Holding Out for a Fairy Tale





Holding Out for a Fairy Tale is coming May 9th! You can pre-order a copy directly from Dreamspinner here.


Chapter 1

 

Ray smiled against the other man’s lips, laughing as they crashed through his bedroom door and tumbled onto the bed in a tangle of limbs. He pulled the man on top of him, so he was wedged between the man’s legs, then ran his hands up thighs and over denim. He bucked his hips up, enjoying the friction of the other man’s ass against him. He was about to pull his date down for another kiss when he saw the uneven shades of gray silhouetted against the door. He rolled for his gun.

He didn’t spare a moment. The only person who had a key to his apartment was over a thousand miles away, and he had never come into Ray’s bedroom, even when Ray had wanted him to. Ray grabbed the loaded Glock he kept under his pillow and rolled off the bed, firing into the dark doorway. Knowing he only had seconds, he rolled into a low crouch against his closet door and lined up for a second shot. The gray outline of the intruder had moved.

Ray was vaguely aware of his date screaming, but he could block out the noise. He focused on the moving shadow. Whoever it was, they were fast, evading the first shot by lunging to the side, putting Ray’s date between them.

“Stop shooting or she dies,” a callous voice shouted in the darkness.

“That’s a man, you moron,” Ray snapped.

“A man?”

Ray’s date started screaming again, and in the darkness, Ray could see him kneeling on the bed, right where he had been before, with his head jerked back painfully. “Okay, then. Stop shooting or he dies. And really, Raymond, if I wanted you dead, I’d have killed you years ago.”

He knew that voice. From childhood memories of sun-drenched basketball courts and a hundred lazy afternoons at their grandmother’s house, Ray would always know his cousin’s voice. Unfortunately, he knew Alejandro Munoz well enough to have no delusions about the man. Alejandro would have no qualms about saying he was there to talk and then shooting him in the head the moment he let his guard down. Of course, he also wouldn’t hesitate to shoot through the man he was using as a human shield either.

He pulled the slide on his pistol back to shift another round into the chamber. Keeping the pistol trained on the bulky outline crouched behind his terrified date, Ray sidestepped toward the door, hoping to get a clear shot. Alejandro turned Ray’s date to stay behind him.

“I’m serious, Raymond. I need your help,” said Alejandro.

“I won’t help you.” Ray spat the words he felt as if he’d been repeating for a lifetime. “Get the fuck out!”

“It’s not about me.” Alejandro’s growl made the man frozen between them yelp, his head jerked backward even farther as Alejandro’s fingers tugged at his hair. “You know everything is blowing up? That those Garcia fuckers are trying to push me out?”

Ray knew all too well that the Tijuana drug cartel had descended into chaos. The DEA had arrested the last of Ray’s great uncles, who had shared leadership of the most powerful drug cartel in Tijuana, just a few years ago. Now the leadership of the cartel was up for grabs, and all the different families who could claim kinship with the cartel leaders were grappling for power, including Ray and Alejandro’s family, and enemy cartels from other parts of Mexico. The prize was control over the flow of virtually all narcotics pouring in to California.

“I don’t give a fuck. Whoever tries to move in, I’ll arrest them too.”

“You think you’re safe? You think any of us is?” Alejandro laughed. “They’ve taken Sophia. She vanished on her way to class two weeks ago. Do you want Carmen and her kids to be next?”

Ray kept his gun steady even though his vision was beginning to narrow as tunnel vision set in. He forced himself to take several long, slow breaths. Sophie Munoz, the youngest of Alejandro’s siblings, was one of his many cousins. Like every teenager, she’d had trouble getting along with her parents and her brothers, and so she’d been shuffled among extended family until she finally settled in and found a place with Ray’s sister Carmen. Sophie had spent most of high school living with Ray’s little sister, helping Carmen with her kids and watching old science fiction flicks with Ray. The extra help had made it possible for Carmen to finish her nursing degree, and in return, Carmen had been helping Sophie through school. Even though Sophie was fifteen years younger than him, Ray and Sophie had always been friends. At twelve, he’d kept her entertained by writing little video games that ran on her graphing calculator. At thirteen, she’d learned enough about Java programming to put those games on her new cell phone, complete with full-color graphic interfaces and expanded levels. She was nothing short of a genius, and since she was the only other member of his family who had resolved never to have anything to do with the Tijuana criminal organization their great uncles had once controlled, Ray had more in common with her than anyone else in his family.

“Do not threaten Carmen, Alejandro. If anything happened to Sophie, I’d have heard about it. I’m more of a brother to her than you ever were.”

“You think I don’t know that? I just heard about it,” Alejandro continued. “One of her professors reported her disappearance to the police, and because she’s my sister they handed the case over the FBI. They’re not even looking for her, just watching me.”

“Did they watch you break in here? Because if those fuckers are out there laughing, I’m going to shoot them in the head.”

Alejandro scoffed. “They think they’re watching me….”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I told you, Esteban Garcia’s trying to push me out. I can’t tell you the details, but he set me up to look like a traitor just so he can take over my fucking territory once and for all. I can’t look for her without handing myself over to the feds because they’re hovering around her dorm.”

“Why would they go after her? She’s got nothing to do with you.”

“She’s family.”

Ray shifted to a two-handed grip as his right arm began to shake under the weight of the gun. He sidestepped again, hoping Alejandro wouldn’t notice. His cousin moved his human shield to match him. The man he’d brought home tonight was trembling, probably hyperventilating, and blubbering all over his bed. Ray sighed. He knew he’d have to change his sheets anyway, but he was kind of hoping he’d get laid first.

“No,” said Ray. “I’m calling bullshit. Sophie’s missing, and you just happen to hear about it before me or Carmen? And you come up with all this crap about Esteban Garcia targeting you? You’re trying to start a fight. Is she actually missing, or did you arrange it?”

“You insult me, Raymond. You think I would exploit my own sister’s kidnapping just to have an excuse to pick a fight?”

“No.” Ray shook his head. “That’s not your style. I think you would orchestrate your own sister’s kidnapping for an excuse to pick a fight. Especially if it meant going back to the way things used to be.” Back to the ever-escalating violence that shocked every other Mexican drug cartel into leaving Tijuana and San Diego alone. Alejandro had been in his element during those years, indulging every perverse and disgusting creative impulse that arose in his mind. With all of the old leadership in jail, a tense peace had been established, even though the Tijuana drug cartel had become little more than a puppet empire ruled over by their former rival, a massive central Mexican cartel controlled by a drug lord named Esteban Garcia.

Over the last month, Ray had been hearing rumors that Alejandro’s dealers were trying to track down someone who’d siphoned millions of dollars from dummy accounts they used to launder money before sending a sizeable chunk of the money off to Garcia. Since only Alejandro’s own enforcers had access to the accounts, his own men were all on edge, wondering which of them was guilty and which he would kill just on the chance that they were guilty. Ray knew the smart ones were hedging their bets, making side deals with Esteban Garcia’s enforcers, in hopes of surviving no matter which man came out on top in what was shaping up to be an all-out war.

In the darkness, Alejandro’s chuckle grew into a full-blown laugh. “I think I should be grateful that you broke with us when you did, Raymond. If you hadn’t betrayed us, poor old Garcia and I would be doomed to be your lackeys. If I thought the way you do, I wouldn’t have to pick a fight to accomplish anything.”

“Are you really trying to suggest that you’re the victim, here?”

“Raymond, you might not believe this, but I prefer things as they are now. Peace has its advantages. But not everyone likes it. Do you think Garcia is happy taking a cut of everything that moves through San Diego when he can reach out and take it all?”

Ray narrowed his eyes. “If Sophie gets hurt because of you—”

“I want to get her home alive and in once piece. Find her. Or at least find out what the FBI knows?”

“Let him go and get out of my place.” Ray nodded toward the door.

“When there’s a wall between us.” Alejandro dragged Ray’s date off the bed by his hair. “Hey, when did you start doing men? Did you piss off every woman in San Diego?”

“What fucking business is that of yours?” Ray followed Alejandro’s movements with the barrel of his gun.

Alejandro chuckled. “None. I tried a guy once. I didn’t see the appeal. It’s not what I’d expect from you, that’s all.”

He was glad it was too dark for anyone to see him roll his eyes. “Get the fuck out!”

Alejandro backed down the hallway, keeping Ray’s date between them. As soon as they made it to the living room, Alejandro threw the terrified young man back toward the bedroom and bolted out the door.

Ray just had time to move his finger to the trigger guard before his date tumbled into him. He scooped the man up and set him on his feet, then began gingerly touching his hair and back, checking for wet spots where Alejandro might have ripped his hair out. “Are you hurt?”

“Am I hurt?” The man’s voice was a high-pitched shriek. “You fucking psychopath, you nearly shot me!”

Ray chewed on his lower lip for a moment. He knew he hadn’t come remotely close to shooting his date. He’d rolled away before firing to make sure the bullet went behind him. He’d pulled the shot too far to the left to actually hit Alejandro just to avoid even the possibility of grazing the other man. The bullet, Ray was certain, would be embedded in the left side of the doorframe. It was possible the bullet casing had hit him when it was ejected from the chamber, but he was pretty sure he’d been far enough away that the casing would be somewhere in his sheets. Still, that wasn’t the type of reassurance called for.

Ray smirked, realizing the situation didn’t call for reassurance at all. “Blaine, I’m sorry you had to go through this. I know—”

“Blaine? It’s Bruce!” The man stumbled away from him, his eyes narrowing. His hunched posture straightened and he dropped his hands to his side. He didn’t relax his curled fingers, but he clenched them into fists at his side rather than holding them up to instinctively guard his face. “You sick fuck! After all that, you can’t even remember my name?” He shoved Ray away from him. “Are you going to call the police or what? And can we turn a goddamned light on?”

Ray batted Bruce’s hand away from the hallway light switch. “Yes, but wait. Let me sweep the rest of the apartment first. I don’t want to kill my night vision and then walk into a dark room if I’m not sure that it’s secure.”

“What? Who the fuck thinks like that? Someone broke into your place, held a gun to my head, and you’re worried about your night vision!”

Ray sighed. Maybe getting the man angry wasn’t the best approach. “I’ll take care of it, okay?”

Bruce rubbed his hands over his face, obviously disturbed. He eventually took a deep breath. “Okay.” Bruce nodded. “I’ll call the police while you’re—”

Ray froze as he stepped back into the dark hall. He didn’t want to imagine what the rest of his evening might look like now. Calling in the shooting and the break-in would mean he and Bruce would both have to give statements, and his would have to include an explanation about who Bruce was, why he was in Ray’s apartment, and why he is was in Ray’s bed.

Ray didn’t have anything personal against admitting that he enjoyed the company of men as well as women, but working alongside an openly gay partner for four years had shown him just how little tolerance his fellow detectives had for gay police officers. They had put up with his partner because he’d been friendly, likable, and so much better at their job than everyone else that anything else would come across as petty, jealous bullshit. But he had also been honest about it from the start. They already didn’t like Ray, but they trusted him enough to be able to work with him. If he came out as bisexual, every officer he worked with would be left wondering what else he had lied about over the years. They would never trust him again. Deep down, he suspected he really was a complete bastard and that their mistrust was probably justified. He tended to color the truth at the best of times. On a professional level, though, he couldn’t afford to lose their trust.

“Hold off a second,” Ray shifted his pistol to his left hand and took Bruce by the elbow. “It might be best if I call it in. You said you wouldn’t be able to stay the night because you’ve got an early shift. If you’re still here when they show up, you’re going to be stuck giving statements until dawn.”

“Someone broke into your place and held a gun to my head!”

“And he’s long gone.” Ray used the same gentle tone he might use with a frightened witness. “I’m sorry you had to go through this, but spending the night being interrogated at the police station will only make it worse. I’m a police officer. I can take care of filing the report tonight. You’ll be called to testify when we arrest him, of course.”

Ray knew Bruce was already tired, he’d already had a few drinks, and the fight or flight response that had him trembling was tapering off. The adrenaline was fading and Bruce was already starting to crash. He was too tired to argue, too tired to think.

“You… You can handle the whole police report thing?’

“Absolutely.” Ray wrapped his arm around the man’s shoulders. “And I’ll call you tomorrow, just to follow up and make sure you’re all right.” He steered Bruce toward the door.

Ray ducked his head into the hallway to make sure it was empty, then walked Bruce to the elevator, keeping his pistol in his hand as discreetly as possible. “I just wish our evening had gone better. Hazards of a career in law enforcement,” he lied. “Maybe we could pick up where we left off sometime next week?”

Bruce gaped at him. “You’re unbelievable…. You nearly shoot me, forget my name, and now you’re still trying to get laid?”

“You’re right, that was kind of crass.” Ray slipped his arm off Bruce’s shoulders. He slipped his hand down Bruce’s arm, took his hand and kissed his knuckles. “Get some rest. I’m sure you’ll be all right.”

Five minutes later, Ray had secured his apartment, turned on the lights, bolted the door, and set the intrusion alarm. Having stumbled in trying to get Bruce naked as quickly as possible, he hadn’t bothered with the alarm earlier. He found the spent shell casing in his sheets, right where he expected it, and made a mental note to buy wood-filler to patch the hole he’d made in the doorframe. Then he pulled out his laptop and began to comb through his cousin Sophie’s social media accounts. The pages and accounts where she had posted hourly status updates since she turned thirteen hadn’t been updated in fourteen days. He tried calling her cell phone, not caring about the time. It went straight to voice mail. He pulled up a GPS application that usually pinpointed her location, but it couldn’t find her phone.

Frustrated, he tried calling her dorm room on the University of California campus, but there was no answer there either. She had paid extra for a single room, so she didn’t even have a roommate he could question. Despite not being able to get in touch with Sophie, Ray refused to worry.

He sent a text message to his sister, instead. Thirty seconds later, his phone rang.

“You are awake.” Ray tried to keep his tone casual.

“Of course I’m awake!”

Ray pulled the phone away from his ear as his sister shrieked over the frantic sobs and cries of what sounded like an entire army of worried mothers.

“Aunt Louisa’s been here going through Sophie’s room since noon. Now she’s crying at my kitchen table. Mama and everyone are here. Do you know Sophie’s missing?”

Ray switched her to speakerphone. “I heard something like that. I was just checking up on her Facebook stuff and trying to get a hold of her. Has Aunt Louisa talked to the police?”

“No!”

Ray winced, pretty sure that Carmen’s shout wasn’t directed at him.

“Jose, we do not throw balls in the house! Damn it, hold on….”

He listened to the muffled sound of his sister putting her youngest back to bed and smiled. She was trying to calmly explain that it was past his bedtime, past the dog’s bedtime, and past her bedtime too. With an exhausted sigh, she returned to the phone. “No, she hasn’t talked to the police. I guess the FBI is in charge, but no one will tell her anything about what’s happened. They said they’d have some family liaison person call her in the morning. Can you imagine that? Raymond, if you ever have to call a mother and tell her one of her children has been missing for a week, you will not tell her someone else will get in touch with her in the morning!”

“Yeah, no shit. How are you holding up?” He didn’t have to point out that she had just as much reason to be worried as Sophie’s mother, if not more. Carmen had spent eight years taking care of Sophie like one of her own—she was far more of a mother to their cousin than Aunt Louisa had been for a long time.

Carmen let out a bitter laugh. “How do you think I’m holding up? I’m a wreck. She hasn’t been home for a week, and the entire family is treating me like I’m some kind of monster for not knowing something was wrong. Apparently I’m not even allowed to be upset because I should have somehow magically sensed she wasn’t on campus.” Her sniffle squeaked through the phone. “So what are you going to do?”

Ray sighed. “Not panic. Carmen, I’ll go to her dorm first thing in the morning. I’ll check in her with professors, talk to the girls on her floor. If none of her friends or her boyfriend have reported that she’s missing, odds are she isn’t actually in danger. But I’ll find her, okay?”

“Can you talk to the FBI?”

“The FBI doesn’t like me.” Ray bit the inside of his cheek, surprised at how hard it was to keep from laughing. “I can find her without them.”

“Raymond, just because one FBI agent kicked your ass doesn’t mean they’re all jerks….”

“Technically, last week brings the total number of FBI agents who have kicked my ass to two. Although, the first guy might have been justified.”

“First guy?” Carmen giggled.

Ray smiled and didn’t even try to fight the flush through his cheeks as he remembered the week he’d spent screwing a hot federal agent not eight months ago. Even though he’d ended the week with a black eye and a cracked rib because he said something to piss the man off, it had been one of the hottest weeks of his life.

“Yeah, I’m not telling you that story. It’s personal.”

“Suit yourself. You’ll call them in the morning?”

“No. He was an okay guy, but the rest of them are assholes. Every single one of them.”

“They’re the ones investigating. And I know Alejandro has gone to look for her, too. Things could get really nasty if you two run into each other….”

If Alejandro was actively looking for his sister, Ray thought it would be nice to have someone else on his side. Alejandro was a psychotic enemy, and he lived in a world where there were seldom good explanations when someone disappeared for a few weeks.

On the other hand, Sophie wasn’t a part of that world. Sophie was twenty-one, a college student, and tended to party too much. San Diego was only a five hour drive from Las Vegas, and Ray knew she’d been eager to go ever since she was busted trying to get into one of the casinos with a fake ID at nineteen. She was also just as much of a closeted nerd as Ray, and he wouldn’t put it past her to spend days at a time lost in a programming project, forgetting about mundane things like attending class and eating. Maybe she’d had a fight with the new guy she was dating and had gone off with some friends for some girl time. He’d never heard her use phrases like girl time, but anything was possible.

Even the FBI’s involvement didn’t necessarily mean something was wrong. If they could identify her as a relative of Alejandro Munoz, they might jump at the chance to investigate, even if they were just investigating a college co-ed spending the week letting loose in Vegas.

He gritted his teeth and tried to think of any alternative. He sighed. “I’ll talk to them. But, she might just have gone to Vegas for the week. Do you still have her spare key card?”

The next day, Ray swung by his sister’s house to grab the spare key to Sophie’s dorm room. He reassured his sister once again that Sophie was probably just fine and headed north on the I-15 to the regional FBI office. The newer office building was four stories, with sleek black windows and equally shiny black siding. It looked like any other office building until you realized the twelve-foot ornate iron fence encircled the entire building and parking lot, and that it was topped with a thin line of razor wire.

Ray hated coming here. Aside from his issues with individual FBI agents because he was just a police officer, he had to check his weapons with security in the lobby and wait for an escort from the Regional Gang Task Force office—if they decided to see him at all.

He fidgeted in the blue plastic chairs in the lobby, watching a dozen men and women in virtually identical dark suits shuffle in through metal detectors.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

The shout came from a massive blond man at the edge of the crowd. He had furious brown eyes, one of which was still slightly black. He had features that were often called chiseled, although with his nose bent and still taped, he didn’t look particularly handsome.

“Good morning, Special Agent Hathaway.” Ray waved and smiled brightly.

He’d spent the last week suspended from work because of new FBI agent James Hathaway. When Ray had left a message with the task force office to have someone collect his report about the money leaking out of Alejandro’s accounts and the gang war that was looming as a result, Special Agent Hathaway read enough back reports to know about Ray’s relationship to the cartel leadership. He hadn’t bothered to note Ray’s position as a homicide detective. Hathaway assumed Ray was a criminal informant in police custody rather than a police officer, and had treated him like a criminal. Once he understood the magnitude of the theft Ray had heard rumors of, he tried to handcuff Ray and put him in protective custody—inside a solitary confinement cell in a federal detention center.

In all fairness, if Ray had been a criminal informant, protective custody would have been the way to go. But Hathaway hadn’t even bothered to check, much less listen to Ray as he tried to explain and find his ID. Special Agent Hathaway had tried to throw Ray into a car, so Ray threw him into a wall, elbowed him in the face, and then threw him into a food cart. It had seemed like a good idea, at the time.

Ray sighed as he remembered the jeers and laughter from his fellow detectives. Not one of the fuckers had volunteered to clarify things.

Hathaway stopped just two feet from him, standing with his shoulders hunched and his fists clenched. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

“Like, in this world? In an existential sense? Because that’s a big question and I need a beer or two to really nail it down.”

“This isn’t the police station, jackass!”

Ray pursed his lips and made a show of looking around carefully. “I think,” he said slowly, “you might be right about that. Glad to see those finely honed investigative skills being put to use. I’m here for information on the Sophia Munoz case.”

Hathaway’s glare turned into a vicious sneer. “No.”

“Hmm?”

“You think anyone in this office is going to hand information on that cartel bitch over to you? The SDPD might not care who you’re actually working for, but everyone here knows the truth.”

Ray pulled out his phone and found something to pay attention to.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Ignoring a raging imbecile,” said Ray, swiping through the home screens on his phone but keeping his eyes on Hathaway. If the fucker lost his temper again, Ray would have to take the first hit, but he wanted to know what direction it was coming from so he could minimize the damage before dealing with him.

He should have just gone straight to Sophie’s dorm room. He wasn’t going to get anything here, except another write-up.

“Hathaway!” a woman shouted. “If you don’t get your ass upstairs, we’re starting the progress meeting without you!”

Hathaway glared to the side, grumbled, and stalked off. Ray dove out of the chair and slipped to the side as soon as Hathaway turned away. A few quick steps and he’d put a half dozen of the other man’s colleagues between them. He made sure his jacket was open and his badge and ID were visible as he wove through the crowd.

“Hey!” Hathaway shouted behind him. “Hope you’re enjoying your time off!”

Ray waited until he was by the security desk near the front door before he turned and waved. “They told you I’m still getting paid for these two weeks, right?” He ducked out quickly, determined to get the hell away from the damn FBI before he really did get into another fight.

He’d likely find out more on his own anyway, so he got back on the highway, heading west.

The wealthy Bohemian neighborhood of La Jolla was perched on a series of green mesas and cliffs on the north side of San Diego County. Its thriving branch of the University of California had been founded on a repurposed Marine Corps base. It had injected racial and cultural diversity into an area where racism and bigotry had been so ingrained that the original builders included restrictive covenants for race, religion, and ethnicity in the very deeds of the homes they sold. Thanks to the university, it had evolved to become a haven for successful artists, politicians, and professionals from every background imaginable—provided they could afford the multi-million dollar homes and the pricey shops. Ray had been just as in love with La Jolla as every other student who went through the university, but the reality of a working class wage had sunk in after graduation. He still loved visiting the area, even if the downtown nightlife surrounding his condo was more his style.

The university itself was divided into six colleges, each with their own little section of campus and their own academic philosophy. Ray didn’t even remember them all now, but he knew that Sophie had enrolled in Warren College, named for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, just like Ray had when he was a student. It was an odd choice for a computer engineering major, since Warren College tended to focus on social justice issues, but Sophie seemed to enjoy it.

He had to park at the far end of campus and walk to Warren College, and to the huge six story residence hall where Sophie lived. He followed a group of students into the building, and only had to use Sophie’s keycard to get into the suite her room was in, and again into her dorm room. Another girl walked by as he opened the door. He smiled at the glare the girl sent him and slipped inside without a word.

The dorm room was neat, clean, and meticulously organized. Because it was a single room, it was tiny, with a sturdy lofted bed and a matching desk shoved beneath it. The desk had a hutch with a single shelf, half of which was cluttered with framed snap shots of Ray’s nieces and nephew. The other half was filled with pictures of Sophie with various groups of friends. She was smiling in every picture, and with her bright eyes and long wavy hair, she was the sparkling center of every single photo.

In the back corner of the desk was a toy Ray had given her during her third Christmas at his sister’s house. It was a tiny robotic arm. They had built it together, once Ray convinced her that plugging the insulated wires into their slots wouldn’t electrocute her. She’d kept the younger kids entertained for hours, programming it to wave and then to throw tennis balls for their hyper Australian shepherd. It had worked perfectly, provided the younger kids kept putting the tennis balls back in the right spot.

Sophie had grown up so much since then.

Now the center finger of the robotic claw was raised, flipping off the entire world. He couldn’t help but chuckle, despite the dire circumstances. The USB cable used to connect the robotic arm to a computer was sitting loose on the desk, along with the charging cable for Sophie’s cell phone.

Ray pulled on a pair of latex gloves out of habit and began at the front of the room, searching everything. He moved around the room, from one side to the other, checking everything systematically. He searched through Sophie’s armoire and desk, trying not to disturb anything. A dozen empty hangers were scattered among the clothes hanging in the armoire and her laundry basket was empty. There was no makeup bag, and the basket of toiletries sitting next to the laundry basket held some obscure beauty products Ray had never heard of, but was completely lacking in basic things like shampoo and toothpaste. There was also no sign of her luggage, her backpack, or her laptop case. Since her laptop and phone were also gone, Las Vegas was beginning to look more likely.

When he searched Sophie’s desk, he was a bit surprised by how empty it was. There was no address book, no schedule, nothing except a bundle of notebook paper still wrapped in plastic. He knew she did most things on her computer or phone, but almost everyone kept scraps of paper or a pen around a desk.

Finally, Ray climbed up to the top of the bed. It was neatly made, with one of their grandmother’s quilts draped over a knit blanket. And aside from the bedding, there was nothing else there.

He hopped down and called his sister.

“Did you find her?” she asked, without bothering with a hello.

Ray sighed. “No, and before you panic, hear me out. I’m pretty sure she’s fine. Half of her clothes are gone, along with her luggage, her laptop, her makeup bag and all that stuff. Odds are she just needed a break. There are no signs of a struggle, and wherever she’s gone, she took the time to pack.”

“Are you sure? Mama and Aunt Louisa are meeting with some woman from the FBI this morning, but she won’t tell them anything over the phone and….”

Ray rolled his eyes, grateful that they were on the phone, because she would have smacked him for it. “No. Stop right there. You’re not allowed to get hysterical and start screaming. I swear I will hang up on you if you do. The whole family is worried because Alejandro wants them to worry. He’s the one who came to me, and I’d bet ten bucks the only thing they know is what he’s told them. Am I right?”

“Yes, but….”

“Not buts. Whatever Alejandro’s game is, if he hurt his own sister, even Aunt Louisa would disown him. And wherever Sophie is, she is ten times smarter than him and you know it.”

“It’s not just Alejandro! The FBI is sending someone here to search the house, too! They’re worried, Raymond!”

Behind him, Ray heard the soft buzz as the electronic lock opened. “Hang on, this might be her now.”

Ray pulled the door open quickly, expecting and hoping to see Sophie looking hungover and tired. Instead, he saw a tall, slender man in a loose pinstriped suit. The build didn’t match Alejandro’s, and Ray wasn’t willing to open fire in a crowded university residence hall for anyone besides his own dear cousin. Ray took in the man’s posture, assessing him as a potential threat. His suit jacket was unbuttoned, giving the man easy access to the pistol in his shoulder harness. His hand was frozen a few inches from the pistol’s grip.

Then he took in the way the man’s suit hung off him and felt a stir of instant lust. He ran his gaze over tightly muscled arms and shoulders. His mind was swirling, sorting through a dozen different scenarios that might come to pass as soon as the man spoke, and planning how he could manipulate those scenarios to drag this man home with him tonight. As he brought his gaze up to the man’s angular, handsome face, he gaped at the familiar features, the soft pale green eyes, and the furious expression on the other man’s face.

“You?” Special Agent Elliot Belkamp pointed an accusing finger at him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Ray swallowed hard. He hadn’t seen Elliot in nearly eight months, when they had spent the better part of a week blowing off steam in a northwestern Montana hotel room before Ray had fled back to civilization. The sex had been one of the hottest things Ray had ever experienced, and not just because it was one of his first forays into having sex with other men. He’d thought so at the time, but diving in to San Diego’s gay scene headfirst afterward had resulted in one long series of disappointing hookups after another.

Ray had never expected to see him again. Aside from being separated by a thousand miles, Ray had made an ass of himself before they parted ways. To this day, he was utterly confused about just how he’d screwed things up, but he was pretty sure he had. He had tried to explain that he was nervous about being with another man, tried to find the words to say that he felt like letting another man fuck him would make him weak, make him less of a man. Elliot had just smiled and said he didn’t fuck around with people who didn’t respect him and headed for the door. When Ray tried to stop him from leaving, the other man had efficiently knocked him on his ass. Skinny or not, Elliot Belkamp could fight.

Still, even if it meant getting his ass kicked, Ray would gladly do it all over again.

“Carmen,” Ray grinned, “I’m going to have to call you back.”


 

 

Comments

  1. Can't wait to read this. I loved Ray in ACWT even though I knew I shouldn't! Good luck fining a name for it if you decide not to go with Holding Out For A Fairy Tale x

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  2. I'm so excited that you're writing another book set in the same "universe".I just realized it's Ray from A Casual Weekend Thing and I can't wait to learn to love him (I may have been a bit upset by him by the end of ACWT, sorry. But I feel like I'd understand and appreciate more his character in this one.Yeah, you had me at "Still, even if it meant getting his ass kicked, Ray would gladly do it all over again.
    “Carmen,” Ray grinned, “I’m going to have to call you back.” )

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  3. OMG, when is this coming out?!?!? You don't understand. Ray is one of my all-time favorite characters. I heart that cocky bastard so much and I was hoping he would be paired with Elliot if he got his own book!!!!!!! *screams and dances* So, yeah, when, when, when?? Grabby hands.

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    Replies
    1. I can't wait until I'll be list an actual date! The best I can offer, at the moment, is that my publisher's production schedule is running at 6-9 months. I'm hoping it will be available sometime around April/May! It's a fun read, so hopefully it'll be worth the wait!

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  4. Excited! I did kind I'd dislike how slutty he was but I can get over that. Please tell me you have more about christopher and doug in it. I loved them and would love another book just about them and how they sorted everything out. Please release this soon :)

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