Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Best Reads of 2017 Part 3


I read 250 books in 2017 so when I was getting ready to do my Best Reads of 2017 feature, it was very difficult to narrow it down. Some of them were new releases, some were just new to me, and some of them are re-reads but all really stuck with me and found a lasting place in my heart and library.  I finally narrowed it down to 44 books broken into four parts. Part 3 features my favorite reads from July, August, & September of 2017 each including my original review.

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Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 4


All the King's Men by RJ Scott
Summary:
Originally published in 2011. Re-edited and rewritten with added chapters and amended epilogue.

* * * * *

When Ryan Ortiz decides to go direct to LA to fight for a second chance with his lover Nathan Richardson he is caught up in the biggest earthquake to hit the city since records began.

LA is destroyed, burning, people homeless, and fires are ignited high in the LA hills above Nathan's apartment. Nathan is trapped and Ryan is his only hope.

It is a race against time and the powerful all consuming destruction of nature for Ryan to find Nathan, trapped in the ruins of his home in the hills, and to get both of them to help before the fire reaches them.

Original Review July 2017:
Reviewer's Side Note: Having never read All the King's Men before I don't know how this re-edited and rewritten version differs from the original. 

Ryan Ortiz wants a second chance with his ex so he hops on a plane bound for LA.  Nathan Richardson's acting career is beginning to bring him happiness and he's moving forward from his ex even if he hasn't really moved on.  An Act of God in the form of the biggest earthquake to hit the west coast has occurred but will Fate let Ryan not only save his lover but reunite them in the aftermath?

How in the world have I not read this work of art by one of my favorite author's before now?  Growing up in Wisconsin where tornadoes and blizzards could occur just months apart, I never really enjoyed disaster films and certainly did not enjoy reading Act of God/Mother Nature Strikes Back scenarios but as I got older(hey, I'm only 43 so lets say "matured" it sounds younger) I found disaster films to be enjoyable.  However, I never really found any books within that genre/trope that didn't classify as sci-fi that piqued my interest.  Until now!  It's no secret that RJ Scott is one of my favorite authors and that she is also one of only a handful that fall into my "automatic 1-click list" so when I discovered All the King's Men it was a no-brainer that it would grace my Kindle.

I know that Ryan may not be everyone's cup of tea because of the way things ended with Nathan prior to where the book begins but his actions, or lack thereof, did not bother me at all.  As in life, sometimes in fiction one has to lose something or someone to realize how much it or they were needed.  Which is where Ryan finds himself as he travels westward to reunite with Nathan.  I loved his desire to get to Nate especially once he learns about the earthquake.  His determination to reach Nate is inspiring and once he reaches him, he stops at nothing to get him to safety.

Okay, I'm going to stop there as far as the plot goes because I don't want to give anymore away.  I will just say that in a story such as All the King's Men, there isn't always an overabundance of secondary characters so those that the main characters come across have a lot riding on them that can really test the author's talent for character development and storytelling.  Well, RJ Scott has proven once again how amazing she is with these aspects of drama and even though its not a situation that happens every day its certainly something that could happen which only heightens the fear and got my adrenaline pumping with every page.  To be completely honest, it made me even more thankful that I live in a region that only faces the destructive forces of tornadoes and blizzards(something I never thought I'd say so thank you, RJ 😉) because earthquakes are not a common occurrence here in Wisconsin.  King's Men may not make my yearly re-read list but I will definitely be re-visiting Ryan and Nate more than once.

RATING: 

Changing Lines by RJ Scott & VL Locey
Summary:
Can Tennant show Jared that age is just a number, and that love is all that matters?

The Rowe Brothers are famous hockey hotshots, but as the youngest of the trio, Tennant has always had to play against his brothers’ reputations. To get out of their shadows, and against their advice, he accepts a trade to the Harrisburg Railers, where he runs into Jared Madsen. Mads is an old family friend and his brother’s one-time teammate. Mads is Tennant’s new coach. And Mads is the sexiest thing he’s ever laid eyes on.

Jared Madsen’s hockey career was cut short by a fault in his heart, but coaching keeps him close to the game. When Ten is traded to the team, his carefully organized world is thrown into chaos. Nine years his junior and his best friend’s brother, he knows Ten is strictly off-limits, but as soon as he sees Ten’s moves, on and off the ice, he knows that his heart could get him into trouble again.

First Season #2  /  Deep Edge #3

Original Review July 2017:
I have to start off by saying that I am NOT a hockey fan.  I don't dislike it but if all the hockey arenas in the world were to disappear tomorrow, I would not miss the sport. Just felt the need to make note of that fact before beginning, lol.

Tennant "Ten" Rowe is the youngest member in a hockey dynasty who finds himself on the expansion team, Harrisburg Railers.  He is satisfied with his new team but his brothers feel its beneath his talent.  Jared Madsen, one of the Railers' coaches due to his playing career being cut short, finds himself attracted to his best bud's little brother.  Will the fear of coach/player, age factor, or family interference be enough to keep these two apart or will they defy the odds and find happiness together?

I am an only child as is my dad and my mom only has one brother so I have no direct experience with siblings as most of my friends are either the only child or one sibling as well, so I really can only guess that the sibling relationship between the Rowe brothers is typical.  Whether its typical or not, their fighting and loving is believable, entertaining, and just plain fun.  I don't like to touch on the plot too much as most of my followers will know but I will say that when Ten finally stood up to his older brothers, I laughed so hard and frankly I don't think I could have had a bigger smile on my face than I did at that moment.

As I said at the beginning, I am not a hockey fan so on one hand I had some reservations going in fearing that I would be subconsciously effected by my lack of interest in the sport but on the other hand I am a HUGE RJ Scott fan and although I've never read VL Locey, I have heard many good things of her writing.  So I turned on my Kindle with an open mind and jumped in.  I'm so glad I did because Changing Lines is wonderful!

Hockey fan or not, Changing is a lovely fun read that will leave you smiling from beginning to end.  That's not to say there is no drama, because there is but the balance is perfect.  I look forward to reading more tales of the Harrisburg Railers.  It goes without saying how much I love RJ Scott's writing and always have my eyes open for her work but now I look forward to checking out VL Locey's backlist and future work as well.

RATING: 

Fire and Fog by Andrew Grey
Summary:
Carlisle police officer Dwayne knows what Robin is doing the moment he lays eyes on the young man at Bronco’s club. But he doesn’t know that, like him, Robin also comes from a family who cast him out for being gay, or that he’s still lugging around the pain of that rejection. Robin leaves the club, and soon after Dwayne decides to as well—and is close by when things between Robin and his client turn violent.

When Dwayne finds out Robin is the victim of a scam that lost him his apartment, he can’t leave Robin to fend for himself on the streets. Despite Dwayne’s offer of help and even opening up his home, it’s hard for Robin to trust anything good. The friendship between them grows, and just as the two men start warming up to each other, Robin’s sister passes away, naming Robin to care for her son. Worse yet, their pasts creep back in to tear down the family and sense of belonging both of them long for.

Will their fledgling romance dissipate like fog in the sun before it has a chance to burn bright?




Original Review July 2017:
The Carlisle Cops are back!  In Fire and Fog we meet Dwayne, the newest cop in town.  He has been riding and getting to know the city with Red, who we first met in book 1, Fire and Water.  While trying to enjoy a relaxing evening at Bronco's Club he meets Robin.  Robin is just trying to survive and doing whatever he thinks he has to to accomplish that.  A chance meeting, or two, changes the lives of these two men in ways neither expected when the evening began.

As amazing as all the cops in this series is, Dwayne is quite possibly the nicest one yet.  To say he has a heart of gold would be a cliche of major proportions but its also entirely accurate.  Robin too has a heart of gold but being a few years younger, the family betrayal that set him on his current course as well as being taken in by a rental scam is still fresh in his soul, leaves his trust level pretty low.  Its no wonder he doesn't want to take Dwayne at his word when he says he just wants to help, I don't think I would be able to either.

Is their love rushed?  Perhaps.  For some that might be a turn off but for me, its not.  When written as well as Andrew Grey has done, its believable, interesting, heartwarming, and just plain entertaining.  One thing I really loved about Fire and Fog, the whole series really but in Fog more so, just because Robin is the younger one and his pain is fresher that doesn't mean Dwayne is without hesitation and doubts as well.  I love how the author shows us that just because someone is more set in their roles in life doesn't mean they have all the answers and are above being afraid, life is always changing, an ever-evolving journey and Carlisle Cops is a perfect example of that.  Throw in a little mystery to make this a tale with a little bit of everything and you have another winner that will keep you hooked till the very last page.

I suppose technically, this is a series of standalones since each installment centers on a different duo with their own story but I highly recommend reading Carlisle Cops in order as the featured couples from each one pop up throughout the series.  Reading them in order just makes the stories flow better due to the interactions with supporting characters.

RATING: 

My Dark Knight #2
Summary:
Love or hate. Life or death. No inbetween. No compromise. No rules in love and war.

Knight. Party monster. Handsome Savage. Doesn’t do monogamy.

Elliot. Obsessive. Intense. Uncompromising.

Newly single, Knight is done with relationships. All he's interested in is bringing down The Count, an Internet personality who is tarnishing his family name. An opportunity to crush him comes when the audacious clown shows up at the Kings of Hell MC clubhouse to film for his YouTube channel. But when Knight meets Elliot, the man behind The Count, he no longer knows what to do with him.

Knight has never seen a more pathetic creature than Elliot. He’s also never met anyone who needed him more. Skinny, messed up, and a bucket of trouble as thick as tar, everything Elliot does seems to be a wordless death wish. No matter how much Knight hates Elliot’s alter ego, under the makeup and theatrics hides a fragile young guy with a passion for history, and Knight can’t help but catch Elliot every time he falls.

Elliot has bad taste in men. Always hopelessly attracted to violent brutes, his favorite is a long dead serial killer. But he gets more than he’s bargained for when he seizes an opportunity to meet the man of his dreams. The ghost is manipulative and dangerous, offering Elliot all he’s always wanted, for a price he can’t possibly pay.

Elliot is faced with an impossible choice between two men.

One alive, one dead.

One carnal and honest, one drizzling sweet, poisoned promises into his ear.

One unwilling to commit, the other promising an eternity together.

And Elliot doesn’t settle for half-measures. He craves a love that is all or nothing, passion that will consume him, and desire to burn him alive.

Elliot is ready to either get that, or die trying.

Themes: enemies to lovers, protector, cruelty, motorcycle club, alternative lifestyles, demons, tattoos, impossible choices, deception, crime, self-discovery, healing, black magic, gothic, commitment, ghosts, possession

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Kings of Hell MC

Original Review August 2017
Knight is a biker with an unusual and unexpected hobby, love of history and more specifically his family genealogy.  Elliot is a man with an unusual passion for past serial killer William Fane, who was killed by Knight's ancestor Laurent Mercier, who just happens to be the significant other of the club president and Knight's best friend and is here after a pact with a demon.  When Knight and Elliot but heads over the Fane/Mercier connection will it turn into more and what will happen when the truth comes out?

As I have often said, I am a series lover and when I'm reading one that has a different couple as the focus of each installment, I rarely love the new ones as much as the original.  Well, I can safely say that as much as I love Laurent and Beast from book 1(conveniently titled Laurent and the Beast) there is something about Knight and Elliot that put them ahead in my heart.  Perhaps its my love of history and genealogy that tipped the scale or perhaps its because Elliot is so innocent even if a bit disturbed in his love of the murderer Fane.

Speaking of Elliot's naive passion for the murderer William Fane, well I don't personally understand it but as a Wisconsinite where we have had more than one serial killer, I have heard about that kind of fixation before so it didn't take me completely by surprise.  I loved how KA Merikan presented it, yes it's disturbing but not over the top, which in my opinion takes talent considering it's a paranormal story where over the top can be the norm.

As for Knight, he can be gruff but he's honest and direct.  Now gruff and direct is expected of a biker story but not always honest and certainly not a genealogy lover.  As a genealogy lover myself, I found his passion to be a great draw and loved how it gave him and Elliot an immediate connection even as they are at odds about Fane & Mercier.

I found My Dark Knight to be an amazing read that had me on the edge of my seat.  I warred with loving and hating both Knight and Elliot at times, okay maybe not hating but I certainly wanted to knock some serious sense into both of them.  I loved how even though Knight and Elliot are the focus of the story we got to see Laurent and Beast too and learn even more about Fane, which I didn't think I could hate more after book 1 but yeah, its possible.  Simply put, book 2 of Kings of Hell MC is amazing and perhaps fun is not the right word considering the content but its definitely enjoyable and I am eagerly looking forward to Jake's story in book 3: On Your Knees, Prospect.

RATING: 

Gabriel by RJ Scott
Summary:
Legacy #2
Trapped in darkness, can an escort find a man to help him into the light?

Gabriel Reyes never gave in. He fought and was hurt, was abused but escaped with his life. He made his way in the world using the one thing he was good at: sex. He earned a place with a man who controls everything but Gabriel is safe; he’s made it.

Cameron Stafford hires Gabriel for a night, needing nothing more than a pretend boyfriend to get his dysfunctional family off his back. With the money he has in the bank and his own hotel, why won't they just leave him alone? It doesn’t matter that a degenerative disease has stolen his vision, or that his last boyfriend was a bastard who tried to steal from him; for now he has purpose.

When Gabriel and Cam fall for each other, can they find real happiness and, maybe, a forever that will save them both?

A new story set in the world of Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes and the Double D Ranch, Texas.

💡Please be aware: emotional and physical abuse are depicted on the page in this book💡

Kyle(Legacy #1)

Saturday Series Spotlight: Texas

Original Review August 2017:
Bloggers Note: 
This is not an easy read, even for those who read Kyle: The First Legacy and those who know the back story of Hank Castille's victims from Liam's story in Texas Christmas and Texas Fall, it will hurt your heart but it is also a tale of survival.

Gabriel Reyes has not had a truly happy or safe moment in life since his mother passed when he was little, he had his childhood and innocence robbed from him at the hands of a evil man and life has not improved since escaping Hank's horrid grasp.  Cameron Stafford has money and privilege but even that could not save his sight but he hasn't let it defeat him.  When Cam and Gabriel's life meet, its safe to say nothing will ever be the same for either of them or those closest to them.  But will it be enough to heal Gabriel's soul?

Gabriel crawled into my heart from page one.  I won't go into everything he suffers either from his past or at the hands or voice of Stefan but I will say it is not pretty.  His self-doubts verge on self-hate and who can blame him after everything he's survived, even if he doesn't see it as surviving("suffered" would probably be a more accurate term but I never liked using that word in cases like this because to me "suffered" represents no coming back from).  He has a chance at recovery with Legacy Ranch but Stefan has made sure that Gabriel doesn't see it as a second chance at life.  I just want to wrap Gabriel in layers of bubble wrap or one of those soft eggshell mattresses often used in hospitals to protect him from others and himself, but its not possible and unfortunately sometimes we have to reach the bottom step before we can turn that corner that leads back up.

Now onto Cameron.  I know that this is Gabriel's story but there is one thing that really brought Cam alive for me.  Cam hires Gabe to be his plus one to his sister's engagement party and while there we see how his family views Cam due to his blindness as does Gabe, which I'll come to in a minute.  As for Cam's family, well it stuck with me because my grandfather was in a wheelchair by the time I was born because of his MS and my mother has had endless health issues, luckily no one in our family really saw either Mom or her dad the way Cam is seen but you can imagine I spent/spend a lot of time in hospitals and clinics and I see the reactions like the Stafford's to patients too often.  I loved how RJ Scott dealt with this, even with this being Gabe's story she still managed to express Cam's issues as well, their pain may not be on the same level but Cam's problems are no less important.

I said I'd return to Gabe in regard to the engagement party, here it is: I was intrigued with the way Gabe managed to see what was happening to Cam not to mention how he saw the pain in Cam's sister's eyes as the same thing he saw in the mirror every day even if he could not see a way out for himself.  That scene right there told me that there was still tons of  hope for Gabe to recover and replace his self-hate with love.

As thrilled as I am that Legacy is considered a spin-off of RJ's brilliant series Texas(my absolute favorite series I have ever read and re-read)  it is also an amazingly heartfelt journey that will leave you in tears more often than smiles but in the end it is a true journey of survival and recovery of one's soul.  Love may not always be the heart's healer but it always opens one's eyes to the possibilities of life.  Gabriel is a perfect example of Pandora's Box, when Pandora unleashed all the horrors to the world there was one thing left at the bottom of the box: HOPE.

RATING: 

Comes a Horseman by Anne Barwell
Summary:
France, 1944

Sometimes the most desperate struggles take place far from the battlefield, and what happens in secret can change the course of history.

Victory is close at hand, but freedom remains frustratingly just beyond the grasp of German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer, Resistance fighter Michel, and the remaining members of the team sent by the Allies—Captain Matt Bryant, Sergeant Ken Lowe, and Dr. Zhou Liang—as they fight to keep the atomic plans from the Nazis. The team reaches France and connects with members of Michel’s French Resistance cell in Normandy. Allied troops are poised to liberate France, and rescue is supposedly at hand. However, Kristopher is no longer sure the information he carries in his memory is safe with either side.

When Standartenführer Holm and his men finally catch up with their prey, the team is left with few options. With a traitor in their midst, who can they trust? Kristopher realizes he must become something he is not in order to save the man he loves. Death is biding his time, and sacrifices must be made for any of them to have the futures they want.

Saturday Series Spotlight: Echoes Rising

Original Review August 2017:
It's been over two years since I read the first two books in this trilogy and I debated about giving them a re-read before starting Comes a Horseman but unfortunately time was not on my side so I decided to just jump in feet first. Well, as much as I know I would have enjoyed a re-read, it wasn't needed. Everything just fell right into place as if it was just a couple of months instead of couple years.

Obviously this is a romance with Kit & Michel and Matt & Ken and a tale of war and survival but at the heart of it is friendship. There is an air of uncertainty when it comes to who do they trust but the boys along with Dr. Liang find a way to keep going. It is the friendship that grows between the five men that keeps them alive but will it be enough to help them survive the war? You know what I'm going to say - you'll have to read for yourself to find out that answer.

Comes a Horseman is just an all around great historical romance that had me on my toes from beginning to end even with the two year wait for the conclusion. It may be wartime romance but you'll find intrigue, suspense, and drama as well, a little something for everyone.

RATING: 

Calm by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn
Summary:
Tidal #2
A love worth the wait.

When Riley Porter-Wright comes out as bisexual and confesses his feelings for Carter Hamilton, it severs their friendship. Carter’s rejection forces Riley to move on and he’s shocked to learn Carter’s marriage has fallen apart.

Overwhelmed by his failure as a husband and father, Carter misses Riley, but feels guilty for disappearing after Riley's coming out. After Riley extends an olive branch, the former friends agree to repair their relationship.

Slowly, Carter pieces together a new life. He admits his attraction to men, and confesses his feelings for Riley. Leery of Carter's initial rejection, Riley turns his focus on a new man, Will Martin.

Riley and Carter’s renewed rapport intensifies, and Will becomes insecure. Will's resentment increases until he issues an ultimatum, forcing Riley to refocus his energies away from Carter.

Disappointed, Carter fosters new friendships with men like Jesse Murtagh. Aware of the changes in Carter’s life, Riley is uncomfortable knowing Carter has moved on.

Carter and his ex-wife, Kate, navigate new waters as their children learn their parents are dating other people. Will can’t deal with his jealousy and ends his relationship with Riley.

Unattached for the first time in years, Riley and Carter slowly transition their friendship into a relationship. Carter comes out and leaves his job, accepting the reality of being disowned.

Riley and Carter go public with their relationship, but worry the fallout will affect their families. Drawing strength from each other, they meet the challenges of being an out couple head on.

💔💫💞Reader Advisory: This book contains polyamory and infidelity.💞💫💔

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Tidal

Original Review August 2017:
When last we saw Riley Porter-Wright and Carter Hamilton, Riley had recently come out and admitted he was bisexual but Carter wasn't open to Riley's new found freedom and in the process wasn't there when his best friend needed his support. Now, as Carter's marriage has fallen apart, as disappointed as Riley was by the lack of support from his friend he decides to reach out to Carter and together they decide to rebuild their friendship. Calm focuses on Carter's acceptance of his sexuality and explores his attraction to men all while repairing his much loved friendship with Riley. As well, we see Riley himself has a new man in his life, Will Martin. Will the boys' new found self-acceptance lead them to a better direction, not only in love but also with family, friends, and each other?

I am just going to start by saying WOW!!! As much as I loved WakeCalm surpasses it. I pretty much touched on as much of the plot as I am going to in the above paragraph so let me just say that there is so much heart in this story, frankly I can't think of a more appropriate word to describe it than "heart". As with Wake, there is a little bit of everything in here: family(both good and bad), heat, passion, and even though this duology is a love story, for me it's even more a tale about friendship and discovery.

I won't lie, I was not overly happy with Carter when book one ended but the author's assured me that his journey was really only beginning and they were right of course. I love both men but I do think Riley tugged on my heart a little more, simply because he was the first to accept himself and a part of me just can't forget how Carter basically turned his back on his friend. Having said that, Carter will break your heart with the struggle he faces but he doesn't let himself get beaten down, he's a fighter even when he doesn't see it in himself.

Not only are you getting an amazingly well written story with intriguing characters but you may walk away learning something about yourself or at the very least, be reminded of what's really important in life. It may seem a cliche but happiness is not about the things or the stature but the people and emotions they fire up within you. Calm will leave you breathless, will leave you in tears, will break your heart but it also warms you, makes you smile, and can open your mind and heart to the possibilities out there, not to mention showing you just how important friendship truly is.

I can't wait to see what these two bring us in the future, both solo and combined efforts. Brigham Vaughn has firmly set her place on my favorite author's list and K Evan Coles is well on her way to being there too. When I first decided to go from reading slash fanfiction to published work, I asked some of my reading BFFs where to start, well it was K that first suggested I start with RJ Scott's Texas series and it has come full circle because now I am loving K's own work.

RATING: 

Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbor by Charlie Cochrane
Summary:
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries #12.5
Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith like nothing more than being given a mystery to solve. But what happens when you have to defend your greatest enemy on a charge of murder?

Cambridge Fellows Mysteries

Original Review August 2017:
I can honestly say that when I heard there was going to be a new Jonty and Orlando tale I was psyched!  I won't go into the plot but I'll just say that for a novella Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbour is jam packed with all kinds of the goodness and sass that has made Cambridge Fellows one of my favorite duos.  Jonty and Orlando remind me a little(sometimes a lot) of Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammet's The Thin Man, they possess similar passion for each other, for life, and definitely appreciate a good mystery.

Charlie Cochrane could write 100 installments for this series and I would be hungry for #101.  Jonty and Orlando are a brilliant couple that continue to make me smile and that is down to Charlie's obvious love of history because she adds that extra little something to the couple with the authenticity of the times.  When an author goes the extra mile to "keep it real" without it turning into a history lesson, that only heightens my enjoyment and my respect for the author because I know they put the hours in to bring you a genuine tale of the era.

If you are new to Miss Cochrane's Cambridge Fellows Mysteries, there are currently 12 novels and unfortunately the first 8 are not currently available but the author is working on re-releasing them hopefully in the not-too-distant future. In my opinion, they should be read in order but technically each one could be read as a standalone since each has a new mystery but the relationships just would flow better in order, IMO.

January 2018 Added Blogger Note: 
The Author has currently re-released books 1-6 and hopes to continue to do so with the remaining installments throughout the year.

RATING:

Something Sinister by Olivier Bosman
Summary:
DS Billings Victorian Mystery #3
On the 21st November 1890, Julius Dunne-Smythe – a wealthy coffee manufacturer – his wife, his sister in law and his butler creep quietly out of their home in the middle of the night, sneak into a carriage and drive off, never to be seen again.

When a few weeks later Dunne-Smythe’s business partner discovers some discrepancies in the company’s book keeping, Dunne-Smythe is suspected of embezzling the company and running away. The case is swiftly handed over to Detective Sergeant John Billings of Scotland Yard.

As Billings delves deeper into the case, he finds that all the clues to the mysterious disappearance lead back to one man; the enigmatic German butler who had recently been employed by Dunne-Smythe. The butler appears to have had a disproportionate amount of influence on the family. After looking into the butler’s past, Billings discovers a dark and disturbing secret which may well put the lives of Dunne-Smythe and his relatives in danger. What initially seemed like a simple case of theft, now looks like something far more sinister.

Saturday Series Spotlight: DS Billings Victorian Mysteries

Original Review August 2017:
I am going to jump right out of the gate and start by saying as much as I enjoyed the first two entries in this series, Something Sinister is mystery at its finest and knocking on the door of 1940s style noir with a little present day creepiness factor added, so basically if you love suspense then this is the one for you.  Will the missing Dunne-Smythe family be found?  Do they want to be found?

I always have a hard time when it comes to doing reviews of mysteries because even though I don't ever do spoilers, so often in a mystery even the little things can be a plot giveaway.  So lets focus on Billings himself.  He still hasn't accepted himself and when he does verge on giving into his desires fate has other plans, but even that may lead to answers he wasn't aware of so perhaps fate knows what she is doing after all.   His determination and passion to solve the mystery his way is inspiring but if there is one wish I have for him it would be to find some true happiness in his personal life using that same determination and passion.

There are so many factors that will keep you on your toes trying to figure out what each new page will bring, if you love mystery then Something Sinister is one you do not want to miss.  It may be the third installment in the series but it can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend reading the first two if only to get a little insight into Billings mind and job.

RATING: 

His American Detective by Summer Devon
Summary:
The sole survivor of his family’s gruesome murder years earlier, “Poor Little Ned Lawton” has struggled to put the dark events behind him. So when a brash New York detective darkens his doorway demanding an interview, the wealthy young gentleman immediately shuts him out. But a rash of murders in America are mirroring of the London killings, and Patrick Kelly knows Ned might be the key to stopping the bloodshed.

Lawton, now called Edmund Sloan, is a wealthy young gentleman and philanthropist. He’s spent most of his life pushing all memories of his old family and that horrific day from his thoughts. Now a brash, provocative American detective insists he dredge up the past.

Together, Patrick and the unwilling Edmund must uncover the truth of the murders before the killer strikes again, whether it is in New York or London. As they hunt down secrets from his past, Edmund can’t hide his other secret from the sharp-eyed detective: the attraction he feels for men and the enticing Patrick in particular.

Original Review September 2017:
Poor Little Ned Lawton became Edmund Sloan after being the only survivor when his family was viciously murdered.  Patrick Kelly has come across the pond looking for clues that he thinks will help solve a series of murders in America that resemble the Lawton slayings.  Naturally Edmund is not eager to revisit his past but he's not willing to let anyone else die if he can help.  But will the answers they uncover help or destroy the new found connection between the two?

I have only read a few solo stories by Summer Devon but I have loved every one of them.  She has a way of bringing history to life, letting the reader experience the era.  His American Detective is no different.  Along with the historical atmosphere I could feel Edmund's pain and Patrick's determination as well as their obvious attraction despite Edmund's denial.  I won't lie, perhaps the story could have been a bit better had there been more detecting but it could have also made certain factors redundant so I was more than satisfied with the story as is.  Her passion and respect for history comes through every page with the small details in every scene and each character's attitudes and emotions, and it's this kind of passion that makes His American Detective amazing and will keep you mind guessing even if you think you figured out(and you may have) there's more to keep your interest piqued right to the end.

Some might find Patrick's constant use of Ned when referring to Edmund to be a bit confusing or odd but truth is I've known more than one Edmund/Edward who used the nickname "Ned" so it never even occurred to me that it might be seen as odd.  Also, I think it started out as Patrick's way of making sure Edmund realized what he lost and what was at stake in his quest for answers.

If you are in the mood for a good old fashioned mystery with just the right amount of romance then Summer Devon's His American Detective is definitely for you and I for one am intrigued to see what else she has in store for this new Victorian Gay Detective series.

RATING:

Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet
Summary:
THIRDS #1
When homicide detective Dexter J. Daley’s testimony helps send his partner away for murder, the consequences—and the media frenzy—aren’t far behind. He soon finds himself sans boyfriend, sans friends, and, after an unpleasant encounter in a parking garage after the trial, he’s lucky he doesn’t find himself sans teeth. Dex fears he’ll get transferred from the Human Police Force’s Sixth Precinct, or worse, get dismissed. Instead, his adoptive father—a sergeant at the Therian-Human Intelligence Recon Defense Squadron otherwise known as the THIRDS—pulls a few strings, and Dex gets recruited as a Defense Agent.

Dex is determined to get his life back on track and eager to get started in his new job. But his first meeting with Team Leader Sloane Brodie, who also happens to be his new jaguar Therian partner, turns disastrous. When the team is called to investigate the murders of three HumaniTherian activists, it soon becomes clear to Dex that getting his partner and the rest of the tightknit team to accept him will be a lot harder than catching the killer—and every bit as dangerous.




Original Review September 2017:
Overall Review for Books #1-4:
I'm going to start by saying that some of my most trusted book lover BFFs have been singing the praises of Charlie Cochet's THIRDS for ages now, I've even had the first two in the series on my Kindle for nearly three years.  With it coming up on October, I decided it was a perfect time to give it a read for my paranormal posts.  Simply put: THIRDS is BRILLIANT!

When I started Hell & High Water I thought, hmmm Dex is interesting.  Talk about an understatement.  As a high school graduate of the Class of '91, I grew up with the music of the 80's, now I can't say they ever filled me with the "drop everything, sing, & dance" adrenaline rush that Dex brings to the team, but it made me smile every time he starts singing.  As an life-long devoted Star Wars geek, I really loved Sloane's closeted geek side that he shares with Dex.

As for the mystery side of the series, to say it had me on the edge of my seat from cover to cover may sound cliche but its no less true.  I won't touch on the plot as I don't do spoilers but let me say I could not put it down, when I finished one I immediately started the next. The characters just blend together so well, even when they are at odds, as in Dex and Ash, he is not a fan of Dex's fire or his love of everything 80s.  As for the romance, well lets just say that its off the charts and the chemistry between Dex and Sloane is what we all hope to find.

Dex, Sloane, and Destructive Delta is the paranormal equivalent of Abigail Roux's Ty, Zane, and Sidewinder.  Now, I am not saying its a copy, far from it!  The passion, anticipation, intrigue, excitement it sparks in me is similar to how I felt with the Cut & Run series.  THIRDS is most definitely an incredible, emotional roller coaster all on its own and I can't believe it took me so long to check it out because now I'm waiting on tender hooks waiting for more of Delta's adventures.

RATING:


All the King's Men by RJ Scott
Prologue
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

* * * * *

California is one of America’s most earthquake-prone states.

The boundary between the massive Pacific and North American tectonic plates, the notorious San Andreas Fault, runs roughly southeast to northwest through much of California. In addition, a jumble of lesser transverse faults clutters the map of the state.

Sides of the San Andreas Fault move in the opposite direction, but at different speeds, causing geologic tension to build. That tension is released in the form of an earthquake. The possibility is always present for associated earthquakes among the nearby transform faults.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the state faces a forty-six percent chance of being hit by a Richter Scale magnitude 7.5 or higher earthquake in the next thirty years.

Possibly even today.

Chapter One
Thursday 6:52 a.m.
I’m coming to you… Early morning flight to LAX… I don’t want to play phone tag anymore… I just want to see you face to face and talk… I miss you, Nate… I’m sorry… I love you.

Nathan Richardson leaned against the park gates and pocketed his cell after listening to his lover’s voicemail for what must be at least the twentieth time. The message was emotional and Ryan’s voice was choked as he spoke. Still, in the few words Nathan heard he got the message. He and Ryan needed to do one hell of a lot of talking.

They’d been together two years, Ryan a photographer and Nathan his model. It was the worst cliché ever and surely destined to fail. But not them. They were in love and going strong. Nathan wanted forever, commitment, a place they owned together, hell, even a ring. Ryan, older than Nathan by five years, had too many breakups under his belt to think that a happy ever after was even possible.

When Nathan was offered a part in a small independent movie, it had been the beginning of the end. Nathan had used modeling to finance acting classes and he jumped at the chance to join the cast of an independent gay film with a contract for two months’ work and an audition for a soap as a new love interest in some kind of triangle.

Nathan expected Ryan to protest—for his lover to tell Nathan he couldn’t live without him and not to go. Instead Ryan grew quieter by the day and merely encouraged Nathan to take the role. Nathan could see what was happening—Ryan was subtly saying he didn’t want a forever kind of thing anyway. Ryan was ending their love affair while he had the chance to be in control of how it ended. They didn’t fight. They drifted apart and Nathan let it happen.

That had been two months ago.

Two days ago Ryan had texted him. I miss you. So much.

Nathan didn’t know what to type in return. Ryan wasn’t exactly offering endless love and a ring. But when Nathan read those few words he knew getting over Ryan was unachievable. He loved the man, and always would. His friend Jason wanted him to move on. He could no more move on from Ryan than he could turn straight.

Ryan was the other half of him.

I love you, Nathan sent in reply.

I want forever, Ryan texted back.

I can go for that, Nathan replied quickly.

I can get a flight. Unspoken was asking if Ryan could visit Nathan.

Please.

Despite staring at the screen for an hour, there were no more messages.

Then the voicemail came when Nathan was on his run. Heartfelt and perfect. The two of them could make this real. Not long and his lover would be here, then they could clear the air and maybe he and Ryan could find a way to move on.

Ryan Ortiz said he was ready for forever and Nathan wanted that so badly.

He had run here, the opposite side of the US, to give Ryan time to think about what he felt and what he wanted. It had killed him not to be calling Ryan every day, but Nathan knew Ryan and knew his best bet was to not pressure his lover. His gaze passed over where he now lived, a place so very different from his and Ryan’s former home in the chaos and noise of New York.

A small complex of four apartments, quiet and remote, the peace and solitude suited his frame of mind perfectly. He lived in this two-bedroom apartment in the hills beyond LA, rented from an absentee landlord, and had made it his own with photos of family and even one of him and Ryan in happier times. As much as he wished he could, he hadn’t been able to cut Ryan out of his thoughts, or his life.

He stood in the roughhewn park carved out across the road from his home and looked away from his sanctuary to the nature that surrounded him. The park itself was a jumble of trees and rocks, grass and pathways, some steeply climbing higher into the hills, some gently curving and ideal for his attempted runs. The nearest main road was a quarter-mile away, and most people drove past the entrance to the small complex without realizing the road led to people’s homes.

Jason and his girlfriend had put an offer on one of the two empty apartments. Having his best friend in LA living next door was a good thing. He needed that connection if he couldn’t have Ryan in his life on a permanent basis. Although…maybe…somehow he and Ryan could make it work?

Nathan smiled as a cloud of birds rose gracefully from the oak at the edge of the park, heading skyward at an incredible speed. He loved that he was so close to the peace of nature, and the sight of the birds was both eerie and fascinating. He couldn’t stop looking at it, wishing he had his camera with him, cursing at another amazing photo opportunity lost.

Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to share what he’d seen with Ryan.

* * * * *

Thursday 6:59 am
Ryan Ortiz sat forward in the cab as they rounded a corner. He was desperate to get his Nathan into his arms where Ryan could hold him and tell him that he loved him. The cab was moving too slowly and all the driver wanted to do was talk to him.

“What brings you to LA?”

“My boyfriend lives here.” Nathan.

“So you’re not a resident?”

“No, I’m here from New York, just for a few days.” Hopefully longer if Nathan will take me back.

The questions continued to come. What did he think of the spate of forest fires in the LA hills? Did he think that Lindsay Lohan was for real? Did he have pets? Was he married? Did he want to get married? Was he fighting for equal rights? For the most part, Ryan managed to keep up until he realized that the driver wasn’t actually listening to his answers, and so he was able to subside to a new level of tired grunts in answer to each new question. Still dazed from his early morning flight from New York, his mind limped through thought and memory, attempting to make order out of chaos. The views from the taxi, the vista of the city laid out through the misty smog, were gorgeous, and he itched for his camera. It was a very strange feeling not to have it with him, but the rush to get here, to see Nathan, had precluded organizing his extensive camera equipment. It was the first time in his memory he’d gone anywhere without at least one camera.

He missed taking photos of Nate. His gorgeous lover had started as his model for Style and hell, Ryan loved every minute of seeing Nate through the viewfinder. They’d slipped into a relationship, a fiery, intense love affair. Then his beautiful lover had revealed he wanted to try acting and even had a role lined up. Although when that had happened Ryan didn’t know, as Nathan hadn’t told him a thing.

“It’s such a cliché,” Ryan told him. “Model turned actor.”

He was only teasing but Nathan took him so seriously. “It’s just a dream of mine, and I’m lucky they let me try for it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you had done this?”

“I thought they’d laugh me out of the door, I never imagined they’d say yes.”

Ryan had pulled Nathan into a hug. “I’m proud of you, babe,” he said firmly. Of course, inside he’d faced the finality that he was losing Nathan. No point in a future when they were separated on opposite sides of the US, and he certainly wasn’t going to hold Nathan back. It had been easier for Ryan to assume they were ending with Nathan’s move to LA.

Ultimately Nathan left his position with Style and moved permanently to LA, embracing his burgeoning acting career. The arguments increased at the same rate as the distance between them. Ryan had always been the one who picked the fights. Fucking idiot. Ryan fought insecurity and jealousy and the only way he could do that was to pretend Nathan leaving for a new career meant nothing to him.

Nathan got the role in the TV series, up and away from his independent film part, starting with a six-month contract. His picture was emblazoned on page twenty-nine of a teen magazine that Ryan’s assistant left on his desk. The photo was one of Ryan’s, and it was one of his favorites. Nathan, beautiful, shirtless, his lean body stretched with catlike grace, leaning back on his elbows. His jeans were pushed down and his hipbones teased at what was hidden. He was pictured gazing away from the camera thoughtfully, his soft dark hair in disarray around his face. The lighting had been faultless, each coppery highlight in Nathan’s hair picked out in detail. The photo was simply perfect.

They had gone home after that shoot and made love and it was the moment Ryan knew he was head over heels for Nathan. They’d exchanged I love you’s and Nathan began to make plans for a future together, a house outside the city maybe, adoption, hell, the whole family thing. Ryan wasn’t sure he was capable of all that, but he’d nodded and listened. Then he saw the damn photo again and he knew at that moment he should never have let his fears stop him from believing in what they had.

Ryan didn’t hesitate when he saw that photo. He loved Nathan and they had been apart too long. Sure there was a relationship to save, he texted Nathan and Nathan had answered. Ryan impulsively booked a flight immediately—the first flight he could get to LA. He called Nathan from the airport and left a voicemail when Nathan didn’t answer. Now he sat in the taxi as the driver steered it up into the hills. He needed to push aside his insecurities, drop to his knees, and beg forgiveness of the one person who made him whole. He hoped he wasn’t too late.

* * * * *

7:12 a.m.
After his pathetic, half-hearted stumble-run, Nathan decided he needed to get indoors and get a shower. He wasn’t sure what time Ryan would get here but Nathan wanted to be at least halfway decent when he did.

He couldn’t help the excitement that flooded him. He really wanted to see if maybe his ex-lover would want to find some kind of resolution. Maybe they could agree to split their time between the two cities?

He was just inside the main door when the floor beneath his feet moved, subtly the first time, slowly, a groaning, a creaking, and a soft shaking. The ground shift left him holding the doorframe. It only lasted a few seconds and was over before he could force a thought about it through the rest of the clutter in his mind. The checklist in his head clicked in automatically before the shaking had stopped. He smiled briefly. That earth movement would be dominating the news today. Hey, maybe today was a good day for him to walk proudly out of the closet! Surely revealing his sexual preferences would never be more newsworthy than an earthquake in Tinseltown.

He thumbed to the number of his brother out of state and hit Send. The phone at the other end rang once, twice, a third time, and voicemail kicked in. He decided not to leave a message. No one really needed to know that a minor shock had hit his apartment in the hills above LA. The trembler hadn’t been strong enough to be worthy of hitting the news anywhere outside of California. Nathan had just been trying to be a good citizen, letting a family member know like the government said he should. He made a mental note to charge the damn cell when he finished his shower.

Seconds later, just as Nathan pocketed his cell, the earth around him ripped apart with such savagery that it was impossible to stand upright. Nathan scrabbled to hold the side of the doorframe, trying to find his feet. His vision blurred as dust and concrete fell about his head, knocking him to the ground. Before the shaking stopped, before the ceiling joists cascaded down and trapped his legs, he slammed into unconsciousness.

Changing Lines by RJ Scott & VL Locey
I heard the fight before I saw it, but skated over on instinct, sliding to a halt and attempting to work out what the hell was going on. A quick head-count had five guys beating on each other, and right in the middle, Ten.

Coach skated alongside. “What the fuck?” he shouted, and blew his whistle.

Three of the fighters backed off, but Ten and…shit, that was Addison, his line mate. They were still going at it, Ten sliding back, losing his footing and falling on his ass, dragging Addison with him in a tumble and tangle of arms and legs. The crack of a breaking stick had me wincing, and I waded through the shocked observers to the two on the floor. Ten was on the bottom to start with, but by the time I reached him, he was straddling Addison and shouting in his face.

I couldn’t make out the words, not clearly, but I winced at what I did hear. Fag. And that was from Ten. Disgust and disappointment welled inside me. Ten knew me, knew I’d had a boyfriend. He wasn’t a kid who crossed lines like that. I gripped his jersey, and with a tug so hard he flailed, I dragged him upward. Temper made me see red, and I yanked him across the ice. He couldn’t get purchase, off balance, and almost crashed to the rubber when we stepped off the ice.

“Jesus, Mads,” he said, and righted himself with a hand on the boards.

“With me,” I snapped.

The forwards coach skated over, but I waved him away. I was dealing with this, and even though he frowned, my counterpart let it go.

“Five minutes,” was all he said. “Then he’s mine.”

I stamped my way to the changing rooms and through to the skate-sharpening area, which was sound-proofed. I had words to say, and I wasn’t leaving them unsaid. Ten came in after me, and I shoved him aside so I could shut the door.

“What the fuck?” I asked with restrained aggression.

“He fucking started it!” Ten said, touching the lump on his forehead. “Asshole.”

That defense meant nothing to me, and it was my turn to snap. I backed him up against the door.

“If I ever hear you using that word again, I will personally knock you the fuck out.”

I was shouting right at him, eye to eye, and I saw the moment when the temper in his eyes became something else. Confusion.

“I didn’t… I wouldn’t…”

“I heard you, Ten. You called him a fag—”

“No,” he interrupted me, and he sounded so hurt—defensive, almost. “He called me that, said I was showing him up, that I needed to slow the hell down, and then he called me a faggot, and I lost it, okay?”

Now it was my turn to be confused. “I heard you say…”

“That if he ever used the word fag again, I would bury him.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” Ten looked at me like I’d grown a second head, like I had something on my face. He was trying to find something there, and all I could show him was confusion.

“Did you do that for me?” I asked, and abruptly all my strength left me and I slumped against the wall for support.

“Jared—”

“Don’t do that, okay? I’m at peace with who I am, but I don’t need you to fight for me, you get that? You keep yourself safe and you don’t rise to what anyone says.”

“That’s bullshit,” Ten snapped. “That word is offensive and I don’t want it used in that way, demeaning, laughing. I won’t have it.”

“Why? Ten, there are ways of dealing with this. Official ways.”

“He kept saying it, and he knew…”

“Knew what? About me? The world and his wife know I’m bi; I don’t need protecting.” My confusion was growing, and Ten looked like someone had kicked him in the balls and left him to cry in a heap on the floor.

“He saw me, he must have…”

“Ten?”

“Okay, so it’s no big deal, right,” Ten began. “I took a guy back to my room when I first got here, and he saw.”

“What are you saying?”

Ten looked at me. “You’re not stupid,” he said. “I’m gay, Jared. I’m in the fucking closet, and I’m gay. Okay?”

Fire & Fog by Andrew Grey
“HEY, RED, you alone again? Where’s Terry?” Dwayne Rappaport sidled up to the seat beside Red at the counter of the Hanover Grille. Red had been showing him the ropes over the past few weeks. Dwayne was no spring chicken when it came to police work. His dad had been sheriff of the Kansas county he grew up in, and he’d gone to the academy and served in Topeka originally, but it hadn’t been a particularly good fit for him.

“Yeah. Terry’s in New York doing some sort of photo shoot. Apparently it’s been decided that my boyfriend looks great in whatever underwear they’re selling, and because he can swim, they figure he can sell the stuff. I half expect they’ll have him blown up forty feet tall on some billboard in Times Square in his skivvies.” Red gulped his beer and went back to shoveling french fries into his mouth. “I know it’s the price that comes with winning, and I’m proud of him.”

Dwayne could hear the “but” just waiting to come out. “With that sort of thing, I suppose he has a short time to capitalize on it. He isn’t going to the 2020 games, is he?”

“No, thank God,” Red grumbled. “I love watching him compete. He’s like a fish when he’s in the water, all fluid motion and grace.” He pushed his empty plate to the side. “I hope he never gives up swimming. It’s when he’s at his most beautiful. But it’s the rest of the stuff that comes with it that bothers me. What I really want is to have him home with me. I don’t like it when he’s gone for weeks at a time because his agent has him booked as part of some victory tour. How many parades can he possibly ride in without having his head explode?” He finished his beer and motioned for a refill, and Dwayne wondered if that was a good idea.

“Red, how about I take you home? I’m sure Terry’s going to call you tonight, and the last thing you want is for him to know you’ve been drinking.”

Red seemed to think about it and asked for the check when Theresa came by. “I’m fine.”

“I’ll take you home. You don’t want to have to walk all the way back to city hall for your car, do you? Your car will be okay where it is.” He made sure Red paid his bill and got him off the stool and outside, and then they walked toward Dwayne’s old Focus.

“I’m sorry,” Red said as soon as Dwayne got behind the wheel. “I shouldn’t be bellyaching to you about my problems.” He hiccupped, and Dwayne wondered just how much he’d had to drink. Dwayne was used to being a shoulder to cry on. For years before his parents’ divorce, he’d been the one to whom both of them had complained about the other. Hell, neither of his parents had had to tell him they were separating. By the time it actually happened, Dwayne was relieved that the bickering and pulling at him was over.

“It’s no problem. If I had a boyfriend, I’d certainly want him home too.” That was a definite. Dwayne had met Terry a few times since he’d been working with Red, and in the looks department, Terry was most definitely Dwayne’s type. Not that he’d ever poach from another guy, and besides, despite whatever Terry and Red were going through at the moment, it was clear from the way they looked at each other that they cared deeply. Besides, Red was upset Terry was gone simply because he wanted Terry home with him. There were much worse things to be upset about. Just ask his parents. “When does Terry return?”

“Soon,” Red mumbled, scrubbing his big hands over his face. “God, how much did I have to drink? I hate getting maudlin. It really sucks.”

Dwayne started the engine and drove Red home, then made sure he got inside before heading to his own apartment.

Brock, one of his brother officers, had been living there until a few months ago, when he’d moved in with his boyfriend, Vincent, and needed to find a tenant for his old place. The timing had worked well, and Dwayne had been able to move right in.

After Topeka, Dwayne had been about to drop law enforcement altogether and take up another profession. Then he’d spotted a listing in Carlisle. He’d never heard of the place, but talking to a few friends and researching online had turned up an incredibly friendly place to work for someone of his persuasion. He’d been shocked to say the least, but he supposed if an agency created a welcoming atmosphere, they were going to get applicants looking for just such a place. Dwayne was tickled pink to have found a bureau packed with gay men, even if all of them were taken. But still, he’d despaired of finding a proper home after what he’d already been through, so the department here was a godsend.

Dwayne tossed his keys onto the secondhand kitchen table, grabbed the mail out of the box, and sorted through it as he climbed up the stairs. There was nothing but bills, so he added them to the pile of things he needed to pay. He wanted to go out and find something exciting to do. It was a Sunday night, and by some miracle, he wasn’t on shift. He’d thought of asking if there were any clubs in Harrisburg but realized there had to be some. Instead of calling one of the other officers, he grabbed his computer. Google was an amazing thing, and it took only seconds before he’d found Bronco’s and was hurrying to change.


GOD, LIFE here was different from Topeka. First thing, there was a gay bar back home, but dang, one had to know about it in order to find it. At least that was how it seemed. This was completely different. He could see the green dome of the state capitol building from the front door, and everyone was excited and jovial as they waited in line, with none of the trepidation he’d felt the one and only time he had the guts to track down the tiny bar in a back alley in Topeka.

The man at Bronco’s door was huge, and the scowl on his lips did not say welcome.

“Stop it, Bull,” a smaller man said as he sidled right up to him. “You’re scaring the patrons.” The slight blond man gazed up at the large stoic guy, and danged if that strict face didn’t break into a smile that could light half the city.

“I’m working, Zach.” Bull tried to growl but couldn’t pull it off with the smile. He turned to Dwayne and nodded, letting him pass on through. “No trouble.”

“Not likely,” Dwayne said and out of courtesy showed his law enforcement ID.

“From Carlisle.” Bull nodded and leaned close. “You let me know if you see anything that shouldn’t be happening. I appreciate it, and you have a good time!” His lips curled upward slightly, and Dwayne walked into the building.

The club was not what he’d expected. The one he’d been to was dingy and old. This was hot and new, with amazing splashes of color and a lighting system that danced to the beat of the music, adding to the pulse, excitement, and rhythm of the club. Dwayne inhaled the scent of beer, sweat, and raging testosterone. It sent a surge of desire running through him, and he plumped in his pants as his heart rate increased. He pressed his way up to the bar and ordered a beer, paid cash, then moved toward the tables, which were of course packed.

Zach, who he’d seen out front, sat with a group of guys, all sipping pink drinks, chatting wildly, and gesturing frantically until another group of men approached. They each wrapped their arms around one of the seated men, with the exception of Zach, who watched the front door.

Dwayne sipped his beer and scanned the club floor, trying to get the lay of the land. A tap on his shoulder startled him, and he turned and lowered his gaze to Zach.

“You can join us if you want.” He motioned to the table. “I heard you tell Bull that you were a police officer, and Angus is a firefighter. You looked new, so we thought….” Zach tilted his head toward an empty seat.

“Thanks.” This was all a little more than he was expecting. He followed Zach to the table.

“This is Kevin and his partner, Angus.” Zach pointed to each in turn. “Jeremy—his partner, Lowell, is around here somewhere, but it isn’t likely you’ll see him. He’s good at seeing without being seen. Tristan and his partner, Harry, who is Bull’s business partner in the club.”

“Dwayne,” he said, shaking hands with each of the guys.

“He’s a police officer in Carlisle,” Zach supplied.

“I moved here from Kansas a while ago.” Dwayne sat in the empty chair and wondered why he’d been asked over. It was clear all of these guys were spoken for, judging from the introductions and by the proprietary touches and the way the others seemed to watch specific places in the club, probably keeping an eye on their guys. “This is very different from back home.”

“Different good?” Zach asked, and Dwayne nodded.

“What was it like being a gay cop in Kansas?” Angus asked. “If anyone gives you trouble, I know plenty of people in your department who can help you.”

“Red’s been showing me the ropes,” Dwayne said and took a sip from his beer.

“Good man—the best.”

“And his partner is hot!” Jeremy fanned himself.

“You have a hot partner already,” Zach scolded.

“I know. But a boy can look, even if he doesn’t have any intention of developing wandering hands… or other body parts. Terry’s still hot, and he’s out-and-proud gay. He got some crap about it from what I understand, but he showed them all and won.” He raised his glass, and the others clinked it in a gay solidarity moment.

“Terry’s a real nice guy. Busy, though.” Dwayne kept the details of anything he and Red had discussed to himself.

“I bet he is…,” Zach said, his voice trailing off as something caught his eye.

“What is it?” Harry followed Zach’s gaze, then growled under his breath, pulling out his phone.

“What’s the issue?” Dwayne asked, gazing around until he zeroed in on a guy who seemed too young to have been allowed inside. “Underage?”

“Yes,” Zach said. “Bull’s removed him before, but he keeps sneaking back in. I’ve never seen him drink, though, but you have to be twenty-one to get in.” He shook his head. “I talked to him once.”

“What’s his deal?” Dwayne asked, unable to take his gaze off him.

Zach sighed. “Near as I can tell, he’s one of those kids who came out and got thrown away. Dad found out he was gay and his welcome at home evaporated. I’m willing to bet he’s attempting to hustle to pay the bills and feed himself. It happens too often.”

“I’m going to see what’s going on,” Dwayne said. He set his glass at his place and made his way through the crowd to where the guy was looking around. Dwayne saw the kid turn toward him, and instantly attraction pinged him deep down, like an electric current. Blue eyes the color of a tropical bird met his, and damn, he found it hard to pull air into his lungs.

“Dwayne,” he said.

“Heaven,” the kid said. “As in, I can take you there.”

Dwayne rolled his eyes at the cheesy line. “I don’t think so.” He flashed a smile and his ID, and took Heaven’s arm so he couldn’t get away, though he didn’t want to hurt the kid. “You know, what you’re doing is only going to get you sent to jail, or worse.”

“Is that what you’re going to do?”

“Nope. I’m out of my jurisdiction. Let’s drop the cheesy lines and start with your real name.”

“A guy has to eat, you know.” He tried to shrug away from Dwayne, but that wasn’t going to happen.

“There are better ways to get some food in your body than selling it.” Dwayne moved them out of the center of the dance floor and turned Heaven so he could once again see into his eyes. “Now, your name.” Dwayne wasn’t sure if he was going to get it or not, but he held Heaven’s gaze until he blinked.

“Robin,” he finally answered, and damned if that wasn’t the perfect name for him.

“Now let me see some ID.” Dwayne noticed Bull making his way over. “I can turn you over to the guys from the club and they’ll put you out.”

Robin’s jaw set and he finally reached into his pocket to pull out a driver’s license. He handed it over, and Dwayne checked it closely. It looked real, and according to the date of birth, yesterday was Robin Cartwright’s birthday.

“Problem?” Bull asked without looking at Dwayne, who handed him the ID.

“It seems legit.”

“Of course it is,” Robin protested. “I’m old enough to be here.”

“Maybe, but hustling isn’t allowed and you know it.” Dwayne stared bullets at Robin because it would be a damn shame for a guy as pretty as him to get messed up with crap like that.

“You can’t blame a guy for trying,” Robin said with a shrug.

“You got this?” Bull asked, and Dwayne nodded.

“If I need anything, I’ll get someone,” he promised, and Bull hurried back to the front door. “You need to quit that shit. It won’t end well.” God, he felt like a father giving his kid a lecture.

“What would you know about it?” Robin snapped.

“Plenty,” he shot back, though he wasn’t up to sharing his personal story with a complete stranger.

Robin studied him and seemed to see what he needed to, because his posture relaxed a little.

“Now, can you play by the rules?”

Robin huffed and nodded. “I won’t try anything. I really came here to dance anyway.” Dwayne wasn’t sure how much of that he bought, but he released Robin and stepped back.

“You know I’ll be watching.”

Robin turned and made his way through the crowd. Damn, Dwayne hated to see him go. There was something in those eyes that mirrored the shock and pain Dwayne had been dealing with, but there was nothing he could do. He’d already learned the hard way he couldn’t fix everything and everyone.

He went back to the table and sat down.

“Hard to forget, isn’t he?” Zach asked.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Dwayne forced his attention back to the guys next to him rather than scanning the floor to see where Robin had gone. He intended to keep an eye on him but figured any misbehaving would happen later in the evening.

“How long have you guys been friends?” he asked to change the subject.

“Long time. The four of us used to go trawling for guys together. That was before Zach met Bull and decided we all needed to get paired up. It was like his mission.”

“Are you complaining, Jeremy?” Zach asked, and Jeremy shook his head. “I didn’t think so. We all got pretty lucky in the man department.” He turned to Dwayne. “What about you?”

“I’m single and still trying to figure things out. Kansas was so very different.” That was an understatement. “By and large people are nice there, and I had some good friends, but when push came to shove, it turned out it wasn’t the place I thought it was.” Dwayne finished his beer and thought maybe he should just go home.

Zach, who was clearly the ringleader, had other ideas and grabbed his hand. “Let’s all dance.” He jumped off his stool and downed the last of his drink. “Don’t worry. I’m just being welcoming.”

“But what about Bull?” There was no way Dwayne wanted to tangle with him. “Why don’t you guys go and I’ll watch the table.”

Zach laughed. “No need. Lowell is around somewhere, and no one is going to take our table. It’s like one of the rules.”

“Yeah. No one wants to tangle with Bull, so everyone leaves Zach alone,” Tristan explained after downing the last of his drink, and turned to Harry. “Let’s go have some fun before you have to go back to work.” Tristan tugged Harry away, and soon he was nearly hanging off him. A pang of jealousy shot through Dwayne as he wished he had someone to hold on to him like that.

“Come on. We’ll find you someone to lerve… at least temporarily,” Zach teased, and they all headed for the dance floor. Zach moved his lithe body, and Dwayne turned away so he didn’t stare. It was difficult, but it soon became apparent Zach had his eyes on a different quarry, when Bull sauntered up and whisked Zach off his feet, almost literally.

One thing Dwayne knew how to do was dance. His mother had loved it, but his dad hadn’t, so Dwayne had been her dance partner more than once. Soon a guy danced up to Dwayne. Dwayne let the music take him, run through him, transport him with its throbbing beat. He closed his eyes for a minute, and when he opened them, the guy was closer, right in front of him. But he quickly turned away, and Dwayne realized his disappointment must have registered on his face. He’d wished the guy was Robin.

Dwayne turned to the other guys to dance as a group, hands above his head, having a good time and letting go of his trepidation.

The song ended and another began, this one slower. He didn’t have anyone to hold, so he moved back to the table while the guys paired up. A man, probably Lowell, held Jeremy in his arms, and Dwayne did his best not to let jealousy and loneliness wash over him. He sat down and ordered a beer from one of the servers before scanning the club. It didn’t take him long to find Robin, who stood off to one side, talking to a rather big guy. Alarm bells went off in the back of Dwayne’s mind. He’d been around enough men and worked in law enforcement just long enough to know who was very likely trouble. His foot bounced as he kept an eye on them.

The server returned, and Dwayne paid for the beer. When he swung back to where Robin had been, he didn’t see him any longer. Dwayne sent a silent wish that whatever Robin was up to, he came out of it all right.

The music changed once again, and the boys returned to the table, their conversation even more energetic and frenetic, if that was possible.

“Where’s Lowell?”

“He went back to work,” Jeremy explained.

“Lowell’s worked in areas that skirt the edges of society, and now he helps Bull with security and keeping undesirable elements outside the doors.”

“Was he some sort of spy?” Dwayne asked, intrigued and definitely curious.

“It’s hard to say. He left that life some time ago.” Zach caught the attention of one of the waiters and ordered another round of drinks. “I don’t know the details.”

“I don’t know a lot of them either,” Jeremy said. “I think it’s for our own safety.”

“See,” Zach began, pulling the conversation back to him, “the club has had trouble in the past with guys who try to come in here to deal and stuff like that. Harry and Bull don’t allow it, and they’ve been waging a near-constant battle. You know how it is—get rid of one rat and more move in. Lowell spots their activities, and we get rid of them and call the police.”

“What about guys like Robin who try to sell themselves?”

Tristan groaned. “Those are the really sad ones. Bull and Harry try to remove them, but this is a place filled with hundreds of gay men, and sometimes they get in, just like the dealers. It’s why Lowell, Bull, and Harry are so vigilant. I mean, this is the hottest club in town and they want to keep it that way, but without the influences that could ruin it.”

“The city isn’t always happy with having a gay club that’s so high profile. So they’re sometimes looking for a reason to shut us down. Fights, drugs, prostitution, and things like that are all reasons they could use. But we’re pretty good at taking care of ourselves.” Zach sipped his drink, his attention moving toward the door. After a few minutes, he picked up his glass and left the table without a word.

“What’s going on?”

“Watch,” Kevin said, bumping his elbow. Zach made his way across the dance floor, behind the bar, and through a door. “It’s Bull’s break time.” He snickered. “The two of them like to spend some quality time together.”

“Come on. Leave him alone. The two of them are so much in love, it’s amazing,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing dirty going on. Zach always packs Bull something to eat, and they have a late-night snack together. They work really different hours, so this is a chance for them to see each other.” Jeremy glared at Kevin, who shrugged.

“Then you explain the just-fucked look he has when he comes back sometimes,” Tristan said.

“You’re just jealous. It’s been a while since you had that look,” Jeremy teased Tristan. Dwayne got the idea this was their usual banter and had probably been going on for years. He appreciated Zach including him in the group, so he waited until Zach returned before finishing his drink and saying good night. He left the club, stepping out into the humid summer air.

He said good night to Bull and thanked him for a great time.

“I hope you had fun.” This time Bull’s expression wasn’t so serious, and Dwayne wondered if maybe Tristan was right about what happened during his break.

“I did. Thanks.” The evening hadn’t been what he was expecting, but it had raised his spirits. He’d met some great people.

“Drive carefully.”

Dwayne nodded. He’d been very judicious about the amount he’d had to drink, and he figured he’d walk around for a little while to clear his head. Two beers in an evening weren’t much to be concerned about, but as a police officer, he’d seen the ravages of drinking and driving and had no intention of becoming a statistic.

The capitol complex shone like a beacon, and Dwayne headed in that direction. Light meant safety, and this wasn’t a familiar neighborhood for him. There were others on the street, some couples walking close together. It was a great summer night to be outside. He walked a block or so, the beat from the club still pulsing through the ground at his feet.

“That’s not what—” a voice called. Dwayne listened for more. “No!” Fear spiked the air, and Dwayne was on alert, listening for where the sound had come from. He heard the rip of fabric between passing cars. “I said no!” The voice got louder, and Dwayne picked up his pace.

“I paid, and you’re going to put out.”

Dwayne reached the alley entrance, stopped, and peered around the corner. A huge guy stood near a dingy brick wall. It was hard to see, but Dwayne could just make out another man pressed to the brick, the side of his face against the unyielding wall.

“That’s enough.”

“Get out of here. He and I have business,” the guy growled.

Dwayne stepped closer, ready for action. “You need to leave now!” He used his cop voice and saw the guy flinch. He might be big, but as Dwayne got a closer look, he saw the beer gut and flabby arms. This guy probably was used to throwing his weight around, but there really wasn’t much to him.

“Fuck off. I paid and I’m getting my money’s worth.”

“So you’re admitting to soliciting someone for sex… to a police officer. That makes my job very easy.” Dwayne pulled out his phone, and the lug took a step back and then ran the other way. Well, he sort of waddled fast, but the response was the one Dwayne wanted. He made sure the guy was gone and then helped the smaller man, who had crumpled to the alley floor.

“It’s all right. He’s gone.” Dwayne lifted the guy, who wasn’t verbally responding, off the concrete and carried him out to where there was more light. As soon as the glow from the street shone on golden hair, Dwayne knew who it was.

“Robin.” He caressed his cheek, and Robin groaned. Dwayne set him down and waited for the shock to wear off. “You want to tell me what happened?”

Robin managed to stand and rubbed the side of his face, then pulled the remains of his tattered shirt together. “No.”

“I’ve got a pretty good idea already.” Dwayne half expected Robin to try to bolt, but instead he just shook, and Dwayne held him upright. “Let me guess. For all the bravado, this was the first time you’ve done anything like this.”

“Shit… I can take care of myself.” The defiance was back, and Dwayne was glad Robin was able to manage it, even if he knew it was all just a front.

“Like you did back there.” He wasn’t in the mood for nice at the moment. “I’m not dumb. I know what you were doing and what nearly happened. So you can tell me about it, or I can call some friends of mine and you can talk to them about prostitution.”

“You’re a real jerk, you know that?” Robin’s stomach rumbled loudly, and he put his hands over it as though it ached.

“No. The jerk was the guy in the alley. I’m the man who saved your ass from God knows what.” Dwayne saw some of the fire go out of Robin’s eyes. “And you’re acting defensive to the guy who saved your ass, quite literally, from what was about to happen. So I think you can open up and tell me what’s really going on.”

Robin quivered once again. “I was about to leave the club because I wasn’t going to get anything in there. Too many people watching. That guy approached me and asked if I was up for a little fun. We left, and he paid me fifty bucks. I figured I could blow him as long as I was careful, but it turned out he wanted more than that, and I wasn’t going to give it to him, so he was planning to take what he wanted anyway.” Robin sniffed. “He stank and shuffled all the time, like he might have been sick or something, but fifty bucks will feed me for like two weeks. And….”

“How long has it been since you ate?” Dwayne asked.

“I don’t know. Probably yesterday.” Robin suddenly seemed even smaller and weaker. Dwayne knew he should be a little ashamed, but Robin’s vulnerability seemed to make him more attractive.

“Come on, then.” Dwayne guided Robin down the block to the corner. “There’s a diner just that way. We can get something to eat and then you can tell me what’s really going on.”

Robin snickered. “I could get you something.” He reached into his pocket. “I still got the fifty bucks.”

Dwayne pursed his lips and kept quiet. He wasn’t happy about how Robin got the money, but if it meant he could eat for a while, then so be it. “Come on. I’ll buy and you talk.” That was the deal, and he wasn’t backing down from it.

He guided Robin to the all-night diner, and they went inside the island of light. Dwayne blinked in the brightness and found a table. The server, who looked as old as the diner itself, approached the table. Dwayne ordered two burgers, fries, and two coffees. She took the order, turned away, and returned with their drinks. Dwayne waited until she poured before meeting Robin’s gaze. It was time for some answers.

“I got kicked out, okay?” Robin hissed. “My dad found out I was queer and kicked my ass to the curb.” He nearly knocked the cup over as he tried to slide out of the seat.

Dwayne held his arm, tilting his head to the side. He wasn’t letting Robin off that easy. “Settle down, Cisco.” He waited while Robin crossed his arms over his chest, staring defiantly back at him.

“My dad, well, stepdad… is a real douchebag. Like I said, he kicked me out, and my mom didn’t say shit about it. She let him put me on the street like I was a sack of garbage. I have, well, had a job and got a room to live in, but I got ‘laid off’”—he made air quotes—“last week. The boss said it was cutbacks, but I know it was because I didn’t say yes to his extracurricular activities. I don’t have any money and I’m going to get kicked out… so I needed cash and I figured I….” Robin put his hands over his face.

“It’s all right.”

“Bullshit, man. It’s not all right. My mom didn’t do anything. Don’t you get that? Yeah, my stepdad is a real tool, but my mom….” The pain in his voice rang in Dwayne’s ears. “She was supposed to take my side. How could she just turn away like that?” He leaned forward. “I’m her son. She raised me. Am I so useless and unlovable that she could simply give me up without a second thought?”

Dwayne didn’t have any answers for him. He wished to hell he did. “People do shit to each other all the time. I see it every day at work, and I don’t know what to tell you. Except that self-destructive behavior is something you’ll regret and pay for later. It comes with a cost, and it’s usually something you don’t understand until it’s too late.”

“What the fuck would you know about it?” Robin’s gaze raked over him.

“You’re not the only one who’s had to pay a price for being who they are,” Dwayne told him. “And I know it hurts like hell. But you have to figure out a way to get past it.”

“How in the hell do I do that? I have no job, and in a few days, I’m going to be homeless. The fifty bucks I traded my dignity for is all I have between me and starvation.”

The server brought their plates and set them on the table without a word. Robin stopped his grousing and ate a french fry before reaching for another. Soon his hands moved with a speed Dwayne didn’t know possible. The fries disappeared, and the burger didn’t last very long either. Dwayne ate his burger and put most of his fries on Robin’s plate, and he ate those too. By the time he was done, there wasn’t a crumb left.

“Come on.” Dwayne paid the check, and then he and Robin left the restaurant. “My car is over here, and I’ll take you home.”

Robin hesitated, but then followed Dwayne to his dark blue Focus. They slid inside and Robin gave him directions. Dwayne eventually pulled up to a run-down house on Fourth Street with half the shutters missing, and those that were there hung haphazardly as though they, too, were waiting to give up the ghost. The paint was peeling badly and the soffit had holes in it, allowing God knows what to get access to the attic.

Robin got out of the car. “Thanks for the ride and the food and, well… for everything else.”

Dwayne hated leaving Robin in a location like this. As he looked at the forlorn building, he wondered just what was up with the place. “Who’s the landlord?”

“It’s the guy who owns the building,” Robin answered.

“Does he live there?”

“No. There are six people, and we each have a room. The owner comes each week to collect the rent, and we better have the cash or we’re out.”

“How come there aren’t any lights?”

“Wait…. The power must be out.”

Dwayne looked up and down the street, but the lights were on everywhere else. “I bet your landlord didn’t pay the electric bill.” He put the car in park and got out.

“What are you doing?”

“Going in with you.” Dwayne followed Robin to the door, where he inserted his key and pushed it open to reveal complete chaos. The inside of the house was trashed, with stuff littering the floor everywhere. Robin raced inside and up the stairs, feet pounding. Dwayne trailed behind more carefully and caught up with Robin as he unlocked the door to a back room. “You need to get your things out of here.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’m willing to bet your ‘landlord’ doesn’t own this building and has been scamming all of you. He put you up here and collected rent. I suspect the owner got wind of it, had the power turned off, and cleared everyone out while you were gone.”

“Shit….” Robin groaned. “Now what do I do?” He started shaking again.

Dwayne sighed. “Get your things together and we’ll load them in the back of my car.” It didn’t look like there was much. Robin had been sleeping on some sort of foam mattress pad, with a few blankets. There were some boxes stacked in the corner, but otherwise the room was empty.

“Hey!” someone called up the stairs. “Anyone in here needs to get out before I call the police.”

“Are you the property owner?” Dwayne called back.

“Yes. I’m clearing all you squatters out.”

Dwayne’s suspicions had been confirmed. “I’ll go talk to him while you get your things. You can stay on my couch for tonight and figure things out in the morning.” He turned and carefully made his way down the stairs.

“We’re clearing out,” Dwayne said as he reached the main floor. “The people here were told the guy who rented them the rooms was the owner.”

“He wasn’t,” the owner snapped. “I reported him to the police, and they said they’d watch for him. Meanwhile, the building has been trashed and I’m going to have to clean it up before I can sell it and…” He went on. Dwayne didn’t pay too much attention to his grousing. The house had obviously been neglected for some time. Dwayne figured the owner would use the squatters as an excuse with his insurance company. “Now clear out so I can lock the door up and get out of here.”

Robin came down the stairs with his arms full.

“Is that it?” Dwayne asked.

“There’s one more box.”

“I’ll get it.” Dwayne hurried back up and got the box from the room. Then he went down and followed Robin to the car. They loaded his things into the trunk and headed out of town. Dwayne drove and wondered what in the hell he was doing. This was a guy he’d just met, and fuck all if this wasn’t going above and beyond just because he found the guy amazingly attractive. Maybe he needed to have his head examined. He’d just invited a complete stranger to stay at his house. This could turn out badly, very badly.

“Where do you live?” Robin asked as Dwayne made for the freeway.

“Carlisle. I have a single-bedroom apartment there.”

“I get it,” Robin said quietly. “You saved me so I could warm your bed instead of the slimebag’s.”

“No,” Dwayne said firmly. “You’ll be sleeping on my sofa until we can figure out what we’re going to do. I’m not going to leave you to stay on the street. And remember, I’m a police officer. I don’t bring guys home to ‘warm my bed,’ as you put it, in exchange for something. I don’t prostitute people, and you aren’t a prostitute—at least not yet.” He turned, letting Robin see his anger, then focused his attention on the road as the light in front of him changed to green.

“Then what do you want?” Robin crossed his arms over his chest.

“How about a little gratitude and maybe letting go of the chip on your shoulder? Oh, and a small attitude adjustment would be in order. People are more likely to help you if you don’t act like a dick to them.” He reached the freeway and took the on-ramp toward home.

Robin sat silently as Dwayne drove, arms still folded over his chest as though he was just waiting for something bad to happen. “Fine,” he eventually muttered. “How long you been a cop?”

“I moved here a few months ago, and just because I’m a cop doesn’t mean I’m your enemy.” Hell, he’d stopped Robin and pulled his ass back from the brink of what could have been a life-altering or ending mistake. “I could have ended up exactly where you are.”

“Then why didn’t you?” Robin asked.

“Sheer luck. My family wasn’t too happy I liked guys, but they never talked much about stuff, and when they found out, they figured it was a phase or something and it would somehow go away. I never brought it up with them, and as long as they didn’t see it, the gayness didn’t exist. I guess silence and denial were my friends until they weren’t.” Everything had fallen apart very quickly. “The thing is, I’m not someone out to take advantage of you. I don’t want anything other than for you to be on your best behavior. I have some friends who might be able to help you if you let them.”

“Yeah? What will they want, ’cause everyone wants something and no one does shit for nothing.” The skepticism rolled off him as he turned away.

Dwayne tightened his hands on the wheel. “First, clean up your mouth, and second, my friends are cops who’ve seen enough bad stuff that they try to help those they can. They aren’t going to want anything from you other than you not acting like a dick. Are you starting to see a theme here?” He tightened his hands on the wheel.

“Fine. I’ll pretend you’re my mother and put on my best manners, waiting for when you, like everyone else, decide I’m not worth anything.” Robin turned away, looking out the window as lights passed by.

Dwayne didn’t have an argument for him. He couldn’t change Robin’s past, and though he’d do his best to try to help him, Dwayne wasn’t sure what he could do. “Take things one day at a time.” That was what the counselor had told him after all hell had broken loose at home. It had been really helpful when the shit kept getting deeper and deeper by the day, with no end in sight.

“Just try a little gratitude and less snark. It isn’t going to hurt you, is it?”

“No.” The answer was short but without the accompanying commentary, so maybe that was an improvement.

The tires hummed as he continued down the freeway. It took a good twenty minutes to get out to the Carlisle area, then off at his exit and through the traffic lights to the main intersection of town. Dwayne made the partial trip around the block to his parking space. It was late and he was tired, but he needed to get Robin settled.

“Let’s get your things,” he said, popping open the trunk. He grabbed a box and left the other one for Robin. “You can leave the bedroll. You won’t need it, and it’ll be fine in the trunk for now.” He closed the lid and led Robin around the block to the front of the building. He unlocked the door and climbed the stairs, listening to the heavy trudges of Robin’s feet. For God’s sake, he wasn’t leading him to the gallows.

“Where do you want my stuff?” He indicated the box he held.

“Set it by the side of the sofa. I’ll get you some blankets. The bathroom is right in there, and I’ll see if I can find some things for you to use if you need them.”

“I got stuff,” Robin said, putting his box on top of the one Dwayne had already set down.

Dwayne went to his room and found his extra sheets and a blanket and a pillow, then took them to the living room and set them on one end of the tartan plaid sofa. “I’ll get you a bottle of water and then I need to go to bed.”

Robin looked so confused as he stood and stared at the sofa and then back at Dwayne, as though he really couldn’t believe that Dwayne didn’t want something from him.

Dwayne got the water and handed it to him. “Just get some rest, and we’ll talk in the morning.”

Robin nodded but seemed lost.

Dwayne made up the sofa and finally left the room, went to his bedroom, and closed the door. He undressed and pulled on clean boxers and a T-shirt. Then he used the bathroom and returned to the bedroom to get into bed. He listened to the sofa springs squeak a little in his otherwise quiet apartment. Dwayne tried to imagine what Robin was doing, and then footsteps sounded outside. The door to the bathroom closed, and Dwayne shut his eyes. He was nervous as hell. Dwayne had actually brought a near stranger home to his apartment and was letting the guy sleep on his sofa. Good Lord, had he completely lost his mind?

“Good night, Dwayne,” Robin said once the bathroom door opened again. Then soft footfalls headed to the living room, the light switched off, and the sofa springs squeaked again.

Dwayne sighed and tried to go to sleep. The problem was, every time his mind started drifting off, he saw images of blue eyes and blond hair, and Robin swinging his backside as he danced. He knew the dancing part was all his imagination, but the danged thing kept him up well into the night.

My Dark Knight by KA Merikan
The moon was high up the sky tonight, framed by puffy, thick clouds. Knight pushed Elliot toward the woods. “Where’s your car?”

Fat drops of cold rain hit Elliot’s face as soon as they were out the door. Of course. Because this night hasn’t been bad enough already. At least he still had all his teeth. Maybe Knight would let him off the hook with a few bruises after all?

“If you uncuff me, I’ll go myself.”

“Ha. In your dreams, Count. I wouldn’t believe you even if you shut down that idiotic YouTube channel to appease me,” Knight said, leading Elliot toward the woods. Despite the ice-cold wetness soaking into Elliot’s stockings, he was glad for the fallen leaves, as they protected him from stones and sticks that would have likely hurt his feet otherwise.

And even though Knight was his potential doom, Elliot still wondered what the man actually thought of him. At the end of the day it was better to be seen as reckless than pathetic.

“It’s outside the property,” Elliot mumbled.

“Good. I’m up for a little walk,” Knight said when they dove between the trees. Darkness instantly became so thick Elliot could barely see what was within an arm’s reach, but Knight navigated the path just fine, as if he knew the way by heart. His arm was shockingly hot on Elliot’s shoulder, streaming warmth all over his body. Clad in only the inexpensive suit of thin fabric, Elliot was already sensing spikes of cold biting at his flesh. His stockings would surely be ruined by the end of this walk of shame.

“So… your interest in your ancestors. It’s not an incest thing, is it?” Elliot had to fight to prevent his teeth from rattling. He frowned, realizing that what he said came out wrong. “I don’t mean that in a bad way.”

Knight exhaled loudly and squeezed Elliot’s shoulder even harder. “You’re completely out of it. How could this even occur to you? Not everyone is jerking off to dead guys.”

They turned into a path Elliot hadn’t even noticed at first despite his eyes having gotten used to the dark. This was not his night. If he survived Knight’s punishment, then he’d die of pneumonia anyway.

“Stop saying that. William wasn’t just anyone. He was special!”

“Special how? You mean because he had the unusual hobby of murdering people? And, only young men known to be handsome. We both know what that means.”

“So he was gay. Big deal. With the club president you guys have, this shouldn’t be an issue.” Elliot dared to glance up at Knight’s face. The man was too handsome to be real. All symmetry, cheekbones, and a nose that had surely never been broken.

Knight snorted. “If you look at how serial killers operate it’s more than likely he was also sexually assaulting his victims. Is that the kind of thing you’re into? Maybe I shouldn’t rough you up too much, or you’ll come back for more.”

Elliot’s whole body was so cold violent tremors went through it every now and then, but his face still went hot at the notion. “Sure, he killed people, but you don’t know what those men were like. You don’t know what they’d done to him.” Elliot tasted powder on his tongue and bit his lips in shame when he realized his intricate but cheap makeup was now dripping down his face.

“Really? You think a baker or a clerk could hurt a man who owned a large estate and was part of the high society?” Knight asked and stopped, letting go of Elliot. For a moment, Elliot’s frantic brain told him to run, but before he could consider it, a heavenly warmth covered his shoulders. The scent of leather and the same aroma he’d sensed on Knight had Elliot’s insides flaring up with butterflies.

Covered by Knight’s leather jacket, he suddenly forgot what they’d been talking about. At least the tears that spilled down his face shouldn’t be so visible in the dark. Why would have Knight done such a thing? Why give up his own comfort for Elliot’s sake? It simply didn’t add up.

Elliot looked up at Knight, embarrassed about the way he choked up at the gesture. “They could have still broken his heart.”

Knight watched him for several seconds. “One day, someone’s gonna murder you, you know that? This kind of thinking’s gonna send some homicidal douchebag your way, and off you go,” he said, poking Elliot’s forehead with his finger.

Elliot looked away, all kinds of restless. The warm leather jacket felt like a shield from all the world’s evil, and he loved that feeling, even though his mind alerted him constantly that something was amiss. At least he was getting the vibe that homosexuality didn’t bother Knight. “How do you know I wouldn’t kill them first?”

Knight crooked his head so abruptly some of his thick hair rolled back to uncover his shoulder. After giving away his jacket, he was clad only in a T-shirt that didn’t exactly cling to his chest but showcased it in the best way possible. “You? With no meat on those bones?”

The sense of indignity pushed Elliot forward, and he started walking even though he had no idea where he was going. “All you need is good aim.”

Comes a Horseman by Anne Barwell
Chapter One
“BE QUIET,” Zhou Liang muttered.

He shoved a pillow over his head but couldn’t muffle the sound of water from the dripping kitchen tap. The other occupants of the cottage had finally fallen silent—how they could sleep through it, Liang didn’t know—leaving him to what he’d hoped would be a decent night’s sleep. Then he’d become aware of the tap, which he swore had behaved itself up to now.

Still muttering, he felt around for his coat on the end of the sofa, pulled it around him for extra warmth, and made his way out to the kitchen. If someone had told him a couple of months ago that he’d be more than happy to leave this safe house and journey into much more dangerous surroundings, he wouldn’t have believed them. But after weeks moving around Germany working the land to help the farmers who had given them refuge, he was definitely ready to move on.

In a few days’ time, they’d be crossing the German border into France. Liang hoped it meant they would finally be on the next stage of their journey home, but he had experienced enough during his extended stay in Germany not to count on it.

He lit the stove and filled the kettle before making sure the offending tap was turned off properly and then pulled out a chair while he waited for the water to boil. Funny how, despite his present situation, he still sought comfort in the habits he’d grown used to. His Chinese grandparents had taught him about the importance of tea, and he’d also adopted the British adage that it solved everything.

So much had happened since the beginning of what was supposed to have been a simple mission. He’d been approached by the Special Operations Executive to join a team that would be sent to Germany to retrieve the plans for a weapon that could potentially change the outcome of the war. Liang was a civilian; his job was to confirm the plans were authentic. Except that his presence was no longer necessary. Not since one of the scientists from the German project—Dr. Kristopher Lehrer—had joined them.

He glanced up at the ceiling, then shook his head. Did Kristopher and Michel—the French Resistance fighter who had helped him get out of Berlin—realize Liang had figured out they were more than just friends? Six months ago, he might have reacted differently, but now he figured if they’d found love and solace in each other, they might as well enjoy it while they could. There was something to be said for finding love in the middle of all this chaos.

Matt Bryant and Ken Lowe—already good friends—were now also more than that.

It wasn’t something any of them talked about, of course. Two men discovered to be in a relationship did not have much of a future, if any, to look forward to—and not just in Germany. Their team already had enough problems with Standartenführer Holm after them, without giving him another excuse to arrest them.

Not that he needed an excuse.

The two couples were very discreet, and if they hadn’t all been sharing close quarters for these months, Liang doubted he would have noticed. And, if he was being honest with himself, one of the reasons he’d noticed was that he missed Juliane and wondered if he’d ever see her again. Falling in love with the sister of the SS officer hunting them hadn’t been the brightest move, but emotions didn’t always follow the path of common sense. Liang and Juliane had promised each other they’d meet after the war, but there was still the small problem of surviving it.

Juliane Dunst not only worked for her brother, but also for the German Resistance. If her ties to the Resistance were discovered….

No, he wasn’t going to think about that. Not now and not ever.

Liang stretched as he got up to make his tea. The scars on his back, although mostly healed, still irritated him on occasion. Some nights when he closed his eyes, he relived the whipping he’d received at the hands of Holm’s second-in-command, Reiniger, yet his memories always stopped at the same point. Excruciating pain had driven him to yelling, “No more,” but he couldn’t remember anything after that. Not until he’d woken in his cell.

Had he told Holm something he shouldn’t? They’d almost been caught, and Liang couldn’t help but think it was his fault.

He mentally changed the subject, not needing the reminder of the real reason he wasn’t sleeping well. Holm had done more than given the order for Liang to be whipped; he’d also given Liang some information about one of his team that he couldn’t stop thinking about.

What if Holm was right about Ken? And if he was, did it really matter?

Liang didn’t know what to think anymore. He’d told himself that Ken was a good man, that he couldn’t and shouldn’t be judged because of—

A discreet cough from the doorway pulled him back to reality. Kristopher Lehrer stood there, running his hand through sleep-mussed hair. The dye he’d used months ago to darken it had grown out, the color returning to its natural blond. “I smelled tea. Is there enough for two?” he asked.

“You couldn’t sleep either.” Liang didn’t phrase it as a question. This wasn’t the first time he and Kristopher had shared a late-night pot of tea. Despite their different backgrounds, Kristopher and Liang had quickly discovered they had more in common than their love for science. Kristopher had admitted on his thirtieth birthday a couple of months ago that there were times he felt much older after everything they’d been through in the past six months. Liang figured the rest of their team—who were of a similar age—probably felt the same way. However, they rarely discussed their personal lives, only letting information slip unintentionally on occasion. Kristopher, on the other hand, seemed to have a need to talk about such things. Liang sometimes wondered if it was because he’d left it all behind while the rest of them had lives to return to once the mission was over.

“No.” Although Kristopher didn’t elaborate, he didn’t need to. Liang had suspected for a while that Kristopher had nightmares too. It surprised him that they hadn’t woken Michel, but it would only be a matter of time before he joined them. He always did.

Liang poured tea for both of them and then set the cups down on the table. They both drank silently for a few moments.

“The more I think about this situation, the more complicated it becomes,” Kristopher said finally.

“I can understand that.” Liang sipped his tea and waited for Kristopher to elaborate.

“I still can’t believe how naive I was.” Kristopher’s fingers tightened around his cup. His English was impeccable. “I tell myself I’m not like that anymore, but perhaps I’ve just swapped one naivety for another?”

“It’s difficult to push aside what you’ve been taught to believe most of your life.” Liang had his eyes forcibly opened during his time in Germany. He had known about the atrocities humans could inflict on other humans through the stories his grandparents had told him about the family they lost in the Japanese invasion of Nanking. He thought those stories would prepare him, but they were about family he’d only heard about, people he never met. He hadn’t seen or endured the horrors they’d experienced.

He shivered, remembering the fire the night the institute in Berlin had been bombed. With the realization that one of their team—Ed Walker—was still inside when the armory had gone up, Liang had run after a distraught Trevor Palmer to stop him doing anything stupid, knowing they didn’t have time to grieve, not if they wanted to survive.

Both men were gone now. Walker, dead, and Palmer arrested by Reiniger.

“I was an idiot.” Kristopher shrugged. “Am an idiot,” he amended.

“You are the last man I would ever call an idiot.” Liang had seen the plans and formulae for the atomic device Kristopher had helped design. “You have a brilliant mind. I know enough to verify what you’ve shown me, but I could have never come up with any of it.”

“If I were brilliant, I wouldn’t have designed the thing in the first place.” Kristopher shrugged again.

“You didn’t design the weapon, Kristopher.” Liang had heard Kristopher chastising himself like this before. It didn’t achieve anything. “They used your ideas for something you didn’t intend.”

Kristopher snorted. “Yes, and I ignored what they were doing because I wanted to think it would be used to advance mankind, not wipe it out.”

“We all make mistakes. My grandmother also told me that once we think we’re perfect, then we need to start worrying.”

“Your grandmother is a wise woman. I wish I could meet her.”

“Perhaps one day you will. She’d enjoy talking with you.” Liang put his cup down. He missed his grandparents and wished there was a way to let them know he was all right. “Have you decided what you’re going to do yet?”

Kristopher fidgeted with a loose thread on the cuff on his shirt. “This weapon should not be in the hands of either side. When I escaped from the institute, I thought I’d help the Allies defeat Hitler and his Nazis. But I’m not sure it’s that simple anymore.”

“Wars are never simple.”

“This is still my country, Liang. There are good people living in it. No one deserves to die.”

“I’m not sure I’d agree with that last bit,” Liang muttered. “I can think of at least two people I’d love to see die slowly and painfully.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?” Although Kristopher questioned Liang’s comment, he didn’t look surprised or shocked. “I know Holm and Reiniger hurt you badly, but if you kill them, doesn’t that make you as bad as they are?”

“And what if it had been your sister they’d hurt, or….” Liang caught himself just in time. “Someone else you care about.”

“For all I know, Clara might be already dead.” Kristopher’s tone flattened. “Michel said Holm is probably using her as a hostage to get me to give myself up, so there’s a good chance she is alive, but….” He shook his head.

“Would you give yourself up for Clara?” Liang had met Dr. Clara Lehrer. She’d helped Matt when he’d been injured, and she’d been arrested because of it, along with Trevor Palmer.

“I don’t know.” Kristopher slipped his hand into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, and slid it over the table to Liang.

Liang recognized it immediately. “Leo’s letter. I’ve already read it. I don’t need to read it again. We already agreed you should keep it.”

“Leo wanted Mary to have it. You’ll be able to pass it on to someone who can get it to her.” Kristopher traced bubbles of moisture along the rim of his cup with one finger. “He shouldn’t have died. He had his life ahead of him before he signed up to fight in this war. He should be home in New Zealand with her. Not blown to pieces trying to save us.”

Leo Dawson was—had been—an RAF pilot shot down over the Black Forest. When Reiniger had cornered them at the vineyard at Freiburg, Leo had stayed behind to give them time to get away. Liang hadn’t known him as long as Kristopher and Matt had, but he’d liked the young man.

“He told me he didn’t want to go back to his sweetheart with one leg,” Liang reminded Kristopher quietly. Leo had been injured when his aircraft had crashed, and his leg was badly infected. “He made his choice. He was a brave man, and we need to respect that. He died with honor.”

“I know that. I sometimes wonder if he was the bravest of all of us. It’s easier to run, isn’t it?” Kristopher grimaced. “I’m not sure how brave I am, Liang. The more I think about it, the more I come to one conclusion.”

“There’s only one way to make sure neither side gets your formulae.” Liang had a nasty feeling about where this conversation was going. The only physical copies of the plans had been destroyed when the institute was bombed, and Kristopher was the only person who could reproduce them.

Kristopher nodded. “Dr. Kristopher Lehrer cannot be allowed to survive this war,” he continued in German. “They won’t stop coming after us. Both sides want that weapon. It doesn’t matter who builds it. The outcome will still be the same. People will die.”

“And what if someone else figures out how to build it first?” Liang followed Kristopher’s lead and asked his question in German.

“At least it wasn’t because of me. I can’t let anyone die. I can’t.” Kristopher looked up at Liang, this time not bothering to hide the pain in his eyes. “This is the only way. I’ve thought about it and—”

“When were you going to tell me?” Michel interrupted from the doorway. “You were going to tell me, weren’t you?”

Kristopher pushed his chair out. He spun around. “Michel… I….”

“I’m going back to bed,” Liang said quickly. He stood and left the room before either man had a chance to reply. The horrified look on Michel’s face was enough for Liang to want to avoid that conversation. “I think you two gentlemen need to talk in private. Good night.”


MICHEL FABER shut the kitchen door as soon as Liang left. “Kit?”

When Kristopher didn’t answer, Michel filled an empty cup with water and drank it slowly in an attempt to calm himself.

It didn’t work.

“I woke and you weren’t there.” Michel had given Kristopher a few minutes, guessing he had probably found Liang awake and the two men were talking.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Kristopher said finally.

“I noticed.”

“You’re angry.” Kristopher still didn’t look at him. “I can hear it in your voice.”

“Yes.” Michel did feel angry, but it was more than that. He shoved down his fear of losing the man he loved. One morning he’d wake to find Kristopher gone, and he’d never see him again. “Merde. If you’re planning to kill yourself, don’t you think you should talk to me about it first? I thought we could talk to each other. Instead I find you…. Or did you forget to speak English so I couldn’t understand you?”

“What? No.” Kristopher frowned. “Oh. I thought… I didn’t realize I’d switched languages. Liang must have followed my lead without thinking. Verdammt, Michel. It’s not what you think. I promise.”

So they had thought they’d been speaking English.

“You told me you’d stay for as long as you could,” Michel reminded him. He shrugged and pulled up a chair but deliberately kept some distance between them. Although he wanted to pull Kristopher into his arms and hold him, he refused to be distracted until they’d talked about this. “I thought you’d at least tell me when you were planning to leave. I might not like some of these ideas you have, but that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to them.”

“I know,” Kristopher said, “and I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I didn’t know how to bring it up. It’s not exactly something you casually slip into a conversation.”

They both knew they might be lost to each other with no warning. But that was something neither had any control over. This was very different.

“We can talk about it now.” Michel laced his fingers together, his knuckles whitening.

Kristopher shifted his chair so they were sitting side by side, rather than at opposite ends of the table. “I’m not planning to die,” he said evenly. “I said that Dr. Kristopher Lehrer cannot survive this war. I didn’t say anything about killing myself.” His voice cracked. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I don’t want to leave you. I….”

“Mon cher,” Michel said softly. He took one of Kristopher’s hands in his and caressed it with his thumb. “You are Kristopher Lehrer. You’re not making sense.”

“Yes, I am, but I’m sorry. I should have talked to you about it first.” Kristopher sighed. He pointed to the letter still lying on the table. “I’m giving Leo’s letter to Liang. He can deliver it. I’m not going to England. I’m not giving the plans or the formulae to the Allies.”

“Do you honestly think they’ll take no for an answer?” Michel knew both sides could be ruthless when they needed to be. “They know about you, and it’s one of the reasons they’ve helped us to get this far. You’re important to the war effort.”

“I’ve put our friends in a terrible position. Matt and Ken are part of the military. Their first priority is to follow orders and complete this mission.”

“You weren’t supposed to be a part of their mission.” Michel had taken the place of a dead German soldier and infiltrated the institute where Kristopher worked. A few months into his assignment, he knew he had to help Kristopher. Finding him standing over the body of Dr. Kluge—the scientist in charge of the project—had led to them both fleeing the scene. Michel hadn’t thought for an instant that Kristopher was responsible for Kluge’s death. He still didn’t think Kristopher was capable of killing. If given the choice between killing someone and sacrificing himself, Michel knew what decision Kristopher would make.

As much as he loved Kristopher, Michel also knew Kristopher was too idealistic for his own good. One day it would literally be the death of him.

But it was one thing to think about it possibly happening in the future, and quite another to hear Kristopher actually planning it.

“I’m where I’m meant to be.” Kristopher shook his head when Michel opened his mouth to protest. “If I hadn’t left the institute when I did… they’d never have let me go. With Kluge dead, there is no one else. They know I’ve solved the problem with the formulae. I was stupid enough to tell Reiniger I had.”

“You told him because you were trying to save my life.” Michel knew he was still missing something. “How can you die and not die?” He felt cold inside. Not just because of the words Kristopher had spoken, but also because Kristopher had spoken to Liang about this, not him. “As I said, it doesn’t make sense.”

“People disappear and are presumed dead all the time during war. It doesn’t mean they are dead.”

“You’re planning to fake your death?” Michel said slowly. The relief he felt was short-lived as practicality took over. “We’d have to supply a body.”

Kristopher held up his hand. “No,” he said firmly. “We’re not killing someone to take my place. Holm already knows what identity papers I’m using. We’ll leave them on someone who is already dead.”

“I’m not suggesting we kill someone, but do you really think a body matching your description will just conveniently turn up when we need it?” Michel couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “I’m sorry, Kit, but your plan has a few flaws in it.”

“It’s a work in progress,” Kristopher insisted. “But as long as we can convince both sides I’m dead, that is all that matters.”

“And what are you planning to do once you’ve died? Have you thought that through?”

Kristopher lowered his gaze. He flushed. “I still want a life with you. I thought…. We can’t get married, but I could take your name and pass myself off as a relative or something. At least that way I wouldn’t have to say good-bye to you. No one on our team knows your last name or much about you. They wouldn’t be lying if they tell their superiors they don’t know where to find you. And if they can’t find you, they wouldn’t be able to find me.”

“If only it was that easy.” Michel wished Kristopher’s words could become a reality, wanted to believe that a future together was possible. He’d found himself dreaming about it, although he didn’t dare hope it could come true. “If they know you’re still alive…. Kit, I know Matt and Ken are our friends, but as you said, they do have to report back to their superiors.”

“Are you suggesting we let them believe I’m dead?” Kristopher didn’t look happy with the idea. “Michel, they’re our friends. I can’t lie to them.”

“Not even to protect them?”

“To protect me, you mean. No one can torture information out of someone if they don’t possess it in the first place.” He took a gulp of what had to be cold tea. “God, what is wrong with me, discussing something so serious as though it’s not?”

“There is nothing wrong with you.” Michel could tell Kit was more upset than he was letting on. “Look at me, mon cher,” he said softly. “You are a good man who has made mistakes. We’ve all done that, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re in an impossible situation, trying to make choices you don’t really have.”

“I used to believe we make our own choices in life, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve been thinking about David and the future he wanted.” Kristopher had told Michel about David, a close friend who could have been much more. David had risked his life to convince Kristopher to listen to his conscience and leave the institute. “He was a doctor like my sister, with a life ahead of him helping people. He always wanted to do that. It was one of the reasons he studied so hard. Now he’s either dead or in a work camp somewhere because he’s Jewish.”

“Not everything in life is fair, but it’s better to focus on the situations we can do something about.” Michel had lost his brother, Corin, and a man he’d cared about to this war too. “I think the best way we can honor the memory of our friends and loved ones is to try and make a difference where we can.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

Michel winced. “It’s not, and sometimes it’s so difficult I struggle to find the strength to keep going. I tell myself if I repeat the words enough times, it will get easier. I owe Corin my life. He died fighting to free France. I can’t let his sacrifice be for nothing.”

“I know.” Kristopher leaned over and kissed Michel on his cheek. “I’ve held you while you’ve cried for the people you’ve lost.”

“Just as I’ve held you.” Michel took a deep breath. He wouldn’t think about it now, didn’t want to get sucked into the whirlpool that was his grief for Corin and François again. It had taken him too long to break free of it. “So, what are we going to do about all of this? I’m not going to watch you die. If we’re going to fake your death, we need some kind of plan. Do you still want to travel with the others until they reach Normandy?”

“Yes, I need to leave Germany. We have more of a chance of disappearing to start a new life in your country than mine. You have contacts in the Resistance, people we could help until this war is over.”

Michel raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t that rather negate your being dead? I thought…. Never mind.”

“You thought what?” Kristopher asked.

“We’ve talked about a future together. If we survive all of this, I’d like that. I think your idea of passing yourself off as a relative will be a little problematic, but we’ll worry about the details later.” More than just a little problematic. Michel’s mother would take one look at the two of them together and figure out they were more than friends. “I want to return to my family when this is over. My parents have already lost one son. I promised Papa I would do everything I could to make sure he and Maman wouldn’t lose another. I’m a farmer. You know nothing of that kind of life.”

“I’ve learnt a lot over the last six weeks, and it would be safer than living in the city.” Kristopher looked thoughtful. He was really contemplating this. “I’ll have to improve my French, though. It’s not very good; although it’s better than it was.”

“My aunt would help.” Michel’s Uncle Brice had married a German woman. She’d welcome Kristopher with open arms. So would Michel’s parents, or at least his mother. “We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. We still have to get out of Germany, and that won’t be easy.”

“I think it would work better if we travel with Matt, Ken, and Liang for a while longer and then fake my death. You’ve already told them you aren’t crossing the Channel.” Kristopher tipped his cup and studied the tea leaves, using his spoon to swish them around the bottom of it. “I’m not sure you’re right about keeping all this from them. They’ll know something is wrong. We can trust them.”

“I know we can trust them, but it’s not them I’m worried about.” Michel could tell he wasn’t going to easily persuade Kristopher to change his mind about that part of the plan. “It’s Holm and Reiniger.”

“They’d torture our friends for the information until they got the answers they wanted. It wouldn’t matter whether it was the truth or not.” Kristopher had that stubborn look Michel recognized all too well.

“We don’t have to talk about that part of it now. Let’s take one step at a time, hmm? Just promise me you won’t say anything until we’ve discussed it further?”

“All right, but Liang already knows I’m planning something.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know any details.”

“That’s because we don’t have any to share.” Kristopher shrugged. “I’m tired, and we’ve gone around in circles enough for one night.” He stood and held out his hand. “I want to go back to bed with you. Once we leave here, we might not have the opportunity to share a bed again.”

No one had commented about them sharing a room and shutting the door. Michel suspected it was because Matt and Ken were also sharing more than just a room. However, he wasn’t about to voice his suspicions. He had too many secrets of his own to keep safe.

“I’d like that.” Michel took Kristopher’s hand and squeezed it tightly before pulling him close and kissing him.

“Je t’aime, Michel,” Kristopher whispered once they broke the kiss. “Whatever happens, never forget that.”

“Whatever happens, I never will.” Michel buried his head in Kristopher’s shoulder, caressing the skin there with his lips. “Ich liebe dich, Kit.”

Calm by Brigham Vaughn & K Evans Cole
Riley Porter-Wright whistled as he let himself into his West Village apartment on a warm Thursday night in April. He’d left work with a spring in his step. He had a date with Will Martin—his boyfriend—that night, and a three-day weekend ahead of him.

As senior vice president and head of the e-pub division of his family’s publishing house, Riley had been delighted to share the year’s first quarter data for his division at the board meeting that afternoon. The numbers had been high enough to impress even Jonathon Porter-Wright, the CEO of the company and Riley’s father. He was a demanding man under the best of circumstances and the flicker of pleased surprise that had crossed his face during Riley’s presentation had been gratifying.

Although completely estranged from his parents since his coming out and divorce the previous fall, Riley still had to deal with his father at work. He was no longer concerned with living up to his father’s expectations, but Riley felt perversely pleased that the better he performed, the more of an ass his father appeared to be. There was a certain measure of satisfaction in proving to his father that being an openly bisexual man hadn’t done a thing to affect his career. If anything, finally feeling content with his life had improved Riley’s performance.

He’d left the office immediately after the board meeting and hurried home. He hastily dressed in a tux, then checked his watch to be sure he wasn’t late as he dashed out of the door. Why the Metropolitan opera held premieres on a weeknight, he didn’t know, but thankfully, Will didn’t have any classes to teach at NYU that evening.

Riley texted Will on the way to his building. He came out to meet Riley after the town car pulled up. The driver held the door while Will slid inside and gave Riley a brief, warm kiss. “Hey, good to see you.”

“You, too.” They’d both been busy in the past few weeks and hadn’t been able to spend much time together. Riley smiled at him, struck again by Will’s high cheekbones and classic good looks. Riley hadn’t seen him in a tuxedo before, but he wore it well. “How was your day?”

“Mmm, faculty meeting this afternoon and most of my students seem to have spring fever, so I’m glad it’s over,” Will replied with an easy grin, his blue eyes brightening. “Getting better now, though. Yours?”

“Great, actually, and I’m looking forward to tonight.”

They kept the discussion light while the car crossed Manhattan, but Riley’s anxiety rose as they neared the Kennedy Center. He straightened his bow tie for the umpteenth time. Will set a hand on his thigh, the touch warm and heavy.

“Are you sure you want to do this tonight?” Will asked softly. “You seem jittery.”

“Of course.” Riley gave Will a reassuring smile. “I’ll admit I’m…anxious about how it will go, but I refuse to let anyone keep me from living my life. I love opera and I want to share that with you.”

That night was the gala premier of Giulio Cesare and Riley had spent the better part of a week debating if he should invite Will to be his date. Riley had done little socializing with anyone from his past since his abrupt coming-out the previous November and subsequent divorce from his now ex-wife Alex. The possibility of seeing his parents was nerve-racking. Even worse was the thought of seeing his former best friend, Carter, and Carter’s wife, Kate. Carter had been shocked by Riley’s coming out and Riley’s confession that he loved Carter had driven a wedge between them. Riley hadn’t had any contact with Kate and, other than a brief and awkward run-in during the holidays at Serendipity when Carter had been out with the kids, Riley hadn’t seen Carter, either.

Will knew enough about his past that he wouldn’t be caught off-guard if an awkward situation arose, but that didn’t make it any easier. The thought of Will and Carter in the same room caused his anxiety to rise.

In the three months Riley and Will had been seeing each other, Will had more than lived up to Riley’s first impression of him. Not only gorgeous, he was thoughtful and well-read. Patient, too, while Riley shook off the hang-ups from his past and struggled to figure out the new path he was on. In fact, he’d been more than patient.

Although they’d been intimate in every other way, Riley hadn’t reached a point where he was ready to let Will penetrate him or vice versa. Will assured Riley he shouldn’t feel rushed and reminded him some men never wanted anal sex, but, still, it bothered Riley. They’d decided not to see other people, but sometimes Riley held Will at arm’s length when he should have been pulling him closer. Taking him to the opera tonight was one way to include Will in another part of his life. He genuinely cared for Will and thought maybe, in time, he could fall for him.

Riley could hardly say he was over Carter, but thoughts of Carter had grown less and less frequent. As time passed, the acute pain of losing him had faded to a dull ache. Time certainly did heal wounds, but, unfortunately, it did nothing to lessen the feeling that something important was missing from his life.

“I’m glad you invited me,” Will said, bringing him back to the moment.

Riley smiled warmly at him. “I’m glad you were willing to come. I don’t think my ex-wife will be there—she really only bothered with the events here to network—but I can’t promise anything. Let’s just hope we can make it through the night without any drama.”

“If there is, we’ll either ignore it or cut out early.” Will shrugged and slid his hand a little higher. He leaned in to whisper in Riley’s ear. “No matter what happens, the night can end in my bed with your dick in my mouth and you coming so hard you see stars.”

“Promises, promises,” Riley teased, his voice more breathless than he intended. He closed his eyes for a brief moment as Will feathered kisses against his jaw, then glanced at the driver in front of him. He was grateful for the man’s discretion and that he hadn’t once glanced at them in the rearview mirror. Although finally at ease with showing affection with Will in public, Riley didn’t want to make the driver uncomfortable.

Will pulled back when the car slowed to a stop and Riley looked up in surprise, realizing they were already in front of the Lincoln Center. He stepped onto the sidewalk and waited for Will to follow, nodding at a few people mingling outside the entrance whom he recognized. He couldn’t resist a peek at the fountain, half-expecting to see Carter standing beside it. But the familiar silhouette was nowhere in sight, so he turned back to Will.

“Still nervous?” Will asked quietly as they walked through the lobby, with its endless red-carpeted floors and the mid-century Sputnik-style chandeliers that had been a gift from the Austrian government.

“A little,” Riley replied. “Mostly trying not to think too much about your comment in the car. I’m afraid these pants don’t hide much.” He grinned wryly wry and Will laughed.

“Sorry.”

“As long as you follow through, I have no complaints.” Riley’s grin faded when they stepped into the cocktail reception. He glanced around anxiously. To his relief, the only familiar faces in sight were distant acquaintances and he and his date were able to get a drink and mingle. People stared, of course—he’d expected that—and there were a few who gave him and Will a suspiciously wide berth, but frankly, it went better than he’d anticipated.

Riley had just begun to relax when he spotted his parents. His good mood immediately plummeted, replaced by an increasing tightness in his chest. “That’s my parents ahead,” he murmured. “Brace yourself.”

The woman standing next to his mother noticed him. “Oh, look, Geneva, it’s Riley.” Her tone held a nasty note, as if she merely wanted to make a jab at his mother. Riley didn’t know Helena Finch well but enough to remember she was someone who should be aware of the current situation. Perhaps she disliked his mother, or maybe she just wanted to catch a bit of the gossip. He smiled thinly when he approached them, hoping for Will’s sake that the typical Porter-Wright way of handling difficult situations would hold out tonight. Ignoring the situation and acting politely in front of company sounded good to him.

“Will, this is Jonathon and Geneva Porter-Wright.” He nodded to his parents. “Jonathon, Geneva, this is William Martin.” He didn’t see any point in elaborating on Will’s part in his life. “Will’s a law professor at NYU.”

His mother nodded frostily and his father put out his hand. The gesture seemed hesitant and begrudging.

“Nice to meet you both.” Will’s tone came across as polite, but there was little of his usual warmth.

“Likewise.” His father didn’t try to hide his disdain.

A rotund gentleman who looked as if he might pop the buttons on his jacket at any moment held out his hand to Will. “Marcus Finch. I went to NYU law myself back in the day.”

Riley glanced at his mother, but she wouldn’t meet his eye. Outwardly, she appeared cool and composed, but Riley would bet agitation churned under the surface.

Helena gave Riley a knowing smile. “And Will is here with you? How interesting.” Her voice dripped with innuendo.

“We’ve been seeing each other for a while.” Riley kept his tone polite but cool. “On top of being a law professor, Will is a writer. We have a great deal in common.”

Will made small talk with Marcus while Riley remained silent.

“It appears they’re seating for dinner,” Geneva said after a few minutes, her voice brittle. “Come, Jonathon, we should find our seats. Nice seeing you, Marcus and Helena. Riley. Mr. Martin.” She disappeared before they could reply and Riley made polite excuses to the Finches. He and Will found their table, grateful to end the encounter. His parents would make sure their paths didn’t cross again that evening.

Riley didn’t relax until dinner had concluded and Will followed him to his box for the beginning of act one. He took a seat next to Will, relieved that dinner had been calm and uneventful.

“I’m glad you came with me tonight,” Riley told him with a smile. Will briefly touched Riley’s knee.

“I am, too.”

The final knot of worry in Riley’s chest dissipated and he got comfortable, eager to see the production. Unfortunately, the good mood only lasted until intermission.

Riley and Will were enjoying the champagne and dessert when a blonde in an ice-blue dress crossed his field of vision. Riley tensed at the sight of Kate Hamilton. He glanced around, trying to be casual as he searched for Carter, but found him nowhere in sight. Riley frowned. The crowd was thick, but Carter stood tall enough to be seen in any group. Perhaps he was in the restroom or had stepped outside to take a call. Kate headed toward him, although she hadn’t made eye contact yet.

Riley set down his champagne glass, his hands suddenly nerveless and clumsy when Kate spotted him. Her eyes went wide and she came to an abrupt stop. “Riley.”

“How are you, Kate?”

“I’m fine.” Her smile seemed automatic, forced. Riley paused, really looking at Kate. She appeared to have lost weight and her normally bright eyes and smile were dimmer than usual. Although beautifully made up as always, something was off.

“Will, I’d like to introduce you to Kate Hamilton, a good friend of mine. Kate, this is Will Martin, law professor, writer and my date this evening.”

The corners of Kate’s mouth briefly tightened before she smiled at Will and held out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Will.”

“Likewise.” Will, in turn, appeared relaxed and comfortable. Clearly, whatever was obvious to Riley wasn’t to someone who had never met Kate before.

“Are you as big of a fan of opera as Riley is?” Kate asked.

Will grinned. “I’m not sure anyone’s as big of a fan as Riley, but I do enjoy it.” Will brushed his fingertips across Riley’s back. “I’m glad he wanted to share it with me.”

“Oh, I’ve been known to give Riley a run for his money,” Kate said lightly.

A little more warmth appeared in her eyes, but she still seemed off and Riley turned to Will, laying a hand on his arm.

“Would you get me another glass of champagne? I’d like a moment to talk to Kate, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” Will reassured him.

“Thank you. I’ll try not to be long.” Riley squeezed Will’s arm.

“Take your time. I’ll be over by the bar when you’re done.” He nodded at Kate. “Very nice to meet you, Kate.”

“You, too.”

Will left with a smile and Riley felt grateful for his understanding. He turned back to Kate, growing serious. “Are you sure everything’s okay? You don’t seem…” He wasn’t sure how to finish. Kate seemed unhappy, stressed. “Is it that Carter’s around and you’re worried about us running into each other?”

She shook her head. “No. Carter’s…Carter’s not here with me.”

Kate’s fingers trembled as she smoothed them over her pale blue dress and, although it took him a moment, Riley finally registered what was wrong with the picture. A faint stripe of lighter skin adorned the third finger of her left hand instead of the glittering diamond ring Riley had carried in the breast pocket of his tux the morning of Carter’s wedding. He wanted to ask her about it but realized there were too many people around. “Can we talk? Privately?”

She nodded, the motion tense and jerky. Riley steered them toward a secluded alcove, reminded of the night he and Carter had discussed finding a woman to join them. It seemed like it had been a lifetime ago, rather than just over a year. “What’s going on, Kate? I know you well enough to know you’re not okay.”

She let out a shaky breath. “Riley, a lot has happened since we last saw each other.”

He bit back a disbelieving laugh. “I’m well-aware.”

Her expression softened. “I know. You’ve been dealing with…well, more than any man should. I’m sorry to hear about your parents. They’re completely out of line.”

“It wasn’t unexpected.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

“And what about you? Is something going on with you and Carter? I noticed you aren’t wearing your ring.”

She glanced down at her left hand with a wistful glance. “Carter and I are separated. We’re in the process of filing for divorce.”

Riley blinked at her. “You what? Christ, what happened, Kate?”

The sad smile was trained on him, her tone gentle, but the words barbed. “You came out.”

Blanching, Riley tried to make sense of what she’d said. “I don’t understand.”

Her gaze remained unflinching, but her voice became so quiet he could barely hear it. “Carter told me the truth, Riley. The girls in college, the escort…your feelings for him.”

The news hit him like a ton of bricks. “I’m so fucking sorry, Kate.” His voice grew raw. “We never meant to—”

“I know. But it hurts deeply to know my husband and a man I considered a good friend betrayed me that way.” Kate’s voice shook. Riley saw the strain on her face as she struggled to keep it together. She looked away and he gave her a moment to compose herself before she continued. “How long, Riley?”

“What do you mean?”

“How long have you loved him?”

“Since college,” he admitted. “Probably since the moment I met him.”

She shook her head and dropped her voice to a whisper. “The whole time. Long before Carter and I met.”

Riley swallowed, his throat suddenly tight.

“How could you let him marry me?” she continued. “How could you stand beside him at the altar and hand him the ring when you loved him?”

“Because I truly believed it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t tell him how I felt—I could hardly even admit it to myself. He loved you—he really did—and I thought if he married you, the feelings I had for him wouldn’t matter. Asking Carter to divorce you to be with me last November was out of line. I shouldn’t have done it, but I couldn’t cope with hiding my feelings for him anymore. I thought he needed to know the truth. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love Carter, but I understand he doesn’t feel the same way about me. I know that now.” His voice sounded strained, even to him. “I wish it hadn’t taken the end of both our marriages and our friendship to prove that, though.”

“Me, too.” She stared him straight in the eye. “You know, he’s been a wreck since then, Riley. And when he ran into you before New Year’s, he became so depressed. He barely slept or ate—he just…wasn’t himself. He couldn’t live with the lies anymore and it all fell apart after that.”

“It kills me to know I hurt both of you.” He looked down, unable to meet her gaze. “I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ve lost Carter. I’m moving on now. Figuring out my life.”

“And Will?”

“We’re seeing each other. I care about him, but we’re—we’re taking things slow. He doesn’t know the exact details, but he knows there’s someone else I still have feelings for.”

“As long as you’re being honest with him.”

“I am.” Riley shoved his hands in his pockets. “I won’t live a lie like that again. I never should have done it in the first place.”

“I think the worst part is, I didn’t know I was,” Kate said softly, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I think somewhere deep down, I knew there was something between you and Carter, but I truly didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to believe the happy marriage and family were real.”

“Carter loves you and the kids. I know he does,” he whispered, his voice raw. “There are so many things I wish I’d done differently. Hurting you and the kids…I hope you know how much I regret it. Although I hoped Carter would want to be with me, I don’t think I ever believed he’d leave you. I know he didn’t want to tear apart your marriage or your family.”

“We can’t always predict the outcome of these things.” She laid a hand on his forearm, her smile wistful. “Besides, you coming out may have precipitated this, but it became inevitable. Once Carter stopped being honest with me, this was bound to happen. I am so, so angry at both of you, but I am trying to understand it. I can’t imagine what keeping your feelings a secret must have been like. Maybe once the hurt passes, I’ll be able to forgive you.”

He nodded, his heart aching. “It’s more than I deserve.”

Before she could reply, the lights dimmed briefly, indicating intermission had ended. She offered him a small, sympathetic smile. “I need to head back to my seat, but, Riley, I’m glad we talked.”

“So am I. Take care of yourself, Kate.”

“You, too.”

He stood staring after Kate until someone gently touched his upper back. He turned to see Will staring at him with a worried frown.

“Are you all right?” Will asked.

Riley shook his head to clear it. “Yeah. We should get back to our seats, though.”

Will nodded and fell into step beside him, his gaze worried. Riley couldn’t blame him. The conversation with Kate had completely thrown him and he knew he was acting oddly. He needed some time to process it.

Throughout the second half of the performance, Riley felt grateful for Will’s silent presence. He hadn’t asked Riley to explain, had merely sat beside him and laid a comforting hand on his knee. Riley didn’t know what to think of the conversation with Kate. Despite having wanted Carter to end his marriage, the news that Kate and Carter were no longer together felt like an unexpected blow. It would be difficult to come to terms with his partial responsibility for it. He’d never wanted to hurt Carter or Kate and his heart ached for Sadie and Dylan.

He instinctively wanted to reach out to Carter and see if he needed to talk, but Riley wondered if Carter would welcome it or not. Would he blame Riley for the end of his marriage? Was there any hope of repairing their friendship?

Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbor by Charlie Cochrane
Cambridge 1922
“Owens? Owens?” Orlando Coppersmith’s voice sounded louder, and clearer, from his chair in the Senior Common Room at St Bride’s than it had ever sounded before. And with good cause.

“Steady on, old man. We’re in enough of a state of shock without you making sufficient noise to wake the dead.” Jonty Stewart smiled at his friend’s uncharacteristic outburst. Although friendship would hardly be the most accurate way to describe their relationship. Even the description “lovers, companions, colleagues and partners in solving crime” didn’t quite cover the depth of the bond they’d build up in nigh on twenty years. If their hair bore the odd silver thread, their ardour hadn’t cooled.

“Wake the dead or, harder still, wake some of the dons,” Dr. Panesar agreed, mischievously.

“Good point, Dr. P.” Jonty sniggered. “Some of them give the impression they’ve been asleep since 1913.”

A quick glance around the oak panelled room supported his assertion. St. Bride’s may have been one of the most forward looking of the Cambridge colleges, embracing the fact the year was 1922 rather than pretending it was still 1622, but some aspects of the university, including crusty old dons, seemed to be an immutable fixture.

“In which case,” Orlando pointed out, “we’d have ten years of history to explain to them, much of it unpleasant, let alone this latest scandal. St. Bride’s men being asked to defend Owens. What is the world coming to?”

Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet
Prologue
DURING THE Vietnam War, the use of lethal biological warfare led to the spread of the Melanoe virus, infecting millions worldwide and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Although no country would take credit for releasing the virus, the world’s top scientists came together to create a cure. The vaccine known as Eppione.8 used strains from animals found to be immune to the virus, but one year after distribution, the course of human history was forever changed. A dormant mutation within the virus was activated by the vaccine, resulting in the altering of human DNA, and giving birth to a new species: Therians.

When the first infected Humans began changing in the late seventies, some didn’t survive. Their Human bodies were unprepared for the shift. Others died of cancer or infections due to weakened immune systems, while others vanished. Rumors ran rampant about governments trying to clean up their mess. When it was clear the “problem” wasn’t going to go away, the US government tried to regain control of the masses, creating the Therian database and quickly passing new laws that would force all surviving Therians to register and get marked, supposedly for their own safety and that of their fellow Human citizens.

The government had been treating the first wave of Therians as a side effect of the war, one that would eventually die out. Then in 1976, scientists discovered what was really happening. The first generation of purebred Therians had been born. The mutation had perfected itself. Solidified, inside these First Generations. Suddenly, there was an advanced new species and along with it, a whole new set of fears.

In an attempt to restore social order, the US government quickly put new regulations and laws into place, along with a Therian branch of government. In 1990, Human and Therian legislators launched the Therian Human Intelligence, Recon, Defense Squadron A.K.A the THIRDS, an elite, military-funded agency comprised of an equal number of Human and Therian agents and intended to uphold the law for all its citizens without prejudice.

As long as Humanity continued to repeat the mistakes of the past, organizations like the THIRDS would be needed to ensure Humanity had a future, even if they had to stumble along the way to get there.

Chapter 1
FUCK. MY. Life.

Dex closed his eyes, wishing this was nothing more than some freakishly vivid dream where any moment now, he would wake up and everything would go back to the way it was. Of course, when he opened his eyes, nothing changed. He splashed more water on his face in an effort to ease the tension, but it didn’t help. Not that he’d been expecting it to. After wiping the excess water from his face, he paused to glare at the man in the mirror. The guy staring back at him looked like shit, pale with reddish-brown circles under his eyes that made him look as if he’d either been crying or using crack. There were definitely a hell of a lot of sleepless nights involved. Dex didn’t like the guy in the mirror. What an asshole.

“Are they out there?” His voice came out rough, as if waking from sleep—deep or otherwise—had been out of his reach for some time.

A hand landed on his shoulder, offering a sympathetic squeeze. “Yes. Remember what we talked about? As soon as you’ve had enough, you walk away.”

Dex let out a snort. It was way too late to walk away. Had been about six months ago. He straightened and snatched a paper towel from the automated dispenser. It was like drying off with newspaper, the same newspapers that had his image plastered all over their pages. Images that had been run through some Photoshop douchebag filter to make him look like even more of a prick. He chucked the paper into the wastebasket and stood there, finding it difficult to face his lawyer.

“Hey, look at me.” Littman stepped up to him and patted his cheek. “You did the right thing.”

Dex looked up then, searching for something, anything that might help the pain go away even for a little while. “Then why do I feel like shit?”

“Because he was your friend, Dex.”

“Exactly. And I fucked him over. Some friend.” He went back to leaning over the sink, his fingers gripping the porcelain so tightly, his knuckles hurt. “Goddamn it!” That son of a bitch! What the hell had Walsh been thinking? Obviously he hadn’t been, or neither of them would be in this mess. Or worse, maybe Walsh had thought it through. Maybe he’d been so certain Dex would have his back that he thought “fuck it.”

Dex closed his eyes, trying to get the man’s face out of his mind, but he could still see it clearly. That face was going to haunt his dreams for a long time coming. The mixture of anger and pain when the verdict had been given—anger directed at Dex, and pain brought about by what he’d done—had been there for the world to see, especially Dex.

“No,” Littman insisted. “He fucked himself over. All you did was tell the truth.”

The truth. How could doing the right thing turn out so goddamn bad? Had it even been the right thing? It had seemed like it at the time. Now he wasn’t so sure. Regardless, he couldn’t hide out in the restroom all his life.

“Let’s get this over with.” A few deep breaths and he followed Littman out into the corridor. The moment he stepped foot out there, the locusts swarmed him, microphones buzzing, recorders and smartphones at the ready, flashes going off, cameras rolling, a litany of questions flying at him from every direction. It was as if he were underwater, hearing everyone outside the pool yelling and screaming as he sank to the bottom like a stone, no discernible words, only muffled sounds. Littman stepped up beside him, one hand behind Dex’s back in assurance, the other held up to the crowd in a vain attempt to bring order to chaos.

“Detective Daley will do his best to answer your questions, but one at a time, please!”

A tall, gray-haired man in an expensive suit pushed through his gathered comrades, ignoring their murmured grunts of displeasure, to place a microphone in front of Dex. A half a dozen more swiftly joined it.

“Detective Daley, what would you say to all the Humans who believe you betrayed your own kind?”

At least he’d been prepared for that one. Dex buttoned up his suit jacket, the gesture allowing him a few seconds to calm his nerves and collect his thoughts. Smoothing it down, he met the reporter’s gaze. “I joined the Human Police Force to make a difference, and sometimes that requires making tough calls. I chose to tell the truth. No one is above the law, and my job is to enforce it.”

A blonde woman in a tailored navy blue pantsuit swiftly jumped in. “Is it because your brother is Therian? Are you a LiberTherian Sympathizer?”

It was hardly the first time he’d been accused of such. Having a Therian brother was the sole reason the Human Police Force had taken longer than necessary to consider him when he’d applied ten years ago. If his father hadn’t been a respected detective on the force, Dex was certain he never would’ve been considered, much less hired. Knowing what they thought of his brother should have been enough to make him walk away, but it was those same close-minded individuals Dex had wanted to reach. That was why he’d joined the HPF, to continue making a difference from the inside, like his dad once had. It turned out to be a whole lot harder than he’d imagined, but that only succeeded in strengthening his resolve.

“My brother and I share the same beliefs when it comes to justice. Our fathers taught us to treat both Therians and Humans as equals. I may be liberal-minded, but my strong belief in justice for both species hardly makes me a sympathizer.”

An auburn-haired man with a shit-eating grin shoved his smartphone in Dex’s face, almost hitting him in the teeth. His expression told Dex he didn’t much care if he had. Dex calmly pulled back, his jaw muscles tightening. “Detective Daley, why haven’t you joined your father and brother over at the THIRDS? Is it because you didn’t qualify?”

Dex returned the asshole’s grin. “Whatever you’re paying your sources, it’s too much. I never applied to the THIRDS.”

“But you did go through their training.”

“I was offered the opportunity to take the three-week training course in the hopes I might reconsider becoming a candidate. I complied as a courtesy to my family, and I admit, a part of me wanted to know if I was up to the challenge.” And damn, had it been one hell of a challenge! Three weeks of intense physical training and skill-building exercises, rappelling, fast roping, room entry procedures, building searches, close quarter combat, and tactical weapons training. Dex had been pushed to his limits, and when he thought he couldn’t give any more, he was forced to reach deep down and give an additional 10 percent. It had been the most grueling, demanding, psychologically stressful three weeks of his life. Nothing he’d ever done had come close to what he’d been put through in those three weeks, not even the HPF training academy.

The THIRDS were the toughest sons of bitches around, and Dex had wanted to prove to himself that he could hack it. But join them? That was something else altogether.

“Did you pass?”

Dex couldn’t help his pride from showing. “Top of the class.”

“Will you be applying now?” another journalist asked.

“I intend to continue offering my services to the HPF.”

“What if they don’t want you? Do you think they’ve lost their trust in you, knowing you helped send a good man, one of their own brothers, to prison?”

And there it was.

Dex turned his head to whisper Littman’s name. His lawyer smiled broadly and held a hand up. “Thank you all for coming. I’m afraid that’s all Detective Daley has time for. Please respect him and his family during this difficult time.”

“What about Detective Walsh and his family? Have you spoken to them? How does his family feel about what you did?”

Dex waded through the toxic pool of newspersons, refusing to think about the hurtful and hateful phone calls, texts, and messages from Walsh’s family. People he’d once had barbecues with, whose Little League games he’d attended. He’d never wanted to bring them so much pain, to take away their son, husband, father. Being on the receiving end of their anger was the least Dex deserved.

“Detective Daley! Detective!”

He ignored the onslaught of questions, from what his boyfriend thought about the whole thing to whether his career with the HPF was unofficially over, and everything in between. He wasn’t going to think about any of that now. All he wanted was to get home to said boyfriend and maybe cry a little.

Dex walked as fast, but calmly, as he could, with Littman at his side, making a beeline for the north entrance of the Supreme Court Criminal Branch. Outside, the news teams tried to crowd him in, and officers did their best to control the growing mob. The railings on either side of the exit only proved to be a nuisance, corralling him as he tried to push his way through. The steps were blocked, so Dex grabbed Littman’s elbow and hurried him down the makeshift ramp to the sidewalk. Thank God they had a car waiting for them.

Dex tried to be nice about getting the journalists to step back so he could get into the backseat. When a couple of jerks tried to cram in, Dex was left with no choice. He grabbed their smartphones and tossed them into the crowd behind them.

“You’re going to pay for that!” one of them called out as he scrambled to retrieve his device.

“Bill me!” Dex climbed into the car and slammed the door behind him. The town car pulled away from the curb, and he slumped back against the pristine leather, letting out a long audible breath. Finally, it was over. For the time being anyway.

“You sure you don’t want to be dropped off at home?” Littman looked nearly as haggard as Dex felt.

“Nah, the parking garage is fine. I need to drop off the rental anyway.”

“You know I would’ve been happy to pick you up at your home and drop you off.”

“I know.” Dex stared out the window as they drove up Centre Street, made a left on White, and then drove down Lafayette. When they made a right onto Worth, the Starbucks on the corner had him pining for some frothy caffeine goodness. “I needed to drive around a while before court. Listen to some music, try to relax a little.” He’d made sure to rent a car with the darkest tinted windows on the lot and a slamming sound system. Music was probably the only thing that had kept him from going crazy through this whole ordeal, what with his boyfriend’s busy schedule. It would have been nice to have Lou there with him, but he understood the man couldn’t drop everything for him. They both had demanding careers and sometimes sacrifices had to be made. Still….

“I understand. You should lay low for a while until this blows over. There’s talk of that heiress—the one who’s been having a not-so-secret affair with her Therian personal trainer, being pregnant, and Daddy’s not taking it well. That should keep the vultures busy for a while. I suggest you take some vacation time, maybe surprise Lou with a nice little penthouse suite in the Bahamas or something.”

In no time, the car pulled up to the curb in front of the deli next to the parking garage, and Dex mustered up a smile, holding his hand out to his father’s old friend. “Thanks. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

“You know I’m always here if you need me.” Littman took his hand in his and gave it a pat. “Dex?”

“Yeah?”

“He would have been proud of you.”

The thought brought a lump to his throat. “You think so?”

Littman nodded, the conviction in his words going a long way to assure Dex. “I knew your dad a long time. Believe me. He would have been proud. And so is Tony. He’s left me about ten messages asking about how you are. Your brother’s probably worried sick as well.”

Dex pulled his hand away to remove his smartphone from his pocket and chuckled at the fifteen missed calls from his family. He held it up. “You think?”

“Call your family, before Tony hunts you down.”

“I’ll give them both a call soon as I get in. Thanks.” After saying good-bye to Littman, Dex once again thanked him for helping him keep his sanity throughout all this and what was surely to come. Dex headed toward the rental in the parking garage. He wasn’t stupid enough to drive his precious baby to the courthouse. It was hard to lose the media in an Orange Pearl Dodge Challenger. If they weren’t in the city, he’d leave them eating his dust, but since he was in the city, it would make him a sitting duck.

As soon as he walked around to the rental’s driver’s side, he was doubly grateful he hadn’t brought his car, though he was no less pissed. Someone had slashed his back tire.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

He kicked the tire, as if doing so might magically repair it. Goddamn it, he should have let Littman drive him home. All he wanted was to get indoors, get something to eat, and vegetate on the couch. Thank God for auto clubs. He reached into his pocket for his phone when someone across the lot called out.

“Detective Daley!”

Instinctively, he looked up. A split second later the air rushed out of his lungs when something solid struck him between his shoulder blades. He stumbled forward, a blow to his thigh forcing him onto his hands and knees with a painful growl. Around him, three large Humans in black ski masks and black gloves crowded him. Damn it, where had they come from? Dex moved, intent on pushing himself to his feet when someone kicked him in the stomach, leaving him once again winded. He landed roughly on his side, holding onto his bruised ribs and stomach, his teeth gritted as he breathed heavily through his nose.

“You fucked up, Daley. You shouldn’t have testified against your partner.”

“Fuck you,” Dex spat out. Another kick confirmed mouthing off wasn’t appreciated. They obviously didn’t know him. With a groan, he leaned slightly to take in the sight of their neat attire. Maybe they did know him. “Who sent you?” He didn’t need to know. What’s more, he didn’t care. All he needed was enough time to figure out who he was up against.

“The Human race,” one of them snarled.

Dex let out a laugh. What an ass. It hadn’t taken him long to piece things together after noticing the gang’s black dress slacks and shiny black shoes. With a curse, he rolled forward to press his forehead against the asphalt. The only surprising part of this whole encounter was the fact it hadn’t come sooner. At least they weren’t going to kill him, just make him bleed a little. “Well, I got the message, so you can all go home now. You did your duty.” He received a blow to the arm with the shiny steel baton; most likely the same object they’d used to hit him in the back. Man, he was going to be sore tomorrow.

They dragged him to his feet, one holding on to each of his arms as the third came to stand before him. Dex closed his eyes and braced himself, his mind chastising him for being such a coward. The punch landed square across his jaw, snapping his head to one side and splitting his lip. Fuuuck, that hurt. He ran a tongue over his teeth to make sure nothing was loose. Nope, nothing there but the tangy taste of his own blood.

“Hey! HPF! Hands where I can see them!”

The Humans bolted and Dex’s knees buckled beneath him. Strong hands caught him, helping him stay on his feet. His back stung, his arm, thigh, and face throbbed from the blows, and his stomach reeled at the knowledge he’d done nothing.

“Daley, you okay?”

Dex recognized that voice. He looked up, puzzled to find fellow Homicide Detective Isaac Pearce holding him up, concern etched on his face.

“Pearce?”

Pearce helped him to the rental and propped him up against it, performing a quick assessment. Seeming confident Dex could stand, he surveyed the parking garage, but the perpetrators were long gone. His attention landed back on Dex. “You all right?”

“Yeah. Wish I could say the same about my suit.” Dex straightened, wincing at the sharp pain that shot through his body. “What are you doing here?”

“The usual summons, but my guy never showed. It was a nice day, so I figured I’d walk it. Glad I left when I did.”

“Yeah, me too.” Dex let out a small laugh then winced at the sharp sting it brought his lip. Tony was going to lose his shit over this.

“Any idea who they were?” Pearce asked worriedly.

Yep. “Nope.” Dex shook his head, wiping his hands on his slacks. “Just some pissed off Humans.” He had enough on his hands without bringing a whole new level of crap down on himself. “To be honest, right now, I just want to get home.”

“Don’t blame you.” Pearce motioned toward the slashed tire. “Need a lift?”

If he called the auto club now, Dex would have to wait for someone to come out—because he sure as hell didn’t have the strength or will to change the tire himself, wait for them to swap it out then drive the rental back to the lot. Or, he could accept Pearce’s offer and worry about the rental later.

“A lift would be greatly appreciated.”

“Great.” Pearce beamed at him. “I’m around the corner.”

With a murmured “Thanks,” Dex accompanied Pearce to his car, a silver Lexus that was more befitting a homicide detective. At least that’s what his old partner Walsh would have thought. The guy never did approve of Dex’s tastes. Come to think of it, Walsh was always making snide comments about what a “special snowflake” Dex was. He’d never paid much attention to the remarks, but in light of recent events, it was possible Walsh had always been a judgmental prick. Had Dex simply turned a blind eye to all of it? What if Dex had called him out on it sooner? Could they both have been spared all this?

“You okay?” Pearce asked again as soon as Dex was settled into the passenger seat beside him.

“Yeah, sorry. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this.”

“Why don’t you put on some music? Relax a bit. I’ll even let you choose the station.”

Dex gave a low whistle as he slipped on his seatbelt. “You’re going to regret giving me that kind of power.” He turned on the radio and navigated through the touchscreen to Retro Radio. Dex grinned broadly at Pearce, wiggling his eyebrows when Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” came blaring through the speakers. Pearce stared at him as if he’d lost his mind and Dex laughed. “I told you, you’d regret it.”

With a chuckle, Pearce drove out of the parking garage. “Where to?”

“West Village, Barrow Street.”

Despite Bobby McFerrin advising Dex a few minutes later not to worry and be happy, Dex was finding it difficult. If it were only that easy, Bobby. If only.

The ride down Sixth Avenue was quiet, filled mostly with power ballads and electro pop from the era of neon spandex, mullets, and shoulder pads with a wingspan to rival that of a Boeing 747. Dex appreciated Pearce letting him zone out instead of trying to make idle conversation. It was odd, being in Pearce’s car with him. They’d never offered more than the usual office greetings despite both working homicide from the HPF’s Sixth Precinct. Then again, Pearce had retreated into himself after losing his brother over a year ago, and no one at the Sixth could blame him. Having a younger brother of his own, Dex could imagine how hard it must have been on the poor guy.

Traffic wasn’t too bad this time of day, slowing down mainly near Tribeca Park and a few pockets down Sixth Avenue. Less than ten minutes later, they were driving onto busy Bleecker Street. Maybe he could convince Lou to pick him up a burger and fries from Five Guys on the corner. It was dangerous, having that place so close to his house. They pulled up in front of Dex’s brownstone, and Pearce turned to him with a smile. “Well, here we are.”

“Thanks for not kicking me out of your car,” Dex said, shutting off the radio.

“I’ll admit I came close when Jefferson Starship came on, but then I saw you tapping your hand in time to the music, and you had this sappy smile on your face… I didn’t have the heart.” Dex gave a snort and leaned back in his seat, smiling when Pearce started laughing. “You are one weird guy.” Pearce’s smile faded, and he suddenly looked a little embarrassed. “Want to get a coffee sometime?”

“Sure.” Dex tried not to let the surprise show in his voice.

“I know we’ve never said more than a few words to each other, but you’re a cool guy, Daley.” His brows drew together in worry, making him appear older than he was. Dex wasn’t more than a couple years younger than Pearce, but their job didn’t exactly allow for aging gracefully. “Be careful. I’d hate—” Pearce’s voice broke and he cleared his throat. “I’d hate for you to get hurt over all this. My brother, Gabe, believed in what he was doing and look where it got him.”

Dex frowned, trying to drum up what he remembered from the incident. He remembered it had been especially hard on Pearce, not having access to the case. But since Gabe had been a THIRDS agent, the HPF had no jurisdiction. “I thought the guy involved had been a Human informant?”

Pearce shook his head. “He was an HPF informant, but he wasn’t Human. He was Therian. A kid.”

Shit. Pearce’s brother had been killed by a Therian informant and here he was, coming to rescue a guy who’d testified against his Human partner in favor of a young Therian punk. “So, why aren’t you kicking the shit out of me too?”

A deep frown came onto Pearce’s face. “If your partner was stupid enough to let his personal prejudice affect his judgment, he deserves what he got. The truth is I admire you. Not everyone would’ve had the balls to do what you did. What happened to Gabe… was different.” He sighed, his expression troubled. “I’m just saying to watch your back. There are a lot of zealots out there looking for any excuse to carry out their own justice and things have been getting worse since that second HumaniTherian was found dead a few months ago. Some of these Humans are out for blood.”

Pearce wasn’t wrong on that. Two HumaniTherian activists had been murdered in the last six months and the evidence was pointing toward a Therian perpetrator, which meant jurisdiction fell to the THIRDS. Although the organization was doing its best to reassure the public, a storm was brewing between Humans and Therians, especially if they didn’t catch whoever was behind it soon. Dex’s testimony against his partner couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“Thanks for the warning, Pearce.” Dex stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him, taking a step to the side to wave at Pearce as he drove off. As soon as the guy was gone, Dex let out a sigh of relief. He loved his quiet little treelined street. With a smile, he painfully climbed up the steps to his front door. Finally, he was home. He stuck the key into the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open, baffled when it went thump halfway. Christ, now what? Something heavy was wedged up against it. With a frustrated grunt, he forced it open and carefully stuck his head in, frowning when he saw the large open cardboard box filled with DVDs, CDs, and a host of other things that should have been in his living room. His initial thought went to burglary, except he’d never run into thieves who stopped to bubble wrap their stolen merchandise.

“Lou?”

Dex locked the door behind him and wandered into the living room, his jaw all but hitting the floor at the near-empty state of it, along with the many cardboard boxes littered about in various stages of completeness. Something banged against the floor upstairs and Dex took the stairs two at a time.

“Babe?” Dex found his boyfriend of four years upstairs in their bedroom throwing shoes into empty boxes. “What’s going on?”

“I’m moving out.”

The words hit Dex like a punch to the gut, a feeling he was growing all too familiar with these days. “What?” He quickly maneuvered through the obstacle course of boxes and scattered manbags to take hold of his boyfriend’s arms, turning him to face him. “Sweetheart, stop for a second. Please, talk to me.” He went to cup Lou’s cheek, only to have Lou move his face away. Ouch. Double sucker punch. Tucking the rejection away for later, he focused on getting to the bottom of this. “Lou, please.”

“The nonstop phone calls, the reporters knocking on the door, the news reports on TV calling you a disgrace to your species. I can’t take it anymore, Dex.”

Guilt washed over him, and he released Lou. How many more casualties would there be as a result of his doing “the right thing”? “Give it some time. This will all blow over. What if we go somewhere far away from this, the two of us, huh?”

Lou shook his head and went back to packing. “I have a life to think about. I’ve already lost half a dozen clients. I can’t afford to lose any more.”

“This is New York, Lou. One thing you won’t run out of is parties to cater. It’s almost September, next thing you know it’ll be Halloween and you’ll be knee-deep in white chocolate ghosts and tombstone ice sculptures, telling your clients how throwing a party in a real graveyard is a bad idea.” When his lighthearted approach failed, Dex knew this was serious. Of course, to most people, the packed boxes would have been a dead giveaway, but Dex wasn’t most people. He refused to believe Lou would walk out on him when he needed him the most. “What about me? Aren’t I a part of your life?” Dex was taken aback when Lou rounded on him, anger flashing in his hazel eyes.

“You sent your partner to prison, Dex!”

Unbelievable. It wasn’t bad enough he was getting it from everyone else, now he was getting it at home too? Dex was growing mighty tired of being treated like a criminal. “I didn’t send him to prison. The evidence against him did. He shot an unarmed kid in the back and killed him for fuck’s sake! How am I the asshole in this?” He searched Lou’s eyes for any signs of the man who’d wake him up in the middle of the night simply to tell him how glad he was to be there with him.

“It wasn’t like you’d be able to bring the kid back. Not to mention he was a delinquent and a Therian!”

Dex’s anger turned into shock. “Whoa, what the hell, Lou? So that makes it okay? What about Cael? He’s a Therian. You’ve never had a problem with him.” At least Lou had the decency to look ashamed.

“He’s your family. I had no choice.”

This was all news to him. Dex loved Cael. He would never push his brother out for anyone. He’d been upfront about his Therian brother when he and Lou had first started dating. If his date couldn’t accept Cael, he couldn’t accept Dex. “Where is all this coming from? Since when do you have a problem with Therians?”

“Since one ruined my fucking life!” Lou chucked a pair of sneakers at one of the boxes with such force the box toppled over.

“Your life?” This conversation grew more astounding by the minute. Dex thrust a finger at himself. “Have you seen my face? I got the shit kicked out of me in the parking garage, thanks for noticing. If a fellow detective hadn’t come along, I’d probably be in the hospital right now. And you know what the most fucked up part of that is? They weren’t even street thugs. They were fucking cops!” Dex had known the moment he’d seen their attire and the telltale signs of an ankle holster on one of them. The bastards had probably been at the trial.


RJ Scott
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

VL Locey
V.L. Locey loves worn jeans, yoga, belly laughs, reading and writing lusty tales, Greek mythology, the New York Rangers, comic books, and coffee. (Not necessarily in that order.) She shares her life with her husband, her daughter, two dogs, two cats, a flock of assorted domestic fowl, and three Jersey steers.

When not writing spicy romances, she enjoys spending her day with her menagerie in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania with a cup of fresh java in hand. She can also be found online on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and GoodReads.

Andrew Grey
Andrew grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and now writes full time.

Andrew’s hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing)  He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful, historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

KA Merikan 
K. A. Merikan is the pen name for Kat and Agnes Merikan, a team of writers, who are taken for sisters with surprising regularity. Kat’s the mean sergeant and survival specialist of the duo, never hesitating to kick Agnes’s ass when she’s slacking off. Her memory works like an easy-access catalogue, which allows her to keep up with both book details and social media. Also works as the emergency GPS. Agnes is the Merikan nitpicker, usually found busy with formatting and research. Her attention tends to be scattered, and despite pushing thirty, she needs to apply makeup to buy alcohol. Self-proclaimed queen of the roads.

They love the weird and wonderful, stepping out of the box, and bending stereotypes both in life and books. When you pick up a Merikan book, there’s one thing you can be sure of – it will be full of surprises.

Anne Barwell
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand, sharing her home with her twin daughters, at least during the holidays, when one of them isn't away at university. Her son has left home and started his own family, although she claims she is too young to be a grandmother already. Her three cats are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing "discussion," and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching and has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and a librarian. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction club and plays piano for her local church and violin for a local orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as "too many." These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of "spare time" is really just a myth.

K Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.

K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.

Brigham Vaughn
Brigham Vaughn is starting the adventure of a lifetime as a full-time writer. She devours books at an alarming rate and hasn’t let her short arms and long torso stop her from doing yoga.  She makes a killer key lime pie, hates green peppers, and loves wine tasting tours. A collector of vintage Nancy Drew books and green glassware, she enjoys poking around in antique shops and refinishing thrift store furniture. An avid photographer, she dreams of traveling the world and she can’t wait to discover everything else life has to offer her.

Charlie Cochrane
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.

Olivier Bosman
Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I've spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.

I'm an avid reader and film fan and I have an MA in creative writing for film and television.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

Charlie Cochet
M/M romance author by day, artist by night, Charlie Cochet is quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse. From Historical to Fantasy, Contemporary to Science Fiction, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From hardboiled detectives and society gentleman, to angels and elves, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!


RJ Scott
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VL Locey
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Andrew Grey
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KA Merikan
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Anne Barwell
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EMAIL: darthanne@gmail.com

K Evan Coles
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Brigham Vaughn
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EMAIL: brighamvaughn@gmail.com

Charlie Cochrane
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EMAIL:  cochrane.charlie2@googlemail.com

Olivier Bosman
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Summer Devon
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EMAILS: summerdevon@comcast.net
katerothwell@gmail.com

Charlie Cochet
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EMAIL: charlie@charliecochet.com



All the King's Men by RJ Scott
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Changing Lines by RJ Scott & VL Locey
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Fire & Fog by Andrew Grey
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My Dark Knight by KA Merikan

Gabriel by RJ Scott
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Comes a Horseman by Anne Barwell
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Calm by Brigham Vaughn & K Evans Cole
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Lessons in Loving thy Murderous Neighbor by Charlie Cochrane

Something Sinister by Olivier Bosman
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His American Detective by Summer Devon
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Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet
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