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The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover


I was in a brave, optimistic place this summer. I survived a gall bladder attack and a subsequent surgery and realized I could work in the pool while drinking White Claws and Trulys. There was also an open call from Avon for unagented manuscripts so I decided to shoot my shot, since this was Sarah’s summer. “What are my strengths, self?” I asked and my response was “Antiheroes and underdogs?” I knew I wanted an agent of some sort and to pair him with someone who wouldn’t be impressed, or interested, really. I decided a very tired suburban father would be fun but the more I learned about Grant, the more I realized that his story would be a tough one and that he was the real hero of the book. How does a man end up a single father? There aren’t a lot of good reasons, are there? I decided this was a good time to introduce a character who was beautiful and heroic in a very different way. Grant is a lot like me, and I suspect a lot of my readers, in that he suffers from depression and anxiety. He isn’t depressed or anxious because his husband died or because his neighbors are spies. He’s always struggled with depression and has terrible anxiety, like the hundreds of millions of people around the world who struggle with mental illness in their daily lives. As a result, I told on myself a whole lot, in writing Grant. I even gave him a big goofy dog for a best friend, named Edgar. But, I promise, this isn’t a sad book. Grant’s story is a sad one but our dashing agent sees the hero in him and makes it his mission to make the shy but secretly kinky widower laugh again. There’s also the matter of the Chinese spies living next door and Grant’s daughter, Audrey, and his sister-in-law have matchmaking schemes aplenty. I lost my best friend just as I was finishing The Perfect Cover. My Milo passed away and it was hard to edit a book about a depressed man with a big goofy dog, being a severely depressed woman without her dog. Then, Avon passed on The Perfect Cover and while I was disappointed, I was glad that I could finally share what I think is a sexy, fun and very honest book with my readers. What I wasn’t excited about was the title and the cover. For months, it was called “Hopkins Creek” because I hoped Avon would want it and someone more savvy might help with a decent title and I didn’t even think about covers. God, I hate titles and covers. But once they passed, I had a book to self-publish and sell so I stopped crying and put on my thinking cap. I’ve been on the fence about illustrated covers on romance books but since “Hopkins Creek” wasn’t like my Lake Cliff books I wanted something that would signal that to readers so a different cover made sense. I found some cute illustrated guys and an extremely adorable dog among the stock pictures and my spirits lifted as I tinkered on Photoshop. I used The Perfect Cover as a place holder because I thought I was being cheeky and meta but Melissa loved the title and pointed out that it worked, so I left it! What do you think of the final result? And how about a whole chapter excerpt from The Perfect Cover?

“Don’t ignore the alarm when it goes off. You’ll forget to take your pills,” Audrey scolded absently as she typed on her phone and Grant snorted.

“I think I can remember to take my pills,” he replied and she hummed in agreement.

“I like pretending you weren’t puffy and covered in hives when you picked me up last month too,” she said dryly. “Just take your meds when the alarm goes off or you’ll forget.”

“I will,” Grant promised. It wasn’t just his allergy meds, he got behind with his Effexor and caught up with his depression and anxiety. He spent the last half of the month on the couch watching old family movies and eating ice cream in the dark. “I’m glad it’s just three days this time. A month is way too long,” he complained.

“I’ve got bad news, dad. College is significantly longer than a month and then I’m never coming back,” she said then flashed him a sweet smile. “I’m kidding. I’ll miss you and come home so I can do my laundry at least once a month,” she promised. Grant glared at the windshield. He hated that she was sixteen.

“Why can’t you wait and go to college when you’re eighteen?” He asked and she sighed as they turned into the high school parking lot. Grant parked next to the bus and Audrey unbuckled her belt then hugged his arm.

“It’s just a two-hour hour drive and I’ll call you all the time,” she said gently. He shushed her as he gave her a squeeze and kissed her hair.

“Don’t think I’m not proud of you or excited, just because I’m falling apart. I’ll figure out some way to survive on my own,” he teased.

“I know,” she said as she sat back then waved at her best friend, Ashley, before her eyes flicked back to Grant and narrowed. “You better do something cool this weekend,” she threatened. Grant started to smirk before she pointed. “With someone other than Edgar,” she stipulated and his face fell.

“Why can’t I hang out with Edgar? That’s cool,” he argued and she shook her head.

“Hang out with Walter or Aunt Marcy or… I don’t know, meet a guy,” she suggested nonchalantly and Grant’s face twisted. “Come on!” Audrey begged. “Think about how much better I’d feel!” She protested. “I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for leaving you alone and someone else can remind you to take your pills every morning.”

“Shouldn’t you be going?” He asked flatly and she pulled a face as she leaned in to kiss him.

“I love you and I want you to do something this weekend. You don’t have to do anything radical like go on Tinder, if you’re not ready. But you have to do something nice for yourself or talk to someone other than Edgar. And not on the phone, please,” she added as she gave him a loaded look and he held up his hands.

“I will do my best but I can’t promise my idea of cool will be as exciting as you’re hoping,” he warned but she waved if off.

“Don’t spend the next three days at home, alone. And running by the post office and grabbing coffee doesn’t count. You see the same people and have the exact same conversations every day. Go get a haircut or a pedicure or buy yourself something nice. Whatever. Just don’t stay home,” she ordered.

“Fine. Get out or I’ll throw you out,” he said then kissed her loudly on the forehead. “I love you. Check in when you get there and send me a text goodnight.”

“I will and I love you too,” Audrey said then pushed open her door and hopped out of the passenger seat. Grant waited as she grabbed her backpack and duffle bag from the back then loaded her things into the bus.

“Stay safe, Jelly Bean,” he murmured softly as Audrey and Ashley got on the bus and took their seats at the front so they could help supervise the younger campers. He made a weak attempt to shake the guilt during the short drive from the high school to the town center. It was a lot easier to trick Audrey into thinking he was happy when she was younger, but she noticed and worried more as she got older. Grant parked in front of The Six Beans Coffee Co. and waved at Vanessa as he passed the window then frowned as he reached for the post office door. He didn’t even look, he just waved because he knew she’d be there.

“Morning, Grant! Got your mail right here. Looks like a beautiful weekend,” Rhoda predicted as she handed Grant his mail. He nodded as he took it and she pointed as he tucked it under his arm. “You’ve got the new Pottery Barn catalog there! They’ve got those cute lamps I was telling you about again.”

“Great!” Grant said loudly. He pretended he knew what she was talking about and that the déjà vu wasn’t severe. Marcy put his address and email on Pottery Barn’s mailing list to get a coupon, he suspected. But Rhoda loved Pottery Barn so he went along with it every time a new catalog came in. “I’ll keep an eye out for them when I’m flipping through it.”

“Oh! How’s Edgar?” She asked solemnly and Grant shook his head.

“It wasn’t that serious. The big baby got his foot pinched in Marcy’s fence because he was trying to catch Lola so they could be friends. He needed a few stitches and a few days in a cone to reflect. He’s not too thrilled about it so I let him stay home to preserve his dignity,” he explained and she laughed.

“Poor guy, that cat’s just a hateful thing.”

“I keep telling Edgar but he’s determined to be her friend,” Grant sighed then tapped his mail against his brow. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rhoda.”

“You have a lovely day, dear. Tell Edgar I missed him and let Audrey know I enjoyed her little article in the paper,” she said as she hurried around the post office counter and got the door for him.

“I’ll tell them,” Grant replied absently as he studied the Audi parked next to him, in front of the coffee shop. Hopkins Creek was full of luxury vehicles but most were SUVs and crossovers. Something about the sharp little sports car made the hairs on the back of Grant’s neck stand.

It took Grant all of two seconds to find the Audi’s owner after he stepped into The Six Beans. He was thanking Vanessa for his coffee then smiled at Grant before he went off to add sugar to his cup. Grant quickly noted the perfect hair, flawless smile, square jaw, expensive suit and the other man’s tall, lean and probably sculpted body and moved along. Like the other mortals in the coffee shop, Grant pretended to be unaware of the walking cologne ad obliviously perusing the display of travel mugs and smiled at Vanessa as he stepped up to the counter.

“How’s it going? Just my usual,” he said. He pulled out his wallet and Vanessa hissed urgently as she waved for him to come closer. Grant frowned as he leaned over the counter.

“He’s definitely single but I can’t tell which one of us should make a move!” She whispered then cocked her chin at the other man.

“A move? Who…?” Grant asked quietly and cluelessly. Vanessa cleared her throat loudly and pointed at the man as she rubbed her nose.

“Him!” She coughed and Grant flinched before he chuckled and shook his head.

“I can’t tell either but I doubt he’d give me his number,” he said dismissively as he slid his card into the reader and punched in his PIN.

“I’d love to give you my number,” a smooth, warm voice murmured from over his shoulder and Grant wanted to shove his face right in his wallet. Grant’s fingers were numb and trembled as he found a $5 for Vanessa.

“Yikes!” She whispered and her eyes were wide but sparkled with delight as they met Grant’s. She giggled as she hurried off to make his coffee and Grant swallowed the giant knot in his throat as he stuffed the bill in the tip jar. He was sweating but he managed a humanlike smile as he turned and Grant was stunned as bright, seeking blue eyes trapped his.

“Sorry to eavesdrop but she whispers loud,” he said then winked at Grant.

“She does,” Grant agreed as his head bobbled. “But the coffee’s really good so we overlook her lack of subtlety.” He laughed weakly then pressed the back of his hand to his head to check if the flop sweat had begun yet.

“Do you come here often?” The impossibly gorgeous man asked as he swayed a little closer and Grant almost looked around to see who he was flirting with. But he knew that aside from Vanessa, Edgar and the Davis sisters, it was just the two of them.

“Just about every day,” Grant said then glanced at Vanessa and silently begged her to hurry. “The post office doesn’t deliver here so I stop in and say hi to Vanessa after I see Rhoda for my mail. I like to take my dog, Edgar, to the park afterwards,” he explained. Why? Grant asked himself and his nose scrunched as he wondered if he could find anything blander to tell the most beautiful man he’d ever met. “Unless the weather’s really bad. Then we just go home,” he added. There you go.

“I’m devastated to see you didn’t bring Edgar with you today. I love dogs,” the most beautiful man replied as he reached into his coat and pulled out his phone.

“Dogs are great,” Grant replied woodenly and his eyes widened in panic.

“Here’s your coffee, Grant!” Vanessa chirped and Grant gasped in relief as he turned and grabbed the cup like it was a life vest and the coffee shop was going under.

“Thank you! I’ve got to go!” He said and her head pushed forward in shock.

“Grant!” She protested.

“Not before I get your number, I hope,” the other man said and Grant shook his head quickly as he backed away from the counter.

“I left my phone in the car,” he mumbled as he gestured over his shoulder then turned and escaped. He pushed open the door and almost ran to his car as he pulled his keys from his pocket. Grant fumbled with the mail and his coffee as he opened the door and ducked into the driver’s seat but he made an otherwise clean getaway. “I left my phone in the car?” He yelled at the windshield in disgust then sneered. “And what was that even about? Asking me for my number…” he complained then waved at the windshield. “That guy would never be interested in me.”

There was a very brief time in Grant’s life when he considered himself “hot”, it was right after college, when he and Chris got their first place together. They still had abs and jawlines and groomed obsessively because they didn’t have Audrey yet. But not even then. The guy in the coffee shop probably dated men with diplomatic immunity and private jets. He wasn’t sure what the dashing younger man was doing in Hopkins Creek but Grant severely doubted he was hunting for a broken forty-two-year-old soccer dad.

“God, he was beautiful, though. And he smelled incredible,” Grant sighed as he turned into his driveway. Edgar was standing on the couch and watching through the window. His whip-like tail swatted excitedly as he waited and Grant’s mood lifted as he got out of the car. He was still disappointed in himself for acting like a total ass but at least he got to spend the rest of the morning teasing Edgar about his silly collar.

The Perfect Cover will be available on December 17th but you can PRE-ORDER it NOW on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2YDQ2bG


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The Perfect Cover and the perfect cover

How about a whole lot of chemistry for Christmas?


One of my favorite tropes in romance is the character who doesn’t “get” sex or enjoy it but finds themselves attracted to someone on a deeply chemical/animal level and doesn’t know what to do with themselves. There’s probably a concise term for that but I only went to two years of actual college then got a degree from the Army in something that’s only useful if you work for the government. Next week, I’ll write about Choices. But back to one of my favorite tropes: Welcome to Sex, nerd! I’m kidding and it’s not just nerds, even though hot nerds is another one of my favorite tropes. There are lots of perfectly reasonable reasons why a character might not care for sex, including asexuality and abuse, but the nerd awakening is fun for all readers. Which is what we’ve got with Meredith Crane. He was perfectly happy with his asexuality and being a dapper nerd until he met Decker. Our sweet, shy librarian doesn’t know what to do with himself. Literally. “What is my body doing and WHY?” is how I signal to you, the reader, that it’s about to go down like a house on fire. Especially when you add a strapping sheriff with a heart as big as his hands and a very healthy beard. There are mysteries to solve and a holiday festival to prepare for but our heroes can’t keep their hands off each other. Thank goodness. Here’s an excerpt from Merry & Wright:

“You’re right on time, dear! I’ve just sat down for some tea and cookies and could use the company,” Mary called from the sitting room as Meredith hung his trench coat. The fire was roaring and Meredith groaned ecstatically as he rubbed his hands together and headed straight for it. He grew up in New Hampshire but this winter was turning particularly cold and damp and his body was not tolerating it as well. “How was your first week as librarian?” She asked as she pointed her needle at the armchair opposite hers, in front of the fire. She was knitting something in a charming oatmeal and red striped pattern but she set it aside and poured a cup of tea for Meredith.

“Everything’s been lovely,” he replied then gave Mary a grateful nod as he took the cup and saucer from her.

“I added some chocolate chip cookies because they’re your favorite,” she informed him and slid the plate of cookies closer to him. He stirred in four cubes of sugar then thanked her as he took a cookie and sat back. “Marvin’s in the kitchen, listening to one of his podcasts while he does the silver,” she added and Meredith hummed as he took a drink of his tea. He often found one of them in the sitting room when he returned from the library in the evenings and they’d insist that Meredith join them. Tea, if it was Mary, or a cup of soup, if he happened upon Marvin. Meredith wasn’t sure if it was their normal habit or if they adopted it to make sure he had something warm to return to, but he enjoyed his evening chats with them. They were a gentle, nurturing couple and Meredith was becoming very fond of the charming and impeccably tidy inn. He felt guilty, paying only $350 a month, especially when they went so far out of their way to make sure he was comfortable and warm.

“Everything has been lovely, particularly this inn and my hosts,” he said and Mary gasped in delight.

“I’m so pleased to hear that, Meredith! We never know if Eliza’s little antics will scare people off but it’s so nice when we have guests. It’s usually just us and Edith and she turns in early and often misses breakfast,” she said and Meredith smiled at the mild judgment in her tone. Mary and Marvin were delightful busybodies and from what Meredith gathered, Edith was the center of her own universe. Meredith had yet to meet her because of their very different schedules but he’d met Edith’s husband, Fred. They were a peculiar couple, Meredith quickly learned. They divorced some years ago, after a very tumultuous marriage, then fell in love again after Edith moved out of their home and into the inn. Apparently, their love flourished during courtship and distance kept the heart fonder, so she remained at the inn and Fred called on her every day.

“I’m learning to include multiple options for my outfits each morning,” he said then checked to see if his cookie had reached optimum softness. The chips weren’t as melted as he liked so he dunked it back into his tea. Planning backup ties and socks was a minor inconvenience, compared to the many benefits of staying at the inn, he decided. “Eliza is a nuisance but I’ll find a way to make peace with her,” he vowed then gave Mary a firm nod.

“I’m sure you will,” Mary chuckled as she leaned forward and gave his hand a pat. Her eyes became calculating as she sat back and returned to her knitting. “I hope that means you’re thinking of staying.” She did her best to be coy but Meredith humphed.

“It’s only been a week but I am considering it,” he admitted carefully. He didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up but the old library was quiet and cozy and Meredith found the town’s history fascinating, the more he learned. His little research project with Decker had much more meat on its bones than Meredith predicted. He thought it might make a good display for the library or possibly make it into one of the city papers but Meredith was mostly doing it to distract Decker and the other townspeople Emmet Haynes had hurt. “It would be nice if I could find something new about the Wilkeses and the Mortons,” he said to Mary and she made a thoughtful sound as she gazed across the room.

“You never know, in an old place like this. People are always finding things hidden under floorboards and behind bookshelves. They found a secret door in what’s now the Visitor’s Center! It went all the way down to a cave in the cove. It’s left over from when they smuggled things in to avoid taxes and hid food and weapons from the British,” she explained excitedly.

“Did they really?” Meredith asked as he reached for another cookie and Mary nodded slowly.

“It was just a few years ago and they found some old ledgers and manifests. Emmet has them all on display at the Visitor’s Center and you can take a tour of the tunnel,” she said and her face fell when she remembered that Emmet was gone. Meredith sat forward so he could put down his tea and the cookie then took one of Mary’s hands. He had no idea what he could say to make it better or how he found the nerve to do it but his thumbs rubbed the back of her hand soothingly and he hushed softly.

“You make up for his evil by being generous and kind every day,” he started and his lips curved as he came up with the perfect salve for Mary’s wounds. “We have a lot of work to do but I think these mysteries and the holiday festival will help Covington close that sad chapter and give us all something we can celebrate,” he explained then cleared his throat conspiratorially. “I’ve never been all that into Christmas but Decker says he’s on a mission to make this year’s festival perfect for Covington. I think we should help him,” he said and Mary’s eyes glazed over as she began to plan. She nodded then grabbed his hand and squeezed.

“That’s exactly what we’ll do! I’ll talk to the ladies at church about wreaths and baked goods,” she decided and Meredith sat back and raised his cup in approval.

“I have no idea how I’ll help so you let me know if you think of anything,” he replied but she was rattling on names of people Meredith didn’t know and assigning pies, cakes and loaves to each of them.

Meredith loved pies, cakes and loaves but his mind wandered and his responses devolved into hums as Mary moved on to wreaths. Unfortunately, wreaths couldn’t hold his attention when it could be occupied with Decker. Meredith understood sex and physical attraction about as much as he understood wreaths and until Decker, he cared about sex as much as he cared about wreaths. Meredith had never felt real sexual attraction before. For him, arousal was something closer to esteem and intellectual stimulation. His past partners were professors and scholars who fascinated Meredith with their knowledge and experience. For him, it was never physical and Meredith merely catered to their sexual preferences. He had none of his own beyond preferring men. And they were all much older men and because of their age, sex was occasional and brief. Most of his partners suffered from erectile disfunction, so sex usually involved some intimate touching but rarely required penetration of any sort.

That suited Meredith because his brain didn’t function the way most men’s did. He was never fixated with sex. The breaching of his personal space, the intimate touching, bodily fluids and odors made him uncomfortable. He was self-aware enough to know that many of his peculiarities were the result of having a distant father who demanded order and academic excellence while eschewing praise and affection. So it was baffling, to find himself drawn to someone as commanding and physical as Decker. He was large and powerful but instead of being loud and intimidating, he was gentle, affectionate and charming. Meredith enjoyed the challenge of solving the inn’s mysteries but it was Decker’s visits to the library and their chats during breakfast and lunch that were the true highlight of his week. Which suddenly became a bit of a problem for Meredith. His brow furrowed as he dipped his cookie in his tea. He’d never had a crush on anyone before. Especially with someone as inappropriate as the (most likely straight) town sheriff. Meredith didn’t know what he was supposed to do with himself or what the remedy was for such an unfortunate complication. Covington was growing on Meredith and he liked the routine he’d fallen into with Mary and Marvin and he didn’t want to ruin his friendship with Decker.

“Actually, it might be a good time for me to learn about wreaths,” Meredith said then did his best to find some way to care about wreaths more than Decker.


I LOVE Meredith. I think you will too. And Decker is stupid hot. Merry & Wright will be available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on 11/26.

PRE-ORDER it NOW!: https://amzn.to/2CBZou4



How about a whole lot of chemistry for Christmas?

It’s almost time to get Merry & Wright!


Is it too soon to wish you a happy holidays? I don’t think so. I’ll go even further and give you something to smile about. Merry & Wright is available for pre-order right NOW and will be available in just a few weeks. Here’s an early and barely edited peek at like the first chapter and a half, because it’s cold out there, my loves!

Our story opens with our hero’s arrival…

“Finally,” Meredith sighed as the cab driver hefted the last suitcase out of the trunk and onto the sidewalk. He’d never heard of Covington before he agreed to fill in as the town’s librarian but it required almost six hours of travel on a train and three taxis to reach the small coastal town.

“That’s your library down there,” the driver said and pointed at the town square as Meredith squinted through his glasses and the snow. It wouldn’t be too long of a walk. “I always liked that it looked like a castle,” he added and Meredith nodded as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket and paid the driver. Meredith glanced back at the library and nodded in approval. It was fieldstone and wrapped in ivy and had turrets on each corner. He regarded the inn and his brows rose despite the tightening of his facial muscles as his lips and nose tingled from the bitter cold. It was a stately colonial house and lamps glowed invitingly in every window and the white picket fence and front garden were draped in fairy lights. The entire town was wrapped in garland, red bows and tiny white lights. 

“It’s just for a few months,” Meredith told himself as the cab pulled away from the curb. He frowned up at the sky and a snowflake landed on his nose.

“You’d better come inside! We’re expecting a good bit of snow tonight!” A short, plump elderly woman urged as she waved wildly at Meredith from the front steps of the Malbourne Inn. She was wearing a red dress and a white apron and bounced excitedly as Meredith pulled the largest of his suitcases behind him.

“I’ll get the rest of those!” An older man insisted as he hurried past Meredith on the flagstone path through the front garden.

“Come in and have something warm to drink!” The woman said then pulled Meredith into the house. “Just leave your bag there and he’ll take care of it. I’m Mary Clark and that was my husband, Marvin. You must be our Mr. Crane,” she babbled as she hooked her arm around Meredith’s and led him to the fireplace in the sitting room.

“Yes,” he said as he warmed his hands. His neck stretched as he admired the lovingly polished antiques, the soft floral wallpaper and the wide staircase in the center of the house. The inn was bright and clean and smelled like cookies.

“Here! A few sips of this and you’ll feel nice and toasty,” she said as she pushed a mug into Meredith’s hands then gave them a squeeze. “Goodness, they’re like icicles! Where are your mittens?” She scolded up at him. Meredith shook his head then sniffed cautiously. “It’s mulled cider with a good dose of whiskey!” She whispered and Meredith’s brow rose as he took a sip.

“That’s lovely,” he murmured as sweet, spicy warmth spread down his chest and limbs. “Thank you,” he added and Mary laughed as she reached for his cheek and gave it a gentle pat.

“I thought we’d need something a little stronger than tea tonight. Winter’s finally decided to show up. We’ve barely had any snow this year!” She complained and Meredith nodded along. People were generally happy to do most of the talking if Meredith nodded along and allowed them to worry about the dips and lulls in the conversation. He didn’t the mind long, quiet pauses that made people uncomfortable. They gave Meredith a break and allowed him to enjoy his own company for a few blessed moments but he was happy to listen to others ramble. “We’re going to put up the tree soon and we’ve got the holiday festival next month. You’ll love that! Won’t he Marvin?” Mary called as she leaned toward the foyer.

“What’s that?” Marvin asked as he wrestled the last of Meredith’s suitcases through the door.

“The holiday festival!” Mary said and Marvin gasped.

“Oh, yes! Our holiday festival is always lots of fun. And we’re finally getting some snow!” He laughed breathlessly as he dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. His thin white hair fluttered with the breeze as he shut the door then dragged Meredith’s suitcase toward the stairs.

“I’ll get those,” Meredith said but Marvin and Mary both waved him off.

“Let him! It’s the most exercise he’s had in days,” Mary said but Meredith still felt bad, letting Marvin handle everything. “And we’re both so happy to have a new librarian after…everything.” Her voice broke and her eyes watered.

“I did hear about that,” Meredith said and she nodded solemnly and her lower lip wobbled.

“Emmet Haynes was beloved by everyone and it was a terrible blow for us all,” she whispered and Meredith’s brows fell but she flailed her hand as she took a fortifying breath then smiled. “Let’s not dwell on that! The Covington Holiday Festival is the highlight of our year! Wait until you see all the lights and decorations,” she told Meredith and his eyes widened as he sipped.

“There’s more?” He asked in disbelief but Mary snorted dismissively.

“We’re just easing into it, now that we’ve got Thanksgiving out of the way,” she said then turned and gestured for Meredith to follow her. “Let’s get you checked in and then we’ll get you settled into your room, dear. You can bring your cider. You still look a bit chilled.” She hurried back into the foyer and Meredith followed with his mug. She stopped at the desk at the foot of the stairs and opened a ledger then turned it so he could sign. “Here’s your key. You’ll be in the Blue Room. We’ve never had anything go missing for more than a day but we give tours from time to time so you’ll want to lock your door when you leave,” Mary said as she came around the desk and Meredith followed her up the stairs. “You said you weren’t sure how long you would be staying in Covington,” she prodded and Meredith nodded.

“I’m not,” he confirmed and she laughed as they reached the top of the stairs then waved at the hall on the right and stopped at the first door.

“You’re not much of a talker, are you, Mr. Crane?” She asked as she opened the door and let him pass.

“No,” he said as he leaned into the room then stepped over the threshold. “Please, call me Meredith.” He liked the blue and white color scheme, it reminded him of English china.

“Breakfast begins at 6:00 a.m. It’s just you and Edith staying with us but people often pop in for a cup of coffee or a hot meal. We can usually count on Decker, our sheriff. He lives across the street and just a few houses over.” They stepped aside as Marvin delivered Meredith’s luggage and he gave Meredith a playful nudge with his elbow.

“Make sure you warn him about our other guests!” He told Mary and she nodded.

“I was just getting to that,” she said as she crossed the room and opened a door. “This is your bathroom and there are extra towels in the linen closet in the hall. If you find anything’s missing, don’t panic. It’s just Eliza and things usually turn up in the greenhouse or wherever she sees fit,” Mary explained and Meredith’s head pulled back.

“Eliza?” He asked but she just laughed and gestured dismissively.

“Her mother drowned her in the housekeeper’s bathroom before she hung herself from the banister in the hall. Eliza’s always up to mischief. The Malbourne Inn is a popular attraction and we give tours during the day,” she stated casually, as if it wasn’t appallingly morbid and ridiculous.

“I’m sorry?” Meredith replied weakly and Mary laughed.

“Don’t let it trouble you! Eliza and Jane are harmless and like to play the occasional prank but you’ll want to avoid the attic. Billy has been known to act out and we did lose a priest during an exorcism when I was an infant,” she said breezily as she turned down the quilt.

“Right,” Meredith murmured as he frowned at the door. It was too late in the evening to look for other accommodations.

“Don’t worry, though! You’ll be fine, as long as you avoid the attic. Jane and Eliza are harmless,” she insisted then clasped her hands together as she beamed at him. “We’re delighted to have you. Let me or Marvin know if we can do anything to make your stay more comfortable,” she said and Meredith nodded.

“Thank you,” he replied then let Mary give his cheek another tender pat as she left.

“Sleep well and don’t hesitate to call if you need anything!” She said then took herself off and quietly shut the door behind her. Meredith stared for a moment then snorted.

“Ghosts,” he muttered as he shook his head. “Obviously a gimmick to attract and entertain tourists,” he decided then set the matter aside and focused on unpacking.

The following morning, Decker arrives at the inn and…

“Good morning, Decker!” Marvin called as Decker kicked the snow off his boots at the door.

“Morning, Marvin,” he said then tapped his brow as Fred waved at him from the sofa in the sitting room. “Edith taking her time this morning?” He asked and the older man chuckled as he winked at Decker over his newspaper.

“She says it’s far too cold for her venture downstairs for breakfast. She’s having her tea and muffin in bed so I thought I’d keep Marvin company.”

“What are you up to this morning?” Marvin asked as he helped Decker out of his coat and hung it on the hook.

“Breakfast and I thought I’d welcome the new librarian,” Decker said and the three of them flinched and winced and the mood in the foyer dropped. Marvin coughed softly as he wiped at the corner of his eye and Decker gripped his shoulder reassuringly. “How are you all holding up?” The last few weeks were terrible for Covington’s residents, especially Haynes’ closest friends. Like Decker, they blamed themselves for not seeing it and felt deeply betrayed by Emmet.

“There’s no making sense of it, is there?” Marvin mused quietly and Decker shook his head.

“No. All we can do is help each other carry on and heal,” he said and Marvin nodded then offered Decker a brave smile.

“But Mr. Crane seems like a very sensible and capable young man!” He said and Decker’s brows rose.

“Does he?”

“Indeed! He should be down shortly, I imagine,” Marvin stated as he guided Decker through the more formal sitting room and toward the sunroom.

“Great. I’ll see what Mary’s up to,” Decker said as he left them. He found Mary arranging the pastries on the sideboard and her face lit up when Decker leaned into the room.

“Oh, hello, Decker!” She hurried around the tables and her arms stretched as he bent to give her a hug.

“How are you doing?” He asked as he kissed her cheek and she sighed heavily.

“Some days are dreadful but I find it helps to focus on the happier news. Marvin’s going to put up more lights later and we’ve got Mr. Crane staying with us now!” She informed him and he grinned as he reached for a plate.

“I heard. I came by to introduce myself and see what we can do to welcome him,” he said then began filling his plate while Mary poured a cup of coffee for him.

“That’s so good of you. It’s always nice to have a friendly face, when you’re new in town.”

“Marvin says he seems like a capable young man,” Decker said and she gasped.

“Oh, he is! I think he’ll fit in nicely!”

“Excellent!” Decker replied then he sat by the window so he could watch the doors.

“I have a good feeling about him,” she whispered as she set his mug on the table and patted Decker on the shoulder. “Goodness! I almost forgot about the banana muffins. You keep an eye out for Mr. Crane while I run to the kitchen,” she said and Decker chuckled as he waved her off.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get lost, if he shows up,” he promised as she rushed to the kitchen. Decker waited until she was gone then frowned at his coffee as he stirred in the sugar. The people of Covington cherished their library and revered Emmet. Under different circumstances, a new librarian would have very big shoes to fill but Decker was praying that the new librarian would just be a decent human being. He needed someone dependable and capable to help the people of Covington make a fresh start and put Emmet and the hangings behind them. “Just be normal and not a serial killer,” he begged under his breath as he stirred distractedly then jumped to his feet as a slight but starkly beautiful man with thick framed glasses and bright blue eyes cautiously peeked into the sunroom. 

“Just go right on in!” Marvin called from the foyer and the other’s man’s eyes widened when he found Decker.

“Mary ran to the kitchen for a moment,” Decker said as he stepped around the table and offered his hand. “I’m Sheriff Decker Wright, you must be Mr. Crane.” The other man nodded as he took Decker’s hand. He was tall and lean and the sharp angles of his cheeks, jaw and chin were striking as his long, elegant neck stretched as he scanned the sunroom. His brown tweed suit was severely tailored and he paired it with a Fair Isle sweater vest and a tie. It was so perfectly appropriate for a librarian but the ensemble made Decker’s uniform feel a bit too tight and the room a little too warm. Decker guessed he was in his mid thirties but it was hard to tell, Crane’s complexion was pale and smooth and the shave was immaculate.

“Please, call me Meredith,” he said quietly and Decker stifled a shiver but leaned into the warm, low murmur. Decker’s pulse became heavier, as if Meredith was sharing something far more intimate.

“There you are!” Mary said as she reappeared with a basket of muffins then beamed at Decker. “I see you’ve met our Mr. Crane.”

“Just Meredith is fine,” he insisted then frowned at their hands. Decker was still holding onto Meredith’s.

“Sorry!” Decker laughed and finally released his hand. “I wanted to introduce myself and welcome you to Covington,” he explained and Meredith’s lips curved just slightly as he bowed his head.

“Thank you, Sheriff,” he said then cleared his throat softly. “Might I trouble you for a cup of coffee, Mary?”

“Of course! Have a seat and I’ll get that for you. I’ll make you a plate as well!” She said and Decker waved at the seat across from his.

“Would you like to join me?” He asked and Meredith opened his mouth to stop Mary but nodded as he sat.

“I usually just have coffee,” he said quietly then offered Decker another weak smile as he folded his hands in his lap. His eyes followed Mary as she stacked his plate with pancakes, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. “That’s far too much…” He whispered as he held up a hand and Decker cleared his throat. Meredith’s gaze darted back to him and Decker shook his head.

“There’s no point in arguing, you’re her Mr. Crane now. She’s going to smother you,” he warned under his breath. Meredith’s eyes widened as he looked at Mary.

“Her Mr. Crane?” He whispered and he looked startled as she lowered a heaping plate in front of him then returned with his coffee. “Thank you, Mary. This looks perfect,” he said and she laughed as she gave his cheek an affectionate pat.

“He’s not very much of a talker, our Mr. Crane. Is he?” She asked and missed the tightening of Meredith’s lips and the way his eyes narrowed as he draped his napkin over his lap. Mr. Crane was a people pleaser but he bristled when he was criticized for being quiet. Probably because it required a lot of effort on his part to talk to people, judging by the way his fist clenched in his lap the slight flare of his nostrils.

“I think that would be a good quality in a librarian,” Decker offered and a grin tugged at Meredith’s lips and there was a hint of pink in his cheeks as Mary laughed.

“Of course, but you know how Emmet loved to talk and talk…” Her voice died away and she took a shaking breath as she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve. Decker shushed soothingly as he reached for her hand.

“We’ll get through this and it’ll get easier,” he told her and she nodded then offered them a watery smile.

“We’ve got each other and we’ve got Mr. Crane to get settled,” she stated then sighed as she went back to the sideboard and covered the dishes. Decker watched as Meredith added sugar to his coffee and became mesmerized by his hands as he stirred. They were slender and elegant, like Meredith, and his touch was light and precise. He stirred silently and didn’t strike or tap the ceramic before setting the spoon on the saucer. He took a cautious sip and there was a soft hum of approval. Then, Meredith picked up his fork and prodded the potatoes and eggs. Decker’s brow rose as Meredith continued to prod and frown at his plate.

“Is something wrong?” He asked and Meredith shook his head but he looked unsure until his nose wrinkled.

“I laid all my clothes on the bed this morning and everything was there. I’m sure of it,” he mumbled and Decker found himself leaning forward again, so he could follow what he was saying.

“But…?” He said and Meredith’s teeth dug into his lip.

“Both of my socks were there and I stepped into the bathroom for just a moment and when I turned back to the bed, one was missing. I know it was there. I saw it, but then it wasn’t. I looked everywhere but it’s gone. My door was locked but I’d swear someone must have taken it,” he said. He looked so concerned and earnest, Decker had to bite down on his lips to keep from laughing.

“Oh! This is yours, then!” Mary said as she pulled an argyle sock from her apron. “It turned up in the pantry while I was making the muffins,” she stated. She held the sock out to Meredith but he stared at it as if she’d found a severed finger.

“How did my sock…?”

“Eliza,” Decker and Mary said. Meredith’s eyes swung to Mary and then Decker.

“Eliza?” He asked warily. Decker snorted as he used his fork to cut into his pancakes and Mary nodded.

“I told you about Jane and Eliza last night! Remember, dear? Eliza likes to take little things and put them in the oddest places or switch things around but she’s harmless,” she insisted and Meredith was frozen and still staring at the sock in her hand. “I’ll just leave this here. I’m going to get a fresh pot of coffee,” she said then left them.

“Jane looks pretty terrifying but she won’t hurt you. She might ruffle your hair and clothes but she usually just screams then disappears,” Decker said then took a large bite of his pancakes. Meredith pulled his gaze from the sock and blinked at Decker.

“You can’t be serious,” he said and Decker laughed.

“I know it sounds crazy…”

“Impossible,” Meredith corrected and Decker hissed.

“I promise, Covington isn’t full of lunatics.” He flashed Meredith a sheepish smile before he sipped his coffee and prayed they wouldn’t scare him off. Meredith’s lips attempted to make words before he shook his head and turned his attention to his plate. He picked up his fork and knife and Decker’s eyes kept drifting to his hands. They were so fine and smooth and his touch was so light. He drizzled syrup onto his pancakes and cut them then licked his finger and Decker swallowed a groan. If the ghosts don’t run him off, the creepy sheriff might… 


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We’re going on a spooky adventure!


I lost my dog, gang. It broke my heart right in half so I went to my happiest place and Aiden and Mr. Lavender helped me heal. In the dark, I found the light. I also found the love, because it is Lake Cliff and this has become home. I know many of my readers love these characters and feel at home here too, so it makes me so happy to welcome you back. We’ve been waiting for you!

Here’s the whole first chapter:

Authorities struggle to explain 27 hanging corpses in the Rhode Island woods.

“Whoa,” Aiden said as his eyes scanned the news article from 1986. He flipped to the police report from earlier in the year. “Eleven more since the 80’s?” He checked the math again and his brows jumped. “How am I just hearing about this?”

“Hey! I’m leaving. Are you coming with me?” Lane asked as he leaned into the study and Aiden’s lips pulled tight as his eyes darted between Lane and the email on his desk. “Bring it with you. You’re not interested in football or the Chicago Bears,” Lane pointed out and Aiden nodded quickly as he sent the email and the attached files to his phone. He grabbed his hoodie as he slid out of his chair and followed Lane.

“Is that conference with the governor next week?” Aiden asked distractedly then made sure he didn’t miss the step while Lane locked the front door behind them. His thumb slid across his screen and his head fell as he squinted at a close up of a noose. “I’ve seen this somewhere…”

“Next week. We’re still getting everything ready and I’ve got to meet with the D.A. on Thursday about the Barker trial,” Lane said as they got into the car.

“That’s too bad,” Aiden murmured. He pulled his eyes from his phone long enough to buckle his belt then rested his ankle on his knee. His attention caught on a black and white photo. A woman in a sundress hung from a massive oak tree.

“Tell me about it. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to deal with Matt Bowden, but I’ve got to babysit the governor next week,” Lane said as he reversed out of the driveway. Aiden hummed along but he was reading the newspaper article. “Oh! While I’m thinking about it, don’t mention Matt’s brother, if you see him. He’s still not talking about that,” Lane warned.

“I won’t,” Aiden replied then sighed impatiently as Lane pulled into Sage and Lavender’s driveway. He shut the file and unbuckled his belt then got out.

“Did you remember to add coffee to the grocery list?” Lane asked as they walked up the porch steps.

“No. I don’t drink coffee,” Aiden replied and hugged his arms as the wind picked up then leaned to look into the window. He saw Sage and nodded.

“I do,” Lane said and he sounded a bit testy. Aiden raised a brow back at him.

“You should probably put it on the list, then,” he said and Lane’s eyes widened.

“That’s why I… Never mind,” he sighed as the door opened.

“Hey! The game’s just getting started!” Sage said as he waved them in.

“I put apple juice on the list. I tried some of Robin’s and I like it now,” Aiden told Lane.

“Aiden!” Robin cried as he ran to him then wrapped around his knees.

“Hello,” Aiden said and ruffled Robin’s curls. They were soft and Aiden liked the way Robin hugged his legs then moved on to Lane.

“Are you a foot taller than yesterday?” Lane asked as he swept Robin into his arms. Robin giggled as Lane raised him over his head. Robin stretched his arms out in front of him and made a plane sound as Lane steered him into the living room.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Sage asked as they followed but Aiden waved him off.

“I’ll get it. Go watch the game,” he said then pulled his phone out and wandered into the kitchen. Aiden went back to the black and white picture of the woman in the sundress.

“What’s that?” Lavender asked as he peeked over Aiden’s shoulder.

“Where did you…? I think it’s a case,” Aiden said then stepped out of the way as Robin darted between them. Aiden chuckled as Rose trotted after him then opened the fridge and grabbed a Sprite. 

“Show me how to do the trick!” Robin cheered as he hopped up and down and Lavender winced as he looked toward the living room.

“I suppose I could with the cutting board…” He murmured as his neck stretched and Aiden’s eyes flicked toward the living room. He didn’t know what Lavender and Robin were up to but it would probably get one of them in trouble. Aiden shrugged as he stepped back and rested his shoulder against the fridge and crossed his ankles. “If we’re very quiet,” Lavender whispered as he pulled a knife from the block then waved for Robin to come to him. He lowered onto his knee then held out two fingers and balanced the blade on its side. “The center of this knife is right here,” he said quietly as his fingers bounced. The knife remained steady and Robin’s eyes followed it as Lavender flipped it into the air and caught it by the handle. “Next, you want to…”

“Do not teach him to throw knives!” Sage cried as he hurried into the kitchen. Aiden ducked and shook his head as he stepped away from the fridge so Sage could open it.

“That’s obviously a very inappropriate thing to teach a child,” Aiden agreed then held up his hand when Lavender glared at him.

“You’ve seen the state of schools these days. It might not be a bad idea for him to learn how to throw a knife,” Lavender argued. Sage opened his mouth then shut it. He was frozen for a moment then shook his head.

“You can teach him how to react and defend himself but he’s too young for knife throwing. And not in the kitchen,” Sage added then shook his head as he pulled out two bottles of beer and a tray of raw vegetables and dips. Aiden decided that wasn’t as exciting as knife throwing lessons and slid his phone back out of his hoodie pocket and went back to the case.

“I’m going to read with Rose,” Robin grumbled and Lavender sighed as Rose followed her boy up the stairs.

“I’ll join you in a little bit,” Lavender called after them then nodded at Aiden’s phone. “What’s this case?”

“Hangings,” Aiden replied then went to the door so he could lean into the living room. “I’d like to go to Rhode Island,” he announced and Lane frowned but he waited until the players on the television fell into a pile before he looked away.

“Sure… I can look at the calendar and see when I can take some leave,” he said but Aiden shook his head.

“I need to go tomorrow. Thirty-eight people have been hanged and the F.B.I. has asked me to look into it,” he explained.

“Oh.” Lane’s head pulled back.

“Christ!” Sage gasped and his face twisted. “I guess you’d better go,” he said. Lane groaned as he scrubbed the back of his neck.

“You should but I can’t get away for the next two weeks,” he worried.

“I don’t have anything going on and I enjoy a good hanging just as much as the next guy,” Lavender offered. Sage and Lane each held up a finger. Lane decided to let Sage handle it.

“No. Nobody enjoys hangings, Jeremy,” he said then gave him a hard look. Lavender’s eyes rolled as he nodded.

“Yes, yes… It’s just an expression,” he said dismissively and Aiden frowned.

“Is it?” He asked. Lane shook his head.

“No. It’s not. No one says that.”

“Don’t they?” Lavender asked then shrugged. “Regardless, I’d love to go to Rhode Island with Aiden and help him investigate,” he said and Aiden thought that was an excellent idea.

“I could use your help! You know a lot about hangings and psychopaths!” He agreed as he pointed at Lavender. Sage swore under his breath and glared at the television as he hugged his beer bottle. Lavender shushed Aiden then offered Sage a gentle smile.

“Let’s not forget Aiden’s tendency to attract psychopaths. We wouldn’t want to risk this following him back to Lake Cliff. I’ll give him a hand with the investigation and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble,” he promised soothingly. Sage shrugged and relaxed but Lane’s eye twitched before he took a long sip of his beer.

“I guess I’ll just stay here. Again,” he added and Aiden flinched then hissed apologetically.

“Are you upset because you had to sit things out with Stedman and you missed everything in London?” He asked. Lavender cleared his throat and shook his head faintly as he rubbed his nose with his knuckle.

“Shhhhh…” Lavender whispered softly then flashed Lane a brilliant smile. “It looks pretty dry and it’s probably not worth your time. I’ll be nothing more than a glorified errand boy; just fetching chicken nuggets and apple slices,” he said dismissively and Aiden frowned.

“Actually, it looks like it might be…” Aiden grunted when Lavender’s elbow jabbed his ribs. Aiden’s eyes flicked to the ceiling and he asked himself why Lavender wouldn’t want to be contradicted. He looked at Lane and Aiden hummed when he finally caught up. “It’s probably not worth your time and I just need him to fetch my nuggets and apple slices,” he said then smiled like Lavender. Lane cringed as he leaned back.

“Too much,” Lavender said under his breath and Aiden’s face blanked.

“Shouldn’t be a big deal,” Aiden added.

“Whatever. We’ll talk about it after the game. Go in the kitchen and plan your little adventure,” Lane grumbled as he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at the television too. Sage was still hugging his beer and he didn’t look pleased but he cocked his head at the kitchen before he turned his attention back to the game.

“Very smooth,” Lavender said and Aiden smiled.

“Really?” He asked as he turned.

“No,” Lavender replied as he pushed Aiden into the kitchen.


Available NOW on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited:




We’re going on a spooky adventure!

Lake Cliff is now available on AUDIO!

Did you know that? I’m so damn proud of these and you’re going to love them. The sexy and talented Mr. Sterling narrated and produced these himself and he did an amazing job. We’re almost done with Hide And Kill (LC#5) but books 1-4 are available now! You can watch our trailer below and find Hide And Keep, Safe And Sound/Spark And Flame, and In The Kill on Audible!

The Boys of Lake Cliff trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K6MmgxGIYc

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.18.12 AM

Hide And Keep on Audible: https://adbl.co/2YGId8c

Safe And Sound & Spark And Flame on Audible: https://adbl.co/31AIrLf

In The Kill on Audible: https://adbl.co/2lVnrPA


Want to watch an interview with Mr. Sterling?: https://bit.ly/2m7Bi5CScreen Shot 2019-09-09 at 5.52.29 AM

Lake Cliff is now available on AUDIO!

Welcome, Denver. We’ve been waiting for you.

It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? Like many of my favorite characters, Captain Denver Walsh wasn’t much more than a cool name for a minor plot point. He popped up in a few books and each time a few more details were teased out until I realized there was a bigger story waiting for us. I knew Denver’s past would be very sad and extremely painful so I decided he needed a friend and a big burst of light to balance all the darkness. It was important that they shared a bond that was stronger than their physical attraction because Denver’s wounds were so deep. Their friendship makes me melt, reader. Ezra’s exactly what Denver needed and I couldn’t be happier for him. Here’s a peek at one of my favorite chapters from A Soul To Keep:

**WARNING! Adult Language And Sexual Content! WARNING**

“We should probably run into town unless you want soup for dinner again,” Ezra said as he swung the freezer shut then leaned into the fridge. “We could make breakfast for dinner or pull together some weird salads if you don’t feel like going out until tomorrow,” he suggested and Denver squinted as he looked up from his book then glanced at the window.

“Or!” Denver gasped as he slid out of his chair and pointed at Ezra. “We could go fishing. Your uncle has everything we’d ever need out in the garage,” he said excitedly and Ezra’s eyes narrowed as he considered.

“I’m more of an Angel fan than a Buffy fan but Spike was my favorite,” he stated and Denver grinned as he rested his hip against the counter.

“You’re telling me you’re too much of a nerd to go fishing,” he guessed.

“I don’t like boats or understand how fishing works and I’m not touching a fish while it’s alive or killing one,” Ezra vowed. “What I will do is run to the store and see if they’ve got any fish sticks and cook them for you while we watch my favorite Spike clips on YouTube,” he offered and Denver made a pffffttt! sound as he gripped Ezra’s shoulders and gave them a shake.

“I’ll take care of the fish. You run to the store and get potatoes, cornmeal and oil,” he ordered and a crooked smile curved Ezra’s lips.

“I really like fried fish,” he said dreamily then nodded. “I’m in as long as I don’t have to touch the fish until it’s cooked.”

“Grab some beer and ice and we can hang out on the dock. It’s going to be a gorgeous day,” Denver said and Ezra was legitimately excited.

“Sounds like a plan.” They slapped hands and Ezra darted around Denver and raced into his room to pull on a shirt and his sneakers. He rushed into the hall and Denver caught Ezra just before they collided.

“Slow down! It’ll take me a couple of hours. I want to catch something big enough for a few meals,” he laughed as they spun then set Ezra away from him.

“It’s supposed to be hot today! Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for the sun?” Ezra complained. “Mom’s only been down here a few times since Myles died so it’s been years since I’ve had an excuse to drag everything to the dock and do some drunk sunbathing,” he said then felt a lot warmer as he imagined Denver sunbathing. “In a Speedo, if there is a God,” Ezra murmured to himself dreamily.

“What?” Denver asked as he leaned and searched Ezra’s face.

“Nothing. I probably shouldn’t drink anything stronger than beer,” Ezra said cheerfully then gave Denver’s chest a quick pat. He was so solid and large… Ezra pulled his eyes from the light dusting of hair between Denver’s pecs and swallowed hard. “Make sure you wear sunscreen,” he added weakly.

“I won’t forget, doc,” Denver said as he tapped his brow then winked at Ezra. “Although I was thinking I’d work on my tan lines today,” he whispered loudly and Ezra’s eyes widened.

“Really? I was going to put on my trunks…” he babbled as he pointed over his shoulder and Denver’s brows fell as he shook his head.

“No. I was joking. I’m going down like this but I’ll probably let my feet hang in the water,” he replied slowly.

“That’s still a lot of exposed…” Ezra shut his eyes as his head bobbled. Denver was wearing a pair of cargo shorts and flip flops but Ezra was blushing like it was his first time being in the presence of another bare-chested human.

“Are you all right? You’re already acting like you’ve been in the sun too long,” Denver said and Ezra waved it off.

“I’m really looking forward to the beer and fried food and maybe a nap in the sun. We can drag the lounge chairs to the end of the dock,” Ezra suggested and Denver nodded.

“I’m keeping an eye on you,” he warned and Ezra laughed it off because he thought he’d survived the most humiliating moment of the day. He was just warming up.

“Hey! I was sure we’d be stuck with something sad like Bud Light but you’ll never believe what I found at the store,” Ezra exclaimed as he strolled to the end of the dock with two cases of Red Stripe behind his back.

“I like Bud Light but I’m not that picky,” Denver said and squinted up at Ezra as he reached into the water and pulled at the line. “Look at what I caught while you were gone,” he said as he stood and held out an alarmingly large trout.

“Ew! No!” Ezra protested and raised the cases to shield his face. Denver might have thought Ezra was about to throw the beer because he dropped the trout so he could catch them and fell backwards, into the lake.

“Holy shit!” Denver shrieked as his head and arms burst from the water and he laughed as he swept his hair away from his eyes. “It’s freezing!”

“Oh, fuck! I am so sorry!” Ezra said as he set the beer on the cooler then dropped to his knees and reached for Denver.

“It’s not a big deal. I was getting hot and the water was starting to look good,” Denver replied as his arm swung and his hand locked around Ezra’s forearm. “Join me,” he said as he yanked.

“Noooo!” Ezra cried as he went over then lost his breath as he plunged into the icy abyss. “You ass!” He yelled as his arms flailed then yelped as Denver’s arm looped around Ezra and locked him against his chest.

“It’s not that deep. You can probably touch the bottom if you stretch your toes,” Denver said soothingly. Ezra nodded weakly as he watched a drop of water fall from Denver’s lip and land in his beard then stared as it melted.

“Probably,” Ezra sighed then shook his head. “You’re right. I’m fine,” he said and almost swallowed his tongue as Denver leaned back and pulled Ezra with him as he kicked. Denver’s legs thrust powerfully outside of Ezra’s as they glided around the end of the dock. Ezra bit back a moan as his arms wound around Denver’s broad shoulders.

“There’s a ladder on this side,” Denver said as he reached for it.

“Right. I knew that,” Ezra replied. If the water was clear enough, Denver would see that the front of Ezra’s trunks was pointing at it. “Great!” Ezra stated as he admired the ladder warily.

“After you,” Denver offered politely but Ezra shook his head.

“You first. It’s only fair since I practically pushed you. Accidentally,” he insisted and Denver hummed.

“Obviously. But you should probably go first,” he said then cocked his chin at the ladder. “Or let go, unless you want me to carry you up,” Denver teased.

“I think I can manage,” Ezra murmured then kicked away as he pumped his arms a few times, just to prove he could swim and stall for several moments. Ezra discreetly adjusted the front of his swim trunks then quickly pulled himself up the ladder. “Thank God I remembered towels,” he said as he dove at the nearest lounge and covered his lap.

“Toss me the other one?” Denver asked as he climbed out. Ezra held his towel against his groin as he swiped the other towel off the lounge and held it out to Denver. “Give me a minute. I need to take these shorts off. They’re heavy when they’re wet and they’ll dry faster if I lay them out,” Denver said as he unbuttoned the fly of his shorts and let them fall. His white boxers were transparent and Ezra’s eyes darted to the beer. It was warm but Ezra’s face felt like it was on fire and he was ready to jump back in the lake. Ezra stared longingly at the cooler and searched for a rational justification for dumping the ice into his lap. Then, he noticed Denver’s phone and keys on the dock, next to the cooler. 

“You knew we were going in,” Ezra accused and Denver held his hands up innocently.

“I might have wanted to see how much you’d freak out over the fish and it was getting really hot,” Denver said. “I thought you’d throw yourself in the lake and I’d have to go in to save you.” He cringed as he bit into his lip and Ezra glared as he reached for the beer.

“I’ll get you back for that,” he vowed and Denver grinned as he dried his hair. Ezra swung away and hunted for the bottle opener because he didn’t need to stare at Denver as he mopped at his large, powerful body with the towel. Ezra’s imagination was doing a good enough job and still fixated on the drops of water on Denver’s broad shoulders and clinging to the dark hairs on his chest and abs. He could practically see Denver’s tattoos glistening as he pried off the cap. “Here,” he said as he held the bottle out to Denver.

“Did you poison it?” Denver asked and Ezra rolled his eyes as he grabbed another bottle and opened it.

“That would be a dumb way to murder you. I’d have to hide the body long enough for the poison to be undetectable and I’m not dragging your ass around. That would be so exhausting,” he predicted and Denver pointed in agreement.

“Smart. That’s a lot of dead weight. Better to make it look like an accident so you can just leave me.”



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Welcome, Denver. We’ve been waiting for you.