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Sunday, March 31, 2019

MoonFish--Surprise Visit! Part 7

So, yeah-- this is still going on--but we're drawing to a close and that's exciting!

Anyway-- in honor of MoonFish, and me being way behind, we're postponing Kermit Flail until May--so don't forget to send in your stuff if you have a book to pimp! (If I get a ton of stuff for April in the next week, I'll do one for next Monday, but in the meantime, Squish is having a birthday and I'm planning a party... and a class... and some events. So let's just say, you know. Busy.)
So Kermit Flail, first Monday in May, watch for it then. 

And in the meantime, enjoy the MoonFish!


“Oh dear God,” Jason muttered, struggling to sit up in the bed of the house they’d co-opted for the operation. “What now?”

“Craft fair,” Burton told him from the computer console that tapped into all the cameras they’d placed around Ellery Cramer’s house in the past week. “Jackson texted last night after we got in.”

“He what?”

Burton grimaced. Technically he never should have contacted Rivers at all, but after things like, say, an emergency trip to the Sierras to rescue a kid out of a tree, he figured that maybe Jackson’s pithy advanced notice comments did more good than harm. 

“Wanted us to know. Craft fair during the day, King’s game at night. I already got us tickets.”

“Kings game? They’re not bad this year.” Jason blinked hard, trying to wake up and Burton let out a sigh. 



“You need a break.”

And maybe because they’d been working the op together for four days and Jackson had almost given Constance a heart attack when he’d climbed that fucking tree, Jason actually said something real.

“I am having nightmares.”

Well of course. The things they’d seen, the things they’d known had happened, and, worse, the things they were anticipating that hadn’t happened yet. Burton had Ernie to go home to, but Constance, he watched over the whole lot of Psycho Unit USA (as some asshole had dubbed their detail, whom Burton would never forgive.) 

“I… Ernie helps,” Burton admitted, because hearing his CO and boss and friend admit that he wasn’t handling shit was a big admission. Nobody took advantage of the free psyche program in their detail. 


“Burton, can I ask you something?”

“Sir, yessir.”

Constance rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and scowled. “Very funny. How did you know? About being…gay?”

“Bi?” Burton shot back, but then took pity on his boss. “I knew. Girls were easier. And since, you know, this job, relationships not a thing, I did easy.”

“Then why Ernie?” 

Ernie hadn’t been easy at all. Ernie had been a spacy, bitter, kind mass of contradictions—who had known deep in his witchy bones that they were destined to be lovers from the moment he’d first heard Burton’s voice. 

Which was about three days before he’d seen his face.

Burton blew out a breath and smiled. “He, uh, wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Constance’s look of surprise made him laugh. “Really.”

Well, Burton cultivated his silence, his body, his entire demeanor, to be the guy people didn’t mess with. But then, Ernie cultivated his spaciness, his flexibility, his quiet yielding to the brutal winds of the world to be the guy people didn’t notice. 

And yet Ernie had kept bending Burton to his will. Burton had just looked at him and melted. And every time he tried to put up a barrier or put the brakes on, he’d thought about living without Ernie and…


“I can’t explain it,” he said humbly. 

Constance let out a bark of laughter. “And I came to you for advice?”

Burton rolled his eyes. “About what?”

Constance shook his head. “Nothing—it’s unimportant.”

Burton let out a sigh. “Jason, do you see those screens?”


“To the left of screen four, we’ve got a bad guy in waiting in a follow car. At nine o’clock, our three targets are going to leave the house in that ridiculous SUV of theirs and drive through this weird-ass city to go to a craft fair in the Rainbow District. Which means that in forty-five minutes one of us is going to go first and set up, and the other one is going to follow, and we’re going to be kind of busy for the next couple of hours. But until then, you and me got nothing but time. Now what? We’ve worked together for five years and you are the one person—including my parents—who knows about me and Ernie. So what is it you can’t tell me?”

Jason raised an eyebrow. “One person?”

Burton tilted his chin just enough. He didn’t talk about Ace and Sonny, and their little garage that managed to sustain itself on word of mouth alone. Jason knew, but Burton didn’t talk about them.

“Fine.” Jason blew out a breath. “Not bi, Lee. Gay. Me. Gay. And I haven’t hooked up since I became your CO. Because I’m ten years older than you, and ten years ago that sort of thing could have gotten me fucking killed.”

Burton was conscious that he had to close his mouth. He did that and swallowed to get rid of the dryness. “Really?”

“Would I fucking lie—”

“No. Not about this.” Burton held his hands. “But you heard me calling out for Ernie…” Neither of them liked to talk about the early days in Psycho Unit USA. Knowing who was out there, knowing what they’d been trained to do, knowing that someone from their military had basically set monsters loose on the world—nobody in their unit was okay.

“I guessed. I was right. And so I can talk to you.”

Burton grimaced. “Look. You know that place I don’t talk about?”


“It’s home. I… I made myself a home, even before I had myself an Ernie. Do you still live at the base?”

Constance scrubbed his face. “Yeah. God yeah.”

“Make yourself a home. Take your own advice. Get the fuck off the base and find a thing that’s human and real. You don’t need to hookup—you need to connect. And that’s a whole different thing.”

Constance gave half a laugh and nodded. “That’s… that’s some wise words,” he said softly. “I’ll remember that.”

“My pleasure, sir,” Burton said dryly. “You want to shower before we have to get to it? These people have a shower with a steam setting—I feel like all my dangly parts are clean, you know?”

Constance laughed outright then. “I’ll try to make it quick.”

“You completely missed the point. Now go!”

Burton watched his CO disappear into the bathroom and looked back at his screens. Nope, nothing yet. He knew they were out there—he’d seen flashes of one guy, shadows really. They needed them both. Getting one wouldn’t do it—both would help them put pressure on the people who issued the contract.

He was ready for this detail to end already. 

Usually when he was sent to guard a target, there was a hint of wrong doing—some sense that this person had agreed to live dangerously. Ellery Cramer’s mother had done nothing more than issue a few delicate inquiries as to where Karl Lacey had gotten his money. Yes, it was officially poking her nose where it didn’t belong—but issuing a hit wasn’t usually the first protocol for that kind of thing. A runaround would have done just fine.

He thought about the way the woman had ruthlessly dragged her son and his boyfriend through pretty much every public experience known to man. 

Well, maybe not the runaround—but at least try a sternly worded letter of discouragement before death, right?

At his belt his pocket buzzed, three short bursts, like he’d programmed his phone to do with Ernie and Ernie alone.

See you tomorrow, Cruller. Can’t wait!

Burton blinked, and a buzz of excitement hit his stomach, like it had when he’d been deployed and action had been in the air. He didn’t ask if Ernie knew that for certain, and didn’t ask how he knew. 

Took Ernie on faith, which was the only way to take his flaky, witchy, sexy as hell boyfriend. 

Me neither. Love you.

Love you back.

Burton smiled softly at the phone, not feeling dumb in the least. One way or another, he would see Ernie tomorrow—and he was damned if he’d let grieving over friends ruin his homecoming.

He was going to get these guys and he was going to leave Rivers, Cramer, and the woman he was starting to think of as Lucy Satan in his rearview, safe as bunnies on his watch. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

MoonFish--Surprise Visit!--Part 6

Okay folks-- just the MoonFish tonight. Enjoy--

Surprise Visit! Part  6

The trip up was surprisingly quiet, and at first, Jackson thought it was just because the damned tank was so loud without the extra padding and insulation that Sonny and Ace had pulled out to make it slightly more fuel efficient.

Then he'd glanced in the rearview mirror and had seen Lucy Satan asleep, hands folded in her lap, head against the head rest, perfectly composed like a vampire.

But vulnerable still.

He felt bad for a moment. Ellery's mother didn't deserve a hit out on her--but then, she was fighting the same people in court that Jackson and Ellery had fought on the ground that winter, so maybe what she deserved and what was happening had no relation whatsoever.

"What?" Ellery practically shouted in his ear.

Jackson just shook his head, unwilling to tell Ellery that his mother looked helpless, because as far as Ellery was concerned, Lucy Satan was invulnerable and perfect, and Jackson didn't ever want to change that for him. He felt like it was wrong on a cellular level, to let Ellery think his mother could be harmed.

They made it to Kaden and Rhonda's house, which was back in a little development called SugarBaker's Cove. The houses were on four to five acre plots, most of the plots filled with dense woodland beyond whatever yard development the homeowner implemented. Some people had four acres of swimming pools and tennis courts, but Kaden and Rhonda weren't rich, only prudent. They had a backyard big enough for the kids to play kickball in, and a lot of fucking trees.

Kaden and Rhonda, and their children, River and Diamond, were out in front, nervously pacing as they pulled up. Two ginormous fucking Boxer/Mastiff hybrid dogs were sitting patiently at their heels, waiting for the occasional pet so they could slobber on whoever offered.

"Uncle Jackson!" River had grown. She was, what? Eleven this year? A beauty like her mother, she wore her hair back in thick braids, and had gotten tall enough for Jackson to rest his chin on her crown when he lowered his head.

"Hey, pretty girl," he murmured. "What's going on? You haven't found him yet?"

River shook her head and wiped her eyes. "He was weird all week, like freaking out and crying and Mom and Dad couldn't get him to talk and this morning we were supposed to go to school and he was gone before we woke up!"

"It's a good day at school!" her brother Diamond told him. "We get treats and stuff, but maybe not..." He looked at his sister nervously. "Maybe not in the seventh or eighth grade."

"WE get them in the sixth grade," River sniffed. "I don't see why Anthony wouldn't get them in the seventh."

Anthony had started out as a lonely kid who'd taken a job to bug Jackson and Ellery's car. But once Jackson grabbed him--and realized that the one witness to the transaction had been killed--he'd become a witness in need of protection. Kaden and Rhonda had stepped up because Jackson had asked them to--and because the police didn't see the need at first.

But Anthony--who'd been a foster child most of his life--had fit into the Cameron household like he'd been born into it. Kaden and Rhonda had asked if they could take over his fostering, and had been looking into an actual adoption--and the happy ever after that Anthony had cynically believed would never happen to him.

Jackson had no idea what would make the kid take off and leave. Except...

"Don't report cards come out today?" he asked the kids.

"Yeah." Diamond looked at his father. "I don't get real grades yet," he said ingratiatingly, "but if I did, I'm sure they would be A's." His smile--wide and white against the ebony of his skin--was extra sugary sweet.

Kaden rolled his eyes and looked at Jackson. "I so believe that," he muttered.

"Yeah, that totally wasn't a line." Jackson tried to look sternly at his nephew, but Diamond's smirk was just so transparent he couldn't. "God, kid, you'd better get your act together for seventh grade."

Diamond laughed outright. "Well, yeah. They use percentages and letter grades in seventh grade. I know bad things happen to people who can't figure that out!"

The laughter relaxed the little family for just a moment, and then they sobered.

"Well," Ellery's mother said, a big bag of all sorts of treasures over her shoulder, "I'm sure you can completely explain to me why it's okay to not do your best in school when you're obviously smart enough to fool the system, but in the meantime, how about I take you children inside and we make some breakfast and let the adults try to find your foster brother."

"Our brother," River said fiercely. "He says 'foster brother' like he's afraid he's going to get moved to another home, and we keep trying to tell him we want him forever." She pulled away from Jackson to look at him with pleading in her eyes. "Uncle Jackson, we're the only home he's ever had. I don't even know where he thinks he'd go."

Jackson nodded. "I would bet he's not far away," he said softly. In fact, he'd put actual money on it. "Go in with Lucy... uh, Mrs. Cramer, and see what she's got for you." He met Lucy Satan's eyes and she nodded. "She came from a long ways away just to bring you good things."

Lucy nodded and disappeared with the children inside, and Rhonda gave a sigh of relief.

"Oh good, they're gone now, and I can tell you we are losing our fucking minds. Jesus, Jackson, where in the hell could that kid go?" Her eyes got bright again, like they had when they'd pulled up. "He was so happy until about a week ago, and he started slinking around like he was afraid we were going to drop the hammer on him at any moment. I caught him crying when I went to tuck him in, and he said he was just sad, but it's got to be something."

Jackson nodded. "I, uh...look. I've got an idea." He pulled out his phone and punched some buttons. "And better yet, I've got a tracker on him."

Kaden's mouth fell open. "YOu've got a what?"

Jackson shrugged. "Remember? I bought him that phone when I brought him up here. He took it with him, right?"

They both nodded. "Doesn't go anywhere without it," Rhonda said. "Those games you let him buy are like his favorite things."

Jackson smiled a little. "Does he have a charger?" he asked, and Kaden clapped his hand over his eyes.

"He's got my charger! It disappeared last night!"

"I bet he packed a lunch too," Jackson said.

Rhonda--who was Kaden's smarter half--looked at Jackson compassionately. "What is this about?"

"You guys, grades are coming out. This kid hasn't had you for parents very long--how good do you think his grades are going to be?"

Kaden groaned and pinned Jackson with a frustrated glare. "Oh Jesus--I should have known."

"Kaden," Rhonda said kindly, "it's not your fault--how would you--"

"Oh, trust me," Kaden muttered. "I'd know. Well, Jackson, where is he?"

"Let me go find him," Jackson said. "I... you know. I've got a little experience with this."

"Text us when you see him. I need to go have a heart attack."

"Yeah--he's somewhere in the backyard."

"We've been back there--we spent the morning with the dogs going through the area. There's nothing there but trees."  Kaden looked at the dogs. "By the way, you two were a terrible disappointment in the search and rescue department. I thought you liked that kid."

The dogs looked up at him, tongues lolling, and waited for more pets.

"Morons," Kaden muttered.

"Anubis, Orion, door!" Rhonda commanded crisply, and the dogs ran to the front porch and turned around, ruffs bristling, eyes alert for any danger.

"Yeah, honey. They're the dumb ones," she said sweetly. Then, to Jackson, "You can find him?"

"I promise," he said. "But maybe let me go alone."

Ellery grabbed his hand. "Alone?"

Jackson winked at him. "Trust me. We'll be fine."

There wasn't a hit on Anthony anymore, and the more people around Ellery's mother the better.

Ellery kissed his cheek and let him go, and Jackson kept his eye on his phone and sauntered around to the backyard.

Kaden wasn't kidding about it being a lot of fucking trees, but some trees are more memorable to an agile twelve-year-old than others, and Jackson spotted the appropriate tree immediately, then went to stand near the bottom.

"Anthony," he called, looking up, "would you care to explain?"

He wanted to yell--he really did. The kid had dragged him and Ellery out of bed, had scared his entire family, had caused all sorts of trouble, and dammit, over a report card?

But Jackson looked into the kid's tear ravaged face as he peered down from about twenty-feet, and couldn't even be mad. He'd been that kid before. So surprised that anybody would even give a shit about his grades that he couldn't figure out how to fix them before he let that person down.

"You can't tell them," he said, hiccuping. "You can't."

"Yeah, kid. Sure. Here--I'm coming up."  It wasn't a bad climb, really. Jackson was wearing a sweatshirt in deference to the coolness of the hills near Truckee and his jeans were relatively hole free. With a jump and a pull and some scrambling, he managed to make it as high as the kid was, and he stood, holding on to the trunk of the pine tree, wondering if he was going to have to cut his hair to get all the sap out.

Anthony had curly brown hair that framed his pale face, and a lot of that was matted together with pine tar. Poor kid was probably going to miss that hair when Rhonda had to shave it to his scalp.

"So," Jackson said conversationally when he'd caught his breath, "what class are you flunking?"

Anthony looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and a wobbling lip. "All... all... all of them!" He burst into sobs, leaning up against the trunk of the tree by Jackson's knees, and Jackson reached down and stroked his sap-sticky hair.

"Oh kid," he said softly. "Why wouldn't you tell them? Rhonda's a teacher--"

"She's a teacher," Anthony wailed, "and I'm stupid! And how could they want me if I'm stupid--"

Jackson sighed and scrambled down to a sitting position, on a limb about two feet lower than Anthony's. "You're not stupid," he said softly. "You just had other things on your mind these last few years. Which home you were going to, whether you'd have clothes or food, whether your next set of parents would be dicks--man, you've had a full plate."

"But everything's perfect now," Anthony hiccuped. "And I"m a loser who can't pass math! Or English! Or history! Or science!"

"You passing PE?" Jackson asked, hoping for a win.

"I keep forgetting my shoes," Anthony said glumly, and Jackson held back a smile.

"Well, yeah, some years are like that. Look. Anthony?"

Anthony stared at his tennis shoe as it dangled over the ground. "Yeah?"

"You had a raw deal. And you lost out on a lot of school. It's March, and you didn't start school until December, and your life was so damned up in the air. You missed out on stuff. That's not your fault. But Kaden and Rhonda can't help you if you don't tell them what's wrong. Bet you had progress reports, didn't you?"

Anthony nodded. "They're the old fashioned ones that come in the mail," he muttered.

"And that's why computer grades were invented. Believe me, nobody's going to make that mistake again. And that's fine."

"But I"ll have to repeat eighth grade! River and I will have to graduate at the same time and that's embarrassing!" he said. "I mean, she's my sister and I don't have anything to teach her. She knows everything and I'm so fucking stupid--"

"Okay, we're done with that word," Jackson said firmly. "Not stupid. You needed help. And of course you were afraid to ask for it--nobody's ever stepped up to help you before. But man, I've got to tell you that those people I just met in front of the house weren't worried about your grades, they were worried about you. River told Mrs. Cramer she couldn't call you her foster brother--she had to call you her brother. Because they love you, kid. And loving someone means forgiving them when they screw up. Screwing up is what people do. But if you're afraid to admit it to the people you love, you'll never see how much they love you, you understand?"

Anthony nodded. "You think they love me?" he asked sadly.

"You love them, don't you?" Jackson stroked his head again and wished heartily to get out of the damned tree.

"Yeah." Anthony actually looked at him--and then wiped his nose on the sleeve of his T-shirt. "How did you know?"

"Because, kid--you couldn't even run that far. You just climbed a tree where you could see the house. Did you even have a plan here?"

Anthony's stomach grumbled. "I was going to sneak back in after dinner and come back out to the tree," he confessed.

Jackson started to laugh. "That, son, is the shittiest plan in the world."

After a moment, Anthony snorted, like he hadn't been planning to laugh but it had just snuck out anyway. "It really is. See--I told you I was stu--"

"Shut up, kid. Not stupid. New. I was new once. Kaden's mom taught me how to be loved. I'm not great at it, but she taught Kaden everything he knows. You're smarter than I was at your age. I'm sure you'll catch on faster than I did, okay?"

Anthony nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Jackson."

Jackson's pocket phone buzzed, and off in the distance, up in another tree, he saw the flash of what could have been a rifle scope. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and read the text.

Get out of the fucking tree, Rivers, you are giving my boss the heebie-jeebies just watching over you.

Jackson rolled his eyes. Fucking Burton.

I am talking the kid down here. Are there any hit men nearby?

No. Apparently hit men don't know how to react to a fucking tank. They followed you until Roseville and buggered out. But we're here, and you need to get out of the fucking tree.

Jackson snorted and put the phone back in his pocket. "Anthony?"


"Hows about we get out of the fucking tree?"

Anthony took a breath that was mostly snot. "Jackson?"


"I don't know how."

Jackson let out a cackle. "Okay. So, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to lower myself down to the next branch, and you are going to follow my lead. Think we can do that?"

"Yeah. What about my backpack?"

"Put it on your back, kid. Let's get down."

It took them twenty minutes of breathless swearing and a bunch of scrapes on their hands and one on Jackson's cheek, but they eventually got down. By the time they landed, they'd alerted the people in the house, and there was a crowd around the base of the tree, ready to help Anthony into the house and get him warmed up--and cleaned up--and to discuss a shitton of summer school. Jackson only guessed at that last part, but he figured Rhonda and Kaden would have a contingency plan for a kid who hadn't taken the time to learn how to be a kid.

Jackson finally dropped to the ground and only Ellery was there, but he had a warm wash cloth for Jackson's scrapes and the promise of coffee in the house.

"What was the problem?" he asked quietly as everybody went inside, the babble ensuring that Anthony would be king for the day.

"Was failing all his classes," Jackson said. "Poor kid. I was him once."

Ellery nodded. Jackson had told him how Jade and Kaden's mother had made him make up a semester's worth of work in a week so Jackson could graduate on to high school. "Did you tell him that story?" he asked curiously.

"No. I needed to listen to his story--I mean, we're grownups. It feels like the same story to us, but to him, it was brand new."

Ellery nodded quietly, and then, before they could get to the porch he stopped and pulled Jackson down for a kiss. It was tender and carnal at once, and it reminded Jackson at all the lessons he still had to learn about accepting love, as well as of the fact that he and Ellery hadn't had time alone in their own house for three days.

But mostly it reminded Jackson that he was loved, and he was grateful for it.

"That was a good kiss, Counselor."

"You're a good man, Detective."

They both felt Jackson's pocket buzz, and Jackson grimaced.

"Who is it?" Ellery asked curiously.

Nice. Now get the fuck inside so I can get my boss out of his damned tree and give him a sedative. You people are driving him batshit.

"Burton says hi," Jackson told him without inflection.

"Really? He followed us up here?"

"He'd really like us to go inside now and stop climbing trees," Jackson added.

Ellery's eyes grew big. "Anything else?"

"We owe Sonny and Ace big money for the tank."

"Fantastic. Are you driving back?"

"Yes," Jackson told him. Ellery didn't even want to touch the tank. "Why?"

"Think Kaden and Rhonda have any alcohol?"

Jackson laughed as they hit the porch. "You don't day drink!" he protested.

"Oh I am about to start."

Jackson kept laughing. Yeah, sure, Ellery threatened a lot, but Jackson was pretty sure he wouldn't have missed that morning for the world.

Friday, March 29, 2019

MoonFish--Surprise Visit! Part 5

Okay-- super short this time-- there will be more next week, I promise. I am almost done with the big edit and ready to start on my next book but first--first--I need to finish this novella.

I also have to say it will all be easier now that Mate has his own car back. My office has been... occupied this week, by someone else besides me.


And before I start the MoonFish-- I have to tell you about the hats.

See, Mate took the kids to a Republic game this weekend, and the hats were on sale. Mate has one already--but he's worn it to a sweaty soggy salty mess because it's his favorite, and he likes the little round brim and not the big showy flat brim and he saw them on sale and said to the salesgirl, "Wow! That's awesome! That's my favorite kind of hat!"

The salesgirl grimaced apologetically. "We actually call that one the 'Dad Hat' on the invoice."

Mate didn't care. He bought three. Squish wore one today as she finished her DNA project with beads and pipe cleaners and tears.

Dad hats-- now you know!

And now, some MoonFish--

Surprise Visit--Part 5

Ellery managed to wait until his mother was--hopefully--asleep in the next room.

"You weren't going to tell me?"

"Tell you what?"  Jackson sat on the bed in his boxers, looking ridiculously sexy for a guy who'd spent half the last year in the hospital, and made moon faces at the cat. Billy Bob batted his lips, no claws.

"Tell me there was a hit out on my mother."

Jackson didn't even look up. "Why would there be a hit out on your mother?"

"I don't know-- you tell me!"

"Well, since she hasn't told me I don't know what else I can tell you!"

Ellery had never really considered homicide until he'd fallen in love. "What. Did. She. Say?"

Now Jackson did look at him, his green eyes open and sparkling and as innocent as a lamb's. "She said she was here for a visit."

"I will beat you," Ellery threatened, which was a laugh and a half because they were both getting their wind back enough to run around the neighborhood.

"Would you like equipment for that, or are you doing to use a household item, like a wooden spoon, or a shoe?"

"Augh!"  He didn't control his volume, either, and Jackson showed some emotion then by flailing his arms.

"You will wake the beast and we'll both be fucked!" he hissed.

"No we won't, because we don't have sex while my mother is here, remember?"

Jackson pursed his lips. "Look, this isn't my fault. She showed up on the doorstep. That's all I know."

"That's obviously not all you know because we've been walking around Sacramento with you running point and me running cleanup like an actual police detail all day. Care to explain that?"

Jackson gave a sigh, and Ellery thought, "Oh ho! The jig is up! I shall have some answers!"


"All I know-- all I know--is that Burton left Ernie's apple fritters on our doorstep yesterday, and your mother was told to stay in public places."

Ellery blinked. "That... is not reassuring."

"You are telling me."

"Give me one good reason not to put us all into protective custody."

Jackson shrugged. "Because it was donuts and not directions for burying our remains?"

"I"m having mine donated to science," Ellery muttered. "The rest you can burn and scatter."

"I could donate my remains to science too," Jackson said helpfully, but Ellery just rolled his eyes.

"Most of your remains have already been stitched together and replaced. I don't think you have anything left to give. Now scoot over. I need to brood."

"You need to get in bed to brood?" But Jackson was scooting over.

"No, I need to get in bed to touch you so that we can think together. Jackson, there's a hit out on my mother! What are we going to do?"

Jackson shrugged. "We're going to turn on the house alarm--"


"And let the hit men watching over us do our job. Also, we're going to take your mother places because they said to stay public."

Ellery narrowed his eyes. "It's like you're on her side."

Jackson glared back. "Ellery, she was threatening to take my coffee away from me--not in so many words but--"

"She did not, you big baby--"

"You pretend not to hear it, but we know what this means. 'Jackson, I think you would enjoy tea so much more than coffee. Has Ellery allowed you to taste some of the more robust blends with almond milk and honey?' What do you think that means?"

Ellery tried to hide his pleased expression and failed.

"See? It means she's trying to take away my coffee! No! Not even the doctor has tried to do that!"

"That's because you lied to the doctor about your intake!" This had been a sore point between them. Their idea of a "moderate" amount varied vastly.

"One pot is not excessive!" Jackson defended, wounded. "And see? Now she's got you on her side! Just leave the professionals to take care of it and don't press her any further!" He flounced over onto his side, beat up his pillow and settled in for the night.

Ellery let out a breath. "Do we even know who it is?"


"Did you ask?"

"You sacrifice something you love. Watch. You ask her and she'll try to take away your car."

Ellery sat up in bed. "She would not!"

Jackson threw a pout over his shoulder. "Want to risk it?"

"No."  Ellery slid back down into bed again and kissed the back of Jackson's neck. "Damn."


"We were on a hot streak."

They'd both been recovering, but yes. Somebody had come at least once a night since they'd gotten out of the hospital. Jackson hadn't had this much sex when he'd been banging everything that moved--and Ellery knew because Jackson told him so.

"I know," Jackson said glumly. "We're going to have to think of something else to do before bed."

Ellery laughed. "We could start reading books."

"Dirty ones?"

"How about Jane Austen?"

"I hate you."

"I love you Jackson."

"I love you too, counselor. What are we doing again tomorrow?"

"God, I forget. We'll remember when she wakes us up in the morning."


Jackson rolled over just enough to kiss him.


Except whatever it was she had planned,

Jackson's phone rang in the charger that morning, and he snagged it before Ellery could crawl over his body and claw out its eyes.

"K?" Jackson mumbled. "For real?"

Then Jackson sat up in bed, looking panicked. "No, seriously, did you look for him?"

"Who?" Ellery asked, rolling out of bed and looking for the khakis he'd worn the day before, as well as a sweater and some sturdy shoes. "Who's missing?"

"Anthony," Jackson muttered, hopping out of bed to get dressed too. "Yeah, K. Keep us briefed. We're getting in the tank now."

He paused, and looked at Ellery apologetically. "Why the tank? Because it's a long story that we can't talk about and Ellery's mother is coming."

Ellery moaned. "Goddammit."

"Yeah, Ellery-- go tell your mom that she's coming with us up to Foresthill."  Jackson spoke back into his phone. "Don't get too excited--I think we were coming up tomorrow anyway, and tell Rhonda we can't stay so she's off the hook. Keep us briefed. See you soon."

He hung up and started his own search for yesterday's jeans and a fresh pair of undershorts, while Ellery dressed as quickly as he could.

Oh man. Their complicated day had just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Moon/Fish--Surprise Visit--Part IV

Hey all!

Thanks for being patient--I am back in editing hell, but the good news is that Fish Four, Fish on a Bicycle is done, and Paint it Black is edited, and whohoo!  On to the super hard craft book, Fiction Haiku!

Mate's car is broke and my week is INCREDIBLY boring and yet I've been busy on my computer--ugh!  The upside is, it's a perfect time to escape into some Moon/Fish--enjoy!

*   *  *

Part IV

Jackson saw the shadow outside his window as Ellery got into the shower, and he hurtled past a surprised Lucy Satan and out the front door before Ellery's mother could so much as gasp.

A pink box sat on the stoop, and if Jackson hadn't paused to make sure it wasn't lethal, he might have caught Burton as he left from putting it there.

Don't throw away--I'll know.

He opened the box and took a deep breath. Mm... apple fritters. Ellery's mother's favorite.

And someone who'd know if he threw them away.

And someone who could leave them on the porch without triggering the alarm and get away like a ghost.

"Jackson?" Ellery's mother was not going to let him rocket out of the house without an explanation. "Jackson, what on earth--"

Jackson turned to her grimly, box in hand. "You and me have got to have a talk," he said quietly.

She pursed her lips. "Is that a donut box?"

"Apple fritters. Your favorite."

She looked confused. "Why is that a--"

"Remember Ernie?" he asked pleasantly.

Her eyes got big. "I do."

"He came to visit me and Ellery a couple of times when we were in the hospital. Smuggled me eclairs that would make a saint come. I never told him they were my favorite. He just knew."

"We should go inside," she said pleasantly. "I'll get some milk."

He took one more hasty look around his neighborhood and spotted the flash of something shiny behind the fence three houses down-- the neighbors who had gone to visit their daughter in Florida over spring break, the sadists.

He gave the shiny thing a two fingered salute and followed Ellery's mother inside.

"WE can't tell Ellery," Lucy Satan said softly as they neared the kitchen. The water was still running--Ellery could take an epic shower when he didn't have to be somewhere. Or when his mother was in the house.

"Can't tell him what?"

She grimaced. "When was the last time you swept the house for bugs?"

Jackson blinked. "Two days ago."  After they'd found them in January, he and Ellery did it once a week--vacuum, dust, scrub the toilet, check for bugs. It was the new housecleaning regimen.

"Oh," she said, nodding. "So nice to know you're sensible about things. But your friend--" she nodded toward the donut box, "--simply said I should come here and spend some time in your company." She grimaced. "In public. So I looked up some activities for the next week. How do you feel about craft fairs?"

Jackson's eyebrows went up to his hairline. "I actually don't mind them." He'd furnished his duplex with thrift store finds and the occasional handcraft, but he was the first to admit his taste was eclectic and... well, not suited for Ellery's gracious, masculinely furnished home. "But--"

"Good. Tours of the capitol building?"

"I'm not even sure they'll let me in--"

"They will if I"m there. How about sporting events?"

"I can get us some Kings tickets and some Republic tickets and some Rivercats tickets--"  It was late march. Everything was in season.

"Be sure to put them on my credit card," she said smoothly.

"I can pay for my own goddamned ballgame," he muttered. Ellery did the same thing, and it drove him batshit.

"But this time, I'm paying for it," she said with a pleasant smile.

"Not if I"m getting the tickets," he muttered. "Anything else you're on for? Wine tasting? A bus tour of San Francisco?"

"All of the above," she said, without blinking an eyelash. "You go to work on that while I unpack. I think today should be local, tomorrow should be San Francisco, Wednesday we should visit your brother--"

Jackson's eyes got big. "For fuckin' real?" Because Kaden loved surprise visits as much as Jackson did. Which was to say if Jackson hadn't walked by the hallway when Ellery opened the door, he seriously would have gone out the back door and over the fence and run across town in his boxer shorts so he didn't have to do what he was doing right now.

Which was anything Ellery's mother asked him to do, apparently without getting any answers as to why.

"Of course--I brought gifts for his wife and the children. The day after we should attend some sort of sporting event with your sister and her boyfriend--"

"Jade hates sports," he said blankly.

"But her boyfriend adores them. and of course we should eat out. Except for this morning, when I shall indulge in some lovely donuts."

As she'd been speaking she'd invaded Ellery's kitchen, poured two glasses of milk and put the apple fritters on a plate. Jackson cleared the table of everything except his laptop, which he put at the end, and helped her set breakfast up, and then looked longingly at the coffee pot, which he had been about to turn on when she'd knocked.

She ran a knowing look up and down his body. "How is your heart murmur?" she asked, and he grimaced. He'd acquired scars on  more than the outside in November when his heart had stopped, and since his and Ellery's return to Sacramento in February, he'd been trying to be good about seeing a cardiologist.

"Caffeine isn't forbidden yet!" He crossed his arms over his chest defensively. Not in small doses--that's what Dr. Keller had said. He had yet asked her to quantify "small doses." He assumed a pot a day was a small dose, if you eked it out with lots of cream and sugar with only one or two sodas on the side.

"Fine. I'll start the coffee and unpack, you start our itinerary and wait for Ellery so we can eat. You may commence."

Jackson sat down at the cleared and set table and grabbed his laptop. Yeah, he still had no idea why Burton wanted her there, but honestly, doing all that shit she had him planning was a damned sight easier than arguing with her, that was for sure. She was already talking about his caffeine intake and diet--he needed to comply now before she started making him kale shakes for breakfast and serving him nothing but tofu and fish!

*  *  *

She had arrived on a Wednesday which meant that they had a poetry reading at the local library in the late morning, a tai chi class in the afternoon, and a Kings game that night. As Jackson and Ellery fell into bed that night, exhausted by running around the town, and by just being with Ellery's mother, Ellery moaned, "She's got the entire week mapped out?"

"It's not my fault," Jackson mumbled. He'd liked the tai chi class, hadn't minded the Kings game, and had napped during the poetry reading. What had really knocked him out was Ellery's mother, who seemed determined to smooth out all of Jackson's... Jacksonness while she was there. "Jackson, do stand up straight, You'll ruin your posture." "Jackson, I understand you can use that word as often as you like, but part of being an adult is only using it as often as you need." "Jackson, I do believe if you and my son plan to work full time again, you should either procure a friend for this animal or find someone who doesn't mind feeding him while you are gone. I think he might be lonely if forced to live alone."

"I know it's not your fault," Ellery soothed. "I just don't know why we're doing this, that's all."

Jackson closed his eyes, thinking about the fritters. Ellery had been so discombobulated he hadn't even asked where they'd come from, and Jackson just didn't want to tell him that someone had put a hit out on his mother. That seemed rude somehow.

"Lucy Satan works in mysterious ways," he grumbled.

"Well I need her to work her way home," Ellery retorted. Then he sighed. "But while she's here, maybe we can have her look at some of the properties for the new office."

Jackson perked up. "So we don't have to go to San Francisco tomorrow?" Because driving the tank down there would cost a fortune, the parking would be horrific, and the car was so loud. 

"No, Jackson. I'll talk to her over breakfast. Do you think you can hit that donut place again? Those fritters were amazing."

"No," he muttered. "I'd rather have fruit." Ellery was warm next to him and Jackson kissed his shoulder through a softly laundered T-shirt. "And you," he said, meaning it.

Ellery kissed him chastely on the mouth.

And then not so chastely.

And then they were sliding their hands under each other's T-shirts and Jackson had a handful of Ellery's taut backside and was kneading and spreading and grazing the sensitive bits and then--

"Jackson?" Ellery's mother said as she knocked. "Jackson, your inappropriate cat seems to want to sleep with me. I insist you take him."

Ellery made sobbing sounds and Jackson rolled sideways. "You get the door," he whispered. "You can pull a t-shirt over your boner!" Jackson wasn't wearing one.

Ellery grunted--and pulled his T-shirt low over his boxers and went to let the cat in, because apparently the big loser was still sore about getting fixed and they hadn't known it until now.

*  *  *

The next day they ran all over town looking at office rental properties, which was actually pretty awesome, considering.

The one in the strip mall on Howe was a big no. The location was great--right next to a bail bond place--but it wasn't the sort of vibe they were going for.

The one a block away from the Capitol building was nice--but really pricey, and, in Jackson's words, "Built like a Republican was given a bunch of tan legos."

There was one off the river, in what had once been a residential building but was now separated into office spaces, but Ellery had balked at both the drive down the Garden Highway and the lack of amenities nearby.

The final one they looked at, on the edge of downtown around 9th and F street, had seemed okay--at the top of a flight of stairs, which might have been inconvenient if it hadn't been for an elevator to accommodate disabilities, The space itself was large, with four offices and a conference room, as well as a reception area that had a counter and a recessed kitchenette sort of space that Jade could definitely make her own.

The walls were a sort of muted beige that Jackson said had to go and the carpet was teddy bear brown, and Ellery wasn't going to live with that either. It needed paint and carpeting and a solid redecoration, and all of that might not have phased Jackson except...

"Parking," he said, looking out the window. "There's one parking space next to the building. Ellery..."

"But look at the ceiling in the corner office!" Ellery begged. "Look at it! And it's got moldings--"

"I don't actually give a shit about beveled moldings," Jackson told him. "Hardwood floors, yes. I can see some nice hardwood here. Moldings can kiss my ass. But parking..."

"We have six more offices to look at," Ellery's mother told them crisply. "Two more before lunch?"

Outside they heard the unmistakable sound of a car smacking another one, and then a rather ambiguous sound of what they found out later was a light pole collapsing for no reason at all.

"Maybe lunch now," Jackson muttered. "Somewhere across town."

He and Taylor Cramer met eyes and she nodded imperceptibly. "After you," she said, and he nodded, leading the way while Ellery's mother made peace with the real estate agent who had sat in the back of the room and let them bicker over this one.

"Ellery, take the rear," Jackson said, forgetting that Ellery didn't suspect what he did.

Later it would occur to him that Ellery did exactly what he asked without question, and continued to move like that, Jackson first, Ellery bringing up the rear with his mother and the clueless real estate agent in the middle. All day. He did that all day.

But of course there'd be hell to pay that night.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Some Shout-Outs to Folks Who Should be Seen

So, A Fool and His Manny got the RITA (tm) nod--and I was unbelievably proud. But in the past two years we have become painfully aware that an entire group of writers has been grievously overlooked when it comes to this award and getting the recognition they deserve. I figured if anybody tuned in to see the big deal about The Mannies, I'd like to share some authors those new folks maybe haven't seen.  Actually, wait--at least one of them I know you've seen here, because she's a friend and I've pimped her on the Flail more than once--maybe more than one of these folks but I can't remember for sure. Many of these writers are a much bigger deal than I'll ever be, so they really don't need my notice--but I know them personally and I figured I'd brag about that too. (I'm shameless. I know it. Sorry.)

But these are authors who should be seen. These are amazing authors whose work should be acknowledged. And these authors are friends, many of whom have extended a kindness and a graciousness to my socially awkward person that never in a thousand years could I repay.

I just wanted the world to see them for the rockstars they are. I'd like for them to be acknowledged on the world stage, but right now, I just have my little blog.

Farrah Rochon-- I first met Farrah Rochon at the 2015 RITA ceremony. We had both finaled that year, and we sat at the same table. Neither of us won--but I remember her being kind and funny. At the next year's meeting, when she had cause to believe the worst in me, I spoke up at a seminar for writing disabled characters and she spoke to me afterwards. First, I think she complimented my dress (a compliment I treasure btw) and then she gave me the loveliest compliment about having spoken out. Her fiction is fearless and lovely and so, so romantic. If you love classic romance--football players, strong, independent women, flying sparks, you will love her work. You can find it HERE. 

Sheryl Lister-- I just met Sheryl Lister--but she is funny and she teaches a marvelous class on dialog that I was thrilled to attend. She laughed at my joke when we were on a panel together in the Bay Area, and I'm so hoping she comes to our local chapter again. I would sit down with this woman any time over a cup of tea and talk about dialog, or her writing experience, or about pushing boundaries-- a thing we both have in common. I haven't read Sheryl yet, but you can bet she's on my "reading soon" list. You can find her HERE. 

Adriana Herrera-- Have you ever had an opportunity you've kicked yourself for missing? Adriana Herrera and I had a lot of good conversations over the years, because she is, among other things, a fierce, proud mother, a kick-ass cook and sommelier, and a social worker of unparalleled advocacy. And now she can add writer to that list. She sent me a draft of her first book--and I got maybe two chapters into this lush, exciting prose and snappy, fascinating dialog when I had to bail because my real life just swamped me. And now this book is selling like gangbusters to fantabulous applause and recognition and I had the chance to read it when. Don't be like Amy, folks. Get on the Adriana Herrera bus NOW--because judging by everything else I know about this woman, she's going to be an UNSTOPPABLE writer. She already is. You can find her HERE. 

LaQuette--LaQuette is one of those amazing people that speaks truth and makes you feel honored to hear it. She's the one who has been on the blog before, and I have begged her for the chance to pimp her next book from Dreamspinner. She's got the most amazing historical series coming out from DSP and I am SO all over that. And for those of you who don't mind girl parts, she writes amazingly strong women as romantic heroes as well. I've had the honor of throwing an event with her at Romantic Times before, and she's one of my favorite people at any gathering of authors. She's funny, kind, and so damned strong--her characters make the same impression she does, folks. Don't miss her romance-- you can find it HERE. 

KM Jackson--KM Jackson earned my love forever last year when we were standing together talking about random things, and I said, "All small dogs are assholes." She thought that was hilarious--and she completely agreed, because her small dog was one too. Then, when she met Chicken, they hit it off immediately, and of course anybody who is kind to my children wins my immediate adoration. And her romance is sweet, quirky, fun, and empowering, and who doesn't want to read that? You can find her work HERE. 

Jasmine Silvera--Jasmine Silvera is one of those ethereal, delicate presences that inspires a sense of awe. Her writing career is just starting out, but when I met her in Seattle two years ago, I just had this feeling that she would go far and do great things. Anybody who can make me feel graceful by just smiling and being kind and lovely will have so many wonderful places to go as a storyteller. Her prose is imaginative, and her characters a gracious as she is. You can find her work HERE.

Harper Miller--I'll be honest--I haven't read Harper's work, but she contacted me out of the blue on FB last year, because she was stuck in a hotel room with some of my best most beloved friends and they told her she'd love me. AND SHE BELIEVED THEM. I met her in Colorado and she was omg so much fun, and so happy to be there--she filled Denver with happiness and charm just with her smile. So alas, I haven't read her yet--but you can bet she's on my list. You can find her work HERE. 

Riley Hart-- Have you ever been kind to someone because their very presence elicited kindness, and then it turns out to be one of the best things you've ever done? Back before YA author Nyrae Dawn wrote gay romance, she asked me at Romantic Times if she should try it--and she was such an awesome, warm person, with such a marvelous smile. And so much fun, once I got to know her, with an infectious sense of humor. I was like yes! Of course she should write gay romance! And I felt blessed that she wanted my opinion. Riley Hart is a POWERHOUSE of gay romance, who excels in real characters, gritty moments, and that thrilling romance that comes when strong men crumble. She's also so generous with her time, and so excited to write with other authors and supportive of their gifts. If you haven't read her yet you definitely need to. You can find her HERE. 

Sonali Dev-- I can't say enough good things about Sonali Dev. She is--oh my God. Every interaction I've had with her, every conversation, has left me feeling blessed, like the world is a better place. She's funny in person, and lovely and kind and a swirl of color and warmth and she tells wonderful stories about her children and her traditional family and she listens to my own attempts to be funny and... Wow. I want to wrap up a little bit of her loveliness and bring it home with me, every time I see her. I want to sit down and have drinks with her at every convention or conference. I adore her, and her writing is hilarious and poignant and you can't get any more romantic than The Bollywood Bride and her newest book looks stunning. I'm getting all verklempt just writing about her--and I'm so proud that she seems to think I'm okay too. You can find her HERE. 

And phew.

Okay-- I have to stop now. For one thing, I'm remembering meeting these amazing people and I really am tearing up. For another, I've got an edit on my desk due TOMORROW and I have to get my ass in gear.

But it needs to be said. I got the RITA nod and I'm proud. But acknowledging other writers, amazing authors, writers with rich histories and powerful words, in no way diminishes my pride. If any of these authors--or all of them--were on the same list of finalists I am, it wouldn't make my work less--it would, in fact, make my accomplishment bigger, because the array of talent I just listed is stunning. How could anyone's work not be seen as better, if it is in such tremendous company.

Let's make it so, people. Let's make it so that playing field is level, and all the worthy writers can be seen.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Book is a Thing I Made

OKay-- so I thought I'd be done with Fish 4 by now, so I could do nothing but post Moon/Fish, but alas, that is not to be.

I'll probably finish tonight, which is good because I'm behind two edits and I've basically been dodging social media to hit my deadlines like the professional I try to be. (The fun part is when I'm trying to make a writing deadline and I miss an editing deadline because HOLY SHIT IS THAT WHAT DAY IT IS???? So much fun. I'm reeling from joy at that one. Anyway...)

There will be Moon/Fish tomorrow because it's gong in the back of Fish 4, but tonight, look at the pretty pictures of my family and be distracted!


 A thing Squish made!
 A thing a reader sent me that I love!  (We lOVED the blood orange preserves by the way!!! The yarn still needs to be wound!)
 A think I"m making that I love a lot! (Which is good because I'm not even halfway through and I was going to send a pattern to Yarn! Magazine!)
 A thing Goddess made? This is the cross between a pit bull and a dachshund. I'm assuming it's made by the dachshund on top, but other than that, she was the sweetest, kindest, most adorable animal in the dog park and I fell deeply in love.

A think my family made!  They left me home to finish the GDB (a Karen Rose acronym for GOD DAMNED BOOK, which I have borrowed for my very own.

A thing that surprised me... when I was laying down to take my nap... because she was RIGHT UNDER MY PILLOW.

Goddammit, Gibbs!

May you hit your rack with no Chihuahuas under your pillow.

For one thing they snore!


Friday, March 22, 2019

A Fool and His Manny finale in the RITA Awards! (tm)

So, I WAS going to spend today writing you some Moon/Fish while I finished up a critical scene with Jackson. (Like, my beta reader is sending me demanding e-mails as I type--it's THAT CRITICAL.)  Anyway-- I stayed up late last night writing, and was looking forward to sleeping in and then getting a head start on the Moon/Fish and getting Jackson out of danger.

Alas, I was not to sleep in.

I keep my phone under my pillow as I sleep, and this morning was no exception. It rang at 7:22 a.m. and I answered it like the zombie I was.

It was Cheyanne McCray--she'd called to let me know that A Fool and His Manny had finaled in the RITA (TM) contest this year.

And I was ecstatic.

Now I love all my books--and when I'm writing, I'm absolutely sure, THAT book is possibly the best thing I've ever written. And then I finish and I'm ABSOLUTELY SURE it's crap and I'm embarrassed for turning it in at all.

But Dustin and Quinlan were special-- I felt that as I was writing. I have to say that the audiobook narrator sort of confirmed my suspicions when he DM'd me to say his voice broke toward the end, and he was sorry, but his wife told him that it sounded in character so he hoped it was okay.

"But this was a happy book!" I said, laughing.

"Yeah, but I think that's why I cried."

Well--that had to be something, didn't it?

And I have to admit--given that one of the things on my editing table is a book about how to craft a category romance, it's sort of nice to have confirmation that I can, at least, write a decent one, right?

I loved writing this book. It was fun. It made me happy about my job. And people have told them it made them happy to spend their time reading. I know--I am very aware--that finaling in a contest like the RITAs or the LAMMYS or the INDIFAB'S can sometimes be just the happiest of accidents--your book fell into the hands of the combination of judges that would like it the most. TADA! You have recognition. I am MORE than aware that MANY books that didn't get recognition today deserved it, and that there is bias--unconscious and otherwise--in any judging platform that attempts to assess something as personal as reading and find the story that appeals to as many people as possible.

But being aware of all that doesn't mean I'm immune to recognition.

I swim in an ocean populated by giants. Lovely whales, shy octopi, flirty dolphins, and I am at best a socially awkward manatee. But for the second time, a group of fellow travelers spotted me from afar and thought I was a mermaid. I'm going to put on my scales and my best seashell bra and do my best impression of a mermaid for them--because it's still an honor I dream not of.

And I will continue to honor my fellow creatures swimming in the tides of romancelandia. You are a beautiful, diverse group of amazing and talented people, and my wish is that all of you get your moment to put on your scales, brush your hair, and be honored as the stunning mermaids you are.

Now, somebody tell me if my seashell bra is on straight--because if that thing slips we're all in for a helluva ride.

A Fool and His Manny can be read as a standalone, but it's actually the fourth in a series. If you'd like to start reading, you can find the series here--

The Virgin Manny

Manny Get Your Guy

Stand Buy Your Manny

A Fool and His Manny

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Teaser for Paint It Black

So... It has occurred to me that I was so busy trying to make deadline in December that I didn't tell you all what I was making deadline for. 
The sequel to Beneath the Stain is coming out in August, in Mass Market Paperback, and I'm super excited about that. 
I might not have mentioned it, but all of the extras are out on Prolific Works now-- YOU CAN CLAIM YOUR COPY HERE. 
Anyway-- if you want to see the blurb for Paint It Black, it's UP ON AMAZON for mass market preorders, and if you want a sneak peak of it... 
Well, you have no further to look than right here:

from Paint it Black...

Cheever looked… young.
He was lying on his side, his cheek on the hand handcuffed to the bedrail. His vulpine features—a little longer in the jaw, but much like Mackey’s—stood out in stark relief against his tanned skin, pointed and vulnerable.
Blake double-checked on Marcia and moved his chair, waiting for the nurse and the orderly to settle Cheever’s monitors and medication before he settled in.
Cheever opened his eyes blearily as he heard the scrape of the chair across the floor.
“Yeah, kid.”
“Do you want me to call her?”
He watched then, the struggle over Cheever’s face, and his heart constricted in his chest. God, this boy wanted his mama so badly. But a room full of blow and his ass torn open for good measure—what kid wanted his mama to know that?
Not to mention that big incriminating bandage on his wrist.
Blake couldn’t hardly look at it.
“No,” Cheever whispered at last, his eyes filling.
Blake stood. He hadn’t seen this much emotion in the kid since the day Mackey had lost his shit at him for grabbing Briony’s boob. He came near the bed and smoothed Cheever’s hair back from his forehead like he had for Marcia.
“That there is the biggest fucking lie I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said mildly, as Cheever’s shoulders started to shake.
“Not like this,” Cheever sobbed.
“Son, that woman loves you—”
“Not like this!” he begged. “God, please. Not like….” More sobs filled the room, big and loud and noisy. He kept trying to cover his mouth so nobody could hear, but hey, he was handcuffed to the bed because he’d tried to hurt himself, so there they were, his messy emotions, pouring into the empty air.
Blake just stood there, smoothing that curly red hair back, and thought it was about fucking time.
The sobs died eventually, and Blake brought the chair close to the bed—and grabbed a box of Kleenex too, so he could clean the boy up.
“Blow,” he murmured automatically. He hadn’t known kids until Mackey brought his old lover’s little girl home. But first with Katy and then Kell and Briony’s kids, Kyrie and Kansas, and the triplets’ kids, Kyla and Kale—Blake had spent the last eight years becoming everybody’s favorite uncle, and loving every kid as the blessing he’d never been.
He knew how to get a kid to blow into a Kleenex, and how to clean up traces of tears, and even how to sing a kid to sleep if he was too keyed up to let his brain relax.
“I am not this person,” Cheever said, his voice lost, like a kitten in the rain. “I don’t cry. I don’t…. Oh God, I don’t do what….” His body started to tense up again, like he was going to lose it, and Blake wasn’t sure he had anything left in him to lose.
“Sweetheart, I need you to take a deep breath, okay?”
Cheever did, bless him, and nodded.
“’Kay. Now I’m going to talk, and if I bore you to sleep, that’s fine. But you start out listening, okay?”
A small nod, and Cheever’s enormous green eyes focused on Blake’s face like he held the magic keys to the kingdom.
“Good. Now here’s the thing. In eight years, we been seeing a stranger show up where Cheever Sanders was supposed to be. He said all the right things, and he did all the right things, but he never seemed like he wanted to be with us. So in eight years, I ain’t ever known who you were, Cheever. But today, I know you’re the kind of person that would make that little girl break out of rehab in her Eeyore slippers and stand in the middle of a cocaine tornado because she missed you and was worried. I know you’re so hurt inside, you don’t want to show your mama, when you want her here more than you want anything in the world. And I know there is shit in your heart—probably ugly, festering shit—that you ain’t shown nobody, not your brothers, who would lay down and die for you, and not your mama, who would bring you back to life. So now, I’m real fucking curious. Who in the hell is Cheever Sanders, and why was he hiding behind that shitty rich kid for the last eight years?”
“He’s nobody,” Cheever whispered. “He’s a sniveling baby, crying on the floor, just letting shit happen to him that nobody wants to know.”
Blake made a hurt sound. “I’ve been that kid,” he said softly. “That kid can grow into a decent person. You just gotta let him cry a little, let him know he’s heard.”
Cheever’s breath was long and shaky, and his eyes kept leaking tears, but that terrifying storm of weeping seemed to be kept at bay. “Who wants to listen to that kid?” Cheever asked after that long breath. “I sure don’t.”
“I do,” Blake said, surprising himself. “I’ve been waiting for that kid to talk to me for eight long goddamned years.”
Cheever’s eyes fastened hungrily on his face. “I wanted to not be a fuckup,” he moaned. “I wanted to be someone worth listening to.”
So needy. This kid—all his coolness, all his arrogance—he’d been trying to earn their approval?
Blake cupped his cheek. “Aw, kid. You wanted to not be a fuckup? You were born into the wrong damned family. We are fuckup city here. We just make that work for us. Welcome to Outbreak Monkey, right?”
That got a smile from Cheever, surprisingly enough. He used his free hand, the one not cuffed to the rail, to capture Blake’s palm against his cheek.
“I’m glad it was you,” he said, which surprised the hell out of Blake, “who found me.”
He didn’t say why, but his eyes fluttered closed, and Blake breathed a sigh of relief. That rot was still there, festering, needing to be bled out, but maybe Cheever’s heart could rest for a little bit before it did.