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.

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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.

“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.

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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: 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.

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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

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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/

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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)

 

An Exclusive Interview with the Dynamic, Gay Mystery/Thriller Author, Gregory Ashe

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Gregory, thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy schedule to answer a few brief questions about yourself, and your writing for the members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to do this. It’s an honor to be asked to participate.

Author Gregory Ashe

JM – Where were you born, and where do you live now?  

GA – I’m a St. Louis native. Although I moved away for college, grad school, and then work, I came back a few years ago. I love the city; it’s great for so many reasons: the culture, the food, the history, the parks, etc. Among other things, I was surprised on my return to find that St. Louis has a strong LGBTQ+ community. It also has a strong writing community. I feel like I lucked out!

JM – Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your life with us?

GA – Oh boy. The sad truth is that I’m very boring. I work full time (I teach at a local high school), and in my free time, I try to read and write as much as possible. I also do exciting things like laundry, grocery shopping, and home repair (I’m still learning a lot about this last one). Every once in a while, I still try dating. I used to travel a fair amount for research, but now my adventures are limited to summer vacation. I’m still trying to figure out where I might go this year!

JM – Do you write full-time, have a 9-5, or are you a Lottery Winner?

GA – Writing full time sounds like a dream job; maybe one day I’ll get there. Right now, I’m lucky that I love the work I do teaching high school (my students might not be quite as enthusiastic, however).

JM – How long have you been writing/publishing?

GA – Like many writers, I imagine, I’ve been writing and telling stories for about as long as I can imagine. My siblings were fairly good sports about it until puberty hit! For a long time, I thought of myself as a writer even though I wasn’t actually writing anything. A series of experiences changed my mind about that, and about ten years ago, I started writing regularly.

JM – Do you write in other genres besides gay mystery/thriller/suspense?

GA – I’ve written in high fantasy, urban fantasy, and gay mystery/thriller. I also have an abandoned sci-fi (cyberpunk) novel that I still intend on finishing one day.

JM – Have you always self-published your writing? I ask because your finished product is of great quality, which isn’t always the case in this hyper-insane, electronic publishing market.

GA – That’s an incredibly generous thing to say. Thank you. I have always self-published. I’ve had a few near-misses with traditional publishers, but nothing has ever landed for me. That being said, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that my work has improved over the last ten years. I keep my older books available for sale, but I hope readers will recognize that my self-publishing skills and my writing craft have grown. My advice is always to preview first; I feel like that gives a fair idea of what you’re buying.

JM – You are a new author for me, having discovered your gay mystery/suspense novel, Pretty Pretty Boys, shortly after its release in Nov. 2017. I quickly snapped up the second novel in the series, Transposition, and have pre-ordered the third, The Paternity Case. Is Hazard/Somer’s your first series? How did the characters come about for you?  

GA – Again, thank you for the very kind words. I have–boy, let me think–I think, I have five series that I’ve previously published. No, six. Two of them are m/m paranormal (no were-creatures or vampires): Hollow Folk and The Sophistries of June. A third (Witte & Co. Investigations) is historical fantasy with a strong m/m romance line (although not the main plot). See above for my caveat about my growth as a writer and self-publisher.

Your question about how Hazard and Somers came about is a good one. I know that many authors say that they’re not sure where an idea came from; it just popped into their head. That’s happened to me before, but it wasn’t the case with this series. I remember vividly when I first heard the story of Jesse Valencia, a student at Mizzou who was killed by a closeted cop in order to cover up their relationship (http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/05/23/rios/). That was the seed for this story; Hazard and Somers grew out of it. (JM–I know this story well; how ironic – I have a drafted plot idea influenced by this story in a folder (along with some research) that I wrote in 2011 – great writing minds think alike, lol!).

I have a longer account of how the piece developed, including a few surprising twists along the way, that I’ll be sharing with subscribers to my email list when Paternity Case launches at the beginning of April. I hope anyone interested will sign up!

JM – I so enjoyed Pretty Pretty Boys; the push and pull, yin and yang, rather complicated relationship between MCs, Emery (Hazard) Hazard and John-Henry Somerset (Somers), both detectives in the small-town Wahredua Police Department make the novels work! At the beginning of the series, Somers has remained in Wahredua, MI his entire life; Hazard has just returned to his hometown in disgrace upon getting fired from his former detective’s job in big city, USA; What a set up! So much history to explore from page one! How many books in the series are you planning?   

GA – That’s a lovely description of the dynamic I’ve attempted to create in the books; thank you. The short answer to your question is: I don’t know yet. The slightly longer answer: I’m finishing a six-book arc that will resolve the back-and-forth of Hazard and Somers’s relationship, as well as one (maybe two) of the major recurring antagonists. However, I’ve already planned a second arc for the two detectives, and I plan on writing that second set of novels if there’s still interest.

JM – You have been successful in creating two strong-willed characters that are enemies as much as they are friends; yet their unique personalities make it work between them. The novels have complex, twisty mysteries, and yet romantic undertones (not giving anything away, here!) Have you always been a romantic?

GA – Ha! Yes. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I came out relatively late in life, and so my experience with romance is still, to some degree, mediated and second-hand. Now, I spend a lot of my time convincing myself that I’m a rigorous intellectual, but the reality is that my brain turns mushy whenever I meet a nice guy. Although, (maybe this is too much honesty) it’s been a long time since I met a nice guy . . .

 JM – On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time answering questions of the genre. Can you share a little about your current release and/or WIP?

 GA – Jon, thank you for making me feel so welcome in this community. I really appreciate it. I’ve got two WIP right now: I’m finishing revisions on Paternity Case, which releases April 6, 2018, and I’m writing Guilt by Association (book four of the Hazard and Somerset mysteries). Guilt by Association takes Hazard and Somers to the next level: they are facing a tougher mystery, their work lives are compromised when the mayor hands-off their case, and they find their relationship hurtling towards . . . well, that’s the problem. Neither of them knows. Yet. I’m looking forward to releasing this book in early summer.

Thanks again, Jon, for having me here!

 Do you have questions for Gregory Ashe? Please feel free to contact him via email: (ashegr@gmail.com) or via his website: www.gregoryashe.com