My second book in the Ashe Sentinel Connections series releases Aug. 29. In honor of the new release, I thought I’d offer a preview of “Source of Protection,” Rick and Will’s story. You can find the book on Smashwords, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and various other e-book retailer sites.
WILL McCALL STARED AT THE BODY ON THE GROUND, so still, while the rest of the world spun like a Tilt-a-Whirl at the county carnival.
Not just a body. His boss. Michael Jameson.
Jameson, like the liquor. Which was fitting, because he was the owner of a liquor store that stocked plenty of Jameson whiskey. Also sad because his body was laid out flat in the alley right behind that store.
Will moaned. Just now, he felt as if he’d drunk one too many shots of whiskey. His stomach twisted, and he clenched his teeth against the urge to heave up his breakfast, thinking that it would add insult to injury to hurl all over Michael.
Even if he could be an asshole sometimes.
A dead asshole now.
Will’s limbs trembled, and he realized belatedly he was leaning over Michael’s body, a quiver from collapsing right on top of him. He didn’t hear the back exit of the store open, didn’t notice the footsteps behind him.
He didn’t register another presence at all until he heard the deep voice behind him.
“Put your hands where I can see them.”
Will looked over his shoulder, and his heart lurched. The barrel of a gun stared him in the face.
“Don’t kill me,” he pleaded.
A man loomed over him, his feet spread wide and arms extended in a stance that said he was ready to fire at will. His position only made his shoulders look broader under his leather jacket. He could break Will in half, and that was without bullets.
“I didn’t see anything!”
Will lifted his hands so quickly he lost his balance and sprawled back on his butt in the muddy alley. Liquid seeped through the denim of his jeans, but he hardly felt it. He couldn’t take his eyes off the gun. Not even to look into the eyes of the man who might very well kill him.
“No one else has to get hurt,” the gunman stated calmly. “Just tell me the truth. Do you have any weapons on you?”
Will shook his head mutely. He was confused. The world had stopped making any kind of sense when he found Michael.
Oh God, he’s dead? Why is he dead?
The gunman stepped closer, and Will’s panic amped up a notch. The man crouched down and tried to look him in the eye. Will’s gaze kept drifting back to the gun, convinced if he let it out of his sight it would suddenly fire a deadly bullet into him. He could feel his forehead burning, as if a target had been branded there.
“Did you kill this man?”
What an odd question for the killer to ask. Why would he ask that? Will blinked, trying to bring order to his world. Maybe this man was looking to make Will the scapegoat?
Will started to speak, but couldn’t find his voice. What was the right answer? Should he answer honestly? Or would that earn him a bullet between the eyes? Was this one of those trick questions where the killer let you go if you got it right? He’d heard of stories like that.
The more he thought about it, the more panicky he felt. He gasped for air, but couldn’t seem to catch his breath. A loud buzzing took up residence in his head, the staticky sound muffling the curse the gunman let out.
“Oh Christ!” he heard, just as the edges of his vision crumpled inward and his eyes rolled back in his head.
Sgt. Rick Wilson cursed, and grabbed for the perp one-armed, while keeping his service revolver well out of reach with the other.
Perp, yeah right.
He’d seen nothing but fear and confusion in the man’s green eyes. Sure, it could have been fear at getting caught. But Rick didn’t think so.
He stared down in concern. He’d caught a real beauty this time. Strawberry blond curls and creamy white skin, probably paler than usual today.
Rick had a knack for scaring the bejesus out of gorgeous men. It was part and parcel of working with the police department, he supposed. Especially when the only eligible men he met were at crime scenes. Ashe, Kansas, was a small town. There were no convenient gay bars or cruising strips to pick up guys.
The last man he’d felt drawn to had been pale and trembling too, after a close call with a bullet while reporting on a stand-off for The Ashe Sentinel.
Jorge Ortiz had a beautiful caramel complexion and dark, intense eyes — quite a contrast to his perp today. Unfortunately, Jorge’s co-worker Mac had moved fast to snap him up. Mac was a looker himself, Rick’s first love in fact. He couldn’t begrudge his ex his good fortune with Jorge, not after Rick had walked away from Mac in his early days on the force when he was determined to stay in the closet for the sake of his career.
He’d since learned there were far worse things than being the gay officer in the department. Hell, being gay is half the reason he was selected as the police spokesman, of all the ironies. No one said so, but Rick knew the department heads thought promoting a gay man to a high-profile position would give them a better reputation for tolerance.
Rick holstered his weapon, and pulled out his cell to call in an update to the department. They’d need to process the scene as a homicide instead of the crime in progress he’d reported before stepping out into the alley.
That done, he set about doing a quick frisk of the man in his arms. He felt around his ankles, and slid hands quickly up each leg. So far so good, he thought, as he moved his hands to check pockets. Nothing but a pack of gum and a wallet. He flipped it open one-handed, but there was no driver’s license in the display window.
That was a little suspicious. Who didn’t have a license these days?
He shoved the wallet back in the man’s back pocket, and resumed his frisk. The man’s snug T-shirt couldn’t possibly hide a weapon, but some idiots thought it was a good idea to stash weapons in their waistband. It was a miracle more perps didn’t blow off their dicks. Or maybe it was a pity.
Rick smiled grimly at the thought, and slipped his fingertips under the man’s waistband, sliding his hand quickly around the front, then the back. He kept his touch brief and impersonal, though the softness of the skin beneath his fingers didn’t escape his notice.
Just another perp, Rick. No need to get pervy about it.
A siren bleated from down the alley, and to his relief sleeping beauty stirred. Dazed green eyes blinked up at him, and the body collapsed half in his lap tensed.
“Shhh, you’re okay,” he said as gently as if he were speaking to a skittish colt. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m Sgt. Wilson with the police department, and the officers pulling up now are going to have questions for you. Understand?”
The guy’s gaze jerked toward the police car rolling to a stop a few feet from where they half-reclined against the brick wall of the liquor store. He tried to pull away from Rick.
“Easy,” Rick said, tightening his hold on the suspect. “No sudden movements. Why don’t you tell me your name?”
Wide eyes still fogged with shock swung back to his face. A pink tongue darted out to moisten dry lips.
“Will McCall. I work here.”
Rick thought he’d recognized him as one of the store’s clerks.
“Will, that’s a good name. Suits you. Do you know the man on the ground?” Rick asked, letting Will pull away gradually now that he wasn’t likely to bolt and get himself shot.
“Michael Jameson. He owns the store.”
He glanced over at the two uniformed officers headed their way. “Owned the store,” Will corrected himself in a whisper.
Being off-duty, Rick was dressed casually in jeans and T-shirt, with a leather jacket thrown over top. No wonder Will hadn’t realized he was an officer and panicked. He should have announced himself as police immediately.
Rick dealt with the press more than criminals, or even scared witnesses, these days. He was good at his job as the spokesman for the department, but he’d never felt less like police than when he’d drawn on a civilian.
“I didn’t do anything,” Will added. “I just found him, I swear.”
“Don’t worry, Will. We’ll figure it all out. The officers will have to question you.”
“You’re covered in blood, Will,” Rick said gently.
Will looked down, and there was no missing the horror in his expression.
“Oh God, I thought that was mud,” he moaned, his face starting to lose color again. “Oh Jesus.”
Rick pulled Will to his feet and propped him against the brick wall. “Deep breaths, Will. You’re alright.”
Officers Jones and Tibbitts strolled up.
“What have we got here, Sergeant?” Jones asked politely. His blue eyes fixed on Will speculatively.
Tibbitts headed straight to the body, crouching next to it and feeling for a pulse.
“Definitely dead. I’ll call it in,” he said over his shoulder, before depressing the button on his radio to report the DB.
“Already updated the station,” Rick told him. “Homicide should be on scene shortly.”
Rick could feel Will shrinking back from the sight of the body, trembling as shock took hold. Rick would have liked to comfort him, but he didn’t. Guilty or not, Will was a suspect.
“This is Will McCall,” Rick said. “He was on scene when I arrived. He says the dead man is Michael Jameson, his boss. As you can see, he’s got blood evidence on his clothing and was in close proximity to the victim. I’m sure homicide will want to question him.”
Will listened to the sergeant spell out exactly how guilty he looked, kneeling over his dead boss in an alley.
God, would he go to jail? It’s not like he could come up with an alibi. The man saw him leaning over a dead body! Wasn’t that the very definition of caught red-handed?
It was just his luck, too.
Will had barely escaped his abusive ex-boyfriend. He moved halfway across the country to start over, and enrolled at the local community college to finish an education he’d given up on years ago.
And now this.
“I’m not a killer,” he interrupted desperately. “I swear!”
“Sir, calm down,” Officer Jones said firmly. “No one’s under arrest. But I do need to ask, sir, do you have any weapons on you?”
Will shook his head. Jones glanced at the sergeant. “Did you frisk him?”
“Not completely. I checked for weapons as best I could when he fainted.”
Will grimaced at that. God, no wonder Michael always called him a pansy.
Used to call him … he wouldn’t be hurling any good-natured insults anymore.
Grief welled up, and Will had to force back the tears that burned behind his eyes. Michael might have been an asshole, but he’d also been Will’s only friend in this town. And he definitely didn’t deserve this.
“Didn’t find anything,” Rick continued as Will bit down on his lip hard to suppress the sob rising in his throat. “You should check, though.”
“Will, please turn around and place your hands on the wall,” Officer Jones ordered.
Will turned pleading eyes on the sergeant. His jaw was clenched, and he wouldn’t meet Will’s eyes. Shit. He thought Will was guilty, too.
He turned, slapping his palms against the brick exterior of the liquor store.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he repeated. “I didn’t … I would never—”
His voice broke, and he couldn’t continue. His breathing sounded too loud again. Don’t faint, don’t faint, not again.
The officer’s hands roughly smoothed down his sides, and patted at his pockets. The man paused to pull out Will’s wallet, handing it to the other officer to inspect, then continued his task. Hands ran up the inside of his legs and down around his ankles. He barely felt the touch, too numbed by the shock of this new reality.
He heard the sergeant’s voice as if from a distance.
“Will, no one is accusing you of anything. You’ll have your chance to tell the homicide detective everything soon enough.”
“No weapons,” the younger officer confirmed. “You can turn around.”
Will turned, to see another police cruiser pulling up, along with an unmarked police car. A man in a badly wrinkled suit stepped out and scratched at stubble on his jaw. He looked as if he’d just woken up, or perhaps been up all night. What time was it anyway? He’d arrived at the store around 10:30 … so 11? 11:30?
Hell of a day, Will, when you can’t even make it until lunchtime without fucking up.
Will flinched as his ex-boyfriend’s voice ghosted through his mind.
The sergeant who’d found him strolled over to the rumpled man, probably the detective. He stared after him, feeling like his safety blanket had been taken away.
It didn’t make any sense; he’d been terrified the man was going to shoot him. Now, he wanted him to come back and protect him from the officers, from the inevitable questioning and arrest, from his own memories.
“Will, we’re going to need you to take a seat in the back of the police car,” Officer Tibbitts announced. He grabbed Will’s arm and started pushing him not-so-subtly toward the car.
“Detective Nielsen will have questions for you. Most likely, we’ll need to take you downtown. Your clothes will need to be processed.”
“My clothes,” Will repeated blankly.
Officer Jones nodded. “Evidence,” he explained, as his partner put a hand on Will’s head and shoved him into the backseat.
They didn’t cuff him. Small favors and all that. The doors had no handles, though, so once he was in, he was stuck there.
Evidence. Will thought of all the crime shows he’d watched on TV. The cops were always searching for forensic evidence to place the killer at the scene. Blood on his clothes. A hair. A fingerprint.
They had all that on Will already, didn’t they? How would he possibly prove he didn’t kill Michael Jameson, especially when he’d yelled at Michael just two days ago, threatened to kill him if he betrayed Will’s trust again?
Motive, opportunity, presence at the crime scene. He was as good as convicted already.