Exclusive Excerpt: Guilt by Assocation (Hazard and Somerset Book 4) by Gregory Ashe


Chapter 3

February 11



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.

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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?”

“Shut up.”

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.

“What happened?”

“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.


“I’m messy.”

“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?”


“You’re sure?”


“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.

“I’m listening.”

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.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“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.”

Somers waited.

“I definitely shouldn’t have thrown him.”

Somers shrugged.

“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.

“Screw you.”

“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.”

Hazard did.

“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.”

“Come on.”

“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.”


“The sheriff.”


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.

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Find our more about Hazard and Somerset mystery-series by author, Gregory Ashe at his website by clicking on his image.

Haven’t discovered the Hazard and Somerset mystery series yet? Click on the cover below to read the blurbs of each novel – and purchase

Read the interview I did with author, Gregory Ashe here: http://www.jonmichaelsen.net/?p=3146


Exclusive Excerpt: Cloistered to Death (Jamie Brodie Mysteries Book 16) by Meg Perry



Monday, April 9, 2018

Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Bad news doesn’t always come in threes. Sometimes it’s twos.

I said it out loud just as Liz Nguyen walked into my office. “Well, fuck.”

She snorted a laugh and dropped into the chair across from me. “Good morning to you, too. Fuck what? Or who?”

“Oxford University Press and major depressive disorder.”

“Uh oh. Has OUP cancelled the second book?”

Last summer I’d taken a sabbatical to write a book exploring the connection between the Bridei kings of the Pictish nation in early medieval Scotland and the Brodie family. My family. As books do, this one had veered off in a slightly different direction as I was writing it to also become the story of the younger sons of the Brodie clan chiefs and their descendants. Of which I was one. Most historical studies of clans concentrated on the chiefs. My book was unique in its focus on the younger sons.

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The book was published in January and had become, by academic publishing standards, wildly successful. Sales were closing in on 2000 copies. As a result, Oxford University Press had asked me to produce a sequel of sorts – the stories of the younger sons of the Scottish clan chiefs and lairds through the centuries. I’d agreed a month ago, under the impression that I had plenty of time.

“On the contrary.” I pointed to my screen. “Email from my editor, David Beaton.” I read the content to Liz. “‘Sorry, just received this myself. Proposal, outline and first three chapters for book are due 30 April.’ That’s three weeks from today.”

Liz made an O with her mouth. “Have you started on those yet?”

“Nope. I have ideas but nothing committed to paper.”

“All right. Three chapters, three weeks. You can do it.”

“I could, if these weren’t our busiest two weeks for instruction.” As reference and instruction librarians, we spent most of our days in the first few weeks of a new quarter in classrooms teaching research skills to students in our specialty areas. Mine were history, philosophy, and the history of science. Nearly half of my time over the next two weeks was already booked with classes. “And you’re forgetting my second fuck.”

Liz frowned. “What was that one? Depressive disorder?”

“Yup. This email is from Lola.”

Lola Mack was a colleague of Liz’s and mine, another YRL research librarian whose subject specialties were classics, linguistics, and languages. Lola and I were co-authoring a paper on the subtle differences in language employed by various Roman-era historians.

Back in January, when Lola had proposed it, the collaboration had sounded like a terrific idea. But Lola struggled with major depressive disorder and often had difficulty concentrating on research and writing. As a result, we were behind schedule and the deadline for submission to the journal in which we hoped to publish was Friday, April 20. Less than two weeks away.

And now Lola was bailing on me. I read the message to Liz. “‘Jamie, I am so sorry, but my doctor has changed my meds again and I’m going to be out of work this week. I wish I could promise to work on the paper, but I doubt I’ll be able to. You have my notes and references – if you could please complete the paper however you see fit, I’ll be eternally grateful. ETERNALLY. List yourself as first author. THANK YOU.’”

Liz grunted. “Well, fuck.”

“Exactly. I feel terrible for Lola, but… shit.”

Liz hopped to her feet. “I’m gonna get out of your hair. You have work to do.”


Fortunately, I had no instruction sessions scheduled for this morning. I responded to David Beaton – Thanks for the update, will do – and to Lola. No worries, my friend. Concentrate on feeling better. Then I changed my Skype status to Do Not Disturb and got busy.

I ate lunch at my desk and spent four solid hours writing and revising Lola’s and my paper. At 12:55, I went downstairs to the reference desk for my two-hour shift with Liz. She was already there, chatting with Dolores Lopes and Justin Como, who worked the 11:00-1:00 reference shift. Dolores said, “Liz was just telling us about Lola.”

“Yeah. I hope they can find the right drug this time.”

Dolores was the mother hen of the librarians, worrying about all of us when we had troubles. We called her Mama Dolores. She said, “Oh, I hope so, too. Poor Lola has been through so much.”

We murmured agreement and took our seats at the desk. Liz said, “You concentrate on writing. I’ll handle patrons, unless we have two at once.”

“Awesome. I owe you a drink. Or two.”

She grinned. “Forget drinks. Next paper you write is gonna be with me.”

“You have a topic in mind?”

“Something about the history of elections.” Liz was our political science subject specialist.

“Huh. Intriguing. But let me get these two projects behind me first.”

I started to write again. As promised, Liz dealt with patrons. Thirty minutes later, Clinton Kenneally appeared.

Clinton was a patron turned friend, a former monk who visited us daily with a word of the day. He’d first appeared on Liz’s initial day at YRL, nearly nine years ago and had barely missed a day since. He always arrived at 1:30 on the dot.

I paused my hands on the keyboard. Liz said, “Hi, Clinton.”

“Good afternoon.” Clinton studied me. “Today’s word must be frazzled, as Jamie seems to be suffering from that condition.”

I said, “As always, you are correct.” I told him about my deadlines.

Clinton tapped his chin, thinking. “You should avail yourself of a writing retreat.”

Liz applauded. “Oooo. That’s brilliant.”

It was an intriguing idea, but… “Where would I go? If I stay home, I’ll never accomplish anything. If I go to my dad’s, then my family will expect interaction. If I go to New Mexico, I’ll be distracted by everything that needs to be done in the house.” My husband, Pete Ferguson, and I owned a recently-built vacation home in Alamogordo.

Clinton said, “A monastery would suit your purposes. You wouldn’t be bothered.”

Liz said, “How cool. You could write about medieval Scottish clans to the sound of Gregorian chant.”

I said, “I could go to a hotel…”

Liz said, “You’d have to go out for food. And you’d be interrupted by housekeeping every day. I think a monastery is a fantastic idea.”

Clinton added, “The monks will provide your meals at set times. Other than that, you will be free to do as you please.”

I was intrigued. There was a Benedictine monastery in my hometown of Oceanside not far from my brother Jeff’s farm. I’d always found it fascinating and wondered what went on there. “Do you have a recommendation?”

Something flickered in Clinton’s eyes for a second, then was gone. “There is a Benedictine monastery nearby at the end of Mandeville Canyon Road. It is surrounded by wilderness. They welcome guests during the week.”

I located the website. “The Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia. How about that? Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom.”

“Yes. St. Chad is credited with the Christianization of Mercia.”

Liz said, “Pete could drop you off and pick you up. You can’t get more convenient than that.”

Pete loathed all things Catholic. He’d hate the idea. “Are there any Buddhist monasteries nearby?”

“Nope. Closest one is up in the San Gabriels.” Liz poked me in the arm. “Come on, you can’t turn down a monastery named after a medieval British kingdom.”

“I guess not.” I clicked on the Retreats link on the monastery website. “Here’s the booking form.”

Liz leaned over so she could see my screen. “What do they have available?”


So I booked a retreat and scheduled a week of vacation leave from the library. When I told Pete that evening what I’d done, he stared at me, aghast. “You’ve done WHAT??

“I have to get this proposal sent out. I need four uninterrupted days to work on it.”

“You could do that here.”

“No, I couldn’t. I’d be interrupted by the dog, by you, by my phone… The retreat will allow me to accomplish a ton of work.”

“You could go to New Mexico.”

“I’d end up painting the bedrooms and working in the garden instead of writing.”

“You could stay at a hotel.”

“Then I’d have to arrange for my own meals. I’d be interrupted by the maid service every day.”

Pete jumped to his feet from the loveseat and began to pace. “I’m not comfortable with this.”


He stopped and glared at me. “You know why.”

Pete had been sexually abused as a teenager by his parish priest. Naturally, the experience had turned him into an implacable enemy of the church. “Pete. These guys are monks, not priests.” Although I suspected it didn’t matter. “And I won’t be interacting with them at all. I won’t be there for indoctrination, I’ll be there to work. Alone. And Clinton recommended it, so it has to be okay.”

“There must be an alternative.”

“If you can present me with one, I’m open to it.”


Two weeks later…


Monday, April 23, 2018



Los Angeles, California

5:15 am


Voiceover: Homicide. The ultimate crime. When a murder is committed in Los Angeles, the LAPD’s homicide detectives have two days to solve the crime before the trail begins to go cold.

Tonight, a murder was committed. Tonight, we ride with two of LAPD’s finest, the homicide detectives of the West Los Angeles Division, as they hunt a killer.


Detective Brodie (in the passenger seat, speaking to the camera): Our victim is a male, found in front of an empty house that’s for sale. A neighbor was outside with his dog and heard the gunshot. He didn’t see anything but he called it in.

Detective Kevin Brodie has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for sixteen years, ten of them with West LA homicide.

Brodie: We have far fewer homicides in West LA than in most of the other divisions.

Detective Eckhoff (driving): We may not have as many, but the motives aren’t that different.

His partner, Detective Jonathan Eckhoff, has been with LAPD for fourteen years, seven as a homicide detective.

Eckhoff: Drugs and money. There are a lot of drugs in them thar hills. Lots of money, too.

Brodie: We get a fair number of body dumps up in the canyons this side of Mulholland. Someone’s dog discovers a victim, and we have no idea where the crime scene is.

Eckhoff: This time, we know.

The unmarked car is waved through a checkpoint and pulls up to the curb in front of a large house. Uniformed police and crime scene personnel swarm the site. There is a For Sale sign at the end of the driveway.

Brodie (to a uniformed officer): Hey, Ben, what’ve we got?

Officer: White male, shot in the chest at close range.

Brodie and Eckhoff approach the house, where the victim lies just outside the front door in a pool of blood. The victim is wearing jeans and a t-shirt and is barefoot.

Brodie: You’re not kidding, close range. (He leans in to study the wound.) Shooter must have been less than three feet away.

Eckhoff: Someone he trusted. (He scans the scene.) Oh, shit. His shoes are missing. Is this a copycat?

Brodie: No way. (To the camera) About six months ago, Harbor Division arrested a guy who’d been stabbing homeless people and stealing their shoes. He’s in jail.

Officer: This guy doesn’t look homeless. Or stabbed.

Brodie (glances down the driveway): It’s gotta be coincidence, but we’ll keep it in mind. How did he get here? (To coroner’s investigator) He doesn’t have ID?

CI: Not yet. There’s nothing in his pockets. Not even a quarter.

Brodie (still studying the body): He’s got a defensive wound.

Eckhoff (demonstrates to the camera): Someone knows he’s about to get shot, he’s likely to throw up his hands. Doesn’t help, the bullet goes right through, but it’s a reflex reaction.

Coroner’s investigator (kneeling by the body): Chest wound isn’t a through and through, so we’ll get the bullet.

Eckhoff (looks up at the house): This is an odd place for a robbery.

Brodie: I don’t think this started off as a robbery.

Crime scene personnel are taking multiple pictures.

Brodie: He looks vaguely familiar, kinda like a guy I played ball with in college.

Eckhoff (in some disbelief): You know him?

CI: He looks older than you.

Eckhoff: Detective Brodie’s regimen of clean living has preserved his youthful countenance.

Brodie (rolls his eyes at Eckhoff): Ha ha. If it’s the same guy, he was a couple of years older than me. He was a utility infielder. What the hell was his name?

Eckhoff (trying to help Brodie remember): Was it a common name?

Brodie: No. His first name was a last name. Wait… Bartlett. Like the president on West Wing. That was his first name. Everyone called him Bart. (He snaps his fingers.) Bart Hightower.

CI: How sure are you this is him?

Brodie: Not sure at all.

CI: We’ll print him, see if he’s in the system.

The coroner removes the body. Crime scene investigators scour the scene.

Brodie: Let’s talk to the neighbor.

Brodie and Eckhoff meet a man in pajamas and a bathrobe standing at the end of the driveway with several uniformed officers.

Eckhoff: Thank you for speaking with us, sir. Can you tell us what happened this morning?

Neighbor: I’m not typically outside this early but my dog has had – um – intestinal issues. She woke me up, in a hurry to go out. We used the front door because it’s closer. I was waiting for the dog when I heard the shot from this direction.

Eckhoff: What did you do?

Neighbor: I can’t see over or through the fence. I took Princess – the dog – inside then went down my driveway and around to this gate. It was open, which it shouldn’t be, and I could see the man lying there. I called 911 right then.

Brodie: How long has this house been for sale?

Neighbor: At least six months. The owners moved to Switzerland.

Eckhoff: Did you see or hear anything else?

Neighbor: I might have heard a car start while I was getting Princess back in the house. But it didn’t pass my driveway so it must have gone up the hill.

Brodie: Has anyone been over here, other than realtors?

Neighbor: Not that I know of. But it’s an extremely private neighborhood. I wouldn’t necessarily have seen anyone.

Eckhoff: You said the gate was supposed to be closed?

Neighbor: Yes. The realtor has the code that opens it.

Brodie: What about the neighbor on the other side?

Neighbor: Oh, that house is unoccupied at the moment, too. It belongs to an actor who’s appearing on Broadway right now. He’s been in New York for about six weeks.

Eckhoff (hands the neighbor a card): We appreciate your cooperation, sir. If you remember anything else that might be helpful, please give us a call.

Neighbor: I will.

Brodie and Eckhoff walk back toward the crime scene. Eckhoff examines the fence between the properties, which is overgrown with vines.

Eckhoff: He’s right, you can’t see through this at all.

Brodie: These people moved to Switzerland.

Eckhoff (grins): Sixteen years in West LA and you’re still not accustomed to the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Brodie (to camera): This is why Detective Eckhoff always initiates the interviews of witnesses and suspects in this part of town. He grew up with people like this. He knows how to handle them.

Eckhoff: It’s a gift.

A uniformed officer approaches the detectives.

Officer: Kevin, Jon, take a look at this.

The officer points to the base of the gate at the end of the driveway.

Brodie (squats down to see): Black duct tape over the sensor… so the gate wouldn’t close?

Eckhoff: But then the killer left it there? If the gate had closed and the neighbor hadn’t heard the shot, the victim might have lain there for a while before anyone saw him.

Brodie: The killer was in a hurry to leave.

Eckhoff: And lucky for us, the neighbor did hear.

Brodie: Thank God for doggie diarrhea.


8:22 am


Back at the station, Detective Eckhoff gets a phone call.

Eckhoff: Eckhoff. Hey, tell me something good. Seriously? Fantastic. Thank you. (He hangs up and turns to Detective Brodie.) We got a fingerprint match. It’s your guy.

The victim is identified as Bartlett Corcoran Hightower IV, age 41.

Brodie: He’s in the system?

Eckhoff: Yeah. A couple of busts for possession several years ago. Would Pete remember him?

Detective Brodie calls his brother-in-law, who might know the victim.

Brodie (on the phone): Hey. Gotta question for you. Yeah. Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you. Right. You remember much about him? No kidding. Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya. (He hangs up.) He remembers him. Said he got suspended from the team for drugs once.

Eckhoff: Is your coach still around?

Brodie: Yeah, he’s retired up in Ventura County somewhere. (To camera) I went through UCLA on a baseball scholarship. Bart was a junior when I was a freshman.

Eckhoff: Was he any good?

Brodie (shrugs): Good enough for a scholarship. Not good enough for the majors. As I remember, he was a local.

Producer: Will your acquaintance with the victim cause a conflict of interest?

Brodie: Nah. We’ll check with the boss to make sure, but I haven’t seen Bart in nearly twenty years. We were never friends. It won’t be a problem.

Eckhoff (sits at a computer): Okie dokie, let’s see what we can learn about Mr. Hightower.

Brodie (sits at a different computer): I’ll call the realtor then search for next of kin.


Santa Monica, California

8:30 am


Pete spent two weeks seeking an alternate retreat location for me, but didn’t find one. Not for lack of effort. He’d scoured the internet searching for a retreat center to which a person could retreat. Most included a schedule of activities – yoga, pottery, meditation, drumming, whatever. None allowed the visitor to remain unoccupied for long stretches of the day and evening.

So I was going to St. Chad’s.

I stuffed socks into the crevices of the duffel, then turned to my toiletries bag. Pete watched for a minute, morose. “Do they even have internet there?”

“Yes. And a library. And three meals a day.”

He took a deep breath, as if he was steeling himself for something. “You know, it’s 2018. And this time you’re doing the two-year thing.”

I stopped in confusion, toothpaste in my hand. “What thing?”

“Remember? 2012, 2014, 2016? Moving in together and the conference in Oakland and Aunt Ruth’s bus tour to Scotland? This time, it’s you making the decision without consulting me.”

Yikes. This had to be handled delicately. “Okay, you have a point. But this is not exactly the same. Those times before, the decisions you made either forced me to do something I didn’t want to do or prevented me from doing something I did want to do. This time, it only affects me. At least from an active standpoint.”

He was wearing his stubborn face. “You are forcing me to do something I don’t want to do. Sit by idly while you go off to a monastery for a week.”

“Oh, Pete.” I reached out and ruffled his hair, my go-to conciliatory gesture. “You’ve hardly sat by idly. You did your best to find an alternative. There wasn’t one. And it’s not a week, it’s four days.”

He frowned at me for a minute, then sighed deeply and pushed off the bed. “Waffles for breakfast? You’ll probably be eating gruel for the rest of the week.”

I laughed. “Gruel?

“Oatmeal. Porridge. Whatever.”

“Yes, please. Waffles sound fantastic.”

He went to the kitchen and started banging around. I went to the office to pack my computer bag and then hauled my luggage downstairs.

We sat to eat and I said, “You’ll have a distraction while I’m gone. This is the week that Kevin and Jon start filming for Two Days to Solve.”

Pete huffed a laugh. “That’s right. I’d almost forgotten.”

Two Days to Solve was a reality cop show that followed a homicide investigation from beginning to end. LAPD had only recently chosen to participate, and the top brass had designated my brother Kevin and his partner Jon Eckhoff as the lucky team of detectives to represent the department.

Kevin had agreed because it was a boost for Jon’s career. I knew he wouldn’t have otherwise. But Jon hoped to get promoted to Homicide Special, a section of the elite Robbery-Homicide Unit that operated from headquarters, and Kevin was willing to sacrifice his distaste.

I was digging into my second waffle when my phone rang. When I checked the screen, I was surprised to see that it was Clinton. He almost never called. I answered, “Good morning, Clinton.”

“Jamie, good morning. Are you still at home?”

“Yep, I can’t check in at the monastery until 10:00. What’s up?”

“I fear that I am stranded. I was forced to have my car towed to the Dodge dealership this morning. I was hoping…”

I said, “Say no more, Clinton. Is this the dealership on Santa Monica and Centinela?”


“Hang on.” I lowered the phone and said to Pete, “Clinton needs a ride.”

“Sure, no problem.”

I returned to Clinton. “We’ll swing by and pick you up on our way to the monastery. Where should Pete drop you off?”

Clinton’s voice reflected his relief. “Oh, wonderful. If he would take me to UCLA’s campus, that would be perfect. Thank you so much.”

“Don’t mention it. We’ll see you in…” I checked my watch. “About a half hour.”

“Thanks again, Jamie.”

“You’re welcome. See you shortly.” I hung up.

Pete said, “Funny, I never think of Clinton as having a car.”

“He has to get around somehow.”

“Obviously. I guess I thought he rode the bus everywhere.”

I laughed. “He’s a retired monk. He doesn’t have to be impoverished anymore.”

“Ha! I guess not.”

We were mopping up the remaining syrup on our plates when Pete’s phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “It’s Kevin.”

“It’s awfully early.”

Pete put the phone on speaker and answered. “Hey. Are you at a scene?”

I asked, “Is the camera crew with you?”

Kevin growled. “Yeah.”

Pete said, “Greaaaat. What’s up?”

“Remember a guy from college ball named Bart Hightower? A couple of years ahead of me, so a couple of years behind you.”

Pete looked surprised. “Yeah, I remember. A second-string utility infielder. Is he your victim?

“Right. You remember much about him?”

“Only that he got suspended when he was a sophomore. He tested positive for coke.”

“No kidding.”

“I know, you can’t talk about this now. You should call Coach.”

“Yeah, I’ll call him. See ya.” He hung up.

I said, “Well, damn. Now I have to wait to see what’s up with that.”

Pete leaned back, contemplating. “Bart Hightower. I hadn’t given him a thought since I graduated.”

“Sounds like you didn’t know him very well.”

“He wasn’t a friend, that’s for sure. He wasn’t much of a player or student either. He was local and he came from money.” Pete glanced at the clock. “Time to go.”


Clinton was waiting at the door of the customer lounge. I exited the front passenger seat. “Here, Clinton, you take the front. Pete will drop me off first.”

He hesitated, then climbed in. “Thank you. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”

Pete said, “Not at all.”

I buckled my seatbelt. “Pete had an old Jeep Cherokee that spent a lot of time in these service bays. What do you drive?”

Clinton cleared his throat. “Er – a Dodge Neon. My sister and I took a drive in the mountains over the weekend and the brakes overheated.”

Pete and I made sounds of commiseration. I said, “It was the brakes that finally did that Cherokee in, too.”

Clinton slipped his sunglasses on; I was amused to see that they were tortoiseshell Wayfarers. Pete asked, “Will you need a ride later to pick up your car?”

“No, thank you. I have arranged with Liz to transport me after work.”

Pete turned right onto Santa Monica. “If you change your mind, let me know.”


Mandeville Canyon Road originated at Sunset Boulevard and wound its way north through multimillion dollar homes to its terminus a couple of thousand mostly-vertical feet shy of Mulholland Drive. About halfway up, we passed one house with an LAPD black-and-white parked across the driveway and yellow crime scene tape strung between the pillars supporting the gate.

I wondered if that was Kevin and Jon’s crime scene, then decided not to raise the subject. Pete was chatting with Clinton; he didn’t indicate that he’d noticed the patrol car, and he wouldn’t take as a positive sign a murder which just happened to occur on the same road as my monastery.

Sky Valley Road split off from Mandeville Canyon Road near its tip, dead-ending at a T intersection. At the T, an unmarked dirt road continued straight for another 500 feet. There, surrounded by a thick border of mountain scrub, eucalyptus, and aged trees, stood the Abbey of St. Chad of Mercia.

There was a tall wrought-iron fence across the front of the property. Beyond it, the driveway was paved. We stopped on the circular drive in front of the Spanish-style building, cream-colored stucco with a red tile roof.

As we pulled up, two men in black monk’s robes came out to greet us. One was a stereotypical monk in his mid-sixties, tubby, with a fringe of hair around the back of his head. A genetically endowed semi-tonsure. He approached the car, a wide smile on his face. Pete muttered, “Ugh.”

“Shhh. I’ll FaceTime you this evening.”

“Mm hm.”

I retrieved my bags from the cargo area, slammed the hatch closed, and Pete sped away. The portly monk held out his hand. “Mr. Brodie?”

“Yes, sir.” I shook his hand.

“I’m Father Gregory, abbot of St. Chad’s. Welcome! We’re so pleased to host you this week.”

“Thank you.”

He gestured to the other monk, standing two steps behind him. “Brother Martin will escort you to your room. You’ll dine with the other guests at my table this evening. I’ll see you then.”

“Yes, sir.”

Father Gregory turned, nodded curtly to Brother Martin, and disappeared into the building. Brother Martin was young, probably in his early thirties – five or six years younger than me. It was difficult to discern body type under the robes, but I had the sense that he was wiry. He had a full head of brown hair and sported an impressive black eye. I said, “That’s some shiner.”

Brother Martin’s solemn expression didn’t waver. “Yes. I was head-butted by one of our goats.”

“Ack. Goats will do that.”

“Yes.” He reached for my duffel bag. “Allow me.”



Jamie Brodie is on deadline. The proposal for his second book is due, and he desperately needs uninterrupted writing time. At the suggestion of patron, friend, and former monk Clinton Kenneally – and over the protests of Pete Ferguson, Jamie’s husband – Jamie schedules a week-long writing retreat at a local monastery. But the monastery is not exactly what Jamie expected…which might explain the flicker of disquiet in Clinton’s eyes.
Meanwhile, Kevin Brodie and Jon Eckhoff are dealing with a dead drug dealer, doggie diarrhea, and a camera crew from the reality TV show Two Days to Solve. The camera loves Jon, and vice versa. Kevin’s just trying to refrain from swearing on TV. But when the victim turns out to be someone from Kevin’s past, the case gets a whole lot more interesting.
And there’s no way it’ll be solved in two days.

click on image for Meg Perry’s website

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

From Meg’s website:

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

Exclusive Excerpt – Drama Fraternity: A Nicky and Noah Mystery (Nicky and Noah Mysteries Book 6) by Joe Cosentino

Exclusive Excerpt: 

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The star-laden violet summer sky surrounded the sloped mountains, inky lake, and Victorianstyle white fraternity house like a soft blanket. Inside the last bedroom on the third floor, a young man reached a muscular arm around a petite young woman as they lay in T-shirts and shorts on the white four-poster bed. They shared a kiss as his jet-black hair and her blonde locks glistened in the moonlight. The girl peeled off her T-shirt revealing small nubile breasts. Then she pulled off his, exposing wide pectoral muscles and washboard abdominals.

His dark eyes widened. “We can’t! We signed our virgin cards. We’ll go to Hell.”

“All college football players and cheerleaders go to Heaven.” She unzipped his fly and slid off his shorts, unleashing his firm, muscular buttocks. Then the young woman slipped off her own shorts and pulled him on top of her. “Don’t you want me to take you to Heaven, baby?”

His olive-colored skin grew pale. “I’ve never done this before.”

She reached down below. “I’ll hold on to this like a football and help you make a touchdown.”

They kissed. She cried out in excitement as he entered her. Her cries soon turned to moans of pleasure as she pulled his hips in closer to her, and then up and down in a solid rhythm.

Gazing into her lover’s dark eyes, she noticed the silhouette of a young man in a football jersey and helmet. The girl gasped as the visitor raised a large wooden cross over the bed. Then she let out a blood curdling scream as a blade at the bottom of the cross plunged into her boyfriend’s wide back, splattering thick burgundy-colored blood over the white sheets.

The killer chuckled in a guttural tone. “Goal!”

In a state of panic, she pushed the dead young man off her, and frantically ran out of the room shouting for help.

“Score!” The murderer guffawed in maniacal delight.

“Cut!” That was me, Nicky Abbondanza, Associate Professor of Play Directing at Treemeadow College, a quaint private college in the quaint town of Treemeadow in the quaint state of Vermont in the not so quaint United States of America. What am I doing standing behind a camera directing a movie in a fraternity house at Treemeadow College?

It all started with Harold Tree and Jacob Meadow, a wealthy gay couple who founded the college a century ago. They paved the way for couples like Martin and Ruben, and Noah and me.”

Standing to my right, Martin Anderson’s tiny hands fanned his bald head down to his thin neck. “Watching that scene made me blush, Nicky.”

“Why? Because you can’t wait to get the dirt on the actors’ personal lives?” Martin’s husband, Ruben Markinson, stood opposite Martin with a smirk on his aging face.

“I can’t help it if I take an interest in other people’s lives,” Martin said to his husband.

Ruben replied, “An interest! That’s like saying a scavenger is interested in a deer carcass laced with honey.”

Wearing a chartreuse bowtie and sweater vest, my department head and best friend glared at his spouse. “Ruben, there’s something you should know for tonight about your personal life, or lack thereof.”

In a chartreuse leisure suit, our producer grinned devilishly at his husband. “Hm, I wonder if it’s too late to ask a has-been movie star to play your role in the film, Martin?”

“I am not a ‘has-been.’ I’m only middle-aged!”

“You mean born in the Middle Ages?”

The elderly couple burst out laughing at their own antics. Martin, somewhere between seventy and decomposition and standing about five feet tall, blew a kiss at his taller husband who caught it and placed it over his heart. Then Martin turned to me. “You’re a one-take wonder, Nicky. One take for the long shot. One take for Bonnie’s close-up. And one take for Lenny’s close-up. Good work on the scene!”

Ruben patted his pocket. “And we in the producer’s office appreciate that.”

“As do we actors.” I smelled strawberries as my husband and colleague Noah Oliver,

Assistant Professor of Acting, kissed my cheek. “Great scene, Nicky.”

I returned the kiss. “You did a terrific job working with the three young actors on their actions, objectives, emotional beats, and characters.”

“My husband inspires me.” He kissed my sideburn.

“I know the feeling.” If I do say so myself, Noah and I make an adorable couple in our usual attire: dress shirts, slacks, and blazers.

“Soon we’ll be shooting my scene,” Noah said with excitement.

“We’ll be shooting something tonight.” I winked at Noah.

He licked his lips. “Alas for now, duty calls. I need to check up on our son.”

“Where is he?”

“In the kitchen with Cornelia, the frat house mother.”

“Make sure he knows his lines for the upcoming scene.”

Noah placed a delicate hand on his trim hip. “He learned his lines before I learned mine!

Taavi can’t wait to get in front of the camera.”

Like fathers, like son. As Noah left the room, I gazed at his long blond hair, crystal blue eyes, and lean cut body. My pants tightened. And they were pretty snug already. You Nicky and Noah mystery fans know why. I’ll bring you newbies up to speed. Accent on “up.” I’m tall with dark hair, long sideburns, emerald eyes, a Roman nose, olive-colored skin, muscles courtesy of our campus gym, and a nearly foot-long penis. This is no tall tale (no pun intended).

But enough about little (or not so little) Nick. Back to our story. After I starred opposite Noah in a new musical play at Treemeadow College last summer, we took sabbaticals and headed for the Great White Way. But it wasn’t so great. Sure, we won “Bravos!” and Tony Awards, but the glamorous life of living in “the city that never sleeps” grew as tiring as a child with ADD on a sugar high at Christmas after stealing his mother’s uppers. No longer dazzled by the bright lights and flashing marquees of Broadway, we longed for our little hamlet, and our not so little Victorian house (actually the college’s house) in Treemeadow—especially when an offer came my way to direct Tight End Scream Queen, a low budget indie slasher film. When I read the screenplay, I couldn’t help thinking of Williams, Hawthorne, Alcott, Twain, Wilde, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. How they would be turning in their graves. Okay, the script was crap, but the plot intrigued me.

Clearly there would be no Academy Awards in Tight End Scream Queen’s future, however, it was to be my film directorial debut. And it would be shot at our own Treemeadow College! The selected location was the Phi Delta BOFO (Ball on the Field Only) Christian football players’ fraternity house. More importantly, there were roles in the film for Noah, Taavi, Martin, and Martin’s ex-administrative assistant Shayla Johnson. Of course, Martin’s husband Ruben Markinson would produce. One of our female theatre majors (Bonnie Tyler) and three male BOFO Fraternity brothers (Petey Collins, Lenny Benedetto, and Tibald Regina) would appear in the film alongside two stars (Alejandro Gallo and Malcolm Kahue). I was sold, or rather bought.

Standing next to the bed after finishing the scene, Lenny looked down at the sock covering his genitals. “It’s still in place.”

“No surprise,” Bonnie replied in a G-string.

They headed for the bureau and put on their robes.

Lenny ran a strong hand through his dark thick locks. “How do you think our scene went?”

Bonnie answered, “You seemed really hot for me. I guess you’re a good actor.”

“I am hot for you, Bonnie.”

“And Alexander the Great was hot for Roxana,” Bonnie said while putting on her eyeglasses.

I joined them. “The scene was sheer magic, you two!”

“Thanks, Professor. I had to use my imagination like Professor Oliver taught us in acting class.” Bonnie smirked at Lenny. “Since that’s the most action Lenny has ever seen in bed.”

Lenny pulled Bonnie over to the window and whispered, “Is this about the abstinence-untilmarriage pact the brothers signed at BOFO?”

“Yes! Shooting this scene was the closest we’ve gotten to each other in months, Lenny,” Bonnie said with a pout.

Lenny lifted her chin with his thick thumb. “Don’t make me choose between my love for you and my love for Jesus.”

Bonnie flicked back her blonde hair. “Didn’t Jesus have enough men with the twelve disciples? Why does he need you too?”

Lenny drew her into his strong chest. “Bonnie, you know my faith is important to me.”

“And am I important to you?”

“I’d kill for you, baby.”

I noticed the star of our movie, Malcolm Kahue, take off his football helmet and sit on my director’s chair. Not one to be territorial (except over my husband, son, house, college, something I’m directing, or any thought in my head if someone disagrees with me), I moved over to Malcolm. “Are you feeling okay?”

The twenty-three-year-old looked up at me with bedroom gray eyes. He stretched his arms, and bulging biceps appeared like melons on sale outside a fruit market (no pun intended). “Playing this role is killing me.”

Yes, how difficult it must be to put on a football uniform, wave a wooden cross, and get paid thousands of dollars. “You did fine in the scene, Malcolm. And equally well in the exterior scenes we shot around campus.”

His dimples appeared. “It’s a whirlwind. Only a week to shoot a whole movie. I had two months to shoot Full Moon in upstate New York.”

I’m sure playing a young werewolf who mooned people presented quite a challenge for your bubble butt.

“But this role in Tight End Scream Queen is hitting me right here.” Malcolm pressed his fist between his wide pectoral muscles. “I want to do justice to the character of Davey Doubt.”

“Perhaps you’d like to speak with our author for some background information?” I pointed to a young Asian man in his twenties, sitting on a powder blue wingback chair next to the fireplace.

Malcolm looked over. “He’s the real Davey Doubt, right?”

I nodded. “Except his name is Robert Lee. And, like you, he never murdered anyone.”

Malcolm opened his mouth, seemed to think better of it, and then headed over to Robert.

With technicians hauling the camera, lighting equipment, and sound equipment out of the bedroom, Malcolm stood in front of Robert. “I need to get inside you.” “Excuse me?” Robert’s dark eyes jutted from side to side.

Sitting in the adjacent wingback chair, Malcolm said, “I want to know what makes you tick.”

Robert clutched onto the script at his lap. “Are you a method actor?” “Yeah.”

Malcolm’s method is to get better roles than this one.

“What do you want to know about me?” Robert’s voice broke like an aging choir boy on his knees before a priest.

Malcolm leaned over and his pectoral muscles nearly ripped the football jersey in two. “Are you nervous about something?”

Robert used his wrist to wipe the sweat off his forehead. “I’ve never talked to a movie star before.”

Malcolm grinned. “Did you see Full Moon?”

He nodded. “Six times.”

“I connected with that character right away.”

“A stuttering werewolf with fleas who shows his bare behind to people?”

“Which of course was a metaphor for somebody shy on the inside who hides it by acting brash on the outside.” Malcolm rested his leg over the arm of his chair.

“Of course.” Robert glanced back and forth excitedly between his quivering arm and Malcolm’s shapely thigh—only inches apart.

Malcolm placed a hand on Robert’s shoulder. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Heading back to the Treemeadow Hotel to check over the scenes for tomorrow’s shooting.”

“That place is too quiet. I can’t think straight.”

I have the feeling you’ve never thought straight, Malcolm.

“Come to the party with me.”

“The party?” Robert wiped his sweaty palms against his navy chinos.

“The frat house is throwing a party tonight to welcome the cast and crew, and celebrate completing the first day of filming. You’re the screenwriter. You should be there. We’ll find a sofa without beer stains and you can answer my questions.”

Robert raised his hand as if asking a teacher if he could speak. “No beer stains. This is a Christian football fraternity house. I understand they don’t allow liquor, drugs, or sex. But I bet they allow rock and roll.” Robert laughed uncomfortably at his own joke.

Thankfully Robert doesn’t write comedy.

“See you at the party.” Malcolm rose. “Don’t disappoint me. I’m a monster when I don’t get my way.”

Drama Fraternity: A Nicky and Noah Mystery (Nicky and Noah Mysteries Book 6) – Blurb:

Theatre professor Nicky Abbondanza is directing Tight End Scream Queen, a slasher movie filmed at Treemeadow College’s football fraternity house, co-starring his husband and theatre professor colleague, Noah Oliver. When young hunky cast members begin fading out with their scenes, Nicky and Noah will once again need to use their drama skills to figure out who is sending the quarterback, jammer, wide receiver, and more to the cutting room floor before Nicky and Noah hit the final reel. You will be applauding and shouting Bravo for Joe Cosentino’s fast-paced, side-splittingly funny, edge-of-your-seat entertaining sixth novel in this delightful series. Lights, camera, action, frat house murders!

5-Year Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense – Anniversary Giveaway:

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Author Joe Cosentino has graciously offered to provide one of our members a FREE, audiobook code for the first Nick and Noah Mystery, Drama Queen, written by Joe Cosentino, performed by Michael Gilboe (Divine Magazine Reader’s Poll Award Winner for Best LGBT Mystery of the Year!).

To enter the FREE drawing, please leave at least a one-word comment via Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Facebook group via the Excerpt link for Drama Fraternity.

The winner will be drawn and announced on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 9pm EDT. Good luck!




Exclusive Excerpt: In the Ring: A Dan Stagg Novel by James Lear


A line of light. Greenish white, then gone.

The sound of dishes being washed, chink chink chink, or is it bells, distant bells?

Silence, a roaring silence like a never-ending explosion, and a sudden pounding in the chest, hard, like someone’s hitting me with their fists, thumping into me, breaking my ribs. Panic, flight, a jerk in the spine and the legs, prepare to run. Fear.


Everything is white and blurred. I think there’s a TV on somewhere, a screen of some kind. Too much light. Movement, vague circles white out of white, puffy clouds coming closer and receding. Is this death?

A face at the end of a long tunnel, like looking down the wrong end of a pair of binoculars, ridiculously far away and tiny, so tiny it makes me laugh, the breath coming out through my nose.

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The face getting closer, a brown sun in a blue sky, white clouds, coming towards me like a dolly shot in a movie, taking up more and more of the sky until all I can see is brown skin and white teeth and eyes that look into mine and a mouth that smiles and speaks, hey, you’re awake, hey Dan, how are you doing, buddy? Welcome back.

And then the clouds cover the sun and the picture goes down to a line like on the old TV at home, a line and then a dot and closedown.

It was the pain that woke me up in the end, a sharp sensation that cut through the last of my dreams. Awake, alive, and hurting. The pain is real, so I must be real.

My eyes felt like they’d been tumble-dried and rolled in sand. I tried to lift my hand to rub them, but it weighed about a hundred pounds. Craning my neck, I looked down at it, lying on the white covers of the bed. Looked like my hand—tanned, gnarly, hairy— but didn’t feel like it. Didn’t feel at all, in fact. Shit, I thought, it’s been chopped off and left on top of the bed. It’s no longer part of me. Am I going to get robot parts?

But the pain. Back to the pain. It was somewhere further down—below the hips, starting around my ass and travelling down to my right foot. Real strong good old-fashioned pain. At least I could feel my legs. I know lots of ex-soldiers who can’t.

Jesus fucking Christ, it was beyond pain, it was getting into red-hot-blade territory, and I must have yelled because there was a sudden movement beside me, to the left of the bed, just beyond my field of vision, and then a voice.

“Ah! Dan! You’re back.”

Sounded familiar, like a dear friend, except I don’t have any friends, let alone dear ones, and God knows it couldn’t be my family.

“Haahmmmfff.” That was meant to be “who’s that?” but my mouth wasn’t working any better than my hand. Fuck, I thought, if my dick doesn’t work either then I’m in real trouble. That made me laugh, which came out through my nose then got stuck and turned into a coughing fit. My lungs, it seemed, had been filled with hot ash.

“Okay, okay.” An arm slipped round my shoulders, lifting me gently. “Take it easy.”

Then the coughing made me belch, and I would have puked if there had been anything in my stomach to bring up other than a bit of foul-tasting bile that dribbled down my chin and neck. I tried to wipe it away, but of course—no hands.

“Take it easy, Dan.” A soft cloth cleaned my mouth, and I was lowered back on to the pillows.

That’s when it twigged. I’m a vegetable. Something has happened to me and I’ve lost the use of my limbs, I can’t control my mouth, I probably have to piss through a tube and shit into a diaper. I always wondered about those guys who come back from war zones like this. Do they know what’s going on—how bad it is? Well, apparently they do. Great.

“Do you have any pain?”

“Mmmmmm.” I couldn’t nod or form words, but I guess the intonation put it across.

“A lot of pain?”


“Okay. I’m calling the doctor.”

He stepped away from the bed, into my field of vision, and for the first time I saw him, five foot eight inches of athletic American male poured into a nurse’s uniform, a handsome face that I recognized from somewhere, a dream perhaps.

He spoke into a phone while I checked his back for wings. No: he appeared to be human, and mortal, which meant I must be alive, if not kicking.

He sat on the edge of the bed and put his warm, living hand on my cold, dead fingers. Maybe not so dead. Maybe a flicker of response. “He’ll be here in a minute. Hang in there, Dan.” He smiled, and I tried to smile back, which led to more drooling. He smiled and dabbed. “Pain relief is coming.”

It occurred to me with a sudden jolt that I had no idea where I was. I’ve heard the question asked in a million movies—where am I, Doc?—but now I couldn’t form the words. I glanced around, hoping for clues. My vision was still blurred, but I made out something that looked like the stars and stripes, high up on the wall. A US base, then, if not actually on home soil.

The pain blasted back, as if my shinbone was being sawn through, and I tensed up, squeezing my eyes shut, all sorts of hell going on in parts of my body I couldn’t identify. A general cacophony of pain. And above it all, a gentle squeeze of my hand.

“Can you look at me, Dan?”

I opened my eyes and squinted out. A handsome face always makes me feel better.

“That’s it. Try and listen. My name’s Luiz. I’m a nurse, and I’ve been looking after you for the last few days, since you got here. You’ve been unconscious for quite a long time, but you’re going to be ne. There’s no brain damage.”

I waited for the but . . .

“Your leg was pretty smashed up. They’ve pinned it back together, and now we’re just going to let it heal.”

But . . .

“The good news is, if it hurts, it’s mending. If you couldn’t feel anything, I’d be worried. The more it hurts, the better.” That sounded like something I’ve said to a lot of young men before, which made me laugh again, with the same messy results. Luiz cleaned me up.

“Okay, okay. You’d better not laugh any more. Take a few deep breaths, it’ll help with the pain until the doctor gets here. I’m just going to keep talking. Listen to my voice, and look into my eyes.”

No great hardship. Beautiful brown eyes . . .

“You’re in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.”

The Navy Med. I’d been here before, maybe four, five times in a career of being shot, blown up, and beaten for Uncle Sam.

“You arrived three days ago after spending two days in a military hospital in Baghdad.”

Baghdad. That rang a bell. Baghdad. That’s where I was. And now I’m here in Bethesda. Baghdad, Bethesda, Baghdad, Bethesda, Beghthesda, Big Bad, Bethlehem, Bthzzzzhzhzzh . . .

His voice muffled, fading, shutters falling again, into a chasm, a deep black chasm that might be death.


In this latest Dan Stagg novel, we find that Dan Stagg is dead . . . at least as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

In the Ring brings Dan Stagg to James Bond territory in an exciting story of concealed identities, beautiful double agents, corruption, power, and passion.

Find more Titles by author James Lear, aka., Rupert Smith

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Exclusive Excerpt: The Constant Caprese (a Nick Williams Mystery; Book 20) by Frank W. Butterfield

Exclusive Excerpt:

Right then, we were about fifty feet from the bottom of the hill where Via Libertá ended. The road was at its steepest and we were walking slowly since we couldn’t see. A flash of headlights ran across the far wall of the restaurant that we’d passed earlier in the day. I let go of Carter’s arm. We’d been walking in the stone-paved roadway and both jumped up on the sidewalk to get out of the way.

After about half a minute, I could hear a car coming down the hill very slowly. As it got close to us, it slowed down to a crawl. A voice called out, “Signor Williams?”

“Yes?” I replied without turning to look at the car, since it was following us and the headlights were just behind us. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see anyone without getting blinded.

The voice asked, “Will you give me your boat?”

I sighed. I wondered how to play the situation.

Suddenly, I had it. “Sure. Come by the marina at 10 in the morning. That’ll give us time to get our stuff out.” That was a lie. We would be on our way by 7 in the morning, at the latest, and they would be sadly disappointed when they arrived at the marina. Or so I hoped.

“Then where will you go?”

“We’ll take the ferry to Naples and fly back to France from there.”

“Good. Thank you for your assistance.”

I snorted but didn’t say anything. The voice said something short and to the point in Italian. With that, the car bolted forward and squealed down the hill and around the corner, heading right, and was gone.

. . .

As we walked up to where the sailboat was docked, I noticed that Captain O’Reilly and John Murphy were both in their cabin and all the lights were out except for one in our cabin.

Carter whispered, “Let’s take off our shoes.”

I snorted quietly. “Good idea. I don’t wanna get a talkin-to in the morning.”

We both removed our shoes and carried them as we walked aboard. Slowly padding along, we quietly walked into our cabin. Carter leaned over, as usual, and then collapsed onto the bed, making the boat rock a little as he did.

I carefully closed the door behind me and stood right there, with my back against it, and looked over at Carter. His legs were spread apart and he was yawning, his head tilted back with his left hand over his mouth while he propped himself up with his right.

I could feel myself getting more flushed and excited than I ever could remember. I ran my eyes up from his socked feet, along the length of his thickly-muscled legs that were, as always when he sat, stretching the fabric of his trousers, and then stopped at his crotch. I could feel myself breathing heavily, almost panting. The warm feeling I’d been having since before dinner was spreading and getting stronger and more urgent.

Looking up, I felt myself blush furiously when I saw that he was watching me. His emerald green eyes were bright and wide. And, as I looked at him, the ruddiness in his face deepened darker than I could ever remember seeing it before.

We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. Then, before I knew what I was doing, I found myself slowly undressing right where I stood, allowing Carter to enjoy the sight.


Tuesday, September 10, 1957

Nick and Carter have left Nice and, after sailing down the Italian coast, have dropped anchor at the island of Procida, just across the bay from the Naples coast.

Nick, as he is wont to do, meets the one homosexual who works at the local post office and, in short order, is invited to dinner along with Carter to meet the entire family. Italians, after all, are so friendly!

Meanwhile, Lord Gerald, their friend in British intelligence, has sent a cryptic telegram asking them to take a package over to Capri, an island on the far side of the Bay of Naples.

When they dock at Capri the next morning, they find a dying duke, an eccentric earl, and a vigilant viscount all living together in a glorious villa dating back to the turn of the century. These are the final remnants of the once-thriving community of homosexual Englishmen who made the Italian island their sanctuary where they could live in peace as themselves.

But is someone haunting this idyllic Mediterranean paradise? Who cut the phone line for no apparent reason? Who opened the locked door and then unlocked it again? Who is playing pranks with the plumbing? Maybe these are all just coincidences… Or maybe there is something more sinister afoot…

Come sail away with Nick and Carter to the Island of Capri and find out!

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YOU CAN WIN THIS BOOK – FREE!  Continuing our 5-Year Anniversary Celebration of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Facebook Group – Details coming soon, so stay tuned! 

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Exclusive Excerpt: The Leaping Lord (a Nick Williams Mystery; Book 19) by Frank W. Butterfield


As we walked through the gardens, we came around a bend. Suddenly the sea was stretched out in full view. Carter took a deep breath and asked, “Never gets old, does it?”

“Nope. As much as I miss sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, this view always gets to me.”

Carter rested his hand on my shoulder for a long moment. It was a Tuesday afternoon. There was no one around. I was tempted to turn and kiss him, but something told me not to. Moving his hand to my neck, Carter led me to a bench that was a prime spot for gazing out over the water.

We both sat. I scooted a little closer to him than I normally would in public. I had a strong desire to be held in his arms but I knew we would have to wait until we got home where we had our own private view.

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We sat there, neither speaking, for several minutes. I was about to nod off when I heard someone off in the distance. Carter, who had put his hand on my knee, removed it and scooted away an inch or two.

I could hear what sounded like four or five people moving in our direction. No one was talking but they weren’t trying to be stealthy. It sounded like they were walking through the woods that bordered the grassy areas.

As I was about to turn and see who it was, I heard an oddly familiar female voice ask, “Quite a view, isn’t it?”

I heard Carter gasp as I turned to look. We both jumped to our feet. I tried not to gape. She was more beautiful in person than she’d ever been on the screen. My first thought was that motherhood agreed with her. She looked softer and less angular than in the movies.

She was wearing a blue dress that ended just below her knees. Over that, she sported a light blue coat whose cuffs ended in the middle of her forearms. Small white gloves and a strand of pearls completed the look. Her blonde hair was perfectly held in place under a small periwinkle hat pinned in place. She appeared very comfortable and beautiful, all at the same time.

She smiled at me and tilted her blonde head. Offering her gloved hand, she asked, “Mr. Williams?”

I shook and nodded. “Yes, Your…” I didn’t know the word.

“Serene Highness,” prompted Carter.

She nodded and offered her hand to him. “Mr. Jones?”

He gently shook and bowed slightly. “Yes, Your Serene Highness.”

Once that was done, she looked out at the water below. “I’m always a bit surprised every morning when I see that blue water.” Turning to me, she said, “I’m sure you must feel the same.”

I nodded, remembering to breathe, and quoted Carter, unable to think of anything else. “It never gets old.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

We stood there for what seemed like a long moment. Finally, Carter asked, “How is Princess Caroline?”

She beamed at the name of her daughter. “Very well, thank you. She’s growing so fast. I can’t believe it sometimes. She’ll be seven months old in a week.”

We both nodded but neither of us replied. Finally, I came to my senses and asked, “Is there something we can help you with, Your Serene Highness?”

She laughed. “Please, when we’re alone, do call me Grace.”

I smiled. “I’m Nick and that’s Carter.”

Blurb – The Leaping Lord by Frank W. Butterfield: 

Tuesday, August 13, 1957 Life is good. Nick and Carter are living on the French Riviera, having breakfast by the pool every morning with a view of the Mediterranean, and living a quiet life after a busy month. The grand re-opening of Nick’s latest acquisition, l’Hôtel Beau Rivage, the hottest spot in Nice, has gone off without a hitch. And, best of all, Nick has recovered nicely after taking a bullet in his shoulder. But then, on the same day, they have not one, but two unexpected encounters with the aristocracy. A day of driving down the coast leads to an amiable but unusual request from the former Grace Kelly, now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. Nick is suspicious of the favor she’s asked but he’s also smitten with the gorgeous blonde who lives in the Prince’s Palace just a few miles down the coast. Carter, of course, can’t help but tease Nick about losing his heart to movie-star royalty. Later that evening, Nick and Carter are invited to an impromptu dinner with Her Grace, the Duchess of Boston. She happens to be the mother of the British spy who has been helping Nick and Carter stay out of trouble for the past couple of years. Her son, Lord Gerald Whitcombe, left London for Nice back in July but has since disappeared. The duchess is convinced that the two of them are the only ones who can find him. What follows is a race against time that leads Nick and Carter back to Paris where they find that things are not exactly how they left them.


Tuesday, August 13, 1957

Life is good. Nick and Carter are living on the French Riviera, having breakfast by the pool every morning with a view of the Mediterranean, and living a quiet life after a busy month. The grand re-opening of Nick’s latest acquisition, l’Hôtel Beau Rivage, the hottest spot in Nice, has gone off without a hitch. And, best of all, Nick has recovered nicely after taking a bullet in his shoulder.

But then, on the same day, they have not one, but two unexpected encounters with the aristocracy.

A day of driving down the coast leads to an amiable but unusual request from the former Grace Kelly, now Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco. Nick is suspicious of the favor she’s asked but he’s also smitten with the gorgeous blonde who lives in the Prince’s Palace just a few miles down the coast. Carter, of course, can’t help but tease Nick about losing his heart to movie-star royalty.

Later that evening, Nick and Carter are invited to an impromptu dinner with Her Grace, the Duchess of Boston. She happens to be the mother of the British spy who has been helping Nick and Carter stay out of trouble for the past couple of years. Her son, Lord Gerald Whitcombe, left London for Nice back in July but has since disappeared. The duchess is convinced that the two of them are the only ones who can find him.

What follows is a race against time that leads Nick and Carter back to Paris where they find that things are not exactly how they left them.

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