Saturday, October 27, 2018

Random Tales of Murder & Mayhem 2018

The Hunt by JM Dabney & Davidson King
Disgraced detective turned private investigator, Ray Clancy, left the force with a case unsolved. Finding the killer was no longer his problem, but it still haunted him. How long would he survive the frustration of not knowing before he gave into the compulsion of his nature to solve the crime?

Server, Andrew Shay, existed where he didn’t feel he belonged, living behind the guise of a costume. Yet it paid the bills, and he refused to complain about the little things in life. One night he returned home from work to find his roommate dead and the killer still there. Afraid and alone, his life spiraled and he didn’t know what to do. Could a detective at his core and a scared young man join forces to bring down the killer in their midst?

Original Review September 2018:
Accused of something he didn't do, Ray Clancy opened his own private investigation office after leaving the force with a case of brutal killings unsolved.  Andrew Shay returns to his apartment one night after work to find his roommate and friend killed and the killer still lurking.  With the cops seemingly not doing everything they can, Andrew finds Ray and hires him.  Will the disgraced cop and scared server be able to solve the mystery and find the killer before the killer finds them?  Can one find happiness and love in the middle of such danger?

OMG!!! I am so not an "OMG" kind of gal so when I say "OMG" you know I really mean "O-M-G!!!"  The Hunt is aptly named because there is hunting on all sides going on in the pages of this book.  The Hunt is a murder mystery that is reminiscent of classic noir, from the characters to the crime to the scene setting, it has everything that takes a mystery one step further into that noir status.  Okay, it may lack the femme fatale that is an almost must in noir, however Andrew sees himself at times as the helpless victim when he is in fact anything but helpless or victim and that is what helps complete the noir package for me.

Talking of Andrew, you can't help but love him.  Yes, I want to wrap him in bubblewrap and tuck him away to keep him safe but he's stronger than he gives himself credit for which only adds to my love for him.  As for Ray, well in my honest opinion he belongs right up there with Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade and yes, I pictured Bogey from the getgo.  Now I won't mention the cast of secondary characters because in doing so I think I'd risk too many spoilers, and that's something I don't do, however I will say that Bradford is delicious and I wouldn't mind seeing him get his own story down the road.

Collaborations can be tricky but when done right you can't tell who wrote what character because the styles mesh which is what Dabney and King bring us.  Followers of my blog know that Davidson King, although relatively knew to the published world has shot near the top of my favorite author list, however I have never read JM Dabney before but I definitely look forward to checking out Dabney's backlist after reading this awesome tale.  Together they bring you an incredibly fun(if "fun" is a word you can use for murder😉😉), mysterious tale of mayhem that you won't want to put down once you start, so if you only have 30 minutes you may want to wait to crack open The Hunt.

One final mention is to the cover.  I don't usually give the cover much thought when doing a review because as great as it may be its not what sucks me into the story, I don't let the models or artist renderings of the characters influence how I picture them in my mind's eye.  However, Morningstar Ashley has outdone herself with this cover.  Frankly, the cover got me hoping this would be in the noir genre and the authors didn't disappoint(as I've said above) so this is a perfect cover for this amazing story.  A true all around package of reading yummy-ness.


Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon
From award-winning male/male author Josh Lanyon: a librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels.

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?

Original Review May 2018:
Carter Matheson is on the tour he's been dreaming of for a couple of years now, a bus tour for fans of mystery writer Dame Vanessa Rayburn, unfortunately his ex is also on the tour with the new boyfriend.  Unexpectedly, Carter finds himself with a roommate, John Knight, who doesn't appear to know much about Vanessa Rayburn's stories.  Between rumors, night wanderings, and attraction this bus tour is starting to look like one Miss Rayburn's novels leaving Carter unsure who to trust.  Will Carter survive the tour in one piece?

Holy Hannah Batman!  Murder Takes the High Road is a great way to kick off my summer reading, okay maybe its a little early to say its kicking off the summer reading but if it was a couple of weeks later than it would be the right timing for that statement.  Murder has a little bit of everything: mystery, lust, romance, attraction, drama, mayhem, and memorable characters that hold it all together.  Not only is Murder chuck full of everything that has put Josh Lanyon at the top of my favorite authors list but it has the added plus of everything I love about British mysteries.

Gossip, rumors, assumptions, and altercations are only a small part of what drives this mystery, that is if there really is a mystery . . . okay there is a mystery to solve but I won't tell you what it is but you are going to love finding out.  I was completely surprised and that doesn't happen to me much anymore considering all the reading I do.

As for the characters, well Carter is absolutely lovable and I can't even begin to imagine how Trevor could choose the "other guy" over him but thank God he did because Carter deserves better.  Which brings us to John Knight, a man on an author tour who doesn't appear to read said author, yeah there's nothing fishy about that 😉😉 As for the other members of the tour, well they are definitely an eclectic bunch that made Murder a wonderfully fun read I just couldn't put down.

I'd say who knew murder could be so fun but if you've read Josh Lanyon before than you know exactly just how fun she makes it and if you haven't read her before than this is a great starter for you.  I know that Murder Takes the High Road is a one off but if Carter Matheson ever decides to take another bus tour I hope we get to go along for the ride.  This is definitely one for my re-reads shelf.


The Campbell Curse by Olivier Bosman
DS Billings Victorian Mysteries #3
The year is 1892. While touring Britain with her production of Macbeth, the famous American actress, Carola LeFevre, receives an anonymous death threat . Detective Sergeant John Billings from Scotland Yard is appointed as her personal security guard. Billings is thrown into a theatrical world of gossip, intrigue and temper tantrums, but things take a darker turn when the tour heads for Edinburgh. A great tragedy befalls Miss LeFevre and Billings becomes embroiled in a horrific crime which appears to be the consequence of an ancient Scottish curse.

Blurring the line between reality and superstition, The Campbell Curse is a dark, gothic mystery which touches on our deepest fears. This is the third full length novel in the series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone story.

Original Review September 2018:
After receiving dangerous death threat, American actress Carola LeFevre on tour doing Macbeth is provided security in the form of Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant John Billings.  Billings finds himself in a world unfamiliar to him with the theater people but when the tour goes to Edinburgh a tragedy occurs.  Tragedy, Scottish curse, theater, and John Billings finds himself smack in the middle of it all.

Once again we have an author who obviously has tremendous respect for the past.  This respect shows in both little and big ways as we are thrown into a world of Victorian crime.  Whether its the high end, "I'm above you" actress Carola LeFevre or the common man DS John Billings or the dozens of characters in between, the attention to detail is what really makes them come alive.  Sometimes an author can spend too much time on the little nuances of the era and the story can become cluttered but this is not one of those authors.  The Campbell Curse is a lovely blend of drama, mystery, and historical accuracy that makes a very entertaining experience.

If you are expecting a lot of M/M romance than you will be disappointed, there are a few hints of it but Curse is another leg of John Billings' journey of accepting who he is but considering its 1892, he fights his inner desires but perhaps he's not too old to learn or then again maybe he is(you know me I won't give any spoilers😉).  I will say that I loved his interactions with everyone in this entry as well as his determination to discover the truth even if at times it seems he is the only one wanting to do so.

If you are wondering if The Campbell Curse can be read as a standalone, yes technically it can be as the mystery is new and there is no connection to previous cases other than John Billings and his fellow Scotland Yard detectives.  However, personally I would highly recommend reading this series in order for a couple of reasons: 1. I just don't like jumping into a series in the middle whether there is any connection between the installments or not, its just not "how I roll" and 2. in the case of DS Billings Victorian Mysteries, even though each entry is a separate case there are recurring characters and especially John Billings, watching him grow towards acceptance is an important part of the story which for me just makes each entry flow better having ridden along with him on his journey from the beginning.

So if you love historicals, mystery, character growth, and just an overall intriguing story than The Campbell Curse and the DS Billings Victorian Mysteries series as a whole is definitely worth reading.


Two Feet Under by Charlie Cochrane
Lindenshaw Mysteries #3
Things are looking up for Adam Matthews and Robin Bright—their relationship is blossoming, and they’ve both been promoted. But Robin’s a policeman, and that means murder is never far from the scene.

When a body turns up in a shallow grave at a Roman villa dig site—a body that repeatedly defies identification—Robin finds himself caught up in a world of petty rivalries and deadly threats. The case seems to want to drag Adam in, as well, and their home life takes a turn for the worse when an ex-colleague gets thrown out of his house and ends up outstaying his welcome at theirs.

While Robin has to prove his case against a manipulative and fiendishly clever killer, Adam is trying to find out which police officer is leaking information to the media. And both of them have to work out how to get their home to themselves again, which might need a higher intelligence than either a chief inspector or a deputy headteacher.

Original Review February 2018:
Adam Matthews and Robin Bright keep moving forward with their relationship and maintaining their homelife with beloved guard dog, Campbell.  Now as they push forward with new positions in the workplace everything is looking up so what could go wrong?  A spot of murder and an unexpected houseguest is what they face, throw in identiyfing Jane Doe, smug suspects, and a police leak to the media and the boys learn that maybe murder and mayhem will always find them.

I just want to start out by saying how much I love Adam and Robin, perhaps not as much as the author's other crime solving duo: Jonty and Orlando, but it's a pretty tight race.  There is just something about Adam and Robin that makes me smile, maybe its their banter, their chemistry, or maybe its how the author makes them so real.  Granted, most couples(no matter their occupation) don't find themselves in situations of repeated chaos like these boys but beyond that they come across as people you would meet filling the car with gas or picking up your weekly shopping.  Whether the author meant for the reader to find this connection to the boys or its just a happy coincidence it still shows the talent and knack she has in bringing her characters to life.  Speaking of chemistry, something that really showed it for me was their use of "Don't forget the milk" to convey "I love you".  Not all couples say the actual "L-word" but they express it a thousand other ways and for me this was just another example of how Miss Cochrane make the boys more real.

Now, as for the mystery you know I won't reveal any spoilers and when it comes to this genre every little tidbit and snippet can be a huge clue so I really won't touch on the plot at all other than to say its brilliant.  On a personal note, I really enjoyed how the author threw references to Midsomer Murders into a few scenes.  Midsomer is my absolute favorite mystery series of all time(a little secret between you and me: I own all 19 seasons on DVD and have most of them nearly memorized😉).  There is just something about the British, the UK as a whole really, and their way with murder, mayhem, and intrigue that sets them above the rest.  I enjoy American mysteries but given the choice I can honestly say that I will pick a UK mystery over one of ours every time.  I said all this because Two Feet Under is a perfect example of why I love mysteries from across the pond and the best way to explain my feelings without plot spoiling.

So, if you have already experienced The Best Corpse for the Job and Jury of One, than you know how lovely the author brings life to Adam and Robin.  If you are new to this series than now is a great time to give it a looksee.  Technically, yes each installment is a standalone as the mystery begins and ends within the pages of each book but personally, I can't imagine not reading Lindenshaw Mysteries in order.  Between character development and references to previous cases it just flows better read 1,2, and 3 but no, I don't suppose it is a must.  Those looking for detailed spicy-ness will probably be a bit disappointed but don't think that means that there is no passion and heat, it's just the author leaves these moments more to the reader's imagination and trust me I can imagine quite a bit 😉😉 So, grab a copy, buckle down, snuggle in and begin.


In Other Words . . . Murder by Josh Lanyon
Holmes & Moriarity #4
Death reveals all secrets.

Mystery author Christopher Holmes, now comfortably married to sometimes rival, sometimes nemesis J.X. Moriarity, is starting a new career as a true crime writer when threatening anonymous notes start arriving.

Even worse, Christopher's ex also arrives--asking for help locating the man he left Christopher for!

It's life--and death--as usual at Chez Holmes. In other words... Murder.

Original Review August 2018:
Christopher Holmes has settled into his new home and living the domestic life with his partner JX Moriarity, if he could only get his writing mojo settled everything would be in order.  As thoughts turn toward happily ever after for the pair, Kit receives news he never expected, a body was discovered on the property of his former home and with it comes communication in the form of accusations of murder from the last person he wanted to hear from: his ex.  Will this body be just another day in the life of Kit and JX or could it be one body too many?

There's just something about Christopher "Kit" Holmes that makes him special.  Perhaps it's his wit, his take on life, his love for his creation Miss Butterwith & Mr. Pinkerton, or perhaps its just his dumb luck when it comes to murder and finding bodies.  Who knows?  But I don't really need to have an answer as to why I love Kit, I just do and I look forward to more.  As you know I won't touch on the plot or the whos, whys, and whats of the body found in Kit's old yard but I will say that its brilliantly mapped out from the first phone call to the reveal.  There may not be as many twists and turns that Kit usually stumbles upon with his bodies but the author kept me at the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

Murder mysteries are often riddled with dark moments to balance out the romance or relationship element and yes there are scenes that bring on nailbiting in this entry but Kit has a way about him that makes even the dark, light and comical.  That's not to say he's not to be taken seriously or that the mystery is overshadowed by comedy. What I mean is In Other Words . . . Murder is a delicious blend of mystery, drama, romance, and comedy which in my experience are four elements that can be hard to make the right balance when it comes to murder.

If you haven't read the first three books in Josh Lanyon's Holmes & Moriarity series I suppose you can start with this one as each entry is a new case but the relationship between Kit and JX will make more sense and flow better when read in order.  Trust me, you won't regret giving this series a read and if you are already a fan than this is one you can't miss because even though it may not be the best in the series it does have everything that makes Kit, well Kit.


His American Detective by Summer Devon
Victorian Gay Detectives #1
The sole survivor of his family’s gruesome murder years earlier, “Poor Little Ned Lawton” has struggled to put the dark events behind him. So when a brash New York detective darkens his doorway demanding an interview, the wealthy young gentleman immediately shuts him out. But a rash of murders in America are mirroring of the London killings, and Patrick Kelly knows Ned might be the key to stopping the bloodshed.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fit to be Tied by Mary Calmes
Marshals #2
Deputy US Marshals Miro Jones and Ian Doyle are now partners on and off the job: Miro’s calm professionalism provides an ideal balance to Ian’s passion and quick temper. In a job where one misstep can be the difference between life and death, trust means everything. But every relationship has growing pains, and sometimes Miro stews about where he stands with his fiery lover. Could the heartstrings that so recently tied them together be in danger of unraveling?

Those new bonds are constantly challenged by family intrusions, well-intentioned friends, their personal insecurities, and their dangerous careers—including a trial by fire when an old case of Miro’s comes back to haunt them. It might just be enough to make Ian rethink his decision to let himself be tied down, and Miro can only hope the links they've forged will be strong enough to hold.

Original Review August 2016:
Miro and Ian return and what a follow-up Fit to be Tied makes!  Even with an established author that ranks towards the top of my favorite list, there is always a question will the new installment live up to the previous?  Well, Fit does and in my opinion surpasses All Kinds of Tied Down on all fronts, romance mystery, intrigue, and the WOW factor is off the charts.  When Miro's past comes back in the form of an escaped serial killer, the pair face their biggest trials yet.  That's all the plot references you'll get from me but it's definitely worth the read but you will want to make sure your day is free and clear because once you start you won't want to quit till you hit the last page.  Coming late to the party, I only have a month to wait for book 3 and even that seems like forever.

Overall Series Re-Read Review 2018:
This is actually the first time I have re-read Miro and Ian(at least #1-3 as #3.5 & #4 were first time reads).  I don't think I'll be adding them to my Annual Must Reads but it certainly won't be the last time I enjoy their journey either.  Like Jory and Sam from the author's Matter of Time series that this was spin-off from, Miro and Ian are a perfect fit.  Neither of the pair is quite as "hyper" or "manic" as Jory nor is either of them as "fierce" or "fiery" as Sam but I don't think I'd classify them as "even-tempered" either.  They are their own men and a force to be reckoned with.  They've come full circle in the five entries to the Marshals series but that doesn't mean I'm tired of the pair.  Oh no, I can't imagine ever tiring of Miro, Ian, their team or their few friends and family.  The boys may be the stars of this series but every character adds something to their journey and I think that's what helps make them who they are, entertaining and fun.


The Hunt by JM Dabney & Davidson King
Rudy had given me a strange look when I’d walked in a few minutes earlier and didn’t take my usual spot at the counter. I was still mentally processing the call I’d received from one Andy Shay. I’d done a quick search for him and found several social media profiles from different Mr. Shays, but didn’t take the time to do a more thorough investigation.

When he’d stated he’d witnessed a murder, I’d resigned myself to dealing with another crazy person, but then after Andy had explained, my tired brain had quickly put the pieces together.

Andy sounded young and justifiably scared. His voice was soft with slightly husky notes. I didn’t know why out of everything the kid’s voice is what I remembered most.

I raised my mug to my mouth and downed half of it, hoping the caffeine would wake me up. I should’ve slept. I’d spent most of the morning researching and hadn’t come up with one mention of similar crimes. Even if there was only one detail the same, I’d grasped at hope, only to be disappointed when the suspect was dead or imprisoned. I don’t know how I felt about that, but I didn’t have time to think too much about it.

I curved my hands around the mug and stared into the dark liquid. The bell going off over the door had me lifting my head. A thin man walked in with clothes that hung on his frame. As soon as I’d looked up our eyes met. There was no doubt in my mind that he was the one I was waiting for, and I slid out of the booth. I sensed the young man’s fear, so I patiently stayed still as he prepared to approach me.

Andy’s first few steps were cautious, as if he hadn’t made up his mind on whether I was an ally or foe. I knew that expression, I’d lost count of how many times I’d seen it over the years. Two decades of dealing with terrified and reluctant witnesses prepared me for anything.

“Mr. Clancy?”

I was slightly taken aback by the sound of that voice in person and blamed it on my lack of sleep. The kid was young, maybe mid-twenties.

“Call me, Ray. Please, take a seat.” I motioned at the bench and waited for him to slide into it. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“Rudy, refill for me and another for my friend here.” Rudy smirked at me from behind the counter, and I knew what he was thinking. That was the farthest thing from the truth. I was impatient to find out what happened the other night, but I waited for Rudy to approach with the coffeepot and an extra mug.

“Does your date need a menu, or are you planning on being cheap, Clancy?”

“Rudy, don’t fuck with me today.”

The words must have come out harsher than I’d thought because I caught the kid flinching in my peripheral. Skittish. I was going to have to temper my normally gruff nature.

“Cranky,” Rudy muttered, and I waited for him to drop off the menu, then return to the opposite side of the counter.

I watched in horror at the amount of sugar the kid doctored his coffee with and tried to hide my disgust behind my own mug of straight, black coffee. The way coffee was meant to be drank. Andy’s hands shook, and if I hadn’t paid closer attention, I would’ve missed that. I warred with the decision to let Andy take the lead and start the conversation or broach the subject myself.

My curiosity won. “Why did you contact me?”

“I researched the case. A crime reporter, I can’t remember his name right now, well, he did some stories and your name was mentioned. Your name came up in several articles.”

“But why are you here? I’m not a cop.”

Those four simple words still stung my pride. I should be on the case. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t have caught the guy sometime in the last six months.

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
That saying about pride going before a fall? I was aching with the impact of my landing as I stood in the bar area of the Caledonian Inn, trying not to watch Trevor and his new boyfriend meeting and greeting our fellow tour members that first night in Scotland.

“We should be staying at the Argyll Hotel,” Rose Lane was saying. She was about seventy. Tall and slender, her silver hair grazing her shoulders in a long pageboy, she looked like an elderly fashion model. According to her tour group bio she was a retired accountant from Portland, Oregon. Or maybe the accountant was the tall woman with curly brown hair, lurking on the edge of the noisy room. The bios—and faces—had begun to blur after the first six introductions.

Rose was still talking. Everyone in the room seemed to be talking. Which was natural. They were thrilled to be here.

Me…not so much.

“That’s where Vanessa murdered the bishop in Prey for Mercy. Besides, it’s a much nicer hotel,” Rose said.

“The Argyll is probably more expensive,” I replied, watching Trevor smile into Vance’s blue eyes—which were close-set and a little beady, if you asked me.

Of course, no one, particularly Trevor, was asking me. And anyway, aside from being cross-eyed, Vance was an undeniably good-looking guy. Taller than me. Darker than me. Everything more than me, it seemed.

That probably sounded like I still had feelings for Trevor, and I did. Anger, hurt, bitterness. I did not want him back. I wouldn’t have had him back if he’d been offered to me on a silver quaich. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still torn up about everything that had happened. Which was why I should not have come on the tour—even though it had originally been my idea and I’d paid for the entire trip.

I should have let Trevor win this one. I should have taken the high road. Failing that, the nearest exit.

“It is,” Rose agreed. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m sure we all want to make the most out of it.”

Vance leaned over to whisper in Trevor’s ear, and for a second I couldn’t remember what Rose was talking about. Oh, right. This ten-day tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands specially tailored to fans of famed mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Every stop and every stay was planned around a particular setting in one of the Rayburn books. The high point of the tour was to be the four days spent at Vanessa’s own castle on the island of Samhradh Beag.

“Who needs another drink?” Alison inquired, joining us. Alison Barnes was the tour organizer. A small, perky, red-haired thirty-something. She was American, but then nearly everyone on the tour seemed to be American. Alison peered at my empty glass, glanced unobtrusively at my name tag. “Carter? How about you? Rose, what would you like?”

“Nothing for me,” Rose demurred. “I’ll have wine with dinner.”

“Whisky and soda,” I said. I do better in unfamiliar social situations when I’m sufficiently lubricated. Tonight might require an oil can or two. Possibly an oil drum.

Rose launched into her complaint that we were not spending the night at the Argyll Hotel, and Alison’s heart-shaped face took on a hunted expression, which I imagined was the usual expression she wore by day two of these international jaunts.

Recognizing a good time to ease myself out of the conversation, I stepped back—and onto someone’s foot.

“Ow!” the owner of the foot protested—with unnecessary force, I felt, given that his foot was twice the size of mine. A few people glanced our way, including Trevor. Our gazes locked and Trevor scowled.

I scowled back. Still…not a good feeling to know someone you used to love now hated you. I turned to Ben Iams, the only other unattached male on the tour. “Sorry! I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s okay,” Ben said grudgingly. Peering at my name tag, he added, “Carter.” Ben was about fifty and traveling with his mother, Yvonne. I’d met them when we were checking in earlier that afternoon. According to his bio, Ben was a business systems analyst. He was tall, raw-boned and gangly. Not bad looking, but one of those guys who never quite grows into his frame. His hands and feet looked like they were swiped from another model kit.

There were about thirty of us crowded into the small lounge. Twenty of us were passengers on the tour. Twenty strangers with nothing in common but our love for Vanessa Rayburn. And, with one hundred and fifty-four novels to her name, there was a lot to love. Even so, ten days was a long time to spend with people you shared only one thing in common with.

If Trevor and I were still together, it would have been different.

No one was a bigger fan of Vanessa than Trevor, which was why I’d booked this tour for us nearly two years ago. How was I to know that by the time the tour rolled around, Trevor and I would be split up—with Trevor insisting I give my seat to his new Significant Other, Vance.

Which, if I’d had any sense at all, I’d have done. It’s not like I still felt any great enthusiasm for the trip, although yes, I too was a huge fan of Vanessa. I had already made up my mind that I wouldn’t be going, when Trevor informed me Vance was taking my place.

Which was sort of… Again?

Like a stubborn ass, I’d dug my heels in and informed Trevor he could go to hell. And the more Trevor demanded that I give up my ticket, the more determined I was to go on the tour.

And here I was. The winner. Trevor had had to break down and buy Vance his own ticket. And I would now have the pleasure of spending ten days in close quarters with the two of them carrying on like they were on their honeymoon.

Which…maybe they were. Not like I would have received an invite to the wedding.

A woman with wiry, wavy gray hair and rugged features to match Ben’s pointed at my name tag. “Last name Matheson. You’re a librarian and you live in Los Angeles.”


“Yvonne Iams.” She paused, her expression expectant. Why did so many of these people treat the introductions like we were all playing Mafia or Werewolf.

“Ben’s mother,” I said. That was safe enough. I racked my brain. Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition. “Retired…veterinarian.”

“Right! And where are we from?” she prompted.

Somewhere in the United States, obviously, though her accent was hard to place. Thankfully, Alison broke in before I had to confess I had no clue.

“Everybody! Everybody!” She clapped her hands together. “I just got word. Can the Tour to Die For people please begin moving to the lobby? The taxis have arrived to take us to the restaurant.”

“This is so exciting,” a small plump woman in a shiny yellow raincoat exclaimed as we began to file out of the bar. She beamed at me. I smiled back. I needed to make sure I did not end up in a taxi with Trevor and Vance.

I needn’t have worried. Trevor and Vance jumped into the first taxi, one of a train of old-fashioned black cabs, which departed in a cloud of exhaust into the rainy October night. Destination: Glasgow’s City Centre.

Two taxis later I squeezed in with Alison, the plump woman and her sister—twins Bertie and Edie Poe from Michigan—and the elderly, elegant Rose.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” one of the twins said, scrunching against her sibling to make more room for Rose. “Glasgow at last!”

She pronounced it like “Glass Cow.”

“Is this your first trip to Scotland?” Alison asked us as the cab rolled away from the curb.

Bertie, Edie and I all admitted it was our first time out of the States. Rose turned out to be an experienced world traveler.

“It’s a beautiful, old city,” Alison said. “The biggest city in Scotland. In fact, it’s one of the biggest cities in the UK.”

“Third largest,” I said automatically. I try not to do that. Fact drop. It’s hard because in my work life I’m paid to be a know-it-all. It’s surprising how many people would rather ask the librarian than do the research themselves. Me? I love research. I love how one tiny piece of information can lead down a dozen different rabbit holes of astonishing discovery.

“You’ve been doing your homework.” Alison smelled like cigarettes, which was unexpected given her rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, fresh-from-teaching-Sunday-school appearance.

“Are you here on holiday?” the cab driver asked. At least I thought that’s what he said. It sounded more like Awreet, r yeez heron holiday? For a split second I thought maybe he was speaking in Gaelic to amuse the tourists.

The ladies filled him in and he obligingly pointed out places presumed to be of interest. I stared out the window at the bright lights, dark water and disappointingly modern landscape.

“That’s St. Patrick’s,” the cabbie said. “A Polish girl was murdered there about ten years ago. Her killer buried her under the confessional.”

If he’d hoped to shock us, he was talking to the wrong bunch of tourists.

“Prey for Mercy,” Rose said knowledgably. “I get chills just thinking about it.”

Alison said, as though we all didn’t know this, “Vanessa used the real-life murders of serial killer Peter Tobin as inspiration for her plot.”

“Vanessa relies on true crime a lot,” agreed Bertie. Or was it Edie?

Whichever sister, her comment was greeted with a brief silence as we all considered Vanessa’s intimate acquaintance with true crime.

Edie—or possibly Bertie—changed the subject. “I’m not so sure about Indian food,” she said. “It always gives me indigestion. But I wouldn’t miss Chaophraya for anything!”

“Don’t worry. It’s actually Thai food,” Alison reassured her.

“Oh, that’s worse!” Edie’s—or Bertie’s—sister said. They giggled to each other at the thought of the horrors to come. At least they had a good attitude about it.

My own spirits lifted once we entered the twinkling heart of the city. The beautiful old Victorian and Edwardian buildings topped with gleaming domes and pointy spires, their ornate facades with pillars and columns and solemn-faced effigies and grand and glittering windows all reminded me of Peter Pan—or maybe just the Disneyland ride of the same name. I was happy to see the historic architecture holding its own against contemporary designs of steel and glass. It was a beautiful city, after all.

The caravan of taxis scooted in wherever an opening could be found and we scrambled out into the wet night. Despite the rain, the streets were packed with exuberant people, most of whom seemed to be looking for a party to crash.

“Tours to Die For, this way!” Alison shouted, racing from cab to cab in an effort to stop any of her flock from straying down the streets of the city Lonely Planet described as a “disarming blend of sophistication and earthiness.” I too felt the tug of adventure as I breathed in the perfume of exhaust and rain and damp stone and exotic aromas from the numerous restaurants along the way.

“There it is!” cried someone in the awestruck tones generally reserved for national monuments and famous film stars. We all turned to gaze in respectful silence.

Supposedly Europe’s largest Thai restaurant, Chaophraya occupied an impressive old building called the Townhouse on Buchanan Street. It was in this elegant and exotic setting that Queen’s Counsel Michael Patterson at long last proposed to Vanessa’s beloved series lead Chief Inspector Rachel MacKinnon. Choosing this particular spot for our first dinner together was a great way to begin the tour, as evidenced by the cries of delight and wonder as we hurried across the slick and shining road.

Alison shepherded us into the gorgeous lobby with its scarlet carpets, life-size golden statues and dark wood. We were led upstairs.

I found myself seated with two married couples, all four of whom were teachers who regularly vacationed together. Nelson and Wilma Scherf were tall, tanned and Germanic looking. Joel and Gerda Rice were shorter, slighter and darker.

We were introducing ourselves when we were joined by Ben and Yvonne. There were more introductions and then Yvonne picked up the menu, frowned, and whispered something to Ben, who nodded gravely while offering a general, pained smile to the rest of us.

“I think in these circumstances a set menu makes sense, Mother,” he said mildly.

I loved my parents but I couldn’t imagine trotting the globe with them. However, Ben and Yvonne seemed to enjoy each other’s company, so…good for them.

“When you consider how much we’re paying for this trip!” Yvonne shook her head.

In fairness, this meal was supposed to be one of the most lavish of the trip, and though the menu was set, the choices were noted as “our most opulent dishes.” And really, who doesn’t occasionally long for a little opulence?

Gerda said in the determinedly upbeat tone of the battle-scarred educator, “This is wonderful. There are some lovely vegetarian choices.” She read, “‘Thai green spinach curry made with spinach, enoki mushrooms, straw mushrooms and sweet basil.’ Yum.”

“You’re the librarian,” Wilma said to me.


“Isn’t it funny how Vanessa’s books appeal to so many teachers and librarians? Maybe we’ve secretly got a murderous streak.”

The others laughed.

Yvonne said, “I always thought I’d like to be a librarian.”

“Oh yes?” I said politely.

“I have a very good memory. A very good memory.” It sounded a little ominous, and had I been on Chaophraya’s management team, I’d be expecting an unfavorable Yelp review momentarily.

“A good memory is certainly useful.” More useful was a love of knowledge and learning—and the ability to enjoy (or at least cheerfully tolerate) working around people who didn’t necessarily share that love. I loved books and I liked people, and libraries are where those two things intersect.

Ben said, “It’s a shame the way funding has been cut. Our library is only open part-time now.”

I started to reply but broke off as Alison paused by my chair. Her expression was that of someone about to deliver bad news. “Carter, it looks like you’re going to have a roommate after all.”

“Oh.” I tried not to sound as unenthusiastic as I felt, but I must not have covered too well.

Alison said apologetically, “Because you originally booked a shared room, we did warn you that if someone turned up needing a roommate—”

“I know. It’s okay.”

And I did know, but I’d sort of figured since no one had turned up before the official start of the tour, I was home safe. It seemed not. Yet another reason I should have cancelled. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sharing my sleeping space with a stranger.

“His name is John Knight and he’s another American,” Alison said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get his bio in time, but I understand he’s an insurance salesman from San Diego. Which is right around the corner from you. So that’s nice, right?” Her smile was hopeful.

Well, it was a one-hundred-and-twenty-mile corner, so…sort of. I summoned up another of those halfhearted smiles for her. “Sure. Great. When’s he joining us?”

“He’s flying in tonight.”

God. Not even a single night on my own.

I said with fake heartiness, “Great! I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

She looked relieved and moved on through the obstacle course of chairs, purses and people.

At the table behind me the conversation had turned, inevitably, to Vanessa’s notorious past. I glanced over tantalizing descriptions of fried sea bass with chili sauce, turmeric king prawns and massaman lamb curry while listening to the debate on whether someone convicted of murder should have been appointed to the Order of the British Empire.

This was a common point of contention even with Vanessa’s most devoted fans. Most agreed that her youth at the time of Donald Kresley’s murder—and the fact that Vanessa had completed her full sentence as a model prisoner—made for sufficient atonement. But awarding her a DBE, making her a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, was a step too far even for most Americans.

And yet the honor was rightfully bestowed on one who had made significant artistic contribution to the British Empire, and if that wasn’t Vanessa Rayburn with her 154-book-long, still-bestselling backlist, who was it?

“I think maybe she was awarded the DBE before the news of her real identity came out,” a woman said.

“No, that’s not correct.” The voice was female and definitely English. “I remember the fuss when it was announced. People picketed.”

“That was such a long time ago. Almost thirty years.”

“It doesn’t seem so very long ago to me.”

I missed the rest of the conversation as our server arrived and the important business of ordering cocktails began.

Once drinks and meals had been ordered, Alison rose and gave a brief welcome speech and then sped through the evening’s business.

“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, therefore timeliness is essential. All luggage must be out of the rooms and in the hallways by seven every morning so that Hamish can get them stowed on the bus. Otherwise you’ll have to carry your bag down yourself. Change seats on the bus every day to ensure everyone is getting a turn at the windows and do try to sit with different people each night at dinner. You never know. You might meet your new best friend on this trip.”

I glanced at Ben, who happened to be looking my way. We shared another of those self-conscious smiles and hastily averted gazes.

By the time Alison sped through the subject of paid toilets, tipping and daily menus, fragrant platters of Bangkok street-style pork skewers marinated with honey and coriander root, chicken satay, spring rolls, and savory mini-tartlets stuffed with cod and flavored with lemongrass and lime leaf, were circulating from table to table.

Rather than allowing us to relax and eat, Alison—proving that all tour guides have a sadistic streak—suggested we take turns rising to introduce ourselves to the group.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pay attention, but I hadn’t eaten since somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, and the names and faces were beginning to fade into a hypoglycemic haze.

With the exception of Yvonne, who took notes, my tablemates nibbled on appetizers and listened politely as the Poe sisters, Rose, Trevor and Vance introduced themselves.

Trevor kept his opening remarks uncharacteristically terse. Vance burbled. There really wasn’t any other word for it. Or if there was, I didn’t want to work that hard to find it.

“I’m Vance Stafford. I’m a former model and actor, in case I look familiar to you. Nowadays I work as a dental hygienist.” He flashed a big white smile, giving the American Dental Association some free advertising. “I’m traveling with Trev. This trip is a not-quite-but-almost honeymoon for us.” He beamed at Trevor. Trevor smiled uncomfortably, met my eyes, glared, and looked away.

Vance sat down amid a chorus of “awws” and a smattering of applause. There we had it: the token cute gay couple. And my role? Wicked Queen?

I had made some bad decisions in my time, but coming on this trip? It topped the list.

Our table raced through the introductions, earning Alison’s approval.

At the table behind us were Jim and Laurel Matsukado from San Francisco, Wally and Nedda Kramer from New York, Daya and Roddy Bittywiddy, an English couple who resided in Devon—in fact, the only non-Americans in the tour group—and Sally Daly, a self-described “divorcée” and bookseller from New Mexico.

Alison introduced our bus driver as Hamish MacLaren. Hamish looked to be in his late eighties and wore glasses that might have been borrowed from Mr. Magoo. He offered animated and absolutely unintelligible words of greeting, which received a hearty round of applause.

That concluded the formalities and we were finally left in peace to enjoy our really delicious dinner. Everyone seemed excited and enthusiastic on this eve of adventure, and the air crackled with happy anticipation.

The meal finished with fresh fruit fondue. Ordinarily, sharing fondue with strangers would not be one of my favorite things, but I was so tired by then, I was past caring. We could have been scooping microbes from test tubes, and I wouldn’t have flinched.

At last, replete and exhausted, we headed outside into the wet night.

The Scherfs and Rices, having arrived in Scotland a day earlier, opted to explore Glasgow’s nightlife, but the jet-lagged rest of us made straight for the waiting taxis. I ended up with the Poe sisters again, and we were joined by Ben and his mother. It was a much, much quieter drive back to the Caledonian Inn. In fact, Yvonne was snoring softly, her head on Ben’s shoulder, by the time we arrived at the hotel.

I went straight up to my room, undressed, unpacked what I needed for the night, and used the hotel Wi-Fi to verify that no one urgently needed to hear from me. I wasn’t sure if I was reassured or disappointed when it turned out that I had so far not been missed.

I was brushing my teeth when the door jumped beneath a brisk and decisive knock.

John Knight, I presumed. I rinsed, spat, plastered what I hoped was a pleasant smile on my face and opened the door.

Not John Knight. My midnight caller was a wee five feet six in his stockinged feet, fair and not all that handsome when he was scowling—which was most of the time he was around me. In short—ha!—it was Trevor.

“I can’t believe you’d do this, Carter,” he said.

Two Feet Under by Charlie Cochrane
Chapter One
“And this is our safeguarding checklist. If you’ll just sign it to show you’ve read it and agree to abide by it . . .”

Adam nodded, read the sheet of paper, then signed and dated it at the bottom.

Adam Matthews, deputy headteacher. 10th April.

He fancied writing the job title again, as it had felt so good the first time. His first deputy headship, and a real chance to put a feather in his cap, given that Culdover Church of England Primary School officially “required improvement.” He’d been recruited to help the new headteacher light such a firework under the staff that by the next time the Ofsted inspectors popped their cheery heads round the door, they’d rate the school as at least “good.”

Before any of that could happen, though, he’d have to go through the standard induction procedure, almost all of it necessary, some of it boring, and some elements—like safeguarding and the location of the men’s toilets—vital.

Soon everything was done and he had the chance to familiarise himself with the place, including sitting in with his year-six class, which he’d be taking two days a week and who were at present under the beady eye of Mrs. Daniel, the teacher who’d have them the other three days. The pupils seemed a cheery enough bunch, eager to show their new deputy just how good they were at maths. He sat down at one of the tables, where they were mulling over fractions, although it wasn’t long before they wanted to bombard him with questions, a new member of staff—and that rare thing in primary education, a man—being much more interesting than halves and quarters. In the end, Adam, Mrs. Daniel, and the pupils came to the arrangement of making the last five minutes of the lesson a question-and-answer session, in return for which the children would work like billy-o up to that point. The plan worked.

“Which team do you support, sir?” opened the official interrogation.

“Saracens for rugby. Abbotston for football.”

“Are you married, sir?”

“No.” Until he had an idea of how mature his class were, he’d better keep quiet about the exact nature of his relationship. “But I’ve got a Newfoundland dog called Campbell.”

“Wow! Will you bring in a picture of him?”

“Of course. I’ll put it on the desk so he can keep an eye on you all.” One day perhaps he’d also be able to bring a picture of Robin in to show the class, but that was probably wishful thinking. Children had open minds, yet too often they got filled with an imitation of their parents’ prejudices.

“I interviewed you, sir,” one spiky-haired lad piped up.

“I remember.” The school-council part of the interview process had been trickier than facing the headteacher and governors. “You asked me to sing a song.”

“Yeah. And you made us sing one instead.” The boy chortled, his classmates joining in.

“I remember. No point in getting old if you can’t get cunning.” Adam grinned. “Right, one last question.”

One of the girls—with an expression more serious than normally came with her age—raised her hand among a sea of others. She waited for Adam’s nod before asking, “Which school did you used to teach at?”

Adam forced his grin to keep going. “Lindenshaw. Lindenshaw St. Crispin’s, to give it its full name.”

“Oh.” The girl turned pale. “My dad told me they had a murder there. Is that why you left?”

Adam paused. So the school’s reputation was preceding it?

Mrs. Daniel, obviously flustered, said, “I don’t think we should talk about things like that.”

Adam pursed his lips. “I think I disagree. It’s better to have stuff in the open, and I’d have hoped this class is mature enough to discuss matters like that sensibly.” How best to describe what had happened? Simply stating that there’d been a murder in what had been the children’s kitchen, where the pupils had once learned to make semi-inedible fairy cakes, might put these pupils off cookery for life. “Somebody was killed, which is a really rare thing to happen in a school. None of the children were ever at risk, and the police found the killer very quickly.”

And he’d found a partner in the process, which had been the best outcome from a wretched time.

The spiky-haired lad chipped in again. “My dad says that you probably can’t go anywhere in Culdover without walking over a place where someone’s died. What with the Romans and the air raids and—”

Adam raised a hand. “I think that’s where we’ll leave it. Time for lunch.”

The class left their chairs, lined up at the door, and waited for Mrs. Daniel to let them out to their pre-lunch play. Just another first day of term for the children at Culdover, but for Adam it was that cliché: “the first day of the rest of his life.” He’d miss Lindenshaw school—that went without saying, especially as it was starting to show a real improvement under the new headteacher—but his regrets would be few. The place held far too many unpleasant memories and associations now, and not simply in terms of the murder. Just last term a young teacher had thrown away the chances of a good career because he couldn’t keep his fists to himself.

Worst of all, but predating Adam’s sojourn at Lindenshaw, it had been Robin’s school, where he’d been subjected to continual bullying.

Adam had promised to keep in touch with those of his colleagues who’d become genuine friends, but the building itself . . . The sooner Adam could shake the dust of the place off his shoes, the better.

He decided to spend his lunchtime mingling in the Culdover staffroom, getting into the normal school routine as soon as possible, then he’d give Robin a quick bell, and he wouldn’t need to wander a quarter of a mile to do so. Another thing he wouldn’t miss about Lindenshaw school was the mobile-phone black spot it sat in, which made reception a hit-or-miss affair unless you braved the women’s toilets, where the signal was said to be perfect. Adam had always opted for the quarter-mile walk.

“How’s it going?” Robin said when Adam had done his mingling and reported in.

“Much as expected.” What was there to say about a typical first morning? “Friendly place, good team, interesting pupils.”

Robin sniggered. “Interesting as in potential psychopaths?”

“Do you think of everyone as a potential criminal?”

“Only if they come from Culdover.”

“Don’t let them hear you say that.” Culdover was a typically English small town, one that had been distinctly posh in its heyday although it had gone downhill post-war, and parts of it were looking rather ropey. Regeneration had made a difference in some places, but the preponderance of charity shops on the high street showed there was plenty still to do. “Busy today?”

“Usual sort of stuff. Spate of upmarket car thefts. Case of dognapping too. I won’t tell Campbell.”

“Make sure you don’t. He’ll have nightmares.” At work one of them may report to a headteacher and the other to a chief superintendent, but at home the roost was ruled by a large, black, wet-nosed Newfoundland dog, whose self-estimation had been swelled by his having saved both of his masters’ lives on separate occasions.

“Got to go. Villains to nick. See you tonight.”

“Yeah. Don’t forget the milk.”

“I won’t.”

Adam smiled. Their house was well stocked with semi-skimmed, but “don’t forget the milk” and its response “I won’t,” or some slight variation on them, had become code for “I love you” and “I love you too,” which couldn’t always be used. Even if Robin and Adam were no longer in the closet, sometimes common sense had to prevail.

* * * * * * *

Robin ended the call, finished his sandwich, and got back to his paperwork. He glanced up at the clock, only to find that it wasn’t where he’d expected. How long was it going to take him to get used to this new office and new location?

Abbotston nick wasn’t proving so bad in the wake of chucking out the rotten apples. It was better still, Robin believed, now that he was the acting chief inspector with every prospect of that position being made permanent in the months to come, so long as he kept his nose clean and his clear-up rate healthy. It was a pity Anderson hadn’t come with him, but his erstwhile sergeant had been bumped up to acting inspector back at Robin’s previous station, Stanebridge. He’d miss the man’s spiky sense of humour and his sudden bursts of enlightenment, if not his driving style.

Crime was crime anywhere, from big city to leafy village—the Lindenshaw murders had proved that—but the sheer scale of things came into play at Abbotston. It was larger than Stanebridge, much more sprawling, and so there was extra everything, from industrial estates to coffee shops to drug dealers, even if murder was still thankfully rare. It had grown bigger than Kinechester, which was the county “capital” and had been since the time of the Romans, who’d made their base there and left their stamp in the layout of the streets, although Abbotston lacked the history which had secured Kinechester’s importance. At least Abbotston was a step up from Culdover, which might give Robin some bragging rights over Adam if they were into that kind of new-job-related one-upmanship. But they weren’t.

Campbell would never tolerate that, anyway.

A rap at his door—thank goodness he remembered where that was—made Robin look up from the papers on his desk. “Yes?”

“Got a bit of an odd one, sir.” Pru Davis, also newly promoted and blossoming in her role as his sergeant, poked her head round Robin’s door, her brow wrinkled in bewilderment.

“Go on.” Robin had always had a lot of time for Pru. She’d been a keen-as-mustard and deadly efficient constable at Stanebridge, and when the chance to bring her along to Abbotston presented itself, he’d snapped it up. While the pair of them had to make sure they didn’t form an ex-Stanebridge clique—there was history between the two stations that wouldn’t make for an easy ride initially—she’d be moral support for him. The fact she was so good at her job, not something that could be traditionally said for Abbotston coppers, made her presence a win all round, although it carried the risk of alienating the pair further from the locals.

They had a subtle path to walk and a lot of diplomacy to deliver.

“Got a dead body turned up at an archaeological site.”

Robin frowned. “Is this a wind-up? Abbotston city slickers trying to put one over on the yokels?”

“I wish it was.” Pru entered the room, notepad at the ready. “It came from Lewington, down on the front desk, so I doubt it’s a wind-up.”

Lewington appeared to be an old-fashioned sort of career copper, and he had a reputation of not suffering fools gladly. His son was something to do with the BBC sports department so allegedly always had a bit of inside gossip on who to put your shirt on for the Grand National.

“Added to which,” Pru continued, “I recognised the name of the bloke who rang it in, so it seems legitimate. Up at Culford Roman villa.”

“You’d better take a seat and tell me all about it.” Robin jotted down notes while his sergeant gave a brief but pertinent outline. They’d been contacted by Charlie Howarth, who was the bloke at Kinechester council in charge of historic sites, and who’d apparently pulled Pru’s pigtails when they were both only five, back in Risca.


“Near Newport. Land of my fathers and all that.”

“‘Cwm Rhondda’ and ‘Delilah’?” Robin grinned. “How did you both end up here?”

“Took a wrong turn off the M4.” Pru rolled her eyes. “Charlie was bound to end up by here, given all the history in the area.”

Robin winced at the Welsh argot, which had a habit of coming and going in Pru’s voice. She was right about the history, though; the local area was awash with it. He’d learned back in school that Culdover had been occupied for thousands of years because of its abundant natural resources. Even Kinechester wasn’t as old as Culdover, which had been knocking around since the Neolithic. Like so many places throughout England, it retained evidence of its previous occupants, and many of the local schools made the most of that fact, focussing their trips on both the Iron Age hill fort and Roman villa not five miles from the town centre.

School trips. Please God there’d not be a connection to Adam this time.

Robin refocussed. “What did this mate of yours have to report? It’s not one of those routine ‘found a body; we’re pretty sure it’s from the time of Cromwell, but we have to call it in just in case’ things?”

“Looks unlikely. They’ve had the doctor in.” Pru’s eyebrows shot up. “To declare that this poor soul really is dead despite it being obvious she must have been there months.”

“It’s procedure. Is Grace there too?” Grace was Robin’s favourite crime-scene investigator. If anything had ever evaded her notice, he wasn’t aware of it.

“On route, at least.”

“So what do we know?”

“A routine, planned dig started up earlier today, exploring an area near the villa where somebody reckoned they’d found a new range of buildings. New as in unexcavated.”

“I understand that. I have watched Time Team.” It was one of his mother’s favourite programmes.

“Better you than me, sir, but don’t tell Charlie. He’s at the site, if we want to drive down there.”

Robin fished out his car keys. “Let’s go and hear what he’s got to say.”

There was no easy route directly from Abbotston to Culford; the main roads made two sides of a triangle, and the third was formed of winding country lanes. The old Roman road, which ran straight and true through Tythebarn and other villages and which formed the foundation of Culdover High Street, was the wrong side of the site to be of help.

When they arrived at the car park, Charlie Howarth was already waiting for them, chatting on his phone while trying to sign off some paperwork.

“Sorry about that,” he said in a deep Welsh accent as he ended the call. “Pru, you don’t age, do you?”

“Got a picture in the attic.” Pru’s voice reflected its roots more than normal. “Chief Inspector Bright wants to know all about what you found.”

“Not me who found it. One of the diggers, poor girl.” Howarth—what sort of a Welsh name was that?—winced. “I was going to send her home but thought you might want to interview her.”

“Quite right.” Robin nodded. “Tell us what you can.”

“We started digging the area this morning. Just by hand, nothing mechanical. This is supposed to be a virgin bit of the site, excavation-wise, so we had no idea what we’d turn up.”

“Why here in particular?” Robin asked.

“The university got a grant to do a geophysical survey of the whole area. Do you know what that is?”

“Of course,” Robin snapped. “We’re the Time Team generation. Did you think you’d found a plunge pool?”

Howarth inclined his head. “Sorry. I was being patronising.”

“Apology accepted.” Robin could be gracious when required.

“We weren’t sure what we’d found, to be honest, only that there were signs of underlying structures. Unlike the people on Time Team, we don’t make assumptions until we’ve exposed the archaeology.”

“So what did the digger expose?”

“Part of a mosaic to start with. Bit of a small panel, with some sort of substrate for the tesserae to be embedded in, just lying in the topsoil.” Howarth indicated the size of the thing with his hands. “Very unusual, which is what got Kirsty—that’s the digger I mentioned—so puzzled in the first place. She’d barely raked off anything else when she found black plastic. A sheet or a large strong bag. It was slightly ripped, and hair was protruding through the tear.”

“We’ll get her to supply the details.” Robin couldn’t shake off an instant, and uncharacteristically unprofessional, dislike he’d taken to this witness. “You said this was virgin ground, but if somebody buried a body, then the area must have been disturbed. Did nobody notice?”

Howarth shrugged. “That bit of ground’s been used for all sorts of things over the years, because people didn’t think it was important. There used to be a children’s play area there, but it was taken out. Health and Safety.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s been a right mess since then, so if somebody was careful enough, they could cover their tracks.”

“Hm. How easy is it to get into this place out of hours?”

“The main building’s locked and alarmed.” That made sense, given that the mosaics and hypocaust ruins were in great condition. Culford wasn’t Fishbourne, but it remained impressive. “The rest of the site just has a fence. We weren’t aware of anything that needed protecting.” Howarth gave Pru a rueful smile.

She returned the smile, then adopted her most professional air. “You’ll appreciate there are questions we’ll have to ask you, and statements to be taken, both now and as the details emerge. For a start, are you aware of anyone associated with the site going missing?”

Howarth shook his head. “No, all women accounted for.”

“How do you know it’s a woman we’re concerned with?” Robin interjected.

“Oh, sorry. Kirsty said she reckoned the corpse was female, from what she could see of the hair. Have I spoken out of turn?”

Robin narrowed his eyes. “We don’t make any assumptions about identifying the victim until we hear from our experts.”

“I apologise once more. Thing is, our staff here is predominantly female. We only have one paid employee, Clare, who runs the administration and just about everything else. She gets helped by volunteers so we can have the site open as much as possible.”

“I’ll get a full list of names from Clare, thank you. In the interim, I’d like to talk to the student who found the body. Kirsty, did you say?”

“That’s right. She’ll be up in the staffroom, which is our posh term for that Portakabin.” Howarth pointed towards a dingy green building. “Do you want to talk to her now?”

“After we check in at the scene. Thanks,” Robin added, remembering his manners.

“Shall I take you . . .?”

“No thanks, Charlie.” Pru cuffed his arm. “You’ll be busy enough putting off the school trips and the public. This place needs to be shut to everyone for the time being.”

Howarth’s face dropped. “Hell. I never thought. I’ll get onto it.”

As Robin and his sergeant made their way from the car park to where a white tent indicated the victim’s last resting place, he cast a glance over his shoulder. Howarth was on his phone, talking animatedly. “Is he always like that?”

“Like what, sir?”

“Gets up people’s noses and they can’t work out why.”

Pru laughed. “Yeah, that’s him. Or at least it is if you’re a bloke. They find him a bit smarmy.”

“And what’s he like with women?”

“A charmer. No harm in him, though. He’s always struck me as happily married.” They halted at the point where they’d have to slip on at least gloves and overshoes if they wanted to get closer to the shallow grave. “I suspect if a woman misread the charm and made him an offer, he’d run a mile.”


The appearance of Grace, emerging from the tent with a cheery wave, focussed their attention away from smarmy site directors towards the gruesome minutiae. “Coming over for a look, sir?”

“When we’re kitted up. Want us in bunny suits?”

“Please. Whole kit and caboodle. This isn’t Midsomer.” Grace had no time for television crime dramas and the way they played fast and loose with crime scenes and forensic matters. Shoddy procedures and the depiction of seemingly limitless budgets; both riled her. “The doctor has been, to say that she’s definitely dead. He’ll do the postmortem tomorrow.”

“How long has the body been there?” Robin asked once they were inside the tent and had their first glimpse of the corpse. The dismal sight of somebody’s child, somebody’s loved one, cut off in their prime was one Robin would never get used to.

Grace wrinkled her nose. “She’s been there months, rather than days. I’ll be able to give you a better answer when all the tests are done.”

“Definitely a she?” Pru clarified. She waited for Grace’s nod before continuing. “Any idea how old she was?”

“About twenties or thirties, from what I can see of the body and clothes. Although what I can expose has been restricted by the plastic she was wrapped in. We’ll confirm everything as soon as we can, along with cause of death and all the rest of it. I suspect she’s had blunt trauma to the forehead, but she’s in a pretty bad way. The doctor didn’t like the state of the bit of her face that’s visible.”

“Series of blows?”

Grace shrugged. “Can’t tell as yet. Maybe something that happened postmortem. When I know, you will.”

Robin, with a quickly hidden shudder, glanced at the dead woman again. “Do we have a name for her?”

“Not that I’ve found yet. But it’s going to be a slow process. Don’t want to miss anything by rushing.” Grace sighed. “Poor lass.”

“Poor lass, indeed.” Robin forced a rueful smile. “Get all the information you can. She deserves it.”

“I’ll do my best. And then we’ll see what Greg and his pals can make of it.”

“We’ll leave you to it.” The sooner Grace could collect the samples, the sooner they’d be off to the lab for examination.

Once they’d left the CSI to get on with her job and were heading off to find the digger who’d uncovered the body, Pru—pale faced—rubbed her hands as though ridding the grave dirt from them.

“First corpse?” Robin asked, not unkindly. Death took some getting used to.

“First murder, assuming it is a murder. Seen a couple of RTAs.” Thank God that was still the most likely way the local police came across dead bodies. “I imagined it would be the same.”

“But it isn’t?”

“No, and I can’t work out why.” She halted. “Ditch me if I’m being a sea anchor, sir. There must be some of the Abbotston team who’ve got more experience than I have.”

“There are. And they’ll have plenty to exercise that experience on, especially if there’s no ID on our victim. At least you didn’t puke all over your shoes, like Anderson did.”

“Did he?”

“Do you think I’m lying?” He was, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to believe the story for a while. “Fancy a cuppa? Your pal must be able to rustle us up one.”

“No, thanks.” They’d reached the Portakabin door. “He’d only try to find somebody with two X chromosomes to do it. He wouldn’t know one end of a kettle from another.”

Robin grinned, then immediately changed his expression for one suitably serious for interviewing a witness.

Kirsty—they guessed it was her from the name emblazoned on the back of her sweatshirt—was sitting at a table with what appeared to be a colleague. Both had their hands clenched around mugs which somehow looked far too large for them. The Portakabin was comfortably enough decked out, having—apart from the table and chairs—several more comfy armchairs, a sagging sofa, a tiny kitchenette, and another section which appeared to be set aside for the cleaning and sorting of artefacts. A couple of PCs, surprisingly modern, completed the contents. The windows provided a scenic view of the car park, which could be blocked out by blinds when the sight of school coaches and snotty pupils became overwhelming.

The inevitably edgy introductions were made, and Kirsty’s colleague, Abby, offered to make them all a fresh brew, which Robin readily accepted.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Kirsty said, without being asked. “I mean, I’m used to turning up burials or cremations, especially on the edges of Roman sites, but I knew as soon as I saw it that this wasn’t old.”

“Can we take this from the beginning, please? Assume we don’t know a thing,” Robin said in what he hoped were soothing tones. The girl was clearly nervous, and some important element might be lost if they didn’t go through things logically.

“Okay.” Kirsty gave a little background to the dig, which matched what Howarth had said. She and Abby had arrived that morning as the advance guard of a team from Kinechester University, and they’d barely got a couple of inches down when they’d come to the mosaic.

“Where’s that now?” Pru enquired.

“In a finds tray, up by the trench. We lifted it whole, didn’t we, Abby?” she called across to where her colleague was doling teabags into a pot.

“We did.” Abby gestured with her teaspoon, miming the procedure. “After we’d recorded it and everything. It was obvious it wasn’t in situ, so we thought it must have been backfill from some previous dig we didn’t know anything about, or maybe from when they put the play park in.”

“Yes”—Kirsty nodded—“we knew before we started that the ground had been disturbed time and again, and who knows how careless people had been.”

Robin wasn’t sure that the contractors who put in or took out the play equipment would have been allowed to be so gung-ho with any artefacts they turned up, but he let it ride. “And then?”

“And then we cleared back a bit more and found the plastic. I wondered at first if it was from landscaping. You know, people put down black plastic to inhibit weeds. I made some stupid joke about how it wasn’t typically Anglo-Saxon or anything like that, and then I called Abby over. She spotted the tear in the bag and the hair sticking through, so she said we should leave everything as it was.”

“Quite right.” Pru smiled encouragingly. “Did you turn up any other finds before you shut digging down for the day?”

“No. We weren’t expecting to, given how little we’d got down into the soil. If the archaeology is at the same level as the villa, we’d have expected to go down another three feet.”

“Why didn’t you use a mechanical digger to take off the top layers?” Robin had seen that on Time Team too.

“Because we knew the top layers were likely to have already been disturbed and didn’t want to risk missing artefacts in the topsoil.” Abby brought over the steaming mugs of tea, to a chorus of gratitude. “Just as well, isn’t it?”

“Indeed.” Robin blew on his tea, then risked a semi-scalding sip. “Why didn’t you ring us? Protocol?”

“Lack of phone signal. You know what it’s like round here.” Kirsty, taking a draught, didn’t seem to notice how hot the tea was. Maybe she had it milky enough to counteract the heat. “I came down to the office, where Charlie was. Mr. Howarth. He came up to double-check, then went to ring you. You can get signal in here.”

“What did he double-check?” Pru asked.

The students rolled their eyes. “That we hadn’t made a mistake and misidentified a body that was too old to be of interest to you. As though the Romans used plastic.”

“I thought you had to report all bodies, unless they were found properly interred in a burial ground.” Pru looked to Robin, who both shrugged and nodded.

“Always best to call us in.” He took another sip of tea. “Have you any idea of who the dead woman might be?”

Abby and Kirsty shared a How the hell are we supposed to know? glance before shaking their heads.

“I know, it sounds a daft question.” Robin smiled. “But you’d be surprised. People hear things, about somebody who’s gone missing but not been reported to the police, or rumours about odd happenings. Office gossip that turns out to have a basis in truth.”

“Sorry.” Kirsty shook her head again. “Nothing.”

“That mosaic’s a bit off, though,” Abby remarked. “I took a picture of it to send to my tutor. She reckons it’s totally the wrong design and era for this site. She said it looked like a Victorian antiquarian might have hacked it out of somewhere else.”

“Seems fishy,” Robin agreed. “It was definitely on top of the sheeting? The dead woman couldn’t have been holding it in her hands or anything?”

“I doubt it.” Kirsty frowned. “Not unless the plastic had all been disturbed already.”

“Thank you.” Robin took another swig of tea. He’d never be able to manage the entire mug. “We’ll get a constable up here to take formal statements from you both, as well as anybody else who’s on-site. You’d think somebody would have seen or heard something suspicious.”

Abby snorted. “Don’t count on it. I can think of people in my department who’d notice a flint flake three metres away but not spot a bollard until they walked into it.”

“Let’s hope you’re wrong.” Robin had an awful feeling she wouldn’t be.

Chapter Two
Adam had just put the house phone down as Robin trudged through the front door. Campbell must have heard the approach of his “other” master well before Adam did, as he was ready and waiting to pounce.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be home so early,” Adam said, then gave his partner a kiss.

“Sorry about that. You’d better tell your sugar daddy to skedaddle.” Robin, dog in tow, edged towards the kitchen. “Was that him on the phone?”

“No. The usual ‘We’re from Microsoft and there’s something wrong with your computer.’ I always say, ‘Microsoft? That’s very interesting,’ then clam up. They panic and put the phone down.”

“Good tactic.” Robin yawned. “I told the team to make the most of this evening. Once we have an identification of the dead woman, it’ll be all hands to the deck.”

“Dinner won’t be long. Saturday’s chilli con carne from the freezer.”

“Sounds like heaven.” Robin kicked off his shoes. He’d texted earlier, from the site, to warn Adam a new investigation was afoot, although Adam had already guessed that was the case, as the incident had been on the local news feed. Once the folks from Culford villa had cancelled the school trip which was due the next day, and the characteristic blue-and-white police tape had appeared, word had spread.

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not a lot to say at present.” Robin stroked Campbell’s ears.

“What’s that on your sleeve?”

“Where?” Robin twisted about.

“Left elbow. Looks like oil. Or rust. Or both.”

“That’s because it is oil. Sod.”

“Take it off and I’ll put something on it. There’s a can of Stain Devil under the sink.”

Robin slid the jacket off, grimacing at the smear on what he’d always described as one of his favourite items of clothing. “This cost me a small fortune. Got it in a little shop down an alley in Bath.”

“No wonder it cost so much.” Adam started work on the stain. Little domestic tasks such as this formed part of the process of bringing them closer and keeping them together. It was like being a married couple, only not quite.

“That jacket’s almost as precious to me as Campbell, even if it’s never saved my life.” Robin peered over Adam’s shoulder. “I rubbed up against some rust bucket of a truck in Culford car park. Must have done it then.”

“No wonder the people on Time Team always look like they’ve borrowed their outfits off the local scarecrows. Perhaps it’s an occupational hazard.”

“Don’t you start. I feel like I’ve spent all day fending off daft ‘of course you’ve found a mosaic at a Roman site’ type quips.”

“Mosaic? There wasn’t anything about that on the news.” Adam, having performed first aid on the jacket, opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer and one of sparkling water.

“Just the water, please. I’ll keep the beer for when I really need it. Thanks.” Robin took the bottle. “And yes, we’ve kept the mosaic quiet for the moment.”

He gave a résumé of what they’d found out about that morning: the ground-penetrating survey, the possible bathhouse, the university students beginning to dig.

Adam winced when he reached the part about finding the body. “Poor girls. Do you think it’s worse to find a fresh corpse or an old one? Or are they equally gruesome?”

“You should ask Pru Davis that. I thought she was going to lose her breakfast, although she held it together in the end. Anyway, this bit of mosaic was on top of the body, a whole section of it embedded in whatever Romans used to hold their tesserae. I suspect the archaeology mob is more puzzled about that than about the dead woman. Wrong era, wrong place, wrong everything.”

“Sounds odd.”

“Sounds bloody peculiar. And who knows how it links to the murder.”

“It’ll make sense in the end.” Adam began to plate up their food. “Like a jigsaw when you can’t see where a particular bit goes until you’ve got the ones that fit round it. Then you say, ‘Bloody hell, I never realised it went there!’”

Robin grinned. “Are you always so aggressive when you do jigsaws?”

Adam made a face. “You know what I mean. Ooh, and before I forget, your mum rang. Must have heard about the case on the news and knew you’d have your nose stuck in it.”

“You leave my nose alone.” Robin chuckled. “Mum says I’ve got a cute nose.”

“She’d say you had a cute nose if you were Cyrano de Bergerac, though, wouldn’t she? Mums do. Anyway, she sends her love, says she’ll be thinking of you and you’re not to work too hard.”

“Fat chance of that.”

They gave the next few minutes over to eating and preventing the dog from stealing anything from their plates.

“It’ll upset your tummy, young man,” Robin said, fending off a furry snout. “Basket. Go on.”

Campbell grudgingly obeyed, curling up in his basket with a mortally offended look on his face.

“You can have a biscuit in a minute if you’re good. You as well,” Adam added, turning to address Robin rather than the dog. “Sandra got in some Abernethys from Waitrose. And Bonios for ‘himself’.”

“I have no idea how I survived in the past without a cleaner cum Jill-of-all-trades to pander to my every biscuit whim.”

“Oi!” Adam snorted. “What about me? How did you survive without a handsome teacher in your life?”

“I’ve no bloody idea about that, either.” Robin scooped up the last bit of food from his plate with a satisfied sigh. “Good cook, good lover, sympathetic ear. What more could a man want?”

“A quick solution to this case?”

Robin blew out his cheeks. “Too true. Not sure we’ll get it, though. Nothing useful showed up on the initial trawl through missing-persons reports, despite the description we have. Grace says she’s a slim thing, size eight or ten, perhaps, and that the clothes are standard UK brands like White Stuff and Fat Face. Preliminary thoughts are that she isn’t a visitor from abroad. Auburn hair, seems natural.”

Adam cleared away the plates, then put the kettle on. “Now we’ve finished eating, can I ask whether she’s recognisable?”

Robin winced. “Grace has a feeling the body was originally not wrapped in plastic. Something got at the face and had a gnaw.”

“Ew.” Adam raised his hand. “I get the picture. Don’t say any more or you’ll put Campbell off his Bonio.”

“I’ll get him one while you make a cuppa.”

“Deal.” Everything seemed more manageable with a cup of tea in one’s hand. “You said, ‘originally.’ Was she reburied?”

“Seems like it. Grace’s guess is somewhere around six months ago, give or take a bit either way. That supports what the site administrator said—they had a Community Payback group in to weed and dig over some of the tattier parts of the site. That would have been best part of a year ago, and she wasn’t in the ground then.”

“May sort of time?” Adam nodded. “And leaving a nice turned-over piece of ground for somebody to make use of. Who’d notice another bit of disturbance?”

“Indeed. Especially out there. They’d think it was a fox or badger having a poke. Look at the mess Campbell can make if we let him.”

The dog raised his head at the sound of his name, clearly decided there was no food involved in the conversation, and snuggled back down again with the remains of his biscuit.

“What are your thoughts on the mosaic?” Adam asked.

“No thoughts, simply questions, like how it entered the scene. Has it always been with the body? Was it put in the second time, or just lying around in the topsoil and got interred by accident or what?” Robin watched as the dog nibbled his biscuit. “I’ve never seen a hound who eats so daintily when he wants to.”

“He’s smart. He’s learned it makes the food last longer.” Adam couldn’t help but smile at the two beings he valued most. Campbell could easily have been envious of Robin suddenly appearing in his master’s life, but from the start he’d been as besotted with the policeman as Adam had been. “Smart but sentimental.”

“Then he takes after you.”

“Guilty as charged.” Adam kept an old mobile phone upstairs, SIM card intact, because it had saved the last text his grandfather had ever sent him. When he’d first told Robin about it, they’d both been in tears— He should get back to talking about the murder, or he’d be getting sentimental again. “Why did nobody notice that the area had been disturbed twice?”

“It wasn’t necessarily disturbed twice. The body might have been somewhere else the first time and moved because Culford was a better spot. That’s up to Grace and her cronies to work out. I get the impression the area was overgrown and ignored. They’ve had to clear a mass of weeds already.”

Adam nodded. “If you’d enough nous to choose your spot behind a bush and pick your time, I suppose you could get away with murder. Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound flippant.”

“I know. We all use those expressions too casually.” Robin strolled over, put his arms round Adam’s waist, and leaned into his back. “Next few days are going to be busy. If I forget to say ‘I love you,’ you won’t forget that it’s a fact, will you?”

“I promise.” Adam, thoughts heading trouser-wards, caressed Robin’s hand before the arrival of a pair of massive paws and a cold, wet nose broke the romantic moment.

“Yes, and we both love you too.” Robin stroked Campbell’s head. “Now hop it to your basket so Daddy can give Daddy a kiss.”

Eventually the dog got the message, but the kiss had barely started before the unwelcome tones of Robin’s phone interrupted it.

“Oh, hell. Sorry.” Robin grabbed it off the breakfast bar and managed, “Hello?” before heading for the hall. It had to be work, given the snatches of conversation Adam could hear; developments on the case, no doubt. Chances were Robin would have to go in to work again, just as the evening was looking promising. Hopefully the traffic wouldn’t be too bad at this time of the day so he could make a swift journey there and back.

Commuting from their house in Lindenshaw to both Abbotston and Culdover was viable, albeit logic kept telling them that a move would reduce travelling time for both. With the money from the sale of Robin’s flat, they had a sizeable deposit to lay down on another property, although it would have to be exactly the right place to warrant selling up their Lindenshaw home, especially given the house’s history. It had belonged to Adam’s grandparents, and it had been the site of all the significant moments in their romance, even when it hadn’t been an actual romance, simply an illicit longing between detective and witness.

Didn’t people reckon that moving house was a stressful experience at the best of times? So shouldn’t any potential move have to be worthwhile? And, of course, any prospective property would have to pass the most stringent of tests, specifically that of Campbell, who’d need to sniff every bush and tree in the garden to assess its suitability for leg cocking. And the residents of Lindenshaw wouldn’t appreciate having their favourite hound—much petted and fussed over by locals when he was taken out for walks—being relocated to a place where other lucky so-and-sos would be able to ruffle his fur and have his wet nose stuck on their legs.

“Sorry about that.” Robin’s reappearance in the kitchen roused Adam from his thoughts.

“You really don’t need to apologise about work calls any more than I do about the interminable marking and planning. It goes with the job.” Adam wrinkled his nose. “Time for that cuppa before you go?”

“Go?” Robin frowned. “Oh, no, this can wait until morning. We’ve had a report of a missing archaeologist. Right sort of age, although not from this area. London. Somebody saw the story on the BBC news website, remembered the lass disappearing, and got in touch. I’ll have to go up there, assuming that a more local or viable connection doesn’t turn up.”

Adam nodded. “I guess it’s dangerous to assume this poor lass is anything to do with Culdover.”

“I wish you’d tell that to some of the constables at Abbotston. Two plus two always makes five for them.” Robin, sighing, rubbed his eyes. “I hate it when there’s no identification. I’m going to double- and triple-check what we know about the missing woman against what we know about the corpse. Imagine if we go up there and spook her family and it turns out it’s not her?”

“God, that would be awful. They must be twitching each time the phone rings or the doorbell goes. Like she dies again every day, if that makes any sense.” Adam poured the tea—they needed it more than ever. “How can so many people simply go missing?”

Robin shrugged. “They’re not all abducted by loonies, certainly. Some of them must take ill and die when they’re miles from nowhere and don’t turn up for months or years. Thanks.”

They took their drinks and the packet of biscuits into the lounge.

“That can’t be many people, though, can it? To go unfound for so long? Britain isn’t exactly full of unpopulated areas.”

“True, but it does happen. More likely they decide to go off somewhere for whatever reason.”

“Made a break for freedom?” Adam, having got himself comfortable on the sofa, and Campbell comfortable—if a touch peeved—on the floor, managed to open the biscuit packet without too much damage to the contents and without intervention from black canine noses.

“Could be. People are complex. They do illogical things because it seems like a good idea at the time.” Robin dunked his biscuit for the required amount of time, then ate it with evident pleasure. “Maybe it gets to the point you can’t face returning home because of all the fuss and the shame, so you stay put and it just gets worse with every day that passes.”

Good point. Putting off dealing with matters only made them worse, and it would surely get to the stage where it made them impossible. “What if she’s missing and hasn’t been reported, though? That happens, doesn’t it?”

“It does.” Robin’s brow puckered. “Even in these days of social media overkill and constant communication, people quietly disappear or are made to disappear. If this girl was here illegally, we might have the devil’s own job of finding out who she is—was—despite doing facial reconstructions. The fact that she had no ID suggests somebody didn’t want her name coming to light in the event that her body did.”

“Unless she was killed in a robbery that went wrong. Purse and whatever taken for their contents as opposed to anything else.”

“True, oh genius.” Robin took another swig of tea. “They host lots of school trips at Culford, I understand.”

“Yeah. Most of the Culdover schools use the place for trips, and there’s an activity centre near Tythebarn that always takes the kids over for a day.”

“Ever taken your class there?”

“No. Culdover Primary uses it for a year four visit, but Lindenshaw never utilised the place, I’m afraid. Too infra dig, if you’ll excuse the pun. Oh.” The penny dropped. “I get it. You want to know if I have a connection to this case too.”

“Well, I have to ask.” Robin grinned sheepishly. “Just promise me you won’t let yourself get involved this time.”

“You make it sound as though I deliberately try to. I don’t. Your cases want to embroil me no matter how much I attempt to keep out of things.”

Campbell opened one sleepy eye, as though agreeing that Robin’s murder investigations seemed to want to involve them all, him included.

“If you do end up finding you have a connection to Culford, I’m not sure if I’ll want to know. Even if it turns out you dropped a ring pull in the play area and it has your fingerprints on it.”

“You can count that out, for a start. I visited the villa when I was a boy, but I’ve not been there since, and I don’t think any ring pull would be mine. Mum would have killed me if she’d caught me dropping litter. And I didn’t see anyone burying a body.” Adam paused a moment, feigning deep thought. “No teachers of my acquaintance gone missing, either.”

“Pillock.” Robin slapped his arm. “You never went out with any archaeologists? Sat on a committee with one? Did jury service when one was on trial?”

Adam rolled his eyes at the reference to two of Robin’s previous cases, both of which had been a bit too close to home. Even before they met, they’d both derided those television shows where friends of the detective—or his daughter, in one case—were always linked to the corpse or the suspects. Neither had dreamed that could apply in real life, but Robin’s two recent murder cases had disproved that, although technically that connection had been the outcome of the first case. Still, random events clustered, didn’t they? So hopefully they’d had their cluster and could move on safely.

Adam hadn’t expected that murder would never cross their paths again, given Robin’s job and the fact that the villages of England were as full of jealousy and other fiery emotions as the cities. And the prevalence of legitimately held and used shotguns—or golf clubs or any other potential implements of death—gave means as well as motive or opportunity. Probably easier to hide a body, welcome to that, which was just what this case showed.

“No, no, and thrice no. I swear,” he replied at last, hoping that vow wouldn’t come back to haunt him. He’d seen one dead body and was in no hurry to repeat the experience.

“Right.” Robin grabbed another biscuit and held it in mid-air, pre-dunk. “Not another word about this case until we have some proper evidence to go on. And what’s so funny?”

“Sorry.” Adam managed to get the word out despite the laughter. “You reminded me of an old joke. The one about all the loos being stolen from the cop shop, so the police had nothing to go on.”

“I’ll give you bloody nothing to go on.” Robin laid down both mug and undunked biscuit, pounced at Adam, and tickled him mercilessly down the sides of his ribs.

“Hey! Stop! You’ll spill my tea.”

“That’s not all that will spill if I get my way.”

“Promises, promises.” Adam put his mug on the table. Might as well take advantage of the offer because who knew when they’d have the chance again? Murders meant long hours, late nights, and knackered policemen whose thoughts were too tired to descend to their pants. He leaned in for a smacker of a kiss.

“That was good. For starters.” Robin’s lascivious grin could have turned the iciest libido to butter. “What about—”

Once more Robin’s phone interrupted them.

“Sorry,” he said, picking it up off the table.

“I told you to stop saying that.” Adam forced a grin. A second call so hard on the heels of the first couldn’t be good news and surely meant Robin’s return to the station.

“Oh, hi.” Robin halted halfway to the door. “How’s life?” Not the station, by the sound of it. “Yes, if we can. Depends what it is.” Robin turned to mouth what looked like the name “Anderson.” Hopefully this was just a social call from his old sergeant that could soon be dealt with, letting them get back to the matter in hand.

“Bloody hell!” Robin sat down heavily in the armchair. “When? Why?”

Adam, infuriated at only hearing half the conversation, helped himself to a consolatory biscuit. The worried expression on Robin’s face and the way he’d settled into his chair suggested he was in for the long haul. As it turned out, though, the call was surprisingly short, with Robin saying, “Okay, I think that’ll be all right, so long as it’s short term,” then making a helpless gesture at Adam.

“What the hell’s going on?” Adam mouthed, but his partner simply gritted his teeth and rolled his eyes. Things must be bad.

“I guess you got that was Anderson,” Robin said after the call ended.

“Yeah. Sounded ominous, whatever it was.”

“It is. Helen’s chucked him out.”

“What?” Stuart Anderson had been living with his teacher girlfriend for years, and everyone at Stanebridge seemed to regard them as an old married couple, even if they hadn’t actually tied the knot. Although Robin always said he wouldn’t have been amazed if it turned out they’d been married years ago, and Anderson hadn’t mentioned the fact to any of his workmates. Helen never wearing a wedding ring seemed to argue against that, though. “What’s he done?”

“According to him, he didn’t do anything. She’s been edgy for days, and this evening it all exploded.” Robin retrieved his tea, took a sip, then winced. It had no doubt turned tepid. “She says he can pack a bag and hit the road.”

“But surely she gave some sort of explanation?”

“Apparently, she said that if he didn’t know what he’d done, she wasn’t going to tell him.”

“Ouch.” Adam gave Campbell, who looked distressed at the goings-on, a conciliatory pat. “What a mess. What’s he going to do? Ah.” The sheepish expression on Robin’s face answered the question. “He’s staying here, isn’t he? Presumably he cadged a bed, seeing as I didn’t hear you offer.”

“You should be a detective.” Robin patted his arm. “He hasn’t got any family around here, and I suspect we’re the people he trusts most, in this area. It’ll only be for a few days until he sorts himself out.”

“Or works out what he’s done and apologises for it?” Adam remembered the penultimate assembly he’d attended at Lindenshaw school, how it had centred on the Good Samaritan; that’s how they were being called to act. “I’d better get the spare bed ready. You can find him some towels.”

Robin started to clear away the remains of their tea and biscuits. “Sorry about our romantic night in being spoiled.”

“You can make it up to me when he’s gone or when the murder’s solved. Whichever comes first. Hopefully the former.” Adam halted halfway out of the lounge door. “What does he eat for breakfast?”

“Whatever we put in front of him. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Beggars. Adam shivered. “Maybe that’s how it started with your dead woman. Row with the other half, or with her parents. Sofa surfing until her mates got fed up with it. Nobody realised she’d slipped out of the loop until it was too late.”

“Now who’s putting two and two together and getting five?” Robin edged over to give him a hug, encumbered by mugs and plate—and a dog that wanted to be involved—but a hug nonetheless. “We won’t let him end up on the streets.”

“Good. Only I wouldn’t want him to end up living here permanently, either. I mean, he’s a nice bloke and all that, but three’s a crowd. Four . . .” he added, glancing at Campbell.

Robin grinned. “Yeah. Better get practicing our relationship advice.”

In Other Words . . . Murder by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One

“That’s one word,” J.X. objected.

“Hm?” I was studying the colorful travel brochures littering my lap and the raw-silk ivory comforter. Walk in the footsteps of the Colosseum’s ancient gladiators! Cruise canals in a golden gondola! Live La Dolce Vita! read the cover of the brochure I held. I could practically feel the venerable blue of the Roman sky beneath my fingertips.

There was a bewildering array of options. Everything from private guided tours with personally tailored itineraries to culturally themed coach tours. We could do an eight-day Adriatic cruise or a fourteen-day grand tour by rail.

The only option not available to me was staying home.

“Kill. Slang. Three words,” J.X. said. “First word starts with D.”

It was eleven o’clock on a Friday night in late October, and we were cozily tucked up in our master bedroom at 321 Cherry Lane. J.X. was doing the San Francisco Examiner crossword, and I was figuring out our spring vacation plans. It really doesn’t get much more domesticated than that.

“Oh. Do away with.”

He was silent as his pencil scratched on paper. He made a disgusted sound. “Elementary, my dear Holmes.”

I glanced at him. “Bad clues, my dear Moriarity. Do away with isn’t slang. It’s a phrasal verb.”

“Right?” He regarded me for a moment, then nodded at the scattered brochures. “What do you think? What looks good to you?”

“I don’t know. They’re all pretty expensive.”

“Money is no object.”

I snorted. “It might not be the object, but it should be a consideration.”

He got that dark-eyed, earnest look he always wore when applying the thumbscrews. “I want to do this for you, Kit. I don’t care about the money. I want us to have this. We’ve never gone away on vacation together.”

“Yeah, I know. Possibly averting an international incident.”

His mouth quirked, but he said coaxingly, “Think about it. You and me. Hot, naked sex in a gondola.”

I gave him a look of horror. “They have gondoliers, you know!”

He laughed. “Okay, then how about a gondola ride at sunset and candlelight dinner on the terrace of our private villa—and then hot, naked sex. Beneath the stars?”

I cleared my throat.

Spotting weakness in his prey, J.X. moved in for the kill. “I’m serious, though. Just you and me. Together. Doing whatever we want. No conference, no convention, no meetings with agents or editors, no deadlines. We could explore Rome’s catacombs—or just visit a few museums and galleries. We could see the Pantheon and the Colosseum. We could go to Florence and see the Ponte Vecchio. Or spend a couple of days swimming with dolphins off the Isle of Capri. Or we could do nothing but sleep and eat and fu—”

“I get the picture,” I said.

Despite the fact that I don’t like to travel—hate to travel—a lot of that did sound appealing. I said, “Private villa, huh?”

“Whatever you want, Kit.” He was suddenly serious, gaze solemn, the line of his mouth soft. Such a romantic guy. Especially for an ex-cop. Well, really, for anyone.

“It sounds…nice,” I admitted. It sounded better than nice. Maybe even kind of lovely.

His smile was very white in the lamplight. He tossed the newspaper and pencil aside and drew me into his arms. We fell back against the mattress. The brochures whispered and crackled beneath us as his mouth found mine. He kissed me deeply, sweetly, whispered, “Maybe we could make it a honeymoon…”

My eyes popped open.

Before I could reply—not that I had a reply ready—the bedroom door pushed wide, and a small voice said, “Uncle Julie?”

J.X. sat up. “Hey, honey.” He only sounded the tiniest bit flustered, plus got bonus points for not flinging me aside and springing completely off the bed as I had done to him the first few times this happened. “You’re supposed to knock, remember?”

“I forgot.” Gage said huskily, “I had a bad dream.”

Gage was J.X.’s five-year-old nephew. Actually, it was more complicated than that, but the point was the kid was spending the weekend with us, as he did a couple of times a month.

“A bad dream, huh?” J.X. opened his arms, and Gage climbed into bed between us, snuggling against him. “We don’t have bad dreams in this house.”

I threw him a look of disbelief. He meant well, but come on. Everybody has nightmares. Him included.

“What did you dream?” I asked.

Gage rolled me a sideways look. Over the past four months we’d forged a truce, but he still largely took me on sufferance. Which was okay because frankly, I’m an acquired taste: best consumed with cream, sugar, and, yeah, a generous heaping of sufferance.

“Monsters,” he said tersely.


“Monsters?” J.X. repeated thoughtfully. “There are no monsters here. This is a monster-free zone.” He gave Gage a comforting squeeze. “You know what we do to monsters in this house?”

Gage shook his head, his gaze wary.

He was right to be wary because J.X. pretend-growled, “We tickle them,” and pounced.

Gage squealed, and the two of them rolled around on the travel brochures, Gage wriggling and kicking—managing to land a few well-aimed blows at me in passing—before finally sitting up and resettling themselves against the pillows bulwarking the headboard.

J.X. winked at me. I shook my head resignedly.

“What you want to think about is all the fun we’re going to have tomorrow when you and me and Uncle Kit—”

“Christopher,” I interjected.

“—Uncle Christopher go to the Halloween Hootenanny.”

Gage and I eyed each other in complete understanding. He knew I did not want to attend this Halloween Horrorama any more than he wanted me there. He knew, as did I, we neither of us had any choice. It was in these moments that we could actually walk a mile or two in the other’s moccasins—though I admit fuzzy bunny slippers were a tight fit for my ethos.

J.X. continued to extol the ordeals—er, delights—of the day ahead, which was scheduled to conclude with the movie Smallfoot and dinner at Rosario’s Pizzeria.

“So, no more bad dreams, okay?” he concluded.

“Okay,” Gage said doubtfully. And then, “Can I sleep in here?”

J.X. wavered but stayed strong. “No, honey. You’re getting too big to bunk in here. There’s not enough room for all three of us. Uncle Christopher and I would fall right out onto the floor!”

And then the monster that lives under the bed would get us.

But see, I was getting fond of the little cheese mite because I didn’t say it. Gage, however, had no doubt who the villain of the piece was. His bleak and beady gaze fell on me.

“What about a night-light?” I suggested.

His face brightened.

“Nnn.” J.X. grimaced. “I don’t think we want to get into that habit, do we?”

He seemed to be asking Gage, who looked to me like a kid who very much hoped they could maybe get into that habit.

“As habits go,” I began. I remembered I was technically only an honorary uncle and should not be debating Gage’s real uncle’s child-rearing decisions in front of him. I shrugged, but couldn’t help adding, “It’s a big house, and it’s still strange to him. I had a night-light when I was his age.”

J.X. frowned. “Did you?”


“Night-lights can disrupt sleep patterns. Maybe that’s why you have these bouts of insomnia.”

“You know what disrupts sleep patterns? Being scared there’s a monster watching you from the closet—or waiting under your bed for you to step onto the floor.”

Gage gulped. J.X. exclaimed, “Kit.”

I said hastily, “Not that monsters do that because monsters aren’t real, and anyway, this is a monster-free zone. Like J.X., er, your uncle Julie said. He’s the monster expert of the family.”

Gage was still goggling at me, and J.X. was giving me the full-frontal unibrow in silent censure. Oh please. Like I hadn’t voiced exactly what the kid was already thinking?

“Okay, I know what you need.” I threw the bedclothes back and swung my legs over the side of the mattress, thereby demonstrating there were no monsters under this bed. “How about a nice warm cup of cocoa?”

Gage considered his options and nodded grudging approval. J.X. smiled, pleased that I was taking an avuncular interest, and suggested, “Make it three?”

“Sure. You want brandy in yours?”

“I want brandy,” Gage offered.

“It won’t mix with the sleeping pills,” I said, and J.X. inhaled sharply. “Kidding,” I told him.

He shook his head, though fondly. “Are you doing that Nutella thing again?”

“I can if you like.”

“I like Nutella,” Gage volunteered.

“That’s a little rich before bed,” Uncle Ebenezer Balfour objected.

I said, “Okay, a round of cocoa, one virgin and two nuts.”

Gage giggled, J.X. looked undecided, and I departed posthaste.

I was thinking about the weirdness of my life, absently stirring the milk, Nutella, and four tablespoons of cream in a small saucepan, when the kitchen phone rang.

I tore my gaze from Gage’s latest artistic efforts pinned to the refrigerator door—a frantic-looking stick figure was racing away from two other stick figures wearing Jack-o’-lantern heads. The Jack-o’-lantern people were brandishing what appeared to be very pointy knives.

Yikes. No wonder he didn’t want to sleep alone.

Back when I lived on my own, I always used the answering machine to screen my calls. But J.X. was different. He liked to answer the phone and did so regularly. He looked forward to hearing from people. He enjoyed chatting. I don’t think he even truly disliked telemarketers. I, on the other hand, agreed with Ambrose Bierce when he said the telephone was “an invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.”

It had taken a couple of months to teach him—J.X., not Ambrose—that I was rarely at home to random callers, even when I was at home, but eventually he got the message. Or at least permitted my callers to leave theirs.

But phone calls around the witching hour are never good news, and after the first startled-sounding ring, I picked up the handset.


There was a hesitation—like someone had to pause to catch their breath. As slight as that sound was, I felt my heart drop through the cage of my rib bones and land with a thump on the black-and-white parquet floor. I too had to stop to catch my breath, as though picking up the phone had required monumental, heroic effort, and had I known who was on the other end, it would have. In fact, I wouldn’t have answered.

“Christopher?” That deep baritone had once been as familiar as… Well, choose your favorite domestic simile. That voice had once been as familiar as J.X.’s because that was the role in my life the owner of the voice had played.

“David.” My own voice was surprisingly flat, given the way emotions were zinging up and down my nervous system, emergency flares sparking into life—and promptly shorting out.

“I had a visit from the police a few hours ago.” His voice was shaking. “They told me they found a body in our backyard. Our old backyard. Your backyard. You killed him, didn’t you? You killed Dicky!”

Fit to Be Tied by Mary Calmes
Chapter One
I COULDN’T control the whimper of delight. Since we were out in Elmwood, where we never were, I’d begged and pleaded with Ian to stop at Johnnie’s Beef and buy me a sandwich before we got to the house we were sitting on. I hated stakeouts; they were so boring, and I tended to use them as an excuse to eat good instead of the alternative. It could be argued that an Italian beef sandwich with sweet peppers was not, in fact, a gourmet meal, but anyone who said that had obviously never had one. Just opening it up, with the smell that came wafting out… I was salivating.

“This better be worth the long drive outta the way,” Ian groused.

No amount of grumbling was going to get in the way of my happiness. And besides, he owed me. The day before, on our way to the same stakeout, I’d stopped and gotten him hot dogs at Budacki’s—Polish with the works, just how he liked it. I’d even broken up a fight over ketchup between a native and an out-of-towner while I was there and still managed to deliver the goods. So swinging by the beef place was the least he could do.

“You wanna screw the sandwich?” he asked snidely as he started on his pepper and egg one.

I lifted my gaze to his, slowly and purposely seductive, and I got the catch of breath I was hoping for. “No. Not the sandwich.”

He had opened his mouth to say something when we heard the shots.

“Maybe it was a car backfiring,” I offered hopefully, having peeled back the wrapper, ready to take a bite. On this quiet tree-lined suburban street, the kind with white picket fences and people walking their dogs and little A-frame houses with picture windows, it could definitely be something other than a gunshot.

His grimace said no.

Seconds later, a man came flying across the street and down the sidewalk past our car that was sitting quietly on the storybook street at a little after one on a Tuesday afternoon.

“Motherfucker,” I groaned, placing the sandwich gingerly on the dash of the Ford Taurus, out the passenger-side door seconds later.

The guy was fast—I was faster, and I was gaining on him until he pointed a gun over his shoulder and fired.

It would have been a miracle if he’d hit me—he was moving, I was moving—but still, I had to make him stop. Stray bullets were bad, as we’d learned in our last tactical seminar, and more importantly, we were in a small, quaint residential neighborhood where at this time of day, women could be jogging with strollers, followed by beagles or labradoodles. I would make sure reckless discharge of a firearm was tacked on to the charges as soon as I had the guy in custody.

He shot at me a second time, missed me by a mile again, but it was enough of a threat to make me alter my course, cross into a heavily foliaged yard, and cut through two others—one with a swing set, the other with wildflowers—to catch him at the corner. Arm out, using the classic clotheslining move I knew from my days of fighting in foster homes, I had him off his feet and on the pavement in seconds.

“Oh shit, what happened?” Ian asked as he came bounding up beside me. He put his boot down on the guy’s wrist, pinning it painfully to the sidewalk as he bent to retrieve the .38 Special. I’d been the one stepped on before, so I knew the pressure hurt like a sonofabitch. “Look at this. I haven’t seen one of these in years.”

I nodded, admiring my FIORENTINI + BAKER suede boots on him, not even caring if he messed them up, loving more that what was mine, he considered his.

“This is a nice gun that you tried to shoot my partner with,” he said menacingly, his voice icy.

“I’m fine,” I reminded him. “Look at me.”

But he didn’t; instead he lifted the gun and bumped it against the stranger’s cheek.

“Fuck,” the man swore, his eyes wild as they rabbited over to me, pleading.

“How ’bout I make you eat this,” Ian snarled, much more pissed than I’d realized as he hauled the runner up off the sidewalk and yanked him close. “What if you’d hit him?”

The man was either smarter than he appeared or his survival instinct was exceptionally well honed. He correctly surmised that talking back to Ian at that moment, getting lippy, was a bad choice. He kept his mouth shut.

“Everything’s fine,” I soothed Ian as police cars surrounded us.

“Freeze!” the first officer out of the car yelled.

Instead of complying, I unzipped Ian’s olive green field jacket, which I was wearing, and showed them my badge on the chain. “US Marshals, Jones and Doyle.”

Instantly they lowered their weapons before surging around us. Ian handed off both the prisoner and the gun, and told the officers to add reckless discharge of a firearm to whatever else they were charging the guy with.

I was surprised when he grabbed hold of my arm and yanked me after him a few feet down the street before jerking me around to face him.

“I’m fine,” I assured him, chuckling. “You don’t have to manhandle me.”

But he was checking, looking me over, still scared.

“He missed me clean.”

He nodded, hearing but not listening, not taking my words in. I was about to tease him, wanting to nudge him out of his worry, when I realized he was shaking.

“Come here,” I prodded, tugging on his sweater, getting him closer, unable to hug him—not with so many people around—but able to whisper in his ear. “I’m okay, baby. I swear.”

He muttered something under his breath, his shoulders dropped, and his fists unclenched. After a second, he seemed better. “I bet your sandwich is cold,” he whispered.

“Fuckballs,” I muttered, turning to trudge back to our car.

“So what’d you learn?” he teased, normalcy having been restored with my swearing.

“Not to run after other people’s suspects when we’re supposed to be eating.”

Ian’s snicker made me smile in spite of myself.

A LITTLE more than eight months ago we were Deputy US Marshal Miro Jones and his partner, Ian Doyle, but it hadn’t meant what it did now. Then, it was us living apart, him dating women, me wishing he was gay so there would be hope that I could have him instead of comparing every man I met to my very straight, very unavailable partner. Everything changed when I finally saw what having his full and undivided attention actually meant, and when he got up the guts to tell me what he wanted and needed from me, I dove in quickly, drowning in him as fast as I could so he wouldn’t have time to think that maybe, since he’d only recently discovered he was bi, he might want to try the dating scene before settling down. The thing was, though, Ian was one of those rare guys who wanted the one person in the world who fit him like a glove, and that person, it turned out, was me.

So, yes, Ian was still technically bi, but was exclusively now Miro-sexual andwasn’t interested in trying the buffet. All Ian wanted was to stay home with me. I couldn’t have been any happier. Everything was mostly working in my life. Professionally I was in a great place, and personally I was ready to put a ring on Ian’s finger. Like really ready. Like maybe even too ready for Ian, but all in all, my life was perfect except for the grunt work we were currently doing.

After our interrupted lunch, we had to drive all the way back downtown to file a police report to be in compliance with Chicago PD—since we’d been the ones to make the collar—and then turn around to head back out to Elmwood.

“This will teach you to help,” Ian grumbled, and even though I knew he was kidding, it was still a huge pain in the ass.

We were supposed to sit on the house of one William McClain, who was wanted for drug trafficking, but I got a call from Wes Ching, another marshal on our team, asking us to help serve a warrant out in Bloomingdale instead. He and his partner, Chris Becker, were already in Elmwood on another errand, so they would take my and Ian’s crappy stakeout chore and we would take their more—in theory—interesting warrant duty.

I was not a fan of the suburbs, any of them, with or without artery-clogging food, or the hours it took to get to them from each other or the city itself. Traffic in Chicago, all day every day, was a beast, and added to that was the fact the radio in the new car didn’t get Ian’s favorite channel—97.9 The Loop—and the crappy shocks that let us feel every bump and dip in the road. Because we drove whatever had been seized in a criminal investigation, sometimes the cars were amazing—like the 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle SS we had for two weeks—and other times, I worried if maybe I’d died and gone to hell without anyone letting me know. The Ford Taurus we were in currently was seriously not working for me.

“It’s fuel-efficient,” Ian prompted me, reaching over to put a hand on my thigh.

Instantly I shifted in my seat, sliding down so I could get his touch on my cock instead.

“What’re you doing?” he asked slyly even as he pressed his palm against my already thickening shaft.

“I need to get laid,” I said for the third time that day.

It was all his fault.

Instead of getting right out of bed that morning like he normally did, he’d rolled over on top of me, pinned me to the mattress under him, and kissed me until I forgot what day it was. He never did that; he was so by the book in the morning, so on task and barky with the orders. But for whatever reason, I got Ian in languorous vacation mode, all hard and hungry, hands all over me, putting hickeys on my neck, instead of the drill sergeant I normally had to deal with until he got the first cup of coffee in him. He was ravenous and insistent, but then our boss called and Ian was up, out of bed, doing the “yessir, right away, sir” thing and telling me to hurry up and get in the shower fast.

“What?” I roared, sitting up in bed, incredulous when I heard the water running. “Get your ass in here and finish what you started!”

He actually cackled as he got into the shower and was still chuckling as I sat there in bed, fuming, before I fell back to take care of myself.

“Don’t you dare touch that!” he yelled from under the water.

I groaned and climbed out of bed and plodded downstairs to get coffee. Chickie Baby was happy to see me, mostly because I fed him. Stupid dog.

“There was no happy ending for me this morning,” I complained to Ian, back in the present. “You didn’t take care of me.”

“What?” He chuckled, moving his hand back to the wheel. “I woke you… up nice… and… crap.”

I wanted Ian, needed Ian, but he was distracted as he slowed the car, and when I dragged my gaze from his profile to the sight in front of me, I made the same noise of disgust he had. Immediately I called Ching.

“You fuck,” I said instead of hello when he answered.

Snort of laughter. “What?” he said, but it was muffled like he was chewing. “Me and Becker are doing stakeout for you in Elmwood and then following up on a lead from the Eastern District warrant squad.”

“Where the fuck are you?” I snarled as I put him on speaker.

He said something in reply, but it couldn’t really be categorized as a word.

I was instantly suspicious. “Are you at Johnnie’s Beef?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Asshole!” I yelled.

“Oh, come on, Jones, have a heart. We’re doing you a favor, right?”

“I’m sorry, what’d you just say to me?”

All I heard was laughing.

“You know we’d rather follow up a bullshit lead than serve a warrant with a task force, you dick,” Ian growled from beside me. “This is fucked up, Wes, and you know it.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ching finished with a cackle. “You two get to work with the DEA and the Chicago PD for the second time today. That’s awesome.”

I should have known when he offered; it was my own fault.

Ian reiterated my thoughts almost perfectly, which made things that much worse. “You have no one to blame but yourself.”

After Ian parked the car, we walked around to the trunk and got out our TAC vests, put the badges on our belts, and Ian put on his thigh holster that carried a second gun. Walking over to the group, Ian asked who was in charge. It turned out to be exactly what Ian and I expected; it was a clusterfuck better known as a task force. We saw both district and regional groups, this being the latter because I could see local law enforcement as well as guys from the DEA who all looked like either grunged-out meth addicts or GQ models. There was no in-between with them. I had, as of yet, never met a DEA agent I liked. They all thought they had not only the toughest job, but also the most dangerous. They were a bunch of prima donnas I had no use for.

It was amazing how many people thought that marshals did the same things other law enforcement agencies did. They assumed we investigated crime, collected evidence, and sat in front of whiteboards to try to figure out who the bad guy was from a list of viable suspects. But that was simply not the case. Much like it was in the Old West; we tracked people down and brought them in for trial. As a result, a tremendous amount of time—when we weren’t out on loan to a joint task force, for instance—was spent running down leads, watching houses, and basically doing surveillance. It could be a little mind-numbing, and so, occasionally, when the usual was broken up by things like traveling to pick up a witness or taking part in an undercover operation, it was viewed as a welcome diversion. But neither Ian nor I ever thought working with the DEA was a good thing.

Today the task force was looking to pick up three men with ties to the Madero crime family who’d slipped federal custody in New York and were apparently hiding out with one of the guys’ distant cousins in the burbs of Chicago. That was what serving a warrant meant. It was fancy phrasing for taking someone into custody.

The plan was for us to go into the five-story apartment building like thunder with battering rams, the whole deal. The raids were my least favorite, but I understood why we were there. Normally a Fugitive Investigative Strike Team consisting of Feds, local police, and other state agencies extracted a witness, and FISTs fell under the purview of the marshals service. It wasn’t a task force without us, so our office had been tacked on.

Chicago PD went in first, the DEA douchebags following. Ian and I stayed put on the first floor until we heard shots fired in the stairwell. We went straight up while people yelled that there were men escaping onto the roof.

I yelled first to let anyone else around know what was going on, then for backup, but they’d all scattered to the lower floors, so that left Ian and me to charge up to try and head off whoever was up there.

“Do not go out that door!” I yelled after Ian, who, as usual, was in front of me. The only reason he’d been second earlier in the day was because I’d been in the passenger seat when the guy ran by the car. Nine times out of ten, I followed Ian into whatever the situation was.

He burst through the heavy metal door leading to the roof and, of course, drew immediate answering gunfire.

I ran out after him in time to see Ian level his gun and fire. Only in the movies did people yell “don’t shoot” when people were actually shooting at them.

The guy went down, and I watched another turn and run. He didn’t have a weapon that I could see, so I holstered my gun and took off after him as Ian rolled the guy he’d shot onto his back and roared at the men who had followed us up to take him.

I raced across the rooftop hard on the fugitive’s heels, churning my legs and arms to catch him before he reached the edge. He sped toward the building’s ledge, then launched himself into the air. I had no idea if there was another building there, but since there had been no scream, I pushed myself harder and followed after him into the sky.

The rooftop of the four-story building across the narrow alley was a welcome sight, and I landed easily, somersaulting over onto one knee, then pushing up into a dead sprint again. I guessed we were out of real estate when the man abruptly stopped, whirling to face me. Pulling a butterfly knife from his back pocket, he flipped it open and advanced on me.

I pulled my Glock 20 and leveled it at him. “Drop the weapon, get on your knees, and lace your fingers on top of your head.”

He was deciding—I could tell.

“Now,” I ordered, my voice dipping an octave into a cold, dark place.

He muttered under his breath but released the knife and went to his knees. I moved fast, reaching his side before he complied with the entirety of my request, kicked the knife away, and pulled a set of Plasticuffs from my TAC vest. Shoving him facedown, I waited for backup.

My phone rang and I winced upon seeing the caller ID. “Hey.”

“What the fuck was that?”

“That was the Ian Doyle special,” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.

“Oh, no, fuck you! I don’t jump off shit, Miro, only you do that!”

I did have a bit more of a history with that than he did. “Yeah, okay.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m good,” I replied, smiling into the phone. “Promise. I’ll meet you downstairs as soon as I get some fucking help up here.”

His inelegant snort made me smile.

Moments later I was swarmed by police officers ready to take the fugitive off my hands. As I was following the men down four flights, I asked the sergeant in front of me if we were transporting the criminals to their station, whichever one that was, or if they were going in our holding cell downtown.

“I think the DEA is taking custody of all three.”

That meant all three men would be questioned and the one with the best information would be given a deal. The others would be turned over to the police. It was a waste of time for Ian and me to have even been there.

“Did you hear this bullshit?” I groused at Ian as he came hurdling up to me. “We don’t even get—”

“Shut up,” he growled, grabbing the armhole of my vest and yanking me forward. His gaze ran over me and I heard how rough his breathing was.

“Oh, baby, I’m sorry,” I whispered, leaning close so he could hear me but not touching, the motion making it seem like I was relating privileged information and nothing more.

“I have faith in you, don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly. “But you know as well as I do that you leaped without knowing what was there, and that’s plain stupid.”

He was right.

“Don’t fuckin’ do it again.”

“No,” I agreed, leaning back to search his face. “So am I forgiven?”

He nodded, and I finally got a trace of a smile.

We were going to head back to file a report when we saw the people who were flushed from the apartment, three guys in all, now sitting outside on the sidewalk.

“What’s goin’ on there?” I asked the closest officer, gesturing at the men.

“We’re about to let ’em all go.”

“Why?” Ian asked, clipping the word, clearly irritated.

“Hey, man,” the cop responded tiredly, “we ran those guys through NCIC for outstanding warrants already, and they all came up clean. There’s no use keeping ’em.”

“Mind if we check?” I replied, trying to make my tone soothing.

“Only if you take custody,” he replied petulantly. “I don’t have time to stand around here with my thumb up my ass waiting on you.”

“Sure,” Ian agreed, his tone silky and dangerous. “Transfer custody to us.”

It was done in moments, and the freed officer jogged over to let his sergeant know. His superior gave us a head tilt, clearly thinking we were DEA since he couldn’t see the back of the vests. Had he known, he wouldn’t have given the go-ahead. No one ever turned people over to the marshals because with our warrant information network we could always find something extra, just that bit more and being shown up pissed them off like nobody’s business. No one ever hated asking for our help to pick someone up after the fact or on a lead that’d gone cold, but having the marshals show them up at the scene of a bust made everyone bitchy.

Ian pulled out his phone as I squatted down in front of the first guy.

“So who the fuck are you?” our first suspect asked.

“Marshal,” I answered. “We’re going to run you all for warrants again.”

No one seemed concerned.

Mike Ryan and his partner, Jack Dorsey, were on desk duty that morning, which meant they got to look up the records of the men sitting on the curb. We released the suspects one by one—Ryan and Dorsey making a note of it over the phone—removed their cuffs, and wished them a good day. “Go to hell” was the most popular response to Ian’s cheerfulness while “fuck off” ran a close second.

It turned out a warrant for attempted murder and aggravated battery came back for the last guy.

“Winner winner chicken dinner,” I announced, smirking at him.

“Fuckin’ marshals,” Dario Batista griped. “I thought this was a DEA bust.”

Ian cackled as we hauled him to his feet.

“Come on, man,” he whined. “I have information I can give you. Let’s work out a deal.”

“We’re marshals,” Ian said as the three of us began walking back to the Taurus. “We don’t make deals.”

I called in as we stuffed him into the backseat.

“What the hell kind of clown car is this?” Batista complained.

“It’s fuel-efficient,” I rationalized as I set the childproof lock on the back door before getting in.

“God, I hate this car,” Ian growled irritably.

I promised we’d check on a new one when we got back to the office.

JM Dabney
J.M. Dabney is a multi-genre author who writes mainly LGBT romance and fiction. She lives with a constant diverse cast of characters in her head. No matter their size, shape, race, etc. she lives for one purpose alone, and that’s to make sure she does them justice and give them the happily ever after they deserve. J.M. is dysfunction at its finest and she makes sure her characters are a beautiful kaleidoscope of crazy. There is nothing more she wants from telling her stories than to show that no matter the package the characters come in or the damage their pasts have done, that love is love. That normal is never normal and sometimes the so-called broken can still be amazing.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Mary Calmes
Mary Calmes lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband and two children and loves all the seasons except summer. She graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, with a bachelor's degree in English literature. Due to the fact that it is English lit and not English grammar, do not ask her to point out a clause for you, as it will so not happen. She loves writing, becoming immersed in the process, and falling into the work. She can even tell you what her characters smell like. She loves buying books and going to conventions to meet her fans.

JM Dabney

Davidson King

Josh Lanyon

Olivier Bosman

Charlie Cochrane

Summer Devon

Mary Calmes

The Hunt by Davidson King & JM Dabney

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon

The Campbell Curse by Olivier Bosman

Two Feet Under by Charlie Cochrane

In Other Words . . . Murder by Josh Lanyon

His American Detective by Summer Devon

Fit to be Tied by Mary Calmes