Authors: Maggie Kavanagh
Tags: #gay romance
By Maggie Kavanagh
The Stonebridge Mysteries: Book Three
Living together is bliss for Sam Flynn and Nathan Walker, but things never stay quiet for long in Stonebridge. On the night of Sam’s twenty-ninth birthday, the much-hated mayor of Stonebridge is found dead at his home. Sam suspects foul play, but just as he starts investigating the list of possible culprits, Nathan gets word of a new undercover assignment—one that includes a mysterious, sexy new partner. Though Sam struggles to trust Nathan and control his jealousy during Nathan’s absence, the stress makes a return to the bottle seem not only tempting, but inevitable—especially when Nathan starts avoiding his calls.
Yet Nathan’s fidelity isn’t the only thing on Sam’s mind. A visit from the mayor’s ex-assistant puts Sam in the line of fire, and he’s drawn into a complex web of duplicity spanning back to the night of his parents’ accident. Sam’s journey to uncover the truth about what really happened threatens to unravel long-held beliefs about his parents and puts his relationship with Nathan to the ultimate test.
To my partner in crime. Always.
Here we are at the end of a long road. I am so grateful for the help I’ve received along the way. Thank you to the entire Dreamspinner production team for always being ready to answer questions and lend a hand. A special thanks to Maria Fanning, who has created some gorgeous cover designs for this series. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Liz Fitzgerald, my Dreamspinner editor, for her observations, insights, and her swift red pen. Last and certainly not least, much love and thanks to Olivia Mandell, who edited presubmission drafts of this novel, and Michela and Justyna, dear friends who read this book at all stages of the drafting process and offered their feedback and support. I’m extremely lucky to have such wonderful people in my corner.
Star resembled a prom set from an eighties movie. Streamers hung from the ceiling and a disco ball spun in the middle of the room, flashing tiny beams of light. In the corner a DJ played “Born to Run” from bass-heavy speakers, but the small crowd was even louder, screaming and blowing noisemakers as Sam Flynn stood holding his boyfriend Nathan’s hand. He blinked in surprise.
A banner reading HAPPY 29TH BIRTHDAY, SAM hung behind the bar, where everyone was hiding when Sam and Nathan entered.
“So this is why you wanted to hurry down here so fast,” Sam yelled in Nathan’s ear over the music.
Nathan chuckled and grabbed him around the waist. “Maybe.”
“You sneaky bastard.” Even though he’d stopped drinking, Sam loved the Star, not least because one of his best friends, Rachel Mayer, tended bar. She stood behind it, clapping and looking very self-satisfied. To her left her girlfriend Alex wore a glittery birthday hat over her short white-blonde bob. Further guests included Sam’s other best friend, Yuri Manella, and Damon Blake, who Sam hadn’t expected to see, since he’d recently moved from Stonebridge, Connecticut to Hartford. He gave Sam a smile and a nod.
“I wondered what you all were planning.” Sam tried to hide his grin and mostly failed. Some guys from Manella’s Landscaping whooped and raised beers to toast in the corner. Even Antonio Rivera, one of Nathan’s FBI buddies, was there.
“Are you surprised?” Nathan leaned down and kissed Sam on the cheek. His new beard scratched lightly against Sam’s skin.
“Hell yeah, but you shouldn’t have done all this.”
“Why not?” Nathan’s dark eyes glinted in the flashing lights of the disco ball. Sam hadn’t been sure about the beard at first, but it was growing on him—pun intended. Nathan looked hotter than ever. After six months of living together and over a year of dating, Sam still thought Nathan was the most attractive man he’d ever seen.
“Because you know I hate surprise parties.”
“I know you say you do, but I also know when you’re lying. Don’t I?” Nathan arched an eyebrow, and Sam flushed all over. He wondered what Nathan had planned for them later, after the party. In fact, he’d been tingling with anticipation since Nathan mentioned it over breakfast.
“Yes, sir.” He urged Nathan’s head down and whispered into his ear, grateful for the loud music. If any of his friends overheard him addressing Nathan in that way, he’d never live it down. They had no idea what he and his boyfriend got up to in the bedroom, and they didn’t need to know. Nathan responded with a devious smile.
After the song ended, the DJ spoke into the mic. “Welcome to the guest of honor,
.” He played some annoying sound effects—fart noises and whistles—and Sam wondered where the hell Rachel had picked him up.
Everyone erupted into an off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Sam rolled his eyes and leaned back into Nathan’s embrace. He didn’t mind being a year older, but for a long time he’d dreaded birthdays. They always reminded him of his parents, who had made a big deal over every milestone for both of their sons. This year he’d spent a quiet morning with Nathan and then gone to visit his little brother, Tim, at Shady Brook, the facility he’d lived in since a car accident had killed their parents and left him comatose over seven years before. Sam’s throat tightened. He wished Tim could be here.
The singing fizzled out into more shouts and whistles, and then the music started up at a more conversational volume. Sam and Nathan crossed the room toward the bar and greeted their friends.
“Hey, you,” said Rachel. “Happy birthday.” She slid him a Coke sans rum. “You should have seen the look on your face when you walked through the door.” She grinned and put both hands to her cheeks, making a silly “surprised” face.
“You’re all conniving and can’t be trusted,” said Sam. “But thank you.” He leaned over the bar and kissed her cheek. “You look great.”
“You like it?” Ever since high school, Rachel had worn her hair Afro-style and liked to streak it with color. Instead of her usual purple, however, this time she used silver.
“Yeah. It’s very dystopian future.”
“That’s what I was going for.”
Alex took advantage of his distraction to wrangle a party hat onto him from behind. He grunted with protest and went to remove it, but Rachel shook her head at him. “Don’t you dare. She’s so excited about those damn hats.”
They chatted for a while about the party, until Sam realized Nathan had disappeared to talk with Rivera on the opposite side of the room. Nathan was smiling and laughing at something the older man said. Instead of the pang of jealousy Sam felt months before when he suspected Nathan might be attracted to Rivera, now he was simply pleased Nathan was enjoying himself. He only hoped Nathan wouldn’t be disappointed when his friend headed back to New York.
A slap on his arm made him turn. “Hey, stranger.” Yuri grinned at him, cheeks dimpling. “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks. Great to see you, man.” Sam hugged his friend. They’d been partners in Yuri’s family landscaping business for years, but recently Sam had sold back his share in order to pursue his journalism career. He still worked part-time during the week, but it had been a while since he’d been on a project with Yuri. “How’re you? Had any hot dates?” Sam waggled his eyebrows.
“Oh, you know. A few here and there. Nothing serious.”
“Good for you.” Lord knows his friend deserved a little R & R after the breakup he’d gone through in December. Yuri had an amazing body, a sweet personality, and a sexy Greek accent to boot.
Yuri took a sip of beer and licked the foam off his top lip. “So, the big two-nine.”
“Shut up.” Sam gave him a light punch. “And anyway, you’ll be here soon, my friend.”
“Attention.” Rachel started dinging a spoon against a glass. “Thank you all for coming. We’re here to celebrate Sam’s birthday. I wanted to plan a roast, but Nathan talked me out of it.” There were a couple of good-natured boos from the crowd and scattered laughter. Nathan shrugged sheepishly. “It’s a shame, because I have some really good material,” Rachel continued. “Sam, you’re a pain in the ass, but you’re our pain in the ass. I’ve known you for fifteen years, and I love the hell out of you. We’ve been through a lot together. I know this last year hasn’t been easy.” People nodded and murmured. Stonebridge was still recovering from a spree of arsons that had culminated in a Halloween-night explosion at the Episcopal Church, leaving a total of twelve people dead and many more injured.
Sam met Damon’s eyes from across the room. The teenager had been the lead suspect in the case until Sam and Nathan apprehended the real culprits, who were now safely behind bars. Damon gave him a half smile of commiseration.
“But our city is strong,” Rachel continued. “Our community is strong. We won’t be defeated when we have people like Sam in our corner. Not when we have people like Damon Blake, who’s here tonight and starting college in the fall. Let’s raise our glasses to Sam and Damon, and to Nathan, Sam’s sugar daddy, who you can thank for the open bar.”
Another cheer erupted, and Sam laughed and clapped. He made his way toward Damon.
“Hey man,” said Sam. “I’m glad you could make it. Thanks for coming.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it.” Damon thrust out a gift, looking slightly embarrassed. He ran his hand over his closely shaved head. “It’s not much.”
Sam was touched. He took the package, which felt decidedly like a paperback book, and then pulled Damon into a one-armed hug. “You didn’t have to. Things are going well?”
“Yeah. It’s weird to be out of town, but it’s a nice change of pace.”
Sam smiled. “Good to hear.” They chatted for a couple of minutes, until other partygoers started to interrupt. Sam put them off to say good-bye to Damon, who was getting ready to leave. As a rule, the bar didn’t allow minors after nine.
“Anyway, if you’re ever in Hartford.” Damon put out his hand.
“I’ve got your number.”
Sam scanned the crowd to find Nathan. Well-wishers and friends stopped him for hugs along the way. By the time he managed to get to his boyfriend, the music had switched from rock to club music with a sultry beat.
“Dance with me?” Sam asked.
Nathan was a great dancer. He moved his hips in a seductive rhythm, staying close to Sam and guiding him onto the impromptu dance floor. Though Nathan was five inches taller, Sam never felt dwarfed by his height, but rather complemented by it, just as Nathan’s dark looks balanced his light. Sam wrapped his arms around Nathan’s back and felt his strong muscles working as they moved.
All eyes were on them. Sam caught a glimpse of Rachel, who gave him the two thumbs-up signal. They were showing off a little, but Sam figured it was his right. He was the birthday boy, after all, and he was dancing with the hottest guy in the room. Nathan leaned down to whisper in his ear. “Do your friends really call me your sugar daddy?”
Sam laughed at the unexpected question. He’d almost forgotten what Rachel had called Nathan.
“Yup.” Not only did Nathan pay for Tim’s health care, he always objected whenever Sam reached for his wallet on other occasions. At least he allowed Sam to front his share of the rent for their apartment. It was one of the reasons he’d stayed on part-time at Manella’s. While he preferred writing to the landscaping work, it didn’t quite pay the bills.
Nathan frowned. “I’m not old enough to be a daddy.” His recent birthday—thirty-seven—had given him a taste of midlife crisis. Sam kept expecting him to show up at home with a new sports car and a babe in the passenger seat.
It made him consider his answer. “You’re so smoking hot, they have to call you something when they describe you, or they’ll embarrass themselves.”
“Nice save, but you’re lying. Your pulse picks up. Here.” Nathan put his hand to Sam’s racing jugular, sweeping his fingertip down the arch of Sam’s exposed neck.
“That’s not the only thing that makes my pulse race.” In fact the dirty dancing was creating a problematic situation for polite company. At least others had joined them on the dance floor. Rachel and Alex were swaying together a few feet away, staring at each other with grins on their faces.
“I’ve got plans for later. Can you wait?”
“I don’t know…. I might need a reminder in self-control.”
“Hmm. Just wait till you open your present.” Nathan leaned down to give Sam a brief, openmouthed kiss. Sam didn’t detect any booze, which meant Nathan was abstaining—he usually did as moral support for Sam when they went out, but it also meant they’d be playing later. Early on Nathan had made it clear each of them had to be sober when they scened. No booze, no drugs—which was fine with Sam. Being with Nathan was enough.
“So, what are we doing later?” Sam asked.
“You’ll have to be patient.”
They continued dancing for a couple more songs and then grabbed a few snacks from one of the side tables. Rachel announced it was time for presents.
“I told you guys, no presents,” he protested.
“Sit down and shut up.”