you here at a time like this.”
Tom’s mind darted around the question of how much total honesty could complicate things for Nick, but in the end all he said was, “Yes.”
Salt glanced up, brown eyes narrowed. And Tom was sure Salt must be making those damning connections in his head.
Tom and Nick Haining. Nick and Tom.
Nick—whose wife had just killed herself. Of all people to judge him, it had to be Des.
“Tom Gray is one of the world’s top models – an effortless object of desire. Self-contained, elusive and always in control, he’s accustomed to living life entirely on his own terms. But when Tom is implicated in the circumstances surrounding the gory death of his lover’s ex-wife, his world begins to spiral into chaos. Someone’s framing him. Someone’s stalking him. Will Foster is the only man Tom trusts to help him. But Tom brutally burned all bridges between them two years before, and Will paid a bitter price. As shocking secrets come to light, and more people begin to die, Tom desperately seeks answers among old crimes. But he finds his adversary always one step ahead. Somehow, Tom must persuade Will to help him find out who’s invading his life. Before all he values is taken from him.”
One of the pieces of advice I give to aspiring writers is to read. Everything. But especially to read the kind of books you want to write. To learn. To observe. To understand. I’ve read mysteries since grade school. Thank you, Freddy the Detective. I write them, as well as young adult books, and a few other things. So I’ve read tons of young adult books. For example, each year, Publishers Weekly puts out a list of young adult books to which they have given starred reviews during that year. I go through them. Check for ones I might be interested in, especially those starred books that feature LGBTQ young adult characters. And I watch young adult shows and/or movies for as long as I can stand them. Usually not long. Spoiler alert. Spoilers coming.
On Netflix, I recently binged on season two of Thirteen Reasons Why and on the first half of season two of Riverdale. What do all the characters, teens and adults, heroes or villains, in both series, have in common? If I had to pick one phrase, I’d say, they’re stupid. Another phrase? They make incredibly poor choices. And secrets! If they all just told the truth the first time around, the shows wouldn’t get past the first commercial break. In my books, I do my best to have logic rule. Not in these things. But my most huge gripe here is with Riverdale. Again, as I said; spoiler alert.
It is revealed that years ago, the killer’s family were all murdered. And that members of the town came to that kid back then, and the kid identified the killer. And so the townspeople went and killed the murderer. Except the kid identified the wrong person. So now all these years latter, the kid, now an adult, puts the characters in the show through all kinds of hell, for no apparent reason. Or if reasons are given, they make no sense. The teens didn’t kill the wrong guy. Adults did. Years ago. To summarize: the kid picked out the wrong guy. They killed the wrong guy. And now, the kid as an adult is killing all of them for killing the wrong guy. Which he caused because he screwed up.
This makes no sense to me. What does this remind me to do in/for my books? That there must be logic.That I can’t rely on non-sensical secret keeping as a plot device. That I need to make my teens and adults realistic people that follow the dictates of logic. Sure things can go wrong, but they’ve got to be in ways that make sense. I hope I’ve done this all along, but certainly these two shows brought home the lesson even more starkly.
By Mark Zubro
Friday 6:15 P.M.
For the fourth time, Steve pulled up the zipper on his tuxedo pants. I stroked the soft mound of fabric covering his dick and balls with my fingers. I sighed.
We were dressing for the prom in my upstairs room.
Well, trying to get dressed.
I couldn’t keep my hands off him. When he slid on his black boxer briefs, I ran my hands over his thighs, his pelvis, his ass, felt the front of his underwear, touching and caressing his dick and balls where they gathered snugly together. I had done the whole thing when he’d put his pants on the first time. And then again. And again.
That’s why he was on his fourth zip up. While I kneaded his crotch, he had one hand cupping and squeezing my ass. His other was on the front of my pants outlining my hardon.
I shifted to bring our bodies even closer, opened my legs wide to give his hands the best possible access.
He’s always hot in my eyes, but this was blistering wild heat, and so different from our usual jeans and T-shirts.
For the prom, my parents had insisted we get tailor-made tuxes. Especially my mom. She’s like that. Rented were not to be borne. In this case, I agreed. My tux was perfect, broad in the shoulders and narrow at the hips. Steve’s encased his figure like a second skin. As skinny as he is, he can be hard to fit. This outfit had his shoulders well defined, but it was especially those pants, tight in his crotch, taut across his ass, legs like skinny jeans. Ultimate hotness on top of more ultimate hotness.
In the middle of all this intimacy, we were trying to be as quiet as possible. Kind of added an extra bit of spice.
Steve had been living in our renovated garage for months now. His mom, out on bail after being charged with murdering her husband, still lived in their house. That she even got bail was nuts. That wasn’t my fight though.
Besides murder and conspiracy charges against her and her co-defendants, other legal crap continued. Lawsuits and counter lawsuits among all kinds of people had been filed. We weren’t involved in a majority of them.
At that moment in my room, I was super turned on. I was leaking so much pre-cum, I had to change my underwear twice. It didn’t help that Steve didn’t bother to keep his hands and mouth from the covered mounds my dick and balls made. He insisted I wear the slider shorts that I wore with my baseball uniform. He loved the taut whiteness. He said I didn’t need the cup that came with the shorts since I bulged plenty enough without it.
Finally, sufficiently drained and dressed, we pinned on each other’s white orchid boutonnières. I suppose we could have managed ourselves, but I enjoyed the fussing and touching he and I did as we performed this simple intimacy.
The scent of the orchid filled the air and was great, but he smelled better. I love inhaling his aroma whether he’s drenched in sweat or freshly showered, with or without deodorant.
We stood together, holding hands and gazing into the full-length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. Steve’s suit coat hung far enough down on his hips to cover the damp spot from his leaking pre-cum. I thought we were total studs. Then again, we were in love, and could possibly be forgiven for some sappiness about prom night and bias toward each other about our looks.
Steve even smiled. He doesn’t do that often. It’s dazzling with his black hair and deep brown eyes.
He caressed my ass, put his arm around me. I slipped my arms around his shoulders. We pulled each other close.
I said, “I love you. You’re beautiful.”
He nuzzled into me and said, “I love you, Roger.”
I texted my parents that we’d be arriving at the top of the stairs. We’d promised to run the gauntlet of parental gushing and picture taking with equanimity and good grace. In this instance, I didn’t find feeding my parents’ pride a huge burden.
Cameras started clicking as we exited the bedroom door. At the top of the stairs, we turned and swayed for them as directed. The familial entourage was at the bottom of the stairs. Even my grandmother had shown up, unannounced so as not to drive my mom nuts.
My parents, grandmother, and my twin kid sisters all had their phones out taking videos, pictures, or both. We had to walk down the stairs three times so each of them could record all they wanted. Then pictures in the living room followed by us moving outside and then more scenes: on the lawn, in front of the limo, with us seated in the limo with the window down, and with us waving to them from inside the limo.
All in all, annoying in a good way.
The only hitch to the happiness motif was the pause in the picture taking for a meeting with our security contingent. They looked sort-of youngish, like just-graduated linebackers from division two colleges. We’d met with them before tonight along with the Riverside police, representatives from the FBI, and school officials including the principal and the head of security for the school.
We said hello to them then turned to our parents. Mom hugged me and whispered, “You do what the guards say.”
I said, “Mom, we’ve discussed this a thousand times.”
My dad leaned close. “Angela, the boys know what to do.”
We’d had death threats, bomb threats and so many anonymous vicious phone calls that’d we’d had to get new cell phone numbers. My parents got rid of the landline altogether, which I’d been campaigning for anyway.
Yeah, LGBT couples go to proms. And LGBT kids still get beat up. The school had hired extra security.
Steve and I had managed to piss off a whole lot of right wing zealots in Southern California, and for all we knew around the world. Lately, even a few classmates had upped their level of handing us religious tracts as we entered the school.
We could laugh off that last one pretty easily. The rest of the adult-level threats, not so much.
A few prejudiced parents had protested our attending the prom. A few people from each group had variously suggested we cancel the prom, or that Steve and I should forego attending, and other nonsense. My parents, the administration, and the civil authorities had all agreed the dance would go on as scheduled with us a part of it.
The school had assured everyone that all precautions were being taken.
We ignored all the extra fuss as best we could.
Our notion? Rampant homophobia should not be a reason to skip the prom. Hell, even the Supreme Court had agreed that ‘how other students might react,’ didn’t justify us or other gay kids being excluded. And that was in 1980. Steve and I were learning all this legal shit as we went along. Shouldn’t have to, I suppose, but trying to live your life on shouldn’ts is kind of a waste of time as far as I can see.
We stepped outside. With the sun setting, the record heat of the day had finally begun to abate. The slight breeze brought warmth not relief.
So security guards in place, last second familial hugs hugged, and we were ready to go. At the last instant, I reached into the limo and came out with special corsages for my twin sisters, my mom, and grandma. The girls squealed with delight at the specially made orchid corsages for their wrists. My mom and grandma gave us each another hug. Then Steve got out a special boutonniere for my dad. Finally, another last round of hugs completed, we piled in. Then the us-waving-as-we-drove-way pictures. We turned the corner and eased back in the seats.
As we held hands and the car gained speed, Steve said, “Your mom and dad are so normal.” He sighed. “They almost make me forget the craziness of all this security shit.”
Neither of us mentioned that our limo driver also doubled as a security guard. Our two guards sat up front near him. We’d been determined to face our fears and discuss them. That didn’t make it easier or make them go away, but at least we had each other to share them with.
Were we really scared that violence might occur against us or against the kids at the prom? A bomb placed in a flower pot?
Steve and I had decided that living in a permanent state of paralysis was pointless. We’d have no lives at all. We’d taken every possible precaution as had the conglomeration of security personnel. And in this day and age, other than being specifically aware of threats to us, really, there wasn’t much difference in the level of dealing with normal security threats. It’s the world we live in.
In the final hug before being whisked away, my dad had whispered, “Be careful. Be safe. We love you.”
In the car, we both sat musing for a few moments. “I could get used to that normal shit,” Steve said.
“That’s as close as we’re getting to a normal prom. Sometimes that’s all I’d like. To have my life be just normal. Less death, destruction, and hatred.”
I said, “We’re coming as close as we can.”
He gazed at me with his sad, doleful eyes.
Friday 7:32 P.M.
We picked up our best friends Jack McVeen and Darlene Banyon and their dates, Maria and Joey.
The limo ride was fun. The prom was great.
The venue was several exits past downtown Riverside on Highway 60 at the new Riverside Plaza Extravaganza Hotel and Convention Center. Kind of sterile. More striving for desert chic than elegant. The anemic plants in the atrium clustered in ‘desert interest centers.’ The palm trees dotting the lobby were about eighteen inches tall with mostly yellow leaves. The trickling stream that meandered throughout already had rust grubbing along the seams and edges. Cages twenty feet high took up space in the atrium lobby. The cages had real live parrots that screeched and called and shit and stunk. I wondered if the interior decorator ever got another job.
But tonight, I didn’t care. Each of us as couples joined the throng strolling in, hand in hand. More pictures were taken under a canopy.
Bryce Wold and Martin Uday, our resident Pride Parade and glitter specialists, had taken charge of decorating. The ballroom looked like Lou Rawls and Lady Gaga had been given an unlimited budget and told to go nuts, sort of kinky-modern, but very dark.
I didn’t care.
Steve and I swayed and swirled around the ballroom all night. Dancing with the man I loved and hoped to marry someday was perfect. I liked the slow dances where I could feel Steve’s hard dick pressing up against mine. It was like sharing a secret love in front of everybody. If there were sneers from some of the teens, adults, or chaperones, I didn’t notice.