Sequel to Whiskey and WrySinners Series: Book Three
Lieutenant Connor Morgan of SFPD’s SWAT division wasn’t looking for love. Especially not in a man. His life plan didn’t include one Forest Ackerman, a brown-eyed, blond drummer who’s as sexy as he is trouble. His family depends on him to be like his father, a solid pillar of strength who’ll one day lead the Morgan clan.
No, Connor has everything worked out—a career in law enforcement, a nice house, and a family. Instead, he finds a murdered man while on a drug raid and loses his heart comforting the man’s adopted son. It wasn’t like he’d never thought about men — it’s just loving one doesn’t fit into his plans.
Forest Ackerman certainly doesn’t need to be lusting after a straight cop, even if Connor Morgan is everywhere he looks, especially after Frank’s death. He’s just talked himself out of lusting for the brawny cop when his coffee shop becomes a war zone and Connor Morgan steps in to save him.
Whoever killed his father seems intent on Forest joining him in the afterlife. As the killer moves closer to achieving his goal, Forest tangles with Connor Morgan and is left wondering what he’ll lose first—his life or his heart.
You cracked me open
Sucked out my filthy core
Held my heart in your hands
And gave in when I begged for more
“FUCKING HELL,” Forest spat as he fell back into the garbage again. The damned Dumpster’s sides were too tall. Or he was too short. Either way, he couldn’t get the hell out of the thing, and his arms were now shaking from the numerous times he’d tried.
The last thing he wanted was to be there in the morning. Someone would find him, and that someone would bring down the cops on his head. Cops meant social services, and that meant he’d be spending a good amount of time fighting to get out of plastered walls and plastic suburbia.
He’d rather die in the Dumpster.
He just didn’t know if he could try to get out again.
He hurt so damned much.
Mostly—this time—it was his face. It definitely was his jaw. Or maybe his cheek. Whichever. He just knew he hurt. He tried to remember who told him to always trust guys in a minivan, but Forest couldn’t recall where he’d gotten that information. Whoever it’d been, he’d kick the guy’s ass whenever he found him again.
Because apparently guys in minivans with those happy little sticker children on the back glass really didn’t want to pay for their hand jobs ahead of time.
Now Forest was in a Dumpster because minivan guy thought it would be fun to toss him in there when he was done beating the shit out of him, and he still didn’t have more than fifty cents on him.
Fifty cents did not go a long way when someone needed food. Even dog-food tacos cost two for a dollar, and tax ate up a nice piece of the money pie all on its own.
“Yeah, Mrs. Whatever-the-fuck-your-name-is, tell the principal I’m stupid,” Forest muttered as he glared at the Dumpster’s too-high edge. “Go hungry for a bit, bitch, and you learn math real fucking quick.”
He heard a door slamming—a heavy thick-sounding door—and he froze, hating himself for holding his breath because it was stupid, and doing so made his chest hurt. There were bruises there too, Forest was sure of it, and his back wasn’t doing too good either. From the familiar throbbing along his spine, he was going to be pissing blood as soon as he had to take a pee.
Something slippery under him gave, and Forest went down, biting his tongue when he hit the hard floor. He tasted blood—for the third or fourth time that night—and the light from the streetlamps spun, leaving trails of stars on his eyes.
Swallowing at the salty taste in his mouth, he sighed, “Fuck me.”
A SCRATCHING sound caught Franklin Marshall’s attention. It shouldn’t have. Not in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown where the rats grew fat and happy on some of the best cuisine from the other side of the Pacific. No, this sounded different than a rat or any other kind of vermin he normally found in the middle of the night when he was dumping out the empties from his recording studio.
This sounded oddly human. Not so much the scratching but the murmuring noises accompanying them.
And it was coming from the open Dumpster at the end of the alley.
The Sound was a legacy of a hippie co-op he’d once been a part of. As his former lovers shaved their beards, or armpits as the case may be, and drifted off to respectability, he’d remained behind, mixing records for young artists with more talent than money and certainly with less sense than most. A decade ago, he’d finally gotten sick of the restaurant next door changing hands more often than a five-year-old girl changed her clothes, and he’d bought the place out, called it Marshall’s Amps, and turned it into a lounging coffee shop where he could get a good cup of Big Island coffee whenever he wanted.
With the bad restaurant-roulette gone, the vermin population dropped dramatically, but every once in a while, something—or someone—came creeping around, and Frank was forced to move whatever or whomever it was along.
He was too tired to care. All Frank wanted was to toss the trash out and go pack a bowl.
And at three o’clock in the morning, rousting an undesirable from a Dumpster was sometimes quite dangerous, and Frank knew he wasn’t getting any younger. There was only so much more damage an aging hippie musician could take before he’d have to start begging one of the studio guys to come help him change a lightbulb because he’d gotten the shit kicked out of him by a crackhead.
He put the bottles into the recycle bin and set a box of leftover pizza on the café table he’d set up under his RV’s awning. Ever since the city banned smoking within spitting distance of anything or anyone, he’d given up living in the apartment over the studio and instead opted to toss his bag of bones onto a queen-sized mattress in an old motor home. Owning a building was a headache and a half, but owning a parking lot smack-dab in the middle of Chinatown more than made up for the hassle. Especially since he’d found he rather liked living in a quasi-Gypsy state.
It was a long, cold walk to the Dumpster. Set in the tiny alley between his building and the street-front strip of stores backing the private parking lot he’d parked his motor home on, he’d agreed to let the stores use it for their daily trash on the condition they kept it as clean as they could. Still, people had to eat, and they tossed their leftovers into the Dumpster without thinking to close the lid to keep scavengers out. Frank really hoped it was a possum like last time instead of some old man looking for something to eat.
He needed to go grocery shopping, and short of giving a homeless guy a half-eaten jar of peanut butter and a spoon, he had nothing in the RV for a handout. Sure, he could have sacrificed the pizza, but there was going to be a nice tight bowl of Tai before he crashed for the night, and his stomach might catch a second wind by then. Leftover pizza came in handy for second winds.
His sneakers squeaked on the rain-damp blacktop, and as Frank got closer, it became apparent his vermin didn’t walk on four legs and certainly wasn’t an old man. Not by a long shot. Instead, the Dumpster appeared to be hosting a different kind of scavenger—one in the form of a rather scrawny preteen boy.
And like the possum he’d scared the shit out of the last time, the boy froze to a dead stillness when he heard Frank approach, the faint lights from the street beyond catching his eyes and turning them a demonic gold when he cocked his head to spy on Frank over the lip of the battered green bin. If anything, the boy’s hiss certainly was more possum-ish and less grumbling homeless guy looking for aluminum cans to cash in.
Frank cleared his throat and called out to the boy, “Hey—”
That single word spurred the boy into action, and he grabbed at the Dumpster’s edge to hoist himself up. Either he was too short or the rhino covering the interior of the bin was too slick because the boy couldn’t get traction, and he slid back down the side, landing in the—hopefully—mostly paper trash around him.
As swear words went, it was an elegant growl—fluid and heartfelt with a tinge of bitterness to flavor its edges.
It also sounded way too world-weary to come from such a young boy.
Because as Frank drew even closer to the Dumpster, he caught sight of the golden hummingbird of a boy trapped inside of the steel bin and instantly took back a few of the years he’d given him.
But then he poured all of those years—and more—back into his assessment of the boy’s dark, liquid eyes.
As kids went, this one was scrawny—dirty-chicken scrawny with a side of bone—barely enough meat on his frame to do more than move his lanky limbs. A mop of tangled, dirty-blond hair covered most of the boy’s face, but what Frank could see straddled the line between delicate and masculine. Sitting on the verge of puberty, the kid should have been fuller in the face, even a bit chunky around the middle as his body stored up fuel for that impressive height jump from child to man.
When that jump came for this kid, his body wasn’t going to have anything to feed his growth. There was barely enough energy stored in his flesh to leave his skin supple, and Frank winced at the crackle of dry skin on the boy’s downy cheeks, a telltale sign the kid wasn’t eating.
As if the jut of his breastbone and rib cage through the thin fabric of his filthy T-shirt wasn’t enough of a clue.
There was a lot of dead in the kid’s gaze. Dead and suspicion, with more than a few ladles of fear. All of that was wrapped up tight with ribbons of challenging aggression. Frank would have been more cautious if it weren’t for the bruises blackening the right side of the kid’s face or his swollen lip turned deep purple where something had cut it.
Even in the wane of the streetlamp light, anyone with sense in his mind and eyes in his head could see the boy’d taken more than a few knocks from life on his chin. And from the chunk of enamel missing in one of his front teeth, he’d taken more than one blow to the mouth too.
“Do you need some help there, kid?” Frank called out loud enough for the boy to hear him over the rustle of paper and debris. The kid ignored him and continued to flounder, grabbing at the lip for another attempt.
Another struggle to get out of the bin and the boy hit bottom again, a flailing bundle of arms, legs, and curses strong enough to fuel Moses’s drive out of Egypt.
“Here, give me your hand,” Frank said, reaching into the bin. “You’re too short. You’re never going to get out of there without some help.”
“Fuck off, old man. I’m fine.” The kid growled and shoved as much of his ratted-together hair out of his face as he could manage.
“Okay, so you’re fine.” Leaning over the edge of the Dumpster opening, Frank looked down into the bin. Despite being a day after pickup, the Dumpster was fairly clean. “Tell you what. I’m going to toss in this wooden box for you to sit on while you think about how to get the fuck out of there and walk away. If you want to shut the lid when you’re out, that would be appreciated. I don’t like thinking someone’s cat might get into one of these things and get turned into a smashed meat pancake because it was open.”
He grabbed one of the discarded shelving boxes the clothing store left stacked up near the Dumpster and tossed it in. The kid jumped back, lifting his feet out of the trash. Glaring up at Frank, he pinned himself against the far wall, coiled up tight, as if waiting for an attack that only Frank knew would never come.
“Now, I’m going to head off to bed. There’s some leftover pizza I’m going to leave out on the table. Grab something to eat and go home, kid.” Large drops of water began to strike the Dumpster’s open lid, rumbling a deep percussion through the thick black plastic.
“Yeah, like I’m going to fucking eat something you leave out—”
“It’s up to you, kid.” Frank shrugged, scratching at his thick graying beard. “Just see if you can close the lid. If not, I’ll do it in the morning.”
He walked away. He had to. The boy’s eyes were burning into him, stealing past the lazy haze of his apathy toward children and his resolute stance on people getting a few handouts, but lifelines were something a person had to braid themselves. Walking away from the kid should have been easy. Even if he couldn’t shake off the wince of pain when the boy pressed his back into the Dumpster or the whimper when he’d landed on his back amid the piles of discarded plastic bags and tissues.
Frank put one foot in front of the other and entered the RV, closing the door behind him with a firm snick. After digging out the chartreuse and orange bong he’d gotten from a friend’s little girl, he sat down to pack in a bowl before he allowed himself to sleep.
Not that he thought he’d be able to sleep with the image of the boy’s haunting face floating behind his eyes.
He was drawing out his first gurgle of smoke when he heard the Dumpster cover slam shut, the lid hitting the bin’s rim with a singsong chime. He’d regret leaving the pizza, especially since he really didn’t think the kid would chance eating it. There’d been talk around the neighborhood of more than one street kid getting roofied and fucked after being given food by strangers.
Bad enough people poisoned cats and dogs. Did they have to go after the kids too? Frank thought as he finished up his hit. The rain struck, drowning out even the pull of his inhale through the bong’s skunky water, and Frank sighed, wondering if he was going to be hit with a raging case of the munchies just because all he had was peanut butter and possibly—now—soggy pepperoni pizza.
When Frank woke up in the early afternoon, the rain was still intent on sliding the city into the bay, and he smacked his lips, tasting a serious need for a toothbrush and possibly a cigarette. Just not in that order. Grabbing his smokes from the RV’s slender kitchen counter, he headed outside to shiver under the awning. Having forgotten about the boy, he stared at the empty box of pizza sitting on the café table outside of his door.
Two quarters on the lid were the only evidence left of the kid’s existence—that and a note scrawled on the inside of the box. The pen the kid used seemed like it was on its last legs or perhaps had higher aspirations on being a tattoo machine for all the ink it leaked. Still, the uneven scrawl was easy enough to read, even if it was a bit misspelled.
“Money’s all I got, but next time I’m around, I’ll give you a blow job, ’cause I took the rest of it and it was a lot. Thanks—Forest.”
“Well shit and Jesus Christ, kid.” Frank frowned as he read the note. “What the fuck has the world done to you?”
IT BECAME a game of cat and mouse—although Frank wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be the cat or the mouse, but it definitely was a game of some kind because not long after the Great Pizza Incident, he found himself lurking in the parking lot hoping the Dumpster kid would show his face again.
Frank left food out and got notes in return—sometimes accompanied by small trinkets, like a beaded bracelet or a Golden Gate keychain. He wore the bracelet, and the tiny metal icon now hung from the RV’s rearview mirror. After a month and a half of chasing the blond kid’s trail, Frank came out of the Amp’s back door with a bag of In-N-Out he’d meant to leave for the boy when he found himself staring at a very filthy Forest sitting at the same café table they’d exchanged food and notes on.
If anything, the kid looked even worse than the first time Frank’d seen him, and the overly hungry look on Forest’s face made his stomach clench in sympathy. There were frozen burritos he could microwave. The Double-Doubles in the bag were going to the kid, even if Frank had to shove them down Forest’s throat.
“Here,” Frank said, tossing the bag to the boy. “Have some dinner.”
“I don’t take handouts,” Forest growled as he dug into the bag and pulled out one of the thick cheeseburgers. “I told you I’d do you for the food.”
“I’m not into little boys.” Frank groaned when he eased into one of the chairs.
“But you keep giving me food,” the kid pointed out through a mouthful of meat and fries. “You gotta want something.”
“Maybe I just don’t want you out on the street.”
“Yeah right, because everyone’s just lining up to take other people’s kids. Whatcha want? Blow or hand?” Forest yanked at the air with his fist. “I’m better with my hand. I can’t throat it right, but I’m working on it.”
The kid’s words hit Frank hard, and he blinked, unsure about what to do with the lump in his throat. “Tell you what, kid. How’d you like a job? I need some help in the studio.”
Drowning in tears,
Soaked too long in my salt.
This is what I am.
This is what I should be.
Something that never ends.
But I want to be more than me
—Blue Notebook 3/8
“MORGAN! TEAM One ready?”
Captain Leonard’s query rattled through Connor’s earpiece. The rough gravel in the man’s voice came from a cigar habit he’d had instead of any defect in the equipment. Leonard’s aggression boiled out through his voice, shotgunning his orders to the TAC team through a mic. A cancerous spot on his lung took him off the street, but he’d recovered more than enough to kick their asses. Leonard was also the first one to pull a rookie up and walk him gently through training.
Connor’d been that rookie once, and while parts of his ass were still smarting from some of his fuck-ups, he had to admit Leonard knew what he was doing—especially when they were going in blind to a dilapidated RV doubling as a meth room.
“Team One ready,” he replied into his headset, tapping Roberts on the shoulder.
The early-morning hours brought in the fog, its misty air drawn toward the cooling city’s hills. With the damp came a steep of smells unique to Chinatown. Somewhere close by, a small back-alley factory made <>li hing mui, and the wind carried the preserved plum’s scent of anise and sugar through the area’s tight weave of buildings. The light crackle of nightlife continued off behind them, hidden by the brick buildings surrounding the nearly empty parking lot they were about to descend upon.
Its sole occupant, a swaybacked RV from the seventies, sat at the back of the lot, its tires flat and wispy grass growing up through the cracks in the asphalt around it. A couple of swap-meet tents provided a kind of lanai area, and someone’d set up a few mismatched plastic chairs around an upended wire spool, its flat surface marred with cigarette burns and candle wax. The RV’s original door’d been torn out at some point, with a larger one framed in. Instead of the standard flimsy aluminum ladderlike steps leading up, a sturdy set of wooden stairs led up to the RV’s front door.
The wind picked up again, and Connor held his team in the shadows, waiting for Leonard to give him clearance so they could crack open the RV and find who they’d come for.
“On your call, then,” Leonard growled. “Bring ’em all back out, Morgan.”
“Like they’re my babies, sir.” Connor grinned even though Leonard couldn’t see him. “Moffatt, Evers, you’re on point. Davis, Clark, cover six. Roberts, time to break it down.”
They went in slowly, circling the RV until they got to the front. Keeping to a tight pattern, Con motioned Roberts to slam through the RV’s door. He’d had the barest of thirty minutes to pull the raid together, pulling up the manufacturer’s schematics for the ancient motor home from someone’s Facebook page. It wasn’t a lot to go on, but it was the best they could do—especially since the informant told them the meth was moving out that night.
If the CI was to be believed, it would drop enough ice into SF’s streets to kill off a brontosaurus, and they had to move fast.
Leonard opted for a launch raid, hoping to catch the RV’s owner, Franklin Marshall, unaware. Based on the lack of lights coming from the RV’s dirt-clouded windows, either Marshall was asleep at three in the morning, or he’d covered the windows with tinfoil to block anyone from looking in.
Either was a possibility, as was the man having an arsenal inside despite his lean arrest record. Con’s team planned for the worst-case scenario and hoped for the best. It was far better than trusting humanity’s kindness and burying one of their own.
They worked silently—a small team of six black-clad officers stealing through a dimly lit parking lot. Hours of training and practice helped with their synchronicity, but nothing beat working a raid. Connor stepped in time with Roberts, keeping his weapon aimed up over the man’s head as the smaller man swung a black battering ram into the RV’s door.
It burst in, a scatter of old plastic, wood chips, and metal. The team poured in, and Con’s heart began to skip its curious, familiar beat, a pounding of excitement in his chest. There was nothing to compare to the feeling of that first whiff of danger or the sound of boots on the floor when they came in. The press of his team around him, then the explosion of their bodies separating to break down a house’s interior, working back to back to secure the area.
The motor home was no different. The shatter hit, and they were through, deep murmurs of voices and then the hush of their breathing amid the periodic orders Con barked out to his team. He’d handpicked each one, culling through the applicants until he was satisfied he’d go into a dangerous situation with his ass and back covered.
Adrenaline hit his bloodstream hard and fast, amping up his senses as he ducked away from the splinters coming at him from the remains of the door. While the RV was a long straight space, there were nooks and crannies within its enormous rectangular shape. A bathroom took up a bit of the side, and a quick glance at the back showed a thick curtain of beads—both areas potentially dangerous for their raid, especially since the space was tight, and there wouldn’t be a lot of room to maneuver.
Con broke off Evers and Moffatt to the back, keeping Roberts with him for the front. At some point in the RV’s lifetime, probably soon after its weary carcass was dumped in the parking lot, someone’d converted the driving cab to another lounging or sleeping place, but a partially drawn tie-dyed curtain blocked off a clear view of the area.
The rest of the RV was empty, and if there was a shit ton of meth in the vehicle, they’d probably find it hidden under platforms or in walls. It was going to be a long and tedious hunt, and Con wanted to secure the RV before they dragged it off to the yard to be broken down—because nothing said surprise like finding a drug dealer hiding in the bathroom of an impounded motor home.
“Clark, Davis—bathroom’s yours.” Connor waved them off. “Mind your Qs.”
He kept his own quadrant clear, pressing back to back with Roberts as they moved to the front of the RV. Their boots clunked on the faux-wood floor. It was strangely spongy beneath Con’s feet, and he pondered if the drugs were in caches beneath the floor, because as they inched forward, the RV rocked and swayed under them.
That supposition would have to wait until they got the RV dragged away. For right now, his sole focus was on finding the man who’d parked the RV so many years ago, then decided it would be a good place to stash poison—a poison Connor Morgan had no intention of ever letting onto his city’s streets. They’d hit the building next. The RV was too small to cook meth in, but Marshall owned the brick building beyond the parking lot.
Lots of space there to cook up a chemical stew strong enough to rip a man’s brain apart.
Something was off about the raid. The niggle of off nipped at Connor’s mind, and he scanned the interior, looking for something—anything—to tell him what he was bothered by. The RV wasn’t clean by any stretch, not a sparkling eat-off-the-floor kind of environment, but neither was it packed to the gills with papers or rotting garbage. If anything, it looked like an aging hippie’s sanctuary, complete with a cardboard poster of a topless Janis Joplin at an old Haight-Ashbury event. Several lit candles lined the kitchenette’s counters, flickered erratically from the wind coming through the now extinct front door.
There was an odd scent Connor couldn’t quite place lingering in the air, and for a second, he passed it off as some type of incense, but it bothered him. There was a heavy raspberry or floral odor, but something wafted underneath that—a curious odd tickle of a scent Con knew. Only when he spotted a man’s bare foot peeking out from under a corner of the rainbow-swirled curtain did he realize it wasn’t patchouli scenting the air.
Con saw the man’s foot poking out from behind the curtain just as his brain clicked on what he was smelling, and someone’s footsteps jostled the RV enough to send the candles toppling over, igniting the propane in the built-up space.
“Evac!” Con yelled into his headset. “Get out!”
He didn’t have time to give his team visual cues to hit the open door. A fireball erupted from the kitchen’s gas stove top, and the cop part of his brain kicked in the RV’s details. From their initial recon, the team was sitting on at least two long propane tanks, and if either one was full, the RV would blow sky-high once the flames ate through the lines and exposed the whole fucking mess to the open air.
Connor grabbed at the man’s foot and yanked, pulling him clear of the bed and into the open.
Unresponsive, the man was a dead weight in his arms, but Connor couldn’t risk checking the man over. The fire spread, the gases thankfully thinned from the team’s break-in, but the tanks were still a worry. Hefting the barefooted man up over his shoulder, Connor was the last to peel through the door—then the concussion blast of the RV’s demise hit his back, and he went flying.
Connor and his rescue hit the pavement hard, and Con rolled, wrapping his arms around the unconscious man’s limp body. Debris flew over them, and Connor’s head echoed from the rocking pings of things hitting his helmet. The heat of the blast covered them, scorching the air around them, and Connor felt gravel bite into his cheek as they tumbled. His limbs would ache from the uncontrollable cartwheels of their blast-propelled bodies, and he vaguely heard himself grunt when they bounced on the pavement, only to bounce down hard again.
His elbow went tingly when they struck and rolled to a stop. He lay there, smelling the acrid scent of his gear cooking on his body and sucking in as much non-fire-filled air as he could. Training for a fire kicked his brain into automatic pilot, and he’d expelled as much of his breath as he could when he’d jumped out of the RV. Without oxygen or propane in his lungs, it was as large of a fuck-you to the fire’s touch as he could give it at the time.
It did, however, leave his chest screaming for air, and his ribs shuddered painfully when he drew his first full breath. Stars clouded his vision, and Connor forced himself to roll off the man’s body, feebly calling for a med team to find him in the parking lot. His head still sang its song of sixpence from where he struck the parking lot, but other than his aching muscles and possibly singed eyebrows, Con was relatively sure he’d emerged unscathed.
It was just going to take him a moment before he could stand up long enough to take a full inventory.
“You okay there, Morgan?” Davis crouched over him, her hands busy at the fastenings of his vest. She sounded far away—almost as if underwater—and Connor frowned, wondering if he’d somehow gotten his headset shoved down into his ear or if his hearing was blown out by the blast. “Can you hear me, Lieutenant? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Yeah, just… not a lot of hearing yet.” Connor slapped Davis’s hand away from his face. “And you pick now to flip me off?”
“Seemed like as good a time as any, sir.” She grinned at him from under her helmet. “Need some help up?”
“No, I’ve got it.” He rolled over, wincing at the pricks of pain along his back, but for the most part, all of his parts seemed functional. There was blood on his hands and a trickle of it winding down his face from where he’d scraped it. “Get to Marshall. See how he’s doing.”
“Yeah, about that, sir.” Evers popped his head over Davis’s shoulder. “You need to take a look at this.”
The medic crouching next to Connor’s rescue wasn’t working on Marshall—and it was definitely Marshall lying there in the pool of melon-hued light cast from one of Chinatown’s streetlamps. Connor recognized the man from his driver’s license photo even with the gray streaking his heavy, long beard. He’d been younger in the photo.
And considerably much more alive.
His arms were slack, lacking even the tension of muscles drawn against the pain of overextension. Flung out like an insect smashed against a wall with a fly swatter, Marshall’s body lay still and quiet, his slight potbelly hanging flaccid above worn gray sweatpants, and his chest, thick with a salt-and-pepper pelt, sported numerous holes. Deep holes Connor suspected punched right through the man’s chest and out his back, giving him the appearance of being riddled with numerous grotesque nipples.
The EMT brushed off his hands and began walking to his rig, not even stopping as he patted Connor on the shoulder and said, “Congrats, Lieutenant. You’ve rescued a dead man.”
FOREST HEARD the wrong in the air. He liked leaving the windows open a bit, even after Frank chastised him about burglars and lung damp from whatever came in off the bay’s waters. The sounds felt wrong—abnormal for the area. The neighborhood had a certain rhythm in it, one Forest knew as much as he did the sound of his own breathing.
Mostly asleep, he labored in the depth of his slumber, his mind sorting through the sounds around him. Voices were deeper, not like the chatter of club-goers cutting through the parking lot to get to the BART, and certainly not the Asian food workers starting their day in the curve of an early morning to prep for a long, busy day feeding tourists and locals alike. These voices were serious, hammering at his quiet. Then a boom shook the air.
And Forest smelled the taint of fire licking at the edges of his world.
It smelled close—too close for his liking—and he fought the long threads of sleep wrapping over him. The coffee shop was a possibility, but none of the alarms had gone off, and the studio’s wiring was new, revamped in the last renovation bug Frank had up his ass.
Then the screaming panic of sirens shot through his open window, and Forest finally opened his eyes to see hell had come to visit.
He stumbled over his drum kit, barking his toes on the set of Rotodrums he’d been tuning earlier. Trying to pull on a pair of jeans as he made it to the back wall of his studio apartment, Forest banged his elbow on a counter and nearly slammed into one of the barstools he used to sit at the kitchen counter and eat. Frustrated and smarting, he yanked away the curtain from the slender back wall window and stared down into the parking lot where Frank Marshall first found him.
Frank’s RV was on fire, and from what he could see, the cops standing around it were doing jack shit to help the man inside. It definitely was a slice of hell served up on a knife, because his heart imploded under a thrust of pain cutting through it.
“No no no.” Fear did silly things to a person, Forest knew that. He’d thought fear was something he’d left behind in that Dumpster years ago, but it lingered there, waiting to reach out with its cold, slithery fingers to yank at his teeth until their roots ran cold in his gums.
He couldn’t lose Frank. He never even imagined that being a possibility in his life. In Forest’s mind, the scruffy old hippie would always lurk nearby, marinated in pot and glory days when San Francisco was about love not pixels, and always with a word or two about how he played Perdie’s Filmore rendition of Memphis Soul Stew.
“Fucking cops. Goddamn it!” Forest couldn’t see the second-story landing when he pulled open his front door. His eyes burned from a mingle of smoke and tears, but he went down the back stairs without even thinking about putting on shoes. He didn’t even feel the small pebbles under his bare feet or how cold the night turned since he’d fallen asleep after drumming a session for a has-been rock band.
Because the world was trying to yank away the only family he’d ever found to love him, and suddenly the past decade slipped away, and Forest was once more that scared, skinny twelve-year-old kid Frank found trying to get out of a Dumpster.
Forest hit a wall before he could reach the engulfed motor home. Some part of him realized the wall was a man. His cock certainly knew it was, and his mind registered an enormous amount of muscle, large encompassing hands, and flashing bright blue eyes. Dressed in body-hugging black and wearing a thick vest with SWAT written across his chest, the wall smelled of embers and cop.
Even as his heart lay in the ashes fluttering about on the parking lot under his torn-up bare feet.
“You’ve got to let me go!” he yelled at the cop. The man held him, immovable and steady. Forest tried shoving at the man’s chest, but all he got for his trouble was a jarring rattle in his teeth and spine. He stared into the man’s hard, handsome face and pleaded. “Dude, please. That’s my dad in there. My dad’s in there. Please. If it were your dad—”
“I’d want in there so verra bad,” the cop replied softly, and some small part of Forest’s brain registered other things about him—the small block letters on his chest spelling out his name as Morgan, the Irish strung through his rumbling, deep voice, and how good the man’s hands felt rubbing at Forest’s shoulders and back to soothe him. “But he’s already gone. I pulled him out before the whole thing went up. He’s gone.”
Forest went frigid—as if he’d turned into the cold, hard ground Franklin Marshall would eventually be buried in. The roar of the fire masked the sound of a gurney being wheeled toward a waiting ambulance, its lights and sirens dark and muted. No one lit up the skies for a dead man, the streets wouldn’t shriek with the hope of getting Franklin to the hospital in time, and Forest crumbled, his legs unable to hold up the heavy weight of his breaking soul.
The cop caught him. The Irish rock who’d kept Forest back from the flames wrapped his bulky arms around Forest’s body and held him, murmuring softly through the smoke smothering them so only Forest could hear. “I’ve got you now. I’ve got both of you now. We’ll find out who did this to your da. I promise you that. I promise.”
Likeable characters, great chemistry, delicious sexual tension, hot sex, a touch of mystery and excitement, scrummy musicians, hunky cops and always the sort of endings that leave you smiling and sighing satisfactorily.
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So yes, author Rhys Ford has managed to grab my imagination with her work and made me lose the hours into a story of romance that is filled with dripping details.....
If I hadn’t been a fan of Rhys Ford before, I definitely am now.
I was totally sucked in and was eager to see the resolution.
The dialogue sparkles and sounds realistic and the emotions both happy and sad are so vivid you experience them with the characters.
The author has done it again with a complex intriguing story line that explodes from the beginning and never slows down...
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