Authors: Eli Easton
Thanks to my goodreads.com beta readers Kim, Kate, Vicki and Audra. And, as always, thanks to my husband, who tolerates the long hours I spend pursuing my muse.
was dead. She’d been prom queen, elementary school secretary, blueberry muffin maker, and Yahtzee champion in her household since the age of eight. And now she had a headstone and a closed case file with the Seattle police.
Tony DeMarco liked to know these things about his lost souls. It hurt more, made it more personal. But it also enabled him to see into the victim’s circle of friends and family a little more clearly. If there was a snake in the grass, he wanted to step right the hell on it.
“You’re late,” Detective Mark Woodson complained as Tony slid into a booth.
“Hey, I’m buying lunch, aren’t I? Stop whining or you’ll end up with a glass of tomato juice and Saltines.”
They shot the shit until the burgers arrived. Tony caught up on the macho soap opera that was the Seattle Police Department. He’d given them five good years until a bullet in the leg had made him rethink his priorities. He hadn’t exactly been in the closet when he was on the force, but he didn’t announce it either. Add being naturally awkward on top of being gay, and Tony was never going to make Cop of the Year. As a private eye, he worked alone and could cherry-pick his cases depending on how much he felt like risking his nuts at any given moment. He didn’t usually do murder, but he hadn’t been able to resist that photo of Marilyn White, with her long brown hair, smattering of freckles, and million-dollar smile. And he couldn’t say no to the grief on her parents’ faces when they’d begged him to take the case.
“So… Marilyn White.” Mark shook his bald head morosely. “Between you and me, I’m glad to see someone pick up the ball on that one.”
“You don’t buy the coroner’s ruling of accidental overdose?”
“No history of drug abuse. How dumb do ya have to be to take a whole bottle of antidepressants in one go?” Mark snorted derisively into his cup of coffee. “I’m tellin’ ya, Tony, this is what’s wrong with the world today. Everybody does the bare minimum, takes the easy solution. No one can be bothered to pull something out of the assembly line for two seconds and really fucking consider it. The coroner’s office is no different.”
This was surprisingly philosophical coming from Mark. Tony felt a surge of admiration for him that lasted nearly five seconds. Then Mark gave a hearty belch. He pounded his chest with a fist. “’Scuse me. Heartburn.”
“So who do you think did it?” Tony asked. “The husband?”
Mark grunted. “Isn’t that
job? What was I just saying about being lazy, dickweed?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just asking your opinion. Because, you know, you’re my hero. I wanna have your babies.”
Mark snorted. “Get in line.” He looked around, as if making sure they weren’t being listened to. He lowered his voice. “The husband is out. He has an alibi. But if the chief hadn’t made us drop the case, you know what I would have been on like white on rice?”
“No, Mark. That’s why I’m asking.”
“Shut up. We found out from Marilyn’s insurance records that a few months before her death she started going to a sex clinic.” He whispered this last with barely moving lips, as though a lip reader might be in the vicinity.
“Yeah. Place called Expanded Horizons on Pike. It’s legit—you know, they treat frigidity and erectile whoosits and all that sort of thing.” Mark knocked on the wooden table. “God forbid.”
Tony felt a flush of embarrassment and a niggling pain at the words. With an effort, he pushed it aside. This was about Marilyn, not him. Tony pictured her as she’d been in her photos—not yet thirty, slim, and beautiful. “Why would Marilyn need to go to a sex clinic?”
Mark barked a laugh. “No fucking clue. Naturally, I went and interviewed her doctor, a guy named Jack Halloran. But all I got outta him was a chill the size of Alaska. ‘Doctor-patient confidentiality,’ he says. ‘Sexual issues are extremely sensitive,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t matter that she’s dead, her wishes for privacy have to be honored,’ he says. Yadda yadda. I’m telling ya, the guy’s got balls of steel. I tried everything—good cop, bad cop, vague threats, a lollipop…. He never even blinked.
“But get this,” Mark continued, leaning forward with a gleam in his eye. “At this sex clinic, they don’t just do psychobabble, they do sexual surrogacy. You know—a little sexual healing
between the sheets
. So I figure this Halloran, maybe his relationship with Marilyn got a little deeper than it shoulda. Pun intended.”
“No way,” Tony said. “They have sex with patients? Isn’t that illegal?”
Mark shrugged. “Consenting adults, ‘medical therapy,’ etcetera. Nah, it ain’t illegal. They’re actually licensed for that shit.”
Tony sat back in the booth, chewing his lip. He didn’t like the sound of that. Or maybe he did. A clear suspect made his life easier. “How come you didn’t get a warrant for her medical records?”
Mark looked disgusted. “I tried, but then the coroner’s ruling came in and the case went in the hopper. You know how it goes. Like every other asshole in this city, we got too much shit to do and too little time to do it.”
Yeah, Tony knew very well. The homicide department picked up suspicious deaths from the moment the body was found, but it was best not to get too attached. A case would close in a snap if the coroner didn’t rule homicide. They couldn’t have one branch of the city paying for work another branch said was unnecessary. It was a shame, but that gave Tony plenty of work if he wanted it, helping families like Marilyn’s when the cops wouldn’t.
“You get anything at all on Halloran?” Tony asked.
Mark sighed. “I dug around. Medical degree from U-dub. Top of his class. Get this—he was a combat surgeon in Iraq ’til eighteen months ago. Wounded and shipped home. The guy’s either a fucking super hero or a walking time bomb. You can make up your own mind about that one.”
Tony raised an eyebrow at Mark:
And what do you think
“Ka-blam,” Mark said.
Bombs were going off everywhere. The infernal noise and the concussion of the shock waves battered Jack’s body and pierced his eardrums. He was running as fast as he could, but it was hard with his arms twisted behind him and the heavy weight of a gurney in his hands. Somewhere back there, Smith, a hospital corpsman, was holding on to the other end of the gurney. And between them was a bleeding mass of flesh that had once been a strapping youth and was now a dying boy. That boy would either make it or not, depending on how fast Jack could get him away from the twisted wreckage and back to the BAS.
Move it, move it, move it, move—
There was a blinding explosion and everything went black. There was no pain, only a profound shock and numbness Jack had thought was death.
He landed on the floor next to his bed. The pain of bashing his leg in the fall jarred him awake even as the scream tore out of his throat.
“NO!” he yelled to the guiltless dark.
poured a cup of coffee in the small staff kitchen at Expanded Horizons. The tremor in his right hand was worse than it had been in weeks, thanks to the nightmare, and it made the simple task a chore. He hadn’t had a nightmare like that in exactly fourteen days, according to the log his therapist had encouraged him to keep. The time between them was slowly growing, but that didn’t make it any less shattering when they occurred.
Jack grimaced and mentally spelled out the steps for himself, just like he’d been taught. Plant the bottom of the cup firmly on the counter, release it, pour carefully with his left hand, put the coffee pot back. It had taken awhile, but by now, it was habit—always,
hold the drink in your left hand.
The shrapnel from the explosion had sliced and diced his right arm as if he’d run into a hailstorm of Ginsu knives. He was lucky not to have entirely lost it, but his friends back at base had pulled out all the stops. Jack still had the arm, but there was nerve damage. In other words, he’d never be very good with chopsticks, his friend and codoctor, Colonel Rick Mayberry, had teased. Rick hadn’t added,
Or perform surgery ever again
Major Jack Halloran. At thirty-six he was a light bulb in a prehistoric cave, the best of his skills now useless.
He’d tried. Once the worse of his physical recovery was over, he’d pushed himself and had gotten a job in a Seattle ER. But one night they’d wheeled in a motorcycle crash victim and the blood and trauma had triggered him. When he came to himself, he was huddled in the corner of a supply closet, his face wet with tears. The hospital didn’t argue when he turned in his resignation.
That’s how he’d ended up at Expanded Horizons. Sam, an old friend from medical school, was married to the clinic’s owner, Trudy. She was one very smart lady doctor. She offered to give Jack a chance if he’d attend an intensive training course in sexual counseling. He had, and she did.
Jack supposed he was good at it. It was ironic. He’d always been a gay Lothario, cheeky, horny, and an unrepentant flirt. In the Army, the doctors and nurses had called him Mighty Jack Halloran. It was a bit of an affectionate jab at his modest stature, at least he’d assumed so, but mostly it was about his ability to enter any bar and pull a man. He’d been the kind of guy who’d get up and dance on the bar if he’d had a few. Not a shred of shyness. Back then, he’d never thought twice about sex as a biological function that could fail. It was just pleasure, a very agreeable release that could help him forget the stress and the blood for a while. Now here he was, tending other people’s libidos for a living. And even as he lectured his patients about how everyone needed—and deserved—human contact, his own sex life had never been worse.
Life sure had a twisted-as-fuck sense of humor. Hardy har har.
“Your schedule, Dr. Halloran,” Loretta said in a cheerful voice.
Jack put his coffee cup carefully down on the counter and turned to her with a professional smile. “Good morning, Loretta.”
She gave him the day’s computer-generated itinerary on a sheet. “You look like a cat someone hit with a truck,” Loretta said, peering nearsightedly into his face.
“Same to you,” Jack said politely. He put his itinerary on the counter, and his good hand went up to his hair self-consciously to smooth it down.
“No, the eyes,” Loretta said. “Federal Express.”
“Your honesty is so refreshing.”
Jack scanned his appointments for the day. There was Mr. Federman, a man with deep sexual insecurities, Mrs. Kendle, an eighty-six-year-old who refused to give up on her sex life (and good for her), and Mr. Rose with diabetes-related ED. There was a new name, though, at ten o’clock.
“Was she worth it?” Loretta asked. Jack looked up to see her forced smile and the nervous fluttering of her eyelids.
“Loretta,” Jack said patiently. “I’ve told you before, I’m gay. There were no hot assignations last night, more’s the pity. And if there had been, it would have been with a
“Sure,” Loretta said with a small, hurt shrug. “I understand.”
Jack mentally rolled his eyes. The clinic’s receptionist was a redhead with proportions so generous they bordered on philanthropic. She was thirty-eight going on twenty, and for some reason, she was quite smitten with Jack.
“Seriously,” Jack told her with his no-nonsense stare. “Gay.”
“I get it,” Loretta gave a put-upon sniff that said she didn’t believe a word.
Jack sighed and glanced back down at his schedule. Loretta had marked lunch in Trudy’s office. That only occurred if his boss wanted to talk to him about something. He felt a trickle of worry but pushed it aside. He’d find out what it was about soon enough.
“Who’s this Tony DeMarco, ten o’clock?”
“Male, thirty. He asked specifically for you. He didn’t want to discuss his trouble over the phone, so I guess you’ll just have to be surprised.”
Jack frowned. He didn’t like surprises.
stumbled as he entered Halloran’s office, made feeble-footed by surprise. For some reason—maybe because he was as straight as the Space Needle—Mark had failed to mention that Dr. Jack Halloran was attractive. Attractive, as in,
Halloran came forward from around his desk to shake Tony’s hand, introducing himself in a manner so direct it was almost confrontational. “Hi. I’m Dr. Halloran. Nice to meet you, Mr. DeMarco.”
He was short, compact, and sweet. He appeared to be in his mid to late thirties, and he stood around five-eight, at least four inches shorter than Tony’s six feet. His sandy-blond hair was growing out of a neat cut, and he had a trim, sturdy body under a blue Oxford button-down and khakis. His face was all-American boy—warm, intelligent, and likable, despite the dark circles under his eyes. And those eyes…. Even peering from behind a pair of tortoise-shell reading glasses, they were blue. Blue, blue, blue. The irises were a cornflower color that matched his blue shirt, and they were rimmed by a dark band of navy.