HAZARD WAS TRYING TO FIND Evie’s ballet slippers when he heard the front door open.
“Evie’s got dance,” he shouted down the stairs.
Somers said something back; he sounded tired.
“Can you check the potatoes?”
This time, nothing.
“If they’re really brown on top, just take them out.”
“Daddy!” Evie squealed.
“Go say hi,” Hazard told her
Instead, she ran to her dresser and began pulling out drawers, grabbing shirts and dresses, inspecting them, and tossing them to the floor.
“Evie, stop. Put those away.”
She babbled something, and at the end, Hazard understoodtwo words: “Snow dress.”
“No, we’re not getting your snow dress. Go say hi to Daddy. And ask him where he put your ballet slippers.”
More gabbling. Repeated exclamations about the Snow Dress. And, the whole time, she was pulling out clothes and dumping them on the floor.
“Evie. Evie! Stop, sweetheart.”
Hazard had finished digging through the toy chest; no sign of the ballet slippers. He’d already searched the closet, but now he went back. Lots of Evie’s junk accumulated at the bottom of the closet, and Hazard shifted it to the bedroom as he searched.
“Swimmies!” Evie shrieked.
“God damn it,” Hazard growled, turning around just in time to see Evie dive into the pile of summer clothes he had just moved out of the closet. Sure enough, she had found several swimsuits and was trying to pull them on all at once.
“No, Evie. Put those down. Stop! We’re not putting on swimsuits right now. We—no! No, your head doesn’t go there. Just put it down, please. We’re going to ballet. We’re going to eat dinner and we’re going to ballet.”
By the time he’d finished explaining the clear, orderly plan for their evening, she was tangled in three swimsuits, reminding Hazard of marine life that got caught in the plastic rings from six-packs.
“John,” Hazard shouted. “I could use some help.”
The answer that came back was faint and sounded suspiciously like, “In a minute.”
“Right now,” Hazard shouted.
Then, slow footsteps. Painfully slow. Grudgingly slow. So fucking slow that Hazard wanted to go out there, wanted to say something like, Are your legs fucking broken?
When Somers came into the room, he was carrying a Bud Light, and he’d already stripped down to his undershirt, trousers, and socks—a striped pair that Hazard recognized.
“I thought we threw those away,” Hazard said.
Somers wiggled his toes. “Oh, no. I still like them.
“Yeah? Because your heel is sticking out.”
“It’s my heel, and they’re my socks.” Before Hazard could reply, he stepped over to Evie grabbing one of the tangled swimsuits and trying to turn her out of it. “How’d she get all wrapped up in these?”
“Have you seen her ballet slippers?”
“Why’s all this stuff out of the closet? Evie, no. Your arm. Pull your arm through—there you go. Come on, this room is a mess.”
“You took her to ballet last week. Do you remember where you put the slippers?”
“What?” Somers was struggling with the next swimsuit. “Her slippers?”
“Her ballet slippers.”
“They’re downstairs. She kicked them off by the garage door, and I put them on the shoe rack.”
“Because they’re shoes,” Somers said. The last swimsuit came off, and Evie tumbled and caught herself against the dresser. “All right, miss, come here and get your tights on.”
“No tights,” Evie shrieked, darting out of the room, her voice trailing after her.
“God damn it,” Hazard said. “Can you grab her? We’re going to be late.”
“She’s fine. Let her run around a little bit; she’s still got way too much energy.”
“We don’t have time for her to run around a little bit. We’re going to be late.”
“Ok,” Somers said, grabbing the beer and tipping it back.
“Nothing. I mean, it’s ballet for a three-year-old. Late’s not exactly the end of the world.”
“Late is late.”
In the middle of transferring another stack of out-of-season clothes, Hazard suddenly stopped caring about neat piles and organization. He shoved the mess into the closet, compressing it with one foot until he could shut the door.
“What’s your deal?” Somers asked, eyeing him over the brown glass.
Hazard made himself count to ten; in their silence, Evie was still screaming, “No tights!”
“You’ve been pissy since I walked in the door.”
“Since you walked in the door, got a beer, and sat down to watch TV.”
Somers made a face.
“Do you want to say something?”
“No. I don’t want to fight.”
“Great. So, next time you come home and I ask for help, you’re going to, what? Take a nap first?”
“Jesus, you really want this, don’t you?”
“And her ballet slippers go in her room, in the closet, right in front. Where they always go.”
“They don’t always go there.”
“Yes. They do.”
Somers flashed a smile. “Not this time. So, technically, not always.”
Hazard knew exactly what he was going to say to that, except then the smoke alarm beeped downstairs.
“Did you check the potatoes?” Hazard asked.
Somers had the decency to look guilty as he drained the beer.
“Jesus Christ,” Hazard said, pushing past him and jogging down the stairs and to the kitchen. Smoke leaked out around the oven door, coiling up to the ceiling. Hazard grabbed hot pads, opened the door, and grabbed the dish of scalloped potatoes. He transferred them to the cooling rack. Behind him, the beeping cut off.
Somers stood on tiptoes, finagling the battery out of the smoke detector. In one arm, he held Evie who was wide eyed and covering her ears. She pointed at the smoking casserole and whispered, “Hot.”
“Ok,” Somers said. “That was my fault.”
“It was one thing.” Hazard opened the window over the sink, fanning the air with the hot pads. “I asked you to do one thing.”
“Can we not have a fight in front of Evie?”
“I hungry,” Evie announced.
“There’s some mac and cheese—” Somers began.
“No,” Evie screamed. A string of other words followed.
Somers stared at her helplessly. “You love mac and cheese. We’ve got a box of the princess mac and cheese, and—”
She interrupted him with another shriek.
“You’re going to have mac and cheese, Evie. That’s what’s for dinner tonight. I don’t know what you’re saying. Calm down and—stop screaming, ok? Just tell me what you want.”
Hazard touched his shoulder, and Somers flinched.
“I told her she could have those organic spaghetti rings. That’s what she’s trying to say.”
“Well why can’t—” Whatever Somers might have asked, he stopped himself. Then, to Evie, “Ok, that’s fine. Come on. You don’t need to cry. We’ll get the spaghetti rings. I didn’t know Dee Dee had told you that.”
Evie’s distraught tears were changing to sniffles; she latched on to Somers, burying her face in his shoulder while he stroked her dark hair. He shuffled to the pantry and tried to rummage through the chaos, pushing aside the canned corn and patting her back.
“Here,” Hazard said.
“I can do it,” Somers said, turning away slightly. “I screwed up everything else, so I can do this part at least.”
Hazard touched his shoulder, and this time, Somers didn’t jolt.
“This,” Hazard said, drawing a line between the two of them, “isn’t helping. I’ll get her calmed down and dressed for ballet; you warm up the spaghetti rings.”
Some part of Somers that had been pushed too far wanted to keep fighting about it; Hazard could see it in his face. But then, with a sigh, Somers nodded and passed Evie over. Hazard tucked her against his chest, rubbing a circle on her back as he walked toward the stairs. She gabbled into his shirt.
“No, he was not being mean,” Hazard said, breaking in on her flow of words. “He didn’t know.”
The doorbell rang.
“If that’s Billy,” Somers said from the kitchen, “I’m going to shoot him. I cannot handle a toddler meltdown over spaghetti rings and that jerk in the same night.”
“Go on,” Hazard said. “I’ll get it.”
When he answered the door, he froze.
“No,” he said. “Whatever it is, go away.”
“I wish,” North said.
North McKinney was blond, tall, stacked in a way that meant hard work and not weights in front of a mirror. He had on a heavy-duty Carhartt jacket, his hands buried in the pockets. Hazard had known him from his time in St. Louis, where Northworked as a private detective. And, if Hazard weren’t currently experiencing a category-5 personal shitstorm, he might have even bought the asshole a drink. North had, after all, helped Hazard start his own agency.
Another day, Hazard was going to say. Another time. Whatever you’re here for, we don’t want any.
But before Hazard could say anything, a guy with a cloud of frizzy, reddish-brown hair squeezed past North and then past Hazard, slipping into the house with a distracted grin. “Mind if I come in?” he asked when he was already halfway through the foyer.
“Shaw,” North said, “hold on.”
“Yes,” Hazard said. “I mind a whole hell of a lot. Get back—”
“North,” Shaw said, turning excitedly and pointing toward the hall. “I figured out why he’s such an asshole. The feng shui in this house is totally off.”
Emery Hazard is ready for Valentine’s Day. He’s made reservations months in advance, he’s ordered flowers, and he’s got a boyfriend he wants to treat right—even if John-Henry Somerset occasionally lets the dishes sit in the sink a little too long. They even have an extra reason to celebrate this year: Somers has received a special commendation for his police work.
Everything begins to go wrong, though, when Hazard’s ex-boyfriend shows up on their doorstep. Billy claims he just needs help getting away from an abusive partner, but Somers believes Billy has other motives, including designs on Hazard.
When men who have been hired to track Billy show up in Wahredua, Hazard agrees to help his ex elude them. But as Hazard prepares to sneak Billy out of town, a woman is murdered behind the local gay bar, and Somers’s investigation leads him towards Hazard’s ex.
As Hazard and Somers find themselves working together to find the killer, they both must confront a hard truth: everything comes at a cost—career success, healthy relationships, and even justice. The only question is if they’re willing to pay the price.
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