Thursday, June 14, 2018

Happy Pride Month 2018: Top 20 Favorite LGBT Reads Part 4


Here at Padme's Library I feature all genres but followers have probably noticed that 90% of the posts and 99% of my reviews fall under the LGBT genres, so I thought what better time of year than June's Pride Month to honor my Top 20 Reads.  I started reading published M/M romances in 2013, I'd been enjoying slash fanfiction for months when I decided to check out the published genre.  I asked half-a-dozen of my reading BFFs who I knew enjoyed the genre and they had so many wonderful recommendations but the only one that they all had on their list was Texas by RJ Scott.  So it seemed the logical choice to jump in with and I was not disappointed. The Heart of Texas will always hold a special place in my library, my lists, and my heart.  So it's understandable why that is at the top of my Top 20 but the other 19 are in no particular order because all of them are so closely ranked I couldn't possibly give them a set number.  I should also mention that in the 5 years I have been reading M/M genre, over 700 books have been reviewed so narrowing it down to only 20 was not an easy task.


Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3

Calm by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn
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.

πŸ’”πŸ’«πŸ’žReader Advisory: This book contains polyamory and infidelity.πŸ’žπŸ’«πŸ’”

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.


Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet
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 for #1-4 September 2017:
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.


The Bells of Time Square by Amy Lane
Every New Year’s Eve since 1946, Nate Meyer has ventured alone to Times Square to listen for the ghostly church bells he and his long-lost wartime lover vowed to hear together. This year, however, his grandson Blaine is pushing Nate through the Manhattan streets, revealing his secrets to his silent, stroke-stricken grandfather.

When Blaine introduces his boyfriend to his beloved grandfather, he has no idea that Nate holds a similar secret. As they endure the chilly death of the old year, Nate is drawn back in memory to a much earlier time . . . and to Walter.

Long before, in a peace carefully crafted in the heart of wartime tumult, Nate and Walter forged a loving home in the midst of violence and chaos. But nothing in war is permanent, and now all Nate has is memories of a man his family never knew existed. And a hope that he’ll finally hear the church bells that will unite everybody—including the lovers who hid the best and most sacred parts of their hearts.

Original Review March 2015:
I want to start off by simply saying "This is an amazing read!"  Those of you who have been following my personal reviews here or on Goodreads, have probably noticed that I've been in a historical mood for the past six months or so and this is a perfect addition to my historical shelf.  I could see where the story was going to end from nearly the first page but it in no way took away from my enjoyment of this Amy Lane creation.  It's not always about the ending but the journey and that's what we have here, Walter's journey.  The connection and love between Nate and Walter might not seem to have much future but it is definitely heartwarming and everlasting.  I can honestly say that, although I've cried with many a book before, I have never teared up so much as I did with this story.


Fair Chance by Josh Lanyon
All's Fair #3
Elliot Mills comes face-to-face with evil in this follow-up to Fair Game and Fair Play from bestselling author Josh Lanyon  

One final game of cat and mouse…

Ex–FBI agent Elliot Mills thought he was done with the most brutal case of his career. The Sculptor, the serial killer he spent years hunting, is finally in jail. But Elliot's hope dies when he learns the murderer wasn't acting alone. Now everyone is at risk once again—thanks to a madman determined to finish his partner's gruesome mission.

When the lead agent on the case, Special Agent Tucker Lance, goes missing, Elliot knows it's the killer at work. After all, abducting the love of his life is the quickest way to hurt him.

The chances of finding Tucker are all but impossible without the help of the Sculptor—but the Sculptor is in no position to talk. Critically injured in a prison fight, he lies comatose and dying while the clock ticks down. Elliot has no choice but to play this killer's twisted game and hope he can find Tucker in time.

Saturday's Series Spotlight: All's Fair

Original Review March 2017:
Elliot and Tucker may not have the same hold on my heart as the author's Adrien and Jake from her Adrien English Series but they do give them a run for their money.  Their give and take chemistry in both their home life and the Sculptor case is even stronger in the aftermath of Fair Chance as it was in the initial investigation in Fair Game.  I dread the thought that we won't be seeing any more of these two but if that truly is the case, well what a way to say "the end"!

Did Andrew Corian have an accomplice or is he just trying to keep his game afoot with Elliot, to keep him looking over his shoulder, or to get the death penalty off the table?  For that answer, you'll have to read this yourself and if you have been following this tale since Fair Game you won't want to miss this great conclusion, if you're new to the game well then here is the perfect time to give these boys a go.

I love it when every secondary character has a purpose.  When you are dealing with a mystery sometimes the secondaries are glorified extras to cloud the suspect pool.  Not in Fair Chance, each one has a specific role, some are true suspects, some are true co-workers, some are family, but they are all important, they all add a little something to the tale that would leave a hole if they were not there.  When the mystery is "Is there a mystery?" it takes talent to tell it, to blend "is there" to "yes there is", to thread passion and humor with love and hate.  Those are just some of the reasons that Fair Chance is a nail-biter and if you don't bite your nails, be sure to have some toothpicks handy to gnaw on, you are going to need them.


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.


“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?

Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet
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?”


“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 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.


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.

The Bells of Time Square by Amy Lane
Dawn of a New Age

“Mom, is he ready?”

If Nate Meyer could have smiled, he would have, but his face didn’t do that anymore.

“Blaine, honey, it’s freezing outside. Really? Are we really doing this?”

Nate closed his rheumy eyes. His wrinkled, liver-spotted hand shimmied as he plucked at the polyester blanket across his lap. Please, Stephanie. Please. The bells. I might hear the bells.

“Mom, he lives for this, you know that.”

Good boy. Blaine, such a good boy. Dark black hair, big brown eyes—couldn’t look more like me as a young man if we’d tried.

But then, Stephanie had married a nice boy, a dentist, with black hair and brown eyes as well, and she’d laughed about that. A good Jewish girl marrying a Jewish dentist—it was like she’d read a manual, yes? Her children would look almost frum. Nate and Carmen had laughed quietly about that as well, because Stephanie herself looked German. Her brother Alan had blond hair and brown eyes, although Nate suspected that after he hit twenty-five, the blond streaks had come from a bottle. Well, yes, a man could do that now, in these days. A man could dye his hair and not be accused of being a . . . What had Walter called them?

Poof. Yes, that was the word.

A man could streak his hair and dress himself fancy, and not be afraid of being a poof.

In his head, Nate laughed, and he could see himself as Walter had seen him: just like Blaine with his dark curly hair, dark-brown eyes, dark lashes, full lips, a slight space between his teeth, and a nose with a decided bow outwards. He’d always looked like a Jew, had never been ashamed of it, not even when he’d moved from his predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the Lower East Side to the barracks with the other USAAF privates, some of them from places in the country that had never seen a Jew before. That posting hadn’t lasted long, though.

Somewhere, somebody had seen his recruitment papers. The degree in art history meant nothing, but his father was a clockmaker, and Nate worked in his shop. His specialty? Cameras, the new and the old. And Nathan Meyer suddenly became a valuable commodity, didn’t he? Six-pointed star and all, Nate could work cameras, and in 1941, when Brits had just started figuring out how to outfit their Spitfires so the pilots didn’t die and the cameras didn’t freeze, that man who could take a picture was like gold, wasn’t he?

Nate hadn’t hidden his gloating, either, when he’d been recruited by the OSS while in the USAAF. He’d been inducted into the 25th Tactical and Reconnaissance Wing—more specifically, the 654th bombardment. Him, Nate Meyer. Even he had something special, something the OSS needed.

It had started with the clocks. Everyone had something to contribute, because that was the war, right? Even Nate’s mother had planted a victory garden in the flower bed she kept in the little concrete apron behind the family brownstone. Before the crash, when Nate was a little boy, she’d worn gloves when dusting to keep her hands soft. And now, with the crash and the war? She was gardening!

And Nate, who had needed to beg his father to buy an old Brownie and then had taken it apart, put it together, learned all the words—f-stop, shutter speed, lens width, scope—while his father complained bitterly about the newfangled thing and the expense of the invention, that Nate now had a special skill to offer. So he got the promotion and the raise in pay and the better bunk, and all for taking pictures.

His father hadn’t been so proud. Pictures? What good were pictures? Officers needed pictures; the war needed men! But of course, pictures of officers were what Nate had told his parents he took so his letters home didn’t look like a picture puzzle. In reality, his pictures were very different . . .

“Grandpa? Are you ready yet?”

Not so ready. Because my body is meat, boy, and no amount of wiping it off or swaddling it in these acrylic afghans your mother makes will render it more than meat.

Blaine didn’t hear him, of course. He was a strong boy, and Nate had enough of himself to wrap his arms around Blaine’s neck so the boy could lift him up from his bed and set him in his wheelchair. Stephanie’s husband—another good boy. Oh, Nate was surrounded by good boys. He was grateful—had a ramp installed. So thank heavens, there would be no bump-kerthump, bump-kerthump, as there had been so often in the first days after the stroke.

“Mom! Where’s his coat? The thick wool one, with the leather gloves in the pocket?”

“Blaine, do you really want to—”

There was a knock at the front, and Stephanie left off her nagging, probably to open the door.

“That’s Tony,” Blaine said. He had always liked talking to Nate and had kept up the habit of it even after Nate couldn’t talk anymore. Nate might find it irritating as hell, but at least Blaine talked about real things. He certainly could do without Stephanie’s yammering about buying something new for the house. He hated the new things—the new tile, the new tables—because her mother had worked so hard for the old things. It felt disloyal, this opening of the house, the sunshiny colors, the skylight over the living room. Hearing Stephanie justify these things to Nate—that only hurt him more.

But Blaine talked about politics, he talked about books.

And because Nate couldn’t talk, couldn’t tell, couldn’t condemn, Blaine also talked about Tony.

Nate lived for Blaine’s monologues about Tony.

At first it had been Tony’s mind—the funny things that Tony had said. Tony was in Blaine’s sociology course at NYU, and he had the best things, the best shows, the best songs.

Then it had been Tony’s laughter, the jokes that he told and how he liked action-adventure movies and didn’t like the Oscar ones because they were too sad. Blaine had been disappointed by this at first, because Blaine himself was always so serious, always so worried about tomorrow. But Nate had listened, and Blaine had started to laugh at himself more, appreciate that you needed to laugh in order to work toward a better tomorrow.

Sometimes Blaine would talk about how he’d been giving Tony lessons about being a Jew, which made Nate laugh inside. When Nate had been Blaine’s age, he hadn’t even spoken Yiddish in an attempt to not align himself with his father or any of the traditions that Nate had been forced to follow, simply because they were traditions. He had changed when he’d come home from the war, embraced those stories, loved those traditions, for Carmen’s sake, for his own, for his family’s.

And Blaine had learned to love them as well. Blaine would study the Passover Seder stories and the Purim stories, and tell them to Tony, and then come home and tell his zayde all about Tony’s reactions. So yes, Nate had heard all about Tony’s love of a good story.

More recently, he’d heard all about Tony’s smile.

But Nate had yet to meet Tony, and now, hearing the suppressed excitement in Blaine’s voice, he was suddenly excited, as well. He was going out, out into the cold to listen for the bells, and he would get to meet Blaine’s Tony. He made an effort then, worked hard, and a sound came out. A happy sound, he hoped.

“You like that?” Blaine smiled while he helped Nate into his coat. “You want to meet Tony? He’ll like you. I told him you were a hero in the war, you know? He thought that was pretty awesome.”

Awesome—everything these days was awesome or excellent or wonderful. What about Blaine’s generation made them talk in superlatives? Nate missed the days when you could understate things, when it would be nice or nifty or interesting instead.

Of course, if Nate had lived in a time when your whole life could be accomplished on a little glowing box on the kitchen table, well then, everything might indeed have been awesome, wouldn’t it?

But Blaine didn’t hear Nate’s thoughts on awesome.

“I wanted him to meet you. I mean, I know you can’t exactly tell him stories, Zayde, but you know . . .”

You wanted to know if I would welcome him, love him as you do already. You wanted to know if Zayde would bless you and make it all good, even if your mother would say to stop this mishegas already, there is no gay in her family.

The moment stretched on achingly as Blaine helped him with his gloves. Nate remembered this boy when he was a child. He would cling to Nate’s hand, bury his face in Nate’s thick wool coat whenever they went outdoors during the holidays. New York, even the Upper East Side, was loud and frightening for a small boy. And now, the boy had found another hand to help him through, and he wanted to know if his Zayde would bind their hands together, like a rabbi at a wedding.

Nate longed to give his blessing.

Blaine buttoned up Nate’s coat. He was sweltering inside it, but, well, it was better than freezing as soon as they made it outside. Blaine was in the middle of tucking another blanket around Nate’s lap when he turned.

“Tony!” The warmth of his voice, the pitch of the enthusiasm, told Nate far too much about how hard it was to be here, wrapping his grandfather up like a swaddled child, to help him honor this old tradition.

“Is he all ready?” Tony asked cheerfully, and Nate’s good eye focused on him.

Oh my. The left side of his face could still move, and he knew he was smiling in pleased surprise.

Tony was a handsome boy, with skin nearly the color of Nate’s black wool coat and teeth that gleamed against that dark skin. Oh, look at them! Boys who could look at each other and smile like that, dark skin and six-pointed star and all.

If Nate could have spoken, he would have said Awesome! or Excellent!

Blaine . . . such a good boy.

Of course, Nate’s father would have said no such thing about Blaine’s choice. But then Selig Meyer had not been a fan of Carmen when she had first followed Nate home from the library in the fall of ’47—although he’d never said so to her face. Too fair, too blue eyed, too delicate, even though her parents went to the same temple as Nate’s family, when his father went at all. But he’d come to love her—probably more than he loved his only son—by the end.

A boy—any boy, no less a boy like this one—would have sent Nate running from the city, his father’s outraged disappointment chasing him like a black wave.

But then, no boy had ever really appealed to Nate after Provence Claire La Lune. No girl, either, but Carmen had been kind, and determined. A marriage—a kosher marriage—had been no less than her ultimate goal, and Nate, so lost after the war, what was he to do?

“Hereyago, Mr. Meyer!” Tony was right behind him, pushing the chair down the ramp, holding the back of it so very low to keep it from pitching. “Blaine’s been looking forward to this for a week, you know. Kept trying to tell me about the bells.”

Nate glanced around, his right eye rolling frantically in the useless, drooping side of his face. He made a noise then, a panicked and inarticulate noise, because—

“Blaine’s back in the house, Mr. Meyer,” Tony said quickly. “No worries. You got no worries at all. He was just checking with his mom. Didn’t want her to panic none, ’cause he said he was going to edge in close to 37th Street tonight, and it’s a bit of a walk, and sort of a riot, but you know that.”

Nate let out a long exhale, and the slap of the wind tried to steal that breath from him as it went. Of course, of course. Blaine would not leave him in the hands of someone who would not care for him. That was not his way.

“You ready?” Blaine called from the top of the stairs. “Ready, Grandpa? We’re going to stop down at the corner for some hot chocolate, and then make our way toward Times Square.”

“Man, that place is gonna be crowded. Do you really wanna go all that way?”

Nate couldn’t be sure, but he thought there might have been a touch of . . . something. There was a pause that bespoke intimacy, of that he was certain.

“We’re not going all the way into the square,” Blaine said quietly. “We’re going near the square. Close enough to hear church bells, if there are any.”

“Church bells,” Tony said blankly. “I know you told me this, but why are we listening for church bells again? Do church bells even ring on New Year’s at Times Square?”

I don’t know, Nate thought. I never heard them.

“And besides, aren’t you Jewish?”

Blaine laughed shyly. “You really have to ask?”

Tony’s return laugh was fond. “No, I guess not. So why church bells? Why not temple bells or something?”

Blaine sighed. “I’m not really sure. It’s just . . . It’s weird, really. Grandpa, for as long as I can remember, he’s gone on a walk on New Year’s Eve—Mom said he did it when she was little too. Grandma never went. He always said he was listening for bells.”

Once. My Carmen went once. Then she gave the walk to me, my once a year, to listen for church bells.

“That’s sort of cool,” Tony said, and Nate could feel his regard. For a moment, Nate was the handsome, strapping man who had gone off to war, and he was confused. Wasn’t he wounded, slight, limping on the damaged body that kept him from returning to active duty, the lone stranger in any crowd? Older, seasoned, a child on his hip and one by the hand? Middle-aged, successful, a hard-working photographer with his own exclusive Manhattan boutique?

Old, bereft, a widower, remembering how to make his own toast and the reasons a man should get out of bed in the morning?

Helpless, afloat in his own head, his body a lingering wreck of lung sounds and heartbeats, his only power in his thrice-weekly visits to the pool with an aqua teacher?

Young and in love, holding his male lover to his chest after the fury of the mishkav zakhar, the one act between men that was considered unforgivable, that reshaped the hearts of them both.

Oh God, the merciful and wise, who was Nathan Selig Meyer, and where was he in time?

The distant sound of shouts called him to the present, the faraway merriment reminding him that those shouts of joy were just out of his reach.

Walter, are you there? Are they ringing the bells? I can’t hear the bells!

“Here we go, Grandpa,” Blaine said, pulling the wheelchair back next to a bench. They were in a lovely neighborhood, not too far from the statue of the tailor and the needle. He used to see stage actors here, sometimes. Nate didn’t know if they owned or rented, but he loved the excitement of walking down the street and, Hey! There was someone you’d seen perpetrate magic on the stage or the screen.

He enjoyed this place, this bench under the tree. Blaine had chosen well.

He could hear Blaine and Tony sitting down on the bench beside him, talking animatedly, in a way that bespoke great familiarity.

“So, we’re out here to hear bells that don’t get rung?” Tony sounded skeptical, but playful too.

“Yeah,” Blaine replied shyly. “I mean, I looked it up once. The most I could get was a reference, mind you, that a nearby church rang bells on New Year’s Eve during the war.”

“Did you keep it?”

“Are you kidding? You’ve seen me study!”

Tony made an exasperated sound. “Augh, kid, you are killing me. You know I live for this stuff.”

“I’m a year younger than you, smart-ass, but look here. I brought you something.”

Nate saw Blaine pull something out of his coat, and inside, he smiled.

“Oh wow! A scrapbook!”

“Yeah, apparently my great-grandmother kept a scrapbook of Zayde—”

“Thereyago, talking Jewish to me again!”

Blaine laughed, but it wasn’t embarrassed. “Yiddish, Tony. We call it Yiddish, and I only know a few words. It’s like ‘Grandpa,’ but, you know, affectionate, like ‘Papa’ or ‘Grampy’—Zayde.”

A speculative silence then. “Zayde . . . That’s nice. What about, you know . . .” And now Tony was the shy one. “What I want to call you, but nothing sounds right.”

“Mmm.” Blaine’s voice fell, then rose intimately. “Tateleh, I think.”

Tony laughed a little. “That don’t hardly sound real. But, you know, better than ‘baby.’”

“Oy gevalt!” Blaine exaggerated, and they both laughed again, the sound low and personal. “Anything’s better than ‘baby’!”

More laughter, and instead of feeling excluded, Nate felt the opposite. Like he was in on the joke, in on the secret. He knew something about these two young men that nobody else did.

“Seriously,” Tony said, the laughter in his voice faded and sad. “You got all these traditions—”

“Not so many, now,” Blaine said quickly. “My grandparents, they were Reformed Jews—sort of like, modern but, you know, you gotta say it different. I’m not sure if Zayde believed, exactly, but he thought it was important. Traditions were important to him—us belonging somewhere. He said that a lot to my mom, that we needed a chance to belong. He wanted that. But”—and Nate could imagine Blaine’s shrug—“my parents, they barely made it to temple.”

“You got a bar mitzvah, though,” Tony chided.

Blaine grunted. Direct hit. “It was a party, you know? I said some verses, recited some Torah, got the party. Mom didn’t want her neighbors to think we couldn’t afford it; it was a status thing.”

“But you liked the words. You told me that. The words mean something to you.”

“Yeah, but only the good ones. Why is this important, anyway?”

It was Tony’s turn to grunt, and Nate couldn’t see, couldn’t turn his head, but he heard what sounded like a kiss. On the cheek, on the hand, on the lips, Nate couldn’t be sure, but men, they didn’t sit and kiss parts of each other when they were talking about sports or the weather.

“Because it is,” Tony said lowly. “I want to look at your family scrapbook and say, ‘Hey! That’s my boyfriend’s history!’ Is that so bad?”

“No.” There were more kissing sounds, and Nate burned inside to talk to them, to tell them, to explain. The Orthodox rabbis said one thing and the Reformed rabbis said another. It was supposed to be okay if you were that way, as long as you didn’t act on it, but Nate had been young, he’d felt the pull, the strength like steel springs, binding a human heart to another. What was talk of an unseen God when the world had fallen to chaos? All was hell and violence—how bad could the mishkav zakhar be?

“Does your mom know?” Blaine asked when the kissing sounds stopped. “Did you tell her?”

“About you? No.”

Blaine grunted shortly, but it sounded hurt, not angry.

“You need to be ready to come out to your family first, you know that right?” Tony said sternly, and it must have been an argument they’d had before, because Blaine’s sound changed.

He sighed instead. In Nate’s line of vision, a parade of cars trolled slowly down the street, headlamps slicing through the darkness like the wind was currently slicing through Nate’s coat. Light, steel, it all found a way in.

“But my mom knows about me,” Tony said, sighing. “I told you that. When I was a little kid, I said I liked boys. She cried, she tried to talk me out of it, she threatened to have my uncle beat the gay out of me. But Uncle Jason wouldn’t do it, and in the end, she just accepted it. I just had to be . . . you know . . .”

“Stubborn,” Blaine said. “You.”

Nate wanted to see them. More cars wandered the night, but in his mind, he saw that beautiful young man with the skin like night touching Blaine’s hair, his forehead, his cheek. Tenderness, Nate imagined. There would be tenderness.

Abruptly, his skin—which had deadened, had become blind to the realm of touch—ached for tenderness like amputees were said to ache for missing limbs. Once, Nate had known such tenderness, and he would never feel it again, not in this body.

“Would they cut you off?” Tony asked. “If you came out? If we moved in, like we’ve been talking about?”

“Eh . . .” Blaine said uncertainly. “I don’t know.” Nate heard rustling, and from his finite line of vision, he saw Blaine’s knees shift so the boy was facing Nate. “I don’t think Grandpa would, even with all the tradition, because . . . I don’t know. Because he was just too good a guy. But my mom, well . . .” He grunted. “I heard my grandpa call her kalta neshomeh once, when she was redecorating the house after Grandma died. He was hurt, you know? I mean, she said he was just being cheap because, well, I guess it was a thing. The Depression had everybody saving money and stuff, but it was more than that— All of Grandma’s stuff was getting put in storage and sold, and Grandpa was shoved into a room and . . . and it wasn’t right.”

“So what does it mean?”

“I had to ask our rabbi. I think he yelled at Grandpa for it too. It means ‘cold soul.’”

Tony’s low whistle made Nate smile inside. Oh yes, yes I did call her that. She deserved it, selling her mother’s things like that. No, we did not go to temple as often as we could have, but we had a happy home. Those things should not have been sold as if they had no meaning. Carmen’s old jewelry boxes, her costume jewelry, the desk where she’d done the store and family accounts for more than forty years. Couldn’t Stephanie have waited until Nate died? It wasn’t like he had more time than anyone else! Of course, Nate chuckled inwardly, that had been six years ago, and he was still hanging around. Perhaps he did have more time!

“Wow,” Tony said in the resulting quiet. Then, low voiced, urgent: “I have my own apartment. You have a job working at the hospital. I mean, we’ve talked about it before, but even if they cut you off, you could move in anyway. You know I want you with me, right?”

“I want to be there too,” Blaine said plaintively. “But my mother—”

“I mean, you could still be a doctor, even if your mother doesn’t want to pay for school. You’d have to take out loans and stuff, but, it’s like, people are always so afraid of not having any money, but whether you have it or not, you’re living your life, and that’s the fun part, right? If you’ve got food, a roof over your head—”

He was so urgent, so upset. Nate wanted to reassure him. He loves you, Tony. Don’t worry. Our boy will do the right thing.

“Sha shtil, tateleh,” Blaine said, and his knees shifted in Nate’s vision again. Nate could picture them, Blaine holding Tony so that his face buried into Blaine’s deceptively wide shoulder, their faces close together, a dropped kiss on Tony’s forehead. “I hear you.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have anything to say to me!” There was a rustle, and Tony must have stood up because so did Blaine. Nate gave up chasing cars in the darkness. He closed his eyes and saw the boys—his boys—like a movie.

Oh, Walter. It looks like a good one. A romance—I wonder how it ends.

“I want to say yes,” Blaine murmured. “But I need to ask Zayde.”

“You need to ask—”

Yes, bubeleh, I am confused, as well.

“Don’t say it,” Blaine told him softly. “I just . . . I want so badly to talk to someone in my family, do you understand? He’s the one person who told me about tradition and about banding together with people who care about you, and he’s the one person who can’t say he doesn’t love me anymore.”

“I hear you.” An ironic pause. “Bells, huh?”

“Yes. I am not so sure we will hear any tonight, but if we do, maybe we should take it as a sign, you think?”

“I think I’m freezing my ass off, that’s what I think. You said coffee?”

“Thank you. See it? Three blocks up.”

“Yeah, I know. Is your gramps gonna want some?”

“Get him hot chocolate—me too, for that matter. I’m not such a fan of coffee.”

Tony’s briskness faded, and Nate saw a hand, covered in a bright-red wool mitten, reach out and pluck off Blaine’s hat so the other hand could ruffle his curly hair. Tony stepped into Nate’s vision and placed the hat carefully on Blaine’s head before kissing him on the forehead.

“I know you’re not,” he said fondly. “I’m just as happy you prefer ‘hot chocolate.’”

Blaine choked on a guffaw. “That was awful. Oh my God, I should break it off with you just for that!”

“You wouldn’t really—” beat “—would you?”

“No. Oh God, no. I just need a minute, Tony. Just, let me swallow it all. Coming out, moving out, is . . . irrevocable. I want to be sure.”

“The fact that you take it so seriously? That’s why I love you. That’s why it’s worth the wait. Just know that all I want for both of us is— Is there a Yiddish word for ‘everything’?”

“I don’t know,” Blaine said softly, and they were standing so close!

“That’s what I want for you,” Tony said, and this time the kiss was personal, intimate, on the lips.

Nate couldn’t look away.

Alz. Alz is the word. That’s what you want for each other. Alz. Isn’t that what we wanted, Walter? Isn’t that what you wanted for us? Wasn’t that what we were looking for, listening for, with the bells?

But Walter didn’t answer, and Nate watched in frustration as Blaine’s Tony disappeared into the night, looking for the coffee shop. The lights around them, from the streets, from the cars, were swallowed up, and the darkness washed over his vision like a closed shutter, and when the shutter opened again, he was back, back in 1943, before Walter, before Carmen, when his world was narrowed to the tiny bunk with Hector and Joey and the missions he flew and the danger and the horror of a war that had swallowed the world . . .


“That’s a dame!” Joey Shanahan muttered after a low whistle. “Hey, Meyer. Did you get that shot?”

Nate glanced up from the viewfinder of his 35mm Leica Rangefinder and whistled, pretending he’d noticed the pretty WAAF officer walking across the field of Harrington.

He hadn’t. He’d been framing the big, powerful B-4 bombers instead.

“Yeah, you should get a picture!” Joey nodded, decidedly enthusiastic. Joey had apparently been striking out with women on a regular basis. He wasn’t a bad-looking kid, really, Nate thought objectively. He stood average height, with dark-blond hair and blue eyes—the picture of the Irish people in the same way Nate was the picture of Jewish descent—and his mouth was wide and smiled easily. He even had sort of a crooked-grinned charm, but oy! Could that boy talk!

“You know, you should take a lot more pictures of dames in your spare time, you know that? I mean, you get the air base, the crowds, the seashore—why don’t you got any dames?”

“For one thing, I don’t call them that,” Nate said, pulling a corner of his mouth up in faint derision. He liked Joey, liked him fine. If he was taking pictures of people right now, he’d take a picture of Joey, eyes as guileless as the sea. But Joey seemed to be incredibly single-minded about the thing—the one thing—Nate had never had a particular interest in. Oh yes, Nate did admire a pretty girl sometimes; pretty girls made pretty pictures. But he wasn’t interested in spending his leave in some strange woman’s bed. It wasn’t kosher—there was supposedly no joy in that sort of sex, and while Nate’s parents hadn’t been Orthodox, they had raised him in the traditions out of a sense of obligation if nothing else.

And, well . . . girls just didn’t appeal. Not even a little, not to touch, not to linger over. But the new mission—that’s what appealed to him.

The missions were risky, which held an allure all its own. Risk meant you were doing your part, right? And flying in low in the middle of the night, dropping the M46 photoflash bombs to take pictures—it didn’t get much riskier than that. So much for his father saying Nate wasn’t a real man with the camera, that he couldn’t do his part with a degree in art history and no military skills whatsoever. Nate had been in the cockpit for six Joker missions thus far, and every damned one of them scared the hell out of him.

Of course, Joey and Hector were flying Red Stockings, and those weren’t a joke, either. They had to fly at high altitude, find a specific spot, and circle until Hector picked up the signal from the OSS officer who’d been dropped behind enemy lines earlier. Tough gig for Joey, circling around and around like that while Hector fiddled with the recording equipment to find the signal. Tougher still for the guy on the ground transmitting information and requesting information back—and hoping not to get killed!

Nate’s pilot, Captain Albert Thompson, RAF, was a stolid sort—late thirties, lived for his weekly letter from his wife and two children. Nate depended on him to get them home safely, and Albert depended on Nate to competently assure him that their foray into darkness hadn’t been in vain. Together, they were nothing like the fiery Hector and Joey, and Nate appreciated that. Three nights before, they’d been over Belgium when they’d been spotted by the Jerries. Albert had flown, closed mouthed, until they’d reached the air territory over St. Croix, and the stationed Allied planes had moved in and intercepted while Nate had taken pictures with a quiet resolve. Of course, it was dark, and even with his training and the special lens, Nate had only a general notion as to what he was looking for. But that didn’t matter, now did it? What mattered was that his pictures would be developed and analyzed, and the installations he was photographing would either be announced useful for the war effort or too crowded with civilians to destroy. Either way, it was necessary information to have, and Nate was proud.

“What’s wrong with calling a girl a dame? Hector, did you hear that? He thinks I’m not a gentleman enough to get a girl!” Joey sat at a folding card table in the sun outside their barracks, doing nav calculations for their next run. Most guys did their calculations once, twice, and then they were through, but Joey didn’t make it through high school before he started working at his father’s bar. He was smart, whip smart, and he wasn’t going to let anybody say that some uneducated Mick blew a mission because he couldn’t do the goddamned math.

“You’re not,” Hector said, grinning. He leaned up against the door with his face to the thin English sun. Having spent his whole life in Southern California, he was only truly happy when his bronze skin was glutted with sunshine, like an exotic houseplant or a napping cat. So far, England had proved a vast disappointment to him, but Hector wasn’t the complaining sort. Nobody at this base even knew what Chanukah was, which was why Nate had given Hector a postcard of St. Croix for Christmas so he’d always have a little sunshine. Hector hadn’t said much at the time, but he slept on one of the bottom bunks, and the postcard was right above him every time he woke.

“I am too a gentleman,” Joey muttered, mapping out his nav coordinates for the third time. “If I wasn’t a gentleman, I wouldn’t do such a good job of escorting you home!”

Hector laughed loudly, with his mouth open, as though he expected everyone to share the joy. Nate loved that about him: he was unapologetic about who he was. He spoke Spanish with a big, booming voice and proudly displayed a picture of himself, dancing with his girl, in a zoot suit that he claimed to be sky blue and gold, and spoke of fondly. “Me and the other pachucos, we’d dance the sailor boys to shame, you know?” Even after the riots, Hector showed that photo, because he wasn’t going to run scared just because the sailor boys had no sense of humor.

“Yeah, you take real good care of me, sweetheart. But maybe try those skills on someone who hasn’t seen you scratch your balls and your ass and brag about it while in the shower.”

Nate laughed, and after a year in the service, he didn’t even blush. He’d gone to a private school, and while boys could get crude in the locker rooms anywhere, it was when they said things like that out under the sun, where even women could hear you, that had made Nate uncomfortable at first. But only at first.

But then, he’d been watching Joey Shanahan scratch his balls and his ass simultaneously for nearly three months—ever since he’d been assigned here, specialized camera equipment and all. There weren’t so many OSS officers here at Menwith Hill that Nate could afford to alienate his roommate because he didn’t like the way the guy talked about scratching his balls.

Besides, watching Joey check and recheck the calculations reminded Nate of what Hector had said repeatedly: Joey wasn’t letting anyone die on his watch, particularly not the guy who had his back whenever they went looking for girls.

“You like it,” Joey retorted. “If you didn’t see me scratch my ass in the morning, you’d forget you needed that extra blanket to keep your pansy ass warm.”

Hector squinted at the gray sky and shuddered. “Nobody’s warm today, that’s for certain.”

No, not on this chilly day in March.

“It would be this cold in New York,” Nate said, thinking. He found he didn’t miss his family’s brownstone or his father’s small watch shop at all. He hadn’t waited for Pearl Harbor, no. Nate had watched, along with the rest of his family, as the Nazis had become more than just a frightening rumor, threatening their kin overseas, and metamorphosed into a terrifying, mind-twisting reality. Friends’ cousins had disappeared, letters had ceased, pleas to the State Department for news had gone unheeded. Nate’s Uncle Lev, whom he had never met, became a ghost on the tongues of his father and mother, overnight, one more mortal caution to haunt the brownstone, next to Nate’s dead brother and the children his mother’s body had not been able to sustain.

“Yeah?” Hector asked. He pulled a cigarette from the ever-present pack in his pocket and offered one to Joey. Joey demurred, because he was still working and he didn’t smoke when he was working, and Nate simply didn’t smoke. At first the guys had assumed it was because he was a Jew; that he was too fastidious to like the taste was beyond them.

“Yes,” Nate said, staring at the grayness ruminatively. “In fact, it would be even more bitter.” He cracked a smile. “Of course, in New York, they don’t have to put on flight gear and go miles into the air.”

A sudden silence descended then. There was a big push tonight in the 654th. More than two hundred of the men stationed at Menwith Hill were with tactical surveillance, and Nate figured that between him and Hector, they’d counted over twenty planes that were going up this night. Not a weather advance, which meant more dogfights and more casualties, but a surveillance push. Several planes going off to all quarters of Europe, some Joker, some Red Stocking, all of them with urgent orders that they didn’t share with anyone else. American, RAF—everybody was going up in the sky to see what was what.

Nate, who only played chess a little, thought about the way the old men in the park would sit back, surveying the entire board over their noses before letting go of a long, considering breath.

This moment right here was the Allied equivalent of sitting back, sliding their hands under their suspenders, and saying, Hmm, what is it we have to work with here, before beginning the game in earnest.

Sometimes, an awful lot of pawns would be left, rolling alongside the board, before those moments behind the chessboard ended. Nate worried about those pawns like he worried about the entire board. In fact, he worried more.

“Hey,” Hector said lowly, in the kind of voice that made Nate sidle a little closer, even aware that he and Joey were the only ones within earshot anyway.


“Where’re you going tonight?” Hector asked. “I mean, not specific-like, just, you know. Country at least, okay?”

“Germany,” Nate said without compunction for spilling secrets. There were no secrets between the three of them. “But I don’t know specifically where. You?”

“France. Some place called Provence Claire La Lune. Our operators down there say we might talk to some resistance fighters—our guys are supposed to encourage that, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah? Well, that’s a good thing.”

“I know it. What about you?”

Nate grunted. “The usual—take a picture at these coordinates—again? Got no clue. A month later, those coordinates are pulverized to powder. Or not.”

Hector grunted back. “It’s not personal enough,” he growled. “The Jerries, they don’t like the color of our skin, who our parents are—feels like a knee to the balls. We go five miles up and listen to voices—”

“Or two miles up and take pictures of clouds,” Nate finished for him. “Yes. Impersonal means for a very personal war. I understand. But what’s to do? Our skills weren’t marching and shooting, they were pictures and listening. It’s what we can—”

“You ready?” Albert stalked around the corner in midconversation. Well, he often did that—he didn’t like small talk for one thing. For another, he was in charge of settling new recruits. He met with his staff sergeants in the morning—the mother hen of the Menwith Hill barracks. He was busy, and he had no time to worry about OSS recruits with one lousy skill.

“We’re not going until . . .” Nate left the end meaningfully. He hadn’t been given a time; that was Albert’s purview.

“Twenty-one hundred,” Albert told him shortly. “Be outfitted and ready to belt in, yeah?” As though Nate had ever not been ready to belt in. “Meet me on the field, no fucking off to spank your monkey or bugger the rabbi or whatever the hell else you blokes do.”

“Yes, sir!” Nate saluted, because Albert was a superior officer and for no other reason. “Sir?” he asked, when it looked like Albert was going to stomp off.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Where we going tonight?”

Albert grimaced. Yes, all destinations were classified, but it did help a photographer to know what he was dealing with. Albert called Nate over with a jerk of the head, and Nate left off his insouciant pose against the barracks.

“Stuttgart, like that means anything to you,” he said, voice low enough for Joey and Hector to be left out. “Looks like there’ll be good cloud cover, but there’s nothing friendly for pretty much everywhere. Be prepared to keep a sharp lookout and not just through the viewfinder. Can you do that or is it some sort of holy day?”

“I’m up for the job, sir!” Nate saluted again, and Albert glared, then stalked off. A good pilot, but not a kind man, at least not to Nate. And it was clear his heart was so very with the family he saw once a month on leave. Well, good for him. He could see family on leave. Nate couldn’t—and apparently Hector and Joey could only get hints of getting laid, and not all of that was Joey’s fault.

“Really, Meyer,” Joey asked, looking up from his calculations and leaning on his elbows, “what did you do to that guy?”

“Besides make him fly reconnaissance?” Nate asked with a shrug. “I have no idea. You think it’s because I’m a Jew?” That was rhetorical, of course.

“They don’t got Jews in England? Get out!” Hector laughed, turning his head to spit. “I thought that was Hitler’s problem. They got Jews everywhere!”

Nate raised an eyebrow. “We’re not cockroaches, but yes. Jews populate Europe much like Catholics—wherever there is a warm place to breed.”

Hector and Joey didn’t take offense; they laughed instead. No, you could not spend months smelling your roommates’ farts and not learn to be tolerant of one another’s differences. Of course, Hector had started to thaw with the postcard of St. Croix. With Joey, it had taken a tiny gold pin of the cross, which Joey wore on his hat, underneath the brim. Not Nate’s faith, no, but then, giving it some honor had made Joey feel like it wasn’t under attack by Nate’s very “otherness.” He had friends from college who would have been angry at this—why should Nate pacify the ignorant?

But Hector had his zoot suits, and Joey had his crosses, and Nate had the six-pointed star he wore under his shirt with his dog tags on every mission. His father may have thought Nate was weak for becoming friends with the gentiles, but Nate had to believe that faith and goodness were things to respect. Wasn’t that what his own faith taught?

He had only needed to spend a week playing cards, listening to Joey’s record player, and exchanging family stories with Hector, to know that if these men didn’t come back from their mission, or the next, or the next, he should be very sorry.

“Have we all put our letters under our pillows?” Nate asked carefully in the silence following Albert’s departure.

“Same letter as last time.” Joey grunted. “I’m starting to think it’s a good luck charm.”

“Yeah, well, as much as the captain hates me, I’m thinking I can take all the luck I can get.”

Hector grunted in return. “I’d let Joey here fly you, but he’s the only one who doesn’t scare the hell out of me at thirty thousand.” Hector shuddered. “Dios. What a man like me is doing in that much cold, I don’t even want to think about.”

Nate smiled at him, liking him very much. “Penance,” he said, eyes twinkling. “For all the bad deeds you’ve left to do.”

Hector laughed again, and Nate felt an unfortunate stir in the pit of his stomach. No. No. Not this. Not this, that had kept him aloof from his fellows through school. Not this, fear of seeing the sun on a cheekbone, filtered through someone’s eyelashes, or the shadow of a jawline, and feeling . . . this thing. The thing that poets spoke about, but not like this. Not for the girls at the dances with their shy smiles and sturdy prettiness but for the boys, milling about on the other side of the room in navy shirts and red ties, looking, by turns, bored and nervous and happy.

“I haven’t done anything truly bad yet,” Hector said, chuckling low and evil. Then he kicked Joey’s chair. “I’ve got an albatross around my neck keeping me from all the wickedness!”

Joey cast him an irritated glance. “Yeah, and it’s called a dame in the States. Now gimme two more seconds, and we can go do some PT before we go up!”

“I’ll go change,” Nate said, because his camera equipment was flawless, as it always was, and because whoever thought of doing PT before a mission had been inspired. Getting the blood flowing and the muscles pleasantly exercised took away some of the feeling of confinement in the small space of the cockpit, and some of the restlessness, as well. Not too much—not enough to tire one out—just enough to make the body easier at rest.

And it was a perfect excuse to get away from Hector and his bronzed skin and square face and the way his brown eyes seemed to invite everyone in on the joke.

Nate was buttoning up his loose khakis and lacing his softest boots when he decided to check under the pillow for his letter. Ah, yes, there it was. A good-bye to his mother, and a passing nod to his father.

His throat tightened.

Was that all he wanted to offer? His father was a reserved man, certainly—open affection had never been his way. But was Nate’s enmity an adult feeling or the leftovers of childhood resentment? Nate frowned at the envelope, made of some of the best paper stock Joey had been able to smuggle out of the officers’ supply cabinet, and wondered if he shouldn’t write another letter. Something more genial, more neutral. Something, perhaps, asking his father to believe he was worthwhile, that he was capable of worthwhile things. Something apologizing for not being Zev.

Nate’s conscience was perfectly clear about the things he’d done in the war thus far. The tally of things that bothered him or made him question his faith at this moment equaled the number of times his father had ever kissed his cheek in affection: zero.

He heard a ruckus behind him as Hector and Joey entered, pushing on each other and laughing. No time to rewrite the letter now. He shoved it back under the pillow and ran after his roommates for a round of pop-up in the field by the airstrip. None of the other pilots or officers joined them—they never had. Many of the residents were RAF, for one, and the rivalry was not always easy to transcend. For many, the mix was too different. The spic, the Mick, and the Jew—it was the beginning of a joke with no good punch line. Nate, who had never had a peer group through school, had finally managed to find one, and they were as isolated unto themselves as three as Nate ever had been as one.

But at least they were three.

Maybe next leave, Nate would go with them and let Hector try to find him a woman. Maybe those moments of thinking Hector Garcia was as beautiful as sunlight would fade.


Nate had a notion that being inside a real mosquito was probably much quieter than being inside of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito—wooden sides or not. The airplanes were versatile—light bombers, tactical bombers, day or night missions, and, of course, converted photo-surveillance planes. While the top sported the squadron insignia, as well as Captain Thompson’s personal insignia—a mosquito wearing a flowered dress with a purse—near the cockpit, the bottom of Miss Mossy (as the captain called her) had been painted dark gray to blend in with the nighttime cloud cover. Still, Nate had always been surprised that every plane that went flying over German airspace hadn’t been shot down.

“Stuttgart,” Nate said resignedly into the intercom as the plane took off. “Five shots at the coordinates. We have ten flares.”

“I know the mission,” Captain Thompson stated flatly. “I know the mission, I know the risks. Do you need me to hold your hand?”

“Only if it would help you feel better,” Nate replied just as flatly.

Thompson grunted, the sound translating over the intercom as a crackle of static. “Not bloody likely. Do you have anything else obvious you’d like to tell me? Do I take a right or a left to get to Germany? How’s that? Can you tell me how to fly this boat to Germany, you uppity shit?”

“I assume you point it east and go,” Nate snapped. “Wake me up when we get there.”

But Nate had no intention of sleeping.

The view through the cockpit window wasn’t ideal. Nate had thought more than once that he wished he could fly facedown on a clear platform so that he could see everything—the countryside, the farms, the smokestacks, everything. Because even with the hum of the Mosquito in his ears, when he gazed down on the sleeping mass of Europe, he knew he wasn’t seeing the complete vista, and the artist that he was hungered for the whole picture.

Bombs would be dropped on some of the towns down there; devastation would follow. What would that look like? Who would be killed? He was skilled with the specialized camera and the twenty-four-inch lens that allowed him to take shots from the plane, although the pictures he usually shot needed a room full of intelligence officers with magnifying glasses to pinpoint exactly what the photo targets were. What he was not skilled at was understanding the distance between the plane, at fifteen thousand feet, and the people on the ground. Empty space? The handbreadth of God? What made it so someone such as he could determine whether people he would never see or touch would live or die?

The silence in the plane became oppressive, and Nate scanned through his viewfinder to keep himself from sleeping in earnest. The shiny, roiling mass of the ocean sat underneath them, but the horizon of France and Germany was not that far away. Oh, hey—a town, smaller than Stuttgart, right across the black silver of the channel.

“Hello, what’s that?” Nate murmured to himself. “Do you see that?”

“I don’t see it!” Captain Thompson snapped back, but Nate was too preoccupied with what looked to be large smokestacks coming from the ground, just north of the tiny city below, to respond to his tone. That couldn’t be right, could it? There would have to be an installation underground. He couldn’t see in the dark—or without his camera.

“Captain, give us a candle drop—”

“Those are saved for the—”

“I know, but we’ve got ten. We’ll only need two. I just want one.”

“I don’t like it—we’re hours away from Stuttgart.”

“Do you see anyone, Captain? There’s no one out tonight, and that . . . that thing down there. It looks like a plant. It wasn’t there the last time we flew up this way, and it just feels wrong—it’s something important, can’t you feel it?”

“Could give a shit what you feel, you fuckin’—”

“Captain, do you really want to finish that sentence?” Nate asked, his skin chilling underneath his voluminous flight suit.

“Yes, damn it!” Thompson snapped, but he didn’t. “Candle dropping. Where do you want to go?”

“That town below us—it’s small. You see the outskirts of it to the east a little. Yes. There. Go.”

“Count off,” Thompson snarled, and Nate held his breath. There. They were close. Close. Close.

“Launch candle in ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two— Candle launch!”

Thompson hit something on the dash, and the flare cascaded out of the plane, falling, falling, falling before exploding harsh and white, lighting up the sky around them.

Nate was ready.

He clicked the shutter furiously, all of the settings ready for nighttime pictures. One, two, three, four—the light began to stutter—five, six.

“Shit!” Thompson cried, and Nate finished his last shot and looked around. Oh hell. Sure enough, framed against the clouds by the stuttering flare was a pair of Messerschmitts.

“Can you—”

“Shut up and let me call for backup,” Thompson barked, and Nate heard him radio for a couple of bulldogs to come take care of the Messers on their tail.

And then Captain Thompson did what was best for everyone involved and flew that little plane as fast as it could go.

The Messerschmitts weren’t going anywhere. They stayed on their tail, firing occasionally but lacking the necessary range. Miss Mossy had a lead on them from the very beginning, and if Captain Albert knew one thing, it was how to fly quick like zoom.

“Where’s the bloody bulldogs?” Captain Thompson snarled. “What’s the good of having planes out with guns if they can’t shoot that bloody lot out of the fucking sky?”

Nate wisely didn’t answer. He changed the film in his camera in tense silence, putting the canister in the cargo pocket of his flight suit and readying the camera for Stuttgart on faith.

They didn’t make it.

The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was a superlative night fighter, and Miss Mossy, who was fitted out with cameras all around, had no guns. Her cooling system had been modified to keep the cameras and the pilots from freezing during the high-altitude missions, and when pushed too hard, her engines tended to get hot. Even while Nate despised Captain Albert, he knew the man was flying a fine line between outrunning the enemy and cooking their engines with speed.

Their one hope was that the call for backup would be answered and some dogfighters would appear over the horizon around them.

Nate kept lookout, and when the first bursts of fire spurted from the newly appeared specks behind them, acute relief almost stopped his voice.


“Brilliant. We might not die up here.”

“I am not overwhelmed with optimism,” Nate muttered, but either Thompson’s voice was lost in the engine noise or he didn’t deign to answer.

Below, the various lumps and smokestacks of Stuttgart appeared. Very few lights—all sides had learned the trick of the blackout to confuse bombing raids—but Nate had flown over and taken pictures before. He knew the shape, the basic landmarks—and although he knew their support was behind them and if they couldn’t outrun the Messerschmitts before the bulldogs got there they were in real trouble, for some reason the city gave him comfort. It wasn’t featureless, wasn’t blank. He recognized the landscape, and they weren’t lost.

And just as he figured it out, tracers of antiaircraft fire passed to his right, shattering his peace.

“They’re closing in!”

“Not them! It’s another group! Hang on and spot the bastards!”

Calmly, Nate placed his camera and lens in the case and buckled it shut, using his stomach muscles and thighs to keep his seat as the plane began a series of vicious evasive maneuvers that might have made his stomach rebel when he’d first started to fly. When the camera was safely stowed, he grabbed hold of the grips on either side and did what Captain Thompson had ordered: held on and spotted.

“Three o’clock, Cap. Two planes closing.”

“Dive roll. Don’t puke.”

“They’re following, following—lost them. Not puking.”

“Don’t be a bloody arse! Fire from six o’clock. G roll.”

Oh hell. The negative-G rolls—Captain Thompson’s specialty—were Nate’s least favorite aerobatic. He held on and didn’t puke—his first time up in the cockpit, he had puked, and had to live in it for hours. Never again.

“Nine o’clock, Cap—friendlies.”

“Fucking firing! Blast it and bugger God’s arse!”

The blasphemy didn’t faze Nate, but the fact that they were stuck between friendly fire and enemy fire without guns themselves was starting to wear on his hard-earned calm.

“Evade, Captain. Friendlies engaging!”

“I am evading, you stupid kike. Shut the fuck up and let me work!”

Oy! Now they get to the bottom of Captain Albert’s hostility? “For heaven’s sake,” Nate muttered, but Thompson let out another round of cursing, and the plane jerked, shuddered, and rolled some more. They had flown past Stuttgart now, beyond the borders, and dropped their altitude in an attempt to evade. The featureless landscape loomed below them, a black trough of rural woods.

“Holy God, there’s more!”

“You had to stop and take a fucking picture!” Thompson snarled. “We had one lousy job to do, and you had to stop and take a fucking picture, and we’ve got these buggers following us from fucking everywhere!”

“Well, that means whatever was there was pretty damned important, don’t you think?” Nate shot back, because that was the truly frightening thing. Stuttgart was a big city, pretty close to the border of France and Germany; there should be important things in Stuttgart. But that smaller city, on the tip of land across from England, the Axis shouldn’t be making anything there, should they?

“We’re not bloody likely to find out, are we?”

They executed a barrel roll evasive maneuver then, the horizon spinning dizzily and leaving Nate gasping for breath in the hopes that he wouldn’t throw up and wouldn’t pass out. Captain Thompson swore again, and the plane suddenly lurched in the middle of a barrel roll.

“We’re hit!” Thompson screamed. “We’re hit! And I’m going to die because a bloody kike Jew had to jerk off his camera!”


Later, it would occur to Nate that for all his shortcomings as a companion, Albert Thompson was an amazing pilot. The plane heaved level, which saved his life, and descended at a terrifying, dizzying speed. Too fast to jettison, even if bailing out of a Mosquito was possible at this altitude, but slow enough to keep the plane from disintegrating on impact. Maybe.

The wood under his feet trembled, and the plane skittered and rattled, shaking Nate like a yolk in its shell. Something exploded behind him, the force of air blowing Nate forward, then back, until he cracked his head on the window and the world detonated into the blackness inside his skull.

Fair Chance #3 by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
"I knew you'd come."

Andrew Corian, dubbed "The Sculptor" by the national press, was smiling that same old smile. Supremely confident and a little scornful. For a moment it was almost as if he were seated at his desk in his office at Puget Sound University and not in this sterile interview room at The Federal Detention Center in Sea-Tac.

"Sure you did," Elliot said.

Corian's powerful hands, thick wrists handcuffed, rested on the resin table. He spread his fingers, palms up in a "be my guest" gesture as Elliot took the plastic chair across the table.
He had been second-guessing the decision to meet with Corian from the minute he'd acceded to SAC Montgomery's request, and Corian's supercilious attitude just confirmed his doubts. They were not going to get anything useful out of the Sculptor.

"How could you resist?" Corian was saying. "A chance to play hero one last time. A chance to convince yourself you got the better of me."

"Sounds like you've been hitting the library psych shelves pretty hard." Elliot folded his arms on the tabletop, glanced casually around the room.

He'd been in plenty of these interview cells back when he'd been with the FBI. Neutral colors. Durable furniture. Stainless-steel mesh over the bulletproof frosted windows. A guard outside the door. Generic right down to the two-way mirror, behind which stood Detective Pine of Tacoma Homicide and FBI special agent Kelli Yamiguchi.

Just in case Pine and Yamiguchi missed anything, cameras overhead were recording the interview.

Corian's eyes, a weird shade of hazel that looked almost yellow in the harsh institutional light, narrowed at Elliot's gibe, but his broad smile never faltered. He seemed to be in a great mood for a guy looking at multiple life sentences.

"I don't need to read a psychology book to understand you, Mills. There's nothing complicated about your psyche."

"But enough about me," Elliot said. "Let's talk about your favorite subject. You. Or more exactly, why you wanted to see me."

The rough material of Corian's prison khakis rustled as he sat back in his chair. He looked a bit like a cartoonist's idea of the devil. Gleaming bald head and immaculately trimmed Vandyke. He was a big man and prison had made him bigger. Leaner. Harder. He looked like he ate steroids with every meal and spent all his free time bodybuilding. Maybe the bodybuilding wasn't far from the truth. There wasn't a hell of a lot to do while sitting around waiting for trial. Not when you'd been caught red-handed, as it were, in a series of brutal slayings and mutilations spanning more than fifteen years.

He said, "I didn't want to see you. I gave you permission to visit. That's all."

"Two letters in two months? We're practically pen pals. Come off it, Corian. You want me to sit here and listen to you explain in detail how brilliant you were. How brilliant you still are compared to the rest of us."

Corian's smile widened. "That wouldn't be the only reason."

"It'll be the main reason. You're sure as hell not interested in bringing closure to the families of the victims."

It was quiet in the interview room. On the other side of the heavy soundproof door a symphony of discordant sounds were reaching crescendo level: guards yelling, televisions blasting, prisoners shouting, the incessant thunder of an industrial-strength plumbing system, the chatter and buzz of walkie-talkies, the jangle of keys and slamming of steel doors.

"You've never understood me, Mills."

"You're right about that."

"But you're afraid of me."

Elliot sighed. "No, Andrew. I'm not."

They had never been on first-name terms. Corian replied, "You should be, Elliot."

"This is bullshit." Elliot made sure to keep his tone bored, indifferent. The last thing he wanted was for Corian to know just how tense he really was. "If the idea was to get me here so you could practice your bogeyman routine, you're wasting both our time." He pushed his chair back as though to rise.

Corian sat back and expelled an exasperated sigh. "Goddamn. Can't you at least buy me a drink before you screw me over?"

The indignation was almost funny.

"Look, you wrote me. I'm not looking to continue our relationship--if you want to call it that. I don't need closure. I got my closure when they slammed the cell door on you."

That wasn't completely true. Like everyone else involved in the case, Elliot wasn't going to truly breathe a sigh of relief until Corian was tried and convicted. He wanted the reassurance of knowing Corian was locked up in a maximum facility until the end of time. The numerous court date postponements were wearing on everyone's nerves.

Corian had the gall to look wounded. It was only partly an act. Being a psychopath, his own pain and his own frustrations were very real to him. It was the suffering of other people he was indifferent to.

"You want something from me. So be it. I'd appreciate a little courtesy. A few minutes of intelligent conversation. Or as close as you can manage."

Elliot eyed him without emotion. "All right. But we don't have all day. If you've got something to say, you'd better spit it out."

Corian leaned back in his chair, smiling. "How's the fall session shaping up? Have they hired someone to replace me yet?"

"Oh, no one could replace you."

"True." Corian merely grinned at the sarcasm. "How's Rollie? I read his book. When you think about it, it's pretty ironic. The only child of a celebrity sixties' radical joining the FBI."

"Yep. Ironic. Are we done with the chitchat?"

Corian's smile faded. "All right. Ask your questions."

"As of this date, sixteen bodies have been removed from the cellar of your property in Black Diamond, bringing the number of victims to twenty-three. Is that it? Is that an accurate head count? Or are there more?"

"Head count." Corian's smile was pure Mephistophelian. Partly he was acting. Partly he was simply...evil.

An old-fashioned concept, but what else did you call someone who was technically--well, legally--sane and yet a ruthless, remorseless predator? Maybe the problem was with the way the legal system defined insanity, but mostly the problem was how society dealt with monsters like Corian once they were identified and captured. Elliot had grown up believing the death penalty was barbaric, an anathema in a civilized society. But was warehousing monsters really a better plan?

"If you want to go there," Elliot said. "What did you do with the heads of your victims?"

"That's an interesting question. Why do you think some of the bodies were buried and some were used in sculptures?" Corian was equally aware that they had an audience, both human and mechanical.

"No clue. Like you said, I've never understood you. Why did you only target young men? You're not gay. Why did you never target women?"

"Where's the sport in that? Besides, I like women." Corian didn't wait for Elliot's response. "My turn. Why do you think all the bodies were headless?"

A game. That's all this was to Corian. Another game. "To make it harder to identify the victims."

Corian tipped his head as though considering this. "I wonder. Maybe. Partly, no doubt. But you're a student of history. You understand the possibilities and precedents."

The theory of ritualized cannibalism had certainly occurred to Elliot before that moment, but his stomach still gave a queasy roll of revulsion.

Watching him, Corian said, "You're horrified, yes, but you're fascinated too."

"Mostly I'm troubled. My concern is for the families who deserve to know whether their missing child is one of your victims."

"I don't know that they deserve anything. After all, their children wouldn't be missing if they hadn't failed as parents."

"Yeah, that's right," Elliot said. "It's the fault of the parents that these young men were captured and butchered for Did you have some method, some system of record-keeping that would make it possible for you at this late date to identify the remains?"

"What remains? Who says there were any remains?" Corian was grinning. "Waste not, want not."

It wasn't easy, but Elliot kept his gaze level, his expression emotionless. "I'm speaking now of the sixteen previously mentioned bodies recovered from your cellar. Do you have any means of identifying them?"

"This is deal-making territory," Corian said. "We both know you're not in a position to offer me any deals."

"Then why am I here?" Elliot gestured at the mesh-covered window. "What's the point of this?"

Corian pretended to give this serious thought. "Several reasons. First and foremost, your being here annoys the hell out of your boyfriend. Special agent Tucker Lance."

The bastard was right about that.

"Okay," Elliot said evenly. "You're having your laugh now. But the joke will be on you after the jury listens to all that evidence. It'll be too late for making deals then."

Corian's eyes gleamed. "Don't you want to ask me why? Why I did it? Why I killed them?"

"I know why. You're a sick sonofabitch."

That was the truth. As far as it went. But even Elliot, who knew there was no possibility of understanding a brain like Corian's, sometimes found himself questioning, puzzling over why. Certainly the families wanted to know, wanted some explanation, wanted to be able to make sense of these multiple tragedies.

How could such things happen?

Was there anything worse than losing a loved one to a random act of violence?

Probably not. But even if you could understand the pathology of one serial killer, you were essentially starting from scratch with the next. At least as far as prevention went.

Apprehension was another matter. But apprehension was moot in this case.

Corian's lip curled scornfully. "That's not worthy of you."

"No? It's the truth though. The why doesn't matter." Elliot's chair scraped noisily as he rose.

"You're leaving?" Corian couldn't conceal his surprise.

Elliot had turned away, but he glanced back. "Yep. Things to do and places to go. I'm not interested in providing the audience for your insanity plea test run. And since you don't plan on telling me anything I don't already know..." He shrugged.

Corian was not used to being walked out on. His smile was slightly forced. "Are you so sure?"

Elliot smiled. He headed for the door.

As he reached for the buzzer, Corian spoke.

"Mills. About earlier. I didn't mean you have anything to fear from me personally."

The guard opened the door. Elliot spared Corian one final look. "No, of course not. You're worried about my karma."

"No." Corian grinned, looking more satanic than ever. "No, you should be worried. But not about me. My work is done."

"It sure is," Elliot replied. "And wait till you see the retirement package we've got for you."

* * * * *

"He's in a good mood," the guard observed as the door to the interview room settled into place with a heavy and final-sounding click.

The guard was probably in his mid- to late twenties. Medium height, buff, boyish. Corian's preferred type, if he only knew it.

"Never happier," Elliot agreed. "But then who doesn't like having company?"

By the time he made it over to the viewing room, SA Yamiguchi, Tucker's second on the multiagency task force responsible for bringing Corian to justice, had already taken off--no doubt in a hurry to get back to the Seattle field office and deliver her "I told you so!" to SAC Montgomery.

She wasn't alone in that sentiment.

"That was a waste of time," Detective Pine commented. He and Elliot had history, but this time they were on the same team. Pine was short, dark and ambitious. A few years younger than Elliot. Young enough to believe he had everything under control--young enough to believe in the concept of control.

"Pretty much," Elliot agreed.

"Why do you think he wanted to see you so bad?"

"He's lonely?"

Pine's laugh was sour. "Maybe it's your sparkling conversation. I nearly spit my coffee out when you started to walk out the first time."

"I might as well have walked out, for all we got out of him."

Pine shrugged. "You opened up a dialogue. Maybe that's worth something." From his tone, Pine didn't believe it.

"Maybe." Elliot didn't believe it either.

"Do you think he's serious about trying to claim he had an accomplice?" Pine asked a short time later as they were walking to the parking lot.

It was a relief to be outside. To fill his lungs with fresh air and feel the sunlight on his face. Elliot had nearly forgotten that stale, metallic, disinfected scent unique to correctional institutions. The blur of chemicals was intended to mask sweat and urine and the inevitable odor of way too many people packed into too small a space for too long a time.

Pine added, "That had to be what he meant by "my work is done.' Why would he wait till now to play that card?"

Elliot shook his head. It was definitely late in the game for that move. But then Corian was playing his own game. And making the rules up as he went. "An apprentice? An acolyte? Who the hell knows?"

"That's for sure. Homicidal freak," Pine muttered.

Corian was an aberration, true enough, and nothing would have made Elliot happier than to never have to gaze into his odd tiger eyes again. But declining Corian's invitation was a luxury he didn't feel he had a right to. Not with so many grieving people waiting for answers.

Wednesdays were not regular visiting days for the detention center, and the large sloped lot was largely empty. Elliot had parked in the shade of a spindly maple, leaves already starting to yellow in the September sun.

"He can't plead not guilty," Pine said. "Not with the mountain of evidence we've got against him. He can't imagine--"

"Hell yeah, he'll plead not guilty." Elliot was almost touched by Pine's naivetÈ. "They always plead not guilty. His lawyers have already laid the groundwork for not guilty by reason of insanity and they'll keep hauling witnesses onto the stand to testify he's nuttier than a fruitcake. Which he is. Though not in the eyes of the law. Not so far. So yes, I think it's entirely feasible he'll try to play that card. What does he have to lose?"

Nothing. And they all knew it. Including Corian.

Pine gave a curt "See you at the briefing this afternoon."

Elliot raised a hand in dismissal and peeled off, striding toward his silver Nissan 350Z.

Pine stopped. Turned back. "Mills."

Elliot looked up from unlocking his car door.

"If he's not lying about an accomplice..."

Elliot nodded. "Yeah. The thought occurred to me."

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 Cochet
Charlie Cochet is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters, to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!

Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.

Amy Lane
Amy Lane dodges an EDJ, mothers four children, and writes the occasional book. She, her brood, and her beloved mate, Mack, live in a crumbling mortgage in Citrus Heights, California, which is riddled with spiders, cats, and more than its share of fancy and weirdness. Feel free to visit her website or blog, where she will ride the buzz of receiving your e-mail until her head swells and she can no longer leave the house.

Josh Lanyon
Bestselling author of over sixty titles of classic Male/Male fiction featuring twisty mystery, kickass adventure and unapologetic man-on-man romance, JOSH LANYON has been called "the Agatha Christie of gay mystery."

Her work has been translated into eleven languages. The FBI thriller Fair Game was the first male/male title to be published by Harlequin Mondadori, the largest romance publisher in Italy. Stranger on the Shore (Harper Collins Italia) was the first M/M title to be published in print. In 2016 Fatal Shadows placed #5 in Japan's annual Boy Love novel list (the first and only title by a foreign author to place on the list).

The Adrien English Series was awarded All Time Favorite Male Male Couple in the 2nd Annual contest held by the Goodreads M/M Group (which has over 22,000 members). Josh is an Eppie Award winner, a four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist for Gay Mystery, and the first ever recipient of the Goodreads Favorite M/M Author Lifetime Achievement award.

Josh is married and they live in Southern California.

K Evan Coles

Brigham Vaughn

Charlie Cochet

Amy Lane

Josh Lanyon

Calm by Brigham Vaughn & K Evans Cole

Hell & High Water by Charlie Cochet

The Bells of Time Square by Amy Lane

Fair Chance #3 by Josh Lanyon

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