Sunday, November 20, 2016

Murder Between the Pages by Josh Lanyon

Summary:
Felix Day, author of the Constantine Sphinx mysteries, and Leonard Fuller, author of the Inspector Fez mysteries, are bitter rivals and the best of enemies. Both happen to present when a notorious author of roman Γ  clef is shot by an invisible assailant during a signing at historic Marlborough Bookstore.

Even if they weren’t both suspects, it’s the perfect opportunity to match wits and sleuthing skills.

If only the murderer was equally amused.


Another great Josh Lanyon murder mystery!  I don't know if there are any plans for future Day/Fuller mysteries or if it's just a standalone but either way, what a wonderful addition to my historical romantic suspense shelf.  Murder Between the Pages is a perfect blend of history, romance, mystery, and humor that is very reminiscent of film noir of the 1940s.  Ethan Day and Leonard Fuller may not appear to like each other but they have more than one common interest and when a murder happens right before their eyes, lets just say those common interests become very interesting and extremely entertaining.  The duo may not be up to Holmes & Moriarity or Adrien & Jake caliber but Day & Fuller are still fun and their connection is definitely intriguing.  As for the mystery, well I've been watching and reading mysteries of all kinds ever since I was old enough to sit up so very few actually stump me anymore.  Personally, a mystery is not just about the who and why but also about the journey getting from the deed to the discovery and trust me, the journey in Murder is awesome.

RATING: 


Chapter One
Felix
The first person I spotted when I stepped into Marlborough Bookstore that blustery May afternoon was Leonard Fuller.

Which, now that I think about it, was rather remarkable given that the room was packed and Josiah Shelton had already begun speaking.

“Is the book a roman Γ  clef? I suppose you might call it that.” Shelton said in his mellifluous voice to the spellbound audience. He was a large man. Not handsome. His iron gray hair was as wild and unkempt as a roadside hedge in winter. His pale eyes protruded in such a way that he seemed perpetually outraged, even now when he was smiling and cheerful and in his element. His nose was too long, his mouth too wide, but the overall effect was of a powerful intellect, a force to be reckoned with.

I made my way through the crowd and found a place near the back of the room.

Shelton continued, asking rhetorically, “Is it satire? No. It is a sincere effort to capture themes and motifs that have absorbed, nay, consumed me for much of my adult life.”

“Poppycock,” muttered an elderly gentleman in the row seated before me.

His female relations tried to hush him.

“Don’t you shush me,” he hissed right back. “He’s in it for the money. Trading on other people’s misfortunes, that’s what he’s done.”

It made me angry to hear him, but no one else seemed to take any notice. Anyway, Shelton didn’t have to prove anything to these people, and certainly not to this old relic who probably thought the pinnacle of Concord’s literary heritage was when Ralph Waldo Emerson and his fellow Transcendentalists used to pop into the Marlborough to check on their book sales.

An unpleasant draft whispered against the back of my neck; the chilly spring breeze finding its way through the gaps in the one hundred-and-fifty-year-old mullioned windows facing the street. The crowded room smelled of wool and tobacco and ladies’ perfume, but mostly it smelled of a century’s-worth of old books.

“With two world wars behind us, who here hasn’t wondered what, if anything, lies beyond the gates of death?” Shelton asked. “Though I have the reputation of a skeptic, even a cynic, I began this project without bias.”

That wasn’t true, of course. No one was without bias. Even a great man like Shelton. In fact, it probably followed that a great man would have great biases.

Or perhaps not. But anyone who knew Shelton knew he was rather opinionated. In fact, we’d had quite an argument over practical occultism only a month ago. Shelton was a ferocious arguer and I always loved a good debate. However, I’d sensed a certain strain since, which was why I’d felt it important to come to his reading that afternoon.

I and everyone else in Concord, it seemed. We’re not Boston but we pride ourselves that we know a thing or two about books and scholarship.

I glanced at Leonard Fuller who was--very rudely--engaged in whispering conversation with Georgie Wolfe, the poetess. Women always gravitate to Fuller, which would be amusing if it wasn’t so ludicrous. His blond head bowed toward her still fairer one, and he was smirking, which is his usual expression with the fairer sex.

As though feeling my gaze, Fuller lifted his eyelashes and met my eyes. His own are a startling and azure blue. It’s a color one feels in the solar plexus -- like jumping out of a plane into cold, empty sky. Your heart seems to stop.

Fuller’s lip curled in greeting. I bared my incisors in reply.

He writes the Inspector Fez so-called mysteries under the moniker of L. F. Monarch. Inspector Fez is nothing but a pale imitation of my own Constantine Sphinx, celebrated gentleman sleuth and Egyptologist, which makes all the more laughable Fuller’s accusation that I stole the idea for The Sphinx from him.

Ha!

Happily my publisher, Mr.  James Cornell--coincidentally also Shelton’s publisher--was able to prove to the jury’s satisfaction what hogwash that was when I sued Fuller in open court for slander.

Fuller has never forgiven me--and I have never forgiven him. Which suits us both beautifully.

Of course we are bound to run into each other now and then, given the size of Concord’s literary community, but not so frequently as to make things awkward.

Fuller was once more listening with fake attentiveness to Georgia. I knew what they were discussing given Georgia’s indiscreet glances at a tall, veiled woman sitting in front of an open-backed bookshelf that towered all the way to the ceiling.

Though wedged in by people, the veiled woman maintained an air of splendid isolation.

Everyone--well, certainly those of us who had read the advance copies of Shelton’s book--knew that the character of Madam Galen was based on Lucinda Lafe, the society hostess and celebrity medium. It was either very brave or a deliberate ploy for publicity for La Lafe to show up here today.

Did that mean the Woolriches were also attending the reading?

Surely not.

I scanned the crowded seats and to my dismay spotted the stony, patrician features of Miranda Woolrich a few rows up. Beside her was Ingham, looking as faded and fragile as papyrus.

A great writer couldn’t be inhibited by other people’s feelings. He had to write the words the Muse whispered in his ear. Even so. I wished the Woolriches hadn’t attended today’s event. It was bound to be painful for them. Even more so once Fuller had finished speaking and the press began to ask their questions.

That was another thing. I hadn’t realized there would be reporters. Not including  Bill Reed of the Courant, I counted at least two other newshawks. From Boston? New York? If the New York press had resumed interest in Shelton, he truly was restored to his rightful place in the New England literary pantheon.

I risked another glance at Fuller.

Georgia had wandered away to interrupt someone else’s enjoyment of Shelton’s talk, and Fuller was now standing to the left of a marble bust of Emerson. Fuller had the kind of cinematic good looks that appeal to some people, still there was an uncanny likeness to Emerson’s profile, particularly about the nose. Their twin aquiline appendages tilted upwards as though some noxious odor had assaulted their chiseled nostrils.

Fuller was no admirer of Shelton’s--he was too egotistical to admire anyone he didn’t recognize off a reflective surface--but he could never bear to miss an opportunity to suck up to James. The free food was probably another inducement. It was hard to imagine the Inspector Fez books were still selling well.

Perhaps when the reading was over we would meet upstairs in the lending library    and exchange a few unpleasantries over the inevitable tea and cookies. I always looked forward to our skirmishes.

Meanwhile, Shelton was in fine form.

“It is easy to become a Theosophist. Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbor than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness, and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer--is a Theosophist.”

God almighty he could--and did--talk.

“Mr. Shelton, do you consider yourself a Theosophist?” called someone from the audience.

The voice was male and mocking. I couldn’t make out the speaker, hidden as he was amidst the blooms of a garden’s-worth of ladies’ hats. I suspected the heckler was another reporter. We seemed to have a regular infestation of them that afternoon.

“I consider myself to be an artist,” Shelton said. “Art is its own philosophy. My only allegiance is to the written word.”

On the dais behind him, Donald Marlborough, owner of Marlborough Bookstore, James, and Viktor Merlin--who happens to be my own agent as well as Shelton’s--were beaming. They knew the book was going to do wonderfully well and make them all pots of money.

Which was excellent news given how unfairly Shelton’s last two books had been received by the reading public. Not the critics. The critics never failed to appreciate his genius. But a man couldn’t live on praise, however warm.

And speaking of warmth, it was getting stuffy. I loosened my scarf, partially unbuttoned my coat. I hated crowds, though I was glad for Shelton’s sake he was getting such a good audience.

I hoped when the time came he would not read the chapter where the first sΓ©ance takes place. It was well written, naturally, but it would be impossible not to wonder what the Woolrichs felt hearing those things aloud. Yes, the book was fiction, but it was also the truth. Viktor had told me at lunch over a month ago that he believed this time for sure Shelton would surely be sued for libel.

Shelton never cared about such things. And even Viktor hadn’t seemed unduly worried. He thought the publicity would sell even more copies of the book.

“Maybe that sounds arrogant,” Shelton was saying. “But the true artist has to remove himself from the artificial restraints of a bourgeois morality.”

Fuller yawned widely.

A sigh ripple through the other latecomers standing in the back of the room with me. There were soft whispers, some shifting of weight. Shelton had been speaking for over forty minutes.  I wouldn’t have minded a drink, myself. And not tea.

BANG!

A shot rang out.

A gunshot in Marlborough Bookstore.

Shelton jerked back a step at the loud and unmistakable crack, sounding even louder and more unmistakable in the confines of the crowded room. The tang of gunpowder--no, that was cordite--cut the woolly fug that had settled over the audience.

A .32, I thought. That sounded like a .32. My wits were infuriatingly slow and sluggish. That’s what peacetime will do to you. The report of a pistol had at one time as familiar as the brassy morning bell on my alarm clock, and was now utterly, shockingly alien.

Alien and terrifying in this environment where there were so many civilians.

As I stared, still trying to assemble my thoughts, Shelton swayed, and crashed down on top of the table that had been set up for his signing. The stacks of books tumbled over, thudding, unautographed, to the floor.

Shelton landed face down atop them.

Chapter Two
Leonard
I’d like to say that I reacted with the sangfroid of Farid El Mahfouz when I heard the gunshot that killed Josiah Shelton. But on the level? I was as shocked, as stupefied as anybody else in the audience.

It didn’t help that the crowd seemed to rise as one from the sea of chairs, looking around bewilderedly for the source of the pistol report. You’d think people who had just been through a war would know better. Would hunker down. Make some effort to take cover. But nope. Men and women rose as one, gazing stupidly at each other, seeking explanation, searching for the source of all the commotion.

Except there wasn’t any commotion. Not at first. Nobody was waving a pistol around. Nobody tried to make a run for the front doors. Or even the back doors. The crowd standing at the back of the room looked as surprised and confused as everyone else.

Even Felix Day, who might be a lot of things, but is certainly wide awake, looked as blank as the first sheet in a new pack of typing paper.

Day. I’d seen him the minute he’d entered Marlborough’s. It would have been impossible to miss him, standing at the back of the room in his familiar black tweed coat, looking like an elegant scarecrow. His dark hair was too long and untidy. His scarf was stuffed in the pocket of his coat instead of wrapped around his scrawny neck. But there he stood, pale-faced and blazing-eyed as ever, nearly vibrating with intensity. No doubt imagining Shelton had stolen the idea for this latest book from him and planning his next lawsuit.

A woman in the last row of chairs, gave a little sigh and swooned away into the arms of the guy next to her.

That seemed to be the cue everyone had been waiting for. People started screaming and yelling and pointing. But the pointing was toward the platform where Shelton’s body was sprawled on a pile of books. Don Marlborough and James Cowan knelt beside him. His agent, Viktor Merlin, stood over them, literally wringing his hands.

The employees who had been upstairs preparing the refreshments, crowded down the stairway to see what was going on.

And still nobody made a play for the exits.

Don rose from Shelton’s side. He held his hands up and said, “Please! Please, everyone. Stay calm. Stay in your seats.”

Stay in your seats? With a sniper in the house?  Nobody listened. It was doubtful they even heard him over the cries of “Where did it come from?” and “Where is he?”

Lucinda Lafe called, “It came from over here. Almost beside me, I think.”

Beside her? I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been her, given the things Shelton had said about “Madam Galen” in that pseudo-novel of his.

Out of the corner of my eye I spied movement. The very thing I’d been waiting for.

Felix Day made for the front entrance of the shop, his face white and wild-eyed. His normal expression, in other words.

Day?

Well, why not Day? No surprise to me if he’d finally snapped and killed someone.

I pushed my way through the milling crowd determined to stop him from fleeing the scene of his crime. His latest crime--not counting the travesty of Mr. Sphinx Sends His Regrets.

“If you would all just take your seats again,” Don was pleading. “Ladies and gentlemen, please.”

Poor Don. Did he think we were all going to buy a book and sit down for tea and cakes after a murder had taken place? That’s the optimism of a bookseller for you.

I got through the maze of bookshelves in time to see Felix reach the front door at the same time as a large man in a gray overcoat. Preoccupied with Day, I had completely missed this other player in the unfolding drama, which was aggravating as hell.

“Sorry.” Day shoved shut the door. The bell atop gave a cheery jingle. “You can’t leave. We’ve got to wait for the police.”

He was slightly taller, but the man in the overcoat was built like a tank. He calmly sized Day up. “Who’re you?”

Day squared his shoulders. “I’m not here in any official capacity, that’s true. It doesn’t change the fact that a man has been murdered and no one can leave the scene of the crime.”

As usual, using three words for every necessary one--and still failing to answer the question.

“That’s not what I asked,” the large man said. His hair was brown. His eyes a light, indeterminate color. He fixed them on Day with a hard, level look. “I asked you your name.”

Day’s jaw grew stubborn. I wouldn’t doubt there was a mule somewhere in that family tree; I know there’s an ass. But as he glared at the man in the overcoat, his expression altered indefinably. “Felix Day,” he admitted.

“Well, Felix Day, I am the police. I’m Captain Harp of the Concord Police. I’m going to need your assistance. I tried to phone from Marlborough’s office, but there’s no one on the switchboard. I’ll need you to stand here and guard this door while I go for help.”

The bell jingled as Harp yanked open the door and went out, and to my astonishment, Felix let him leave without so much as a peep.

“What the hell?” I said as I reached him. “You let him go?”

Day seemed almost distracted as he replied, “He’s with the police.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s the oldest trick in the book!” I grabbed the door handle--and Felix grabbed my arm with bony but surprisingly strong fingers.

He was scowling--which is his usual expression with me--and I scowled back.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” he said.

“If you don’t want a punch in the nose, let go my arm,” I warned him.

“Just try it.” Felix’s black eyes were narrow and hostile. Again, perfectly normal for him. “Where were you when that shot went off?”

“Me?” I gaped at him. “That shot came from the back of the room. As you very well know.”

“I don’t know any such thing.”

“Where were you? That’s the question.”

His eyes blazed. “Had I been planning to shoot anyone today, it wouldn’t have been Josiah Shelton.”

“Oh, very nice!” I retorted. “Well, maybe you missed and shot Shelton by mistake.”

“I don’t miss.”

“That’s not what the critics say.”

Day’s face turned a nice healthy red.

“Gentlemen! Please!” Mr. Kent, the floor manager, bustled up to us. He’s a small, plump man with small plump hands and a small plump mouth. His hair is as fine and pale as corn silk. “Mr. Marlborough says no one may leave. Please take your seats again.”

“Did you see the guy who just left?” I demanded.

“Someone left?” Alarmed, Kent peered through the window at the swiftly retreating gray overcoat. He relaxed. “That’s Captain Harp.”

“He’s a cop? You’re sure?”

Kent’s frown faded as he studied my face.  “Oh, Mr. Fuller. It’s you. I didn’t recognize you for a moment. Yes, yes. That gentleman is with the Concord Police Department. I know him well. An excellent customer. Mostly non-fiction, though he does collect first editions of the Romantic poets.”

“So he is a real cop.”

It wasn’t actually a question, but Mr. Kent said, “Oh, yes!” He smiled. It was a wobbly sort of smile. “For all the good it’s done. If only your own brilliant Inspector Fez had been on the scene when this terrible thing happened.”

Day snorted.

I ignored him. “What about the back entrance, Mr. Kent? Is anyone watching to make sure no one slips out through the basement?”

Mr. Kent  shook his head. “I don’t think so. I don’t believe most customers know that there is a back entrance.”

“Leave it to you to be familiar with the back entrance of any establishment,” Day observed.

I managed to ignore him that time too, though it wasn’t easy, and turned away to push my way back through the crowd to the main room.

“Len, what has happened?” Georgia cried, reaching out to me.

She’s a poet. They’re congenitally unable to accept the obvious. Always looking for another meaning. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar--and sometimes a gun is just a gun.

“Murder, my sweet,” I threw over my shoulder.

I paused by the staircase and tried to see what was happening on the platform. Only a couple of minutes had passed since that single shot had been fired. People crowded around the dais making it difficult to see. What wasn’t happening was resuscitation. That I’d known the minute Shelton landed on the floor. I’d seen too many guys die to mistake that broken flop. And even if I hadn’t, the look on Don’s face had said it all.

How had the thing been managed?

It didn’t seem possible anyone could have escaped out the front. The bell over the door would have alerted us all to any attempt to exit. No one had tried to run upstairs--and where would they go anyway?

That left the basement.

Or…the murderer was still in this room.

No. I was betting on the basement. I left Georgina talking to air, and ducked down the stairs to the basement, taking them fast.

At the foot of the staircase was a long poorly lit hallway lined with three wooden doors. Having been down here on numerous occasions, I knew that one room was Don’s office and one room was the toilet. Both were unlocked and both were empty. The third door led to the basement.

It was also unlocked and swung soundlessly open onto a large room lined with shelves stacked with bins. The bins were full of new books and labeled with the printed names of publishers.

An interior swinging door led onto yet another room.

I pushed through the swinging door and found myself in a long narrow room filled with packing boxes, paper, string. A single light burned from a bare bulb positioned over a large table.

At the end of the room a woman in a silver fur coat and veiled green hat was frantically tugging at the door handle.

Author Bio:
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.


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Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Without a Net by Lyn Gala


Summary:
Oliver Robertson has been assigned to go undercover in one of the shade clubs that litter the seedier parts of town. He has never engaged in the sort of edge play found in those places, preferring the BDSM in the more mainstream control clubs. However, to find the criminals behind a series of kidnappings, he must go in undercover as a shade sub. The mission becomes more complicated when his captain asks him to collect evidence against a lieutenant who might be a dirty cop.

The case quickly gets out of hand, and Ollie finds himself caught between wanting to do his job and not knowing who to trust. That confusion grows worse when a number of sexy and dominant men challenge his assumption that he prefers safe, contractually negotiated sex. It turns out he has more of a wild side than he expected, and given that he’s surrounded by dangerous men, and he can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad, that’s terrifying.

When Ollie gives his trust to Travis Goode, a dominant who appears to be a federal agent, he might be making the connection of a lifetime or dooming himself forever.



Ollie pulled into his parking space and cursed when he found Mrs. Dennison had commandeered his solar-charging outlet again. A long cord went from the solar shade above his space right up the wall and into her apartment.

Something inside him snapped. Ollie couldn’t take it anymore. The solar was free, but he’d asked her not to jack his power. It drained the reserves, and some days his car barely charged enough to get him to work and back. And today was cloudy, so he needed every ounce of energy he could get out of the station.

He parked and stormed over to the charging post. While ripping the plug out of the socket felt good, it wasn’t enough. He’d asked her a dozen times. He’d threatened to have the code people out for her illegal extension cord. He’d filed a complaint with the apartment house, and she still had her damn shit plugged into his charger.

Captain Greyson could ask Ollie to stick his neck out. Lieutenant Huda could walk all over him. But Ollie would be damned if Mrs. Dennison and her damn sunlamps would push him one more inch. Ollie marched over to the wall, grabbed the part of the extension cord that hung down from an upper window, and pulled. Mrs. Dennison was on the second floor, but he could hear something crash and then several more dull thuds and an ominous bang. Feeling very satisfied, Ollie went back to his car and plugged it in. A quick check of the levels told him that he was at 17 percent charge. Fuck. Well, he wasn’t going anywhere tonight. He’d be lucky to get enough charge to run the car through tomorrow comfortably.

A door slammed, and Ollie wasn’t surprised when Mrs. Dennison came around the corner looking ready to claw his eyes out. She raised herbs and shit for her magical charms and Wiccan jewelry, and that was fine with him, but not on his charging station.

“I’ll file a complaint! Do you have any idea how much damage you did? That is my workplace, and you damaged hundreds if not thousands of dollars in equipment. I’m going to get you fired.” She stopped several feet away from him. Even mad as a wet hen, she wasn’t about to get too close to him. First, attacking a police officer was stupid. Second, Ollie was built well, and she was about 110 pounds of nothing.

“I tripped and caught myself on the cord, which is why there are codes against having extension cords out windows. I’ve told you that before,” Ollie said. Right now he wanted a fight, and if she called the station, that would give him a great one. “And if you are running a business out of a residence, that is a whole new issue.” He took a step forward.

“Don’t you dare bully me,” she snarled at him. “I will have your job for this.”

“You go for it and try,” Ollie suggested. “And while you’re at it, you can keep your plugs out of my outlets.” Ollie walked away.

“It’s not like you pay for it, asshole.” She chased after him. Thank God he had the parking space nearest the building, so his front door was close. He was ready for a drink and a lot of loud music--something that might disturb her chi or whatever the hell she called it.

“Hey!” Darla Canterbury called out. “We’re all neighbors. Let’s be nice to each other.” She hurried over. Maybe she’d lived in some happy-happy place in her last apartment, but around here everyone pretty much ignored one another when they weren’t throwing around blame. Being nice was not high on the agenda.

“He destroyed my workstation!” Mrs. Dennison nearly shrieked. For a woman in her forties, she had a mean shriek. Usually that tone came out of teenagers at rock concerts.

Mrs. Canterbury smiled soothingly. “I’ll help you get it back in order. I was watching out the window, and he did trip. He looks like he’s had a hard day, so let’s cut him some slack, okay?”

Ollie was shocked. Then again, Mrs. Canterbury was married to a retired cop, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised she stuck up for him.

Mrs. Dennison stopped at the low rail that marked the beginning of Ollie’s apartment line. Stepping over the threshold would make her a trespasser, and maybe she knew Ollie was angry enough to arrest her.

Mrs. Canterbury threw an arm around the woman’s shoulders. They were a study in contrasts. Mrs. Dennison was blonde with delicate features and a tiny frame. While Mrs. Canterbury was about the same age--midforties--she was tall and broad-shouldered with long black hair and a mix of ancestors that must have included some damn attractive Africans and Indians. “I bet you’re frustrated. I’ll help you clean up the mess. What do ya say?”

Ollie glanced up, and Mr. Canterbury stood leaning against the third-story railing. A handsome man a few years older than his wife, Mr. Canterbury looked like he was somewhere in his forties. Gray was showing at his temples, but he was one of those square-jawed masculine men who kept their striking looks well into old age. Ollie had no idea if the Canterburys had children, but if they did, those must be gorgeous kids. They were probably out breaking hearts in college.

Mrs. Canterbury urged Mrs. Dennison up the stairs, and Travis Canterbury came down. Ollie considered heading into his apartment, but that seemed rude when Mr. Canterbury had made such deliberate eye contact. The man’s wife had lied for Ollie; the least he could do was have a friendly conversation.

Mr. Canterbury stopped on the last step and leaned against the rail. “Hard day?”

“To say the least,” Ollie admitted.

Mr. Canterbury offered his hand. “Travis.”

“Ollie. Oliver Robertson. We met when you were moving in.”

“We introduced ourselves, anyway,” Travis said. “No offense, but you look like you caught a hard case.”

Ollie rubbed his face. “Yeah, it happens. You know the job. Anyway, thank your wife for intercepting the shrew. When she tells people she’s a witch, she should tell them she means that in more than one way.” It was horribly un-PC, but in Mrs. Dennison’s case, it was also true.

Travis chuckled. “She’s sometimes hard to take. Between the sage and the marijuana she burns, my house smells like a smoke shop. She’s not good at respecting other people’s boundaries, but I think that has less to do with her religion than the fact she’s a bitch.” Travis stopped and gave Ollie a curious look, and that was when Ollie realized he’d been staring at a married man.

Fuck.

Okay, that was a new level of awkward. Ollie turned to study his front door instead of Travis’s broad shoulders. Travis chuckled again.

“True. She’d be a bitch even if she were Buddhist.” Ollie headed toward his apartment and stopped at the sight of an advertisement hanging from his doorknob. The Bridle Club. Artistically arranged leather implements made it pretty clear what they were promoting. Ollie froze. Either everything in his life had just taken on a sexual overtone, or he was really having trouble getting his head screwed on straight.

“Some of the families are angry about those. They say it’s a shade club and don’t want that garbage hanging from their doors,” Travis commented.

Ollie held the paper, and a tremor went through his body. It was like some sort of omen, only Ollie didn’t believe in omens. He believed in facts.

Travis didn’t seem to notice anything, because he kept right on talking. “I don’t have a problem with the control clubs. My wife and I enjoy playing, and a club is a good way to work out frustration, especially if you have a committed partner and you’re spicing things up with a new setting. But when I was on the job, I hated the shade clubs. Let some nineteen-year-old wander into the wrong one, and he or she would get so turned around that reality wasn’t reality anymore, ya know?”

Ollie nodded. He did know. For a time Ollie stared at the ad, and the weight of the paper seemed to hold him in place.

“I had a case once--a twenty-two-year-old right out of university,” Travis said softly. Something in his tone broke the spell the paper had over Ollie, and he looked up at his neighbor. “Some asshole had violated her redlines so many times that she didn’t know where they were anymore, and he’d convinced her that she wanted more. She’d signed a twenty-four-seven contract as a pet, never allowed to stand up. When we raided his place for drugs, we scooped her up, and it took the psychologists a good two weeks to get her to admit she hadn’t wanted any of it. She was so ashamed of what he’d made her do that she would have rather clung to him than face the real situation. I almost wrung that guy’s neck.” Travis grimaced, and the hatred practically radiated off him.

“Was she okay in the end?” Ollie asked. For some reason, he needed to know the girl had gotten her head back on straight. Dominating was a dangerous business, and in control clubs where sex was all negotiated, that danger was attractive--it was a spice that made sex more exciting. But the shade clubs were different.

“Sorta,” Travis said. “She filed charges against him, but I’m pretty sure she planned to avoid sex for the next sixty years. She was one of those cases that hit me.”

Ollie nodded. He didn’t have anything to add to this conversation. For a time they stood in silence, and then Travis cleared his throat.

“If you ever want to talk about whatever’s eating you, you know where my apartment door is. This job is hard. Don’t make it harder by trying to carry the load all yourself.” Travis silently studied Ollie for a good minute before he turned and headed back up the steps.

When he was halfway to the second floor, Ollie called his name. Travis turned.

“How high up were you before you retired?” Ollie blurted the question out, almost before he realized he was going to ask it.

Travis gave him an odd look. “Plenty high. I could have been captain, but I refused to leave the field. My place was out there investigating leads with my team, not stuck watching through some damn vid feed.” He came down several steps. “But there’s nothing you could say that would shock me. If you want, you could come upstairs and have a couple of drinks, and we can talk about your hard day.”

Ollie wanted to do that, but he wanted it too much. Lusting after a married man was not Ollie’s normal MO, and he was afraid the shit at work had left him too off balance. He wanted someone on his side. Travis gave off a supportive vibe, and Ollie wished he worked for the department because Ollie would trust Travis at his back. He wasn’t sure he could trust the captain who was using him or the lieutenant who was out to get him or even his fellow officers who wanted to stay out of the line of fire.

But no matter how much he wanted some strong shoulder to lean on, he had to handle this on his own. He could not violate operational security on two active cases--the investigation into the kidnappings and the internal review of Lieutenant Huda’s actions.

“No, thanks. Besides, I don’t think your wife wants to hear some old war stories from a couple of cops.”

“Don’t kid yourself. Darla’s got more stories than both of us put together.”

“She was a cop?” Ollie asked. She seemed too caring to be a cop.

“She was a dispatcher,” Travis said. “She heard crap that would make my toes curl, and she was helpless to stop any of it as long as she was on the other end of a vid or a phone. Sometimes when the bad guys were high enough or stupid enough, they even committed crimes in front of the camera, and she got to see it. She may be soft and tender on the outside, but inside that woman has a core of steel. You can trust her to handle whatever you’ve got to say and keep it confidential.”

“That’s a kind offer...” Ollie let his voice trail off. Something here wasn’t right. Yeah, cops stuck together, but this was a little over the top. Ollie’s feelings were too unpredictable for him to spend too much time with a very attractive male. In Ollie’s experience, anxiety and stress never led to good choices. The very fact that he found Travis attractive was the best reason to run like hell. He put on an apologetic expression. “It was a hard day.”

Travis leaned against the rail. “Look, Darla’s always telling me I come on too strong, more like one of those shade Doms than an in-control and sane sort. So feel free to tell me to fuck off if you want, but you’re putting out some sub vibes, and it bothers me to see someone spinning out of control.”

Sub vibes. Fuck. Yeah, that was exactly what Huda had said when he insisted Ollie had to be the one to go under. Apparently he reeked of submission. The worst part was that Travis was the sort Ollie would want under better circumstances.

“I can take care of myself, thanks.” Ollie put a whole lot of unhappy in his voice.

Travis raised his hands in surrender. “No problem. You can take care of yourself, and I don’t doubt that, but if you need some relief, Darla switches, and she always loves to have playtime as the Domme. No sex, of course. I mean, that’s my wife--but we do have some fun toys.” Travis offered him a kind smile, a sort of come-hither expression that made Ollie yearn for some connection.

Ollie’s face got hot as his imagination turned to what it would be like to feel Travis’s hands holding him down. Great. One neighbor hated him, and the other thought he needed babying. Ollie’s life couldn’t get any better. “Fuck off,” he said before he headed into his apartment. He didn’t need to play, especially not with this new job coming at him like a freight train. What he needed were a few beers, some loud music, and a night of killing electronic zombies. That would make him feel better. Without another word to Travis, Ollie went into his apartment and slammed the door.

Author Bio:
Lynsey "Lyn" Gala started writing in the back of her science notebook in third grade and hasn’t stopped since. Westerns starring men with shady pasts gave way to science fiction with questionable protagonists which eventually gave in to any story with a morally ambiguous character. Even the purest heroes have pain and loss and darkness in their hearts, and that’s where she likes to find her stories. Her characters seek to better themselves and find the happy ending (or happier anyway), but it’s writing the struggle that inspires her muse. When she isn’t writing, Lyn Gala teaches in New Mexico.

She first cut her teeth on fanfic: gen, slash, het, and femslash. She prefers to focus on plot: mysteries and monsters and disasters, oh my, but sex can and does happen. Some of her stories focus on power exchange, bondage or bdsm. In her worlds, tops and bottoms are all mature, consenting adults. In fact, stories where they aren't squick her badly, so don't expect to find abuse stories in her journal.


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