They're Treading Water in an Ocean of Secrets
When ex-cop Jake Chivis is woken by the police and questioned about the mysterious death of his neighbor, he thinks his day can only get better. Things go from bad to worse when his lover, Mari Gale, brings him a horrific sex tape which appears to show a man being murdered. As they begin to investigate the origins of the video, nothing is as it seems. Will they find the killers before they strike again? Or will dark secrets rising to the surface in their own lives erupt and tear them apart?
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Publisher: Pride Publishing
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Class Differences, Criminals & Outlaws, Cultural Differences, Interracial Relationship, Office / Workplace Romance
Word Count: 80000
Setting: London, UK
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
The persistent pounding on his apartment door pulled Jake out of bed. He stumbled, bleary-eyed and yawning, into the living room and managed to stub his toes on the coffee table. “Ow, son of a— Hang on, hang on, I’m coming already,” he grumbled, and yanked the door open. Early morning sunlight slanted through the windows in the hallway. Framed in the golden halo of rays was Detective Inspector John Cordiline, looking like a fallen angel crumpled from the long descent, a haggard expression on his face, along with at least a day’s worth of stubble.
“Detective, what brings you by at”—Jake squinted at the clock—“six in the morning?”
Cordiline raised a finger to scratch his temple, just where his dark brown hair was fading to a softer shade of gray. It was a nervous tic, one of a very few that the generally self-assured Fitzrovia DI possessed.READ MORE
“Official business, I’m afraid, Chivis. Do you mind if I come in? It’s to do with the bloke that lived across the hall from you.”
Leaving the door open, Jake backed into the apartment then wandered over toward the kitchen. This was going to require coffee, he could tell. The pot was set up to go off on its own in another half hour anyway so all he had to do was hit the brew button. As the door clicked shut, he turned back around.
“Coffee’ll be ready in a few minutes. What’s going on?”
Cordiline perched on the edge of one of the sofa cushions with his forearms resting on his knees. The shadows under his eyes said this was the wrong end of a long night, but that cloudy blue gaze still traveled over Jake from head to toe. A small smile tugged at his lips for a moment, then was gone.
“Did you know Mr. Sullivan?”
“Jim? I talked to him a few times in passing. I didn’t know him well. What happened?”
“Guy that runs the grocery store downstairs called in a complaint when he came in early to supervise a delivery. Said there was water coming through the ceiling and he couldn’t get anyone to come to the door. The PC that responded found Mr. Sullivan in the bathtub, water still running, head under the surface.”
“Aw, shit,” Jake swore softly.
“Yeah, that it is.”
“I take it the boys in blue found something that didn’t fit with an accident, or suicide, if they called you in?”
“Did you see Mr. Sullivan last night?” Cordiline asked, instead of answering. “Or see him with anyone new lately?”
“No. It’s been a few days since I last ran into him. I’ve never seen him bring anyone home. Our conversations were, basically, ‘good morning’ and ‘nice day’.”
Cordiline heaved a sigh. “I figured that might be the case, but I had to ask. We’re going to have to talk to everyone in the area just to see if anyone noticed comings and goings from the apartment at odd hours. You were closest. Sorry about that.” He rubbed his face with both hands, scratching at the shadow of stubble on his chin, the dark flecks dotted with silver. “Did I wake you?”
Jake made a dismissive gesture. “I would have been up in another half hour anyway. I like to run before it gets too busy.”
Cordiline grunted. “Did you say something about coffee?”
Jake nodded and turned, which was all it really took for him to reach the cupboard in the tiny kitchen. He pulled down two mugs, poured the coffee and set them out on the counter along with sugar and milk.
“Help yourself,” he said, sipping from his own mug.
Cordiline dumped a couple of sugars and a good splash of milk into his and knocked back half of it, seemingly immune to the heat.
“Good cuppa,” he said with a sigh of approval. “Not supposed to take sugar but I reckon I need it this morning.” His gaze wandered toward the half open bedroom door behind Jake. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
Jake snorted. “You think Mari wouldn’t be out here already? He stayed home last night.”
Cordiline raised an eyebrow. “School night?”
“Wait, wait, what’s the right phrase? Ah, cheeky cunt. Yes. That’s the one,” Jake told him. “No. He’s starting his new job today.”
“He’s a bad influence on you. I thought you were such a polite young man.” Cordiline chuckled. He sobered quickly though, taking another good swig from his coffee. “So long as he’s still being good to you. You back at work yet after that Birthright business?”
“They offered to extend my leave another couple of weeks but I told them I’d rather get back to it. I go back tomorrow.”
The DI nodded. “Yeah, you don’t want to leave it too long, it’s harder the longer you stay away, so I hear. Speaking of getting back to it…” He drained his mug and set it down with a sigh. “Glad you’re doing okay, Chivis. You take care of yourself.”
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” Jake said.
* * * *
The website was called yourdirtylittlesecret.com and Mari figured he could hardly be surprised that it wasn’t dedicated to the domestic habits of those who didn’t like to wash. There was a part of his brain which registered disgust that he even bothered with sites like this, but its objection was processed and shut down in short order by the sectors that controlled his libido. After watching several video clips that made his eyes bigger, if not other parts, he concluded that this small, stifled part of his brain had a point and clicked on one of the links to similar interests in the hope of something, anything at all that could be helpful.
His relationship with Jake Chivis had progressed in leaps and bounds these last few months, and was starting to move past the stage of friends with benefits to something deeper. He knew that Jake had some very serious intentions and while he wasn’t sure if he was ready for such an intense involvement this early, he was drawn to him in a way that went beyond his good looks. Although, admittedly, Jake’s dark curls and big brown eyes, and that honest to goodness amazing body, were certainly not a small factor in the attraction. Just thinking about Chivis in a state of undress had him more turned on than a hundred smutty video links.
So, it was frustrating that he still wasn’t able to relax enough with the man to make love to him. Or at least, to let Jake fuck him. He had ridden his lover’s sexy backside plenty and very tasty it was too, but Jake hadn’t yet managed to return the favor. Not for the want of trying.
Mari’s therapist called it dyspareunia, caused in all likelihood by performance anxiety, and said it was treatable. His ex, Tomas, had been blunter, telling him—in front of the entire office where they had both worked—that he was frigid and if he wanted to play his ‘ice queen games’ he could play them with someone else. That had been after Mari discovered he also had a wife and children, of course. With hindsight, it would have been easier not to make a fuss, but he had never been that sort of boy. He’d used his interface gift on Tomas’ phone before they’d split up, and after that morning of revelations he’d used the information he’d copied over from his SIM to send pictures to Tomas’ wife. Pictures that she was hopefully still giving him grief over.
That had been his last hurrah before handing in his notice and coming back from Barcelona to London to start again. Once he had landed here he’d promised himself that workplace romance was off the cards indefinitely. At least this time he’d kept that promise for almost three years.
Jake Chivis had melted all of his resolve. It was those puppy dog eyes, he told himself. He never could resist a cute pup. But he already knew that Jake wanted more from him than tickles and a walk in the park.
The thing was, Mari wanted it too, more than he could put into words. It just terrified him that one day Jake might get as tired of waiting for his arse as Tomas had. He didn’t think he could stand to hear those words thrown at him again. At this stage, failure was simply not an option.
Hence the videos, or extreme therapy, as Mari preferred to think of it. He’d done a lot of reading on the topic of the male sexual response and he had been busy trying to find out about people who had suffered similar problems to his own, to learn if—and how—they had conquered them. He already knew, from extensive experimentation with other partners, that certain factors relaxed and stimulated him in equal measure. He and Jake had played around with his love of physical chastisement, though he knew that Jake was less enthusiastic about spanking him hard than he was about receiving the punishment.
The website called straponbitchez.uk was eyewatering, if not entirely satisfying. Their sister site iputacollaronyou/sle.ez proved intriguing, though Mari was more interested in the collar and cuffs element than any kind of puppy play. Some of the acts suggested by the video links were most certainly illegal in at least a hundred and forty countries. Another link led to lagriffe.com, where an incredible amount of money must have been spent on their CGI in order to turn their actors from human into various shapeshifters, though some of them were incredibly—and disturbingly—hot, even in their beastly forms. Mari didn’t want to analyze that thought too much.
He clicked on another link, deciding that this would be the last one. It was late and he was meant to start a new job in the morning. As the scratchy home-made video clip began to play, he considered that it might turn out to be more promising.
The young guy was cute and the man standing behind him, though he didn’t show his face, had a reasonable body. Mari settled down and made himself more comfortable on the bed as the top tied the younger man’s hands in front of him and secured him to the bed with his ankles fastened apart to the footrail. The sex was quick and rough but the bound man seemed to be into it. Then the top slid his hands over the bottom’s slim shoulders and around his neck, and began to squeeze. Mari caught his breath and his hand slid lower as he watched, moving over the flat plane of his own belly toward the waistband of his briefs. Where it stopped.
His eyes widened as he took in the scene. When the playback stopped, he reached out and took it back a few minutes, watching it again, just to be certain.
By the time he reached the end he could barely breathe. His stomach was tied in painful knots and the screen blurred through the shimmer of tears in his eyes. Fake. It had to be fake. But it looked so damn real. Horrifyingly, shockingly, real. He shut the laptop down and took some deep, cleansing breaths. What if it wasn’t faked?
With a shaking hand he turned out the light and huddled under the duvet, but the image of the man being choked would not let him be still, no matter how hard he tried. Every time he lay back and rested his head on the pillow he saw the light go out of the eyes of the man on the bed and he fought the urge to throw up.COLLAPSE