Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Happy Pride Month 2018: Top 20 Favorite LGBT Reads Part 1


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.


The Heart of Texas by RJ Scott
Texas #1
Riley Hayes, the playboy of the Hayes family, is a young man who seems to have it all: money, a career he loves, and his pick of beautiful women. His father, CEO of HayesOil, passes control of the corporation to his two sons; but a stipulation is attached to Riley's portion. Concerned about Riley's lack of maturity, his father requires that Riley 'marry and stay married for one year to someone he loves'.

Angered by the requirement, Riley seeks a means of bypassing his father's stipulation. Blackmailing Jack Campbell into marrying him "for love" suits Riley's purpose. There is no mention in his father's documents that the marriage had to be with a woman and Jack Campbell is the son of Riley Senior's arch rival. Win win.

Riley marries Jack and abruptly his entire world is turned inside out. Riley hadn't counted on the fact that Jack Campbell, quiet and unassuming rancher, is a force of nature in his own right. 

This is a story of murder, deceit, the struggle for power, lust and love, the sprawling life of a rancher and the whirlwind existence of a playboy. But under and through it all, as Riley learns over the months, this is a tale about family and everything that that word means.

Texas(#1-7)(Re-Readables Part 1)

Texas Gift(#8)

The Heart of Texas #1
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
I fell in love again with Jack, Riley, and the whole Campbell-Hayes universe. I loved it 3 years ago, loved it last year when I re-read it the first time, and I loved it even more the third time. Jack and Riley will never get old.

1st Re-Read Review 2015:
Well, nearly 2 years have gone by since I first read this book, my first foray into published M/M genre, and it's even better than I remember! Jack & Riley's banter is perfectly spicy and Jeff & Gerald reign supreme in all their assholery(not a real word, I know) glory.

Original Review 2013:
WOW!!! The characters are so well written, you'll love them, you'll hate some of them and I was definitely sucked into the story.

3rd Overall Texas Series Re-Read Review 2017:
I've never really been much of a re-reader especially more than once and definitely not 3 summers in a row, so that should tell you something about how much I love this Texas series and the whole Campbell-Hayes Double D Universe. I don't think I'll ever get enough of these boys and their ever growing family and circle of friends.  Truth is there is nothing I can add that I haven't already said about the Double D Universe that expresses my love more than the fact that I have read Texas 3 summers in row because summer just wouldn't be complete without the Campbell-Hayes family.


Fatal Shadows by Josh Lanyon
Adrien English #1
One sunny morning Los Angeles bookseller and aspiring mystery author Adrien English opens his front door to murder. His old high school buddy (and employee) has been found stabbed to death in a back alley following a loud and very public argument with Adrien the previous evening.

Naturally the cops want to ask Adrien a few questions; they are none too impressed with his answers, and when a few hours later someone breaks into Adrien's shop and ransacks it, the law is inclined to think Adrien is trying to divert suspicion from himself.

Adrien knows better. Adrien knows he is next on the killer's list.

The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon
Adrien English #5
Like recovering from heart surgery beneath the gaze of his over-protective family isn't exasperating enough, someone keeps trying to break into Adrien English's bookstore. What is this determined midnight intruder searching for?

When a half-century old skeleton tumbles out of the wall in the midst of Cloak and Dagger Bookstore's renovation, Adrien turns to hot and handsome ex-lover Jake Riordan -- now out-of-the closet and working as a private detective.

Jake is only too happy to have reason to stay in close contact with Adrien, but there are more surprises in Adrien's past than either one of them expects -- and one of them may prove hazardous to Jake's own heart.

Adrien English by Josh Lanyon

Fatal Shadows #1
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Absolutely brilliant! Even knowing the outcome, it just doesn't get much better than Adrien English and Jake Riordan.

Original Review 2013:
Very intriguing mystery. Well written characters, some you love to love, love to hate, and hate to love.

The Dark Tide #5
2nd Re-Read Review 2016:
Even better the 3rd time around. I just love the dynamic between Adrien and Jake, I have throughout the whole series but now that Jake is officially out of the closet, the way the two are with each other is just priceless. As for the mystery, it's a great blend of history and contemporary that had me enthralled even though I remembered the whos, whats, and wheres. Great from beginning to end.

Original Review 2013:
Another great installment in this series and it has left me hungry for more. Thru searching a 50yr old murder, recovering from life-altering surgery, and a couple visits from his past, Adrien has a couple epiphanies of his own, but is it too late?

3rd Overall Series Re-Read 2017:
What can I say that I haven't already said?  Not much really.  My summer wouldn't be complete without my annual Adrien and Jake fix.  How can a person not love Adrien, he's so matter-of-fact honest and loving that simply put he is adorable.  Jake on the other hand is gruff and a bit rude on first impression, okay probably second, third, and fourth impressions too, but you can't deny he's got a little something extra when it comes to Adrien that will melt your heart and somehow his gruffness is still gruff but with softer edges.  He may not be everyone's cup of tea but I love him and Adrien and I can't imagine a summer will come that I won't be enjoying the mysteries that Adrien stumbles into and Jake has to rescue him from.  Just plain fun that has me smiling even when they break each other's hearts because I know they'll find a way to mend them as well and sometimes reunion kisses can be even better than a first kiss.


The Courage of Love by EE Montgomery
In 1915, after his beloved Carl died from a vicious beating, David Harrison enlisted in the Army and went to war. He returns home to find a world seemingly unchanged, while he will never be the same. At Mrs. Gill’s boarding house, he meets Bernard Donnelly, a young man suffering the aftereffects of his own war experiences. David finds himself increasingly attracted to Bernard, but that terrifies him. He blames himself for Carl’s horrific death and fears he isn’t strong enough to lose another love to violence.

Bernard needs David to help him face each day and find a way they can be together without stigma—and without putting them in legal and physical danger—but David clings to his idea that the only way to keep a lover safe is not to have one. His fears threaten to destroy everything, unless he learns that sometimes the risk is worth it and finds the courage to love.

Original Review January 2015:
This story is so powerful and emotions are all over the place.  I'll admit that the first few shell shock induced nightmare scenes are a little confusing but afterwards, I realized that the mild confusion I felt only added to the severity of what both David and Bernard were dealing with.  I've always been a bit of a history buff, so this is not my first story surrounding World War 1 veterans but the author still managed to tug at my heart when dealing with the shell shock.  Some people might see the continued nightmares and David's reluctance to open his heart again after losing Carl as repetitious but I see them as showing how far they've actually come and at the same time reminding us that it's not a clear cut scenario that can be bad one day and completely fixed the next, it's ongoing.  David and Bernard and even the memory of Carl, David's first love, are the main focus of the story but those around them are so important to story.  Mrs. Gill is amazing, she's the mother that David should have had, she's caring but she's also right to the point.  As for David's mother? She's not actually in the story much but she certainly leaves a lasting impression and it's not a nice one either. This is the first time I've read E.E. Montgomery but it won't be the last.


The Heart of Texas #1 by RJ Scott
Chapter 1
"Sit down, boys," Gerald Hayes said firmly, his back to the Dallas skyline and his arms folded across his chest. They complied with his request since it was more of a command, both sliding into the leather chairs opposite the desk. They wore different expressions, though both were his sons.

Jeff was the mirror of his father, six-five, strong, not averse to getting his own way through means others might consider somewhat underhanded or devious. He'd achieved good things for Hayes Oil, very good things. Under his control, the company had grown in strength due to some well placed deals and some serious, if somewhat questionable, pay-offs to just the right people.

It was how Hayes Oil had gotten where it was today; the second largest oil company in Dallas, billions passing through their coffers on an annual basis, with a staff of over seven hundred in the head office alone. Jeff was a chip off the old block; he knew when to deal, and when to back off, when to buy off. It was a joy for an old man to watch. Jeff was sitting in his chair, his back straight. He was calm, with a virtually inexpressive demeanor, and his eyes were like chips of ice. He was dressed in dark gray Armani, perfectly groomed, his shirt crisp and white, and his tie a deep maroon. His hands were placed on the material of his pants, his nails perfectly manicured. He had an air of expectancy layered about him in palpable waves. Gerald couldn't have been prouder of his eldest son. Jeff was the right choice to form part of the new era of Hayes Oil, his student, and his success.

Riley, his middle child, only an inch shorter than Jeff and nearly as cold, was sitting just as calmly. Nearly. He too was wearing Armani, this time a charcoal black with a black silk shirt and no tie. He exuded the same confidence as his older brother, but with a subtle difference. He was an untamed version of his brother. His middle child had his mother's way about him and eenjoyed the money the Hayes family had, way more than was really necessary. But to give him his due, under his guidance, Research and Development had flourished, and Gerald was as watchful of Riley as he was of his oldest— but for very different reasons.

Riley made decisions driven by his heart, by immeasurable instinct, too many times to make Gerald entirely happy with leaving Hayes Oil under his control for any length of time. Still, Riley deserved a place at Hayes Oil; after all, he supposed, whatever his thoughts, and whatever decisions were made, it was his legacy too.

Riley looked tired today, and Gerald glanced down at the Dallas Morning News on his desk, knowing what was on page seven, the gossip page, knowing what was in evidence before him, and knowing it made his decision easier.

"How is Lisa?" he asked Jeff conversationally, glancing over at the pictures grouped on one side of his desk— his family, Jeff with his arms around his perfect blonde wife, with his two grandchildren posed just so. It filled him with pride to see the Hayes Oil generations all set to carry on the Hayes name. He glanced at photos of his youngest, Eden, and at Riley, both in their photos alone, both for very different reasons.

Sighing, he unfolded his arms, wondering if what he was about to say would change the face of Hayes Oil forever.

* * * * *

Jim Bailey was furious. He could only imagine what Riley was going through at this very minute, and he knew someone had to go and find him before the middle Hayes boy took a gun to his father's head. He had watched as Gerald and the favored son had left. The older man's arm was loose across Jeff's shoulders, their heads close in conversation, and it cut him to the core. It was Jim who had prepared the legal papers, Jim who had argued against the idiocy Hayes Senior was proposing. Someone had to be on Riley's side in this whole freaking mess, even if it meant this was the end of his tenure at Hayes Oil, and he knew where to find Riley. Taking the elevator, he left at the sixty-fifth floor, following the darkening corridor to the map room. It was the one place where Riley could always be found if the stress of his family got too much, sitting cross-legged on the floor poring over his beloved maps. He would spend hours with the geological surveys, the statistical results, his instinct for oil leading R&D to make decisions that had quadrupled Hayes Oil's output over the last two years. It astounded Jim that such a young man, only twenty-seven, had such an instinct. IIt reminded him of the old days, when Gerald and Alan would fly by the seat of their pants to locate new oil reserves based on nothing other than instinct.

Jim hesitated outside the door, steeling himself for what he would find within. Riley was rightly going to be furious with him for withholding the legal changes at Hayes Oil from him. He considered Jim a friend and, as such, probably had the right to expect more. Breathing deeply, he pushed open the door to find the large room echoing and in darkness, the only light from the closing Texas evening and the growing glow of the city outside. It wasn't difficult to locate Riley. Jim could almost touch the anger radiating from the tall man standing at the window silhouetted in the increasing gloom. Jim said nothing, just closing the door behind him and leaning against it. He loosened his tie and focused hard on the dark form. Riley was locked into silent stillness, looking out through the glass.

"Twenty-two percent," Riley finally said, his words clipped and tense. Jim could see himself reflected in that same glass, hesitating, lost, just waiting for the explosion. Jim had known. He had known as soon as the figures hit the desk. For fuck's sake, he was the company's lawyer. He was the one to write up the contracts for handover, the one who'd known the full details for three days longer than Riley.

His anger at what Gerald had forced him to do was manifesting itself as guilt. God knows he had wanted to say something. Every time he looked at the young man who worked so damn hard for this company, he had wanted to tell Riley what Gerald was planning. Never the right moment, never the right reason, and now… now he was paying for the betrayal. "Riley?"

Temper snapped and spat from Riley. "Fucking less than a third, the same as my sister!" He started pacing, gesturing with his hands, frustration in every exaggerated movement. Jim grimaced, because he knew that the percentage Eden got wasn't the point of Riley's temper. Riley was close to his sister, loved her and her shopping ways, and didn't begrudge his Paris Hilton wannabe sibling anything. No, the point was that it hadn't been fair at all. His brother, his acknowledged bastard of a Stepford brother, had just been handed forty-eight percent of Hayes Oil, and effective control of the company.

In a flurry of sudden but controlled movement, Riley spun on his heel, throwing whatever was in his hand across the room, missing Jim by inches. It was a map-reader, fifty thousand dollars of technology smashed into fractured pieces against the glass wall, and then it began. The words that Jim had been expecting.

"He sat there, in his fucking throne room, and he took everything away from me and gave it all to Jeff!" The temper in him was high and rare, and Jim flinched as Riley stalked around the tables that separated them with no direction other than just to walk. "And do you know why?" He stopped, grabbed at the newspapers that were lying in a tangled mess on the final map table by the door, and in one motion, Riley swept everything other than one sheet to the floor. He jabbed at the picture that had been snapped the night before, Riley and Steve at a club, arms around each other, Steve with his usual wide smile, Riley looking somewhat worse for wear from his brush with Jack Daniels and JosΓ© Cuervo. "This."

It was the usual blurred image from the paparazzi who followed Riley, the playboy prince with a bottomless pit of money, everywhere he went. He shook his head. Now he was really confused and couldn't understand what Riley was getting at. Gerald had explained very clearly that his eldest son was the best for the company, the one switched on to commerce, the one with the business brain. He hadn't listened when Jim had pointed out the amazing upturn in R&D, the increase in oil locations, the way Riley was so committed to Hayes Oil. He had just shaken his head as if he couldn't believe, or didn't want to believe. "The photo?" Jim wasn't stupid; the picture didn't exactly show Riley in his best light. There was the blur of his smile and an unwarranted amount of skin on display as he tumbled half in and half out of the cab, stopping obviously to pose with his best friend.

"He said," Riley paused, a sneer on his face, "that the friendship I have with Steve is unhealthy— unhealthy, shit. He was concerned by Steve's association with Campbell!" The name Campbell came out on a spit and a sneer, the perfect take-off of how Gerald Hayes would have said it, how Jim knew he would have said it. "Oh, and also, because I haven't got myself a brood mare like my oh so fucking perfect brother, then of course I must be confused about my sexuality."

Jim winced, both at the description of Jeff's wife as a brood mare, and at the whole confusion statement. Steve Murray, Riley's best friend since college, was openly bisexual, but Riley, despite having a history of mixing it up with men as well as women, was a lot less defined by a label. He had a different woman every night, younger, older, richer, poorer, it didn't matter, and neither did the boys he did on rarer occasions in the bathrooms of wherever they were. However it panned out, Riley always had tail.

"Said I should look at him and Mom." Again came the sneer, and Jim saw how the temper twisted his normally calm face. "Fuck. Like my mom had the perfect husband in my dad, like Jeff had the perfect fucking marriage with Lisa and her drinking." His voice trailed off, the venom in it spitting and harsh as he dismissed the marriages of his closest family as society based, financially arranged facades.

"Riley," Jim started, thinking maybe a time-out here, some down time, might be good.

"No, Jim. No," Riley interrupted, his hands clenched in fists. "Know what he said?" Riley stopped. Of course Jim knew what Hayes Senior had said. After all, it would have been Jim who had written the damn contract. Riley bowed his head, his face revealing disappointment at his friend's betrayal. Jim prayed that Riley could see that Gerald had forced him into this position. "He said it would be okay if I just got myself married in the next three months—if I found myself some stable brood mare time, and stayed married for a year. Then he would hand over more of Hayes Oil. Not based on the work I do, or the fact that, without me, Hayes Oil would have been landless for the next eighteen months, but based on a marriage. I mean, what the fuck, Jim? This is the twenty-first century, not the nineteenth."

"I know," Jim said simply, holding his hands up in his defense. "I tried, Riley, I tried to get him to see sense. I'm so sorry." He knew his voice sounded exhausted, sad. All the emotions that were trapped inside at what he'd had to do came swimming to the surface, puncturing the civility he had to show to the world whenever he was at the office. It was almost as if his words pushed through Riley's temper as suddenly and as finally as the thrust of a knife, and Riley visibly deflated in front of him. His head was bowed, his short blond hair disheveled. He looked calmer, but Jim knew this man well; his temper was clearly just below the surface.

"How do I do this, Jim? How do I fucking show the bastard that he can't win, that he can't push me to marry just to get what was rightfully mine anyway?" He looked up at him, the dim light from outside the window casting shadows across high cheekbones and green-hazel eyes. His lower lip was caught in his teeth, and the pain on his face was something Jim had never seen before. "I work fucking hard for this company. What more can I do?"

"So we find someone for you to marry, Riley, some quiet Texan debutante who will agree to a pre-nup, yeah? Someone who ticks the boxes, and then after this prescribed year is up, you can quietly divorce."

Jim could see that Riley wanted to say he couldn't do that, wanted to say that no woman in her right mind would agree to this, but they both knew it would be easy to find a bride. Both knew that the chance of marrying Riley Hayes was going to bring everyone out of the woodwork, fairly begging for the chance.

"I can't do that," Riley said simply. "I won't give Dad the satisfaction of winning like this."

Jim sighed. "So you let him win by not doing it, then. For him it's a win-win situation. Let's face it, you either let him win by doing something, or you let him win by doing nothing. Either way, Riley, you're fucked."

Fatal Shadows #1 by Josh Lanyon
Cops before breakfast. Before coffee even. As if Mondays weren't bad enough.

I stumbled downstairs, unlocked the glass front doors, shoved back the ornate security gate, and let them in: two plainclothes detectives.

They identified themselves with a show of badges. Detective Chan was older, a little paunchy, a little rumpled, smelling of Old Spice and cigarettes as he brushed by me. The other one, Detective Riordan, was big and blonde, with a neo-Nazi haircut and tawny eyes. Actually I had no idea what color his eyes were, but they were intent and unblinking, as though waiting for a sign of activity from the mouse hole.

“I'm afraid we have some bad news for you, Mr. English,” Detective Chan said, as I started down the aisle of books towards my office.

I kept walking, as though I could walk away from whatever they were about to tell me.

“...Concerning an employee of yours. A Mr. Robert Hersey.”

I slowed down, stopped there in front of the Gothic section. A dozen damsels in distress (and flimsy negligees) caught my eyes. I turned to face the cops. They wore what I would describe as 'official' expressions.

“What about Robert?” There was a cold sinking in my gut. I wished I'd stopped for shoes. Barefoot and unshaven, I felt unbraced for bad news. Of course it was bad news. Anything to do with Robert was bound to be bad news.

“He's dead.” That was the big one, Riordan. He Man.

“Dead,” I repeated.


“You don't seem surprised.”

“Of course I'm surprised.” I was, wasn't I? I felt kind of numb. “What happened? How did he die?”

They continued to eye me in that assessing way.

“He was murdered,” Detective Chan said.

My heart accelerated, then began to slug against my ribs. I felt the familiar weakness wash through me. My hands felt too heavy for my arms.

“I need to sit down,” I said.

I turned and headed back towards my office, reaching out to keep myself from careening into the crowded shelves. Behind me came the measured tread of their feet, just audible over the singing in my ears.

I pushed open my office door, sat down heavily at the desk and opened a drawer, groping inside. The phone on my desk began to ring, jangling loudly in the paperback silence. I ignored it, found my pills, managed to get the top off and palmed two. Washed them down with a swallow of whatever was in the can sitting there from yesterday. Tab. Warm Tab. It had a bracing effect.

“Sorry,” I told LA's finest. “Go ahead.”

Chan glanced at Riordan.

The phone, which had stopped ringing, started up again. “Aren't you going to answer that?” Riordan inquired after the fourth ring.

I shook my head. “How did---? Do you know who--?”

The phone stopped ringing. The silence was even more jarring.

“Hersey was found stabbed to death last night in the alley behind his apartment,” Chan answered.

Riordan said, without missing a beat, “What can you tell us about Hersey? How well did you know him? How long had he worked for you?”

“I've known Robert since high school. He's worked for me for about a year.”

“Any problems there? What kind of an employee was Hersey?”

I blinked up at Chan. “He was okay,” I said, at last focusing on their questions.

“What kind of friend was he?” Riordan asked.


“Were you sleeping with him?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

“Were you lovers?” Chan asked, glancing at Riordan.


“But you are homosexual?” That was Riordan, straight as a stick figure, summing me up with those cool eyes, and finding me lacking in all the right stuff.

“I'm gay. What of it?”

“And Hersey was homosexual?”

“And two plus two equals a murder charge?” The pills kicking in, I felt stronger. Strong enough to get angry. “We were friends, that's all. I don't know who Robert was sleeping with. He slept with a lot of people.”

I didn't quite mean it that way, I thought as Chan made a note. Or did I? I still couldn't take it in. Robert murdered? Beaten up, yes. Arrested, sure. Maybe even dead in a car crash--or by some autoerotic misadventure. But murdered? It seemed so unreal. So...Film At Eleven.

I kept wanting to ask if they were sure? Probably everyone they interviewed asked the same question.

I must have been staring fixedly into space because Riordan asked abruptly, “Are you all right, Mr. English? Are you ill?”

“I'm all right.”

“Could you give us the names of Hersey's-- uh--men friends?” Chan asked. The too polite 'men friends' put my teeth on edge.

“No. Robert and I didn't socialize much.”

Riordan's ears pricked up. “I thought you were friends?”

“We were. But--”

They waited. Chan glanced at Riordan. Though Chan was older I had the impression that Riordan was the main man. The one to watch out for.

I said cautiously, “We were friends, but Robert worked for me. Sometimes that put a strain on our relationship.”


“Just that we worked together all day; we wanted to see different people at night.”

“Uh huh. When was the last time you saw Mr. Hersey?”

“We had dinner--” I paused as Chan seemed about to point out that I had just said Robert and I didn't socialize. I finished lamely, “And then Robert left to meet a friend.”

“What friend?”

“He didn't say.”

Riordan looked skeptical. “When was this?”

“When was what?”

Patiently, long-suffering professional to civilian, he re-phrased, “When and where did you have dinner?”

“The Blue Parrot on Santa Monica Blvd. It was about six.

“And when did you leave?”

“Robert left about seven. I stayed and had a drink at the bar.”

“You have no idea who he left to meet? A first name? A nick name?”


“Do you know if he was going home first or if they were meeting somewhere?”

“I don't know.” I frowned. “They were meeting somewhere, I think. Robert looked at his watch and said he was late; it would take him ten minutes. If he had been heading back home it would have taken him half an hour.”

Chan jotted all this down in a little notebook.

“Anything else you can tell us, Mr. English? Did Mr. Hersey ever indicate he was afraid of anyone?”

“No. Of course not.” I thought this over. “What makes you think he wasn't mugged?”

“Fourteen stab wounds to his upper body and face.”

I could feel the blood drain out of my face again.

“Those kind of wounds generally indicate prior acquaintance,” Riordan drawled.

I don't remember exactly all they asked, after that. Irrelevant details, I felt at the time: Did I live alone? Where had I gone to school? How long had I owned the shop? What did I do with my spare time?

They verified the spelling of my name. “Adrien, with an 'e',” I told Chan. He almost, but not quite, smirked.

They thanked me for my cooperation, told me they would be in touch.

Before he left my office, Riordan picked up the empty can on my desk. “Tab. I didn't know they still made that.”

He crushed it in one big fist and tossed it in the trash basket.

* * * * *

The phone started ringing before I could relock the front door. For a moment I thought it was Robert calling in sick again.

“Adrien, mon cher,” fluted the high, clear voice of Claude La Pierra. Claude owns CafΓ© Noir on Hillhurst Ave. He's big and black and beautiful. I've known him about three years. I'm convinced he's a Southland native, but he affects a kind of gender-confused French like a Left Bank expatriate with severe memory loss. “I just heard. It's too ghastly. I still can't believe it. Tell me I'm dreaming.”

“The police just left.”

“The police? Mon Dieu! What did they say? Do they know who did it?”

“I don't think so.”

“What did they tell you? What did you tell them? Did you tell them about me?”

“No, of course not.”

A noisy sigh of relief down the phone line. “Certainement pas! What is there to tell? But what about you? Are you all right?”

“I don't know. I haven't had time to think.”

“You must be in shock. Come by for lunch.”

“I can't, Claude.” The thought of food made me want to vomit. “I--there's no one to cover.”

“Don't be so bourgeois. You have to eat, Adrien. Close the shop for an hour. Close it for the day!”

“I'll think about it,” I promised vaguely.

No sooner had I hung up on Claude than the phone rang again. I ignored it, padding upstairs to shower.

But once upstairs I sank down on the couch, head in my hands. Outside the kitchen window I could hear a dove cooing, the soft sound distinct over the mid-morning rush of downtown traffic.

Rob dead. It seemed both unbelievable and inevitable. A dozen images flashed through my brain in some macabre mental slide show: Robert at sixteen, in his West Valley Academy tennis whites. Robert and I, drunk and fumbling, in the Ambassador Hotel the night of the Senior Prom. Robert on his wedding day. Robert last night, his face unfamiliar and distorted by anger.

No chance now to ever make it up. No chance to say good-bye. I wiped my eyes on my shirt sleeve, listened to the muffled ring of the phone downstairs. I told myself to get up and get dressed. Told myself I had a business to run. I continued to sit there, my mind racing ahead, looking for trouble. I could see it everywhere, looming up, pointing me out of the lineup. Maybe that sounds selfish, but half a lifetime of getting myself out of shit Robert landed me in had made me wary.

For seven years I had lived above the shop in “Old” Pasadena. Cloak and Dagger Books. New, used and vintage mysteries, with the largest selection of gay and gothic whodunits in Los Angeles. We held a workshop for mystery writers on Tuesday night. My partners in crime had finally convinced me to put out a monthly newsletter. And I had just sold my own first novel, Murder Will Out, about a gay Shakespearean actor who tries to solve a murder during a production of Macbeth.

Business was good. Life was good. But especially business was good. So good that I could barely keep up with it, let alone work on my next book. That's when Robert had turned up in my life again.

His marriage to Tara, his (official) high school sweetheart, was over. Getting out of the marriage had cost what Rob laughingly called a 'queen's ransom.' After six years and two-point-five children he was back from the Heartland of America, hard up and hard on. At the time it seemed like serendipity.

On automatic pilot I rose from the sofa, went into the bathroom to finish my shower and shave, which had been interrupted by the heavy hand of the law on my door buzzer at 8:05 a.m.

In the steamy surface of the mirror I grimaced at my reflection, hearing again that condescending, 'But you are a homosexual?' As in, 'But you are a lower life form?' So what had Detective Riordan seen? What was the first clue? Blue eyes, longish dark hair, a pale bony face. What was it in my Anglo-Norman ancestry that screamed 'faggot?'

Maybe he had a gaydar anti-cloaking device. Maybe there really was a straight guy checklist. Like those “How to Recognize a Homosexual” articles circa the Swinging Sixties. Way back when I had one stuck to the fridge door with my favorite 'give-aways' highlighted:

Delicate physique (or overly muscular)

Striking unusual poses

Gushy, flowery conversation, i.e., “wild,” “mad,” etc.

Insane jealousy

What's funny about that? Mel, my former partner, had asked irritably, ripping the list down one day.

Hey, isn't that on the list? 'Queer sense of humor?' Mel, do you think I'm homosexual?

So what led Detective Riordan to (in a manner of speaking) finger me?

Still on automatic pilot I got in the shower, soaped up, rinsed off, toweled down. It took me another numb fifteen minutes to find something to wear. Finally I gave up and I dressed in jeans and a white shirt. One thing that will never give me away is any sign of above average fashion sense.

I went back downstairs. Reluctantly.

The phone had apparently never stopped ringing. I answered it. It was a reporter: Bruce Green from Boytimes. I declined an interview and hung up. I plugged in the coffee machine, unlocked the front doors again, and phoned a temp agency.

The Dark Tide #5 by Josh Lanyon
"To say goodbye is to die a little..." -- Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

It began, as a lot of things do, in bed.

Or, to be precise, on the living room sofa where I was uncomfortably dozing.

Somewhere in the distance of a very weird dream about me and a certain ex-LAPD police lieutenant came a faint but persistent scratching. The scratching worked itself into my dream and I deduced with the vague logic of the unconscious that the cat was sharpening his claws again on the antique half moon table in the hall.

Except... that boneless ball of heat on my abdomen was the cat. And he was sound asleep--

I opened my eyes. It was dark and it took me a second or two to place myself. Moonlight outlined the pirate bookends on the bookshelf. From where I lay I could just make out the motion of the draperies in the warm July breeze in the front room of the flat above Cloak and Dagger Books.

I was home.

There had been a time when I’d thought I would never see home again. But here I was. I had a furry heating pad on my belly, I had a crick in my neck, and I had--apparently--a midnight visitor.

My first thought was that Lisa had called Guy, my ex, and that he was dutifully looking in on me. But that furtive scraping wasn’t the sound of a key, it was more like someone trying to…well, pick the lock.

I rolled off the sofa, dislodging the sleeping cat, and staggered to my feet fighting the dizziness that dogged me since my heart surgery three weeks earlier. I’d been staying at my mother’s home in the Chatsworth Hills, but I’d checked myself out of the lunatic asylum that afternoon.

If Guy had dropped by, he’d have turned on the light in the shop below. There was no band of light beneath the door. No, what there was, was the occasional flash of illumination as though someone were trying to balance a flashlight.

I wasn’t dreaming. Someone was trying to break in.

I felt my way across the darkened room to the entrance hall. My heart was already beating way too hard and too fast and I felt a spark of anxiety--the anxiety that was getting to be familiar since my surgery. Was my healing heart up to this kind of strain? Even as I was calculating whether I could get to the Webley in the bedroom closet and load it before the intruder got the door open, or whether my best bet was to lock myself in the bedroom and phone the cops, the decision was made for me.

The lock mechanism turned over, the door handle rotated, and the door silently inched out of the frame.

I reacted instinctively, grabbing the rush bottom chair in the hall and throwing it with all my strength. “Get the hell out of here,” I yelled over the racket of the chair clattering into the door and hitting the floor.

And, surprisingly enough, the intruder did get the hell out.

Not a dream. Not a misreading of the situation. Someone had tried to break into my living quarters.

I heard the heavy thud of footsteps pounding down the staircase back to the shop, heard something crash below, heard another crash, and then--as I tottered to the wall light switch--the slam of a distant door.

What door? Not the side entrance of the shop below because I knew that particular bang very well, and certainly not the front door behind the security gate…it had to be from the adjacent structure. The bookstore took up one half of a subdivided building that had originally, back in the thirties, housed a small hotel. The other half of the building had gone through a variety of commercial incarnations, none of which had survived more than a year or so, until I’d finally been in position to buy it myself the previous spring. It was currently in the expensive and noisy process of being renovated, the two halves divided by a wall of thick plastic.

Possibly not the greatest security in the world, although the contractor assured me the perimeter doors were all guarded by “construction cores” and that it was as safe as it had ever been. He obviously wasn’t familiar with my history, let alone the history of the building.

I leaned back against the wall, trying to catch my breath and listening. Somewhere down the street I heard an engine roaring into life. Not necessarily my intruder’s getaway car fleeing the scene, but this was a non-residential part of Pasadena, and at night it was very quiet and surprisingly isolated.

There was a time when I’d have intrepidly gone downstairs to see what the damage was. But that was four murder investigations, one shooting, and one heart surgery ago. I picked up the phone, slid down the wall, and dialed 911.

I was having trouble catching my breath as I waited--and waited--for the 911 operator, and I hoped to hell I wasn’t having a heart attack. My heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever when I was sixteen. A bout of pneumonia had worsened my condition and I’d been in line for surgery even before getting shot three weeks earlier. Everything was under control now and according to my cardiologist I was making terrific progress. But the ironic thing about the surgery and the news that I was apparently going to make old bones after all was that I felt mortal in a way that I hadn’t for the last fifteen years.

Tomkins pussyfooted up to delicately head-butt me.

“Hi,” I said.

He blinked his wide, almond-shaped green gold eyes at me and meowed. He had a surprisingly quiet meow. Not as annoying as most cats. Not that I was an expert--nor did I plan on becoming one. I was just loaning a fellow bachelor my pad. The cat--kitten, really--was also convalescing. He’d been mauled by a dog three weeks earlier. His bounce back was better than mine.

I stroked him absently as he wriggled around and tried to bite my fingers. Apparently there was some truth to the wisdom about petting a cat to lower your blood pressure, because I could feel my heart rate slowing, calming--which was pretty good considering how pissed off I was getting at being kept on hold in the middle of an emergency.

Granted, it wasn’t much of an emergency at this point. My intruder was surely long gone.

I chewed my lip, listened once more to the message advising me to stay on the line and help would soon be with me. Assuming I’d still be alive to take that call.

I hung up and dialed another number. A number that I had memorized long ago. A number that seemingly would require acid wash to remove from the memory cells of my brain.

As the phone rang on the other end I glanced across at the clock on the bookshelf. Three oh three in the morning. Well, here was a test of true friendship.

My heart jerked again as the phone rattled off the hook.

“Riordan,” Jake managed in a voice like raked gravel.

“Uh... hey.”

“Hey.” I could feel him making the effort to push through the fog of sleep. He rasped, “How are you?”

That was pretty civil given the fact that I hadn’t spoken to him for nearly two weeks and was choosing three in the morning to reopen the lines of communication.

  I found myself instinctively straining to hear the silence behind him; was someone there with him? I couldn’t hear over the rustle of bed linens.

“I’m okay. Something happened just now. I think someone tried to break in.”

“You think?” And he was completely alert. I could hear the covers tossed back, the squeak of bedsprings.

“Someone tried to break in. He took off, but…”

“You’re back at the bookstore?”

“Yeah. I came home late this afternoon.”

“You’re there alone?”

Thank God he didn’t say it like everyone else had. Alone? As though it were out of the question. As though I were far too ill and helpless to be left to my own devices. Jake was simply looking at it from a security perspective.


“Did the security alarm go off?”


“Did you call it in?”

“I called 911, but they put me on hold.”

“At three o’clock in the morning?” He was definitely on his feet and moving, dressing it sounded like, and I felt a wave of guilty relief. Regardless of how complicated our relationship was--and it was fairly complicated--there was no one I knew better at dealing with this kind of thing. Whatever this kind of thing was.

Which I guess said more than I realized right there.

Jake said crisply, “Hang up and call 911 again. Stay on the line with them. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I said gruffly, “Thanks, Jake.”

Just like that. I had called and he was coming to the rescue. Unexpectedly, a wave of emotion--reaction--hit me. One of the weird aftereffects of my surgery. I struggled with it as he said, “I’m on my way,” and disconnected.

* * * * *

I went down to meet him, taking the stairs slowly, taking my time. From above I had a birds eye view of the book floor. I could see where the bargain book table had been toppled. Otherwise everything looked pretty much as normal: same comfortable chairs, fake fireplace, tall walnut shelves of books, same enigmatic smiles of the kabuki masks on the wall.

I unlocked the door, pushed open the security gate, which he’d knelt to examine. “You didn’t have to come down. I’d have gone around to the s--” Jake broke off. He rose and said oddly, “DΓ©jΓ  vu.”

I didn’t get it for a second, and then I did. Echoes of the first time we’d met; although “met” was kind of a polite word for turning up as a suspect in someone’s murder investigation.

Uncombed, unshaven, I was even dressed the same: jeans and bare feet. I’d thrown a leather jacket on partly because, despite the warmth of a July night, I felt chilled, and partly because I didn’t want to treat him to the vision of the seam down the middle of my chest from open heart surgery. Not that Jake hadn’t seen it when he visited me in the hospital, but it looked different out of context. The bullet hole in my shoulder was ugly enough; the incision from the base of my collar bone down through my breast bone was shocking. I found it shocking, anyway.

 I said awkwardly, “Thanks again for coming.”

He nodded.

For a moment we stared at each other. These last weeks couldn’t have been easy on Jake, and not because I’d asked him to give me a little time, a little space before we tried to figure out where we stood. He’d resigned from LAPD, come out to his family, and asked his wife for a divorce. But he looked unchanged. Reassuringly unchanged. I think I’d feared…well, I’m not sure. That he’d be harrowed by regret. For his entire adult life he’d fought to defend that closet he inhabited. Been willing to sacrifice almost everything to protect it. I couldn’t help thinking he’d take to being out like a fish to desert sand.

But he looked okay. No, be honest. He looked a lot better than okay. He looked…fine. Fine as in get the Chiffons over here to sing a chorus.  Big, blonde, ruggedly handsome in a trial-by-fire way. He was very lean, all hard muscle and powerful bone. Maybe there was more silver at his temples, but there was a calmness in his tawny eyes that I’d never seen before.

Under that light, steady gaze I felt suddenly self-conscious. It was weird to think that for the first time in all the time I’d known him there was nothing to keep us from being together but the question of whether we both really wanted it.

He asked matter-of-factly, “Do you know why the alarm didn’t go off?”

“It wasn’t set.”

A quick drawing of his dark brows. He opened his mouth, but I beat him to it. “We haven’t been setting it while the construction has been going on next door.”

“Tell me you’re kidding.”

He already knew I wasn’t. “The city threatened to fine me because we had too many false alarms. The construction crew usually arrives before we open the shop and they kept triggering it. So I thought…just until the construction was completed…”

 His silence said it all--happily, because I was pretty sure if Jake got started we’d be there all night.

“I think he must have come in from the side,” I said, turning to lead the way.

He followed me across the front of the tall aisles. I pointed out where an end cap had been knocked over. “Only the emergency lights were on and he crashed into that.” I nodded to the fallen bargain table, the landslide of spilled books. “And there.”

We reached the clear plastic wall dividing Cloak and Dagger Books from the gutted other half of the building. Staring from one side to the other was like peering through murky water. I could just make out the ladders and scaffolds like the ribs of a mythological beast. I directed Jake’s attention to the long five foot slit through the plastic near the wall.

“Good call,” he said grimly.

I’d have happily been wrong. “The contractor told me that that side of the building would be secured with special locks. Construction locks.”

He was already shaking his head. “Look at this.” He stooped, pushing through the slit in the plastic and I followed him into the darkened other side of the building. It smelled chilly and weird on that side of the building. A mixture of fresh plaster, new wood, and dust. We picked our way through the hurdles of drop cloths and wooden horses and cement mixer to the door on the far wall. It swung open at his touch.

“Great,” I said bitterly.

“Yep.” He showed me the core in the center of the exterior handle. I could just make out that it was painted, though I couldn’t actually make out a color. “See that?”

I nodded.

“It’s a construction core. That’s a temporary core used by contractors on construction sites. They’re all combinated the same, or mostly the same, which means that if someone gets hold of a key, they’ve got a key to just about every construction core in the city.”

“Better and better.”

He shut the door and relocked it. “As security goes, this is one step above leaving the door standing wide open.”

I swallowed. Nodded.

“Whoever broke in may have been watching the place and was aware that no one’s been here at night.”

I said, “I already checked the register and there’s no sign it’s been tampered with.”

“It might have been kids prowling around.” He didn’t sound convinced and I knew why.

“Trying to break into my flat was…”

“Pretty aggressive,” Jake agreed. “But, again, I think that probably gets back to the mistaken belief that no one was here. No one has been here at night for three weeks, so it was a reasonable assumption.”

I absorbed that. “This might not have been the first time he was prowling around in here.”


“I don’t know that Natalie would notice the slice in the plastic wall. Hell, I don’t know if she’d have noticed a cartoon silhouette of someone bursting through.”

Sort of unfair to Natalie; Jake snorted, grimly amused.

All at once I was exhausted. Mentally and physically and emotionally drained dry. I didn’t seem to have much in the way of physical resources these days and this break-in felt like way more than I could begin to handle.

Jake opened his mouth but stopped. Through the dirty glass of the bay window we watched a squad car pull up, lights flashing, though there was no siren.

Better late than never, I guess.

I felt Jake looking at me. “You okay? You’re shaking.”


“And heart surgery.” He took a deep breath. “Go upstairs.  I’ll take care of this.”

There it was again. That weird new emotionalism. The littlest things seemed to choke me up. Like this. Like Jake offering to talk to the cops for me.

Except this wasn’t a little thing. Jake, who had hid his sexuality from his brother law enforcement for nearly twenty years, who had been unwilling for people to even know we were friends, who had very nearly succumbed to blackmail and more to keep that secret…was offering to stand here in my place and talk to these cops -- and let them think whatever they chose to about us and our relationship.

I’m not sure what was stranger: the fact that he was making the offer or that I was ready to start crying over it.

I cleared my throat. “I can handle it.”

He met my gaze.  “I know you can. I’d like to do this for you.”

Fuck. He did it again. It had to be that I was overtired and still shaken by the break-in. I worked to keep my face and voice from showing anything I was feeling, managing a brusque nod.

The cops, a man and a woman in uniform, were getting out their car. I turned and started back through ladders and wooden horses and scaffolds.

* * * * *

I was sitting on the sofa, sleeping, with the cat on my lap, when Jake let himself into the flat.

I must have been snoring because the soft sound of the door shutting seemed to come like a clap of thunder in wake of a windstorm. The cat sprang from my lap. I sat up, closed my mouth, wiped my eyes, and when I blearily opened them Jake stood over me looking unreasonably alert for four in the morning.

“Was that a cat I saw running into your bedroom?”

I cleared my throat. “Was it?”

“It looked like it.” He sat down on the sofa next to me, and every muscle in my body immediately clenched tight in nervous reaction. I didn’t feel ready for…whatever this was liable to be.

I said lightly, “Maybe the building is haunted.”

“Could be.” He seemed to study my face with unusual attention. “Your burglary complaint is filed. Tomorrow, first thing, you need to tell that contractor to get real locks on those doors. In fact, I’d advise you to change all the locks on both sides of the building.”

I nodded wearily. “I’ve been trying to think what he was after.”

“The usual things.”

“Then why not break into the cash register?”

“An empty cash register? Why?”

Good point. No point robbing the till after the day’s bank drop had been made. I must be more tired than I thought. Jake apparently had the same idea because he said, “I thought you’d be in bed by now.”

“I’m on my way. I just wanted to thank you…”

He said gravely, “Don’t mention it. I’m glad you called me. I’ve been wondering how you’re doing.”

My gaze fell. “I’m all right.” There was so much to say and yet I couldn’t seem to think of anything. “I’m getting there. The worst part is being tired all the time.”

“Yeah.” I knew he saw right through me.


When I didn’t continue he said, “I know. I know it’s a lot to ask. Probably too much, although I won’t pretend I’m not hoping.”

Forgiveness. That’s what he was talking about. Forgiveness for any number of things, I guess. I was talking about something completely different.

I shook my head. “It isn’t... I don’t know how to explain this. It’s not you, though. It’s me.”

He waited with that new calm, that new certainty in his eyes. He was expecting me to drop the ax on him. I could see that. He had been expecting it since the last time we spoke in the hospital and I’d asked him to give me time. That’s what he had expected when he answered my cry for help tonight--what he still expected--but he had come anyway.

Was that guilt or love or civic responsibility? He was the best friend I’d ever had--and the worst.

I said, “This isn’t going to make sense to you because it doesn’t make sense to me. I know how lucky I am. I do. I know I’m getting a second chance, and even though I feel like utter shit at the moment, I know I’m getting well and I’m going to be okay. Better than okay. That’s what my doctors keep telling me, and I know that I should be really happy and really relieved. But I-I can’t seem to feel anything right now.”

Nothing from Jake. Not that I blamed him. What was he supposed to make of that speech?

I concluded lamely, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

 “There’s nothing wrong with you.” He wasn’t comforting me; it was more like one scientist debating another’s hypothesis. “You feel what you feel. You’re allowed.”

It was getting harder to go on, but I felt I had to be honest with him. “I was happy enough with Guy, but I don’t want Guy. I don’t want... anyone. Right now.”

There was another pause after he heard me out. He said, “Okay.”

Apparently it was that easy. I wasn’t sure if what I felt was relief or disappointment.

I heard myself say, awkwardly, “I just felt like I should--”

“Got it.” Was there an edge to his tone? He still looked calm. Actually, he looked concerned. He said, “Why don’t you go to bed, Adrien? I’ve seen snowmen with more color in their faces. You need sleep. So do I. In fact, I’m going to spend what’s left of the night on your couch.”

I said, despite my instant relief, “You don’t have to do that.”

“I know, Greta. You vant to be alone. But unless your need for space prohibits a friend crashing on the sofa, that’s what I’m doing.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue with him--or myself. I nodded, pushed off the sofa and headed for the bedroom. “There are blankets in the linen cupboard.”

“I remember.”

A thought suddenly occurred to me. I paused in the doorway, turning back to him.


He was in the process of tugging off a boot. He glanced up. “Yeah?”

“Downstairs. With the cops. Was it okay?”

It seemed to take him a second to understand my concern. He smiled--the first real smile I’d seen from him in a very long time.

“Yes,” he said. “It was okay.”

The Courage to Love by EE Montgomery
Chapter One
Brisbane, July 1919
THE westerlies began early this year. The icy winter wind cut straight through my clothes. I tugged my collar closer around my face, shoved my gloved hands into the pockets of my overcoat, and stared at the weathered headstone. The words carved into the pale granite were now dark and legible. The southern side of the stone held a slight greenish tinge, the beginnings of moss growth, but someone had been caring for Carl. The grass around the grave was neatly trimmed, and there was a small bowl of fresh camellias beside the headstone.

We could not say good-bye.

My heart is broken.

“It still is, Carl,” I whispered. “Every day.”

Eventually, my shivering became so extreme I had to leave. I looked up at a sky tinged orange and pink and knew if I didn’t run, I’d miss the last tram into the city.

MOTHER’S shrill voice started before I finished unbuttoning my coat. “Where have you been, David? Dinner’s been ready for over an hour. You know what time to be home.” The diminutive woman who ruled my every waking moment when I was at home came into the front hall. She had pulled her graying hair back into her usual severe bun, her thin lips were pinched in disapproval, and her gray eyes glared accusingly as I turned from hanging my coat on the coat stand. “Well?”

“I was just walking around, Mother.”

“Mrs. Edwards and Esther came for afternoon tea. I expected you to be home.”

I stifled the sigh that wanted to escape, but judging by the frown on Mother’s face, I probably didn’t hide my relief very well. The excuses I’d once used dried on my tongue. I would no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t. After Carl, I’d not get drawn or trapped into marrying a woman my mother chose. Or any woman.

“Did you go to the Post Office and get your job back?”

I couldn’t control the sigh this time. I had gone in there in the morning, and nothing had changed. The checkered tiles still muted footsteps from the doors to the counter. The polished oak counter and stair railings gleamed in the light as they had before. The large room still smelled of old paper, ink, and furniture polish. The only difference was the new faces behind the counter. And me. I was different too, but no one understood that, least of all my mother. I didn’t want to go back to the Post Office, but I wanted to stay in this house even less.

“I begin on Monday.”

Her consideration of me changed, and I suppressed a cringe, standing taller, my back rigid, knowing what she’d say next.

“Good, then you’ll be able to pay more board.” She returned to the living room and sat among the threadbare spotlessness of worn carpets and upholstery. A small fire burned in the grate, lending a homey feel to the one room my mother spent time in. She positioned her feet precisely together, as a lady should, and picked up her mending. “Your dinner is in the oven.”

Dried-out cottage pie and wrinkled, woody carrots, burned on the tips, sat forlornly on an enameled plate in the hot side of the wood-fired oven. I sat at the scarred kitchen table and shoveled the food into my mouth, chewing and swallowing without tasting anything. I didn’t care what my mother served. Everything here tasted better than what I’d eaten the last four years. If I never saw bully beef, tinned peaches, or golden syrup again, it would be too soon.

When I finished, I placed my plate in the tub of water sitting in the sink and stared at the dim reflection of myself in the grubby window. I shuffled my feet against the gritty, sticky floor, then went up the stairs to my room, grateful every day that it was positioned directly over the kitchen and its warmth.

I pulled my suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, sneezed at the dust that came down with it, and packed as many of my clothes and books as would fit. I put the filled suitcase back on top of the wardrobe, hung my pants, coat, and shirt over a chair, crawled into my narrow bed, and stared at the stained ceiling.

I woke in the dark hours before dawn to screams echoing in my room and, from what I knew from her complaints after other nightmares, the thump of my mother’s shoe hitting the other side of the wall above my head. I rose and dressed, then went down the back stairs. Within five minutes, I was free of the house and headed for the river.

OUR glade was unchanged except for the cigarette ends that littered the flattened grass in the middle. The white paper-ends, left by careless smokers, glowed dully in the predawn light. I crawled under the drooping leaves of the willow and leaned against the trunk. I closed my eyes as I remembered the times I’d spent there with Carl, holding his warm body against mine, before the ugliness of our world exploded.

I woke reaching for my rifle, only to have my fingers bump against roots and dew-damp mulch. Murmured voices faded downriver as their unseen owners meandered along the nearby path. I stared through the fractured canopy above me until my breathing settled and my heart rate calmed. When I was sure I was in the glade and not at war, and that no one waited to shoot me, I crawled out of the dimness, brushed myself off, and walked along the riverbank toward Mrs. Gill’s in New Farm.

The house had suffered while I’d been away. The paint looked dull. Sections on the western side had begun to peel and flake away. Dirt clouded the louvered windows that formed the top half of the closed-in wraparound verandas on both the ground floor and the floor above. A small gum tree sprouted in the drooping gutter at the corner of the corrugated iron roof. The front gate needed oiling—the hinges caught and screeched as I pushed it open and closed. The grass beside the path needed cutting, while the flower beds on either side of the short set of stairs to the front door still flourished amid a tangle of weeds, though not much but azaleas were in bloom. The roses, planted in round mounds of mulch leading the way from the gate to the stairs, had been pruned and were beginning to shoot. Over to the side of the front yard, between the house and the fence, a scraggly Geraldton Wax leaned away from the wind, its purple geometrically arranged flowers whipped to a frenzy against the fence dividing this yard from the one next door.

I took the front stairs two at a time, as I always had, only remembering when I reached the landing, there was nothing worth running toward anymore. I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. I hoped Mrs. Gill remembered me and that she had a room to spare.

“Mr. Harrison, you’re back!” Mrs. Gill pulled me into the entry and enveloped me in a lavender-scented hug. Then she pushed me away and fussed with the position of a bowl of camellias on the side table. They were the same color as the flowers at Carl’s grave. “Come on in and tell me when you got back.”

I followed the bustling woman down the long hallway—past the doors to the dining room and parlor, the stairs to the upper level, and the short hallway that led to boarders’ rooms and the downstairs bathroom—to the back of the house and stepped down the single step into the warm kitchen.

There were only good memories in this room. Mrs. Gill’s stove was the same model as my mother’s, but where my mother’s was dull black and smoked from its poorly cleaned flue, Mrs. Gill’s shone from Stove Black and produced a sweet, clean warmth that immediately soothed me. Mrs. Gill tapped the back of one of the wooden chairs as she passed. “Sit, sit, Mr. Harrison.”

She dragged a heavy kettle from the back right corner of the stove to the left, directly above the fire. I looked around the room as I sat. The scrubbed wooden table top was the same, but the large basket that usually contained fruit was gone. The potato sack hanging on the back of the open pantry door was half-full. On the floor in the pantry was a bucket filled with turnips and cabbages. The icebox in the corner of the room didn’t sweat as it usually did when freshly stocked with ice but appeared to be the same temperature as the rest of the room. The stone floor gleamed, clean and smooth in the early morning light that streamed in through the windows over the stove.

Outside, in the backyard, the vegetable patch brought memories of lazy Sunday afternoons in my room, laughing as Carl, naked and flushed from our loving, leaned out the window and tried to scare the crows from the corn. Tall stalks of corn and trellised beans waved in the breeze, but appeared neglected, overgrown with weeds, like a remnant of a better life that would never be seen again. The tall jacaranda tree in the back corner appeared unchanged, and provided shade over nearly half the yard. In front of the vegetable garden, over to the side of the privy, white sheets flapped in the breeze on lines strung across the yard from the small washhouse.

“I’ll make us a nice cup of tea, and you can tell me all that you’ve been doing since you came back and what you have planned now.” Mrs. Gill pulled down cups and saucers from the dresser against the wall facing the sink.

I sat and breathed deeply for the first time in what felt like months. Everyone else wanted to know about the war. They asked if I’d had fun in France and how many French women I’d met. They told me I must be “so proud to have served King and country” and be pleased to have driven the Huns back. I’m glad Mrs. Gill didn’t.

“So how are you settling back in, Mr. Harrison? Several of our young men from here never returned.” She cleared her throat. “But you’d know more about that than I would, I expect.” She placed a cup of steaming tea in front of me and pushed the sugar over. “We lost nearly half our chickens in a storm a few months ago, so it’s going to be difficult to keep eggs on the table until new ones arrive, but I’m sure we’ll manage, dear. We always do.” She sat and, pulling the saucer, drew her teacup toward her.

I flinched at the rattled china-scrape across the table.

Mrs. Gill added milk to her tea, picked up a teaspoon, and stirred it as she stared at the swirling liquid. “I suppose you’ve found better accommodations since you returned?”

“Actually, no, Mrs. Gill. I’ve been staying with my mother, but I was wondering if my old room was available.” My speech was as I had rehearsed, but my throat felt scratchy, like I wanted to cough or vomit. I had no idea what I’d do if Mrs. Gill had rented my room to someone else. The only thing I knew for sure was I couldn’t spend another night under my mother’s roof.

“Oh.” Mrs. Gill looked up at me, her faded blue eyes showing an endearing combination of surprise, pleasure, and dismay. “Actually, it’s not available, Mr. Harrison. I put Mr. Donnelly in your old room, on account of it being at the back of the house and quieter.”

I nodded and tried to smile, but my stomach churned. I twisted my fingers together in my lap, my nerves stretched so tight I thought I would start screaming and never stop.

“I expect you’re looking for a quiet room as well.” She considered me carefully for several seconds. I was relieved that she seemed to instinctively understand. “With so many motor cars around lately, all the front rooms will be too noisy for you. You could have Mr. George’s old room if you wanted.” After making this statement, Mrs. Gill jumped up, grabbed a cloth, and wiped the table down, then refilled my cup, even though I’d barely taken two sips from it.

“It’s not taken?” My heart pounded and I closed my eyes against the image of Carl, in pain, his eyes crying out his love for me even as he breathed his last. I didn’t know if I could go back into that room, yet part of me couldn’t stay away.

“No.” Mrs. Gill hesitated. “Some gentlemen don’t like the thought that someone died there, but you and Mr. George were such close friends, I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

The alternative was my mother’s. I’d rather be somewhere Carl had been. “I start back at the Post Office on Monday. Would I be able to move in today and pay the board after I receive my first wage?”

Mrs. Gill beamed at me. “Of course, dear. You didn’t bring anything with you?” She looked around the kitchen as if expecting to see a suitcase materialize even though we both knew I hadn’t arrived with anything. Mrs. Gill reached over and patted my arm. “It’s good to have you back, Mr. Harrison.”

I smiled at her. “And it’s good to be back, Mrs. Gill.”

For the first time since the ship had landed back in Australia, I meant those words.

I RETURNED to my mother’s house in the afternoon. Today was her library afternoon, in which she met several like-minded matrons at the local library and they discussed in hushed whispers the state of the neighborhood. It was cowardly, but I didn’t want to face her. I’d had enough of people screaming at me, and if I had to listen to one more of her tirades, I would say something irrevocable. As much as I no longer wanted to live with her, she was my mother, and I needed to treat her with as much respect as I was able to. Unfortunately, that meant behaving like the basest coward and running away.

I left a note on the kitchen table, collected my suitcase, and shoved the front door key under the door as I left.

CARL’S room felt like me: it looked the same, but it was empty. The washstand still held the same fluted blue-and-white basin and jug, but his brushes and shaving gear were gone. I laid out my toiletries precisely but on the opposite side of the basin from where he’d always stored his. After hanging my clothes in the single wardrobe, I pushed them to the left, leaving enough room for as many again beside them. Then I positioned the suitcase on its side on top of the wardrobe. I stared at the bed, but didn’t touch it. His bed had always been narrower than mine, so I’d never slept in it. If I closed my eyes, I could see Carl as he was the last time I saw him, belly swollen, bones broken, tears streaming down his face.

I didn’t close my eyes.

Mrs. Gill let me take one of the brocade wing-back chairs from the downstairs sitting room. I positioned it near the window, facing out so I could sit and look at the garden, with the branches of the jacaranda tree gracefully protecting the corner of the vegetable garden from the midday sun. I kept it at an angle so I could also see the door. On the floor beside the chair, I placed a sturdy branch that had fallen from the gum tree in the neighbor’s yard.

At dinner that night, I met the other boarders. I remembered one from my previous time there, but the other two were new. I forgot their names before I’d finished shaking their hands. They took their places at the dining table, leaving one place setting unclaimed. They sat silently and avoided looking at each other, a stark contrast to the noisy conversation that had heralded their arrival. The two other dining tables were bare of place settings. I went to the kitchen.

“Mrs. Gill, is there anything I can help you with?” I asked as I walked into the room.

A crash greeted me, and I looked over to see a tall, thin young man, with a head of unruly mahogany curls, crouched over a smashed plate. He frantically scooped scattered food onto the largest piece of plate. As I watched, blood bloomed on his hand, and I rushed over to him.

“Mr. Harrison, don’t.”

“You’ve cut yourself,” I murmured as I reached for the young man’s hand. “Let me see.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what happened next. One moment I crouched next to the injured man, the next I lay sprawled on the floor with food splattered over me and the young man curled into a whimpering ball, pressed against the wall beside the stove. His trousers rode up his ankles as he curled in on himself, but I could see the fabric gathering under his belt, a testament to recently lost weight.

“Mr. Harrison, come away now.”

I looked up to see Mrs. Gill standing on the far side of the table, concern etching wrinkles into her forehead.

“Come now, Mr. Harrison, I’ll put your dinner in the dining room with the others.” She loaded a large wooden tray with plates of steaming food and left. I glanced at the man on the floor, and I felt torn between doing as Mrs. Gill instructed and helping the man.

The whimpers had stopped, but the man hadn’t moved, his face resolutely hidden from me. I determined to ask Mrs. Gill about him after dinner, then went to eat my meal.

By the time I’d finished eating, I’d decided I would ask Mrs. Gill if I could eat in the kitchen from then on. Anything would be better than the uncomfortable silences alternating with generalized complaints against society that had accompanied my meal in the dining room.

“THAT’S Mr. Donnelly.” Mrs. Gill efficiently dried plates and put them in a stack with a clack. “I mentioned him this morning.”

“Is he…?”

“He was in the war, Mr. Harrison.” Mrs. Gill turned to stare at me. “I’m sure you know the kinds of things he might have experienced.”

Shell shock. I’d seen it before. Good soldiers, even great soldiers, started to sob and not stop, even when the medics came to carry them out. Others experienced flashbacks so bad they went on rampages and shot everything that moved. Hell, I’d even experienced some of that myself. I still had nightmares.

“How long has he been with you?”

“Only a couple of months. He just needs things quiet for a while, I think.”

Hence giving him the back bedroom. I placed my hand on her shoulder. “You’re a good woman, Mrs. Gill.”

RJ Scott
RJ’s goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.

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

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

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.

EE Montgomery
E E Montgomery wants the world to be a better place, with equality and acceptance for all. Her philosophy is: We can’t change the world but we can change our small part of it and, in that way, influence the whole. Writing stories that show people finding their own ‘better place’ is part of E E Montgomery’s own small contribution.

Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of inspiration for stories that show people growing in their acceptance and love of themselves and others. A dedicated people-watcher, E E finds stories everywhere. In a cafe, a cemetery, a book on space exploration or on the news, there’ll be a story of personal growth, love, and unconditional acceptance there somewhere.

RJ Scott
EMAIL: rj@rjscott.co.uk

Josh Lanyon
EMAIL: josh.lanyon@sbcglobal.net 

EE Montgomery
EMAIL: eemontgomery11@gmail.com

The Heart of Texas #1 by RJ Scott

Fatal Shadows #1 by Josh Lanyon

The Dark Tide #5 by Josh Lanyon

The Courage to Love by EE Montgomery