Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Happy Pride Month 2018: Top 20 Favorite LGBT Reads Part 3


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

Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane
Cambridge Fellows Mysteries #1
Cambridge, 1905.

It’s the turn of the century, Queen Victoria’s reign is over, it’s time for a new beginning. In Cambridge, Jonty Stewart takes up a teaching post, acting as a catalyst for change within the archaic institution. But he also has a catalytic effect on Orlando Coppersmith.

Orlando is a brilliant, introverted mathematician with very little experience of life outside the college walls. He strikes up an alliance with the outgoing Jonty, and soon finds himself having feelings he’s never experienced before. Before long their friendship blossoms into more than either man had hoped and they enter into a clandestine relationship.

Yet their romance is complicated when a series of murders is discovered within St. Brides. And all of the victims have one thing in common: a penchant for men. A fact that only puts Orlando and Jonty in greater danger, when they are enlisted to act as the eyes and ears for the police…

Lessons in Love #1
Re-Read Review June 2016:
I loved this even more the second time around. Knowing Jonty & Orlando better as I currently do because Cambridge Fellows is among my favorite series list, I have upgraded from 4-1/2 to 5 Stars. Just brilliant story all around.

Original Review Summer 2014:
I was blown away by this story that before I finished it I went and ordered the remaining entries in this series. I will admit that it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the flow of the author's writing style and keep straight in my head. Going back and forth between using their first names and their surnames, depending on the setting the characters are in had me a little confused at first but I quickly got the style meshing with my thinking and then everything just was amazing. That is the reason I am giving this book a 4-1/2 bookmark instead of 5. The mystery is interesting and got my detective skills percolating. I can honestly say I don't know who I love more, Jonty and his wit or Orlando and his innocence? They both have captured my heart and can't wait to read more.


Snow Falling by Davidson King
Haven Hart Universe #1
After running from a past destined to kill him, Snow has been hiding on the streets.

Tell nobody your name.
Tell nobody your secrets.
Trust nobody!
These are the rules of the streets.

His entire life changes when he saves an eight-year-old boy from a violent end.

Christopher Manos is one of the most powerful crime bosses in the country.

Don’t ask anyone to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.
Secrets can get you killed.
Trust nobody!
These are the rules he lives by.

When his eight-year-old nephew disappears, he never expects the boy’s savior to end up being his own.

A man with a dangerous past and a man with a dangerous future find love amidst murder and mayhem. But with Snow's life being threatened at every turn, will Christopher's best be enough to prevent Snow Falling?

Original Review December 2017:
When Snow comes upon a little boy in trouble and comes to his aid, he has no plans for it to lead to a new beginning he was just doing what he felt was right.  Christopher may be the head of a family that has some questionable tactics but he is an honorable man so when his nephew is saved by a young man in an alley, he offers the man a job.  Will either man let the future take root and grow or will their secrets get in the way?

Snow Falling is a masterpiece!  That is the best way to explain what I read, nothing more, nothing less.  It is a true masterpiece, a gem to be savored.  When you factor in that this is a debut novel by the author, well frankly its hard to believe because its just so great.  Now, I would be lying if I said I am unfamiliar with the author because I consider her a friend and kindred spirit and I have been cheering her on for several years.  I knew her book would be good but even I was overwhelmed at how stunning and heartwarming Snow Falling is.

The characters, from Snow and Christopher to Roy and Bill to Lisa and Maggie, they all bring something to the story and not a single one is "window dressing" or "filler", they all have a part to play in the journey that is found within the covers of Snow Falling.  I mention that because that is a rare thing, in my experience there is usually at least one character that could have been removed from the pages and the reader would not miss them but not here.  Every character is intriguing in their own way and makes the story better.

As you know, I don't do spoilers so all I'll say in regards to the plot is WOW because I was hooked and had everyday life not got in the way I would have easily read this in one sitting.  Talk about an easy read, and don't think I mean "easy" as in simple and short. No, I mean "easy" as in it grabs you from the first page and before you know it half the book is gone and then suddenly you find yourself at the epilogue.  I started this review by saying Snow Falling is a masterpiece and I'll end with saying it has heart, no better way to say it: Snow Falling will break your heart, but it will also warm your heart.


The Truth as He Knows It by AM Arthur
Perspectives #1
Lies are the chains that keep you weighed down at rock bottom.

Officer Noel Carlson isn’t out to anyone in small-town Stratton, Pennsylvania, only to distant friends and family, so a relationship is out of the question. That doesn’t stop him from wanting one, though.

When a night-shift call brings him face to thonged butt with a hired stripper whose girl-party gig went terribly wrong, Noel takes pity on the guy and lets him go. But he can’t get the encounter out of his mind.

Shane has big-time debts to repay, especially to the brother who sacrificed nearly everything for him. His two jobs, in a deli and as a stripper, leave him no time for a social life. But a non-date of hot sex and takeout food with Noel? He can squeeze that in.

The bond they form is stronger than either expected or wanted. Especially since the step Shane’s about to take to put his brother—and his soul—back in the black isn’t quite legal. And he never calculated just how much his determination to make things right will cost him in the end.

Warning: Following on from the Cost of Repairs series, this book contains a closeted cop who’s looking for love, an indebted stripper who doesn’t believe he’s worthy, and a tasteful abundance of dirty guy sex. Also contains references to past physical abuse some readers may find disturbing.

Saturday Series Spotlight: Perspectives

Original Review August 2015:
Once again AM Arthur takes us into Stratton where we meet Noel Carlson when he & his partner answer a noise disturbance call where he meets Shane, a stripper tied to a bed.  And boy do they make a connection in that short time.  The baggage that both carry on their shoulders is heartbreaking and definitely causes trouble for the pair.  Watching them both deal with, and sometimes ignore,  their issues tugged at my heart so deeply that I thought it might just pump right out of my chest.  The story of Shane and Noel had my stomach flipflopping all over the place, torturous at times, but entertaining all the way through.  Can't wait to read Tristan and Gabe's story in As the World Sees It because Tristan may have only been a secondary character in The Truth as He Knows It but boy did he burrow his way into my soul.


Downtime by Tamara Allen
On assignment in London, FBI Agent Morgan Nash finds himself moments away from a bullet through the heart when the case he's working goes awry. But fate has other plans, he discovers when he wakes in a world far removed from his own.

At work cataloguing ancient manuscripts in the British Museum, Ezra Glacenbie inadvertently creates the magic that pulls Morgan out of the twenty-first century and into the nineteenth. It's an impromptu vacation which may become permanent when the spellbook goes missing. Further upsetting Morgan's search for a way home is the irresistible temptation to investigate the most notorious crime of the nineteenth century. But it's the unexpected romance blossoming between Morgan and Ezra that becomes the most dangerous complication of all.

Original Review January 2015:
This wasn't exactly what I was expecting but it was even better.  Morgan is everything most of us expect out of a modern day FBI agent when reading such stories and he is thrown for a real doozy when he thinks he's knocked out or even shot but wakes up in the same place but a very different time.  In 1888 to be precise.  The men who brought him to 1888 may not have meant and don't really know what to make of Morgan at first but I feel it's exactly what all involved needed.  This is a story that was even better than I expected and one I hated see come to an end.  The characters are well written, the plot well developed, and one I enjoyed immensely from beginning to end.


Lessons in Love by Charlie Cochrane
St. Bride’s College, Cambridge, November 1905 
“That is my chair, sir.”

The voice was deep, sharp, and shattered Jonty’s concentration. He looked up to see a stern-looking young man towering over him. Well, not necessarily that young, he must be nearly my age, but he has such a lean, youthful look about him, you might think he’s just an undergraduate. Jonty swiftly took in a pair of chocolate brown eyes—eyes that lurked below curly black hair that seemed to want to cover them—a handsome face, and a very bony frame.

He rose. “I do apologise, sir. I’ve only arrived at St. Bride’s today and I haven’t been appraised of all the customs and habits. I hope that you’ll forgive me.” He produced what he hoped was a winning smile and bowed.

The other man harrumphed and nodded in return. “There are a number of traditions we cling to here, Mr…”

“Stewart, Dr. Stewart. The college authorities saw fit to forget the indiscretions of my undergraduate years here and have appointed me to a fellowship in English. The Kildare Fellowship.” Jonty grinned again, not surprised he didn’t get one in return. His mother always vowed he’d been born to wear a smile, while this man appeared as if he’d never smiled in his life.

“Well, Stewart, we are great ones for resisting change, and the particular chair a man inhabits after High Table is regarded as sacrosanct.” The severe-looking man pointed to the empty seat next to him. “This place never seems to be occupied. Perhaps you might like to use it?”

Jonty could guess why that chair was never used but decided he’d take the risk. “How long have you been at St. Bride’s? I can’t place you from my earlier time here.” He would have remembered if he’d met him before, of course. He’d noticed this man at High Table, not just for his striking good looks but for his apparent unease with joining in the conversation around him—except for one occasion when he seemed to be extremely animated and the words “differential calculus” could be heard across the table. Bet he’s a mathematician. They’re all as mad as hatters.

“I’ve been here six years, Dr. Stewart, ever since I took my degree. I have the honour to be working under Professor Moore, teaching mathematics.” For the first time the stranger looked fully into his companion’s face. “I suppose you’ll be with Professor Goodridge?”

“Oh, no, not clever enough by half to be with the fellows who delve into Anglo-Saxon. The Bard of Avon is my concern.” Jonty saw the puzzled expression on the other man’s face and grinned. “Shakespeare, I mean. As a man of logic and higher reasoning you’ll please forgive the whimsy of a mere playgoer.”

The other man looked closely at him again, obviously suspicious that he was being made game of, then seemed to decide that the remarks were kindly meant. He almost smiled. “Even a pupil of Euclid can recognise the value of Shakespeare’s works. Indeed, I was named after one of his characters.”

Jonty couldn’t have been more stunned—the man’s hard-faced exterior didn’t suggest a romantic name. “Hamlet, Jacques—which is it?”

“Orlando. I was christened Orlando.”

Jonty waited to see if a surname would follow, decided that it wouldn’t, so spoke himself. “You’re very lucky. My parents saw fit to name me Jonathan—the only thing in my life that I’ve not forgiven them for. I’m Jonty to all those who want to use the name.”

The mention of parents had caused a small cloud to pass over Orlando’s face and he began staring at his feet. Jonty pressed on, unable to stop gabbling in the face of such studied non-communication. “Are there any other customs I must seek not to break?”

The question never got answered, as the Jove-like figure of Dr. Peters, the Master of St. Bride’s, approached. “I beg you not to get up, gentlemen. I was coming to introduce you to each other, our numerical genius not having been here before dinner when Dr. Stewart met the rest of the fellows—but I see that you’ve already made Dr. Coppersmith’s acquaintance.”

Coppersmith—no wonder he was so unwilling to tell me. His parents certainly gave him an unlucky combination of names, perhaps that’s why he always looks so cross. “Dr. Coppersmith has been instructing me in the college ways, in case I make some dreadful error of etiquette.”

Jonty inclined his head to express his gratitude; his mathematical colleague looked sterner than ever.

“I’m honoured to be able to share some of our little ways with Dr. Stewart and hope he’ll profit from being back at our college. I wish you good night, gentlemen, I have a lecture to deliver in the morning and must take my rest.” Dr. Coppersmith rose, bowed his head and departed, leaving the other two men speechless.

Later, as Jonty strolled back to his rooms, he chuckled to himself. I’d give a five-pound note to be at that mathematics lecture tomorrow and I bet most of the students would give five pounds to miss it. But for all that his new colleague seemed—on the surface at least—to be a pompous prig, his stern face and deep voice stayed in Jonty’s mind until he fell asleep.


St. Bride’s wasn’t one of the most notable Cambridge colleges, lacking the grandeur of St. John’s or Trinity. It formed a little backwater where life had changed very little over the last four hundred years, but small adjustments were made from time to time. The chair next to Coppersmith’s soon became associated with Stewart. They now sat together almost every evening after High Table, chatting over coffee or port.

The dons who’d known Coppersmith since his arrival at the college were astounded. He was notorious for being a solitary fellow, never one to indulge in college chat or even in most of the discussion in the Senior Common Room. Unless it was about maths, of course, when he would contribute freely and with amazing perception, before clamming up if the subject strayed a little.

And yet there he was, evening after evening as November passed into December, talking away to Dr. Stewart, and sometimes even smiling. What they talked about, none of the other dons would’ve hazarded a guess, nor understood why they’d struck up such an unlikely alliance.

If they’d have asked Stewart, he’d have told them he’d come back to his old college hoping to make a fresh start and acquire new friends in the process. He’d have wondered along with them about the fact that he and Coppersmith had hit it off immediately, after their first meeting, putting it down to them realising the few things they had in common were more interesting than the things in which they differed.

He wouldn’t have told them that he found Orlando Coppersmith very attractive or that being with the man was a constant pleasure. Only in his thoughts would he compare their meeting to that of Rosalind and her Orlando, an instant magnetism drawing him to the other man. He wasn’t stupid enough to confess such a thing. Even if the traditions of this college, within this university, made it possible to remain an old bachelor surrounded by other old bachelors and have no one raise an eyebrow, there were still dangers. Public disgrace, prosecution. He would risk them both if he formed, again, an alliance with another man within the walls of St. Bride’s. For the moment he would have to savour the budding friendship with this strange young mathematician and hope against hope the attraction might prove to be mutual.

Anyone asking Coppersmith the same question, about why he’d suddenly found himself an acquaintance, wouldn’t have received any sort of an answer. Not just because he kept his feelings to himself, but because he couldn’t say at this point why he felt so differently about Stewart than he felt about all the other dons. About anyone else he’d ever met. He couldn’t tell why he should want to spend time with the man, when he’d been solitary all his life. The university part of his mind might have said it was the classic case of opposites attracting, the properties of poles of magnets or particles of different charge. The personal part wouldn’t have commented as it had no idea what was going on.


“You didn’t take your degree here, Coppersmith. Which seat of learning did you grace with your incredible skills?”

“I was at Oxford, Stewart—Gabriel College.” Orlando settled into his usual seat in the Senior Common Room, more comfortable than he’d been at any point since he came to Cambridge. More comfortable than he’d been since he was a child. For the first time in his life, it seemed like he’d made a friend and the experience was all a bit startling.

“If I had known the university would stoop so low as to take someone from the other place, I would never have agreed to return.”

Stewart grinned—he seemed to spend half his life grinning, or smiling, or smirking, and that unsettled Orlando, too, although he couldn’t work out why just yet. He wondered whether there was some fixed amount of cheerfulness allowed in the universe, and if his companion’s excess compensated for his own apparent lack of it.

He’d become quietly accustomed to the happy presence in the adjacent chair, even though such a thing would have horrified him only four weeks ago. He’d never wanted to share his thoughts with anyone else—unless they were to do with numbers—and now he was gossiping away like one of the college cleaning ladies. He cast a furtive glance at his companion, who was struggling with a pair of nutcrackers and a wayward walnut.

Stewart’s unruly blond hair was all over the place, his blue eyes showed unusual depths of concentration and his tongue was poking out a bit, as it often did when he tackled a difficult task. Orlando had never appreciated that Stewart possessed a handsome face and the realisation was a great shock to him. He could define the most obscure bits of calculus, look at a problem and solve it almost instantly, but he’d never really understood what people meant when they mentioned beauty.

Not until now, when it was sitting right next to him.

“Got the little bugger in the end!” Stewart beamed in triumph, offering his friend half of his newly released treasure. No one had ever used the word bugger in the Senior Common Room before, no one was ever likely to again, but somehow the more colourful aspects of Stewart’s speech were tolerated in a way which would be unlikely with anyone else.

They often talked about sport—discovering that they’d each won a rugby blue but hadn’t managed to play against the other, being picked in different years. Orlando had been a wing three-quarter, naturally, given his wiry physique—lacking in grace but fast. He’d scored twice in the Varsity Match, despite finishing on the losing side.

“I suppose you were in the front row?” Orlando drew his conclusions from Stewart’s muscular frame.

“Excuse me! Do my ears look as if they have spent time in a scrum?”

They didn’t. Orlando thought they were rather shapely ears and that was a shock to him, too. To be sitting in the SCR of his college and musing about how attractive the man sitting next to him seemed was beyond his imaginings. Making a friend had been enough of a surprise—this sensation staggered him, whatever it signified.

“I was scrum half, and a very wily one was how The Times described me. Shame we lost that year, like you the next—your selectors seemed to have imported an entire troop of gorillas to play in your pack. One of them broke my finger.” Stewart held up the joint in question and smirked. “I broke his nose.” He began to laugh, his bright blue eyes crinkling up with the sheer joy of being alive and in the company of someone he liked.

Orlando began to laugh, too—for the first time in what seemed ages. When they stopped, out of breath and in disgrace with the rest of the fellows, he knew that their friendship had been cemented.


Orlando was supposed to be marking papers from his students, work attempted when they’d been at home for the vac, having their stomachs stuffed with chestnuts and goose enough to addle their brains. But he was more interested in watching, through his window, the progress of a golden head across the court.

That’s my friend Dr. Stewart. He walks along the river with me and listens to all my latest theories, even if he doesn’t understand a word of them.

Back in November, Orlando had no one in his life he could ever call friend. Then, into his world of gown-black and stone-grey, half-tones and half a life, had come this vision of blue and gold, like a ray of spring sunshine against a cloudless sky.

My friend Dr. Stewart. We go to chapel together and he’s never bothered that I sing all the hymns and responses out of tune.

Orlando thought it strange, if other people were anything to go by, that he’d reached the age of twenty-eight without finding anybody he wanted to be close to. His life had been bound by the university, the college and mathematics, all of them important and serious. And now he’d found that most frivolous of things—someone to share his thoughts and ideas with—although in reality Stewart had come along and found him, stealing his chair in the process.

It made Orlando feel more alive than he’d ever felt and more than a little frightened. He’d not been able to get the man out of his head the ten days Stewart had spent celebrating Christmas and New Year with his family, and he was still there, butting into Orlando’s thoughts when he should be working. He wasn’t sure it was right to be so obsessed, but didn’t know what he could do about it. Even a nice bit of Euclid couldn’t obscure the memory of a pair of piercing blue eyes.

My friend Dr. Stewart. He comes along and says, “We’ve been invited to drinks, Dr. Coppersmith, so get your best bib and tucker ready.”

We. Suddenly Orlando had a social life, whether he wanted one or not, and it was as part of a pairing. Somehow all the things he’d always dreaded—making small talk, being sociable—had become possible, so long as he had his colleague with him to jolly him along. Unexpectedly, life had a distinctly more enjoyable flavour.

Orlando turned his attention back to the papers on his desk, only to find that he’d written My friend Dr. Stewart on the topmost one and now had to scratch it out furiously before anyone noticed.


“Will you come and take a cup of coffee or a glass of port in my rooms, Stewart?”

It was evening and the Senior Common Room had been overrun by strangers. There were women visiting, patronesses of the college to be sure, but still female and therefore to be treated with caution by most of the fellows. Especially by Coppersmith, who, though he was now brave enough to talk to almost any woman, even one from Girton, was still unhappy in their company.

Jonty almost choked on his answer. He’d been waiting nearly two months for an invitation to his colleague’s set of rooms. All he’d managed so far was to poke his little nose around the door before being whisked away—and now it had come like a bolt out of the blue. The bright potential of 1906, a new year and a new term, seemed to have made Coppersmith bold.

“I think we’d better. Don’t look just now, but there are two skirted bottoms occupying our chairs.” Jonty sniggered.

Coppersmith looked horrified, as though he’d have to have the things fumigated before they could sit there again. “Come on, then, before we’re forced into conversation.” A sudden disconcerting thought must have occurred to him. “Unless you want to stay, of course?”

One of the ladies was quite young and Coppersmith had earlier asked Jonty whether she would be described as pretty. Perhaps, he had suggested, Stewart would like to talk to her, he always seemed to have no problem chatting with females and they always flocked around him.

Jonty took his time before answering. “No, I’d be more than content with a glass of some pleasant brew and a little peace and quiet.”

In Orlando’s set they found a whole bottle of a really good port—most welcome, as both of them had been extremely sober at table due to the unnerving presence of the petticoat brigade. Jonty settled into one of Coppersmith’s worn but comfortable armchairs and enjoyed the glow from the fire. While his friend poured the port, Jonty drank in his surroundings.

The room contained the usual Bride’s mix of the academic, the sporting and the personal—very little of the last compared to the first. It was what his mother would have described as “being part of a house, dear, not a home”, and it gave away very little about its owner. He found that disappointing, as his family had plied him with questions about the mysterious Dr. Coppersmith all over the Christmas break and he’d not been really able to answer them adequately.

“He’s my friend, Mama, and I enjoy his company very much,” had been as far as it had gone, even under his mother’s third degree. Although if he were being honest, Coppersmith meant a lot more to him than just being a colleague. Jonty’s opinion of his friend had gradually changed from pompous ass to treasured companion, and he realised he was beginning to harbour more than just platonic thoughts about the man.

Being in his rooms now, simply watching him wrestling with a Brazil nut and the crackers, was a true pleasure. The fire’s glow highlighted Coppersmith’s dark hair and a halo of light gave him the appearance of one of the more studious angels. Jonty felt his heart beating faster as he savoured the sight.

“Much nicer here than in with those women, eh, Dr. Stewart?”

“It is indeed, Dr. Coppersmith. Deal us a hand of whist and we’ll make an evening of it.” Jonty watched his friend poke around in a drawer for a deck, admiring the fact that even his rummaging was a neat and ordered process.

Coppersmith truly was both the strangest and loveliest of creatures.


“Why don’t you call me ‘Jonty’? I think, Dr. Coppersmith, we’re friends enough now to lose some of the formality.” Stewart had just lost his third consecutive game of cards, the clock’s hands were nearing half past ten and the evening had been enjoyable for them both.

Orlando considered—it was as if he had to find the second differential of “Jonathan” before he could answer. “I think that I could call you Jonty here in my rooms, but I don’t think it would be appropriate anywhere else.” He was embarrassed enough about all the occasions he’d doodled My friend Dr. Stewart on things; it would be awful if he were caught writing My friend Jonty. “I suspect I’m far too set in my ways.”

“That would be absolutely fine—if I may call you Orlando, in return?”

It was the strangest thing, but Orlando felt decidedly peculiar when his friend said “Orlando”—the first time Stewart had ever used the name. The first time Jonty had used it.

This was turning out to be an evening of firsts. The first time he’d had another one of the fellows of St. Bride’s in his set other than on college business. The first use of his Christian name. The first time he’d had this peculiar fluttering in his stomach that he couldn’t put a cause to. “It would be an honour so to be addressed.”

Jonty—it would be Jonty and Orlando from now on, at least within these rooms—smiled in the face of such affectation, rather than breaking into his usual laughter. Orlando knew his own weaknesses better than anyone, and now Jonty was recognising them. It was true he became pompous when he felt some deep emotion and Jonty must have picked it up. Perhaps the man found this trait rather touching.

Whatever he was thinking, Jonty rose and moved to the mantelpiece, picking up a gilt-framed photograph, the only one in the room with no obvious university link. “May I, Orlando? Is this your mother and father?” Jonty was watching his face out of the corner of his eye and must have seen the discomfort there.

Orlando nodded. He didn’t really want to speak as he was sure his voice would tremble and he had no idea why that should be. It wasn’t just at the mention of his parents—every time he looked at Jonty, the fluttering got worse.

“It’s extraordinary how much you resemble your mother. Do you see very much of them?” Jonty held the picture at arm’s length and compared it to the man across the room.

There was a long pause. “They’re both dead—my mother didn’t survive to see me take my degree.” Orlando studied his hands, deliberately looking anywhere but at his friend, or the photograph.

Jonty’s voice shook with remorse. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I can’t imagine what life would be like without one’s parents in the background—it makes me sad to think that yours didn’t see the success you’ve made of yourself.”

Orlando looked blankly around his room to see if he could see any signs of the success to which his friend referred—there wasn’t any obvious evidence. “I have some more pictures of them,” he said after an awkward pause, “if you’d like to see them.”

“But of course I would.”

Jonty sat down again while Orlando rummaged in another drawer and produced a small photograph album. He brought it over, sitting on the floor next to Jonty’s feet and placing the book on his lap, accidentally brushing his hand against the man’s leg in the process. Just the barest touch, no more than a hairsbreadth of contact, but it had sparked like static between them.

Orlando froze, his heart racing at the effect the touch had made on him. This feeling was unlike anything he’d ever known before and he still couldn’t put a name or meaning to it. He gingerly placed his hand next to Jonty’s on the velvet cover of the album—their eyes met and held, dark staring into light, until they could look no more.

“Orlando,” Jonty whispered, raising his hand until it was almost touching the other man’s face. “I…”

There was a loud and persistent rapping at the door and Orlando became aware of three things. Firstly that his heart was pounding so strongly he wasn’t sure any ribcage could contain it. Secondly that Jonty was muttering, “Damn it. Damn it and blast it,” over and over. Thirdly that someone might just be trying to gain their attention.

He rose and stumbled to the door.

“Dr. Coppersmith, sir.” It was Summerbee, red-faced and out of breath from running up from the porters’ lodge. “It’s young Lord Morcar. I thought I would come straight to you, seeing as he is one of your pupils.”

“And what is it about Lord Morcar that can’t wait until morning?”

“He’s dead, sir. His friends found him not five minutes since—we’ve sent for the doctor, but I thought you should…” Summerbee tailed off, unsure of himself.

“Has the Master been informed?”

A frightened look on the porter’s face showed he was hoping the hard-nosed Dr. Coppersmith would take that particular burden from him.

He would not. “You must do it immediately. I’ll go to his lordship’s room—which is it?”

“The Old Court, J7, sir.” Summerbee touched his bowler and departed, no doubt full of dread at the prospect of knocking at the hallowed door of the Master’s lodge.

Orlando turned and saw Jonty watching him. He wondered whether his friend would be astounded at the command that he’d shown with the porter, how a shy, socially uncomfortable man had transformed into a figure of authority and action. Orlando had astounded himself, although he felt proud at his newfound courage. Even if he was disappointed at the interruption. “Will you come with me?”

Jonty didn’t hesitate. “Of course, if you want me to.”

“It’s not a matter of wanting. I’m going to need you there, I think.” All the flutterings in Orlando’s stomach had faded now, driven off by the thought of a dead man, but he still wanted Jonty beside him.

As they made their way over to the Old Court, they regretted their lack of prudence in terms of overcoats. The harsh East Anglian wind—straight from Siberia, the locals said—carried snow with it, and they felt chilled to the bones.

A crowd of undergraduates had gathered at the bottom of the staircase, being kept from the room itself only by the burly form of Lee, another of the porters. Orlando tried to make his way through them, but they took no notice of him; they were excited and afraid, and some of them were beginning to show signs of hysteria.

This time Jonty took control. He was popular among the undergraduates, being the most open and approachable of all the fellows at St. Bride’s. Although he was merciless in pulling apart any essay he felt was poorly written or ill-researched, he did it with such kindness and good humour that none of them took umbrage, and they all tried harder the next time.

“Gentlemen!” Jonty’s tones split the night and brought all the chattering to a halt. “Thank you. It does no one any good, you staying out here freezing to…” He was about to say “death” but thought better of it. “Freezing to the ground. I would suggest that unless you have something useful to say about this to either the doctor or the Master, you return to your own rooms.”

The gathering broke up, aided by the threat of Jove’s imminent arrival and the especial efforts of one young man who Jonty suspected had a bit of a crush on his English tutor and who was, no doubt, determined to see his idol obeyed.

Orlando was able to get up the stairs at last and into the room, leaving Jonty with Lee to await Dr. Peters. He was gone what felt an inordinate length of time, making Jonty bold enough to venture up. He found his friend standing rigidly over the half-dressed body of a lad of about twenty—a slim, angular young man, pale in life and milk white now. The room was freezing, the window being open wide. Jonty reached over to shut it.

“Don’t touch anything.” Orlando’s voice was as icy as the glittering windowpanes. “Look at this, Dr. Stewart.” He pointed to the young lad’s throat, ashen but mottled with ugly contusions. “I believe Lord Morcar has been strangled.”

Jonty shivered. It had certainly been a night full of revelations, and this had been perhaps one surprise too many.

Snow Falling by Davidson King
“Why do you want to know my real name? It’s a name that no longer matters. The day my feet hit the pavement, I was no longer that guy.” I hated that this subject kept coming up.

“I will find out. I have to.”

This was so frustrating. “Why? Why’s it matter?”

“In my line of work, I need to know everything. The more I know, the easier it is to keep my people, my family, and myself safe.”

“I’m not a threat, but if you feel I am, then let me go. I never asked to be here, you haven’t given me a choice. I’ve been tossed plenty of times and each time, I land on my feet.” It was a challenge. A part of me wanted him to let me go so I could sever ties and have the choice taken from me. Another part wanted him to beg me to stay. That need to feel wanted and needed was quickly becoming a problem.

“You’re not a prisoner here. But you and I both know you don’t want to leave, so let’s not do this song and dance.” Christopher approached me. “You said your mother was a nurse. Did you realize you told me?”

“I knew.” Being in a daze never made me unaware. Being unaware was deadly. “It was harmless knowledge. There are millions of nurses all over the world.”

“My mother was a model. It’s how my father met her. They were together from the first day they laid eyes on each other. She passed when I was ten but I remember something she told me once.” He shifted his feet, the show of uncertainty making him seem vulnerable. I wondered if many people got to see this side of him. Was I special?

“What did she tell you?”

“It sounds silly now that I think about it, but in your case, it’s true.” His eyes bored into mine. “We are like a glass. You can have a glass for years, decades even. It will serve its purpose, being filled and drained over and over. Then one day, someone will come along and be a little too hard on it and a tiny crack will form. That fissure will weaken the glass. Every bump and bang. Every mouth that touches it or hand that grips it will contribute to its inevitable shatter.” He stepped closer. “But in its time, it will serve its purpose and when it’s a million pieces of glass, someone will come along and pick it up. They will decide if it should be thrown away or if it’s worth saving.” A tiny smile played on his beautiful lips. “You’re cracked a bit. You feel weakened, but Snow, I think even if you had a million cracks or were a pile of shattered pieces on the floor, you’d be worth saving.”

“Or I’d be trash.” I got what Christopher was saying and it was poetic and poignant, but it wasn’t me. “I’ve been called trash plenty of times. No one looked at my imperfections and thought I was a future mosaic. They looked at me and saw a mess.”

“Until now.”

The Truth as He Knows It by AM Arthur
Officer Noel Carlson followed his partner down the breezeway toward apartment 303 and the source of their disturbance call. Even without the apartment number Noel would have been able to peg this place. A deep bass thrummed through the door, right into his chest, reminding him of late nights in hot, sweaty dance clubs. The neighbor who’d reported the party said the music had been going like that for over an hour, and it was already after one in the morning.

Officer Wade Benedict paused to adjust his hat before he hit the bell, then banged a meaty fist on the door for good measure. Noel flanked him, the junior officer in their partnership, allowing Benedict to take point.

The music continued, so Benedict bell-banged again. “Stratton Police Department!”

Noel glanced at the other three apartment doors on this floor, curious if anyone was watching through their peep holes. Enjoying the floor show. Cedar Hills was one of the nicest, newest complexes around Stratton, and far beyond Noel’s budget without at least two roommates. But his privacy was worth more than extra space and a pool, so he was happy enough renting a room above a church-run thrift store downtown.

Benedict pounded the door. “Police! Open up!”

Someone must have finally paid attention to his bellowing, because the music went down to a bearable volume. The front door opened, still on its chain. A sliver of a female face popped into view. “Show me your badge.”

Noel and Benedict took turns stepping into her line of sight so she could see the badges on their uniform shirts. The door shut, a chain slid, and they were allowed into a blast of air conditioning. Not unwelcome after walking through the late-May humidity.

The open floor plan gave Noel a clear view of the party still in progress. Pink and white streamers and balloons. A banner that said Happy Thirtieth, Sandy!. The remains of a demolished birthday cake on the kitchen island. Liquor bottles strewn about on various surfaces. Five women—two on the sofa, two in the kitchen, one by the door.

The woman who’d let them in was listing a bit, cheeks flushed, obviously intoxicated. “What’s the problem, Officer?”

Benedict grunted. “Are you the current tenant?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Olivia Presnell. Who’re you?”

“I’m Officer Benedict, this is Officer Carlson.”

Olivia smiled at Noel, practically batting her eyes. “You wear that big gun in the bedroom, Officer?”

Noel almost laughed at the awful attempt at flirting. “Ma’am, we received a noise nuisance call this evening.”

“Who was being noisy?” Olivia asked.

“You were,” Benedict said. He had a gruff, angry bear way about him that made everything he said sound like he was snarling. And it worked on Olivia, who slinked into the kitchen.

“I think it’s time you broke up the party and called cabs for your friends,” Noel said.

A grumble of protest came out of the living room. One of the women on the sofa cast a forlorn look at a closed door at the back of the apartment. Probably the bedroom. Something about it pinged Noel’s curiosity.

“Is this everyone who’s in the apartment?” Noel asked. “Or are there others?”

Sofa Lady glanced sharply at Olivia, who was frowning.

Unease rolled through Noel’s gut. “Is there someone in the bedroom?”

“Just the stripper,” Olivia replied, clipped. Annoyed. More sober than a moment ago, possibly from adrenaline.


Hiring strippers wasn’t illegal, as long as the transaction didn’t cross the line into prostitution. He glanced at Benedict, who tilted his head at the bedroom door. Clearly not volunteering to go get the guy.

Noel crossed the room and paused in front of the door. To Olivia, he said, “Will you please open the door?”

She heaved a put-upon sigh, then stalked over and twisted the knob. Noel nudged the door open with his foot, unsure exactly what to expect. The light was off, and a thick beam from the living room cut across the foot of a bed. Noel slid his hand along the wall until he could flip a light switch. A floor lamp in the corner flared to life.

A man sat in the middle of the bed, propped up with pillows, tied to the headboard by his wrists. He was mostly naked, except for a red thong and a pair of laced-up work boots, and goddamn, Noel had to work hard not to appreciate the long, lean expanse of male body on display. Or stare at the unusual monarch butterfly tattoo on his left hip. The stripper was gagged by a piece of cloth that did nothing to hide his pretty face, all sharp planes and high cheekbones. He kept blinking at Noel like he wasn’t quite awake. Everything about the scene felt off. Wrong.

“We were just playing,” Olivia said behind him.

Noel ignored her. He approached the figure on the bed slowly. Dark brown eyes focused on him, really seemed to see him, then went wide. He jerked against the cloth binding his wrists. Muffled words didn’t quite make it around the gag, but Noel would be damned if they didn’t sound like “Help me”.

He undid the gag, which appeared to be someone’s scarf.

The stripper licked his lips, fear settling into his dark eyes. “This isn’t what it looks like,” he said.

“What does it look like?” Noel undid the knot on the guy’s right hand.

“I’m not a prostitute, I swear. She paid me to strip for her friends, but nothing else. I’m not into this.”

Noel let the guy undo his other wrist for himself. “Not into what? Getting tied up with silk scarves?”

“No, I’m not.” He got loose, then slid to the other side of the bed.

“Then why were you?”


Noel glanced at the door where Olivia was watching, her expression hawkish. This entire scenario felt wrong to Noel, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. The stripper seemed genuinely scared of something—getting caught taking money for sex, probably. But Noel hadn’t seen any money exchange hands, so he had no evidence of prostitution. And what a stripper did when he was off the clock was not Noel’s business.

So why did he want to know why the dark-haired man hunched over on the bed looked so haunted?

“What’s your name?” Noel asked.


“Are you impaired, Shane?”

“I didn’t drink tonight.”

“What about drugs?”

“No, sir.”

“Anything you’d like to report about the party tonight?”

“No. I’d really like to go home now, if I’m not under arrest.”

“You aren’t under arrest.” Noel pulled out a notepad and pen. “But I do need some information for my report.”

“Shane Joseph, twenty-four, I live at 240 Naylor Street.” Shane rattled off a phone number. “Would you like my social security number too?”

The initial fear was sloughing off, leaving a lot of attitude in its place. Attitude that sharpened handsome features into something fierce. Almost feral. And the fact that Shane was still only wearing that thong made the whole shift sexier than it had any right to be, and Noel had to quit thinking like that. He was on the clock, damn it.

“No, that’ll do it,” Noel replied.

Shane fetched a patched backpack from the floor by the dresser, then disappeared into the master bathroom. Noel returned to the outer room, where Benedict was taking down personal information while the party attendees called for rides. A minute later, Shane stormed past and out the front door.

It slammed shut and Olivia jumped.

“Next time you want to throw a party,” Noel said, “watch your volume. And maybe skip the stripper.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Believe me, I will not be referring him to my girlfriends.”

He curbed the urge to ask why. Shane had a body he looked like he knew how to use— Quit it. Just quit. No sexy thoughts about strippers he’d ousted from a birthday party gone wild.

Downtime by Tamara Allen
MOM always said all I needed to succeed, I carried with me. Though the Glock strapped to my side had gotten me out of trouble more than once, I think she referred more specifically to my head and heart. But soul-searching had never been my strong point—not even while doing nothing in particular besides freezing my ass off in an empty warehouse in drizzling cold London.

I’d spent the better part of three days holed up with only said Glock and MI-6 Agent Leonard Gladstell, whose perpetual chatter and good cheer were getting on my nerves. We were consuming too much coffee, considering that the only john in sight was a portable toilet in the vacant lot next door, and we still hadn’t heard a peep on the location of the defector we intended to bring home.

To make things worse, Leonard was under the impression he had charge of the op, since the case officer had come down with the flu and hadn’t done a hell of a lot since, except to bitch about it with the occasional call. I’d kept to myself through most of the long hours, reading whatever was at hand, including the city map Gladstell had given me. That’s how desperate I was to avoid being drawn back into conversation with the guy.

It was just my luck he showed up for his shift with warm cinnamon rolls and more hot coffee. I can put up with anyone who comes bearing cinnamon rolls. Leonard, smiling like he knew it, dropped the box on the crate next to the computer I’d set up and made himself comfortable on the sleeping bag I’d draped over another crate. “You look a little cheerier today, Agent Nash. Another week and we shall have you calling London home.”

I was seriously missing the crisp New York September I’d left behind. Though Gladstell relentlessly promoted England as God’s gift to mankind, it wasn’t my foreign land of choice. “I wouldn’t live in this swamp if you paid me.”

His smile widened. “How many times have you had the privilege of working here, Agent?”

I waved two fingers in the air as I burned my tongue on a sip of coffee. Leonard nodded sagely. “And have you seen anything of London apart from a hotel room and the inside of a musty warehouse?”

I had to admit I hadn’t. “I was going to do some sightseeing last time, but that was pretty much a wash. Literally.”

He laughed. “You Americans. A little rain and you run indoors in a panic. I do recall it raining in New York the last time I was on assignment there. No one seemed to need medical aid after exposure to it.”

“New York rain’s not as lethal.”

He sighed without ever losing the smile. “I’d guess you were not really a morning person, Agent, if I’d ever seen you anything but foul-tempered.”

“Sorry.” I was not at my best after a night and day spent with only a sleeping bag between me and cement that could have passed for a sheet of ice. I should have gone to the hotel last night, but I was starting to think we were going to lose our man and I hadn’t wanted to abandon my post. “It’s not just the rain, but the damned wind. I’ve already lost two umbrellas and the third’s not doing too well.” I nodded at the heap of bent wire and sagging cloth lying like a wounded blackbird near the warehouse door. “And that was just from the hike over to that icebox passing for a bathroom.”

“Come now. You look like a stalwart fellow. This can’t be that much of a hardship for you.”

“Well, I usually survive this sort of assignment pretty well. It’s just that I left my electric blanket at home.” Scooping out a warm cinnamon roll, I got up and stretched aching legs and back. Sitting and waiting were two of my least favorite occupations. “You going to be okay? Guess you’ve got Creighton to keep you company.”

His lips twisted. “I may keep the phone switched off for a bit.”

I almost felt sorry for him. When a case officer whined in your ear, you listened whether you wanted to or not. “Good idea. I’m going to take another look around before I go back to the hotel.”

“We’re not under surveillance, I assure you.”

“Then what the hell’s taking so damned long?” I’d figured it was due to Nosik, whom the case officer had referred to as a lone wolf, trying to get to us without the help of any confederates. But even so, he should’ve showed up by now—unless he was hurt or worse.
For the first time, a grim look took up a position front and center on good old Leonard’s face. “The word is that we may have lost him. But we’re to hold the fort, nonetheless. Until we know for certain.”

“Until we know for certain,” I said. “Great. Just great. I’m going back to the hotel and soak myself in a bath hot enough to boil lobster.”

“Stout heart, Agent. It can’t be more than another day or two, either way.”

I had the feeling Creighton already knew for certain and he was just hovering over his chess pieces until he figured out a way to break it gently to the higher-ups that we’d lost Nosik. There wasn’t much point to scouring the place now. No one gave a shit that we were here, freezing to death for a fish who’d slipped the hook. And meanwhile back at home, Reese would be finishing what he’d started when I’d left for the airport: packing up to move out and find someone who wouldn’t leave him stranded without a date every Friday night.

It just wasn’t my week.

It apparently wasn’t Leonard’s either. “I’m disappointed too.” He broke into my brief deluge of self-pity, sounding surprisingly sympathetic. “I was rather intrigued to meet him, you know. After all we’ve been through together.”

I’d known about Leonard’s rep for code-breaking long before I ever met him. What amazed me was that as long-winded as he could be on all other subjects, he had hardly said a word about his work and the accolades it’d won him on both sides of the pond. “That’s why you asked to be in on this?”

“I didn’t ask. Nosik requested it.”

“Why doesn’t Creighton get them to up the ante?”

“The firm doesn’t consider him worth the cost.”

“They would’ve if he’d wanted to settle down in Merry Old England.”
That comment won me an annoyed glitter, not to mention some scathing sarcasm. “Compete with hot dogs, apple pie, and Penthouse? We don’t stand a chance.”

I decided I was lingering long enough to justify another cinnamon roll. “Don’t forget sunshine, ice-cold beer, and real football. Did I mention sunshine?”

“Didn’t you say something about a hot bath, Nash?”

And still no punch in the nose. The guy had remarkable restraint. I grinned at him. “Stout heart, Agent Gladstell. Sooner or later we’ll round up your pal and you can come visit him in the M.C.C. Compare notes, bask in his admiration, all that.”

Leonard’s smile returned, wholeheartedly amused. “You are a right bastard, you know that?”

A right bastard. There were a lot of people who’d agree with that assessment. I knew I was being a little harder on Gladstell than was fair. It wasn’t his fault my personal life was about as bright and promising as the weather.

Leaving the last two rolls to Leonard, I gave him the half-empty but still warm thermos and headed out. I didn’t want to go to the hotel. I wanted to hop the next plane home and dive under my ratty brown and green comforter and sleep two days straight with a pair of warm arms wrapped around me. I had a feeling by the time I did get home, the best I could hope for was the comforter.

The phone at the bottom of my pocket chimed and I fished it out. Speak of the devil. “Reese? What’s up?”

There was a rueful snort at the other end of the line. “Languishing in my absence, I see. Just wanted to let you know I mailed my key to the apartment. I thought about leaving it under the mat but, you know, burglars and all. Not that you can’t take care of yourself.”

“Give it a rest. You know I hate that crap.” I kept walking. It was either that or freeze.

“I’m not baiting you.” I could hear the sigh he was holding back.

“Look, it just isn’t working. I’ve got my life and you’ve got—whatever the hell it is you’ve got.”

“Right now, I’ve got an agent who’s playing hide and seek and I’m working on a serious case of frostbite.”

“Gotcha. Not a good time, then?”

And people called me a pain in the ass. “Can we talk about this when I get home?”

His laugh was abrupt and humorless. “I already have plans for Christmas. How does New Year’s work for you?”

I decided to ignore that one too. “I’ll be home in another day. We can meet for dinner.”

He was quiet for so long that I wondered if we’d been disconnected. Finally he spoke up, in that flat, resigned tone I’d gotten used to hearing in the past two weeks. “As fantastic as makeup sex is with you, I think I’m going to have to pass this time. You’re not a keeper. I just wish I’d figured that out five months ago.”

Not a keeper. “What the hell does that mean?”

“You know what it means. You don’t want to belong to anyone. Stupid attitude, but hey, it’s your life to fuck up as you see fit.”

“Damn. Talk about attitude.”

His soft snort was a weary echo of his resignation. “Shift it ’round to me all you want. You bailed before I did and you know it.”

“People don’t belong to each other. With each other, maybe—”

“Lessons in true love, courtesy of the man who hasn’t got a clue. God, I should’ve figured you out in the first five minutes, forget months. Trouble is, I’m too much of a sucker for chocolate-brown eyes and a great ass.”

Reese and his flair for the dramatic. You’d never guess he was a headshrinker, he was so full of it. Or maybe you would. “C’mon, Reese. Dinner, Tuesday.” I went out on a limb, hoping I’d be able to wrap this one up and catch a flight by Monday. “How about Cooke’s? I promise to eat my vegetables.”

“I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll catch you at the Firehouse sometime.”

He was as likely to show up there as I was to eat at Cooke’s without him. “So that’s it? Going without even a good-bye?”

“Good-bye, Morgan.” Quiet, as he was only when he was dead serious.

“Jesus. You’re not being fair. You know how I feel about you.”

“Good-bye,” he said even more firmly and the line went dead. I snapped the phone shut and shoved it into my pocket. For five months, Reese had been pulling at me to take more time off and spend it with him; invest in something besides work, he’d said. And my superiors had come down on my ass for the little time I did take off, hinting around that plum cases come to those who are so seldom at home, they couldn’t describe the wallpaper in their bathroom under threat of torture.

Maybe Reese was right and this was for the best. He’d always felt like he was competing with my job. I had the feeling he was starting to hate it, and that was one step away from hating me. As the phone went off again, I sighed. This day was picking up speed as it raced downhill.

Not Reese this time, I realized, at the blast of choice invective that greeted my hello. Unit Chief Faulkner wasn’t one who believed in nurturing the inner agent. “Hey, boss. You got my voice mail?”

“I got it. Is your sorry ass still in one piece, Nash?”

“Let me check.” I glanced over my shoulder. “Looks like it. Sorry to let you down, boss.”

“You’re a real comedian. And for Christ’s sake, stop calling me ‘boss’.” He sighed. “The British Museum. Get over there. Word is your boy’s interested in a more public venue. And make sure you take Gladstell with you, okay? Let’s not piss off any delicate sensibilities. Any more than you already have.”

“If I have, you can blame it on neurological impairment due to hypothermia.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t send you on Dornan’s team to Siberia, pal. Wrap this up neat or your next assignment’s going to take you to scenic Des Moines.”

“Someone cross the state line with an overdue library book?”

“Move it, Nash.”

I swallowed a laugh but let the grin crack my near-frozen face. “Love you too, boss.”

He snorted. “You need a break. Two weeks, Agent. I told you—soon as Nosik’s bagged, you’re gone. If I see you back here before mid-October, Des Moines will be looking damned good to you. Got it?”

If you asked for a day off, chances were you’d be working seventy-two hours straight on some godawful rookie chore that’d make sure you never asked for another day off in your life. But once you got to know Lou Faulkner, you figured out that you didn’t have to ask. He knew whether you needed a day or two off. And in my case, he was right. I was a little wrung out, though I hadn’t noticed it really, until now. I was probably coming down with something nasty, thanks to three days trapped in a damp refrigerator.

Aware that I was standing in the middle of the road, fast losing sensation in my extremities, I gathered up Leonard and we headed for the museum. I’d never been much on museums when I was a kid, and I still wasn’t, but once we’d gotten inside, it was something to see. I found myself regretting that we didn’t have time to look around, but I had to figure that seeing everything in every gallery would take at least a year. As it was, Nosik only had an hour to show up before the place was closed for the day. I kept an eye out for our man and tried to ignore Leonard’s rambling, if authoritative lecture on the Egyptian exhibit.

“Here we have Nenkheftka or rather, a good likeness of the old fellow.” Leonard stood in front of a statue decked out in the usual wraparound skirt, jewelry, and heavy, black wig. I had a few friends in New York who dressed similarly, but Nenkheftka carried the look off better. The clothes—or lack of them—showed off a well-proportioned physique. Broad shoulders, good tan, nice smile. What more could you want in a man?

And Reese thought I was unreasonable.

I eyed old Nenkheftka curiously. I could tell by the hint of a smirk on his face that he’d been the sort of Egyptian who knew how to tell a good joke— and keep some pretty juicy secrets too. At my side, Leonard was giving the statue the same once-over, but with a different sort of interest, probably. He threw me a sidelong glance brimming with pride, as if he’d unearthed Nenkheftka himself. “Remarkable, isn’t it? Limestone. Fifth Dynasty. Note the way he’s posed, in mid-stride. Typical of—”

“Where’d you guys get all this stuff, anyway?”

Leonard seemed pleased to have finally impressed me. “Explorers over the centuries have collected artifacts from every corner of the world. So much that we will never be able to display all of it. Did you know....”

This is what happened to a guy who worked every day at the same desk under the same clock with the same view. No wonder he’d been so excited about getting out and having a face-to-face with old Nosik. Getting a taste of adventure—if you could call camping out in a cold, deserted warehouse for days on end any kind of adventure....

*I didn’t ask. Nosik requested it.*

“Goddamn it to hell.” Was the bastard defecting—or watching us, to find the right moment to put a bullet into the brain of the man who’d bested him too many times to count? Even as I spun on a heel to grab Gladstell and get him the hell out, I could hear Creighton’s dour admonition that my tendency to trust my gut feelings—act on impulse, was how he’d worded it—would not be acceptable while working with his agents. I knew my own higher-ups in Washington had warned him about me, but I didn’t give a shit. An agent who didn’t trust his instincts was a dead man. And right now, I was sure Leonard was one if I didn’t haul his butt out of the museum in record time.

As I grabbed him, he looked at me in alarm. I didn’t get a chance to explain. At the other end of the exhibit, I saw a stout man in blue plaid slacks and a cheap windbreaker. Gray hair a wind-blown fringe around his head, cheeks and nose red in a sallow, sagging face, he’d come in from the cold in one sense, anyway; just not the one we’d had in mind.

Nosik’s attention settled on me and his jowls lifted with a smile of polite interest. Not the sort of look you normally see from a guy in the process of hitching up his windbreaker to extract a bulky, ancient Stechkin. The gun might be forty years old, but Nosik clearly had every confidence it would do the trick as he centered on Leonard.

I dove behind the exhibit, dragging Leonard with me. When I looked up, Nosik was gone. “Son of a bitch.”


“He’s after you. Stay down.” Ignoring my own advice, I took off in the direction Nosik had gone. I spotted his bald head in the crowd and was pushing my way through when the cell chimed again. For God’s sake. “Yeah?”

“How do you feel about me?”

“Reese? What the hell—” Nosik vanished behind a door just at the bend of the corridor and I put on a burst of speed, determined not to lose him.

“You said, ‘you know how I feel about you’,” came the reminder patiently from faraway New York. “And the fact is, I really don’t. But after I hung up, morbid curiosity got the better of me—”

“Reese, this is really not a good time. Can I call you back?” Reaching the door, I leaned lightly against it to listen for any sound inside.

Reese’s voice came from the phone I’d lowered to my knee. “Are you serious? Jesus, Morgan, you are a piece of work. You try your best to get to me and when you finally do, you pull this disinterested shit every damn time. Do you have the vaguest idea how hard it is to love a guy like that?”

I kept my voice low as I ducked into a dim storage area stuffed with more treasures, but harboring no sign of life. “Hard. Yeah.” I crouched down behind a stack of crates. “Twenty minutes. I’ll call you back. Swear to God.”

“Yeah, you go ahead and call back. Leave a voice message. See what it gets you.”

Under the brittle anger, his voice had roughened with emotion that took the edge off my concentration. “Reese, I’m not doing this to hurt you, for God’s sake. I swear I’m not. Just let me call you back.”

Reese was quiet too long. I was going to have to hang up on him, as much as I hated to do it. But then he spoke just as I was lowering the phone. “You know something, even if you live to be ninety, you still won’t get it. You won’t know why you’re all alone and lonely. Maybe you had a tough break when you were a kid and maybe now you think you’ve got to save the world to make up for not being able to save him. But your whole life is just about chasing the bad guys. There’s got to be more than that.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“I’m right?”

I put the phone to my ear. “You’re right. My life is about chasing the bad guys. And right now you’ve got to let me do it.” I jabbed the button with my thumb, disconnecting, and hit the power to make sure nothing else would break my concentration. I heard soft cursing in Russian, then the scuffle of a shoe on the straw-littered floor. I rose with my gun, ready for him. The door opened behind me and Nosik’s eyes widened in alarm. He babbled something that I translated as a warning to his confederate behind me and I knew I was shit-deep in trouble. I started to turn, hoping to bring the confederate down before Nosik shot me. Even as I did, I heard Nosik cock the ancient piece and fire.

So much for ending the day on a high note.

AFTER hours on the floor with nausea churning in my gut and something that felt a lot colder than blood running too fast through my veins, I dragged open bleary eyes and blinked at the dim hands on my watch. Okay, it hadn’t been hours—more like five minutes, but that was plenty of time to bleed to death. I jabbed the number for Leonard’s cell and got exactly nothing for my effort. “Goddamn it.” Looking for service. Fucking fantastic. If you wanted to get anything done, you had to do it yourself.

I fumbled a hand over my stomach, grimly determined to stop the bleeding however I had to—and found none. I checked again, teeth clenched against very real nausea, but there was nothing to feel except smooth, if clammy skin.

What the hell? I would have sworn Nosik had blasted a hole through me....

But apparently he had missed, from just ten feet away. Maybe he needed glasses. Whatever the case, I wouldn’t get answers lying on the floor all day. As I pushed myself onto hands and knees, I felt a distinct difference in the room. I hadn’t passed out. I was fairly sure I hadn’t. But tilting my head to peer to one side only confirmed the feeling. The light was different. Not brighter but—warmer, like candlelight. Things were moved. Rearranged. And Nosik was nowhere in sight.

Uneasiness prickled the length of my spine as my focus sharpened. Maybe I was too sick to stand up, but I wasn’t too sick to blow a few holes through Nosik’s little helpers, if they were the ones waiting around to bag me. I gritted my teeth and forced myself back on my haunches—and there they were, three of them. My uneasiness expanded to new dimensions. If these were Nosik’s buddies, they’d fallen into an even deeper time warp than Nosik with his plaid trousers. They stood gathered in a tight group, looking less like foreign agents than museum employees, of the type who were stuck in storage rooms to catalogue junk as dusty as they were.

Then I realized none of them had tried for my gun, which lay on the floor just within reach. I grabbed it and lurched to my feet, telling myself on the way up that it wouldn’t look professional to vomit in front of the enemy. As I hefted the Glock in a firmer grip, two of the three men fell back a step. The third, a leather-bound book open in his hands, stared at me with wide blue eyes. Instinct told me he was the leader of this little gang of—art thieves? Art theft was more popular than ever. Even drug cartels and arms dealers were getting into the act. But these guys didn’t look like arms dealers any more than they looked like agents. They didn’t even appear to be armed.

Maybe they were just museum employees, but something out of the ordinary was going on. I took a shot at prompting a confession.

“Guess I interrupted something. You gentlemen are aware of the minimum stretch for art theft these days?”

His face alight with interest, the blue-eyed one made a move in my direction. His cohorts grabbed him, sending the book thudding to the floor, and he resisted with an impatient shake of his head. “Look at him, Derry.” He nudged the well-padded ribs of the black-haired guy doing most of the pulling. “An ordinary man, nothing more. No need to worry.”

His confidence did not persuade Derry, who said something I had trouble comprehending because of a brogue thick enough to cut with one very big knife. But I did catch a name. Ezra. The one who wasn’t afraid of me— although judging by his comment, he was aware of my reputation.

Keeping my firearm trained on him, I fished out my identification. “Special Agent Nash, gentlemen.”

“He’s American,” the thin blond fellow noted.

“Very much so,” Ezra said and leaned in for a closer look at the Glock. “A sort of pistol, is it?” He tapped the muzzle, apparently not in the least perturbed by the possibility of taking a bullet in the head. Jesus, these guys weren’t smart enough to be art thieves or museum employees. They needed to be locked up for their own safety, as well as mine.

“Okay, maybe I didn’t make myself clear. Morgan Nash, FBI. Now listen up—”

“Agent, you said?” Ezra looked dubious. “As in house?”

“Federal.” I flashed the badge again. “As in government.”

His eyebrows rose. “You work for the government? By faith, we have conjured a demon.”

Derry’s broad face contorted and the thin blond fellow broke into a twitchy smirk. It was a weird reaction for three guys who knew they were about to be arrested, and it was an annoying reaction. I appreciated the fact that some situations resisted evaluation, but I was about to do a little placement of suspects into the good old search position.

“I hate to ruin your fun, gentlemen, but I’m going to have to take you in for questioning. I want you to line up, hands clasped behind your head. If you’re planning to reach for ID, let me know so I don’t have to break anyone’s fingers.”

The threat normally inspired grumbling and the occasional sullen scowl. These guys resisted the norm right down the line. Three wide-eyed faces looked at me in bemusement and I did the scowling. “Like this.” I seized a handful of Ezra’s coat and swung him to face the wall. No sooner did I have his hands resting on his curly brown head than he started to lower them and turn to me. I jabbed the muzzle in his back. “Yes, it is a pistol and yes, I will use it if you force me to. I suggest you don’t.”

“You’re arresting us?”

The guy was not taking his predicament seriously in the least. Wondering if I still had my cuffs with me, I kept the gun at his back. “I knew you’d catch on, Ez, old chap. Keep your hands up, please.”

“Can he arrest us?” Derry whispered to Ezra.

“How can he?” the thin blond asked with contempt. “He doesn’t even belong here.”

“He doesn’t know that.” Ezra snuck a look at me and I caught the sympathy in his eyes.

I didn’t know what his game was, but I wasn’t playing. “If you want a British agent to haul you in, I can arrange it.” I snagged my phone and tried Leonard’s number again, but the connection had gone dead. I couldn’t get even a whisper of static.

Fed up, I pushed Ezra toward the door and persuaded the other two with a wave of my gun to line up behind him. I patted them down one by one. Not a gun on any of them, nor, unfortunately, a cell phone.

“I would advise you gentlemen to stick together and keep quiet. If you want to know just how good a shot I am, making a run for it is one way to find out.”

There was no sign of Leonard or Nosik, but I noted the museum was still open—and apparently Nosik’s discharging his weapon hadn’t perturbed anyone in particular. Then it hit me that the people roaming the exhibits looked as though they ought to be a part of one. The earlier crowd in their jeans, sneakers, and jackets had gone and a suit-and-tie crowd had taken their place. But these suits must have been pulled from an old trunk in museum storage. The coats were too long, the collars just one step away from neck brace. More striking were the women. Skirts brushed the floor, hats piled with feathers reaching in the opposite direction. The men wore hats too, and I wasn’t talking baseball cap. I didn’t see an untucked shirt or pierced nose in sight.

If someone was filming a movie, I saw no camera or director. I hooked a hand around Ezra’s arm and pulled him to face me. “What the hell’s going on?”

He looked me over with what I might have taken for concern if he’d known me from Adam. “You’re a little shaken, I can imagine, sir.”

I jabbed the firearm in his ribs. “You’re the one who provided the manpower and the means. Who are you working for?”

“Not manpower, precisely,” he said, looking uncomfortable for the first time. “We—rather, Henry—”

“Oh, no you don’t,” the blond said, hot with indignation. “I wasn’t reading it properly, if you will recall. Leave it to the Latin expert—”

“He never said he was expert,” Derry cut in. “You were making such a mess of it. I could tell, clear as day, and you know what my Latin’s like.”

“Well, if you’d hie yourself to Mass, you heathen,” Ezra said in what was obviously a private joke, judging by the smile he exchanged with Derry. Then he noticed I wasn’t laughing and his smile faded. “You’ll have to forgive us. We weren’t expecting anything to come of it, really.”

“Come of what?”

Silence descended as they shared a worried look. I kept quiet. Sometimes it was better to let suspects run off at the mouth, and I felt confident this group could produce enough rope to hang themselves.

“Oh saints,” Derry groaned. “Kathleen!”

“We meant no harm,” Ezra said, but he didn’t look any too happy, himself.

The pinched line of Henry’s mouth tightened further. “We aren’t taking him home with us, I hope? How can we be so sure he’s not a demon?”

“The devil may assume a pleasing shape,” Ezra commented, stealing a glance at me that was appreciative and then some. I managed to return the glance with indifference, concealing my surprise. Though I could see he wasn’t easily fazed, it took balls to flirt with a guy holding a gun on you. I’d run into the occasional raven who would do his job whether the target was male or female, but I doubted Nosik had hired one for that purpose. My personal life wasn’t common knowledge. That would make a risky business even riskier. And maybe this guy wasn’t too bad on the eyes, but his chances of seducing me to get any kind of information out of me were nonexistent— assuming he was even working for Nosik or anyone else, something I was beginning to doubt.

If Nosik had somehow slipped me something to make me hallucinate, this was one hell of a solid and consistent hallucination. I glanced at my watch, to find it showing the same time it had fifteen minutes ago. Damn, it had only been issued to me three weeks past. Probably the camera in it was broken too. First the cell, now my watch; not exactly something I could blame on Nosik, but a hell of a fluke, if he’d had nothing to do with it.

But if he hadn’t, who had? And what the hell was the plan? Because if they wanted to take me permanently out of the game, I wouldn’t be standing with a loaded gun and more or less the upper hand. Maybe I was already dead and this was Hell, where so many had invited me to go over the years. Whatever it was, I was the one out of place. Or out of time. And my instincts were failing me fast.

Ezra laid a hand on my arm. “Are you all right?”

I shook him off. I wasn’t putting up with any of that winning-theprisoner’s-trust bullshit. I was no one’s prisoner. “Let me see if I’ve got this. You want me to believe you were trying to cast some kind of magic spell to summon a demon and you ended up dragging me back through time?”

Ezra cleared his throat. “I believe the Latin translates into something along the lines of ‘one who brings knowledge of the future’. Not a demon, necessarily. A man would certainly do. But why you in particular....” He shook his head, then changed the subject. “Must you do that?” He pushed gingerly at the gun in his ribs. “I’m not a danger to you.”

I pushed back. “Let’s focus on the real world for a minute, all right? I want to know who you are, who you’re working for, and what they want from me, in that order. I also want the name of the drug you guys slipped me to send me into the Twilight Zone.” I tucked the gun muzzle under his chin. “By the way, what did you do with Leonard? And what the hell did you do to my phone and my watch?”

“Your phone? And your watch?” He peeled back a corner of my leather jacket. “You haven’t—”

“My watch.” I twisted my wrist to show him the display. “Not working. And neither is my cell. I pass out in the twenty-first century and wake up in what looks like the nineteenth. Why? What do you want?”

His eyes went wide. “It is the nineteenth. You said—twenty-first?”

I didn’t have time to deal with lunatics. I had a spy to hunt down. I sheathed my gun and left Larry, Moe, and Curly to deal with their mental problems on their own. Heading for the entrance, I figured I could find a pay phone and contact Leonard from there. That was assuming Nosik hadn’t hauled him off for ransom, or worse.

Well aware that the sorcerer and his pals were following, I stepped outside, braced for the ice-cold wind—to find the evening had turned comfortably cool and clear in the space of twenty minutes. At the top of the steps, I noted with a peculiarly detached feeling that what lay in front of my eyes was not at all what was supposed to be there. Stone and brick dominated, reminding me of the London I’d left behind, but the neon was gone, and shadows loomed larger in the yellow glow of old-fashioned street lamps. The absence of real traffic—rumbling engines and blaring horns—was damned unnatural. I hoped devoutly that we were downwind from a barn and that the smell assailing me would not be prevalent everywhere I went; judging by the number of horses at work in the road below, however, the smell would not be easily escaped. The tangle of carts and carriages and God knew what else were at a virtual standstill; rush hour in the nineteenth century, replete with the shouts of irritated drivers expressing themselves in familiar language.

“Mr. Nash?” Ezra pulled me from my dazed perusal with a firm grip on my arm. “You look a little pale. Please don’t worry. We will get you home.”

Contending with a headache and lingering nausea, I found myself searching for a single thread of evidence that would unravel all the lies he’d been feeding me. One shred of proof. A plastic cup. A candy bar wrapper. A dropped coin with a twenty-first century—hell, even twentieth century—date stamped on it. “You’ll get me home? When?”

“Tomorrow?” Ezra suggested, after an inquiring glance at the others.

“And until then?”

“Yes....” Ezra looked at Derry. “Do you think she’ll mind?”

“Need you ask?” But Derry was grinning, so I assumed we weren’t in too much trouble even if she did. “He’ll stay with Henry.”

“Kathleen will not so much as allow him into the parlor in those clothes,” Ezra said. “I’ll loan him something suitable.”

“Loan him your room as well,” Henry said. “You’re the one who conjured him.”

These guys knew how to bruise an ego. “I can stay in a hotel. And you’re not stuffing me into one of those monkey suits. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m wearing.”

“I think it would be better if you stayed with us,” Ezra said, amusement fading. “And Henry’s right. You’re here because of me.”

“He’s here thanks to all three of us,” Derry countered. “And I still think this weather’s had a hand in it. Look at that sky. Crimson as blood. There’s no good in it.”

“It’s only an atmospheric phenomenon,” Ezra said as if he’d reiterated it several times already. “I suppose—well, I suppose he should stay with me, after all.”

I smiled thinly. “Your enthusiasm is touching. Just drop me off at a hotel. I’ll take it from there.”

Ezra looked marginally abashed. “Mr. Nash, I do realize we’ve disrupted your life to a degree—”

“Try a hundred and eighty. How the hell you did this, I don’t know, and I feel pretty confident I don’t want to. I’m sure there’s some explanation that doesn’t go against all the laws of physics, but I’m too damned tired to burn off any more brain cells thinking about it. I’d just like some dinner and a place to crash. Sofa, bed, floor, I don’t care.” I would have preferred the hotel, but being a little short of whatever coin was legal tender in this nightmare, it appeared I didn’t have a choice.

My little speech stymied their powers of comprehension. Derry leaned toward Ezra. “Crash?” he murmured.

Ezra shook his head. “An interesting sort of English, but I think I gather the gist of it.”

“Kathleen won’t like the pistol,” Henry predicted.

“And we’ll none of us mention it,” Derry said. “Now, Ezra, you loan him something to wear and he’ll stay with me tonight. No one shall mind him on the bus, I think, and Kathleen will give him a bite to eat. There’s ours,” he added, and suddenly we were all lurching down the steps into the raucous miasma of humanity that reminded me of a few Third World countries I’d been to. Ezra grabbed my arm and hauled me aboard what looked like a trolley car pulled by horses. Henry dropped onto the only vacant seat with a sigh of relief, only to be promptly pulled to his feet by Derry while Ezra gave me a push to sit. Henry’s peevish protest that he’d been on his feet all day was cut off by Derry’s heartfelt admonition. Apparently I looked as tired as I felt.

Wheels on cobblestones made it difficult for me to nod off. I floated somewhere between dozing and sleeping, hoping when I did wake, I’d be somewhere familiar. There were plenty of recognizable things in this world, but all the small differences added up to a big off-kilter picture. The lonely feeling of waiting it out in the warehouse seemed intensified. Fortunately, it wasn’t very long before Ezra tugged at my sleeve. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “Dead on my feet.”

“Mr. Nash, do you need a doctor?”

“No doctors. Need a bed.” Yawning, I stumbled off the trolley after him and tried to get out of the way of people rushing aboard. Apparently manners weren’t a thing of the past. They’d never existed at all. “Which way’s home?”

The neighborhood seemed clean and quiet, mostly row houses that reminded me of the Brooklyn neighborhood where Reese lived. I wrapped a hand around the cell phone in my pocket and wondered if Reese had tried to call me again. I wouldn’t be retrieving any messages for a while.

We walked a couple of blocks farther and Derry finally swung past a gate to sprint up the steps of one house in particular. I noticed the handwritten sign tucked in one corner of a window, which read, “Rooms to let. Single gentlemen.”

So none of these guys were married. Not much of a surprise. But there was a distinctly feminine touch about the place, from the scrubbed clean steps to the flowering boxes at the windows. I’d hardly started up when Derry turned and whispered loudly enough for us to hear,

“I’ll distract her, but for the love of St. Michael, be quick or she’ll know we’re up to something.”

“I’ll have him presentable in ten minutes,” Ezra said—and before I could assert that I was already damned presentable, he was pushing me up the steps and into a dim hallway. He reached for a low-hung chandelier with two tiers of red glass globes and twisted a small knob. The jets sprang to life, brightening the hall, and I could see flowers—on the marble-topped table, in a corner vase, and even on the wallpaper. I rubbed an already itching nose and hoped that was the extent of the indoor garden.

Ezra steered me to a steep flight of carpeted stairs and I couldn’t suppress a groan. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

“Just one floor up,” he said cheerfully, giving me another little push. There were three rooms on the second floor, and we went into the first. Still cocooned in the detached certainty I was only dreaming, I stood in the dark and listened to Ezra’s boots on the wood floor, followed by the sound of a match being struck. A lamp on the bedside table threw the room into soft illumination. Despite being nearly too tired to keep my eyes open, I looked around. Gleaming brass, plump pillows, and a quilt in shades of blue drew me like a magnet. Before I could drop onto it, Ezra turned me toward a window seat crowded with throw pillows and books, some of which he hastily moved aside so I could sit.

“Take off your clothes, Mr. Nash.”

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

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

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

Davidson King
Davidson King, always had a hope that someday her daydreams would become real-life stories. As a child, you would often find her in her own world, thinking up the most insane situations. It may have taken her awhile, but she made her dream come true with her first published work, Snow Falling.

When she’s not writing you can find her blogging away on Diverse Reader, her review and promotional site. She managed to wrangle herself a husband who matched her crazy and they hatched three wonderful children.

AM Arthur
No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child, and scribbling them down nearly as long. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself with her cuisine experiments. A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone's throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland. She's been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long, in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop. She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn't been coined yet back then) and "The Young Riders" with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories. When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder. She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.
If you were to ask her what gave her the courage to finally publish, she’d tell you it was her amazing family and friends. Support is vital in all things and when you’re afraid of your dreams, it will be your cheering section that will lift you up.

Tamara Allen
Tamara Allen resides in the piney woods north of Houston with her cozy family of husband, son, and cat. Her primary occupation is keeping them out of trouble, but on the side she likes to make up stories, for the pleasure of living briefly in an era long gone by.

Charlie Cochrane
EMAIL:  cochrane.charlie2@googlemail.com 

Davidson King

AM Arthur
EMAIL: AM_Arthur@yahoo.com

Tamera Allen
EMAIL: writer.mara@gmail.com

Lessons in Love #1 by Charlie Cochrane

Snow Falling by Davidson King

The Truth as He Knows It #1 by AM Arthur

Downtime by Tamara Allen