Exclusive Excerpt: Reasonable Doubt (Hazard and Somerset Book 5) by Gregory Ashe

Chapter 8

April 22

Sunday

12:19pm

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.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

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.”

click image to purchase

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.”

“Fuck off.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Nah.”

“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?”

“Huh?”

“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.”

“Thanks.”

“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).

Audiobook version
Click on image to purchase

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!

click image for Greg’s website

Want to know more about author Gregory Ashe and his novels?

Check out his website:

https://www.gregoryashe.com/

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

Excerpt: 

Chapter 3

February 11

Sunday

11:15am

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.

click on image to purchase

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.

“Hey.”

“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.

“Pervert.”

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?”

“Finished.”

“You’re sure?”

“Perfectly.”

“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.”

“Jesus.”

“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?”

“Nothing.”

“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?”

“Nothing.”

“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.

“Don’t.”

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.

“Here.”

Hazard swallowed the pills dry, and then a cool glass was pressed into his hand.

“Drink.”

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?”

“Shooting.”

“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.”

“Well?”

“The sheriff.”

Blurb: 

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.

click on image for Gregory’s website!

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: Transposition (Hazard and Somerset – Book 2) by Gregory Ashe

Blurb: 

Emery Hazard and his partner, John-Henry Somerset, have solved their first case together. The brutal murders that rocked the quiet town of Wahredua have been put to rest. Hazard, however, finds his life has only grown more complicated as he adjusts to his new home. Living with Somers, whom he has been drawn to since high school, makes ‘complicated’ the understatement of the year.
The turmoil of living together spills over when Hazard and Somers find themselves trapped by the weather in an old mansion and, against Hazard’s better judgment, sharing a bed. Strictly as friends, of course. Just when things can’t get any more confusing, the next morning brings a worsening storm–and a murder.
Cut off from the outside world, Hazard and Somers must face a clever, determined killer who is hiding among the mansion’s guests. Without backup, they can only rely on their wits–and on each other–to survive. And as the snow falls and the mansion’s guests continue to die one by one, solving the string of murders becomes secondary. First, Hazard and Somers have to survive.

Chapter 5

November 21

Wednesday

6:02pm

Rain swept down from the sky in huge sheets, drops drumming against wood and metal and glass until Hazard could barely hear himself think. As he sprinted towards the Impala, with Somers at his side, rain stung his face. By the time they reached the car, only fifteen feet from the door, both men were soaked. Hazard could feel himself dripping as he sank into the passenger seat.

Hazard told himself it wasn’t Somers’s fault. Somers couldn’t control the weather. Somers couldn’t have known that the phone call would be about a shooting or that the visit to Mrs. Ferrell would require them to stop at Windsor. Somers couldn’t have done anything different, really. Except, of course, keep his goddamn mouth shut instead of volunteering them for holiday work.

As the Impala revved to life and the heaters cranked out humid warmth, rain glazed the windshield so thickly that Hazard could barely see beyond the hood. Somers, squinting and leaning over the steering wheel, looked like he was having the same problem. The Impala crawled forward, thumping once over the edge of the brick pavement before Somers adjusted their course.

And still the rain kept coming. It had been like this for a week. It felt like it had been an eternity. Rain, and then rain, and then more rain: so much rain that Hazard was surprised—and disappointed—that Wahredua hadn’t slid into the Grand Rivere. A slapping noise, too wet and brittle to be called drumming, filled the car as the rain hit the windshield, and the Impala’s heater circulated the smell of wet wool so that it was all Hazard could taste.

The Impala jerked to a halt so suddenly that Hazard rocked forward, his head narrowly missing the windshield. “What the hell—” Then Hazard saw what had caused Somers to stop: the Petty Philadelph had overrun its banks. The water surged up into the overgrown fields, trampling the tall grass before swirling around the Impala’s tires. Ahead of the car, water skated across the top of the bridge.

“How fast do you think it’s moving?” Somers shouted over the drumming rain.

“Too fast.”

“It’s just skimming the top of the bridge. We can still make it.”

“Like hell.”

Somers set his face in determination. “We’re getting you to Nico’s house. You’ll never forgive me if you don’t have a chance at going away sex.”

“You’re a complete and total idiot.” But Hazard didn’t object as Somers eased the car forward. Somers was right: the water did look like it was barely rushing over the top of the bridge. And the bridge wasn’t very long. They’d only have to drive carefully for ten or fifteen yards, and then they’d reach dry—well, relatively—land on the other side and be safely on their way back to Wahredua.

Click on image to purchase!

As soon as the Impala’s tires touched the bridge, though, metal shrieked and groaned. Water shoved the Impala sideways, and the nose of the car hammered into the bridge’s support. Over the thrum of the rain, the shrill noise of twisting metal grew stronger, and a tremor ran through the bridge and up into the Impala.

“Get out,” Hazard said, fumbling with his seat belt.

Somers didn’t speak; his face had lost some color, but his features were still set in a kind of extreme focus. With two quick movements, he undid his seatbelt and then Hazard’s. Then he pulled the latch, and the door swung open, forced by the rising water.

“This way,” Somers said, grabbing Hazard’s jacket and tugging him across the center console. “The water’s blocking your door.”

Hazard crawled into the driver’s seat, ignoring the searing stab of pain in his shoulder, and splashed out into the water that was already hitting him mid-calf. He staggered under the rushing speed of the water, but Somers still had hold of his jacket, and he used it to steady the larger man. Supporting each other against the growing force of the flood, the two detectives stumbled towards higher ground.

The water was still ankle-deep when the bridge gave a last, pained squeal and tore free. The wood-and-steel frame whipped around once in the Petty Philadelph’s muddy waters, and then it crashed against the bank, bounced, crashed again, and drifted out of reach of the Impala’s headlights. The Impala, its front tires no longer supported by the bridge, sagged forward into the river. Inch by inch, the car slid away.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Somers said, wiping rain from his eyes as he stared at the sinking Impala. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Icy rain continued to pelt the men; Hazard shivered, and he was suddenly aware of the river water and the rain leaching heat from him. Somers still had hold of Hazard’s jacket, and Hazard pried him loose.

“Come on,” Hazard said. “Before we freeze to death.”

By the time they reached the house, Hazard’s shivering had become uncontrollable, and his teeth chattered so violently he was afraid of biting his tongue in two. Somers, who was smaller and carried substantially less body fat, looked blue. Hazard half-carried his partner up the steps to Windsor, propped Somers against the door, and started hammering on the wood.

What felt like an eternity passed before the door swung open, and Meryl, with her red hair shining like a welcome fire, stared at them. “What in the—”

Hazard pushed past her, dragging Somers into the entry hall. “Fireplace,” Hazard managed between bouts of chattering. “T-t-towels.”

“The dining room,” Meryl said. “You know the way. I’ll grab towels and blankets.”

Without waiting for an answer, she sprinted up the stairs, moving faster than Hazard expected a woman in a gown to move. Hazard, still carrying much of Somers’s weight, moved into the dining room. He was pleased to see that the other guests had abandoned the room, and even more pleased to see that platters of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with congealed butter still sat on the table. A fire flickered in the chimney, and Hazard and Somers dragged chairs next to the flames. With the poker, Hazard stirred the logs and added more fuel. Heat poured over them, and, still shivering, Hazard sank back into the chair.

“Y-y-y-you’re going to s-s-set yourself on fire,” Somers managed.

Hazard blinked at the other man, too tired to respond, and settled lower towards the flames.

Somers tried to say something else, but he couldn’t get it out. Instead, he settled for leaning forward and swatting Hazard on the leg. Hard. The blow stung, and Hazard pulled his legs back. It was only then that he noticed the smoke curling up from his trousers. With a grudging nod, Hazard pulled his seat back from the flames—but only a little.

“What happened?” Meryl, clutching towels and blankets to her chest, watched them from the doorway.

“Bridge is out,” Hazard managed to say. The heat from the fire soaked into his chilled skin, and as numbness gave way, tingling prickles took its place. He shrugged out of his jacket, worked stiff fingers into the pocket, and found his phone.

“Who do I call?”

“S-s-swinney.”

Hazard dialed, and a familiar voice answered on the second ring. “Swinney.”

Elizabeth Swinney and her partner, Albert Lender, were the other two detectives on Wahredua’s police force. Both of them seemed decent types, but Swinney had struck a note of friendship with Hazard. More importantly, between Swinney and Lender, they knew Wahredua and the surrounding county better than almost anyone—they specialized in drug-related crime, which took them all over the area.

“Where are you?”

“Halfway to Nebraska. We’re spending Thanksgiving on the farm if you can believe that. Where are you?”

“Windsor.”

“What?”

“That big house near the Petty Philadelph.”

“I know what Windsor is. Why are you there?” Then Swinney groaned. “Lord, this doesn’t have to do with Mrs. Ferrell does it?”

“Pretty much. Bridge is out.”

“You all right?”

“We’re alive.”

“But you’re stuck at Windsor?”

“That’s why I’m calling.”

“Hold on.”

Swinney was silent for almost a full minute, and then Hazard heard the line ringing. For a moment, he thought the call had disconnected, and then a man’s voice picked up. “Swinney? What’s up?”

“Lender, I’ve got Hazard on the line. Bridge is out at Windsor, and he and Somers—that’s right, isn’t it, you’ve got Somers with you?”

Hazard grunted.

“He and Somers are stuck there. You know another way out? Backroads?”

“Geez, you guys picked a bad time to go to Windsor.”

Hazard didn’t bother to reply.

“Windsor’s land stretches a long way. There used to be a service road that met up with some of it.”

“Used to be?”

“Gone. It was a dirt road, and it washed out years ago.”

“Maybe we could still find it.”

On the other end of the line, Lender snorted. “Nothing left to find. You could walk right past it and see nothing but the last ten year’s growth.”

Hazard decided now wasn’t the best time to tell them about the car being lost to the Petty Philadelph. Instead, he said, “So we’re stuck here.”

“Until the rain dies down at least.”

No one spoke for a moment.

“That all? I’ve got to get back to my kids.”

“Thanks, Lender,” Swinney said.

“Happy Thanksgiving.” A click marked Lender’s disconnection.

“You’ve got somewhere you can hole up?” Swinney asked. “I can call the company that owns Windsor, see if they have a place you can stay.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“You want me to call Cravens?”

“No, I’ll do it.”

“You want me to drive back there and see what I can do?”

“Keep driving to Nebraska, Swinney. Somebody deserves a vacation.”

“Give me a call if I can help.”

“Bye, Swinney.”

Hazard disconnected the call. He was surprised that the pins-and-needles in his hands had faded and the terrible cold gripping him had eased. The smell of roast turkey made his stomach grumble, and Hazard dragged himself out of the chair and over to the table. Using a leftover dinner roll, he made a sandwich of turkey and stuffing. Meryl approached with the towels, but Hazard waved her away.

“Yeah?” Hazard asked, holding the sandwich towards Somers.

Somers nodded and took the sandwich, which he devoured in three bites. Hazard made a plateful of sandwiches, carried them back to the fire, and shared them with Somers.

“You don’t want to dry off?” Meryl asked as she hovered near the table, a towel outstretched.

“Not until I’m out of these clothes,” Hazard said. “Laundry?”

“They said—” Meryl gestured towards the back of the house. “In case we had an emergency, there’s a machine back there.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to do it,” Hazard said, fixing a glower on Somers.

Somers must have been feeling better because he managed a weak grin. “I’ll just hang everything up to dry.”

“Fucking barbarian,” Hazard said, stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth. He dialed his phone again, and this time, the call picked up on the first ring.

“Cravens.”

“We’ve got a problem, Chief.”

“What’s going on?”

Hazard told her everything, starting with Mrs. Ferrell and ending with Lender’s pronouncement that there was no way to leave Windsor. When he’d finished, he said, “You want to send a chopper for us?”

“I hope you’re joking, Detective.”

“Not really. I’m not planning on spending Thanksgiving at this place, and Somers and I are on duty tomorrow.”

“We’ll find someone to cover.”

“Swinney and Lender are—”

“I know where my detectives are, thank you very much. Let me think.” After a moment, Cravens said, “There’s nothing to do about it. You stay there until the weather clears up. I’ll start making phone calls about getting a temporary bridge; we’ll have to evacuate everyone as soon as it’s safe to do so. Are you and Detective Somerset all right?”

“We’re doing better than the department vehicle.”

“We’ll talk about that later. You’ve got food, you’ve got a roof, you’ve got heat. For now, plant yourselves and try not to cause any trouble. I don’t need you giving the mayor another reason to stretch my neck on the block.”

What did the mayor have to do with any of it? Before Hazard could ask, though, Cravens said goodbye and disconnected the call, and Hazard was left staring at the phone in his hand. Then, not quite ready to face Nico’s anger, Hazard sent a quick text: Grab the shuttle, we’re stuck. Call later.

“Well?” Somers said. The color had come back into his face, and aside from the occasional shiver, he looked like he could have splashed off the set for a commercial—cologne, maybe, or a fancy watch, something high-end and very expensive.

“We stay until they can put in a temporary bridge and evacuate us.”

“Evacuate us?” Meryl dropped into a chair at the table. “You’re kidding, right? We’re stuck here?”

“Sorry.”

“Boy, I have all the luck.” She blew out a breath, shaking back her fiery hair to expose a pale neck and an even paler decolletage. Somers was noticing that decolletage, and Hazard noticed him noticing, and he hated the fact that he was noticing Somers’s noticing.

“Extra toothbrush?” Hazard said abruptly, getting to his feet to break the moment. “Soap? Shampoo?”

“What? Oh, yes. It’s like a hotel, see? They have all of that in the bathrooms.”

“How about a place for us to stay?”

“Let me—Ran, don’t try to sneak away. I saw you.”

Ran, his acne shining in the firelight, slunk into the dining room. “I wasn’t sneaking,” he said in his high, whiny voice.

“The detectives need a place to stay.”

“Why?”

“Because they just do, all right?” Meryl got to her feet, still clutching the towels and blankets. “Do you still have that stupid map?”

“It’s not stupid.”

“Do you have it?”

“If it were stupid, you wouldn’t want it.” Ran gave a nasally giggle at this. “But you do want it.”

“Ran—” Meryl began.

“A room with two beds,” Hazard said. “Either take us there or give me the goddamn map, right now.”

Ran swallowed the rest of his giggle, wrapping his arms around his thin chest, his eyes sullen as he said, “There’s only one room left.”

“Then let’s see it.”

Hazard and Somers followed the acne-spattered young man through the entry hall and up to the second floor. Meryl trailed behind them. At the top of the landing, Hazard noticed the light shining under the door where Adaline had delivered Thomas Strong’s dinner. When Hazard looked up, Meryl was watching him.

“Working late,” Hazard said.

In a whisper, Meryl said, “He hasn’t come out all night, and you saw what happened to poor Adaline when she disturbed him. He’s all in a frenzy about the stock price. It went rock-bottom today, that’s what Benny says, and Thomas quite literally might go mad if he can’t get it back up.”

They continued down the hallway. Electric sconces were dimmed to provide only the faintest glow, and the wood paneling glimmered at odd angles. The air was colder here, Hazard noticed, and another shiver ran through him. Up here, the smell of wax polish and a dry, stone scent, which made Hazard think of a museum, filled the air. Ran led them past a series of doors, all closed and dark, and stopped at the bottom of a crooked, winding staircase. Cold air rushed down the stairs, and Hazard shivered again.

“It’s the only room left,” Ran said in his sniveling voice, but there was a look of dark satisfaction in his eyes, the look of a man who thinks he’s very clever and enjoys the last laugh.

“Fine,” Hazard said.

“And the bathroom?” Somers said.

“There’s one.”

“You’ll want these, I guess,” Meryl said, her voice still pitched low as she passed the bundled blankets to Hazard.

Ran didn’t wait to be dismissed; he scurried down the hallway and disappeared into one of the rooms they had passed. The sound of the lock turning echoed down the hallway.

Her extraordinary features set with grim amusement, Meryl said, “And then there was one. I suppose I’ll go to bed too. Benny was right, you know? The whole game was ruined. Everybody’s pitching a fit in their own way, and,” her voice dropped so low that Hazard could barely hear her, “Thomas is the worst of them, the old bully.” Without a goodbye, Meryl strode down the hallway, the hem of her gown sweeping the floor. In the wan light, with the opals of her dress glowing, she looked like royalty, like an ancient and eternal queen, and then she pressed a switch and the hall went dark.

“Upstairs, I guess,” Somers said, jostling Hazard as he mounted the steps. “They’re crazy. You get that, right?”

Hazard followed. “I don’t know. Meryl seems all right.”

“She’s the worst one.”

“What does that mean? She’s the only one that’s been decent.”

“I don’t know,” Somers said. “I’m too tired to care. It’s fucking freezing up here. Did they leave the window open? And look at the dust. Here we are, half-icicles, stuck in this house full of crazy people, and I don’t know how it could—”

“Don’t say it,” Hazard said.

“—get any worse.”

At that moment, Somers opened the door at the top of the stairs and flicked on the light. Hazard felt like the floor had opened up be

Click on image for Gregory’s Website

neath him; his stomach dropped and just kept dropping, past his knees, past his ankles, and he doubted it would hit bottom for another mile or so.

There was just one bed.

 

Want to know more about author, Gregory Ashe? Follow him here:  https://www.gregoryashe.com/

Click on image to purchase

Have you read the first book in the series? Click on the link below to read an exclusive excerpt of Pretty Pretty Boys, by Gregory Ashe.

Exclusive Excerpt: Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe (Hazard & Somerset #1)

 

Exclusive Excerpt: Pretty Pretty Boys by Gregory Ashe (Hazard & Somerset #1)

Blurb:

After Emery Hazard loses his job as a detective in Saint Louis, he heads back to his hometown–and to the local police force there. Home, though, brings no happy memories, and the ghosts of old pain are very much alive in Wahredua. Hazard’s new partner, John-Henry Somerset, had been one of the worst tormentors, and Hazard still wonders what Somerset’s role was in the death of Jeff Langham, Hazard’s first boyfriend.

Author Gregory Ashe

When a severely burned body is discovered, Hazard finds himself drawn deeper into the case than he expects. Determining the identity of the dead man proves impossible, and solving the murder grows more and more unlikely. But as the city’s only gay police officer, Hazard is placed at the center of a growing battle between powerful political forces. To his surprise, Hazard finds an unlikely ally in his partner, the former bully. And as they spend more time together, something starts to happen between them, something that Hazard can’t–and doesn’t want–to explain.

The discovery of a second mutilated corpse, though, reveals clues that the two murders are linked, and as Hazard gets closer to answers, he uncovers a conspiracy of murder and betrayal that goes deeper–and closer to home–than he could ever expect.

Exclusive Excerpt:

Chapter 3

October 24

Monday

9:12am

They drove in a tan Impala with cloth seats and a pine-scented air freshener glued to the central vent. Neither man spoke, and Hazard took advantage of the silence to reorient himself. He’d lost his cool as soon as Somers had opened his mouth. No, it was worse than that. He’d lost control. It was like he’d been outside his head, watching, unable to stop as he got angrier and angrier. Every word Somers had said had been like dumping gasoline on a house fire.

And it didn’t help that Somers was so breezy. Everything he did and said came off cool, collected, composed, like he didn’t have a fuck to give for anything or anyone. In spite of his determination not to look, Hazard studied the man. John-Henry Somerset hadn’t changed. Sure, his blond hair was shorter and crisply styled, and he’d added on a few inches of lean muscle. But the major things hadn’t changed. He still had his preppy good looks: his smooth, golden tan, his eyes like tide pools, jaw cut sharp as a straight razor. He still had that way of walking, his shoulders back and his head up, like he owned this city and the next one over and he expected everyone to know it. Perfect—the word popped into Hazard’s head. John-Henry was still so goddamn perfect.

Somers shifted, as though sensing Hazard’s gaze, and adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. His cuff slid back, exposing a stretch of darkly-inked skin. Well, Hazard thought. That was very interesting. The golden boy had a tattoo; maybe John-Henry had changed a little.

“The guy we’re going to see, he’s a college student. His name is Rosendo, I think. I’ve got it written down. He reported vandalism this morning, and a patrol car went past. They passed it up to us.”

“Because it has to do with what? This PR crap?”

With a small shrug, Somers said, “Kind of. There’s been a lot of this going around.”

“Vandalism? That’s what we deal with?”

“This is about the most interesting thing we’ve had all year. And it’s not just vandalism. It’s a hate crime or the next thing to it. LGBT community is getting targeted for the most part, although it spills over.”

“And I’m the band-aid?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“The fuck it isn’t. What were they going to do? Hire me, parade me around town, show everybody they were a progressive department and then—what? Shove me in a corner to do paperwork?”

Somers didn’t answer.

After a moment, Hazard laughed. “The LGBT community, huh? What? You guys finally have enough queers around here to throw a stick at? Guess things change.”

“They—there’s always been a community here. You know, because of the college. But you’re right: things have changed.”

The way Somers said it, with that earnest tone and Boy Scout look, made it clear what he meant: he meant that he’d changed, that Wahredua had changed, that the world had changed. That was a nice dish of bull crap, as far as Hazard was concerned.

“Wroxall?” Hazard said. “That’s like two classrooms and a cafeteria.”

“Maybe twenty years ago. They’ve grown. A lot. Enrollment is around fifteen thousand.”

“Fifteen thousand? You’re joking.”

“No. And Wahredua had to grow too. The city’s pushing ninety thousand. We’re officially a city, you know, not a town anymore. And the college has brought the blue vote. All the old hippies, organic farmers, musicians, deadheads. It’s different.”

Hazard grunted; he’d believe it when he saw it. “Tell me about Cravens.”

“She’s decent. She’s a politician, but only because that’s her job. She’ll stick by you, for the most part. She bakes some good cupcakes and brings them on Fridays.”

“What’d you have to say to get her to hire me?”

“She wanted to hire you. I didn’t have to say anything.”

“What’d you say?”

“She thought you’d be good as the department’s face. You know: brooding detective, great shoulders, killer ass. You could—”

Hazard felt that same old house-fire burning deep inside him. “What’d you say?”

“It was just a joke. C’mon, lighten up.”

“Jesus, you really are the same, aren’t you? All right. Let’s get it all out on the table. Yeah, I’m gay. I like to fuck guys. Is that clear?”

Somers was shaking his head, his eyes fixed on the road.

“I asked you a question.”

“Yeah.”

“All right. You think it’s funny or weird or gross. Fine. You want to give me shit about it. Fine. You want to make my life hell. Fine. I’m not the kid you used to push around. I’ve done this whole pony show before. If you think you’ve got something that the guys in St. Louis didn’t already try, you’ve got another thing coming. It didn’t work for them, and it sure as hell isn’t going to work for you. I’m not going—”

“Jesus Christ,” Somers growled, his cool snapping for the first time since Hazard had seen him. Somers jerked the wheel to the right, and the tires rumbled against the curb. They pulled to the end of the block, and Somers unbuckled his seatbelt. “Get out of the car. Right now.”

Without waiting for a reply, Somers kicked his door open and walked to the sidewalk.

Hazard only hesitated a moment. He had his .38, and if it came to that, he wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in John-Henry’s perfect golden tan. But the best odds were that Somers was going to try to slug him. Somers was right-handed. He had muscle, but lean, more like a runner—he didn’t have Hazard’s bulk. Hazard knew the drill. He’d move into the punch, take it on his shoulder or arm instead of on his jaw, and then he’d land one that would knock Somers out of the county.

When Hazard got to the sidewalk, though, Somers just shrugged out of his jacket, folded it, and held it out to Hazard.

Hazard stared at the coat and raised an eyebrow.

“Hold it for me,” Somers insisted. “And then why don’t you break my jaw or my nose or whatever the fuck you’re determined to do, and then we can get on with our day.”

Hazard hesitated again. Was this a fake-out? Would he swing as soon as Hazard reached for the jacket?

click on image to purchase

“For God’s sake,” Somers grumbled. He tossed the jacket on the ground and took a step forward, tilting his head back and presenting his jaw. “I fucked up in high school. I get it. This is your chance.”

“Yeah, and get myself out of a job on the first day. I’m not that stupid.”

“You want to record me? You want this taped? I’ll say whatever you want me to say. You’ve got my permission to take off my fucking head, so go on and do it. I fucked up, so let’s make it right.”

The heat of the day, even this early, prickled on Hazard’s neck; sweat dampened his armpits and the small of his back. Somehow, again, Somers had thrown him off balance, and Hazard couldn’t seem to get his feet planted.

Somers took another step forward. They were close enough now that Hazard could feel the heat pouring off Somers, could smell the clean scent of Somers’s deodorant, could see the nearly invisible blond stubble on Somers’s jaw.

“Are you going to do it or not? Either you hit me right now, as hard as you want, as much as you want, and you get it out of your fucking system, or you drop the chip from your shoulder and we go do this interview. I don’t know about you, but I want to do my job.”

“Fuck you.”

Somers waited a full minute, his eyes still locked with Hazard’s, before Hazard finally looked away. Somers grunted and got back into the Impala. After a moment, Hazard followed. Then he stopped, turned back, and gathered the fallen jacket. He dusted it off and climbed into the passenger seat. Wordlessly, he shoved the jacket at Somers.

“Thanks.”

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Hazard said, his eyes on the dashboard. “I’ll work with you. I’m your partner. I’ve got your back, as far as that goes, and you can count on me when it comes to the job. But if you think I’m going to forgive and forget because you’ve gone to college and you think you’re open-minded now and can crack jokes with your faggot partner, you’re wrong. I know you. I know the special kind of piece of shit you are. Even if nobody else knows, even if you’ve got them all fooled, I know.” Hazard tapped his chest where the three shiny lines still marked him, but inside, he was thinking about what Mikey Grames and Hugo Perry and John-Henry Somerset had done to Jeff, that summer when they’d cut up Hazard’s chest, what they’d done to Jeff when they’d really gotten going. “You made sure I’d never forget.”

Somers paled as he took the jacket. He held it awkwardly, as though unsure of what to do with it, and then dropped it in his lap. He fumbled the key in the ignition, started the car, and then, his face pitched towards the floorboards, said, “I know I fucked up. But I am different. All I’m saying is give me a chance.”

Hazard didn’t answer; he’d said everything he needed to say.

Struggle showed in Somers’s face, and as he shifted the car into gear, he blurted, “And I wasn’t cracking jokes or trying to be funny. You do have a killer ass. So fuck you.”

And that, Hazard decided as they pulled away from the curb, made it official: the whole world had gone batshit.

Discover more of author Gregory Ashe:

Website: https://www.gregoryashe.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Gregory-Ashe/e/B004YYND70/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1179529.Gregory_Ashe