“VINCE, I don’t know what the hell to do anymore.” Forge Reynolds sat in one of the client chairs in his lawyer’s office, as he had so many time over the last eight months, wondering just how much more of this he could take. “I’m not asking for anything that isn’t reasonable or that I’m not entitled to.” He huffed slowly. This was a war of attrition, and Forge was starting to feel like a casualty.

“That’s very true, but Granger has obviously decided to fight you on every point, no matter how small.” Vince shook his regal head of impressively black hair. He was an unusual attorney in that he wasn’t all buttoned-up and proper. His hair was long and shiny and so black that it had hints of blue. Forge might have been attracted to him if Vince hadn’t been straight. But after trying to end one marriage for the last eight months and going through hell, again and again, at this point in his life, Forge was planning to give up on men all together.

“What do we do from here?”

“We’ll counteroffer, and I’ll add all the legal points in our favor. At this point the law is on our side because it states very clearly for ‘equitable division of the assets.’ They should be close to even, not with one party deciding he wants it all because he’s a greedy son of a bitch.” Vince inhaled sharply. “Did I say that?” He placed his hand over his mouth, and Forge laughed for the first time in weeks. “Don’t worry, I’ll….”

“Can I see his offer again?” Forge asked. He was tempted to just tell Vince to take it. That way he could have this whole thing done and could move on with his life. One of the bones of contention was the house, especially since they still lived under the same roof. They hadn’t slept in the same bed for eight months, not since Forge had kicked Granger’s cheating ass out of the master bed, literally. Granger had had the gall, after the asshole’s affair became public, to crawl into bed as normal. Forge had pushed him hard enough that Granger actually rolled onto the floor. A screaming match commenced, but it ended with Forge emptying Granger’s closet by hauling everything to the guest room and dumping it in a pile on the floor. When Granger tried to stop him, Forge had used Granger’s shoes as missiles.

Forge stopped his woolgathering and took the papers to look them over once again. “Go ahead with your plan.” He handed the papers back, shaking his head. “But we have to bring this to an end, somehow. I need my life and my sanity back.”

He had done his best not to allow the upheaval in his personal life to affect his work and friends, but he was finding that nearly impossible. As an interior designer for companies, he required a great deal of creativity, and that part of himself had been slowly dying throughout this ordeal. Forge knew he needed this to end so he could breathe again and maybe have a life that wasn’t consumed with divorce proceedings, offers, counteroffers, and fights at home revolving around how Granger kept trying to hide assets.

“This will end. There is no doubt about that.” Vince set the papers on his immaculately clean desk and stood.

Forge did the same and shook Vince’s hand before leaving the office. He stopped to say hello to Vince’s assistant, Gloria, before heading back to his office in downtown Milwaukee, lost in thought. Work was quickly becoming his sanctuary. Most days it was relatively quiet and he was able to think. But that was also a problem—his thoughts were consumed with his troubles with Granger.

“How did it go?” Rory asked, plopping into one of his desk chairs after closing the door. “What did Dickhead, Esquire, want now?” Rory was on his creative team and was bright and enthusiastic. He was also incredibly loyal and took delight in coming up with new and interesting lawyerly names for Granger. It was a source of amusement for both of them.

“More and more, it seems. Just when it looks like we’re getting close, he changes his demands. I think this is a game for him. He doesn’t need anything and has plenty of money, which he will still have when this is over. It’s just an ego thing. Win at all costs—and I’ve about had it. Thankfully he’s been on a business trip for the last few days and the house has been quiet. But that will change tonight.” Forge wasn’t looking forward to it.

“If you need anything, you know all you have to do is say something.” Rory smiled the same smile he used when he wanted something. He had made little effort to hide the fact that he was interested in Forge, which Forge found flattering but nothing more.

“How about we talk about something else?” He needed something, anything else, to distract him.

“If we must,” Rory said in an exaggerated manner, then gave him an update on where he was with all current projects for the design team that Forge headed. “The only problem right now is Midwest Bank. They still want to go with a variation of the same tired look they’ve had for twenty years, and it just makes them look out of step with the times. It’s dated and makes the entire organization look worn out.”

“I know. I’ve been giving that some thought. I have a meeting with a new client in fifteen minutes, but after that, let’s sit down with the entire team and see what we can do to try to accomplish both goals. There has to be a way. We just need to find it.” Forge hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

“I don’t know if that’s possible, but we can try.” Rory stood and left the office, giving Forge a few minutes to get ready for his meeting.

 

 

THE REST of the afternoon went more smoothly than Forge had thought it would. They developed a potential solution to their Midwest Bank problem, and Forge landed a new client that promised to be an interesting project. The thing was, he dreaded going home. Granger was going to be there, and the tension between them would have Forge’s nerves on edge. Not for the first time, he wondered how he and Granger had gotten to this point. They’d met twelve years earlier when Forge was twenty-four, and things had been great. They were both at the start of their careers and had been intent on taking on the world. They had built a life together, buying a house, getting married once it was legal, and working together a few times but mostly supporting each other.

Forge kept trying to figure out when things had gone wrong. Their passionate relationship had cooled somewhat over time, but they were still close, or had been, and they’d still been intimate even if they weren’t humping like rabbits. They both worked long hours—maybe that had been it? Too much time at work and not enough time spent together at home, or taking the vacations they needed to reconnect on a regular basis. Maybe they both thought things were good until temptation stepped in front of one of them, and then things weren’t so good anymore.

It hurt like hell that Granger had cheated on him with some kid he’d met at a club. Maybe if Granger had taken Forge to the club, the two of them could have had some fun together and things would have been different… maybe not.

Determined to put Granger out of his head for a while at least, Forge buried himself in brainstorming for his new client. When he finally sat back, the clock flashed 9:05 at him. Grabbing his computer case, Forge shut down his computer and pushed his chair away from his desk. He figured it was time to go home and face the music, the fighting… or, if he was lucky, the tense silence.

Everyone else from the team had left hours ago, and Forge said good night to the cleaning crew as he passed and headed for the exit. He rode the elevator down to the garage and went to his BMW sedan. He tried not to think about how it had been an anniversary gift from Granger almost five years before, when things between them were still bright. Forge got in, backed out, and exited the garage before making his way through city traffic to the freeway, then traveling north beyond the initial suburbs to River Hills.

When they had decided to buy their house, Granger had been insistent it was going to be in the posh suburb. All the lots were two acres, and that meant huge, ostentatious homes—just what Granger had wanted. Forge exited the freeway and made his way home. He pulled into the long driveway along the side of the property and up to a house that was bigger than two people were ever going to need.

The lights were on everywhere, so Forge knew Granger was home. The man never met a light he could turn off behind him. Forge opened his door of the three-car garage and pulled inside, then closed it behind him. He got out and followed the light inside the silent house. “Granger!” Forge called before he could stop himself. He really shouldn’t care where he was, and hell, Forge should be grateful for the quiet, make a quick dinner, and escape to his bedroom.

He set his case on the counter and walked through the downstairs rooms, expecting to hear Granger somewhere in the house, but he heard nothing. All was quiet. Forge went upstairs and wandered through the various rooms, including one that was empty except for a few boxes, because what did two people need with five bedrooms? They didn’t, so they’d never used it. Granger’s bedroom was neat and vacant, as were all the other rooms upstairs.

Forge wondered if he might have been wrong, but Granger’s car had been in the garage, so he had to be home somewhere. Forge changed into more comfortable clothes and went back downstairs, then to the finished basement. They had built a huge media room there for parties and movies, but everything was dark. There was definitely something wrong. “Granger!” Forge yelled, his voice echoing through the cavernous entrance space. He returned to the kitchen, thinking about making something to eat, and noticed the sliding door that went out to the back deck was partially open.

“Granger?” he called more quietly as he pushed the door wide open and stepped out into the late-spring air. He inhaled, expecting to fill his nose with the scents of the flowering trees and shrubs that he’d planted all over the property. Sweetness filled his nose, but not quite what he was expecting. Forge walked to the far edge of the huge deck, to the very end of the circle of light, and looked out over the yard, but saw nothing. He returned to the kitchen and flipped on every switch, illuminating the backyard with a plethora of floods and landscape lighting.

Then he saw him, a figure, very familiar, lying on the grass, facedown. Forge gasped and willed his feet to move, but they remained planted where they were. Finally he got himself propelled down the deck stairs to the lawn and over to where Granger lay in a heap, covered in blood… so much blood. Forge turned away and lost whatever had been in his stomach, falling to his knees as he retched a few feet away from what was left of his husband. Even his military training as a medical logistics specialist, where he’d spent a lot of time in hospitals, hadn’t prepared him for this.

Forge forced himself to turn and look at Granger. The body was covered in blood. What was left of his light blue shirt, mostly soaked with blood, was covered in holes. Someone had wanted to make sure Granger was not only dead, but ripped apart. For a second it reminded him of a scene from one of the Godfather movies.

Forge crumpled onto the ground, weeping softly for Granger. He cried for what they’d been to each other and for what might have been and had been snuffed out long before its time.

Once he was able to think again, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and called 911. “I need some help. My name is Forge Reynolds. My husband has been shot multiple times.” He gave her the address and did his very best not to fall apart completely.

“Is he breathing?”

“No. I got home a few minutes ago and found him in the backyard. He’s been shot, a lot of times, and….” He gasped and grew silent.

“Emergency services are on the way.”

“Thank you, and we definitely need the police.” It was probably a given from what he’d told her, but his mind was more than a little clouded at the moment.

“Don’t worry, sir. We’ve alerted everyone, and they are already on their way.” The operator continued to talk in a soothing voice, but he wasn’t listening.

Sirens sounded in the distance, drawing closer. Forge went back inside and out the front door. Fire trucks, police, and an ambulance all arrived, filling his driveway. “They’ve arrived, thank you,” Forge told the operator and hung up, then directed everyone out to the backyard.

An officer asked for Forge’s information, and he rattled it off numbly. “Just wait in the living room,” the policeman told him, and Forge did as instructed while everyone else traipsed through the house and out to the yard. The officer returned a few minutes later and sat on the edge of one of the chairs across from him. “I’m Officer Wilson. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I got home from work and found him in the backyard. I didn’t know where he was at first, and it took me a while to find him. I knew Granger had to be home—his car was in the garage. I found the open patio door and turned on all the lights.”

“Did you try to revive him?”

Forge shook his head. “He was covered in blood and full of holes. I got sick when I saw him.” Forge tried to breathe evenly to keep down the possibility of getting sick again. “Then I called for help and all of you arrived.”

“Isn’t it late to get home from work?” Officer Wilson asked.

“Granger and I have been having problems. We’re in the middle of a messy divorce… or at least we were. So coming home hasn’t been very pleasant, and I work late quite a bit.”

Officer Wilson nodded as he made notes. “Can anyone vouch for that?”

“Yes.” Forge checked his watch. “I left the office forty minutes ago and said good night to the cleaning crew, Grant and his sister, Rhonda. They’ll remember me.” He provided the address where he worked, having nothing to hide.

“Did Granger have any enemies?”

“Probably. He was an attorney, combative and high-powered. He won a lot more cases than he lost, so I’m sure he made enemies of some sort. But I don’t know anyone who’d want to kill him. He didn’t do criminal work. He mostly represented companies or fought against them when that was the case. Sure, insurance companies loved and hated him, depending on what side of the case they were on, but I doubt they’d gun him down in the backyard.” This whole thing didn’t make any sense. He shook his head, unable to think of anything else to say.

“You said you were getting a divorce.”

“Yes. We were married in 2014 when it became legal, and shortly afterward, things began falling apart, I guess. We filed about eight months ago.”

“But you’re both still living here?”

Forge shook his head. “Yes, we’ve both been living here, but in separate rooms. Granger is an attorney, so the divorce was another case he had to win. He cheated on me, and I kicked him out of our bedroom. It’s been hard, but I didn’t hurt him.”

“I wasn’t saying you did, but the more facts we have, the better.” Officer Wilson continued making notes, and Forge wished he knew if Officer Wilson believed him or not. It worried him that they might think he’d done this when Forge had nothing to do with it. On television, ex-husbands and ex-wives got blamed for things all the time.

“I’m sure.” Forge grew quiet since it seemed Officer Wilson might have run out of questions for now. But he had no illusions—there would be plenty more.

Another policeman appeared in the doorway, and Officer Wilson stood and walked over to him. They talked softly for a few seconds, and then Officer Wilson left. The other man sat down quietly. Forge knew he was being babysat, which was fine. He wasn’t interested in being alone.

Forge dug his phone out of his pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“Making a call.” He found the number in his contacts, and the call connected. “Vince, it’s Forge. I need your help.”

“I’m working on the papers now.”

“I don’t…. Look, I got home and found Granger shot in the backyard. I’m sure he’s dead. The police are here right now and….”

“Jesus…. Okay, I’m on my way.” Vince hung up, and Forge placed his phone on the coffee table.

“Mr. Reynolds,” yet another officer said as he came into the room with Officer Wilson. The babysitter stayed where he was. “I’m Detective Coleridge.” He looked at the others, and they retreated, leaving the two of them alone. “I understand you found the victim.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see or hear anything when you were out there?”

“No. I turned on the lights and saw Granger. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. I went to see if I could help him, but he wasn’t moving and was full of holes and his skin was pale.”

“Did you touch or move him in any way?”

“I didn’t move him, and I don’t think I touched him.” Forge tried to remember even that short time ago. “No, I didn’t touch him. With all that blood, I hadn’t thought to.” All he’d known was that Granger was gone for good now, and that last nugget of hope that resided down deep inside him had died. It was over for him and Granger—the marriage, the fighting, the love they’d once had. It was gone just like that. Forge leaned forward and cradled his head in his hands.

“Have you checked everywhere in the house?”

“Almost. Granger always left a trail of lights. Never turned off a switch in his life. He’d go to bed, close the door, and leave every light in the house turned on. If you wanted to know where he’s been, you just followed the trail of lights.” Forge didn’t even look up. He was miserable, and this…. How did anyone deal with this?

“I think you need to come with me.” Detective Coleridge stood, and Forge did as well, his legs shaky.

He followed him through the family room to Granger’s office. The lights hadn’t been on before, but they were now. From the doorway Forge saw the room had been tossed. He took a cautious step inside. Papers littered the floor, and the drawers to Granger’s desk had been pulled out, the contents spilled onto the floor. All of Granger’s books had been added to the pile, stripped off their perfectly neat shelves and thrown haphazardly. Pictures had been yanked off the walls and smashed on top of everything else, the chairs upended and cushions tossed aside.

“Jesus. They’ve been inside my house. Whoever the hell they are.” Since Granger had been killed outside, it never occurred to him that the killers had been in the house.

“Do you know what they could be looking for?” Coleridge asked, but Forge shook his head.

“This was Granger’s office, an extension of his work, and that meant confidentiality. Not that he kept work files in here—those rarely left the office. This was his sanctuary, where he went when he was bothered or wanted alone time.” The sofa that had once been along the wall opposite the front windows was gone. Forge missed that old thing. When they’d first moved in, Granger had put their old living room sofa in his office.

Suddenly Forge was younger and he’d come into the office to bring Granger a mug of tea. It was winter and cold. Granger had looked up from what he’d been doing, heat in his gaze, and the mug had barely made it to the desk before they’d both toppled onto the sofa, tearing at each other’s clothes….

“Sir?”

Forge blinked back to the present. Granger was gone, just like the sofa. There weren’t ever going to be any more afternoons like that. Not that there had been recently. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been in this room in months.”

“Do you know what they were looking for? Is there a safe?”

“Yes. But if that’s what they were hoping to find, they were way off. And it didn’t hold anything that would be work-related. We kept personal valuables in it, like wills, deeds, and legal documents for the two of us. It’s buried in the concrete basement floor and certainly isn’t going anywhere short of them blasting it.”

“Where’s the computer?”

Forge carefully entered the room and walked around to the other side of the desk. He tugged on the front molding, and it lowered slightly. Then Forge found the lever under the desk on the right and moved it halfway, which shoved out a small block on the underside. Forge removed it and then pushed the molding down the rest of the way, revealing a finished shelf on rollers that slid out with the laptop sitting on top of it. “Granger loved puzzles. The shelves in the living room with the carved boxes?” He waited for Coleridge to nod. “They’re all antique puzzle boxes. You have to know how to move things just right in order to open them. He collected them even as a kid. He loved the idea of a puzzle desk.”

“Seems like a lot of work to me.”

He smiled sadly. “Granger could unlock the desk in five seconds, in the pitch dark. He loved it.” Forge stroked the smooth surface before pulling his hand back. “I’m sorry.” He probably shouldn’t touch anything he didn’t need to.

“Sir, there’s someone here to see Mr. Reynolds. He says he’s his lawyer.”

“We’re going to need to take the computer,” Coleridge said as Forge walked toward the door of the ransacked room.

Forge looked over his shoulder. “Of course. But good luck with it. Granger was a nut for electronic security, and if that laptop had anything to do with his work, it will be password protected and encrypted to within an inch of your life.” He left the room and met Vince in the entrance hall. “Thank you for coming.” He didn’t know what else to do and was grateful when Vince wrapped him in a hug.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Me too. Someone killed Granger, executed him in a hail of bullets it looks like, and they tore apart his office.” Forge shivered hard. The entire evening felt surreal. “They were in the house.” He paused as the coroner arrived and brought a gurney through. Forge shook as it hit him again that Granger was dead.

Vince pushed Forge toward the living room, then down to the couch, and sat next to him. “I’ll talk to the police, but I doubt they can think you had anything to do with this.”

“I gave them my alibi information. I was at work and had just come home.” Thank God for building security cameras and the cleaning staff. “But what am I going to do? How can I be safe here?”

Vince nodded and reached into his bag, then rummaged for a few seconds before finding what he needed. “Call them. They provide security. I usually use them for female clients whose husbands, or sometimes abusers, don’t want to let go.”

Forge took the card.

When the officers returned, Vince stood and took charge. “Is there anything else we can help you with?”

“He lawyered up quickly,” Coleridge observed snidely, making more notes.

“Actually he hasn’t. I’m a friend, and I was his divorce attorney.” Vince smiled the way a wolf might smile at a deer. “No one has said anything about him not cooperating to speak with you. However, the attitude is history. Once we know time of death, we should be able to prove he was nowhere near the house when Granger was killed, and he wants to help as much as he can so you catch who killed him. So lose the self-important behavior or the only way you’ll be able to speak to him is through me, and that’s the last thing you want during an investigation like this. Especially one that’s going to make every newspaper in the state, by the looks of what’s out front.”

“Are there news people already?” Forge asked, looking toward the front of the house.

Vince pulled the curtains on the window. “Yes. They heard the calls on the scanner and scurried over. Just stay inside and don’t talk to anyone. If you have to go out and are asked any questions, just say you have no comment. If they enter the property, call the police for trespassing.”

Thank God Vince knew what to do about all this, because Forge was lost.

Coleridge cleared his throat. “I have just a few last things. If you’re staying in the house, please refrain from going into the office. We’re processing the scene now, but access tomorrow would also be good.”

“Of course.” The last thing Forge wanted was to go back in there.

“We’ve removed the body, and they’re finishing work in the backyard.”

“Do you have an approximate time of death?” Vince asked.

“Approximately six p.m.,” Coleridge answered.

Forge thought for a minute. “So it’s possible that they were already here when he got home. But then why not kill him in the house if he walked in on them?”

“It’s fairly clear that he was shot outside. We’ve recovered bullets from the surrounding area. My guess is that he was already home, was lured outside, shot, and then the killers had all the time they needed. The lots here are big, so witnesses might be hard to find, and it’s likely they used something to silence the shots. We’ll know once the lab is able to analyze what we’ve found.”

“How long will that take?”

“Unfortunately it can take a while. We need to send this in and then get in line with all the other cases from all the other jurisdictions. Of course, your friends in the news media have a way of moving things to the front of the line. I’ll let you know what I can.” Coleridge handed Forge a card. “Call me if you think of anything or come across anything.”

“I will.”

“The only thing I need to see before I leave is the safe you spoke about.”

Forge got up and led Coleridge down to the basement. He moved a few boxes out of the corner to expose the top of the safe and worked the combination. Once it was unlocked, he pulled open the door. He reached inside and got out the papers they’d always kept in there. “Our wills.” He was going to need Granger’s, but he let Coleridge see it just to get that off the table.

Coleridge briefly looked over the documents that Forge withdrew. “You inherit everything.”

Forge furrowed his brow. “Is that a surprise? We may have been separating, but as his husband, the majority of his assets would transfer to me anyway.” Like the house they’d been fighting over, as well as all the other things Granger had worked to try to hide or transfer. All that hostility and fighting had been for nothing at all… on both their parts.

“Not at all. Is there anything in the safe that you don’t expect?”

“No.” He pulled out some of the trinkets and valuables that he and Granger had stored there. Jewelry from their families, and even some things they no longer wore. Envelopes containing a few letters and coins that had been given to him when he was a child. “There’s nothing here.”

“Okay. Then if they were looking for something, where would he hide it?” Coleridge asked.

“I don’t know. As I said, Granger loved puzzles, so there might be a place to start on his computer. I just don’t know. If I had an idea of what they wanted, then I might have an idea of what to look for.” It was obvious Detective Coleridge didn’t know what it was either. Forge packed everything back in the safe, closed the door, and locked it once again.

“Thank you.” They climbed the stairs to join the others, who looked like they were packing up.

“I’ll call if I think of anything, and I’m sure you’ll be back to see me.” Forge was running out of energy. He hadn’t eaten since noon, and his lack of food and all the excitement was taking a toll.

Coleridge left with the others, and once the front door closed on the last of the police, Forge was alone with Vince.

Forge ran a hand over his face as he sat on the couch again. “What am I going to do?” There was no way he could go up to bed as though nothing had happened. What if the people who killed Granger decided to come back? His first thought was to try to find a hotel or something.

“I already called my friends for you, and they’re sending someone over. I didn’t think being alone was a good idea. I’ve worked with them before, and they provide quality bodyguards. They understand security and how to protect people.”

“But a stranger?” He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. But then, staying in the house alone wasn’t an option either.

“The man they’re sending has worked with three of my clients over the years, and they all love him. This isn’t something to worry about. He will understand what you’re going through. He’s former military, like you.” Vince checked his watch. “I hate to leave you, but if I don’t get back home, Carrie is going to rip my arms off.”

“Your daughter is nine,” Forge commented.

“True, but she has that tone that can make your spine want to crawl, and I promised her I’d be back before she went to bed.” Vince chuckled. “Just be sure to lock all the doors and keep your phone close.”

“Go on. I’ll be fine until he arrives.” Forge looked at the card again, then stood and saw Vince to the door. Once he was gone, Forge locked it and hurried through the house, making sure the doors and windows were secured. With that done Forge sat in the family room, turned on the television, and ignored it in favor of trying not to freak the hell out.

Now that the house was quiet and he was alone with his thoughts, Forge began to shake for a few seconds before calming himself. Granger was gone, murdered. Forge had no idea why all this was happening. But whatever the reason, he hoped they’d found what they wanted and would leave him alone now. He took a deep, steadying breath and tried to clear his mind. It didn’t work, as all he kept seeing was Granger dead in the yard.

The doorbell rang, and Forge jumped half a mile. He was lucky he didn’t put a hole in the ceiling. He went to answer it, but stopped before opening it, standing to the side against the wall. “Who is it?”

“Livingston Security,” a deep voice answered. “Mr. Reynolds?”

“Yes.” Forge unlocked the door, opened it, and stepped back to let the huge man inside. Reporters yelled questions at him in the brief moment it took for the man to step inside, but Forge tried to ignore them and the flashing of their cameras. He closed and locked the door once again. “I’m Forge Reynolds—” He turned and stopped dead in his tracks, looking into the deepest brown eyes he’d ever seen in his life. “Oh my God….” Forge couldn’t help staring. He’d never expected to see those eyes or the man they were attached to again. “Gage? Gage Livingston?” Forge could hardly believe his eyes. Instantly he was transported back fifteen—no, seventeen—years to his days in the Army.

“I knew this had to be you. How many Forge Reynoldses are there in the world?” Gage turned and looked over the house while Forge shivered as a chill settled in the air. “We got a call that you needed some protection.”

The additional shock nearly sent him to his knees. He hadn’t ever expected to see Gage again, least of all on the worst day of his life. “My husband was killed in the backyard, and whoever did it trashed his office looking for something. I don’t know if they found it, but… what if they didn’t and they decide to come back?”

Gage nodded slowly. “Why don’t you show me through the house so I can get an idea of what’s where and any areas we’ll need to secure?”

“Sure.” Forge led the way, explaining what each room was and letting Gage look through them. He pulled out a small pad and made some notes. They only peered into the office, being careful not to disturb the security tape before moving on.

“Why were they only searching the office? Why not the entire house?” Gage asked. “It seems to me that if they were looking for something, they’d look everywhere.”

“I have no idea, unless they knew whatever they wanted was in here. They didn’t get his computer. The police have that.” Forge explained about the desk, and Gage nodded. “There was no way they would have known it was in there unless Granger had specifically told them. So I’m not surprised they missed it.”

“And you think if they didn’t get what they wanted, they’ll be back?”

“I don’t know. Granger was murdered and his office ransacked. I don’t know what to think.” Forge held his head as a wave of dizziness came over him.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Lunch.”

Gage nodded. “Come on. Let’s get you something to eat and maybe you’ll feel better.” He was all business, and part of Forge was grateful for it, while the other half was dying to ask the question he’d wanted to know for almost seventeen years, since he’d been transferred and Gage was getting ready to be sent home. God, that was so long ago, but Forge had been head over heels in love with Gage, and when he’d gotten settled, he’d written Gage at the address he’d given him. But he’d never gotten an answer. He’d thought Gage had loved him in return—he’d said he did—but there had never been a response. It broke his heart all those years ago.

Forge followed him into the kitchen, where Gage opened the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of orange juice. Forge motioned to where they kept the glasses. Gage opened the cabinet, grabbed one, poured him the juice, and slid the glass toward him on the granite countertop. “Drink that.” He turned away, then pulled out sandwich things and nosed around for plates, making himself at home.

“How long have you been doing this kind of work?” Forge drank the juice, the sugar hitting him pretty quickly.

“I left the Army seventeen years ago, as you know. After a year or so of therapy and recovery, I needed something to do. A friend from Milwaukee convinced me to move here, and we started the business. I was looking for a way to be on my own, so I took his idea. I bought him out five years ago, and now I own and run it.” Gage made sandwiches like he was dealing cards, then passed a plate over to Forge before taking a seat on the other side of the island. “What do you do?”

“I’m an interior designer for high-end clients, as well as corporate offices and work spaces. After I was done in the Army, I used my GI Bill to go to college.” God, Forge remembered how hard that had been to start with. He’d never thought he had what it took to go to college, but a few years of being on his own and growing up had done him a world of good, and he’d been able to thrive. He ate the ham sandwich Gage had made him and felt better as soon as food hit his stomach.

“How long were you and Granger together?”

“Twelve and a half years. Ten happy ones, one tough one, followed by the last awful eight months, where we’ve fought over everything from the house to the damn furniture. He and I were in the midst of a split.”

Gage set his sandwich back down on the plate. “I’m sorry.”

Forge looked down at the counter, dangling his sandwich over his plate. “Granger cheated on me, but it was more than that. I can see where we’d been growing apart. Hindsight being twenty-twenty and all.”

“And you both lived here… together?”

“Yes. He had his room and office, and I had my bedroom. We both worked all the time, probably to keep from seeing each other, because when we did, we tended to rehash all the arguments for the divorce. So instead of descending into a War of the Roses, we worked.” Forge hadn’t realized how pathetic his life had become until he talked about it that way.

“So you’re still married?” Gage asked.

“Technically I’m a widower, and all the divorce fights and the hurt from his cheating came to nothing. I can still resent the son of a bitch, but he’s gone….” Forge looked down at his sandwich again. “That hasn’t even sunk in yet. And while I’m relieved, I’m not happy about it. Granger didn’t deserve what happened to him.” He lifted his gaze, the question he’d wanted to ask for nearly two decades on the tip of his tongue. But the look on Gage’s face made it die out unasked.

Gage finished his sandwich and set the plate in the sink. “I’m going to check out the property and lighting. I suggest we turn on all the outdoor lights you have.”

“Switches are right over there.” Forge pointed, and Gage went over to turn them on as he peered outside.

“I’m going to go out and look things over. Lock the door behind me, and I’ll knock when I want back in.”

Gage slipped out, and Forge did as he asked, watching through the glass until Gage disappeared into the shadows at the edge of the yard. “Damn.” Even knowing he was in the yard, Forge couldn’t see him at all. He went back to finish his sandwich, feeling better just knowing Gage was out there.

He finished eating and added his plate to Gage’s. He grabbed a soda and went into the family room once again. The television was still on, but he turned it off and sat, listening. As seconds ticked by, his anxiety ramped up. The refrigerator kicked on, and he started slightly before settling back into his chair. He’d been on edge since he found Granger dead, but this… the break-in. His nerves frayed a little more with every sound.

He yelped when Gage knocked on the back door, then went to open it. Forge’s hands shook as he turned the bolt and let him in. Gage carried in a small bag and set it down. Thankfully, Gage closed and locked the door for him.

“Everything is fine outside. I didn’t see anything. Go ahead and go on upstairs. Take a shower, let yourself relax a little, and then go to bed.”

“Do you want me to show you to the guest room?”

“It’s not necessary. I saw it when you showed me through the house. I’ll only need a blanket if I can get one. You go on upstairs, and I’m going to stay down here. If you need anything, just yell. I’ll hear you.”

“Okay.” Forge wasn’t sure how well he was going to sleep, but he was dead on his feet and realized that everything around Granger’s death was just beginning. This whole thing wasn’t going to be a sprint, but more like a marathon, and he had to be able to go the distance. “I appreciate you coming on such short notice.” His gaze caught Gage’s, and for a second, he was right back in the hospital, sitting next to Gage’s bed, listening and writing as Gage dictated a letter home to his family. Forge had spent many hours by that bed, reading Gage the letters he received and helping him write home. He’d also read him entire books during his off hours, and they’d often talked well into the night just so Gage wouldn’t be alone when the pain got to be too much.

“It’s no problem.” Neither of them moved, and Forge barely heard Gage’s response, his mind going in multiple directions. His memories pulled too hard at him.

Forge finally blinked out of his thoughts, turning away. “I’ll get the blanket.” He went up the stairs to the linen closet, brought one down, and handed it to Gage. Then he went back up to the master bathroom, undressed, and got into the shower.

The heat washed over him, his nearly cramping legs and arms finally letting go of the tension he’d been carrying for hours. However, his mind played emotional ping-pong, going back and forth between Granger’s death and finding his body, to Gage being in his home, just downstairs. Forge tried not to wonder what would have happened if he’d come home earlier. He had little doubt that if he’d been home, they’d have killed him too. And the fact that he had Gage downstairs to protect him now was a comfort. A bodyguard was one thing, but Gage, after seventeen years…. Not that it mattered. Gage had walked away before…. But damn, those old feelings had roared back to life.

He finished showering, turned off the water, and dried off, checking himself in the mirror. Forge yawned and figured he might as well try to sleep. He pulled on a pair of boxers, walked into his bedroom, and climbed into bed after turning off the lights and pulling the curtains. Not that it did any good at all. He lay staring up at the high, coved ceiling, wondering if this whole thing had really happened. As much as he’d wanted to end his marriage to Granger, he wouldn’t have wished this on him. And of course, now he felt so damned guilty for everything. Forge rolled over and closed his eyes. He needed to try to get some sleep somehow, but it looked as though it was going to be a long night.