A male prostitute, a mangy cat, a murder and a maniachal mix-up that threatens his career, his impending marriage and his life. Nothing is going as planned for Austin Glass.
Austin – seems to have it all. At least on the surface. A loving fiancee. A future with the FBI and a healthy sized trust fund. He also has a grin and a wisecrack for every situation. But the smile he presents to everyone hides a painful past he’s buried too deeply to remember. And his quips mask bitterness and insecurity. Austin has himself and most of the whole world fooled. Until he meets someone who immediately sees him better than he sees himself.
As events unfold and Austin’s world unravels, he finds himself pushed into making quick life-changing decisions. But can he trust Peter or what’s happening between them when each meeting seems to be just a series of volatile reactions?
Read the excerpt below!
Preview Chapter 1
Fucking Bunny Slippers
Colorado’s Finest Diner was ugly. I had way too much time to study it in the two hours I waited for my no-show informant. Brown booths. Yellowed walls and floors. Yellowed tables, for that matter. The window on my right displayed beat-up Fords and Volkswagens that were roasting on pavement and swimming in refracting light. The inhabitants of the diner were more interesting. Teenagers mostly, snacking on fries and chicken fingers. Baubles bounced from their eyebrows and black-painted lips while they chatted energetically. My gaze hopped from one table to the next. With all the boisterous laughter and the rapid fingers texting, it was the quiet, methodical busboy that caught and held my eye. He was wearing bunny slippers.
Dingy pink and brown ears languished against greenish-yellow linoleum, making a soft sh-sh sound as the man gathered used dinnerware and placed them in a tub at his hip. Curious about the wearer, I skipped over the ripped pajama bottoms and stained tank top, to his face. My breath caught.
Model beautiful, with thick red hair and millions of freckles, the man was as incongruous to the setting as those endearing slippers.
“Gaines says he’ll get Alvarado there,” Detective Luis Martinez relayed into the cell phone tucked against my ear.
“Uh huh,” I replied. Vice busts weren’t that interesting right now. Bunny Slippers was pierced. Lots of places. Little rings outlined under his tank top – nipple high – as well as the in his ears and eyebrow. I immediately began to speculate where else he was pierced.
“Glass?” Luis huffed into my ear. “Glass, get your head in the game.”
Blue eyes. No, not just blue, blue like glacial waters, like romantic poems, like heavens and moonstones. Cornflower blue. And –
Blue like romantic poems? What the ever-living fuck? I turned away quickly and tried to concentrate on Luis’s voice.
“What? Oh.” I gave my head a shake, scattering the strange thoughts. “If Gaines says Alvarado will be there, we go with that. My guy is a no-show. Gaines is all we have now.” I hoped that was the response Luis was waiting for because Bunny Slippers was coming my way, and I lost all ability to think.
“Can I take that for ya?” He had a deep drawl. Not Texas, like my mother, but perhaps Alabama or Georgia. I was so wrapped up in the voice that it took a moment to follow the long, slim finger pointing across the table at my syrup-filled plate. My attention snapped back to the busboy.
Up close Bunny Slippers was even more gorgeous – and older than I’d originally assumed. Freckles dusted his skin from forehead to fingers. A colorful tattoo of the god Hermes, covered the right arm from shoulder to elbow. A busboy with an interest in mythology?
“Glass?” Luis growled.
My brain had left the building. “Huh?” I replied brilliantly, to the busboy, not to Luis. I could barely hear Luis. Cold blue eyes. That was all I could concentrate on. Cold but captivating. I had always thought freckles went with innocence, but there was nothing innocent about those eyes.
“Glass? ¡Carajo! Glass!”
What is someone who looks this good, doing in a place this ugly?
“GLASS!” Luis blasted into the phone, a stream of Spanish invectives following the shout.
The yell snapped me out of my daze. “What the fuck, Luis? Someone is talking to me here. Settle your dick down.” Great, I had now acknowledged that while I knew slippers-boy was speaking to me, I had just been staring at him. The slight smirk spreading across the man’s perfect lips told me he had noticed the gawping, too.
With considerable effort, I flicked a glance to the plate, knowing there was a question in there somewhere.
“Your plate…” The busboy motioned again, leaning across the table. The scent of tobacco, soap and cinnamon made my mind go blank again. I closed my eyes and inhaled, unconsciously lifting a hand to brush my knuckle on the underside of the man’s reaching arm.
Apparently this was an awesome time to not only discover I had a bunny slipper fetish, but to violate someone’s arm in public. Some guy’s arm.
“Yeah,” I said stiffly, dragging my offending appendages into my lap before they did something stupid, like tweak a nipple ring. Luckily, the guy hadn’t noticed the knuckle-assault – I hoped – or else he was just choosing to ignore it. Please let it be the former.
I felt twelve again, those nervous flutters in my stomach appearing for the first time since I had let Mitzi Baylor tongue kiss me in eighth grade. Okay, let is probably the wrong word. More like forced her tongue into my mouth while I tried to protect my tonsils from unexpected removal. The memory was enough to jar me back into reality a second time. I checked my phone. Luis had hung up. With a sigh, I tucked the cell into my pocket. I’d deal with Luis at work tomorrow.
Bunny Slippers had long since grabbed my plate and was making his way back to the kitchen without a single backwards glance. He hipped the swinging door and disappeared into the back. It was only then that I managed to exhale.
Get a grip, idiot. This is a bad time to ogle teenagers.
Is there ever a good time to ogle teenage boys?
All these weird thoughts were giving me a headache. The guy was just interesting. That was all. Like spotting an exotic flower in a field of-
I really needed to stop thinking like my eleven-year-old poetry-writing cousin. Actually, I just needed to leave. Stop thinking about this and leave. After paying the bill, I slid sunglasses over my eyes and pushed out into the summer sun.
Little beads of sweat popped up on the bridge of my nose, tempting me to remove the offending eyewear. But the light bouncing off my side mirror convinced me that dealing with irritating sweat was better than being blind.
Colorado heat didn’t blast so much as bake. It was a deceiving warmth, slowly building like a preheating oven and just as dry. The other trick of summer in the Mile High City of Denver – breezes. They moved lackadaisically, intermittently dying out and then ambling back, providing little in the way of their supposed function: cooling. By the time I had walked across the small parking lot and opened the door to my Jag, my hair was hot enough to fry an egg, and I dearly wished to be wearing shorts rather than full length khakis. I pinched the fabric of my cotton shirt and waved it while the single breeze that rolled through offered only a tumbling brown paper bag and no relief from the warmth. Across the street, a bank announced in the marquis the date and today’s temperature: ninety-seven degrees.
Ignition on, A/C maxed, I left the door open while waiting for the air to cool. Maybe another breeze would surprise me and suck the staleness from the car. Sitting half-in, half-out, I heard the door opening in the alley beside the restaurant. I saw him in the rearview first, then swiveled in my seat to check the back window.
Slippers-boy leaned against the wall, dragging a foot up to brace behind him and cupping his hand over his face. I zeroed in on the tattoo marking the web of his fingers, my pulse jumping. When the hand dropped to his side, he took a long drag of his cigarette. His mouth puckering and blowing a cloud of smoke toward the sky was sufficiently erotic enough to ignore the nag of the tattoo and focus on his lips.
I hated smoking. The smell alone was enough to nauseate me. But right then, more than anything, I wanted to be that cigarette.
I was unsettled by an onslaught of unbidden fantasies, which ranged from pressing my lips against the guy’s neck to grinding our hips together. I wasn’t sure how long I watched him, but I know it was long enough for my neck to cramp. Sweat accumulated under my glasses, spreading to my forehead and upper lip and eventually dripping down my temple. The cool air blowing from the car created a stark contrast to the heat outside, but I wasn’t at all sure it was what made me shiver.
His head swiveled slowly against the wall, turning to my Jag. No smirk this time, but those eyes were no less beautiful for being empty. The pit of my stomach clenched.
I had seen that look before – abuse victims, prostitutes, dealers, pimps – they all carried it. Grief, sudden and powerful, poured over me in waves, making me avert my eyes. Broken boy, was all I could think. Broken people were dangerous. I swung my legs in and slammed the driver’s door, backing quickly out of parking spot. It took every ounce of my will to avoid glancing into the rearview mirror as I pulled onto the street.
I aimed the Jag downtown where my tuxedo was getting fitted.
The tuxedo you’re getting married in, Austin. The tuxedo you’re marrying Angelica in, Austin, I reminded myself.
Not a Cock Sucking Fixation.
Downtown was a maze of cross streets which, like slippers-boy, were incongruous with the rest of their surroundings. While most streets across Denver ran vertically and parallel to each other, some cruel genius decided to build downtown streets diagonally. Although I had lived in the city all of my adult life and had been made to study every street when I had patrolled as a rookie, downtown still remained the most frustrating area to navigate. I usually ended up making at least one wrong turn. And since the streets alternated one-way, whenever I missed one, I had to go a few blocks out of my way to get back on track, running into a gazillion traffic lights and waiting for the Light Rail trolleys or shuttle buses to pass. Which meant that today I was later than I otherwise would’ve been and I had to call my fiancée.
“Mm, you’re late. What have you been up to?” Angelica’s soft voice, filled with amusement, was about the only thing that could make me smile right now.
“Ogling young, pretty boys in diners,” I replied. As predicted, she laughed.
“Long as it’s not pretty girls.” Static told me she had covered the mouthpiece. “Jeffrey wants to know how long it’ll be until you get here?”
“If I can find a parking spot, and a street that doesn’t lead one way to hell? Maybe fifteen minutes.”
“You said that an hour ago,” she reminded me.
“I’m downtown now. Looking for a parking spot.”
I flipped off a street sign that didn’t conform to my need to go right, earning a glare from a misunderstanding motorist who yelled, “Cocksucker!” as I passed. I briefly considered rolling down my window and explaining that I was not, in fact, a cocksucker, that it was just that one fantasy….And besides, I was fairly sure I had a bunny slipper fetish, not a cock sucking fixation. That seemed like a lot of information to impart in the second and a half we had before he pulled ahead of me, so I let it slide.
The fact that I was more comfortable owning up to the slippers thing and not the cocksucker thing was mildly disturbing. I’d rather have a footwear fetish than a sudden attraction to penises? Yeah, that sounded about right.
“Just park anywhere. You can afford the ticket.” Angelica had no logic when it came to money. Her idea made complete sense to her. Paying for a ticket was infinitely easier than finding a legal parking spot. And as a trust fund baby, I could just as easily pay it. The only problem was that downtown also enjoyed a healthy respect for tow trucks. And no one was going to tow away my beloved Arturo – so named after my training officer.
“I see an open lot. Be there in fifteen. Love you.” I hung up after hearing her reply in kind and then pulled into a garage parking structure. After parking and paying, I walked the half block to the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall.
The mall stretched, coincidentally, sixteen blocks, straight down into the heart of the business district. Large granite sidewalks extended six feet out on either side of the shuttle bus lanes. Restaurants, office buildings, outdoor cafés, street vendors, shopping centers and upscale boutiques huddled together on each block. The tailor was at the far end of the mall — not a far walk, but, with the crowds, an annoying one.
The only vehicles allowed on the two-lane road between the sidewalks were police cars, vendor trucks and environmentally friendly shuttle buses. Otherwise, the mall was strictly foot traffic. On weekdays, it teemed with businessmen and women, as well as tourists. In the evenings and on weekends, suburbanites bustled past street performers and the homeless. Almost half of the dirty outstretched hands belonged to teenagers. They were the ones that I had difficulty ignoring. Especially today, with the image of that broken boy still haunting my conscience. My gaze kept wandering down to feet, checking for bunny slippers.
I jammed whatever cash and change I had into their hats or hands, until I had to jump on the overstuffed shuttle when I ran out of money. The shuttle wasn’t air conditioned, so I arrived at the tailor shop baked and glazed with sweat like the main dish at a luau. Angelica was too engrossed in a gold tie to notice my disheveled appearance.
Pricks and Bunnies
Angelica was, as always, elegant and beautiful. Her brown hair fell into soft waves at her shoulders, and her summer halter dress glowed bright with white polka dots.
“Austin, I’m rethinking the gold,” she said when the bell over the door announced my arrival. Her lips were pursed in deliberation as she held up the gold tie with a navy print, tapping her patent high-heeled shoe against the marble floor.
Grateful for something new to think about, I pushed the weirdness of redhead fantasies out of my head and gave my attention to Angelica. Propping an elbow on a nearby shelf, I rested my chin in my hand, basking in the air conditioning. “We could make a rainbow of all the colors you’ve run through, Angel.”
Her lips pursed for a moment then slowly curved upward. “Bit political,” her hand waved, “But I’d go with that. We could have a gay wedding. Rainbow suits and ties? Jessica would be pleased.” She regarded the ceiling in contemplation. Only her teasing smile gave away she wasn’t serious.
“I refuse to make such a suit, mademoiselle!” Jeffrey, of Jeffrey’s Custom Tailor, was a small man with long pointed nose, frizzy grey hair and a constantly furrowed brow. Though that last descriptor might be due to our presence, rather than a permanent state. Not that I could blame the tailor. With each of our six visits, Angelica decided on a different style or color. So far, poor Jeffrey had been commissioned for three different suits: one black, one brown, and most recently, one navy … as well as two tuxedos.
“I don’t really think she wants a rainbow suit, Jeffrey,” I reassured him, hiding a grin. To Angelica I raised an eyebrow. “Is your sister gay now? I’m losing track of her sexuality. One week bi, one week straight. It changes faster than our wedding colors, and that’s saying something. What are they now, by the way?”
“I don’t know. I think she’s still testing the waters. She told mom she was going to Pridefest and ride a Harley naked with some woman called…” She tapped her perfectly manicured nail against a pile of shirts, ”I don’t actually remember what she was called. Something that sent mom into fits because it was definitely female.” Putting down the gold tie, Angelica held up a grey cravat dotted with dark flecks for my inspection. “Navy and silver? Can we see that navy suit again, Jeffrey?”
“Great. I wouldn’t even need Jeffrey. I could just wear my dress uniform.” Jeffery threw me a look bordering on murderous and stomped to the back room. Actually, wearing my dress uniform would have been preferable. The idea of wearing another tuxedo for any occasion made my skin itch.
“Mm. You are yummy when you wear your costume.”
“Uniform,” I corrected with a rueful grin and chuckle.
“Whatever,” she replied airily and laid the grey tie atop a stack of white button-down shirts. She didn’t mean to be flippant about my job; she was just preoccupied with wedding planning.
“Exactly,” I said. “Whatever you want.”
“You’re not helpful,” she said and shook her head, smiling absently.
“Because I want to live to see twenty-seven. You’re on the wrong side of crazy with this wedding planning.”
“Pah,” Angelica huffed. “You’re exaggerating.”
I really wasn’t. Angelica was one of the kindest and most uncomplicated women I knew; but since she’d started planning this wedding, I was a little afraid. And I dealt with drug dealers and crack whores for a living.
She had fired the caterers when they didn’t “condescend to make a buffet style dessert table”. The florist had quit after Angelica had said she wanted the roses to match the bridesmaids dresses–and then promptly changed the wedding colors two days later. She had asked me to tell Mark, one of my groomsmen, to wear heels because he was shorter than all the bridesmaids. I refused and she blamed me for all of the bridesmaids wearing ballet slippers.
Later she would apologize and promise to do better. We forgave her because, in all honesty, the girl who apologized was “our Angelica” … not the crazy bride.
Angelica was the barracuda lawyer to whom I could send troubled kids and expect her to defend them vigorously from prosecution. She routinely tried to cook dinner and laughed harder than I when it ended up smelling like an outhouse. She pretended to snore when I talked about sports. She burped and watched Saturday morning cartoons.
Angelica was not flakey or indecisive. Until she had to pick chiffon or silk, or roses or chrysanthemums.
Truth be told, I didn’t recognize her during wedding planning. So I preferred to steer clear of it.
“Should I stay for another fitting, or have we determined my uniform will work? Or maybe the navy suit he already made?” I asked. Jeffery, carrying said suit, was approaching us. The sound that echoed in his throat conjured up images of choking cats.
“We’re going with the navy suit,” Angelica decided with a perfunctory nod and wrinkled her nose at the bundle Jeffrey held. “Oh, not that one, Jeffery, the one with the mandarin collar,” she clarified.
The strangling cat sound erupted as a screech from Jeffrey. “That was black, mademoiselle. Not navy!” I stifled a grin.
“Mm. Oh, Jeffrey, calm down. It’s basically the same suit, just in navy.” She patted his wiry hair and walked toward the back rooms. Jeffrey’s face was red enough to sub as a police light. “Don’t disappear, Austin,” Angelica called over her shoulder. I watched the way her ass moved under the halter dress. “And stop leering–it’s unnerving poor Jeffrey.”
“Wouldn’t dream of leaving.” Or of stopping my leering. “But I’m reasonably sure you’re the one unnerving Jeffrey.” The little man made another choked sound and tensed so hard he shook. Being fitted for another suit while a pin-wielding Jeffrey was in the apoplectic throes of agony, officially made me a masochist. By the end of the day I’d have enough pricks to prove it.
I should stop thinking about pricks. And bunnies. And pricks fucking bunn-
“Please, I beg of you, stop her, Monsieur Glass,” Jeffrey pleaded, his pinched face staring up at me while he shook the nylon bag containing the suit. The tailor’s nervous eyes twitched from Angelica at the back of the shop, to me. I couldn’t blame him; she was now investigating a beige suit jacket. “I haven’t completed one suit!”
“Now, now, Jeffrey, eight more weeks and we’ll both be put out of our tailoring misery.”
Douchebag of the Year Award
Two hours later, Angelica twined her fingers with mine as we walked toward my car. We would split up for the day before arriving there, as she had “things to do that would only annoy you, Austin.” The wedding colors had been officially changed to navy and silver – though by the next week I expected them to be red and gold, or even pink and black. I was relaxed enough that my mind wandered back to slippers-boy as we moved quietly through the mall. Which relegated me to Biggest Asshole on the Planet.
I needed to stop thinking about it. Him. I felt like such a jerk. Especially since I was so lucky to be with her.
“Austin?” Angelica prodded me out of my musings. “What are you thinking about?”
I offered a guilty smile at her furrowed brow. “How lucky I am,” I said, touching her hand to my lips while wiggling my brows.
She laughed musically and leaned into my arm. The bump was too soft for any effect other than to look at her. I winced when I compared her tanned shoulder to freckled skin. I was a bastard. Angelica was beautiful, both inside and out, and to compare her to some grungy man-child was Grade-A douchbaggery.
“My dress came in today,” Angelica sighed blissfully, her green eyes glazing over. Unbidden, I pictured eyes the color of the sky.
“Can I come in your dress today?” My brows waggled again, earning another bright laugh from her.
“Mm. Maybe later this week. Oh, and don’t forget we have the gala next Sunday.” We stopped at a nearby hotel, using their taxi stand to get her a ride home. With a quick kiss and a gentle wave, she climbed into the first cab that pulled up and they drove off.
Continuing the Douchebag of the Year theme, I walked the half block, got into Arturo and drove thirty blocks out of my way to pass slipper-boy’s diner.
I honestly had no idea why I was there, or why I couldn’t keep my mind off him. Him. I even had to keep reminding myself it was a him. Not a her. No breasts. And, I guessed, no vagina. Definitely a him. And my fantasies were filling with images of his mouth on naked things of mine.
Naked things. With a guy. Naked things with a guy. Surreal.
I sat outside for half an hour with those words buzzing in my ear, before giving myself a mental slap and driving home. I resolved to forget about Bunny Slippers.
A block later the resolve crumbled as I began picturing those slippers’ ears flopping around with the guy’s feet in the air while I pounded into –
Jesus! Okay, that’s just disturbing.
We Played Football Together, They Can’t Be Gay!
Back at my apartment, I sat at the computer and shuffled through websites. The moment I found myself downloading the wrong kind of porn, I figured I should go out. I needed to get my mind off sex. It was nearly an impossible feat, so I settled for keeping my mind off sex with a guy. Seriously. What the fuck?
I wasn’t gay. You don’t go twenty-six years before the gay gene suddenly just kicks in. It didn’t work like that. I was sure of it. Not that I knew that much about being gay. I had one friend with same-sex orientation, and Dana hadn’t spoken to me since I asked her to describe her honeymoon in graphic detail… and then made vibrator noises. Actually, I would have called Dana anyway, but she was out of town until the end of the month.
Obviously Angelica’s sister came to mind. But Jessica had about as much figured out as I did. And if she was a lesbian… well, I probably would be less interested in that aspect of gay life than my current dilemma. I decided to call my best friend.
When I was in eighth grade, I used a self-timing camera to take nude pictures of myself in various stages of erection. I then exchanged my biology teacher’s slides with the images. The teacher, in a state of panic, kept rapidly pressing the ‘next’ button. It was like a pornographic flip-book. That was the last straw in a very heavy pile of straws. I was expelled, and I ended up transferring mid-year to a public school near home.
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have included my grinning face in the pictures. With a thumbs up next to my penis.
Having spent the previous years at an overseas coed Catholic preparatory school, I had no idea how to cope with students who were not rich and privileged. I went from being one of sixty students to one of fifteen hundred plus. On my first day of class, I wore my former school uniform – tie, blazer, tan pants, button-down shirt. I don’t remember much except dark lockers and so many wedgies that even at age twenty-six I couldn’t see a thong without cringing.
By the end of the day, a sophomore named David Buchanan had rescued me and taken me under his wing. We had been getting in trouble ever since.
Dave was now married, and his wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He was the first person I went to when the world confused me. Which it often did. “Do you know any gay guys?” I asked when he picked up the phone.
“Why? Are you switching teams?” I heard the low chuckle on the other end.
“I’m not sure. Maybe,” I answered sincerely. He laughed again, because that’s what everyone did when I told the truth. It was a little disconcerting.
“Yeah, I know some gay guys. And you do, too.”
“I know some gay guys?” News to me.
“Jake and Terry.”
“They’re not gay,” I argued.
“Yeah? You better tell them to stop sleeping together, then.”
“We played football with Jake and Terry,” I maintained. “They can’t be gay.” They were also cops, like us. I was sure I didn’t know any gay cops. The stationhouse didn’t have the most gay friendly atmosphere.
The silence on the other end was either him covering the phone to laugh, or him waiting for me not to be stupid. Usually it was the latter.
“This for a case?” There was a hint of amusement in his voice. I pulled the phone away and studied it, unsure of how to answer that question.
“No. I need to know about ass-sex.” Dave choked, ended up in a coughing fit and, from the clunk on the other side, I guessed he must have dropped the phone. I was grinning. I’d figured that would be his response. When the coughing had subsided, I attempted to change the subject – before he took me seriously. “How’s Marta?”
“Beautiful,” he answered.
“Am I still banned from Sunday night dinners?” Marta was Swedish, tall, and always pregnant. But I should have asked David if she was pregnant that last time I saw her, because Marta was also a very large woman – rotund, my grandfather would have said. And I was very congratulatory.
“Next time, ask me first. She was barely three weeks along. Not showing at all.” This sent us both into nervous laughter. Not only because we were ashamed. If she heard us laughing about it, she’d stop making those awesome Swedish brownies.
“I plan on it. Give my love to the rugrats. And tell her if it’s a boy, she should name him Austin.”
“I’ll skip that recommendation. You’re not at the top of her favorite people list.”
“Tell her I’m sorry.” Again. I sighed.
“Send her a pair of baby sneakers. She goes nuts for baby things.”
“She’ll have them by Friday,” I promised.
“Gotta go,” he replied, and in the background I heard screaming which sounded like their two year old, Petra.
“Go,” I laughed.
After we hung up I considered calling Terry or Jake, but I needed a game plan first. I didn’t really want another set of friends banning me from their houses – or house. I really should have asked Dave if they lived together. Terry’s cell was programmed into my phone. I made a mental note to call. Later. Tomorrow. Next month. Or January.
On another note, I seemed to get banned from a lot of friends’ homes.
Tapping my fingers against the computer desk, I considered what to do next. I was avoiding the computer because of the gay porn, avoiding Angelica because I was guilty of wanting to watch gay porn, and avoiding my friends because I had to ask them about gay porn – or being gay, same difference. I could have called my father, but it would be too tempting to piss him off by telling them I might be gay. Which I wasn’t.
I settled on a beer and ESPN.
By the time I crawled into bed, I refused to acknowledge the last few minutes of beating off while watching the Duke/Notre Dame lacrosse match. I rolled over and forced myself to go over my Sunday routine of workouts, sports bars and what to do in the absence of my normal Sunday dinner at Dave’s.