TUESDAY MORNING began with a brick through the Emporium window.
The seconds that followed were strangely silent. Nothing but the gentle patter of frozen February rain. Then my heart remembered to keep beating, and I could hear its thud, thud, thud in my ears. A few pieces of glass cracked from the top of the large bay window frame and fell to the wooden floor. The sound of New York City traffic invaded my quiet, cozy cave of a shop.
“What the fuck!” Max shouted. He moved to run by me at the counter, but I grabbed his shoulders.
“Be careful,” I said, pointing at the ceramic coffee mug I’d dropped when the shattered glass scared the ever-loving hell out of me.
Max jumped over the mess and down the steps from the register. He motioned wildly at the window. “What the fuck?” he declared again.
I walked down the stairs and studied the scene. Glass was everywhere and rain was coming in. “Grab a trash bag from the office.”
“The glass will just slice—”
“To put over the displays before they get soaked. Go.”
Max ran to get the bags.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath. What a way to start the week.
Pushing my glasses up, I went to the door, threw it open, and stepped out into the miserable morning. Rain splattered my lenses and dampened my sweater. My breath puffed around me while I looked up and down the sidewalk, as if I’d find the vandal hanging out and waiting to be caught. A couple paying the meter nearby were looking at the window in horror, and a man walking his tiny dog had to pick the animal up to avoid glass on the sidewalk.
Max was spreading out trash bags on nearby displays. “Did someone spray-paint a dick on the door too?” he called.
“No,” I answered before going back inside. “Why?”
“Add insult to injury. Should I move this stuff away from the window?”
I tugged my phone from my back pocket. “Hold on. Let me get some pictures before we move anything.” I snapped photos of the window and floor before motioning him to continue.
When I stepped away from the immediate area, I noticed the brick across the room. I went over, crouched down, and picked it up. It was just an ordinary brick. With a rubber band wrapped around it. I set my phone on the floor beside me and turned it around to see a folded piece of wet paper on the other side.
Hell. There were easier ways to get in touch with me. There was this great invention called the telephone.
Even a carrier pigeon would have been better. Because a pigeon would just crap on my inventory and be gone. A pigeon didn’t require a police report, insurance paperwork, and my jerk of a landlord coming down to inspect this mess.
I yanked the rubber band free and unfolded the paper. I don’t know what I had been expecting as I held it close to read, but it wasn’t I know you like mysteries.
“What’re you doing?” Max asked.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Someone attached a note to the brick.”
“What does it say?”
“‘I know you like mysteries.’”
“No, that’s what the note says,” I replied while waving the paper over my shoulder. I picked up my phone again and stood, knees cracking like I was an old man and not just a crabby thirty-three-year-old. I turned around and saw Max had gone very still. “Are you okay?”
“This isn’t going to be like Christmas, is it?”
Duncan Andrews had thoroughly fucked up my holidays. He’d been responsible for the death of my former boss, had harassed and stalked me, and had shot Detective Calvin Winter.
“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head. “Duncan is rocking an orange jumpsuit now.”
“What about a copycat?”
“Poe never hurled bricks into antique shops. It’s okay, really.”
I told Max to finish with the displays and gave the police a ring to report the vandalism. Two officers arrived after I had gotten off the phone with Luther North, my landlord, who gave me more than an earful about the window, as if I had been asking for punks to hurl bricks at it.
“Do you have insurance, Mr. Snow?” the male officer asked. He’d introduced himself as Officer Lowry and had uncomfortably reminded me of Neil: same build and hair, same strong face and handsome features. But thankfully, there was no relation.
“Yeah. And the landlord is on his way now,” I answered. A cold breeze blew in through the gaping window, and I shivered while crossing my arms over my chest.
The woman officer smiled and pointed at me. “I was here two months ago.”
“When there was a pig’s heart in your floor.”
“Oh.” I nodded and had to resist the urge to look over my shoulder at the spot in question. “No dismembered body parts this time.”
She laughed quietly. “That’s good.”
Lowry, who had been writing notes, asked me a few more questions. Did I have any disgruntled customers lately? Had I received threats prior? But no. The entire event seemed completely unprovoked. To the point that I had considered someone threw the brick through the wrong window.
I know you like mysteries.
“Wait, before I forget,” I said suddenly. “There was a note wrapped around the brick.” I pulled the folded paper from the pocket of my sweater. “Here.”
The female officer accepted the note. “Does this mean anything to you?”
I shrugged. “Not really. Unless the person who broke my window is judging me for my reading habits.”
Among other things.
She handed it back. “We’ll see if any businesses across the street have surveillance videos we can look over, but you should know that the chances of catching who did this are very slim.”
“I figured,” I replied. “Worth a shot, though.”
Luther walked into the shop as the officers left. He spoke with them briefly at the door before working his way through the cramped aisles toward me. His big belly pushed objects around on their displays as he moved through, and Max came up behind him to fix everything.
“Sebastian,” Luther said with a bit of a wheeze. “What happened?”
“Exactly as I said on the phone, Mr. North. Someone threw a brick through the window.”
“Why?” he asked, yanking a wadded pile of tissues from his coat pocket to dab his face.
“I didn’t think to ask them,” I answered.
“There you go with those smart-aleck responses. And before this, it was that creepy queer kid! He’s in jail now, right?”
Luther paused from wiping his face. “Er—no offense with the queer thing.”
“My fragile ego is still intact. Mr. North, it’s currently raining in my store. How soon can this window be fixed?”
“Oh, well! It’s simply not that easy, Sebastian! I have to file a claim with the property insurance.”
“Which they’ll pay. Vandalism by an unknown assailant isn’t worth their time to investigate.”
“Yes, but it still takes a few days.”
“It’s raining in here,” I stated again, in case he hadn’t noticed.
“I can get a tarp.”
“Not exactly going to keep the riffraff out.”
“That’s why stores have metal gates,” Luther pointed out, as if I were dense.
“That’s fine. But I have books in here that are worth up to five grand. If they get warped or damaged—”
“I’ll have my boys come down and put up some sheets of plywood!” Luther growled. “Happy?”
“I’ll be happy when I have a new window.”
I DIDN’T want to spend the day cleaning up broken glass, wiping down and checking antiques that had gotten wet, and listening to the sexy voice of Frank Sinatra get drowned out by three of Luther’s construction guys nailing plywood over the empty window frame, but I did. And I wasn’t pleased about it. Leaving the shop for the night with such bulletproof security made me nervous.
Not that I could be blamed.
Explaining to Luther just how much my inventory was worth caused him to stay behind and personally oversee his workers.
I guess I should have been flattered.
But frankly, by the time I got home, kicked off my shoes, and dropped my coat on the floor while heading for the kitchen, I was tired. And cranky. I had a headache that was still in sync with the echo of hammers. I popped off the cap to a beer bottle and took a swig. I tugged a take-out menu free from under a fridge magnet, brought it closer to read, and took another sip.
I had gotten as far as sweet-and-sour chicken and was deciding over dumplings or fried rice as a too-greasy side dish when there was a knock at the door. I raised my head and listened. I heard a key push into the lock and the door get nudged open.
I stepped out of the kitchen. “Hey. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Calvin smiled as he shut and locked the door behind him. “Did you just get home?”
“Few minutes ago. I thought you couldn’t make it tonight?”
“Want me to go?” he countered.
“Don’t even try.”
Calvin tugged off his coat and hung it up. “How was your day?” he asked, walking across the room toward me. He took my face into his big hands, leaned down, and kissed my mouth.
“Better now,” I murmured, kissing him again. “Catch any bad guys?”
“Sure did.” Calvin threaded his fingers through my hair. “You okay?”
“Headache. I just listened to the Hammer Symphony in E Minor for the last hour.”
“Someone broke one of my windows today.”
I shook my head. “Nope. Threw a brick through it. My landlord had some plywood put up. It’s really classy.”
Calvin moved his hands to squeeze my shoulders. “Sorry to hear that, baby.”
“It’s fine. Worse things have happened.” I tugged him down by his tie. “Come here. I’m not done with you yet.”
A smile crossed his face once more, and his warm mouth touched mine. Calvin tasted like home, if home were his trademark flavors of coffee and cinnamon mints and male, at least. I hadn’t seen him in a few days, and I starved for him when we were apart. Nothing could fill that emptiness but Calvin himself.
We had officially started dating just before the New Year. It was both terrifying and perfect.
He was perfect.
I pushed his suit coat open and tugged it from his shoulders. Calvin helped, tossing it onto the couch. He broke away long enough to unbuckle his shoulder holster and take his weapon off. Setting it aside with his coat, Calvin then grabbed the back of my head, pulling me into another hot and heavy kiss.
My stomach growled loudly.
I stilled, and Calvin laughed against my mouth.
“Shut up,” I muttered.
He grinned and stroked my cheek. “Let’s eat first.”
My face felt flushed as I took a step back. “The needs of my stomach aren’t as strong as the needs of my dick.”
“I believe you,” Calvin said as he moved by and walked into the kitchen. “Chinese?”
Damn it. If Calvin hadn’t eaten today, as he was prone to doing while working, I’d definitely lost my chance at a quickie.
“Did you eat?” I asked, following him back to the kitchen.
Calvin was staring at the open menu when I walked in. I leaned against the doorframe, hands in my pockets, studying him. Even though we’d been together for a month and a half, this was still surreal as hell. Sometimes I thought my vision was getting worse, and I’d watch him extra hard, as if to be sure he wasn’t a trick of the eye that would slowly dissipate.
But Calvin was real.
Real and breathing and mine.
When I first met Calvin, it was frightening to come to the realization that he was my soul mate. It was a nightmare when the world around us seemed insistent that we would never be an item. It had broken my heart, frankly. It’s pretty fucking melodramatic, but there was a brief moment last year when I didn’t know how I would live without loving Calvin.
A bullet really changes things. It makes you realize how short and precious life actually is.
And it gave Calvin the courage to come out at his age. To his family, who had all but locked him out of their homes and hearts, to his partner, Quinn Lancaster, to my dad, and to the world in general, really. And I know it must have scared him.
But he did it for us.
“Are you staring at me?” Calvin asked, not looking up from the list of food.
I blinked and straightened. “Sure am.”
He snorted and glanced at me. “I’ll order. What do you want?” Calvin pulled his phone out.
“Sweet-and-sour chicken.” I walked into the kitchen and wrapped my arms around him from behind, resting my forehead against his back as I listened to Calvin call the restaurant and place our order for delivery. “I hope my fortune cookie says I get lucky tonight,” I said as he hung up.
Calvin laughed as he put his phone away. “I wouldn’t worry too much about what the cookie says.”
FOR HOW shitty the day started, it certainly ended on a high note: cheap food, a few beers, and classic Buster Keaton films on the couch with Calvin. I liked old black-and-white movies. They were easier to watch, what with never being overwhelmed by the mess of tones and colors blending into one another that represented modern cinema. Plus, silent films were underappreciated. Keaton was by far more brilliant than most of today’s actors, and I don’t care how old and crotchety that statement makes me sound. I sat cross-legged, cardboard container balanced on my knee. Snapping a pair of chopsticks apart, I dug into dinner.
“What’s this one called?” Calvin asked, pointing at the screen.
“Sherlock Jr.,” I said between bites. “One of my favorites.”
“It would be.”
Calvin laughed quietly. He took a few bites of his food, which really meant he cleaned out half of the container, before asking, “So what happened with the brick?”
“The brick,” I muttered in annoyance. “Some asshole failed to recognize that I have a telephone.”
I waved the chopsticks in my hand while finishing the bite I’d just taken. “Sorry. There was a note attached to the brick.” I turned to look at Calvin in the dim light, realizing I had his full and undivided attention. “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh?” he repeated.
“You went from Calvin to Detective Winter real fast.”
He frowned. “What did the note say?”
I leaned over to set the takeout on the coffee table before pulling the folded note out again. I opened it and handed it over. “‘I know you like mysteries.’”
Calvin took the paper, narrowing his eyes as he looked it over. “I’m assuming you filed a police report?”
“Did you tell them about this?”
“Yeah. They didn’t really seem to think much of it.”
Calvin handed it back. “Sounds personal.”
“I guess.” I set the note on the coffee table before turning to Calvin. “But what am I supposed to make of it? I read Christopher Holmes’s mysteries, so sue me.”
“And Christie, Doyle, English—”
“All right, all right. I read a lot of mysteries. I get it.”
Calvin put a hand on my knee. “Nothing else out of the ordinary has happened?”
“No.” I put my hand over his, running my fingertips along his knuckles. “Max brought up an interesting point, though.”
Calvin slowly shook his head. “No, I don’t believe that’s the case. A copycat tries to emulate the original criminal, so he or she wouldn’t have acknowledged you in such a forward fashion in this case. Andrews couldn’t rationalize the world outside of Poe’s writing. I’d suspect anyone else attempting to pick up where he left off would at least reproduce his form of communication.”
“That’s more or less what I figured,” I replied. “Still. It’s… weird.”
“I’ll make some calls tomorrow,” Calvin said. “Check in and see if he’s had any visitors.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.”
“Of course, sweetie.” Calvin resumed eating again before he asked, “Promise me one thing?”
I leaned over to grab my food from the table, but paused and looked sideways at Calvin. “What’s that?”
“You won’t take it upon yourself to investigate, if something else were to happen.”
“Very funny,” I muttered, taking my carton.
“I’m being serious, Seb.”
“I’m well aware of who the detective is in this relationship.”
The only murders I was trying to solve these days were in the paperbacks I’d read a dozen times already. I admit that hunting for clues and piecing a real-life mystery together was a thrill I could easily become addicted to, but in the end, I wasn’t one for violence. The thought of firing another gun in my lifetime was more than enough to rein me in.
We all have our strengths and should stick to what best suits us. Calvin was made to fight bad guys. It was in his DNA to be a hero, to save people, to solve crimes. Me? I’m a hoarder of information. I know the history of picture buttons and of Victorian mourning clothes. I know how to spot fake tin types. And I liked what I did.
Antiques suited my temperament just fine.
Besides. Solving crimes Calvin-style meant being extremely fit, and I was more of the second-slice-of-cake sort of guy.
After Sherlock Jr., we watched Buster Keaton’s Cops, which got quite a number of laughs from Calvin. We were about halfway through Steamboat Bill, Jr. when the effects of greasy food, beers, and a dark room began to get the best of me. I felt Calvin pet my head and I opened my eyes.
“Want to go to bed?”
“Did I fall asleep?” I asked in return, yawning.
I blinked a few times and sat up from where I had been leaning against Calvin’s shoulder. The sound of heavy rain could be heard over the slapstick music.
Calvin reached for the remote and turned the film off. “Come on.”
I nodded, got to my feet, and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and take out my contacts. When I came out again, Calvin had already turned off the lights and locked up for the night. I went into my bedroom and changed for bed while he took his turn in the bathroom.
We definitely weren’t living together, but Calvin did prefer to spend what little time he had at my place instead of vice versa. My apartment was bigger, for one, but I think, more importantly, it had a homey feel. My place was well lived-in, whereas Calvin’s felt like a glorified hotel room. And because he tried to spend at least an evening or two a week with me, a few extra garments had found their way into my closet.
It was always a bit exciting to see one of his suits hung up beside my crappy sweaters. It was an ever-present reminder that Calvin wasn’t a vivid hallucination. He was real, he was wonderful, and he wanted to be with me.
I yawned again, plugging my phone into the charger and beginning to set the alarm clock when Calvin walked in. I glanced over, watching as he unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it into my dirty laundry. Strong muscles flexed as he continued undressing, and I realized it’d been nearly a week since I’d gotten to dig my fingers into his back and arms.
Calvin sat on the right side of the bed—his side—before leaning over and kissing the back of my neck. “Lay down,” he whispered.
“What time do you need to be up?” I countered, hand still on the alarm clock.
“Worry about it later,” Calvin said, trailing a hand down my back and under the ratty T-shirt I’d thrown on.
“Copy that, Major,” I answered, hastily setting my glasses aside and turning to face him.
He rolled onto his back, wrapped a hand around my neck, and tugged me toward him. I climbed on top, legs on either side of Calvin’s hips, and leaned down to kiss his mouth. I moved my hands up and down his bare chest, fingertips practically buzzing as they caressed warm skin and hair. Calvin’s own hands moved along my back as he kissed me, then slid down to cup my ass.
“I want to suck your cock,” Calvin growled.
“Yeah?” I whispered.
He grinned against my mouth. “Yeah, baby. Come up here.”
I nodded and sat up, letting Calvin help me out of my pajama pants and toss them somewhere in the dark. I moved to rest my knees on either side of Calvin’s chest, leaning over him. “Like this?”
He hummed in contentment, reaching up to stroke me slowly. “Look at how big and beautiful. I want your entire dick down my throat.”
It was a good thing it was dark, otherwise Calvin was sure to see I was blushing like an idiot. He was so sexy, everything he said and did turned me on to no end, but he’d been trying to get me to reciprocate with the dirty talk lately and I failed miserably at it. When a hot and horny mountain of a cop tells you to beg for his cock, you beg. But really, what exactly was he begging for when I tried?
I shook my head. “What?”
“You’re getting soft.”
God, this was embarrassing. “N-Nothing, really. I… just… feel stupid trying to talk like you.”
Calvin scooted up a bit, resting on his elbows. “Sebastian, you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”
“It’s just talking, though,” I said lamely.
“That doesn’t matter. Do you want me to stop?”
“What? No. I love it when you do it,” I said, feeling my entire face heat up. I took his hand and guided it back to my cock. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to kill the mood.”
“Can we try again?”
In the faint gray light that came in through the bedroom window, Calvin appeared to be nodding before he lay back down. “Come here.”
I leaned over him, the head of my cock bumping his lips. Calvin’s tongue darted out, warm and wet, and I sighed and closed my eyes, rocking my hips gently.
“That’s right,” Calvin whispered. “Come here. Fuck my face.” His hands came around to cup my ass again, pulling me toward him. He opened his mouth and took my cock, sucking eagerly.
“Shit,” I swore quietly.
Reaching back to grab his hands, I yanked them up above his head and held them firmly. I rolled my hips again, a bit more enthusiastically when Calvin moaned in response. Watching him work my length with his throat was so goddamn hot.
I let go of one hand and wrapped mine around the back of his head, holding him in place. Even though I felt insecure as hell, I knew Calvin wanted me to talk. He got off on it, and sex was a two-way street. He couldn’t do all the work and let me have all the fun.
So I manned up and told Calvin, “Take it all.” I shoved in rougher, and he groaned loudly around my dick.
He reached down with his free hand to stroke himself quickly in time with my thrusts.
The wet, tight heat of Calvin’s mouth after a week of not touching him was enough to send me over the edge like an inexperienced teenager. A prickle of sweat broke out across my body, and my stomach muscles tightened as I felt my orgasm coming.
“Oh God…. Cal…!” I let go of his other hand and gripped his hair in both hands, fucking his face hard and fast, like my very life depended on coming down his throat. “Fuck! I’m gonna—!”
I lost all capability to form thoughts at that point. It was too much. Calvin’s mouth, his tongue, the heat between our bodies, but then a fingertip pressed gently into me, and I came with his name on my lips. My entire body shuddered as Calvin swallowed, and when I managed to pull free from his thoroughly fucked mouth, he tensed and came in his hand.
Moving down his body, I slid my arms under his, holding Calvin close as we both came down from that incredible high. “Jesus,” I muttered. “I think I forgot my middle name.”
His deep voice rumbled in his chest. “Speaking of, did you ever notice your initials spell SAS?”
“What are you trying to say?” I raised my head to look at him, brushing damp hair from Calvin’s forehead.
“Aptly named. You’re always a bit sassy,” he teased.
“Uh-huh.” I rolled off, taking a few deep breaths.
Calvin chuckled as he leaned over me, kissed my chest, and grabbed a tissue from the bedside table. He wiped himself clean before settling onto his side.
I rolled over and pressed up against his back, snaking an arm around his waist. I fell asleep like that. Blissful and content.