Best-selling thriller author Reese Kelsey knows his career isn’t conducive to romance. He doesn’t work the normal nine-to-five, and sometimes his characters take hold and demand all his attention, causing him to neglect important appointments… and lovers. Rather than go through another heartbreak, Reese contents himself with his small circle of friends—fellow gay New York City artists—and his dedicated publicist, Chad.
Until he sees Owen Mercado lugging his cello toward the subway and impulsively offers him a ride.
Owen has worked long and hard for a career in the symphony, and success comes with a demanding schedule—something Reese understands. Their desires and lifestyles are surprisingly compatible, and Reese and Owen certainly set the bedroom on fire. They’re both carrying baggage, but they fit, and it’s hard not to hope for a future that once seemed impossible.
But when Reese’s work inevitably pulls him into its dark world and refuses to let go, Owen draws a hard line, and Reese discovers he can't rely on good intentions alone. He will have to control the obsession that drove his other lovers away or risk losing Owen as well.
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Famous / Not Famous
Word Count: 65953
Setting: New York City
Languages Available: English
THERE WAS blood everywhere. It stained the walls, pooled on the floor, soaked into the duvet. Blood splattered violently over the nightstand and the windowpanes and seeped darkly into the curtains. A grisly trail led from the bed, across the rug, and through the door into what was likely a bathroom. The bathroom light was on, and a sliver of bright light sliced through the darkness of the bedroom, cutting past the partially closed bathroom door.
Detective Harris tensed and drew his sidearm. He stood in the entry to the bedroom and turned on his flashlight, aligning it with the barrel of the gun to get a closer look around the room. It was his third gory crime scene investigation in as many weeks and likely to be a vicious, senseless murder like the others. The brutal actions of a madman—a foul, premeditated murder in cold blood.READ MORE
Harris held his breath as he searched the room for what he knew he was meant to find: the calling card of a psychotic serial killer.
He found it, of course: the photograph. A Polaroid shot of the victim the subject had pinned to the headboard with a scalpel that was stained from end to end, sticky with the woman’s blood. Below the snapshot the pillow was—
Below the snapshot the pillow was… what? The pillow was… well. He’d already used bloodstained, pooled, splattered, and trailed. What was left? Dripping? No, it wouldn’t still be dripping nearly twenty-four hours after it was shed. Tinted, drenched, colored, streaked, splashed?
Reese ran his hands through his hair. “Crap. Splashed, crusted, spattered…. Christ.” He planted both feet on the floor and shoved his chair backward. “Who the hell cares?” He stood up and walked away from his desk.
People cared, he knew. They did. People liked his books for the most part. Chad, his publicist, liked to remind him regularly that he was a “best seller,” a “genius,” and when Chad was feeling particularly cynical, “a cash cow.” The Ledger said his last thriller was “brilliant.” The Times called him “a pretty face with a deviantly twisted mind,” which, Chad assured him, was intended to be a compliment.
Reese paced behind his desk chair, up the length of the hardwood floor to the window that overlooked congested Sixth Avenue and then back again to the bookcase littered with reference materials, assorted jars of hard candy, and a shoebox full of hastily labeled flash drives.
His readers might like his work, but they didn’t sit in that chair day after day dreaming up images meant to make people cringe, to make men psychoanalyze the criminals and women double lock their doors at night. They didn’t go to sleep dreaming of sociopaths and wake up with visions of bloody bathtubs. At least he assumed they didn’t, or he’d be reading their work too.
Sometimes he hated it. Every time he finished a book he swore it would be his last, that he was tired of the twisted, tormented asylum of characters inhabiting his mind, talking to him in his sleep, in the shower, on the subway. But then a month, or six, or even a year later, another would take hold, and ideas would practically fly from him. His fingers would hammer on the keyboard at all hours of the day, words only lingering in Reese’s mind long enough for him to watch them appear on the laptop screen.
And other times, like right now, he would sit there, staring at the screen, trying to come up with a new way to describe insanity, depravity, and complete and utter gore.
Seriously, Reese yammered on in his own mind, how many ways could one describe—
“Congealed. That’s it. Congealed!” Reese scurried back to his chair and rolled toward his keyboard so hard that the armrests wedged themselves under the desktop. Fervently, he began typing.
…and below the snapshot, the pillow was stiff and heavy where the victim’s dripping blood had congealed.
“Or something.” Reese was fairly sure that congealed was the right word, but he flagged the sentence for his first round of edits. His cell phone rang, interrupting his train of thought. He ignored it.
Detective Harris holstered his weapon. The subject wouldn’t be here; that wasn’t his M.O. He’d have left roughly twenty-four hours prior and was, more than likely, already scoping out victim number four.
Harris pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed the crime lab.
Reese’s landline started ringing.
“Evelyn, I need you. Again.”
Evelyn sighed heavily. “I’ll call the team.”
“Jesus Christ,” Reese swore. He took a moment to type:
[HARRIS/EVELYN (HILL) DISCUSS KNOWN DETAILS RE KILLER]
and then stood up, covering the expanse between his desk and the telephone in a few long strides.
“Hello?” He hated being interrupted.
Reese’s brow furrowed. “Chad?”
“Yes. It is Chad, your underappreciated publicist. Chad, the most handsome appointment book on the planet. Chad, your conscience—”
“Oh shit.” Reese hurried across his living room to the bedroom, where he stepped into a pair of loafers. “Where am I supposed to be?”
“Book signing. Eighty-Second and Broadway.”
“Right! I remember!” He didn’t. “At… that bookstore.”
“Barnes and Noble.”
“Right! I can be there in ten minutes.” It was only a few blocks away, but he’d have to run.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Christ, I’m coming, Chad! Stall for me. Be charming.”
“That’s what you pay me for, to be charming while I’m covering for your late ass.”
That wasn’t technically true. To the best of his knowledge, covering for his ass wasn’t in their contract, but if Chad wanted to believe it was, Reese had no plans to disabuse him of the notion. “Thanks,” Reese replied and hung up the phone.
REESE RAN. He ran so fast his loafers pinched him and the heels of his favorite but ancient leather shoes made loud scraping noises on the sidewalk. He ran until he was short of breath, until he got his shaking fingers on the tall, heavy door of the Barnes and Noble.
“Here!” he said to no one in particular, panting hard. “Made it.”
Then he took a couple of deep breaths and let them out slowly in an attempt to regain his composure, straightened himself up, and went inside.
Mother. Of. God.
There were people—most of them women—everywhere. All over. A lot of people. People stood patiently in a seemingly endless line that snaked between rows and rows of books. The line turned a corner here and a corner there through the fiction section, wound around past the coffee bar, continued past the nonfiction and into self-help. There was a long table at one end of the store covered in tall stacks of his newest book, Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday, and next to that was a five-foot-tall rendition of the cover in all its red-and-black glory, the blood-spattered calendar and severed arm larger than life and twice as disgusting. Someday he’d get to have the actual final say on his covers. Chad promised blood sold his books, and his publisher seemed to agree, and since Reese hadn’t worried about a bill or checked to see if he could afford a vacation in over seven years, he had to assume they knew what they were talking about. Still, Reese wasn’t so sure he wanted the images on his covers to look like the stuff of nightmares, even if the writing actually was.
A hand hooked over his shoulder, and Reese turned to look, only to hear Chad’s urgent whisper in his ear. “Over here. Hurry, now, I’ve been able to keep the manager occupied rearranging the book table and planning some publicity shots, but I’m fresh out of small talk, Reese. It’s your turn. Do that voodoo that you do.”
Reese allowed himself to be dragged off to another table not far from the one where his books were stacked. He was maneuvered into a chair and handed a red Sharpie—bloodred, Chad thought it was cute—and then the onslaught began.
“Mr. Kelsey! Mr. Kelsey! Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m first in line. Oh God, I’ve been here since last night. I watched them piling your books on that table at six thirty this morning. I can’t believe I’m first. God, I love your books.”
He forced a smile. “Name?”
“Oh, Linda. Linda Hurley. Oh God. Oh! Wait!” Linda, as she called herself, reached out and stopped his hand before his pen hit the title page. “I brought a pen. A new one, because, well, you know. I hope you don’t think that’s too…. Well, of course you do, but would you anyway? Use mine? Here.” Linda held her own red Sharpie in front of his nose.
“Why, certainly,” Reese said smoothly, taking the pen carefully and ignoring his own little inner psychopath who was sending him images of Linda with the red Sharpie through her eye socket. He put her pen to use. Thank you for being first, and for losing sleep over me. Fondly, Reese Kelsey. His signature, if properly deciphered, actually read something more like Rs Kely, the letters in between scrawled to such a degree as to be completely illegible. Reese handed the book, and the pen, back to the woman called Linda Hurley.
“Oh! Oh. Thank you. Thank you! I just love your books, thank—”
“Next!” Chad bellowed from behind him. Thank goodness for Chad; Reese might have managed to go all afternoon without a headache had it not been for him.
AN HOUR or so later, Reese was getting punchy.
“Listen, sweetheart, here’s ten bucks. If you go over to that coffee bar right there and buy me a nonfat caramel macchiato and a big fudge brownie, I’ll make sure you get a poster. I’ll have Chad here sign it too.”
“Reese,” Chad protested weakly.
“Oh, wow. Okay!” The woman nodded and bounded off. He couldn’t remember her name. He’d signed maybe a hundred books or more, and all the women looked the same now. Linda, Susan, Christina, Abigail, Sarah, Margaret, Elizabeth… who knew anymore? As he signed the next few books and listened to his fangirls babble at him, he kept one eye on Errand Girl. She kept glancing over her shoulder and giggling every now and then while she waited for his coffee, and before too long she was making her way back toward him, goodies in hand.
“Pamela,” a woman said, holding her copy of his book out toward him. “If that’s too long you can just say Pam.”
Reese smiled at her. “Nonsense, Pamela,” he replied in a goofy voice. “You paid good money for my book. The least I can do is scrawl three or four extra letters in it for you.”
Pamela smiled back.
“Caramel macchiato!” Errand Girl sang and reached out to set the coffee down on the table in front of Reese just as he was handing the signed book back to Pamela-with-all-six-letters.
“You have a very—Oohhhhhh, shiiiiiit.” Everything suddenly went into slow motion. Reese shoved the book toward Pamela, smacking it squarely into the side of the cardboard cup of hot coffee. The lid popped off, sending caramel macchiato upward and outward away from Reese. Errand Girl’s arms flew into the air, and she screamed. Pamela screamed. Chad, damn him, also screamed. Pamela fumbled with the book but lost her balance, falling away from the table. Reese made a desperate dive for the cup of coffee as if he were trying to save the precious Heart of the Ocean from going overboard. Something, something that Reese later learned to be Errand Girl’s purse, smacked him squarely between the eyes. A flash of white pain hit him, and the world spun. The bookstore’s fluorescent lighting swirled, and then everything went black.