Chapter 1

 

CHUCK STARED at his phone, cursing God and every intelligent person who created such an evil invention. It beeped its cheerful chimes, and he fought back the shout threatening to rip free from his throat.

What possessed him to accept the stupid thing? His boss swore Chuck needed one. He’d be able to get ahold of Chuck faster, but he’d never understood Chuck’s aversion to electronics.

The upbeat chimes rang again, and he raised his hand to throw it under the fast-approaching bus. Chuck was sure Summerson would accept an accident excuse. Not his fault he tripped and it flew out of his hand. An evil grin formed on his face.

“Wait. Can I help?”

The offending instrument seemed to fly from his hand and not toward the road like he’d intended. Chuck turned to glare at the man who dared intervene in the upcoming destruction of his phone.

“Only if you can make that thing stop ringing.” Chuck gestured toward the rectangular object the stranger held in his hands.

Bright green eyes blinked at him from behind thick glasses. “Did you try answering it?”

Chuck inhaled, silently repeating the mantra his therapist gave him to calm his temper. “If I knew how to answer it, I’d have done so by now.”

A twitch of plump lips and Chuck knew the man was laughing at him. Indignation rocketed through him.

He dragged his gaze over the shorter man, trying to stifle his own chuckle. Longish black curls stuck out at enough random angles for Chuck to surmise it wasn’t done on purpose. Baggy jeans hung on lean hips, and a ragged T-shirt barely covered his flat, pale stomach. Beat-up sneakers completed the ensemble, along with a black messenger bag slung crosswise over his chest.

“Didn’t anyone show you how to use it when you got it?” He swiped his finger over the screen and started pushing buttons.

“I was busy. My boss tossed it to me as I was leaving on a case.” Chuck crossed his arms and tried not to look disgruntled. “I don’t need a new phone.”

“You have ten voice mails.”

His elegant, long-fingered hand held the phone up to Chuck’s face, letting him see the number of messages.

“Great. The first one is probably from my mother, and the other nine are her complaining I never call her back.”

The young man’s lips twitched again, and Chuck wanted to ask if he had a nervous tick or something because, God knows, the kid wasn’t laughing at him.

“Well, if you do this and push this button, you can get the messages.”

The guy’s fingers flew over the small buttons, and Chuck didn’t even try to keep track of what he was doing. Lord knew he wasn’t going to keep the thing. He had his pager, and that was good enough, though the stupid thing didn’t always work. Probably had to do with the fact he tended to forget to charge it.

“You’re right. It’s your mom.”

Rolling his eyes, Chuck gestured vaguely. “Just delete them. I’ve heard everything she has to say.”

“Actually, she wants you to come for dinner tonight because your baby sister will be there. And you haven’t seen her in a month. She thinks you’ve been avoiding the family.” The stranger tilted his head. “Why would you avoid your family? Heck, if my parents remembered I was alive and wanted me to come to dinner, I’d be there every chance I got.”

“How many siblings do you have?” Chuck checked his watch. He still had time left on his lunch hour. He’d grab a hot dog from the corner vendor before he went inside.

“None. Only child. Though I wish I had a bunch of brothers and sisters. It would have been so much fun, building forts and going on picnics. We could do things for the science fair and practice for the spelling bee. So much fun,” the kid muttered.

Chuck snorted. “Kid, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I have six brothers and sisters, all younger. Not so much fun. There’s a lot of arguing, teasing, and the girls hogged the bathroom. There wasn’t much solitude or silence either. Trust me, I don’t think you’d enjoy it.”

“I’m not a kid. I’m twenty-seven. That’s not as old as you, I’m sure. Maybe that’s why you’re calling me ‘kid.’ Trying to act all superior and mature. My name’s Herb.” Herb stuck out his hand.

Stunned at the words pouring out of Herb’s mouth, Chuck shook his hand without saying anything. God, the kid was cute. Sure, Chuck felt like a perv, ogling the younger guy, but thank goodness Herb was older than he looked.

“What’s your name? Holy cow, you’re tall and hot. Are you gay?” Herb winced. “I shouldn’t have said anything like that. Now you’ll probably drag me into an alley and beat the shit out of me for coming on to you. I wasn’t really. I just have a problem keeping things in my head. They tend to spill out as I talk. Don’t get angry with me.”

“Kid, take a breath. I’m gay, so you’re safe there. Thanks for telling me I’m hot. It’s always good to get a compliment, but you really do need to watch what you say or you’re going to get your ass kicked.” Chuck took the phone and stuffed it in his pocket. He’d lose it before he got back to the precinct.

Herb hitched his messenger bag higher up on his shoulder, shoved his hand through his dark curls, and sighed. “I know, but I have so much stuff going on in my head. I just don’t have the energy to censor what I say. I mean, really, why should I have to worry about watching what I say? Others should have to deal with it.”

Chuck took Herb by the elbow and led him away from the curb while Herb chattered. They ended up by a corner hot dog vendor, and Chuck decided he’d get one there instead of from the guy outside the precinct. That guy would yell at him about the crime ruining the streets and shit like that. Chuck heard it enough from his own family; he didn’t need to get it from the guy feeding him.

“You want one?”

Herb wrinkled his nose and gagged. “Are you kidding me? Do you know all the crap they put in hot dogs? None of it’s good for you.”

“Don’t worry, Herb. I have a list of all the nasty stuff printed out and pinned to my bulletin board. Having two doctors in the family ensures I know all the terrible ingredients in all the stuff I love to eat. I bet you know what they put in Twinkies to make sure they’ll survive a nuclear holocaust.”

“Umm… no. Do you?” Herb’s eyes brightened. “That could be a great experiment. I don’t have anything to do this weekend. I might have to set up something to find out. I’d love to know.”

“No, you don’t. It’ll put you off eating them for life.” Chuck took two hot dogs from the vendor, just mustard for dressing.

“I’ve never had a Twinkie,” Herb admitted.

Chuck froze, one hot dog a few inches from his mouth, and stared at Herb. “You haven’t eaten a Twinkie. Were your parents granola lovers or something?”

“What does that have to do with Twinkies? No, I never ate dinner with them. I usually ate with the cook, and Marie always made sure I had healthy food.”

“You never shared one of your friend’s lunches and snacked on Oreos or something like that?”

Herb ducked his head and red tinted his cheeks. “I went to a boarding school. I didn’t have any friends.”

“Hmmm….” Chuck finished both hot dogs and wiped his hands on a napkin. “I suggest you should stop by a grocery store and pick up some sugar snacks. Oreos, Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes. Anything guaranteed to give you the jitters.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“To experience something different.” His phone rang. “Shit.”

He flipped open the phone and punched the button. “Yeah.”

“Davidson, get back here. We caught a body,” his partner, Petrovic, growled in his ear.

“Okay. I’m just a few blocks away, grabbing lunch. I’ll be right there.”

Chuck managed to turn off the phone and stuff it in his pocket. He’d dump it in the garbage on the way home.

“It was nice to meet you, Herb. I’ll tell you a secret. I think you’re cute too.” He leaned over and brushed a kiss on Herb’s lips. “Go and get some Oreos and milk, kid. Believe me, you haven’t tasted anything better in your life.”

He walked away, but something whispered to look back. When he did, Herb was still standing there, fingers pressed to his mouth and a rather stunned expression on his face.

Chuck winked and turned back with a little swagger in his step. Yep, for an old guy, he still had it.

 

 

“HEY, CHUCK, I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet.”

He glanced up from his dinner to eye his youngest sister, Jessie, with suspicion. His sisters had been trying to set him up since they found out he was gay. It was like they had a hundred gay friends just sitting around waiting for him to sweep them off their feet. Oh, it wasn’t that bad. Some of the guys were nice, and some he dated once or twice, but eventually his job would get in the way of anything going further than a date or two.

For some reason, people just couldn’t deal with the long hours and the terrible things that scarred his psyche. He couldn’t always leave his job at the precinct. There were nights when he didn’t sleep at all because his mind would race with thoughts and possibilities. The images of the dead haunted his sleep.

“Thanks, but no thanks. I told you the last time I didn’t want you to hook me up with anyone.” He shook his head before turning to his mother. “Have you heard from John lately?”

John was his youngest brother and was serving in the Army, stationed in Afghanistan at the moment. It was hard for John to get time to call, so everyone relied on their mother to pass on news about their brother.

“No. I’m afraid things might not be going well for him.” Mom glared at him. “You’d know this if you ever called me back. What’s the point of having a cell phone if you won’t answer it?”

“That thing hates me, Mom. It kept deleting the messages you left me. I managed to get the dinner invite, so I thought I’d come to catch up with Jessie.”

His sister rolled her eyes at him, and he hid his smile. Yeah, Jessie smelled the bullshit from the other side of the table.

“I call BS on that, Chuck. We know you hate technology. How did you ever figure out how to check your messages?” Luke, the brother closest to him in age, settled back in his chair and smirked at him after asking his question.

Chuck took a swig of beer and swallowed before answering. “Some cute little guy got the messages off the phone for me.”

“Great. How do you find some cute guy to help you while I search the clubs every weekend and can’t find one damn guy who isn’t interested in one-night stands or is married and looking to cheat?”

He shrugged and grinned at Debbie, his middle sister. “I think it has more to do with your taste in men than my ability to find cute guys.”

“Hush, all of you. Jessie’s young man sounds wonderful, Charles. You should consider taking his number and calling him. You’re not getting any younger. I don’t want you to be alone when your father and I are gone.” His mother leaned over and patted his hand.

Groaning, he hid his face in his hands. “Mom, I’m not middle-aged or anything like that. What makes you think I’ll be alone when I’m blessed with three brothers and three sisters I have to look after?”

Protests rang out, and soon friendly arguments filled the air. Chuck finished his meal without having to discuss his personal life with his mother or the rest of his family.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want a guy to spend the rest of his life with. It would be great to have someone to come home to and to cook for, but his career choice didn’t lend itself to solid relationships. He wasn’t the only one who had problems. Even a lot of the straight cops had difficulty holding on to their marriages. Chuck realized it took a special person to stay with a cop. He just hadn’t been lucky enough to find that person yet. Inside his heart, he kept hope burning that he’d run into the perfect man soon.