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Life Lessons

Life Lessons Book 1

by Kaje Harper

Mac's three goals: keep Tony safe, catch the killer, don't come out.

Tony Hart's a dedicated teacher, though he's not much older than his high-school students. Between his profession, a few good friends, and plenty of books, he's content with his quiet life. Then the murdered body of another teacher falls into the elevator at his feet, and Tony's life becomes all too exciting.

Jared MacLean is a homicide detective, widowed father to a young daughter, and deeply in the closet. But from the moment he meets Tony's blue eyes in that high school hallway, Mac can't help wanting this man in his life. Mac's not out ― can't afford to be out ― but Tony makes him want the impossible.

Mac isn't the only one with their eyes on Tony, though. As the murderer tries to cover their tracks, Mac has to work fast or lose Tony, permanently.

(This is a rerelease of the 2011 original with light editing.)

This book is on:
  • 4 To Be Read lists
  • 13 Read lists
Excerpt:

The elevator came to life with a grinding rumble, and a thump as it arrived. The door opened, its faint ding almost erased by a familiar low buzz as the janitor began buffing the floors somewhere down the hall.

See, you’re not the only poor sap left in the building.

Tony stepped in, stabbing at the third-floor button and the close-doors button with weary impatience. One more load of books and he could head home. That first beer of the evening beckoned in his mind, cold and crisp, and the Vietnamese place down the street would deliver. He could taste the spices now. For a city smack in the middle of the Midwest, Minneapolis had great Asian food.

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As the elevator ground its reluctant way upward, Tony gave himself a mental pat on the back for the result of his students’ book drive. They’d collected over two hundred books for the children’s library project they were sponsoring. Most of those had already been brought down and stowed in his car by helpful— in other words, forcibly drafted— members of his last English class of the day. He’d been about to drive away when he remembered one more box stowed away in the classroom closet. He’d almost convinced himself to leave it there till Monday, but he wanted to get this project done. The stupid ankle hadn’t crippled him. He could handle one damned box.

The third-floor indicator chimed. As the doors began to open, Tony stepped forward impatiently and was caught unprepared when a big man stumbled backward onto the elevator. The man’s elbow thumped Tony’s chest and drove him against the wall.

“Damn it, Westin! Watch where you’re going!” he snapped, recognizing the wide shoulders and trademark tweed. He grabbed for the side rail as his weight landed on his sore ankle. Ouch! Damnit! “Let me get off first.”

The big man grunted and lurched against him again, the back of his shoulder whacking Tony’s chin. Is he drunk? Or just obnoxious? Tony shoved Westin off irritably and reached out to block the doors as they began to close, but Westin’s reaction to his shove was a slow, sliding collapse down the wall of the elevator to the floor. As Tony watched in dismay, Westin rolled towards him, face sheet white, and mumbled something. He coughed, and blood, shockingly bright in the fluorescent elevator light, sprayed and bubbled down his chin. He coughed once more, wet and muffled, then lay ominously still.

Oh, Jesus! What the hell

Tony dropped to his knees beside the man, reaching for him, imagining a heart attack or stroke or pneumonia or… but then his eyes and brain caught up with each other. The handle of a knife protruded from Westin’s blood-covered chest.

Tony’s pulse pounded in his ears. Shit, shit, shit! Westin wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing. Tony realized the pounding wasn’t just his heart; running footsteps echoed down the hall. For an instant longer he knelt, frozen in place, as the elevator doors closed on Westin’s trailing feet, dinged their displeasure, and sprang open again. By the time he lunged forward and stuck his head out of the elevator, the hallway was empty. The north stairwell door was swinging shut.

I could run after whoever it was. I should try to catch them.

Instead Tony reached for Westin’s wrist, then his neck, feeling for a pulse that wasn’t there. The man’s shirtfront and jacket were soaked with blood, liquid and red, still trickling out around that blade and pooling by Tony’s knees on the elevator floor. The smell of urine and bowels loosening filled the elevator. Tony gagged and lunged out the doors, reaching back in to pull the emergency button and block the obscene squeeze and release on Westin’s feet.

Phone. Nine-one-one.

He reached without much hope for his cell phone. Sure enough— no service. The whole school was riddled with dead zones. That did have the benefit of keeping the students off their phones, except this time it has no fucking benefit at all. The classrooms would all be locked at this hour. He had no master key, only his own. Tony hovered one more moment, torn between Westin’s body, the stairwell, and his room way off down the corridor, with its landline.

No brainer, you stupid git, he told himself impatiently, you can’t help Brian Westin, you’re not going to catch the guy on the stairs, so call for some help.

He hobbled for his room, at the far end of a hallway that’d never seemed so long. His lock resisted the key when he jammed it in. Then there was his desk and his phone and he could finally dial nine-one-one.

“What’s your emergency?”

Amazing how good someone else’s live voice sounded right now. “He’s dead!” Tony blurted. Idiot! “I mean, one of the teachers has been stabbed, here at Rooseman.”

COLLAPSE

About the Author

I get asked about my name a lot. It's not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname.

I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, where the mosquito is the state bird, and where winter can be breathtakingly beautiful. Minnesota’s a kindly, quiet (if sometimes chilly) place and it’s home now.

I’ve been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment. I mainly publish M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.

My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I’ve been delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.

I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page.
I also have  an author page on Goodreads where I do a lot of book reviews. You can find me to chat there– I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the  Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far. Or find me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/KajeHarper