Chapter 1



“THE WEDDING was okay, I guess,” I said.

“Come on, Cris. I need more details than that.” It was around 4:00 p.m. on Monday, and I was sitting at my desk at the Reno Police Department, being grilled by my partner, Alexandra Luther. Everyone calls her Lex. I had no idea why she chose to take her husband’s name when it gave her the same name as a comic book character. I guess love makes you do stupid things. She was the total opposite of the other guy. The Superman bad guy would tower over her five-foot-six frame, and he’d probably love to have her long black hair on his bald skull. My Lex was slightly chubby, though she had slimmed down in the past few months.

“What kind of details?” I asked.

“What did the wedding dress look like? Were the vows sweet? How did the cake taste?”

“Fuck, Lex, I don’t pay attention to shit like that.”

“What kind of fag are you if you don’t pay attention to those things?” she asked, laughing.

“I’m the kind of fag who doesn’t care about those things,” I answered.

“What did you pay attention to at the wedding?”

“I paid attention to the fact that Colby was there and held my hand during the ceremony. I paid attention to Colby standing up for me when his older brother bad-mouthed me. I paid attention when Colby and I fucked like rabbits all over that huge place.”

“TMI, Cris. Jesus Christ, I don’t want to hear about your sex life.” She grimaced.

“What kind of fag hag are you if you don’t want to hear about my sex life?”

“How many times do I have to tell you—I am not a hag.”

“Flesh! Luther!” Chief Gary Brunson boomed from the door of his office before he stepped back inside.

“We’re being beckoned.” Lex smiled. “You want to make him stew and wait a few minutes?”

“No,” I replied. “He’ll blame me.”

“I know.” She grinned.

“Let’s go,” I said, smiling.

“Have I told you how much I like seeing you smile?” Lex said.

“Aren’t you used to it yet?”

“You’ve been with Colby for a while now, but I had years of your constant frown before that.”

I ignored her comment, and we stepped into Brunson’s office.

“What’s up, Chief?” I asked.

“Clayton Shaw is in the hospital. He’s unconscious. He was beaten with his own cane.”

Clayton Shaw was part owner of the Legacy Casino—one of the largest casinos in the area. Clayton was openly gay and fit the description of a silver fox. He was forty-five with a full head of gray hair and the beginning of a gut. He was also smug and arrogant and walked with a fancy cane—as an affectation because he thought it made him look cool, not because he needed one. I’d run into him a few times at the gay bars and the bathhouse. He’d propositioned me a few times, but his body reminded me too much of certain things in my past. But my past is something I don’t talk about. That’s rule number six.

“We got a suspect?” I asked. Though Lex and I were homicide detectives, we also handled cases that involved a lot of publicity.

“That’s your job,” he answered. “Go.” His eyes turned to the computer screen, which was his way of dismissing us. We didn’t have to ask where we were going—Shaw’s place was well-known to everyone in the area. He lived in a gated community called Arrowcreek, which was located on the eastern foothills of the Sierra Mountains and had amazing views of Reno and the Truckee Meadows Valley. Homes there started in the mid-$200,000 range and ran into the two millions.

Lex rode with me as I drove my faded blue 2005 Jeep Liberty Sport to Shaw’s place. I’d seen it before, but it still took my breath away. It was gorgeous in an ostentatious sort of way. The mansion was built in Tuscan style, with curved windows and an arched gate that led into a large central courtyard. In the center of the courtyard was a statue of a golden woman that was also a fountain.

Uniformed officers were already there, and one of them led us through the front door, up a curved staircase to the master bedroom, and into the attached bathroom. The bedroom had a small leather love seat and a king-size four-poster bed made of dark oak. The bathroom itself was almost as large as my entire apartment. It had sinks on each side as well as floor-to-ceiling cherry cabinets. At the far end of the room were a large, deep sunken tub and a huge shower.

Lex and I went to the tub—the scene of the crime. It was still filled, but the water wasn’t clear—it was red. There was also blood all over the outside of the tub, the floor, and the wall.

A CSI tech named Cherry was there collecting blood samples.

“Find anything yet?” Lex asked.

“I’ll be running tests on the blood as soon as I get back,” Cherry answered. “I have the weapon bagged already. I’m hoping we’ll find a fingerprint on it.”

“Why would the attacker leave the weapon behind?” Lex asked.

I shook my head but didn’t answer. I surveyed the room, trying to picture how the crime had taken place. The first guess would be breaking and entering. Maybe Shaw was taking a bath when the intruder broke in, not knowing anyone was there. That theory didn’t make sense for a couple of reasons. The first was that Shaw’s place had a state-of-the-art alarm system. The second reason was that nothing had been stolen. Even the dumbest thief wouldn’t ignore the valuables downstairs and come upstairs to the bathroom.

I didn’t have to verbalize my thoughts to Lex, because I knew she was thinking the same thing.

“It couldn’t have been an intruder,” Lex said.

“Whoever it was had to have been invited in,” I replied. I turned to the uniformed officer who had escorted us in. “Where was the victim located?” I asked.

“Half in and half out of the tub, sir,” he answered.

“And the wounds? Were they on the front of the body or the back?”

“All over, Detective. My guess would be the perp first attacked the vic as they were facing each other. And the beating continued after the vic had been knocked unconscious. I would say the perp stood on the side of the tub while he beat the vic.”

“Can I see the cane?” I asked Cherry. She grabbed the bag and handed it to me. The staff was made of a light oak, and the handle was a single deer horn. The point of the horn wasn’t very sharp, but with enough force, it could’ve been used as a stabbing weapon. Based on the blood on the cane and the handle, it looked like that was exactly what it had been used as.

“What time did the attack take place?”

“Approximately 3:30 p.m.,” Cherry answered.



WHEN WE got to Renown Regional Medical Center, we learned Shaw was in surgery and probably would be for at least several more hours. A nurse pointed us toward Shaw’s younger brother, Dale. Dale was the other co-owner of Legacy Casino.

“Mr. Shaw,” I said as we approached him. “I’m Detective Flesh, and this is my partner, Detective Luther. We’re investigating your brother’s attack.”

“I don’t know what I can tell you. I wasn’t there, and I haven’t spoken to my brother for months.”

“I understand, Mr. Shaw, but you might know more than you realize.”

“I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Do you know anyone who had personal issues with your brother?”

“I’d be at the top of the list, right up there with my wife.”

“You guys had a falling-out?” Lex asked.

Dale Shaw chuckled ruefully. “More like a major blowup. His… sexual habits caused me some problems.”

“You had a problem with his homosexuality?” I bristled.

“No, Detective. It’s not that I had an issue with what gender he had sex with. It was the age of his partners that bothered me.”

“Exactly what do you mean, Mr. Shaw?”

“Please call me Dale. I hate being called Mr. Shaw.”

“Dale,” Lex spoke softly. “We need to know what happened between you two.”

“I have an eighteen-year-old stepson named Austin. I consider him my son because I’ve raised him since he was eight. He told us last year that he was gay. It was a shock, but we encouraged him to be safe and be happy. He’s a good kid and didn’t rush into sex with the first guy who offered it.”

“What does this have to do with your brother?” I asked sharply. Lex hit me on the shoulder—her way of telling me to shut up. She’s one of the few people who can get away with that sort of thing.

“Go ahead, Dale,” she said.

“I had Austin talk to Clayton because I thought my brother could help Austin out. I never thought my brother, my own goddamn brother, would do what he did.”

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that I knew what had happened. Family was supposed to love and support you, but I knew from my own experience that family could also hurt you and rip you to shreds.

“Your brother slept with your son, didn’t he?”

Dale couldn’t say a word. He bent his head, and I could tell he was crying.

“Oh Lord,” Lex murmured with a hand over her mouth.

Dale lifted his head and wiped the tears from his face. He nodded. “Yeah, my brother slept with my son. He took my son’s virginity, Detective.” He looked me in the eyes, and I didn’t look away, though it hurt me to see the raw pain there. Neither Lex nor I said a word, giving Dale the time it took to collect his thoughts and continue speaking.

“He took Austin’s virginity. Such a special thing, and he took it. Then he stomped on Austin’s heart. Austin loved Clayton. He thought sex meant love and commitment. Clayton treated Austin like just another trick, another one-night stand to be discarded like a used condom.”

“How is Austin now?” I asked.

Dale met my gaze again. “He’s fine now, but he wasn’t when it first happened. He tried to kill himself. Thank God he failed. He’s healing now. Healing emotionally and physically, but Clayton took something from Austin that he can never get back.”

“Did Clayton apologize for hurting Austin?” Lex asked.

Dale shook his head. “He doesn’t think he had anything to apologize for. He said Austin was eighteen and not related by blood.”

“Unbelievable,” I muttered. I hadn’t thought much of Clayton Shaw before, and now I thought even less of him.

“Why are you here?” Lex asked. “If I were you, I wouldn’t give him a second thought.”

“Clayton is still my brother,” Dale said. “He and I went through a lot when we were young. All we had was each other. It’s hard to forget that, so when I was told Clayton might die, I couldn’t stay away.”

“Where were you at three thirty today?” Lex asked.

“I was in meetings most of the day,” he answered. “The first meeting started at nine. I work with my wife, Sarah, and she was in most of the meetings with me. She joined me around ten. We were still in a meeting when I got the call about Clayton.”

“Can anyone corroborate your story?” I asked.

“Several people, Detective,” he replied. “I had meetings with employees and contractors regarding an expansion we’re planning. My personal assistant, Serena, can get you the names and numbers of everybody I was with today.” He handed me a business card. “She’ll be in tomorrow at eight.”

I cleared my throat. “We need to talk to your wife, as well as Austin.”

“Austin?” he asked. “Why him?”

“We have to look at all suspects,” Lex said.

“Don’t worry, Dale,” I said. “I’m sure he didn’t do it. I have to speak to him so I can clear his name.”

“I just don’t want him to get hurt any more than he already has,” Dale said.

I approached Dale and stood a few inches away, and I put my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll talk to Austin, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t get hurt. It won’t be an interrogation; it’ll just be two men talking. I promise.”

“Thank you, Detective.” He gave us his address, and we agreed to meet him there in fifteen minutes. He lived in the same upscale subdivision of Reno as Colby—Damonte Ranch.

As we drove to Dale’s place, I could feel Lex’s eyes on me.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Lex?”

“You constantly amaze me, Cris. You can switch from pissed-off cop to almost a human being so quick, it makes my head bobble.” To accentuate her point, she wiggled her head. I tried to keep a straight face but didn’t manage and let out a chuckle.

“Almost a human being?”

“You know what I mean, Cris. I’ve been with you for so many years, and I’m only just starting to see the real you.”

“Well, don’t get used to it. It could change again without warning.” If Colby left me, and I didn’t know why he hadn’t done that yet, I would be back to my old self again. And if that happened, I would never open up again.

When I saw Dale’s place, I was amazed at the stark contrast between the two brothers. I knew enough about the Shaw family to know they each had the same amount of money. Dale’s house was large but not extravagant.

The sun was setting as we arrived at the same time as Dale, and we followed him up the path to his front door. It opened before we got there, and an attractive woman with long brown hair stood inside. Dale greeted her with a kiss.

“Sarah, this is Detective Flesh and Detective Luther. Detectives, this is my wife, Sarah.”

Lex and I shook hands with her, and she greeted us with an icy glare.

“Where were you today, Mrs. Shaw?” Lex asked after we walked into the living room and sat down.

“Dale and I were both in meetings today,” she answered. “We own a real estate agency, and we spent all day at a meeting with our sellers. We’re planning to expand to selling commercial properties.”

“Who was there?” Lex asked.

“I met with a few accountants around nine. Then I joined Dale for meetings with some of our employees and contractors.”

“Where was Austin today?” I asked.

Sarah turned to face me. “Why do you need to know where Austin was?” she snapped.

“Just standard procedure,” I said.

“Austin didn’t do anything,” Sarah said loudly.

“I agree, but that doesn’t change things.”

“Don’t you think he’s been through enough?” Sarah asked.

Dale stood up and rushed to his wife. He put his arm around her. “It’s okay, Sarah. Let Detective Flesh talk to Austin.” Dale looked at me. “He’s upstairs in his room.”

I headed for the stairs, and Lex stood to follow me.

“I got this, Lex,” I said. She eyed me questioningly but didn’t argue.

Upstairs, I saw four bedrooms with one door closed. I knocked on the door.

“Austin,” I called out. “My name is Detective Flesh, and I’d like to have a conversation about Clayton Shaw. May I come in?”

There was a moment of silence before a tentative voice called out, “Come in.”

I opened the door and stepped in.

The overhead light was out, but a small desktop lamp illuminated the room enough for me to see Austin. He had shaggy, curly brown hair and a look of sadness that I knew well. He was sitting on his bed, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a white T-shirt.

I sat down in a computer chair.

“Is Clay okay?”

“He’s still in surgery.”

“I hope he doesn’t die,” Austin said.

I didn’t like what I was hearing. I didn’t want to have to arrest the kid. The idea of not arresting him even if he did confess came to mind, but I knew I couldn’t ignore a crime.

“Did you do it?” I asked.

Austin glanced at me. I expected either an adamant denial or a tearful confession, but that wasn’t what happened.

“I don’t know,” he said in a voice just above a whisper.


“I don’t remember. As soon as my parents left this morning, I started drinking whiskey. I was hungry and went out to get some food. I parked in front of Clayton’s house and thought about confronting him. I wanted to tell him that he’s a monster for what he did to me. I sat there in my car and drank more. The next thing I remember is standing in the shower. My skin was wrinkled, like I had been there for a while. I don’t know how long.” Austin bowed his head and cried almost silently. I sat next to him and put my arm around him.

“Don’t worry, Austin. We’ll figure this out.”

“But what if I did it? What if he dies? I’ll go to prison.” I wanted to say that wasn’t going to happen, but I wasn’t going to make a promise I wasn’t sure I could keep.

I stood up. “Look, Austin, I can only promise you one thing: no matter what happens, I will be here to help you. I’ll talk to you soon.”

I left the room and rejoined Lex in the living room.

“I have all I need for now,” I said. “We’ll be in touch.”

We walked to the car but didn’t get in.

“What do you think?” Lex asked me.

“Unfortunately, that kid is the chief suspect.”

“Are you going to let your personal feelings get in the way of the investigation?”

“Have I ever done that before?”

Lex snorted. “Yes, you have made very stupid decisions based on your personal feelings. You went to save Gabe at an empty building, and you went to Donner Pass to find Colby—both without police backup. It’s like in the movies when the stupid blonde goes out into the dark garage, even though she knows there’s a killer on the loose.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, I could be considered too stupid to live based on those actions. Sometimes I think with my heart and not my head,” I said, laughing.

“Thanks for making my point,” she said.

“Okay, I promise I won’t let my personal feelings interfere. Can we go now?” On the driver’s side, I said, “Hey, Lex, will you—”

“Will I drop you off at Colby’s place and take your car back to the station?” she said, as if she had read my mind again.

I nodded and smiled at her.

“Have fun,” she said when she pulled up to Colby’s place.

“I plan on it.” I hopped out of the car. I wanted to surprise Colby, so I rang the bell.

“Bello!” he said when he opened the door. “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you use your key?”

“I wanted to surprise you,” I said. He leaned forward and kissed me.

“What a great surprise,” he said. We kissed again. His arms wrapped around me and enveloped me in an all-consuming hug. We remained like that for a minute before I realized we were still standing in the doorway.

“Hey, big guy, it’s not that I don’t like doing what we’re doing, but I think we should take this inside.”

Colby laughed and dragged me into the living room. He was wearing a pair of thin pajama pants, and I could feel his large erection pressing against my leg.

“Damn, baby,” he whispered in my ear, “I’ve been thinking about you all day.” He slipped his tongue into my ear, then traveled down to my lobe and my neck. Pressing his teeth into the dip between my neck and shoulder, he bit gently. A shudder ripped through my body, and he bit down harder, sucking as he did so. I knew there was going to be a mark in the morning, but I didn’t care.

“Colby. Oh God, Colby. Fuck me. Please, fuck me.” After talking to Austin, I was full of memories I didn’t want resurfacing. I wanted—needed—Colby to fuck me so hard I forgot it all. Thankfully, Colby wanted the same thing I did.

“Yeah, I’ll fuck your ass,” he said. “I’m going to fuck you hard.” He took my mouth with his again, owning it as his tongue pressed against mine. It was gone sooner than I wanted it to be. I tried to keep the precious contact by sliding mine into his mouth. He closed his lips around my tongue and sucked it in. I practically melted and might’ve slipped to the floor if his big arms weren’t wrapped tightly around me.

In a lightning-fast move, Colby spun me around and pushed me against the wall. He pressed his erection against my ass as he bit my neck again.

“Get naked,” he ordered. I unbuttoned my shirt and removed it and my T-shirt. He kissed down my back and stopped just above my ass. I had my belt pulled out of the loops, the top button of my jeans open, and was poised to do the rest, but Colby’s big hands were on mine and holding them still. With his lips pressed against my lower back, he slowly undid each button. He worked himself lower and lower with each one, kissing and nipping at the exposed flesh.

He tugged my pants to my ankles, grabbed my hips, and pulled me toward him. I put my hands on the wall to steady myself as he spread my cheeks and gently licked from the bottom to the top—his tongue only brushing against my hole. Just that slight touch was enough for shivers to rack my body and my cock to totally harden.

“Ohh Lord,” I murmured. Colby reached around, gripped the bottom of my shaft, and slowly stroked it, squeezing out drops of precome. He ran his thumb around the head, and I moaned again. He pressed his tongue against my hole, this time more firmly than before. I pushed back, reveling in the sensations. He licked around my hole and nipped at my cheeks before once more trying to tongue fuck me.

“Colby, fuck, I need you in me. Please.”

He stood up and whispered in my ear, “I love it when you beg. Don’t move.” I stood there and stroked my shaft as I waited for him to return. He was back right away, and I could feel he was naked when he pressed himself against me. I heard him snap open the lube and jumped when a finger coated with the cold liquid touched my hole. Colby and I had stopped using condoms early in our relationship, the first time by accident, but we’d both been tested since then.

“Relax. I won’t hurt you,” he said. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me, but I still liked to hear him say it. One thick finger slipped in, and I arched backward to get the digit deeper inside. Colby slid the finger in and out until he hit my gland. He rubbed my prostate as he chewed softly on my neck. When I moaned, I felt him smile against me. He pulled out one finger and slid in two. In and out they slid, rubbing me, exciting me, making me moan. I was about to beg Colby to give it to me when his shaft pressed against my hole. Evidently he was as ready as me.

“Fuck, Cristian… bello… baby. I love you so goddamn much,” Colby moaned as he teased my hole with his prick. His large head pressed against me with just a slight amount of pressure. Colby firmly gripped my hips, and I knew he was in total control—exactly what I wanted. I tried to push back to get him in me, but the hold on my hips stopped that from happening.

“Not yet,” he whispered. He applied more pressure, and the head slipped past my tight ring. I gasped, and before I could catch a breath, Colby slid the rest of his length deep into me. Buried to the root, he pushed me against the wall so we were both standing straight up. It was an odd angle to be fucked, but it felt amazing. His cock was hitting parts of me that didn’t get hit very often. He turned my face and kissed me, hard. Our tongues fought for control—control I didn’t want but had to pretend I did.

He thrust into me, and I lost the ability to think about anything other than the dick penetrating me.

“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” I moaned again and again. It was my mantra as the man I loved pounded me. Over the years I’d had lots of rough sex. Rough, hard, and sweaty sex with men of all shapes and sizes. It was essentially the same act, but with Colby it was totally different. He was fucking me, but he was also making love to me. He loved me, and he told me that with every thrust and every grunt and every kiss. And I loved him. So fucking much it scared me. I’d never felt real love before him. I wasn’t taught that love was something to be cherished. When I was with Colby, whether it was sex or just watching television, I felt the real, true kind of love.

At Colby’s upstroke inside me, I quickly lost control, and ropes of come shot from my shaft, coating the wall.

“Oh hell yeah,” Colby said as he slammed into me. I could feel him coming deep inside me, and his body went from tense to almost boneless. He slipped from me, spun me around, and kissed me softly on the lips.

“I love you, Cristian.”

“I love you too, big guy.”

“You already said that this month.” He chuckled. That was one of the new rules I’d made since Colby and I got together. Rule number fifteen. It replaced an older rule, but I’d long forgotten what that rule was.

“This was a freebie,” I said. “Since you fucked me so well, I thought you deserved it.”

“If fucking you means I get to hear those words more often, I’ll fuck you whenever and wherever you want.”

“You already do,” I reminded him.

“Let’s shower. You got me all sweaty.” Rule number four was no shared showers, but that was before Colby. Ignoring that rule was now one of my favorite things to do. Showering with Colby, whether it led to sex or not, was one of my favorite activities. That rule wasn’t the one I enjoyed breaking the most—that would be rule number two: no kissing. Kissing Colby was always the highlight of my day.

“So what were you doing in the neighborhood?” Colby asked when we were in the shower and sharing the spray of hot water.

“Clayton Shaw was attacked today,” I answered.

“His brother doesn’t live far from here,” Colby said.

“I know. That’s where I was.”

“His brother is the suspect?” This was one of those sticky issues with Colby and me. I wanted to talk about my day with my boyfriend, but I was a cop and he was a lawyer. Information about cases was supposed to be confidential, but sometimes things hit home, and I needed to talk about it.

He must’ve been reading my thoughts, because he looked at me and smiled. “Cone of silence?” That was his way of assuring me that what I told him was as sacred as if he was a priest and we were in a confessional.

“Not the brother, the nephew,” I said.

“You think Clayton’s nephew attacked him?”

“Clayton seduced him and broke his heart,” I replied.

“Shaw slept with his own nephew?” Colby asked, shocked.

“Stepnephew,” I corrected.

“That’s still wrong,” Colby said. “So very wrong.”

I hugged Colby. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” I said. I grabbed a razor and began my almost daily routine of removing my body hair. I was a diligent manscaper; I shaved my face, head, pubes, and genitals. I didn’t shave my chest or legs, but what was there was so blond, it was almost invisible.

We finished showering and climbed into bed. I was suddenly exhausted, and the feel of Colby’s arms around me helped me to let go for the day.