In Chief Cravens’s office, Hazard held his hands firmly in his lap. If he unlaced his fingers, he was going to start hitting things, and if he started hitting things, he might not ever stop.
Cravens, for her part, had the same unruffled calm as always. She was older, with long, gray hair, and she was well on her way into middle-age spread. Something about her eyes and her smile made her look like she was just somebody’s grandmother; anyone who scratched the surface, though, just found old, rusted gunmetal all the way down.
“I’m sorry, there aren’t any other options,” she was saying. “Norine won’t be back until Tuesday, and the state won’t send somebody on the weekend.”
“So he’s going to sit in a jail cell.” Hazard caught his partner’s glance; Somers mouthed, Cool it, and Hazard added, “Chief.”
“I appreciate your concern, but he’ll be fine, Detective. He’s a minor; we can’t send him back to those people. We can’t turn him loose on his own. And we can’t put him in Social Services because everybody needs a weekend and we’re small-fry and can’t raise hell.”
“It’s a jail cell. He’s a kid.”
“We’re not going to cuff him, Detective. But he needs to be somewhere safe.”
Somers put a hand on Hazard’s shoulder. “What my partner is trying to say—”
Cravens spoke over him. “Do you want to take custody of him, Detective Hazard?” She tapped a pile of paperwork. “I’ll be happy to turn him over to you until Tuesday.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Hazard said.
“Then the discussion is finished. Go work your case, Detective. And keep me up to date.”
In the bullpen, Hazard stared at the computer. He wasn’t ready to type. Not yet. Last time he’d typed while he was angry, it had cost him a keyboard.
“You need food.”
“I need to get away from this shit.”
Somers nodded. “Let’s get away.”
“We’ve got work to do.”
“You need lunch. I need a partner who’s not going to rip my head off. Let’s get away. Half an hour. Then we’ll come back here and start fresh.”
“I don’t want to eat.”
Eyebrows raised, Somers put on a thoughtful expression. “Well, that’s a problem because you need to eat. But you’re also being obstinate.”
“What should we do about this?”
“You should fuck off, Somers. Right now.”
“I might be able to take you in a fight.”
“Not a chance.”
“Or I could try to use my dazzling charm.”
Hazard turned on the computer, shifting his attention away from Somers.
“But I think the most effective method with you is blackmail.”
“Then you don’t know me very fucking well, do you?”
“I know that you’re ticklish.”
Hands above the keyboard, Hazard froze. “You don’t have the balls.”
Somers frowned. “I mean, I know you’re ticklish, and it hasn’t changed how much I respect you. But I wonder how all these other guys would feel.”
“I don’t care how they feel.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if I—” Somers stood and circled the desk.
“Touch me, and I’ll break your hand.” Hazard shoved the keyboard away. “Fine. Let’s eat.”
Instead of driving, they walked to Saint Taffy’s, the cop bar on Market Street. It was April: sunny, warm, the sky just hinting at the deep blues of summer. Hazard walked fast until Somers took him by the hand, and then the day felt a little warmer, a little brighter, and the sky was a deeper blue. They had been together two months, and his touch still did that to Hazard. Two months, and they still got looks on the street, not that it mattered.
It was going to happen, Hazard knew. Any moment now, Somers was going to start asking questions. And then those questions would turn into more questions. They’d proliferate: questions upon questions until Hazard wanted somebody to drag him out back and put a bullet in his head. And the worst part is that it would all come from Somers’s genuine concern. So Hazard braced himself and waited.
They walked the two blocks to Saint Taffy’s. At noon, Market Street was busy, and people stared. One woman picked up her little girl and carried her across the street to avoid walking near them. For the most part, though, the stares weren’t hostile—simply curious. Even though Wahredua had a growing LGBT community, Hazard knew that he and Somers stood out for a number of reasons.
And still no questions. Somers had a furrow between his eyebrows, the kind of pondering look that made Hazard want to curl up next to him with a book and enjoy the silence. That little furrow took up a lot of Hazard’s thinking. It was damn sexy, that look on Somers.
Inside, Saint Taffy’s was cool and dark, with a polished concrete floor, a long bar, and a pool table mixed in among the seating. A few months ago, Somers had gotten drunk and laid waste to the bar; the old mirror that had hung there was gone, shattered and replaced with a 4k TV. But Somers had paid the damages, and Saint Taffy’s was a cop bar, so after a month they’d let Somers come back, and now they just charged him extra and tried to hide it when the bill came.
They sat, ordered a burger each, and even after the waitress had left, Somers still hadn’t asked any questions. The girl came back with soft drinks. The only sound in the bar were the conversations at the tables around them. Then the burgers arrived, and they ate. And still not a damn question. Not even a word. Just that very sexy furrow between his brows, while Somers stared off into space like he was doing calculus for fun.
“All right,” Hazard finally said, dropping the half-eaten burger on the plate. “Just ask me already.”
“Ask me whatever it is you want to ask me. Why I’m so pissy today. What’s going on with me. Whatever it is, just ask me so we can get it over with.”
“Somers—” Hazard swallowed and leaned closer. “John, you want to ask me, so just ask me.”
“Yeah, I want to ask you. But you don’t want me to ask you. Or you don’t want to tell me. I don’t know which one. So it’s fine; you’ll tell me when you want to tell me. Or not.”
And then he picked up his burger, took a bite, and grinned like he hadn’t said the most goddamn confusing thing in the entire universe.
“What does that mean?”
“What you just said. What does that mean?”
“I don’t get what’s happening.”
“You want to ask me, so ask me. There. I told you to. So do it.”
“I don’t really want to know.”
“You think that’s going to work? That reverse psychology bullshit?”
“I’m not doing anything. I told you that I wasn’t going to ask. You can tell me whatever you want. That’s it.”
Hazard took a bite of his burger, but he couldn’t taste it, and he had to chug cola to get it down his throat. He tossed the food back onto his plate. “Fine.”
Somers laughed. “You’re going to make my life really hard sometimes. That’s what this is about, right?”
“When I came out to my parents, you know what they did?”
That wiped the laughter from Somers’s face. “Ree—”
“They waited until the summer, and then my dad told me we were going on a family vacation, and he drove me to this shithole in Iowa and left me there for two months. He and my mom went on to Kansas City. That was the family vacation. I stayed at conversion therapy.”
Somers set down his burger. One of his hands came across to Hazard’s, and Hazard had to fight not to jerk away.
“Two months. Bible study, fasting, late nights, early mornings, hard work. We’d go to our sanctuaries. That’s what they called these little closets where they’d lock us up; we were supposed to spend the time in prayer, but mostly, it was to make us lonely, desperate for contact and approval. They’d put us in a room and show us porn. Straight porn, I mean. They hammered at us all day. Every day. There were no breaks, no changes to the routine. We were either isolated or immersed in a group where we couldn’t build relationships.” Hazard’s throat was tight, and he drank some of the cola, but that didn’t do a damn thing. “It’s all pretty standard brainwashing stuff. You get punished when you don’t do what they want. You get rewards when you do things right. Most of the time. Then, out of left field, you get punished anyway because they don’t want you getting comfortable. The whole thing is meant to break down your resistance, make you pliable, make it hard for you to think rationally or critically. Things just start to make sense. They get inside you and you can’t get them out.”
Somers didn’t say anything. His grip on Hazard’s fingers tightened, though. And his eyes—they were dark, the way even the deepest waters grow darker when clouds race over them.
“I came back pretty fucked up.” Then he had to take a drink again, and his throat was still dry, still so goddamn dry, and the cola didn’t help at all. “And maybe I would have stayed fucked up, but then I met Jeff, and—I don’t know.” He tried to laugh, and his chest moved, but no sound came out. “Like you said, I’m obstinate. My parents never talked to me about it. They never asked me about it. I brought Jeff home one time when I was feeling brave, and they didn’t say anything about that either. Maybe by then they couldn’t give any more fucks. Maybe they just couldn’t.”
Somers still hadn’t said anything. He got out of his seat, still holding Hazard’s hand, and he dragged the chair around so they were side by side. Then he sat again, looping one arm around Hazard’s neck and pulling him in for a kiss. It was long, tender, and surprisingly chaste.
Hot prickles traced Hazard’s neck. “We’re in public.”
“I love you.”
“Yeah, John. I know. But we’re at a restaurant and everyone’s staring—”
Somers kissed him again. This time, he added a little tongue.
“Any more objections?”
Everyone was still staring, but Hazard couldn’t think of a single damn thing.
Instead, Hazard turned his gaze to the window, where sunlight and shadow cut neat lines out of the sidewalk. “I just can’t think straight when I’m around that kind of stuff. God, Jesus, all that. I’m back in that shithole again. And I know, up here, that it isn’t all the same. I know about Mother Theresa and I know about people, good people, who are religious. But then someone opens their mouth and it doesn’t matter what my brain says.”
Somers nodded. Clouds were still racing over those eyes, turning their turquoise the color of stormwater. “Let’s get the check.”
Outside, the daylight was crisp, and from Market Street Hazard could outline the catkins on the riverbank, could count the silver scallops on the water, could see, on the far side, the grasses rustle as a hidden animal came down to the shore. He saw all that, and inside he was seeing north, to Iowa, and the closet they had called the sanctuary, and its scintillating white paint as the sun crawled in, and the way that cramped space had smelled of sweat and carpet padding and basement.
“I’m Methodist, I guess,” Somers said, taking Hazard’s hand as they started towards the precinct. “Do you want to break up?”
Hazard tried to laugh.
“I believe in God. Or I believe in something better than me. Bigger than me. I’ve felt that. When I hold Evie, I feel that sometimes.”
“You can be Methodist. You can be Buddhist. You can be a witch for all I care.”
“Good. That’s really good. I’m thinking of becoming a sexual wizard.”
“You pretty much already are.”
And this time they both laughed, and some of the wire around Hazard’s chest unspooled.
“But you don’t have faith in anything? That’s not an attack. Just a question.”
“No. Faith is irrational. I make decisions. I decide who to trust and what to trust based on reason. Once you get beyond that, people believe what they want to be true or what they’re afraid is true, and either way, they’re only justifying their own opinions. I’d rather not fall into that trap.”
Somers had that furrow between his eyes again, and Hazard imagined kissing it away. “That’s an oversimplification.”
“I’m not trying to pick a fight.”
“All right, let’s hear it.”
“I don’t know. Not yet. But that’s what my gut’s saying: there’s more to this.”
“When your gut has a thesis statement,” Hazard said, bending to kiss Somers on the cheek, “let me know.”
Reasonable Doubt (Hazard and Somerset Book 5) – Blurb
After almost twenty years, Emery Hazard finally has the man he loves. But things with his boyfriend and fellow detective, John-Henry Somerset, are never easy, and they’ve been more complicated lately for two reasons: Somers’s ex-wife and daughter. No matter what Hazard does, he can’t seem to get away from the most important women in his boyfriend’s life.
While Hazard struggles with his new reality (changing dirty diapers, just to start), a bizarre murder offers a distraction. John Oscar Walden, the leader of a local cult, is found dead by the police, and the case falls to Hazard and Somers. The investigation takes the two detectives into the cult’s twisted relationships and the unswerving demands of power and faith.
But the deeper Hazard looks into the cult, the deeper he must look into his own past, where belief and reason have already clashed once. And as Hazard struggles to protect the most vulnerable of Walden’s victims, he uncovers a deeper, more vicious plot behind Walden’s murder, and Hazard finds himself doing what he never expected: racing to save the killer.
Only, that is, if Somers doesn’t need him to babysit.
5-Year Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense – Anniversary Giveaway: Win a FREE audiobook copy of Pretty Pretty Boys (Hazard and Somerset Book 1).
Author Gregory Ashe has graciously offered a chance for two of our members to win a FREE audiobook copy of the first novel in the Hazard and Somerset mystery series!!
Look for the announcment to enter the FREE drawing via the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Facebook group, leave at least a one-word comment for your chance to win!
The Winners will be announced on Friday, August 10th @ 8pm EDT. Stay Tuned!
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